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Archive for the ‘Leaf tea’ Category

I was interviewed by a local newspaper yesterday about my “Tearoom Delights” book and one of the questions I was asked was ‘What is your favourite tearoom?’

Although I found this an extremely difficult question to answer, one particular tearoom popped straight into my head. It wasn’t, however, a local tearoom, so I gave her my second favourite instead.

I’ve written about my favourite tearoom before but I when I visited recently there was a new sign in the window:

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The sign reads: “Awarded Best Tearoom in Dumfries and Galloway 2012″

My first thought when I saw this was, ‘indeed, but why limit the area to Dumfries and Galloway?’ If I had my way I’d scrub out the “Dumfries and Galloway” bit and put “Scotland”.

My pictures might encourage you or put you off depending on your tastes, but what they can’t properly convey is the wonderful atmosphere this tearoom has, and the delightfulness of the staff, not to mention the magnificence of the food and drink.

Without further ado, this is the place I’m raving about, Kitty’s Tearoom in New Galloway:

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The last time I did a post about Kitty’s I mentioned that the proprietress was about to hang up her apron and retire after a long and very worthwhile career running this marvellous tearoom. I believe the tearoom is still up for sale, and my hope is that a suitable person will buy it and continue to run it to the same high standards (one wonders if this is possible).

Thankfully, when the delightful assistants and I visited last week, everything was still as normal: tip top and tickety boo.

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The polished wood inside Kitty’s came from an old ship at nearby Palnackie Harbour and has been very nicely incorporated into the building.

En route to Kitty’s I had been dreaming about the Fat Naan, a naan bread stuffed with curried vegetables, but when we arrived for lunch I discovered that one of the daily specials was asparagus quiche, which was extremely tempting. I’ve had Kitty’s quiche before and it was truly outstanding, but on this occasion I was all geared up for the Fat Naan, so Fat Naan it was:

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Vegetable Fat Naan

Delightful assistant no.1 went for a salad, which you might think would be a light option, but it fairly filled her up. I wasn’t surprised after seeing the size of it:

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Delightful assistant no.2 succumbed to the quiche, which I was pleased about as it meant I got to try a little. It was every bit as good as I’d imagined it’d be. If only I’d had room for two lunches.

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Drinkswise, the assistants had water and lemonade, and I had rose petal tea, which was pleasantly fragrant and served in a magnificently decorative silver teapot:

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With a beautiful hand painted teacup and saucer:

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Going to Kitty’s and not having a cake is akin to visiting Edinburgh city centre and failing to notice the castle. However, we were so full of our main courses that we needed a little stroll first, so we mentioned to the staff that this was our plan and off we tootled for a bit of exercise.

Delightful assistant no.2 was more in favour of snoozing off his first course, so delightful assistant no.1 and I left him in the car while we walked along a very quiet little road. The weather was murky with some light rain but fine for walking.

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Revived and ready for course no.2, we scooted back to Kitty’s and settled down to consider the cakes.

After considerable deliberation we made our choices. Delightful assistant no.1 went for a special of the day: Scarlett’s secret, a splendid concoction of strawberries and cream:

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Scarlett’s Secret – more of a mousse than a cake: very fruity and very creamy. This cake would have been ideal for the toothless consumer; once the confection was in the mouth nature did the rest, the thing positively melted and disappeared with no effort whatsoever.

Delightful assistant no.2 opted for Vicar’s Vice, a Victoria sponge very generously filled with whipped cream (that, I imagine, may have been what swayed it for him):

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Vicar’s Vice – an excellent choice for the clergyman and layperson alike

These two cakes were not the only temptations, there was a whole cabinet full of them, and deciding what to have wasn’t easy. I chose what could be considered an unadventurous option, but there was nothing dowdy about it – a plain scone with jam and cream:

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A scone with jam and cream – simple but superb.

Our sweet treats were washed down with leaf tea, Ceylon for delightful assistant no.2 and English Breakfast for delightful assistant no.1 and me. The English Breakfast came in a large and beautifully bulgous* silver teapot:

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The cream and jam were plentiful enough for me to ladle them on generously:

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In fact, both were so abundant that I felt compelled to layer them:

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Which led to the consumption or rather a lot of good strong tea:

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While we were sitting there in Kitty’s lovely tearoom, I made a remark about how I felt. Just before I left I thought it might be nice to put the comment into their visitors’ book. I may not have it verbatim but it was along the lines of “Every time I come here it feels like one of the best days of my life”. Quite true.

