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Posts Tagged ‘teabag’

One day last week the weather forecast showed the whole of Scotland under cloud apart from one little triangle in the Aberdeenshire/Banffshire area on the east coast.

Chasing forecasts often proves a futile business in this country, but as it happens on this occasion the forecasters got it bang on.

Delightful assistant no.1 and I hopped into the motor and sped off in the right direction, stopping en route at the splendid Balmakewan, where we partook of light refreshments.

A flat white with coffee and walnut cake for my delightful assistant:

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Imagine sinking your teeth into an extremely light, soft and delicious coffee sponge cake with unbelievably fluffy icing that melts as soon as it hits the tongue, and you’re part of the way to having the Balmakewan coffee walnut cake experience.

I had a very hard time choosing what to have, as Balmakewan always has a painfully extensive selection of delectable goodies on offer, but in the end I plumped for this coconut affair with blueberries and raspberries through it, accompanied by a first class decaf flat white:

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We decided to share these two items and while the coconut cakey thing was certainly very palatable, we agreed that the coffee walnut cake was outstandingly good.  I’m sure I’ve never had fluffier butter icing in any cake.

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A delicious duo with first class flat whites to wash them down with.

We left Balmakewan feeling that our day had got off to an excellent start. The weather was not particularly good but we had high hopes for our destination.

Around about lunchtime we reached the twin towns of Banff and Macduff, which lie on the Moray coast, and headed for Duff House.

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Duff House is a rather magnificent Georgian building designed by William Adam in the 1730s:

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Today it’s used by the National Galleries of Scotland to house some of their artworks, with the building being maintained by Historic Scotland and Aberdeenshire Council, but it was originally built by a chap called William Duff (aka Lord Braco, later 1st Earl of Fife).

William Duff had a large family, and even though the side wings Adam designed were never built, I expect the 50 rooms they ended up with were quite sufficient.

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Room for a small one?

I thought the building had many lovely features, but the curving staircases at the front were a particular favourite:

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Due to a broken pelvis that continues to heal slowly, going round the inside of the house with all its floors and stairs wasn’t really possible for my delightful assistant, but there was one area of the building she was very capabale of reaching.

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A sign to gladden the heart – tasty morsels this way!

Inside, the tearoom had the same sort of feel I’ve noticed in other National Gallery tearooms, being light, airy and tastefully decorated. The history of Duff House was written up on the wall in a timeline with photographs, which made for interesting reading.

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The menu was not extensive, nor did it cater particularly well for vegetarians, but there were various sandwiches to be had and I opted for egg while my delightful assistant went for tuna. I’m pleased to say that the sandwich far exceeded my expectations, being freshly made on very tasty brown bread and served with a delightful little carrot salad.

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One very nice surprise was that there was ‘proper’ tea, by way of leaf tea popped into long teabags of the sort that appear to be getting more popular in Scotland’s tearooms.

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We ordered a pot of Assam and a pot of Darjeeling and they were both tip-top. I often find I’m squeezing out the last cup from a teapot when I take tea, but in this case I had to leave some as there was so much to begin with (I managed three cupfuls):

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I don’t take sugar, but I liked the way it was served at Duff House, in a little kilner jar with lid (no flies landing on these lumps) and tongs on the side (hygenically encouraging people not to dive in with their dirty great mitts):

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The facilities at Duff House were another fine feature of the building, being nicely tiled in green and white with pull chain cisterns above the loos:

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After lunch we waved goodbye to Duff House and made our way along the coast to have a look at the two little villages of Gardenstown and Crovie, but I’ll save those for another post.

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As you may be aware, a British royal baby is due to see the light of day in the middle of July this year, first child of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

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The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge playing at being Canadian Rangers.

Coincidentally, Twinings have brought out a bit of inspiration for anyone wondering how to toast the new infant, in the form of three new caddies featuring their Earl Grey, English Breakfast and Peppermint teabags.

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Rather splendidly I’ve received one of each of these delightful caddies, along with a Twinings pinny. The pinny pocket can, at a squeeze, accommodate all three caddies.

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You may already know the origins and rituals of afternoon tea, but if you’d like a little education or instruction, Twinings have helpfully devoted a page to the subject, entitled English Afternoon Tea, on their website.

I don’t know what time of day the average aristocrat gets up in the morning these days, but I suspect that in the Victorian era they liked a lie-in. I deduce this from the fact that they took their dinner rather late in the evening, which was what prompted Anne, the 7th Duchess of Bedford to popularise the business of taking afternoon tea.

