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.

Fortnum's Holiday Days, Part I

Fortnum's Holiday Days, Part I

When I began collecting my notes and observations for this experiment, December was just beginning and the holidays were quickly approaching around the corner. Now as I sit typing up my findings, the holidays are a few days behind us with New Year’s a couple days ahead. It’s that period of the year when emails stop, we all step away from our computers, and tuck in to new books, lots of food, and quiet time to take long baths and catch up on those things we’ve all been meaning to do, or not. This past week has been lovely. Our tiny tree sits in the corner covered with tiny ornaments. There is a box of Christmas cookies on the table that we’ve been slowing working our way through. The oven has been on for roasted vegetables and stews, and I’ve spent many hours in bed with the blankets up to my neck reading as a tiny cat sleeps on me. With the new year approaching, now comes the time for decluttering and making space though I’d like to hold onto this slow week for a bit longer as what I’ve been needing is to sleep in and take some time to do a bit of nothing.

Now at this point, you may be wondering what this experiment is all about. We were back east for Thanksgiving and while there we were very kindly gifted the Fortnum & Mason Tea Lover’s Advent Calendar. I was very excited to not only see the calendar in the flesh but also to know that we got to take it home with us. This was an item that I had looked at online last year and thought about buying for myself but couldn’t justify the shipping costs. Then when I was at the Piccadilly store in October, I ran out of time and never made it to the holiday floor, as we were chasing time and running down to the Southbank to see A Winter’s Tale at the Globe.

The calendar comes in a gold box with a front cover that opens to reveal the 24 illustrated doors. The front cover features a red parrot, various colored tea pots, foliage, and wrapped presents. As you open the cover, you’ll be greeted with doors forming a tea pot and other holiday illustrations such as crackers, robins, the Fortnum’s clock, a Christmas pudding, a pineapple, and more. The inside cover says, “Never mind chocolate: the truly festive way to celebrate each December morning is with a cup of Fortnum’s tea. A collection of our best and brightest brews in silky bags, with this calendar, the countdown to Christmas can now be measured in tea. Bottoms up!” I was very excited to tuck in.

My expectations for the calendar was that there would be 24 different teas behind each door. Had I looked at the back of the calendar, I would’ve been known that this was not the case. Though like when I get a new book and don’t want to read the chapter titles for fear of spoilers, I felt the same way with the calendar. I didn’t want to know too much. I also found that I couldn’t get the doors open most days and ended up breaking the seal by pushing my enter finger through it without meaning to. Neither took away from the experience though I think they are important notes to include in this breakdown. I grew excited each morning trying to guess which teas were behind each door. I was only successful once. For twenty-three days, I collected notes on the brews which I will be including below and in two other posts. The journey was a fun way to learn more about Fortnum’s teas and also to try new blends that I had never heard of before. All the infusions that were included were new to me. I quite enjoyed the experiment and would do it again in the future.

Saturday, 1 December - Rose Puchong. Rose Puchong is one of my favorite floral teas that Fortnum’s offers. It has a light and floral taste but not in the same sense as earl grey can be floral. The rose flavor isn’t overpowering though it’s distinct. It’s a delicate tea. Fortnum describes the tea as “Fine grade, large-leaf Maofeng Keemun is naturally scented with freshly picked rose petals. Expect a high intensity of rose flavour perfectly balanced with dark chocolate and caramel sweetness of the tea base – almost the classical flavours of Turkish Delight in a cup.” Good for any time of day.

Sunday, 2 December - Assam Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe (TGFOP). It has a mild spiciness with notes of clove, black pepper, and orange zest. It’s a more subtle version of Constant Comment. Medium bodied. Amber in hue. Fortum’s says, “its full-bodied and robust character makes it an ideal companion to a really special breakfast.” We drank the first two teas on the 2nd as it was Mr H’s birthday and we’d wanted to start the calendar together. The Assam TGFOP was served alongside a breakfast of pastrami hash with poached eggs and a side of birthday presents. I would agree that it’s an ideal companion to a special breakfast though I think it would be pleasantly enjoyed on regular days as well.

Monday, 3 December - Rhubarb, Raspberry and Nettle Leaf Infusion. Smells very floral like a perfume with a little bit of acidity. Not overly sweet when brewed. It was more muted than I’d expected as I thought it be more fruit forward. Similar in color to the Teapigs Up Beat tea which is the only other infusion I’ve had that was this color, other than a hibiscus or rooibos. Nice deep red/magenta color when brewed. This was a tea that we had in the late afternoon as I needed something stronger to start my Monday morning.

Tuesday, 4 December - Earl Grey. I found Earl Grey to be light on the bergamot. The florals hit the back of my pallet rather than coming at me punching. Smells very much like a classic. Amber in color. The black tea is well balanced with the bergamont and would be a good choice for those who don’t like the flowery taste of most Earl Grey’s. Mr H thinks it may be better than the Brugge earl grey as he thinks it’s more citrusy and light. We taste tested this tea back in New York and everyone agreed that it was a splendid blend.

Wednesday, 5 December - Darjeeling Fine Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe Tea (FTGFOP). I found the flavor to be sort of peachy or maybe it was the taste of apricots. This was drunk in the late afternoon/evening of a rainy day. I am a fan of the Ceylon Orange Pekoe which has a more straightforward taste to it, whereas this Darjeeling FTGFOP is more delicate and light. It is designed to be the perfect partner to sweet desserts, which I think explains why I found the tea to be on the sweeter, more fruity end.

Thursday, 6 December - Moroccan Mint. Tastes like fresh mint leaves have been placed in your cup. It is a green tea that has been infused with the fresh mint. Very light with a refreshing peppermint and spearmint flavor. Though it’s got a touch of sweetness. Would be good for an evening tea or something light for the afternoon or for those that aren’t drinking caffeine. This was enjoyed on the morning of what would be another rainy day.

Friday, 7 December - Countess Grey. I found Countess Grey to be less intrusive then Earl Grey. Lighter on the floral notes. Mild, light, refreshing. Amber in color. I could picture the Countess dismissing the Earl for being too strong at times, “Oh yes that’s just the Earl being the Earl. Yes, yes, I’ll take my tea and strawberries on the balcony.” It was drunk in the afternoon and made for a refreshing way to end a Friday. I think those who like the Lady Grey teas would enjoy a meeting with the Countess.

Saturday, 8 December - Liquorice, Mint & Lemon Verbena Infusion. I found the mint and liquorice to be nicely balanced. I drank it when it was brewed for longer which meant that it was more mint forward though not bitter. The color deepens when brewed for more time. I didn’t taste as much of the lemon verbena as I would’ve liked. Mr H thought the liquorice would be more present. It had good body. Little bit of sweetness. He didn’t taste the licorice root and thought maybe it’s licorice leaf.

This was nice after a late night on Friday that found us home at 4am. It calmed the stomach and settled the mind. Ended up brewing a stronger tea in the afternoon as the second pot of the day.

Leaf Hunting in Riverside Park

Leaf Hunting in Riverside Park

London and Brugge Tea Haul

London and Brugge Tea Haul