Meetup Report: International Lolita Day at Serenitea

Meetup Report: International Lolita Day at Serenitea

I love these instant pictures! This was from a small printer instead of an Instax.

I always feel nostalgic about International Lolita Day, but I don’t often remember to celebrate it. I love that there’s a rallying day for the fashion community, and I wish I gave it more attention when it comes around—especially since it occurs twice a year, on the first Saturday in June and the first Saturday in December. That should mean that I at least remember one of them, but sometimes it doesn’t quite work out that way!

This year a dear friend of mine reminded me about the upcoming event and invited me to afternoon tea in time… and not just any friend, the very person who initially came up with the concept for this frilly “holiday” back in 2005 and organized the first celebration with the EGL community on ye olde Livejournal! 💖

The event on this first Saturday in June was hosted at Serenitea in Oak Park. Although it isn’t located in Chicago, it was easily accessible from both the Metra commuter train and the CTA green line. (I rode the L to and from; I prefer to take public transit when it’s available.) The tea room is a very short walk and fairly easy to identify. The location is rather small, but it still has a separate room for parties, which in general I prefer for meetups.

I regrettably forgot to take any pictures… I wore a pair of new shoes that savaged the backs of my ankles and distracted me from collecting a good record, so please forgive my lack of thoroughness in this “report”.

The afternoon tea menu is available with options for vegan and gluten-free needs, which our party appreciated. The gluten-free items were served on the same plates as the items containing gluten, so guests with very strict needs may benefit from making additional requests and confirming that there is no cross-contamination. The selection of finger sandwiches, scones, and desserts seemed like pretty standard fare for a tea menu. It had a more rustic and homemade appearance and feel than hotel tea service. Each guest selected their own tea from a fairly large list of loose leaf options that were served in petite teapots. The teapots are cute, but they are extremely difficult to pour from without sloshing half of the tea all over the table; better teapots, possibly equipped with drip-catchers, would immensely improve the experience!

The seatings for our group involved small tables that sat four at each. This can make the group seem divided, but it did make conversation at the individual tables a bit easier to follow and participate in. We did an introduction round-table and milled around a bit, particular between courses and after most of the food items had been consumed. There was an attached shop room with vintage-themed tea goods that several people used as a spot for photos; it was possible to do this without bothering any other customers or guests. One attendee brought a small printer and graciously provided instant photos for everyone else! 📸 I love those cameras at meetups.

When our reservation ended we took a few pictures outside. There was brief discussion about extending our time together, but the ominous clouds overhead caused most people to vote for heading home. I managed to just barely beat the rain other than a few sprinkled droplets during the walk back to the train station! ☔

Overall, I had a lot of fun celebrating International Lolita Day this way (despite my injured ankles that are still slowly healing…), and I enjoyed getting to see several friends that I hadn’t spoken to in a few months as well as meeting some others for the first time! Perhaps I’ll remember to see what’s planned for December… ❄️

Sweet Treats: TWG Tea Leicester Square

Sweet Treats: TWG Tea Leicester Square

A cup of Darjeeling from TWG Tea! I couldn’t resist tasting another cup from 2019 first flush.

On our last day in London, after visiting a flurry of museums and marching through lovely parks, the clouds started to gather. Hilariously, we’d enjoyed beautiful balmy sunshine during the trip, even though we’d left after days of chilly rain in Chicago. With our checklist of “places to see” almost entirely checked and our other checklist of “souvenirs to gather” taken care of, we didn’t have much in mind—except sitting down for afternoon tea.

I 💗love💗 afternoon tea. (It’s the lolita fashion meetup type most likely to lure me out of my cozy little hermit hole.) I’ll happily sit down to drink a cup of tea and savor a dessert in almost any café, but a full afternoon tea service gently thaws my frozen little heart. (And I get cranky about the misused term “high tea”!) Looking at savories and sweets that seem almost like edible dollhouse food always entertains me. I appreciate standard fare, such as currant scones or cucumber sandwiches, and I’ll happily try something new and inventive if the chef exhibits creativity! Given the tea culture in the UK, it seemed somewhat like a waste to leave without having a full tea service. As it was just my husband and I together on our last day, logistically this became a bit easier than trying to get a last-minute reservation for a larger group.

The incoming rain seemed like the perfect signal to get indoors to a tea house. We also substituted this as our “evening” meal (despite the fact that it was still afternoon) so that we avoided overwhelming our budget.

We selected TWG Tea for a few reasons: we within a 10-minute walk of the location, we’ve been given their teas as a gift and enjoyed them, and trying to have afternoon tea without a reservation at a hotel is rather difficult. I adore afternoon tea hosted in a hotel, as they often have more luxurious ambiance than a restaurant, but when checked with a few that would have been close by they were understandably unable to accommodate us. TWG is a relatively newer tea company (founded in 2008) and based in Singapore, so it wasn’t a particularly British-themed excursion, but that wasn’t really high on my priorities at the time. If we find ourselves in London again, I plan to make an actual reservation in advance at a place or two after some reading and research.

