Thursday 31 December 2009

Intrepid Cake Eaters

Barcomi's Mitte cakesIn Berlin, when the snow lays thickly on the ground, the temperatures are in the minus degrees and the wind whistles down wide streets biting into any part of you that's not wrapped in a military grade parka (a very welcome birthday present from my Mum & Dad), even going out for cake can be a big effort. Sometimes you just want to curl up with a book or a DVD box set and watch the snow through the window.

Monday 28 December 2009

Christmas Gingerbread Cupcakes

Gingerbread cupcake cream cheese frostingI have been going fairly cupcake crazy since my course last month but I've been struggling to find events to bake for. With my family coming for Christmas I had the perfect excuse to bake some Christmas Cupcakes. I had previously made some for Miss O's party that were like little mini Christmas cakes topped with fondant icing and florist paste Holly leaves, as well as some double chocolate ones decorated with stars, but this time I thought I'd try something different.

Sunday 20 December 2009

The Purple Palace

Tea Palace Covent Garden basement I was wondering through Covent Garden, enjoying the Christmassy buzz, recently when I decided to pop into the Tea Palace shop. Before their Westbourne Grove cafe and shop closed down I had a very enjoyable afternoon tea there so was keen to see how the new place compared. I have to admit I was really shocked that the previous place had shut. It was very busy when I went there and whenever I passed it seemed to be fairly packed. The afternoon teas on offer were also pretty pricey so I assumed they were making a packet. But given their decision to close, and subsequently open a retail shop - without a cafe - in the centre of town, I suppose I was wrong.

Thursday 17 December 2009

An Ulterior Motive

Cakes 4 Fun decorated cupcakesIt is a fact that Coffee Boy is an excellent present buyer. He always buys me really great gifts, and I never have to drop any heavy hints. I realise I am very lucky to have such a thoughtful partner but this year I suspect there was a fairly strong ulterior motive to the birthday present he got me: a cupcake making course. I was really pleased that he had not only come up with an original pressie but that he had done his research and found a highly recommended place that offered the course. Having finished my latest project recently I finally got a chance to go along to Cakes 4 Fun in Putney this week.

Sunday 13 December 2009

Review: The Wolsley, Piccadilly

The Wolsley afternoon tea Piccadilly
I've always heard people mention The Wolsley but have never really known what or where it is. I vaguely assumed it was a hotel and had an idea it was on Piccadilly. So it actually came as something of a surprise to discover I have walked past it thousands of times without really noticing it. Far from being a hotel it is actually a former car showroom and bank and only actually opened as a cafe and restaurant in 2003. It says something to its success that it was nestled in my subconscious as a grand old establishment even though it's only recently celebrated its sixth birthday.

Monday 7 December 2009

Mastering Pu-erh

Pu-erh tea leaves wood
I think I have finally cracked Pu-erh tea. I first tried it last year in San Francisco - I realise this sounds somewhat pretentious but it's true! Despite having a rather horrible cold which rapidly turned into sunstroke I walked across half the city in search of the famed Imperial Tea Court in Chinatown. Imagine my joy when I found the address only to discover it had closed down... or more accurately it had moved to the Ferry Building. I was pretty disappointed when I found the new branch as despite being in an attractive building devoted to good food and other lovely things it still felt pretty much a mall inside. I mean, I know malls are practical and all that, but it doesn't compare to being in a fantastically vibrant neighbourhood like Chinatown.

Sunday 29 November 2009

Review: Opernpalais, Mitte


Opernpalais vitrine cake selectionIt may not be trendy but I don't care. Where afternoon tea is concerned I'm quite happy to be a bit of an old fogey. I'm talking about one of my favourite spots for cake in Berlin, Opernpalais on Unter Den Linden. It's actually a restaurant that's open all day but it is, unsurprisingly, the afternoon tea I'm interested in. Of course it's more properly a kaffee und kuchen place but thankfully they have a really good choice of tea - and in truth their kaffee is not that fantastic, even Coffee Boy opts for tea so that gives you some idea...

Wednesday 18 November 2009

Review: Covent Garden Hotel

Covent Garden Hotel afternoon teaA couple of weekends ago, Coffee Boy and I decided to treat ourselves to a posh afternoon tea. The weather had just started to turn and we felt like dressing up and having a pleasant afternoon out - although in truth I don't really need any kind of excuse to go out for tea. It being a last minute decision we had no chance of getting into one of the usual suspects on the afternoon tea circuit, so we opted for the Covent Garden Hotel. Although we hadn't been there before we know a few of its sister hotels and really like their laid-back vibe.

Tuesday 10 November 2009

The Best Tea Shop in London

Postcard Teas Bond StreetI don't know why it's taken so long for me to write this post. I have been visiting this shop for quite a while now but something has stopped me writing it about it. Perhaps in some deep part of my soul I wanted to keep it just for myself; or maybe I was wary of sounding a bit too fawning. Either way, it can't carry on. I cannot write a blog about tea and not talk about the wonderful Postcard Teas.

Friday 6 November 2009

Birthday Tea Bonanza

Tea presentsIt was my birthday a couple of weeks ago. I had started a new job a few days before so I decided not to make it a "big one". Instead I gathered together a couple of my loved ones and headed to Saf Restaurant in Shoreditch. It is an amazing vegan raw food place, which I realise may not sound like the most wonderful thing - but it really was. And not only was the food great but the rather fantastic mixologist behind the bar created a special tea cocktail for me!

Wednesday 28 October 2009

Review: London Review Cake Shop, Bloomsbury

London Review Cake Shop teaWhen I recently visited the Hidden Tea Room one of the great pleasures was talking with other guests about our favourite tea spots. The birthday girl who was one of our number recommended the London Review Cake Shop to me. She told me it was near to her work place and was one of her regular haunts. I mentioned it to my tea buddy Miss O and she confirmed that she had heard great things about their cakes so we decided to meet there and sample their wares for ourselves.

Tuesday 20 October 2009

Come Over to Keemun

Keemun tea leaves mugRegular readers will know that I have never claimed to be a tea expert, just a very keen enthusiast. My tea education is a constant source of pleasure and excitement and a recent discovery is no exception. I love all sorts of tea but if it's first thing in the morning, or I'm having a slice of cake, it has to be black tea. I have a few blends that I really love but if I'm going pure I generally stick to a malty Assam or a refreshing Darjeeling. Indian black teas are where it's always been at for me. If I'm in the mood I do like a Lapsang Souchong but on the whole I've always found black teas from China to be a bit lacking in depth for my taste.

Thursday 15 October 2009

Review: Yumchaa, Soho

Yumchaa Soho afternoon tea
I'm never happier than when I'm having a good cup of tea, except perhaps when I'm having a good cup of tea with a good friend. One of my favourite spots to meet for an unpretentious afternoon tea is Yumchaa in Soho.

Thursday 8 October 2009

Review: Hidden Tea Room, EC1

Cupcakes vanilla chocolate standLast weekend I got a chance to attend a secret tea event. When I read about the Hidden Tea Room in a magazine recently it sounded as if it was designed just for me. An underground tea party hosted by a afternoon tea enthusiast in their own home. I immediately tried to make a reservation only to discover that they were fully booked until December. But last week fortune smiled on me when the hostess Lady Gray emailed to offer me a place thanks to a last minute cancellation. So on Sunday afternoon Coffee Boy and I rocked up to a secret location in EC1 and after giving the password were escorted through labyrinthine halls to a flat high above the hustle and bustle of the outside world.

Sunday 4 October 2009

Don't Be Fooled: This is Tea Hell

Fuertaventura Corralejo beachFirstly, I must apologise for my recent absence. But I have a good excuse. I've been away in what can only be described as tea hell. I was on the Spanish island of Fuertaventura in the Canaries and in my week there I didn't drink a single cup of tea. Before I left for my trip I actually contemplated taking with me some loose leaf tea and a little infuser but stopped myself on the grounds that I couldn't cope with being one of those English people that thinks you can only get a decent cup of tea at home - my trips to Germany have shown that to be far from true. Sadly, in terms of tourist Spain it looks like those tea-carrying people could be right.

Sunday 13 September 2009

A Beautiful Boîte

Fauchon green tea with mint tinI have to admit to a secret longing. It's been nine months now and I feel I have to come clean. At the beginning of the year I was visiting friends in the Czech Republic and whilst hanging out in their kitchen I spotted a gorgeous tea tin that had come from shop in Paris. It was a lovely flat oval shape and when you pulled back the sliding lid, there beneath it was another lid which you pulled off using a little handle. I didn't even try the tea inside but the tin lodged there in my psyche just waiting for a chance to assert itself.

Saturday 5 September 2009

From Disappointment to Delight

Usedom forest cycleI'm no longer on the beautiful Baltic island of Usedom but I didn't feel I could totally leave my lovely holiday behind until I told you about a search I made for some reputedly fantastic cake. As I've already mentioned, Coffee Boy and I were really enjoying our little cycle rides into the wooded interior of the island and our eyes lit up when we read about a forester's hut that served "the best cake on the island". Naturally we set off straight away.

Wednesday 26 August 2009

An Idyll by a Lake

Idyll am Wollgastsee exterior outdoor seatsHaving recently spent many hours of our holiday sitting on/walking along /cycling by the gorgeous beach at the end of our road we decided to take a cycle ride into the interior of the island. There are a whole series of cycle routes marked out and we chose one through a wood just a couple of miles from our little house. It was a lovely cycle ride – although I now realise that people have different definitions of “really flat” - and in the 25 degree heat it was nice to be in the shade whizzing along through the cool dappled light. After climbing a gentle hill we came coasting down to a beautiful lake surrounded by trees; and there on the shore was a guest house, appropriately called Idyll am Wolgastsee. After our exertions we thought we deserved a little refreshment and found a shady seat on the terrace overlooking the lake.

