Jan 25 2013

Patriots and THE Tea Party?

mariannerusso

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.

 

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Dec 6 2012

Happy Birthday to Us!

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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. 

 

Enjoy these pictures of my window at 265 Main St, the back room of our shop, ready for a Red Hatters group, and some of our artists during a Biddeford Art Walk. More to come.

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Apr 16 2012

What is the Japanese Tea Ceremony?

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Continuing our celebration of Japanese Culture for the month of April, the Japanese Tea Ceremony, or Chado (translated, The Way of Tea), perhaps epitomizes the collectively precise, demure, and gracious core of Japanese culture. Based in centuries old tradition and history, the ceremony today is studied at length in various schools which have evolved and been passed down from Tea Masters of centuries ago. Those who study Chado commit to months and years of tutelage and practice under the direction of a Tea Master, enduring hours of learning to sit on mats in kneeling position, rising from the floor and kneeling again, and performing the elements of the ceremony in a graceful, gracious, and welcoming manner.  Months are devoted to learning the names of the tools used during the ceremony, arranging the space in a just so manner after carefully choosing the simple decor, learning to prepare and present the very special Matcha tea along with the traditional sweets that are served with it. The steps of the ceremony are as a carefully choreographed dance or tightly directed stage presentation. In our more casual lifestyle of the 21st century, slowing down to partake of this lovely traditional enjoyment is like taking a weekend vacation to a quiet mountain lake from which one returns refreshed, calmed, and reminded of all the reasons it is so important to occasionally slow down the hectic pace of our lives.

As an invited guest, there are expectations for us when we attend the ceremony, sort of like Emily Post lessons of etiquette. As we arrive at the tea house, we are first struck by the quiet clam of the surroundings outside the tea house. As we leave the noise and bustle of our everyday lives, we stop to notice the quiet trickle of water nearby and the whisper of wind through the pines. Further along we admire the stone basin, perhaps well aged by its moss cover, where we stop to wash our hands, and all the flora surrounding our walkway. As the stone path brings us to the entrance of the tea house and room, we remove our shoes and enter to quietly admire the carefully chosen scroll placed just so, and the simple, seasonal flower arrangement carefully chosen for the day. Our thought and conversation turn only to the here and now, leaving all worries and frustrations at home. Here we are focused only on the present, the graciousness of our host, and the delicious traditional sweets and tea which we are served. Lovely tea bowls have been chosen especially for our enjoyment on this day at this time, and our thoughts and comments turn to the artistic soul which crafted and decorated our beautiful bowl, to the bright green deliciousness of our sips of foamy tea, and to the delightful intent of such an invitation from our gracious host. Although it is expected that guests will know how to behave, just as  civilized Western society is expected to know the rules of Emily Post or Amy Vanderbilt etiquette, the role of the host is to honor the guest by making the tea service as pleasant and comfortable as possible. As we leave the tea room and return to our usual life, we can carry with us the feelings of being in the moment and one with our surroundings. Chado…The Way of Tea.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Dec 10 2011

Winter is Spring?…Inside

mariannerusso

Despite warmer than usual temperatures, the first day of winter is fast approaching and the holiday season is upon us. But I’ve recently noticed that inside, things are budding and blooming. At the shop, my Camellia Sinensis (tea plant) has finally opened it’s delicately fragrant, single blossom. And at home, both the Peace Plant and the Christmas Cactus are blooming. My amaryllis is not flowering yet, but I expect that it soon will push up its bud. This will be very exciting when the snow hits the ground. There may be nothing more homey than being surrounded by fragrant blossoms, drinking a cup of my favorite tea, with the cold wind and snow blowing outside. We hope you’ll join us often in the coming weeks and months of winter to warm your hands and your hearts with tea.
In the coming week

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Apr 1 2011

Congratulations to Ajiri Tea!!

mariannerusso

Our friends at Ajiri Tea received the First Place Award in the recent 2011 North American Tea Championship in the category of Black Tea. The teas were judged on the following criteria: dry leaf, brewed color, brewed aroma, brewed flavor, brewed mouth-feel, and brewed harmony. With the addition of this honor to their Award for Best New Product in the packaging category at last year’s World Tea Expo, Ajiri is proud to demonstrate the care and dedication of their Kenyan tea farmers in producing an exceptional product. As you will remember, the goal of Ajiri Tea Co. is to employ women in western Kenya and to educate orphans in their communities. Please join us in congratulating this young company in their great success, and wish them continued growth in the fulfillment of their mission.

