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.

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.

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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!

Resolutions for 2016

Good morning, Sunshine- welcome to 2016!

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I’ve been thinking about resolutions. They have to be a) quite easy and b) quite quick to achieve some kind of result because I am essentially lazy and have the willpower of a small child. Also, I don’t believe in detoxes and all that jazz (despite owning books with titles like ‘I Quit Sugar’! Which is hilarious, as it ain’t ever gonna happen.)

Anyway, so I was thinking about what I wanted to achieve in terms of small, manageable goals and this is what I came up with:

  1. Declutter the house.¬†I’ve actually started this already, but it’s definitely an ongoing process, especially with a three year old. I’m going to try and be ruthless with books, clothes and other things- and I’ll be looking at D’s stuff to root anything out that he’s too big for. No doubt most of the stuff will go to charity shops, but as it is a rolling thing, I may do a few car boot sales and eBay auctions too.
  2. Go veggie for a month.¬†I’ve been vegetarian, on and off, since my teens. The reason I want to do this now is not so much a ‘post-Christmas detox’, but more about making me (and my family) a bit more adventurous when it comes to cooking vegetables. Benn is not keen on joining me in this, as he’s training for a marathon and is a massive carnivore. I, on the other hand, don’t eat that much meat, but I’m not varied in the vegetables I eat. Plus, this will give me an idea for what I’d like to grow in the garden this year. I’m open to this becoming a more permanent thing, but think that a month is a manageable start.
  3. Buying bans.¬†Ack, I hate this term, but I can’t think of another term. I’m going to stop buying books (which I’ve done before, with some success) and yarn. You can read about how I’m going to go about a book buying ban on my book blog, but in terms of my yarn buying ban, I have to use my stash as much as possible. I’ll talk about this in a future blogpost.

I think three resolutions is enough for now. I like to see the year as a work in progress and that resolutions are not set in stone. We’ll see how it goes.

What are your resolutions?

Finally- I’d like to wish you a happy, peaceful 2016.

 

Some recent recipes

I’ve been baking LOADS recently. I’ve also been taking advantage of fruit from the garden (cherries, bland tasting apples) and the local woods/common- foraging is quite fun, as long as you don’t mind being stung a bit. Seriously, lately I’ve been stung three times and NO DOCK LEAVES were available. I feel nature let me down there. Anyway, if you’re up for a bit of autumn foraging, I can recommend Alys Fowler’s very good book.

Anyway, recently I’ve made the following and, where possible, I’ve linked to recipes. Welcome to autumnal comfort baking!

The closest I’ve got to ‘proper’ Millie’s style cookies is here. I’ve done these with choc chips, Smarties and M&Ms. I would definitely stick to M&Ms, as they seem to cope better with being cooked.

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We visited my family in Cardiff at the start of the summer holidays and I came home wanting to have a go at Welsh cakes, which are sort of like scones but you fry them instead of bake them. They’re a bit temperamental and you have to watch that they don’t burn, but they are lovely. I got my recipe from the Bero book¬†(which, if you don’t already own is well worth the ¬£2.50 it costs!), but Visit Wales have a very similar recipe here.

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I also had a go at making a Bara Brith, which I remembered from GBBO a couple of years ago. I make tea breads quite a lot, especially if D wants to bake, as they’re quick and simple. Bara Brith means ‘mottled bread’ and is a handy recipe to whip up if you have guests coming round. You can find the¬†recipe I used here.

Remember when I was pregnant with D and my nesting phase was basically just me baking parkin, which is lovely and autumnal (as well as being a recipe from my home town of Leeds? Well, it’s the time of year again to get perfecting it in time for Halloween and Bonfire Night. The recipe is here.

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I’ve also been experimenting with chutney (my friend Marine suggested a few weeks back that apple and ginger was nice), as we’ve had a glut of apples. The ones in the garden are a bit strange: small and not very flavoursome. However, they are a really good apple for taking on and enhancing the flavours of other things. So, I made four small jars of apple and ginger chutney, which was MUCH easier than I expected. The recipe is here. The jars are now in a cupboard maturing and won’t be released until December, when I expect them to perform well with the festive cheeseboard.

I’ve also been making an autumn jelly- foraged blackberries, garden apples and spices- but I’m working on tweaking that recipe, so keep your eyes peeled for that soon!

What are you baking at the moment?

Beating tiredness one step at a time

I’m tired.

Like,¬†really tired. It’s always stressful at work at this time of year, but I’ve never had a toddler in tow. At the moment, I’m counting down the minutes til Easter break. And that when I’m going to make some lifestyle tweaks to try and increase my energy.

Food

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I’m using birthday money to buy a food processor (how exciting! How GLAMOROUS!) and I’ve been religiously reading cookbooks, looking for interesting and healthy recipes, with an aim of increasing my veggie intake- and boosting my energy levels.

I bought the Wahaca cookbook recently and I’m looking forward to trying to cook some spicy, summery Mexican food. I already I have my eye on healthy hot chocolate and breakfast smoothies.

I borrowed Jack Monroe’s new book on a whim from the library and I love it- her style isn’t pretentious, the ingredients are sensible and the instructions are straightforward. I already made the spring veg risotto and it went down brilliantly with D especially (Benn would have liked meat, but that can be added another time.)

My friend Jeni bought me the Deliciously Ella cookbook and now all I want is the food processor, a spiraliser and my courgette seeds to grow so I can make courgetti with pesto! It’s not normally the sort of cookbook I’d think I’d like, but there are some really good ideas in here.

Running

1607067_10152692223017267_7743578639046493132_nLook at my new running shoes! Aren’t they pretty? But also: STURDY. And you can see them from space, which is super important. I’ve been neglecting my running so I’m taking it pretty slowly at the moment, mainly because I can’t go much faster (despite the woman laughing and pointing at me yesterday. Which was classy of her.) However, physical activity is going to help me sleep better and, ergo, be less tired.

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In theory, anyway.

Preparing for Seedy Sunday 2015

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I am SO EXCITED about this year’s Seedy Sunday– it’s the first year I’ve had a garden that’s mine and I have a rough idea about how the garden will eventually take shape. I’ll probably go into more detail about that in a future post though.

My short term aim is to get the stuff needed for fruit and veg in the garden. This will more than likely be grown ¬†in pots and growbags this year, so I’m looking for small, compact plants; I’ve already ordered some blueberry and tomato plug plants and I’ve got my eye on some potatoes too.

Organising is VERY IMPORTANT

Organising is VERY IMPORTANT

My wishlist has some specifics (heirloom tomatoes, broad beans, peas and sweet peas) and some ‘maybes’ (aubergines, strawberries, raspberries) as well as some things I need to look into a bit more, like foxglove seeds. I’d also like to get some sunflowers for D. As you can see from the book above, I’m also interested in companion planting, so I expect some nasturtiums and marigolds will be among my purchases.

As well as planning for outside, I’ve begun growing ‘micro greens’ indoors. We spend a fortune on salad, so I’m doing what I can to alleviate that! So I might pick up some kale and other leafy greens to grow as cut and come again leaves. The batch I planted last week had already started to show by two days later, so I’m hoping for more success! I can pretend I’m sort of healthy then, can’t I?

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