We decided to stop in and enjoy tea at TWG rather than wander in the rain!

Luckily, we did not have to wait when we entered the tea room at TWG; they were able to seat us immediately. I believe that we were given two set menu options that were very similar: a “Paris” afternoon tea that came with a pot of tea, finger sandwiches, two miniature croque monsieur with tea-infused béchamel, and desserts, and a “London” afternoon tea that included two scones instead of the croque monsieur miniatures. (I feel like I may be misremembering some element of this, because I didn’t snap a picture of the menu and I can’t seem to find a copy to reference.) My husband selected a smoky black tea and I, once again, ordered Darjeeling (Castleton estate). He ordered the set with croque monsieur, and I ordered the set with scones. (I’ve actually been on a bit of a scone-kick since our trip, but perhaps I should save that for another day.)

A variety of delicious finger sandwiches accompanying the tea set!
My husband’s tea came with tiny croque monsieur sandwiches, but I did not want to pass up on scones!
Delightful desserts from the set menu for tea!

Both sets came with the same finger sandwiches and desserts, an assortment of chicken salad, smoked salmon, cucumber, and egg salad. Nothing particularly unique, but everything tasted well and appeared to be freshly made. I didn’t catch a picture of my husband’s two tiny croque monsieur, but I tried a bite of each and quite enjoyed them! I’ve been thinking about making something inspired by them at home. The scones were fluffy, one herbed and more savory and one with dried fruit on the sweeter side. The tiny desserts included a variety of flavours and textures. I really enjoyed how neatly-formed they all were, without anything out of place.

The teas themselves tasted wonderful. 💖 I appreciated trying another Darjeeling, and my husband found his tea enjoyable.

One of the things I particularly liked was that the shop left a “book of teas” on the tables during your time in the dining area. It arrived with the menu, as it came with small paragraphs describing each tea, so in a way it supplemented the tea menu. However, they did not collect it with the menus, so I read through it while we enjoyed our afternoon tea time and used this information to plan for my selections in the shop below. I was able to read the notes in the book and make a short list for the downstairs shop of tea that I wanted to smell. This made our shopping very efficient! I picked up the Earl Grey Gentleman for a friend who prefers very robust Earl Grey and some Oud Night for myself, curious about the perfumed aroma.

Also, stopping for tea at TWG and having another cup of Darjeeling cemented my resolve to go back to Mariage Frères and purchase the Darjeeling I had initially decided I could live without. All in all, it was a lovely way to wait out the rain, enjoy a delightful meal, and immerse myself once again in tea! 🎀

Sweet Treats: Twinings London

Sweet Treats: Twinings London

Until we found ourselves in London, I didn’t think terribly often about Twinings. I don’t dislike their teas, but in the United States they’re primarily a grocery store brand of tea bags, which I don’t tend to purchase often. However, that certainly didn’t mean I wanted to pass up a chance to visit their shop. I only realized after the fact that I’d been to their flagship shop, which has been open for over 300 years! (I initially described the shop as “Dickensian” to my parents, although actually that’s about a hundred years late.) You can see more about their flagship store on their website!

The Twinings flagship shop on London’s Strand, starring my amazing travel outfit~

The shop itself is very deep and narrow, with tea and other treats in tidy shelves on either side. They had a few “London Edition” boxes near the front and a variety of shortbread and other biscuits in old-fashioned tins. I picked up a few as gifts (teas and biscuits), and they were very well-received! Considering the generally reasonable prices and the many “buy [number] get [discount]” offers in the shop, it felt quite convenient and successful. The salespeople were very helpful when we had a few questions, showcasing that they were both knowledgeable and polite.

Near the back of the shop is a tea bar with samples of tea brewing in front of a wall of tea canisters. We tasted a variety of teas and enjoyed chatting with the friendly associate manning that station. Twinings teaches “tea masterclasses” in that area, which sounds interesting but wasn’t something we had time for. As I mentioned when talking about Mariage Frères, Twinings promoted their own Darjeeling first flush from 2019 (Chamong estate). (They had the 2018 and and 2019 shelved near each other, and my husband and I spent some time smelling the samples and discussing which one we preferred.)

Teacup featuring Thomas Twining, displayed in the Twinings Museum!

The part I most enjoyed was the “tea museum” at the back of the shop. A few glass cases housed an assortment of historical tea-related memorabilia. I took several photos, which I’ll share below, although I apologize for the poor quality. My excuse will have to be that it was our first day and we’d immediately begun our excursions after getting out of the airport without any kind of break. Glass cases are always tricky, honestly, due to the reflections. I tried to get a few angles that were less obvious, but most of these would not win any photo awards.

An assortment of Earl Grey tins from throughout the years!
Assorted tea boxes from different eras!
A page related to tea and its revenue-generating notes, including taxation!
Some additional books and china on display!
One of the final cases in the tea museum area!

