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
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
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
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.
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
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 XOXOShare
If you have ever tasted the exquisite tea called Oriental Beauty, or Bai Hao, you will understand when I tell you that you want to know that bugs have fed on your tea. Renowned for its bouquet and complexity of taste, this Oolong tea comes from Taiwan. One of the few teas which is harvested at its highest quality during the summer months, the production of Oriental Beauty cannot begin until the appearance of the leaf hoppers which start to nibble on the leaves while still on the plant. This nibbling starts some oxidation of the leaves prior to plucking, which contributes to the variation in enzymatic action of the finished leaf and the complex flavor profile that it produces.
(In the photo above, the leaf hopper is the light green elongated speck on the darker green leaf at the back of the picture.)
Our newest Oolong Tea is from a different cultivar than traditional Oriental Beauty, but it too comes from Taiwan and has benefited from the nibbling of the leaf hopper. From the village of FengHuan in the Nantou region of Taiwan, our tea represents a tribute upon her recent death, to the Grandmother of the founder of Mountain Tea, the Farm from which we purchased this tea at auction. The tea gardens of this area were abandoned after a 7.6 magnitude earthquake in 1999 affected the area, killing thousands, injuring tens of thousands, and leaving more than a hundred thousand homeless. The plants were left to grow wild for a number of years until the farmers returned and started to redevelop them.
This crop of tea pays homage to the grandmother and others affected by the earthquake. As the founder of Mountain Tea stated “It is a declaration that even in the darkest hours we can rise and overcome”. We were pleased to participate in this first on-line auction direct from the tea farmers, and are proud to offer you this exquisitely crafted tea.
To those of us in the the tea world, spring means a new crop of tea. Just about now, early crops are being plucked and processed throughout Asian tea fields, and the coming months will be busy with further processing, auctioning, packing, and shipping. In this part of the world, we will be eagerly awaiting the availability of new teas for sampling and ordering, excited to share them with you, our customers. In the photo below, you are seeing freshly plucked tea leaves which I helped to pick on our Tea Tour to China in 2007. The step seen here is a brief withering on a woven grass tray prior to being pan fired to make green tea. That experience is one of the most treasured memories I have, right up there with my feelings for and experiences with family, my husband, children and grandchildren, dear friends. It has to do with seeing a fresh leaf plucked, but then used in the same way it has been used for thousands of years to convert into a delicious beverage enjoyed by people the world over. Just knowing that across the world, all sorts of new beginnings are occuring should bring us all closer together; perhaps the politicians of the world need to give this some thought.
As our own gardens begin to put forth new shoots, peeking up out of old dried leaves and brown soil, or budding on bare branches of shrubs and trees, one can’t help but feel the thrill of new life. Greens seem greener, colors more vibrant, and that wonderful scent of moist bare soil fills the air.
Before we know it new graduates will be looking ahead to the next chapter in their young lives, young winter/spring puppies and babies will be out toddling about, kids on training wheels will be trying their balance, going from wobble to steady on the sidewalks. I often think this is the time of year for new resolutions; what about you? Welcome to Spring!Share
January 2013 has provided me personally with some great reminders of the link between tea, the greatness of our American Patriots, and the legacy they left us in the freedoms we enjoy on our home soil. Here at Nellie’s, since there are only my one part-time employee and me, rather than holding a company Christmas party, we go off on some sort of adventure after the holiday season is over. This year, we decided to travel to Boston on the DownEaster and visit the new Boston Tea Party Museum and Ships. Arriving on the waterfront via the T, the museum and ships were a lovely site to take in as we approached.
Greeted by the museum staff, dressed in period costumes and speaking completely in character, we continued to enjoy the hour long museum tour and re-enactment of the night of December 16, 1773. This museum is not at all stuffy, the staff are engaging and dedicated to their roles, and the tour is extremely interactive, even to the point of our participation in throwing chests of tea overboard!
After our tour we enjoyed a cup of tea in Abigail’s Tea Room (that’s Abigail Adams, of course!) A trip here is highly recommended and would be great for children. The events of that crucial period in the history of our great country are really driven home as we experience some of the passion, anger, and risks these patriots endured for our future freedom.
All of this was driven home even more last week while watching the inaugural activities on TV. Although I was visiting family in the DC area at the time of the festivities, I participated only via the big screen. But as I watched, I was truly struck by the legacy of the Patriots of so long ago, and the fact that we still are the nation with the most personal freedoms in the world, that our leaders are elected by the citizens of this country, guaranteed the right to vote through a secret ballot protected under law, and that despite our problems and disagreements, we continue to be the greatest country in the world. I have always been convinced that if our country’s leaders and world leaders met over cups of tea rather than highly caffeinated coffee or inebriating wine or spirits, more would be accomplished, agreements could be reached more quickly, and the world would be a much more civil place. So, in celebration of our newly elected president, our great Patriots both past and present, and the unmatched freedoms which are ours, I raise my teacup to continuing the full circle of tea in our history.Share
As I settled in to sleep last night after a busy day, it suddenly struck me that the day which had been in my thoughts becuse it was coming up soon and we should be sure to mark it in some way…was here! December 5th marks the 9 year anniversary of the opening of Nellie’s Tea & Gifts. Nine years ago, after returning from a long weekend, intensive “Tea School” in Connecticut held in early November, I contacted the two young women who owned Pot de Fleur in Biddeford and asked if they were still interested in having me join them in their shop. Tea School was organized and run by Pearl Dexter of TEA, A Magazine and John Harney, founder of Harney & Sons Fine Teas. From these two icons of the modern day Specialty Tea industry, my classmates and I learned the basics of Specialty Tea as well as starting and operating a tea related business. I came home so enthused that I quickly pursued my budding plan of joining in an already established shop, since I knew I wouldn’t be leaving my day job just yet, by contacting Kelly Decker and Erin Donovan, two of the most creative and talented young women I’ve ever met. I became the weekend shop keeper in exchange for a very low rent and the chance to start my tea dream with baby steps. Our location at 265 Maine Street in Biddeford was in a architecturally gorgeous space with lots of windows and light, but very little heat or other amenities. We didn’t care.
My original space was a corner of one room in the larger shop in which I displayed my wares on a counter I brought in, some built-in shelves, and a lovely window space on the rounded corner of the building. Over time I gradually added more space and more hours, other co-tenants came and went, and I became more knowledgeable and confident about my abilities to be a business owner. Please enjoy the photos shared below as Nellie’s has grown and evolved over the last nine years. It could not have happened without you, and we are so grateful for your support and business.