Oui Oui

French Earl Grey

The French have had many things attributed to them, that I daresay they have absolutely no idea about:

  1. French fries (definitely not French)
  2. French onion soup (pretty sure they just call it onion soup)
  3. French onion dip (it’s American)
  4. French salad dressing (American again)
  5. French toast
  6. French cricket
  7. French Earl Grey tea

That being said, you jam the word ‘French’ on the front of anything and it instantly becomes more sophisticated and snooty. For example: bread (ok), French Bread (ooooooooh).

French Earl Grey is a blend that has sky-rocketed in popularity since T2 started selling it. It jostles with Melbourne Breakfast for first place in the popularity stakes. And I can’t count the number of times I’ve been discussing tea with someone and they say, “I like French Earl Grey. What else should I try?”

Here is my list of teas that are worth giving a shot if you like French Earl Grey:

  1. Monk Pear
  2. Terrific Toffee
  3. Black Rose
  4. Green Rose
  5. Milky Oolong (because everyone should try Milky Oolong)
  6. Melbourne Breakfast
  7. Gorgeous Geisha
  8. Jade Mountain
  9. Madagascan Vanilla
  10. Rose Earl Grey (not from T2, but worth the order from Pine Tea and Coffee!)

As for the tea itself (in case you are still, somehow, uninitiated), it hits you with a floral, citrus, bergamot aroma that entices as it brews. A 2 minute brew is enough for me, because it contains *ugh* hibiscus, and longer than 2 minutes makes regret my choice of tea. The sip itself has a strong black flavour, met equally by a floral flavour with citrus notes and an overall bright flavour. The tea can accommodate milk, and cow’s milk is probably the best (if you can have it), but for the most part, I recommend having it black, because some of the floral quality is lost when milk is added. Rest assured, this is one time you can trust the masses. This brew is divine.

French Early Grey: 5/5
Enjoy with: Your snootiest afternoon tea spread (including fine bread and cheese!)

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Kindness

Toasty Nougat

Some people are just born to be kind. I have one such friend, who is the embodiment of kindness itself. I sat with another friend of mine and we tried to come up with 3 people my kindest friend wouldn’t invite in for the night if they had no where to stay. We came up with 2.

She’s one of those people to whom I owe a great deal. We met when we began studying together, and she was a breath of fresh of air in a sea of hyperbole and affectedness. I understand that at university age, people are spreading their wings of opinion and learning to fly outside the confines of high school, but we were both well into our 20s and therefore considered ‘mature age’ students. We were the rung of mature age students that’s looking for some like-minded friendship. Not the type that sits almost at the front of the class and has ~a lot of questions~ that begin with, “It’s really more of a comment. (Insert my life experience here because it will be valuable, I’m sure).”

The years my friend spent studying in Australia, she and her husband became great companions to me and my husband. She kept me sane when I thought I was losing my mind over ancient languages. She also kept me humble because she could pull almost the same marks as me, except she’d write her essay in about 6 days and I’d take nearly 4 weeks. Then one day, her study time here in Australia came to an end, they packed themselves up and we saw them off at the airport.

18 months later, my Main Man, Little Lad, and I made the gruelling 27 hour trek to the Eastern side of Canada to visit. And we fell in love with the city, and can’t wait to go back again. But what was better than being in a beautiful location was being with our friends again. They seem to operate on our level and we reminded each other of some of the best of each other that goes by the wayside in our inevitable periods of absence.

Luckily for my friend, I reintroduced her to the love of tea. Canada doesn’t have T2 (real oversight, there T2), but they do have David’s Tea, which is pretty good if you can’t have T2. David’s has a herbal blend called ‘Forever Nuts’, and it has a heavenly scent. My friend bought some, and then told everyone about it, including the fact she wanted to bathe in it. For me, I couldn’t get the song “Forever Young” by Alphaville out of my head.

I snagged a small sample of ‘Forever Nuts’ to bring home, but a close T2 comparison is Toasty Nougat.

It’s a caffeine free tea, and I love it as an evening sip. It’s a bit fruity, but largely nutty, with popcorn, salt, and malty notes. Truly reminiscent of creamy nougat. It smells divine dried and once brewed, easily considered a liquid pudding.

