31 March 2009

Oh come on man!

I got the following message from a Whittard email :

Whittard Stores in US have closed
You may have heard that the Whittard tea store at Faneuil Hall in Boston, MA has closed. The parent company, Whittard of Chelsea, UK went through some restructuring and one of the things they did was to close all the Whittard US stores. Whittard UK is still in business and continues to market their products. If you want to buy more of their fine tea, hot chocolate, or ceramics, see below.

Okay, they never made it to New York, but it was nice just to be able to visit them when I went to Boston, and to know they were only a bus ride away. In fact, I was hoping that like Lush, they would eventually make it to NY, but no.....

I'm sad. Topshop coming to Soho really soon is not making me feel better. I also feel bad for the nice girls that worked in Feneuil Hall; they were really helpful and taught me the proper pronunciation for Whit-tard. I hope they found another job somewhere - is Lush hiring?

I'll get over this; give me time. At least I still have two of their teas left. Now I only have the myriads of online and nearby tea companies to get my teas and infusions from. Darn.

28 March 2009


It's not summer yet (thankfully), but this year I'll have another treat to add to my list...and this one's perfectly healthy. On a recent Whole Foods spree, while looking for an ice cream substitute, I saw a product called Frostea: ice pops made out of different kinds of tea. It's dairy free, gluten free, calorie reduced, and did I mention it was made from TEA?! All right, the one I selected was made from herbal tea, but that's fine too. Caffeine free! It was called "Cool your jets", which is perfect. It had chamomile, lemon, mint, and is sweetened with honey. It tasted really good, and refreshing. Actually, it reminded me of the smell that comes from opening a box of Celestial Seasoning's Sleepytime. How peacefully nostalgic.

Even better, I can finally have an ice pop, the ones you squeeze out of the plastic and try not to spill all over yourself, and not feel like I'm eating something completely worthless and childish. Of course, I might indulge in a scrape ice from time to time (I love scraping with the wooden spoon!), but I think I'll try Frostea's other flavors first.

14 March 2009

Hi Lily

I only have myself to blame.

I tell myself to lay off the chocolate; much as I love it, it doesn't love me back, and why should I live with that kind of rejection? But I keep relenting, keep letting a little more chocolate into my life. There's always an excuse. This time it was the opening of a new shop near Bryant Park (hence walking distance from my job), called Lily O'Briens.

It was the combination of it being a damp day out, and the intrepid feeling of trying a new place. Plus, once I can smell the chocolate I'm doomed. So I bought a cup of dark hot chocolate to accompany me on my way back to the office.

It was $4.25, which is crazy, but I suppose being near the site of a biannual fashion week they could get away with it. Plus it wasn't made from cocoa powder but rather melted down chocolate, so it was really rich - the way it should be, as I've said before.

I only looked around the shop really quick. It was pretty enough, and seeing as it's named after its Irish founder, I was grateful not to see the usual traps of shamrocks and green, green, green. I know it's my favorite color but it just wouldn't have been cool in this context. Besides, Wednesday will show enough of that theme all over the city. I also briefly noted that they use a Parisian tea company, Dammann Freres, which means I must return at least one more time.

The napkins are chocolate brown, which is awesome. Have you ever wiped your mouth after drinking hot chocolate, and been kind of grossed out? Well, I have, so this was good thinking and presentation on the part of whoever chose the napkins.

So back to the actual hot chocolate. Oh yeah, marvelous it is. On the drizzly day I tried it, the chocolate simply hugged my tongue like a blanket you pull over yourself while watching a DVD at home when the heat hasn't come up properly. Oh, and it tasted magnificent as well.

I did not escape the requisite "stomach" issues later on (sooner rather than later, actually), but I'm glad I was able to give it one try. If you're in the area, it's certainly worth a stop-in.

Out of two pinkies up, I'll give it 1 1/2 - not because I felt sick later, that's my fault, just because it could have been slightly cheaper.

12 March 2009

Teashop Girls

teashop girls

I haven't had such a good time reading a YA book in ages! Surprise, surprise, it's about tea. I really wish books like these were around when I was younger, but at least we had Anne of Green Gables.

Speaking of red-haired Annes, the main character in this story is Annie Green, a 13-year old girl living in Madison, Wisconsin who loves her grandmother's teashop, The Steeping Leaf. This in itself is endearing. She wants to work as a barrista there. When this particular dream comes true, she must work out her feelings for a fellow barrista, while trying to save The Leaf from closing for good. And she tries to keep her Teashop Girls together, she and her two close friends since they were little girls.

I rarely run across a book like this, and I wish young readers could get into this kind of reading. Some one's review I read of this book mentioned that it reminded them of the Babysitters Club, and I agree. There's a level of professional spirit in Annie that's coupled with respect for authority. Plus it has a degree of wholesomeness without the dullness, and without a supernatural being in sight, yet entertaining. You just don't see that too much in the YA section of the bookstore. Did I mention the tea?

Interspersed within the chapters are facts about tea, including history, brewing instructions and recipes. I did scratch my head when it was mentioned that Queen Elizabeth I drank tea every morning - because last time I checked people weren't drinking tea in England till the mid seventeenth century - I think the English were still imbibing ale on their misty mornings at that point. But I'll let that fly.

It's a quick read, and fun, and in a sense deeper than chick-lit, so this is definitely two pinkies up.

09 March 2009


After a long walk, one is in need of refreshment. And it was a long walk - from Astoria, Queens to the Upper West Side in Manhattan is no joke - approximately 6 miles, according to Map Quest. Now if you're slightly out of shape (and blaming the recent inclement weather), that's quite an accomplishment. I'm not complaining or looking for commendation; just observing. In fact, it was an enjoyable walk, with two good friends for conversation and a definitely scenic route - all on one of the most gorgeous weather days in ages.

