tea

As promised, the "tea stories" zine

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As promised, I’ve made a little zine, celebrating “tea stories” from all over the world. A heartfelt THANK YOU to everyone who shared their stories on this blog post, as well as those of you who emailed me privately. And especially to Nanette via Instagram, who posted me a box of Dutch Tea and Lady Grey Tea all the way from The Netherlands, when I told her I didn’t know what Lady Grey Tea was.

I had seriously so much fun making this zine. I decided to embrace my inner-90s self, and made this thing completely old-school. I painted the pictures below then glued them in, drew others in by hand, cut old ads out of magazines, and hand-wrote most of the stories. So what you see here is something truly handmade, warts and spelling mistakes and stickytape-lines and all.

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What I learned as I hand-wrote all of your stories, was that our mutual love of tea, while it is undeniably delicious, isn’t really about the taste at all. Tea is about taking a moment: it’s about self-care, it’s about slowing down, it’s about comfort, it’s about mindfulness… and more than anything, tea is about the people we love. Whether shared with our loved-ones or sipped in their memories, tea connects us and comforts us.

(I suspect that if coffee is more your beverage of choice, or hot chocolate, the same could probably be said of these drinks, too. Maybe one day I’ll make a zine for you.)

So, here’s the zine I made you: simply click the arrows on the right to flip through the pages, and if you want to make it bigger, hover over the zine and you’ll see an option to view it in “fullscreen”. (If all the pages in the flip-book aren’t showing for you, you can download a readable PDF here). I really hope you enjoy reading Tea Stories as much as I loved making it.

Download and print this zine

If you want to download the PDF and print this zine for yourself or your friends, simply click the button below. The file has been laid out so that you can print it back-to-back. It will print this way onto 10 sheets of paper, which you can simply fold in half, together, to have the whole zine laid out in the correct order. (It’s designed to fit onto A4 paper so if you use US Letter or Foolscap, you may want to trim it slightly.)

Once you’ve made up the booklet, if you want to post it to friend (perhaps with some of your favourite teabags tucked inside), you can simply fold it in half again to fit a standard letter size (although it will be fat).

OK I’ve got to go, I think I hear the kettle singing.

Naomi xo


Rituals: the first cup of tea

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA What do your mornings look like, first thing?

Mine start before the sun. I tip-toe into the children's room and turn on the AC to take the chill out of the air before they wake up, then I walk downstairs and, before anything else happens, I fill the kettle and flip it on.

All those little morning tasks: letting the cat out, turning on the downstairs heat, finding the kids' clothes for the day... all performed to the whoosh-and-hum soundtrack of rapidly boiling water.

Click. Kettle's done. Steaming water over tea, a dash of milk, that first sip so hot it's almost painful but oh so good on the back of my throat.

I take my tea and sit down. Sometimes I write, sometimes I draw. Or I write letters, read letters, listen to podcasts, read a magazine. But always, there is the first cup of tea of the day. The early morning is my special, quiet time, while the rest of my house sleeps, and I could not imagine starting it without tea.

I didn't always keep this ritual. For many years I was a "breakfast first" kind of gal, only moving to tea or coffee mid-morning. But many years ago, while visiting Melbourne on a work conference when I lived in Sydney, I stayed with my good friend Deb in her home. I was feeling a little (a lot) lost in my new job, but I mostly remember that week as a wonderful time of celebrating my friendship with Deb. She was an extraordinarily generous host. She chauffeured me around the city for my conference; took me to different pubs and restaurants every night (where we were ridiculous and believed we were hilarious like only old friends can be); and every morning, as soon as we woke up, she made me a cup of tea. The first cup of tea of the day.

All these years later, I can still picture the corner of her share-house where a tall, gas radiator was attached to the wall, like so many other old houses in Melbourne, pumping out new heat. I can still feel the warmth of the tea Deb had made me, as I cup the mug in my hands.

And every morning, when the scalding hot tea soothes my throat and kick-starts my day, I smile a little smile, and think about Deb.

What about you? What are your morning rituals?

 

How to make iced tea

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On the weekend, a small group of bloggers and one two-and-a-half-year-old girl relaxed in the leafy and floral courtyard of the Travelling Samovar Tea House to chat, giggle, taste tea, and learn about how to brew and blend and make the best of all the (non-alcoholic) summer drinks: iced tea.

Scout had begged to come with me and I was proud as punch to bring her along, but she did make it somewhat more difficult to listen and concentrate on everything we were learning. In between supervising toilet stops and watching her twirl around a garden umbrella and having half-an-ear on the shutter-click of 555(!) photographs (of the ground) being taken on my phone, here is what I learned about how to make a delicious iced tea.

