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 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.

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

Christmas 2015

Aaaand, breathe.

According to a certain women’s magazine I read recently, they were trying to christen the week between Christmas and New Year ‘Twixmas’. Hmmm.

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Christmas itself has been fun- I kicked off the festivities by spending two hours ENGROSSED in the Sleigh Ride programme on BBC4. Everyone else buggered off home or to bed, but I nobly stuck with it and learnt that there were thousands of Sami words for ‘reindeer’. Twitter was also good fun during the show and I generally felt a warm glow towards all those who were watching it with me.

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Christmas this year was the first one where D was fully aware of what was going on- he’d had two visits to Santa and was well up for the whole ritual of setting stuff up. We also had the emotional wrench of him giving up his dummies, which Father Christmas was taking for ‘the babies’. D didn’t seem to mind once he realised there was a Paxton (an engine from Thomas and Friends) in return. In fact, our house looks like a holding bay at Toys R Us for Thomas and Toy Story merchandise.

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I really loved that D was into Christmas this year- he appreciated his gifts and was eager to choose presents, too (these mainly consisted of chocolate for everybody, although he also chose hand cream for his grandmas without prompting from me. I suspect it’s because he sees me use the same stuff when I’m knitting!) We did reach the ’emotionally over-fraught’ stage ¬†of Christmas at about 7pm on Boxing Day, so I think he did rather well, all being told.

This year's #Christmas #books. The best present is a book, in my opinion. #booksofInstagram #amreading:

I got lots of books (and a few bits of makeup, as well as a figure of the Tenth Doctor, so all good!) Benn was happy with lots and lots of running gear- I still haven’t been out for a run since my ill-fated Park Run a couple of weeks ago. I regret nothing.

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Christmas dinner itself was OK, probably not groundbreaking, but no-one died/vomited, so I decided to declare it a mediocre success… to be honest, I didn’t really feel like I over-indulged at all over Christmas this (I actually haven’t had ANY alcohol this week, although not through choice or conscious design, it’s just happened that way!)

So now I’m just relaxing, debating whether I REALLY want to start marking Year 10 essays or go for a run, when all I really want to do it hibernate with books and a cup of tea. After all, it is apparently twixmas.

The madness of making Christmas presents

Oh, Reader, I’ve done a mad thing. I’ve started knitting¬†Christmas presents.

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Every year, I make vague plans to knit at least a few presents, but this year a lack of money has led me to raiding my beautiful, beautiful stash of excellent yarns and planning to make presents for three of my friends. I must really like them to a) knit for them and b) use some of my carefully collected yarn on them. Also, I’m knitting socks for one of them and she has bigger feet than me. Other knitters will tell you that this is a big deal (I only usually ever make socks for people who have the same sized feet or smaller, otherwise the maths is just a headache. So, like I say, it’s LOVE.)

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Thing is, people can get sniffy about handmade gifts, or wonder if they’re as valuable as shop-bought. But the thing is, handmade is a GOOD THING. If I make you something, I’ve made a very clear choice as to what I’m going to make you and what I’m going to make it from. I’ve thought about colours you like and that look good on you; I’ve considered where you live- yarn choice can make or break a gift; I’ve also thought about what I should make for you. And all this is even before we get into how much time it’ll take to make it for you. Even a basic pair of socks can take anywhere up to 20 hours to make by hand, on needles (I don’t have a knitting machine.) That’s without factoring in other stuff, like the fact I have to work and make sure my three-year-old isn’t hurting himself on his frequent kamikaze missions around the house.

My theory, then, this year is to keep it simple. Stocking stitch and garter stitch items done well, in beautiful materials are just as good as any fancy lace work, but don’t require mass concentration or tantrums when I frequently muck up more complex designs. This plan also means that I can manage my time a bit more effectively and that I’m not still making stuff on Christmas Day (as happened last year with my friend Marine’s fingerless gloves. She was very sweet and diplomatic about it, though.)

So, if you see me in the next few weeks looking harassed, bits of fluff stuck to my clothes and knitting needles poking out behind my ears as I frantically search for them, pay me no heed. I’m just trying to meet self-imposed Christmas knitting deadlines. Again.

So, how was your Christmas?

I’m pleased to report that no one has died as a result of my cooking on Christmas Day! We had a hectic few days- my parents came down for the weekend beforehand and the day after they left, my friend Marine came to stay for Christmas itself.

As well as Christmas prep itself, we had to contend with a slightly broken toilet (the drainage man didn’t want to talk to me about what needed to be done to fix it, preferring to speak to ‘your husband… I can stick a camera down there and show him the issue.’ Obviously, my LADY BRAIN can’t deal with poo. I mean, it’s not like I deal with horrendous nappies on a daily basis, is it? Oh.) and the fact that the roof of our kitchen needs replacing and the ceiling is cracking quicker than an eggshell thrown against the face of a slimy politician. THAT work won’t be done until at least the first full week of January- and who knows when the drainage man will come back?

So, Christmas itself was lovely- D was pretty overwhelmed by all the presents, but seems very taken with the garage we bought him, a Postman Pat railway and a Cranky the Crane my brother bought him.

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I’ve known Marine since I was nine, so I knew she’d be an excellent presence when cooking my first ever roast dinner and we made the time on Christmas Eve to plan out the cooking schedule for the next day (excuse the spelling mistakes, I’d had quite a bit of M&S’ EXCELLENT mulled rose):

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I had alarms on my phone that corresponded to EACH one of those timings. The result was slightly less stress, although I do not recommend steaming sprouts and carrots (as M&S said I should do- so I totally blame them). I even had the time to take a ridiculous selfie (an elfie?) of myself wearing an elf hat provided by my aunt:

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The meal (apart from the sprouts) was lovely and the turkey was very nice, if I do say so myself. Dessert was a combination of chocolate Christmas tree cake and white chocolate and berries cheesecake and both were amazing.

