Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Afternoon Tea at the Ritz-Carlton Toronto

A few weeks ago I celebrated a friend's birthday with afternoon tea at The Ritz-Carlton.  It was actually more like lunch as we had an 11 am booking, yes, 11 am (likely to accommodate more seatings).  This worked out as afternoon tea usually consists of enough food that in most cases would substitute for a meal so I don't think my group minded at all.  I've also been lazy to bring a proper camera so these are pics are not the best and were taken on my phone.

All the teas are from Sloane Fine Tea Merchants, a Canadian and Toronto based tea business that focuses on tea blends.  With their very pretty packaging and fairly decent teas, you can find their teas at many locations across the city.  We were offered a box of samples to smell and I decided to try the bespoke white tea blend made for the Ritz called Feuilles D'argent (white peony tea leaves, hint of mint, Jaipur roses, and gogi berries).  This blend was quite fragrant and you could taste the mint and roses but not so much gogi berries which to be honest, I find hard to identify in the first place.

The teas came out in large Le Creuset tea pots that took up a huge amount of space on the tables.  We did manage to fit them all but they are really huge!  The teas were steeped and poured into these teapots as no leaves were found in the teapots.  I gather they use such big teapots so they do not have to refill the pots and also could forgo the tea strainer.  The Le Creuset pots also retain the heat very well so most people would be satisfied with the temperature even after some time has past.

Here's a run down of the offerings:

Cucumber & Kohlrabi with quark cheese on pumpernickel (I thought it was goat cheese upon first eating this mini sandwich).

Lobster and Hummus on a Roll.

Lamb & Rhubarb on a mini bun.

Egg & Arugula on white bread.

For the sweets, we had:

Dulce de letche & shortbread cookie (top L on the plate).

Raspberry & white chocolate mousse entrement (my favourite of the sweets).

Gianduja cake & hazelnut caramel (very nice but quite sweet).

Chocolate marshmallow topped strawberries.

And to finish, chocolate chip and tradition scones with devonshire cream and preserves.  Decently made scones 😊

I didn't take any pics of the dining space, it was nice with good lighting, but we were seated at their lobby bar.  Although a nice space, not stellar in decor or design so I didn't take a picture of the space.

Please note that their Chocolate afternoon tea on the weekends consists of a glass of proseco or mocktail to start, adding to their afternoon tea price which currently starts at $54.

Overall, the offerings were quite nice.

I think the desserts were slightly done better than the savories but I don't think anything really stood out as stellar.  The staff were also very friendly.  My friend also brought her pre-schooler and they offered a children's menu and were quite accommodating.  We had a great time and stayed for 2.5 hours or so; overall an enjoyable way to celebrate a birthday!

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

My thoughts on The Story of Yanxi Palace and the Relationship to Tea

This is a very odd post for me to write as it's not the type of post I'd usually feel inclined to write but I had quite a bit of thoughts about this and finally decided to put it out there after watching it late 2018.  And just so you're aware, I may ramble on on bit.

This post is about  a Chinese period drama called The Story of Yanxi Palace (延禧攻略).  It aired in 2018 and was extremely popular in China and Hong Kong.  There are many reviews out there on the story line and the costume and set design. But I'm not really going to talk about these aspects.  There are 2 parts to this post.  The first part will be on the topic of tea in the story line.  The second part will include a few thoughts about one of the themes coming out of this drama - the various challenges on what it means to be female and expectations of females back then and even today.

Part one.

I noticed that the drama referenced tea more than any drama I've watched.  Maybe this is common in dramas made in China as I haven't seen many; most of the dramas I've watched are TVB (Hong Kong) or Taiwanese.  The link with tea was such a surprise! There were several scenes where tea was mentioned: one in which various types of teas were identified, a tea party was held by the Empress, the Emperor while meeting with his siblings and uncles of the imperial family had shared a tea that was a mixture of items, and there was a scene where the Empress was drinking and describing a tissane.  Also, I don't think there is much science behind this, but one of the doctors stated drinking tea and eating grapes together in larger quantities would result in diarrhea!

