Saturday, December 29, 2012

December Tablescapes, past, present and future: Part II

Halfway through the month and yet a few more tablescapes ahead!

The DIA weekend (Faberge exhibit, Dining with the Tsars, dismal Russian Tea Reception) was followed by the annual Christmas party of our friends, Rik and Carol. A catered affair, the food and drink is as delicious as it is plentiful. Glowing candles on the table and blazing fireplaces reflect the warmth and spirit of our generous hosts. And, the ride home through downtown Rochester -  a town that can give Paris some competition in December as the true City of Lights - was amazing.

Candlelit tables reflect the warmth of our hosts

Driving home through downtown Rochester

Before we return to 2012 for the rest of the month, we take one last trip to the past with a visit to Greenfield Village. My cousins and I attended Holiday Nights at the historic site. We dined at the Eagle Tavern without any electricity - strictly candlelight - and the meal was served family style. After we fortified ourselves with chicken, prime rib and gingerbread cake, we walked the village and visited the homes decorated in the period of the time they were built.
Reading the menu by candlelight at the Eagle Tavern Inn
Period homes in Greenfield Village decorated for the holidays
Back to the present and the month ends with a family reunion, Christmas Eve tree tour and Christmas Day.

Getting the buffet table ready for our family reunion

Last weekend, we participated in our family reunion gathering in Rochester (another chance to take in the downtown light show on the way home). A great pot-luck and well-attended event. A wonderful time to see those we don't get to see on a regular basis - including the big guy in the red suit.

Christmas Eve table to be reset next day
Part of the tour group at first stop

Christmas Eve we continued with our annual Christmas Tree Tour where we pay a visit to homes of aunts and  uncles to nibble on cookies and fudge while viewing their festive evergreens. Final stop is our house for dinner and treasure bath and - new this year - karaoke. Nothing says Christmas like my older brother singing, "Don't Rain on My Parade"! But, no surprises, it was mostly carols of the season that got sung.

Then, we were back at it again on Christmas Day for a smaller family gathering, but with a tablescape complete with a new Lenox tablecloth and my prized, "gift-to-me-from-Ireland", Waterford crystal bowl that is made exclusively in Waterford, Ireland.

A wonderful month filled with family, friends and, of course, tablescapes with ties to the past and present. And, soon, table settings of 2012 will be replaced with displays for the new year. An early toast to all to the new year and stay tuned for BTS' annual, "What's In/What's Out" list to start 2013 off right!

Friday, December 28, 2012

December Tablescapes tell stories of Christmas past, present and future

Christmas Day 2012 tablescape
This December was a flurry of activity punctuated by tablescapes (culminating on Christmas Day!) that spanned centuries and crossed national borders. Like Scrooge's three visitors on Christmas Eve, the tablescapes had ties to the past, present and future, but only one earned "bah humbug" distinction.

At beginning of the month, I was bestowed with an early Christmas present that will enhance my tea tables for years to come. A guest at one of my tea talks was settling her mother's estate and she was looking for a good home for a small collection of tea cups.My good fortune, she thought of me.
I assured her they would be loved and cared for. The
china is beautiful with quality names like Royal Albert and
Aynsley. (future blog story #1)

Early Christmas present from tea friend

Speaking of tea friends, I was able to get the last two tickets to the Holiday Tea at the Longacre House on December 4th hosted by Linda Pudlik. It was her last tea at the Farmington Hills historic home for 2012 and marked her semi-retirement from the monthly teas at this location. My good friend, Kay, joined me and we were at the same table as fellow tea blogger, Phyllis Barkey. The table setting was a festive as the food was delicious. (future blog story #2)

Afternoon tea and tablescape at Longacre House

The following weekend included the Faberge exhibit, Darra Goldstein's "Dining with the Tsars" lecture and Russian Tea Reception - all at the Detroit Institute of Arts. I got to interview Darra for The Examiner the week of the lecture (Darra Goldstein discusses Russian cuisine and tea at the DIA on Saturday). Her talk on Russian cuisine from Peter the Great to the revolution was fascinating. Unfortunately, the tea reception hosted by the DIA immediately afterwards was a disaster and caused a revolt of its own.

