Saturday, March 22, 2014

Japanese tea ceremony at the Detroit Institute of Arts, beautiful demonstration of rituals steeped in history

Hostess (in pink) serves guest of honor (in brown) and other attendee
Last weekend, the Japanese Women’s Club in association with the Japanese Consulate of Detroit demonstrated the rituals of the tea ceremony at the Detroit Institute of Arts as a part of the museum's current special exhibition, "Samurai: Beyond the Sword".  My daughter, Rachel, and I were in attendance of the demonstration, and, having experienced many an English afternoon tea as well as being guests at a Chinese tea ceremony, we were anxious to learn more about this very distinct way of tea.

Guests pay homage to wall hangings and tea preparation area
While the Chinese focus on the tea and the English afternoon tea centers on sumptuous treats and accessories, the Japanese tea ceremony's main emphasis is ritual. The hostess invites a guest of honor, and after that designation is bestowed, she can invite as many other attendees as she wishes. The guests enter the room, but before placing themselves at the station where they will be served, they first work their way around the perimeter paying respect to the wall hangings and tea preparation area.

Hostess wipes down tea accessories with napkin
Sunday's demonstration was a condensed version of a ceremony that, with the inclusion of a meal, can take over four hours. At the DIA stage in the Rivera Room, two guests and a hostess, dressed in beautiful traditional dress performed the ceremony in less than an hour. After giving all the accouterments a ceremonial cleaning with a dry napkin, the hostess prepared matcha, a powdery green tea that is whisked to a frothy consistency with a bamboo whisk.

The hostess serves the guest of honor first, who admires the bowl in which the tea is poured. She drinks quickly and appreciates the design of the bowl, making sure to point the most beautiful part of the pottery away from herself.
Guests may ask to examine tea boxes with carvings
After the other attendees are served, they may ask to see the hostess' tea canister. Guests will admire the lovely carved wooden box and after a respectable time of inspection, hand it back to the hostess. 

Hostess leaves the room with tea equipage
When the guests are done with the tea, the hostess will gather up her tea making equipage and depart. Attendees will retrace their earlier route of the room, again paying homage to the area where the tea was prepared as well as the wall hangings, placing an unopened fan before them to mark a respectable boundary between themselves and the hostess' belongings.

Guests again pay respect to tea area, placing an unopened fan as a boundary
There is very little talk during the ceremony as it is considered a meditative event. Unlike the English afternoon tea which Rachel and I are most familiar with, it is quiet, modest and entirely scripted. Beautiful and amazing to watch, we may not yet be masters at the Japanese tea ceremony, but we did bring back some Japanese green tea from the DIA gift shop and, that my dear friends, is a start.

Rachel looks at tea selection in gift shop

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Afternoon tea and chat with Lord Spencer

Interviewing Lord Spencer this week in Royal Oak
It's not often I get to sit down with British aristocracy, but last week I snagged that opportunity when Lord Spencer came to visit Michigan to promote the Althorp Living History collection at Royal Oak's Scott Shuptrine store.

Tall in stature, and in full possession of Patrician charm, Lord Spencer was engaging and accessible. He was surprisingly more handsome in person and unexpectedly humorous.

The Althorpe collection event was held last Wednesday in Scott Shuptrine's upscale furniture showroom and, along with a presentation from Lord Spencer, the retail store also offered afternoon tea fare and musical entertainment for those in attendance.

The "crested caddy" from the Althorp collection now part of  the Gulley collection

The collection is inspired by the Althorp estate, the childhood home of Lord Spencer and his sister, the late Princess Diana. Pieces from the collection include desks, chairs, sofas, beds and accessories, including tea trays and caddies.

The night of the event, the store had one Crested Caddy available, which, as the name suggests is embellished with the Spencer family crest. I scooped it up and Lord Spencer personalized the piece by signing it for me.

When I asked if they still use the tea caddies at Althorp, Lord Spencer said with a wry grin, "yes, but they don't always have tea in them".

Lord Spencer points to the family crest, which was theirs "before Harry Potter stole it".

He pointed to the family crest, noting the griffin below the five-pointed crown. "This was ours" said Lord Spencer, "long before Harry Potter stole it from us".

He told me his favorite tea is Japanese green and that his favorite room to have a cup is the home's library, not only because it's such a lovely space but because that's where the family tends to congregate.

