People get excited about things, passionate. Thanks goodness. Otherwise we might as well be comatose. It’s just good to hold that excitement, that passion, a bit in check and not go overboard. I think of this as several major and passion-inspiring sports events have come and gone recently: the World Cup, Wimbledon, and the Tour de France, to name a few. Great events. Ones that inspire a lot of passion, a lot of excitement, a lot of team spirit. And, sadly, a lot of tea spillage. Let me explain…

Soccer, tennis, and cycling… a passionate sports season calls for lots of tea! (From Yahoo! Images)

Soccer, tennis, and cycling… a passionate sports season calls for lots of tea! (From Yahoo! Images)

The scene here is your living room, family room, or wherever you have that bigscreen TV. No wimpy TVs here. No tablets that can stream TV broadcasts. We’re talking 40” diagonal or larger. In front of this is the seating designed to certain specifications: well-padded with no springs poking up in very inconvenient places, a back that is at just the right angle for lounging (that means none of that Victorian horsehair-stuffed vertical-backed furniture where you have to sit up ramrod straight), an ottoman (unless you’re sitting in a recliner), and a table to hold your snackables, the remote control, and, most importantly, your tea!

Your timing is impeccable. You have everything ready well before the start of that sports event. You’re comfortable ensconced in that comfortable seating. The snacks are within easy reach. And the tea is at hand. Perfection!

Ah, but nothing is totally perfect.

As I said before, people get excited about things and even quite passionate. That team spirit is no exception. It’s great to cheer on your team, even when watching them on TV (those good vibes get through to them – honest!), and to get rather excited when they score. Even a non-team sport such as the Wimbledon tennis matches can have you crying out “Great shot!” or “It was in by a mile…are you blind?” (a bit of John McEnroe coming through there). The problem with such passion is that it can stir you into action… which can cause a rather messy situation regarding your snacks and tea. When the soccer ball makes it past the goalie, when that serve is smashed perfectly and your favorite player wins the match, or when those Tour de France cyclists pile up on top of each other on a sharp curve, you can jump up unexpectedly and passionately, sending everything flying. Cheese puffs, popcorn, cookies, etc., look like a snowstorm of food. But the tea is the real issue.

Hot or iced, tea is still a liquid. Therefore, it has a tendency not to stay put while you’re flinging your arm around with that cup or glass. Physics rearing its ugly head. So, make a point of setting that cup or glass down after taking a quick sip. The less time it’s in your hand, the less chance of spraying the room with tea. Of course, you could put your tea in a travel mug, so it has a lid. And then you can cheer on the victories all you want!

See more of A.C. Cargill’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

During my stay in Brussels I found time to stop by the A.M. Sweet Tea Room, which is conveniently located near the old city centre. A.M. Sweet Teahouse serves a wide range of loose tea, all sourced from the Mariage Frères tea company. Their tea menu includes several Japanese green teas, an extensive range of flavoured green teas, a number of pure black teas, flavoured black teas, several rooibos, a few oolongs, and a white tea.

Shop sign photo from their blog

Shop sign photo from their blog

Among their green teas, I spotted one with which I was not familiar: Fuji-yama. This Japanese green tea is grown near Mount Fuji, and, according to the menu’s description, is defined by its “fine leaves, grand aroma, and subtle taste.” As a green tea fan who is always curious to try new varieties, I opted for Fuji-yama. My tea came served in a teapot with a loose leaf infuser, along with a complimentary, typically Belgian, biscuit. As you might expect, Fuji-yama had the distinctive grassy, slightly sweet taste that is characteristic of Japanese green teas. However, although it was not quite as grassy and sweet as a Gyokuro, it was slightly richer and more full-flavoured than a sencha.

A bit of gyokuro (photo by Elise Nuding, all rights reserved)

A bit of gyokuro (photo by Elise Nuding, all rights reserved)

On top of a tasty tea, the cosy interior and the very lovely, welcoming owner made my experience at the A.M. Sweet Tea Room an extremely pleasant one. And in case you need anything to accompany your tea, they also offers a delicious range of baked goods and sweet treats (both to eat whilst you are there, or packaged up to enjoy later or give to someone as a gift)—including, of course, some bona fide Belgian chocolates!

