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? http://www.ardgillancastle.ie/

Ardgillan Fireplace Room

 

 

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

 

Afternoon tea in the Four Seasons, Dublin

“Although tea for one is certainly a fine thing, the addition of a circle of dear friends to share it with ensures the whole is larger than its parts”

 

champagneWith this quote in mind, I was delighted to arrange afternoon tea with two of my favourite people a few weeks ago. The pretext was one person moving abroad, the setting was the Lobby Lounge in the Four Seasons, Dublin and the occasion was champagne tea on a Saturday afternoon.

The Four Seasons pride themselves on attention to detail so I wasn’t surprised when they asked if there were any dietary requirements at the time of booking. I was, however, impressed that they remembered the vegetarian request when we arrived. There was a mix-up after that, which involved some very non-vegetarian chicken and salmon but the error was quickly corrected.

 

tea strainer abstract The highlight for me was infinite tea. It is possible to order as many pots of each type of tea on the menu and fresh tea is offered on a regular basis. This avoids the dilemma of choosing a tea that will go with both sweet and savoury. It also avoids drinking cold tea. Every afternoon tea service should offer this as standard but my experience in other venues is that one tea is included and there is a charge for each additional selection. Unrestricted tea – I was as happy as a clam at high tide but I was also in company so refrained from working my way through the entire menu. In fact, I only ordered two teas: the organic hoji-cha and the rooibos/hibiscus blend.  Most teas on the menu are floral or fruit blends but other teas that caught my eye were a silver needle white tea (Baihao Yinzhen) and an infusion called Ginger Twist that had a long list of ingredients (ginger, orange, lemongrass, mint, apple, ginseng, papaya and liquorice).

 

strawberries & pastriesThe Lobby Lounge is a bright, spacious rooms with large windows looking out over the courtyard garden and was bustling on that Saturday afternoon. The food is served in two courses. The savoury sandwiches are served first and then followed by the scones, preserves and pastries on the tiered platters. The scones were hot and fresh but the addition of clotted cream instead of regular would have been ideal. The profiteroles and hazelnut/chocolate pastry were also delicious but the chocolate dipped strawberries and raspberries on shortbread stole the show as a perfect, light way to finish the meal.

The champagne afternoon tea is comparatively expensive (€45) but with excellent service, good food, unconstrained tea and good company it makes for a very pleasurable afternoon. Silver teapot

World Tea Expo 2013 (Recap 2)

Most people seem to get back from the World Tea Expo with new enthusiasm and a general resolve to do more. So it’s a bit of an irony then that I’ve come back determined to write less! It’s not all down to the WTE (this procrastination on other projects has got to stop) but while I was there I got chatting to other people about writing schedules. Apparently varying your writing schedule alters the style and content of articles and more experienced writers suggest experimenting with schedules to see how your writing develops. I like posting several times per week but I’m going to try posting once a week for a little while to see how it feels.

Anyway here is part two of the recap on products that I saw on the exhibition floor (part one is here):

trYeh productstrYeh –  I visited this booth three or four times in an attempt to photograph some of their products without getting in the way, but it was always busy. The tea tumbler with Yixing Clay lining was particularly cool but the glassware and bamboo accessories were all elegant and stylish.

 

 

 

Bkon Tx tea brewerBkon –  The Bkon won best new product at the world tea expo this year so I stopped by for a demo and a chat with company founder, Dean Vastardis. This patented, Swiss-engineered tea brewing machine works by creating a vacuum in the pre-heated glass chamber. The “reverse atmospheric infusion” extracts gases from the tea leaves and allows for a brewing time of 60-90 seconds at a temperature of 85-100 °C. Quality and consistency seem to be the key selling points of this self-cleaning brewer. The Hibiscus infusion that I tasted was full of flavour and I have no doubt that they were using a high quality leaf but normally an infusion time of several minutes would be needed for that level of flavour. With so many coffee machines and so few tea brewers the market potential seems obvious. The Bkon is estimated to cost $9,000 so clearly aimed at the retail and hospitality sector but the idea of a smaller home version doesn’t seem unlikely.

