Ardgillan Castle – New Tearooms

Entrance Hall ArdgillanArdgillan TearoomsAh the lovely Ardgillan Castle. Usually more busy in summer than winter but that could be about to change with the recent rennovation of the castle tea rooms.

I had a quick peek today and the first word that came to mind was elegant. The second word was cosy.

Elegant and cosy – what could be more fitting for a tearoom in a small castle?

Ardgillan Fireplace Room



Nobel Tea

The “Nobel Museum Tea Blend” caught my eye on the Nobel banquet program.


Söderblandning (Image Source: The Tea Centre of Stockholm)

There’s no official description but it’s been reported as a blend of Chinese Keemun and Indian Assam, flavoured with Italian bergamot, Swedish raspberries and orange. (Bergamot is the fruit used in Earl Grey tea). It is possible to buy the tea at the Nobel Museum shop but you’ll need to go in person as they don’t take orders by phone or email.

From what I’ve read, the Nobel Museum Tea Blend was created in collaboration with tea specialist Vernon Mauris of The Tea Centre of Stockholm.

Sweden are not heavy consumers of tea but seem to like blended and flavoured teas. In fact in 1979, the same Vernon Mauris created the popular Swedish tea called Söderblandning. In English it is known as the “blend of south Stockholm” but is also  known as “Swedish mistake tea”. Vernon is from Sri Lanka so it is not surprising that Söderblandning has a base of Ceylon blended with Chinese black tea. The ingredients of this blend, again, are not officially stated but it also includes flowers and citrus fruits. Cornflowers, marigold and red berries feature in variations of the popular Swedish tea.

US Trip

And we’re back……from an amazing trip in the US where we visited the beautiful Yellowstone (and several other National Parks).

Yellowstone - water fallsFor this trip I didn’t bring tea with me. I got some abuse for being unreliable but I think it turned out to be a good thing because it meant we were more aware of the differences in tea cultures.

Every day over 160 million Americans are drinking tea but approximately 85% of tea consumed in America is iced. I noticed that when we were in the cold areas (below 0°C with snow), people drank coffee and when it was warm (above 30°C) people opted for iced-tea. It pays to be specific when you want hot tea (lesson learnt the hard way!). To add to the confusion “cream” is offered with coffee but they seem to mean milk when they say cream. I’ve no idea what cream is called.

Lipton is the number one brand of tea in the US followed by Bigelow and Twinnings of London (source). Again, this is skewed with the iced-tea thing because Lipton seems to dominate the iced tea market but Bigelow and Twinnings seem cover the tea leaf market. Celestial tea comes from Colorado so they featured in a lot of places there.

We were surprised by how expensive tea is in supermarkets. The average seems to be around $5 for a box of herbal tea (18-20 teabags) but several times we came across boxes of teabags for $9 or more. Gulp!

Black tea, accounts for more than half of all tea consumed in the country. Green, white, oolong etc take a much lower percentage and pu-ehr not featuring at all. Food in general tends to be more flavoured in the US and this carried over to tea. Fruit and herbal tea, accounts for just over a 25% of U.S. tea consumption and blends and flavoured herbal teas seem most popular. Unflavoured rooibos was especially difficult to find. :-(

Over 65% of the tea brewed in the US is prepared using tea bags. Several restaurants in Denver had loose tea but outside of Denver the loose-leaf tea drinker seems to be an endangered species. People seemed much more concerned about the quality of the coffee that they offered rather than the tea. We fell into line and drank gallons (not litres) of good coffee instead.

Overall a great trip and if the price is a small coffee addiction then it’s definitely a price worth paying.

Grand Teton



There is probably no nicer cup of tea than the one that comes after a 10 mile hike. Over the next few weeks we plan to visit lots of national parks in the US so I thought it was high time to replace our current model which has been nicknamed the “radiator” because of the way it makes everything inside our rucksack nice and toasty!

Of course the most important flask feature was how well it keeps the heat but the other criteria were lightweight, with a capacity of at least 1.2l and a simple cap system that is easy to keep clean.

