• 28Feb

    This past week I was down in San Antonio, Texas. While I was there, I shopped El Mercado, La Villita, and had some great tacos. I also visited with my best friend, Valerie, who lives in SA.

    While I was hunting the web for a nice place to have dinner with Val, I stumbled across the website for The Mad Hatter’s Tea House. Immediately intrigued, I checked out their express lunch menu and found that they did a “high” and “afternoon” tea:

    Tea parties for 2

    Served at your table on a 3 tiered tea service, including 2 iced teas or a pot of hot tea to share.

    High Tea
    With spinach & chicken salad tea sandwiches, smoked jalapeño Tuna Salad Tea Sandwiches, cucumber & cream cheese tea sandwiches, a scone of your choice to share & 2 petite feures $18.00

    Afternoon tea
    With smoked salmon & cream cheese tea sandwiches, cucumber & cream cheese
    tea sandwiches, 2 scones of your choice and 2 petite feures $18.00

    Kids Tea
    with peanut butter & jelly tea sandwiches, ham & cheese tea sandwiches, turkey & cheese tea sandwiches and 3 petite feures $18.00

    Awesome! That cinched it. I was going to have to go there for lunch the next day.

    The first tea house I’d ever been to was on Vancouver Island, about 30 miles northwest of Victoria – a place called The Marginson House. From my diary of the trip:

    We were tired, hot and sweaty, but happy when we finished our hike [around the bay]. I wasn’t sure that we’d be let in at a tea house I’d heard of, but we decided to try.

    Like many Americans I had the mistaken impression that afternoon tea, or high tea,  was necessarily a fancy thing. In reality it’s simply a mid-afternoon or early evening snack – a pick me up of caffeine and food to fend off the afternoon blahs. In working class environments it was simply the main meal after sunset. It’s not as common today, and the term (in the U.S.) has come to sometimes mean an elaborate afternoon tea. That was not the case at the Marginson House or this past week at the Mad Hatter’s Tea House.

    The hostess of the Marginson House had no problem whatsoever with our attire and assured us that others had come by even less dressed. We sat out on the covered porch and had the “high tea”. I started with Earl Grey tea while Jeff (not a tea drinker) had Koala sparkling raspberry-guava juice.

    First our hostess brought out a small tray of mini sandwiches, fruit and tangy cheddar cheese. After our hike, we were starving, and this was just the perfect thing. The tiny crust-less triangle sandwiches were turkey and sorrel, salmon salad, egg salad and cucumber and salmon. There was an “open sandwich” too – smoked salmon, cream cheese and dill on whole grain, a tiny mushroom tart and a curry-stuffed filo triangle. It sounds like a lot, but they were all tiny and really added up to maybe a sandwich and a half.

    When we finished with the sandwiches our hostess brought out scones with clotted cream, pear and ginger jam and blackberry jelly. Lastly, we shared a slice of sponge cake with jam and cream.

    It was wonderful and very leisurely. I had two or three cups of tea which, at the time, was quite a lot of caffeine for me. I joked that I’d be bouncing off the walls and so chatty that Jeff would have to stuff a sock in my mouth. (As it was, it probably just countered all the carbs. )

    The Marginson House was also a Bed and Breakfast, complete with picturesque climbing roses, herb gardens, vegetable gardens and a giant  garden chess set and tennis court. I can’t find the web site for it, so maybe it’s not longer an active B&B; this was nearly ten years ago.

    The Mad Hatter’s Tea House seems to have started out a local breakfast and lunch place for downtown San Antonio workers. Located at 106 Auditorium Circle, and across from the Municipal Auditorium, I found it a bit challenging to find parking but it was generally a nice area.

    In the U.S., “tea house” was often used to denote an alternative to more rowdy and masculine venues and catered to the female traveler, offering soups, salads and sandwiches in a more genteel atmosphere. The Mad Hatter’s Tea House offers the same soup, salad and sandwiches offerings, but in a decidedly more modern, hip (and male friendly) atmosphere. The setting has a lobby-like feel, and is surrounding by the offices for San Antonio’s Men’s chorale, Children’s choir and a dance troupe. There were a couple of comfy seating areas perfect for power lunches or for chatting, traditional tables and high chair, bistro-style seating by the windows.