I’m glad we decided to stop in and see the shop! It’s not exactly a tea house anymore, in terms of being able to actually drink tea there other than samples or take-away, unless they had a magical secret tea room area that I completely missed. It was still a lot of fun, and I enjoyed viewing the items in the museum area. It’s fun to see how tea tins have changed and stayed the same.

Sweet Treats: Mariage Frères Covent Garden

Sweet Treats: Mariage Frères Covent Garden

Madeleines and other desserts with tea at Mariage Frères ♥

I adore tea (some things never change!), and I always look forward to opportunities to try new varieties—particularly in lovely settings! Several years ago I was fortunate enough to be in Paris, and I convinced some family members to take a trip to Mariage Frères. I can’t quite recall where I heard of this company… possibly from a friend in Japan, as there are several tea salons from the brothers Mariage throughout the country. Our experience in the Paris tea salon remains a fond memory, so when I realized we’d be taking a trip to London I wanted to see if there was a Mariage Frères location even though it’s a French tea company rather than a British one.

I was lucky to travel with several extremely indulgent people who enjoy desserts, so not only did we visit—we returned! The tea emporium in Covent Garden deserves its name: it’s a large and well-appointed shop with a few museum-like areas and a restaurant. I believe it’s quite new; a few articles I read implied that it opened in 2019. (This article has some beautiful pictures of the emporium!) The tea shop sections on the first floor have an elegant dark-wood apothecary feel while the upstairs restaurant is crisp white with a somewhat tropical impression. A large skylight and tall front windows flood the emporium with natural light. I felt quite thankful that the hours are generous (10am to 10pm while we were there), as it enabled me to dart back for one last purchase before we headed home.

A small cherry blossom-themed cake that was unexpectedly blue!

Although they do offer a full tea service, both times we opted for pots of tea and a few desserts. The desserts varied each time, and our selections (a small citrus cake and a cherry blossom-themed cream dome) tasted marvelous and looked beautiful. A set of two tea-infused madeleines, a staple item on their menu, were so well-received that we ordered an additional set the second time. The tea infusions included Earl Grey—golden brown and so aromatic, the rich emerald tones and grassy notes of matcha, and bright pink floral fruitiness from a tea called “Happy”.

The teas themselves stood out as highlights. I could not have felt luckier to be in London for the sale of 2019 first flush Darjeeling—it’s probably my favourite varietal of tea, and all the shops were selling their new harvest! Mariage Frères offers Darjeeling from several different estates from the region. I loved being able to select from so many options and compare the tastes. (In the end, I brought home some from Monteviot… and considering that I can’t find it on the website, I’m particularly glad that I went back for it!) I wish I could have tasted them all; the Castleton, Monteviot, and Namring King Upper were all absolutely lovely. 🍃

Mariage Frères Covent Garden
Earl Grey and Happy madeleines with a cup of Castleton noveau 2019 Darjeeling ♥

Although I’ve enjoyed Darjeeling for many years, I didn’t really know as much about it until I started reading a few articles in my 2019 first flush excitement! I wasn’t aware that it’s a particular plant as well as from a specific region—Camellia sinensis var. sinensis instead of Camellia sinensis var. assamica (called “Assam”). It has smaller leaves and is harvested by hand. It’s grown at a higher elevation than most teas. It’s also subject to a significant amount of fraud: 40k tons are sold per year and 11k tons are produced per year. (I’m reminded of counterfeit concerns regarding olive oil and balsamic vinegar…) I feel even more appreciation for this tea now that I’ve done a smidge of reading about it! I plan to continue learning more.

I wish there was a Mariage Frères tea salon closer to my home… I’d love to be able to take a book there, order a pot of tea, and read. The setting, service, and quality of tea (and sweets!) definitely impresses me. Maybe someday the United States will get a location, but until then I’ll have to keep an eye out when I’m traveling!

Tea, tea, and more tea from my adventures in London!

At least I can now brew a few cups at home in my own tiny Mariage Frères tea pot! It was a gift, and one I am enjoying quite a bit more than I expected! It serves just under four teacups worth of tea and has a usefully wide opening at the top, as well as a generously-sized metal steeping basket. I’ve owned other petite tea pots that are more a of a nuisance to clean than they are worth or which don’t have enough brewing space for the leaves to open. The silver tea scoop is extremely pretty, as well, and I no longer feel anxious about using it since I learned how to properly polish my silverplate!

Of course, we didn’t stop only at Mariage Frères—I plan to share a few thoughts about the Twinings and TWG shops as well. 💕 Please look forward to it! ☕

Meetup Report: Tea at the Langham

Meetup Report: Tea at the Langham

Champagne Tea
I have such fond memories of this tea experience~ I hope to go back sometime.