See more of Elise Nuding’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Tea growing in the Himalaya area has been underway for more than a century. And now the battle is on to see if people can tell the difference in the flavor of the teas grown in one part of that region versus another. I would think they could. After all, the island nation of Taiwan, which has a much smaller land area, boasts many teas from a large number of tea plant cultivars and having their own unique flavor profiles! But only side-by-side tastings will tell the truth here.

Sikkim tea garden (Stock image)

Sikkim tea garden (Stock image)

The Himalayan mountains were formed by the collision of the Indian tectonic plate with the Eurasian plate and now abut or cross six countries: Bhutan, China, Nepal, India and Pakistan. The name “Himalaya” means house or abode of snow. Very fitting since the range has some of the highest peaks in the world, including Mt. Everest, and sports a top hat of snow on most of them through much of the year. Nepal is almost entirely in the Himalayas and is becoming quite a tea-growing area, especially in its easternmost part. As discussed in my previous article, a number of gardens are gaining attention in the tea world. The growing conditions and terrain (steep hillsides and high elevations) are similar to those in the Darjeeling region of West Bengal in northern India. That region is in the foothills of the Himalayas and have had great conditions for tea growing for over 167 years.

The state of Sikkim lies just north of West Bengal and is a new addition to India. Their tea comes from the Temi Tea Garden in Ravangla. It was established by the Sikkim government in 1969 and is laid over a gradually sloping hill that was once a Sherpa village and about 10 acres of tree nurseries, with Scottish missionaries having been in the area in the early 1900s (some of their buildings are still there today). The tea is all top quality and considered to be one of the best in India and the world. Some is marketed under the trade name “Temi Tea.”

Nearby is Dooars, where teas are also grown. It’s to the east of the Darjeeling region and also in the Himalayas. Tea is part of their economic threesome (tea, timber, and tourism). Their tea gardens were originally planted by the British who were ever anxious to keep an ample supply flowing in. Laborers came in from neighboring areas, including Nepal. Demand for teas grown in Dooars is increasing around the world, and they are available as orthodox style and CTC style. They have a character like Assam tea and some of the unique aroma and sweetness of Darjeeling tea.

As far as I can tell, these are it for tea growing, but if I’ve missed any, please let me know. I have certainly tried quite a few Darjeeling teas by now. And recently I received a number of Nepalese teas to try. No Sikkim or Dooars yet. As for tasting a difference, nothing too conclusive, since it would be based on a small sample. You’ll just have to do a bit of a taste test for yourself and see. The European Union is certainly claiming there is no difference and using that claim to justify a move to affect pricing. And so it goes in the world of tea, a beverage said to calm and invigorate all at once. I think those EU folks need to drink more tea and get calm… but wait, they already seem over-invigorated. Well, it’s a battle that only time will settle. Meanwhile, enjoy a nice cuppa whichever suits you!

See more of A.C. Cargill’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Green Tea Sampler (ETS image)

Green Tea Sampler (ETS image)

Those of us who have been drinking tea for a while might tend to forget that there are a lot of people for whom tea is a mystery. Which is probably more likely to be the case in a country like our own United States than someplace that’s more tea-centric, like the United Kingdom. I can vouch for this since a mere nine years ago I was one of these people who found tea quite mysterious.

This came to mind recently when I ran across a comment on Twitter recounting a tea novice’s first experience with green tea. This individual seemed surprised and perhaps a bit relieved (and perhaps a bit of both) to discover, as they put it, “it’s actually not horrible!” Well, what a relief.

Which brought to mind a few beginner’s type tea-related incidents from my own past. One concerned yours truly, in the early days of my acquaintance with tea. As it so happens someone at the office where I worked had a box of something alleged to be green tea. It was in tea bag form and so I proceeded to steep a cup of it. And proceeded to taste it. And while I didn’t spew it across the room like a character in a sitcom, I might as well have. Because it actually was quite horrible. I was familiar enough with green tea to realize that this just a bad specimen or it might have put me off green tea for a while.

The other incident took place when I had become better acquainted with tea and had gotten my hands on green tea that I considered to be not in the least bit horrible. In fact, it was nearly spectacular. I thought I would share some of this fine elixir with someone I knew who had a passing interest in green tea but not much experience with it. Who took a few sips of a it and asked for sweetener.

Needless to say I was quite floored, baffled, and put out, though I tried not to let on. But looking back on it from the perspective of someone who’s been drinking “good” tea for a while, I can see that it sort of kind of made sense. It had taken me years to get to the point where I could appreciate the subtle flavors of a delicate green tea, and so it was asking a bit much to expect a tea novice to love it at first taste.