The Duchess was Queen Victoria’s personal assistant, and I daresay that meant she had to eat her main meals at times dictated by the monarch. However, she found the stretch between lunch and dinner too long to bear without sustenance, and so she came up with the idea of taking tea and a few snacks mid-afternoon to keep the wolf from the door.

I can understand the Duchess’s problem, for I myself begin to get hunger pangs at the traditional afternoon tea stage (between 4pm and 6pm). However, I deal with this by eating my evening meal shortly after 5pm, and getting tucked up in bed nice and early, around the time the Duchess would have been sitting down to her evening repast. Due to dining so early, I don’t often indulge in the tradition that is afternoon tea, but I have a cunning solution that makes sure I don’t miss out, viz. every now and then I take afternoon tea in place of luncheon.

What with getting these lovely tea caddies, and the sun blazing from a blue sky on Saturday, the delightful assistants and I plumped for an afternoon tea picnic in the garden.

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We drank our fill of Twinings English Breakfast tea and, not for the first time, it occurred to me that this tea is misnamed. English Breakfast seems to me to be much more an afternoon type beverage than a morning one, and it certainly slipped down a treat with our teatime fare.

It was the perfect opportunity to make use of my tea and toast sets (or, as I like to call them, teacuplates), saucers that merge into plates, providing an ideal afternoon-tea-size treat area.

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There are certain things one ought to produce for an afternoon tea, namely tea, dainty crustless sandwiches (I saved the crusts to make breadcrumbs), small scones and nibbles of cake. (Twinings have more afternoon tea ideas on their website.)

Here we have some finger sandwiches made from soya and linseed bread with spinach and roasted ‘chicken’ (actually meat-free Quorn):

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Fluffy white bread sandwiches with sliced Quorn cocktail sausages, and cheese scones:

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I enjoyed making butter curls for the scones with a clever little metal gadget.

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The cheese scones were available in two sizes – small:

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and tiny:

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My dad perched a blueberry on one half of his tiny scone to give an idea of scale (the cutter I used has a diameter of 3cm):

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The reason I made savoury, rather than sweet, scones was because afternoon tea tends to veer towards the sweet and I often find myself craving a bit more savoury to balance all the cakes out.

On the topic of cakes, we had mini raspberry buns (a vanilla cake mix with a blob of raspberry jam in the middle of the bun), topped with whipped cream and a raspberry:

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On a few of the buns the jam was visible from the outside, owing to me being somewhat heavy handed with the jam.

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There were also chocolate fruit and nut clusters (melted Cadbury’s Dairy Milk with as many currants and chopped nuts as I could squash into a petit fours case),

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small slices of Border tart (a rich fruit tart in a pastry-type base, which I discovered is very difficult to cut into thin slices), and my mum’s excellent seed and peel cake.

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I can’t remember how old I was when I first developed a taste for tea and small treats, but I feel fairly certain that this somewhat disgruntled photograph was taken when I had been put into my pram for a sleep while my parents were sitting down to afternoon tea without me:

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And this one was taken on a far happier occasion, when I was informed that I was to join them in their tea taking:

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I hope that the new royal baby will have many happy years ahead of him/her devouring a wide variety of afternoon tea treats, and that he/she will become an excellent ambassador for the institution that is a good British* afternoon tea.

*Great British traditions such as taking afternoon tea, obsessing about the weather, apologising when someone bumps into you in the street and supporting the underdog at Wimbledon are some of the things that might just tip the balance against Scotland becoming an independent country next year. I like being Scottish but equally I like being British and I don’t relish having to choose between the two.

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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 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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Today is the second of Annie’s Virtual Vegan Potlucks, in which a whole host of vegan and vegan-friendly bloggers unite in a big festival of meat- and dairy-free noshing around the globe.

Participants chose a category from a list of menu items (breads, mains, desserts, beverages, etc.), decided on what they wanted to bring to the virtual table, and were then placed in a list organised by Annie (for the full list of participants, please see here).

Each blogger taking part will post their own contribution today, adding a link to the blog before and after them on Annie’s list, creating a chain of vegan blogs that you can, if you wish, work your way through in a massive banquet of vegan delights.

Last time we did this, I opted for the beverages category so that I could write about tea. This time I’ve opted for the beverages category so that I can write about tea.

