19 March 2016

More Tea Spots in San Antonio

Two months later...

Bonnie has a knack for putting together an itinerary.  She considers what is enjoyable for each individual visitor, and factors in limitations.  That's why my last visit was a pleasure, besides the obvious happiness of seeing my sister, my brother-in-law, and my fur nephew.

Though we never limit the itinerary to strictly tea-related places (because one must do more than drink tea and eat cake, apparently), Bonnie makes sure to find a few new places every time I visit.  You might call that a challenge - finding tea spots in San Antonio?  More than one or two? but I think it's a labor of love for Bon.  The secret is not just looking for "tea".  Business-wise, in nearly every destination in the United States, and probably elsewhere, coffee is the moneymaker. Find the coffee, and you'll probably find the tea.  And that's just what we did.

Bird Bakery:

Comfortable, populated but not overwhelming, and did I mention Banoffee???  This is an uber-sweet combination of banana and toffee; hence the portmanteau.  I've not seen much of banoffee outside of the UK - not that I've travelled widely enough to assume it's impossible to find in the US, but I'm all too eager to find it here anyway.  I paired it with Austin Breakfast Tea, which definitely does not need to be sweetened.

Bonnie had one of their many cupcakes on offer. There's cakes and sandwiches, all in a soothing mint-green and white decor, and I'd love to go back when we haven't lunched already.

This place makes it into lists of best bakeries in the U.S., so I probably don't have to write about it, but I cannot help it.  Going on their macarons alone they are top of the line.  I also had a Banana Maple Curry Cake, which sounds gross, but they pull it off!  (Apparently I went for banana on this trip.)  Topped off with Mighty Leaf Green Tropical Tea, and it's a Texas-sized French bakery experience.  If you go to San Antonio, definitely have barbecue, don't forget the tacos (oh, the breakfast tacos!), and certainly hit the Pearl District for some Bakery Lorraine (yes, they have quiche).


Excited about the S'mores!

Another spot close to The Riverwalk, and in a spot that outside and inside makes you think you should be annoyed at the hipsterness of it all, but you manage to have a good time anyway,  Feels like home, except I haven't been to a place at home that has indoor s'mores!  I paired mine with Jasmine Green Tea.  Very odd.  I have a special dislike for Hershey's because of their Cadbury trouncing, but I had so much fun making s'mores with BonBon, I had no cause to complain.  By the way, they're family friendly, at least during the day, and seat plentiful, which is so important.  They share their bathrooms with the adjoining restaurant, in case you're interested.

If you thought you were gonna get a coffee review here, then look no further - you won't.

26 January 2016

Catching Up

I spent 2015 mostly on learning Arabic and reading a record total of 75 books! So, not completely unaccomplished.  My writing, however, was not quite on the wayside, but trickly at best.  I have no more excuses for this - I possess every writing medium known to man, short of a typewriter (the one I own is in need of repair).

So I thought I'd do a little catch-up, and just share a few highlights from the past few months.

November 2015

I had a special day of Tea Loving on Black Friday.  None of this lining up for sales business - though admittedly I hit a Goodwill near Union Square and made out like a bandit.

Why was it specialtea day?  Well, any day I hit two of my favorite tea places is a good day.

The weather was absolutely gorgeous for the end of November - warm but not hot, so I could drink hot tea and take crazy long walks.  Basically, any weather I can't complain about is good weather.  I started out by taking the subway to the West Village, and having a Full English Breakfast (dubbed 'The Full Monty') at Tea and Sympathy.  It was just over a year since my last trip to the UK, and a mini-trip was nearly necessary.  The breakfast, and the Typhoo tea, was fully satisfying and completely reminiscent of my London mornings.  The restaurant was not packed - an occasional few persons trickled in and out, and I had a window two-seater to myself and my book (which was Crichton's 'The Great Train Robbery' - a perfect pairing).  There was an eccentric man who kept coming in and out, and decided to change his footwear, scarves, and belt on the bench outside, in full view of us breakfasters.  I just thought as long as he didn't do it inside of T&S, it was fine.  I topped off the breakfast with scones, because scones.

Then it was time to walk it all off! The Highline wasn't so crowded, and I made it nearly to the end, with a few breaks in between - there were plenty of places to rest, and a view of an Arabic billboard that myself and an NYU student were trying to read.  Eventually it'll be second nature.  I hope.

Walked back down Ninth Avenue, reminiscing about other walks.  Missed Stefanie.

Getting close to Chelsea Market, which I like but also which makes me kind of dizzy, I saw Mr. Footwear again, this time talking to some hapless twenty somethings.  I kept going.

After a bit of shopping (see above), I met up with Bathy, and we took the subway to the Upper West Side for move Adventures in Tea.  I'd say it's one of my favorite neighborhoods to stroll around, especially with Bathy (Madison Avenue, Central Park and the Village close behind.)  Somehow we ended up at Alice's Tea Cup, and there were more scones involved.  It's a really good thing I'd walked so much.

I'm not going to admit to the bakery we visited next.

Missing that perfect autumn weather!
The whole shebang
Shadowy Shoeless Man

Catching up: San Antonio, coming soon!

06 November 2015

The winner is...

I like tea.

Nope -


I don't like playing favorites, as was recently covered, if not ad nauseum, ad feeling slightly off-eum.  Even so, sometimes one has to make a choice.  

Much as I would love to keep a wealth of tea varieties in my office at work, I'm already inundated with stuff - particularly file folders, which I cannot seem to conquer.  Also, though I have tea strainers/filters at work, it's not always time-effective to go through the preferred process, so I save it for special occasions (like a particularly quiet day, which is rare.)  In the long run, I decided to settle on picking a good, sturdy, easy-to-prepare, yet tasty teabag.

This tea would have to be a breakfast tea, as it needs to have that workaday quality to combat my stupid craving for coffee that creeps up on me - especially when I smell it brewing (even from a k cup).  A hearty black tea that could handle a bit of milk is just the thing, though I should be able to leave the milk out without hating it.