Toasty Nougat: 5/5
Enjoy with: your kindest friends.

Devotion

Monk Pear

High above the Plain of Thessaly, beside the Pindos Mountains in central Greece, towers a rock formation known as Meteora. Built into this unusual piece of nature is a series of monasteries that have a central role in the Eastern Orthodox religion. The geology of the place is difficult to explain, and the reasoning for building here is more difficult again. But it is a beautiful place to behold.

The largest of these monasteries is The Monastery of Great Meteoron. Most of it serves as a museum now, and the icons that cover the walls are testament to the devotion of the people who decorated the monastery. The smallest of all the monasteries is The Monastery of St. Nicholas Anapausas. During my visit a few years ago, only one monk lived there.

The devout life is one that has intrigued me since I first watched ‘Sister Act’ in the early ’90s. I didn’t really have much other exposure to nuns, other than watching ‘The Sound of Music’. I couldn’t reconcile that Maria in the Abbey was somehow pursuing a life similar to Maggie Smith’s in Sister Act, because Maggie Smith was (and still is) so much cooler than Julie Andrews. Julie Andrews has that amazing voice going for her though. I digress. I couldn’t understand why people were intent on locking themselves away in draughty churches, tending to small gardens for the entire lives. But, spending time in Meteora, I came to appreciate the attraction of a life of devotion. The paintings in the monasteries were painstakingly accurate icons demonstrating the extent to which faith mattered to these devotees. And for some reason, the painting and the maintenance of the icons was something that spoke to me. The outward demonstration of devotion to their faith was something meaningful.

So, what to say of Monk Pear, then? It’s definitely a contemplative brew. One for sipping slowly, it helped through both undergrad and postgrad. It’s a strong black base with fruity notes. I find this one easy to brew badly, and an over brewed version is the pits. I’m a fan of giving the leaves a cold rinse before brewing, and a short brew time of around 2 minutes. Monk Pear is a very agreeable black blend. Almost anyone who likes French Earl Grey likes Monk Pear as well. Milk is a definite no-no, the flavour is way to delicate, and as a sweet taste to start with, sweetener is unnecessary. This is a brilliant tea for afternoons, especially that 3:30pm slump at work.

Monk Pear: 5/5
Enjoy with: a sense of devotion.

I left my heart

Red Green Vanilla

Dozens of songs have been written about San Francisco, and for very good reason. San Fran is one of the few places in the United States that I really understand. I’m not a massive fan of the beach, but there is something about a bay that makes sense to me. The rolling hills that the city is built on mean that you’re never more than a few metres from a sensational view. And if you spend a weekend there, you’ll witness all four seasons and a few more.

It was difficult to convince my Main Man that we should visit San Fran, but I sold him by saying he could drive us down the coast road from San Fran to LA. That worked.

The truth is, I knew he would love the Bay City. And he did. A cable car ride across town where his eyes could drink in the beauty of the varied architecture and if you listen carefully, you can almost hear the length of the city’s history in the clang of the cable car bell.

In a foodie wonderland like San Francisco, it’s easy to assume the best part of the trip will be eating and drinking your way around town. That wasn’t the case for us. We decided to kill half an hour at the Boudin Bakery Museum that gave a history of the bakery and some insights into how their famous sourdough was created. Almost 2 hours later we emerged with an understanding of the history of San Francisco through the eyes of what began as a small, family bakery, and is now an institution. If you ever take a trip to San Francisco, be sure to put Boudin on your list of things to do.

Aside from bread, San Fran is responsible for producing the band Train, who happily sing at length about the joy of their city. And it’s to their enjoyable tunes I have sipped today’s tea.

Red Green Vanilla is a rooibos blend, meaning it’s caffeine free and after 4 friendly. The flavour is smooth and slightly sweet without any harsh flavours or tannins. It’s a great introductory tea for people still wanting to dip their toe into tea drinking, and also compliments sweet food. So brew up a pot for dinner guests once the meal is over and let the good times continue to roll.

Red Green Vanilla: 5/5
Enjoy with: dessert, Frank Sinatra, Train, or sitting on the dock of the bay.

Road Trip

Mint Mix

Minties have been around for 95 years. We’ll come back to this.