If you happen to live in the northern hemisphere you will perhaps have noticed a chilly change in the weather of late. In light of this, I’ve chosen to bring a lovely warming chai to the potluck (equally tasty south of the equator, I’m quite sure):

20 years ago I popped off to live and work in Pakistan, thinking I might stay there for about 3 months. Unwilling to leave a country that dished up such excellent tea, I gave up on coming home so soon and stayed on for another year to get in a decent amount of tea drinking.

During my time there I drank a lot of chai. It was consistently hot, spicy, usually sweet, and virtually always delicious.

I can only recall one less than satisfactory chai experience. I was visiting someone, I forget now who or where it was (there was a lot of visiting and tea taking going on), and was given a welcoming cup of sweet chai to sup on. My host, as he was pouring out the chai, unwittingly dropped some of his cigarette ash into the cup. Out of politeness, I consumed both the tea and the ash.

Speaking as one who has tried it both ways, I would strongly recommend drinking chai without the addition of cigarette ash.

I have often tried to recreate at home the taste of the lovely ashless Pakistani chai that I drank so much of back then, but I’ve never succeeded in getting it to taste as good.

Clipper’s chai isn’t quite like the stuff I remember from those days but it is a very quick and easy way to get that spicy, warming, delicious tea taste, and the combination of spices Clipper have come up with is far better than any concoction I’ve managed to mix up for myself. One of the slightly unusual ingredients in the tea is lemon peel, which I think is what sets it apart from other chai teas I’ve tried. The lemon is not overpowering but it adds a little citrusy zing to the spiciness, which I think works very well.

In order to bring joy to your life once you have a packet of this stuff, you’ll need some boiling water, and possibly some sort of milk and sweetener, if you like it that way (although it’s also jolly nice black, in my opinion).

It is highly acceptable served straight into a mug, or from a teapot with pretty china and a few chums to share the pleasure with.

At first glance (or indeed, after a prolonged stare), turning up to the potluck bearing nothing but a box of teabags might seem like a bit of a cop-out. I can’t deny that, I admit that it shows a distinct lack of culinary effort on my part, but on the up side if I’m let loose near a kettle I can promise you a perfectly brewed pot of tea.

As any regular tea drinker will know, there are a few key elements to making a nice cup of tea, and chief amongst these (at least for black tea) is boiling water .

I’m sorry to report that occasionally in a tearoom I have been brought a pot of hot water with a cup and teabag on the side. This has been both painful and distressing, very much like standing on an upturned plug or stubbing a toe.

In a tearoom, even if the water is boiling when it goes into the pot, it certainly won’t be boiling by the time it reaches the customer. Sitting alone in the pot, its bubbly loveliness is wasted on the inside of the pot instead of usefully infusing the tea.

Pouring hot – but not boiling – water onto a teabag is the sort of experience one should restrict to those occasions when one is marooned at the top of Mount Everest.

Following their successful ascent of Mount Everst in 1953, Tensing Norgay and Edmund Hillary take tea out of tin mugs (I bet it tasted pretty good, too).

Up at 29,000 feet, due to a decrease in pressure that results in the water boiling at a lower temperature, a warm slooshy tea-like concotion is the best the weary climber can hope for. (I have this on good authority, although I can’t claim to have tested it out for myself; it’s regrettable, but being in possession of this information has put me right off climbing Everest). Down nearer sea level there are no such excuses for shoddy tea preparation.

Here are my top tips for making a lovely pot of Clipper chai:

1. Get some Clipper chai tea, a teapot and however many teacups you require.

2. Put plenty of freshly drawn cold water into a kettle and put it on to boil.

3. Just before the water boils, pour a decent splash of nearly boiling water into the teapot to warm it.

4. Slosh the water around the teapot while the kettle comes to the boil, and then discard the teapot water and bung in as many teabags as you think you’ll need (one per person, is my advice).

5. When the kettle boils, immediately pour the water into the warmed teapot onto the teabags and give the whole lot a stir with a spoon (and perhaps a squidge of the bags, if you feel like it).

6. Pop a teacosy onto the teapot (such as this delightful creation by veteran teacosy maker, Laine Williams:

7. Wait patiently for around 3 minutes and then pour the tea into cups (personally, I wouldn’t warm the cups because my feeling is that the tea has already done all its infusing, and now I just want it to be cool enough to drink as soon as possible).

