Sunday, December 21, 2008

Every (Snow) Cloud has a Silver Lining

Just in time for the busiest time of the year, a snow storm hit southeastern Michigan hard this weekend. Like many in my area, this was not on "the list" of things to do before December 24th. I still had shopping, wrapping, card writing and decorating on my to-do's and this 10 inch snowfall was an imposing fluffy-white barricade to getting these things completed.

So, Friday morning, in total denial, I pulled on my Cabela snow boots, threw my ski coat over business casual attire and headed into the office. Braving unplowed streets and what appeared to be an abandoned parking lot, I made my way up to our department floor and was met with the silence of the majority, who wisely stayed home. I made myself a cup of tea and shared stories of the treacherous drive in with a few co-workers who were slowly making snowy trails to their cubicles. In a relatively short time, we received word from executive management to go home, as all indications were the storm would not be letting up any time soon.

That's when the "snow day" alarm set off - that joyous memory of no school, no homework and an unapologetic reason to do absolutely nothing. I immediately called my daughter, Rachel (who's home on college break), to put the kettle on to boil and warm up the DVD. It was a cosmic gift being sent our way - a day off, with no guilt!

By the time I got home, the tea was ready and the first episode of Gilmore Girls, Season 7, was ready to run. We were armed and ready - I brought out the full artillary of honey sticks: cinnamon, lemon and cloverleaf. Then Rachel went full throttle and brought out the kitchen aide. The day before, she had found a recipe in one of my tea magazines, for white chocolate chai tea mousse in dark chocolate cups. So, while Lorelai and Christopher were trying to salvage their marriage, we were wrapped up in afghans, sipping tea and eating chocolate. "The list" stayed forgotten, tucked away in the zippered pocket of my mock-designer purse.

Now, mind you, the list was still there the next day, but with the forced recharging of internal batteries, it seemed like a snap to get the remainder of the holiday tasks completed. Well, my husband might argue the mid-afternoon drive to the mall was more like a taxi ride in rush-hour Manhattan than a "snap," but we softened the stress by switching on the 24-hour Christmas music station and, as if on cue, the familiar and soothing sounds of Bing Crosby bellowing"White Christmas" came on.

Certainly, there's no doubt, in Detroit, we don't have to dream it, we're living White Christmas this week. But, to borrow from Irving Berlin, no matter where you are: "May your Holidays be merry and bright and - with the assistance of a full force of salt trucks - may all your Christmases be white."

Happy Holidays!


Sunday, December 7, 2008

Thanksgiving Traditions Start with "Capital Tea"s

Hello Friends!

If it's any indication how prepared I am for Christmas this year, on this afternoon's tea break I'm still reflecting on Thanksgiving. In the midst of snow, twinkling lights and holly berry wreaths, I decided to pour myself a second cup of Earl Grey (from Angelina's) and share with you some of our new Thanksgiving traditions this year.

"In-laws" took on a new meaning for us this November as we had our first blended holiday gathering between ourselves and our future daughter-in-law, Karyn's family. Of course, we had the standards: turkey, stuffing, green bean casserole and pumpkin pie. But with our extended family, we had more tea enthusiasts at the table than ever before! So, for dessert, we brought out the variety pack as well as brewed a pot of Earl Grey from Angelina's.

(Just for the record, we picked this fine tea at Angelina's in Paris, upon our good friend, Carol D's recommendation. After sampling, we understood why she asked us if we could bring her back a tin. With that, we find it is true - good friends don't let good friends drink bad tea!)

So, for the first time at our Thanksgiving dinner, we brewed tea for our guests. It added a touch of grace and civility to our holiday repast - that is, until the cards came out. Then, the white gloves came off as we began the ultimate pinochle tournament only to be followed by Extreme Hearts. The latter of which we renamed, "There Will Be Blood. . . But Not on the First Trick!" (For those who don't follow that card game, "blood" refers to the suit of "hearts" - so no worries!)

After midnight, and long after the tea had turned cold and the leftovers were put away for a week's worth of tasty meals, we concluded our Thanksgiving get together with traditions old and new. It was the perfect "meld"-ing of family, turkey, tea and pinochle. Dare I say, it will be hard to "trump"?

But, now, back to this weekend where, while taking ornaments out the crate and dusting off snow globes, I'm also thumbing through Hoyle's as well as Harney's new tea catalog for inspiration for our next blended gathering.

So, friends, enjoy your holiday preparations - but don't forget to treat yourself to a little holiday tea time in between!

TEA and friendship,


Sunday, November 23, 2008

Afternoon Tea at Brook Lodge - Just What the Doctor Ordered

Last week, at the Brook Lodge, guests found the perfect prescription to clear a chilly, overcast November afternoon in English Tea Time at the Doctor's Cottage. Barb's TEA Shop presented "Tea and Etiquette" in the main dining room of what was the former summer residence of Dr. Upjohn, of Upjohn pharmaceuticals, and now one of the elegant event rooms at the Brook Lodge.