    I was a bit confused at first, until I realized that I had to go up to register to order. I explained that I knew the afternoon and high tea’s were meant for two, but that I wanted to do that anyway. The guy at the register didn’t seem to think that was odd at all, and told me he could pack up any extra to go for me. Nice.

    I had the high tea, with the single scone and more sandwiches. I chose a “champagne darjeeling” off the menu, which seemed to confuse the person taking my order until he looked at the menu and saw it listed under “oolong”. He then pointed me to a cabinet where I could pick out my own mug or teacup. Feeling silly, I picked out a frilly number.

    The food came out pretty quickly. The blueberry scone with strawberry jam and butter was delicious – one of the better scones I’ve had in a while, in fact. It was the last one they had, so I expect others found it yummy too. The sandwiches came out on the traditional three-tiered tray. All were excellent, but I especially liked the spicy tuna the best. For dessert there was a small square of petit feurs which was a bit overly SWEET for me. I ate only half and snarfed down the strawberries instead.

    The only down side to the experience was that they forgot to bring me my tea! I had to get a glass of water at first and then remind them of the tea. But once I did they brought it out pretty quickly. It was a nice, loose-leaf tea, properly steeping with a timer on the tray next to the cast iron teapot. I’m pretty sure it was a green tea and not a Darjeeling, but I could have be mistaken. It was a nice, though I tasted some bitter tannins – I wasn’t paying attention and I think I oversteeped it.

    I think I can forgive them the little misstep there – I may have caught them at an off moment, since they were dealing with a cantankerous register. Judging by the many awards for the place, and the long line that started forming at 11:30 a.m., it’s certainly a popular place. I’d like to try them again, and this time have one of their many sandwiches.

    Mad Hatter’s Tea House serves high tea starting at 11:00 am. Breakfast begins earlier and while the web site (as of this blog post) says they close at 2 p.m. they’re now open til 9 p.m. for dinner. Friendly service, nice atmosphere, I’d recommend it if you’re ever in San Antonio.

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  • 20Feb

    Smar Tea Teapot. Smar Tea? Smarty? Get it?

    Yeah, that’s what I thought too. But, ooh-la-la, this sexy teapot makes up for the silly-pun-name with its stylish curves:


    Smar Tea Teapot

    Gadizmo describes it thus:

    Calling all design nerds! WMF is delivering another home goody courtesy of Metz and Kindler Product Design, the dynamic duo responsible for injecting sleek elements into simple, logical designs. The Smar Tea Teapot (you know you love a good pun) is a beautiful addition to the collection — made of heat-resistant glass and a matte stainless finish, the teapot makes brewing and serving tea a cinch. A mesh strainer insert clicks in and out of place for easy removal after steeping, replaced with a lid afterwards to help keep the tea warm while serving.

    From ProductWiki:

    The Smar Tea teapot is a unique fusion of modernity and classic design. The teapot takes all your concerns into consideration with a heat-resistant glass carafe and a lid which, when removed, also removes the tea strainer so the tea can stay in the carafe without getting stronger. The surprising kicker to the Smar Tea teapot is how the water in the carafe stays heated. The bottom of the teapot is a stainless steel warmer stand with a small cutout for a tea light. This small candle keeps the teapot temperate and adds an unexpected twist to a relatively simple product. The Smar Tea teapot was designed by the Metz and Kindler design team for WMF, based out of Germany. Their design philosophy focuses on product design that is both logical and simple and uses the basics of human behavior as their starting point for inspiration.

    Of course, it’s a bit expensive. (There seems to be a trend here with the sexy tea stuff that catches my eye.) Most sites list it as $137, but Amazon.com is offering it for $99.


    I guess I’ll just oggle it from afar for now.

    Filed under: tea makers, teapots
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  • 19Feb

    This is the cutest darn thing: a tea cozy cover for a yerba mate gourd.

    From the Etsy seller’s site:

    When your yerba mate gourd gets a little hot to handle, try this cozy on for size! Crocheted from 100% cotton yarn, this little cozy fits gourds that have a circumference of up to 13 inches at it’s widest point with a bit of room to spare. Top stays put with a brand-new coated elastic band crocheted in….just pull it over your gourd like a sock! Machine wash, air dry and you’re good to go. Gourd, bombilla and small amount of yerba mate in the photos are not included in this listing.

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  • 16Feb

    When Adagio Teas tweeted a while ago that they had added a few new flavors to their gourmet teabag line, I decided to try one: Golden Monkey.


