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One of the coolest things I got to do on my recent trip to Charlotte, NC was going to Christmas Tea at the Ballantyne Hotel with my college roommate Rebecca.
Had to do a quick selfie with my pretty dress and my festive flower crown on; you can’t see it here obviously, but I am also wearing a really kick ass pair of peep-toe booties from Poetic License. I’ve had them for years, but I hardly ever get the chance to wear them. The Ballantyne was holiday perfection, rich elegant seasonal pieces adorned most every surface, and the tea room, right off the lobby, was perfectly appointed yet cozy and inviting. While perusing the tea selection, we were offered celebratory class of cranberry accented champagne. I’ve been to plenty of afternoon teas of all shapes and sizes, and there has been some really great food, but this was without a doubt the best afternoon tea spread I’ve ever encountered. Everything we ate was delicious and left me wishing for just one more piece. Since there were two holiday inspired teas in addition to their usual offerings, we each selected one to try. Rebecca went with the cranberry tea, and I had the Christmas spice blend. Just to say we tried everything, we each sampled a cup of the other’s brew; the cranberry was poppy and wonderfully fruity, but it couldn’t hold a candle to spice blend. The only thing I can say to describe the spice blend was that is tasted like Christmas. It was dark, with hints of cinnamon and nutmeg with just a hint of citrus. I would drink it for the entire month of December, from now til forever if I could. I think this is how most people feel about the PSL. Oh yeah, and there was a harp player playing classics and Christmas carols. A. HARP. PLAYER. Does it get any fancier than that?
After finishing our tea, we took a leisurely stroll around the hotel to enjoy the decorations and check out the Gingerbread Lane contest they do every year. Meh on the gingerbread houses, but we decided that at least one of Rebecca’s daughters needed to get married there. Also, that she would need to start saving for that now.
Last week Andy and I went to a tea and chocolate tasting class at our favorite local tea shop All Things Tea. I’m not going to lie; I felt incredibly grown up and sophisticated going to a tasting. Seriously, I wrote it on all my calendars and told everybody I talked to, which probably counteracted some of the “grown-up” points, but I couldn’t help it. Plus, it acted as sort of a “date night”, and goodness knows Andy and I spend way too much time with take out and Netflix.
We showed up for class a little early so we got the added bonus of getting to peek at all of the different things being set up. I was very impressed that they had brought in an actual tea plant for us to look at.
The evening kicked off with a brief history of tea. We discussed types, growing conditions, processing practices, and how certain blends are put together. I knew a little bit about tea already, but it is really incredible to think about all the things that have to happen from clipping to sipping.
The blends ranged from the more familiar flavors like Scottish Breakfast Tea and went all the way to smoked and fermented teas. Some I liked more than others, but there wasn’t a single cup that I didn’t find interesting and enjoyable.
Since I’d never attended a serious tasting class before, I was absolutely delighted by how much the addition of the chocolates enhanced the different teas. We all followed the pattern of brew, sniff, sip and pair. The instructor would suggest an initial paring or two, but we were really encouraged to explore different blends and to talk about what we were tasting. Since there were only four of us, the instructor and her assistant, the ice quickly melted, and before long we were suggesting pairings to one another and coming up with funny comparisons to describe what we were experiencing. My favorite quote of the evening came from Andy (shocker) “It tastes like American cheese slices, but not in a bad way.” The funny thing was we all agreed that we understood what he was talking about.
There may have been a few mis-haps with the tasting cups, and I might have been the first one to spill something. I really thought it would have been Andy, but that honor went to yours truly.
All and all it was a great evening, and we were a little sad when it was over. I’d love to do this again when we have guests in town, and we are thinking about taking the Tea 101 class the next time it is offered.
This weekend Andy and I indulged in a tradition we started on our honeymoon, we went out for afternoon tea. Tea parties were fairly common place when I was growing up. For the longest time, my mom and I would enjoy a pot of tea together on Saturday morning before diving into whatever needed to be done. Fortunately, I found a man who enjoys scones and a proper cup of tea as much as I do and so we like to do things up right whenever the opportunity presents itself. Sadly, Tallahassee did not have a tea room until a few months ago, and I didn’t find out about it until a few weeks ago. But now I have and have to tell you, All Things Tea was every bit as wonderful as I had hoped.