Poor line management, limited tea fare and lack of seating (not to mention bad tea) caused an uprising and many complaints. (future blog story #3)  Bah humbug, indeed! Until I get to pen my account, tea blogger, Phyllis Barkey has a great write-up of the "event":  Dining with the Tsars - Detroit Institute of Arts

Sharing a cup of tea with Darra Goldstein

DIA hosted a Russian Tea with small portions that ran out

The tea and lecture were held on Saturday and the next day, my family and I had already planned a day at the DIA to take in the Faberge exhibit as part of  "birthday weekend". Both my daughter, Rachel and son Matt have birthdays in December. So, along with my husband Chris, and eldest son, Rob, we took in the exhibit - which was amazing - then headed to Traffic Jam for birthday dinner and dessert (more delicious and plentiful than the day before!).

Hot fudge brownie sundae for birthday week!

And, that was only half-way through the month! Still more December tablescapes leading up to Christmas Day.  Stay tuned for December Tablescapes, Part II!

In the meantime, hope your holiday was great - whether your table was plain or fancy - and sans hum bug!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Vision of sugar plums unite generations with holiday traditions

Rachel executes "Christmas is Everywhere" 

We are busy this morning doing all the last-minute preparations for our big family gathering here tonight including putting out the seasonal guest towels and lighting the scented candles. But, the rest of the house has been in full-on holiday decor since Thanksgiving, when my daughter, Rachel, declared our theme this year would be "Christmas is everywhere".

And, Christmas is everywhere:  on our mantle, shelves, banisters and most importantly, in our hearts and with family and friends - even if they are no longer here. We stay connected with them through memories, traditions, and in our case, sugar plums and candy cane decorations.

When I was twelve my mom unceremoniously moved Christmas downstairs. I have three older brothers - who at this time were all in their teens - and our small living room just couldn't accommodate six people, their guests and a Christmas tree. My parents had remodeled our basement five years prior and it was really nice - and spacious. So, we moved the tree and all the trimmings to our lower level family room and plugged in the fake fireplace (it was the 70's, mind you) and we were ready to go.

It was almost ideal except my dad felt that our  living room - where we spent most of our evenings after dinner - was void of the Christmas spirit. So, without any consult, he went to Sears one day after work and bought a small artificial tree and a couple dozen ornaments. The decorations were made to look like sugar-frosted candies -  mostly sugar plums and candy canes - all in pastel colors. They looked delicious.
Frosted sugar plums and candy canes still decorate the tree

My dad set the tree up on the television - which was a piece of furniture in those days - and had it all trimmed by the time my mom came home from work. I was so excited. Christmas, at least in small way, had made its way back upstairs where we could see it every time we walked through the front door.

My mom's reaction was, well, a little more delayed in acceptance, but my dad's strategy - at least this time - of better to ask for forgiveness than permission - paid off. The four foot tree filled with bubble-gum pink and lime-green candy canes slowly won her over and the tree was allowed to stay.

My dad passed away ten years later and although we no longer put the tree upstairs, we kept the ornaments and eventually, I got custody of them when I moved out and married. I have put those same ornaments on my tree for the past 29 years and, lost in my thoughts, I apparently tell this same story to Rachel every year she's been assisting me.

This year, however, I got another surprise - and a great one at that. As we were waiting for our chai tea to steep and hauling out the decorations from the basement,   Rachel asked me to tell the story about the tree and the ornaments the grandfather she never met brought home one December afternoon. She declared that those frosted ornaments would belong to her when she gets her own home.

And, so they will.

“Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house,
not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse. . .

The house was filled with “Christmas Everywheres”,
while visions of sugar plums were deemed soon to be theirs

And we'd like to  exclaim, before we turn out the lights,
"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night.”

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Barb's TEA Shop Wishlist 2012

Signals has the perfect Tea-shirt for Downton Abbey fans
Barb's TEA shop is excited to present this year's wish list after a year of tea excursions and intensive research. Compiled for the tea enthusiast on your list  (and you should be on that list, too - I know I am), we present the following items for 2012:

Fans of Downton Abbey and tea will find the ultimate "tea-shirt" from Signals. "Keep Calm and Ring Carson to bring tea" starts at $22.95, and will need no explanation to those devotees of this millennium's "Upstairs Downstairs".