Tea was served using the estate's original Wedgwood china and the table was filled with gourmet treats that continued to be served throughout the event. The curried egg salad and house smoked salmon on peppered rye crisp and the lobster and crab salad on brioche were just two of the many savories included in the afternoon tea. And, although cucumber sandwiches are a mainstay for most English tea times, BTS rates the Brook Lodge's cucumber and boursin cheese finger sandwiches as one the best its ever sampled. With a fresh interpretation - both literally (all offerings were made from scratch on the premises) and figuratively - of the Afternoon tea menu, guests were treated to a meal that was as creative as it was delicious.

Look for more exciting upcoming events, including the Holiday Sunday Supper, December 14th, at The Brook Lodge.

Pat Glass, Jo English & Kay Preston enjoy tea at the Brook Lodge

And, while the temperatures here continue to delight few but the salt trucks and ski resorts, I, too, will write and fill out my own Rx for an unending pot of warm and soothing Elmwood Inn's Apple Spice Black tea - with the apple to keep the doctor away, but certainly not the doctor's cottage!

Happy Thanksgiving to All!

Tea and Friendship,


Thursday, November 13, 2008

Brook Lodge Afternoon Tea, Thursday, November 20

Greetings TEA Friends!
This Thursday afternoon, the Brook Lodge is hosting a delightful tea in the "Doctor's Cottage", the elegant, one-time home of Dr. Upjohn, of famed Upjohn pharmaceuticals. This lovely convention center is now part of Michigan State University and is located between Kalamazoo and Battle Creek.

Last Sunday, my daughter, Rachel and I were guests of Head Chef, John Merucci and the Brook Lodge team. The beer-infused buffet-style meal was served in the dining room - a stately building that blends the old architecture with the new - with spectacular views of the estate's rolling hills and the old mill pond.

On this typical Michigan November day, which of course means it's anything but predictable, we experienced sunshine, a bit of sleet and, dare I say, a hint of snow? But, sitting next to the wall of scenic window views, we were warmed by the ambiance and outstanding gourmet dinner . . . and a cup of tea, of course! We dined on steak, pork, duck, crab croquettes, and duchess potatoes (to name just a few of the offerings), all prepared with a variety of ales as a main ingredient. Even the dessert contained beer (!) and the fresh fruit parfait with the creamy custard-like sauce left Rachel and I scraping our glasses to get the very last bite!

This beautiful venue was selected as a 2008 pick for "The Knot Best of Weddings", a national bride's resource magazine. One tour around the grounds and you'll know why - even on a seasonally challenged November day, the Brook Lodge charmed us with its period buildings, winding paths, and tree-filled landscape.

The tea will feature a Barb's TEA Shop presentation and full afternoon tea menu, served on the original home's wedgwood china. The fireplaces will be glowing as you sit down to a spectacular meal inside the cottage. For more details, click on the link below. Hope to see you there!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

A Market That Still Yields High Interest - Tea Shopping at R. Hirts General Store

Hello Tea Friends!

With the stock market in free fall and change, for better or worse, right around the election booth corner, it's nice to know there are still a few things that are as reliable and comforting as a warm cup of tea on chilly fall day. The "market" of which I refer to is Eastern Market, located in an almost "time-stood-still" portion of Detroit and I headed there this weekend in search of tea.

Now, many of my tea trips are taken from my personal list of legendary sites I must get to, some are serendipitous and, others, like Eastern Market, come from recommendations of those who have attended Barb's TEA Shop Seminars. This summer, I met Peg D., and upon her approbation of R. Hirt General Store's tea selection, I knew I'd be down there as soon as a free weekend opened up.

And this weekend was the one! Yesterday, my husband, Chris, and I ventured down to be part of this bustling shopping populous that forsakes the warehouse stores and strip malls - at least for a Saturday morning - and conducts business like our families did generations back. Here, you get to meet first-hand the farmers who made the pies and jams and harvested the squash and strawberries displayed in the open air market. But, for tea lovers, it's yet another glorious trip back in time, as you enter R. Hirt's door and step down on the well-worn wood floor to get your first glance at a number of amply-stocked shelves of tea about mid-way down the store.

There are loose teas and bag teas from a variety of brand names including Harney, Republic of Tea and Twinings. Prices are good and there is a lot to choose from. I picked up a few tins of Twinings Darjeeling, a couple of organic teas from an English importer I've never heard of - but anxious to try - and for my college freshman daughter who seems to have been the victim of every virus/flu bug on campus, I purchased "get wellness" an "herb tea for immunity". (I can't vouch for it's authenticity, but even if it's a placebo in a tea bag, it may still have recuperative powers in knowing that it's sent from Mom).

The general store's display is downright fun and visually engaging. There are many more teas I wanted to bring home, but, considering the "other market" we're dealing with, I tried to be somewhat fiscally responsible. Next trip, though, I want to take some selections from the tins on the shelf marked "NEW" and some from the shelf of familiar Harney black containers. From the latter, Peg recommends Peaches and Ginger - - and doesn't sound delicious?

We are so appreciative of the Eastern Market suggestion! Chris and I were only sorry we hadn't, in all our years in Southeastern Michigan, been there before. Fresh produce, cinnamon rolls, gourmet cheeses, candy and tea (!) - there is something to suit, quite literally, every one's taste.