Anyway, once I looked up some information about the Emperor Qianlong, I quickly found out he was a tea lover and avid learner of tea.  In the drama, they mention he prefers Dragonwell green tea but upon reading some info from the blog Cha-dao, they state his favourite kind of tea was in fact milk tea, strong milk tea to be exact. Qianlong would also have a tea master make his tea every day and also held many tea parties.  The post also mentions that it's likely the English way of adding milk to tea was started because merchants that visited China during this time would bring back such information affecting trends back home.  However, over at the blog Tea Happiness, Sara suggests there are another reasons for why milk was added to tea in Britain.  Getting back to the Emperor Qianlong, the milk tea the Emperor made was made with half water, half milk and salt, instead of the splash that is added in the western world today.  Half milk, half water is how I make it too and just reading about it made me want to drink a hot milk tea!

This really peaked my interest in what was served at these tea parties.  So besides being entertained for several weeks (there are 70 chapters to this drama), it also led me to learn more about the Qing Dynasty Emperors and want to seek out info about tea in the Imperial Palace. 

Part two.

Note:  There will be spoilers.

This is why the story was a little more interesting because sometimes  the back stabbing can  be too much at times!  The story revolves around the female character Weiyingluo who enters the Imperial Palace (or known as the Forbidden City) as a seamstress but her ulterior motive was to uncover the truth behind the death of her older sister who she believed was murdered in the Imperial Palace.  The interesting part is that she is not like other females during that time; she is outspoken, will stand up for what is right, is very clever, and unlike other heroes, definitely believes in an eye for an eye.  She is who she is and does not hide it or will change to be someone else to please others.

I read one review that mentioned they think these period dramas are sending the wrong message to females and promoting the idea that females need to vie for the attention of the male to be wealthy.  I agree that back then it was the thinking and a period piece must portray this fact, but with the writing of the main character and various subtle incidences in the drama, it is quite apparent that this drama is subtly attempting to challenge those notions.

One important scene is when the Empress (while trying to protect Weiyingluo) explains to the Emperor that she is trying to preserve herself by protecting Weiyingluo.  She sees Weiyingluo as a person who is straightforward and what you see is what you get.  She is who she is and will not change herself while the Empress feels that once she became his wife, she no longer could be herself.  She needed to be the "Empress" that is expected of her by everyone in the palace and by the country. She has lost herself essentially.  Although she is the Empress it is a cage to her and she goes on to say that no matter where women are, they are in a cage and that cage was made by men.  The Emperor of course does not understand this thinking, but from this statement the topic of the expectations put upon women is broached.

Other examples include child birth and back then the risk to a woman's health or even life would be higher than now but bearing a male offspring was often a goal or THE only goal.  Weiyingluo would often question why is it so imperative that even when the Empress was not in full health she intended to get pregnant. 

Women fighting over men is also a topic that is touched upon.  Weiyingluo is one of the Empress' maids or woman companions but she also has 2 others.  They all have fallen for one of the highest imperial guards who also happens to be the Empress' brother.  He has fallen for Weiyingluo.  She doesn't openly admit she likes him too, but when one of the other maids finds out he is interested in Weiyingluo, she goes to Weiyingluo to accuse her of stealing him away.  Weiyingluo calmly says, he is not some object that she could steal.  He is a person that makes his own choices.  Why don't you go confront him?  Often women will be unkind to each other when in fact they should be confronting the male.

Often in these palace dramas the concubines would be fighting for the attention of the Emperor.  Later in the drama Weiyingluo does too, however she does so not by harming other concubines to bring them down, but does things to make herself be different and shine above the rest.  Of course unless one of the concubines had hurt her or set her up, she will in turn hurt them back or at least turn their plot back against them.

She also stands strong on the belief that she is Weiyingluo and no one else and cannot pretend to be someone else.  When there is a new concubine that has the Emperor seemingly smitten, she acknowledges that this new female has the look of purity and innocence and any man would be attracted.  When her maid/friend tells Weiyingluo that maybe she should be less strong headed with the Emperor to win him back, but she quickly says, I'm Weiyingluo and that is who I am.
She also challenges the place women are put, essentially behind the man.  During that time, none of the concubines or even the Empress was allowed to sit down at the table while the Emperor was eating, they would just stand by him.  However, at one point when she comes to visit him while eating, she states she feels tired and uncomfortable to stand and must sit with him; if not she will leave.  The Emperor because he was troubled with a decision and wanted her to stay agrees.  He later confides in her what is his worry.  You slowly see as their relationship matures that they have become so much closer when they see each other as a true partner and acknowledge each other.

It is not to say any of the other women in the drama were weak, quite the contrary.  There were strong characters each with their own issues and motives.  Many of them were strong, but had to live and act within the confines of their position as a female during that time.  There were also female characters that I just did not like very much and they never realized the err in their way!