Hooked from the very first episode of the PBS Edwardian drama, I look forward to Sunday evenings to see if Lady Mary will find true love with cousin Matthew or to hear the next quotable quip from Dowager Countess ("what is a week-end?").

(In April, for my birthday, my brother bought me "The World of Downton Abbey" available at Amazon. It's a fun book with beautiful photos that should be a delight to any Downton Abbey-ites).

Another idea for your D. Abbey fan 
*Spoiler Alert* that will remain a *non-spoiler alert*. While we were in Ireland in October, we saw an upcoming episode of Season 3 which left us all shocked. Since that offers no value whatsoever to all of you, let's move on to what we hope will be. . .

Speaking of Ireland, next on our list, is a delicious tea selection from the Emerald Isle. In Dublin, we visited Bewley's Cafe on Grafton Street and stocked up on some of their delicious tea. Almost out of inventory, I'm ready to welcome new boxes to the tea pantry.

Find  Bewley's tea on-line
Unfortunatley, only teabags can be ordered from Bewley's website, but Amazon does have a few loose varieties. I would be thrilled to get Bewley's Irish Afternoon tea, in the tea tin, for only $12.99.

Once you've prepared your fine loose tea, you'll want to have a tea strainer worthy of such brew. We found one that we think is both pretty and utlitarian at Kristeas in Berkley. We purchased one during an Election Day sale, but full price is $27.00. And, alas, we feel we need to add a few more to our tea table.

Pretty tea strainer at Kristeas
We've skipped a step, though. We need to brew our tea and we need to do it in style. How about a Breville Tea Maker? This is for the tea-geek on your list and it is functional as well as entertaining. It is programmable to brew all types of teas and you get to watch the tea basket move up and down, as the Breville website further describes, "gently agitating the leaves to precisely infuse your tea."

Our friends have one, and I can tell you, I've spent time at their house viewing the basket ascend and descend with more delight than I should admit to. At $249.99 at most retail stores, including Macy's and Williams-Sonoma, it certainly needs to be more than just a hot water heater.

Breville's Tea Maker makes tea brewing a spectator sport
With great tea, fancy strainer and high-tech brewer, the only thing left is a beautiful teapot. The Detroit Institute of Arts currently has a Faberge exhibit (which we are attending this month.).  In keeping with that theme, their gift shop offers this lovely Lomonosov teapot for $100 ($90 to members). This is sure to please your special tea comrade.

Lomonosov teapot is available at the DIA
And for those looking for tea adventures, we recommend a trip to the Grand Hotel for afternoon tea. The historic hotel offers brand merchandise and gift cards on their website. (Currently for every $200 gift card purchase you receive an extra $25).  We were there in May with the whole family and enjoyed everything from the view (inside and out) to the tea fare.

Historian Bob Tagatz narrates a DVD.
Afternoon tea at the Grand Hotel

Until you can make the trip, however, there is a Grand Hotel History DVD  narrated by the hotel historian, Bob Tagatz. We had tea with Bob and I can attest, his tales of the past are fascinating.

Another destination on my wish list is a trip to The Charleston Tea Plantation.. This is the only tea plantation in the United States and the tea tour is complimentary. However, someone planning your Charleston itinerary including a charming B and B . . . . priceless.

But, I think all teaophiles always enjoy trying a new tea. So, in addition to Bewley's, we'd also like to add the following teas - all new this year - to our list:

Bingley's Teas:  Their latest is Miss Lucy Steele tea which was introduced at the Jane Austen Festival in Louisville last July. Bingley's teas make great gifts as they always come packaged as a period novel.

Wanderer's Teahouse:  Broad Art Museum tea inspired by the grand opening of it's namesake on MSU campus.

 Light of Day:  Oriental Beauty white tea. A four year wait, but worth it.

Whether enjoying a period drama, traveling across a Great Lake or an ocean, having a tea party with fancy accessories or just enjoying some time alone sipping a special tea, we wish you the happiest of all holidays and all best wishes (whether on the list or not) for 2013!