Many years ago, when I was young, my family piled into a red BMW and drove from Brisbane to Sydney. My brother was about 2, which was a good age, because he was still in his car seat. Sleeping in the back seat of a car was so much easier while my little bother was still in a car seat, because you could lean against his seat and fall asleep. Once he outgrew car seats he also saw me as the next weakest link in the back seat food chain and would argue that I should have to sit in the middle instead of him. Still, this particular road trip was in the blissful car seat years, so it’s a happier memory.

For some reason, my parents decided that Manly Beach was an unbelievably attractive prospect in the middle of June. So that was where we headed. Manly Beach is not an attractive prospect in the middle of June, just in case you’re thinking we had a delightful, off-peak holiday.

Driving holidays are the only kind of holiday my family ever really took, and now that I’m grown up, I appreciate how much of the country I have seen because we drove everywhere. That being said, spending many hours confined to a small metal box with 4 of your relations can breed a certain degree of tension and boredom. The consumption of lollies was a must on long car rides, but having 3 children bouncing around the back seat of the car loaded up on sugar is a recipe for disaster.

Thus, the Good Fairy was born. The Good Fairy was my mother, and there were never any illusions about this. Every half hour, one of my siblings or I would point at the car clock on the dashboard and yell, “It’s Good Fairy time!” My mother would reach into the glove box and produce a lolly for everyone, close the glove box with a snap and there would be no asking for any lollies for another half hour. If you fell asleep, the Good Fairy was in debt to you. So after 2 hours you could wake up to a 4 sweet deposit. If you fell asleep for too long, the Good Fairy ran out of sweets because she didn’t reserve your share while you were sleeping. The Good Fairy would not have had a long career as an investment banker.

This particular family trip, the Good Fairy was stocked up with Minties, and something better than Minties. Spearmint Minties.

For the 75th anniversary of Minties, Allens released a limited edition spearmint flavour, which was superior to the regular Minties, because spearmint is better than peppermint. Anyone who disagrees with this has broken and inferior tastebuds. It’s a consumables fact that spearmint it better. We all expected that at the end of the year Spearmint Minties would go off the market. But they didn’t, they hung around for another couple of years before fading into obscurity. And there are days I miss the spearmint sweets like you miss an old friend you haven’t seen in a while.

This driving holiday took place 20 years ago. Thus Minties have been around for 95 years. In 5 years time, it will once again be time to release the Spearmint Mintie again. To be certain I won’t be disappointed, I have penned the following letter (that I emailed) to the Allen’s Confectionary Company, to inform them of the upcoming expectation that Spearmint Minties are expected on the market:

Dear King of Minties,

I am writing to inform you that Minties have been around for 95 years this year. I’m certain you are already aware of this fact, but I wanted to make you aware that I was aware. Now that our levels of awareness are comparable, I shall continue with my correspondence.

In 1997, to commemorate the 75th anniversary of arguably, Australia’s most iconic sweet, limited edition Spearmint Minties were released for the public to purchase and consume. And purchase and consume my family did. So much so, we were thrilled that the limits of the spearmint edition were extended until around 1999, when we stopped being able to purchase and consume.

As it is only 5 years until the 100th anniversary of the sweet for which you are King, I am writing to inform you that you have roughly 5 years to put Spearmint Minites back into production, so they will be ready for release by the 100th anniversary. You may even want to make those bizarre choc-mint and vanilla mint ones again. Hey, it’s the 100th anniversary, why not take a crazy trip down memory lane?

One major oversight of the previous Spearmint Mintie release was that they were not called (as they obviously should have been) ‘Spearminties’. Thankfully, my family had the presence of mind to give the sweets their rightful name, and I now generously allow you to use that name (with no need to compensate me) when you re-release the sweets in 5 years time.

I must warn you, that should the 100th anniversary of Minties arrive and depart without a hint of spearmint in its wake, there will be consequences. I will be very upset, and your being King does not intimidate me in the slightest. Retaliation will be swift, and largely online.

Yours sincerely,
Mintie Peasant.

I shall let you know if I receive a response.

