Tea Tales – Tea Bath Bomb

As described in the previous blog post, I wasn’t overly impressed with the tub tea bag I tried, but would be willing to try another tea bath product in the future. That moment came on January 24, 2020 when I dropped this new bath bomb into the tub to try it out:

The bath bomb

It looked pretty cool, but take a gander at the ingredients:

Where is the TEA in there?! That’s rather…disappointing.

They do get bonus points for the funnily-worded warning on the package, though:

Just in case you were confused about the whole “external use” thing.

Despite the lack of actual TEA in there, I dropped it in the tub.

Bombs away

What is happening?

That’s kinda cool…almost pretty.

Nope, we’re back to disturbing again. It’s not looking good, folks.

And eventually we got this (that other thing in the tub is my washcloth, but it could also be an evil jellyfish:

Witch’s brew, anyone?

The charcoal powder possibly contributed to the dark color, but trust me, it did not look super tempting to climb into. However in the true spirit of trying new things, I did slither in, and found it overall pleasant smelling and made my skin feel nice.

Review:

  • Pleasant smell
  • Nice skin feel
  • Disturbing appearance
  • No actual TEA on tea-named product

So, I remain disappointed, and have yet to experience what bathing in an actual vat of tea would be like. Maybe someday that will happen, but that day is not this day.

Until next time…tea you later!

Tea Tales – Tea Time and Bath Time

While at the Celestial Seasonings tea factory, featured in our last Tea Tale, I discovered “Tub Tea,” a kind of bath bomb shaped like a tea bag. There were several varieties, but in the end I settled on one that had lavender, bergamot (my Earl Grey homage), and pink grapefruit.

The packaging was very nice, and makes you feel like you’re putting a giant tea bag in your bath to create a tub full of tea! I enjoyed the string and label attached to the bag.

After I placed the tea bag in the running water, and swished it around a bit, the water became a little bubbly and had a sweet scent, but I didn’t note any color change. The bath felt pleasant and smelled nice, but it wasn’t a life-changing experience. Still, it was well worth the fun of trying it out, and if I come across another variety of this under a different brand name, I’d definitely give it another go.

I’d give it a 6 out of 10 review score.

Until next time…tea you later!

Tea Tales – Celestial Seasonings Tea Factory

Celestial Seasonings cafe and factory.

I was in Colorado in early June visiting friends, and got to have a tea-related adventure that I’m still grinning about: touring a TEA FACTORY. I’ve often wanted to see the process of tea manufacturing and some behind-the-scenes production, but never had the chance until now. Celestial Seasonings is based in Boulder, CO and produces ALL of their tea there. They give factory tours, have a cafe, and a tea shop!

Upon arrival, we reserved our spots for the 3pm tour (dubbed the “Tension Tamer” tour after one of their tea names). We then wandered the cafe and tried some tea samples.

And I even got a chance to pretend to be the “Sleepytime Tea Bear”

We were then escorted into a theater (the movie was broken that day) and given some history about the company, tour rules, and some stylish hairnets to wear while in the factory. Some fun facts:

  1. Celestial Seasonings began in 1969, started by some teenagers who gathered herbs in the Rockies.
  2. When these “herbal infusions” weren’t selling, they re-branded and called them “herbal tea.” That did the trick and sales grew.
  3. Tea isn’t “tea” unless the tea plant (camellia sinensis) is used in the leaves. Americans, however, didn’t mind purchasing something called “tea” that was actually herbs steeped in hot water.
  4. Celestial officially coined the word “herbal tea,” and that term is still only used in the US. “Herbal infusion” is used elsewhere in the world.
  5. Celestial Seasonings’ most popular teas are (in order): Sleepytime, Chamomile, and Peppermint.
  6. They don’t use water to clean the factory since it risks getting the tea wet. They clean with air instead.
  7. Mint leaves are milled (ground up) off-site so that their smell and sticky oils don’t contaminate other ingredients in the factory.
  8. Canada is Celestial Seasonings’ largest international buyer, and buys 10% of the total tea sales. Mexico is the next largest.
  9. Boxes are printed either vertically or horizontally, with different languages (or language stickers) depending on the international customer.
  10. The factory in Boulder produces all of their tea, and can make millions of tea bags per day.
  11. Celestial Seasonings tea bags don’t have tags or string both to reduce waste, and also to make them 100% compostable.
  12. 80% of Celestial Seasonings teas are herbal (no caffeine).