Seasons Greetings from Barb's TEA Shop!!!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

An Austentacious Tea at Longacre House

An Austentacious Tea at the Longacre House 
Two weeks ago, Barb's TEA Shop, presented an "Austentacious
Tea" at the Longacre House in Farmington Hills. A sold-out event, I was thrilled to be part of the 2012 schedule of afternoon teas which are put on monthly by local tea expert, Linda Pudlik. Linda plans the menus, creates the tablescapes and invites speakers to give themed talks.
Set for Austentacious Tea with JA tea

I met Linda last year at a tea hosted by another local tea specialist and fellow blogger, Phyllis Barkey.  She extended an invitation to a tea luncheon in her home last September, after she and I had met a few month's earlier at a tea event held at the Amherst Rose Tea Room in Massillon, Ohio. The gathering in her home was wonderful - the food was delicious and the tablescape was stunning and festive. (Phyllis captured the visit in her blog story, A 2011 Tea Party - the pictures are beautiful!).

At that time, Linda invited me to be a featured speaker for the Longacre House in 2012. I had heard great things about the teas served there, so was both excited and honored.

Tablescapes set with books, lace tablecloths and nosegays
Hard to believe that we secured the date over a year ago, but it came quickly and everything went smoothly. Linda's tablescapes featured vintage books, lace tablecloths and a hand-crafted nosegay at every place setting. Twinnings tea, a favorite of Jane Austen's, was served in china teapots.The multi-course afternoon tea fare was tasty and artistically displayed. I spoke between the first and second course, so only had time to take a picture of the roasted pear salad and scone which tasted as fabulous as it looked.

First course of roasted pear salad with scone 
I met a lot of amazing women that afternoon and am looking forward to my upcoming visit at Longacre this month.  It's the historic home's holiday tea and I will be a guest, this time - with my good friend, Kay - so should have the opportunity to snap a few more pictures than last month. But, for a full account of the day - complete with photos of the entire afternoon, see Phyllis Barkey's blog story, "A Jane Austen Tea".

Tables set and ready for guests at Austentacious Tea
Anyone interested in hosting an "Austentacious Tea" for a group (or any of our tea talks from tea etiquette to tea history), or a tea tasting, just give us a call or send us an email.  We'd love to hear from you and prepare a special tea event for you!

And, for those of you who were lucky enough to get a ticket to the Longacre House's Holiday Tea, I'll see you on Tuesday!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Thanksgiving weekend full of iced tea, hot tea and lots of "T"'s in between

This year's tablescape inspiration came from my new glass pumpkin
This Thanksgiving holiday weekend started out with freshly-brewed iced tea to go with an unseasonably warm and sunny November Thursday in Michigan.  It ended on Sunday with several pots of hot tea to keep us toasty while snow covered the lawns. And, in between, we “t”-reated ourselves to an alliterative list of food and festivities: tablescapes, turkey, toasting, traditions, and tree-trimming.  Not mutually exclusive, of course, but pretty much in that order.

The inspiration for this year’s Thanksgiving tablescape was my prized glass pumpkin. I bought this at the Arts, Beats and Eats festival in Royal Oak over Labor Day weekend.  I splurged on not just a little pumpkin, but one of the largest.  My brother-in-law persuaded me to go big or go home and I’m so glad he exerted his artistic influence in selecting the gourde grande.

(Incidentally, I didn’t realize how popular these were until I saw there was an entire glass pumpkin event held in the town of Novi (about 10 miles from my house) this October.  I’m a fan, but even that surprised me).

Because the pumpkin was a good size, it made a great focal point and I framed it with two pilgrim candles on brass candles sticks and vintage turkey salt and pepper shakers that belonged to my mother.  I placed a golden-brown tablecloth on the table and layered it with a cream-colored top. Then, I fanned out the matching golden-brown napkins in clear wine glasses to resemble a spread of turkey tail feathers.  All we needed now was a feast worthy of such grandeur!

Rachel's homemade pumpkin and french silk pies
No worries there as my husband and Rachel cooked and baked a fantastic meal. We started with homemade onion soup with gruyere cheese, then moved to grilled asparagus with olive oil and seasonings, stuffing, rolls, cranberries and the ultimate brined roasted turkey with gravy.  That was to be finished off with my daughter’s pie creations: pumpkin and French silk.

Preparing for combat on the game board

We toasted to a great dinner with the family and headed for more traditions of the day:  naps, watching football and playing Risk.  (I only conquered one continent this year but waged a respectable field strategy against my worth opponents.)

