Dec 9 2014

A Cup of Christmas Tea for Aunt Jean

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Aunt Jean in Spring

Aunt Jean in Spring 2011?

Last month I traveled to Maryland to visit my hospitalized 99 year old aunt. Aunt Jean was always a favorite of mine and my brother’s (don’t tell the others!). She was always feisty, interested in everything that was going on, passionate about politics, loved being outdoors, and caring for her animals. Aunt Jean hated wearing a bra long before it was a feminist statement; the first thing she would do when she got home from work at her office job was to take off her bra. She and my uncle never had children, so they raised their property full of beautiful plants and their many animals with the same love and passion they would have for children. As she aged, she stubbornly insisted on remaining in her home despite the concerns of all those who cared about her.

Last week Aunt Jean died. Although she didn’t make it to her goal of living to be 100, she came darn close. In recent years a visit to her would find her sitting at her spot at the table with a cup of tea in front of her. As I’ve been juggling preparing for the holidays, taking care of her affairs, and preparing for her funeral service, my mind keeps going to one of my favorite poems/ books, especially at this time of year. A Cup of Christmas Tea, by Tom Hegg, followed by his second book, A Memory of Christmas Tea, are  appropriate tributes to Aunt Jean, and a wonderful reminder to all of us to make time for those in our lives who are important to us.  I hope you will join me in A Cup of Christmas Tea in honor of my Aunt Jean. Give everyone up there my love Aunt Jean, and God Bless!

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Nov 4 2014

Great Tea Parties of the Past and Present

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The celebration of tea takes place in many cultures of the world, and within each culture there are customs and rituals associated with taking tea. In Eastern cultures China, home to the tea plant, has been using tea as medicine and later as a source of entertainment and hospitality for almost 5,000  years.

In Japan, the Japanese Tea Ceremony,  Cha Do, or Way of Tea is surrounded by a philosophy  of the uniqueness of each moment linking host and guest, balance between the refined and nature, and peacefulness through a bowl of tea.

Japanese Tea Ceremony, Chado

Tea was introduced to Japan along with Zen Buddhism in the 13th century by the monk Eisai, who brought tea seed back to Japan with him from China. The tea ceremony as known today grew out of the Zen Buddhist culture of Japan in the 16th century.

Antique tea caddy for storing the precious leaf

Tea appeared in Western Europe in 1610 when the Dutch began shipping tea home along with other desirable goods such as silk, spices, lacquer objects, and porcelain. Its use spread to other countries of Europe and to the New World, everywhere welcomed as a delicious and fashionable beverage. In Britain it was popularized when, in 1662, Charles II wed Princess Catherine of Braganza of Portugal who was an avid tea drinker. This led to the popularization of social traditions and, eventually “tea time” for British ladies. Those who traveled to the New World brought with them their love of tea and embraced the customs and traditions of their homeland.

Today, tea is enjoyed in the style of many cultures of the world, but also in a more contemporary, casual style, either in the company of friends or as a meditation, alone and contemplative. In any style, enjoy

Tea pots of all styles.

Formal Tea Service

the civility, the aroma and beauty of the leaf, and the many benefits of partaking of such a delightful beverage.

 

 

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Sep 20 2014

We’re starting a Book Group!

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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.

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Jul 23 2014

Iced Tea Season is Here

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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

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Apr 30 2014

Spring! The Perfect Tea Time…

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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.

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Mar 23 2014

Congratulations to John Harney & Sons!

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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!

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Feb 19 2014

Winter Doldrums?

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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!

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Jan 31 2014

Welcome Tea Across America Tea Plant

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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!

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Dec 23 2013

Celebrating 10 Years in Business!

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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.

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Nov 13 2013

Tea Primer, Part 2: Green Tea

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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.

 

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