I believe you can find the series with English subs now.  Overall, a very good series and I'm glad tea was part of it!

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Tsujiri Soba Bar, North York 2nd Fl Cafe

O-Matcha Platter

I finally got to try out Tsujiri's expansion into meals and it was definitely a good experience.  Located on the 2nd floor, the Tsujiri Soba Bar offers a different menu from the main floor drinks and desserts.  Although I enjoyed my meal (the broth was thick and savoury, noodles were al dente), the desserts definitely stand out in front.  My group tried out the O-Matcha dessert platter and the Mochi Mix.

Both desserts were very tasty and were not too sweet which is typical of Asian desserts.  Loved the different textures of each component within the platter and the matcha ice cream had a decent amount of matcha flavour.  The mochi mix also offered a contrast of flavours and textures however, it would be nice have a have slightly larger mochi pieces ;).

We also tried the noodles, below is the Miso Tsuke Soba, Sapporo Style.  Noodles are chilled but the broth warms them up.

Service was excellent and I liked how they offered hot or cold water as we were seated (it was pretty cold that day).  There space is very calming and it wasn't too busy for lunch on the weekend.  Next on my list - the afternoon tea set!

Visited: OCT2018

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Tea from Wistaria and some personal thoughts

Wistaria - Signature Dong Ding Oolong

I've been mulling over what is to become of my little blog and whether "a" it was still a worthwhile endeavour and "b" whether I wanted to focus this blog a little more or leave it to be a mixture of things in my life.  I actually wrote this back in the middle of summer when I had several posts to write but never finished writing for various reasons.  And after writing I wanted to sit on it.  We'll,  I guess I sat for a very long time!

I do still think it's worthwhile for me to continue writing in this space but the focus part is the hard thing. I have thought about the type of content and when I first started blogging, I had a tea focused blog.  Then I gave that blog up and started this blog and one of my goals was to share things about my hobbies and what it was like living in Toronto through eating and social events.  But that quickly went to the wayside when soon after starting, I became a mother and priorities changed.  

I now realize I had too many hobbies and could not focus or really put my whole heart into them.

A pic from the past: Sewing coin purses and needle felting were among my hobbies.

I needed to come back to the initial reason for blogging. What I am really after when I think about blogging?  It was a space to practice writing and an opportunity for me to learn and share something.  

I came across a post on Medium about making 7 figures in 3 years and most of the time I ignore these types of titles (although a little more $$ is always nice, lol!), but I decided to skim through it because of a quote in the subtitle:

“Don’t be addicted to money. Work to learn. Don’t work for money. Work for knowledge.” — Robert Kiyosaki

Learning is something I enjoy doing (sounds kinda awkward to say, I know).  I'm the first to admit that I can be lazy at times because who wouldn't want to just sit back and drink tea all day?!  :)

But, I'm the little girl that wanted to go to kindergarten full day when it was only half day kindergarten and the school had to tell my mom to keep me home.  I took summer school to gain extra credits despite taking enough during the regular year.  I know, a little bit of a geek.  Today, it's much harder to learn when the reality of being an adult and parent doesn't allow for much personal learning aside from learning to "parent" or what might be needed for your job.  That type of learning never stops, but that type of learning is not solely for yourself.  The learning that I strive for is what grows me as a person and satisfies my innate need for something "new".

If you do read the above mentioned post, it talks about learning by teaching and I firmly believe it is a quick way to learn something and is how I often find something gets committed to my memory. 

So, here is where this blog comes in.  I continually try to gain time for TEA.  Learning about tea, preparing tea, and drinking tea.  I've also become much more attuned to the "tea experience" in which, tea accessories, tea snacks/desserts, flowers and plants, poetry and art all have a role in how we experience tea.  

I haven't worked out too much about what I'll be posting on and in some ways I think I have a fear of boxing myself in. I've even considered starting a whole new blog. However, for the time being I'm going to leave things as is with the goal to focus more on documenting my tea experience if it requires more than what I'd want to post on Instagram...whether it is just a collection of photos of a tea session, a post about a book I read, a recipe for something to go with tea, or maybe a more informative piece on tea, like tea and health.  My instagram @tiantiantea is already a tea based account so this would likely be more an extension of that - living a life of tea - are words that I've been thinking about.

While thinking about this blog, I enjoyed this Dong Ding Oolong tea from Wistaria Tea House in Taipei. They started taking online orders this year so I jumped at the chance to order a few items. Mmmm, thinking back I have to brew it again this weekend!