Tapping into battle strategy at the mall on Black Friday

The next day, replacing the board game with the mall, Rachel and I ventured out to do more battle at the Somerset Collection on Black Friday. Not our usual custom, but Rachel was motivated by some great deals and free tote bags from Victoria Secret. I have to admit, it was kind of fun to be part of the madness, but after seeing a long line outside of Vera Bradley just to get in the store (!), I knew it was time to go home.

Hot tea got us fueled up for tree trimming
Saturday and Sunday we saw a light dusting of snow on the ground and it created the perfect backdrop and mood for some tree trimming. Rachel brewed up some delicious loose black tea (esp emporium's Assam Mokalbari East) and we strained it with my most recent purchase from Kristeas. We put up two trees this year - one in the front room and a smaller one in the family room -  then filled them with a multitude of ecclectic ornaments, from Muffy Vandebear figurines to finely crafted handblown glass orbs.

Rachel places ornaments on the big tree as Chris consults.

Rachel's "dorm tree" from Uncle Glenn finds a new home in our family room.
My daughter's theme for our holiday decor is "Christmas is Everywhere".  A quick glance around our home, I can tell you she has been successful in implementation.

Thanksgiving started out mild and sunny but even though outside temperatures soon dipped, we kept the inner warmth throughout the weekend with family traditions and freshly brewed tea served hot or cold!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Election Day reaps many rewards

No matter the results, Election Day is exciting. It's a time where we all unite to celebrate our right to have a say in our future and get a sticker for our efforts. In our household, it's turn into a bit of a family event and, like the Superbowl, at the end of the day, we can't wait until 8:00 when the results start pouring in so we can cheer on our favorite team.

This year, there was even more to celebrate, though, than fulfilling our civic duty - there were savings to be had for those who possessed the distinctive "I Voted" badge.

As reported yesterday in The Detroit Tea Examiner, Kristeas tea and accessories store in Berkley was offering 50% off one item in the store with proof you were at the polls (Vote on Election Day and save at Kristeas). Concerned citizen and tea enthusiast that I am, I took advantage of this great offer and bought myself a silver tea strainer. I love the elegant, yet practical, tea accessory and when having afternoon tea at The Westbury Hotel in Ireland last month, the silver strainer spearheaded its way to the top of  this year's wishlist.
Tea strainer discounted with proof of voting
Of course, no trip to the Kristeas is complete without circling the store at least twice. Owner, Kristin Sanders was there to greet visitors and ring up orders of other civic-minded tea lovers.

Kristin Sanders ringing up orders of other civic-minded tea lovers
My daughter, Rachel, and I voted together during our lunch hour and met up at the mall for dinner. She got her bonus, too, when shopping at  Urban Outfitter. That retailer gave 20% off to anyone who showed evidence they cast their ballot.

It's rewarding to vote! Cheers to all who participated in the process this year!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Fit for a queen (or three): Afternoon tea at the Royal Park Hotel

Pam and Rachel toast to a royal afternoon tea
If you are ever in Michigan and are in need of a regal afternoon, I've got just the place:  the Royal Park Hotel in Rochester. Just minutes from the busy downtown retail district, the Royal Park Hotel seems miles away from the congested traffic and crowded streets of the city and you feel the difference as soon as you step into the gleaming marble-tiled lobby with its sparkling chandeliers.

In need of a luxurious repast (and aren't we all, from time to time?), I had afternoon tea at the Royal Park Hotel with good friend, Pam, and my daughter, Rachel, this weekend.

Once inside the lobby, we were greeted by hotel staff and escorted to the library where we waited for our tea hostess as we sat in overstuffed leather chairs by the glowing fireplace. Soon, our hostess, Mary, arrived and lead us to our tea table, already set with a three-tiered tray full of goodies, fine china accented with artfully folded napkins and a kir royale cocktail, cherry-red and fizzing busily.

Three-tiered tray filled with delicious sweets and savories
Mary introduced us to the sweets and savories on our three-tiered tray, which included a delicious variety of tea sandwiches, two types of scones (with clotted cream and lemon curd) and a scrumptious selection of desserts. (Of the latter, chocolate decadence was a table favorite!)

Our tea hostess, Mary Kuhn, serves our tea
The hotel serves Mighty Leaf teas and Mary brought out a case filled with a dozen different varieties in small glass vials, so we could inspect and sniff as she gave a description of each. We picked three: Earl Grey, Caramel Pear and Green Passion. Each of us had our "go-to" tea and all were satisfying.

