Saturday, December 8, 2018

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas (and Downton Abbey) at The Townsend Hotel!

The Townsend Hotel tea lobby beautifully decorated for the holidays.

Last week I had a wonderful time presenting a Downton Abbey-inspired Afternoon Tea at The Townsend.

Although, I love tea time at The Townsend Hotel any time of the year, there is something very special about visiting during the holidays. The downtown Birmingham venue has recently undergone a décor update with more contemporary furnishings, but still retains its luxurious ambiance. Add the glittering gold trees and frosted greens garland over the blazing fireplace and you have one of the prettiest places to enjoy afternoon tea in the area!

Presenting a Downtown Abbey-inspired Afternoon Tea donned in an Edwardian tea gown

If you haven't had the opportunity to enjoy a holiday afternoon tea at The Townsend, I highly recommend making the time while there still is time! There are  two "Princess Teas" scheduled for the month of December - which are great to enjoy with the little ones - but you can make reservations throughout the month for a lovely holiday tea time treat. 

The tea lobby is decorated with garland and sparkling gold Christmas trees.

Whether taking time for afternoon tea as one of the Crawley family members, or with your little princesses or even your favorite gent (see Gentlemen's Tea), you are sure to be delighted at The Townsend Hotel. 

For more information, The Townsend's Afternoon Tea page.

P.S - save me the seat by the fireplace!

Save the seat by the fireplace for me!

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Countdown to Christmas with Adagio Teas' Advent Calendar: Treat yourself to a new tea everyday!

Adagio Tea Advent Calendar: a new tea for each day until Christmas!

Is there a better way to count down the days to Christmas than with a different cup of tea each day?

 Adagio Teas has created an advent calendar that reveals a new tea packet under each numbered "drawer" in a beautifully packaged box that fits right into the season's décor. It's a grown-up version of the advent calendars which hide a tiny treat or chocolate behind doors that have delighted children, including my own, for years.

When my kids were growing up, my Mom would purchase a new advent calendar every December. The days to Christmas seemed so interminably long to my two young boys and little girl, and opening those tiny doors to get a piece of candy, and see one more day out of the way, helped the days go by faster for them.

Behind each door is a new tea - mine started with Gingerbread tea.

Of course, as adults, the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas feels like it moves at warped speed and we'd actually like to see it slow down just a little bit to help us get to all the shopping,  baking and decorating.  While the Adagio Teas' Advent Calendar doesn't buy us more time, it does serve as a reminder to take a break for ourselves and have a little fun to boot!

Each "day" has a different single-serving tea bag hiding behind a numbered door. In the interest of true reporting on the Adagio advent calendar - and also because I couldn't wait to try it! - I went ahead and opened up the first day. I was treated to gingerbread tea. With a festive photo of gingerbread cookies on the wrapper, it got me started on holiday spirit right away.

Adagio Advent Calendar is a treat for tea lovers and a reminder to take a tea break for ourselves.

Although each day will bring a new tea, the gingerbread tea was a great way to start. It's a black tea with ginger, cinnamon and orange pieces - a spicy tea just perfect for sitting next to the fire and gazing at the twinkling tree lights. I rarely add milk to tea, but I decided to try a little in my gingerbread tea because I was pretty sure this hearty blend could handle it. Plus, I wanted to make this break - if only for ten minutes - a special one, with "milk and cookies".

I'm looking forward to opening each new tea. And, I promise to stay with the program and not get ahead of myself. 

Santa's jolliness is due to tea

I love everything about this tea calendar:  the pretty box with a reindeer featured prominently among the twenty-four doors, the surprise tea waiting for its daily reveal and the bold note on the side that proudly proclaims, "The main reason Santa is so jolly is because he drinks tea".  That makes so much sense!

The Adagio Tea Advent Calendar is not only a treat for oneself, but sure to be a welcomed delight to any tea enthusiast on your holiday gift list. Why not surprise someone early with present sure to be enjoyed throughout December? They'll no doubt be jolly throughout the season - and with the attractive packaging, all you'll need to do is add a bow.

Adagio advent calendar is a great gift for any tea enthusiast - with such nice packaging, you only need to add a bow!

The Adagio advent calendar is available on the Adagio website at  While there, be sure to peruse the seasonal items for more ideas for holiday gift giving and stocking stuffers!

Product review disclaimer:  I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free or a discounted price. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Holiday Tablescapes: Let 'Twelve Etiquette Essentials, Formal Dining and Tea Time' help!

Twelve Etiquette Essentials, Formal Dining and Tea Time can assist with tablescapes and gift giving

The holidays are upon us and Barb's Tea Service's Twelve Etiquette Essentials, Formal Dining and Tea Time is here to help -  not only in place settings but gift giving as well!

Guests can read up on proper dining etiquette
This time of year, many of us are busy hanging wreaths on doors, draping garland over the mantle and placing twinkling lights on anything that doesn't  move to welcome all the friends and family who come to visit. For me, it's also a welcomed opportunity to bring out some of the fine china, crystal and silverware I've inherited (or otherwise acquired) and create tablescapes that are worthy of my husband's gourmet cooking!

Twelve Etiquette Essentials by the Barb Gulleys

We kick-started the holiday season, - and festive table settings -  this week when we had the family over for Thanksgiving dinner. Although I (literally) wrote the book on dining etiquette, Twelve Etiquette Essentials, Formal Dining and Tea Time, I found further inspiration for table arrangements from my mother-in-law's drawings in the aforementioned tiny tome.

Chapter Two illustrations, and all others in the book, are by Barbara R. Gulley

Also a Barbara Gulley, my mother-in-law provided the illustrations to the dining etiquette book. Chapter Two covers place settings and my mother-in-law drew an attractive arrangement of plates, utensils and glassware in our guide to all of their proper placements. 

Holiday place settings inspired by Twelve Etiquette Essentials illustrations

Like my readers, I turned to page six to make sure the spoons and glasses were lined up correctly, but the pretty green bordered plates in the illustration reminded me of my own mother's very lovely fine china, so I added that to this year's Thanksgiving table.

Once you know where everything goes, the creative juices can go to work! This year, we found a fall-hued table runner and candles on sale at Sur la Table and added that to our much loved (and used) brown leaf-motif tablecloth. My grandma's gold and cream-colored china joined my Mom's green bordered dishes, along with her full array of  silverware. 

Twelve Etiquette Essentials will have something for all of our your guests!

And, of course, all our guests got a copy of  Twelve Etiquette Essentials. (In the picture above, the author is seated between her editor, Matt, and formatting expert, Rachel).

At the start of this blog, we mentioned Twelve Etiquette Essentials can help not only with your tablescapes, but gift giving as well. Our book will be useful not only in  place settings, but proper etiquette for business dinners or afternoon tea. What a great stocking stuffer for college grads just starting a new job or friends who have expressed an interest in attending an elegant tea, but are unsure of proper protocol. And, for all of us, what foods can we eat using only our fingers and which require utensils? Also, there are instructions for proposing - and accepting -  toasts!

Twelve Etiquette Essentials, Formal Dining and Tea Time is available on Amazon. This book will help with your holiday tablescapes and (almost) everyone on your gift list!

Not everyone is interested in etiquette, some are just looking for leftovers from the Chef

Saturday, November 17, 2018

The Tea Shoppe: Delightful Afternoon Tea in Morgantown

Lisa Biafore and Barb Gulley at The Tea Shoppe in Morgantown, WV

Morgantown, West Virginia has a lot going for it:  university life, Barney Fife and a delightful tea shop with the name of, not surprisingly,  "The Tea Shoppe".

Lisa Biafore, with daughters, Gina and Rachel, who are part of the family tea business.

What is surprising is the impressive tea selection (over 140 blends on the menu) the scrumptious meals, and the Victorian/Vintage-chic décor all tucked neatly and unexpectedly inside the Seneca Center,  an old glass factory turned shopping mall.

Impressive tea menu boast over 140 blends
Footprint of tearoom extends out to the mall lobby

Owned and operated by Lisa Biafore, The Tea Shoppe was first thought of as a "fun retirement" endeavor. After 30 years in the corporate world, Lisa and her husband purchased the small tea shop. In the five years since they bought it, they've expanded the footprint and made it truly a family affair with daughters, Gina and Rachel, the latter who puts her culinary training to work as the tea room's pastry chef.  (We at Barb's Tea Service, certainly appreciate a Mother and Daughter tea business!)

My brother, Ed, (who "discovered" the Tea Shop for our trip) and sister-in-law, Sandy, join Chris and I for afternoon tea.

Along with my husband, Chris, (specially decked out in bow tie and pocket square), my brother, Ed - who actually found the Tea Shoppe on-line while planning our travel itinerary - and sister-in-law, Sandy, I ordered afternoon tea. The savories, scones and mini-desserts were delicious and beautifully plated. 

Delicious afternoon tea fare, beautifully presented

Although tempted, this visit we didn't don hats, but there are plenty that dot the walls of the tea room which guests are encouraged to try on.

The Tea Shoppe also has several special events throughout the year (there was a "Moana" tea just before we arrived), including tea tastings.

Statue of Don Knotts, Mayberry's Barney Fife

Though this was my first trip to Morgantown, I know it won't be my last. It's a bustling college town (home of West Virginia University) with several quaint shops along main street. If that isn't enough, there's also a statue of Don Knotts, the actor who played the anxious, but lovable, Barney Fife, on the "Andy Griffith Show" (and anxious, but loveable, landlord on "Three's Company").

And, of course, we know a great place to have tea in town. The Tea Shoppe in Morgantown is worth the trip!

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Twelve Etiquette Essentials, Formal Dining and Tea Time: BTS' new book is now available!!

Twelve Etiquette Essentials, Formal Dining and Tea Time is now available on Amazon!

A second book in BTS' "Steeper by the Dozen" series, Twelve Etiquette Essentials has something for everyone: from the host or hostess needing a refresher on proper table settings to young professionals navigating the business meal.  Twelve Etiquette Essentials also answers the daunting  question of how to handle tricky foods  - fingers only or fork and knife? And, of course, we cover proper afternoon tea etiquette!

The Barbara Gulleys (on the right) enjoying tea with Rachel and Cara

A book by the "Barbara Gulleys", this project took a village to complete. My mother-in-law and gifted artist, provided the illustrations and was up for any challenge, including a request for a picture featuring both boxing gloves and ladies' formal gloves.  (see Chapter 4, "Accessories").

Draft of one the challenging requests  (see Chapter 6, "Business Dinner" for the final)

In addition to Barbara R. Gulley's art work, my son, Matt Gulley, who has a B.A. in English and a talented writer in his own right, edited this book, spending several hours revising my content and fixing my typo's. 

My daughter, Rachel, the other half of Barb's Tea Service, worked out formatting issues from a not-so-user-friendly template in the publishing tool we used.

And, check out the top photo on the back cover. That was taken by my talented cousin, Karri Brantley, who has her own photography business, Karri Brantley Photography

So, indeed, it took a lot of time for a small book, but one we hope you'll find it informative as well as entertaining.

(Twelve Etiquette Essentials also got a shout out in the most recent edition of Michigan Home and Lifestyle!)

AND, just in time for the holidays - Twelve Etiquette Essentials would be the perfect stocking stuffer for anyone!

Twelve Etiquette Essentials, Formal Dining and Tea Time is available on Amazon. For more information, reach us at  

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Republic of Tea's Earl Greyer full-leaf tea is a happy taste, indeed!

If you have read our Downton Abbey-inspired afternoon tea blog stories, you know we are already fans of Republic of Tea's DA-themed products. From their refreshing herbal English Rose to their hearty Grantham Breakfast blend, the labels are as fun to read as their contents are tasty to sip. We also enjoy the convenience of these teas packaged in tea bags.  However, there's much more to Republic of Tea and we were anxious to explore beyond Downton Abbey blends.

We recently sampled Republic of Tea's Earl Greyer. It's from their loose-leaf collection and we found it to be an exceedingly good tea.

As much as I am a fan of Downton Abbey, I'm equally passionate about Earl Grey. It's my go-to drink whenever I go out for afternoon tea and I am particular about how it's brewed and how it's blended. Earl Greyer hits the "just right" category - it's not overly strong and the bergamot is not overbearing (Bergamot is the Mediterranean citrus fruit that makes black tea an Earl Grey). It's accessible without giving up character.  It's been well-received by my guests, ranging from tea enthusiasts to casual sippers.

We steeped the tea our customary three minutes (although, if you like it a bit stronger, you can go up to five). The leaves did their "happy dance" in the teapot and brewed to a lovely caramel color.

Speaking of "happy", per the description on the label, you should be expecting that as part of your experience. As explained on the back of the tea tin, "you will note with pleasure the sweet, citrus happy taste". We can't argue with that.

And, while we're looking at the tea tin, Republic of Tea scores well here, too. The cooper top sets off the cylindrical tea tin,  giving it a clean, contemporary style and, for those of us who like to have our tea within reach, it looks quite nice on the kitchen counter. 

Two-gloved thumb's up on Republic of Tea's Earl Greyer.

Product review disclaimer:  I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free or a discounted price. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Downton Abbey-Inspired Afternoon Tea: A wonderful way to spend a weekend!

BTS team (Pam, Rachel and Barb) with hostess extraordinaire, Cathy E. 

Downton Abbey enthusiasts know well one of the most famous quotes from the Dowager Countess, Violet Crawley:  "What is a weekend?".  Perhaps the better question is - how should one spend a weekend?  We know the answer:  A Downton Abbey-inspired afternoon tea with old and new friends.

Downton Abbey fashion twins,  pearls, hats and same dress-maker, Barb and Melinda H. 

The first weekend in October, Barb's Tea Service was invited to present a Downton Abbey-themed afternoon tea at the beautiful home of hostess, Cathy Edwards. Dressed in Downton Abbey style, complete with hat, tea gown, pearls and pumps, as the presenter, I usually stand out in the crowd. At the home of Cathy E., I'm happy to report, I blended right in. In fact, I had a DA-fashion twin in Melinda Haberthy.  She came dressed from head-to-toe in Edwardian mode (our dresses were even from the same manufacturer!). It's no surprise Melinda was one of the five guests to win "Best Fascinator/Hat" and take home one of the coveted autumn-themed centerpieces.

Rachel and Pam brewing and serving DA teas

The BTS logistics, ops, management and brew team, Rachel G. and Pam B, expertly prepared, and graciously served up, the tea, looking super sharp in BTS custom-embroidered aprons courtesy Cara R. (for those interested in placing custom embroidery orders and learning more about Cara's sewing services, just send me an email!)

Cathy's fall-themed menu

The tea for the afternoon was, most appropriately,  from Republic of Tea's Downton Abbey collection, including English Rose (a bold, fruity herbal) and Downton Abbey Estate blend (Earl Grey with vanilla). We also shook things up a bit with Republic of Tea's milky oolong, a smooth and light green tea blend.

One of the hat contest winners!

Attendance and enthusiasm was off-the-chart for this event and much credit goes to hostess extraordinaire, Cathy. From her invite to her tea fare, no detail was overlooked. She included a "best fascinator contest" and everyone (everyone!) came donning head-ware. It was a challenge to pick out only five as "best" because they were all amazing.

Our hostess put herself out of the running, but she surely was among the loveliest with her black and white fascinator from Rachelle, of Derby Hats by Rachelle.

The afternoon tea fare of sweets and savories were as scrumptious as they were beautiful. The petit fours and tea sandwiches came from Mrs. Maddox Cakes in Farmington Hills, and some of the pastries came from Svenska in Birmingham. Delicious scones were home baked!

Beautiful and delicious petit fours from Mrs. Maddox cakes

After the tea was served and the presentation over, we got to visit with dear friends, including Carol D., and met many new Crawley-comrades.

Carol D. shows off her fancy fascinator
Melinda H., a contest winner

We surely know what a weekend is AND we know a great way to spend it:  a wonderful Downton Abbey-inspired afternoon tea with old and new friends.

A special thanks to Cathy and all her awesome guests!

Stay up-to-date with Barb's Tea Service: like us on Facebook, barbsteashop, send us an email(  or give us a call at 248-840-4356. We'd love to hear from you!

Sunday, September 23, 2018

First Lady Tea with some of my first ladies of tea

Barbs at First Ladies Tea at the Governor Warner Mansion

Last month, at the urging of my friend, Barb Tabb, I attended the First Lady Tea at the Governor Warner Mansion in Farmington. Barb went to the annual event last year and recommended I put this one on my calendar for 2018.

Afternoon tea catered by Kelly's Cucina

With a delicious afternoon tea catered and plated by Kelly's Cucina (we especially loved the curd and cream served up in wine glasses) and details overseen by Linda Pudlik, who started the teas at the Mansion, we knew we were in good hands

Lovely tablescape with curd and cream served in wine glasses.

After the tea was served, Joan McGlincy, presented an interesting presentation on Flo Harding, wife of Warren G. Harding, a president plagued with scandal.

Joan McGlincy presents the story of Flo Harding

As a history and tea buff, this event hit a few buttons. My daughter, Rachel, and I (two Political Science undergrads) are on a quest to visit the homes/libraries of all the presidents and with Harding's home and museum a short journey to Ohio, this was the inspiration  for a future road trip in the near future.

Linda Pudlik (in between the two Barbs) are joined by Barb's family

Barb's two sister-in-laws joined us at our tea and it was a fun and educational afternoon. We'll be looking for next year's subject with great anticipation!