I've tried PG Tips, Typhoo, Twinings, Yorkshire Gold, and let's not get into the brief flirtation with Lipton.  Besides the latter mistake, all of these teas were good .  Obviously I prefer British brands.  (By the way, Yorkshire Gold is the runner up.  I have not problem with it; it's just mildly pricier over here.) Then on my last trip to London - the place I start to crave as the warm weather wanes - I noticed which tea gave me the most pleasure in the mornings.  Even more than Afternoon Teas and Cream Teas, on this visit I had a bunch of Full English Breakfasts, or Nearly Full, because no 'puddings' or tomatoes for me.  Anyway, whether I was having buttered toast or a fryup, it was Tetley that made me feel both cozy and ready to go on with my day the most.  Rainy days were made better by that mugful of love.

Normally I pick up tea from Whittard or somewhere similarly fun, and I'll probably do that next time.  In London 2014, however, I went to the local Sainsbury's and bought a delightfully inexpensive package of Tetley, containing 80 bags - and a decaf one for those days when I shouldn't be further pepped up.  These teas gave me comfort through the winter, and I managed to have a few left by the end of summer.  Suddenly I was out of them altogether, and there was no time to get back to the UK to restock, so I did the next best thing: I bought a package of 240 bags on Amazon.  It came much quicker than its expected delivery date, and just in time for the chilly autumn days.

Now, about that autumn: where did it go?  Not that I'm complaining, but I just swapped out my closet with sweaters and now I'm frantically searching for lighter layers.  Either way, I have my daily cuppa, and Tetley is it.

What's your daily tea?

08 September 2015

Liebster Awards

I'd like to thank My Thoughts Are Like Butterflies for nominating me for a Liebster Award.  Pretty much everyone who's been nominated has never heard of this award before, but I'll bite because it never hurts to recognize my fellow bloggers!  Also, because it's like a chain letter but without the "someone will die" threat that's all too common.

Here's the rules, as copied and pasted from other Liebster-nominated sites:
  1. Link back to the person who nominated you.
  2. Answer the questions given to you by the nominator.
  3. Nominate up to 11 other bloggers with less than 200 followers.
  4. Create 11 questions for the nominees.
  5. Notify all nominees via social media/blogs.
My answers:

1. What flavor note in tea just drives you happy crazy, you know is so good you kinda fall over in happiness?
If it's 'chocolatey', it's probably gonna make me happy.

2. Most wonderful tea themed memory?
Hard to choose one, but : having cream tea at Tea and Sympathy for the first time.  Eye-opening.

3. What is your favorite game (it can be board, video, RPG, any game at all) and why?
I'm not much for games, though a trivia-based game, whether board or video usually works for me!

4. What is the strangest dream you ever had?
The one where I had to look for Mary I of England in the Lower East Side is up there.

5. What inspires you the most?
Coming across a well-written poem or novel, or a particularly moving painting at a museum moves me to do better.

6. Favorite place you have ever visited?
London.  No surprise there.

7. Favorite snack and why?
Cereal - because it's fun!

8. Most disgusting thing you ever ate (on purpose)?
Grasshopper from a taco.  I can still feel that leg stuck in my throat.

9. Favorite post-apocalyptic setting? Why?
Not big on post-apocalyptic settings, but I like Doctor Who, so any episode that falls in that category would be it, I suppose.

10. What is your favorite classic monster? Why?
On the same theme, the Daleks.  They're evil, but they are also pretty snarky - watch them face off with the Cybermen.

11. Favorite One Hit Wonder?
Come on Eileen by Dexy's Midnight Runners makes me happy for no particular reason.

So I'm nominating the following bloggers - some of whom I know in person, and some I may never meet (sad).  What they have in common is that I've read their blogs at some point in the past few months:

Tea For Me Please
The Kettle Meddler
Stop Me If You've Heard This One
Roses and Vellum
Cynthia Holt Events

Here's my questions - have fun!:  

  1. What's a project you're currently working on?
  2. Name a book you're really into right now.
  3. You can automatically speak and read another language besides your mother tongue fluently - which language would you choose?
  4. What grammatical or spelling error really grinds your gears? (I apologize if I've used any in this post.)
  5. You're planning a family/friend/fellow blogger/League of Evil gathering, and money is no object.  In what location would this gathering take place, and why?
  6. Has your writing been published elsewhere?
  7. What's your shower song?
  8. What is something that you view as a waste of time (not counting these questions)?
  9. Which sense leads you the most?
  10. First concert?
  11. Who sees you without makeup?

07 September 2015

What's up?

I thought I'd use my Labor Day off to catch up on a number of my indoor projects - spent enough of the weekend outdoors.  Sadly, I woke up with a tragically common sore throat, and I woke up really late at that.  I did take a tremendous amount of tea, anyway, and I published a bit on my other blogs.

Here's a rare update on my NY photo blog:


20 August 2015

Random Tea Memories by Catherine,,with ellipses...

I remember when Barnes and Noble had Republic of Tea at their cafes.  It was a highlight of working across the street from a B&N that one winter...

Now I think there's Tazo teas.  It's been awhile since I've been to a B&N cafe - it's not as fun without Bonnie, and there are fewer bookshops around to begin with...
...Guess I can always have whatever tea I want in my home library!

19 August 2015


Two of the colors I most enjoy, but it doesn't end there!

I'm not an intensely private person - there's a few things I keep to myself, and I love my alone time, but generally I'm not even close to an enigma.  I wouldn't have a blog if I minded sharing details about what I'm interested in, and preferences.  Though I rarely post my quiz results here anymore (leave that for Facebook), online quizzes are a delightful time waster.

There's one problem with quizzes - and interviews, or conversations in general.  The dreaded question...

"What is your favorite ______________"?

This could be anything from color, to book, to scent, TV episode, even animal.  When I see this question, I blink first and then say, "Oh come on...."

Do people like to narrow down their lives this way?  Why must there always be a Number One?

