Based in Los Angeles, December Tea is a blog by Lauren Bailey. Her posts explore the world around her, through words, pictures, and constant cups of tea.

London and Brugge Tea Haul

London and Brugge Tea Haul

As I packed my suitcase for London with a surprise trip at the end, I tried to leave space for the tea I knew I was planning to buy while abroad. This worked out better in theory than practice. Ever since my interest and knowledge in tea has expanded, I find myself looking to English tea shops and companies for new discoveries. Those periods in between trips often see shipments traveling across the ocean to refill the tea cabinet. The cabinet had been filled to it's tipping point for a while so we set out to clear out the cabinet and drink the teas we’d forgotten about, and I think we did a cracking job. At one point we were all out of our daily black tea and an emergency shipment of Brew Tea Co’s English Breakfast was ordered before I departed. That being said, I am trying to make more of an effort to find companies that are producing amazing products more locally, like the New York based companies Té Company and Bellocq, which I can’t wait to try and visit their Brooklyn store in person; and would like to discover more tea companies that specialize in different offerings. (I’ll be talking more about Té Company at a later date. It is has become one of my favorite places to visit in the city.)

The excitement I would get when a warm tea cup is placed on the table with a properly brewed pot is remarkable. I’ve felt this level of excitement at Slice in Dublin when a pot of Barry’s and a warmed tea cup arrived before our brunch, and again while sitting at the Foyle’s Cafe on Charing Cross Road as mom brought over two pots and pre-warmed mugs for an afternoon/jet lag pick-me-up. It was this feeling and the high cost of getting a tea out on the regular, and often with an only okay selection, that got me started on my own collection. I wanted a proper cup to start the day and one that I could make at home or the office. As someone who doesn’t drink coffee, I also wanted to look for a morning routine. The search for new teas is one of my favorite parts of the process and so far I’ve loved everything that I picked up from this trip. Some are quickly becoming new go-to’s, and for others it’s nice to revisit old friends.

1. Liberty Blend Tea - Nestled aside the beauty and fragrance counties, lies the Liberty Mini British Food Hall. Shelves are stacked with curated selections from around Britain. All illustrated with designs by fourteen emerging illustrators. (Here’s more on the design of the products.) It is a small room full of biscuits, tea tins, sweets of all shapes and sizes, jars of jams, preserves, and mustard, coffee, locally produced gins, and so much more. The shelves are a visual delight for the senses. Along one wall there is a wire shelf holding boxes of crumbly fudge in the flavors of Earl Grey and Vanilla, and along another wall, were the tea tins. I love that the art is abstract and that there’s this almost collage like nature to it. On closer inspection I learned that the tea is grown locally in Cornwall. It’s the only tea plantation of it’s kind in the UK. I had heard that tea was being produced within the country but I hadn’t the chance to try any. The Liberty Blend is a blend of Assam combined with lemon rind and verbena leaves that are then infused with natural bergamot. It’s a lighter take on an Earl Grey. The tea has nice body with the calming touch of the lemon verbena. It’s a special tea and one that I know I’ll be returning to. There are a couple other teas available in this range but for my first adventure, I wanted to see what the Liberty special blend had to offer and if it could capture Liberty in a tea.

2. Fortnum & Mason hamper - For years I have contemplated ordering a Fortnum & Mason hamper. Many afternoons have been spent browsing their online offerings, items have even been carefully selected and then later abandoned in the cart. It was on my mind that when visiting their flagship store on Piccadilly that I might walk away with a hamper, yet I hadn’t thought I would actually do it. With a basket full of tea and gifts, I knew that there wasn’t enough room in my suitcase to fit everything, so began to contemplate shipping options. It was decided, a hamper would be traveling back with all my teas so upstairs we climbed to pick it out. The small hamper was selected and the items I’d carefully picked out were placed inside with the rest of my gifts to be shipped alongside the hamper. Creating your own hamper in store was much easier than I had expected. Everything shipped for one price, it was cheaper than buying one that was pre-packaged, and could be filled with anything I wanted though each size can only hold a certain number of items. The best part was that everything would arrive the day after I returned home. That Monday afternoon rolled around and so did the Fortnum & Mason parcel. The hamper was beautifully wrapped in a large ribbon of their signature color with the items carefully packaged inside with straw. It has been living next to the kettle with a basket full of digestives and treats, waiting for its next adventure.

3. Fortnum & Mason Queen’s Blend - The Queen’s Blend is one of my favorite F&M offerings yet I’ve since learned that it is no longer available to purchase in its decorative tin. Unless bought as part of a hamper. Standing at the tea counter, I asked a young associate if this tea was still available. He looked at my pensively, then responded, “I can mix it for you.” Out he pulled a notebook full of tea recipes, and began pulling down three different tins of loose leaf teas. He weighed each variety just so, then mixed it all together with large spoons before pouring the new mixture into their newly designed bags. I have to say that the new loose leaf bag offering is way better than it’s predecessor. The bag can now be zipped back up when you’re finished. And while I haven’t proved this, I do think the new bag holds more tea per bag than it used to. I’ve had many friends comment that this blend is one of the best they’ve ever tasted.

4. Fortnum & Mason Darjeeling Broken Orange Pekoe - This is a new tea for me. I had previously tried the Ceylon Orange Pekoe which is delicious and tastes like how you’d imagine a cup of tea would taste. I didn’t want to get the same as I’d had so this one was recommended to me by the same wonderful associate who’d mixed the Queen’s Blend. I have been wanting to try more darjeeling teas since starting the book, Darjeeling: The Colorful History and Precarious Fate of the World's Greatest Tea by Jeff Koehler. (A wonderful book by the way, which I will be talking about at a later date.) It is a variety of tea with a long and colorful history, so much of which I never knew. F&M describes this tea as having a vivid, coppery infusion, and would be a delicious accompaniment to a curry. It’s stronger taste is due to the broken leaf grade of the tea leaf. On first taste, I thought it had a light sweetness that blended well with its strongness. I’ve yet to try it with food, and am intrigued to see how it matches with spice and a simple breakfast.

5. Fortnum & Mason Jubilee - The Jubilee Tea was introduced a couple years ago to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. Like her, it’s classic, straightforward, and without any airs. F&M describes the tea as having a subtle, slightly smokey blend, which I find goes well with pretty much anything. It is wonderful on its own or with a McVitie’s Rich Tea digestive or a full lunch. This was one tea that I knew I wanted to replace and ultimately went with the loose leaf bag due to space. I don’t have a Jubilee tin of my own though figured that my tin collection is currently at capacity so opted for something a little more space friendly. This tea is one I reach for time and time again.

6. Good and Proper Tea Jasmine Pearls - I had been looking forward to visiting Good and Proper Tea for a good year. I’d found them on instagram and couldn’t wait to try one of their square crumpets myself and sit at the window with a glass pot of tea. Once we began to plan our trip to London, I knew that it was one of the places on my list that we needed to visit. It was our last day in London and I had chosen it as our breakfast spot before going to Persephone Books and the Ladies Pond at Hampstead Health for an afternoon dip. With my crumpets (yes multiple, the classic with salt and butter, and their tomato and caper collaboration) I drank a pot of their Darjeeling 2nd Flush. (Not pictured yet it was wonderful, full bodied with a light floral note and amber in color. It is maybe my favorite Darjeeling to date. A week after returning home, I won an instagram giveaway and was gifted a month’s supply, which I’ve been sharing with anyone who stops by the apartment.) As we were leaving, I knew I wanted to take some tea with me and as I’m still new to Good and Proper’s selections I picked up a couple sample packets: the Jasmine Pearls, Brockley Breakfast (also not pictured as I’d already drunk it by the time this photo was taken), and the Assam. Jasmine is one of my favorite afternoon blends and I can’t wait to try. It will be brewed in a glass teapot for sure so I can watch the pearls unfurl. The best part about these sampler packs is that there’s enough for two to three cups in each.