See more of William I. Lengeman’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

There is a lot of concern these days over caffeine and about drinking something that will help this ailment or that ailment or make your hair shinier, your skin glow, and other such beneficial effects. Several herbals have come to the forefront, mainly through the constant marketing of them as miracle cures. But some of these also taste good. Imagine that! I selected five that seem to be the most common.

Top to bottom: Rooibos, Honeybush, Chamomile, Yerba Mate, Peppermint (ETS images)

Top to bottom: Rooibos, Honeybush, Chamomile, Yerba Mate, Peppermint (ETS images)

1 Rooibos

Rooibos (Dutch for “Redbush”) is from the plant Aspalathus linearis. The leaves turn red after being processed and infuse a red liquid containing some beneficial ingredients including calcium, potassium, and iron, but caffeine-free. This herbal became popular as a substitute for true tea during World War II due to difficulty shipping tea from Asia to Europe, just as chicory became a substitute for coffee when bean prices spiked. When this infusion started getting introduced to the U.S. market, a vendor decided it would sell better if called “red tea.” They ended up adding to the already sizable name confusion out there. Plus, there was already a red tea (it’s what Asians call a fully oxidized tea – we call that a “black tea”).

2 Honeybush

Honeybush is not a “tea” but rather one of those herbals made from an entirely different plant than the tea bush (Camellia Sinensis). The plant is from the cyclopia species and grows in South Africa in the rugged, inaccessible areas of the mountains near the Cape. The flowers and leaves, which are high in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, have been used to make infusions for centuries by natives of the area as a relief for various ailments. The infusion is caffeine-free, a great attraction for people who want to avoid anything stimulating and another great reason not to call it “tea.” The flavor is usually sweet and smooth, but it also lends itself to added flavorings.

3 Chamomile

Chamomile (aka “camomile”) is one of the most popular and well-known floral herbals. It is a flower similar in appearance to the daisy and in the same botanical family. Snow white wide, flat petals encircle a sunny yellow somewhat spherical center that is much larger than a daisy’s. This flower has been part of the herbalist’s “toolkit” since ancient Egyptian times, where it was used as a cure for malaria and was dedicated to the sun god, Ra. There is Roman chamomile and German chamomile (don’t let the names fool you, since they are grown elsewhere). However, Egyptian chamomile is widely noted as far more fragrant and flavorful than those. When buying chamomile, be sure to deal with a reputable vendor to assure you get true chamomile, not pineapple weed, which is sometimes substituted and can cause strong allergic reactions in hayfever sufferers (more so than from true chamomile).

4 Yerba Mate

Yerba mate is an herbal beverage that’s wildly popular in many countries in South America. It is traditionally drunk as a hot beverage that is served in a gourd called a “mate.” You sip it through a metal straw (a bombilla) that filters out the leaves and gritty bits. The flavor in its pure form can be a bit tough for the uninitiated to take but is still becoming increasingly popular in North America and elsewhere around the world. Added flavorings help many folks adjust to it. Plus, you can find it in a convenient bagged form.

5 Mint

Peppermint is a North American grown herb that contains no caffeine. Since it has a number of digestive aid properties, peppermint is often consumed after meals, including in a tisane or infusion. The oils in peppermint are said to stimulate the flow of secretions in the stomach and help relieve gas pains and calm your stomach. It’s use as a breath fresher is well-known. There are several brands, including Taylors of Harrogate, Twinings, and Harrison & Crosfield, plus blends like Moroccan Mint, or China White with Mint.

Choice galore for those of you ultra sensitive to caffeine or who just want something different. Enjoy!

See more of A.C. Cargill’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

There are any number of things you can do while drinking tea. The possibilities are probably limited only by the imagination. But there might be a few things you don’t want to try. I don’t drink tea while sleeping (I’m still working on that one), and I’m betting that trying to drink it while you’re surfing is a bad idea. Here’s another activity that’s not recommended unless you have a very specific skill set. We all surely have our own preferences when it comes to multitasking with tea, but here are a few suggestions for activities that might pair up well.

There is some evidence that the caffeine and theanine in tea combine to give your brain and your thought processes a boost. Science and research aside, most of us have probably noticed this in our day to day tea drinking. Which could be useful for a task that requires brainpower, such as crossword puzzles. Will Shortz, puzzle guy at the New York Times, apparently agreed and a while back came up with a volume called The New York Times A Cup of Tea Crosswords.

