Sweet Treats: Bagged Tea Time

Sweet Treats: Bagged Tea Time

I’ve been a bit sick lately, so I’ve been drinking tea even more than usual. Tea may just be my favorite beverage, and I have an entire drawer in my kitchen dedicated to my collection–right underneath the electric kettle that I love so dearly. Although I have a designated tea drawer, that’s not the only spot for tea. I don’t stick to just one kind, and I like to surround myself with a different tea for a different occasion! And… most of my “traveling teas” are bagged teas (and some aren’t very fancy, either)~

~At Work~
I keep tea at my desk to supplement the varieties that are stocked in our kitchens. I’m very lucky that my office has tea at all, and even luckier that it isn’t simply something another worker brought in and forgot about. A set supply of bagged teas is restocked on a regular basis: Bigelow’s “Constant Comment,” “Orange & Spice,” “Apple Cinnamon,” “Earl Grey,” “Cranberry Apple,” and “Green Tea,” as well as Tazo’s “Chai” and “Awake.”

I’m not terribly fond of bagged tea, as the quality of the tea leaves is usually lower and the tag-shaped paper pouches don’t circulate water very well, but I’m definitely not above drinking it! I find that if the tea is stronger–like a black tea–it can be easier to taste that the leaves are not as flavorful or select as those in loose-leaf tea. Thus I usually drink herbal teas if bagged tea is an option. I lean towards the two apple flavors at work; they’re even better with honey. ♥

I also keep my own tea in my desk. I don’t want to bring my tea accoutrement to work me with (at least not yet) so I like to select a box of tea bags to try. If they’re at work it forces me to drink it even if I don’t really-really like it! At home it could languish in my drawer forever~ Right now I have a box of Tazo’s “Cucumber White.” It’s an interesting flavor–a white tea with cucumber, lime, and peppermint. At first I wasn’t very keen on the taste, but it’s started to grow on me. It’s very refreshing, and it soothes an upset stomach.

~Away from Home~
My other hidden-tea-stash is at my mother’s house. She doesn’t live terribly far away and is centrally located to the rest of my family, so my person and I travel out to see her…or sleep at her house when visiting other relatives. My tea used to live in my mother’s kitchen cabinet, but now there are only a few remnants. My stepfather enjoys tea as well, but he has been working abroad for a while, so there isn’t much in the cabinet.

There are a few golden pouches from a local tea shop that is no longer around. They had a very wide selection and some interesting blends–different from what I notice at most shops, which always made me wonder if they had a different supplier. Most of the teas are green teas, which I am rarely in the mood for. Instead, my mother’s house has my two guilty pleasures–Bigelow’s “English Teatime” and Celestial Seasoning’s “Sleepytime.”

Out of all the black teas produced by mass-marketed tea bag companies, I really prefer the blend that’s in “English Teatime.” It’s strong without much bitterness, having mild undertones instead. I find that it goes well with mostly anything I plan to drink it with, and it stands well on its own. “Sleepytime” is my favorite night-time tea–a chamomile with spearmint and lemongrass. It also brings back very happy childhood memories.

~Make it Quick!~
Quick isn’t even the best word, really–it’s convenience. I do have to admit that bagged tea is awfully convenient. I do keep some of it at home, although it is vastly outnumbered by the rest of my teas. If I’m only choosing bagged tea on a whim when I’m at home, it has to be more than just quick–it has to taste delicious! After all, why else would it ever be consumed?

Personally, I really like teas by ®evolution. I find their flavor combinations quite tasty, and I’m partial to their larger-sized cloth bags–I think it lets the flavors get through and gives the leaves more room to open. (I also like that I can see that the tea isn’t pulverized!) My current favorite is their “Pear White Tea.” I love pears. I love flavored white teas. What else could I ask for? Even opening the box smells wonderful.

However, that’s not my “standard” bagged tea. That spot is reserved for PG Tips; it’s my favorite bagged black tea. I can’t stand generic Lipton, but I drink a lot of PG. It’s strong, has nice color, good flavor, and pyramid-shaped bags for good water flow. Also, it’s really, really quick to steep. I usually only leave it in the water until the color darkens, and remove it immediately. It can become too bitter if left unattended, so keeping an eye on it is recommended.

After thinking about and writing all this, now it’s definitely time for some tea! ♥

Meetup Report: A Not-So-Spooky Tea

Meetup Report: A Not-So-Spooky Tea

Gorilla Time
Originally uploaded by sweetmilktea

It’s been a while since I wrote a meetup review, but I don’t want to ignore some of the fun things I’ve had the opportunity to do!