So, dear TEA friends, whether it be Darjeeling, organic, or ginger and peach, I highly recommend preparing yourself a cup of tea and use your extra hour this weekend to treat yourself to some good old fashioned rest and relaxation. (You may want to save the "get wellness" for next month's 401k statement!)

Yours in TEA and friendship,


Sunday, October 12, 2008

Barb's TEA Shop - In the News!

Barb's TEA Shop is featured in this week's Mirror. Read about one young lady's quest to learn more about tea parties at our recent TEA Seminar at Berkley Library.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

TEA Tour in Paris (or Remembrance of Tea Things and Re-Past)

Bonjour Les Amies du Thé!

After an incredible week-long visit to the City of Lights, I am trying to recreate a bit of France this morning sur ma maision with a cup of French Breakfast tea from the premier Paris tea room, Mariage Freres. Although, I think it's a pretty good cup of tea, I have to admit, I haven't quite mastered the artistry of the tea someliers a la francais.

Mariage Freres was one of the several venues we visited on our "Tea Tour De France" just two weeks ago. Like the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, and The Louvre, there were the "must-see" tea rooms on my list: the Paris Ritz, Mariage Freres and Angelina's. But, in between, we left room for many lesser-known sites that made the tea adventure - - well, exactly that - - an adventure!

With my well-worn "Tea in the City - Paris" guide (by co-authors Jane Pettigrew and Bruce Richardson) in tow, we earmarked locations , or arrondissements, for our premiere choices. After that, we were open to whatever crossed our path.

When we first arrived at our hotel (a striking six- story building with window views of the Eiffel Tower and onetime residence of famed author, Marcel Proust) , it was shortly after noon, Paris time. We had taken an evening flight from Detroit, so by the time we dropped off our luggage and took a saunter down the Champs Elysees, we had been up for well-over 24 hours. Since we had afternoon tea reservations at the Ritz in a few hours, we didn't want to fall prey to the temptation of a nap. We figured a little air, a brisk walk and a light snack might be just the answer.

The Arc du Triumph/Champs Elysees was a two minute walk from our hotel, so once we were awed by the sight of that magnificent structure and the legendary boulevard that stems from its perimeter, we exited down one of the neighboring narrow streets to give ourselves a rest and repast. We found a little corner brasserie (combination restaurant/cafe/bar), "Sir Winstons" which, like most restaurants in Paris, posted its menu outside to assist potential customers in their selection. Sir Winstons had a full page selection of all their teas on display and I couldn't wait to sit in one of those authentic cafe tables and sip some warm brew. When we were seated, I asked our waitress for a tea recommendation. Without hesitation, she said in heavily French-accented English, "Detox!" I was puzzled for a moment - had the jet lag hit me more severely than I had thought? But, then, I glanced back down at the tea list before me, and there it was, about half-way down the page, "Detox". It was listed as a green tea and the waitress was quick to say it was her favorite. Seemed like a good choice since we were going full-leaded at the Ritz in only a few hours. So, Detox it was. As we sat back and watched the endless stream of cars and people and the gendarmes who did their best to control the refined chaos, I sipped my delicious green tea and spent a wonderful afternoon in "rehab"!

In subsequent days, we went to Anrondissement 4 for Mariage Freres and Anrondissement 1, at the Rue du Rivoli, for Angelina's (full review of the "Top Three" in next blog installment), but also visited other Salons de Thé along the way. In Paris, "Salons De The" is posted on many cafes, brasseries and other eating establishments. Like so many phrases, when expressed in French, it gives the air of being, perhaps, much more than it really is. A Salon de Thé just means tea is served - it doesn't necessarily mean it's of high quality. We did, however, find a few salons/patisseries - dangerously within walking distance of our hotel - that served a wonderful cup of tea with melt-in-your mouth works of art. Oh, to have a buttery madeleine with my French Breakfast today would be tres merveilleux!

Journeying out of Paris, we took a drive to Giverny, Monet's residence and home of the famous gardens and water lily pond. It was here, we learned, that the renowned impressionist, not only painted, buy enjoyed a cup of tea in the beautiful countryside estate he cultivated. We sat in one of the many pastel-infused jardins (near the equally lovely gift shop, I might add) and imagined tea time in this rich landscape.

Then, from one extreme to another, we headed to Versailles, which is, in every sense of the word, "rich landscape". This is the great palace that was built by Louis the XIV to get the nobility out of Paris and, ultimately, under his immediate control. To say this is excessive would be modest - it gives excess something to strive for. We viewed the luxurious gardens and ponds as well as the endless stream of interior rooms, including the bedchambers of Louis the XVI and his wife, Marie Antoinette respectively. There was not an inch of wall or floor or furnishings that wasn't flocked, gilded or gleaming. How extravagant would it be to have afternoon tea in these surroundings?

While I confess I don't know many details concerning the tea-drinking habits of Marie Antoinette, I do have an "authentic replica" (I know that sounds contrary, but keep the faith) of a tea cup with the pattern she commissioned for her china. (I bought this at an exclusive china shop in New York last year - see original blog story, June, 2007). In any event, I was able to purchase a bag of Marie Antoinette loose tea in the Versailles gift shop. This was among the rather large selection of Marie Antoinette souvenirs that apparently many of us have a need for. I haven't yet thought of an occasion appropriate for this tea, but I'll keep you posted.