Step 1: Choose your "base" (for example, black tea, green, yellow, or something herbal)

Step 2: You might want to blend some fresh or dried herbs in at the brew stage for flavour. For example, perhaps you'd like to add rose buds or peppermint

Step 3: Brew up the tea. Make it a fair bit stronger than you otherwise would because if you're going to pour it over ice, that will dilute it

Step 4: A good tip the Travelling Samovar gave us was to pour strong, HOT, freshly-brewed tea over ice, which will immediately cool and dilute it. Alternatively, you can store brewed tea in the 'fridge for several days, as long as it's properly sealed and you haven't yet added anything else like fruit or sugar

Step 5: Does your tea need sweetening? Experiment with fruit, sugar, honey, fruit cordial… To the yellow iced tea you see Scout making in these photographs, we added a strawberry coulis and some squares of mango for sweetness. It looked extravagant and tasted delicious

Step 6: Try to make your tea pretty. Apparently, we drink with our eyes as much as we eat with our eyes. The ladies at the Travelling Samovar suggest serving the cold tea with frozen fruits instead of ice: not only will it look beautiful, the tea won't become diluted as it warms up

Are you an iced-tea drinker? I confess that before the Travelling Samovar opened its doors in our neighbourhood, I wasn't a big fan.

I mean, there was THAT TEA I'd had in New Orleans that was pretty close to perfection, but other than that, the pre-bottled stuff you can buy at service stations really didn't float my boat. But the subtle, sweet, refreshing and gorgeous-looking teas these ladies serve up (there's easily half a dozen iced teas on the menu on any given day in summer) have completely won me over.

A big thanks to the Travelling Samovar for hosting such a fabulous event, and to all the ladies who came along and made it so much fun. I loved learning more about the history of this drink, and how to make it at home. And at 36 degrees by later that afternoon, you couldn't get a day better suited to the drinking of iced beverages. Just ask Scout, who got home and announced to her father "I DID MAKE THE ICED TEA" along the lines of "I JUST INVENTED PERPETUAL MOTION."

ps. This was not a sponsored event - we all paid our own ways

Tea auction: tea + travel + home

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Stop the Press. The Travelling Samovar tea house is having a tea auction! Have you ever heard of such a thing? They will be auctioning off beautiful hand-crafted and vintage tea-cups, tea-bowls, tea-pots, trays, an honest-to-goodness vintage samovar and a host of rare and unusual teas, all collected personally by the owners during their global tea-travels.

The reserve prices are ridiculously low so if you get lucky, you could pick them up for a major bargain, just in time for Christmas.

The event kicked off yesterday and will run as a silent auction until the evening of 15 December, when they'll announce the winners at a special event with tea-infused drinks. You can bid via phone or in person any time between now and then. You will probably see my name on a couple of items (I've got my eye on that samovar!).

I popped by yesterday to see what was on offer and snapped some photographs for you, but the pictures really don't do them justice so if you can get to Carlton North in the next week or so, I recommend you go in and take a look for yourself. I really can't show how feather-light and delicate was the antique Japanese stoneware tea-bowl I cupped in my hand - it didn't feel real. Or the wholly satisfying weight and texture of the ornate silver Moroccan tea pot, or the stunning beauty of four porcelain Chinese tea cups, each with a hand-painted figure inside that seemed, honestly, to glow.

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* You can see each auction item here (if you can't make it into the shop to place your bids, they'll take them for you over the phone).

* If Travelling Samovar sounds familiar to you, you can read what I wrote about them when they first opened, and take a virtual tour, here.

And now for a gratuitous shot of the photographer's assistant wearing nectarine on his chin and a pink bowl on his head. Because, those chubby arms!

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Have a wonderful weekend friends.

 

Handmade Halloween tea-treats

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On the spectrum from trick to treat, I'm hoping these friendly little handmade Halloween tea-spooks definitely fall on the treat side. Next year, maybe I'll get my act together and pair them with some skeleton gingerbread men. Or gingerbread cats. Or something. This year, I packaged them up with yellow craft paper and posted them off to these lovely blog readers.

If you need a last minute, slightly-more-grown-up treat to give to friends, a set of these little guys will take you about five minutes to make.

1. Download the template 2. Print or photocopy it onto thick paper or cardstock 3. Cut out each friend, then attach them to teabags with staples or tape

If you have a bit more time, get fancy with some lovely herbal blends, or even create a teabag of your own with a little ball of loose-leaf tea in a square of muslin, secured with string.

The friendly spooks will reach their arms around the edges of your tea cup while the tea steeps.

Happy Halloween friends!

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ps. Christmas tea-friends

 

Handmade gift idea - tea fortunes

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Recently I came up with the idea to make these handmade "tea fortunes." They are simple to put together and make pretty, thoughtful gifts. They are really a mixture between a tea-bag and a fortune cookie, and you can tailor them to be as personal as you like. I think they would be great as party favours, in a hamper, or as something lightweight but lovely to send in the mail.