On October 31, 2009 the Chicago-area lolita convened at Russian Tea Time for tea! The meetup was in honor of the holiday, so attendees were asked to dress for the theme–gothic, spooky, or otherwise Halloween-related. Everyone really went out of their way to wear their best; they all looked great!! I was such a stark contrast to our usual meetups, where brighter colors tend to dominate.

No-one really thought I would take the theme to heart, but I surprised everyone when I showed up in black and high heels! Miss Nena graciously lent me something from her closet, since everything I own is pink, white, or red. 😡 Well, except for my special blue floral one-piece, but that’s still not right for a Halloween theme! I had thought I’d have to coordinate some kind of lolita-esque costume from my clothing and other accessories in order to be appropriately dressed, but I really wanted to participate fully. It’s a lot of fun to step outside your normal boundaries and try something new!

The tea room provided a section of the restaurant just for our massive tea party… there were so many people I didn’t get a chance to talk to everyone. (I also spent a lot of time outside the doors, searching for stragglers! I am usually a bit of an Alice-beacon when it comes to meetups.) Several attendees weren’t lolita I’d seen before, and that makes me really excited. I like seeing new faces–it shows that lolita fashion is a growing trend, not a dying one.

The tea house served their house blend; it was a little spicy and had a mulled type of taste that was very heart-warming for a chilly day. The cups they used weren’t traditional teacups–instead, they were metal stein-shaped holders for thick glass insets into which the tea was poured. I could definitely understand the appeal–I didn’t burn my fingers by accidentally touching the bowl of the cup that is heated by the tea, as I sometimes do with china teacups. Servers constantly refilled empty cups, never leaving an empty glass empty for too long.

The trays of refreshments were really delightful. The top tier contained scones, two per person, and whipped cream and jam. Clotted cream may be the proper topping for scones, but it isn’t often served in Chicago. Traditional clotted cream requires unpastuerized cow’s milk, which isn’t readily available in the United States, and the jarred “clotted cream” sold at specialty shops is really gross if you’ve ever had actual clotted cream. The jam and whipped cream was delicious, although the cranberry-raisin scones didn’t really need toppings to taste wonderful!

The second tier held a vast assortment of finger sandwiches–smoked salmon, tiny rolled crepes filled with diced vegetables, roasted red pepper, mini Ruebens, and little quiches! The savory items were a very nice size–bigger than one bite, but smaller than four–allowing everyone to taste as many as they wanted. I enjoyed eating other people’s shunned smoked salmon sandwiches~

The bottom tier held a mind-boggling assortment of sweets! Cookies, pastries, and other sweets, all piled up together. There were so many that I didn’t even know what I was eating; I couldn’t keep up with the servers’ descriptions! They even brought out individual plates for everyone with two teeny-tiny cream puffs. It was very luxurious.

After the tea was over, we headed across the street to the sculpture gardens around the Art Institute. The lighting inside the tea house was much too dark to get any nice pictures, and everyone was dressed so lovely that it seemed like such a shame not to. (And many people wanted proof for daily_lolita, of course.) I brought my camera, so my person followed my little sister and me around, capturing our nonsense. I’m not very good at posing nicely for pictures–something is always off: mouth open, eyes askew, weird expressions, etc.–but I do like getting into trouble and having a record of it. My little sister and I are usually up to no good, especially when we’re dressed up.

After pictures outdoors (we moved over to Millennium Park, too) it became too cold and some people had to leave, so those who remained went to the Chicago Cultural Center. The Cultural Center is in a beautiful building, and there is no admission, and there is always somewhere to sit and chat. Once people thawed out a little, more pictures ensued in-between conversations. As more and more people headed out and the group dwindled further, I found myself in part of a group aimlessly browsing at the Marshall Field’s on State Street before heading home.

It was a really great time, and there are so many hilarious pictures to prove it! I only wish I could have talked to more people–I was right at the front end of the table, so I only interacted with maybe four or five people on that end. It was too crowded to be rustling around through the crowd. I had a lot of fun being a gothic Alice for one day, but I don’t think I’ll be changing my style anytime soon!

Rose-Tinted Living: Cute China

Rose-Tinted Living: Cute China

Alice ♥ Teapots
Originally uploaded by sweetmilktea

Much like the stereotypical ideal of a lolita, I adore tea. The ceremony of a formal, traditional tea service really appeals to me, and going to an elegant afternoon tea with my friends always fills me with delight! I’ve been trying to accumulate teatime accouterments for a very long time, as I’ve loved tea since long before I was ever interested in lolita fashion. (My grandmother collects teapots and took me to tea often in my childhood.)