The Althorp collection will strike a chord with Downton Abbey fans as the furniture represents generations of period pieces. I was surprised to learn however, that although Lord Spencer is a close friend of Julian Fellowes, the creator of Downton Abbey, he doesn't watch the show. He jokingly said that he's probably the only one who hasn't.

As part of the media covering the event, I was thrilled the public relations folks of both Scott Shuptrine and Lord Spencer made time for me to chat with Charles, the 9th Earl of Spencer.  For more details on  the Spencer family and the Althorp furniture and estate, check out my stories on The Examiner:

Real life Downton Abbey furnishings and tea with Lord Spencer of Althorp 

The Earl of Spencer and afternoon tea featured at Royal Oak's Scott Shuptrine

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Barb's TEA Shop's In/Out List for 2014: Real Downton Abbey vs Reality TV

In with the new & out with the old
Last weekend, I cleaned out my tea pantry. It was time to take inventory and assess what was staying and what was going. Much like our annual In/Out list, it lead to "out with the old and in with the new (er)".

 A little behind schedule,  a quick glance at the list and you'll get a clue as to what we've been caught up with in the past two months. Even with  the Season 4's finale this Sunday, our obsession will not stop. There's enough to keep us going until Season 5 next January.

In                                                        Out

Downton Abbey    .............................Anything else on Sunday evenings at 9:00

Dowager Countess and Lady Mary.... Honey Boo Boo and Mama June

Downton Tabby .................................Ducky Dynasty

Tom "Cat", the Chau-fur &; Mrs. Catmore .......Grumpy Cat and Lil Bub

Downton Abbey jewellery...................Grillz (unless burgers are on it)

Overhearing secrets at Downton...........Listening to what the fox says


Ringing for Carson ..............................Twerking with Miley

The World of Downton Abbey by Jessica Fellowes ....Real World (is that still on?)

Ladies Almina &  Catherine books by Lady Carnarvon . . .Real Housewives

Being a Lord (aka Laird) or Lady...................Bachelors or Bachelorettes.

Eating Royally, recipes from Royal Chef. . . Pizza Hut hot dog stuffed pizza crust                                                                                                          

Ringing in both the new year and Carson for the months ahead filled with Downton Abbey! 

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Austen-tacious tea at Troy Public Library: Chilly temperatures not so important

Beautiful poster of the event from Troy Library

 In John Mullen's book, "What Matters in Jane Austen?:  Twenty Crucial Puzzles Solved", Chapter 7 asks the question, "Why is weather important?" Although Mullen is directing this inquiry to the plot lines of Austen's novels, we saw applicability to the weather's importance with regards to a  Jane Austen tea talk - specifically this past Sunday as Barb's TEA Shop presented "An Austen-tacious Tea" at the Troy Public Library. With single digit temperatures and a threat of another snowfall this weekend, we wondered how many would venture out for tea and Austen. I'm happy to report, the library room was full and, at the end of the presentation, our teapots were depleted!

Almost ready to start as guests finish up in the tea line
We were thrilled to see such a great turnout on a chilly afternoon. Upon arrival, guests hung their coats on the back of their chairs and lined up for some hot and inviting Twinings tea (Jane's favorite!). Rachel (my daughter and business partner) served up the tea and after checking out the variety of tea cups attendees brought, I began the presentation.

Rachel serves guest Twining tea, Jane's favorite!
We touched upon Regency period influences, Austen residences, characters in her novels and even some Downton Abbey tie-ins. We covered a couple centuries in sixty minutes and, as always, the time travel goes by in warp speed. A great time with a delightful group of folks.

Our thanks to all who attended as well as Cassandra S., Librarian at TPL, who invited us to present this fun event.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Lord and Ladies get ready for the premier of Downton Abbey, Season Four

Ringing for Carson to serve tea during DA, Season 4
The countdown to Downton has begun! Tonight, the premiere of Downton Abbey, Season 4, debuts at 9:00 pm.  I shall join Lord Gulley in our drawing room this evening, seated comfortably between the fireplace and the flat screen TV, and ring Carson for a cup of tea. Months in anticipation, I am ready to rejoin the Crawfords as they once again meet life's challenges as the one-percenters of the Edwardian era.