I looked at lots of reviews online but the gadget show has a good review video that involves measuring the temperature after the flask is left out in the cold for overnight (video here).

Thermos King Flask 1.2L

Thermos King Flask 1.2L (Source)

From their top 5, I like the look of the Thermos Everyday 100 but didn’t like the stopper system. The Thermos Floating flask would be good for sailing, fishing etc but I didn’t like the plastic outside. I really like the Stanley bolt couldn’t find it online to buy.  Their top choice, the Aladdin Challenger looked perfect with its double cup system but it only had a 1L capacity which, for two people, for a full day’s walking seems a little small.

After reading plenty of good reviews, I finally settled on the Thermos King 1.2L and snapped it up when it was on sale on Amazon for £15. So far it has been excellent and my only (very minor) quibble is the that the loose handle on the side is all metal and clangs against the side of the flask (also metal) everytime I touch it. It seems to retain the heat really well but a proper hike will be a better test than sitting on my desk! I’ll be back with a flask and travel report in 3 weeks!



Buchu and Rooibos

“Buchu and Rooibos”  is a newly launched product by Robert Roberts that was sent to me a couple of weeks ago to taste. I have a huge interest in South African herbs but had never heard of Buchu so Google had to step in to help.


Buchu flowers (Source: Go South Online)

The most common varieties of the plant are Agathosma betulina and Agathosma crenulata. However, these are just two of the 150 varieties in the Agathosma family that thrive in the climate of the Western Cape Province of South Africa. The plant is a member of the citrus family but has a strong flavor of blackcurrant. The seeds can be planted from April to June with harvesting 18 months later between the months of October and April.

Buchu tea seems to have many applications. The essental oil from the buchu plant is recommended for arthritis, bloating, indigistion, hypertension and lots of other ailments but its strongest association is with soothing and strengthining the urinary system and relieving the symptoms of urinary tract infections.

buchu stamp

Buchu: SA stamp (Source)

Little research has been carried out to establish its effectiveness as a medicine so most people refer to what are thought to be its original uses by native South Africans: ingested for bladder problems and rheumatism and applied topically as an as an insect repellent. Steeping the leaves in brandy produces an alcoholic buchu brandy (known as boegoe-brandewyn). Several websites note that Buchu should be avoided in pregnancy because traditionally it was known to stimulate uterine contractions. Breastfeeding women should also avoid Buchu.

For more information on planting and harvesting there is a good brochure here on Buchu from the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Republic of South Africa

Note: I did not buy this tea – it was sent to me to taste. I have no affiliation with Robert Roberts and have not been paid or compensated for writing this post.

Chamomile: German and Roman

The chamomile harvest is in full swing over here. This year I have the two varieties of the herb that are grown for medicinal use: German (Matricaria chamomilla) and Roman (Chamaemelum nobile).

The chamomilGerman Chamomile2e plant is used for making herb beers and for the treatment of toothaches, earache, neuralgia as well as swelling and skin conditions. In general the “inhalation of the vaporized essential oils derived from chamomile flowers is recommended to relieve anxiety, general depression”. However, if you wanted to pick a plant for a task, the extract of German chamomile contains a higher proportion anti-inflammatories (chamazulene) while Roman is considered better for soothing skin conditions.

I partly grow chamomile to harvest the flowers but the chamomile plant itself is like a tonic for the garden. It is pest and disease free and boosts the health of all crops that it grows alongside but improves the flavour of brassicas and onions. I have them interspersed with other plants to encourage insects and improve the overall health of the garden.

The German variety is native to Europe and western Asia and is an upright annual that can grow to 1 metre tall. The Roman variety is native to western Europe and north Africa. In theory it is a low-growing perennial at about 20cm in height. However, for me, the roman chamomile seeds have produced a plant that is almost as tall as the German chamomile. Both produce small, daisy-like white flowers with yellow centres. This yellow centre is flat on the German variety and raised in the Roman variety (see pictures below).

