Saturday, August 3, 2019

Countdown to Downton Abbey: Join BTS for the movie premier and Townsend Tea!

The tiara has arrived in time for Downton Abbey movie weekend in September

It's been a long wait, but after  three long years, we Downton Abbey fanatics will once again be reunited with the upstairs and downstairs clan of that grand country estate across the pond.

My tiara arrived today, so I'm now set  for the weekend of September 20th. I hope you will join us in some amazing DA festivities.

Downton Abbey-inspired afternoon tea at the Townsend Hotel has a menu fit for royalty!

Come join us for a Downton Abbey-inspired afternoon tea event at the Townsend Hotel, Sunday, September 22. Check out this evenbrite link for more details:  Downton Abbey Tea at the Townsend, special guest, Barbara Gulley.  You MUST see what's on the menu - you'll feel like the royalty that comes to visit Downton Abbey!

We'll talk about our visit to the real Downton Abbey, Highclere Castle, our interview with the current countess of the family estate, Lady Carnarvon and  -  NEW! -  table manners and etiquette of DA.

Our visit to the "real Downton Abbey", Highclere Castle

And, for those of you who want to attend the movie premiere, September 20th, Barb's Tea Service has reserved a number of movie tickets for an evening showing at the Maple Theater in Bloomfield. We'll be donning our tiara's and gloves. If you want to be part of our fanatic, fun group, email us at  More details coming soon!

In the meantime, channel your inner-Violet/Mary/ Mrs. Patmore and let the countdown to Downton begin!!

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Gardening by the book and open for business!! Enhanced Pemberly Pines tea oasis courtesy 'Growing Your Own Tea Garden'

In the Pemberly Pines Tea Garden is now open with new planters and new plants

Pemberly Pines tea garden was set in motion this year with a little help from my husband's new planters and "Growing Your Own Tea Garden", a recently published book from author, Jodi Helmer.

We've been cultivating a tea garden at our northern Michigan retreat, Pemberly Pines, since 2010. Due to the sandy soil and very chilly winter temperatures, growing season is short and a little challenging. 

Chris and Bryan set up the new planters.

This year, Chris took his handyman skills to task and built a series of raised flower beds, so we have more areas to enhance the soil. We assembled them last weekend and began the planting!

I usually grow annuals - bright colored geraniums, marigolds and/or impatiens - along with a few hearty herbs that occasionally return the following spring (mint/spearmint/lemon balm).  But, this year, I went out of my comfort-growing zone and, taking a cue from "Growing Your Own Tea Garden", I planted lavender as part of my "relaxing" garden, thyme for my "tummy troubles" garden and, for something completely different, strawberries to make hot or iced tea (recipes provided in Jodi Helmer's book).

Pemberly Pines is a favorite spot to relax and unwind with friends and family

We've been entertaining family and friends in our tea garden since we first put it together.  Over the years, we've  added more flower beds, a deck, planters, bistro seating and a sundial. It's a favorite spot for us to relax, sip tea and bring a little civility to the woods. Although on the latter, we don't always succeed.  

We don't always achieve total civility. . . 

Pemberly Pines tea garden is officially open for 2019. Let us know when you're heading up north and we'll put the kettle on!

For more information on Jodi Helmer, check out her website, and see, also, our recent blog featuring this amazing author, Tuesday Tea and Tomes: Growing Your Own Tea Garden.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Getting the Royal Treatment: Afternoon Tea on the Queen Mary

Afternoon tea aboard the Queen Mary 2

A  transatlantic cruise on the Queen Mary 2 offers exquisite staterooms, gourmet dining, excellent customer service, entertaining shows and, of course, expansive ocean views from balconies and decks. Scoring at the top of the luxury scale experience, the icing on the cake - or clotted cream on the scone - is afternoon tea. And, not just one, but two:  a classic three-course tea in the elegant dining room and, a decadent chocolate tea courtesy Godiva at Sir Samuel's.

Not a bad way to celebrate a milestone birthday!

With good friends, Quint and, my birthday twin, Pam, Chris and I thoroughly enjoyed the cruise, one year in the making!

Last spring, along with my husband, Chris and good friends, Pam and Quint, I boarded the Queen Mary 2 -  our home for the next seven days as the ship made its way from Southampton, England  to New York. It was a culmination of a year's worth of planning and it paved the way for a smooth sailing (although, not always quite literally) adventure of a lifetime.

QM 2 stateroom with balcony takes in ocean views.

Pam and I have the same birthday, April 11, and, as Quint has observed, we used to be just fine with going out to dinner. But, last year, we upped our game and decided to take that "dinner" on an ocean liner for seven days.

Warming up with hot tea on the balcony.
Fancy dinner with the Captain

A small city on water, the Queen Mary 2 provides the ultimate in pampering. The guest to crew ratio is two to one, so you're never waiting or wanting for anything. Tea time was no exception.

