I’ve always been a bit of a Britophile, enjoying what the UK delivered to the US especially in terms of music. Many of my teen years were spent listening to the biggest British invasion since the Beatles during the 1980’s. My walls were plastered with Duran Duran posters and all my friends had their Brit favorites: Billy Idol, The Police, Culture Club, Wham and later New Order and the Manchester Rave scene. I wanted desperately to go to the UK and eventually spent two months in the Fall of 1990 going to school and living in London. I developed a fast friendship with a nice neighbor in my flat building and we had some interesting pub nights. I experienced some culinary errors and delights, especially chips (fries), and since then I’ve preferred eating them with mayo. I’ll touch more on this adventure another time, but it was during this experience that I was converted from drinking coffee and diet Coke to tea. Many Steampunk and Victoriana adventures talk of tea; mine included.
So I am here to sing the praises of tea. I had discovered Earl Grey in London, but essentially went back to the standard Lipton or whatever we had around the house upon returning home to the States. I then graduated to flavored bags, blueberry and the like and my mom turned me onto Celestial Seasonings. After working seasonally for a gourmet wine and cheese shop, I discovered loose leaf teas from Republic of Tea but at the time it was a little cumbersome and expensive. As I started my Steampunk journey a few months ago, it seemed proper to include my love of tea. I wanted to know more than just a few snippets from Dr. Oz about the benefits of tea. I was ready to become a tea connoisseur.
I had seen the local London Tea Room on several lifestyle shows and knew that this would be the obvious place to start. I thought I would just drop in, so I checked the hours on their website on a sunny Saturday and was pleased to find that they were having a tea class and tasting later that very week. I am lucky that they are just a few blocks away from my apartment, so I zipped on over and signed up. The staff was warm and the atmosphere was pleasant. I was starting to get the tea joneses.
This trip turned out to be a little two-fer; I stopped at Levine Hat Co. about a block down the street and found a nice Steampunkish fedora for 50% off and very affordable, the only one left, size small for my undersized melon. I went home feeling blessed by little Victorian cherubs.
When the class day arrived, I was ready to learn, mini notebook in hand and thirsty for tea goodness and warmth despite the blistering heat outside. There were about a dozen ladies who gathered promptly at 7pm at the London Tea Room. Each of us had a small cup and Tea Catalogue at the ready. The proprietors of this lovely establishment, Jackie and Anna began by educating us on the history of tea.
A brief recap here: all teas come from China, and like wines, they are affected by region, weather/climate, harvesting, and how it’s served. It spread from the ancient tea gardens to North East India. Around 700-800 during the dawn of the Samurai era, the elaborate tea ceremonies began. Tea became appreciated for its medicinal and calming benefits.
At this point in the history the tasting fun began. Anna began serving us varieties of teas in betwixt Jackie’s history and explanations. We passed around wonderfully delicate plates of the freshly steeped leaves. We tried a Jade Cloud first; it had woodsy, a spinach like smell, but tasted wonderful with no bitterness. Jackie continued by telling us that tea had become common in Britain via Indian trading posts, informing us of the botanicals of the tea bushes, about oxidized and non-oxidized teas, and how processing plays such an important role in what quality of tea you get. I don’t want to dip too far into detail here, other than to say that these ladies really know their tea and basically what you get in a grocery store tea bag is crap. They purchase the highest quality teas from organic and ecologically sustainable tea estates from reputable buyers. I have no idea how they ended up here in St. Louis, MO, but I at this point, I am sure glad that they are here.
We continued listening and tasting. We tried a White tea that was pink in color, little drier and sweet. Next was an Oolong which honestly smelt like um, the “happy weed” so to speak, but was rich in flavor and is well known for its health benefits. An Assam, the highest grade of tea followed; it’s often served with milk and honey and is a good variety for coffee drinkers. But it was the last tea we tried, the Cinnamon Plum that instantly transported me to what a Dickensian Christmas must have been like. It was sweet and spicy and my horrible Midwest allergies were soothed.
Jackie and Anna then opened the floor to questions. We learned a bit more about steeping, why tea is better than coffee (on a caffeinated level, coffee will spike quickly and drop while tea has its own natural time release) and that tea actually can quench your thirst. For attending the class we were given a good sized sample of their Parisian Breakfast blend and also offered a 10% discount.
Enter the Naughty Vicar. As we perused the Tea Catalogue and the lovely display of pots and cups, this tea caught my eye. I decided I really didn’t need another cup or pot so I took a sniff of this tea. I had to have it. As I write this, I am sipping on a heavenly, relaxing blend of black teas, blackcurrants and vanilla that is widely believed to be an aphrodisiac. Although I am not inspired to call my boyfriend in the middle of the night for a little snogging, I am definitely in love with the Naughty Vicar and will be back to the London Tea Room for more.
If you happen to be in my fair city, you can visit them at 1520 Washington Ave., St. Louis, MO 63103 or you can order teas online www.thelondontearoom.com. Cheers!
*Just a note-I originally was going to post this on Friday July 20th, but the sad events in Colorado prompted me to blog something more fitting. For at least every other day posts, please “Like” my Facebook page The Countess.