It's particularly frustrating when it comes to the things I'm passionate about.  For instance, if I'm introduced to someone as a Book Person, I'm often asked either "What is your favorite book of all time?" or "Who is your favorite author?" How do I answer this?  This love can't be expressed in one or two sentences.  By pigeonholing this pursuit into such a narrow response, one is likely to receive a bumbling answer from me, or something some rambling they will want to move away, quickly...

I believe, and don't stone me for saying this, that someone with an easy answer to such questions is not really a Book Person.  Now, if I'm asked about a favorite genre, I'd likely say History, or Historical Fiction, though I'm not limited to these in my reading life.

Color is another problematic one.  Questions arise: favorite color to wear, to paint my walls in...what?  I have said before that my favorite color flower is yellow, and this continues to be true, but yellow is not my favorite color.  That would be green. Or purple.  Or sky blue.  See what I mean?  

Food?  Okay, I'm a lover of dairy products (not always a healthy thing).  But how do I pick between pizza and ice cream?  And chicken, the reason I've failed at being a vegetarian?

Scent?  I could go on and on.  Fresh cut grass, citrus fruits, lavender, fresh baked bread - and cats that smell like fresh baked bread...

Of course, tea.  A staple in my tea diet is English Breakfast, but I'd be bereft without Jasmine Green and Earl Grey.  Darjeeling, Rooibos Chai, I'm mean, it's all about mood baby!

This is also why I don't like the term 'best friend'.  I have friends that I absolutely love, and the ones that move far away break my heart.  How can I call any of them 'best'?  Doesn't that pull up a wall to anyone else?  

I'm rambling again, but my solution is to dispense with Favorite.  If I volunteer that something is my favorite - for instance, ducks are my favorite birds, then okay, but don't make me choose the top when there's so much room for variety up there.  How about "What are some of your favorite teas?  Which writer are you most in the mood for reading?  What kind of food are you craving at the moment?"

In then end, there can only be (more than) one.

13 August 2015

Haven't Been There, Haven't Done That

There used to be only a handful of tea-related places to visit in New York, and a to-do list could possibly be fulfilled within a short amount of time.  Over the years I have missed a few spots, some of which I really missed as they are gone now.  Here are some places I intend to take tea at, though whether I will or not is left to Future Catherine:

Cha'an - I don't get down to the East Village as often as I'd like, and when I do it tends not to be when I'm in a tea mood.  I know that sounds odd coming from me, but it does happen.

Harney & Sons (upstate) - I've been to their shop in Soho once, and even that was about four years ago.  It's not open late into the evening last I checked, and I have little cause to be in Soho during midday hours.  There's a Harney Fest in their Millerton, NY location, but I can't make it this time around.  Such is life.

Palm Court Plaza Hotel - I have had tea in the Plaza Hotel, but only a quick chamomile in the Food Hall.  I recommend it, but someday I need to take it upstairs.

Lady Mendl's - For years, and years, and years I've failed to make it here.  Sadly, recent reviews have hinted at a downturn in service quality, and I hope I can pay a visit before it goes concave.

The Russian Tea Room - Honestly, I'm not dying to go here.  But it's there.  So maybe.  

Rose House (Flushing) - It would've been better to try when Bonnie still lived in Flushing.  Also, this has mixed reviews online.  The thing about Queens, though, is that we don't get too many full-on tea rooms that aren't bubble tea.  I love bubble tea, and FYI visit Tea and Milk on 34th Avenue if you get a chance, but until something more formal opens in Astoria, this is what we have.

The Lowell/Pembroke Room - I prefer dedicated tea shops to hotel tea rooms, mainly because it's easier on the wallet most of the time, but more than one person has recommended this place to me.  It's also not too far from where I work, and super close to an Alice's Tea Cup and a David's Tea.  I need to complete the Tea Strip!

11 June 2015


Just over a year ago I was able to visit Beacon, New York for presumably the first time.  It's one of those smallish towns along the Hudson that I absolutely adore, and might choose to live in if I had to leave the City.  The mountain views alone are nearly enough for me!  

Anyway, we were really hungry after a day of walking around the Hyde Park area (not the one in London, but pretty) and we ended up eating at a wonderful Soul Food restaurant on Main Street.  We did pass a Cup and Saucer Tea Room, which I had to pass wistfully.  

A few months later, I received word that the tea room was now a Doctor Who-themed restaurant called Pandorica.  Fantastic, 
right?  Well, yes and no...

Newly opened restaurants always have stuff to work out, and Pandorica was no different.  I'd read mixed reviews, and decided to wait until kinks were sorted.  Additionally, Pandorica's Facebook page urged locals to hold off visiting in its early stages.  I'm not sure if I'm really a local, as it's still and hour and a half drive away from Astoria (and longer on the Metro North I'm sure), but I didn't mind - I had a whole new series (season) of Doctor Who to enjoy, as well as the visit to the Doctor Who Experience in Cardiff.

After the long winter, and while it was still the lovely moderate weather of May, my friend Sarah and I were talking, and we decided we needed to stop talking and just go.  A day later, with her son and another younger friend, we were in Beacon!

It was a little warmer out than I'd have liked, but that wouldn't stop me from trying the Afternoon Tea.  Just off the bat, it was a Catherine-approved Afternoon Tea - tasty sandwiches, a variety of sweets, and scones with excellent clotted cream.  Pandorica definitely has that down.  

The menu has Whovian-inspired items like Madame Vastra Po boys, K-9's (corn dogs, fitting), and a faux Fish Fingers and Custard. The tea was enough, so I couldn't try any of these, but I'm sure they were fine.  The menu wasn't necessarily inexpensive, but it's wasn't maddeningly pricey either.  The service could use some sprucing up - the staff wasn't nasty or anything, but they were kind of slow.

Here are some highlights of the restaurant's decor:

The crack in time!

Fun, isn't it?  Plus, they have episodes of Doctor Who constantly streaming.  It was in early Amy Pond times when we were there.