*a perfectly good word that ought to be in the dictionary as a hybrid of bulging and bulbous

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Last week I tootled off to Scotland’s peaceful south-west with the delightful assistants for a little holiday.

Purely for scientific reasons (although what they were I couldn’t say), I gave myself the challenge of having a scone in a different tearoom every day. What follows is the photographic evidence of my work.

On our way south, we stopped at Le Jardin Cafe near Kinross. There was an excellent choice of scones, and I plumped for a plain one.

The scone was delightful, but the jam was outstanding. We were brought two different jams: mixed berry and apple, and apple and plum, and both were extremely good. This is not the best photograph of a scone, but I’ve included it because there’s a little pot of jam in the background.

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Saturday at Le Jardin Cafe – a plain scone with excellent jam

The next day, settled in nicely at our holiday cottage, we went to the beautiful Logan Botanic Gardens, where we had both morning tea and luncheon in the Potting Shed Bistro.

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Sunday at Logan Botanic Gardens – a fruit scone

The following day we visited Wigtown, known as Scotland’s Book Town for all the bookshops it contains, and called in at Cafe Rendezvous for our morning snacks.

It’s very nice when your expectations are exceeded, and such was the case with my scone at Cafe Rendezvous.

The scone was not only somewhat on the small side, but looked to me as if it might be lacking any great taste sensation. How wrong I was, it was a triumph!

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Monday at Cafe Rendezvous, Wigtown – a fruit scone

Tuesday’s scone was provided by the Pilgrim Tearoom in Whithorn. There were two scone choices, I think one was plain (it might have been fruit) and the other was treacle. I chose the treacle.

When you’ve had a particularly good scone experience one day, it  does make you wonder what the next one might be like. Again, my expectations were low, and again they were exceeded. What a happy set of circumstances.

The scones were so good that we returned to the same place for lunch, and I daresay I’ll be doing a separate post about that anon.

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Tuesday at the Pilgrim Tearoom – a treacle scone

Wednesday, the middle of the week, was a red letter day. We went to one of my very favourite tearooms anywhere in the world, Kitty’s in New Galloway (a post will follow about that too, no doubt).

We went there for the first part of our lunch and, after a walk to work up our appetites between courses, returned for sweet treats.

The many exquisite cakes on offer at Kitty’s made choosing what to have very difficult, but I was lured in by the prospect of a cream scone. It was served with an excellent full-bodied English Breakfast leaf tea.

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Wednesday at Kitty’s Tearoom – a plain scone with cream and jam

Topping Kitty’s would be very difficult and indeed it didn’t happen. Thursday’s scone was taken at the Seasons Tearoom in Dunskey Gardens, where we met up with various other family members. The company on this occasion was what mattered more than the comestibles.

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Thursday at the Seasons Tearoom – a fruit scone

The joy of Friday was that we went to a tearoom we’d never been to before, Granny’s Kitchen in Newton Stewart, where there were several flavours of scone on offer.

I delighted in choosing the unusual coconut scone, one that I’ve rarely seen in tearooms. It was a top class confection.

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Friday at Granny’s Kitchen – a coconut scone

Last year when I was in Galloway, I had a truly magnificent scone at the Woodlea Tearoom in Sandhead and I had been dreaming about having another one there.

On the last day of my holiday my dream came true. Just look at the stretch on this beauty:

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Saturday at Woodlea Tearoom – a fruit scone

Thank you to all of the wonderful Galloway tearooms that provided me with opportunities to conduct my work, it was a most enjoyable task.

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A few posts ago I mentioned popcorn tea, and several blogging chums commented on this curious phenomenon.

I first came across it under this name at a tearoom in the small Scottish town of Lanark, where it appeared on their tea menu:

In my previous post if I had used its other name, Genmaicha, perhaps less puzzlement would have ensued. (Or perhaps not, I suppose it depends on your level of interest in green tea.)

I was first introduced to Genmaicha by a Japanese flatmate I had many years ago in Edinburgh. She used to buy it in a Chinese supermarket, where it came in a dull green packet marketed without fanfare as ‘green tea with roasted brown rice’.  Going food shopping with her was something of a revelation to me.

Although green teas are more readily available in the UK now than they were a few years ago, Genmaicha, or popcorn tea, is not yet a common sighting.

However, I noticed in my local supermarket the other day that green tea in general seemed to be taking over the tea aisle, thanks in large part to Twinings and their love of pairing it with just about every fruit imaginable:

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Some of the many varieties of green tea available from Twinings. My local supermarket stocks these by the truckload so someone must be drinking it all.

