Sunday, December 1, 2013

Barb's TEA Shop Wishlist 2013

December is here!

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

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

For the Lords and Ladies on your list.

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

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

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

Highclere Castle tickets for Summer 2014 go on sale in February

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

Tea Rooms we love and what you can get there:

Denver Tea Room has its own scone mix for sale

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now for something comple-TEA-ly different:

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

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

An aquatic companion for Mr. Tea

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

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

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

Satisfy your hunger game with dessert

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

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

Chocolate and Tea Pairings from BTS - schedule yours today!

Happy shopping and Happy Holidays to all!

Saturday, November 30, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

Afternoon tea cures all that ails

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

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

Scones, chocolate torte, cheesecake, tiarmisu

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

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

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

Monday, October 28, 2013

Happy National Chocolate Day! Celebrate with Chocolate and Tea pairings from Barb's TEA Shop

Chocolate and tea:  great tastes combine for delicious pairings
It's National Chocolate Day! Although, perhaps not as well known as some of the other holidays, it certainly has a following and you can count Barb's TEA Shop in that fan-base. Long devotees of that luxurious dark confection, we have become more learned in the topic through seminars, lots of research, and best of all, in-home study. We've packaged it all up in a tea and chocolate pairing class we'd love to share with you!

In addition to classes and research, in-home study proved tasty

 At Barb's TEA Shop, we will supply the chocolate, the tea and our recommendations for the optimal pairings. It's like a wine tasting that brings out the best of both beverage and cuisine, but you won't need a designated driver to indulge!

Jody Dodson discusses the various stages of chocolate
 One of the chocolate seminars we attended this year was given by Grocer's Daughter Chocolate, located in Empire, Michigan. Co-owner Jody Dodson, with the assistance of store founder, Mimi Wheeler, presented "How to Taste Chocolate".  Sampling various stages of chocolate in its journey from bitter nib to decadent truffle was as enjoyable as it was educational. Jody told of first-hand experiences in Ecuador visiting cacao farmers in the Amazon. (They host Chocolate Trips to these regions, next one is April, 2014).

Chocolate tasting, as varied as tea. 

For a  tasty in-home party or scrumptious event at almost any venue, let us treat you and your guests to a wonderful sampling of chocolate, tea and fun! Call, email or message us on Facebook!

248-840-4356,, Barb's TEA Shop Facebook page

Half drink/half mousse, hot chocolate granache with cream. 
In honor of its special day, however, we're not afraid to take chocolate straight-up. Our ultimate foodie friend, Mr. D., prepared an exquisite version of hot chocolate granache with fresh whipped cream this weekend. Served in vintage English bone china, it was absurdly rich and delicious. Half drink/half mousse, you could sip or spoon or - as many of us did - do both to get every last bit. It's how to celebrate National Chocolate Day. .  . or next Tuesday! Cheers!!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

House on the Hill: Toile and Tea kick off wonderful weekend in Northern Michigan

The Aspen Room has toile and a fireplace
For the past seven years (minus one), we have enjoyed a fall "color tour" weekend in northern Michigan with our good friends. We've mixed it up over the years, but we usually end up somewhere near Traverse City and along with the beautiful scenery, it usually includes fine dining, tea, wineries and sometimes golf. 

This year our friends planned a three-day adventure based on some of their favorite places, starting with The House on The Hill Bed and Breakfast in Ellsworth. This charming B & B has rooms in the main house as well as additional lodging in its carriage house. 

The latter is where our party stayed and I felt like I won the lottery when Chris and  I were shown "The Aspen Room".  As a toile fanatic (yes, I feel that strongly about it), this room had not only my favorite patterned fabric, but a fireplace and a balcony overlooking several wooded acres and a meandering stream. There was hardly a need to venture out, but, we found the strength to explore beyond the blue toile.

Delicious gourmet dinner at Rowe Inn

White chocolate brownie for dessert
After check-in and a warm up by the fire, we made our way to the Rowe Inn, a gourmet restaurant just a two minute drive from the House on the Hill. Here we all ordered the same thing - it sounded so good - roast duck.We finished the meal with my always favorite course, dessert and Rowe Inn's white chocolate brownie served with a hot cup of tea did not disappoint.

Lake view from our B & B. This lake is part of the Inland Waterway

Angela Macke of LOD teas shows where her tea plants grow
The next day started with a slight drizzle, but we could still enjoy the lake view from the B & B's front porch. After an amazing three-course breakfast which included fresh fruit and homemade pumpkin bread, and tea, of course, we piled into the SUV and drove towards Traverse City.