We weren’t allowed to take any photography on the tour, unfortunately.

The “stylish” hairnets.

One of our favorite parts of the tour was the Mint Room. They store the mint separately from other ingredients because the smell is so strong. Walking past the huge bags of fresh ingredients in every aisle was like aroma therapy, and the Mint Room was overwhelmingly fragrant. One of the ingredients being milled the day we toured was lemon grass from Guatemala. We saw the machines that do the bagging, boxing, and wrapping, and all the details that go into delivering cups of tea to folks around the world.

The store was also pretty cool, particularly since they stocked a lot of Celestial Seasonings flavors I’d never seen before.

So much tea!

Here’s what I ended up buying.

The Tub Tea bag in front is a mix of lavender, pink grapefruit, and bergamot that you “steep” in your bathtub! That might be worth a blog post by itself when I try it out. πŸ˜‰

I found the Cinnamon Express particularly tasty, and it makes a HUGE difference in taste having the tea direct from the factory. Such freshness! Such robust flavor!

A brewed pot of Cinnamon Express when I got home.

I enjoyed the tour tremendously, and highly recommend it to anyone who is in the Boulder, CO area. I would gladly go again, and wish there were more opportunities to tour tea factories! I hope I get a chance to see another one someday.

Until next time…tea you later!

Tea Tales – Egyptian Tea

More of a “Tea Tidbit” than a Tale, but worth sharing all the same.

On June 28 I got to try “Egyptian Tea” at Nawal’s Mediterranean Eatery in Big Rapids, MI. I was told it is black tea with mint, and comes directly from Egypt. I didn’t sense any kind of exotic taste when I tried it, but hey, it comes with some very impressive tea accoutrements!

A very fancy teapot! You press down on the ring on the top of the lid to allow the tea to flow from the spout.

Tea cup.

Until next time…tea you later! πŸ™‚

Tea Tales – Japanese Tea Ceremony

On this date exactly one year ago, I experienced my first Japanese Tea Ceremony. As I’ve mentioned, I’m very interested in Japanese culture and food, and matcha in particular. When I heard that Frederik Meijer Garden in Grand Rapids, MI does regular tea ceremonies, I had to go!

I grew up in Grand Rapids, and my family has many fond memories of going to the Garden. I’ve watched it grow and develop over the years, and a Japanese Garden opened there in 2015, complete with a tea house (where the ceremony takes place).

Excited to be back at Frederik Meijer Garden!

Japanese gardens are spaces of contemplation, stillness, and beauty. The traditional components are: stone, water, and of course: plants! The garden at FMG was designed to have many winding paths, suggesting a spiritual or contemplative journey as you wander the grounds. They have a zen garden, waterfalls, and the central lake was designed to outline the Japanese character for “heart.”

View of the garden from the highest point.

We began the tea ceremony outside of the tea house at a little covered bench area, and the tea master came out to greet us and lead us into the house. We removed our shoes, and sat on a long bench mounted on the wall. The house was pretty small and, despite the fact it was 85 degrees and humid, there was no air conditioning…just some fans. I felt sorry for our hosts, dressed in full kimono. But they looked awesome.

Tea master, far left, with helpers all in kimono.

Since our tea hosts spoke little English, they had a translator give the complete narrative and translation of what was going on during the ceremony. She provided the history of the ceremony, and a very detailed description of the environment, tools, etiquette, and steps. At first I was a bit disappointed we didn’t get to actually participate in the ceremony (we just watched), but once I realized how complex it was, I was grateful to not have the added pressure of doing things “correctly.” While meant to be a peaceful time of personal reflection, focus, respectful fellowship, and embodied beauty, tea ceremony hosts and participants study for years before they master the art. I’ve heard estimates of 10 years or more! And the ceremony itself can be a four hour-long affair (although ours was not that long). Each step carries meaning as well as function, beauty as well as hospitality.

Inside the tea house, tatami mat room with tea making supplies in the corner.

The host of the tea ceremony is instructed to have a sprig of something from nature on display, something simple (not grandiose), and from the current season. A simple saying is also often displayed in calligraphy to promote stillness and contemplation.

After watching 2 of the ladies go through the process of the ceremony, with each step explained by the interpreter, we were given a chance to taste the tea (prepared by lady #3). Each person was handed a cup / bowl with a bit of matcha in it to taste. The bowls are Japanese pottery made in Shiga prefecture, Japan, which is the sister prefecture of Grand Rapids, MI. The same area also supplied the treat we would try later. “Each bowl is very special…a museum piece in its own right,” said our guide. No pressure holding something like that and trying to act graceful with it, right? She also said that it is customary to turn the “prettiest” part of the bowl with the nicest design element or coloring away from yourself and towards the other people in the room, so that you are sharing the beauty with them rather than keeping it to yourself. She mentioned this after I’d already begun drinking…

Matcha!!!

This tea was definitely not sweetened! It was really nice to try authentic tea ceremony prepared tea. And much to my delight, we were also given a treat: a small sakura-flavored mochi (made inΒ Japan!). I had been hunting everywhere to try something sakura-flavored, so I was overjoyed to try it at last, and a very authentic version at that! There was a small sakura blossom design on the top, and the mochi was nice and soft. The flavor tasted delicate, and was like a sweet perfume taste. Not easy to describe.

Sakura-flavored treat

While the treat was delicious, it was the only item we consumed other than the small amount of tea. I’ve mentioned before how I enjoy more food pairing with tea, so I was a bit disappointed to not only just be an observer, but also not get to taste or drink much during the event. The cost per person for the tea ceremony was $60, which I thought a bit steep given the fact that there was little participation and not much tasting. One could, after all, learn similar information about the tea ceremony from YouTube videos free at home, so other than the ability to ask questions, shouldn’t there be some additional incentives for having the “in-person” experience at an affordable price? Perhaps that would take the tea ceremony too much out of its native context, I’m not sure, but a bit of disappointment due to the reasons above was my main impression after the experience.

Still, I was very glad to have the opportunity to go! I can’t say I’m eagerly looking to attend another tea ceremony, though. I’m content to stick with bottomless pots of tea and 3-tiered towers of food for half the price, thanks. πŸ˜‰

Until next time…tea you later!

Tea Tales – K’Tizo Tea

On April 13, 2019, I had my fourth “introduction to tea” tasting, this time at K’Tizo tea in Wheaton with some friends. Even though I’ve had tea introductions several times, it’s interesting to see the variances between styles, instructors, the teas chosen and served, and what information the instructor decides to include. I’ve had fun comparing my different experiences to date.

This one included some basic tea history, explanation of the different types, and tea processing information. Each tea was prepared in advance and passed along to serve each person from a large thermos. The teas tasted very nice, and we were asked to guess the different flavorings in each one (a hint of fruit here? flowery taste there?).

Our hostess, Judy, was very knowledgeable, however since she was hosting back to back events, the time did feel a bit rushed and there was not as much time for asking questions or savoring the experience.

Here are the teas we tried, in order:

1. Dragonwell Green Tea

2. Dragonwell Green Tea with coconut…a nice compliment to the original flavor!

3. White Peony tea…a very delicate subtle flavor.

4. Black Pearl Oolong tea. See any pirates? One of Judy’s favorites, but I’m not a huge fan of oolong, personally.

Oolong leaves

 

5. Caramel Puerh – this one turned out to be my favorite! I got a cup to go at the end of the class. Such a rich flavor with the sweetness of the caramel – YUM!

6. Nepal Organic Black

7. Strawberry Kiwi Quench (herbal tea). The color is certainly impressive, yes?

8. African Savannah Rooibos

Each person was given a free gift of tea as well at the end of the event. IΒ may have done some bartering so I ended up with this one:

 

I always enjoy trying a variety of teas, and loved introducing my friends who came with me into the complexity and delight of the tea world. Just discovering the Caramel Puerh was a definite win! The tasting was a bargain at $10 per person ($7 if you bring 2 or more people). I also enjoyed meeting new friends at our table: Howard and Yumiko.