At this point, though, we'd worked off our lunches and were looking forward to a nice dinner. What we needed to hold us off was a little break in a cafe - and the Upper West Side has enough of those. Daphne had heard there was one on 84th Street that was on a site Poe once lived at, so...why not?

I was relieved enough upon entering that it was only lightly influenced by all things Poe. There's always the frightening prospect that someone is going to try to pull a Jekyll and Hyde-type restaurant, which is fun if you're in the mood, but I didn't feel like seeing a menu full of ravens and pendulums and tell-tale hearts,and thankfully it was not like that. The ceiling looked a bit flamey, and the chandelier was kind of incongruous next to the very ordinary looking ceiling fans, but it was a pleasant environment.

As a Cheapy Mccheaperson, I was a little wary looking at the menu. Nearly everything was priced slightly above what I was comfortable with, but I was calm enough, knowing I was just going to get dessert and tea. I ordered carrot cake - which was a mistake. I love a good, moist carrot cake with its slightly risky (for me) cream cheese frosting and walnuts. This cake was kosher, though, which perhaps affected its carrot cakeiness. The cake portion was like carrot cake flavored wheat bread, and the frosting was more like low fat butter than cream cheese. Hopefully what was lacking in taste was also lacking in calories. Daphne had a berry rhubarb pie, I think, and she didn't mind it but didn't rhapsodize either. Jodi tried a split pea soup and said it tasted very fresh, so points scored there.

The tea, however, was not a disappointment. I've never heard of Paromi Tea before - but then again it seems there's more tea companies in existence nowadays than the total amount of lovely weather days in my entire life. It was a big plus that they use Paromi tea bags that are of the nice quality pyramid type. I ordered the Lemon Ginger Oolong, which was described as "intensely aromatic and smooth with a gentle lingering of lemon and ginger". That it was. It gave me just enough of a pick-me-up to get me through the rest of the evening (though we didn't actually walk back to Astoria.) And the taste was light and lingering. Beautiful.


I will forgive Edgar's for the dull cake, as I hear some of their desserts are to die for, and I'd like to give them a second chance - when I'm in the splurging mood, of course.

Bathroom report: Very clean and actually pretty; almost felt like I was in a tiny indoor garden/sitting room. These little things are important.


02 March 2009

Slightly Disappointed

I completely deserved a treat after yesterday's long hike. Daphne and I managed to get to Midtown Manhattan from Astoria within an hour's time, despite it being pre-snow chilly out. I need this kind of exercise more often, but since winter's a rough time to be out and about, and joining a gym would completely break the bank, I've been nearly hibernating for the past three months. So what are two thoroughly pleased-with-themselves but weary ladies to do but head down to Caffe Reggio for something nice and refreshing?

As I've mentioned before, Reggio is (by American standards), an ancient cafe that boasts NY's "Original Cappuccino". The food's okay (my favorite is the Pignoli Tart), and they even serve loose tea (great for a city that rarely serves loose tea with exception to actual tea rooms), but it's the ambience that draws me back. They really don't make 'em like this anymore, the dimly lit, dark Italian Renaissance paintings, kitschy statues, clocks, the original cappuccino urn - attempts to recreate this vibe elsewhere would likely seem contrived. It feels European without the exchange rate - and the increasing proliferation of conversations that end with a question mark? at every sentence and phrase? confirms that some of the young hipstery types have found their way here. Thankfully they're dispersed among other kinds of people? (oh no, I'm talking like that now!)

Every time I come I've looked longingly at the corner near the restroom that I call the "Nefertiti Suite", because it's ensconced in such a way that would make it cozy for couples, yet appealingly private for someone like me - oh and there's a Nefertiti bust on the wall above. This was the first time I arrived to find that corner empty, and I made a beeline for it. So far, so good. My time there chatting with Daphne was just lovely, and in that I was perfectly happy. But I made one mistake - I ordered the hot chocolate.

Here's a brief history of the Gata and chocolate. I, like most people, love chocolate, but like some people, does not get love in return. I have certain sometimes embarrassing digestive issues that leads me to cut down on food containing dairy, red meat, coffee, and chocolate. When I do have any of these things in a meal or drink, I make sure to make it worth my while. I truly savor it. (Recently I had a cheeseburger deluxe with a vanilla milk shake, and despite the discomfort the following morning, it was absolute heaven.) So I make sure to have only cheeses I really like, quality ice cream (no diet Breyers for me!) beef that doesn't take effort to chew (why waste my time on a tough steak?), and only the most fabulous chocolate. I shun most candy bars, and don't go near Swiss Miss. They're not horrible, but the ensuing results have to have made the investment worth it. A few weeks ago I allowed myself a small cup of Jacques Torres hot chocolate, and I was near tears from the sheer pleasure. Sometimes I'll allow myself a red velvet cupcake, but only from places known to make the best ones (Magnolia!)

Knowing this, ordering hot chocolate at Caffe Reggio was an informed decision. One news website claimed that the best hot chocolate in NY was here. I figured my socks would be knocked off, along with my boots and my growing blisters. And...meh. It was just ok. I know I didn't order whipped cream - I didn't think I'd have to. But it was kind of watery, not a large cup, and simply boring. Yes, I added sugar, and it helped (I already knew it wasn't gonna come sweet). I don't know, though. It wasn't terrible, but if I'm going to risk an outraged "stomach", I want PERFECT! THE BEST! And it wasn't that at all.

Thankfully it didn't quite ravage my gut, but I did have trouble sleeping last night - not the best way to start a snowy Monday.

To sum it up, I love Reggio, always will, and I know I'll return again and again. I hope they stay around for a long time. I'm just not gonna order the hot chocolate.