If you’re looking for a bold, robust black tea, stop in and taste Ajiri’s award winning tea. I think you’ll be very impressed.

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Nov 4 2010

So, Where are we exactly????

mariannerusso

I always try to forewarn people who are coming to the shop that we are in an unusual spot for a tea shop. We are located, in fact, in an industrial park…within my plumbing and heating professional’s building. He’s a wonderful landlord, and we have working heat and air conditioning here. After being previously located in a beautiful old Victorian era building with character oozing from the walls and beautiful natural lighting…but with poor heating and cooling mechanisms, I’ve decided this is very important. Tea needs to be kept in comfortable, dry environments, as do people. Customers and employees will not be enjoying themselves if they’re freezing, roasting, or having to wipe sweat off their brow. So…I took a chance by renting this space. I figured in China and other parts of Asia, many of the best teas are found in little out of the way holes- in- the -wall. If it can work there, maybe it can work here. Our goal is to offer the finest teas we can at a fair price. It is also to educate and inform our customers. We’ve chosen to put our monetary gains into high quality teas, educating ourselves, and keeping up to date on all things tea, by particpating continuously in our professional organizations and classes, rather than locating in a high rent district. We’re grateful to our customers who go out of their way to find us, spread the word to their friends, and then keep returning. Our location is actually quite convenient to major highways, the Maine Turnpike, and Route #1.

Once you’re inside our space, you won’t realize you’re in an industrial park. The space is filled with wonderful teas: black tea, green tea, Oolong tea, and herbal tisanes, as well as “all things loosely related” to tea! We carry unique gifts and jewelry which anyone, tea lover or not would love to own. Our selection of books includes the Tea Shop Mystery Series as well as children’s books, books about tea in general, and lots of recipes. Many of the books have beautiful photography. I promise you that you will not find such a large selection of tea goodies anywhere else in the state of Maine.

 

We want you to be satisfied with your tea purchases, so we encourage you to taste before you buy. We can help you sort out what teas you have or haven’t liked in the past, whether you’re looking for a straight tea, a flavored tea, or a blended tea. Or we can introduce you to a totally new taste.

If you’re totally new to tea, or if you’d like in-depth knowledge about a particular type of tea, we encourage you to take one of our classes. It’s always fun to learn with others who share an interest.

And, if you just need a quiet respite away from the daily bustle, you’re welcome to visit and sit at our small table to enjoy being served tea and something light to go with it, all on your own or with a friend. So, thanks for taking a chance and stopping by. We look forward to serving you.

Tea is ready!

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Jun 17 2010

World Tea Expo: Always an exciting and motivating experience!

mariannerusso

Just returned from the annual three day World Tea Expo in Las Vegas, the premier conference for people in the Specialty Tea industry. Although a bit smaller in the past few years, reflecting the economy, I always come away with fresh ideas, new knowledge, and ideas for new products. This year is no exception. When jet lag has dissipated a bit more I will fill you in with a more complete report. For now, I encourage you to visit the shop in the next few weeks as new merchandise arrives. Some of the highlights include tea from Ajiri Tea, a new company importing black tea from Kenya with a heartwarming story behind it; new electric kettles with programmable temperature settings so you can steep your green teas, oolongs, and blacks at the perfect temperature, and tea infused chocolates. Also check out the new selections of the Emma Lea children’s books which chronicle Emma Lea’s experiences having tea with family, friends, and including the new Emma Lea cook book.

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Mar 18 2010

Tea for You?

mariannerusso

Lots of people are interested in tea because they’ve read that it’s good for them. But they tell me they just don’t like tea. Sometimes they associate it with being sick because that’s when they were given it as children. Others tell me it makes them nauseous or gives them a burning sensation in their stomach. Or they’ve tried green tea because that’s what the majority of the health related research has been on, and I’m told the tea was so bitter. So, is there a tea for everyone? I believe there is. With such a huge range of tea, from white to green to oolong to black, and then any flavor or other botanical can be blended or  added to any of those, you can find something that you like. The various teas in and of themselves have a huge range of flavors, and they are best enhanced by learning to choose them carefully and prepare them properly. tea-anyone.gif

The most critical aspects of making a good cup or pot of tea include:

1. Select a high quality tea. High quality tea is the most affordable luxury. Most teas can be made several times over using the same tea leaves, and with each infusion you can often taste a different aspect of that particular tea. 

