Monday, 18 December 2017

Teatourist - October 2017

Hats & Scarves Selection
October's Teatourist theme is 'Hats and Scarves': a selection of 'cosy cuppas' to keep the wind out of your nooks and crannies. This month we have 4 black teas and 2 herbals, which suits me very well, as I've been deserted by my fellow reviewers and I'm drinking alone. More tea for me then?

Mazawattee Earl Grey by Mazawattee Tea
Black tea, orange peel, lemon peel, natural flavouring.
Ah, teabags! I usually buy my specialty tea loose-leaf these days, but I have to admit that when I’m reviewing I often go for the teabags first, as they’re quicker and cleaner when I’m short on time or feeling lazy. Now, I’m a bit of a geek, and I can’t say ‘Earl Grey’ without mentally adding ‘hot’ onto the end of it. But whilst it might be Captain Picard’s tea of choice, I find that some blends of Earl Grey (hot!) can give me a headache and make me feel slightly odd. Does anyone else experience this? I assume that it’s the bergamot oil, or perhaps the bergamot flavouring. Anyway, I’m pleased to report that this blend did not make me feel odd nor induce a headache! This is a full-bodied Earl Grey, fresh, with a lovely clean scent from the orange and lemon peel, and would make a good everyday cuppa.The Mazawattee website has some excellent information about the history of the company (it was once the most famous tea company in England!) and the name itself (which is a combination of 'maza', a Hindi word meaning 'pleasure', and 'watte', a Sinhalese word meaning 'garden'). I feel enriched for knowing this.

Mint Choc Royale by Jollybrew
Black tea, blackberry leaves, peppermint leaves, natural flavours.
This… This is just what I have been looking for: the perfect dessert tea. I avoid sugar, but of course I still want dessert, so specialty blended and flavoured teas are the answer for me, providing that hit of sweetness and flavour, and bringing a meal to a close. This tea uses a beautiful Ceylon as a base, and adds the perfect balance of mint and chocolate notes. The info card suggests adding milk, and I wouldn’t have thought to do this with a mint-flavoured tea, but it is absolutely right, as the milk (in this case soya) brings out the depth and flavour. Teatourist have sent out a few chocolate teas in previous boxes, but I think that this is the first one to use black tea as a base, and it works a charm. I loved this.

Spiced Orange Pekoe Tea by Spice Kitchen
Black tea, orange peel, cloves, cinnamon, natural orange flavour.
As we head into autumn and winter it’s natural for the spiced teas of the world to come out of hiding and once again take their place proudly on the counter top. I would have been disappointed not to see a spiced tea in this ‘Hats and Scarves’ selection, and I imagine that this was a popular choice for inclusion. I mentioned headaches earlier, and spiced teas are another type that can sometimes leave me with a headache. But, again, all was well this time, and this nicely spiced blend conveyed only warmth and festive thoughts. A note on ordering more: on Spice Kitchen's website this is just called 'Orange Spiced'.

Fika Tea by The Tea Experience
Blended black teas, vanilla, marigold blossom.
The scent of this in the packet is light and vanilla-ey. But my first attempt at brewing it was not a success. I followed the instructions: measure the tea, measure the water, correct temperature, correct brewing time. But it didn’t come out quite right. I was expecting more vanilla and floral notes, but these were very subtle and were overwhelmed by the blend of black teas, one of which was slightly bitter. On my second attempt I used less tea and brewed for less time, and this time the floral and vanilla notes came through more strongly, although I could still detect an underlying bitterness from the black tea. If I were to try it again I would go for an even lighter brew. It was still enjoyable, but I found it to be rather unbalanced and couldn’t get past the strange bitterness.

Time For Winter by Caley's Apothecary
Liquorice root, thyme, elderflower, ginger root.
This is a strange blend. It's warming, and the sweet notes come through eventually, but it's thrown completely off-kilter by the overwhelming taste of thyme. Now, I appreciate a good pun during the tea-naming process, and perhaps there is a bitter lesson here. And I did get used to the taste after a while, but I'm not sure that one should have to get used to a tea! Very odd, and not one that I'd drink again.

Turmeric Revival by MDTEA
Turmeric, ginger, liquorice, lemongrass, cinnamon, elderflower.
Elsewhere this might be categorised as a herbal spiced chai. You know what I mean. I was expecting something punchy and curried, but actually this is a mild, warming and fragrant blend, with sweet and sharp notes. Very enjoyable.

And what's this? Teatourist have included some delicious-looking biscotti as a complimentary treat! I wasn't able to try this, but I gave it to a friend, who wolfed it down and came back with the review that it was 'biscotti-tastic'. So, there you go.

What's New(ish!)?
I've been saying for some time now that I'll talk about the new packaging and info card design, and each month I've run out of time. So they're not all that new now but I'm going to talk about them anyway!