If you want to add milk, you might like to glug a slosh of soy or alternative milk (I have tried it with oat milk, which was quite nice, but I wonder if almond might be preferable) into the cup prior to adding the tea. Alternatively, you may prefer to add the milk afterwards, but in any case I don’t think you need to worry about the china breaking with the hot tea (which is, apparently, one of the reasons for adding the milk first) since the tea will have cooled down a little since you added the water to the pot. If you’re nervous about adding too much milk, I would advise adding it after you’ve poured the tea, and just a little at a time so that you can taste it and find the quantity you prefer.

Sweetener is another matter of personal taste. The chai I had in Pakistan was generally very sweet, and I enjoyed it greatly at the time, but when I make Clipper chai I don’t add any sweetener because I’ve developed a taste for it ‘plain’, so to speak.

If you fancy trying this tea but can’t find Clipper chai at an outlet near you, it is available online from a number of websites, including the Clipper site, here.

Bottoms up!

image courtesy of thethreetomatoes.com

To visit the blog on the list before mine, Don’t Switch Off The Light, please click on the image below:

To visit the blog after mine, Veganosaurus (which, as it happens, contains a chai recipe), please click on this image:

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If you haven’t seen my Teacups Press blog post, you might not know this yet but my book, “Tearoom Delights: a little guide to delightful tearooms of Perthshire, Angus and Dundee” is now available!

I picked it up in boxes two days ago from the printer. I’m pleased with it, and happy that it’s come to fruition as I’d hoped. Now I just have to try and shift all these copies…

For the meantime, it’s only available on ebay, or from me directly (by emailing me, Lorna, at teacups@sent.com). Unfortunately I can’t process credit cards at the moment and so the payment options buying from me are cheque (sterling), cash, postal order or bank transfer. You can use a credit card via an ebay account.

Very soon the book will hopefully be available in local bookshops, tourist information offices and tearooms.

A lot of things make me think of my grandparents, and doing this book is one of them. This rather yellowing picture is of me with my grandad, as a tot at the seaside:

I often think of my grandparents, and this grandad in particular because he’s the one I remember best. When I’m feeling stressed by modern day life, and computer challenges in particular, I take some sort of comfort from thinking how much more baffling it would be for my grandad, if he were alive today. He would be astonished by blogging and the internet in general because he died before it all took off, and I sometimes wonder if life was simpler and easier in his day, although I wouldn’t want to give up all the comforts and conveniences of life in 2012. I suppose every generation has its good and bad points, and there is much to be thankful for in this day and age.

Back to the book, something I wish I could show to my grandparents, but am very grateful to be able to share with my parents. For as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to dedicate a book to them, and now that I’ve been able to do that, I feel very satisfied.

It’s not easy to market your own work, perhaps especially for most Brits who are brought up to believe that blowing one’s own trumpet is to be discouraged. There are other cultures that are more comfortable with the idea of personal success and achievement, but it’s part of the British psyche to downplay things and be self-deprecating. (I have been told that this is a charming aspect of the British character, although I could imagine that some people might find it intensely infuriating, exasperating and possibly quite ridiculous.)

Luckily for me, fellow blogger and Tearoom Delights customer, Christine, has done a lovely post about my book on her blog, Writing from Scotland, and I would like to direct you there for an independent review. The teabag mentioned on her blog varies, incidentally, and if you have a special preference I can offer the following choices:

Earl Grey

Lady Grey

English Breakfast

Ceylon

Assam

I hope that no-one receiving a book now is going to be disappointed by the teabag I chose for them, but if you are, please let me know and I will gladly send an alternative.

Here are a few more pictures of the book. This, as you may have gathered, is the front cover:

And this is the back:

This is a wee sketch on page 25:

If you’re thinking that £7, plus postage and packing, is a lot to be spending on a small book about tearooms you might never even visit, you could be right. However, if it helps you to make your decision about whether or not to splash out on a copy, here’s a bit of extra information. £7 will get you:

  • 104 black & white pages with 49 illustrated line drawings/lettering
  • 6 full colour photos on the inside and outside covers
  • a coloured fold-out map on the inside back cover with tearoom locations
  • 23 tearoom reviews with a useful information section for each one
  • a page on local history by my dad
  • a few pages of witterings from me by way of an introduction

If you order it direct from me, you also get a teabag (woohoo!). That’s it really, I hope it’s worth £7 to the kind people who’ve purchased it so far, and to anyone else who parts with their hard earned spondoolicks in the future.

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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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It used to be that even if everything else was closed, you could always get into a church. I tried to get into three different churches on Thursday and was spectacularly unsuccessful in my endeavours.

