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Archive for the ‘Teacup’ Category

As you might be aware if you’ve seen any news bulletins from this part of the world lately, a small prince has appeared.

The ‘Royal bub’ (to borrow an expression from Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd) is the first child of the Earl and Countess of Strathearn (aka Wills and Kate), and good old Twinings have come up trumps with just the gift to bestow upon the happy couple: a big black box with tea inside.

Depending on your point of view, the packaging could be considered chic or funereal, but in any case it’s a fine sturdy box, excellent for putting things in after the tea’s all gone. Here are some teacups to give scale to the picture, standing by ready to do their duty for Queen and country:

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Inside the box two cylinders nestle in shredded tissue paper:

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Look lively, young tins, new mothers across the nation are gasping for a restorative cuppa.

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The top half of each cylinder slides off to reveal the tea inside, with the word ‘congratulations’ hidden underneath the join between top and bottom:

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There are three different tea types you can choose from – Yunnan, China White and Peppermint – and what I have are the China White and the Peppermint:

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I was particularly excited about the white tea with its light downy leaves:

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But when I opened the peppermint…

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I was consumed by the strong fresh scent, a most marvellously minty concoction:

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I’m not sure I want to drink it so much as sew it into a little pillow and inhale it through the night.

Given the night-time nature of the peppermint and the fact that I was toasting the infant in the morning, I plumped for making the white tea first:

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It being some hours since breakfast, I paired my tea with a buttered slice of fruit and nut-filled bran loaf diced into baby-size bites:

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The tea was a very pale yellow colour and more fragrant in the cup than the dried leaves were in the packet.

On my first sip I detected lemons in the foreground with bachelor’s buttons as a backdrop. (I refer to the wildflower, bachelor’s buttons, also known as feverfew, as opposed to small round devices for doing up a waistcoat, which I suspect would not improve the taste of this tea):

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Bachelor’s buttons – a sweetish pungent backdrop to the lemony hints in Twinings China White tea.

On further tasting, after refreshing the palate with water, I became aware of what I can only describe as a whiff of raspberries on a distant breeze. I saw in my mind’s eye a rather lovely raspberry pie, all hot and juicy straight out of the oven with a shiny top and glistening juices leaking through a little crack in the pastry.

Now, whether all of this is down to the fact that I accidentally made the tea with boiling water, which is a cardinal sin with white tea, or whether if I’d made it properly it would still have had these complex flavours, I have yet to discover. I will need to do more tastings, brewing the tea properly next time, so that I can compare notes.

In any case, I found Twinings China White tea to be a delicately full flavoured brew, and if the peppermint tastes anything like as good as it smells I’m in for a treat this evening.

Congratulations to the new parents, and welcome to the world tiny prince, may your life be long, happy, healthy and filled with excellent beverages.

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Quite a while ago I drove through the village of Muthill in Perthshire and noticed a very interesting looking establishment:

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Birdhouse Bakery: a bakery that looked to me enticingly like a tearoom.

It appeared to be a tearoom, which is always a sight that fills me with joy, but it looked as if it had been closed for a while. It was mid-winter and I assumed that this was the reason, but perhaps it had closed down for good.

Muthill is not a place I pass through very often, but ever since that first sighting it’s been at the back of my mind to have another bash at visiting the Birdhouse Bakery, in the hope of finding it open and serving the punters.

A few days ago, in the company of my two delightful assistants, that ambition was realised.

Since it was about 12:30 and the tearoom looked fairly small from outside, I was worried it was going to be packed out. Luckily, we sneaked in before the lunchtime rush.

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Delightful assistant no.2 going to look at the blackboard menu and taking in the cake display en route.

One of the things that immediately caught our attention was the wallpaper on one wall, which was chock-a-block with birdhouses and birds. We found a nice little table for three perched up against it.

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Close-up of the Birdhouse Bakery wallpaper

There was a little bird nesting on our table, too.