First up, the packaging that the tea comes in. This has changed from resealable clear plastic bags to Teatourist-brand green bags, with just a small clear window for viewing the tea. I was a little worried about this change at first, as when I opened the first subscription box that used the new packaging I got a strong whiff of plastic, and I was concerned that this might affect the taste of the tea. However, the smell seems to have vanished with subsequent boxes and it didn't affect the taste at all.

Labelling-wise, the round name sticker has gone, and in its place we have proper card labels, with space for the tea company logo. Along the top is a colour-coded strip, so that you can see, at a glance, what different types of tea the box contains. Grey for black tea, blue for herbal, pink for fruit, and so on. Also printed on is the type of tea (black, herbal, etc), the weight of tea inside (which will vary with each blend), and approximately how many cups it makes. The new bags also have the advantage of hiding the information cards, which are attached on the back, giving the whole thing a slicker, more modern look.

The information cards have gone through several changes but they finally seem to have landed where they need to be. They have packed on just about everything you might need to know: tasting notes, ingredients, allergy warning, serving advice, company background and contacts, detailed brewing guide, info on caffeine level, country of origin, and flavour. The only thing that I really dislike on the cards is the box that suggests what the tea is good for: sharing, diet, health, relaxation, etc. These seem rather random, and not based on any kind of science or attempt at humour, so really, what's the point? What I do really like is the space for rating and reviewing each tea. And if you find something that you just have to keep drinking, Teatourist have negotiated deals with the individual tea companies, and supply you with a code that gives you the treat of a percentage off your order, free delivery, etc.

It's worth mentioning again that you can order any past Teatourist box to try, so do take a look at my previous reviews and see if there's something that takes your fancy. It's all rather tempting...

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Teatourist - August & September 2017

I'm publishing this Teatourist review in November. I am very, very behind.
But be assured, tea enthusiast, that I am working my way through my teas, taste testing, taking photos, and reviewing as I go. Please bear with me!

So. For August and September my fellow reviewers are:
Debbie - my sister, who is a photographer and film-maker.
Alan - my brother-in-law, who is a writer, film-maker, and comedian.
George - a friend, who is an art conservator.

August's Teatourist theme is 'Fresh and Frisky: a selection of teas to enjoy on balmy summer days.' This box contains 1 flavoured black tea, 2 greens, 1 oolong, 1 herbal, and 1 rooibos. A rather nice selection, and hopefully something to please everyone.

Blueberry Rooibos by Shibui Tea
Rooibos, blueberry, natural blueberry flavouring, red rose petals, natural acai flavouring.
I'm making that face again. That 'what is this I'm drinking?' face. You know the one. Debbie is making it too. What I'm drinking, apparently, is rooibos (which I'm often not a fan of) with blueberries (which I do like, although not in this tea). I straight up hated it: I couldn't even finish the cup. It had a strange scent and aftertaste, slightly like walking into a cloud of someone else's perfume with your mouth open (we've all done it). I'm sorry, but this wasn't a winner for me. The info card says that this makes a fantastic iced tea, and I can imagine possibly liking it served cold, or even cold-brewed, as different notes would come through. Shibui say that this is one of their all-time best sellers, so it must be doing something right. Each to their own...

Green Cardamom Chai by Ichai
Cinnamon, green cardamom, cloves, star anise, black tea.
What makes a good spiced chai? Last month we had a 12-ingredient spiced chai, starting with black tea and ending with cinnamon. This month's contains just 5 ingredients, starting with cinnamon and ending with black tea. So how do they compare? Well, black tea is the last ingredient (and therefore smallest in quantity) in this uncomplicated blend, so the spices come through strongly. I tried it black, without adding anything, and it was smooth and very sweet-tasting, with subtle warm notes. I rebrewed three times and it kept its flavour. It's not the number of ingredients that make a good chai, it's the blending and balancing of flavours. This one succeeds on all levels.

Camomile, Fennel & Rose Petals by Edgcumbes Tea & Coffee
Camomile, fennel seeds, rose petals.
My tastes have changed over the years. I expect that yours have too. I used to be all about the herbal teas, or tisanes, but I am far less enamoured of late. Camomile as a base is no longer a favourite of mine, (although I do enjoy it with spiced apple - a little taste of the nineties). However, Alan requested something soothing after a particularly stressful driving lesson, and this seemed like just the job. I found it pleasant but rather bland. I got the hint of fennel, but not the sweetness or floral undertones that the info card suggests. Debbie liked it: she did get the sweetness from the fennel. And Alan? Well he seems pretty chilled out. But whether that's the tea or the Grand Theft Auto - who can say?

Japanese Sencha by The Tea Makers of London
100% pure Japanese Green Tea.
This is the prettiest pale green when pouring, and a glowing yellow-green in the cup. It's a powerful taste: grassy, with subtle sweet notes. Alan says 'it's like drinking a lawn!'. I found it fresh and uplifting: a very clean taste that clears away the brain-cobwebs. One of those teas that inspires a little quiet and thoughtfulness.