The popcorn tea I had in the Lanark tearoom, and which I am sipping as I write this, is produced by the rather wonderful company, Teapigs.

The ingredients are very helpfully listed on the packaging in 11 different languages, but what surprises me is that there’s no mention of pocorn, which is what I thought the little white knobbly bits in the teabag were (see photographs of teabags below).

They call their design of teabag a ‘tea temple’, and describe it as a ‘spacious, silky, transparent purse’.

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A Teapigs tea temple, containing popcorn tea

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It’s a sort of tetrahedron type shape, although that’s quite possibly not the correct term for it. In any case, it is undeniably spacious and transparent.

The reason for the spaciousness becomes apparent when boiling water is added, as all the leaves, rice and and popcorn bits puff up to fill their mesh home:

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The colour of the tea (after steeping for 4-5 minutes, which is my favoured time) is a very delicate pale yellow:

A subtle malty scent wafts from the tea when brewed and, in terms of flavour, I concur with Teapigs that it has an undertone of Sugar Puffs.

It does taste like green tea but, unlike some green teas, the honeyed nutty warmth of the toasted rice appears to counterbalance any bitterness you might expect from steeping the tea for more than a couple of minutes.

In order to concentrate fully on the flavour while writing this post, I closed my eyes while I swallowed a few mouthfuls. (Naturally enough, there was a scone involved, on this occasion maple and walnut):

Teapigs popcorn tea with a maple and walnut scone.

On feeling the tea slip down my gullet, two images sprang to mind:

1. being outside on a beautiful, calm, sunny summer’s day with the warmth of the sun on my shoulders;

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2. being cosily ensconsed indoors with a hot water bottle in the small of my back.

Delightful assistant no.1 soaking in the warmth from a hot water bottle at her back.

All in all, the sensation was soothing, warming and extremely pleasant.

Popcorn tea is not something I drink every day, but I could imagine that if I lived in a society where drinking green tea was the norm, this sort of green tea would be my preference.

As it happens, popcorn has come into my life in another guise recently, but I’ll save the details for another post.

A new way to eat popcorn – enrobed in Cadbury’s Dairy Milk chocolate.

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In my final Twinings free tea tasting review, I present the delightfully named Ceylon Orange Pekoe:

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The term ‘orange pekoe’ refers not to the flavour or colour of the tea, but to the grading of the tea leaves used.

I attempted to digest the Wikipedia article about this but it made my head hurt. If you want further information you could have a go at reading the article yourself, but the essential point would appear to be that ‘orange pekoe’ denotes a high quality large leaf tea.

It has been suggested that the ‘orange’ in the name might come from a connection with the Dutch House of Orange, who were partial to a spot of high quality tea. As for the word ‘pekoe’ there appears to be some confusion about this, but it may refer to a certain bit of the tea leaf bud.

To tea pedants this lack of certainty may appear unsatisfactory but, to my mind, orange pekoe’s enigmatic origins only add to its allure.

The Twinings Orange Pekoe I was sent contained the sort of tea I expect to find when tea shopping outside the UK: a box of individually wrapped sachets:

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I assume that the difference in packaging for tea consumed within the UK and that destined for overseas markets is related to the amount of tea drunk in a certain country. Wrapping each teabag up individually perhaps makes sense if you only use one teabag very occasionally, but I should imagine that if tea was routinely packaged like this in the UK, there would be a national outcry.

I certainly found that when I went to make a pot of Twinings Ceylon Orange Pekoe, using four teabags, I felt frustrated by the amount of effort involved in unpackaging each paper wrapper and then having to deal with the associated strings and tags that came with each one.  I ripped off the tags, but I would have been better advised to snip off the strings too because when I went to stir the teabags around in the teapot, the strings got all wrapped round the spoon and made me not a little irate.

To be fair to Twinings, they do state on their website that this orange pekoe is made for international markets, so perhaps they don’t sell much of it in the UK. The box certainly had travel aspirations, with information in more than a dozen languages.

The important thing about this tea was of course not the packaging or the name, but the taste of the stuff.

It seemed to me to be the sort of tea one might like to drink with a slice of cake (right at the moment I can’t think of any other sort of tea, but I suppose there may be such a thing), and so I made a Victoria sponge to scoff with it:

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I had a bit of an accident when pouring the icing sugar out of the packet, and since I’d dropped a load of sugary snow on one bit of the cake I thought I’d better make it look even by smothering the rest of it too:

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As I tend to expect with Ceylon, the tea was a light sort of brew, but it had a good strong colour (one might almost say orangey), and a smooth drinkable quality. The delightful assistants described the tea as ‘mellow’ and that word certainly seemed to me to fit the bill.