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After perusing the blackboard, delightful assistant no.1 and I ordered the day’s hot special: vegetarian quiche with salad,

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while delightful assistant no.2 opted for chicken and avocado salad,

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which came with some very tasty home-made soda bread.

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We all chose tea to drink, which came in a teapot with an avian chum atop it,

and some pretty teacups.

On this occasion, we decided to pass up the cake counter in order to drive on and see other places, but I have promised delightful assistant no.1 that one day soon we’ll go back just for the cakes. I must say, the scones looked very promising.

I’m delighted to have sampled this tearoom at last, and am looking forward to a return visit. My only regret is that I wasn’t able to include it in my tearoom guidebook because I think it should certainly be in there.

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When you’re trying to write something that’s proving very awkward, blogging can be a great respite.

Today I’ve been attempting to rewrite the synopsis of my first novel, which has been something of a millstone round my neck for the past couple of months. (For anyone not in the know, a synopsis is brief outline of a story.)

Depending on who you speak to, when submitting a novel for publication the synopsis should be anything between 1 and 10 pages long, but the ideal size as far as I can gather is about 2 pages.

The difficulty is that my book is 363 pages long, so in writing the synopsis I have to identify the salient points and condense them into less than 1% of the whole book. It might sound easy to write less rather than more, but unfortunately it doesn’t seem to be.

It took me 6 months to write the book, and I have a horrible feeling that it could take me the same length of time to write a synopsis I’m happy with.

Writing the actual book was a picnic compared with writing the synopsis.

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A lovely picnic courtesy of The Donkey Sanctuary (www.thedonkeysanctuary.org.uk)

Despite not being entirely happy with it, last month I sent out my synopsis to a couple of agents.

On the plus side, I received my first rejection yesterday.

Strange, you might think, to refer to this as a positive result, and prior to receiving it I’d have said the same. I was fully expecting my first rejection to make me feel miserable and dejected. I admit that it did come as a bit of a disappointment, but it also made me feel curiously buoyed up and encouraged.

It made me think about all the other authors who’ve had rejections (and from what I’ve read on the subject, that would appear to be pretty much every author who’s ever submitted a manuscript). I’ve had my novel rejected, ergo I must be a proper author.

Comparing it to receiving an OBE might be stretching things a bit, but I definitely feel as if I’ve joined the ranks of a noble and esteemed group of human beings.

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The library of my dreams: Sir Walter Scott’s study at Abbotsford. If you haven’t visited Abbotsford I can highly recommend it. It’s undergoing renovations at the moment but is due to reopen this summer. http://www.scottabbotsford.co.uk

Admittedly, I’m no closer to publication as a result of this rejection, but most of the books I’ve read were written by people who were, at some point, in the same boat.

On a completely different note, another strangely positive thing happened here today.

Several weeks ago my mum fell and tore some ligaments in her groin. Since then she’s been hobbling about in great pain, impatiently waiting for the injury to mend itself.

Last week, her doctor sent her for an x-ray and today she got the results. The x-ray clearly showed that it wasn’t just ligaments to blame for the discomfort she’d been feeling, she had in fact broken her pelvis.

She was inordinately pleased about this; her first broken bone, aged 77!

In response to her jubilant reaction, we celebrated fittingly with tea and cake.

Tea and cake to celebrate delightful assistant no.1′s first broken bone

I think I put too much lemon curd in the middle because it was determined to escape wherever possible.

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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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Being rather partial to a tearoom, I used to think I really ought to aim to open one of my own.

Then I realised that if I was providing tasty fare to the hungry customer, I wouldn’t be sitting at a table being waited on.

I had already found my tearoom niche: walk in, nosh up, walk out.

Very fortunately for me, not everyone thinks like this.

Blessed are those angels in human form who invest time, energy and money in delightful tearooms into which I can wander when in need of sustenance, and from which I can depart when replete.

Hallelujah!

If I were such an angel, and wondering how to go about becoming a successful tearoom provider, I might well turn to the English Garden Tea Room company to assist me.

