Sep 20 2014

We’re starting a Book Group!

mariannerusso

While I was attending the World Tea Expo in June, I happened to be sitting in a small lounge area between classes and struck up a conversation with a woman seated near me. You could have blown me over with a feather when I realized I was talking with Lisa See, the author of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, and so many other wonderful, best selling novels, including her recently released China Dolls. She is one of my all time favorite authors, so for me it really was meeting a celebrity. I asked what brought her to the Tea Expo and she explained that she had recently returned from visiting the tea growing regions of Yunnan Province in China, where she was researching her next novel, which will revolve around the tea cultures of China. When I asked how she came to focus on primarily Chinese stories in her novels, as to look at her you might think she is of Irish descent, she explained that in her family a handful of relatives look like her, but she has hundreds of relatives who are easily identified as Asian.

Anyhow, this thrilling encounter led me to follow Lisa on Facebook and she recently posted that she would be happy to SKYPE with any book groups discussing China Dolls. This in turn has led me to decide to start a book group here at Nellie’s. I have a few books in mind that I’ve recently stumbled across that have a story line focusing on tea cultures, so I thought people might be interested in including those in our book list. But the group will have the final decisions.

Our Inaugural Meeting will take place Monday October 20th at 6:00 PM here at our shop. Please RSVP marianne@nelliestea.com or 207-761-8041 so we have plenty of chairs in place. Complimentary beverages will be served. For those who are hungry, a Soup and Scone Special will be available for purchase, but there is no obligation.

Share

Jul 23 2014

Iced Tea Season is Here

mariannerusso

This has certainly been a summer for iced tea. One of our favorites is Moroccan Mint, a blend of Gunpowder Green Tea with Mint. It’s beautiful to look at and the flavor is invigorating and refreshing. Recently we had a visit from Sandra Harris of the local radio station 94.9 WHOM. She was doing a piece on iced tea for the station blog and asked us to share some tips with her. You can check it out here at http://www.949whom.com/local-tea-expert-takes-mystery-out-of-iced-tea-preparation/

I hope you’re finding some creative ways to stay cool. Cheers!

A few of our favorites

Share

Apr 30 2014

Spring! The Perfect Tea Time…

mariannerusso

For the past several years it has been our pleasure to help volunteers from the Victoria Mansion in Portland put on their annual Victoria Mansion Doll Tea. This is a fundraiser for the mansion, a gorgeous Victorian home in the heart of Portland which is maintained through the generous donations of its benefactors along with proceeds from tours of the mansion and sales from its gift shop. The mansion also offers educational and entertainment programs for both children and adults, ranging from Stories on the Stairs to Opera at the Mansion, and so many other events. I look forward to the Doll Tea every year. The decorations and prizes made by the volunteers and given to every guest are delightful and simply amazing. The appearance of the children arriving dressed in their favorite fancy clothes, carrying their favorite doll or other Lovey, accompanied by their adults warms my heart every time. The looks of awe on the faces of the children as they take in the gorgeous setting is so much fun to watch. And it never ceases to amaze me that behavior is always best at this event. There is something about a tea party that brings that out in each of us, young or old(er).    

I am especially excited this year because my just-turned-6 year old grandaughter will attend for the first time. I can’t wait to see the look on her face when she experiences the decorations, the food, all the other children, the door prizes, and the dancers from Portland School  of Ballet. While I’ll be occupied with making sure the teapots are kept filled and flowing, I can’t wait to keep peeking at her to see what her reactions will be. Stay tuned for a follow-up report after the Doll Tea.