Whenever it’s possible, I like to have friends (most of whom are lolita) over to my home for tea. To make this possible, I’ve collected several teapots and teacups~ Right now they’re all displayed on a narrow shelf in my tiny kitchen, and seeing the bright colors and cheerful patterns always adds some cheeriness to my day!

Alice ♥ Teacups
Originally uploaded by sweetmilktea

Although I certainly swoon over pricely porcelain, most of my tea-time pieces are from resale shops or discount stores. Discount stores are one of my favourite places to check for teacups or teapots, since they often have quite a selection of housewares. In either store it can take a lot of sifting through to find the pieces you’ll truly fall in love with. I take it as a challenge~

Alice ♥ Teacups
Originally uploaded by sweetmilktea

Of course, I’ve also gotten a number of teacups added to my collection as gifts from my grandmother. She’s historically been my strongest tea-enabler, and she hasn’t hasn’t slackened in adding bits and pieces to my collection. Some of my nicest teacups have been spotted by her in awful condition, then cleaned up before making their way to me. Every cup in the above picture was a gift from her, and there are certainly more!

Alice ♥ Teacups
Originally uploaded by sweetmilktea

One of the reasons that I love having people over for tea is the intimacy. I find that people relax when seated and offered beverages and snacks. Tea is warm and soothing, and most people won’t turn down nibbling on a cookie or two.  ♥ Also, preparing tea gives plenty of time to engage in conversation. The water has to boil, the leaves have to steep, and then the cup of freshly-poured tea has to cool. It allows two (or more!) friends quite an opportunity to converse and listen to each other. Tea is rarely distracting, unlike larger meals or attention-requiring activities.

Tea services are easy to collect–they don’t need to be purchased all at once. You can start with a pretty cup or two, then look for a nice teapot. Not everything has to match–sometimes mis-matched sets have more charm. It’s not hard to find teaspoons just a few at a time, and there are always nifty little gadgets to find–like sugar tongs or drip-stoppers! There’s a lot of possibility!

And if you don’t like drinking tea, that doesn’t even matter! You can serve just about anything out of a teacup or teapot, after all. Maybe hot chocolate, soda–it’s up to you.

Sweet Treats: Tea for Beginners

Sweet Treats: Tea for Beginners

Tea Cabinet Chaos
Originally uploaded by sweetmilktea

The beverage most closely associated with lolita fashion is tea. There is a decided fixation on tea time, taking tea, and tea parties; tea is even a theme for clothing designs or prints. The focus on tea is due to its relation to Victorian times, one of the many inspirations for lolita fashion. Additionally, a formal tea time or tea party seems quite fitting as a luxurious activity for beautifully-dressed lolita to partake in–even if they’re sipping coffee or soda from the delicate china.

Tea can seem overwhelming or hoity-toity at first. There are “tea snobs,” just as there are elitists of almost any kind. In the United States there isn’t a lot of information readily available on tea, as there might be in other countries were tea is a more popular beverage.

However, it’s easy to learn more about tea! Greater tea knowledge can increase enjoyment of the drink and make gatherings focused around it more fun~

There are many varieties of tea–black tea, white tea, green tea, red tea, and herbal teas. The most important thing to know when making tea is the temperature the water should be at. Steeping at the wrong temperature can make even the most wonderful tea taste bitter, while steeping even the lowest-quality teabag at the correct temperature improves its taste wonderfully! Herbal teas can withstand the highest temperatures, then black teas, followed by red, green, and white teas. The water for green and white teas should not be boiled! Either turn off the water before it boils, or let boiled water sit for several minutes until it cools sufficiently.

Tea bags are never as flavorful as loose leaf teas, for several reasons. Tea bags often contain fannings, which are smaller particles of tea that are often swept from full tea leaves. Loose leaf teas consist of the actual leaves, sorted depending on the grade of tea. Tea looses its flavor when exposed to air, so it is best stored in an airtight container. This is another reason that tea bags are less flavorful–air seeps into the box and gets to the tea. The bags themselves can introduce odd flavors to the tea when steeped. Tea bags are quite tiny, which doesn’t allow enough water to come in contact with the leaves inside–thus less flavor is infused by the leaves.

If you aren’t ready to make the leap to loose-leaf tea, pay attention when choosing bagged tea so that you can brew a better cup. Try your best to sample the tea before you purchase an entire box, or at least smell the box to get an idea of how the flavor might suit you. Look for tea bags that boast to contain whole tea leaves, and tea bags made of meshed fabric instead of paper. Also, look for large bags–pyramid is a popular shape–so that the tea inside has plenty of room to expand and add it’s flavor to the water.

Although I am certainly no tea expert, I love tea and am always hoping to convert others to my obsession! I don’t think I could resist writing more on it in the future.