I did think it was a well-done combination of tea and one of my favorite subjects, so a pairing.  My thoughts to improvement:  staff should dress in cosplay, or at the very least have TARDIS aprons.  I want to be transported.  Also, there was precious little Classic Who involved.  I know Pandorica springs from NuWho, and that's okay, but what of those of us who'd like to see art and knick knacks from the 70s, for instance?  The show has so much history, it's a shame to leave that out.  

Know that Pandorica has events such as Trivia Wednesdays, and I'm sure it's great for locals, but I doubt I'd trudge up there myself for that reason.  Still, I'm glad I made it at last.  If I need to get my kicks in my area, I'll probably stick to the Way Station.

22 April 2015

Tea Gallery: Alice Reading Beside a Cup of Tea by Roger de la Fresnaye

Tea and Books, Books and Tea!  Always an ideal pairing.  Also, Alice's Tea Cup.  I'm done here.

Still Here!

I began my first blog entry on the 19th of April, 2005 with a simple "Here I Am"!  

At the time, posting anything on the Internet was an unusual thrill for me.  It was my first attempt at social networking online, and I would write about anything and everything.  Now, though I don't post nearly as frequently, it's centered along the subject of tea and its periphery.  

I was limited in some ways.  My first laptop was a year away, and my home computer was ancient.  Most of my writing was done on breaks at work.  I didn't even know how to post pictures at first, and needed my friend Marie, who had also just started blogging, to help me put up a profile pic.  Eventually I figured things out - just in time for the arrival of Zenobia.  I also retroactively shared pics from my trip to London/France, which I'd embarked on right after my first post.  It was my pretend version of being a travel writer, and it was enough.

Then it became a community thing.  A bunch of my friends started keeping blogs, and we'd all comment on each others' posts, and I got to see people I was close to personally in a different light.  Some of these people ended up leaving New York, and now it was like a newsletter from (slightly) far away.  Yes, we could've just emailed each other, but this had a shinier format.

When everyone started to join Facebook in earnest, and later Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Tumblr (which is a form of blogging but feels different), Pinterest, etc. - and I joined many of these as well - things changed once again.  I posted less frequently on my blog, because I had other outlets.  I received fewer comments on the blogs - and now I'd extended to other blogs, in an attempt to be organized - and my friends were accessible in other ways.  

So, after ten years, why do I still have this blog?  Why bother?

Why not?

Some things never change

23 March 2015

A Tale of Two Cat Cafes

I've had the inestimable opportunity to visit two cat cafes in the space of three months.  Imagine being able to combine a love of cats and tea, and even books - and not even paying that much for the privilege!  I mean, unless you count the airfare to London.  

London and New York have a great deal in common, not least of all the problem of living space.  Unless you're loaded, being able to have even a decent sized apartment is a challenge, never mind a house with a garden.  Many people sacrifice a fairly proportioned kitchen, in-house laundry facilities, and other things most non-urban folk take for granted because location, location, location!  One of the greatest sacrifices, in my opinion, is being able to keep pets.  I'm a cat person, yes, but I'd love to have dogs (not to mention ducks), and the only reason I don't, besides the veterinary bills, is because I'd have to walk them in soggy weather.  I'd have more cats, but I stay balanced with one or two, because of cleanliness - and allergies. 

Many have had to forgo even one cat because it's not allowed in their building - which is ridiculous because it's not like the cat is going to scratch the walls off - or because they split rent with someone who's allergic.  These cat cafes are perfect, then, because it possibly fills a gap in their life for a space of time.  Or like me, you just like to go and see more kitties because there's not enough of them on the Internet...

Lady Dinah's Cat Emporium

As you know by now, I had and always do have a good time in London.  The past two trips I was a solitary traveler, which isn't too bad, though this time I was happy to reconnect with a friend from visits past, and meet some new friends. At my Sunday meeting I found a lovely family who asked me to their home for a tea break.  Besides their hospitality, and the excellent cuppa you only find in a British home (can nearly replicate it in my apartment), I met the family's Jack Russell terrier and two hilariously adorable Singapura cats.  It was my second day, and already I missed Zenobia, so this was a welcome encounter!  Instead of being satiated, though, it made me look forward to Monday's reservation even more.

On Monday, I did something I rarely do:  I gave myself plenty of time.  One thing I know about London is that I still get lost far too easily, and hitting an area like Shoreditch was bound to be a challenge.  And it was.  I took a wrong turn, ended up on the opposite side of Brick Lane, and took an unnecessary train or two, but at least it was a nice day for it.  

Got to Lady Dinah's a few minutes early, and those of us who had the 1 PM (aka 13:00) reservations were led into an anteroom where we washed our hands and were given brief instructions as to behavioral policies. Then we were in a cat Wonderland!

Normally, when I venture into a cafe alone, I want to be left alone, with my food, my drink, and my book(s).  Like a cat.  A cat who reads.  But this is a place where even cats aren't left alone (though you mustn't pick them up or wake them if they'll sleeping, them's the rules), so I attempted to tap into my social side for a few moments here and there.  

This is Donnie, the one that reminded me of Cinnamon, so probably my favourite.  The lady on the left worked at the cafe, and she was good at keeping the playful cats interactive, and answering our questions (mainly, 'What's his name?')

I was seated at a cozy couch, facing two sisters on a couch, and we shared the coffee table between us.  We shared photos of our own fur babies, as you do.  I'd already had a Full English Breakfast, so I couldn't go to town, but I think I got the gist of the place's menu.  Anyway, I was more of a Cream Tea girl on this trip than Afternoon Tea - the reservation is listed as Afternoon Tea, but ordering is a la carte.  So I had a cup of  perfect Darjeeling, excellent scone with clotted cream and jam, and a slice of cake - the Chocolate Mandarin Loaf, which is listed as Gluten and Dairy Free, and so tasty.  The cake would also pair nicely with an Earl Grey.

I was able to wander around the rooms too.  In most restaurants, even tearooms, that seems a bit forward, to say the least, but when there's kitties in every nook and cranny - well, you have to go exploring!  Plus, there's a fair amount of bookshelves, which is always fun for browsers.  

An altogether fine experience, with my fill of felines for the week, until I got home and received a full dressing down by the lonely Zenobia.