These days, it seems, you have to save up all your church-going for a Sunday, which could make it a jolly busy, not to say organisationally complex, day. I’m not sure how early churches open their doors on a Sunday, but I don’t imagine it’s much before the start of the service, and once you’re in there and other people start arriving, it could be rather awkward to get up and leave in order to get to the next one before its service starts. The courteous thing would be to sit through an entire service in each church, but since they tend to have their services around the same time it could be extremely difficult to visit three in one day.

I can get into my local Buddhist temple any time I like, 7 days a week. Come on Christians, rally round and let the heathens in!

Anyway, before I knew I was going to be stumped at every turn, I set out with a happy heart and my delightful assistant by my side, for one of my favourite local tearooms. I was going to need energy for all this church visiting and how better to stoke up the boiler than with a big pot of leaf tea and an exemplary fruit scone.

Crisp on the outside:

Soft and fluffy on the inside:

Quite superb. And so, very satisfyingly fuelled up, off we popped to church number 1.

Our first church of the day was Trinity Gask Parish Church, “a simple rectangular structure dating from around 1770″ (quote from the website you find if you click on the church name). There was a nice stained glass window at one end of the building and I tried peering in the windows along the sides but I couldn’t see it from that angle. It did seem to have some fine old wooden church pews, but it was too dark for me to take a photo of them.

Nice yew tree, very menacing in the dark if you happened to be creeping amongst the gravestones on a stormy night. (Branch cracks, owl hoots, muscles tense, heart rate quickens….is there someone behind you?)

Having failed to get into church number 1, we had a bash at church number 2, which seemed a much more likely candidate. This was St Serf’s Parish Church at Dunning. It dates back to the 13th Century and is looked after by Historic Scotland, who apparently open it to visitors during the week in the summer months.

St Serf’s is home to the Dupplin Cross, a piece of carved stonework from 800 AD and one of only a few surviving complete free-standing early Medieval crosses in Scotland. I would like to take a peep at it some time, but on this occasion I had to make do with a view of the outside of the church. Workmen warned us that the building was unsafe and so we weren’t to go in, even though the door was invitingly open.

Church number 3 was, I think, my favourite (it’s got crow-stepped gabling).

Here we have Tullibardine Chapel, another one under the care of Historic Scotland, only I’m not sure you can ever get into this one. I have a feeling I visited years ago and just walked straight in on a week day, but I may be imagining things. Tullibardine Chapel dates from 1446, when it was built by the family who inhabited Tullibardine Castle a couple of miles away, but sadly the castle is no longer in existence.

The windows were very small, but the stonework was beautiful.

There were a number of gravestones dotted about around the chapel, some of which were lying on the ground and being cosied up to by moss:

There were some delightful carvings too:

Having failed dismally to get inside three churches, it was high time for a spot of luncheon. Off we tootled to nearby Auchterarder and, instead of a tearoom, went to a restaurant.

We ordered salads, which I’m sorry to say were a bit woebegone, but the tea was excellent. There was a whole tea menu which included some interesting green teas and I plumped for one called Sencha, described in the menu thus: “steamed green tea steeps a pale and delicate liquor with just a hint of dew covered meadows and roasted chestnuts” I think it was the dew covered meadows that reeled me in.

It was nicely presented on a wooden tray containing the teapot, a teacup and a little dish for the teabag, which also had the teabag’s empty packaging on it. Note the leaf sticking out of a hole in the teapot lid:

The teabag itself was pyramidal and was attached to a small cardboard leaf on a wire.

After lunch I did wonder about trying another church nearby, but decided I’d had enough of organised religion for one day.

My dad has come up with a brilliant idea. All these churches are sitting idle 6 days a week, not allowing anyone in to see their glorious interiors and only raking in the shekels on a Sunday. In the excellent tradition of perfect partners it seems these churches have missed a trick. If they had tearooms attached to them, they could make a bit of money from selling tea and cakes during the week and also keep their doors open for visitors to wander round. I assume that the reason most of them remain closed is to avoid vandalism when there’s no-one about. A tearoom next-door would surely solve this problem, while at the same time producing a bit of profit for church upkeep, providing employment and raising the profile of the church itself.

There is in fact a Tibetan Tearoom next to the Buddhist temple I mentioned earlier and so, rather surprisingly, the Buddhists are already a step ahead of the Christians when it comes to getting money out of tourists in Scotland. I think it’s high time we made more of our beautiful country churches, and a church with a tearoom would be a match made in heaven.