 

 

Hoji cha from Mitsu FoodsHoji-cha from Mitsui Foods Inc – Mitsui Foods had matcha, concentrates and extracts but their roasted green tea had an exceptionally deep nutty flavour and taste. I can’t find the tea section of their website but they say that they are one of the largest international trading houses and a leader in the Japan tea industry so maybe this product is new.

 

 

 

Wat-aahWat-aah! – this stood out, not as an exceptional product but as really clever marketing. It is water that is aimed at children. They have variations: Wat-aah! Brain has added electrolytes Wat-aah! Power has added magnesium and Wat-aah! Energy has added oxygen. Essentially, it is pure, still water but the packaging and marketing (including celebrity endorsement) are extremely clever.

 

 

 

Weiyin teaWei Yin had some of the beautiful Oolongs. They also had a strong emphasis on tea culture and tea ceremonies. From their website I see that the company is “a collection of scientific research, cultivation, production, processing, marketing, brand building services, joining operations, as well as promotion of tea culture as an integrated company”.

 

Zenify  – I don’t know if this works but I like the concept – a natural de-stressing free drink. There are no artificial ingredients but this drink has L-theanine (as found in green tea), GABA (a calming agent), serotonin and dopamine. Combined they intend to promote a sense of well-being and relieve stress. There are sweeteners (stevia leaf and fruit sugar) and natural fruit extracts. This tasted crisp and refreshing in the 40 °C of the Las Vegas sun.

 

Favor Ceylon Tea

Favor Ceylon Tea This was the first year at the expo for the Katugastotas family business and they brought some earthy Sri Lankan teas in unusual and attractive packaging.

 

 

World Tea Expo 2013 (Recap 1)

With over 200 vendors on the exhibition floor and an education programme from 8am to 4pm each day as well as vendor presentations, workshops and tastings, it is impossible to see everything at the World Tea Expo much less write about it all.

My top three of the Las Vegas trip were:

  1. A workshop with Virginia Utermohlen on Tea and Food Pairings
  2. A demonstration by Tang Zhaoxia on Yixing pottery
  3. Watching the Bellagio fountains (not part of World Tea Expo!)

Bellagio Fountains

I’ll probably write a couple of posts about the expo but  to start with here are some of the products on the exhibition floor that caught my attention:

ForLife TeapotForLife Teapot these pretty teapots are cleverly designed. They are stackable due to the flat lid and have a protected spout to avoid chipping. The holder for the basket infuser and lid are joined with a hinge and remove completely from the teapot for easy cleaning but are watertight when in the teapot. It also comes in a teabag version that has a little tray just under the lid so the teabag can be separated from the water without the need to remove completely. This also keeps it warm if you want to add more water. Very clever.

 

 

Steep & Go FilterSteep & GoIt seem incredibly high but 80% of all tea that is drunk in the US is iced tea. For this reason there were a lot of products directed at the iced tea market. This is a filter that fits into disposable water bottles and bottles like Sigg. There are leaves designed for cold brews so the idea is to put the tea into your plastic bottle and add water. You leave the leaves in the water and the filter prevents the leaves from coming out as you drink. I have no idea how tea leaves brew in cold water. The sample I got was a Green Tea and Green Rooibos. Will try it out when when (if) the sun starts shining here!

 

 

Adventure TeaAdventure tea This company caught my eye with their packaging so I stopped to take some photos. They seem to be a new company but the two herbal teas that I tasted were easily the two best herbal teas that I tasted over the three days.

 

 

 

 

 

Tea Nest from Tea TangentTea Nest  from Tea Tangent – Julia Edgerton is the artist behind this product. It is made from solid cherry wood which acts as a natural insulator to keep the tea warm. Among their other products from this beautiful wood are a tea scoop and a honey stick.

 

 

 

 

 

Tea JournalTaste Tea from TeaSource – this is the only cupping journal that I saw at the show. It is simple but it really appeals to the neat-freak inside of me. Perfect for putting some order to my tea notes.