And so, tea. T2’s Mint Mix was an absolute delight. It contains both peppermint AND spearmint, which thrilled me no end. My Main Main being a mint muggle (say that 5 times fast), has always preferred peppermint flavoured anything to spearmint flavoured anything. This is how we have maintained a steady supply of Just Peppermint for so long. Mint Mix brings the refreshing, herbacious cup of peppermint to new levels. The spearmint varies the flavour profile and a hint of citrus makes the whole cup more refreshing. Thankfully, MM agrees, and I can see Mint Mix rotating with Just Peppermint as a late evening cup. Now to begin the rest of his spearmint conversion. I might just wait 5 years until Minties do the job for me.

Mint Mix: 5/5

Enjoy with: Road trip memories.

Better than Sydney

Melbourne Breakfast

Ah, Melbourne. The city voted ‘Better than Sydney’ by 100% of people raised in Melbourne. The San Francisco/New York/Paris/London/Prague/Milan of Australia. A place so good, you definitely will never be good enough for it. The home of snootiness, because apparently, it’s, “So liveable!”

That said, I love Melbourne. And I like it better than Sydney.  Maybe I could learn to hate it, but for now, I think it’s fantastic. Melbourne speaks to my interests: the arts, especially theatre, good food, TEA CULTURE, excellent public transport, live comedy, and a CBD in a grid. But, for all my enjoyment of Melbourne, I haven’t spent all that much time there.

I remember visiting when I was about 4 years old. I have family in Melbourne and this was our first visit I can remember, also my first time on a plane. I was 4 and I had such a barking cough, I threw up my dinner on the plane. The flight attendant took our trays away before we could save our small packets of M&Ms. It was the first time I’d seen M&Ms too. I’ve spent a large portion of my adulthood making up for that lack. Anyway, it was winter when we visited Melbourne, and the days were so much colder than they were up north. I remember freezing at the back of the church hall during the Sunday service, and then roasting in the central heating at someone’s house afterwards. I remember very little else.

We visited the family again, for Christmas, when I was about 11. I got a discman for Christmas that year. I was excited to have a gadget before all my other friends, and disappointed to discover how much those stupid things skipped. We went to Sovereign Hill during this trip and spent a lot of time sitting quietly in people’s living rooms. I don’t know who these people were, but my parents must have. I hope. We did go into the CBD, but we spent a lot of time looking for the RACV for some reason. I do remember seeing a good number of the sights though.

My most recent, and indeed, only grown-up visit to Melbourne was not long after MM and I got married. That’s getting to be a few years ago now. My grandparents had decided not to make the trip to our wedding, so I decided introductions were in order. We had a short getaway to Melbourne and loved it.

This time, we sat politely in only one living room, that of my grandparents. They’re very accommodating people, and were pleased to meet my new husband. After spending a day with them, we had 2 days to do the city. We ate black fungus at a Korean restaurant. We ate at Lord of the Fries before it had more than 1 location. We found amazing cups of tea (and MM drank some decent coffee, apparently). We went to a Chronicles of Narnia exhibit and saw a letter C.S. Lewis penned himself. We lost ourselves in cozy bookshops. We laughed ourselves almost sick at a comedy bar, and didn’t realise how fortunate we were to be seeing Celia Pacquola live for the cost of a donation at the door. She only had a short set, among many others, but it stands out in my mind as one of the wittiest pieces of stand up I’ve ever seen. And as time wore on and she started doing more and more, I’ve been able to retain a small, smug feeling that I knew her work and liked her long before most. I have never been on the front end of any trend before, so I’m a happy camper just to have this. For a short break, it invokes so many happy memories, I wonder how long before I can book another little getaway.

In lieu of a visit, I have Melbourne Breakfast. The blend is perfect for the first cup of the day, and equally as perfect in the afternoon. It is sweet and vanilla while being boldly and unapologetically black. This is the tea for pick me ups and for contemplation. It can be appreciated as a treat to sip mindfully, or a workhorse to see you meet a deadline. Beret or Business suit, Melbourne breakfast has your back. It’s perfect on its own, but a splash of milk can give it a full-bodied, creamy richness. For a perfect cup, use vanilla soy.

Melbourne Breakfast: 5/5

Enjoy with: everyone. Everyone likes this tea.