Jiu Jiu Jiu Guan Yin by Wan Ling Tea House
Anxi Tie Guan Yin Oolong Tea.
Oolongs are fast becoming a favourite of mine, although I admit that I am still learning about all the different varieties, harvests, and methods of processing, each of which affect the look, scent, and flavour of the tea. This one is highly perfumed: floral, but that complex floral scent that you get from sticking your nose right into a flower. It's sweet, but there are also sharp notes, and the whole thing smells alive. The leaves can be infused up to eight times, and each infusion reveals different flavours. You really can't argue with that.

Indonesian Green Pearls by Baraka Teas
Camellia sinensis.
I'm a big fan of green tea in pearl form. I love watching the leaves slowly unfurl and the water change colour as it becomes tea. I would usually prepare them in a glass teapot, but sometimes it's nice to drop a few into a mug and brew them that way. The info card tells me that these pearls are hand-rolled, and the leaves are from a tea garden in the Indonesian Haimun Mountains. The tea itself is sweetly fragrant, with subtle floral notes. A mellow experience.

'Fine & Dandy' is September's theme, aiming to provide 'tea that makes you feel good and puts a genuine smile on your face'. This box contains four herbal blends (one with a rooibos base), one black tea, and one yerba mate. I was initially a little disappointed upon opening the box, but actually, as you'll see, I was pretty pleased once I got brewing.

Hide & Seek Breakfast by The Tea Leaf Company
100% Nagaland black tea.
I wasn't previously familiar with Nagaland tea: I hadn't even heard of it. Nagaland, the internet tells me, is a state of Northeast India, bordering Assam. This is interesting. And this tea is interesting. It's hand-rolled, single-estate tea, which means that each cup will be consistent in its flavour. The leaves have a smoky scent, and this is borne out in the brewed tea, which is rich and fragrant, with smoky notes reminiscent of Lapsang. This is a strong brew, and I'd recommend being conservative with your leaves. I like clever tea names, and this one references Robert Fortune, a Scottish plant hunter, who smuggled tea plants out of China on behalf of the British East India Company. A lot of historical hide and seek going on there.

Balance Tea by Tea Shirt
Rooibos, honeybush, chamomile, lemon balm, lemongrass, fennel seeds, ginseng root, flavouring.
Debbie and George spent an awfully long time selecting a tea to try, which is ironic because George was on a flying visit from New Zealand and pushed for time. Eventually they settled on 'Balance' because George felt that her chakras needed realigning. She thinks she may have actually lost one since moving away. So we brewed up this enticing tea that smells like an autumn meadow. And then George told us a story about chopping the top of her finger off and we wished we were drinking something stronger. But we persevered. And we all very much enjoyed 'Balance'. Despite its rooibos base, it's the honeybush that comes through most strongly, spreading its lingering sweetness on the tongue. It fixed George right up, and I have to say I felt rather mellow afterwards too.

Licorice Peppermint Soother by Nothing But Tea
Liquorice, peppermint, fennel, basil.
This is one of those teas that tastes different with each sip, slowly revealing itself. All the notes come through: the sweetness of liquorice, the twang of basil and fennel, the punchiness of peppermint. This is an excellent after-dinner tea, or for when you need a wake-up but without the caffeine. Debbie, who is a photographer, says: "This is perfect to drink whilst editing photos. You need tea to edit well." 

Perfect World by The Lichfield Tea Company
Blackberry, strawberry and hazelnut leaves, chamomile and marigold blossoms, melissa, peppermint, lemongrass, rose petals, lavender.
This tea is everything: sweet, minty, floral, refreshing, relaxing. Each sip takes you on a different journey. It made me think of enchanted forests and magical glades. It's the kind of tea you might be served if you found yourself, inexplicably, at a fairy market near dawn on a misty September morning. You're handed a cup of scented liquid. As you begin to drink, your eyes widen with delight. Soon the cup is empty, but you must have more! You look down and find two acorns in your palm. You give these to the stallholder as payment, and he - with his iridescent wings and slightly crooked smile - hands you a little packet of herbs and flowers, wrapped in leaves and tied with vines. As you reach to take it, the entire market vanishes before your eyes, and you are left standing there, in your pyjamas, clutching your precious packet of tea. Yes, that's the kind of tea that this is. Delightful.

