Adagio Teas: Christmas Collection*

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I love a Christmas tea! They’ve become a huge deal in recent years (I remember when I wrote a blog exclusively about tea a few years ago, they were few and far between- and often samey. Not so now!) and there’s a tea for every taste.

Adagio Teas sent me a selection of their winter teas and gifts (as well as a cute red teapot to brew them all up in!) to try. Of course, ever the professional, I made it a mission to try them all. It’s a hard life.

First up, I tried the simply named Christmas on my commute to work. On the surface, this is a traditional Christmas tea, flavoured with spices and orange- but! There’s a surprise! Underneath the usual festive flavours, there’s a smoky hint. I’m not usually a fan of smoky teas, but here it works to balance out the other flavours. It’s a real winter warmer and perfect for chilly mornings.

I was sent the Stocking Stuffer (cute mini tins of loose tea) and Holiday Cheer (30 teabags) sets, which each include six of Adagio’s holiday teas. There’s also a Christmas tea sample box, which I’ve found handy for work tea breaks.

  • Chestnut tea is my favourite of the holiday teas- it combines the nutty flavour of chestnut with a comforting dose of caramel; it’s definitely a sweet treat!
  • Pumpkin Spice is more subtle and slightly sweeter than other pumpkin teas I’ve tried. It’s my current morning ‘go-to’ first thing.
  • Candy Apple is cute! It’s sweet and I love it for my afternoon treat! The Ceylon base is the perfect base for a show-stopping apple and caramel blend (my house also smells of this after I’ve made a cup. Perfect!)
  • Gingerbread tea is exactly as you expect, although a bit lighter than other gingerbread teas I’ve tried- but that’s not a criticism! It’s a warming blend that is a perfect early evening blend.
  • Candy Cane tea is an interesting blend! Black tea with sweet peppermint is refreshing and great after lunch, but don’t add milk. That’d be a bit weird.
  • Cranberry tea- this is great, although I’ll admit I was a bit wary at first! The cranberry works really well with the black tea (although best without milk) and makes a great change to the usual Christmas flavours.

If you’re a caffeine-free fan, I can recommend Yuletide Toddy, a fruit infusion with cranberry, orange and cinnamon- it works very nicely with a quick splash of brandy or spiced rum! I also really enjoyed Rooibos Nutcracker as a bedtime drink; it’s a blend of fruits, nuts, spices and caramel and I’m thinking about how I can mix it up as a latte…

Want to win some festive goodies from Adagio? Check out my Instagram for a great Christmas giveaway!

 

*sent for review

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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!

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.

 

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.

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.

Christmas 2015 at Bluebird Tea Co.*

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I have a lot of love for Bluebird Tea Co. and their Christmas offerings are always met with excitement in this house (D is a big fan of their rooibos teas- because there’s obviously no way I’m caffeinating a toddler.)

A couple of weeks ago, after a day where I’d been at work for twelve straight hours, I came home to what can only be described as a HUGE hamper full of Christmassy treats. And, dear reader, I undertook to review it all post haste. Now, I know it’s early and all that, but I did see my first Christmas advert last night- thanks, Anchor Spreadable- and so it’s opened the floodgates, imho.

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Gingerbread Chai is a favourite that was initially introduced a Christmas blend; it proved so popular that it’s available all year round. It’s one of my all time favourites from the Bluebird catalogue. It’s a rooibos, so caffeine free, and I especially enjoy making it as a latte by adding it to hot milk. D enjoys it too- it’s wonderfully warming, but no so spicy that it’ll blow your head off.

Snowball is one of those kooky, fun blends that Bluebird is fast becoming well-known for and it’s definitely the ‘Christmas special’ I like the best. It’s a chocolatey tea with marshmallows and coconut that feels like an indulgence- without being overly sweet or as heavy as a hot chocolate. Something that’s important, I think, in the season of over-indulging in sweet treats.

And isn’t the mug cute? I’ve been drinking Christmas tea out of a Christmas mug- and it’s not EVEN HALLOWEEN. I do feel like I’m breaking the law or something.

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Christmas Cake would win awards for the prettiest tea around- tiny snowflakes and edible glitter mean that this looks pretty when given as a tea bauble (SUCH A GOOD IDEA!) This tea is a bit too sweet for my tastes, but has been popular with guests!

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I have no idea why this picture looks like it was taken at a different time to all the others, but hey ho. Isn’t this Mulled Wine cocktail kit cool? You add wine to Mulled Wine tea in the bottle, leave it for 48 hours and then heat everything up. I think this is a really clever gift idea (yes, you could make mulled wine the old fashioned way, or buy it ready made, but that’s not fun.) I have yet to do this- no matter that Twitter tells me I can make mulled wine now and call it ‘autumn sangria’, it still feels early! I have been experimenting with mulled apple juice lately and this would probably work with that, too.

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To finish the hamper off, Bluebird included one of their new tote bags and a metal infuser- so if you were given one of these hampers, you could avoid the plastic bag tax AND get brewing straight away! What’s not to like?

Bluebird also have another, very new Christmas tea in addition to the ones above: a white tea with white chocolate and cherries blend named White Christmas. I have yet to sample this, but rest assured, dear reader- I will be picking some up next time I’m in town!

You can order all these tea gifts (including the hamper itself and many others) here.

*I was sent this prodct to review. All views are my own.