FLAVOR: Beth Schreibman Gehring
I have a very long and friendly history with the regal camellia sinensis shrub, more commonly known to us all as a delightful cup of tea! Growing up my parents had many beautiful tea sets and my mother let me play with them all, throwing my friends and me lovely tea parties on a regular basis. Lately, I've really been craving great tea and obsessing over every thought of it. I've reread every book about tea that I own and have gone out to buy a few more. I fantasize endlessly about opening a tearoom or perhaps a fancy French tea salon where my friends and I can drape ourselves seductively on lovely chaise lounges while talking of politics and other worldly things! I own way too many teapots and tea sets , talismans that I’ve been collecting since I acquired a fascination with the tea drinking lifestyle when I was a little girl.
Fortunately for a child like me, I had a mother with fabulous style and incredible taste, who made it a point to introduce me to the joys of afternoon tea very early on in my life! Some of my favorite memories are of the darling silver child sized tea set that she owned that was her grandmothers and she used to let all of us play with it whenever we wanted to. I had strep throat a lot when I was a child and this same mother used to bring me tea and breakfast in bed when I was ill. She’d serve it on beautiful lavender and white breakfast dishes set beautifully on a white wicker bed tray. I always got better quickly, but not until I'd milked at least two more days of lavish spoiling out of her! Her open - faced toasted cheese sandwiches with sliced tomato were legendary and still the best medicine that I know.
No matter where I've been in the world with my mother, we always made time for tea. (Martini's too as I got older, but that's another story!) High teas, breakfast teas, luncheon teas, bridal teas, tea dances...whatever the occasion we’ve created parties around tea for it!I remember enjoying incredibly delicious high teas with her and my father all over England. We enjoyed tea together at the Savoy , Claridges, The Dorchester and the London Ritz. I remember one exquisite moment with my dad when we were walking down a cobblestone street in Stratford on Avon and we stumbled across a bakery at teatime. Moments later we were skipping hand in hand down the street with cookie cones filled with chocolate ganache , covered in rich dark chocolate and laughing like drunken fools. Serious bliss…. I can still taste them.
The Tea Box restaurant nestled in the basement of Takashimaya- New York in New York City was our other favorite spot and my mother loved it because of the delicious teas that they serve and the thoroughly unusual food presentations. You can choose beautiful sandwiches of tea smoked chicken breast and wasabi mayonnaise or a delectable curried crab roll or a pressed sweet rice cake with cucumber or salmon. Their sweets are wonderful, how about a green tea crème brulee or a chocolate mascarpone tart? Takashimaya’s tearoom brings back such exceptional memories because when I was a child we always had foreign students who claimed us as their family. They brought their wonderful traditions with them to our home for dinner on a regular basis. One of these students, a young engineer at Case Western Reserve University named Hisashi decided that he wanted to marry his girlfriend and so we planned a completely traditional Japanese tea ceremony for them. I’ll never forget that day, because it was then that I developed a love for Matcha and the elegant ritual surrounding it. The smells , tastes and the sounds of that moment were incredibly intoxicating and I still have my little
slippers and my kimono to remind me of that beautiful day.
When I joined the family business and became the Director of Marketing , I learned of the ability that a simple cup of tea possesses to create a relaxing end to the day. We were consistently traveling on business together and mom and I would stop working everyday at 4:00 to find the nearest tearoom. She loved the tea at the Ritz Carlton, but her favorite was the Palm Court at The Drake Hotel in Chicago and not even the Tea Room at the Plaza Hotel in New York City could upstage it in her heart. At the Drake they serve their tea in beautiful porcelain teapots and the sandwiches are always fresh and filled with the most wonderful bites of flavor. Roast beef and caramelized onion jam anyone? What about smoked trout, sliced potato and dill? A meyer lemon curd tartlet with fresh raspberries? Would you like a glass of champagne with your tea? Heaven.