In early February I went to tea at The Langham. I adore having tea service at hotels, and this was one I had not been to before, so I was very excited. (Also, it had been quite a while since I had tea at a hotel, as my financial situation has changed and I have to take care in regards to this kind of extravagance.)

The Langham serves their afternoon tea in the “Pavilion” space. This was a lovely dining area with large windows and bright design. With off-white chairs and couches, marble tabletops, and lots of shiny chrome, it looked very open and illuminated.

Read more

Meetup Report: Formal Tea

Meetup Report: Formal Tea

Whoops! It’s been a while~ My school and my job appear to have been conspiring to keep me quite busy, and whenever I have some free time I cannot put down Pokémon White! (I’ve literally spent hours wandering around Route 6 trying to catch Emolga. I haven’t even seen one. My husband thought I was being overdramatic until he tried to help me. After fighting the tenth Audino, he exclaimed, “Alice, what have you done to piss off Emolga?!?!” I’ve logged seven more hours of gameplay than he has, most of those hunting for that flying electric squirrel.)

I’m sure it’s already very apparent that I looooooove tea. I don’t just like buying and drinking tea, but I also like going to other locations to partake of tea–particularly afternoon tea. (Afternoon tea is often called “high tea,” which is incorrect. High tea is an early dinner with meats, cheeses, and breads. Afternoon tea is an late snack with daintier fare and pastries.) I particularly enjoy afternoon tea at fancy hotels. They have such wonderful ambiance; I adore the beautiful settings and china. There are several hotels in the city that offer afternoon tea, all for roughly the same cost, and this time I opted for The Drake.

Flowers
The enormous bouquet at the hotel’s entrance was so beautiful that I thought it had to be fake until I saw someone water it and trim off a few wilting blossoms!

The lolita community in my area tends to prefer long meetups–rarely does anyone really want to say goodbye. The reservation was made for the earliest available time; it wasn’t a very “authentic” time for afternoon tea, but it gave us the most time to sit around, chit-chat, and enjoy each other’s company. (We probably would have stayed even longer if the hotel hadn’t needed that area for another large party.)

Everyone assembled right on time~ Several girls came into the city from suburbs or other more distant areas, so they were early thanks to the train schedule. I was quite happy that no-one was lost on their way to the hotel! I tried to arrive early, but I was actually one of the later guests to arrive. I didn’t even realize it until someone came and told me, as I had been waiting by the door so I could spot people coming in from outside, while those who were already there were waiting in the lobby.

One of the things I particularly enjoy about the Drake is that they have a large complimentary coat check situated conveniently near their Palm Court, where the tea is served. It was so much nicer to have everyone’s heavy winter things and large bags checked rather than piled up at the table with us. (Especially for me–I move around too much and I’m always knocking my coat off the back of my chair and onto the floor! It’s safer when kept out of my way.)

Teacups and More
I like the china at the Drake–the design is very classic.

Everyone ordered their tea individually, and thankfully the list of available teas was long enough to allow everyone a choice of something they’d prefer. I chose Pear Caramel, which I really enjoyed~ It had a strong pear taste with a smooth sweet note of the caramel, backed by a rich black tea blend. It thought it went quite nicely with scones and desserts, and it wasn’t overpowering with the savory sandwiches.

Food Service
I think tea-trays are so pretty and elegant! If I had more kitchen storage I would own one for my own use.

The full service consisted of scones and banana bread on the bottom tier, a selection of tea sandwiches on the middle, and an assortment of miniature desserts on the top. The sandwiches were very good–I particularly enjoyed the pear and watercress with bleu cheese mousse even though I normally dislike bleu cheese. I also rather like that the Drake doesn’t only serve scones, but also fruit bread. The miniature desserts were adorable–there were miniature tarts, cheesecakes, cakes, and (my favourite) cream puff swans~ ♥

There was plenty of food, which I was thankful for. Afternoon tea is supposed to prevent that “sinking feeling,” not make you wish you had something else to snack on. (Aaaaaand I was able to sneak a few more abandoned desserts and scones after everyone left the table to take pictures. Waste not want not, right?) One member of the party arrived after we had already been served, and our waiter re-appeared shortly with another plate of offerings so that she would have the full menu of options. I thought that was very good service.

The Crowd
I wish this hadn’t been so blurry, but my camera doesn’t respond well to low light. It’s very old and quite finicky.

As the tea came to a conclusion, most of the group went into the lobby to take pictures. I didn’t get to take many pictures of everyone at this point–I stayed at the table because I was paying the bill; I didn’t want the hotel to think I had disappeared. I did hop over after settling, but I was too distracted talking to people I hadn’t sat near to really be that interested in pictures.

Soon it was time to part ways. Several girls headed out to catch their trains back home or hurry off to meet other obligations. I originally planned to head home, but I was having a nice time with everyone. A group decided to go to a vintage fair in a different part of the city, and I was easily persuaded when I realized it was near an ice-cream shop that I adore. (I’m unable to resist the siren’s song of sweets…even if I’ve just had some. u_u)

Ghost of Lolita
I thought this picture was very neat–it’s a reflection in the train’s window.

