Sunday Tea: T2 Breakfast teas

Last weekend, T2 had a free shipping weekend and so I decided to order their Little Gems box- twenty tea bags that showcase T2’s best teas, across black, green and tisanes. The packaging was absolutely GORGEOUS and it’s a really good way of learning what T2 has to offer.

Dear @t2tea, your packaging is SO pretty! #tea #home #autumn:

Originally an Australian brand, they are now branching out across the UK and they genuinely have one of the most interesting ranges of tea out there; there is literally something for everyone. Anyway, I decided that as this blog series is called Sunday Tea, I’d focus on the breakfast teas. T2 has a staggeringly huge range of breakfast teas and there will be something you like, I promise. I’m just gutted that I can’t go into a shop and smell all of them.

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New York Breakfast: I’ve never been to New York, but I’ve always fancied it, probably because I’ve spent hours watching stuff like Flight of the Conchords, a misguided Sex and the City era in my teens and Jerry Orbach in Law and Order. It’s loud and brash and I just love the whole idea of it, despite the fact that I am very much a homebody at heart. This New York Breakfast tea takes the idea of an ACTUAL NY breakfast (and, let’s be honest, the food is part of the attraction) of pancakes and turn it into a tea. The result is a robust black tea lightly-but deliciously- flavoured with vanilla and cinnamon. I am genuinely considering ditching my usual early morning Earl Grey for this as my everyday tea. It is really lovely and I will be buying some.

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English Breakfast: Earl Grey is my default tea of choice if I’m drinking tea where there isn’t much, but I don’t mind the odd cup of English Breakfast tea (although people who know me do look at me funny if I ask for it over a flavoured tea. But sometimes you just gotta keep it simple, right?) The quality of English Breakfast can vary; it’s essentially a basic tea, often made of ‘tea dust’, the broken bits of tea leaves-most often Sri Lankan Ceylon tea, and so can be really cheap. Fair enough. This tea, however, is not a run-of-the-mill tea; this is The Good Stuff. The flavour is light without being cloying, a criticism I sometimes have of English Breakfast tea; it can be so claggy that you feel it stick to your teeth. This is not one of them. It’s a classy brew with a lighter flavour than you might expect, but it’s still full-bodied and robust enough for the first cup of the day.

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Irish Breakfast: Something slightly odd- although I don’t usually drink unflavoured teas, I will always, always make an exception for Irish Breakfast. Not sure why- maybe it’s the 25% of Irishness I carry in my bones (not enough for citizenship, unfortunately, boo…) or maybe because it seems so much more of a punchy tea than its more delicate English counterpart, but I love it. In fact, it’s a perfect biscuit dunking tea, too; I particularly like it with stroopwafles/Dutch waffles from Tiger. It’s really good stuff, especially with a hangover/fry up etc. Anyway, T2’s Irish Breakfast tea is what it should be: strong, delicious and warming. Perfect for cold winter days and no-nonsense cups of tea.

t125ae023_melbourne-breakfast_r1 Melbourne Breakfast: I wasn’t quite sure what a ‘Melbourne’ tea would comprise of, seeing as I shamefully don’t know all that much about Australia (which means my Aussie friends have great fun making up deadly animals and outrageous facts to alarm me.) Actually, T2 has a range of Australian breakfast teas to represent different areas and their characteristics. This one is a sweet vanilla tea with rich undertones from the tea to balance it out- it’s not a tea that tastes of artificial sweetness at the expense of the tea itself. It’s a lovely blend, much lighter than the New York breakfast tea and quite a soothing one at that.

Let me know which of these teas you like/you’d like to try!

Christmas 2016 at Bluebird Tea Co.*

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Ah, I feel like I can actually tell you about the package I received the other week! I’ve had a horrendous cold and no sense of taste to speak of. However, all is right now, chez Pomfrett and I can reveal some of the exciting things Bluebird has to offer this festive season.

Some favourites from previous years are back- Snowball and Christmas Cake (the one with the sparkles!) are joined with two new fruit blends: Mulled Cider and the delightfully named Hey, Sugar Plum.

Snowball is as delightfully sweet and coconutty as I remember it being from last year; the big news is that this year, there’s a vegan option (although most of Bluebird’s teas are vegan, the marshmallows in Snowball prevented it from being so in previous years.) I’ve had to keep this one from D, who caught wind of it and nagged for some. But a 4-year-old and caffeine? You’re having a laugh! (He was placated with some caffeine free Gingerbread Chai.)