Yerba Mate by Lovely Tea Teas
Luxury green yerba mate.
Mate is quick and simple to prepare, rebrewable, and a good high-caffeine hit when you need it. I don't have strong feelings about it either way, although the traditional gourd is rather appealing. I tend to find it either barely registering as a taste, or far too bitter, and it's not something I would usually choose to drink. However, I liked the smokiness of this, served plain, and I was intrigued by the suggestion, on the info card, to try it with ginger and cinnamon. So I did. I used cinnamon sticks, but I didn't have any root ginger so I added a little ginger powder to the brew. And gosh it was good. It took me on a whole different taste journey, and one that I would be happy to repeat.
"Smokey, not as bitter as I expected." - Debbie
"A good addition to hot water." - Alan

Raspberry Leaf Tea by Oteas
Raspberry leaves, hibiscus, apple pieces, rose hip shell, blackberry leaves, raspberries. 
I have to admit that this wasn’t one that leapt out at me. I read ‘raspberry leaf’ and thought it was going to be a herbal remedy for cramps. But actually this is a blend of various things, amongst them dried raspberries that pop back to life when you add hot water. It’s fragrantly fruity, with a sweet-sharp flavour that would be a rather nice restorative after too big a meal. As a red-fruit tea, it also works well cold, and in a fancy glass is a lovely party drink instead of red wine.

I really enjoyed both of these boxes. Teatourist are doing a great job of sourcing a wide range of interesting teas from a variety of companies. And if there's a box that you particularly enjoyed - or are reading about here, and fancy trying - all previous boxes are available to order online. So take a look back through my previous reviews and see what catches your eye!

I keep saying - yes, I know! I'm sorry! - that I'll write about the new packaging (now not so new!) and I will. But right now I just want to get this published and get the kettle refilled! I'll see you again soon!

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Teatourist - July 2017

Teatourist like to base their monthly selection of teas around a theme, and July's is 'Larks and Owls' - 'a selection of teas to bookend your day'. So we have four flavoured black teas for a morning caffeine kick, and two indulgently-flavoured rooibos blends - because you deserve them after the day you've had! Time to put the kettle on: let's get tasting.

Lavender, Chocolate and Cinnamon by Lulin Teas
South African Rooibos, cinnamon bark, cocoa shells, lavender.
This is a weird one. I like lavender, and I like chocolate - but do I like them together? I'm still not sure. This has an excellent chocolateyness, a really good depth of flavour. And I would be very happy to drink it as a chocolate tea. But then little notes of lavender come through. Which I like. Or do I? Yes. I do. I think... I'm going to keep drinking it until I'm completely sure. Confusing, but in a good way!

Go Nuts by Tips 'n' Leaves
Cederberg Rooibos, caramel pieces, natural pecan flavour, calendula. 
Full disclosure: I'm not often a big fan of rooibos, either on its own or as a base for flavoured tea. I usually find it too watery, even when I brew it extra long or strong. A rooibos blend has to be pretty special to make me swoon over it, and as much as the scent of this was heavenly, it just didn't float my boat. However, having said that, if rooibos is your thang, then you'll probably like the sweet and nutty notes of this blend.

Masala Chai by Spice Kitchen
Black tea, rose petals, cardamom, black pepper, ginger, cloves, fennel, star anise, nutmeg, ginger, carom seeds, cinnamon. Ah - look at all those spices! This is a smooth and well-balanced chai, mild, but with a spicy aftertaste. I do sometimes brew my masala chai in a pan with milk, but this one I just brewed in a pot, as I would with any black tea, and served it with milk. Obviously you'd get a different tasting experience if you brewed it authentically, but it's up to you.

Summer Fruits by Teagime
Honey red tea, cornflower, red currants, peach, blackberries, blackcurrant powder.
I'm not usually a fan of fruity black tea. It tends to be at the bottom of my tasting list. But this one was a very pleasant surprise: light and refreshing (and I wrote that before reading the same words on the info card!), with delicate fruit and floral notes. The sublety wins out here. Well played Teagime!

Lemon Kandy by Teakruthi
I've said before that I'm not a fan of black tea with fruit, especially citrus fruit, so this was the second tea in this month's box that made my heart sink slightly. But I actually loved it! This blend contains large pieces of lemon peel, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that the citrus notes were incredibly subtle, and actually enhanced the flavour of this beautiful Orange Pekoe Ceylon. The tea when brewed is a dark honey colour, and smells sharp and fresh. It has such a clean flavour, and is something I would drink as an afternoon pick-me-up. The name of the tea - Lemon Kandy - is a play on words (obviously!), and refers to the mountainous Kandy District of Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon), where this tea is grown.

Get Up And Go by Saddleworth Tea
This is a strong and aromatic blend of Assam, Ceylon, and Kenyan black tea. It has a smooth, clean, and slightly sweet taste, and a big hit of caffeine to get you going in the morning, or after a big sleep-inducing lunch. A nice blend for your everyday cuppa.


Overall this was a pretty good selection of teas and I enjoyed trying them. I must apologise for the lack of photos. I'm not entirely sure what happened, but my phone seems to have eaten them.

I mentioned last month that Teatourist have redesigned their packaging and information cards, and that I would cover it this month. However, August's selection box brought more changes, so I will wait and cover the whole thing in my August/September post.

You can read my reviews of previous boxes here and here and here.

Sunday, 30 July 2017


I've just added, in backdated posts, a whole lot of my old Shakespeare reviews to this blog.

You can view them here.