So many of the promotions that I created for our store were tea parties because there's just something about lovely little sandwiches, wonderful cookies and Wedgwood teapots that can make anyone, even a very masculine man feel incredibly romantic! I love watching my husband when he’s holding a beautiful porcelain cup with his very strong hands. I may be a bit of a Dixie chick at heart, but that sight just gets me every time. I spent many a Mother’s Day having dozens of children join me in our store for tea parties just like my mother had created for us. My sales help thought that I was crazy and maybe I was, but we had so much fun together. Each white gloved child learned to brew and pour tea for their mothers and we had little skirted tables and chairs everywhere with fancy teacups and plates for them to use. Nothing ever got broken and I’m still stopped every now and then by one of those young women now all grown up who remember all of the fun that they had.
I love remembering the last birthday party that my sister and I gave for our mother before her death as it was on the occasion of her 85th birthday. There was no question that it was to be an afternoon tea that we would have at The Cleveland Ritz Carlton. We invited 50 of her closest friends and required that everyone wear a hat and pearls because we knew she’d love it! It was an incredible day and our mother was so incredibly happy. We sipped tea, drank champagne and ate dozens of little finger sandwiches. There were flowers everywhere, a harpist and the most beautiful lemon cake covered with fresh orchids. It was the happiest tea party that I’ve ever been to, watching my mother laughing and enjoying her friends and family. When it was over she pulled me aside to kiss me and tell me just how much she’d enjoyed the day. My mother always had a strange ability to know the future and when she looked into my eyes I knew that she somehow knew that it was going to be her last tea party. I didn’t want to see that and when she thanked me for it I really choked up. Afternoon tea isn’t quite the same without her, because she possessed superb social skills and the bawdiness of Auntie Mame as well as the tea leaf reading skills of a gypsy. She never apologized for her raucousness and was always a lady, but she knew how to break the rules really well!
I can’t wait to be as fun a grandmother as she was….when my niece and I are together we always have tea(or a martini…Grey Goose on the rocks with a twist and a splash of water!)
In life she was a very witchy woman and still frequently makes her presence known. I dream of her often and about a month ago she whispered to me somewhere in the night that I needed to give up my beloved espresso for good and stop drinking the black teas which she said “are making you really bitchy darling and raising your blood pressure”. “ Your grandmother loved green tea with jasmine,so try that dear…you’ll see.” I woke up in a bit of a cold sweat, wondering how she’d known about my blood pressure which was really beginning to make me nervous. I guess that mothers always do know best for green tea is reputed to have a beneficial effect on hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes and certain “indelicate feminine issues” (like bitchiness). I’ve been drinking the jasmine green tea ever since and I’m happy to say that my blood pressure is lower now than it was 20 years ago when it was already good. My hormones are also much more balanced and my husband swears that I’m less jittery. All of that from a cup of something so incredibly pleasurable! Green tea scented with Jasmine is incredibly fragrant and by itself a very fine perfume. Maybe if I'm really nice to her , Roxana will make me some to wear...it would be luscious,refreshing and perfect for the hot and sticky summer months!
If you want to make tea sandwiches like my mother you must remember several things. Use only the highest quality and most thinly sliced white bread with the crusts cut off. Cut each piece into half on the diagonal and cut one more more time so that there are 4 triangles in each slice. Rub each edge with a bit of good mayonnaise (only Hellmans, she'd be absolutely appalled if she knew that I use vegannaise) and dip each end into some chopped parsley. Use only the freshest fillings. Her favorites were simple, watercress with roast beef and boursin, cucumber with smoked salmon or a mushroom duxelle which is ridiculously simple to make. Just take several cups of mushrooms and saute' them until well cooked in a bit a butter with a little onion and a touch of dry sherry. Put them into a food processor, mash them for a bit and spread them onto the bread triangles. I love to gild the lily with that one by adding a bit of smoked chicken and a bit of a crunchy apple. Last but not least..Always enjoy them with good champagne!
Last but not least for a wee bit of British fun...One of my favorite clips from "Keeping up Appearances!" featuring Patricia Rutledge as Hyacinth Bucket (" No that's Bouquettttttttt.....not Bucket" !
Perfect to watch with your morning cup o' tea!
Now that you're good and hungry,
please go over to read more about tea for two and fragrance at:
Most photographs are by Beth Schreibman Gehring with the exception of the Perfume Illuminated image by Roxana Villa.
Tea at the Savoy is courtesy of the Savoy Hotel in London, tea at the Drake Courtesy of the Drake Hotel in Chicago. The Tea Box image is courtesy of Takashimaya.