Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Charleston Tea Plantation: America's Tea Garden

Charleston Tea Plantation, America's only Tea Garden

You don't have to travel to India or China to experience a real tea plantation. For those of us who live in the continental US, you can actually drive to the Charleston Tea Plantaion - which is exactly what we did this past April.

Charleston Tea Plantation is located on American Classic Tea Lane

The Charleston Tea Plantation is a working tea farm that thrives in the warm and humid climate of Wadmalaw Island, South Carolina. What struck me from our first turn into the winding road entering the tea plantation (on American Classic Tea Lane!) is that this is the REAL thing. It's not a glitzy, theme-park version of a tea farm - its a genuine plantation and its beauty and allure comes from the acres of camellia sinensis which  flourishes in an environment of care and respect.

A real working tea farm, it's beautiful and educational

This plantation has its roots, quite literally, dating back to 1799, from tea plants brought from China to Charleston. Initially meant for ornamentation, the climate was so perfect for the tea plants, it spurred the development of many tea farms. The most successful was Pinehurst Tea Plantation, which ran from 1888 through 1915. When it dissolved, many of its tea plants were transported to Wadmalaw Island.

You can visit a real tea plantation without traveling too far

Almost one hundred years after the Pinehurst Tea Plantation started, William ("Bill") Barclay Hall, a third generation tea taster, launched the Charleston Tea Plantation in 1987. In 2003, Bill partnered with his friend Lori Bigelow and the Bigelow family are now owners of the  plantation.

Hedgerows of tea, ready for the next harvest (flush)

This is an absolute must-see place to visit if you are a tea enthusiast at any level. It's a chance to learn about the basics of tea (or a refresher for long-time tea lovers). You'll see how tea is grown, harvested, processed and sorted.

The four  main stops for guests at the Charleston Plantation are:

  • the factory tour,
  • the trolley tour, 
  • the delightful gift shop,
  •  and a kiss with a frog (even if you have found your Prince Charming).  

The Bigelows (now owners) provide intro to tour via TV screens

Beginning with the factory tour,  David and Eunice Bigelow greet guests on big screen TV's along the automated tour of the small, but mighty, processing facility.

Chris (aka Prince Charming) points to the Withering Bed

You'll see a withering bed, the roto-vane machine and the oxidation bed, the latter which determines whether the tea becomes black or green.

Next up Trolley Tour of the plantation.

Next up, the Trolley Tour of the farm. In a vintage trolley car, visitors are exposed to acres upon acres of tea plants. Our tour guide explained the growing cycles ("flushes") of the "two leaves and a bud", as we sampled some tea products while traveling  through the many hedgerows of camellia sinensis,

Our tour guide shows us the "two leaves and a bud".

Sampling hand lotion on the tour (made with tea!)

We stopped at the green house where we not only saw new plants being cultivated but also a quick wave from Bill Hall himself!

Bill Hall (far right corner) checks on plants in the greenhouse

Back at the gift shop, guests can sample teas as they shop the many tea and tea-related items on display. I bought lots of tea, including my absolute new favorite of the American Classic Tea brand, Governor Gray.  (It's an Earl Gray-type of tea, but not overly citrus-y and very smooth.)

Free samples of tea are provided.

Many American Classic Tea varieties to choose from.

Tea and tea-related merchandise also on sale in the delightful gift shop.

I also bought some books and hand cream.

I've found my Prince Charming, but still up for kissing this frog. Hello, Waddy!

Of course, the visit wasn't complete without a kiss with Waddy, the frog in residence since 2013. He sits on the expansive front porch, with cup in hand, ready for photo-ops and selfies.

Charleston Tea Plantation has deep roots.

The Charleston Tea Plantation is a wonderful place to visit, a chance to see a real tea plantation in the US.  Beautiful and enriching, it truly is "America's Tea Garden".

Monday, July 11, 2016

Toronto begins (and ends) with 'Tea': No ifs, ands or . . . well, maybe a few butts

Mom/Daughter trip to Toronto finally here after months of planning!

A mom-daughter (times two)  trip to Toronto last month squeezed in a lot of tea, food, shopping, comedy and just a little bit of crazy in a long weekend. In this blog, we'll expose the naked truth - quite literally!

A trip planned back in February with our old and dear friends, Joni and Annabelle (the latter being buds with my daughter Rachel since third grade), we were up for some cosmopolitan adventures across the border.

Disturbingly good dessert at Mill Street Pub

We selected Toronto as our girls weekend destination and could hardly wait to hit the road after so many months of planning. After a harrowing trip on the always exciting 401, we dropped our bags off at our apartment for the weekend and headed out to the Distillery District.  It's a pedestrian-only village in the heart of Toronto and boasts a wide range of  gourmet dining, pubs, art galleries and unique shops, all housed in restored Victorian-era buildings. 

Trying to hold it together while camera person captures the right distance.

We found refuge in the Mill Street Pub, where we enjoyed a delicious meal and a disturbingly good dessert. Energized and refueled, we hit the shops. My favorite was Blackbird Vintage Finds, a very cool and eclectic mix of old and new merchandise, including vintage tea cups.

Can you spot the  Colclough  cup?  Super cool merchandise at Blackbird Vintage Finds

I found and purchased a Colclough tea cup . It was a suiting souvenir of our trip, since it was only a few degrees of separation from the mom-daughter outing that inspired our trip.  We saw the movie "Brooklyn" in February and that movie gave screen time to a Colclough tea cup, the same pattern of a set I have at home. (See,  Colclough in Brooklyn).  (It wasn't the focal point of the movie, of course, but a captivating cameo for teacup fanatics.)

After a restful night at our lovely airbnb, and a morning cup of tea on the  balcony overlooking the water, we were ready for anything:  brunch, shopping, comedy and. . .  the unexpected.

Al fresco french cuisine brunch at Le Select Bistron
Morning cup of tea with water views.

We snagged a prime table on the patio of Le Select Bistro for brunch - delicious french cuisine enjoyed al fresco.

Then we made our way down to the Farmer's Market and stopped at several boutique stores along the way. One shop had a whole table filled with Tealish teas, so I picked up the one that paid homage to its home country, "Oh Canada Maple" (see our recent review "Oh Canada Maple: True North Tea").

Joni and Annabelle partake in tour de shops in Toronto

Tealish tea including Oh Canada Maple

Up along Dundas street, we entered Eaton Center and paid a visit to  David's Tea where we sampled a variety of their blends before walking away with a bag full of treats.  Another highlight of the mall was our stop at H & M, which, unlike most of its sister stores in our area, has a full home goods section. It has super cute stuff - even an adorable over-sized tea cup that says, "you are my cup of tea".  Awwwww.

H & M home goods. Rachel:  you are my cup of tea!

Once back out on the main drag, we quickly went from "oh, how cute!" to "what in the world?" More specifically, what- in-the-world-naked-bike-ride? Apparently, this is an annual event - some kind of protest against oil dependency. Really, whatever their cause is, it's a challenge to get behind it. (*ouch*).

Tea and . . what? TV crew behind (ahem) capturing  all.
Be ready to see it all, literally, in Torronto

It was a bit shocking, but it's life in the big city - you have to be ready for few unconventional events.

And the fun continued!  In the evening, we had tickets to Second City.  A great show and lots of laughs.

Rachel and Annabelle:  too much fun at Second City!

Our last day in Toronto, we took a walk along the water in the music garden. It's pretty and peaceful and right across the street from the Music Garden Cafe, where we had dinner the previous night.

Music Garden along Queens Quay along the waterfront.
Rachel and Joni taking in the sites of the garden.

Joni captures a candid shot at Music Cafe. Love the toile!

We wrapped up our stay at the far end of Toronto for afternoon tea at T-buds. Great food and tea and just the right send off for our long ride home.  (Stay tuned for a full review of t-buds!) Some much needed tranquility before embarking on the 401.

T-buds: lovely Toronto tea room

Almost ready for the 401.

Afternoon tea in Toronto.

A great adventure and an exceedingly good time - no ifs, ands, or . . . yes, quite a few butts!

Part of the Toronto treasure trove, complete with Colclough tea cup!

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Oh Canada Maple from Tealish: 'True North Tea'

Northern living and tea time are perfectly paired for relaxing and de-stressing, but what if you could experience that feeling whether your stuck in a big city traffic jam or victim of a scorching heat wave way south of the border?  It's now possible with Tealish's 'Oh Canada Maple', a tea blend that evokes the northern Canadian feeling by capturing the region's unique tastes and aromas.

I purchased Oh Canada Maple last month when visiting Toronto, the home of Tealish. Who better to hone the North American country's "Canadian Collection", then a Toronto-based tea company?

The hearty black tea blend of  Oh Canada Maple includes safflowers, special flavoring and maple bits. Open the tin and take in an intoxicating whiff of maple syrup and the great outdoors.

We brewed our tea for three minutes and watched the generous pieces of maple bits and safflowers swirl around the cup while it steeped.

The taste is hearty and very sweet: a blend of maple syrup and caramel flavors tempered by a hint of floral notes.

For this tea, our suggested food pairings are a light shortbread cookie or traditional scone . (I would pass serving this tea with syrup-topped pancakes or, my favorite Canadian delicacy, maple leaf cookies).

Oh Canada Maple's label proclaims that the tea is "an ode to the true north, strong and free!".

Drinking this tea, pond side, at our northern Michigan cabin, we can't dispute the claim. However, we're also glad to know, we can enjoy this tea back home and still taste a little of the great white north while we're stuck in big city traffic.

Tealish tea isn't limited to the Canadian Collection. They offer a wide variety of blends. For more information, visit their website at tealish.com.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Afternoon tea at Jekyll Island Club Hotel: Modern day luxury with Gilded Age roots

Jekyll Island Club Hotel 

Afternoon tea at the Jekyll Island Club Hotel takes guests back to a genteel time in the 19th-century where well-to-do guests sat on wicker chairs on expansive porches and played croquet on the lawn dressed in white. The hotel embraces its origins as a resort to the Gilded Age high society with its beautiful furnishings, outstanding service and maintaining afternoon tea daily between 4:00 and 5:00. However,  it balances tradition with a warm and friendly accessibility to current day vacationers.

Afternoon tea is served daily from 4:00 to 5:00

We visited the Jekyll Island resort in April and found it to be one of the most beautiful places we have stayed.

Our overnight accommodations were in San Souci ("without care"), a separate building from the main hotel.  It was built as an apartment complex in 1896 by J.P. Morgan for himself and other Club members. It is cited as the first condominium in the country and still has its original wood floors, leaded art glass and staircase.  A vacation home to so many northern elite, including the Rockefellers, Astors and Vanderbilts, it's luxury steeped in Gilded Age history - and tea time is no exception.

Afternoon tea in the Grand Dining Room of the resort is in keeping with its -  quite literally - rich history, but with modern day sensibilities.

Inside the Riverview Lodge with Lynn Lee (left) and Amy Wisenbaker (right)

We met up with Lynn Lee, Assistant Food and Beverage Director, and Amy Wisenbaker, Social Media and Web Communications Manager, for afternoon tea and were given the backstory of modern day tea time at the Club Hotel. Currently, the resort offers afternoon tea, but in buffet style. It accommodates guests' expectations of having an afternoon tea served daily and yet, offers options not usually provided in a traditional tea time. This type of service, says Lynn Lee, "lets everyone pick what they want for a tea. If you want all chocolate, you can have all chocolate."

Who can argue with that?

Afternoon tea buffet

A great selection of tasty finger sandwiches.

However, there is so much to choose from, one is hard-pressed to single out any category. There is a wide assortment of finger sandwiches - tasty and exquisitely presented in a variety of shapes and sizes. The scones are delicious and served with lemon curd, strawberry preserves, orange marmalade and creme fraiche.

To accompany scones: strawberry preserves, creme fraiche and lemon curd
Dessert selections include several mini-pastries that are scrumptious works of art. Among those we sampled were a key lime tart, a chocolate macaroon and a chocolate mousse confection in a chocolate shell. Oh, yes, we easily could feast on just chocolate!

Plate of chocolate treats - and more!

All of this is served with bottomless pots of Rishi tea, brewed up to perfection. The loose tea choices include Georgia Peach Rooibos, Earl Grey Supreme Black, Tangerine Ginger, Jade Cloud Pure Green and Peach Blossom White. (There are other selections offered in tea bags as well).

Our tea hostess brewed and served delicious Rishi teas.
Once our tea selections were made, our wonderful and attentive tea hostess, Szilvia Bozsik, brought the pots to our table and continued to check on us for refills.

Afternoon tea in the main dining room

Usually afternoon tea is served in the Riverview Lounge, a semi-circular annex off the main dining room. It's a gorgeous space filled with windows shaded with yellow awnings and a view of the well-manicured grounds, and, of course, the river. The day of our visit, the room was set up for a private party, so we dined with other tea guests in the main dining room. It's a large, yet intimate venue, framed by glossy white columns and anchored on one end by a Victorian-era glass chandelier and a handsome fireplace on the other.

The Riverview Lounge is usually where afternoon tea is held

We had tea in the main dining room - so elegant with an array of white columns

After tea, we retired to our room at Sans Souci with its amazing views of the main hotel as well as the river.

Our stay at San Souci was, indeed, without a care.

More relaxation spent on our own semi-private porch.

A visit to Jekyll Island Club Hotel is indeed a stay without care. Going back to a time of elegance, but with modern day amenities, you will surely feel like a member of the aristocracy at this resort, whether spending an afternoon on the porch, playing a game of croquet or enjoying an afternoon tea.

Back at the main hotel, one can lounge on wicker chairs and sofas.

A sporting game of croquet: Jekyll Island embraces vintage elegance and pastimes.