I might have failed in my attempt to do the Ambassador’s Pyramid with the Ferrero Rocher though:

"Why, Ambassador, you REALLY SHOULDN'T HAVE"

“Why, Ambassador, you REALLY SHOULDN’T HAVE”

Marine, my aunt and myself attempted a variety of ways to stack them up (fuelled by champagne) and eventually conceded defeat- but not after discussing whether glue and/or blu tack were used in the original adverts.

I think it’s safe to say that Christmas Chez Pomfrett was a great success. And now I am going to hibernate with my stack of books- because quite frankly I’d like nothing more than to spend the next few months reading…

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Having a few days off…

It’s always good to have a break and I’ve decided to take a wee break from the blog for a week or so.

So- have a good break, enjoy the mince pies and see you soon! I’ll be back with some end of the year type stuff on the 27th. In the meantime, what do you want for Christmas?

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Preparing to host Christmas for the first time EVER (no pressure then, eh?)

When we moved into this house, I knew it’d be a great place to celebrate Christmas.

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So preparation started early- Benn and I have become¬†those¬†people who clear out Paperchase three days after Christmas- we got about ¬£30 worth of wrapping paper, cards and accoutrements for about ¬£10 two years ago. They’ve just run out, so we’ll be back this year I reckon.

I also knew I wanted a real Christmas tree (the agreement is that we have a real one for the years we’re at home for Christmas, the artificial one we bought from Woolworths yonks ago on the years we go to my parents’ house.) I decided to save ¬£2 coins up over the year- by the time we went to buy our tree last week, I had ¬£50 and didn’t even spend all of it.

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Next, the meal. For the actual day itself, we will have Benn’s parents, my aunt and one of my oldest friends to lunch. At first, we were thinking about going out for lunch itself- but then I realised we could order a set menu type thing from Marks and Spencers for ¬£100 to feed six- it has a turkey, all the trimmings, a chocolate cake Christmas tree and a cheese board. So I asked everybody for ¬£20 (waaaaay cheaper than a pub menu) and to bring a small thing with them on the day- mince pies, crackers, etc. With the extra money I’ll have, I’m going to buy extra bits like a Christmas pudding and, on Benn’s dad’s request, a cheesecake (apparently it’s not Christmas without a cheesecake…)

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For the day itself, I’ve dug out my Elf and Muppets Christmas Carol and I’ve asked around and borrowed some board games- although the consensus is we’ll avoid Monopoly. And Twister.

So other than all that, what else is left to do? Well, I’m wrapping presents in shifts because a) I’m not very good at it and b) I can’t do it for too long without getting bored. I’m debating not wrapping D’s main present (a wooden garage we got half price by buying it in October. #Thrifty.) Instead I’m thinking of setting it up and having it ready to play with on Christmas morning.

I have no idea what Ill feed people with on Christmas Eve and I haven’t thought about what people will drink. Endless tea? Who knows.

It’ll be fine, right? I mean, I’ve never cooked a full roast dinner, but eh, why not go adventurous on the biggest meal of the social calendar? I’m hoping those M&S fairies stretch to having everything ready to shove into the oven. Michel Roux Jr I am not.

Keep your fingers crossed it all works!

It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas…

I love Christmas. I especially love it at the moment because D is find the whole thing equal parts interesting and bewildering (I’ll refrain from saying ‘magical’. He thinks the Universal logo at the start of a film is ‘beautiful’. The kid has no concept of magic.) Unfortunately, he also has a penchant for helping himself to decorations off the tree, so my beautiful Nordman Fir is frequently denuded and its carefully placed* baubles are now all over the place. Between the toddler and the cat- who likes to see if it’s possible to climb up the tree without me noticing- my poor tree looks like it was decorated by aliens with no concept of taste.

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Christmas has also coincided with the onset of the Terrible Twos, which have come about WITH FORCE. Hooray.

I used the garden to good effect the other day, by gathering some evergreen plants we have. One of the main plants is a huge holly tree that has lots of foliage and berries. I also figured that by taking some of the bottom of the tree, I was saving the birds from Bronte’s inept ‘hunting’ efforts. I also included a little ivy, some twigs from an old Christmas tree at the bottom of the garden and some rosemary (we have at least two good-sized bushes.)

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I tied the whole shebang together with some cheap cinnamon sticks (50p for two at the local spice shop- it’s there for looks, rather than smell, as it doesn’t smell much at all) and some glittery red ribbon which I picked up from Tiger for ¬£1. My friends and family are actually asking me to make up there own bunches of evergreens, so I think a new Christmas tradition has been born. It was also really nice stepping out into the garden for the first time in weeks, although I did feel a little overwhelmed at how much I want to do out there- but that’s another post for another time…

I’ve also done a little Christmas knitting, but decided to limit myself to one present, as I left it too late to co-ordinate myself efficiently. So I’m making a pair of Fallberry mitts in Drops Alpaca for a friend- lovely pattern and lovely yarn! I’ve knitted this pattern before, so I know it’s a quick(ish) knit that looks lovely.

Image: Knitty

Image: Knitty

How are you preparing for Christmas? On Wednesday, I’m going to post about how I’m getting organised for hosting Christmas this year… Leave any tips in the comments!