My response to fruit teas at this time of year is usually ‘does it go well with whiskey?’ and I can say that both of these do. Hey, Sugar Plum is a delightful blend of fruit and spices- it tastes like some kind of Victorian plum pudding and it is lovely.

My favourite, though, is Mulled Cider. It combines two of my most loved flavours: apple and spices. It’s warming, seasonal and, yes- it goes really, really well with alcohol in a warm drink setting (completely necessary when full of cold or, just…cold.)

And let’s talk about the other bits I received. All the hype this year has been on the Advent calendars- which do look amazing- but I think the crackers deserve some praise too. I really like the design of them and D and I had fun pulling them apart. Inside we found a tea joke, a teabag of one of the regular tea blends and a hat. They’re fun and would be great for a Christmas get together with friends.

Finally, I am LOVING Bluebird’s new candle range. I received the Snowball candle and I’m burning it as I type. The thing I like about the candles is that the scent is noticeable but not overpowering and, as much as I love a Yankee candle, sometimes you don’t want that level of scent.

Overall, it’s starting to feel a lot like Christmas over at Bluebird!

Divine Divas: Grand Hotel (1932)

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I saw Grand Hotel when I was about 18; I remember not being hugely impressed and I promptly forgot about it. When I revisited it a couple of weeks ago, it actually took about three hours to watch it, because I kept being interrupted. I think me and this film have been fated to not get on from the start.

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Garbo as the ballerina, Grusinskaya

The action takes place across a 24 hour period (roughly), in which a series of characters find themselves in a hotel in Berlin. There’s a playboy baron, played by John Barrymore, who is not what he initially seems; a dying man, determined to live out his last days in style after living a careful life (played by Barrymore’s older brother Lionel, best known to modern audiences for his turn in It’s a Wonderful Life); a prima donna ballerina with crippling stage fright, played by Greta Garbo (and the original source for her famous catchphrase); a bully-boy business executive played by the notorious belligerent Wallace Beery; and a seductive stenographer, played to (early) type by Joan Crawford. There’s crime, a death, fights and at least someone gets something resembling a happy ending.

Joan Crawford in Grand Hotel, 1932:

Joan Crawford as Flaemmchen

It’s definitely a bit of a weird film. It feels quite ‘bitty’, more that the studio was interested in having a film stuffed full of famous actors (it was the first film to have such a star powered ensemble cast), rather than much of a plot. I mean, that’s not to say that there isn’t a plot there- there is, sort of- but so many characters make it hard to really get any of the threads to feel more than superficial.

Joan Crawford, as the unfortunately named Flaemmchen, is the best thing about this film (although I’d say Lionel Barrymore plays his nervy, dying man to pathetic perfection). She exudes sexiness in a time just before the Hays’ Code came along and ruined all the fun in Hollywood. She’s unapologetic in her sensuality and she knows what she’s doing. She knows damn well that she’s in control of the men in the room- although there’s a scene in which she shows extraordinary kindness, too. It’s amazing to watch; I can’t actually think of an a modern actress who has the same kind of presence on screen, and only a few actresses ever who were able to come close- Rita Hayworth, maybe? Others were undeniably sexy, but there’s just something about Crawford that I can’t really put my finger on.

And we need to talk about Garbo. In the You Must Remember This podcast (listen, if you haven’t), Karina Longworth recommends that those wanting to watch a Garbo film for the first time try something else. I’ve never seen another Garbo film, but I get what she means- the world’s most famous Swede (before ABBA and Ikea, anyway) is not brilliant. In fact, at times, she’s perfectly hammy. In fact, there are scenes where she’s hammier than a ham and gammon sandwich served in a bacon factory. I do understand why, though- she’s playing a pampered, spoilt ballerina and she shares many scenes with John Barrymore, more used to a New York stage than being in front of a camera. But, oh, by modern standards, it’s hard to watch.

In short, this is a good place to start if you want to get a feel for 1930s films- it looks amazing and there are key stars in it. But if you want to watch a good film, I’d maybe put this about fifth on your list…

NEXT FILM ON THE PLAYLIST: Of Human Bondage (1934), starring Bette Davis and Leslie Howard.

 

 

Signing up for NaNoWriMo 2016

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Advert for Marquet Ink by Eugene Grasset (1892)

You know how I’m often COMPLETELY NOT BUSY? What with a teaching job, a 4-year-old and other things in my life (before even considering my hobbies and whatnot)? Well, I’ve signed up to do NaNoWriMo this year, too.