Fast forward two months, and we're in the dead of winter in New York.  The snow is no longer fun, and the cold is biting worse than a mean kitty.  It wasn't the kind of day I prefer to venture into the Lower East Side - a place I get nearly as lost in as I do Shoreditch, but I had a reservation and was meeting a friend.  I'm glad I didn't flake out.

Meow Parlour is a different kind of cat cafe.  There are rules to observe, and of course cats everywhere, but after that the similarities end.  

You need to take your shoes off straightaway.  I'm not a fan of this, especially in snow boot weather, but I knew I needed to do this in advance, so I wore decent socks.  The Macaron Parlour around the corner provides the food, and though you can (I think) order from the cat cafe, we personally went to select our macarons.  How cute are these?

The tea was Harney and Sons, and I picked an herbal, which was good. I was recovering from an incident where I'd smacked my face into a wall in the middle of the night, and it took a bandaid and much more makeup than usual to look presentable, so I didn't need much in the way of caffeination.   There weren't as many food items to choose from, but then again, the reservation is for half hour increments, so you don't really need much.

Copy Cat...get it?

  This was a one-room deal, but it was airy and the tables were more of a communal setting.  I mean, I shared a couch at Lady Dinah's, but that felt more plushy I think.

The other main difference I could see was that all the cats in Meow Parlour are up for adoption.  There's a process to it; you don't just point and say "I want this one", but either way, you know that though these cats are wonderful, and sweet and well-behaved, you might not want to get too attached, 'cause they may not be here next time!

Talk to the toe beans!

Both cat cafes fill a void, and I'm glad for their existence.  They seemed to fit their respective cities, and the cat/tea/book trifecta is fulfilled in each.

25 January 2015


I have a problem.  The most beautiful of problems.  I have too many choices!

In my earlier visits to London, my Kensington day wouldn't be complete without a stop to The Muffin Man.  Still, I wanted to visit The Orangery at some point, so Bonnie and I managed to get to that our last time together, while at the same time doing The Muffin Man on another day.  Obviously I have enough tea spots in that area.  Of course I had to find out about Candella!  

Yumchaa was discovered through Yelp, but Candella was a find via Instagram.  Yes, businesses, it works!

Kensington Church Street is one of my favorite streets to walk, and one that I only discovered in my past few visits.  It connects Kensington Hill Street with Notting Hill Gate, and it's a charming walk.  Of course, most of the shops are out of my league - antiques mostly - but that doesn't stop me from enjoying the view.  Also, the High Street isn't Oxford Street crazy, but it can be busy, and Church Street is always quieter without being deserted.  A perfect street to place a tea room!

My conundrum upon hearing about it, though, was when to visit.  Even I can have too much tea in one day, but I knew I had to fit it in.  So I made it a breakfast/nearly brunch destination on a Thursday - the same Thursday I went to Yumchaa - and this worked out well.

Piano Piano Piano!

Anyplace with this much cake is a PLACE TO BE!

It's not a large place, but some of the best places aren't.  However, when I sat down, I was a table over from a woman who seemed to be a regular, and being in close proximity to people makes me want to be extra careful with my table manners.  This doesn't just apply in London, but it certainly makes the pressure even stronger.  I mean, the Tea Queen of London is the Queen, and we were just blocks from a palace (like anyone cares what I do, but this is how my head works so deal with it.)  

You'd think the aforementioned conscientiousness would induce me to order a dainty finger food, especially considering the fact that of course I'd be reading a book whilst partaking.  Nope. I ordered the Eggs Benedict.  Hey, it seemed filling enough for the upcoming park stroll AND I believe it was the first time I'd actually had an English muffin in England (it was good.)

I can deal with this.

Of course, I was in for an awkward treat!  Everything tasted wonderful, and my appley black tea was perfect...and I should have tried some of that cake!  However, it's me, and attempting to eat with a fork and knife and basically one and a half hands would inevitably lead to disaster.  Okay, maybe not disaster, but anyway.  First of all, I was struggling with the background music.  It was the solo featured on Seinfeld when Elaine had the Pez dispenser on her lap and busted out.  I'm trying to eat gracefully and I keep visualizing Tweety Bird.  At long last my knife did a little flip and landed on the floor.  The lady next to me saw this and said something like , "No worries."  I need to adopt that attitude to life, I think.

Once my issues were fully dealt with, I realized this was a real winner of a tea shop.  Perhaps that's premature, as I didn't have my usual accompaniments, but this rough estimate came from the all-important ambience, and the fact that they served loose tea.  Nothing wrong with a good bagged tea, but in a place like this, you want to see the effort.  I'm spoiled for choice AND picky!

4 out of 4 teacups - Tube: High Street Kensington or Notting Hill Gate, both on the District/Circle lines.

13 January 2015

Tea Gallery: Sunday Morning, Woman Reading by Isabel Codrington

To me, the only thing better than a tea gallery is a bookish gallery.  Here's a bit of both.

Now that teapot is huge!  I'm hoping my eyesight is overlooking a samovar aspect to it, otherwise I predict a messy table.  No wonder she's holding up her book.  Also, if I were painted reading on a Sunday morning, the surroundings would be far less elegant.  Still, it'd be a fun picture to do a modern interpretation of - doubt I could find that particular floral arrangement.

24 December 2014


Like I mentioned before, London 2014 did not see me partaking in any afternoon teas.  This doesn't mean I don't like them anymore, but I find they're a bit much on my stomach, and I wanted to be in excellent shape this time.  Well, it worked: I was in good health pretty much the entire week.  There was no shortage of cups of tea though, and here's another spot I was able to try for the first time.

I'm not a manic yelp-er.  Oftentimes I find my opinion isn't the same as others'; for instance, too many people have less than kind words for Tea and Sympathy's service, whilst I've had as much satisfaction with the staff there than with most places I frequent.  Still, in my planning for London I did search on yelp for tea shop locations, as it's more or less up to date.  I read many rave reviews for Yumchaa, and particularly for their lemon drizzle cake, so after an invigorating walk through Hyde Park, and Oxford Street (which wasn't too bad in the late afternoon), I veered off a block to give it a chance - and to get off my feet.