7. Good and Proper Tea Ceylon - While we caught up eating our crumpets, dad enjoyed the Ceylon iced. He’d asked me to pick out a tea for him and I thought the Ceylon would be a classic brew that translated well to being cold. It’s coppery in color with a bright, full bodied finish. I’ve enjoyed it a couple mornings when the air is still chilled, and have found that it’s a good tea for when you have a moment to sit but also travels very well when you need to move. I also haven’t found that it grows bitter if it sits for longer in the pot which is a rare find for a black tea. When Mr H tried it he thought there was almost a minty note to it. My package got a bit smushed in transit as it was wedged between books and other bags of tea, yet the tea remains as fresh as the day I bought it. I also love that on the back of each Good and Proper tea bag, there’s a drink by date and if drunk on the regular each bag will last you about a month. Longer if you introduce it into your current tea rotation. The best news is that Good and Proper Tea will ship to the US so when I inevitably run out of supplies, replenishment is only a few clicks away.

8. Good and Proper Tea Assam - I haven’t tried the Assam yet though I love that Good and Proper Tea says that it is the perfect match for your morning toast. I’ve been on a cheese toasty fix as of late and am excited to pair the two together. I think marmalade toast would also go well. When brewed, it is a copper red that has a malty finish and can be enjoyed with milk, though I’m of the practice that I tend to enjoy my teas black. On the back of each name card is a description of the tea, where it was sourced, the temperature and time each should be brewed. These handy cards also come in each bag of tea and also accompanies any tea you order in person. I loved this detail when I visited in person. I’ve recently been using my Brockley Breakfast card as a bookmark in Everything Under by Daisy Johnson. I love collecting the cards as I try each variety and think they’ll find their way into more books in the future. Maybe this is the start of tea trading cards.

9. L’Art Du Thé Earl Grey Imperial - This Earl Grey ranks as one of the best Earl Grey’s I’ve ever tasted. A tin was brought back for me two years ago when my parents returned from Brugge. It is a black round tin with the company logo on the front and when opened reveals the sweet smell of vanilla, bergamot, and a hint of woodsiness. It is a tea with depth. Not overly sweet nor is it too floral but rather a layered black tea. We spent my birthday this year in Brugge and one thing I wanted to do was visit the tea shop. So far this is the only place that I’ve found that sells this particular tea so mom and I stocked up. The third largest bag out of four sizes for me and multiple smaller bags for her. This is enough tea to last me for I would guess a couple years, or at least until my next visit.

10. L’Art Du Thé St. James - A pot of the St. James arrived at the table with a warmed tea cup and a small crispy waffle. Minutes later plates of hot waffles arrived. I ordered the sweet waffle with warm blueberries and cream, and then later ate half of the original waffle with strawberries. The St. James was the perfect accompaniment to both. It helped to cut the sweetness of the pearled sugar baked into the waffle, while also being able to stand on its own. It’s a black tea that’s amber in color and there’s almost a honey like taste to it without veering into being sweet. It reminds me of the Jubilee tea in the sense that both are classic blends that are no-nonsense. It’s best served when you have a moment to enjoy it though it does travel well when you’re in a rush to get to work. We recently drank it while sitting on the floor talking, and it was the perfect addition to our conversation.

11. Tea Cozy - L’Art Du Thé in Brugge has two rooms. The first faces the street and is the one you see when gazing through the front window taking in the shelves of tea canisters and teaware. The second room is located in the back of the store and is the home to novelty mugs, teapots, and tea cozies. I wasn’t looking for a tea cozy yet this one found me. I find the pattern charming and funny. It’s bright yellow color changes color as the day progresses so sometimes it takes on the faintest green hue if you go to find the tea pot in the afternoon or evening. It does a very good job of keeping the tea pot warm in between pours while also adding a dash of color to any setting. I also just love the pattern and it’s a joy to spot.

Fortnum's Holiday Days, Part I

Fortnum's Holiday Days, Part I

Stories of Connection: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Stories of Connection: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society