Share

Mar 23 2014

Congratulations to John Harney & Sons!

mariannerusso

John Harney, founder of Harney & Sons Fine Teas, started his tea company 30 years ago from a basement room in the White Hart Inn in Salisbury, CT where he was the owner/Inn Keeper. It was at the same inn 10 years ago that I first met him when I attended my first tea education event. A Tea Tutorial presented by Pearl Dexter, founder and Editor of TEA, A Magazine was an intensive long weekend course with 5 of us in attendance,  focused on how to go about having a tea related business. Mr. Harney was a guest presenter at the Seminar, charming us all with his Irish wit and friendliness. The following day we had a lovely tour of the Harney tea shop and the factory in the nearby town of Millerton, NY, all under the personal attention of John Harney. It was following that weekend that I returned home and took a leap forward in opening my very small business.

Celebrating 30 years of continued growth and achievement, it is easy to see why this company has been so successful. Through hard work, extraordinary vision, continuous development of new products, and outstanding customer relations, they have not lost sight of the most important ingredient ~ sourcing the finest teas, taking great pains in developing their specialty blends, and producing a consistent product every time.

So, 30 years later, not only are the Harney sons and daughter-in-law  involved in the business, but the young adult grandsons are as well, leading to their newest establishment in NYC where they opened a tea cafe and shop several years ago now.

I look forward to many years of continuing to see them grow and prosper, and I wish them a hearty congratulations on their first 30 years of success!

Share

Feb 19 2014

Winter Doldrums?

mariannerusso

If you’re like me, I’m getting pretty tired of dealing with snow: shoveling snow,  having to change plans because of snow, allowing extra time for everything I do because of the need to clean cars, drive more slowly, and watch for falling snow clumps! Now, I’ve lived my entire life in snow country, and I’ve actually always enjoyed it. Sledding parties and ice skating parties were always fun ways to entertain a group of kids of all ages. I took up skiing late in life, so never got off the intermediate slopes, but enjoyed it as a reason to be outdoors enjoying the beauty of snow country. But this year?…it seems a little tougher to keep a positive outlook. So, what are some ways to liven things up? Certainly, this is where tea can be a tremendous boost. A warming cup is so welcomed after coming in out of the cold. And there’s nothing more delightful than watching the flakes float through the air while inhaling the subtle aroma of a well made cup of fine tea.  Or how about a little walk across the neighborhood followed by a cuppa tea and a scone with a friend? Or go all out and celebrate winter with an all out tea party! Rinse off those beautiful teacups of Aunt Mabel’s that you’re saving for…what is it you’re saving them for? Invite four, or six, or eight friends in. Make some goodies in little bite sized portions and serve them on pretty platters while you and your friends catch up on family, friends, recent trips, the latest episode of Downton Abby or The Bachelor! I guarantee that this will make life seem a bit brighter, some time will have passed, and we’ll be that much closer to Spring!

Share

Jan 31 2014

Welcome Tea Across America Tea Plant

mariannerusso

We recently received the newest member of our staff here at Nellie’s. CaMEllia TeaMEllia is a true tea plant (AKA Camellia Sinensis, Sinensis), the plant from which all true tea comes, whether it is green tea, oolong tea, black tea, Puehr tea, or white tea. As part of the Tea Across America Campaign, two tea producers, FiLoLi Tea Farm and Tealet, have supplied one tea plant to someone in each of the 50 states that make up the U.S.A.  to highlight that tea can be, and is being grown in the United States. Still in early stages of development, we think the potential is there to be able to receive high quality, domestically grown tea in the future here in the USA.

Meanwhile, here at Nellie’s we will be nurturing our newest addition to protect it from our frigid Maine winter, and will use CaMEllia to help us educate and spread the LOVE of  TEA! So stop in soon to enjoy a cup of tea and have a chat with CaMEllia TeaMEllia!