I’ve been sort of fruitlessly working on a novel idea since the summer; a mystery set in 1930’s Hollywood in which the most famous woman in the world goes missing, leaving only a trail of evidence that damns her unfaithful husband. I’ve been writing in longhand in notebooks, using my faithful Lamy Al-Star pen and hiding in cafes. But I kind of.. ran out of steam and then real life, a busy job and a ton of marking stopped me from getting on. I needed a kick up the bum, so I signed up for NaNoWriMo.

Now, I signed up a few years ago but ended up flaking out about two weeks in. However, this time I’m trying to be better. Firstly, I’m announcing it on my blog and Twitter. Feel free to nag me/ask for updates if you want. I might even blog my progress, who knows? Secondly, I’m going to give my desk a huge clear-out and maybe put some inspirational things on it (don’t laugh. I’m a visual person.) Finally, I’m going to forego my current Murder, She Wrote habit- I’m setting aside every night between 7.15-8pm to write during the week. D will be in bed (he never wants me to put him to bed, I’m ABSOLUTELY not insulted by this. Any more.) and I will have space to think. Weekends will be slightly different due to Strictly etc. I’m hoping that the discipline will become a habit that sticks with me. We’ll see.

Anyway- wish me luck!

Sunday Tea: Whittards’ Christmas Tea

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‘Tea in the Park’- Edward Cucuel

Right. A couple of things: 1) I know we’ve not had Hallowe’en yet, so some of you will be looking askance at me for even mentioning the ‘C’ word at this point and b) this is going to be, unashamedly, a bit of a love letter to Whittards- which has returned to Brighton after an absence of about five years. (Also, go visit the shop. It’s opposite Lush and is very, very pretty and the staff are very nice.)

Anyway, onto the tea. I used to work a lot with Whittard when I wrote my tea blog a few years ago and I’ve always appreciated their flavoured teas: they have a great variety of flavours which feel very… British. Their rose based teas are some of my favourites.

The Christmas range is extensive this year and I intend to try most of it, but I was given a sample of their Christmas blend when I bought something else (salted caramel hot chocolate. You should really try it, FYI.) It’s got the Christmas tea staples- spices, a hint of vanilla- and is very nice. What did surprise me, though, is that it’s an almost perfect ‘dupe’ for a tea called Thes des Amants from the French tea house Palais des Thes, which in post-Brexit Britain and uncertain economic times may prove to be even more expensive than it currently is. I asked my friend Jan, who stockpiles Amants on our semi-regular orders, whether it’s similar- she agreed.

The tea itself is one of those lovely spicy concoctions that you want to drink straight after a cold winter walk; warming and reassuring, with a slight hint of Christmas cake to it, it’s definitely going on the nice list this year.

 

Divine Divas- a film odyssey

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If you follow me on any kind of social media, you’ll know that my summer has been spent listening to the wonderful podcast You Must Remember This. There are few reasons for this- my long-term obsession with early Hollywood, the fact it’s a standout podcast, and that I’m attempting to write a novel set in 1930s Hollywood (more on this as we get towards NaNoWriMo in a few days…) The podcast is presented in series and the two that I’ve enjoyed most have been the MGM Stories (with a standalone episode on my beloved Jean Harlow) and Six Degrees of Joan Crawford, another of my favourite actresses. One of the best things though, is that it’s led me to discover-or rediscover- a load of old films that not very many people remember these days.

With this in mind, my friend Jan- also a huge Old Hollywood obsessive- has lent me a TON of Bette Davis and Joan Crawford DVDs, mainly spanning the 30s and 40s. I’ve been fascinated by these two actresses ever since I read The Divine Feud when I was fifteen; the book looks at the supposed feud the two women had that culminated in the shrill classic Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (Very recently parodied on RuPaul’s Drag Race All-Stars by Alaska and Alyssa Edwards. RPDR is actually full of references to old Hollywood starlets- this last season alone also referenced Mae West and Faye Dunaway playing Joan Crawford in the glorified B-movie, Mommie Dearest. Which I also watched recently as a result of You Must Remember This.)

So here’s the thing. I will be watching these films and reviewing them on here. If you want to watch along and discuss, I’ll be telling you the next film in my odyssey. They will mostly be in chronological order and, to start with, will mostly be Davis and Crawford films. I can’t say how often I’ll get round to each film (life, an almost four-year-old and everything else will probably get in the way occasionally!), but I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I do.

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

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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 😉 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.

EDITED TO ADD: PLEASE ENSURE THAT YOU LEAVE AN EMAIL ADDRESS OR OTHER WAY TO CONTACT YOU IF YOU WIN.