Monday, July 11, 2016

Toronto begins (and ends) with 'Tea': No ifs, ands or . . . well, maybe a few butts

Mom/Daughter trip to Toronto finally here after months of planning!

A mom-daughter (times two)  trip to Toronto last month squeezed in a lot of tea, food, shopping, comedy and just a little bit of crazy in a long weekend. In this blog, we'll expose the naked truth - quite literally!

A trip planned back in February with our old and dear friends, Joni and Annabelle (the latter being buds with my daughter Rachel since third grade), we were up for some cosmopolitan adventures across the border.

Disturbingly good dessert at Mill Street Pub

We selected Toronto as our girls weekend destination and could hardly wait to hit the road after so many months of planning. After a harrowing trip on the always exciting 401, we dropped our bags off at our apartment for the weekend and headed out to the Distillery District.  It's a pedestrian-only village in the heart of Toronto and boasts a wide range of  gourmet dining, pubs, art galleries and unique shops, all housed in restored Victorian-era buildings. 

Trying to hold it together while camera person captures the right distance.

We found refuge in the Mill Street Pub, where we enjoyed a delicious meal and a disturbingly good dessert. Energized and refueled, we hit the shops. My favorite was Blackbird Vintage Finds, a very cool and eclectic mix of old and new merchandise, including vintage tea cups.

Can you spot the  Colclough  cup?  Super cool merchandise at Blackbird Vintage Finds

I found and purchased a Colclough tea cup . It was a suiting souvenir of our trip, since it was only a few degrees of separation from the mom-daughter outing that inspired our trip.  We saw the movie "Brooklyn" in February and that movie gave screen time to a Colclough tea cup, the same pattern of a set I have at home. (See,  Colclough in Brooklyn).  (It wasn't the focal point of the movie, of course, but a captivating cameo for teacup fanatics.)

After a restful night at our lovely airbnb, and a morning cup of tea on the  balcony overlooking the water, we were ready for anything:  brunch, shopping, comedy and. . .  the unexpected.

Al fresco french cuisine brunch at Le Select Bistron
Morning cup of tea with water views.

We snagged a prime table on the patio of Le Select Bistro for brunch - delicious french cuisine enjoyed al fresco.

Then we made our way down to the Farmer's Market and stopped at several boutique stores along the way. One shop had a whole table filled with Tealish teas, so I picked up the one that paid homage to its home country, "Oh Canada Maple" (see our recent review "Oh Canada Maple: True North Tea").

Joni and Annabelle partake in tour de shops in Toronto

Tealish tea including Oh Canada Maple

Up along Dundas street, we entered Eaton Center and paid a visit to  David's Tea where we sampled a variety of their blends before walking away with a bag full of treats.  Another highlight of the mall was our stop at H & M, which, unlike most of its sister stores in our area, has a full home goods section. It has super cute stuff - even an adorable over-sized tea cup that says, "you are my cup of tea".  Awwwww.

H & M home goods. Rachel:  you are my cup of tea!

Once back out on the main drag, we quickly went from "oh, how cute!" to "what in the world?" More specifically, what- in-the-world-naked-bike-ride? Apparently, this is an annual event - some kind of protest against oil dependency. Really, whatever their cause is, it's a challenge to get behind it. (*ouch*).

Tea and . . what? TV crew behind (ahem) capturing  all.
Be ready to see it all, literally, in Torronto

It was a bit shocking, but it's life in the big city - you have to be ready for few unconventional events.

And the fun continued!  In the evening, we had tickets to Second City.  A great show and lots of laughs.

Rachel and Annabelle:  too much fun at Second City!

Our last day in Toronto, we took a walk along the water in the music garden. It's pretty and peaceful and right across the street from the Music Garden Cafe, where we had dinner the previous night.

Music Garden along Queens Quay along the waterfront.
Rachel and Joni taking in the sites of the garden.

Joni captures a candid shot at Music Cafe. Love the toile!

We wrapped up our stay at the far end of Toronto for afternoon tea at T-buds. Great food and tea and just the right send off for our long ride home.  (Stay tuned for a full review of t-buds!) Some much needed tranquility before embarking on the 401.

T-buds: lovely Toronto tea room

Almost ready for the 401.

Afternoon tea in Toronto.

A great adventure and an exceedingly good time - no ifs, ands, or . . . yes, quite a few butts!