Share

Dec 23 2013

Celebrating 10 Years in Business!

mariannerusso

Some of you will remember the scene depicted here as the window in the space where Nellie’s was located when we were at 265 Main Street in Biddeford. We joined Kelly Decker and Erin Donovan in their beautiful and creative shop, Pot de Fleur, on December 5, 2003. That beautiful Victorian building with its soaring tin ceilings, mellow and worn wood floors, gorgeous architectural moldings, wonderful natural light, and uplifting feel also housed old and noisy steam heat radiators, inadequate plumbing and electrical fixtures, and freezing temperatures in winter coupled with melting heat in summer. Happily, the building has a new life now under the ownership of David Flood and Caleb Johnson who have done extensive renovations and modernizing to the building while preserving the beautiful architecture. If only the trip to Biddeford from my home in Scarborough allowed me to make it in a shorter time, I would be so happy to be back in this space.  But now onto our new chapters. Stay tuned as we review our first 10 years over the next few weeks.

Share

Nov 13 2013

Tea Primer, Part 2: Green Tea

mariannerusso

Green teas are relatively new to the palate of the western world, but in most parts of Asia they are often the tea enjoyed daily. Much of the research done on human health benefits of tea has been done using green tea, therefore more Americans have begun trying to drink it because of the press regarding its health benefits.

The process of making green tea goes like this: The tea is plucked, withered for only a very short time, and then heated to put a halt to oxidation of its enzymes. Often during the heating period the leaf is also shaped by pressing it against the sides of a wok or box, twisted, or rolled. In China, green tea is usually heated by pan firing or in an oven, whereas in Japan the tea is usually heated by steaming. These differing methods are partially responsible for the differences in shades of green that the finished tea exhibits, as well as differences in flavor and aroma. Other countries producing green tea include Korea, Thailand, and more recently India and Kenya, as well as others where experimentation is taking place.

Some of the most famous green teas include China’s Lung Ching (aka Dragon Well) of the West Lake area in Zhejiang province. Here the two leaves and a bud plucked from the plants are flattened against the sides of heated woks by hand to give the tea its characteristic appearance of smooth, flat, spearlike leaf shape which brews to a pale yellow liquor with aromas and flavors of bok choy and toasted walnut.

Another China Green tea is Gunpowder Green, probably the first green tea exported to the colonies. A sturdy, heartier green tea, it held up well in its long sailboat journey from China to Great Britain, and then on to the colonies. This tea gets its name from the rolled shape of it and the dark grey/green color which resembles the pellets once used by soldiers as musket shots. With a liquor ranging in color from bright yellow to green, its flavor and aroma is slightly vegetal and charred, reminsicent perhaps  of grilled leeks.

A classic addition to green tea in China is the infusion of the scent of flowers into the tea leaves. For centuries the Chinese have scented teas with flowers such as rose petals, osmanthus flowers, and Jasmine flowers. In the highest quality of Jasmine Pearl tea, high quality green tea with many tips, or buds, is plucked, dried, and stored in early spring. When the Jasmine flowers bloom, around June, they are rushed to the tea factory. There, the tea leaves are humidified to make them pliable, allowing the factory workers to roll the leaves into small neat pearls. The pearled leaves are spread out on permeable trays which are slid into racks, alternating with trays of fresh jasmine blossoms. The racks are stored in a small enclosed space for several days, with fresh blossoms changed out each day, until the desired fragrance is achieved. Enjoying a cup of this high grade Jasmine tea is a heavenly experience, and quite different from more cheaply made Jasmine teas where artificial flavoring is used.

 

In contrast, Japanese green teas are grown almost exclusively from the same cultivar, and are steamed to stop oxidation of the leaves. The Japanese cultivar is known for its “umami”, or “mouth feel” which differs from Chinese greens. And the practice of shading the tea plants for a period of time prior to harvest accounts for the vivid, bright green color of Japanese teas such as Gyokuro and Matcha as well as a smoother, more mellow and less astringent flavor than say, the sun-grown Sencha green tea which is the Japanese daily green.

These are only a handful of the varieties of green tea available. The best way to explore the differing styles, tastes, and nuances, is to taste a series of green teas with the goal of comparing and contrasting.

Next time…we’ll look at Oolong teas.