Along with the fare on the three-tiered tray, hot hors d'oeuvres are served with the tea.

The service is excellent and, true to our hostess' word, we sat back and relaxed while she did all the work. Another nice touch is that no two teas will be the same. Mary explained that she keeps notes of guests visits, so when one returns, she might serve different china or make a few other changes to, in her words, "keep it fresh".

Enjoying a cup of Earl Grey and window views of Paint Creek

Tea is served on the lanai, a narrow strip off the dining room that overlooks the hotel's patio and Paint Creek, which makes for excellent viewing from the table.

Ending our royal afternoon in the hotel lobby. We'll be back!
We ended our elegant tea where we started, at the hotel lobby, under the crystal chandeliers and the marble floor below our feet. We plan to be back, ready for the royal treatment, excited to know our next visit will be something new to look forward to.

For more details on the Royal Park Hotel's afternoon tea, see The Detroit Tea Examiner's article, Enjoy Royal Treatment in Rochester:  Afternoon tea at the Royal Park Hotel.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Travels in Ireland: tea, gold and, yes, a bit of blarney

Kissing the Blarney Stone, with some assistance

According to Tea and Coffee Trade Journal, Ireland has the world's highest per capita consumption of the highest-quality tea.  It should come as no surprise, then, that I fell in love with this country before our plane even landed. But, once we arrived on the Emerald Isle, it continued to charm me, as well as my family.

Our home base was a cozy, historic hotel right off O'Connell Street, described in some travel brochures as the "Champs Elysee of Dublin". It was, by any definition, a  fantastic location as many of the must-see sites (Trinity College, Temple Bar, Grafton Street) were less than a fifteen minute walk from our hotel.

At Blarney Castle. Now 3 of the 4 of us have the gift of gab.
In a week, we covered Dublin, Cork, Blarney, Cobv, Waterford, Monaghan and (slightly by accident), Northern Ireland. We toured Guinness, Jameson, the crystal factory, the gaol, two museums, a castle, and a cathedral. We traced family roots in rural Ireland, drove a car on the wrong side of the road and spent an evening participating in an authentic Irish pub crawl. In between, however, we made room for lots of Irish tea  - from fancy hotels to convenience stores and some very unexpected places in between.

Afternoon tea with the family at The Westbury Hotel in Dublin
We had a champagne afternoon tea at The Westbury Hotel, a five-star hotel on Grafton Street. For more details, check out The Detroit Tea Examiner's review of the luxurious tea in this upscale hotel in downtown Dublin. Inside, grace and gentility partner with the hustle and bustle of the outside city environs - a fitting contrast for a hotel located between Trinity College with its Book of Kells and Temple Bar, with its many, many Irish pubs!

Chris and Rachel discuss family history with Mrs. McNally
On the other end of the spectrum, we enjoyed tea and a quick lunch at a convenience store in County Monaghan while tracing some of my husband's Irish ancestry. Armed with a few volumes of family history, Chris asked the woman behind the counter (who turned out to be the owner of the establishment) if she knew any "Whitcrofts". She told us as much as she knew, but asked us to just wait a few minutes and she'd go pick up her 85-year old mother and bring her back, as she knew all the history of the area.
Rachel and Matt on the site where their Irish ancestors resided
Before our tea could cool down, Mrs. McNally joined us in our booth and gave us directions to where the Whitcroft's once resided. Over another cup of hearty black tea, we learned about family from generations past. Grateful, we thanked our new friends and continued our journey, being mindful to stay on the left side of road.

On the way back to our hotel that afternoon, a rainbow appeared, a sign that this journey had brought us a treasure of a lifetime. Didn't realize it at the time, and after snapping a dozen-plus pictures of this multi-hued phenomenon, we discovered rainbows appear quite frequently in Ireland. In fact, I think we saw one every day after that. Nonetheless, like kissing the Blarney stone, there's certainly a bit of enchantment attached to it - just like all our adventures in Ireland. Twas a wonderful time, to be sure. 

We'll be back to share a few more nuggets of our amazing trip to Ireland. We certainly felt we had the luck o' the Irish with the opportunity to visit this beautiful country - and drink high quality tea along the way!