Friday 21 August 2009

Baltic Tea Heaven

Altes Pommeriches Theehaus Heringsdorf Usedom
So my amazement at the quality of tea in Germany continues. I am currently holidaying on the island of Usedom in the Baltic Sea: it's very beautiful and when the sun's out – which luckily it has been – the five mile beach of powdered sand is close to idyllic. But imagine my surprise yesterday when after a short bike ride to the town of Heringsdorf virtually the first thing I see is the speciality “Old Pomeranian Tea House”. Packed to the rafters with large caddies containing everything from fourteen types of green tea to around thirty “classic” black teas – it really was pretty astounding. They also stocked loads of flavoured and herbal teas, most of which had a few too many flavours and aromas to really take my fancy, although I was tempted by an interesting sounding Chai. As well as hundreds of teas the shop also sold loads of tins, teapots, cups and pretty much every other sort of tea accessory you could hope for. On the whole they were a little chintzy for my taste, but nonetheless there was no doubt that this was an impressive tea shop - and let's remember it's located in a tiny town on a small island in the Baltic. But here's the real shocker: a mile and a half cycle ride along the sea front is Ahlbeck, another little town with, wait for it, another tea shop! What is going on here? Have I stumbled into tea heaven? Although in truth I suspect that I would find a similar picture all over Germany – would that I could say the same for Britain. Oh well, I guess I'll just have to make the most of it while I'm here. I'll keep you posted about what other tea delights I stumble upon.

Tuesday 11 August 2009

A Tea Tin Paradise

Tea tins Germany
For a nation of tea lovers us Brits really could learn a thing or twelve from our German cousins. I am currently in Berlin (which accounts for my recent lack of posts) and am constantly amazed by the superior facilities for the tea obsessive. As I've mentioned before I am a big fan of the tea accessory and none is higher on my list of must-haves than the attractive tea tin. I have searched high and low for nice tins in the UK and although I've managed to find some good ones online it certainly hasn't been too easy. You would expect that department stores like John Lewis or the considerably more gift-oriented Fortnum and Mason might have them, but no, they are completely bereft. Here in Germany it's a different matter altogether.

Friday 31 July 2009

Review: Mudchute Kitchen, Isle of Dogs

Mudchute park farm docklandsI recently had a trip to Greenwich and decided to make a day of it by going on the Thames Clipper. Even though it may not be as quick as the tube I just love cruising down the Thames, listening to an audiobook so I can keep my head up and enjoy the sights. But I always find Greenwich a bit of a disappointment when it comes to food: I'm sure there are good restaurants there but I can never seem to find them. So as it was a nice day I suggested we go under the foot tunnel to the Mudchute Kitchen cafe in the city farm there: I'd heard good things about their cakes and figured the lunch was probably pretty good too.

Sunday 26 July 2009

Review: Rex Whistler Restaurant, Tate Britain, Pimlico

Rex Whistler Tate Britain afternoon tea
There's something just not right about missing out on afternoon tea on a Sunday, it's like not drinking at least a few glasses of Pimms in the summer - plain wrong. So earlier today when things were looking a bit grim on the cake/biscuit front at home (the rock buns were long gone) my other half and I made the bold decision to strike out and try a new afternoon tea venue . We are lucky enough to live within 10 minutes walk of Tate Britain so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to pop there, have some tea, and if there was time whizz around an exhibition - although obviously tea was the priority.

Monday 20 July 2009

Rock Bun Recipe

Rock buns cakesMuch as I love going out for tea there's plenty of pleasure to be had in creating a lovely afternoon tea at home. With that in mind I thought it was about time I let you in on one of my favourite recipes. As you're probably aware by now I am quite a scone fan, but I find they're hardly worth bothering with if you haven't got great jam and clotted cream to go with them. An easier option is the good old Rock Bun (no sniggering from our US readers) - or Rock Cake if you prefer. They are a bit similar to a scone in flavour but can be served just as they are. Better still they can be made with the kind of ingredients you might well already have in your kitchen.

Saturday 18 July 2009

Review: Le Chandelier, East Dulwich

Le Chandelier East Dulwich interiorOne of the unexpected benefits of writing this blog has been the increasingly frequent requests from friends to join them for afternoon tea. Not wishing to be rude, I have felt obliged to accept. The most recent outing was to a place I'd never heard of in East Dulwich called Le Chandelier. As soon as I arrived I had a suspicion it was going to be my kind of place. The decor is what I suppose we generally refer to as shabby chic: lovely wooden floors; a mixture of tables and chairs; and, of course, lots of chandeliers. It was clearly a favourite spot for the local yummy mummies but thankfully they seemed to contain themselves and their offspring in the back room and my friend, who had already arrived, had grabbed us a table in the front.