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Teatourist - June 2017

The theme of Teatourist's June subscription box is 'Quirky and Cool'.

It contains a selection of very visually attractive teas, and these would look lovely brewed up in a glass teapot for effect.

I also notice that Teatourist have redesigned their tea packaging and information cards, and I'll talk about these next time. So, let's get straight to the reviews.

Time for Bliss by Caley's Apothecary
Lemon Verbena, passion flower, lime flowers, rose petals, cinnamon.
What a pretty mixture! I found this blend refreshing without being too sharp. I liked the lemon verbena, but I felt that the other ingredients dulled it somewhat, without boosting the overall flavour. It was pleasant warm, but I preferred it chilled. 3/5.

Earl Grey Blue Rose by Rutland Tea Co.
Black tea, pineapple, grapes, bergamot, rose petals, cornflower petals.
The scent of this is fantastic: sharp, rich, and sweet. However, I'm just not a fan of fruity flavours - especially citrus notes - with my black tea, and this wasn't for me. This is a personal preference, and no reflection on the tea itself. It's an interesting variation on Earl Grey, and one that I think will be appreciated by many. 3/5.

Assam with Vanilla by Pure Leaf
Assam, vanilla, marigold petals.
This comes in teabags, rather than loose leaf, but you can always break open the bags if you want to brew it in a pot. It's a pleasant Assam, with a soft vanilla flavour. Very mild, and makes a nice post-lunch cuppa. 3/5.

Mint Chocolate by Cheshire Tea
Rooibos, peppermint, calendula petals, cacao bean.
This was the highlight of the box for me. Smooth and creamy, it's like drinking melted After Eight Mints. Minty, chocolatey - it has everything you want. This one is on my buy-more list! 5/5.

Rhubarb and Vanilla by Hoogly Tea
Hibiscus, green tea, rhubarb, sunflower petals, calendula petals.
A gorgeous ruby red colour, this is mesmerising to pour! It has an incredible taste: the perfect balance of sweet and tart. This is rhubarb and custard - the real deal! Follow the steeping instructions carefully, and don't overbrew. 4/5.

Flexibilitea by T-Tox
Nettle, jasmine flowers, burdock root, marshmallow, lemon verbena.
I have to be honest: I hated this. However, D, who sometimes taste-tests with me, says that it has a 'mild and refreshing nettle taste with a subtle sweet note'. So there y'go.


Overall, this box was a little more miss than hit for me. But not every tea is going to be a hit with every customer, and that's what subscription boxes are about - taking a chance on something new.

If the contents of this box appeal to you, there's still time to order it. Teatourist's subscription service allows you to order past boxes as well as current ones. 

You can read my reviews of previous boxes here and here.

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Perk Coffee - Carpenders Park, Watford

I must apologise. I've been promising to write something about Perk for some time now, and I just haven't got around to it. I'm there all the time and yet I just keep forgetting! So, my apologies to you Perk, and here - finally! - is my review.

Perk is a small, independent coffee house, situated a couple of minutes' walk from Carpenders Park rail station, in Watford, Hertfordshire. It popped up one day: a down-to-earth, upmarket revelation, in an area desperately in need of enrichment. And I can't overstate how much of a difference this place has made to the local community, how much of a benefit - a perk - it is.

The atmosphere, immediately, is welcoming. The staff greet you with smiles and hellos, and it always feels geuine.

The space feels at once both intimate and communal. It has a warm, homely vibe, with pretty lampshades and hand-decorated chairs. A range of seating options - tables and chairs, comfy sofas, bar stools at the window - provide for the varying needs and wants of customers. You can work here. You can have a quiet conversation with a close friend. You can have cake and birthday celebrations. There is free wifi. There is a play area for children. Needs are anticipated and met.

You order and pay at the counter, and then your food and drink is brought to you.

Tea is loose-leaf, and served in a pot with a removable infuser, with a cup and saucer and a pretty teaspoon. You'll sometimes get an extra little treat on the side. There is a growing range of delicious cold shakes and smoothies, and I'm told that the coffee is excellent.

The food here is of excellent quality, and generous in portion size.

Sandwiches are made with freshly baked artisan breads. There is plenty of vegetarian fare, and a couple of vegan options, and gluten-free clients are also catered for. Staff will willingly check ingredients, discuss suitability, and tailor meals to your needs as far as possible.

One of the reasons for Perk's success is that it is constantly evolving. Each time I visit there is something new, some little detail that has been tweaked or upgraded. Afternoon tea, with pretty vintage china, is now available (advance bookings only). There are seasonal menus, drinks, treats. There are blankets for the outdoor seating. There is a big bowl of water and snacks for canine companions. There are little books to read whilst you idle with your coffee. Perk is on a constant voyage of self-improvement, and it shows.