Step 1: Choose some loose-leaf tea. I used the Crimson Blend from the Travelling Samovar, because it's my absolute favourite and I drink it all the time

Step 2: Spoon the tea into a giant tea-bag. You can simply use a sheet of muslin cloth, tied with baking string, or stitch it into a little pouch if you're handy with a sewing machine. I used the oversized bags you see in these pictures because the lovely ladies at Travelling Samovar had some on hand and gave them to me. If you want to do the same, they can be found in Asian grocery stores

Step 3: Write your "fortunes." On thin strips of paper, write out anything you like. I used a mixture of positive affirmations, switching out the "I" for "You," as well as some inspiring quotes on creativity. Roll up your fortunes into tiny scrolls, and tie them with pieces of string.

Step 4: Personalise a giant paper pocket for the tea-bag. To do this, decorate the middle of an A4-sized sheet of paper, roughly the same size as your handmade tea-bag. Decorated it any way that takes your fancy, I painted the little tea cup you see here. Just make sure the paper is horizontal.

Step 5: Turn the sheet over so that your picture is face-down. Fold the top and bottom in, at about two centimetres. Place your tea-bag in the middle, and tuck the fortune-scrolls in behind it. Now fold the paper in at either side of your tea-bag to create the pocket. Secure it with a piece of washi tape, and you're done!

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Easy gift to make: tea stamps

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA How have these early days of winter been treating you? I have been getting out of the house as much as I can, because I know that when things get really cold and wet we will all be trapped indoors. The other day I pushed the pram more than seven kilometres in the rain to go along to a little blogger meet-up in Collingwood. The meet-up was great and it was lovely to meet so many kind, talented people who I'd been admiring online. On the other hand, pushing a double pram in the rain is somewhat uncomfortable, because it requires two hands just to keep it on the footpath (or else it will swing around into the traffic), and that doesn't leave any hand free for holding an umbrella. The rain wasn't heavy, but let's just say my winter coat now needs a dry-clean. Walking around town, I smell like wet dog.

Sometimes I look at myself in the mirror and think, I walk for hours every day, pushing two heavy children in a pram, and I am breastfeeding a hungry baby day and night. Why haven't I shed the last of those baby kilos? And then I look at my diet, and think about the hours of sleep I'm not getting, and there's my answer. There's nothing I can do about the sleepless nights at the moment but I could improve my diet, with just a smidgeon of self-discipline. And I know I should. But when you are coming off the back of yet another broken night of sleep that cumulatively added up to three and a half hours, that coffee and brownie may be the only thing standing between you and total meltdown. So then I say to myself "Self, today I will cut you some slack. We'll work on our tummy and thighs some other day."

Other than work, which I never really talk about on this blog but which happens with monotonous regularity, our days have been marked by gentle adventures. Trips to the zoo. Visits to our favourite cafes and parks. We joined a new play group, so that Harry could make some little friends his own age. The babies are all about two months younger than him which in the scheme of things won't make a difference but right now, when they all lie down together on a mat, he looks like he has been steadily eating his way through their friends.

I have been decorating some mail to send to you guys, and just popped another five parcels in the mail. And recently I made these little "tea stamp" books to send in the mail to some readers and friends. I can't claim credit for the idea, it came from a dear pen pal of mine who goes by the name of Flora Likes Soap on Etsy. I covered the 'books' with used stamps and then just attached three different flavours of organic tea bags (green tea, peppermint tea and chai). They make lovely little handmade presents because they are quite compact, and very lightweight to send in the post.

How have you been filling your days?

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This is where I live

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Inner-North6 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Inner-North3 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Inner-North7 Inner-North5What do you love about where you live? I've lived in a lot of places around Australia and the world, but I've said it before and I'll say it again: Melbourne is the first place I've felt "at home" since I left New York. I live in a really great part of Melbourne, known as the "Inner North." What do I love about it?

It's a 20 minute walk from my place into the heart of the city, yet everywhere around us is quiet and peaceful. We're in a historically-protected area, so most of the homes in our street are more than 100 years old, with their beautiful Victorian facades preserved. A walk to the park today is barely changed from the same walk a century ago.

Buildings in our area are peppered with wonderful vintage advertising painted onto their brickwork. There are cobblestoned laneways behind the homes. And the main streets are choc full of amazing food: cafes, restaurants, bars, food trucks and organic produce; as well as shops that boast beautiful homewares, vintage finds, fashion and art.

Are you ready to visit me yet?

If you are, I may have the perfect travel guide for you. Jauntful is a new (free) digital tool that makes it incredibly easy to design attractive online guides that are also printable (with maps). Pretty nifty, huh?