The ground floor of Yumchaa has more of a communal feel to it, which is not my preference.  And straightaway I was able to assess that this place was more in line with an Argo or Communitea (RIP) than an Alice's or even Muffin Man.  I don't mind; sometimes I like to deal with ordering and paying and not having any further human contact for the duration.  I went for a tea called Regents Park, because London, and because I was in a fruity tea mood that day, and the lemon drizzle cake, and headed downstairs where there was ample seating.  I had a Chesterfield-ish couch to myself, and plenty of time to unwind with my favorite trifecta of tea-cake-books (scones come in a close second to cake.)

My experience was just fine. The cake wasn't as legendary as it had been described, but it was good, as was the tea.  Everyone else who was sitting downstairs was talking about hipstery things, or as you can see in the picture above, looking like they were thinking about hipstery things.  It put a mild damper on my time there, but it was expected.

I understand there's a few other branches of Yumchaa, and I'm glad for that.  One thing I will always agree to is a surfeit of tea spots - and as for this branch, well, it never hurts to have a little sanctuary from an otherwise overbusy shopping area.  A proper tea from a pot is always a plus, too!  7.5/10 teaspoons.

28 November 2014

The Muffin Man

So I'm back from another wonderful visit to London.  It went so fast, I hardly had a moment to let it all sink in, so here we are now.  I thought I'd kick off my coverage of the trip with the next to last day, because why do things in order?  Also, I'm reaching into the far past (for me, that is) to realize the present.  

Though I've strayed here and there, Kensington remains one of my favorite parts of London.  In fact, though we stayed in Southall that very first time in 1994 - it was close to the airport but a good distance from anything else - Pam and I chose as our first destination Kensington, and I have to admit, the first place we ate was Pizza Hut.  Yeah, not even Pizza Express.  Although since then I've grown well away from Pizza Hut, and my stomach thanks me for that, I liked seeing this particular one every time I came back to London.  

The pretty building's still here.  That's great.  Still, it's now a memory added to my list of other past-and-gone places, like Kensington Market, and Shelley's shoe store apparently, to mention a few in stone's throw of this picture:

However, just as London is a constantly changing city, there are always some mainstays.  Thankfully The Muffin Man, which I've mentioned plenty of times, was waiting for me once again.

It looks like they're given the outside a paint job recently.  I could be wrong, but it seemed brighter.  It's a wonderful color.

I was seated in the middle of the shop, which normally makes me kind of nervous.  In fact, for a very short time I thought I felt a panic coming on, but I did a quick stretch and all was well.  In truth, I think I was just a bit overexcited to be back in a favorite place.  My poor delicate psyche.

These ladies had my favorite spot in the shop, but I won't begrudge them as they looked so happy!  And how could you not be?


I'd had a Full English Breakfast earlier in the day.  In fact, I'd had three in the entire trip.  It was my substitute food coma for the afternoon teas I guess.  So I kept it simple at this point - tea with milk, unsweetened, and two still amazing scones with that unbelievably good clotted cream and strawberry jam,  Pair this with a book I'd just picked up the night before at Waterstone's in Angel, Islington, and it was a tea time fit for a happy me!

The Muffin Man: a living legend.

23 September 2014

Coffee is my Stalker

Okay, I mainly chose the above title because it's hilarious to say out loud when you're trying to hide your native New York accent. 
I have a mild case of paranoia.  It's mostly under control, as I know firmly that none of this is grounded (ha - coffee joke) in reality, but I tend to have dramatic relationships with objects.  For instance, I used to have an ongoing dialogue/rivalry with a copy machine in an old job.  It wanted to annoy me!  The street cleaners just had to pass me every time I left the house early.  Oh, and bicycles are coming to get me.  Ask my sister Bonnie - I'm often close to getting wiped out by bicycles when I attempt to cross a street!  Okay, that could be down to the growing amount of bicyclists in the city, but it sure keeps me on my toes!
If you're still reading, and not googling psychiatrists on my behalf, recently I find myself face to face with coffee nearly everywhere I turn.  It seems to be on the increase since I had to forbid myself from drinking caffeinated coffee altogether.  As you may had read in previous posts, I actually like coffee, but it's just not worth the side effects.  If I get a particularly aggressive craving, maybe I'll do decaf, but even that I keep to a rare treat. 
(By the way, if you're getting deja vu to pair with my paranoia, it's mainly because I've written about this problem before.  It had abated for a bit.  Now it's back.)
So how is this stalking happening?  Here's just a few examples: last week I went to a Capital One Cafe in Midtown.  It's been there for years, though I think it was under another name before, but I'd never stopped in, and thought hey, I'm in the mood for a scone, let's do this!  All well and good, but as I was leaving, a lady working there gave me a paper swag bag - I believe they're closing for a couple of weeks and this was a little promotional reminder for their reopening.  What's in the bag?  A tumbler (nice), and a big old bag of Medium Roast from Peets Coffee!  I took it, because -free-, but I gave it away later.  That same day Starbucks had a man with a tray of little samples of coffee.  I did have that, and no other caffeine for the duration of the day.  I went to a coffee shop on Saturday - for lunch, not coffee, and of course a waiter brought a cup of coffee over to me, because my friend had asked for a fork.  This makes total sense.  Then yesterday I stopped into Starbucks for a banana loaf cafe slice only.  I had tea in the office, but wanted a little something, as one does.  In the short course of making my order and receiving it, three baristas asked me more than once if I was sure I didn't want something to drink (presumably coffee.)  What part of climbing up the walls do they not understand? 
These examples are not the only ones - after all, it's the best season of the year (closely rivalled by spring), and Pumpkin Spice Latte ads are everywhere!  Did I mention I work in Manhattan???  Yep.

Not my pic, couldn't find the source. 


