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Posts Tagged ‘teacup’

The pretty seaside town of Pittenweem sits on Scotland’s east coast, in the Kingdom of Fife.

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With its red-roofed, white-washed buildings and quiet streets, it’s a delightful place to take a stroll and relax on a sunny day.

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Last year, as part of Pittenweem in Bloom, a curious selection of old bicycles appeared throughout the town.

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Fisherman’s bike near the harbour.

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A cheery chap with a sack of potatoes outside the church.

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A bike selling eggs, although they’d all been snapped up when I walked past it.

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Little red bike that had apparently just come in from a swim.

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An artist’s bike with paintbrushes sticking out of paint pots attached to the frame.

Not all of the bikes were the right way up.

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Upside down bike harnessed to a tree in the main street.

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A question many bicycle owners consider at some point in their lives.

And at least one little bike had jumped up above street level.

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A surprisingly musical bicycle down a side street.

Pittenweem’s attractive ice cream shop had a bike secured outside the front door (you can only see the back wheel of it in the picture, I’m afraid).

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This next one had been fixed up with an unusual (if not terribly practical) set of square wheels:

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“The Flintstone Flyer”, a square wheeled oddity.

It was such a gloriously sunny day when I was snapping away at all these bikes that I felt I was somewhere considerably more exotic than the east coast of Scotland.

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A moment of disorientation – have I been transported to a Spanish island?

All of this bicycle business was pretty exhausting, but luckily revitalising victuals weren’t far away.

At the excellent Cocoa Tree Cafe, I fuelled up on an exquisite chocolate cake and a pot of cardamom tea:

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My treat came with a jug of single cream and I was very pleased with the little slug that formed when I poured the cream over the cake:

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My delightful assistant sated her hunger with a cream scone:

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*   *   *   *   *

If you’re ever mooching around in the Fife area wondering how to fill your time, I heartily recommend a trip to Pittenweem.

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A walk along the sea front makes for a pleasant bit of exercise, and while you’re dondering along be sure to keep an eye out for this appealing local resident.

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Yesterday was the delightful assistants’ 53rd wedding anniversary.

Acting as chauffeur, I whisked them off into the county of Angus for a tasty luncheon, an invigorating walk and afternoon treats.

Here they are attempting to gaze lovingly at each other for the camera:

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They found this highly amusing.

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Delightful assitants in a more natural pose.

Delightful assistant no.1 chose to go to Peel Farm, near Kirriemuir, for lunch:

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A welcoming sign at the entrance to Peel Farm.

We arrived nice and early, a little before noon.

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The entrance to the coffee shop at Peel Farm, decked out with wreaths and other Christmas decorations.

Due to our fortunate timing the coffee shop was unusually empty, which allowed me to take a photograph of the inside.

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Inside the lovely Peel Farm coffee shop, unusually empty of hungry punters.

The delightful assistants wisely chose a table at the fireside end of the room, from where we all ordered a farmhouse special of soup with a roll and butter, followed by a scone and tea or coffee.

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Delightful assistants perfectly placed near the fire with bowls of hot soup.

Delightful assistant no.1 and I both chose carrot and parsnip soup, while delightful assistant no.2 had red pepper and tomato.

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Carrot and parsnip soup with a crusty roll.

Our soups warmed us up, and when they’d been polished off it was time for scones.

There were three options available: plain, fruit, and raspberry. After considerable deliberation I plumped for raspberry, while delightful assistant no.1 chose fruit and delightful assistant no.2 chose plain.

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My choice of a raspberry scone – I was not in any way disappointed.

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A fruit-studded scone for delightful assistant no.1.

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A beautiful plain scone for delightful assistant no.2.

A delicious jam was delivered with the scones and delightful assistant no.2 felt that his plain scone gave the perfect base for it.

The jam was a new creation by one of Peel Farm’s master jam makers and was a combination of plum and orange. It tasted a bit like marmalade because of the orange, and it had a wonderfully zingy sweet flavour. Delightful assistant no.1 christened it ‘jarmalade’. Here’s a blob of it on my raspberry scone:

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Raspberry scone with a blob of jarmalade on it.

I wasn’t too sure how my raspberry scone would fare as a platform for such a sprightly spread, but when I tasted them together I was immediately won over and slathered the rest of my scone with the stuff, enjoying each mouthful with gusto.

When we’d finished our scones and downed our tea and coffee we had a quick look in the Peel Farm craft shop where I spotted the happiest little gingerbread men I think I’ve ever seen.

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Cheery wee chaps on a string.

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Utterly delighted to meet you.

We got back into the car and drove to nearby Loch of Lintrathen, which has a level road all round it, virtually devoid of traffic and very pleasant for strolling along.

It was grey and chilly but we walked briskly, enjoying the fresh air and the noise of wind in the trees and on the water.

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Loch of Lintrathen.

Quite a few branches and twigs lay scattered about after recent high winds; delightful assistant no.2 fashioned one such branch into a walking stick.

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Delightful assistant no.2 taking twigs off the fallen branch of a larch tree.

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The old chap making use of his newly acquired walking equipment.

On our walk we passed a well constructed bird hide, and I popped in to see what I could spot.

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Loch of Lintrathen bird hide – I had it all to myself.

I didn’t see anything particularly unusual, although someone had noted a white tailed sea eagle in the visitor’s book a couple of weeks before.

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Gateway to the bird hide at Loch of Lintrathen.

After my bit of birding I caught up with the delightful assistants and we scooted on to the nearby town of Kirriemuir to seek out an afternoon snack.

On past visits to Kirriemuir I’ve been unable to find interesting tearooms, so my hopes weren’t terribly high.

We parked in the free cark park and walked towards the town centre.

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Delightful assistants keeping each other upright.

Before we even reached the main street, to my astonishment and delight, we passed this promising looking establishment down a little alleyway:

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A side window at The Auld Surgery Tearooms in Kirriemuir.

Just around the corner we found the front door, and swiftly sailed in:

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Front entrance to The Auld Surgery Tearooms in Kirriemuir.

The interior had a charmingly rustic farmhouse feel with solid wooden furniture and gifty things dotted about. We perched ourselves at a table for three:

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Seated comfortably close to the wooden dresser where there was a selection of tasty looking treats.

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A dresser showing off its cakes and biscuits.

Delightful assistant no.2 was the first to make up his mind and went for a mug of hot chocolate and a mint chocolate traybake, which was enticingly decorated with broken bits of fondant-filled mint thins:

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Chocolate mints on top of a traybake – a stroke of genius.

Although very fond of mint chocolates, I thought this traybake might be too sweet for my tastes. However, having tasted a piece of the one in the photograph, I would gladly return to Kirriemuir just for a slice of this excellent confection.

As it was, I went for a slice of fruit loaf with butter, downed with a cafetiere of decaf coffee:

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Delightful assistant no.1 also had coffee, but in the solids department she made a traditionally festive selection:

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Delightful assistant no.1’s choice of a mince pie. Such a good girl, she didn’t make a fuss about the lack of cream.

After enjoying our treats we had a quick squiz at a few of the items for sale, some of which were displayed at the bottom of a gracefully curving banister:

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One item in particular took the fancy of delightful assistant no.1.

In her youth she remembers having a little wooden rocking horse that rocked very nicely, and when she saw something similar at The Auld Surgery Tearooms she didn’t want to go home without it:

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Small wooden rocking horse with teacup: a happy ending to a lovely day.

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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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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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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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