Part of the Toronto treasure trove, complete with Colclough tea cup!

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Oh Canada Maple from Tealish: 'True North Tea'

Northern living and tea time are perfectly paired for relaxing and de-stressing, but what if you could experience that feeling whether your stuck in a big city traffic jam or victim of a scorching heat wave way south of the border?  It's now possible with Tealish's 'Oh Canada Maple', a tea blend that evokes the northern Canadian feeling by capturing the region's unique tastes and aromas.

I purchased Oh Canada Maple last month when visiting Toronto, the home of Tealish. Who better to hone the North American country's "Canadian Collection", then a Toronto-based tea company?

The hearty black tea blend of  Oh Canada Maple includes safflowers, special flavoring and maple bits. Open the tin and take in an intoxicating whiff of maple syrup and the great outdoors.

We brewed our tea for three minutes and watched the generous pieces of maple bits and safflowers swirl around the cup while it steeped.

The taste is hearty and very sweet: a blend of maple syrup and caramel flavors tempered by a hint of floral notes.

For this tea, our suggested food pairings are a light shortbread cookie or traditional scone . (I would pass serving this tea with syrup-topped pancakes or, my favorite Canadian delicacy, maple leaf cookies).

Oh Canada Maple's label proclaims that the tea is "an ode to the true north, strong and free!".

Drinking this tea, pond side, at our northern Michigan cabin, we can't dispute the claim. However, we're also glad to know, we can enjoy this tea back home and still taste a little of the great white north while we're stuck in big city traffic.

Tealish tea isn't limited to the Canadian Collection. They offer a wide variety of blends. For more information, visit their website at

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Afternoon tea at Jekyll Island Club Hotel: Modern day luxury with Gilded Age roots

Jekyll Island Club Hotel 

Afternoon tea at the Jekyll Island Club Hotel takes guests back to a genteel time in the 19th-century where well-to-do guests sat on wicker chairs on expansive porches and played croquet on the lawn dressed in white. The hotel embraces its origins as a resort to the Gilded Age high society with its beautiful furnishings, outstanding service and maintaining afternoon tea daily between 4:00 and 5:00. However,  it balances tradition with a warm and friendly accessibility to current day vacationers.

Afternoon tea is served daily from 4:00 to 5:00

We visited the Jekyll Island resort in April and found it to be one of the most beautiful places we have stayed.

Our overnight accommodations were in San Souci ("without care"), a separate building from the main hotel.  It was built as an apartment complex in 1896 by J.P. Morgan for himself and other Club members. It is cited as the first condominium in the country and still has its original wood floors, leaded art glass and staircase.  A vacation home to so many northern elite, including the Rockefellers, Astors and Vanderbilts, it's luxury steeped in Gilded Age history - and tea time is no exception.

Afternoon tea in the Grand Dining Room of the resort is in keeping with its -  quite literally - rich history, but with modern day sensibilities.

Inside the Riverview Lodge with Lynn Lee (left) and Amy Wisenbaker (right)

We met up with Lynn Lee, Assistant Food and Beverage Director, and Amy Wisenbaker, Social Media and Web Communications Manager, for afternoon tea and were given the backstory of modern day tea time at the Club Hotel. Currently, the resort offers afternoon tea, but in buffet style. It accommodates guests' expectations of having an afternoon tea served daily and yet, offers options not usually provided in a traditional tea time. This type of service, says Lynn Lee, "lets everyone pick what they want for a tea. If you want all chocolate, you can have all chocolate."

Who can argue with that?

Afternoon tea buffet

A great selection of tasty finger sandwiches.

However, there is so much to choose from, one is hard-pressed to single out any category. There is a wide assortment of finger sandwiches - tasty and exquisitely presented in a variety of shapes and sizes. The scones are delicious and served with lemon curd, strawberry preserves, orange marmalade and creme fraiche.

To accompany scones: strawberry preserves, creme fraiche and lemon curd
Dessert selections include several mini-pastries that are scrumptious works of art. Among those we sampled were a key lime tart, a chocolate macaroon and a chocolate mousse confection in a chocolate shell. Oh, yes, we easily could feast on just chocolate!

Plate of chocolate treats - and more!