All dressed up for afternoon tea 

Mid-week, we donned our mid-day fancy attire (I got to wear a new pink cocktail dress my son, Matt, had bought me for Christmas) and joined  a few hundred other  passengers in the two-level Queen's Room for afternoon tea. With just the right dose of pomp and circumstance, white-jacketed wait staff appeared with teapots, stopping at each of  the tables to pour tea in the Queen Mary 2 branded china tea cups.

Scones and teas served to table on silver trays.

Next up, the staff brought out an assortment of savories, scones and finally, pastries, all served on silver platters and all delightfully scrumptious.

Less ceremonial, but every bit as extravagant, is the Godiva chocolate afternoon tea at Sir Samuel's on Deck 3. Aside from pots of tea (we chose Earl Grey!), you get to pick a Godiva pastry served up with  white chocolate scones and two truffles all while taking in ocean views.

Chocolate tea offered at Sir Samuel's on Deck 3

The week on board passed quickly.  We spent time at the pool, the library, the planetarium and hours exploring the many dining experiences on board. The only downside was spending Mother's Day away from my kids, but awesome children that they are, they arranged for a special cake to be delivered to our room as a surprise. I was so shocked when I saw the cake on our coffee table, I thought we had walked into the wrong room by mistake.

Mother's Day cake from the "kids". Surprised treat to share with my twin.

Other highlights of the cruise:  a special French dining experience at the Verandah restaurant (c'est magnifique!) and, because this was May of 2018, the ship's crew's coordinated greeting to honor the Royal Wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. But, nothing can hit you with a boatload of emotion and patriotism like seeing the Statue of Liberty appear out of the mist as the QM2 sailed into New York harbor.

Tres bien! Excellent lunch at Verandah.

The crew assembles early in the morning to send wedding greetings to the Royal Couple.

Nothing quite like the sight of the Statue of Liberty emerging from the mist as we enter New York Harbor.

This was, to be sure, a fantastic way to celebrate a milestone birthday. Along with the memories I brought back from our transatlantic cruise, I also have something tangible from my trip - a souvenir Queen Mary 2 tea mug.  Although I  don't need a lot of prompts to remind me of the fun times on QM2, a cup of Earl Grey in my commemorative cup and few Godiva chocolates (almost) takes me back to the cruise of a lifetime!

Been there, done that, got the tea mug, want to go back!

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Tuesday Tea and Tomes: Growing Your Own Tea Garden, Interview with author Jodi Helmer

Home grown tea gardens can provide not only a scenic and meditative place to sip a cup of tea, but also produce the ingredients of that tea that can assist with anything from fighting fatigue to a hangover cure.  An exciting guide to planting and harvesting those herbs and flowers that produce such ingredients - along with a little tea history, instruction and recipes -  can be found in the recently published book, "Growing Your Own Tea Garden" by Jodi Helmer. We recently met up with the author, who is also a farmer, beekeeper, educator and crafter, to talk about her new book

Tea garden: a great place to share with friends
Planting at Pemberly tea garden

But, first a little back story. A few weeks ago, Nancy Szerlag, gardening columnist for the Detroit News, wrote on the topic of "The Secrets of Tea Gardens" and featured Jodi Helmer's  book. As someone who has tried to cultivate a tea garden in our up north retreat, Pemberly Pines, for almost ten years, this caught my attention. I immediately ordered the book on Amazon, and within two days, I was reading and re-reading Growing Your Own Tea Garden from cover-to-cover.

Potted herbs among a teapot fountain at Pemberly Pines tea garden. (photo courtesy R. Durling)

Growing Your Own Tea Garden is sectioned by tea, leaves, flowers, fruit and roots and gives a description of the individual plants under each category in addition to a tea recipe for each (over fifty altogether!). It provides garden designs by theme (e.g., "sleepy time" or "tummy troubles") and best practices from preparing the soil to assessing the location.

We caught up with Jodi Helmer last week for an interview via email.

1. You have so many recipes for the teas. Where did you come up with them? Were some of these (or all) original recipes? All of the recipes in the book are original and came from a lot of experimentation in the kitchen. In the process of coming up with the recipes in the book, I tried some truly terrible combinations that were not fit to publish (or drink) and discovered that one tablespoon of fresh herbs in one mug of boiling water is a good go-to for flavorful tea.

2. I know you like black tea in the morning and herbals later in the day. Do you have a favorite tea? My go-to tea is Earl Grey. I also love orange pekoe; it’s the tea I drank with my grandmother (and the tea that is served at restaurants in Canada, where I grew up) so it’s a comforting drink that reminds me of home.

3. In your spare time, you raise bees. Do you add honey to your tea? Great question! Yes, I put honey in some of my teas (like chamomile). The sweet flavor is such a nice addition to lighter teas.