During our out-of-Paris excursion, we met up with a couple of lovely ladies from England at a quaint country-side inn, Moulin Fourges, just outside of Giverny. They had the most excellent thoughts to share on tea and they were gracious and compelling lunch companions. A special "bonjour" to Susan and Sophie and a tea toast to the continuing debate on "milk-in-first or milk-in-last"!

Once back in the city, we continued our tea and art travels to, no surprise, The Louvre. After the requisite stops at the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo, passing through the grandeur of Napoleon the III's apartments, admiring the French masterpieces and, to satisfy my brother Ed's curiosity, a trek to the basement where the original palace fortress still stands, we stopped at the Louvre Cafe for a cup of Earl Grey and - what else? - a Napoleon. Nothing satiates a patron of the arts like a smooth cup of black tea and a flaky, French pastry. Culture can be absolutely delicious!

After visiting all these legendary landmarks and upscale shops and restaurants, we needed to come down a bit and transition to our life back home. Our last stop before the airport was to McCafe, but this was not the McDonalds of Kansas, Toto. Oh, no, this was McCafe Magnifique! With its marble floors and columns and sparkling glass counter filled with a variety of colorful pastries, this is surely where the Versaille folks would have come for their grande macs avec frommage et les pommes frites. It only made it harder to leave this place where even the "manger vite" is a beautiful thing.

So, away from our Parisian hotel, I am inspired by its former resident, Proust, to reflect on all things past and - pardon moi - all things tea and repast from our trip. (Based up on his volumes of work, I take some comfort that, in his day, if Proust had blogged, it would have been lengthy as well!) As I view yet again the many digital photos of all the sites we visited and peruse all the newly acquired teas from Mariage Freres, Angelina's, Hediards, and, oh, yes, that rather odd one from Versaille, there's no doubt I will enjoy the memories of my Paris trip for many years to come.

Dans le thé et l'amitié,


Poste Scripte - Stay tuned for "Premiere Salons de Thé Review" in upcoming blog!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Traverse Bay TEA - Absolutely Grand!

Hello TEA Friends,

Barb's TEA Shop had the great pleasure of presenting "Tea History and Etiquette" at The Grand Traverse Bay resort in August for the CAR partner's program. We also sampled four different types of teas. A wonderful group and a beautiful venue. We can't think of a better place to be in August, enjoying a view of the bay and drinking cherry tea (really! -but more of that in a future blog).

Our thanks to all our special guests at this TEA event!

Saturday, September 6, 2008

A Cup of Emp-TEA Nest Syndrome

Hello TEA Friends!

This morning I am sampling the last of my Harrod's Earl Grey. It's the end of my cherished loose tea supply from our London trip two years ago and I'm savoring every moment with those last few choice tea leaves before moving on to new, uncharted alternatives.

If this seems like a poorly contrived metaphor for my current "empty nest" syndrome, I will confess wholeheartedly, it is. Two weeks ago, we drove our youngest, and only daughter, Rachel, to her college dorm and her new life away from home. There was so much excitement and preparation leading to that incredible day, it gave my always-fully-charged emotional being something to be diverted by. There were the stream of graduation parties where the college-bound celebrated their independence at the pool or badminton net, while we parents stared at the poster collages and scrapbooks of our children's milestones. Here, we looked at the pictures of kindergarten graduation and literally turned the page to senior prom, shaking our collective heads in disbelief and wondered aloud, "where had the time gone?", thinking it such revelation rather than a tired, old cliche.

Then, there was the overnight college orientation that ran so smoothly, both moms and daughters left less anxious than when they arrived. With a feel for the campus - class schedule in hand - and a few new friends, it all seemed okay.

And, finally, there were the trips to Target and IKEA for domestic dorm furnishings and accessories, along with the texting coordination of who was bringing what appliance to share. Items were checked off the list in an orderly fashion and we were confident we were ready for the big day.

The hour long trip to campus went quickly and we were all eager to see what dorm Rachel had been assigned. She and her roommate were designated their second choice, the oldest dorm at the school. When Rachel unlocked the door for the first time, we were in awe of what was to become her home away from home. This dormitory is every image you conjure up when you think about college, from the ivy colored brick to the large bay windows with crank out handles. These were the buildings that were erected before the cookie-cutter efficiency of the later years. What these room lacked in "loft ready" furniture and suite bathrooms, they made up for in charm and uniqueness - much like their inhabitants, Rachel and Annabelle. With their Rory Gilmore sensibilities of unconventionality and the love of old movies, arcane trivia and tomes of all a varieties, this place was a perfect match.

So, after a send off lunch and hugs and good-byes that seemed too short and insufficient, my husband and I and our son, Matt (who had volunteered to come to help move things as well see his little sister off) headed back to the parking lot where we had violated the 20-minute time allowance. In retrospect, I think the time was set for physically moving things, the "good-bye time" was open to interpretation.

The ride home, and the week that followed, was tough. I kept hearing that song my husband I would listen to occasionally on Sunday Morning Over Easy on the radio. With my apologies to the artist, its refrain goes something like this: ". . . after the kids are gone, all I'm left with is two dogs as dumb as mud and you. . ."

Well, we have two dogs and, though I don't question their canine intelligence, they don't fill up the room with giggles or ask if I would like to watch Season Four of the Gilmore Girls for the tenth time or share a cup of herbal tea for no reason at all. I come home from work and feel lost without the happy chaos. Last year, at this time, my oldest son had moved back temporarily to save money while in his senior year of college. Son number two, was home almost every other weekend for dinner or laundry and Rachel, of course, was just starting her last year of high school. Our house was running at 100 mph and we were back in the old routine of meal planning and car parking logistics. It was the most comfortable of zones.

But, now, the house is quiet and it's going to take some time to transition, for sure. We're comforted by the fact that Rachel has an expanding network of friends, is enthusiastic about her course schedule and is already participating in student political meetings. She can get to classes now without a map and is in walking distance to fulfilling about any conceivable need. She's adjusting beautifully - now its our turn.

So, with today's tea, I'm adding a bit of honey to sooth an irritated throat - I think its seasonal allergies, but maybe it will also help with that persistent lump that doesn't seem to go away.

I'll fire up the tea kettle again and then join my husband on the deck and just do - well, heck, absolutely nothing! You know, there may just be a lot to look forward to with no one here but my husband. . . and two dogs as dumb as mud!

Enjoying an off-campus tea toddy and latte at Cappuccino Cafe with College Student Rachel - All good after two weeks of college life (for both Mom and daughter!)

Sunday, August 3, 2008

More Unique Tea Cozies from Barb's TEA Shop

Hello TEA Friends!

We're excited here at BTS to introduce three brand new tea cozies! Our inventory is depleting, but we're adding different designs all the time. Our three new offerings (pictured at right) are delightfully unique: a V-shaped, multi-stripe in a velvety-like texture; a yellow and cream leaf motif, and a geometric landscape pattern. (Note: these will fit your medium sized teapots).

Remember, these are "one-of-a kinds" that you won't find at any department or super stores. Give your favorite tea enthusiast a gift that's both beautiful and practical with these charming cozies. Or better yet, treat yourself to something special at your tea table.

Prices for these are $25.00 plus shipping and handling.

Contact Barb's TEA Shop at or 248-840-4356 to place your order today!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Tea for Two's a Collection

Greetings Friends!

As a lifelong collector of many things, I subscribe to a few observations that have been attributed to this past time. The first is, if you have two of anything, you've got the start of a collection. The second is, that most collections start as a gift from someone. It probably wouldn't surprise you to learn that my most recent collection fits this description to, well, . . . to a tea!

After all these years as a tea enthusiast, I never really had a tea cup collection of high regard, although, I had amassed several tea cup display racks over the years in my aspiration to achieve such a goal. I will confess, I was distracted along the way with cherished teddies, Maude Humphrey figurines, limited edition Hallmark ornaments and, what I'll call "The Doll Years". But, I got closer on track with my assortment of Wedgwood jasperware and really zoned in when I targeted teapots. But the teacup collection, for whatever reasons, still eluded me.

That is until last year - and from such an unexpected source it emerged! For Mother's Day last year, my son, Rob, gave me my first vintage teacup. It was a wonderful gift - not only because of its delicate beauty and color, but the fact that he actually entered an antique store to purchase it. He was visiting a resort town on the west side of Michigan and noticed an antique storefront window display of teacups. He thought, "My Mom would love this store!" and figured it would be the perfect place to find a Mother's day treasure. (This is from a son who usually struggles with such holidays because they feel "forced".)

Naturally, this became one of my most prized possession (note, it is the solid green cup in the photos above, but inside there is a scene from the "famous Hamilton Rock Gardens".) I took my cherished cup and put it on display on a small tea table in our front room. There it resided, alone, for almost an entire year. Then came my birthday!

My sister-in-law, who lives in Denver, surprised me with another vintage tea cup for my 50th this year. She culled her own enviable tea cup collection for something she thought would best suit the occasion. And, she found such a treasure in a cup she had inherited from her grandmother, selected primarily because of its predominate color - gold! (to mark the half-century mark, of course).

When I opened the box from UPS that arrived in April, I was thrilled with the contents. I loved the "new" cup, but something more struck me immediately. This cup looked very familiar. In fact, upon further examination, it looked it could be a cousin to the one my son gave me.

So, I put them side-by-side and they were dead-ringers. Then, I looked at the stamps on the bottom of the cups. Identical markings! Both were stamped, "PARAGON" as well as "By appointment to HM the Queen". This was most incredible and sent me right to "google" to learn more.

I discovered that Paragon started out as "Star" China in 1899. It was founded by the Aynsley brothers in Longton, England. They produced quality china products including art deco patterns that competed with Shelly in the 1920's and 30's and a line of nursery-themed tea ware that is highly collectible today.