Monday 13 July 2009

My Cornish Sweetheart

Cornish cream tea Newquay I think my love affair with afternoon tea began when I was eleven or twelve during a family holiday to Cornwall. We spent an entire month in St Ives lazing on the beach, jumping in the surf and, most importantly, indulging in traditional Cornish Cream Teas. So when a family wedding took me back down to Cornwall last weekend it seemed like the perfect opportunity to rekindle my first love. I was a bit pushed for time over the weekend but just before heading home I found myself with an hour to spare and grabbed my chance. The wonderful thing about Cornwall is that while in, for instance, London, one may need to seek out the afternoon tea, reading reviews, booking tables, travelling across town, etc. in Cornwall signs advertising cream teas are everywhere. I was staying in Newquay and decided to pop into Nile's Bakery on the main street; it was apparently established in 1955 and looked homely and fairly traditional.

Monday 6 July 2009

A Rare Treat?

Rare Tea by post tins White Emperor's BreakfastI was recently shocked and embarrassed to discover that not only was there a mail order tea company I hadn't heard of but that it had actually won the award for best online retailer in the UK's Observer Food Monthly Magazine. Suitably ashamed I decided I needed to check out the Rare Tea Company forthwith.

Saturday 27 June 2009

Review: Beas of Bloomsbury

Bea's of Bloomsbury afternoon teaRealising, a couple of days ago, that I've been slacking on the proper afternoon tea front lately, I decided there was nothing for it but to have a light lunch and prepare for 4pm sugar high. It was a lovely day so I hopped on my bike and met a friend at Bea's of Bloomsbury. I'd never been there before but I'd heard good things about it - especially the cakes - and that was encouragement enough for me.

Saturday 20 June 2009

Review: Candy Café, Soho

Candy Cafe Soho bubble teaWhat is that strange phenomenon when you hear about something for the first time and suddenly it seems to keep crop up everywhere? Well, that has been my experience this week with bubble tea. Until a week ago I had never even heard of this drink when I stumbled across a reference to it online. I did a little bit of research and discovered that it was a drink invented in Taiwan, apparently in the 80s, but now popular throughout South East Asia, the west coast of the USA, and Canada. It's a drink that seems to have countless variations. Some contain actual tea, green, oolong or black, some don't; some have milk or soy milk in, some don't; some have fruit or are purely fruit based, and some don't; etc. etc. But the one thing they have in common is tapioca. What?! I hear all you Brits saying, the disgusting stuff like frog spawn that we used to be force-fed at primary school? Well, no, not exactly. It is possible to get a bubble tea made with the small white pearl tapioca but the more common drink is made with large black tapioca pearls.

Tuesday 16 June 2009

China Tea from a Russian Shop in Paris

Kusmi Tea Jasmine flowersI was recently invited to dinner by a friend who is an amazing cook. Needless to say I was quick to accept the offer, not least because she is also a tea fan and I knew she'd have something interesting for me to try. Well, she didn't let me down. She had made the most amazing Asian food with dim sum, noodles, gyoza, pak choy, tofu and an absolutely delicious mango dessert. And the tea offering was pretty darn good too.

Saturday 13 June 2009

Hot or Not?

Tea mug thermometerI was enjoying a cup of white tea yesterday when it occurred to me that I haven't written explicitly about water temperature. The more tea-savvy among you may know all about this, but I suspect there's a good chance that some of you don't realise just how important it is to use water at the correct temperature when making a cuppa.

Wednesday 10 June 2009

Smell Over Substance?

Rose tea camelia WorldWhy are most fruit and herbal teas so disappointing? They promise so much with their heady aromas and intense colours but when it comes to drinking them they are usually a big let down.

Monday 8 June 2009

Embrace the Blues

Oolong tea leaves cupWhen my partner bought me a tea tasting day as a birthday present last year I was really excited. Although I was no regular tea drinker I had been to my fair share of tea shops, and even one or two Chinese tea houses; I was really looking forward to learning a bit more. But I was in no way prepared to discover a whole new type of tea. Of course I'd heard of green tea; white tea? - sure I'd even tried it; black teas? - well obviously, didn't we all grow up with them at home? But blue tea?- what?! When the Master Tea Blender gave it its other name, oolong, I realised I had heard of it but I really had no idea what it was.

Saturday 6 June 2009

When does enthusiasm become obsession?

Tea cupboard tins
I don't know how it happened. A couple of years ago I was the kind of person who would occasionally have a cup of Typhoo or a fragrant but bland herbal tea. I mean, tea was OK but nothing to get overly excited about. More of a way to step away from the keyboard during a busy work day than anything else.