 

 

 

 

 

Nuwati HerbalsHerbal Bath Bags from Nuwati Herbals – tea bags for the bath! It makes sense considering the dermatological properties of herbs and the ability of our skin to absorb. After soaking, the bath bag can also be used as an exfoliator. I also got a sample of some Cloud Walking Cream to help with my jet lag and it seemed to work.

Cliveden House, Berkshire

 

Cliveden House

Cliveden House (Source)

Regularly cited as the world’s most expensive tea experience, the Platinum Afternoon Tea at the Cliveden House, Berkshire costs £550 per person. “Truly special ingredients” are used for the preparation of this opulent afternoon tea and on the menu are:

  • White truffles

    Platinum Afternoon Tea

    Platinum Afternoon Tea (Source)

  • Beluga Caviar
  • Da Hong Pao Tea
  • Dom Perignon Rose
  • Cliveden House Chocolate Cake with Gold Leaf
  • Kopi Luwak coffee.
  • Mini canapé version of the platinum club sandwich

In terms of costs, they say that the white truffles are £2,500 per kg, the caviar is £4,000 per kg and the Da Hong Pao is £2,000 per kg. The choice of Da Hong Pao is an interesting one but presumably its publicity and associations with presidents and royalty helped it to edge out the competition from some of the rare pu-erhs. (See some of my articles on Da Hong Pao here and here).

Traditional Afternoon Tea

Traditional Afternoon Tea (Source)

For the more budget conscious, the Cliveden Afternoon Tea is £29.50 per person (£44 with champagne). This is described as a variety of finger sandwiches, warm scones with home-made jams and clotted cream, a selection of miniature cakes, pastries and Cliveden fruit cake. An interesting variation on the traditional offering is the Floating Afternoon Tea Experience where you take your tea on a boat floating down the River Thames.

Ardgillan Demesne

I love the town where we live and one of the highlights is Ardgillan castle and its grounds. Mostly we just go for long walks around the perimeter of the park and enjoy the views of the sea and across to Skerries. Sometimes we stop by the walled kitchen garden for some serious garden-envy or visit the tearoom that is situated in the downstairs of the castle and opens into an outdoor terrace. Last Saturday was a beautiful sunny day. The grounds were blooming, the bees were buzzing and it was a great day for taking photos:

Ardgillan Sign

Ardgillan Castle

Fields in Ardgillan Walkway Ardgillan
Flower Garden Orange Flower

Busy Bee

Castle Side Tea Room Sign

Daisies

The Clarence – Afternoon Tea

The Clarence Facade

The Clarance Facade (Source)

The Clarence, owned by U2’s Bono and The Edge was the site for last Friday’s afternoon tea. The Clarence Hotel was the subject of a controversial planning application for renovation in 2007. The building (dating back to 1852) was due to receive a €150m overhaul that would leave just the front façade intact. Planning permission was controversially received but was put on hold and everything has been quiet for the past few years. A couple of weeks ago the papers reported that a request for an extension of planning permission has been sought so we thought we better check it out before it turns into the promised “flying saucer”.clarence outside

I’m always amazed at how busy hotels are for afternoon tea but the Clarence was eerily quiet. The friendly staff took us around to the Oak room, the Octagon bar and the Tea Room to have a look and said we could choose our location. They were empty apart from one person in the Tea Room. It seemed mean to spread out their customers so we opted for the Tea Room too.

 

Afternoon Tea for Two

Afternoon Tea for Two

The sandwiches, brownie, scones and mousse were all perfectly acceptable. At the price of €15 it isn’t fair to expect the added niceties of clotted cream, cloth napkins, delicate pastries or fruit but I do think they should stretch it to a proper loose leaf tea (or maybe I’m just biased!).

Here is the video of U2 performing on the rooftop of the Clarence hotel a couple of years ago. Maybe that’s where everyone was…..

