Sep 4, 2008

Taking Time for Tea - CaleCon

A visit with Karen Hartwick, Canada’s Tea Sommelier.

photo courtesy of

A perfect way for a group of Victorian Role Players to end their afternoon. Gabi, Otenth, Soliel, and I stopped by Tea Leaves, which is a tea tasting bar, located on the edge of Stratford, Ontario at 433 Erie Street.

We were warmly greeted by the proprietor upon our entrance into the lovely old Victorian home which was built in the mid-1800s. She had been in the dining room of the home, which serves as both showcase of teas and her handpicked tea specialty items as well as dining area for her Rosewood Manor B & B housed in this same building.

Karen took time to introduce herself and to get to know a little about each of us individually as well as us collectively. I am sure that most of my readership have experienced those moments in real life when answering the question of, "and how do you know these people?" becomes far too complex for the average person to understand. "You met through an internet game?" "But these are not your real friends." Now we know that SL -and certainly Caledon - is more than a game. We also know that very real friendships have developed. And in the case of at least one happy Caledonian couple has lead to real life romance, love, and marriage. So now imagine the looks that passed between us as we were asked the following series of questions by Karen, "Where are you from? So what brings you all to Stratford? How do you know each other? What kind of convention?"

Obviously she understood that we were from all over the states and Europe. She also had little issue understanding that we were here for a convention. The beautiful thing, however, is that when I replied that we had all met on the internet (seemed the easiest way to begin the conversation) and we desired to meet in real life, she immediately related. "Oh. My son has met a number of folks on the internet and one or two of them have come to visit us here in Stratford."
She did not bat an eye. It made perfect sense to her. And then when through further conversation she discovered our love of Victoriana her discussion with us became even more personal.

Karen poses for my iPhone camera in front of her wonderful selection of loose teas.

Karen is a true professional. She studied and has top certification with the Specialty Tea Institute in New York, and is one of only 14 Tea Sommoliers in the world. She also frequently conducts lectures, tea tastings and is a published writer and tea consultant. Her business has expanded to include blending and tea programs for restaurants, bed and breakfasts and spa/yoga studios. You may view the remainder of her bio at the website .

As we had animated conversation around her tea bar, she began to develop a sense of each of our current tea tastes, and then suggested some things that we may wish to sample with her. As each selection was made, she gave us the history of the tea, the method of growing, harvesting, and preparation. Timers were set for that perfect brewing time - and we kept talking.

Just then the grandfather clock in the hall struck 4:00pm. Tea Time.

We sampled the teas and described what we tasted and felt with each. Other suggestions made. We moved on.

In the end, Otenth and I purchased quite a few selections of her wonderful tea, and I will likely be ordering from her via email. Karen was very excited when I asked her if I might blog about Tea Leaves and our experience under her expert direction. I received her permission to use a pictures that I took in the tea house that day and said that I should let any interested party know that she will be starting e-newsletters soon. Simply email her from the Website -

My selections:
Earl Grey Supreme
an herbal blend for my mother-in-law
and Canadian Breakfast Tea

Earl Grey leaves

At the end of the visit, I was very well satisfied with the personal care and guidance we had each received. And certainly the home was beautifully appointed - a quiet (almost sacred space) created. Even as several regular local customers arrived during our tasting, she was able to see to their needs (filling many a tin for them) as she continued conversation with us bringing in the locals' experience to bear on our discussion.

I encourage you to visit Tea Leaves website - and the house should you ever travel to Stratford. Let her know Eva sent you.

Lapsang Souchong smokes over pine needles such as these.


Kamilah Hauptmann said...

How many coffee drinkers ever looked as fancy as we?