It was surprisingly flavourful, and we all agreed that it was the perfect partner for a sweet treat:

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To the great delight of the assistants, a bit of cream was added to mark the occasion.

N.B. The amount of cream featured in this picture is shown for example only, and is not an accurate representation of quantities consumed:

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In the second of my Twinings free tea tasting posts I would like to introduce that stalwart of British tea culture: English Breakfast.

English Breakfast is a blended tea, the contents usually being some mixture of Assam, Ceylon and Kenyan teas, and it became a popular brew in the 1800s.

Whereas our present Queen is said to favour the Earl (Grey) in her teacup, her great great grandmother, Queen Victoria, was more of an English Breakfast kind of gal. Here she is having just been offered a nice cup of tea:

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“A cup of English Breakfast? One should say so! What a jolly day this is turning into.”

Amongst my free samples, I was sent a box of Twinings English Breakfast leaf tea and a box of Twinings organic English Breakfast teabag tea:

My delightful assistants were on hand to assist me in the tasting.

I was interested to see if they could a) taste a difference between the two teas, and b) identify which was which.

I brewed the two teas in two different teapots, in great secrecy, and then presented each pot with its own set of teacups. (This was mostly in order to avoid me getting confused about which tea was in which cup):

In the green teapot corner we had one type of tea, and in the white another, but which was which?

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Both assistants tasted their teas and made comments.

Delightful assistant no.1 declared that the white corner seemed more flavourful than the green, although she added that she could discern very little difference between the two. On being asked which she preferred, she said she would be happy with either, since they seemed to her to be virtually identical.

Delightful assistant no.2 made written notes regarding his thoughts on the subject, as illustrated below. (The little shepherd fellow is a clay pen holder my brother Donald made at school many years ago.) 

When I quizzed him about his tea notes he said: “If I was having it [tea] as the liquid accompaniment to a meal, for example a spicy soup, I would like this one [the white teapot tea], but if the tea was on its own, particularly if there was a window open and a draught blowing, I would go for that one [the green teapot tea]“.

Elaborating on the open window, he explained that he considered the second tea to be an outdoorsy sort of brew. As he wrote in his notes, he found it to have “outdoor picnic overtones”, whereas the first tea was more of “an indoor tea”.

Although delightful assistant no.1 tasted virtually no difference between the teas, delightful assistant no.2 noticed a considerable difference. Delightful assistant no.1 claimed that this dulling of her taste buds was due to an affliction with catarrh, and certainly delightful assistant no.2 had no such problem, quite the reverse; I don’t think I have ever met a chap who went in for such frequent bouts of sneezing.

In terms of which tea was which, not surprisingly delightful assistant no.1 declared that she couldn’t tell the leaf tea from the organic teabag variety. Delightful assistant no.2, on the other hand, had a stab at the stuff in the green teapot (“outdoor tea”) being the leaf tea, and the stuff in the white being that of the teabag.

He was quite right.

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Since I made the tea myself, I knew which tea was in which pot, but I did notice that the leaf tea seemed to have a stronger, fuller flavour and was the more robust of the two.

Mind you, since I generally expect leaf tea to have a fuller flavour, was I predisposed to think that? On first tasting, I was more impressed by the leaf tea, but while drinking from both cups at random rather absentmindedly, it was the organic teabag tea I finished first.

This might have been due to the tea, or perhaps due to the teacup. I used a more delicate teacup for the teabag tea, and that might have had a bearing on which tea I gravitated towards. I appreciate that I have not conducted this experiment as scientifically as I should have done, but I’m happy to report that we all enjoyed both the teabag and leaf versions of Twinings English Breakfast tea.

The big question remaining is, of course, which would I serve to visiting royalty?

Well, it would depend on which royals were dropping in.

If HM Queen Elizabeth II (of England, but I of Scotland) popped in for a brew, naturally I would offer her some Earl Grey.

But if, for example, King Harald V of Norway turned up, I think I’d crack open the English Breakfast teabags. I sat a couple of rows behind him once on a flight from Aberdeen to Bergen, and he struck me as a down-to-earth, teabag-in-a-mug sort of monarch.

If they both happened to call in at the same time, and brought Prince Philip with them, I think I’d go the whole hog and get the leaf tea out too.

I have the distinct impression that the Duke of Edinburgh would appreciate a robust outdoors sort of tea, the kind you might slip into your hip flask with a tot of whisky.