4. You've written several books including what looks to be an awesome foodies guide to Georgia and a travel book for Charlotte. In your travels, is there a special place you like to have tea, be it just small café or fancy place for afternoon tea? I had high tea at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco and it was an experience I’ll never forget: The tea was brewed to just the right temperature and it was served with scones and finger sandwiches in the most beautiful setting. It was just as I imagined high tea would be. The tea house at the Lan Su Chinese Garden in Portland, Oregon, is also amazing.

5.  You live on a farm, author books, freelance for several publications, teach classes, collect vintage needlework and craft. That's quite a lot! In all your spare time (!), what do you craft? Creative classes are my favorite: It helps me set aside time to create something in a limited time period. I’ve made a barn quilt, prayer flags, centerpiece boxes, seasonal signs, embroidered napkins, painting, book-making, birdhouses…I’ll try just about anything crafty. 

6.  Your Tea Garden book just came out this year. Can we expect another book out soon? Yes! I had another book come out this spring: Protecting Pollinators: How to Save the Creatures that Feed Our World, which looks at the threats facing bees and other pollinators and how we can reverse their decline. It was released a week before Growing Your Own Tea Garden. Thanks to strong interest in Growing Your Own Tea Garden, the publisher contracted me to write another (similar) book about growing ingredients for a range of beverages, including sodas, juices, cocktails and more tea. I’m already experimenting with recipes.  

7. Any other information you would like to share with our readers?  I hope that Growing Your Own Tea Garden inspires both tea drinkers and gardeners to try new things. You don’t need a green thumb or background in recipe development to grow edibles and brew them into flavorful teas. Experiment: See what grows well in your garden; use different herbs in your tea and have fun.

We found Growing Your Own Tea Garden, informative and inspirational.  We're looking forward to an enhanced tea garden this year as well as checking out Jodi Helmer's other fascinating books.

For more information on Growing Your Own Tea Garden and its author, check out Jodi Helmer's website at

Enhancing this year's tea garden
This year's harvest will add more deliciousness to our tea parties!

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Adagio Masters Tea: Exciting, limited edition, premium loose tea with a story!

Enjoying one of Adagio's new Master teas as recommended by the tea harvester who brought it to us.

Adagio's new Masters Tea series brings us not only fresh, premium loose teas to savor, but also the  back stories of those who harvest the tea in the regions where they're grown. As Adagio notes on their website, you don't have to be a tea connoisseur to enjoy. These teas come "fresh from the fields" and are offered in limited editions only. 

There are a variety of Masters teas available. We're sampling the five shown here.

Last week, I received a sample of five Masters teas and have brewed up two so far:  jin kong que from Yunnan, China and formosa fancy bai hao from Wen Shen, Taiwan. Both were excellent in taste (more details on that shortly!), but the experience didn't end after the steeping and sipping. One can actually "meet" the tea farmers, who add their expertise to every cup we enjoy, by simply going to the Adagio Masters tea pages on the tea company's website.

The loose leaves of Jin kong que, one of the delicious Masters teas from Yunan.

For the tea from Yunnan, you can find Zhao Ji Lin's story and discover what he loves about the tea harvesting process (the smell) and the challenges he faces (his knees are not "so well" from all the mountain climbing). There are also tips to enhance your tea experience and, in this case, I took Zhao Ji Lin's advice on how best to serve. I switched from sipping this tea in an English bone china tea cup to a tiny Chinese cup to better enjoy the tea smell and taste. (It's also an incentive to bring out my gai wan for future steeping!). 

Originally served jin kong que in an English bone china tea cup -  delicious in every (and any!) way

The jin kong que was delicious and I loved everything about this tea from my first good sniff after opening the packet to several small slurps after its brewing. At first, I detected fruity notes, but after steeping, I could taste the roasted sweet potato as described on the tea's label. 

Formosa oolong from Taiwan, smooth and sweet

The other Masters tea I sampled to date was the Formosa fancy bai hao, a smooth, light oolong from Taiwan. Here again, I took in fruity notes and  was in agreement with the label's claim of hints of honey and peach.

This tea can be served hot, or as recommended by one of the tea farmers, as a cold brew, chilled for eight hours.

Yu Kui Weng is a tea harvester of this tea. She loves the craft of rolling the tea, but, like Zhao Ji Lin, finds her job more of a challenge as she gets older. Her tip for this particular tea is to also enjoy it as a cold brew. She recommends cooling it in the refrigerator for eight hours, which will make the tea "more sweet and smooth".

We've really enjoyed the Masters  experience and look forward to trying out more of these limited edition teas and "meeting" more of the folks who bring it to us!

 Product review disclaimer:  I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free or discounted price. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Happy Anniversary to Harry and Meghan: Rembering our celebration on Fox News and The Townsend Hotel!