All of this is served with bottomless pots of Rishi tea, brewed up to perfection. The loose tea choices include Georgia Peach Rooibos, Earl Grey Supreme Black, Tangerine Ginger, Jade Cloud Pure Green and Peach Blossom White. (There are other selections offered in tea bags as well).

Our tea hostess brewed and served delicious Rishi teas.
Once our tea selections were made, our wonderful and attentive tea hostess, Szilvia Bozsik, brought the pots to our table and continued to check on us for refills.

Afternoon tea in the main dining room

Usually afternoon tea is served in the Riverview Lounge, a semi-circular annex off the main dining room. It's a gorgeous space filled with windows shaded with yellow awnings and a view of the well-manicured grounds, and, of course, the river. The day of our visit, the room was set up for a private party, so we dined with other tea guests in the main dining room. It's a large, yet intimate venue, framed by glossy white columns and anchored on one end by a Victorian-era glass chandelier and a handsome fireplace on the other.

The Riverview Lounge is usually where afternoon tea is held

We had tea in the main dining room - so elegant with an array of white columns

After tea, we retired to our room at Sans Souci with its amazing views of the main hotel as well as the river.

Our stay at San Souci was, indeed, without a care.

More relaxation spent on our own semi-private porch.

A visit to Jekyll Island Club Hotel is indeed a stay without care. Going back to a time of elegance, but with modern day amenities, you will surely feel like a member of the aristocracy at this resort, whether spending an afternoon on the porch, playing a game of croquet or enjoying an afternoon tea.

Back at the main hotel, one can lounge on wicker chairs and sofas.

A sporting game of croquet: Jekyll Island embraces vintage elegance and pastimes.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

'Michigan Tea Rooms' now available at Four Seasons Tea Room!

Four Seasons Tea Room opened all year round in downtown Houghton

We are excited to share the news that Michigan Tea Rooms, our book of our favorite tea venues in Michigan, is now being sold at Four Seasons Tea Room in Houghton, Michigan.

Michigan Tea Rooms now available at Four Seasons

Located in the Keweenaw Peninsula, in a city home to Michigan Tech University, this tea room has something for everyone. We first met up with co-owner Andrea Schuldt in 2010 and we were immediately charmed by this venue with its fun and pretty  decor and amazingly delicious menu offerings.

Charming decor

Delicious afternoon tea fare

And, yes, most certainly, they are among the twelve tea rooms in our "Steeper by the Dozen" series, Michigan Tea Rooms.

Four Seasons  gift shop. Lots of fun tea items -and now Michigan Tea Rooms

If you are visiting the upper peninsula, you must stop at this tea room. In addition to tasty food and inviting ambiance, they have a gift shop with lots of  fun items - and, now Michigan Tea Rooms.

We plan to visit this year. We will let you know when we do!

For more information on this delightful tea room, visit their website:  They are open all four seasons!!

Monday, May 23, 2016

What is a teakend? A weekend filled with tea events and tea rooms, of course!

Barb and Rachel-Rose at Sweet D's in Linden

The grand dame of Downton Abbey, the Dowager Countess, delighted fans when she asked the question, "what is a weekend?" As a member of the aristocracy, Violet Crawley, like those in her social circle did not have a job, and consequently did not comprehend - unlike the band Loverboy - what everyone else is working for.

But what about the two days after Friday when they are devoted only to tea?

We at Barb's Tea Service would like to introduce a new word to the English lexicon: "teakend" -  a weekend filled with tea events and tea rooms. It's a term whose time has come! and it perfectly describes how we spent this past Saturday and Sunday.

At the Schoolcraft Community Library, with Director, Faye VanRavenswaay
On the road again, BTS presented two Downton Abbey-inspired teas this weekend. On Saturday, we were at Schoolcraft Library, in a lovely little town near Kalamazoo, at the invitation of library Director, Faye VanRavenswaay. It's a wonderful community and we enjoyed spending time on the west side of our home state.

Refueling with amazing peanut butter pie at Chocolatea

After our tea presentation, we took a short drive to Portage and paid a visit to Chocolatea, a tea venue with a lot going on. Like its name implies, there's chocolate and there's tea, but there's so much more (as if that wouldn't be enough!). They sell a variety of goodies aside from chocolate truffles. There's brownies, cookies and peanut butter pie!

Paying a visit to the Tudor House in downtown Kalamazoo

Then on to downtown Kalamazoo where we found the Tudor House. This tea store was featured in the September/October, 2014 issue of  Tea Time Magazine's (as was the author of this blog!) when the magazine  highlighted Michigan tea venues.  A welcoming store with so many varieties of loose tea, you could spend an afternoon trying to decide which ones to take home.

Getting set up at Sweet D's with Rachel-Rose
We stayed overnight in Kalamazoo, enjoyed a leisurely morning at our hotel and then headed back east and center of the mitten state. About a half hour past our state capital, there is another quaint small town of Linden, where we had our second Downton Abbey presentation. Here we were guests of Dee Birch, owner of Sweet D Confections and Tea Room. The tea room is beautiful - full of period charm and vintage tablescapes. Dee provides an afternoon tea that is delicious and generous in portions. You will never go away hungry!

Dee Birch, Debbie and Marie and Rachel Rose
Many attendees dressed in Downton Abbey fashion and we enjoyed meeting every single lady who came for tea.

We traveled many miles, met so many wonderful folks at our tea events and loved every tea room along the way,

We'll make each stop its own blog story, but wanted you all to be the first to know. . .

What is teakend? It's absolutely awesome!

Monday, May 16, 2016

A weekend of tea events in April: A family affair with a surprise visit from Victoria's Tea Salon

Rebekah C., Associate Director w/ BTS & Doug K., Director - under Martha Baldwin's portrait.

In April, Barb's Tea Service presented four events:  Downton Abbey-inspired teas at the Townsend Hotel and Walled Lake Library and on the third weekend of the month, back-to-back teas in Birmingham and Canton.

The first event was a volunteer/patron appreciation afternoon tea at Birmingham's Baldwin Library. BTS presented Tea History and Etiquette along with preparing and serving tea. We were invited by Rebekah Craft, Associate Director and Doug Koschik, Library Director. The room was filled with volunteers and board members - a truly wonderful and friendly group of people.

Rachel starts brewing the tea before guests arrive.

The library supplied the scones and pastries and BTS brewed up some delicious  Earl Grey and Lomi Lomi, a tasty herbal, both from Socra Tea.

Baldwin supplied the scones and pastries. BTS served up tea from Socra Tea

Centerpieces were fresh flowers in Fiestaware pitchers from Rebekah's personal collection. They added a vibrant splash of color and a bit of spring to the table decor.

Half of the room filled with dedicated volunteers.

It was a lovely time spent at this hometown library that blends the old with the new: a place that has meant a lot to me over the years.  I grew up in Birmingham and came here frequently as a child with my dad and later in high school I well remember clocking in some long hours working on term papers. When my own children attended Birmingham schools, we were once again a collective fixture at Baldwin.

It was really such an honor to spend an afternoon with such dedicated folks who do so much  to make Baldwin Library the fantastic Birmingham treasure that it is.

And, that was just Saturday! The next day, we were at the Canton Library - another great community treasure - for our Tea from China program. This was part of the "Everyone's Reading" program which featured "Shanghai Girls" by author Lisa See.

Next day, Tea from China at Canton Library

Because this was a tea tasting, we brought in extra staff. Rachel had company with her older brother, Rob.

BTS staff, Rob and Rachel, keeping it all in the family

We had another wonderful treat from Victoria's Tea Salon. Vicky O'Neil, who also catered the Downton Abbey event we were part of at the Southfield Public Library, brought trays of scones and pastries for the guests. They were as beautiful as they were delicious. Many thanks to Vicky for coming out and serving such a fabulous afternoon tea fare.

Vicky O'Neil of Victoria's Tea Salon brought tasty tea treats

Scones and pastries from Victoria's Tea Salon, as beautiful as they are delicious!

Along with the presentation on the history of tea, guests sampled four different Chinese teas.

Some of the guests getting settled before the program.
The guests and staff at the Canton Library were wonderful. It was another amazing tea afternoon. A heartfelt thank-you to the library, the guests, Victoria's Tea Salon and BTS' charming staff.

Thanks to Canton Library, Victoria's Tea Salon and BTS' excellent staff
And, we're not done yet. Another back-to-back weekend of tea events is coming. This Saturday, we will be near Kalamazoo at the Schoolcraft Libary and on Sunday, we will be in Linden at Sweet D's Tea Room with our Downton Abbey-inspired afternoon teas. For more information, see our events page at Barb's Tea Service.

Hope to see you there!