Star China later renamed itself "Paragon" to reflect the high quality of its product. Hugh Irving, a salesman at another china company, married a sister of the Aynsley brothers and became a partner. Later, the brothers retired and Irving and his sons took complete ownership. The Irving promotion skills grew the company and in 1933, Paragon was commissioned to make a tea service for the Duchess of York. That same decade, the company was granted two royal warrants (hence the notable stampings).

Paragon was bought out by Royal Albert in the 1960's, which in turn was bought out by Royal Dalton in the 1970's. The Paragon patterns were eventually incorporated in the designs of Royal Dalton and the Paragon name was discontinued. However, many of its pieces, especially the commemoratives, are still sought after.

So, that is the (somewhat) brief history of my new collection. But, as with any collection, the fun is not only in the receiving, but in the hunt as well. Last weekend, my husband and I made our annual trek to the Royal Oak Garage Sale . For those of you who may not be familiar, it's the city's big flea market in the month of July in one of its monster parking garages. What it lacks in ambiance, it makes up for in its variety of unique product offerings. I came loaded for Paragon and I was not disappointed.

Second level, third booth to the left, I found it. Among an assortment of pretty tea cups, it was right in the middle and most distinctly "Paragon" (now that I've become such an "expert" in only two short months). It had the same shape and design and green color of its siblings residing at my home and, after inspecting for the absence of chips and stains, I took out my wallet. I was ready to offer 20% lower than the ticketed price, when the booth owner said, "everything is 50% off." BONUS!! Not only did I get to add to my collection, but I got such a deal, too. Oh, what a happy afternoon that was.

So, next jaunt out, I will be looking for another Paragon tea cup to add to my significant collection. Final observation of this fun hobby - when you have three of anything, your collection becomes "significant'.

Yours in Friendship,


ps - to any Paragon Collectors (or any tea-related collectors, for that matter), an invite to share your information with BTS!

Friday, July 4, 2008

Tea Time Gets Warm and Cozy!

Exclusive Tea Cozies Now Available at Barb's TEA Shop - Special Introductory Offer

Barb's TEA Shop is excited to now offer one-of-a-kind tea cozies that will not only beautify your tea table, but keep your tea warm in the pot as well. These are handcrafted items made with amazing fabrics - some vintage! - and all offer special features you'll appreciate. Each cozy has a removable liner, which can be washed separately. In addition, each of these charming teapot warmers has a tab at the top for easy removal.

If you are looking for a unique gift of high quality for your favorite teaophile, that's both pretty as well as functional, you'll want to put these tea cozies on your list.

We offer two sizes: small and medium. Small fits most 4-cup teapots (approx. size 10 x 9.5). Medium fits most 6-cup teapots (approx. size 12 x 10.5). (Note: the medium will not fit your "Old Country Rose-sized Teapot".)

In the small size we also offer beautiful tea cozies made from vintage napkins (size 10 x 8). You'll love the charm of the delicate fabric and lace.

All of these tea cozies are available for $25.00 (plus shipping), but during the month of July, BTS offers a special introductory price of $23.99 (plus shipping).

To purchase, contact BTS at or call 248-840-4356.

Keep in mind, these are custom-made items, so no two are alike. With fabrics from funky to elegant, we have something for every tea lover's taste!

Medium Tea Cozies Small Tea Cozies
(leopard, yellow "tapestry", grape and leaf) (circles, flowers, stripes)

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Tea Time in "Teacumseh"

Hello Friends!

We found ourselves back in "England" for tea this Saturday after a weekend excursion through Toledo, Ohio to see Jerry Seinfeld in concert (outrageously funny, by the way), then on to Dundee, Michigan (to take in the "Cabella's Experience"), and finally stopping in Tecumseh on our way back home. I remembered we had visited the British Pantry and Tea Garden about four years ago and it had made quite an impression. I was anxious to reconnect with this tea room and, after my first cup of Yorkshire Gold (the "house" black tea blended in Yorkshire Dales), I wondered what had taken me so long to get back to this incredibly charming tea room.

Although we were a bit too early for the "afternoon tea" offering, we were delighted with our lunch choices. I had a spinach quiche that was the perfect consistency and packed with flavor. It was served with a homemade spice bread that was delightfully moist and the apple slaw, which is a unique salad concoction you will savor. For dessert, we had carrot cake and a lemon tart. You will definitely want to save up your sweet allotment for this tea parlor and I would highly recommend the Yorkshire Gold as a perfect accompaniment to your meal. It can handle the heartiest of lunches and perfectly off-set the sweetness of dessert.

Men will not feel out of place here, even though they may be in the minority of patrons. The dark wood booths and imposing counter area balance out the flowery teapots and lace curtains. And that goes for the gift shop, too; plenty of delicate, decorative items that will appeal to your feminine side, but the variety of imported foods for sale will delight any gastronome regardless of gender.

The service is great and we met with the manager, Debbie, who was answered all our questions with a smile and enthusiasm. We were checked on regularly to see how we were doing and if we needed more tea - and you absolutely know how important that is!

There's also a room upstairs for special occasions. It was in use during our visit, but not at all interfering with guests on the main floor.

My only regret was that we didn't have more time to try out the many, many teas on the British Tea Gardens loose tea list. That will serve as our excuse to head back to Tecumseh - and, I can tell you this, it won't be another four years!