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King Harald V of Norway, Prince Philip, and Queen Elizabeth delighted to inspect the range of tea options on offer at Chez Lorna.

Incidentally, anyone who read my previous post might recall that there was a rogue apostrophe on the Yunnan tea package I was sent. As far as I could tell, the organic English Breakfast tea box was in tip-top condition from a proofreading point of view, but I did notice a spelling mistake on the loose leaf English Breakfast.

Not that I’m exempt from making such mistakes myself – far from it – but in case they feel in need of assistance, I have written to Twinings to offer my services as a proofreader.

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Two days ago, hoping for a spot of sunshine, I checked the BBC weather website and discovered that the town of Callander was going to be bathed in sunshine all afternoon.

The forecast promised me a high of 5 degrees C, soaring above the 3s and 4s of further north.

Somehow I got it into my head that this equated to a fine summer’s day, and I scooped up delightful assistant no.1 and sped off towards the Trossachs*.

On the way we stopped at the splendid Gloagburn Farm Shop and Cafe for a little sustenance.

Gloagburn is home to some of the finest scones to be found anywhere on Earth (I admit I haven’t tested this terribly extensively in global terms, but all the same I feel quite confident about my assertion).

We both chose fruit scones (the delightful assistant requesting one with a ‘shiny top’), I had tea and the delightful assistant had coffee:

I could not have been more pleased with my scone’s stretch marks:

Or, indeed, the frolicsome crockery:

Refreshed and completely satisfied by our repast we tootled off Trossachswards, arriving in Callander in time for a health giving stroll before luncheon.

The sun, which had shone for a while on the journey just before Callander, had retreated behind cloud when we arrived, but nonetheless there were plenty of people out and about taking the air and enjoying riverside walks:

My glamorous assistant and I wrapped up in our woolly hats and scarves, and loped off in a westerly direction along the banks of the River Teith.

A short way along the path, a signpost indicated that if we were considering taking a dip, this would be the ideal spot in which to do it:

Despite the encouragement, there were no bathers present.

A little further on there were no pipers either:

Although most of the trees along the riverside were deciduous, and therefore bare of leaves at this time of year, there was some nice fluffy lichen to be seen:
The delightful assistant likes to say that although lacking greenery in the winter, when trees are leafless it allows you to see their beautiful shapes:
There were signs of spring in the form of a few clumps of cheerful snowdrops:
Our walk took us over a metal bridge and along a level path with snowy Ben Ledi in the background:
Given the amount of time I’ve spent in Scotland, i.e. practically my whole life, you would think I’d have a handle on the weather by now. I even had it spelled out to me in black and white by the BBC, and yet I was surprised by the fact that it wasn’t a warm, balmy summer’s day in Callander. I confess I was fooled by the robust-looking number ‘5’ on the weather chart and I allowed it to give me false hopes.

I must remind myself that unless the temperature gets into the double figures, and preferably above 20 degrees C, it is not going to feel like summer.

When we’d walked our appetites up, we returned to the town for lunch in a tearoom I’d never been to before. I’ll save the details for another post, but here’s a wee taster:
*The Trossachs is the name given to the area of countryside in which Callander nestles so prettily.

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“We have only this moment, sparkling like a star in our hand–and melting like a snowflake.”

Sir Francis Bacon

The above is Robin’s latest blogging challenge on Bringing Europe Home, and I must admit that when I read it, although I liked it, I couldn’t think of a photograph to use for it.

I left it for a few days, and when I re-read it this morning a vision of chocolate jumped straight into my head.

Chocolate lasts but a moment, and certainly melts like a snowflake as soon as I’ve popped it into my mouth, especially if combined with a slurp of hot tea:

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I can’t claim to be an expert when it comes to tea, but I do drink several pints of the stuff most days.

My first tea of the day is taken in a large mug, which holds just over a pint. I fill it as full as I can, and so each day starts off with a nice big pint of tea:

This first tea is Darjeeling, brewed from a teabag:

It has just occurred to me while writing this that taking Darjeeling in a pint mug is a bit like wearing a silk dress with steel toe-capped boots. Somewhat incongruous, for Darjeeling is a very light, almost floral, floaty sort of beverage, also known as the ‘champagne of teas’. I think it would be the tea of choice for butterflies, flower fairies and water nymphs (this may be entirely erroneous and simply a figment of my imagination, then again it may not).