Perk also deliberately makes connections with its local community. It runs storytime events for toddlers, comedy nights, networking mornings; hosts craft afternoons, knitting circles, takes part in charity fundraisers. Local artists and photographers exhibit their work here, and local crafters advertise and sell their wares. There is a community noticeboard on the wall. Perk has worked hard to reach out, to grow roots, and it has paid off for everyone.

Before Perk came along, there was nowhere nearby to sit and have a quiet cup of coffee in relaxed surroundings. Yes there are fast food places, pubs, greasy spoons. But nowhere to pop in to meet a friend, read a book, work on your laptop. Perk has fulfilled a local need, and people have a reason to keep going back.

Perk is a wonderful little coffee house, and I highly recommend it. Tell your friends.

Venue: Coffee house.
Accessible: Yes.
Seating: Indoor & outdoor.

Food: Sandwiches, wraps, jackets, soups, cakes, pastries etc.
Pricing: Approx £3.50 upwards.
Vegetarian Food: Yes.
Vegetarian items marked on menu: No.
Vegan Food: Yes.
Vegan items marked on menu: No.
Gluten-Free: Yes.
Gluten-Free items marked on menu: ?
Off-menu orders: Yes.
Child menu: ?
Take-away: Yes.

Tea Selection: Good. Range of Suki loose-leaf tea.
Presentation: Good. Teapots, cups & saucers.

Service: Excellent. Friendly and helpful.

Child-friendly: Yes, with play area.
Highchairs: Yes.
Breastfeeding Friendly: Unknown.

Wifi: Yes.
Dogs Welcome: Yes, outside.
Loyalty Card: Yes.

Toilets: Yes.
Accessible Toilet: Yes. Grab bar, emergency cord.
Baby Change: Yes.
Cleanliness: Good.
Supplies: Good.

Venue for Hire: Yes.

Would Recommend: Yes!

Monday, 3 July 2017

Imagine Watford 2017

Imagine Watford is a free-to-attend, outdoor arts festival, that brings a diverse programme of theatre, dance, and circus performances to the High Street for two weekends each summer.

Professional companies, both local and international, descend upon the town with a dazzling selection of events. Weird art installations; quirky characters roaming The Parade; clowning; high-concept dance; vast spectacle: there's something here for everyone, and it fills the High Street with energy and life.

I love this festival, and I attend as many shows as I can. I also love to watch the reactions of other audience members to what they are witnessing. Tiny children sit silent, entranced by a dancer. A young man peers through a hole into a beehive and snorts with laughter at what he sees. Fascination, puzzlement, applause.

It's not necessary to understand, or even like, everything you see. But the fact that it's here, and for free, is astounding. We need this exposure to the arts. Our children need this exposure. Not everyone goes to the theatre, but when it comes to us, we should appreciate it. Let's watch, take part, invite our friends. Let's make sure that it happens again next year.

Here are my highlights.

You and I Know - Candoco
If you've ever been in love, you'll recognise this story. Teenage prom nerves, first loves, furious fights, finding the strength to say sorry - it's all here in this 15 minute dance piece. Set to appropriate mood music, this highly emotional romantic duet will leave you sighing sadly or reaching for the one you love. Excuse me - there's something in my eye.

I only managed to see the first 15 minutes or so of this performance, but I wish I could have stayed for the rest. Eight strangers carrying suitcases: who are they and what do they want from us? At first they don't do much. They huddle together, they stand with their faces in the sunlight as if it's the first they've seen in a long time. And then they turn to the people around them. The onlookers are hesitant: they're willing to say hello, but will they go with these strange characters when asked? It turns out that yes, they will. Eight people are persuaded to lie down, with suitcases as pillows, and enjoy the sunshine with these strangers. The strangers then go into a shop. It is strange to them. They stand in the window, staring out at the audience, who stare back at them. And then... What's happening here? They're acting as though the outside is dangerous, the shop a refuge. They're waving people in to safety. Will anyone go? Yes, they will: scuttling across the short distance that separates audience from performer as if they are in real danger and these strangers their only hope of safety. And that's where I had to leave them. This is a fascinating piece: playful, mischievous, and extremely relevant.

Urban Astronaut - Highly Sprung
A future without clean air. A girl, alone, planting trees in the dirt. An astronaut, by turns breathtaking, fearsome, fearful. This is a moving and thought-provoking dance piece, and I ran through a range of emotions watching it. Its highly relevant subject matter makes much of it rather discomfiting to watch. The dance itself is gorgeous, scary, sad. The astronaut, appearing from behind the audience, rising and falling as he moves closer, is glorious, terrifying. Overall a beautiful piece, that left me both sad and hopeful. Inspirational.

Big Mob - Bedlam Oz
Giant slinkies shuffle and tumble their way along the street. They seem to look around and sniff the air, huddling together, breaking apart. Small children are drawn to them as though they were bizarre insects. What are they? Are they dangerous? Is it ok to touch them? It's only a matter of time before one of them eats a child, and then the screaming starts... Hilarious to watch, just don't take your eyes off them.