Another gloved thumbs up to The British Pantry and Tea Garden. A bit of merry old England in southern Michigan.

The British Tea Garden is located at 112 E. Chicago Blvd, Tecumseh, Michigan. For more information click on this link British Tea Garden
. . . and tell them BTS sent you!

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Celebrating Like Royal-Tea

Hello Dear Friends!

It appears we have moved from Spring (?) to mid-August heat this week in Michigan, but despite the soaring temps, I am unwavering in taking my hot tea break this afternoon. I'm partaking in Twinings Earl Grey today - Queen Elizabeth's noted afternoon tea favorite - in the spirit of a recent Royal celebration.

In May, my husband, Chris, and I celebrated our 25th Wedding Anniversary. The weekend before the anniversary date, our children hosted a party for us at my eldest son and his fiance's new (to them!), lake-front home. They corralled the usual suspects to join us for a cook-out, champagne toast, boat rides and a lot of heavy duty lawn chair sitting. When the most taxing activity you do all day is climb on and off the neighbor's pontoon boat, you know you've succumbed to the ultimate in party-time relaxation.

So, in appreciation for all their hard work: to our kids owed, many, many kudos!!

But, wait! There's more! To put the cap on this week of pseudo-nobility, Chris and I treated ourselves to a special dinner for two at the Royal Park Hotel in the city of Rochester. It was such an extravagant experience, that if someone had placed jeweled-crowns on our heads and velvet robes around our shoulders, it would not have seemed out of place. We were seated in a cushy, intimate booth facing the lit fireplace (which only a month ago, was appealing). The hostess and waitress attended to all our needs - some we didn't even know we had - and the dinner culminated with an on-the-house dessert of vanilla ice cream stuffed into delicate cream puffs surrounded by "Happy Anniversary" in chocolate script. It was quite literally, the icing on the cake!

I suppose after all this attention, pampering, catering-to and indulgence, returning to our "ordinary life" could feel a bit like Cinderella after the ball. But, unlike our fabled princess, my little corner is filled with an embarrassment of riches. In my "real life", this weekend, Chris and I were in another world at our cabin up north, plowing through dirt-covered back roads in our Dodge Dakota pick up truck; the one who wasn't driving had bare feet resting on the dashboard, in true hillbilly fashion. The only thing missing was Ellie Mae, Granny and her rocking chair. We stopped at the "Kitchen Kettle" for a hot dog lunch, where nothing is written on the plate - - in ketchup or mustard. But, in my purse, I keep a letter from my son - something he wrote for Chris and I on our 25th. Like many of the best family moments, it was both funny and moving as it touched on the importance of family - the support, love and tolerance - that really make life's journey what it's all about. Whether that journey is via horse-drawn coach, dodge pick-up or ordinary pumpkin, really, who could ask for more?

So, dear friends, it looks as though it may be time to turn on the air conditioning and add some ice cubes to my Earl Grey. It seems there's laundry piling up and my desk is screaming to be decluttered. I'll get to my weekend chores sporting one glass slipper and one flip-flop, but I'll keep the tiara in the closet . . . for now.

Most humbly,


Dining at the Royal Park Hotel

Important Note: The Royal Park Hotel serves Afternoon Tea. Barb's TEA Shop will be organizing an informal excursion on a Saturday this fall. Any who are interested, just email Barb at for future updates.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Brownies Excel in Table Etiquette and Manners Class

When one receives a referral from a guest at a previous event, it's always a pleasure and a compliment. Imagine how even more special it is when that particular guest is only six years old!

Megan of Brownie Troop 3250, had attended Barb's TEA Shop's "Teddy Bear Tea and Etiquette Class" in the Fall of 2006 through Rochester, Michigan's after-school enrichment program. She was an enthusiastic participant even in Kindergarden, so BTS felt quite honored when Megan's mom called to schedule a Table Manners Class for their Brownie Troop, on Megan's recommendation.

Last month, BTS held that manners class for fifteen Brownies in the classroom-turned-restaurant in Rochester Hills. The Brownies learned not only by demonstration, but by actually performing the tasks themselves. This Brownie troop mastered proper place settings, the correct way to cut meat (with fun melon slices!) and what to do with the roll on one's bread plate. The young ladies practiced placing their flatware on their plate in the correct place to signify when they were done and what to do with their napkin should they need to leave the table for any reason.

This was an interactive class where the girls brought their own experiences and questions into the discussion. They were eager to test their table skills with their "kool-aid tea" and modified 3-course meal. At the end of the mock restaurant experience the girls were rewarded with cookies, a diploma and a teddy bear calendar.

BTS received a note in the mail last week from this very special Brownie troop. They put their training to use at a fancy restaurant in town and we're pleased to report, they excelled in their manners and earned their etiquette badge to boot! What a wonderful accomplishment for an amazing group of young ladies.

Congratulations to Brownie Troop 3250 and thanks for inviting BTS to be part of the fun!

Barb's TEA Shop offers a variety of tea and table manners classes for children. For more information on a customized program for your group, contact BTS at or call us at 248-840-4356.

