Tag Archives: Travel

A Back On The Road Moment

Week 19 of T-R-A-V-E-L.

This should do it.

An International Tea Moment now has a Facebook Fan Page! Tell me how you find a decent cup of tea on the road at http://www.facebook.com/TeaMoment.

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A Mariages Freres Moment

Ah, Paris! How I love thee! For our 10th wedding anniversary, Gene and I went to one of our favorite destinations – Paris. And while I have several adventures to report, I have to start with one of my favorite moments: a pilgrimage to Mariages Freres.

After hours of searching and searching for the elusive 30 Rue Bourg Tibourg, we found a mecca of tea experiences at this famous tea market and salon at 5 p.m. Upon arrival, we were immediately welcomed and ushered through the market and to the salon itself. This airy, British Colonial-feeling room let in showers of natural light from the skylight that was nearly the length of the room.  All the servers were wearing white linen suits, and they were just so nice!

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Black teas and green teas and white, oh my!

The menu, itself, was overwhelming – with hundreds of choices: white teas, green teas, black teas, breakfast teas, afternoon teas, evening teas, flavored teas… Where to begin??? I let myself off the hook and started with a time of day – Afternoon Teas. Even there, there were nearly 20 choices! So without dithering too much, I chose the “Gentleman” blend for Gene, and “Fils de France” for me.

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The blur you see is the master of tea!

Much to my delight, I was facing the counter at which the ‘brewmaster’ (my term, not theirs) was working his magic. His sole purpose was to take the tea orders, and brew the perfect pot of tea for each patron. It was a fascinating dance, and he did it with such ease and speed – he moved so quickly I couldn’t even get a good photo of him! Note the HUNDREDS of tea blends on the wall behind him.

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Fils de France

And so, our perfectly brewed pots of tea arrived at our table. While I expected a hearty black tea, mine showed up as such a light golden liquid, I wondered if I had inadvertently ordered a white. It was a Darjeeling blend, as it turned out, and had a quiet strength that I found quite lovely. Gene’s Gentleman blend was a dark, dark amber and presented itself as any manly man would – bold, confident, and direct.

The salon was hopping the entire duration of our visit. There was a constant flow of tea enthusiasts of all bents and backgrounds: families with children, old friends, the lone tourist, the gal pals, the comfortable couple.  There was no feeling of being rushed, and the constant flow worked perfectly with people waiting maybe 5 or 10 minutes at the most.

And then, the tea market. I felt like I had died and gone to tea heaven. The walls were lined with canister upon canister of tea. I boldly attempted to explain in French that I ‘searched for a strong, black tea. Stronger, even, than the Gentleman blend.’  ‘Ah,’ he said, nodding wisely, ‘a breakfast blend. A strong one.’ He turned to the wall, tapped his chin in thought, and then, with purpose and confidence, he reached for the bottom row, removed the front canister and reached into the depths. Finding his treasure, and with a triumphant smile, he removed the cover and presented The Duke of Wellington. I inhaled deeply, then Gene was offered a sniff. Grassy, earthy, heavy.Yes, please.

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So happy

It was the perfect experience. The perfect moment. Enjoying some of the best tea with the best possible company. Paris, je t’aime.

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A perfect moment

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A Tangier Tea Moment

An international safe house. The heavy and intoxicating scent of spices in the air. A pirate’s hideout. The center of World War I espionage. Ah, the romance and excitement of Tangier…  All in one perfect cup.

Tangier

A painting by Louis Comfort Tiffany depicting a market outside of the walls of Tangier.

It’s a Wednesday. Typically, this is my day at home with Edie. No work, no commitments. Just me and Edie. However, October begins tomorrow, and with it comes a circus of events, presentations, travel and adventures.  Today is my day to prepare. For the past week, I’ve felt like a deer in headlights – not knowing whether to step forward or turn and run for the hills. And now, it’s time to get it together and make a plan. And what better way to get one’s thoughts together than over a fresh cup of tea.

Enter my friends at American Tea Room. Yesterday, I was thrilled to receive my order of new teas. I had asked them for recommendations, and they answered my call admirably. Not only did my order come with their 2 suggested black tea blends and 1 re-order, they also sent samples based on my prior interests. Have I told you lately that I love the Royal Family at American Tea Room?

And so, I began my day with an exotic trip to Tangier. Upon opening this new tea, eyes closed, I was swept away to a land of intrigue and destiny. The heady aroma of apricot drenched in an evening mist surrounded and enveloped me.  Opening my eyes, I was met with a visual feast – the black, whole leaves of Sri Lankan tea spiked with the fiery red and orange apricot and saffron petals. The anticipation of the first sip was nearly unbearable.  A watched pot may never boil, but a monitored steeping  can seem interminable!

Tangier, take me away...