Although fictional characters, they are as real to me as my own Lord Gulley, who, as of this month, may be truly addressed as "Lord" or "Laird", thanks to a Christmas gift of a small plot of land in Scotland, courtesy Highland Titles. (He may also be referred to as "The Much Honoured Gulley, Lord of Glencoe")

And, while we're talking Christmas gifts, I was the recipient of some wonderful DA-themed presents this year. I received the two books in the "Real Downton Abbey" series, written by the current Lady Carnarvon. The first is about Lady Alamina, who married the 5th Earl of Carnarvon and is the inspiration for the Downton Abbey family. (Much of the DA "upstairs" is filmed at the Carnarvon's estate, Highclere Castle.)

Lord Gulley , as estate owner, can empathize with Lord Grantham
The second book continues the family saga to the next generation, focusing on Lady Catherine who married Lady Alamina's son.  I have read the first one and enjoyed it greatly. It provides some interesting tidbits to the real-life aristocracy, however, be prepared for a lot of World War I history. The second half of the book spends a significant amount of time on the subject.

These books were a gift from my brother and sister-in-law and also came with a DA Christmas tree ornament that is pull bell, modeled after one in the servant's hall. I chose to mount this on my own front foyer wall and will ring for tea when necessary.

Another DA-inspired gift came from my other brother, Glenn, another family member who supports my addiction to this show.  This was a book, too, although, on the other end of the spectrum from real-life lords and ladies to an absurd, but hilarious parody, in the feline personification of the Crawley brood, entitled "Downton Tabby".

Studying up with DA books, from real-life lords to funny fat cats
Downton Tabby has all the silly things you might expect from a group of cats dressed in Edwardian garb with names like "Catson" for the head butler and "Tom 'Cat' Blarney", as the "chau-fur", but it also elicits some high-end wit with its insightful comparisons to the aristocracy and the lives of cats. Some of the basics for both groups:  "never do anything for yourself that someone else can do for you, get fed, groom, sleep, groom and, finally, loaf in a decorative chair in a highly charming manner."

My favorite page in Downton Tabby, however, is the diagram for the proper table setting. It includes not only a napkin and place card, but a stoat fork, vole fork, mouse knife, hair plate, four glasses for milk and one milk goblet. A tablescape that would make even  Grumpy Cat smile.

With my Downton Abbey collection close by and a warm cup of tea in hand,  the Lord Gulley and I will tune it at 9:00 pm to watch our favorite Masterpiece Theater drama begin its fourth season. It is how we will conclude our week-end, whatever that may be!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Barb's TEA Shop Wishlist 2013

December is here!

On the heels of a late Thanksgiving weekend, Barb's TEA Shop is taking a tea break to share our annual Holiday Wishlist to assist with gift ideas for the tea enthusiast you're shopping for this season (be it friend, family or even yourself!).

Once again, we found inspiration in our travels throughout the year as well as some favorite pastimes. This year, BTS traveled south to North Carolina, Florida and Georgia and west to Colorado - not to mention our favorite Michigan haunts: Traverse City and Mackinac Island. Combine those destinations with our favorite fictional Edwardian family, the Crawley's of Downton Abbey, and we have amassed a full-range of items sure to delight any tea devotee on your list.

For the Lords and Ladies on your list.

With Downton Abbey Season 4 starting January 5th, there's not much time left to get ready for your Lord and Lady afternoon tea celebration party. Here is our top pick for how to accessorize your lovely party dress.

Accessories for your afternoon tea dress
Jewelry inspired by DA Season 1

These come from the Signals website. This lovely pear drop necklace and matching earrings were inspired by a set Cora Crawley, Countess of Grantham, wore to a dinner party in Season 1. The necklace sells for $35 and same price for the earrings.

Highclere Castle tickets for Summer 2014 go on sale in February

If you are looking for something on a more grand scale, you can also purchase tickets for the tour of the real Downton Abbey, Highclere Castle, located in Hampshire, England. Keep in mind, Easter and May, 2014 openings to the public are already SOLD OUT! For you tenacious, generous souls who remain vigilant for you DA devotee, tickets for Summer, 2014 will be available at the Highclere website in FEBRUARY!  Have Carson take note to remind you, or for those of you who live in this century, set an alarm on your smart phone.