Remarkable

Orange Pekoe

Standing at the top of the world, bracing against the roaring gale, witnessing the whole sky dance and unable to take it all in at once, I had never felt so tiny and so human. And it all began with a cup of tea.

Reykjavik is the capital city of Iceland, the most northern capital city in the world. But for a country with ‘ice’ in its name, it is surprisingly warm, even in the depths of winter. The Gulf Stream from Mexico empties out right above Iceland, so winter temperatures are reasonably stable within a few degrees of zero. Sure, that’s cold, but it’s not deathly cold just to walk outside. And it is winter after all.

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Iceland is a magical country. It’s so untouched by the rest of the world, but also familiarly European enough not be alien. The snow clings to the ground like a dusting of wonder, and the long winter nights lend themselves to cozy fires, warm drinks, and reading. Storytelling is in the fabric of the culture. Arriving just after Christmas gave me an insight into some of the holiday traditions. The Yule Lads complement Santa. One of 14 troll-like creatures come in the windows of children’s bedrooms each night in the lead up to Christmas. Children leave out a shoe where the trolls deposit a chocolate for well behaved children, and a potato for the naughty ones. Reading that the majority of Icelanders still believe in the elves (Huldufólk) of their ancient folklore sounded absurd to me, until I arrived. I’d believe in elves too if I’d grown up in that country. It has an indescribable mystical quality in the atmosphere and the dark winter is friend to the imagination.

My main ambition while in Iceland was to witness the Aurora Borealis. I’d read and heard about this phenomenon for many years, and could hardly believe I would be in the right part of the world at the right time of year to behold the Lights for myself. I booked a tour with remarkable optimism. The evening came, the tour bus arrived, we eagerly hopped on board. The conditions were perfect. Clear sky, high solar wind activity. We waited, we watched, and we waited some more. Alas, there was no sighting that night. The tour company offered a complimentary tour due to the lack of sighting.

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The next night, the tour was cancelled. It was overcast and the atmospheric conditions were not ideal. We would have to wait one more night. As the evening wore on, the sky cleared and a strong wind picked up from the harbour. Deciding to brave the wind, we went in search of a hot drink, and found ourselves at a basement tea bar on the main street. The room was heaving with people and hot drink orders were about to close (the booze was only just starting to flow though). I jostled for a table and my Main Man was left to make drink orders. He returned with an Orange Pekoe for me. The warm tea was heavenly on the cold night. Patrons playing the piano in the corner provided a lively atmosphere amongst the cozy candlelight. We toasted our decision to travel to the other side of the world once again. Aurora or not, this was a trip worth taking and a country worth visiting. When we were walking home, hearts and stomachs warmed, for no reason, MM looked up at the sky.

“What colour do you think that is?” he asked.

We stared for a minute.

“Wait! That’s Aurora!”

We dashed up the hill, the wind fighting us the entire way, until we were standing in the square outside the cathedral. We could see the entire sky from our vantage point, but could scarcely take it all in. Band after band of colour rippled across the sky, twisting, turning, teasing us. It didn’t need our existence, nor did it dance for our benefit, it simply glowed because it was supposed to. The sky becomes so much larger when you try to survey the whole thing at once. It highlights how small you are, how incapable you are of conjuring something this spectacular because you’re just a human. It made think just how much easier it is to believe something else, something bigger or more magical, exists in moments just like these.

In the middle of the city, where we were told the light pollution would destroy all chance of seeing the Lights, on a night when we were told there was no chance of a sighting, we stood, open-mouthed and marvelling. And all because a little earlier in the evening we’d gone in search of a cup of tea.

In a necessary twist of irony, one of the most remarkable events in my life was preceded by one of the most unremarkable teas. Every Orange Pekoe I’ve tried is an unremarkable black, and T2’s offering is no different. It’s a straight black tea, without much depth, and a bit temperamental to brew. It’s not difficult to get a cardboard flavour out of this tea, and milk doesn’t do much for the flavour. My personal recommendation is a squeeze of lemon to lift the cup somewhat. My other recommendation is to see the Northern Lights to lift the experience immensely.

Orange Pekoe: 3/5
Enjoy with: a squeeze of lemon and a celestial marvel.