Megan at the Teddy Bear Tea.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Happy Mother's Day - Traditions Old and New

Hello Friends!

Today, in our household, "tea time" just got a new look. For Mother's Day, my husband, presented me with the latest in tea-making technology - the "three-in-one hot beverage center". Although, it doesn't allow for the eagerly anticipated high pitch alarm of the tea kettle coming to a boil or the charm of having tea served from a lovely china pot, it does deliver a pretty darned good cup of tea - in less than a minute. And, loose tea at that. (Let's fasten our tea snob belts folks, we're in for a startling ride!)

Since my husband is also responsible for loading Pride and Prejudice on his GPS so we could listen to it on our leisurely drives up north (see Austen-tacious blog, March, 2008), could a tea brewing revolution be far behind? I have to admit, when I first saw the box, I was apprehensive. What next - tea bags and hot tap water?!! But, no, quite the contrary. This is a wonderful device and, even though I'm enamored with the whole tea preparation ritual, I have to say, instant gratification is not hard to take.

So, today, among my many treasured gifts, was a family-sponsored tea time all to myself. While my kids were grocery shopping and tidying up, I began to explore my new tea maker. I carefully removed my new filter basket and measured in a heaping teaspoon of Lady Earl Grey tea (taking heed at the manual's stern warning not to exceed the FILL line) and filling up the water reservoir drawer for just a cupful. In a few short seconds, a hearty flow of tea was dispensing into my tea cup. With no need to wait any further, I dashed off to the study with my "instantaneous tea" and a couple of walnut clusters quickly snatched from my Mother's Day cache. Could tea time get any better?

Perhaps at age 50, one gets more philosophical, or maybe because the extra few minutes I shaved off prep time today could be exchanged for meditation, I thought how, like our conceptions of the ideal afternoon tea can change, so can holiday celebrations. Mother's Day this year is a perfect example. I was fortunate to have my whole crew here breifly this morning, but because my one son had to work today, we're one short for dinner. However, since he is a waiter at a cafe uptown, he suggested we come up and meet in "his section" for dessert. We've got the family, food and a table and chairs. All the ingredients are there, just a little twist on the placement. Like my new tea brewer, it's all going to blend together just fine.

So, today, we can all take a moment and remember our favorite "Ladies", our mom's. I spent many wonderful - and extremely unceremonious - tea times with my Mom where we talked about the kids, politics, the newest book read or my latest travails at work - but the subject was always secondary to the time spent together. Tea brewed fast or slow, tea carafe or tea pot, screaming kettle or dripping water, it doesn't matter (although no styrofoam cups, please!). It's just the perfect accompaniment to any long chats with mom.

With that, dear friends, I bid adieu as it is dessert time and we're heading uptown for a brownie sundae. I'll fasten my tea belt, but it may be a little tight on the ride home.

Happy Mothers Day!!!!


Sunday, April 13, 2008

Birthday Forecast: Low Fif-teas, Warm and Happy

Hello Dear Friends,

When you receive a red hat and an AARP card in the same week, it can only mean one thing: you've reached a milestone birthday. And, that's exactly what happened to me this week - I turned the half-century mark two days ago. I'm happy to report, it's been most enjoyable thanks to family, friends, and, a circle of ladies who are a hybrid of both - my Red Hat group!

I am Queen Mother of "The Royal-Teas", a red hat group in southeastern Michigan. For those who are unfamiliar with the red hatters, their philosophy is centered on celebrating 50 and embracing all that life has in store for the next phase of "maturity". It's based upon the poem, "Warning -When I am Old Am An Old Woman, I Shall Wear Purple", where author, Jenny Joseph, expresses the freedom she will have to do things when she's older that she wouldn't consider in the confines and restrictions of youth. It's an "in-your-face" rebellion to stereotypes of growing older. It's not about going out to pasture; it's about starting a new business, going back to school, building your dream retreat or wearing a purple dress with a red hat!

So, today's tea selection had to be "Sweet Thai Delight", a present from one of my RH-ers. The description on the side of the box applies as well as to the tea as it does our group: ". . . it is sure to enliven your senses and fill your spirit with warmth and happiness". And, so it does.

The Royal-Teas is comprised of an eclectic group of ladies with a variety of backgrounds, tastes and interests. The range couldn't be illustrated better than by two of the teapots I received in my Queen Mother "treasure bath" (see picture, bottom left insert). We are sometimes understated and elegant and at other times, we are a bit funky and on the "wild side". But, always, most emphatically so, we are true to the spirit of the red and purple. We are enjoying our fifties with fun and laughter and a limited respect for rules, schedules and order.

And, so, today, with my red hat on and my cup of tea in hand, I reflect on this fifty-year old journey. While I'm not sure 50 is really the new 30, I'm fine with exchanging my pink chapeau for red, throwing caution to the wind, but still being mindful of reality. I'll continue to increase the length of my daily walks, eat more fiber, and maintain my regularly-scheduled appointment at the hair salon to replace the gray for highlights. But, most importantly, I'll keep that special group of ladies within easy reach, in preparation of what lies ahead.

"We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.

But maybe I ought to practice a little now?

So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised

When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple."