Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Pursuing Tea Perfection - Palm Court at The Plaza

Events are what we make of them. The most linear route to spoiling any event is a simple, two-step process:

1. Obsess over the details
2. Ignore the intention

Balancing Intent and Intricacies

Full disclosure is necessary here: I adore details, the more intricate the better. Details are the small touches that demonstrate personal care and consideration. For example, it is the difference between hand craftsmanship and machine mass production or between a handwritten thank-you note and a form letter addressed "to whom it may concern." Details inject evidence that someone cared enough to produce something worthy of the recipient.

Details do matter for any event; they accent the occasion. However, the guests attending the event matter far more than any detail, regardless how expensive or exquisite. Indeed, there is no event without guests. Guests, then, trump all pursuits of tea perfection.

The Palm Court at The Plaza

I intentionally selected The Palm Court at The Plaza to transport a colleague from her current stressful atmosphere to a more serene state of mind. In my experience, sharing afternoon tea is a proven method for achieving this goal. Remembering my previous afternoon teas under The Plaza's stained-glass dome, I desired that she leave tea feeling relaxed, refreshed, and nurtured. Thankfully she did, but it surprisingly took some effort.

Arriving six minutes prior to our 2:00 p.m. seating, we were shooed away to meander through the now sparse Hotel Lobby. We reappeared promptly as requested, only to join a bewildered crowd at the Palm Court's entrance. We managed to make eye contact as a signal that we were present. Then we heard our name mispronounced. We took our cue, emerged from the throng, and gratefully took our seats.

We dined sumptuously on a well-planned, three-course afternoon tea and enjoyed edifying conversation too. Yet, it seemed that we were taking up space because a steward started clearing us out mid-conversation. Since we were previously interrupted with the check and had paid it, I resisted the not-so-subtle hint to leave before this tea's mission was fully accomplished.

Even though I'm glad to say my guest thoroughly enjoyed our tea, I lament over this particular Palm Court at The Plaza visit. The venue was scenic, the china and linens immaculate. The tea itself was perfect. The overall atmosphere was as sterile as the savories, scones, and sweets were sublime. Tea is more than details. Tea must also include the main ingredient -- the guests.

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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Relating and Relaxing - The Pembroke Room

Every relationship begins and ends with a conversation. From a baby's first words, to a person's deathbed confession, and including all the exchanges in between the two, we navigate our various relationships based upon the quantity and quality of our conversations. What does all this have to do with tea? Tea creates an atmosphere conducive for having conversations.

Consider the Time
One of the greatest compliments we pay each other is when we decide to spend time together. Time is our most precious commodity; the one that is irreplacable. Like most riches, we tend not to notice how much time we've wasted until it's gone. Then the time remaining takes on an added significance. We determine what and who really matters by the time we allocate. For this reason, it is inconsiderate to waste someone else's time. It is tragic to spend time on things that really don't matter and no time with the people who do.

Extend an Invitation
Recently one of my relatives approached me about our carving out a monthly tea appointment. It isn't that she is a tea connoisseur yet, but this gives us at least 120 minutes every month to check in, to catch up, and to relax over tea. My cousin knows that our having tea together means that she has my undivided attention for at least two hours and that her tea knowledge will increase. How could I refuse an invitation from such a willing pupil? I must say publicly that I am honored and very proud to be her personal tea ambassador. Our tea encounters are seldom dull, sometimes shocking, and always enjoyed. The fact that she took the initiative makes them even more special.

Orchids and Atmosphere - The Pembroke Room at The Lowell
Emerging from the elevator on the second floor, we followed the narrow corridor leading to The Pembroke Room (pictured above). First impressions count: I first saw the profusion of exquisite white orchids welcoming us into the room. As orchids are my favorite, I felt officially welcomed before our host Vernon ushered us to our table. The Lowell Hotel black tea, Ceylon and Darjeeling loose teas blended with jasmine, so pleased my cousin that she both tried and enjoyed it without sugar. When she view the dainty savories, she initially thought that we would leave hungry and prepared to order another plate of tea sandwiches. However, after the full three-course classic tea of sandwiches, scones and sweets, we took a lengthy stroll along Madison Avenue to counterbalance our earlier scone, Devonshire cream and lemon curd intake. That is tea: we savor life one cup at a time. Then we walk -- together.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Of Palate & Paris - Talking Kusmi Tea

Speaking ill of French customs and culture appears to be a growing American trend. My voice refuses to assent; rather I object. Close acquaintances probably expect nothing less based on my French fries alliance, i.e. les pommes frites. It is true that I frequently entertain butter, cream and sugar as honored culinary guests within my home. They are also among my strongest motivators for regular daily exercise. Pilates anyone?

Details Create Experiences

So even though the premise above has some merit, I find that there is something utterly fascinating in how serious the French generally are about details. It is an art. This close attention-to-detail elevates an event from an ordinary task to an experience. All five senses -- sight, sound, scent, touch, and taste -- receive careful consideration whether it involves designing a garment, cooking a meal, or preparing a tea.

Follow the Nose

I firmly hold this view about tea selection: if the tea does not speak to the nose, then it will not speak to the palate. A tea's aroma either invites or repels further interaction. As a result, I do not purchase tea from places where inspecting the tea, e.g. seeing and smelling it, is discouraged. Let's open the tea tin and allow the senses to participate.

Cerebral Connections

From studying neuroscience we understand the nose's olfactory nerves are located closest to the deep limbic system, the brain's memory and emotional center. Since the palate physically separates the space between the nasal and oral cavities, the associated nerves work closely together to send the brain signals. Otolaryngologists, also known as ear, nose and throat (ENT) doctors, specialize in this medical area. In other words, tea combines art and science.

Parisian Tea Passion - Kusmi Tea

Thanks to a fellow tea aficionado, I received an opportunity to discuss my tea selection theory with Kusmi Tea CEO Sylvain Orebi (@SylvainOrebi, @KusmiTeaUS). Not only did he agree that the nose is crucial for tea discernment, but he also generously shared a bit of Kusmi Tea's tea blending approach. "It all starts in the mind," Orebi said. Curiosity piqued, I asked what thoughts inspired the Kusmi Sweet Love blend. His answer? Instead of sharing our conversation verbatim, I'll let the tea speak for itself.

Kusmi Tea opens its first US store today in Manhattan (1037 Third Avenue at 61st Street). We Americans are now able to enjoy tea like Rose Green Tea (pictured above) firsthand. Welcome Kusmi Tea!

(For those who wonder, no tea company employs me nor pays me for postings. The opinions expressed here are solely mine and not medical advice. May inquiring minds drink their tea in peace.)

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone