Sunday Tea: Interview with Krisi Smith, founder of Bluebird Tea Co.


Mike and Krisi outside their Brighton store Image: Bluebird Tea Co.

I’m really proud to say that I’ve worked with Bluebird Tea Co. for a few years now and it’s be been brilliant watching the business grow from a market stall (which, bravely, they once let me man!) to three stores in Brighton, Tunbridge Wells and Bristol. I talk to Krisi over a Spiced Pumpkin Pie latte (what else?!) about a whirlwind year-including a new book, the future of Bluebird and the challenges of preparing for Christmas sales. Keep reading for a giveaway too!

Some autumnal tea treats from @bluebirdteaco - treated myself in town today. Might get @krisismithteamixologist to sign this book when I see her next ūüėČ Also @klinakloen taught me the importance of a good stroopwaffle with tea- these are from Tiger. #autumn #pumpkinspice #tea #amreading #treatyoself #stroopwafel:

Can you tell me about the book- how it came about, what the initial plan was and what the process of writing it was like?

Bluebird has led me to so many exciting opportunities; I’ve always wanted to write, but I always thought I’d write fiction! The publishers, Octopus, approached me and asked me if I’d like to write a book about tea; they publish a series of ‘atlas’ books about different things- such as wine and coffee- and wanted an expert to write a book about tea. Of course I said yes! I was concerned that I might have some gaps in my knowledge- we don’t deal in single estate teas, for example, but Mike (Krisi’s husband and Bluebird Tea Co.’s co-founder) said that I would have to factor in plenty of time for research, which I did. I also really wanted to get something really creative in the book, such as the mixology section. I wanted to really show how important tea is around the world- it’s drunk in almost every country in the world, but in very different ways: but always socially. I wanted to write in a more lighthearted tone than some of the other books in the series. The publishers were ¬†supportive of my ideas and really good to work with throughout the process. It’s been two years in the making and I’m really happy with the final product.

You recently went to the T2 Chai Championships in Sydney. What was that like?

It was awesome- another opportunity that landed in my lap. It’s amazing how much stuff has come my way; I have to pinch myself sometimes. It was a competition to find the best chai, a way to publicise the new T2 store in Regent’s Street. I didn’t realise until a week before that it was all done live! On the day, we were given a box of stuff and 40 minutes to create a tea, as well as to create a show. I know the boys at Mixology Group in Brighton who mix cocktails and so they’d given me some lessons on how to perform for the crowd, as it’s something I’m just not used to doing. The whole thing was really different to how we usually create our teas! I won the London heat, which I never in a million years thought I’d win- there was some pretty stiff competition- and then went on to Sydney. (You can buy Krisi’s winning blend- Lapsang Chai– as part of the current range of autumn teas.)

Bluebird works with a lot of bloggers- how does that work?

When we moved here, I put together a list of the local bloggers and sent out an email letting people know that we were going to be a Brighton-based brand and asking whether could we send out some tea (which is pretty much how we do it now). No one turns down free tea! We work with different types of bloggers; we try and work with lots of people, with different sizes of online presence. Even if a blogger sends a smaller group of people to us, they might be more passionate about tea. There’s a place for all types of blogger and we’re not snobby about who we work with. We want to be inclusive of anyone who wants to get involved.

What do you think are the big trends coming through in tea- for example, using it in recipes has been massive on Bake Off this year?

I would consider that we’ve been the leader when it comes to iced teas and the tea lattes market, but the baking has become a big thing. It’s lifestyle baking, people want to produce recipes that are photo-worthy or content-worthy and getting something a bit special in there. Tea’s become fashionable for that. Matcha’s been fashionable for the last couple of years and is still going strong: matcha in baking, matcha smoothies, matcha chocolate. Also, it’s not really hit down in Brighton yet, but in London there’s a trend for ‘healthy’ cocktails using teas instead of sugary juices or cordials. Pumpkin’s going crazy, too. This has led us to think about making our teas more vegan friendly- there are sprinkles in the Spiced Pumpkin Pie that are not vegan. Most of our teas are vegan-friendly, we have a vegan section on our website and we have vegan customers and staff members and we’re seeing what we can do to improve this. I’ve spent all year trying to find vegan marshmallows for example! We want to be accessible to everyone and trying to balance that is a challenge that we’re working on. I do want to listen to feedback and provide what our customers want.

What can we expect in the next few months- can we have a sneaky preview of the Christmas range?

Alternative Advent Calendar:

Not going to lie, I really want one of these. Image: Bluebird Tea Co.

We’ve found that people are asking for Christmas products earlier, especially since we’ve become bigger- people are excited and they want to get prepared. So this year we’ve launched some of our Christmas products a bit earlier than before. We’ve been planning Christmas since June! We have some lovely products, like the advent calendar, which we’re really proud of. It was a big investment and a big risk, as it’s not a cheap product to put together. We launched it a week ago and they’re flying out already. We’re still planning a big official launch in November, but we wanted to let those people who wanted to be organised and to let those who were just perusing have a look at what we have. It’ll be our first Christmas in our Bristol and Tunbridge Wells stores. We’re going into Christmas this year with a really solid team.

What’s next for Bluebird?

We’re sort of at the limits now as to where we can be as an organic company. We’re at a nice size for what we are, but we may look at crowdfunding an equity sale of a very small amount of shares in the business in order to grow what we do. I think we have a great concept and I’d love for us to be on more high streets, to employ so many more people, to create so many more experiences and to meet so many more cool people along the way. We’ve proven it works and we have a great team. I’m really interested in exploring ¬†a way to do this and crowdfunding fits with our ethos. We have loads of people getting in touch asking if we can open on their high street and this would be a way to do it. I’ve always been the one to say ‘We can do this’, but I’m cautious about this, how will it change the way we are now? I don’t want to be a big chain, so it’s all about the way we do it. It’s exciting.

GIVEAWAY! I have a copy of The World Atlas of Tea worth £20 to giveaway to one reader. All you have to do to be entered is leave a comment below, telling me what your favourite tea is. Extra entries can be gained by following me on Twitter/Instagram (@wuthering_alice) and leaving your usernames in the comments. Giveaway will close at midnight on October 23rd and competition is open to UK entries only (sorry.) You can buy the book here.


Shakespeare, the Kardashians and modern role models

Today, I WAS planning on writing a blogpost about why I love RuPaul’s Drag Race so much, but something else has caught my eye- a headteacher at a girls school asking girls to be more like¬†Shakespeare’s Cleopatra than Kim Kardashian. She does also mention other characters- Beatrice, Rosalind and Viola- but it’s Cleo who really has captured the headlines.


I love Shakespeare, but have a few problems with this comparison. Firstly- yes, OK. Cleopatra is a ruler in her own right and is very powerful. But the story in the play revolves around her love affairs (and her power is somewhat tangled up in all of this) and she eventually kills herself as a result of her love for a man. So far, so feminist right?

Plus, I always find there’s an innate snobbery implied by suggesting that people turn to Shakespeare over modern media, as if it’s somehow better. As an English teacher, I know that Shakespeare is seen by the kids-and teachers of other subjects- as elitist, boring and unnecessarily difficult, that it’s not there to be enjoyed by everyone. Hell, I went to one of the worst schools in Leeds as a kid and could feel the antipathy radiating off my co-students whenever the name of Shakespeare was mentioned. (Also, it’s not just the kids who subscribe to this view. The one time I asked that we tried teaching Manga Shakespeare versions of Macbeth, I was looked at by some in my department like I’d grown three heads. Graphic novels also come under the ‘vulgar’ heading, apparently.) It drives me mad. Shakespeare writes about real life: feuds, scandal, romance, businesses gone awry, power-all of human life, in its devious and imperfect glory is there. Plus he could often be kind of a bit… sleazy. He would have loved the Kardashians.

Shakespeare would have been intrigued by today’s celebrities; imagine all the storylines he could have nicked off social media! I think he would also hate to have been seen as an either/or proposition; we kind of forget that he was a slightly shady character himself for much of his life and that acting and theatre owning wasn’t seen as a particularly illustrious career unless you got in with the royals, as he obviously did later on in his life. There was a reason that theatres were on the same side of the river as the bear bating pits and brothels.

Girls are not going to go out and change their behaviour because the head of a private school has created some lessons looking at how ‘inspirational’ some of Shakespeare’s women were (and let’s be honest- there’s scant pickings there. I think most of his women were weakly written, serving a purpose as a foil or a love interest. My favourites are Beatrice and Portia, and even they have issues.) However, I can’t dismiss any attempt to make Shakespeare’s work more accessible and enjoyable- I just wish we were more playful, more imaginative when it came to getting students to access the plays. I say this as someone who once got a bottom year 11 set to work out the issues in Macbeth for a speaking and listening exercise by performing a scene in which the characters were taking part in a Shakespearean version of Jeremy Kyle. It was… interesting, but they ended up doing pretty well in their coursework essays.