There have probably been many mountainous tomes written about Darjeeling tea, because it likes to think of itself as the glamourous face of hot beverages, attracting lots of attention and high prices for the first crops of the season. Perhaps I’m subconsciously trying to keep its feet on the ground by swilling it from a pint mug, I don’t know. All I do know is that when I wake up in the morning I am desperate for a large quantity of Darjeeling tea.

I like my first cup of tea to be black, and Darjeeling is perfect without milk. Because I take it black I can brew it slightly stronger than I want it and then add cold water to it, which allows me to drink it immediately without having to wait for it to cool down. This, to my mind, is the perfect scenario: a large quantity of instantly drinkable tea at the point in the day when I’m most keenly in need of it. Tea purists would no doubt be horrified by this ritual, and if I have offended you in any way I apologise.

About an hour or so after breakfast comes stronger leaf tea with milk. At the moment I’m in the habit of mixing two leaf teas that happen to be in the cupboard, because it turns out that they make a very flavourful and delicious blend:

The one on the left is my local supermaket, Tesco’s, cheapest leaf tea. You might think that since it’s so cheap (only about 95p for the box, I think) it wouldn’t be up to much, but it has some tricks up its sleeve. It’s a blend of African and Indian black teas and is quite astonishingly good, in fact I would say it’s even better than some other more expensive leaf teas. The one on the right is also a blend of African and Indian black teas, and was purchased in the Lancashire town of Carnforth, in the famous railway station refreshment room. Carnforth was the location for the film Brief Encounter, and they’ve jumped on the bandwagon by flogging all manner of film merchandise to anyone giddy enough to part with their cash. Being prone to a bit of giddiness, this included me when it came to their specially packaged tea.

I like to take this blended tea from one of my recently purchased tea-and-cup-plates (aka tea and toast sets, thank you for that information, Marian). Sometimes I accompany it with a scone, or a slice of cake, or some chocolate, and on other days I am a good girl and have a healthy snack instead (chunks of honeydew melon and sultanas sprinkled with cinnamon, in this instance):

My regular post-luncheon cuppa is English Breakfast (oddly enough), or occasionally Traditional Afternoon, both supplied by the inestimable Twinings:

Other black teas that are currently resident and sometimes get a look-in include the beautifully packaged and very flavourful Yorkshire Tea:

The somewhat suave and gentlemanly Earl Grey:

And Cafe Direct’s tasty blend of African teas:

One tea that is not currently residing in the tea cupboard is, strangely, one of my all-time favourite black teas: Assam. For information on this tea, I would like to refer you to the magnificent Shona Patel, a fellow blogger who was brought up on an Assam tea plantation and is a wealth of information on the subject.

If I’m not awake and drinking tea, then I like to be asleep. I’m a big fan of bedtime and look forward every night to getting into my jim-jams preparatory to falling into bed nice and early and allowing myself a decent long snooze.

In order to make the most of this,  after about 14:00 I switch to decaffeinated tea. I’ve tasted many woebegone tasteless decaf teas, but thankfully I have found two brands that do at least have a bit of oomph about them. My current favourite is Twinings Everyday Decaffeinated:

I drink this as I would most other black teas, brewed nice and strong, taken with a little cold milk and no sugar. If I fancy something a little lighter, or slightly different, in the evening there are several other decaffeinated teas I often turn to. One of these is Redbush, a beautiful red coloured tea from South Africa:

If I’m in the business of consuming a considerable quantity of chocolate (a not unusual occurrence)  there is a tea that I think is the perfect accompaniment. It’s called Kukicha and is made from roasted Japanese twigs. It’s taken black and has a sort of smoky, earthy flavour that I think is truly wonderful:

When it comes to tea on a worldwide scale, I feel I am dreadfully ignorant. I know very little about Far Eastern teas and one of these days I would like to visit Japan and attend a tea ceremony.

What I do know about tea is probably what most other Brits know. Tea is a big part of life in Blighty and, as far as I’m aware, I have only ever physically met two people who didn’t like tea. One of them didn’t like any hot beverages, and I can’t remember anything about the other one, I just remember mentally chalking up a second non-tea-drinker on my radar.

I’m not sure how widely travelled the concept of ‘Builder’s Tea’ is, but I believe it’s a British expression. It refers to strong tea with milk and lots of sugar in it, the sort that builders apparently prefer (along with a big plate of chocolate biscuits, cakes, scones, sandwiches and pies, if they can get them). I didn’t know, until yesterday, that it existed as a brand. I might not have noticed it at all, were it not for the fact that it wolf-whistled at me from the shelf:

It claims to be ‘tested and approved by real builders’ and, according to the side of the pack, the tea people are ‘proud to work in partnership with the Federation of Master Builders’. I almost bought a pack but then I put it back, remembeing that there simply isn’t any room in the tea cupboard.

There are many other excellent teas I haven’t mentioned here, some of which I only have occasionally and keep for tearoom consumption, such as Oolong and Russian Caravan, but since tea is such a massive subject any post I do will barely scratch the surface.

This afternoon, in an attempt to soothe my burning throat (all sympathy welcome, I appear to have caught a cold), I tried a sort of hot toddy tea, using this Yogic concoction:

I thought the spiciness might be good for throat pain, and to give it a bit more welly* I added some honey and a splash of whisky. The whisky was, for any interested parties, a 10 year old Macallan fine oak triple cask matured single malt. Adding this to a cup of tea might seem a disgraceful way to treat such a prestigious beverage, but it was the only whisky I had to hand, and I must say it produced a most satisfying throat soothing medicine.

*according to the Wiktionary this expression means to add fuel or power to an engine, but it’s generally used as a slang term in the UK to mean adding some ‘oomph’ to something

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Inspired by Jennifer Thomson’s card in my last post, I whisked my delightful assistant down to Glasgow a couple of days ago, to take tea in the famous Willow Tearooms.

Designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, the Willow Tearooms opened for business, at 217 Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow, in October 1903.

The name ‘Sauchiehall’ is derived from two Scots words: ‘saugh’ being a willow tree and ‘haugh’ meaning meadow, so presumably at some point in the distant past Sauchiehall Street was a willow meadow. It doesn’t look much like a willow meadow these days:

No willows to be seen

The Willow Tearooms consisted of two areas: the tea gallery and the Room de Luxe. We were seated in the gallery, which had a spacious, airy feel to it, overlooking the jewellery and gift shop below:

By the time we reached the tearoom it was after 2.30pm and we hadn’t had any lunch. We had, I’m relieved to say, had large and exquisite scones earlier in the day, but by this time I was ready for a good scoff of some tasty treats.

Afternoon tea, despite the name, was being served all day and we both decided it was just the thing for us.

For anyone unfamiliar with the concept, a traditional afternoon tea generally consists of small sandwiches, small scones, small biscuits and small cakes served on a tiered stand. There can be any combination of these delicacies, and this was what we got at the Willow Tearooms:

On the ground floor, so to speak, were the sandwiches. We were each supplied with 4 of these dainty little nibbles. I asked for a vegetarian selection and my favourite sandwich consisted of strong cheddar cheese with tomato on soft seeded brown bread:

Being ravenous at the time, I fairly wolfed my sandwiches, washed down with a truly superb pot of tea. There was an excellent selection of teas to choose from and we both had the Willow Tea Room special, a lovely blend of Ceylon and Assam teas. It was a beautiful dark golden colour and had a wonderfully rich, full flavour.

Back at the tiered stand, the first floor provided scones with jam and cream, but it was what was on the top floor that took my attention after the sandwiches.

When we had initially placed our order, we had been asked to each pick a cake of our choice from the chiller cabinet:

I was quite tempted by a pecan covered item, but I thought it might be a bit too solid after the sandwiches:

After some deliberation, I opted for meringues sandwiched together with cream while my lovely assistant chose an individual lemon meringue pie. Two little pieces of shortbread accompanied the cakes:

I got into a right old mess with my meringue:

But fortunately I had been thoughtfully provided with an attractive Art Deco napkin:

After the meringue I really had no interest in my scone. I took a nibble of it but I’m afraid I’d been spoiled with a superior scone earlier in the day, so I left it at that and instead slooshed down another cup of marvellous tea.

On the way back to the car (driving in the centre of Glasgow and trying to find somewhere to park is much like attempting this madness in any other city) we walked down the very busy Buchanan Street.

I was born and brought up in the city of Edinburgh, but having lived out of a city for some years now I found being back amongst thronging crowds a little overwhelming. I was surprised by the number of people walking around the city centre on a Thursday afternoon in March:

Buchanan Street has some interesting architecture, and the entrance to the Princes Square shopping mall is particularly eye-catching. This 19th Century building has been covered with flowing decorative metalwork, which includes a quite spectacular peacock with his tail feathers fanned out, elegantly surveying the street below from his lofty perch:

Near the car park I saw these two fellows, somewhat burdened by a terrific weight on their shoulders. I don’t know what the building is but walking past it made my neck ache:

Before going to the Willow Tearooms my delightful assistant and I had enjoyed a stroll around Glasgow Botanic Gardens. After seeing those poor chaps above I feel the need of something restful to end this post with, so here are a few snaps from the Botanics. I was especially interested in this notice:

The botanic gardens were free to get into and, quite unusually, there was no charge for the glasshouses either. My lovely assistant was very taken with this flower, from the Shrimp Plant, which does indeed bear some resemblance to a shrimp:

There was a pond in the glasshouse that had some fish in it:

I liked the little succulents floating on top of the pond. They looked so perky and healthy:

As did this beautiful vibrant pink plant:

So that was our jaunt to Glasgow, a mixture of plants, crowds, interesting buildings, tea and tasty morsels.

When I lived in Edinburgh I enjoyed the bustle, the wide variety of human life swarming the streets, the noise, the buzz and the excitement. These days, although I quite like visiting cities, I always feel a huge surge of relief to escape back into the countryside.

Thank you Glasgow, for an interesting visit, but hello beautiful Perthshire, I’m glad to be back:

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Following on from my previous post, after our bracing coastal walk, we wound our way back through the village of Pittenweem to get to the chocolaterie cafe for sweet treats.

There are several narrow streets running uphill from the harbour to the centre of the village, and I liked the look of Cove Wynd* and the lure of St Fillan’s Cave. The name ‘Pittenweem’ means ‘The Place of the Caves’, and St Fillan lived here in the 8th Century.

St Fillan had a very handy gift that must have made him a popular choice of companion for night-time jaunts. Apparently he could make his left arm give off a luminous glow, which he used for reading and writing sacred scriptures in the dark.

Near the harbour in Pittenweem

As soon as I turned into the narrow Cove Wynd I spied the cave further up the hill:

Narrow streets in Pittenweem

The cave goes down into the rock behind a locked metal gate. I managed to peer through the gate to get a look at the cave entrance:

Deep into the ground goes St Fillan

There was a notice saying the gate key could be obtained from the cafe we’d had lunch at, so one day soon I must go back, ask for the key and have a look inside. On this occasion, however, I contented myself with admiring it from the outside. There was a mosaic made of stones stuck onto the side of the little porch at the cave’s entrance:

Lovely sandstone cave on a steep street in Pittenweem

And I made friends with the cheerful sentry standing guard outside the cave, who smiled nicely for the camera:

Sentry at St Fillan's Cave

At the top of the wynd was St Fillan’s Parish Church. It was originally built in the 12th Century, although most of what remains today dates back only to the 16th Century.  The church is connected to the Tolbooth Tower which once housed the council chambers. Witches were kept here awaiting trial, the last trial having been held in 1704.

16th Century buildings in Pittenweem

I believe the location of the pillar on the wall marks the separation between the tolbooth on the left and the church on the right. I liked the old door and window of the tolbooth:

Old door, window and pillar

I also liked the beautiful round stained glass window further up the building, which glinted prettily in the sunlight. This photo doesn’t do it justice, but it really was very shiny and sparkly:

Pittenweem parish church

After admiring all these architectural wonders it was time to go back to the cafe and indulge in some delights.

With some difficulty this is what we chose. Beautiful assitant no.1 had the speciality chocolate cake and a chai latte. I tasted both and they were excellent. The chai latte was perfect and the cake was very chocolatey and surprisingly light:

rich cocoa filled dessert in Pittenweem

Lovely assistant no.2 went for warm ginger sponge cake with fresh cream and a mug of Belgian white hot chocolate:

ginger dessert in Pittenweem

And, after much deliberation, I chose Oolong tea with a mini bar of dark chocolate. The teacup was very pretty, as was the little bar of chocolate:

The chocolate chunks were so small that I couldn’t resist popping some on my teaspoon and dunking them in my tea. They held their shape and didn’t seem to be melting but when I sooked them off the spoon they just disappeared.

When I was paying at the till in the chocolate shop, I enjoyed looking at some of the chocolates on display and bought some Belgian seashells to take away.

I can’t resist one more picture of my pretty teacup and chocolate bar. It really was a very nice bar of chocolate, very dark, smooth and tangy. Next time I’d like to try one of their dark hot chocolates, but this time I was very glad I’d had the Oolong tea in such beautiful china.

*‘wynd’ is a Scottish word describing an open passageway between buildings. As stated on Wikipedia: “In many places wynds link streets at different heights and thus are mostly thought of as being ways up or down hills. It is possible the term derives from lanes winding their way up hills to provide easier passage, but wynds can be dead straight.”

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