 

Share

Oct 16 2013

Tea Primer Revisited: Overview

mariannerusso

I’m often asked how a particular tea is made; for instance does green tea come from a different plant than black tea? What makes one tea different from another? So it seemed time to review the basics of tea. For starters, all true tea comes from the same type of plant, Camellia Sinensis – Sinensis or Camellia Sinensis – Assamica. The Sinensis plant is native to China and the Assamica plant is larger leafed and native to India. Although there are thousands of cultivars of these species, in the same way there are thousands of rose cultivars, just as a rose is a rose is a rose, so is tea, a tea, a tea…

Anything infused from a different plant, such as mint, Rooibos, chamomile, or fruit, is technically not tea but rather is an herbal infusion or tisane.

So, back to tea. The tea plant is a distant relative of the Camellia which grows so prolifically in our Southern states and whose flowers have such a sweet scent. The specific cultivar used might make a better green, black, white or oolong tea, but in general, any of the cultivars could be used to make any type of tea. The difference is in the process the leaf undergoes after it is harvested. For instance, if the leaf is plucked and very shortly heated and dried, it will be green tea because the leaf has not undergone any oxidation. On the other hand, if the leaf is plucked, bruised a bit and allowed to sit and fully oxidize before it is heated and dried, it will become black tea.

Tea is native to China and was first discovered 5,000 years ago. Throughout history it has sometimes been used medicinally, sometimes eaten as a vegetable, and has been at the core of wars, mystery, and intrigue. And yet this humble leaf when infused and ingested promotes such clarity and peace of mind, that I am quite sure those who planned and waged wars over tea were imbibing in quite another beverage. Below you can see freshly plucked leaves in the first step of becoming a fine tea. Stay tuned for the next issue of a Tea Primer. We’d also love to have you join one of our classes.

Share

Sep 4 2013

Tea, Comfort, and Family…Miscellaneous Musings

mariannerusso

I’m heartbroken by the recent loss of my Big Brother. Of course, we both were well into the last half of our adulthood, but he’ll always be my Big Brother, all the same. We were only siblings, and divided by 5 years, so we didn’t really grow up running in the same circles. I was the pesky little sister, always wanting to tag along where I wasn’t wanted; as a teen I had a Big Crush on several of his older friends. But NO WAY was he going to let THAT go anywhere!While he definitely could view me as a pest, he was very protective.

Bill didn’t really like tea that much, except near the end of his life. But we both came from tea, so he understood my passion and fascination with it, in part because it was so entwined in our family life. Our Father and his family came to America from England, so tea was the beverage of choice growing up. For us it was a little tea with some sugar and lots of milk; for the adults tea with milk and sugar. Our mom, who grew up in the warmer climates of the Mid-Atlantic, contributed iced tea to the family table.

Both our Father and his Father worked for the A&P Supermarkets all their adult lives; during those times, it really was The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company! Bill’s first formal job the summer after he graduated High School was as a stock boy at the A&P, something he reminisced about during his final days. One of my proudest memories from my childhood was being old enough to be allowed to help Kathleen, the coffee lady, grind the coffee in the store; that smell has never left my nostrils, sometimes making it hard for me properly evaluate teas. So you see, we really were “Steeped in Tea”.

In recent years whenever Bill visited us, he was always willing to help me at Nellie’s in any way he could. One year we had him folding linen napkins and tying narrow ribbons around them in preparation  for a Spring Tea by the Sea at The Breakers. He had a great sense of humor and would often make fun of holding out his pinky as he drank his tea. He was a successful corporate businessman and was always trying to give me advice about how to proceed with Nellie’s; thing was he was used to a much bigger budget than mine!

Tea is a comfort food for me, and so recently as I think about my brother and our family, I revert to that English style black tea with milk and sugar. Granted, my palate is a little more sophisticated now, so Red Rose and Lipton don’t quite cut it, but English tea it is. I’ll continue to try to live up to the standards of my Big Brother; he was a great brother, son, father, and a good friend to so many who have come forward to tell their stories of him and how he treated people. Love you Bill. Here’s a tea to you XOXO 

Share