We got there a bit early so we’d have a chance to poke around the shop before our tea time. I was in heaven. So many types of tea! Boxes, jars, beautiful tins; they had everything! They even had a delightful selection of tea accessories that ranged from practical to cheeky, but I digress. Now on to the important part, Afternoon Tea.
The nibbles were wonderful, and I was very impressed that they didn’t bat an eye when I requested a vegetarian menu. I was even more impressed that the food was so delicious. I would say it was even a cut above some of the “fancier” teas I’ve been to. Beverage wise, our tea was perfectly made, and our pot never ran dry. Our hostess offered us the opportunity to change up our tea flavor every time we finished our pot, but we’d gone with the Brian Edwards Winter White Earl Grey, and I was disinclined to stop drinking it. I am still kicking myself for not getting some to take home with me. All in all, it was an absolutely wonderful experience that was well worth the price. We are even planning on going back for the Sweethearts Tea they are doing next month in honor of Valentines Day.
* All About Tea also offers tea tasting classes and other tea tasting experiences. Make sure to check out their website to see what they have going on.
I’ll share the pictures of the high tea Andy and I went to on Saturday tomorrow. Today I wanted to tell you guys about something really cool that we found while we were wondering around the tea shop before hand. While there were tons of things to be seen, my gaze kept coming back to the display of bottles of Evy Tea by the register. I couldn’t figure out what they were. Yes, the packaging said “tea”, but it looked more like honey or perhaps some sort of infused wine. As we were settling up the check, I finally broke down and asked the owner. She told us they were special cold brewed tea blends, and she offered to let us try the three different flavors.
- Amber Oolong Tea with Rosemary & Orange Zest – As something to drink, I don’t think I’d want to have this particular blend again. I like Oolong just fine, and the orange zest was a nice complement to the flavor, but the rosemary, the rosemary was crazy strong. I do think this would be a great cooking liquid for savory foods. I told Andy that I thought it would be great to cook something like a pork roast in. He said he would gladly play taste tester since I don’t eat pork anymore.
- Decaf Green Tea with Fig & Pomegranate – This blend was delightfully earthy. A good strong green tea base that when paired with the fig and pomegranate resulted in a dark almost tabacco-y flavor. I think when I try this again I’d like it even better with a bit of sugar added.
- Moonlight White Tea with Apricot & Jasmine – Of the three, this was without a doubt my favorite. The base white tea was mild and allowed the delicate jasmine to shine. The apricot was strong and fruity, which was surprising because there wasn’t any sweetness in the overall flavor.
Andy and I joked that this is our version of wine tasting. We went home with a bottle each of the green tea and the white tea. We have a couple of friends who are tea enthusiasts as well, and we figured we could use them as a host or hostess gift the next time we had dinner together. Once again, just like wine 😉
As I’m sure you remember, I was a little anxious to dive into the Christmas-ing this year. So much so, that I cheated on Andy’s “not until Thanksgiving” rule and decided to tackle some of the DIYs on my Christmas Craft board. The first thing I made was this Tea Advent Calendar(full tutorial) for our cat sitter, who is an avid tea enthusiast. Here is how mine turned out.
As you can see, I went a more colorful route. The best thing about this particular craft was the price. Andy and I drink a lot of tea, and between gifts and what we buy ourselves, we always have a large variety of blends stashed in our pantry. I also have plenty of wrapping paper and cardboard in my crafting closet so the only thing that actually had to be purchased for this project was the clothes pins, bringing the total cost of this wreath to $2.50, which is pretty awesome. Since I loved the large wreath -so much so I had a little trouble letting go of it-, I am considering making a few smaller ones (12 days vs. 25) for a couple of the people in my office, as well as myself, maybe even one for Andy to take to work with him. Hopefully, the cooler weather will hold on, and things will be perfect for a steamy cuppa first thing in the morning or before bed.