I've just designed my very first guide, focusing on great places to eat and visit in Melbourne's Inner North, with babies or toddlers in tow. I'm not talking about places that deliberately bill themselves as family-friendly, necessarily: all too often those places are noisy and grotty and garish and the coffee is appalling. Instead, I'm talking about the sorts of places you'd want to visit even without kids (and you totally should!), which just so happen to be super supportive of those of us sporting miniature humans, and frequently include some special extras that keep the kids happy and make our lives easier.

So, here is my guide (scroll down through it too see all the places I recommend). What do you think? Do you want to come visit my neighbourhood (with or without kids)?

The toddler-and-baby friendly Inner North

And now for the competition

To celebrate the launch of a new Facebook page called "Live North" that celebrates all the great things about Melbourne's Inner North, sponsored by Hockingstuart, I've been invited to give you guys a gift: a family pass to Melbourne Museum (two adults and two children), PLUS a family pass (two adults and two children) to see Unseen World at IMAX Melbourne. The total value of this prize is $75.

To enter, simply send me an email (nabulger AT gmail DOT com) with "Live North" in the subject line. I'll select the winner at random so making your message funny or cute won't win you any extra points, but it WILL make it fun for me to read, so don't hold back if you're so inclined! The competition closes at 3pm this Friday 11 April (Melbourne time, of course). Only one entry per person, but you can enter other members of your family (or your friends), as long as they are over 18.

UPDATE: This competition is now closed. Congratulations Tawhi!

ps. The Live North Facebook page has also launched a HUGE competition to win dining and shopping in the Inner North, worth more than $4000! Enter here.

Free Christmas tea-bag printables

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALast year, I painted a little set of four Christmas-themed "tea friends" to hold onto teabags, as gifts for my friends. You can see my efforts here. If I get my act together in time, I'll make some more of them this year and send them out. But I also thought I'd share them with you, in case you'd like to do the same for a very easy (three-step) DIY Christmas gift. Here's how:

Christmas tea-bag printables

You will need: a supply of tea-bags, white card stock, scissors or a craft knife, a stapler, and this template of the four Christmas tea-friends

Instructions:

1. Print the template onto a sheet of white card, in colour. If your printer won't accept thick card, print onto normal white paper then take it to a newsagency or Office Works-type place that will colour photocopy onto the card

2. Cut around the edge of each figure using a pair of scissors or a craft knife

3. Staple the cardboard tag on a tea-bag to the bottom of each figure

You're done! Package up your little Christmas tea-bag figures for friends, or pop one of them into a tea cup and enjoy some Christmassy Darjeeling right now!

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Melbourne dispatch - the Travelling Samovar Teahouse

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA new teahouse has opened up around the corner from my house. It happened very quietly, with little fanfare beyond a handful of "likes" on Facebook, but you can't sneak anything with "teahouse" in its name past me in coffee-dominated Melbourne. I have been peering through the window watching the fit-out develop and reading the "Coming Late June" signs on the door (that hearbreakingly changed to "Coming Mid July") with impatient interest. Then last week I was walking Madeleine home from the park when what ho! the doors were open! The owners were smiling, the samovar was steaming, so in we rolled.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA decor6 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOwned by three friends united in their love of tea and travel, the Travelling Samovar is like everyone's best version of an imagined stopover on the Spice Route. The menu boasts approximately one billion different teas* complete with tasting notes. But if you're lazy (like me), just ask the owners for their advice. Their passion for tea spills over throughout the conversation, and it's so contagious. I tried the "Calcutta" tea-tasting, a trio of Indian teas (Darjeeling, Assam and Chai), with tea-infused shortbread on the side as a palate cleanser.

There's a light lunch menu as well, and can you imagine anything better on a cold winter's day than cumin-spiced tomato and sweet potato soup? It was sublime. Madeleine preferred her toasty cheese fingers, the pleb. We followed our lunches up with a poached fruit salad and buffalo-milk yoghurt, that we shared.

On another day, I ordered a light rosebud tea sweetened with honey, alongside a moist, sticky Persian love cake and a generous dollop of rose-petal cream. On this Madeleine and I both agreed, so we actually had to order a second cake because she ate ALL of my first one!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe returned to the Travelling Samovar as a family on the weekend and tried the antipasto platter, the ratatouille tart, a generous slice of Russian Napoleyon slice, and some more teas. You've got to do this not only for the tasting but also to watch all the amazing, traditional preparation methods that they use, depending on the tea.

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ps. Yes, they do have an old samovar. And yes, they do use it.

ps2. That weird sticky-up bit of hair on top of my head? That's because I cut my own fringe AGAIN and it went horribly wrong AGAIN. Don't talk to me about it.