If your brain is pumped up by tea but you’d like a slightly more passive pursuit than crosswords, you could simply read. You could read about anything but, if tea’s the topic you seek, you can keep up with the topic at this very web site, in my columns about recent and upcoming tea books and other related articles. There are even quite a few works of fiction that take tea as their topic in one way or another. Read our articles about tea books here.

But you’re not limited to quiet pursuits when you’re having a cup of tea. As I noted in an article here a few years back, there is some evidence that tea might help boost your performance no matter what type of exercise you prefer. Though you might need to forego the dainty china cup and saucer and go with iced tea in a portable container. As for that notion that the caffeine in tea (and anything else) might tend to dehydrate you, take a look here for some thoughts on why that might not be the case. You could even take tea on a hike. If you’ve never considered it before then maybe you should.

See more of William I. Lengeman’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

No matter what useful object there is out there, some artist can take it over and make it into something extraordinary. The teapot has been a key subject over the centuries for such makeovers. And taking it a step further to the sculpture stage seems to be quite the rage. I’ve certainly come across a fair number of these in my “travels” around the internet, especially sites that focuses on sharing pictures.

3 examples of teapots transcending to the sculpture category (from Pinterest)

3 examples of teapots transcending to the sculpture category (from Pinterest)

  1. Hull Ebb Tide Teapot Found on images.replacements.com
  2. A very sculptural teapot found on new.artbash.co.nz
  3. James Diem’s teapot sculpture from the 2013 Utah Arts Festival

When transcending a teapot from function to form, from steeper to statue, from kitchen necessity to décor frivolity, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, it needs to retain the essential elements of that teapot that is its heart and soul. That means there must be a handle, a spout, an interior cavity to hold liquid, an access to that interior, and of course a way to sit upright. Second, it must in some elevate the form above the function, emphasize the aesthetic over the practical, look so delightful, beautiful, or just plain unusual that you wouldn’t think of it first as a teapot but as a sculpture.

The line between objectified teapots and these teapot sculptures can be pretty ephemeral, shifting, and impossible to define in any very straightforward manner. It’s the sort of thing about which you say “I’ll know it when I see it.” Sadler is the example that comes quickly to mind here. They do teapots shaped like Big Ben, cottages, Henry VIII, and so on. The style, colors, and overall designs keeps these from making that transcendence to sculpture. But their usability and quality make them very collectible!

A final word on those teapot sculptures: if you see one you like and can afford it, go ahead and buy it. A tea lover can never have too much tea paraphernalia around.

See more of A.C. Cargill’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

I’ve lost track of how many old tea books I’ve written about by now. But it’s safe to say that, if you were so inclined, you could spend quite a bit of time reading these volumes, all of which I’ve accessed online for free. I was starting to think I was exhausting the supply of said tomes when I ran across an 1868 book by Edward Fisher Bamber. Who doesn’t get points for creativity when it came to naming his book – it’s simply called Tea.

But even though there wasn’t much thought put into the name and though it’s not a very long book, it’s always interesting to look at tea from the perspective of someone who lived a century and a half ago. Given that he seemed to write mostly on topics related to mechanics and engineering, it’s not completely clear what led Bamber to write about tea. But he suggests in the Preface that perhaps the “general” reader “may care to know more about the Tea he drinks than the price of it.”

It’s hard to find much biographical data about Bamber, but it appears that he was British and the book is written from the perspective of a British subject. He claims that at the time he and his countrymen consumed more than twice as much tea as the rest of the world. As he notes, “there is probably not a house in the United Kingdom in which Tea is not infused.”

He goes on to present a brief history of tea, noting that it made its way into Europe in 1610, into Holland, and then into Britain just over a half century later. Green tea supposedly came around in 1715, says Bamber, and by this time larger quantities of tea were being imported and the specter of adulteration was beginning to rear its ugly head more frequently.

Bamber proceeds to give a rather detailed breakdown of tea prices and tax rates and the like, which the casual reader might want to skim (or skip) over. Next up is a fairly in-depth – but more readable – chapter on tea cultivation and another on manufacture. He closes with a few brief travelogue type pieces about tea estates in India and that’s the extent of it. Take a look at it here.