 

Shelbourne Hotel – Dublin

Lord Mayors Lounge

The Lord Mayors Lounge (Source)

The Shelbourne is an ideal setting for afternoon tea – good location on St. Stephen’s Green, a beautiful old building that dates back to 1824 and a elegantly decorated Lord Mayor’s lounge complete with background piano music. It seems to be very popular with families, tourists and couples and there is a pleasant atmosphere of hustle and bustle. When I arrived  at 3pm without a reservation there were no tables available so I had a short wait in the lobby. I didn’t have time for afternoon tea so I ordered a Jade Oolong and a scone. There was a good choice of Black, Green and herbal teas and a few Whites and Oolongs.

The Jade Oolong came in a standard glazed ceramic white teapot and was a loose-leaf tea. There were plenty of leaves inside and the water seemed hot enough but the smell from the pot was a bit pungent. I waited about 30 seconds to let it steep but it wasn’t ready so I waited for about a minute. There was still no taste.  I was expecting that fresh sweetness of a Jade Oolong but it was just bland. I did a quick check of my taste buds by eating half a scone ;-). All fine there. Then I knew I had waited too long because the tea had gond from bland to bitter. I asked for extra water and diluted it to get a drinkable cup of tea but it really wasn’t great. I don’t know what went wrong but maybe this Oolong isn’t ordered much and it’s an old tea that has faded with age.

Shelbourne Hotel

Shelbourne Hotel (Source)

The total for tea and scone was €8.30. Based on the scone alone, I’ll go back for the full Afternoon Tea but I’ll avoid the Oolong and try one of the Black teas next time. Will keep you updated….

Afternoon tea – Westin, Dublin

Tea at the Westin is set in the upstairs Atrium away from the hustle and bustle of the main lobby and entrance. The Atrium is is bright because of skylights but there are no windows and this adds to the sense of withdrawal from the busy streets of Dublin’s city centre. The calmness inside and well-spaced tables make it ideal for quiet get-togethers or meetings.

The tea list was extensive and confusing.  There are three pages of tea over two separate menus. The first menu had:

Black: Irish breakfast tea, Bohea Lapsang and Lychee Red Black tea

White: Jasmine Silver Needle White tea, Westin White tea blend

Green: Flowering Osmanthus Green

Yellow: Fire mountain Yellow

Tisanes: Peppermint, Rosebuds

 

Then there was a second tea menu with:

Black: Assam Breakfast, Early Grey, Darjeeling 2nd Flush

Green: Jade Green, Jasmine Green, Flowering Jasmine Peach Green

White: White peony

Tisanes: Mint, Chamomile, Blackcurrant and hibiscus

 

I wasn’t too sure what to make of it all. On the one hand I was impressed to see a Yellow tea on a hotel menu and there was an impressive selection of Black and Green tea. On the other hand have no idea what a Fire Mountain Yellow Tea is and there were two huge categories of tea missing: Oolong and Pu-erh.

Blooming Osmanthus Tea

Blooming Osmanthus Tea

I ordered the Jasmine Silver Needle White tea and was duly presented with the Flowering Osmanthus Green Tea! I was really happy for the mix-up. I just wish they had prepared it in front of me so I could see it beforehand and watch it “bloom”. Osmanthus flower can be dried and prepared on its own as a herbal tea but for flowering teas, green tea is handtied around the flower. It starts off as a small round ball and expands to reveal colourful flower when hot water is added. These teas are appreciated for their visual appeal rather than their taste and that held true in this case too.

Westin Afternoon TeaThe food on the other hand was very flavoursome. The sandwiches and scones (with clotted cream) were fresh and tasty but the fruit cake and pastries were outstanding. There was a chocolate cup of Irish whiskey cream, pistachio macaroon, lemon sponge cake,  red velvet cake and cheesecake with berries. They were all delicate and delicious.

Surprisingly, after about an hour I was told that the table was reserved and I would need to move to another table (there were plenty) or leave before 4:30pm.  I had finished eating and wasn’t in the mood for playing musical chairs so I left but was miffed that my relaxing afternoon  was turned into a clock-watching situation.

Afternoon tea at the Westin is €24 which is not bad for the city centre location, the relaxing setting and above-average pasteries. To avoid being rushed, it would be worth confirming at the booking stage that they do not need the table back.

Location on Google maps