22 August 2014

Tea and an English/Tisane and a Belgian

I haven't been to nearly enough barbecues this year - though I've been treated to some nice ones, and let's not forget Texas!  If we factor in the extraordinarily mild summer we've had, though, I'd say everyone in my region should be eating outdoors more often.  For the first time in ages, I don't want this season to end!

I was thinking about a particular barbecue a few years ago when it was probably more oppressively warm.  My sister and I were probably reminiscing about the wonders of autumn, and all the indoor times we could enjoy.  We humans are never satisfied with what we presently have - and that goes double for New Yorkers!  I tend to mention during such conversations that I almost never bake between June and September, or even cook much, and though I do spend time indoors, it's not quite as cozy with the a/c blasting.  Well, along these lines my sister brought up a mini ritual she shared with her husband on some evenings, which they dubbed "Tea and an English."  This was comprised of cups of likely herbal tea, maybe cake, and a period film or televised drama, or perhaps a mystery program.  For the most part, the evening's entertainment was of an English nature.  In case you haven't gathered from previous posts, this very much reflects the evenings we'd spent as a family growing up, though now there was a name to it.
Despite it being pleasantly mild, I'm still a little allergic to summer mentally.  This was brought home to me during an otherwise good week in July when I ended up in the hospital after a rather violent panic attack.  Though these things have a number of underlying causes, it was no coincidence that I'd had my "monthly coffee" the previous afternoon - an iced vanilla latte from Starbucks.  Now I know that I must never, under any circumstances, drink a whole cup of caffeinated coffee - even decaf is a little risky to my system but if I get a true craving I might go there.  I need to keep even my caffeinated tea drinking down to maybe one cup a day - which means I'll make sure it's a good one each time!  And I've brought in even more herbal tea - tisane - into my life.   
My own "Tea and an English" usually consists of either a choice from Netflix, or the occasional broadcast TV moments.  There's still a touch of loyalty to the "Masterpiece" programs on PBS, and there's nothing like watching a mystery program at the time it's airing.  After Endeavour was over for the year (more cliffhangers!), it was advertised that PBS would be airing two new Poirot stories.  I hear that for some reason the two final episodes would not be aired in the US, which I don't understand, as there are the truly last ones Agatha Christie wrote.  Nevertheless, it occurred to me that I hadn't watched a Poirot on my own...ever.  I know it wasn't one of the favorites in my family growing up - though my other brother-in-law liked it apparently - but neither was Doctor Who, and...well.
It wasn't fair to leave Poirot out, actually.  After all, I played Agatha Christie - or a satirical version of her - in our 6th grade production of "Murder on the Orient Express Subway".  I grew up in Queens, remember.  It was the only chance I'd had to act in a school play, since most of them were Christmas productions and I've never celebrated Christmas.  Anyway, it was a cute adaptation, and one written I believe when Christie was still alive - she died the year I was born.  We put on the play around the same time David Suchet helped make the Belgian detective a household name again.  Decades later, with the magic of streaming whole television series, I became (re)acquainted with this character.
All in all, I like Hercule Poirot.  He can be a little arrogant, but no more than Sherlock Holmes who I still adore, and he's a little more personable I think.  He's incredible clever, fussy with his appearance - and that mustache!  I don't prefer mustaches, but on Poirot it's perfect.  There's a poignancy to his being a foreigner - one from a not too distant land but viewed as lacking in understanding in some quarters - that gives him a sort of relateability to anyone who's felt like an outsider.  The stories themselves can be repetitive - many jewelry robberies and readings of wills, people in poor disguises...and how many times does Poirot and Hastings visit the seaside and well-appointed country homes?  Yet I'm glad for watching.  It's a good show to wind down with after a long day. And it coincides with my need for a relaxing beverage - the tisane.
The word 'tisane' was popularized through the preference of this fictional detective.  Poirot expects his tisane as a specific time each day, and it's not an easy task to make it correctly.  He likes other drinks, but this one is his essential one, and there is consternation on his part if it's not accessible at any of the many hotels he stays at (where someone usually gets murdered.) And now, when my caffeine intake must be further diminished, it's nice to find a co-drinker of the herbal infusions where I can. 
Of course, these observations only come from one particular adaptation, and to get to know Poirot well I may have to read some of the novels they're derived from.  A book lover's life is never dull!
I still have some episodes to go through - Poirot, Endeavour Morse and others have kept my fictional life steady throughout the summer - but now that autumn is coming (more hot beverages!), I'll have some new television to look forward to.....
NEW DOCTOR WHO TOMORROW!!!!!!!  Tea and a Gallifreyan!

10 July 2014

Tea Gallery: Tattoos?

I would never get a tattoo.  This I know for a certainty.  I used to put those temporary ones on in the late 90s, and within a day or so I'd get sick of looking at it.  One of them - a flower on my ankle, lasted so long that when I started a new job, it was assumed that this was an actual tattoo.  I guess I wasn't much for exfoliation back then!

My opinions on tats notwithstanding, it is still an art form, so I had to share this Buzzfeed article (Buzzfeed is one of my guilty pleasures, by the way.  It's like a mug of PG tips tea with milk and sugar - quick, tasty and effective, but maybe not the finest of tea-taking.)  Enjoy!

30 May 2014

Recent Books and Pairings

I'm a bit behind on my reading.  Granted, I'm still a voracious book inhaler, but I'm not up to maximum capacity.  Either way, here's some titles I've enjoyed recently:

Shada by Douglas Adams and Gary Russell
aka The Lost Episodes of the Tom Baker years.  Yes, we're in Doctor Who territory here.  In this case, I'm sort of going back to the beginning.  You see, when I decided one winter's day to finally sit down and out see this Doctor Who thing for myself, I kicked off with The City of Death, which was a story from the same time period as Shada - the same Doctor and companion, and the same writer! I loved the humour of it, and swiftly continued on to the series starting in 2005 - which was actually more serious in tone, but fantastic in its own right.