I follow this company on Twitter and they recently very kindly sent me a stack of teas to taste:

I wasn’t expecting this volume or choice, and I was quite astonished when I received the boxes.

Rather fortuitously, my brother and his family came to visit at Easter and when my brother’s partner learned that I’d been sent all this tea and was feeling a bit overwhelmed about tasting it properly, she sprang into action.

She made a cup of each of the eight English Garden teas and labelled the brews with their packaging:

She then brought me, my mum and my brother (who were lounging around chatting) each tea in turn, and recorded our scores out of 10, as well as recording her own. Each tea was tasted black, to keep things on an even keel (ignoring my dear mama’s repeated comments of the ‘I’d like this if it had milk in it’ variety).

Later on, my dad and my sister appeared and also tasted the teas, marking down their scores on the little pieces of paper that had been provided for the purpose:

Before tasting I had my own ideas about which teas I’d like best; my preconceptions were overturned quite spectacularly.

The eight teas were:

Assam

Camomile

Darjeeling

Earl Grey

English Breakfast

Green

Lemon

Being an enthusiastic consumer of black teas, but rarely venturing into herbal arenas, I assumed that the black teas would be those I’d prefer. I was pretty much convinced that two of my most frequently chosen beverages – Assam and Darjeeling – would top my list of English Garden teas.

Here, however, was the order in which I liked them, with my score out of 10 in brackets:

Earl Grey (9)

Camomile (9)

Peppermint (8)

Darjeeling (7.5 – I just couldn’t decide on 7 or 8)

Green (4)

Lemon (4)

Assam (2)

English Breakfast (1)

There were many views and comments on each tea and although on some occasions other people completely disagreed with me (rather shocking, since when I taste a tea and make a pronouncement about it I assume I’m right), I was delighted to witness the passion with which each taster spouted their own opinion.

9 was the highest score given for any tea (2 scores of 9 for Camomile), and 0 the lowest (1 score of 0 each for Camomile, Earl Grey and Green).

I didn’t attempt to guess the outcome prior to tasting, but if I had I certainly wouldn’t have put any money on peppermint coming home in a blaze of glory.

This is the order in which they were rated, with a score out of 60 in brackets (6 tasters each scoring out of 10):

Peppermint (37)

Camomile (33)

Earl Grey (31)

Lemon (30)

Assam (30)

Green (27)

Darjeeling (27)

English Breakfast (25)

Tasting tea is all very well (and it is, to my mind, an excellent way to pass a Saturday afternoon), but sooner or later one needs a bit of stodge to balance out all the liquid.

What with it being Easter and all, I had baked a Simnel cake (which, for anyone not in the know, is a fruit cake traditionally decorated with marzipan and with a secret layer of marzipan in the middle of the cake; the marzipan on top is often browned under the grill or with a blow torch):

The making of Simnel cake apparently dates back to Medieval times. The cake is traditionally decorated with 11 balls of marzipan on top, symbolising each of Jesus’s 12 apostles minus the traitor, Judas Iscariot.

I’m a bit late to be wishing anyone a Happy Easter, but I hope that wherever you spent it there were tasty treats involved.

 

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Last week I received rather a lovely Easter gift, in the form of several products from the Baking Mad website.

If you like eating, baking or just looking at pictures of delicious goodies, you might like to have a quick squiz at some of their tasty treats. They have lots of Easter recipes and lovely photos of Easter baking to inspire you.

The parcel I was sent contained the following items – oven gloves, a pinny (apron) and a box of Easter picks and cupcake cases:

Many years ago I had a PVC pinny with a barn owl on it, but it seems to have vamooshed during one of my many house moves over the years, and for a long time now I’ve gone pinnyless in the kitchen.

Living in my parents’ house at the moment means that I do in fact have access to pinnies of theirs, but I’m so used to not having one that I usually get covered in flour before it occurs to me that I might have put one on.