So we hopped onto the bus (after giving brief directions to others who would be meeting us via car) and headed over. It’s always amusing to travel on public transportation with several lolita. Everyone on the bus was very confused, and everyone on the L was very suspicious. No-one was brave enough to talk to us on that trip, not even to ask if we were in a play or crack a “Little Bo Peep” comment.

At the Market
It was fun to browse through everything at the market, even though I don’t know much about vintage and wasn’t really looking for anything in particular.

The vintage fair was upstairs in a large area above a furniture store. It was filled with lots of different people selling clothing and accessories. One of my friends knows some of the sellers, so she had suggested that we stop by. Most of the sellers were in awe of seeing a bunch of girls all dressed up like we were, and lots of cameras were brandished and pictures snapped. It was fun~

I spent some time running up and down the stairs to try and find the others that were driving to the area. When I finally headed back upstairs with them and was looking around again, a stranger tapped me on the shoulder. She told me that she had seen me around and followed me “like the white rabbit” into the sale. I always think it is neat when random people comment that they have seen me elsewhere in the city. I’m sure it’s kinda confusing to see me once, but I wonder what they think when they notice that the girl in weird clothing wasn’t a one-time occurrence.

Science Ice Cream in Action
This is a shot of the mixers as they prepare the ice cream! The billowing fog is from the liquid nitrogen.

When we were done with the vintage sale, we headed over to iCream. It is an ice cream shop that makes your ice cream from scratch while you wait. When you order, you select the type of milk you want used, pick your flavour(s), colour, and any mix-ins or toppings. Then, the liquid mixture is added to a standing mixer that automatically dispenses a quantity of liquid nitrogen to insta-freeze the milk into ice cream. I like to call it “science ice cream,” and I think it is amazingly fun to watch!

Everyone who ordered chose a very interesting and personalized combination of flavours and colours. I’m predictable and unimaginative, so mine was pink cake ice cream topped with rainbow sprinkles~ ♥ It was wonderful. I’ve tried quite a few combinations at their shop, and I think some of the flavours are not very accurate,
but the cake flavour really does taste like cake. Mmm, cake~ ♥

Lolita Take Over iCream
The front of the shop was very full of lolita trying crazy ice cream. (There were other people behind the girl with my camera–there were maybe ten in our group, total.)

After that it was getting late and time to head home. I was really sleepy when I got back to my house, but I was also very happy to enjoy such a wonderful day. I’m hoping to organize another formal tea later in the year–maybe it will be even better!

Sweet Treats: Wintery Teas

Sweet Treats: Wintery Teas

In preparation for my holiday gingerbread party, I bought more tea. I love drinking tea, but more than simply drinking tea I like to drink the right tea.

What is the right tea?

It’s a tea that seems perfect for the occasion at hand! Tea that compliments the flavor of any food being served alongside it, tea that appeals to the palette of those partaking of it, and tea that provides a nice aroma and atmosphere. In the wintertime, I particularly like spicy dark teas that smell like the holidays. When I went to my favourite tea shop, Tea Gschwendner, and I picked out a few teas that I hoped would satisfy my hopes of “winter” coziness.

Baked Apple Tea
A warm cup of tea is even better when the weather is chilly and wintry–or at least, I think so!

No. 908 Gwendalina’s Baked Apple Tea
Apple Flavoured Black and Green Tea

This is a truly fantastic fall and winter tea. I buy this in fairly large quantities as soon as the weather starts to cool. This is like having apple pie in a cup, but is most certainly a tea and not a cider.

The use of both black and green teas in the blend creates a rich tea that has somewhat sharper notes (from the green tea) and a full body. Pieces of dried apple add a distinct apple flavour. You can smell the apple very strongly when the tea is brewing or sitting in the cup, and the apple hint is very distinguishable as an aftertaste with each sip. Almonds add a pleasant nuttiness, and cinnamon accents the apples superbly. This tea is good served black, but becomes even more dessert-like when served with sugar and cream.

White Christmas Tea
White tea is much less dense and less heavy than black or green tea, so the same weight of white tea fills a much larger package!

No. 998 White Christmas
Vanilla-Almond Flavoured White Tea

This white tea has a fresh hint of lemon, paired with vanilla and almond. The package states that it is reminiscent of sugar cookies, and I agree. As this is a white tea, the much less intense flavours of lemon, vanilla, and almond can really stand out. The tea itself lends a pleasant backdrop to the other flavours. It’s a very nice tea for when you want something that isn’t very heavy~

Winter Magic & Banana-Choco
I originally wanted to brew each of the teas, to show them in the cup, but that’s a much more time-consuming project~

No. 1320 Winter Magic
Cinnamon and Cardamom Flavoured Rooibos

This tea has an intense blend of spices that seems to be amplified by the rooibos. Although rooibos is not technically a tea, I still very much enjoy it. It has a rich, earthy flavor that is already fragrant and aromatic. I always think of this red “tea” as spicy. When cinnamon, cardamom, and sandalwood are added, it becomes a blend that is filled with spices without having any of the “heat” traditionally associated with spicy things. I think it feels very warming~ The sandalwood is one of the more interesting tastes in the tea, because it’s very woodsy and smooth.

No. 1588 Banana Chocolate Crêpe
Choco-Banana Flavoured Black and Green Tea

This tea isn’t really holiday-ish, but it’s pretty amazing–so I wanted to mention it anyway. I bought this tea because it sounded like a neat concept; I do very much like the banana and chocolate flavour combination. The tea contains dried banana–not “banana flavouring”–and bits of actual cocoa, so the smell is heavenly. It doesn’t have any of those odd smells that tend to accompany artificial flavourings. (I think that most of the time those don’t taste anything like the real thing, anyway.) The blend of black and green teas is a very enjoyable one–not so strong as to overwhelm the banana, but strong enough to support the cocoa.

With a little bit of sugar added, this becomes even more amazing. Everyone who tried it at the party was very surprised to find that it did really taste as good as it sounded like it would taste. I consider that a success!

When loose leaf tea isn’t practical, for whatever reason, there are a few inexpensive bagged teas that I’ve really been enjoying–those sold by Trader Joe’s. I normally drink their Duchess Earl Grey, a lemon-accented Earl Grey, as my bagged tea of choice, so I was interested in trying their new winter teas when I spotted them in the store. At an incredibly affordable price–roughly $2 per box–I’m not heartbroken if they don’t meet my expectations.

2 Winter Teas
I think these have some of the cutest box designs that I’ve ever seen. I particularly adore the polar bear~ ♥

Vanilla and Cinnamon Black Tea
This is a warm, spicy black tea with a hint of sweetness. The “sweetness” is actually vanilla, and thus it isn’t truly sweet, but it adds a nice high note to the tea. The black tea is laced very heavily with cinnamon; it leaves a “warming” sensation with each sip, but the tea itself is strong enough to avoid being overwhelmed by the spice. The combination of flavours is exactly the sort of thing I hope for in a winter tea.

Candy Cane Green Tea
When I first went to the store to pick up new teas, I passed up this one. The flavour combination seemed strange and perhaps unpalatable. The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized I wanted to try it. Green tea, when brewed correctly at a lower temperature than boiling point, has a very refreshing taste that sometimes seems to have notes that remind me of freshly-cut grass. Peppermint is also refreshing. Thus the two would have that in common. Additionally, green tea doesn’t have the same tendency towards astringency that black teas can have, so there would be less chance for a sourness to compete with the peppermint.

I went back and bought a box, and I’m very glad that I did. This a very cooling, soothing tea. It’s the sort of thing I want to drink when I have a headache or an upset stomach. The peppermint is strong, but not too much so. It blends nicely with the leafiness of the green tea.

I do so love tea! ♥

Charming Activities: Tea Party Planning

Charming Activities: Tea Party Planning

Rather or not the activity itself is suitable to lolita fashion, I adore tea. Through the adoration of tea, I also love tea parties! Everything from casual intimate tea parties with snacks for a few friends to formal afternoon tea served by white-gloved waiters at fine establishments. I often invite people over “for tea,” which usually means hot tea and some snacks. For other occasions, I’ve planned more elaborate tea-focused, events.

The true beauty of a tea party shines in the highly customizable nature. It is very easy to adjust different aspects of a tea party to suit many different types of events!

You Are Cordially Invited

When planning a tea party, the simplest place to start is your guest list. The people that you are inviting to your party should provide a guideline for how you shape the rest of the party. (This is much easier than planning a party to suit your tastes and then figuring out who you’ll ask to attend. That’s like putting a square peg through a round hole.

The number of attendees will often dictate your budget. With a guest list of only four, it wouldn’t be troublesome or terribly expensive to have a shopping list full of new teas and exotic sweets or savories. If your guest list has twenty or more guests, it will cost a pretty penny to focus on luxuries for everyone.

While it is possible to host a large and elaborate tea party by charging guests a fee for attending, I find that it can be difficult to ask for money to attend a private party–and friends that you may be longing to see might not find the cost within their budget. The situation is different if you are arranging a public event, but if the party is to be personal, attaching a ticket price is not usually a grand idea.

Beyond the budget, guests lists are important so that you have an idea of your guests tastes. If your guests are friends, and everyone (or nearly everyone) wears lolita fashion, the dress code is rather obvious. If several names on your list are vegetarians, you know you’ll want to provide options within their dietary constraints. If the guests are of legal drinking age, you may consider hosting a champagne tea.

What’s This All About

Some tea parties are themed. Other tea parties are formal. Still more tea parties are casual. Afternoon teas typically consist of three courses–scones, savories, and sweets. High tea (often improperly used interchangeably with afternoon tea) is an early dinner, providing a meal rather than light snacks.

You may have decided to host a tea party to celebrate a birthday or other special event. In that case, the “theme” of the party is probably related to that celebration. A tea party thrown just for fun has many options. If you think your guests would appreciate the elegance and refinement of a formal afternoon tea, you could craft an event with fine china, flower vases, and tiers of treats. If your friends have other interests, you could add a less often considered element–such as a buffet-style tea while watching a favourite movie… or participating in a video game tournament.

I believe that it’s essential to consider the preferences of your friends during the planning of a party. This ensures that everyone has a much better time–and parties are most enjoyable when everyone is sincerely cheerful and no one is forcing a smile. A theme that suits the natures of the attendees will be warmly received and more successful on the whole.

On Tonight’s Menu

When a theme is decided on, the menu may simply fall into place. For example, a formal afternoon tea traditionally consists of scones (served with clotted cream, lemon curd, and jam), savories (bite-sized sandwiches or tarts), and sweets (cookies, petit fours, and other miniature desserts). A summer garden tea may call for lemonade to be served alongside the tea and a tossed salad with fruit to accompany light sandwiches.

If the general setting of the party doesn’t bring specific edibles to mind, following the general guideline of afternoon tea is generally useful: a non-dessert baked good, something savory, and something sweet. Unless the tea is served as a meal, sitting at a table as different courses are brought in and removed, it’s best to choose items that do not require the use of utensils–particularly if some guests may be balancing their plates and teacups on laps as they sit on armchairs or sofas.

Consider any dietary restrictions of your attendees. If you know there will be a few vegetarians, make sure that at least one savory option is meat-free. It is also helpful to inquire about friends’ allergies in advance. (I often ask people to let me know of any allergies when they R.S.V.P.) Very severe allergies can sometimes be triggered merely by being in the same room as an allergen, while others could become life-threatening if the person doesn’t realize that the must-be-avoided ingredient is unseen in a baked good or a sandwich’s filling.

Those are some of the most basic hints and suggestions for hosting a tea party. There’s no strictly “right” or “wrong” way–after all, as long as tea is provided in some capacity and a party is going on, it’s technically a “tea party.” No one will bang down your door if your pinky is raised too high or your scones were swapped out for muffins~

Regardless of the type, I really do love tea parties. I think they’re a wonderful opportunity to enjoy the company of good friends. And after all–there’s nothing like a cup of hot tea~ ♥

Meetup Report: Dolls & Tea

Meetup Report: Dolls & Tea

I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I consider a meetup to be any occasion where I am spending time with someone else and we both intentionally wear lolita fashion. If I had more days to my weekends, I’d try to spend as much of it as possible with friends! Schedules change and people move away, and I don’t want to wish I had gotten to know someone better.

Besides lolita fashion, I’m almost interested in ball-jointed dolls. Whenever I meet other lolita who also like dolls, it’s fun to get together to see each other’s dolls and talk about related subjects. Not every lolita likes dolls, and I don’t expect the two things to go hand-in-hand, so I try not to talk about it too much to avoid driving everyone else crazy~ However, I rarely get to local doll events (they are often too far for me to travel and conflict with my schedule), so I try to create my own with the friends I’ve made. ★

Nono Nono
Two dolls, both of which are the same but also different~ Neither of which are wearing lolita fashion, although both are frilly!

On Friday, a friend of mine came over with a few of her dolls. We had originally talked about making plans so that I could see her newest doll in person, as it was a doll I have liked for a while. I wanted to see how it looked in real life compared to promotional and hobbyist photographs. However, I wound up purchasing that doll at the event I went to in NYC, so we actually got together to compare dolls and talk~

My home is very tiny, but I really love having friends over! ♥ Someday I’ll have to get a bigger place so that I can do more entertaining. I was also glad to have a chance to introduce my friend to my husband, as she hadn’t met him yet. It’s nice when he can connect a face and personality to the name of whomever I’ve been talking about.

We went out to lunch at my favourite bakery~ The weather was perfect for sitting inside, enjoying the air conditioning while the sunlight streamed in through the windows. The menu was full of light and summery dishes–I ordered chilled cucumber-mint soup that was absolutely amazing! ♫ My husband and my friend each ordered a berry lemonade, one of the beverage specials of the day. It was deliciously homemade–so much better than bottled flavoured drinks!

On the walk back to our house, I showed my friend the “secret” Japanese market. It’s not really a secret, but it’s very unobtrusive and many people don’t even realize it’s there at all! She’s didn’t realize she’d walked past it so many times~ It’s not an extensive market along the lines of Mitsuwa, but they do carry an assortment of food, toiletries, dinnerware, traditional clothing, garden supplies, books, origami paper, caligraphy supplies, and more! However, since there isn’t a lot of foot-traffic they don’t do much business, and thus they don’t always have very new stock. However, it’s still convenient to have nearby. I bought some sweet rice; I’m hoping to make mochi~

Double Nono
My doll, still unnamed, is on the left. My friend’s doll, Hotaru, is on the right.