Galileo - Deus Ex Machina
A gigantic orrery is raised from the ground, ascending thirty metres, suspended and spinning. Galileo sits atop it, looking through his telescope and pondering the nature of the universe. Below him, a couple dance on a suspended globe, falling in and out of love. Women in white dresses become lanterns and stars, sailing across the night sky. Across the darkness, bursts of light and heat, music and words. Staring up into the night, with the rain falling around me, I feel a true sense of wonder. This is the glorious spectacle that is Deus Ex Machina's 'Galileo': a whirling masterpiece of acrobatics and aerialism, utterly enchanting. This is where science is transformed into magic. 

If I Could I Would - Mimbre
Sometimes life gets you down. You wake up late, you're out of coffee, you have no clean clothes, and then you have to go to work. If I Could I Would is about the knocks and bruises we take in everyday life, and how people will - quite literally - walk all over you. It's also about changing your story, regaining your power, and becoming your own superhero. From street harrassment to a work colleague spilling a broken heart onto her desk, the heroine of this piece is subjected to an ever-increasing amount of pressure before pausing, and pushing back. Heavily comical, sometimes cartoon-like in its choreography, this is an uplifting piece of highly-skilled acrobatics and dance, with a strong story and empowering ending. Top notch!

Bingo Lingo - Wild n Beets
Beryl and Cyril: we've met them before, way back in the 1980s. Beryl in her leopard print suit and sparkly top, Cyril with his woodstain tan and laquered hair. With their married-couple banter and their sweetly risque humour, this pair bring both warmth and tackiness to their giant game of bingo. Billed as 'a game for everyone, where disability politics meets cheeky end of the pier humour', this show is funny, deliberately painful, and just a little bit educational. Really enjoyable, and no effort required!

Baba Yaga's House - Dizzy O'Dare
In Slavic folktale, Baba Yaga is an old witch who lives in a hut that walks about on chicken legs. Flying about in a mortar and pestle decorated with bones, Baba Yaga greets the women with a cry of 'Sister!', threatens to eat the children, and flirts with the men, keeping up the patter as she approaches the unwary as well as the willing onlooker. The mischievous chicken hut that follows her around is both her home and her pet. Laying eggs, weeing on the floor, spraying water out of its doors, it is as unpredictable as it is amusing. Dizzy O'Dare brings both humour and malice to this deliciously wicked piece of roaming theatre. Encore, sister!

Monday, 19 June 2017

Teatourist - April and May

Teatourist have been very generous in sending me several of their monthly subscription boxes to review. I wrote in detail about them and their concept, and reviewed a whole lot of teas, in my previous Teatourist post. But two more boxes - that's 12 different types of tea! - have arrived since then, and I think they deserve a post of their own! So here we go - April and May.

April's Box

Teatourist are getting rather good at creating loose themes for their boxes. April's - as we are reaching warmer weather, brighter days, and lighter evenings - is 'Dump the Slump', and contains 'a selection that's innocent, naughty and unashamedly carefree'.

In this box we have the following: two black teas - Thieves' Brew, and Shades of Grey; two fruit/herbal - Hibiscus Flowers, and Peppermint; and two blends - Chocolate and Ginger, and the awesomely named Pumpkins Go Bananas. Great selection, and I can't wait to get brewing.

Thieves' Brew by Bev's Tea Co
I was initially attracted to this medium leaf Sri Lankan black tea because of its name. As you might expect, there's an interesting story behind it. The raw leaves of Thieves' Brew are pounded in a stone Vangedi - a type of mortar - before oxidation. Historically, this is how estate workers made their tea at home, and stole leaves in order to do so. It's actually quite a sweet-tasting tea, smooth, and beautiful without milk. The info card says 'notes of toffee and orange', and - yep - that's spot on. This is a single estate tea, and according to Bev's Tea 'the only estate in the world producing this kind of tea on a very small scale'. I couldn't decide whether this would be something I would drink everyday, or just get out for favoured guests. But the point it moot now, as it's all gone! 4/5

Shades of Grey by MDTea
This was just beautiful! A full-bodied Earl Grey with strong floral and citrus notes, aromatic and extremely satisfying. It retains the character of classic Earl Grey whilst bringing something new and exciting to your cup. A really gorgeous tea, whether infused lightly and served in delicate china, or brewed strongly and served in a sturdy mug. I got so carried away with drinking it that I forgot to take any photos. You'll have to take my word for it.  5/5.

Chocolate and Ginger by Shibui Tea
Just three ingredients in this one: ginger, cocoa husk, and liquorice root. I've never tasted anything quite so like a Ginger Nut biscuit in a cup. (Unless you count those ginger biscuits that were dunked a little too long, losing their structural integrity, and falling sploosh into the cup. Which I don't.) A three minute brew is perfectly balanced for sweetness with a gingery kick. Perfect. 5/5.