Tea Rooms we love and what you can get there:

Denver Tea Room has its own scone mix for sale

Denver Tea Room:  Great tea room that offers a delicious afternoon tea menu and can accommodate a variety of dietary restrictions. We recommend their scone mix - easy to fix and sweet tasting. (Note: keep watching their website, they'll be moving to a new location soon!)

The Grand Hotel China. One tea cup needs another. . . 

Grand Hotel Mackinac Island:  Always a special treat to have an elegant afternoon tea with a million dollar view of the straits of Mackinac while listening to the harpist in the background.  We purchased Mackinac-inspired loose tea when we were there in May along with a tea cup in the hotel's signature china pattern. This cup could use some company.  (Cyber Monday has some great gift card bonuses, too!)

A souvenir from the Carolina Inn - great for hot chocolate!

Carolina Inn:  Located in Chapel Hill, this is a beautiful place to have afternoon tea. My trip to North Carolina in October was way too short. A memento from the gift shop would help me maintain Carolina Inn my mind. Lovely blue mug could house some Whittard hot chocolate*.

The Townsend Hotel afternoon tea is a great luxury - anytime!

Townsend Hotel:  In the heart of downtown Birmingham, an upscale community in southeastern Michigan, this hotel has Afternoon Tea going on. Served seven days a week in an elegant setting with a exquisite menu, this is treat anytime of the year. But, you'll want to watch their calendar as they have special tea events every month. A gift certificate to the Townsend will have your tea enthusiast feeling like Royalty. Speaking of which. . .

Books that cover personal anecdotes from knowing the Royals as well as amazing recipes:

Eating Royally by Royal Chef, Darren McGrady is a great tome filled with personal stories of interacting with the Royals, including Queen Elizabeth and Princess Di, and indulgent recipes that include chocolate biscuit cake and royal tea scones. There's a whole chapter devoted to Winter Balls and Summer Teas. Filled with pictures that will delight as well as inspire, you can order directly from The Royal Chef website for a personalized copy. It can also be purchased on Amazon.

Tea on the Titanic by Penelope Carlevato. Born in England and now current resident of a Denver suburb, the author taps into her British roots and love of tea, to deliver an interesting take on the ill-fated cruise ship. She also includes a number of tasty recipes to inspire your next tea time. Available for purchase on the Tea on Titanic website.

Teas near and far:
This sampler includes Relaxation Blend. Ahhhh, yes!

How about a sampler gift bag from Light of Day teas in Traverse City? Four different variety of teas wrapped up together makes a great presentation as well as present. Our latest favorite LOD tea is "Relaxation Blend" made of chamomile, raspberry leaf and spearmint. A delightful cup to unwind with at the end of your day. Available at their store in TC or their website, under Light of Day gift ideas.

Some of Whittard's tea can be purchased in these pretty and practical.

Whittard of Chelsea in London: We sampled a few delightful teas, specifically English Breakfast and Royal Blend - both hearty black teas that work well with the addition of milk. We especially like the tins that the loose tea can be purchased in as they are both practical and pretty.

*The also carry a line of hot chocolate which I think would be a delightful treat to try! All teas, coffees and hot chocolates can be purchased on-line at Whittard.

And now for something comple-TEA-ly different:

Silly tea accessories:  For those who want to add a little fun and irreverence to tea time, how about a Mr. Tea infuser? We demonstrated this in a video earlier this year and it comes from Fred. There's a wonderful companion, the Manatea. I have both of these and find the novelty has not yet wore off. Available at Amazon and Sur La Table. (Fred also makes a Titanic tea infuser, but I'm not quite sure I'm ready for that one.)

Mr. Tea taking a hot bath while making a delightful cup of tea

An aquatic companion for Mr. Tea

Not to be confused with Snooty, a real Manatee we met in Florida

Dog tea! While we're talking animals, don't forget the canine tea lover on your list. Dushanbe Tea Room a uniquely beautiful tea room in Boulder, CO, has a wonderful afternoon tea menu. It also sells tea and logo tea ware. But, a first for us - they also offered a line of tea designed to help the health of your dogs. When we were there we bought some dog tea to take home to our pups. (Also, any of their own branded tea for humans would make a fantastic gift!)

A line of dog tea as well as delicious tea for humans

Satisfy your hunger game with dessert

Hunger Games movie tour followed by dessert:  The Swan Coach House in Atlanta is a tony restaurant that serves tea sandwiches served with tea anytime - and special themed teas throughout the year.  Located on the grounds of the Atlantic History Center, where  part of "Hunger Games, Catching Fire", was filmed. Take part in their "Capitol Tour", running now through January 1st, and stop by the Swan Coach for their Mocking Jay dessert, created in honor of the movie setting.

Chocolate and Tea Pairing from Barb's TEA Shop: And, what better way to end, but with chocolate. A new offering from Barb's TEA Shop, comes via  "Chocolate and Tea Pairings". Food pairings are the rage with "foodies" and putting together an event that combines the variety of teas with the the decadence of rich chocolate spells fun and yum! for your next party. Contact us at or message us on facebook for more details.

Chocolate and Tea Pairings from BTS - schedule yours today!

Happy shopping and Happy Holidays to all!

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Going to Carolina Inn my mind (and the restorative powers of an elegant afternoon tea)

Carolina Inn, located on the campus of the University of North Carolina

Born, raised and current resident of Oakland County, in a suburb just north of Detroit, I'm proud of my Midwest roots, however, there's part of me that leans towards Southern sensibilities. Afternoon tea at the Carolina Inn embodies the history, charm and gentility of a society that, if I can't fully emulate, I absolutely adore. This beautiful Inn, on the campus of the University of North Carolina, in the heart of the quaint town of Chapel Hill, is all grace and decorum. After a bumpy "plains, trains and automobiles" trip to get there, an afternoon of Southern hospitality was especially welcoming.

In the back of a crowed van on the way to Detroit Metro

A short journey that sadly resembled a John Hughes movie, in the first leg of this two-day trip, I was victim to a canceled flight (just as we were boarding), an airport-chartered van that took a dozen hapless souls to Detroit Metro to catch connecting flights (missing mine by 5 minutes), a reschedule flight to Columbus with an hour layover and, finally, food poisoning -which I suspect came from a turkey panini I purchased at that Ohio airport kiosk.

Karolina Hooker, Restaurant Coordinator/Tea Director of the Carolina Inn

Afternoon tea cures all that ails

I rallied,  however, the next afternoon in time to meet up with Karolina Hooker, tea director of the Carolina Inn. We had exchanged emails earlier in the month and she invited me to join her for tea at 3:00 that Wednesday afternoon.  I am not a health professional, so I can't, with any authority, speak to the healing powers of tea. I can, however, attribute a direct causal affect to an afternoon tea invitation at one of the most beautiful Inn's of the South to working miracles in restorative powers. Within hours of experiencing a whole lot of hurt, I found the strength to call a rental car service a block from my hotel and put a compact car on hold. A short time later, I was barreling down  I-40, gaunt and a little shaky, but feeling the positive effects of tea - and that was just in anticipation.

The elegant lobby of the Carolina Inn
The Carolina Inn was, in every aspect, all that and more. From the moment I drove up to the pillared facade of the Inn and then entering the crystal-chandelier lobby, I knew my Southern leanings had found their home. Greeted by Karolina (pronounced Care-o-leena) in the elegant foyer, she escorted me to one of the private rooms near the main dining area. Rose walls with cream wainscoting served as background to chairs with toile (yes, toile!) cushions in the same color scheme. And, we're just talking decor- I haven't even started with the food.

Scones, chocolate torte, cheesecake, tiarmisu

Elmwood Inn's Carolina Blueberry tea is served at the Inn

The afternoon tea fare was, indeed, in keeping with all the ambiance. All the food is  fresh and prepared on-site. Karolina treated me to a large assortment of afternoon tea delights including the Inn's signature scones, chocolate granache tarts and petite cheesecakes. These were accompanied by pot of Earl Grey and a refreshing brew of Elmwood Inn's Carolina Blueberry tea. (For a more detailed account of the afternoon tea offerings, see the Detroit Tea Examiner's account, "Afternoon tea at the Carolina Inn:  Southern charm and history make any day special").

Despite the challenges to getting there, the trip was so worth the destination. I hope to get back there in the near future, but whenever I feel the need to get in touch with my Southern sensibilities without the benefit of trains, plains or vans, I'll take a cue from James Taylor and I'll go to the Carolina Inn my mind.