No more though, for I now have a pinny of my own again:

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To christen my new pinny I made some scones, although I’m also looking forward to using the cupcake cases and Easter picks, which are very delightful:

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This morning I felt in the mood for fruit bran scones, but I Eastered them up with a little gilding. Here they are being taken out of the oven by my brand new oven gloves:

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Hot cross scones:

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The crosses on hot cross buns are generally made from little bits of pastry, but since I didn’t have any pastry scraps I used strips of marzipan.

The marzipan did get slightly burnt at the edges, but well fired marzipan is one of life’s little surprises – amazingly tasty.

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One of the things I like about scones is the speed at which they go from ingredients to finished product, but one day when I’m not so desperately hungry I would like to try making these hot cross buns, which look utterly superb.

When I’d finished making the scones, I hung up my oven gloves next to my mum’s ones:

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And proudly added my pinny to the pinny pegs:

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Then I put the kettle on, made a pot of popcorn tea…

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… selected a scone….

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…and settled down to write this post.

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I didn’t make the scones very sweet, so I spread on a bit of blackcurrant jam, which added a nice fruity zing:

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If you’d like to try making these for yourself and need a recipe, here’s the one I used (below).

This mix makes quite a substantial dense sort of scone, but if you want to make more traditional fluffy white scones just omit the bran and wholemeal flour and use 8 oz white flour instead. Leave out the sultanas if you don’t fancy them, or bung in some other fruit/nut/seed/ingredient that’s more to your taste. You could also leave out the egg and substitute nut or soya milk for cow’s milk.

Fruit Bran Scones

2 oz bran

5 oz self-raising white flour

1 oz self-raising wholemeal flour

1 tsp baking powder

2 oz fat (I used Bertolli spread, but you could use any margarine or butter)

-

1 oz soft brown sugar

a handful of sultanas

1 beaten egg

enough milk (I didn’t measure but something like 3 or 4 tbsps?) to make the mixture into a dampish malleable consistency

small strips of marzipan

-

Put a shelf at the top of the oven and set to high (I use 210ºC in a fan oven).

Mix together the first 5 ingredients using the rubbing in method (or an electric mixer if you prefer), but don’t rub in too much, handle lightly and stop before all the fat has disappeared into the flour.

Add the other ingredients, keeping back a little of the egg (1 tsp or so), and mix until combined.

Pat the dough out lightly (you could roll it using a rolling pin but this may stop the scones from rising as much) on a floured surface to about 1 inch thick and cut out using a scone cutter, or shape the scones into whatever shape and size you want.

Put scones onto a baking tray and brush with most of remaining beaten egg. Lay marzipan strips across scones and brush with any leftover egg.

Bake for anything between 10 minutes (wee scones) and 20 minutes (very big scones), depending on the size of the scones.

(I made 5 from this amount and cooked them for 16 minutes. If you’re not sure how long to cook them for, you can use the cake testing method of sticking a skewer in one to see if it comes out clean, or you could pick one up and see how it feels. When cooked the scones should feel light (assessing this might take a bit of practice, I just discovered this test for myself after baking quite a lot of scones with varying degress of success).)

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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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I recently received an email from a company offering to send me some free Twinings tea of my choice to review.

Looking in the kitchen tea cupboard, I observed that there were already 7 boxes of different Twinings teas lurking there, 5 black teas, 1 herbal and 1 green tea:

Taken in the context of the 115 varieties on offer from Twinings, this is a very small sample.

A quick squiz at their website suggested a few others I’d like to try, so I wrote back requesting some teas and a couple of days later a substantial box arrived.

The box contained not the handful of individual selected teabags I had been expecting, but no less than four full boxes of Twinings tea. Also enclosed was a high quality ‘with compliments’ card, adorned with a gold lion:

It felt a bit like Christmas.

Of all of the teas enclosed, the Yunnan tea was perhaps the one I was most excited to try, simply because I had no idea what to expect and it sounded intriguing.

According to the blurb on the box, “Yunnan, in South West China is well known for it’s* magically fertile land and spectacular fields of beautiful flowers. It may be no surprise then to learn that Yunnan is where tea was born over 2000 years ago, and many of the ancient tea trees are still nurtured and picked from today.”

