Saturday, August 21, 2010

Camellia Sinensis: Tea Garden Takes Off in Michigan

Hello TEA Friends,

This May, we planted a tea garden at our up-north retreat, Pemberly Pines (see photo bottom right). Knowing it would be a challenge to cultivate our own Camellia sinensis in a growing zone several levels north of the tropics, we nonetheless took it on as a total curiosity, if not a learning experience. In its cedar planter, the tiny tea plant sprig thrived in a clearing in the middle of our property, along with several herbs that have already provided us with some delicious tisanes.

According to the American Camellia Society, and coffee/tea the tea plant grows best in zones 7, 8 and 9 and in sandy, well-drained, acidic soil with full sun to partial shade. So we do have a few things against us: we're in zone 4 and slightly below the US average for sunny days in the summer months (remember, we're growing inside in November!). We've got a few positives to encourage us, however, our soil is sandy and acidic and the clearing is in the sunniest part of all of Pemberly In addition, the tea plant can be grown very successfully in planters with seasonal indoor sheltering. I need only look to our friends at Light of Day in Traverse City, who now have an impressive tea plant the size of a small tree after only five years of growing.

In the fall we can expect our plant to flower and in the spring, it will dispense seed pods. In approximately three years, we can begin to harvest our plant for tea leaves and begin making our very own black - or green - tea.

With just another few weeks of August left, we'll be looking to bring the Camellia sinensis in soon. We'll keep you posted on its progress throughout the year.

In the meantime, we're enjoying the teas we've been brewing with the herbs from our garden. Refreshing and delicious, we've found the mint makes a wonderful cup of tea on its own or as an accompaniment to other brews, such as tea mojitos (more to follow on that).

If a tree can grow in Brooklyn, a tea plant has a chance in northern Michigan.

Yours in tea and friendship,


Sunday, August 8, 2010

Hot Tea Travels Make for a Great Summer

Hello TEA Friends,

This summer, Barb's TEA Shop has been on the road and, along the way, we've tasted mint tea, corn tea, Sense and Sensibili-tea, sweet tea, Keweenaw tea, and mojito tea avec liquer. From Las Vegas to Louisville to Michigan's upper peninsula and all places in between, one constant held true - all the tea we drank may not have been hot, but we were hot wherever we drank it.

Naturally, when visiting Las Vegas in June one expects heat and it's not a stretch to anticipate sultry afternoons in Kentucky in July, but hot, humid days in northern Michigan as we approached August only proved that as interesting and fun as our travels were, we were never going to have a good hair day.

But, that was a small price to pay for some the most enjoyable tea trips we have had. In our journeys we met many entrepreneurs, craftsman, educators and folks passionate about tea. We learned so much and have so many stories to share, I just can't wait for you to get acquainted with them all (not to mention the update on the Pemberly Pines tea garden).

We caught up on the latest with Shelly Richardson and Jane Pettigrew at the World Tea Expo and were introduced to new products such as corn tea and teaspoons made of honey. In Louisville, we met Kim Wilson, author of "Tea with Jane Austen" at the third annual Jane Austen Festival at Locust Grove.

From Kentucky, we headed north again, but this time, went past the Mackinac Bridge to be guests at the only tea room in the Upper Peninsula, The Four Seasons, owned and operated by a delightful mother/daughter team. Driving along the Lake Superior coastline, we made another stop at Enerlei, a unique, northern Michigan gift shop with beautiful tea accessories.

Then, from one Great Lake to another, we took the long way home from Pemberly and visited the town of Lexington on the shores of Lake Huron. Here we met twin brothers who are making their career in pottery. Their one-of-kind teapots with driftwood handles are amazing. (I had to purchase one for Pemberly - and some matching cups, too!).

This resort town is also home to the Lexington General Store which has a great selection of tea, tea cups and a charming old fashioned candy counter and the nearby "Off the Beaten Path" gift store, with a nice selection of fine home accessories, coffees and even some Chai Tea.

So, with the suitcases packed away, at least for a little while, I'll be at my desk - or weekends at Pemberly by the pond with the laptop - with a cup of freshly brewed tea, my hair being held against its will with barrettes, hairspray or hat, and begin posting pictures and stories from this hot but eventful summer.

Yours in TEA and friendship,