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There are those (maybe you’re one of them?) who frequently share their teabags, or even reuse them for a second cup some time after the first, and perhaps I’m a little greedy when it comes to teabags but I do like to have a whole teabag to myself for each cup of tea I consume.

That’s not to say I’m against teapots, far from it, but if I’m using teabags to make tea for two, I put 2 teabags in the pot, 3 for three, and so on. I’m prepared to admit that this might be a failing on my part, but up till now I think it’s served me quite well as a tea making method.

Well, my eyes were opened today when I visited a certain tearoom in Perth, which is part tearoom, part gift shop (another of these perfect partnerships – see previous post).

This is where gift shop meets tearoom:

And where the tearoom comes into its own:

The tearoom features two large light shades, which I think are possibly made out of paper, suspended from the ceiling. They reminded me of daisies. When I suggested this to my botanically minded mother, she pointed out that they resembled not daisies, but dead dandelion heads. I bow to her superior knowledge on the subject, but I can’t help feeling that her more correct comparison seems a little bleak for such beautiful light fittings:

I was visiting this tearoom in the company of both of my parents, and since it was a cold day and he had come out without his own hat, my dad had borrowed one of mine:

My mum ordered coffee, my dad and I ordered tea, and it was “luxury fruit scones” all round (I gather the ‘luxury’ was a reference to the large proportion of glace cherries contained therein, and jolly nice they were, too).

The amount of crockery involved in this order required two waitresses, each with a trayful of goodies, and when the first waitress laid down the (rather full) teapot on the table, tea gushed out of the spout and straight onto my pink woollen hat, which I had unwittingly put bang in the line of fire:

Before I had time to do anything about it myself (and my hand was moving towards the hat almost instantly), the second waitress had whipped the hat off the table and begun rushing down the stairs calling in her wake that she must get the stain out.

Waitress one was very apologetic and a little distressed at the turn events had taken, but I assured her that it was fine and not to worry, and I felt very confident about saying this because of the lightning quick reactions of waitress two (whom, I should perhaps add for greater effect, was almost certainly in receipt of a free bus pass*).

Immediately after the hat incident, I remembered that I had been planning to visit the facilities when we came in, and so I made my way down the stairs (at a considerably slower pace than waitress two) towards the toilets, and caught a glimpse of waitress two with a colleague in the kitchen next to the bathroom washing my pink hat and discussing the success of having got the stain out.

When I was back upstairs again, enjoying my tea and scone, waitress two reappeared and explained that the hat was all right but a little damp, and so she was going to put it on the radiator to dry out for me. Waitress one was still apologising profusely whenever she passed our table, so I explained to them both that despite the seeming tragedy of the situation, I was still in fact the owner of one dry hat, the one my dad had borrowed. He was going straight back to his car and home after our refreshments, and so I could wear my dry hat while I did a bit of shopping after my tea. As it happened, when we left the tearoom my pink hat was still sodden, it having obviously been washed through very thoroughly, so I was extremely glad of the dry one.

But I digress. To get back to the teabags, this was the teapot our tea for two came in:

As you can see, taking into account the distorting effects of perspective, the teacup is of a fairly standard size, as compared with the size of the scone and the normal sized human hand on another scone in the background. I can tell you that this teapot contained 5 of these teacupfuls of tea.

Now here’s a view from the other side, showing the sole teabag content of the pot (to make quite sure, I did look inside the pot and prod the teabag about to see if any others were hiding alongside it, and I’m entirely satisfied that there was only one teabag present):

This is the fact of the matter: tea was served to us in a teapot containing five cupfuls, with only one teabag to share out amongst all 5 cups. But here’s the amazing truth, and I’m afraid to say I don’t know anything about Lichfields other than that they provide various items to the catering trade, but the tea in that pot was really good, and strong the way I like it when I have it with milk.

This experience has revolutionised my view of teabag sharing. I would never have believed it if I hadn’t witnessed it for myself, but we got 5 cups out of that pot, and they were 5 cups of very good, strong tasting, flavourful tea.

*national bus passes, allowing free travel within Scotland, are issued to any citizens who have managed to stay alive to the ripe old age of 60. If you like a wee joke against the Scots (who have a reputation for heavy drinking, deplorable diets and a subsequently short life expectancy) this scheme makes politicians look caring while costing them virtually nothing.

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