(*A superfluous apostrophe; when I saw this mistake I was reminded of just how difficult it is to achieve perfection. When I was writing my tearoom guidebook I read and re-read the text numerous times, checking for errors. I also had two other proofreaders, and yet when it was published several mistakes were discovered. Frustrating, but part of life!)

The front of the box showed a golden land and an appealing description of the tea inside:

The tea came in teabags:
The first time I brewed this tea, I made it for myself and my two most delightful assistants. I should have taken photographs at the time but I’m afraid I was too intent on the tea consumption.

Brewing it again for myself this morning, I had a second bash at the tasting.

The instructions on the box say that you should “drink it black, or with a drop of milk”. When tasting with the delightful assistants, we all started off trying it black. The thing that struck me most about it was a smokiness that reminded me of Lapsang Souchong.

It reminded me of Lapsang Souchong again today, although the smoke was less prominent than I’ve found it to be in Lapsang Souchong. The other thing that struck me was a silkiness, which was perhaps my interpretation of the “mellow” alluded to on the packet.

When I first tasted it black I found it a little too bitter, but tasting it today I wasn’t put off by the slight bitterness.

In my mind, I was whisked off to the lounge of some quiet country house hotel. The room contained good quality, but comfortably worn, soft furnishings and a log fire producing sweet smelling wood smoke. A grandfather clock ticked soothingly in the corner, there was the gentle murmur of background chatter from other guests, and time slowed to a pleasantly relaxed pace.

I had been fully intending to add milk after the first couple of sips, but looking into my teacup I found that I had polished off the whole cupful before getting round to it.

Luckily I still had some in the teapot for another cup:

During our first tasting, both assistants declared that the flavour was improved by the addition of milk. It then improved for both of them again with the addition of sugar. I didn’t go that far myself, having tasted a sip of a sugared tea, and stuck to the addition to milk only.

Although I would have been completely happy to drink another cup black this morning, there was something nice about it milked up.

The taste became smoother, and the little bitterness present when black disappeared.

Drinking it with milk transported me to the grounds of the aforementioned country house hotel, where I sat in an elegant outdoor chair on a patio, looking out over beautiful gardens under a bright blue sky and blissful sunshine. The twittering of small birds and the buzzing of bees filled the air.

Being ever ready for a small snack, I didn’t drink the tea without a little comestible. A piece of fruit cake slipped down just as well with milky tea as it did with the unmilked version.

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What I deduce from these tea tastings is:

a) I initially enjoyed Yunnan with a splash of milk
b) On second tasting, I found I enjoyed it just as much black
c) I am utterly delighted to have been given a free box of this delightful beverage

I still have another three teas to taste, but I’ll keep them for other posts. In the meantime, I raise my teacup to you, dear bloggers, and say a hearty thank you to Twinings for introducing me to the joy of Yunnan tea.

If you’ve never tried Twinings teas, or even if you have, you might like to know about the free samples you can obtain from their website. I don’t know if this is restricted to the UK or not, but I took advantage of it myself some time ago and it led to me buying a box of tea I might not otherwise have tried.

Incidentally, I wasn’t the only one taking an interest in the tea tasting this morning:

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In a previous post about the tasty contents of my Christmas box, I missed out the fruit cake component because I hadn’t yet tried it.

I can now report that the cake has been consumed, and slipped down nicely with some Ceylon Orange Pekoe tea.

Here’s the cake as it was when whole: a round of fruit-filled cakiness decorated with a thick lid of fondant icing and a gold snowflake supporting a white star:

On cutting into it a layer of marzipan was revealed between icing and cake:

This piece of cake might look quite small, which it was, but it was also very rich:

It was stuffed with cherries, sultanas, raisins, apricots, brandy and other delicious ingredients:

As I was writing this post, I felt inspired to bake.

Initially I thought I’d make a fruit cake but, given the inordinately long time it takes to cook, I opted for the quick fix of fruit scones instead:

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