Would I choose Kim Kardashian as an ideal role model for young girls? Probably not. But then anyone I suggested as a role model would probably be viewed with suspicion because I’m seen as old, even though I’m a relatively young teacher. But here’s the thing- elders always recommend role models that they think are suitable because they see more ‘modern’ role models as ‘unsuitable’; it’s the old chestnut about the generation above despairing of the one below, forgetting that they too were once interested in people their parents disapproved of. And I bet they would have baulked at the suggestion that they go read Shakespeare instead of idolising whoever it was they had on their bedroom wall, too.


Sunday Tea: Shibui Tea Marzipan Truffle

83127461e74cff13f5e2c573f7e8094d.jpg (236√ó288): ¬†Marzipan is one of my favourite flavours (alongside salted caramel)- I love the nuttiness and, as a kid, could quite happily eat half a block of marzipan in one sitting if you let me. Of course, if I get the opportunity to try it in any form, I will- enter Shibui’s Marzipan Truffle tea.

Marzipan Truffle Shibui Loose Leaf Tea: First off, this smells AMAZING. Like, super marzipan-y. It’s one of those teas that makes such an impact through scent that I think it would be a great gift, a real showstopper of a blend.

It’s full of flavour too- the base of ¬†black Chinese tea is lifted by the almond and chocolate pieces, but without being too sweet. The almond is ¬†the main flavouring; the chocolate is not hugely present, but more of a hint. The peppercorns are there mainly for decoration, as there’s no peppery punch to speak off. They do look pretty though!

This is a tea best enjoyed on a stormy evening with a good book. May I suggest a Bronte novel, perhaps?



Sunday Tea: Tugboat Brews Gingerbread Chai


‘The Tea’ by Mary Stevenson Cassatt (Museum of Fine Art, Boston)

Hello! Welcome to a new weekly (ish?) feature in which I review a tea in detail. This week, it’s Tugboat Brews’ Gingerbread Chai, a sweet rooibos from deepest, darkest Cornwall that my friend Emma¬†brought when she stayed with us recently.


Image: Tugboat Brews

My love of a good chai is well documented on the pages of this blog and I’m pleased that we’re finally entering into what feels like it might be a proper autumn (it’d be nice if 2016 did SOMETHING right…) Tugboat Brews does seem to do a good selection of chais-there are three to choose from- and this one is their non-caffeinated offering.

It’s slightly different to other gingerbread chais I’ve tried; the base is a vanilla rooibos, which gives it a delicately sweet flavour that lingers even after the spice has gone. It’s actually pretty lovely, as some variations can be swamped by the rooibos flavour or a too-fiery gingerbread. This chai is mellow and a pretty perk me up for a mid-morning cuppa or a delicious before bed milky chai made the traditional way.

The spices in the tea are simple- ginger and cinnamon (my two favourite autumn flavours in THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD, FYI) are just the right ratio to make this a comforting chai. Some chais should be gutsy, some should be warming and some should be… comforting. This is a chai in the latter category. Tugboat have labelled this in their ‘hug in a mug’ section and I agree. It’s lovely- and a perfect tea for those who are thinking of embracing hygge in the upcoming colder months.

A few favourite baking books

So everyone’s in a state of GBBO mourning at the moment, aren’t they? As I write, Paul Hollywood has just been confirmed as the only member of the original quartet to have signed a deal to go over to the dark side (well, Channel 4. Which, to be honest, is the next best channel after the BBC to host a show like GBBO- but I know that’s not a popular opinion.) Anyway, this got me thinking- I do own two of Hollywood’s baking books, but I NEVER bake from them. And if you follow me on any social media channel, you’ll know I bake quite a lot. I like the books, they’re very pretty- but they’re just too fiddly and faffy for the type of stuff I like to bake. I’m probably more of a Bezza baker than a Hollywood baker, although I’ve never picked up one of Mary’s books.

But there are some books I use over and over.


Bake- Rachel Allen

This was the first baking book I ever picked up (I had never seen Rachel Allen on the TV; I just wanted a baking book.) I learnt a few skills here, but I have found the recipes a bit hit and miss. However, as a first book, it was OK. I still swear by the honey cake and snickerdoodles in this, though.

51pxbskes6l-_sy291_bo1204203200_ql40_ Be-Ro Home Baked Recipes

Cheap and cheerful, the Be-Ro book is a proper, old-school classic. This is the book that I turn to when D wants to bake: gingerbread men, shortbread, tea loaves. It’s all the stuff your mum or nan probably made and the recipes are simple and straightforward (and you can get away with using margarine in most of them if you’ve run out of butter!)

510cb-crdgl-_sx258_bo1204203200_ Home Sweet Home- The Hummingbird Bakery

This book is one of the biggest bargains ever- I think I picked it up for a fiver. It’s stuffed full of what I think of as ‘showstoppers’, cakes that I pull out for fancy things and when I want to impress. My go-to brownie recipe is from Hummingbird (although I’ve tinkered with it so much now, it’s virtually unrecognisable from the basic recipe) and the strawberry milkshake cupcakes are seriously good. This is the book that really helped develop my skills onto more than just ‘basic’.

cover Flavour- Ruby Tandoh

I love Ruby’s recipes and have never had one fail. I was lucky enough that she sent me a signed copy of the book after I mentioned on Twitter that I had borrowed it from the library and loved it. Although it’s not really a baking book, but a book with baking recipes in it, I urge you to check it out. I can HUGELY recommend the easy chocolate cake- it is the only cake I’ve ever made that worked every time, and I’ll be making it for D’s fourth birthday in a couple of weeks. I’ve also made a banana cake and the shine theory truffles, which I adapted by adding rose and violet flavouring (I have plans for Christmas editions too… watch out for a future blogpost on those!) But what I really love about this book is the attitude in it- that we should eat what we like, and just ENJOY food. In a world obsessed with clean eating, it’s a refreshing change.



Super-easy, step-by-step guide to making autumn jelly

I find it hard to resist picking blackberries as I’m out and about; where we live, we have a load of wild fruit growing nearby (a bonus of living on the edge of the South Downs), including apples, sloes and plums. We also have an apple tree in the garden that grows the blandest. apples. ever. They’re only actually any good in jams, jellies and chutneys. Although my apple chutney is quite popular, I haven’t quite got the recipe right yet- but I thought I’d share my autumn jelly recipe with you, along with pictures which I Instagrammed when I was making it.

Ingredients: we picked just shy of 1kg of blackberries and used about 500g of cooking apples. A lemon is also needed at this stage. I try not to pick fruit by the road, as cars can affect the berries. Obviously I buy the lemon!

Blackberries from the local woods, apples from garden. Add some spices and BOOM…:

First things first- wash the berries and apples and roughly chop the apples and lemon and put them in a pan with about 300ml of water.

Jelly making: stage 1 #autumn #jelly #apples #brambles #cooking #food:

I had so much fruit that I needed to use two pans! (Make sure they’re fairly heavy, btw.) Bring the water to the boil and then simmer for about 40 minutes, until the mixture has thickened. Keep an eye on it, keep stirring it and make sure that the fruit doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan.

Stage 2: straining. The fruit has been cooked for 40mins. I'll leave this now‚Ķ: ¬†Next, the messy bit! I always think this looks a bit like the aftermath of a horror film (and be aware that blackberries WILL stain wooden worktops. ASK ME HOW I KNOW.) Anyway, empty the pans out into a sieve-I prefer a plastic one-and place it over a bowl in order to collect the juice. Last year, I left the fruit to drain overnight. This year, it took a couple of hours. It’s worth keeping an eye on.

Stage 4: you need to measure the juice... then add 450g of granulated sugar per… This is the juice that will be turned into the jelly. Conventional wisdom states that you should add 450g of sugar (I usually use bog standard granulated, but am looking into using jam sugar to see if it speeds up setting) for every pint of juice. I had a pint and a half, so used about 625g of sugar. I also add spices: cloves, cinnamon and ginger- about a tsp of each- but you could use more or less according to your tastes.