Tangier, take me away…

A clear, medium amber liquid with nearly no sediment, a light apricot fragrance with the subtlest hint of something foreign and floral – I can only guess that is the saffron petals – and then the first sip.  Ah… Light, yet substantial. Mind-clearing and refreshing.  The passion, strategy, cunning and romance of this city’s history is now running through me, and I’m ready to walk confidently into October.

It may be true that I have not physically visited this magical and mythical city of Tangier, but I have experienced it all the same.

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A Trans Siberian Railroad Tea Moment

“How would you feel about going to Russia?” The question lingered in the air for less than a nanosecond before I screeched, “REALLY???!!!” My boss/one-day-to-be-sister-in-law had been invited to speak at the 1st International Conference on Children’s Health to be held in Chita, Russia.  It was a project sponsored by the Boise-Chita Sister City Program, and suddenly I was going to be a part of it!

On August 31, 1995, our delegation of five took off. The journey from Boise to Anchorage to Magadan to Khabarovsk is a blur. But when we stepped onto our car on the Trans Siberian Railway, I felt the true journey had begun.  At 20 years old, this was my first for-reals international experience. I had obtained my first passport, gotten my first stamp. So exhilarating! And after bribes had been passed and tempers had been calmed (our escort, Dr. V,  maneuvered us through the shady process beautifully), R and I arrived in our cabin with smiles on our faces. 

The Trans Siberian Railway, though romanticized in books and film, has very few modern conveniences. For this, however, we had prepared. No showers. Minimal food service. No problem. Lots of wet wipes and stockpiles of cup-o-noodles took care of that. Each car, you see, had a samovar with boiling water available at all times of the day or night. This was all the amenety needed, for we had brought tea.

The conductor in our car provided beautiful tea cups upon request, and we kept these in constant use while lounging in our cabin. Our cabin consisted of 2 bunks across from each other that doubled as seats during the day. A drop leaf table could be set up between the bunks. Our luggage was stowed in the netted berths above each bunk.

Tea across Siberia

Tea across Siberia

In the dining car, we were served Russian tea in traditional glasses. Hearty and warm, though very reminiscent of Lipton. Hmm.  While three days on a train may seem like one way to die a slow, painful death, we had so many interesting adventures with some colorful characters. A traveling group of retired (and wealthy) widows were making their way through Siberia and Mongolia. One, in particular, was thrilled at the prospect of seeing a yurt. We ended up running into them again in Irkusk at the end of our conference and they told us all about it. We made friends with a lovely gentleman named Boris (who looked remarkably like Maurice on Northern Exposure), who invited our entire group into his cabin to share a bottle of scotch with us. Maurice-Boris also gave me a cassette tape of a Russian pop star that he knew his grand daughter liked, as a symbol of Russia welcoming me. We also crossed paths with a cabin full of young men (high school boys, really) on their way to their 2-year obligation of military school outside of Moscow. When they heard an American girl was on board, Dr. V had his hands full maintaining order. I entertained the troops with my limited vocabulary of such common Russian phrases as, “I have a knife.” It was a hit.

And through it all, we would come back to a place of appreciation and reflection, a quick trip to the samovar, a few minutes of steeping, and then that always-perfect first sip of tea.

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A Minneapolis Tea Moment

I think I’m in love. And to find love in Minneapolis? Who’da thunk it? Harney & Sons Pu-Erh may have just encouraged me to end my love affair with Irish Breakfast Tea.

While in Minn for a conference, I decided that for once in my working life I would use an afternoon break for my own pleasure. I searched for afternoon tea opportunities and found a convenient offering at the Hotel Ivy. Served in the hotel lobby from 3-5 p.m. daily, I was greeted with fast, friendly (though rather flirty) service. My server surprised me with his advanced knowledge of the tea blends offered, so we were off to a good start.

When the tea arrived, it had been steeped perfectly, with the leaves removed. Hooray! (Leaving the tea leaves in the pot and having to strain each cup may feel like a fun ritual, but the taste overdevelops and can make the whole pot taste bitter).  I was a bit hesitant about the tea choice, since I am not typically a fan of smoky teas, but upon first sip, my tastebuds thought they had died and gone to tea heaven. With just a whisper of smoke, the overall flavor was robust, earthy, and satisfied my entire palate. There was an internal struggle of chugging the whole pot while it was at its peak of heat and flavor or sipping it slowly to make it last.  I sipped.

I should have let that be the entire moment, but I waited for tea goodies that had been promised. An elegant presentation of sweet and savory.

I’m sorry Hotel Ivy, but on this, I’m going to have to pull a Simon Cowell and say, “This was an utter dis-ahster.”