Our first stop was Light of Day, the amazing  tea store and farm in Michigan. Angela Macke, owner and operator, invited us on the tour of her new greenhouse where she is growing her own tea plants. (More of that in a future blog, but we did feature it in The Detroit Tea Examiner article: Light of Day grows its own tea plants in northern Michigan)

View from 2 Lads at the tip of Old Mission Peninsula

From the farm to the vineyard, we made our way up the Old Mission Peninsula to some of our favorite wineries. We always stop at Chateau Chantal and 2 Lads as they have the most spectacular views on the bay.

The last day of our extended weekend started with another delightful breakfast at our B & B. Fortified with eggs and croissants, we were ready to head out even further north to view the "Tunnel of Trees".

Good Hart General Store -  view from the car amid the heavy rain 
In our mission to find the glass pumpkin festival, we drove through Petosky, Bay Harbor and Harbor Springs, admiring the million-dollar views and the equally expensive "cottages" that accompanied them. Reaching Good Hart, we stopped briefly at the General Store with its interesting selection of merchandise, including a variety of homemade pies.

We then moved towards Cross Village, the site of the glass pumpkin festival noted in the local paper. We didn't see it immediately, so stopped in at the Leg's Inn, known for its authentic Polish Cuisine. The name comes from the inverted cast iron stove legs that adorn the balcony.

Outside the Leg's Inn. Note the balcony above.

Leg's Inn blintzes. Entrees disguised as dessert? No complaints!

I had a Blintzes-Nalesniki filled with farmer's cheese and apples. Dessert for lunch? Well, why not?

After that, we were diverted by signs pointing to a pumpkin farm. Like, Linus, wanting to believe the great pumpkin was near, we were misguided in our blind faith. Turns out, the pumpkin farm actually was a pumpkin farm. The glass pumpkin festival, we found out later, was right across the street from the Leg's Inn. It eluded us this year, but like that loyal Peanuts character, we've agreed to be back next year, sure to see the real glass pumpkin festival.

Amazing view of Mackinac Bridge, grande finale of a fantastic weekend

Our long weekend ended on a high note. Our friends lead us on a route that convinced me they were lost. We turned down several remote, winding roads ending up on a sloping dead end. Once we cleared the trees, we took in a spectacular view of the Mackinac Bridge.

Toile, tea, vineyards and lots of fancy eatin' along the backdrop of northern Michigan's natural beauty filled with colorful trees and water views. Exquisite interiors to match the great outdoors, and it all started with tea and toile.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Food pairings at Ferndale's Torino are amazing: The Detroit Free Press agrees!

Visiting Torino in September with our most discerning foodie friends

In June of this year, I posted a blog about one of the Mother's Day gifts I received from my son, Matt - a gift certificate to an exciting, relatively new-on-the-scene restaurant, Torino, in downtown Ferndale (see Mother's Day features favorite teas: Will Father's Day bring T's and Carrots). In that article, I noted the delicious five-course dinner my husband and I had, along with an additional beverage pairing the restaurant offers as an option. The food and drink pairings were amazing and the meal included what my husband referred to as the "best damn carrot" he ever ate.  We are such fans, we brought our most discerning foodie friends back this month for another sampling and it was a collective "thumb's up" all around.

Our 30th wedding anniversary  at Torino in May
"Best damn carrot"

I'm happy to report, and not at all surprised, that we are not alone in our devotion to this gourmet treasure in Oakland County. The Detroit Free Press' Restaurant Crictic, Sylvia Rector, wrote about her recent dining experience in Thursday's edition of the newspaper:

We still get the paper delivered, so when we saw that Torino was featured with a full two-page spread, we were thrilled. But, when you view the on-line article, you get treated to even more pictures, including a group shot of some of the crew at the restaurant, including one of Matt's friends (he has a few that work there, all reflect the entire staff's enthusiasm for their product while providing first-class service).

First course:  peach, wild rice, yogurt paired with a Gewurztraminer

Every meal begins with an "amuse", a small appetizer to start the experience

Desserts are paired with a digestif. Our group ended with coffee and tea.

Torino ambitiously changes their menu weekly, so you will always be greeted with something new. They offer both three-course and five-course menus with optional drink pairings - both alcohol and non-alcohol selections - for an additional price. They also have a good selection of loose teas, which I'll write about in an upcoming blog!

Great service & well-informed staff. Dan M,(and friend of Matt) assists Chris.
We plan to be back very shortly. Our foodie group wants to make this a regular event on our calendar. It really is more than just going out for a bite to eat. When you dine at Torino's you are not only getting great food, but entertainment as well as you learn about the different foods, taste the unique blends and textures and view the artistic presentations of every single course. Some courses may be  served on glossy, asymmetrical china plates, others on striped-wood planks and  every one as delightful to look at as it is delicious to eat. Consider the price of a meal, movie and educational seminar, and you'll know it's a great value.

We heard that Torino was sold out for seatings this weekend, after the article hit the stands. Home of the "best damn carrot" and so much more - we're looking forward to our next visit and maybe we'll see you there, if we can all get in!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Meeting the Royal Chef in northern Michigan: Darren McGrady shares how the Queen takes her tea (and more!)

Royal Chef Darren McGrady with Detroit Tea Examiner

I was one degree of separation from the permanent residents of Buckingham Palace when I met the Royal Chef in person at "The Taste of Traverse City" last Saturday. Darren McGrady was chef to both Queen Elizabeth and Princess Diana before moving to the US sixteen years ago and has many great stories to share after serving the Royal Family for several years.

Author of the book, "Eating Royally", McGrady graciously agreed to a phone interview with me over a week ago to talk about his upcoming visit to Michigan. We chatted for almost a half hour and, among other palace tales,  he shared what the Queen liked for afternoon tea and how she would select the menu based upon who would be visiting. She never missed tea time, whether she was entertaining 6,000 guests or just her grandsons. As McGrady says, "It's the most important meal of the day and so quintessentially British". He is a captivating speaker, so I knew we'd be in for a real treat when we finally got to meet him in person in Traverse City this past weekend.

(For more of that interview, see the entire article, "Royal Chef to be featured guest at 'Taste of Traverse City' event".)
A beautiful day in northern Michigan
We arrived at the "Taste of Traverse City" a little after one o' clock, just after the gates opened. We were part of the VIP group that allowed us our own open-air lounge furnished with leather sofas and the opportunity for a one-on-one meet and greet with the Royal Chef.

The Royal Chef preparing for his first cooking demonstration.
The Royal Chef conducted two cooking demonstrations and one informal talk where he shared memories of cooking for the Queen for eleven years and, from there, his move to Kensington Palace to work directly for Princess Di.

Not surprisingly, when speaking of the Royals, the topic of tea does come up frequently. McGrady noted how there are four meals every day:  breakfast, lunch, dinner (which is served at 8:15 pm) and, without exception, afternoon tea. As the Royal Chef explained, "even the staff stops for afternoon tea". So very civilized!

The Royal Family is of German descent and so they hold on to many of the Christmas-time traditions. They open all their presents on Christmas Eve. .  . after tea, of course.

The Royal Chef delights the audience with tales of the Royal Family
Favorite foods of the Queen and company are wild game and chocolate. Interestingly enough, the Royal Chef had prepared a meal that combined both, serving a venison with a chocolate burgundy sauce and he reports it was a big success.

The differences in protocol between Buckingham Palace and Kensington Palace is probably best illustrated in how one orders ice cream. McGrady told of the series of events that would occur when Prince William requested a dish of the cold dessert at the Queen's main residence. Several calls would be made, not only to the kitchen, but to those in charge of  the silver and linens.  Several minutes would pass before a bowl of ice cream would arrive, on a serving tray, in a fancy bowl with a starched napkin.

When Prince William requested the same dessert at Kensington Palace, however, he would often come right into the kitchen to ask the Royal Chef. McGrady tells of how he would point to the freezer and say to the young prince, "help yourself". The now Duke of Cambridge would gleefully run to the fridge and unceremoniously treat himself to a few scoops of ice cream - sans silver and linens.

Feeling like a queen in the VIP lounge
Being treated royally in Traverse City 

The Royal Chef included a few autobiographical notes, including the story behind his move to Texas. He was inspired by Princess Di who often told McGrady they needed to move to America. After the tragic car accident, he was invited by Prince Charles to remain in England. But, McGrady felt it was time to try something new and he received many invitations from the rich and famous in the US, with the best offer for him and his family coming from Texas, where he still resides today.

McGrady is a frequent guest of TV news and talk shows, a professional speaker, author and host to annual culinary excursions to England. Two items have just been added to this year's "wish list":  the book, "Eating Royally" and Culinary Excursion 2014.  

One degree of separation in 2013, shooting for even less in 2014!  Until then, a hearty endorsement for Eating Royally and I shall start my royal-in-training protocol by having my moose tracks served on a silver tray, in a crystal bowl, with a freshly pressed napkin.