German Chamomile

German Chamomile

Roman Chamomile

Roman Chamomile

At the start I was picking the blossoms daily to get them just when they open for best flavour. However they need to be dried immediately after harvesting and for this they need to be laid out flat on a mesh screen in a warm place indoors, out of direct sunlight. This is causing a space issue as it takes several weeks for the flowers to dry completely. Lately I’ve started cheating with the microwave and oven to speed up the drying. Hopefully that won’t affect the power of these little flowers too much.

For more information on chamomile there is an interesting article published here: Srivastava JK, Shankar E, Gupta S. Chamomile: A herbal medicine of the past with bright future. Mol Med Report. 2010;3:895–901.


A lot of used tealeaves are thrown out here on a daily basis. Any day now I’ll get around to making some compost but in the mean time I came across a couple of articles on the uses of tea around the house. The general idea is that the chemicals in the tealeaves are not all removed (especially with low numbers of steepings) so some properties are retained and can be useful.

used leavesMost of these exploits involve the wet leaves straight after brewing and are used as skin treatments (acne, wart removal, eye compress), as cleaners and, of course as fertilisers. Roses in particular seem to like the acidic tannins in tea and benefit from the traces of nitrogen in the leaves. Earthworms like their tea too! As the earthworms prosper on the tealeaves they will enrich the soil.

An interesting option that I came across involves drying out the tealeaves after they’ve been used- the Japanese call this chagara. These dried leaves are sometimes used as seasoning in Japanese cooking.

Apart from cooking, the dried leaves have a range of other applications. They can be positioned in all the places where odours need to be neutralised. Loose leaves can be put directly in the fridge, cupboard or the cat litter box to act as a deodoriser, but they need to be wrapped up somehow if they are used in a gym bag or for shoes. Another use is to sprinkle dried tealeaves on the carpet before vacuuming to remove odours and dust.

The dried leaves can also be used as a fertiliser to sprinkle over plants. Crumbling the dried leaves avoids rotting that can happen when wet leaves are put on indoor plants.

I haven’t tried this but apparently the dried leaves can be packed into a pillowcase to make a tea pillow that aids restful sleep. These tea pillows need to be aired regularly to make sure they stay dry.

Now – no more excuses for binning old tea leaves ;-)


Radio documentary on tea

This Saturday, July 12th at 7am and Sunday, July 13th at 6pm Newstalk have a documentary that will explore the reasons why Irish people drink so much tea.

Producer Caoilin Rafferty uncovers the many secrets behind Irish tea, why we are one of the biggest tea drinking nations in the world and how our tea taste habits have changed throughout the years

The feature documentary also examines the tea rations in Ireland during World War 2, which consequently lead to the set up of the Irish Tea Importers Ltd. This meant the Irish bypassed the London Tea Auctions and bought quality tea direct from source themselves.

Tea Please also takes a trip down memory lane to talk to those who grew up drinking orthodox leaf tea and how tea bags changed everything in the seventies.

The show can be heard live on the Newstalk online player ( and will be available as a podcast afterwards.

Dolfin Earl Grey Chocolate

Earl Grey Chocolate

Dolfin Earl Grey Chocolate

I picked up this packet of Dolfin Earl Grey Chocolate in Belgium. Plenty of chocolatiers are making tea-flavoured chocolate but it’s still not that common to find here (apart from matcha Kit Kats!).

I’m definitely not an expert but buying chocolate in Belgium seemed like a safe bet. This is dark chocolate but only has 52% cocoa. On the positive side, the flavour of earl grey is subtle, it’s not overly sweet and the tea in the chocolate makes a natural crunch that is pleasant. The outer packaging is not bad either with its cute resealable envelope pouch. On the negative side, the chocolate is not smooth but grainy and doesn’t melt easily so I ended up chewing the chocolate. I found the quality of the chocolate too distracting to enjoy the taste and unusually (for me) the bar has been left untouched for several weeks. I think Earl Grey has the potential to go very well with dark chocolate but this Dolfin bar just didn’t pull it off.