Conclusion of the Fortnum Calendar, Part III
This post has been a long time coming. It has been sitting in my drafts folder since December, waiting for the final tea to be brewed as I skipped over Chai when I was going through the calendar. Then the longer I put off brewing the tea, for no particular reason other than I knew it would be the end to the calendar, the more it seemed to loom in my mind as an item on my to-do list. Does anyone else ever feel that way? A simple task grows until it seems so much harder to tackle and the starting of it feels like a very large hill to climb. You’re at the bottom and somehow wearing the wrong pair of shoes. I’ve felt this way about other things I’ve put off for one reason or another, and every time, the starting is so much harder than the doing of the task. It was always this way with homework. I didn’t mind and often enjoyed the doing of it but the starting was so much worse. This was an easy fix. Turn the kettle on and take a moment to stop bustling. Part of the delay was also that I had moved the calendar out of site and kept forgetting to do it.
This goes to a more specific note about the advent calendar experience. I almost wish that part of the calendar was designed for the week between Christmas and New Year’s. That is the time of each year when I feel the most relaxed and it feels most like the holidays to me. It is then that I’m ready for Christmas and holiday music, decorating the tree, making cookies, and enjoying the coziness. There’s an ease to this time as there are no schedules. Some days you spend entirely at home in your pajamas watching Mary Berry’s new cooking show, Britain’s Best Home Cook, and other days you spend getting ahead on posts or reading for a couple uninterrupted hours. The week leading up to Christmas Eve can feel frantic and stressful. It’s a week of finishing work before the holidays, it’s the time of either mailing or finding those remaining gifts, and there’s this general push of anticipation and expectation before the big day. To also work a way through the tea calendar during this week sometimes led to teas being neglected when I needed a bit of a stronger push. Which is the reason why the Chai was neglected for so long.
That said, I really enjoyed the calendar and discovering all the new Fortnum teas that I hadn’t tried before. I do wish they didn’t repeat any teas. There were so many more infusions than I thought there would be and only a handful of their classic teas were in attendance. I found some new favorites along this journey, and tried many more variations than I would’ve otherwise been able to. I am very glad for the experience and hope that these notes are helpful as you plan your own tea adventures or future tea calendars. I also thoroughly enjoyed the anticipation that came with opening the tiny squares every morning to see what tea was inside. That moment of excitement and joy enhanced each day. I don’t know how Fortnum & Mason would market this but I do think it would be a lot of fun to be able to pick out the teas you’d want included in the calendar, or to have calendars that had different varieties for each taste: one for the green tea lover, the black tea enthusiast, and the infusion master. A sort of chose your own adventure tea style. In a way, that is what Fortnum’s offers each visit and the calendar is an approachable and fun way to try many of their offerings.
Monday, 17 December - Earl Grey. This Earl Grey was brewed on the go. It was the last week of work before the holiday break and there was a heavy to-do list waiting for me with all the things that needed to be wrapped up before the new year. I enjoyed the Earl Grey even more the second time around. The morning light hit the KeepCup just right so it’s amber color shined across the table. Back in the 1830s, Prime Minister Earl Grey gave his name to the popular tea. Fortnum’s blend was created 90 years after Earl Grey gave his name to the tea and it’s described as being aromatic and zesty.
Tuesday, 18 December - Gunpowder. The leaves of gunpowder tea are tightly wound so they resemble gunpowder pellets and when added to water they unfurl. This is one of the teas I picked up years ago when I first visited Fortnum & Mason. It laid forgotten in my tea box for a couple years until it was re-earthed. This time around, I didn’t think it had as much of a punch as I’d expect from a gunpowder. Like some of the other teas in the calendar, I think it needed a longer brewing time. It has a nice color. Sort of a mossy green and yellow, like an oolong. Went well with my breakfast of toast.
Wednesday, 19 December - Licorice, Mint, and Lemon Verbena Infusion. This was an evening tea, probably made for a mid-week bath, though the exact activity in which it was drunk is escaping me. It is a very light tea that is caffeine free. I really like lemon verbena teas. I find they have a slight hint of grassiness to them while also being somewhat in the mint category. The mixture of the lemon verbena with the mint works well and since it’s caffeine free it makes a nice tea for when you want to unwind. I sometimes mix what is left of my lemon verbena from my brother’s old farm with spearmint from Vermont and it is a fine combination. This Fortum blend is somewhat similar and ready to go without any extra steps.
Thursday, 20 December - Chai. This was brewed way after the rest of the calendar had finished. When it came around again in the calendar, I wasn’t excited to brew a cup as I was disappointed last time with it’s level of spice and flavor. This cup was brewed after a meal of veggie potstickers and leftover spicy cheese naan. I forgot about it when I went into the other room and ended up tackling the pile of socks so it brewed much longer than I would’ve normally let it. For the amount of brew time, the tea was about the same darkness as an English breakfast. I left it undoctored this time. I have to say that my initial figurings still stand. I find that it’s not heavy in the flavor camp for what I’d normally expect from a Chai. It tastes much closer to a traditional Assam. An interesting take on the Chai’s I’ve had in the past but I think I prefer something that is more spice forward.
Friday, 21 December - Sour Cherry and Orange Infusion. Ate with a Zabar’s plain bagel and cream cheese, which was absolutely delicious. Cherry read in color. It is very similar in hue to the raspberry and rhubarb infusion. The color intensified the longer it brewed. On first taste, I thought there’d be more of a cherry punch. It also wasn’t as sweet as I would’ve imagined based on the name and color. Mr H thought it was good and had a solid cherry flavor. Would be good in something like a Lime Ricky or with a squeeze of lime if it were served cold. The cherry flavor comes through the longer it sits.
Saturday, 22 December - Darjeeling FPGFOP. This was the first day of holiday vacation. The tea is light to medium bodied. Amber in color. Smells and tastes a little earthy. Not quite smokey but not super clean either or bitter. It’s a bit of a straight down the middle tea. I’ve been getting more into darjeeling’s lately and have enjoyed seeing how much variety there is between the brands I’ve tried so far. The taste can change depending on if it’s a first or second flush, and if you add any milk to it. This was drunk on its own but I think it would be good with a Christmas cookie. F&M says the tea is smooth and drinkable which I found to be true.
Sunday, 23 December - Ruby Red Christmas Infusion. As I was sure tomorrow’s tea would be a spiced Christmas blend I was surprised to be greeted by one a day earlier than expected. It has a nice blend of spices - a bit like a mulled wine in tea form. The two drinks share a very similar ruby red color. The infusion is made from a combination of cloves, cinnamon and rosehip. I found that it captured the holiday season and would be a nice edition to a cold day when you’re running around trying to finish everything before Christmas Eve or for when you have a moment of calm.
Monday, 24 December - Christmas Tea. Upon opening the Christmas Tea, I had a moment of wondering if it was in fact the same as the Christmas Infusion as the labels were identical. It has a nice smell of orange and clove. Delightful. Festive. Again, similar taste to mulled wine in the spice department. It had a little more weight than the infusion though the two are similar in the taste department. It reminded me a bit of the Spiced Winter Red Tea from TeaPigs, the Christmas Tea from Whittard’s, and Constant Comment which are the other spiced teas I’ve had. Spiced teas are not often what I reach for though it was nice to have during the winter season. I’ve begun to drink Constant Comment again after not for many years. It’s a tea my mom used to always enjoy. And it’s been nice to return to it. I think I’ll feel similar to this tea when the next holiday season rolls around.