2. Use fresh water with a good taste…bad tasting water will make bad tasting tea.

3. Measure the proper amount of tea leaf; usually one teaspoon per 6-8 ounces of water. Then adjust to taste. 

4. Use water at the correct temperature. Black teas require water at boiling, but green teas require water that has been allowed to cool for a minute or so after boiling

5. Steep the recommended amount of time… and then remove the leaves from the tea! Otherwise you will end up with a bitter, undrinkable brew.

It’s always good if you can taste some teas before you buy them, or if you can buy in small quantities to start.

So…don’t be afraid to explore the wonderful world of tea. I look forward to helping you!

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Aug 8 2009

Week of August 10th Business Hours and More

mariannerusso

Things at Nellie’s are beginning to get settled and a rhythm is developing. I’ve missed this rhythm since leaving our old space in Biddeford last October, so it feels nice to settle back in.
Based on the patterns of the past couple of weeks, and looking toward my return to USM in the next few weeks, I’ve made some changes to this weeks schedule of hours. Here they are:

Monday and Tuesday: Closed
Wednesday through Friday: 10 AM to 5 PM
Saturday: by chance or appointment
Sunday: Meet me at The Scarborough Farmer’s Market, 9 AM to 12 Noon, behind Town Hall from Route #1 just south of the Oak Hill intersection.

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Feb 23 2009

Day Two in San Francisco

Marianne

On my second day in S.F. my personalized tour continued. My friend Wendy McPhee, of Longevite Tea, picked me up in the morning and we proceeded to enjoy tea at three very different tea establishments.

First stop was Imperial Tea Court in the Ferry Building. Owned by long time tea guru, Roy Fong, this reminded me of the tea houses in China. Dark wooden tables and chairs in a quiet atmosphere of good tea and accompaniments. We shared an order of dumplings to tide us over which were superb. The tea service was gaiwan style, the waiter quite knowledgeable and thorough in his explanations. Browsing the assortment of teas and accoutrements before we moved on made me want to return to this interesting shop later in my stay.

After touring a bit of San Francisco, we headed to the Mission District for our 2 o’clock reservation at Lovejoy’s Tea Room .

me-and-wendy-at-imperial-tea-court.JPGThis was traditional afternoon tea, Scottish style. The tea room is an eclectic jumble of western style tables covered with linens, with a mix and match assortment of china and place settings, three tiered servers, tea pots, and accoutrements. Lace curtains swept to the sides of the windows. British sideboards were filled with tea wares and gift items for sale. The room was filled with parties of one, two, or large celebrations. We shared the three tiered tea service which included finger sandwiches, salad greens, scones, and cookies. Our own pots of tea were hot and well prepared. The server was cheerful and friendly. All together a lovely, pleasant respite for the late afternoon chat, followed by a browse of Lovejoy’s Gift Shop located in a separate building across the street.

Our third tea adventure took us across the Bay Bridge to Berkely. Our destination here was  the tea shop and tea bar Teance. This contemporary space is a study in serenity and art. A carefully planned and designed establishment, located in a very busy shopping strip, one is greeted upon entering by the calming water feature just inside the entrance with a small garden statue, trickling water and gold fish swimming in the large ceramic pot.

The walls are lined with open shelves filled with an array of fine teas, teapots, pitchers, trays, cups, scoops, and all manner of other fine wares. At the back of the shop is the bar where one sits and for $5.00 can have a gaiwan serving of any tea on the menu.This includes many re-infusions of the leaves for as long as they hold their flavor, which can be through 5 or more infusions. The bar itself is a tea lovers dream. Designed of pigmented and formed cement with a metal grid, it allows spilled water or tea to drip through to the built in drains. Our tea server was extremely professional, knowledgeable, and efficient. I enjoyed a superb 15 year old Pu-ehr which was vey smooth, bright, and still going strong after 5 infusions. The other teas I saw people enjoying appeared equally well prepared and of the finest quality. 15 year old Pu-ehr Cloud and Mist, Gaiwan Style

This was another perfect day in San Francisco, thanks to good friends, the smile of the good weather spirit, and a beautiful city!

Next up, the Tea Class!

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