Romana II

I was hesitant to read this novelization, as I knew it was Douglas Adams' story filled in by someone else in novel form.  It's been a long hiatus since the most recent episode though, which is the best time to go to the classics.  Of course it turned out to be just what the Doctor ordered (sorry)...a bad guy with a god-complex intent on rewiring the universe, an aged Time Lord spending retirement among his books at Cambridge, whose entire answer to entertaining visitors is making them endless cups of tea (!), and a nerdy love story.  In any event, once I'd read the book I also discovered that a DVD had been released of all the available Shada footage, with the rest being filled in by Tom Baker's narration.  The footage was very good indeed - a rare on-location filming, though getting more commonplace at the time, as City of Death was shot in Paris - and though I liked the book I find it a shame that complications revolving around a strike killed the episodes dead.  To pair, I'd take a black tea, with milk if there's any left, two lumps and two sugars...

This led me to a well-overdue reading of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.  It was a quick read, with a few good laughs.  It was sci-fi that didn't take itself too seriously.  I can get on board with that.  I'm currently reading The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, which is a little slower going for me, but going nevertheless.  Something about these stories makes me recommend choosing a tea made from a Keurig machine - particularly a miserable machine if you can find one.

1066: The Year of the Three Battles by Frank McLynn
I should have known that a book with the word 'Battles' in its title would be not quite my cup of tea.  I didn't hate it; in fact, there were a couple of chapters that I would recommend.  The actual year in question takes over 200 pages to reach, but in between there were a few people of note that had readable lives  The problem for me, and this could just be a personal difficulty, is that there was an extensively long cast of characters introduced into the story.  Many of them were integral, but all those Viking/Norman/Saxon names were dizzying after a while.  A few more diagrams and family trees may have helped. As for tea, you'll need some help staying alert at times, so try a hearty Assam-rich blend like PG Tips or Extra Strong Tetley, or whatever is close enough to these in your area.  If you like green tea, I find Jasmine scented greens tend to be stronger in caffeine content. 

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson
I'm not particulary good at the outdoors.  It's one shortcoming of mine I'd really like to do something about - well, that and procrastinating, but I'll take care of that another time.  I spend more time in Central Park than many New Yorkers, for sure, and I made it up and down Bear Mountain (which technically, the Appalachian Trail runs through), but to rough it from Georgia to Maine is something I can safely say won't happen anytime soon.  And let's be honest, it's not something most people even of a decent constitution could pull off.  Bill Bryson is not the poster boy of fitness, but he's willing to give things a try which I admire. Of course (spoilers) he didn't actually traverse the entire AT, but he invested many nights eating soggy ramen noodles, bad weather, and a lack of reading material to pull together a good story about endurance, and putting up with various personalities.  I'd read this in the comforts of home, or you know, leaning against a tree pretending to be a part of it all, while sipping any kind of tea you'd like, because it would have to be better than anything Mr. Bryson digested in his CRAZY LONG WALK.

Making Masterpiece by Rebecca Eaton

After years of watching Masterpiece programs, the name of the Executive Producer of Masterpiece lurked somewhere in my subconscious, but her memoirs brought it to the fore. I've watched PBS shows since I'd say always, but only came into Masterpiece Theatre, and especially Mystery! since about the time Rebecca Eaton was involved in it.  These programs shaped me to an extent - I'm sure I've recounted here a number of times how my family would have tea parties before settling in to watch Miss Marple and Jeremy Brett's Sherlock Holmes on the weekend.  I want to pronounced that 'week-end', like a confused Dowager Duchess from the most successful endeavor of Ms. Eaton's career...

I liked the behind the scenes look at some of my favorite TV moments, though she was quiet about certain people - I feel like she could have said so much more about Jeremy Brett, and only ONE passing mention of David Tennant? For shame!  Still, she was open about many of her career errors, the largest one in my opinion being the rejection of Pride and Prejudice (the Colin Firth version), which I don't think I'd have wanted to admit.  Also, the reasoning behind Downton Abbey and Sherlock airing later than it does in the UK didn't really float for me, especially since she chases that down with her dismay at the piracy of said shows.  In this day and age, when people live-tweet spoilers, what does she expect?

It was a little rambling, but another good quick read.  I'd pair this with either the official Downton Abbey tea, or considering Ms. Eaton's line of work, a nice blend picked up from a shop in England.


16 April 2014

Stray Observations, Mostly Tea-Related

In the name of completion, I'd like to go through a few more snaps from my trip to Texas last month, along with a little commentary.

A very notable location...

The River House Tearoom, in Gruene, s quick drive from San Antonio.  The town itself was perfectly lovely; apparently it had its name from its German population.  The best wurst I've ever had!  Of very course we had to visit its tearoom.  I was disappointed that Afternoon Tea was only available in reservation form, but it was a cozy place with wonderful muffins.  I felt at home - basically because I have the same teapot - that one, top shelf, fourth item from the left.  

Brackenridge Park, San Antonio.  There was a small tea shop by the Japanese Tea Garden, but I was left confused as to why it was called The Chinese Tea Garden.  Mysteries abound!

Austin - a fun, funky capital - the day before its South by Southwest Festival was to begin.  An influx of hipsters, as a result.  Sadly, this includes, well, this:
I shall say no more on this subject.

At a gathering, I was interested in the iced Hibiscus that I almost mistook for Sangria.  Actually, during my entire trip to Texas I didn't imbibe once.  Usually on vacation I'll drink at least once or twice, but this trip was an exception, which is just fine. I didn't have coffee either, but tea is always on the menu for me! I'd had Hibiscus tea before, mostly in herbal/fruit blends, and it's a good source of Vitamin C, or something healthy like that.  Iced tea, particularly Sweet Tea, is all over the South, but I didn't realize that iced Hibiscus tea was so common, until I also saw it on the menu of the cafe in Book People.  And of course, not long after I'd returned home I saw it in a menu of a New York spot - isn't that always how things go?

Oh, and Book People was worth the unnecessary Crazy Long Walk on Austin's 6th Street.  Sadly we had precious little time to browse, but it's a large, excellent independent bookstore that I'd love to return to someday.  Check out what was written in one of the bathroom stalls:

More on Texas whenever I get a chance to return - who knows when that will be?