When we returned to my house, we talked about dolls and I unboxed my new doll. It was a lot of fun to have the same doll! They’re literally identical, except for the fact that we’ve each dressed ours to suit our tastes. (I was very amused to see that we had both almost immediately swapped out glass eyes for the default acrylic eyes. It was so nice to have someone to talk to while I changed those in my doll. The company that makes our dolls uses hot glue to secure the eyes, and getting that hot glue out can be very difficult!)

ElleJay and Hotaru
ElleJay and her doll, Hotaru. Don’t they look alike? ♥

I’m sure my husband appreciated that I had someone else to talk about doll-things with instead of him! (Although he’s a sweetheart and doesn’t mind, anyway.) Inevitably our conversation darted back and forth from dolls to clothes and back to dolls again. We enjoyed some tea, as well, although I think the weather was so warm that we kept forgetting about actually making the tea we had previously discussed! I think we both really enjoyed ourselves; I can’t wait to plan something else.

I want to do something creative and entertaining, but I haven’t focused on exactly what yet. Maybe a doll photoshoot, or an actual doll tea party… Hmm… Or some kind of craft… I think we could have a lot of fun! ♫

Meetup Report: Housewarming Tea

Meetup Report: Housewarming Tea

My favourite meetups aren’t giant events with lots of pomp and photo opportunities–my favourite meetups are intimate events with lots of conversation. I feel bad whenever I realize that there was someone I didn’t get the opportunity to know. Sometimes I get so excited about seeing old friends that I forget to take enough time to meet those I don’t already know~ With a smaller group it’s easier to hold a conversation that includes everyone, come to a decision about what to do next, and generally make everyone feel welcome. That’s not to say that such a thing can’t happen at a larger event, but it takes a conscious effort to do so.

Thus I was very excited to go to a small tea party at a friend’s new apartment; she hosted the event as a housewarming. Hosting parties provides the planners with almost endless room for creativity, but it can get expensive very quickly! Doing something on a smaller scale, where you decide the guest list, allows you to do things elaborately without going broke. Fancy ingredients can be very pricey, especially if 20+ people are supposed to come…and if guests cancel at last minute you might be eating those leftover tea sandwiches for a week! If you want more control, less attendees makes it easier.

Tea Time
The table was elaborately set by the time we arrived, with flower petals and beautiful blue and white china.

I arrived a bit too early (which I have a particular knack for), but already the table was set with china and flowers. Cucumber-mint cream cheese and plum & prosciutto sandwiches were cooling in the refrigerator while scones baked in the oven. I brought a loaf of pumpkin tea bread, which is essentially a loaf of sweet quick bread made with strong brewed tea instead of other liquids. It tastes mostly like pumpkin spice, but I like to think the tea makes it more suitable for a tea party~ Another friend brought a lovely summer salad with avocado and strawberry. My little sister brought jalapeno cheese spread, which she and my husband tried on nearly everything else on the table.

Tea Time
The cucumber and mint with herbed cream cheese on whole-grain bread tea sandwiches were so pretty~ Very vibrant and green. Warm scones are lurking in the background near Devon cream.

The weather was almost unbearably hot, partially because it’s summer and partially because the apartment was on the top floor of a building and lacked air conditioning. Some of my smarter friends had brought collapsible fans, while those of us who hadn’t had that foresight (aka: me) kept ducking into the air-conditioned bedroom. It didn’t prevent us from enjoying ourselves, however! It was a lot of fun to sit around the table and talk~

Eventually we decided to take a walk, so we headed out to meander around the neighborhood. I had forgotten my parasol, but my little sister kindly lent me hers. ♥ I tried to hold it to provide some shade for her, as well, although I don’t think I did a very good job…

On our walk we passed a very cute candy store: Suckers Candy! ★ I saw the penguin first, to be honest. I love penguins, so when I noticed a big penguin on the sidewalk my first reaction was to squeal, run up to it, and please-please-please-please get someone to take my picture with it. I noticed the penguin’s “Ice Cream” sign, and turned around to see a candy store!

I peeked inside to see if they had candy cigarettes, which I really love, and luckily they did! My husband was very sweet and bought them for me! ♥ Not only did I get to hug a giant penguin, I also wound up with candy! It was great~

Penguin Love ♥
I really fell in love with this penguin. He’s so big AND he’s advertising ice cream!

I enjoyed walking with my friends and taking part in conversations. Eventually the heat and humidity got to be a bit much, so we ducked into an air-conditioned coffee shop. I didn’t get home until a bit late, but I had such a wonderful time! I hope that my summer is full of more of those outings~ I want to spend and enjoy time with my friends as much as possible~