nova scotia, part one: one perfect pot of tea


My favourite kind of travel is the kind that meanders me down side streets where there are no attractions, where the door of a tea shop invites me to sit at a sunny window and read the local paper while enjoying the perfect blend of leaves and ambience and ambient conversation.

Where there’s a table of older people and two tables of younger people and every single one of them strikes me as someone worth talking to. A woman comes in and gets a cup of tea to go, a few minutes later, a man arrives to pick up a large paper sack containing an order of various teas, his personal stock is running low he says. He chats with the owner, who explains that he’s leaving for India soon (I don’t catch the name of the place) to visit his tea farmers and attend the wedding of a farmer’s son.

Later, when I’ve finished reading and eavesdropping and sipping, I get up to pay and I ask the owner, Philip, about his upcoming Indian tea farm travels and… well… the conversation goes on for some exceedingly happy time about ethical practices and the choice to support small growers rather than large companies, the difference in quality, the science and pleasure of blending leaves, the art of using natural flavours rather than synthetics.

Philip tells me that last time he was in India he helped with the planting of tea bushes, that the farmer whose son is getting married is his mentor, that he’s learning everything he can and that he hopes one day he’ll be able to plant tea in Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley.

He doesn’t have to tell me this is a lifestyle, that he doesn’t sell tea to get rich. In fact he nearly went bankrupt when the city closed his street for construction one summer.

By the time I leave I’ve had a fabulous mini tea course. (I thought I knew tea. Turns out I know next to nuthin’.)

As with everything, what I learn most is how much there is to learn.

At home a week later I brew a pot of the same blend and the smell of it, the taste, is as gorgeous as I remember and… presto!… just like that I’m right back in that sunny window on a side street in Halifax.

Which is my second favourite kind of travel.

Click on more Nova Scotia!

Nova Scotia: Two Hammocks

Nova Scotia: Three Gardens


yes, deer… tea


So I’m at a place. A place where I have just ordered a cup of tea. Not a coffee shop but a café-ish, snack-ish place in a high end facility of high-end art.

Wait. Let me start again. I have NOT ordered a cup of tea. Not quite yet. There’s a couple ahead of me who have ordered an Americano and a latte and the ‘beverage maker’ is tending to said order with an inordinate amount of flourish, twirling and dramatic gesture. It’s a production, a real bean-fueled drama, complete with intensity of face, a body one with the urns, flicking this way then flicking that. The only sound is the whooshing of steam. Whooooosh. We, the audience, are silent, some of us possibly in awe.

The whole thing seems a titch overblown but then I’m not a coffee drinker.
I stifle my inclination toward cranky cynicism at this point and consider the value, the ‘art’, of preparation instead…

The whole thing takes time.

Finally the coffees are served and the Americano and latte couple leave. It’s my turn. I step up to the counter.

“I’d like a cup of tea please.”

[cue the crickets]

The visual is this: picture a deer in the headlights. This artistse of foam and froth just stares blankly, no words, and then…

“Tea??” he asks in a tone that suggests concern, like maybe I’m making a rash decision.

“Yes,” I confirm.

He takes a cup and sticks it under a tap labelled ‘hot water’, drops in a teabag, shoves it in my general direction. “There you go.”

I laugh—part amusement, part delirium from having stood in line this long—and say I was hoping for a bit more ‘art’, and he, all seriousness and java wisdom says: “Nope, tea’s real simple.”

Real simple indeed.

It occurs to me that it would be pearls before swine to enlighten him… I make a mental note instead that next time I’m in the snack place of the high-end facility of high-end art, I’ll do us all a favour and just have a V-8.

pink lemonade: the real thing

Step One: find some clean purple clover, i.e. where pesticides, car fumes and/or other schmutz has not touched it. (mine came from the market)
STEP TWO:  remove green bits, rinse blossoms (store where they can dry out or they’ll go soggy and rot; can be used fresh or dried; dried they can last months).
STEP THREE:  add 3 cups blossoms to 4 cups water; boil 5 to 7 minutes then strain (the cooked blossoms are a nice garden mulch/compost).

The liquid will be brown at this point but when you add 1/4 cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice, alchemy happens and it becomes… pink. (A very fun ‘presto’ moment—to watch, or stun audiences with!)

Honey or stevia to taste.Chill.


thirty truths: 26


The truth of my coffee drinking history and why I now drink tea:

The first time I heard the word my dad yelling it from his workshop in the basement: coffffeeee!!  It meant he’d like one, pdq. A slice of cake wouldn’t hurt either. And while you’re at it, bring him a cigarette willya…

As a teenager I found, bought, won or was given a blue coffee mug with the word Coffee printed on it, from which I drank triple triples.

In my twenties I went camping with friends and someone forgot to bring the sugar—might have been me—so all weekend I tried to drink coffee with only milk but it was so awful I preferred it black. I liked it so much, in fact, that I continued to drink it black and sans sucre ever after.

Then one day at what was then the Bellair Cafe, I had a cup of coffee that made my heart beat so loud it scared me.

I chose decaf but it was never the same.

In France I once asked for a decaf cafe au lait.  Just once.  I got the message [via The Look] loud and clear.

Then in England I discovered black tea. (Different from the herbal teas my mother made.) I drank it with milk and sugar and chocolate covered digestive biscuits until a few years later I was sitting on a rooftop in Aspen, Colorado, with the lad formerly known as the Chef and two large paper cups of take-out orange pekoe. He’d forgotten to ask for milk and neither of us wanted to run down five flights so I drank it black with sugar, which I discovered was much nicer. (I’ve since discovered stevia, which is nicer still.)

I never returned to coffee and eventually lost the ability to make a decent cup for anyone else. I’ve since given up on it entirely.

So if you come to my house now you will be offered tea—green, orange, chamomile, lapacho bark, east friesan, rooibos, peach flavoured oolong, mount everest black, jasmine phoenix pearls, pear cream, yerba mate, ginseng, mint, fresh raspberry leaves when in season, or calendula, sage, sumach, even cedar if that’s up your street.

If none of those strike your fancy, there’s plenty more.

There is no coffee.

east friesan black goes with brownies

In honour of my friend Chead’s birthday, I’m sharing what might be the world’s best brownie recipe. (Drink with east friesan black tea for happiest results. Add maple sugar crystals to tea for bliss.)

Katharine Hepburn’s Brownies

1. Melt together 1 stick butter and 2 squares unsweetened chocolate and take the saucepan off the heat.

2. Stir in 1 cup sugar, add 2 eggs and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, and beat the mixture well.

3. Stir in 1/4 cup all-purpose flour and 1/2 teaspoon salt. (In the original recipe, 1 cup chopped walnuts is added here as well.)

4. Bake the brownies in a buttered and floured 8-inch-square pan at 325 F. for about 40 minutes.

—courtesy of Laurie Colwin’s More Home Cooking


—I bake for exactly 40 minutes in a pre-heated oven. The second the timer goes off, I take them out and let them cool (thoroughly) in the pan before cutting.

—Some people prefer pecans to walnuts. You know who you are.