Garden Party: blending your own tea

A tea lover’s life is not complete until they create their own tea. I’ve tried several times but it was not until attending a blending class at Smith Teas that I made a good cuppa.

It feels like a cross between being a mad scientist and creating your own work of art…

We tasted 14 different teas in various combinations (talk about caffeine jitters!) We learned the correct words, like wine, for tea’s characteristics. Things like astringent, biscuity, strong, vegetative…

As a lover of strong black tea with milk, it’s no surprise I stuck mainly to Assams. I selected a mixture of 3 Assams, a dash of Ceylon Nimbula and a pinch of Nilgiri. With the addition of black currant and peach skin essences, it’s a delicious and strong cuppa for the summer.

I call it “Garden Party” – hearkening back to British summer picnics, croquet, and a beautiful 1920s short story by Katherine Mansfield.

I highly recommend taking a tea blending class, especially at Smith Teas if your plans take you near Portland. ☕️

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The ten year party (1920s-1930s interior design)

Our current nostalgia for the 1920s is ironic, considering that style moderne (later known as Art Deco) was all about abandoning the past. After the Great War, interior designers in Paris began to create a style that was modern and geometric. Europe wanted to forget the bloody occupation, years of rationing, and agonizing loss of life, and Paris did it with a bang. Why not throw a 10 year party?

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Bedroom set from the Great Gatsby, photo from Architectural Digest

Designer Catherine Martin’s vision of the 1920s in the Great Gatsby is nothing short of swoon-worthy. Imagine living in this house with its geometric patterns and lavish materials. Each morning I’d go up that serpentine staircase singing like a Disney cartoon character.

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The Carlyle Hotel in New York, photo from their site

The Carlyle is a New York landmark. Another irony of the decade is that what we associate most with the 1920s was mostly built in the 1930s. The Carlyle was built in the 1930s and has 188 Art Deco-styled rooms and suites. This enormous lobby with glossy black floor, striking orange couches, and glittering gold details must take a small army to keep clean.

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Buckhead House in Atlanta, photo by Emily Followill

This last photo isn’t quite historically accurate. This is a 1920s house in Atlanta that was modernized and redecorated in 2016. But look at those tall, elegant arched doorways with glass-doors that open onto a pale green room – that detail is just perfect to me.

I can find something to love about all eras of interior design, especially mid century modern, but Art Deco will forever hold a special place in my heart.

What’s your dream era?

No. Six Depot – English Breakfast Tea ☕️

#TeaTuesday is here! And helping me wake up is No. Six Depot's English Breakfast. No. Six Depot is a small-batch café and gallery in the Berkshires, Massachusetts. They make and serve their own tea and coffee, and what looks like amazing food.

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The gold tin is modern and simple. Once you open it, you see a mound of dark tea with hints of red. There are only a few leaves, most of the tea is "Fannings Grade", possibly mixed with "Broken Leaf Grade".

No Six Depot English Breakfast loose leaf tea

The brewed tea is incredibly strong. I'd suggest using less than a teaspoon per 8 oz cup as a little goes a very long way. The flavor is good but it has none of the nuances you'll get in a "Whole Leaf Grade". It finishes with a bold, astringent mouth feel.

Overall, a strong tea to wake you up, very much suited to milk and sugar. This would probably be a good tea to use for making tea-flavoured ice cream, as the flavour is quite concentrated.

Sing Tehus Earl Grey Tea ☕️

Today's #TeaTuesday features an Earl Grey from Sing Tehus. This tea came all the way from a shop in Kompagnistræde (Copenhagen's Latin Quarter). They specialize in green teas, but they do have a few black teas.

Sing Tehus Earl Grey tea tin and box

Inside the elegant box is an equally elegant tea tin. The tea itself is dark with a few golden pieces. I'm guessing it is Golden Broken Orange Pekoe (GBOP), which means it is a higher quality broken leaf tea.

Tea goes from Dust grade (tiny particles) to Fanning Grade (dust and some small broken leaves) to Broken Leaf Grade (high percentage of broken leaves) to Whole Leaf Grade (high percentage of whole leaves with tips).

Sing Tehus Earl Grey tea loose leaf in a tin

Brewed up, this is a fairly strong Earl Grey with bright, citrusy notes. The bergamot is more lemony than floral, but it still pairs nicely with milk.

A good tea for morning or afternoon, and can be paired with mild to medium flavoured food.

Are you a black tea and milk kinda person, or a green tea lover?

Bellocq Earl Grey Tea, No 35 ☕️

Today’s #TeaTuesday is Bellocq tea atelier’s The Earl Grey. Bellocq’s a luxury tea brand with many unique blends. The gorgeous tins will set you back a bit, but I have a weak spot for tea tins.

Vintage tea strainer on a vintage book, Bellocq Earl Grey
Photo courtesy Bellocq’s site

Bellocq’s take on Earl Grey pairs 100% Ceylon black tea with blue cornflowers and bergamot essence. Bergamot is an Italian citrus fruit. Cornflowers don’t add flavour, they’re purely aesthetic.

Earl Grey is said to be named after Charles Grey, the 2nd Earl of Grey and Prime Minister of England (1830-1834). Rumours say that a Chinese tea master blended it for the earl as a gift. No one knows if the bergamot was added just because or to counteract the water at Howick Hall.

Spoonful of Earl Grey tea, Bellocq tea atelier

Bellocq’s tea looks high quality. I’m going to guess it is Flowery Orange Pekoe (FOP), which has a high proportion of tips to whole leaf. A leaf that includes the tip has the greatest flavour and nuance, so they’re the most expensive.

Brewed up, The Earl Grey No. 35 is a delicate tea that would be great for an afternoon reading a book or a tea party. The bergamot brings a lovely perfume and flavour without being overwhelming.

It is not robust like an Assam, so I suggest enjoying it with a splash of milk and a plate of mild food. Perhaps a dill cucumber sandwich or a Victoria sponge with fresh raspberry jam… mmm…

Bellocq tea atelier Earl Grey No 35, silver tea tin

Murchie’s Golden Jubilee Black Tea ☕️

Today’s #TeaTuesday is the Jubilee blend. A mixture of Ceylon, Assam, Darjeeling, Himalayan and Keemun teas. That’s one of the more complex mixtures I’ve seen but it works out beautifully.

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The Jubilee blend is a smooth, full-bodied tea. Highly recommended for people who aren’t sure if they like tea yet.

Murchie’s is a lovely tea shop in Victoria, BC. They serve all sorts of tempting treats and are well worth a visit. (Especially if you combine it with the bookstore next door!)

Tea and cake at Murchie's tea shop in Victoria BC
Ideal for: morning tea, afternoon tea 

A Touch of Treachery (short story)

I’m very excited that my short mystery set in the 1920s and a mere 700 words was published by Flash Bang Mysteries. The story takes place at the Savoy hotel in London, over a cup of tea. Rose Clarke is a hatcheck girl from Tottenham, who becomes involved with a spy…

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The magazine also has lots of great short mysteries, which are fun and quick to read.

Are you a fan of short fiction?

The best thing I ever discovered about editing a novel

Assuming you survive the heart-wrenching, glorious process of writing a book, now you just need to destroy it.

Okay, perhaps I’m being a touch dramatic.

If you’ve gone through a developmental edit or you’re self-revising with a magenta marker, you know how hard it gets. Trying to look objectively at your lovely book feels like being forced to torture your loved ones with a rusty pitchfork.

Every change spawned additional changes, so I couldn’t get myself out of the maze. “But if this happens in chapter 2, then chapter 10 is all wrong and chapter 15 will break…” I was paralyzed by indecision and worry that I was ruining my book.

How I stopped losing my mind…

Make one change at a time. Make that change throughout the entire book. Resist the urge to fix everything at once.

When I changed my protagonist’s backstory, it meant she shouldn’t respond the same way in some situations. But the most important thing was to fix the actual backstory scenes first. Once that was done, then I could do a pass making sure her interactions with the killer were consistent. Then her interactions with the inspector, and so on.

How do you edit? Are you able to edit all the things at the same time as you move through the manuscript?

 

Blyth Grove – a house untouched for 90 years

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Built in 1905, this National Trust house is fascinating — it’s a time capsule unchanged since the head of household, Mr. Straw, died in 1932. In their grief, the family kept the house completely unchanged until the last Straw died in 1991.

What a rare glimpse of life between the wars, and a beautiful example of interior decoration from 1923. Even the food in the pantry is authentic, including Bovril, a thick, salty meat extract developed in the 1870s.

For more photos and a video tour, check out the Daily Mail article. It’s moments like these that I wish I lived in England, so I could hop on a train and see these amazing pieces of history.

Editor or surgeon?

There are as many kinds of editors as there are writers. From the editor who gives you feedback and lets you decide how to address it all the way to the editor who rewrites your work like a plastic surgeon.

On the extreme end is the legendary short story writer Raymond Carver and his editor Gordon Lish. Lish made such deep changes to the stories, that they are almost like a joint work.

In one story, Raymond’s original ending:

For myself, I knew I wouldn’t forget the sight of that arm emerging out of the water. Like some kind of mysterious and terrible signal, it seemed to herald the misfortune that dogged our family in the coming years.

—is transformed into the dry, ironic and Hemingway-esque:

That arm coming up and going back down in the water, it was like so long to good times and hello to bad. Because it was nothing but that all the years after Dummy drowned himself in that dark water.

I had a very fine editor who pointed out numerous plot holes and areas for improvement. Our collaboration forced me to think through various pieces and sometimes make sweeping changes. I definitely appreciated and would work with her again, although a part of me wanted the plastic surgeon approach.

Which do you prefer?