The atmosphere at K’Tizo is really nice with comfy chairs, a variety of seating both on the ground level and in the loft area, games and puzzles to choose from for patrons to entertain themselves with, and a large variety of food and sweets in addition to tea and coffee selections.

One comment I have in general about K’Tizo: I’ve noticed that the taste of the tea in the cafe is never as good as I’ve experienced at other tea establishments like Serene Teaz and Nuovo. Judy seems knowledgeable enough to have quality tea leaves, so perhaps it’s down to the preparation process. The staff there may not be as rigorously trained as other tea stores I’ve visited. Whatever the reason, the atmosphere there is always worth a visit, particularly when you’re in the mood for a good chat with a friend. The tea tasting samples in the intro. to tea program were also excellent quality.

Until next time…tea you later!

Tea Tales – London

Twinings, 216 Strand, London

Twinings, 216 Strand, London

With warmer weather finally upon us, I can’t help but reminisce a bit about what I was up to last year at this time. On May 19, 2018, I arrived in London for a wonderful English vacation, and hit the ground running. My first day there I saw houses belonging to Dorothy L. Sayers, G.K. Chesterton, Charles Dickens, and George MacDonald, and then planned to do something I’d wanted to do for a looong time…visit the Twinings flagship store on The Strand. I had missed this on my first trip to London in 2001, and was eager to see it and experience whatever I could. That turned out to be the “Afternoon Tea Experience,” which I had booked well in advance of my trip.

Inside the Twinings store

Inside the Twinings store

I arrived a bit early and perused the store. It looked like a tea paradise inside. Before long, the customers began to leave and the store closed, leaving me with 3 other people for an exclusive tea tasting experience. We were escorted to the back of the store and seated at a tasting bar where Martha, our Italian hostess, was getting all the food and tea prepared.

Tea hostess: Martha

Tea hostess: Martha

Over the next 2.5 hours, Martha told us about the history of tea, tea production, the history of Twinings, and lots of tea facts, statistics, ettiquette, etc. It was so much fun!

Tea place setting

My spot at the tasting.

We began with a tea cocktail (?!) and various finger foods. Rather than try and recall it all, I’ll simply insert a picture of the menu:

Twinings Menu

I was glad that I had planned on this event counting as “supper” since the food was as plentiful as the tea. We had lovely savory items to accompany our cocktail.

Savory items

The scones, clotted cream, and jam selections were perfect. Served in England, after all. πŸ˜‰

What I really enjoyed was the instruction on how to note the pairings of food and tea, and the changes in flavor these pairings produced. The most notable example was a very rich and sweet salted caramel and chocolate “pot” dessert with a bitter-tasting Assam tea. The bitterness in the tea muted the sweetness of the dessert, and the sweetness of the dessert brightened the taste of the tea. It was a great combination!

Salted caramel chocolate pot and Assam tea: a perfect combo.

And like all good tea tastings, Martha showed us the beautiful tea leaves for each tea we tried.

The final tea selection was accompanied by additional sweets and fruits.

Sweets tier

And because May 19 was the date of the royal wedding with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, the last tea was a wedding tea.

Other fun facts from the experience:

  1. During Eurovision, England uses so much electricity due to everyone making tea at the same time to watch the show, Norway has to lend the UK some extra power!
  2. The ghost of Mary Twining supposedly still inhabits the store, where she ran the business on her own from 1762-1783. Martha always greets her when she comes to work. πŸ™‚
  3. Proper tea tasting involves slurping the tea with an audible noise in order to engage your full palate and olfactory senses.
  4. Different tea harvests during the year are called “flushes.”

At the end, I agonized over which tea to purchase, but finally settled on the Orangery of Lady Grey.
It was very tasty. I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Twinings, and recommend this experience to anyone who loves tea, and is willing to pay a little extra for the pleasure of the experience.

Until next time…tea you later!