Tea toast to the newly married royal couple after presenting at The Townsend Hotel in Birmingham

May 18, 2018 was a very special day for both Prince Harry and Meghan Markle and for BTS as well. Today marks not only the one year anniversary of the Royal Wedding, but Barb's Tea Service's debut on Fox 2 News followed by a presentation and afternoon tea at The Townsend Hotel in Birmingham.

As part of The Townsend Hotel's afternoon tea team, Chris and I were interviewed by Charlie L. and Maurielle L.

There are not many occasions where I relish getting up at 4:00 AM, but last year, at this time, I didn't even need an alarm. As part of the Afternoon tea family at The Townsend, I was asked to appear with Assistant Tea Director, Chris Coscia, on a Fox 2 News segment in celebration of Harry and Meghan's big day. That was followed by an Afternoon Tea Talk at the Townsend where we not only discussed tea etiquette, but our royal connections, including our recent trip to England where London was abuzz with excitement and our up-close-and-personal interview  a few years back with Harry's uncle, Lord Charles Spencer.  We also showed off all our fine wedding souvenirs we brought back.

Interviewing Harry's famous uncle, Lord Spencer in 2014

Here's the link to the Fox 2 News Royal Wedding Afternoon Tea Segment:

Fox 2 News Royal Wedding Afternoon Tea

Knowing we'd need to purchase a new hat for the occasion, while in London the week before the wedding, I stopped in Harrods with my husband, Chris, and good friends, Pam and Quint. As unexpected, and somewhat willing consultants, they assisted me in finding the perfect fascinator that met both traveling and budget constraints.

Shopping hats at Harrods a week before the wedding

 Part of the many, many hats and fascinators to purchase at Harrods

After Harrods, we had twenty-four hours left in London before heading to Southampton to board the Queen Mary II for the ride back home. Even the crew of the cruise ship got caught up in the royal event, posing for a group shot salutation to the soon-to-be bride and groom.

Crew on our cruise ship, the QMII, got caught up in the event, posing for well wishes for the royal couple

Back home, I had one evening in Michigan before the early morning meeting with my Kelsey Marie Claire, MUA and then off to the studio.

Excited (and a little nervous) before going on air.

We taped the segment to be inserted later as part of the Royal Wedding coverage. Then, off with Rachel to The Townsend for more celebrating.

It was an awesome day filled with excitement, nervousness, family, luxury and fascinators . . . for BTS.  I hope the same for Harry and Meghan!

Saturday, May 18, 2019

BTS in Florida: Wonderful Mother's Day Afternoon Tea at Water's Edge

Three generations took part in Water's Edge Mother's Day Afternoon Tea

Mother's Day weekend, Barb's Tea Service presented  "Tea and Etiquette" at the beautiful senior living community, Water's Edge in Bradenton, Florida.  Invited to bring our program down to the new residence of my in-laws Bob and Barb G.,  by Water's Edge Sales Manager, Tami Erickson -  who also doubles as an amazing pastry chef -  we were excited to be part of this special event. It was not only a lovely venue with fantastic guests, but a delightful family affair as well. 

Over forty ladies came to tea, many with pretty hats or fascinators.

Over forty ladies came to tea, many attired in pretty hats or fascinators. Guests were served tea sandwiches, mini quiches, petit fours and the crème du la crème, delicious macarons in rainbow colors baked to perfection by Tami E.!

Introduction to Afternoon Tea

Beautiful macarons courtesy Tami E.

Along with afternoon tea etiquette and a brief history of tea, we also presented a mini slideshow of tea rooms we have visited in Europe, including England, Ireland, France and Scotland. This well-traveled audience had been to many and offered recommendations for other tea venues for BTS to visit. We were also given a number suggestions for tea rooms in Florida. (We'll be busy checking those out in our upcoming visits to the sunshine state).

Rachel provides technical assistance and set up.

This was an extra special time for us as we were spending Mother's Day with three generations:  the two Barb Gulley's and my daughter, Rachel.  

Afternoon Tea invites, illustrations courtesy Barbara R. Gulley

A lot of family took part in this event: we gave away two "Twelve Etiquette Essentials:  Formal Dining and Tea Time" books written by Barbara J. Gulley and illustrated by Barbara R. Gulley. My mother-in-law also created the artwork for the afternoon tea invitations. Rachel provided technical and tea assistance and my sister-in-law, Cara, sent us personalized BTS carry totes for the occasion (Honeywood Embroidery). 

Personalized tote from Honeywood Embroidery
Twelve Etiquette Essentials by the Barb Gulleys
It was a wonderful Mother's Day Afternoon Tea at Water's Edge. We hope to be back soon (and we've got a lot of Florida tea rooms to visit as well!)

View from balcony at Water's Edge,

Thanks to Tami, Nicole and the Water's Edge Community for hosting this special event!