Beautiful colour and clarity

Large leaves, slightly oxidized.

After brewing, you can see how slightly agitating the leaves during production to create browning at the edges of the leaf creates such beauty.  I also came across a post on defining oolong tea as more than just mid-oxidized teas which is often what I would say to someone new to tea, but really, oolongs are about the gentle process as described here. So much more to oolong tea than just the oxidation level!

Till next time!

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Shangri-la Hotel Afternoon Tea (2)

This was my second time at Shangri-la Hotel for their Afternoon Tea and it was once again a great experience.  Afternoon tea is a special treat that I usually reserve for special occasions and this year for my birthday, this is one of two afternoon teas I had scheduled. This time I ordered the Shanti Gold which was a blend of Asian black teas - bold enough to pair with the food but without much astringency that I didn't need to add milk or sugar.

They still offer a large selection of teas, some of which would have an additional cost if selected.  My friends found it helpful that they short-listed the teas that would be included without an additional fee and made the decision easier than looking through the book.  They still offer an iced version of the tea which is great but this time around instead of brewing it table side, they brought a huge pitcher when my friend ordered the Assam iced.  Tasted good at the start but would have been better to brew a small amount and re-brew as needed as the large pitcher resulted in diluted tea later.

Complimentary drink to start (prosecco or mocktail).

And now onto the food!

Tower of treats.

The savouries:

Ratatouille with Buffalo Mozzarella

Sweet peas, asparagus, lemon ricotta on sour dough - so refreshing, simple yet elegant!

Snow crab tart, this was also a really great combination of flavours.

Virginia ham and cheddar cheese on a brioche bun

The sweets:
Rhubarb sponge cake

Raspberry & pecan cookie: surprisingly my favourite sweet of the afternoon.
The cookie was slightly chewy, sweetness was well balanced with a bit of tartness from the raspberry. 

Yuzu macaron, nicely made but we couldn't really taste the wasabi.

A classic, strawberry shortcake, well made.

Pineapple Upside Down Tart and Chocolate & Mint Tart; both were good.  The Chocolate & Mint Tart was the sweetest of the bunch.

And scones that came separately, served with clotted cream and a berry compote.

Prices have gone up since my first visit, Shangri-La now charges $75/person for afternoon tea which is the priciest in the Toronto market now, even with the complimentary prosecco I think.  

Our spot was more private this time and was elegant as usual.  However, I think next time I'd ask to be sitting with more of a window view - to take advantage of more natural light for pics!  
All in all, a lovely experience!

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Tea and shades of purple

A few weeks ago sampling some sheng (raw) puer tea.

And trying to capture the afternoon light.

The young tea leaves

One morning this cherry plum tree stole my attention with it's blossoms. 

Enjoying the blossoms with a lightly oxidized oolong from Alishan...

...And used a plum blossom motif tea cup I bought on a whim prior to moving into our new home.

Some tiny ground flowers that sprung up 

Some started to wilt after several days.

I was never a flower or plant person...
..maybe it's age, 
maybe it's looking at life differently, 
maybe it's the surprise beauty and the uncertainty of when they will wither that makes me take time to admire them...
but I've come to think of them as "nice to have" these days.  
Especially with tea.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Finding time

I'm always looking for time...time to do daily chores, time to spend with my family, time with friends, and time to enjoy tea.


Sunday...a couple of Sunday's ago, it was such a beautifully sunny day.  I could have been doing some chores like cleaning but instead, I spent 30 minutes drinking tea (Alishan Jin Xuan oolong which was perfect for my mood) and admiring a new plant I had purchased from Kim's Nature the day before.

How enjoyable it was!


Sometimes in this world where information is transferred at a click of a mouse, news can spread across the world in minutes and people can weigh-in with their opinion on just about anything, I wonder about the future of blogging.  Blogging used to be a snap-shot of someone's life and thoughts at a particular moment but now each post is carefully crafted and some are drafted days or weeks in advance.  Myself included, I have many posts drafted but for whatever reason, I never posted.  Blogging also has become more time consuming that more people opt for something quicker with a greater reach like Instagram and Twitter or whatever other app that is popular now.  Many of the blogs I started reading are no longer updated as people move happens, life changes priorities. I also think younger people don't start blogs least not in the general sense...the younger generation start websites.

Anyway, I do think about my blog and how little time I spend writing here.  My lifestyle has also changed and I feel a change is needed.  Not sure exactly what I want this blog to evolve into but I feel it's time.