See more of William I. Lengeman’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Shiny surfaces, bright lighting, and basic materials seem to be hallmarks of the tea bar – the latest frenzy (it’s too fast-paced and seemingly long-lasting to be called a “fad”) in the world of tea. The high-tech yet minimalist design at one end and a warm and welcoming Asian motif at the other. They have one thing in common: great tea!

Tea Bar in the Mission district of San Francisco (Screen capture from site)

Tea Bar in the Mission district of San Francisco (Screen capture from site)

San Fran Tea Bar

The décor features lots of straight lines, stone surfaces, underlighting, large windows, and a service area that prepares teas one of two ways (as far as I can tell from the photos): in large copper pots on some type of heating element, and in glass steepers with a sleek high-tech appearance (no idea how properly they steep but I haven’t heard of any complaints so far). The color scheme is overall light and mostly muted with the focus being on the tea.

Their minimalism extends to the menu. The teas are limited to some very basic ones: English Breakfast, a green tea called “Green Ecstacy” [sic], an herbal called “Spearmint Sage,” a traditional Masala Chai and a vegan (unexplained – probably uses that “soy milk” stuff) Masala Chai, Matcha served as either a shot or a shake, an iced Plum Pu-erh (they don’t say if it’s sheng or shu), and something called “Rosie Palmer.” They also have an extremely limited selection of scones: sweet (lemon and tart cherry) or savory (scallion and dry jack).

Zhongshan Port, China

The tea bar in China is more of a store, but over there taking time to infuse a bit of the tea and discuss it with the tea shop experts is fairly common. This one specializes in a particular brand of pu-erh tea. There are lots of shiny surfaces (mainly that gorgeous flooring), plenty of direct and indirect lighting, plenty of touches of red (the color of good fortune in Chinese culture), and wonderful carved and very sturdy-looking tables and chairs. The emphasis is on trying and learning about the teas.

New Dayi flasgship store in Zhongshan Port, China (From Yahoo! Images)

New Dayi flasgship store in Zhongshan Port, China (From Yahoo! Images)

A Far Cry from Chintz and Lace

We often think of tea as being served in those tea rooms decorated with floral patterns, pastel shades of blue, yellow, green, and pink, and lacy curtains on the windows. Plenty of these cozy and inviting establishments are around, but the above two shops indicate that a change is in the works. Something for everybody and every taste – that’s the standard in the world of tea.

See more of A.C. Cargill’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

When I was a younger feller I was not particularly aware of tea. But I knew enough to know that “tea” and black tea were one and the same. I’m sure there must have been a few people here in the United States – even in those unenlightened days – who drank other types of tea. But in this part of the world the recent fad for green tea and less popular types like oolong, puerh, white, and yellow has only come around in recent years.

China Tea Sampler (ETS image)

China Tea Sampler (ETS image)

Of course, in the greater scheme of things, green tea is hardly a flash in the pan. It’s likely that something like it has been around as long as there’s been tea. But I thought it might be interesting to try to look at some of its origins. In an old tea book that I wrote about for this site recently, a book that was published in 1868, the author noted that “Green Tea” began to be used in Great Britain around 1715.

Of course, given that green tea is closest to tea in its natural state, it stands to reason that it has been around longer than the other more processed types of tea like black, oolong, and puerh. In The True History of Tea, authors Victor Mair and Erling Hoh, write that loose leaf green tea had become the most popular type in China in the late Song dynasty, which ended in the latter years of the thirteenth century. Among the other types of tea that were popular at the time were powdered tea and wax tea. The latter was made by shaping tea leaves into a cake – as is often done with puerh – and then sealing it with camphor or some other type of aromatic oil.

Of course, when you talk about green tea you have to mention Japan, where they produce some of the best green teas and where black tea is something of a curiosity that’s only been produced in small amounts for the last century and a half. Tea is thought to have come to Japan from China during the Tang dynasty, sometime during the eighth century. But the sencha variety of green tea, which is one of the green teas that are so closely associated with Japan, actually came about during the early Ming dynasty in China, thanks to some changes in how green tea was processed.

In Europe, contrary to the aforementioned date of 1715, it’s likely that green tea was present from the very beginning, about a century earlier. In 1702, as Mair and Hoh relate, a cargo of tea shipped in from China consisted primarily of various types of green tea. But, as a harbinger of things to come, particularly in Britain, a portion of the cargo was given over to black tea.

See more of William I. Lengeman’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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