Canton Tea Co

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Product review – a kit to prepare matcha in the traditional way

Having acquired my first teapot not more than a month ago, it’s fair to say that I’m new to the very serious business of drinking proper tea, and even more so to the concept of Matcha. The Japanese Matcha Set from Canton Tea Co is a great way to explore this new territory, as it comes with all of the necessary accessories and tools to make matcha.

Matcha is said to have been born in the 10th century Chinese Song Dynasty, where the idea to make powdered tea from dried leaves became a ritual of sorts for Zen Buddhists. It then crossed into Japan and gained popularity with the higher echelons of society, before evolving into the tradition of the Japanese Tea Ceremony which revolved around the preparation, serving and drinking of matcha.

It’s historical potency is matched by the numerous health benefits of drinking matcha, which include glorious levels of antioxidants (including the powerful EGCg) that outnumber those in superfoods like goji and acai berries, as well as being rich in fiber, chlorophyll and vitamins. Matcha is also thought to be helpful in lowering cholesterol and blood sugar, and in boosting metabolism. One point to note is that matcha has higher lead levels than other teas, and should only be drunk once a day.

Matcha is produced from green tea which is grown in the shade, hand-picked, dried, de-veined, de-stemmed, and then stone-ground into a fine, emerald-coloured powder. The highest grades of matcha use only the softest and most supple tea leaves and are known as ‘Ceremonial Matcha’, and are suitable for use in the Japanese Tea Ceremony. The coarser leaves constitute a cheaper grade of matcha which is suitable to be used in cooking. There is no universal standard as to what constitutes the higher grade matcha, and each company has their own standard.

In terms of taste, matcha has a unique umami-rich flavour profile, and Ceremonial grade matcha is said to have the best taste as a result higher levels of nutrients being directed to the fine, growing leaves of the plant. Both the taste and health properties of matcha can only fully be realized when the matcha is prepared in the traditional manner – no milky, sugar-laden matcha lattes then.

The Canton Tea Co matcha set is great for a matcha novice as it contains all of the basic items that you need to make matcha, which includes a bamboo scoop (茶杓, chashaku), a bamboo whisk (茶筅, chasen), a tea bowl (茶碗, chawan) and a 30g resealable tin pot of ‘high grade’ matcha.

Traditionally, there are two ways to prepare matcha: usucha and koicha. Slightly creamier than regular tea, usucha is the most common, whilst Koicha has a far thicker, honey-like consistency and is only served in tea ceremonies. Both usucha and koicha contain only matcha powder and water.

The Canton Tea Co matcha set contains instructions to make the thinner and more common usucha matcha. First, measure out two bamboo scoops of matcha into the tea bowl, and then add 100ml of water at around 75°C. Use the bamboo whisk in a brisk W motion to create a frothy top layer, and then drink directly from the tea bowl.

Cupping the bowl up and onto your lips so that it domes over your mouth and nose ensures that the whole fragrance of the tea surrounds you as you take that first, tentative sip. I’m loving the whole ritual-like nature of preparing matcha, and the matcha set from Canton Tea Co is a good way to start out.

At £58 the whole matcha set is not cheap, but then quality is key when it comes to matcha. The Canton Tea Co also sells the matcha on its own, as well as each matcha tool and accessory. If you’d like to try it out then use the code WRAP15 on checkout to get a 15% discount!

Website
I was sent the products to review

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Ham Yard Hotel

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Afternoon tea in a jazzy new Soho hotel

7.5/10

Afternoon tea in itself is a pretty inoffensive affair, built around the genteel consumption of finger sandwichs, scones and a few polite little pastries. Perhaps the most objectionable part of this daintiest of activities is not the activity itself, but the sums of money that you are sometimes asked to part with to have them. I’m refreshingly surprised to see the price tag on the afternoon tea at Ham Yard Soho, an eclectic hotel where the afternoon tea costs just £19.50 pp, and is full of creative and unique meanderings.

For afternoon tea service the kitchen is allowed to roam free with its own imaginings, and the menu changes regularly. Served on a neon pink triple-tiered stand, each shelf heaves under the weight of a wonderfully unique booty. Gone are the traditional sandwiches, replaced instead with sliders full of sticky pulled oxtail, flatbreads with welsh rarebit, and butter-fried toast with sautéed mushroom and cheese. The only savoury item I’m not completely on board with is a finger sandwich of sliced beef tomato, which feels a little lonely all on its own, and which works nowhere near as well as the cucumber variety.

On the top tier of the stand are pots brimming with clotted cream, raspberry and strawberry jam, which are put to good use on a selection of mini fruit and plain scones. Warm and swaddled in thick cotton, these scones are the perfect little number to transfer gently between savoury and sweet.

Afternoon tea concludes with a selection of pastries, which include a glace cherry macaron, a banana cheesecake and a chocolate cupcake. Although the variety is commendable, only one of each pastry is given for an afternoon tea which serves two people, and so these petit four creations must be halved into even smaller mouthfuls. Still, each mouthful is a delight.

Apart from the tea itself, I quite like the chop-and-change nature of the menu, and the flexibility it gives to have exactly what you want and pay for it accordingly. The basic afternoon tea for £19.50 pp includes the tea stand as pictured (for two), and a choice of Earl Grey, Darjeeling or Breakfast tea. More exotic teas are available for an extra £2.50 per pot, whilst refills of the sweet and savoury tea tiers can also be requested for an extra £8 and £6 respectively. Bolstering the tea with a glass of wonderfully smooth Cremant will cost an extra £9 each, whilst a flute of Veuve Clicquot is £15.50.

After tea I would strongly suggest taking a wander around the hotel itself, which offers great nooks to explore including a plush ground floor bar, rooftop garden, cinema and an original ’50s bowling alley.

Tube: Piccadilly Circus
Address: 1 Ham Yard, London W1D 7DT
Tel: 020 3642 2000
Website
Review was conducted on behalf of afternoontea.co.uk

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Click to add a blog post for Restaurant & Bar - Ham Yard Hotel on Zomato

Mariage Freres

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Product Review – Exquisite tea from France (and Selfridges)

As simple as the philosophy of tea is, it’s still a beverage with a history that is mired in legend. Although general agreement would suggest that tea was born roughly 5,000 years ago in the east, there are various myths which surround its actual conception, from an accidental brewing of leaves falling from a tea, to the darker story of a man burying his eyelids as punishment for falling asleep, only to discover them sprouting up into a tree whose leaves alleviate tiredness. I quite like that last one.

The idea of tea didn’t arrive in the west until much later, around the 17th century, and only after it diffused through the ancient Orient and Arabia through trade routes. The Mariages Frères ’ interest in tea started generations ago, and developed into their self-appointed ‘French Art of Tea’. I’ve tried a few of the teas from Mariages Frères, and can safely attest to their quality.

It’s hard to pick a favourite – and I’m not usually someone with an inability to rank things. The first tea I try is the ‘I Have A Dream’ blend, presented in a brushed steel canister of rosy gold, decorated with a sunset-hued paper label which is embossed with gold flourishes across a rainbow myriad of orange and pink. This is a gorgeous black tea with citrusy notes of lemon, orange, lime, grapefruit, mandarine and yuzu, and every sip is pure, citrusy, sparkly heaven.

Next up is the equally fabulous Mouton tea from the ‘Des Signes’ set, a range that celebrates various Japanese New Year’s. Said to represent the Year of the Sheep, there is nothing shy or retiring about the ‘Mouton Des Signes’ tea canister. Housed in a jade green tea canister, the loose leaf blend is composed of green tea, winter white melon, jasmine flowers and goji berries. It manages to be both fruity and yet dry on the palate, and it reminds me of bubblegum – in a very good way.

From the ‘Iconic’ canister collection we have the ‘Rouge Ruschka’ blend of rare red rooibos tea from the plateaus of South Africa. Inside are also flecks of red and black berries as well as the enlivening sharpness of lime, orange, grapefruit and bergamot. As rooibos is naturally caffeine free, the ‘Rouge Ruschka’ has fast become my favourite after work treat.

The last tea, that I just can’t resist trying, is the luscious ‘Macaron’ tea from the ‘Héritage Gourmand’ tea range, housed in a silver canister with a neon pink label, that is embossed with more silver detailing. You see now, why I must have it. The ‘Héritage Gourmand’  collection of teas are a range evocative of sweet treats and childhood necessities, and although I didn’t discover the precious macaron until my early twenties, I do love this tea. Creamy and biscuity, this black tea has great depth to it that is almost as fulfilling as chewing on the actual pastry.

Mariage Freres also produce beautiful ceramics and glassware from which to sip their beverages, and the gold leaf tea bowls are stunning. There are also a range of tea flavoured chocolates, which taste so much better than they sound. I couldn’t possibly love, or faster consume, a 16-strong box of ‘Chocolat des Mandarins’, made up of chocolate ganache pieces elevated with the toasty notes of tea leaves from China and Tibet.

If you feel like trying out the gorgeous products from Mariage Freres, then a comprehensive selection is available on the lower ground floor of Selfridges and includes the ‘Iconic’ range at £15 each, the ‘I Have A Dream’ blend at £25 and the ‘Chocolat des Mandarins’ at £17.

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I was sent the products to review

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Santorini, Greece

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Holiday Post – Sunning it up in Santorini

This is my very first holiday post in what I hope will be many more to come! I’ve been bitten by the travel bug and it’s got me bad. Where I once used to pillage the internet for info on restaurants, it’s now for cheap flights to anywhere within a 3 hour radius of London. The world is ripe for the taking and, in a magnificent aligning of the stars, I have willing travelling companions.

Right, so Santorini – a little Greek Island known for its pebbly black, red and white beaches and white cube-shaped houses overlooking the sea. A volcanic eruption in the 16th century forever reshaped the terrain into a clutch of small islands in the bay of a larger, crescent-shaped main island of Santorini. Here’s a screenshot from google maps:

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Our 3-person holiday from a Monday to Saturday in June cost £400 pp for flights and accommodation. We flew Easy Jet from Gatwick to Thira airport in Santorini in a 4 hour flight. Thira airport is tiny, and handles arrivals well as long as you have a British or EU passport.

Kamari

This is the beachy area we stayed at, located on the outer, southern coast of the main island (see above map). The inner coast of the main island is made of steep cliffs with their characteristic white houses that overlook the bay, whilst the outer coast is made up of stony beach.

We picked Kamari for two reasons – firstly because it’s cheaper than Fira and Oia to stay at, and secondly for the proximity to the beach. The majority of the hotels and restaurant are all located on the beach front in a pretty little parade.

We travelled in early June which is just on the cusp of peak season, which meant fewer people and cheaper prices, whilst still having 26degree weather, low levels of humidity and plenty of opportunity to tan.

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The beach parade is lined by little boutique hotels, that are really just converted homes, and restaurants. Each restaurant has its own stretch of beach with beach chairs, and most don’t charge you to use them – there’s kind of an unspoken agreement that you’ll order drinks and maybe some food from them at some point while you’re lounging on the beach, which seems fair enough. Our hotel, the 3-star Boathouse, was fantastic for our needs and I’d highly recommend it. Clean and functional with friendly and accommodating staff, and a great breakfast of fresh fruit, greek yoghurt, cold meats and cheese, cereal, toast, and jams.

The restaurants on the Kamari beach parade mostly serve Greek food, from charcoal grilled souvlaki to kleftiko stews and feta in filo with honey. Of course, there’s also a lot of fish which is all gorgeously cooked, and a few shops to buy souvenirs and bits and pieces for your hotel room. The olive oil soap is divine, and the 8 Euro scuba shoes are useful for the stony beach, which is otherwise hellish to walk on.

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Fira

Fira is a port town on the inner coast of the main island of Santorini, and has the main bus terminal. This is important as you need to first get to the bus terminal at Fira before you can get a bus anywhere else on the island, which is a bit of a pain in the arse if you’re staying anywhere other than at Fira – more so because the buses only run every 30 minutes.

Accommodation at Fira is more expensive than at Kamari, and Fira doesn’t have the same easy access to a beach given its location on a steep cliff edge which overlooks the bay. There are plenty of hotels here with their own pools though,  and with infinity pools at the most expensive ones.

Kamari is perfect if you love the beach and the sea, but it’s more convenient to stay at Fira for sightseeing around the rest of the island. Fira is also far better than Oia in my opinion, as it’s laid out in such a way that you get the postcard view down into the bay across the whole stretch of shops and hotels. In Oia you only get the view from a few vantage points, and the architecture is much more compact so it feel far more crowded. Think the crowds of Oxford Street and Covent Garden combined, in a smaller space.

From the port of Fira you can also take boat trips out to visit the clutch of islands in the bay with the volcano and hot springs.

DO NOT under any circumstances feel that you need to take donkeys/mules down to the bottom of Fira. In a moment of madness we thought that this might be good idea – it is not. The path down is steep, zigzaggy, full of potholes and dangerously lubricated with dung. We made it half way to the bottom before I broke down and, fearing for my life or the continued use of my legs, demanded to be let off. Don’t do it.

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Oia & Ammoudi Bay

Oia, like Fira, is located on the inner coast of the main island of Santorini, and although it has the same steep cliffs with white cubist architecture, it’s not done half as well as at Fira. The space feels overly crowded and dense, and you only get to see the bay view from a few places. Oia is also the most expensive part of Santorini with Mayfair-like prices that, for the most part, aren’t worth it. Think 3 scoops of ice cream for upwards of £8.

Ammoudi Bay is the name of the bay area which is directly below the cliffs of Oia. From Oia you walk down a zig zag path to get to the bay. Ammoudi Bay is very small; there are a perhaps only three of four seafood restaurants. It’s worth walking down to just to see the bay from another view, and the fishing boats bobbing on the water as the sun sets are lovely.

The restaurants in Ammoudi Bay are set up so that you go to the front to pick whichever freshly caught fish you like, which is then cooked and brought out. A medium sized sea bass, grilled and butterflied open, costs a steep 50 Euros. As its a holiday and we’re using pretend money anyway, it doesn’t really matter ;)

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