Stage 5: add the sugar, bring to the boil. Then boil rapidly for 5-10 mins.: ¬†Next, next you need to bring the mixture to the boil and then-in theory- boil rapidly for 5-10 minutes until the jelly passes the ‘set test’: drop a small amount of jelly onto a cold plate (I stick a couple in the fridge before I begin boiling the fruit) and prod it with your finger. If it has a ‘skin’ and you can leave a trail in the jelly, you’re set. This took a bit longer to get to setting point- 20 minutes- but it was worth it!

Stage..6? It took 20 mins to get setting point ūüė° Anyway, it's done! Good stuff‚Ķ: ¬†Skim the cloves and the foam on top and pour quickly into warm, sterilised jars. I sterilise jars by running them through ¬†the dishwasher. If they cool before I need them, I’ll fill them with boiling water until I need them.

As soon as you’ve poured the jelly in, stick a lid on (I don’t bother really with those jam seals in jars- it hasn’t caused a problem before…) and label it with the date. Leave to cool in a cupboard. Once opened, store in the fridge. An open jar lasts about six weeks, if it’s not eaten first!

Homemade autumn jelly on toast for the first day of autumn! It tastes GOOD…:  Let me know if you have a go!

Bluebird Tea Co. Autumn 2016*


One of the best things about being back in the blogging mindset is that I get to write about tea again, which is quite honestly one of my favourite things. Bluebird’s output of autumn teas is usually strong and 2016 is no different (which is a relief in a year when everything else seems to have been a bit… hit and miss!)

There are four new flavours: Choco Pops, Lapsang Chai, Bananas and Custard and a rooibos Earl Grey. Happily-excitingly!- the annual favourite Spiced Pumpkin Pie makes a return too. I was sent all of them except Bananas and Custard.

Choco Pops

I can tell you that this blend of Ceylon and genmaicha (Japanese toasted rice) with chocolate chips/sprinkles/powder does indeed taste like the cereal so beloved of hyperactive kids everywhere; albeit a slightly more grown up version. The genmaicha adds a nuttiness that compliments the chocolate and the light tea lifts the overall flavour so it’s actually a bit sophisticated. Despite the inclusion of sencha green tea, you can add milk- and I urge you to try it. This tea was especially nice one evening when I was writing and needed something sweet, but not so much it made my teeth ache. Lovely stuff. (I’d actually be tempted to make this up like a hot chocolate with just milk and no water. Maybe add a couple of mini marshmallows to really make it fun.)

Lapsang Chai

Darlings, when it comes to lapsang souchong, I am not the droid you’re looking for. I find that it’s a tea that splits people- either they REALLY LOVE IT or, like me, they have no desire ever to drink it again after the first taste. However, I do love a good chai- and I know that this tea is special to Bluebird, as head mixologist Krisi developed the flavour for the T2 Chai Championships ¬†in Sydney- so I gave it a go. And… it’s not converted me, but I can appreciate it. The smokiness of the lapsang works beautifully with spices and it tastes how I imagine Bonfire Night would, if you could make it into a drink (lapsang=bonfire, spices=fireworks). I made it with local honey and lots of milk and you might well be tempted to serve this on November 5th. I do know know my lapsang-loving friends will love it.

Rooibos Earl Grey

Earl Grey is the tea I drink the most. I’ve tried so many varieties over the years that it became the way I learnt about teas and how ingredients in them work together. When I was pregnant, I was desperate for a decent decaff EG, but none were really up to much. And lo, enter the rooibos Earl Grey! Some are more successful than others, but I would say that the ratio here is right: the sweetness of the rooibos compliments a strong (but not overpowering) bergamot flavouring. Lovely stuff.

img_20160903_123913Set your alarms for September 26th for the return of my favourite Bluebird Tea ever: Spiced Pumpkin Pie! I am eking out my current supply til then and then I’ll be ordering a boatload- it’s sweet, but not too sweet and is the perfect bridge to Bluebird’s always excellent Christmas offerings. (NB: you can currently buy the tea in a latte kit if you can’t wait that long.)

Special mention goes to:

Bluebird is branching out! I’ve been lucky to try one of their candles (Earl Grey Creme, obviously) and their Gingersnap Green Tea soap. Both have been developed with Lu Aromatherapy, a local Brighton business committed to creating ethical products. I can confirm that both smell heavenly and the soap is gentle even on my fussy skin.

Finally, Krisi has a book coming out! The World Atlas of Tea looks super interesting and will definitely be on my ‘to-buy’ list once I get paid.

Happy autumn!