    From the Adagio Teas website:

    Black tea from the Fujian province of China. Golden Monkey tea is hand-processed each spring with a careful plucking of only one leaf and one bud. It is among the finest Chinese black teas available today. The name comes from its unique appearance: the leaves resemble monkey claws. If you enjoy full-bodied teas with an abundance of flavor, we urge you to give this tea a try. Full-leaf tea in portable, individually wrapped bags – superior taste and maximum convenience.

    The indivudal teabags are the triangular kind that allow a bit more room for the tea leaf to foat in and expand fully.


    I was surprised at the rather long recommended steep time – five minutes in water that was brought to a full roaring boil – but also pleasantly surprised when I tasted it. It had the usual smooth, musky and slightly woodsy taste of a china black tea but without too many tannins (though I did detect some bitterness.) It brewed up quite dark looking.


    I added a little milk at the end of the first cup. I’ve always thought that a black tea with milk tastes a bit like a smooth dark chocolate, and after I’d finished my first cup, I checked the teabag pouch once again:

    “[a] rare Chinese treat with auburn leaves and sumptuous taste of dark chocolate”

    Well then! I completely agree. The only slight bitterness in that first cup is nearly the same as the slight bitterness of a 75% caco dark chocolate.

    I tried a second cup with the same teabag, and same steep time. This time the bitter tannins had disappeared, but not the flavor. It still had a nice, smooth dark chocolate taste to it. Lovely!

    I’d definitely recommend this tea, and I especially recommend it to anyone who wants to try gourmet teas but it not ready to move from the teabag format to loose leaf teas.

  • 14Feb

    This is good news:

    Green Tea Component Could Help Fight HIV Infection

    A chemical that occurs naturally in green tea appears to prevent HIV-1 (the virus associated with AIDS) from infecting cells in the immune system and could prove a valuable part of treatment for the disease, said researchers from Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital in a report that appears in the current issue of the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

    Apparently epigallocatechin gallate (I’m so proud that I get to use a word like this on my tea blog) or EGCG, can inhibit the virus’ ability to infect cells. So, woot!

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  • 13Feb

    I’m always on the lookout for sexy tea gadgets. I found these at Bed, Bath and Beyond: a tea infuser and an in-mug infuser, both in translucent green.  Both are from the design company, Tovolo.

    I admit, I got them only because they looked so striking. Usually I pass up tea infusers like Tovolo’s lolipop design here, because they are hard to fill with enough loose leaf tea and don’t really allow enough room for the tea leaves to expand. This design is not exception, but darn it, it just looks so delicious. Yum.


    On the other hand, in-mug infuser work really well. This design is pretty and the strainer doesn’t stain, but I found that the sides of the strainer drip down outside of the little base to set it in. Still, I like this one and I can just set the base on a small plate. (Another trick is to set a used infuser on/in a small Asian soy sauce bowl.)

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  • 10Feb

    Not feeling terribly adventurous today, I pulled out another Darjeeling that I bought from SpecialTeas. (Yes, yes – I have a LOT of teas from this particular online store.) This time it was No. 118, aka “Tukdah FTGFOP-1 First Flush”, a nice dependable tea that I’ve tried many times before.


    SpecialTeas describes it as such:

    Very tippy dry leaf with a wonderful aroma! This top grade first flush is lighter in cup color than our 105 Puttabong, but very complex with a peach blossom fragrance that carries through and lingers on the palate. Enjoy this tea when you have time to savor each and every sip.

    I used the recommended amount, putting 2 level teaspoons into my tiny teapot. I wasn’t paying attention to my electric kettle however, and let it come to a roaring boil. Not particularly picky today, I decided to just go with it rather than following the recommendation to use steaming briskly (195ºF). I  let the tea steep for two-and-a-half minutes.

    The color of the steeped tea was a lovely amber:


    And as I suspected, this tea did not disappoint. It’s a light-to-medium bodied, smooth and fruity tasting tea. I’d agree with the description on this one, as it reminds me just slightly of Republic of Tea’s Ginger Peach. I’d go so far as to describe this tea as “cuddly”. It was just the thing I needed to get started on a grey morning such as this one. This is a highly recommended, dependable tea.

    Now, my umpteeth attempt at making poached eggs? *eyes resulting blob* Not so cuddly. *sigh*

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