Killing me softly with savories at the Hotel Ivy

Killing me softly with savories at the Hotel Ivy

Presentation: fabulous. Atmosphere: great. Server: knowledgeable. Sweets: perfectly balanced amuses bouches. Savories: Aaaack! We begin with a deviled egg, nicely deviled but with too much egg. Trout eggs to be precise. Please understand, though native from Boise, I have become at peace with the California lifestyle including much indulgence in sushi. A little raw fish or caviar never hurt anyone. But trout roe on a perfectly good deviled egg is a bit much. Next. A beet coronet of herbed goat cheese. I like beets. I like herbs. I like goat cheese. A lot. I do not, however, like a lot of goat cheese, and this was entirely too much. There was not enough of the beet mini tortilla (for lack of a better description) to balance the (what seemed like) pounds of creamed goat cheese. Next. A forgettable cracker with something-or-other on it.  Next. A mini toast or cracker with a white anchovy and slivers of red pepper. Again, I like fish, I like sushi, I like Caesar salad with heavily anchovied dressing. I do not, however, like an entire anchovy wound up in a tight swirl on a cracker with no other flavors to balance to extreme fishiness of the situation. I think they need to just stick with tea.

And what a wonderful tea it was…

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A Toulouse Tea Moment

The year I turned 21, I went on an exchange program to Pau, France. With every intention of immersing myself in the French language and culture, I soon fell into the expected rut of hanging out with those most like myself – at least most like my nationality. I spent all hours of the day and night with Americans. A motley crew, to say the least. A hippie, a scholar, an angst-ridden socialist, a newly divorced and experimenting homosexual, a small town cheerleader, an anarchist, a hairdresser, a cross country runner, a white girl who preferred dating black men, … and here I was. A white bread goody-two-shoes from Boise who knew nothing but church, family, and a whole lot of conservative status quo.

My semester with this lot gave me an infinitely richer education than my Bachelor and Master degrees combined. I learned what it meant to be open-minded, to appreciate people for who they were, and the gifts and talents they each brought to the table. I learned about living in community – of filling in the gaps for a friend when necessary and having confidence they would do the same for me in my times of need. I was introduced to foods and beverages, card games and books I never would have found on my own, and they in turn were introduced to me and my quirks – namely my penchant for tea (and red wine, as it turned out).

On one overnight excursion toward the end of the semester, a trip set just for the American students, we went to Toulouse and Carcassonne. At lunch before the journey back to Pau, we all sat together, trying to translate American pop songs into French (we had crashed a karaoke bar the night before). As we sat at the end of meal with our cups of tea, we ended with, “Stop in the Name of Love,” (or, “Arret a la nom d’amour”) as captured here.

Stop! In the Name of Love

Stop! In the Name of Love

My heart was breaking as I anticipated the end of the semester and facing the world without these comrades, and yet my cup overflowed knowing I had changed because of them. For the better.

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A Las Vegas Tee Moment

How many years has it been since Gene and I have visited Las Vegas for fun? No conferences, no trade shows, no boxes to unpack or meetings to snooze through? More than 5. More than 7, perhaps. In any case, off we went with no obligations or responsibilities. Edie had the pleasure of staying with my folks, so we were footloose and fancy-free.

As 30-somethings in town, we explored a different side of Vegas. Actually, we explored the daylight hours and activities and found we liked it very much! And we satisfied both of our desires for tea/tee.

Tee Time at Bear’s Best Las Vegas allowed us to experience Jack Nicklaus’ design – he built the course by selecting his favorite 18 holes from his more than 270 course designs worldwide. We were paired up with a local, who ended up being the best tour guide and golf partner you could ever ask for. Company: perfect. Weather: beautiful. A delightful blend of sun, sagebrush, sport and success (well, for Gene. My game was not so fabulous, but fun all the same).

Tee Time

Tee Time

Tea Time at the Bellagio’s Petrossian Bar, the next day, was a product of my desire to try (and fail) to make reservations in time during any of my last 3 Vegas visits (reservations must be made 24 hours in advance). This was Gene’s first time in accompanying me to tea, so I’m considering it an early Mother’s Day gift.  Tea at the Bellagio seems like it should be so romantic! Okay, maybe Ocean’s 11 has a little something to do with that.  After a bit of a rocky start with the hostess asking if we were there for “high tea” (ultra faux pas!!!), we were seated and our orders were taken. Tea was served on a 3-tiered tray: mini scones on top, an array of chocolate sweets in the middle, and tea sandwiches below. I liked being able to order the tea sandwiches of my choice (4 each).  While the tea selection was extremely limited, the Darjeeling and English Breakfast we ordered was served loose leaf in each pot. The bar itself is a strange situation – half enclosed and half with shuttered windows overlooking the casino floor. Tea is served in the half overlooking the casino, unfortunately, so I can’t give it high marks for atmosphere. But…

Vegas Tea

Tea Time

Company: perfect. Service: very good. A lovely combination of sweets, savories, schooling and smiles. What can I say? Vegas, baby. Vegas.

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