Hibiscus Flowers by Tugboat Brews
Let me start at the end of the story. Hibiscus flowers, when they're done and you're fishing them out of the teapot, look and feel so weird, like little rubbery aliens, or bizarre sea creatures. So - yeah. I just thought I'd throw that in. Anyway... This brews up a rich red colour, and if you were feeling in a vampirey mood you could pretend you were drinking blood. Or not. I first tried this hot, but actually I far prefer it as an iced tea. The suggestion is to add sugar or honey, but I really like the fruity tartness of this infusion, and it's just lovely on a hot day. Put it in a fancy glass and it feels like a proper party drink. I think it would be great served chilled, in a jug, with a little fresh fruit added. 5/5.


Pumpkins Go Bananas by Leaves of the World
Apple, carrot, ginger, pumpkin, pineapple, coriander, banana chips. This is a surprisingly sweet tea, with gentle spicy notes. The banana flavour comes through strongly, but combined with the fruits and spices it made me think of creamy fudge. The info card suggests that adding ice and shaking will leave you with something that tastes like a banana milkshake, but  actually like the idea of it hot, as a themed Halloween tea, as it tastes like sweeties. 3/5


Peppermint by Maiservas
This one had got rather left behind, as I have so much mint in my garden and seem to constantly have a pot of mint tea - hot or chilled - on the go. However, when I did get around to brewing it - gosh it packs a punch. A real tongue-tingler!

May's Box

May's box did not disappoint. The theme this month is 'Founder's Favourites', or 'So, you own your own tea company and have access to any tea you want, but what's your favourite?'. And the answer is: two (mainly) fruit/herbal infusions; one white tea blend; one flavoured Rooibos; and two very exciting black teas, a SFTGFOP, and a themed blend named after a famous detective.

Sherlock Holmes Tea by Chash The Fine Tea Co
With quintessential English Breakfast as a base, a hint of Lapsang Souchong for pipe smoke, and Ginkgo and Elderflower for brain power, this is a tea that will transport any Holmes enthusiast. I very much enjoy blends that play cleverly on their theme, but are also well-balanced for taste. This is a rich and smoky brew that rolls over the tongue, evocative of Victorian parlours, old books, and the most fascinating of mysteries. But no murder. Not whilst I'm drinking tea. 4/5.

Doomni SFTGFOP by Pekoetea Edinburgh
Well. Let's tackle the name first, yes? Doomni is the name of a tea estate in Assam. SFTGFOP stands for Special Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe, which is rather a mouthful, and also a specific grade of tea. The info card says that this tea is rich, malty and sweet, but - surprisingly, because I love a good Assam and this is an excellent grade - I didn't find it to be any of those things. I tried it with and without milk, and brewed lightly and strongly, and although it was a pleasant black tea it didn't seem like anything special. Still a 3/5 though.

White Bellini by The Tea Experience
Inspired by the Bellini cocktail, this is a large leaf white tea, with whole freeze dried raspberries, peach pieces, and currants. It's a pretty mixture, and very fragrant; the peachy scent drifts across the room enticingly. I'm not usually a fan of anything peach-flavoured, but I enjoyed the fruitiness of this tea, and I re-steeped it twice. The info card also suggests cold-brewing overnight, and I imagine that this would create a delicious and delicate flavour. Soft and peachy. 3/5


Lemongrass & Ginger by Morgan's Brew Tea Company
Lemongrass, ginger, lemon verbena, lemon peel, green tea.
A sunny and uplifting brew: sweet and zesty with a gingery kick. Serve chilled on a melting June day, or hot on a cool summer evening. 3/5.


Apple & Grapefruit by Tea Shirt Tailored Refreshments
Apple, orange, strawberry pieces, rose hip peel, hibiscus, lemongrass, orange peel, flavouring. Brewing tea on one of the hottest days of the year (so far) I am utterly melting, and my thoughts turn to whether this will taste good chilled. Teatourist - who are always happy to give their opinion - say that yes, it will, do it. As I'm waiting for it to brew, I can't help but notice that this infusion contains no actual grapefruit, although it certainly does smell sharp enough to. It has a long brew time, 10-12 minutes, but - hot - it still tastes rather watery to me, without much body. The flavour comes out more as the temperature goes down, so this is definitely one to drink warm or fully chilled, rather than hot hot hot. More tart than sweet, but pleasant enough.

Rooibos Rhubarb Fudge by Piacha
Rooibos, apple, hibiscus, elderberries, rosehip, pineapple, rhubarb, strawberry, vanilla, calendula petals. This is one that you need to drink warm rather than hot, to allow the flavours to come through. More tart than sweet, but with subtle vanilla notes, it reminded me of rhubarb and custard sweets in tea form. 3/5.


Overall, I was very impressed with these two boxes. Teatourist have upped their game in terms of selection for each box, and hopefully there's now something for everyone in each. They've also negotiated special discount codes for some of the teas, so that when you find a brew that you love you can get a little something off a big bag of it. Good stuff, Teatourist. Good stuff.