Christmas Tea Trees

In the world of tea, tea bags often get a bad rap. Flavor wise, some teas are worthy of that bad reputation, but in today’s market there are actually many tea bag based brands that do a good job of bringing on the flavor. Even better, tea bags are convenient–no mess, no fuss…almost effortless to use!

A few years ago I remember watching Dylan Lauren from Dylan’s Candy Bar (you know, Ralph Lauren’s daughter) make Candy Topiaries on the Martha Stewart Show. Mesmerized, I made several of these festive topiaries for friends and family and they were an instant hit. My only gripe? They required way too many mini candy bars, making the trees weighty and apt to toppling tea trees 4

Today’s Christmas Tea Tree craft is the tea version of those topiaries, except that they are lighter, prettier, and best of all…healthier! This project requires just a few items, the first of which are individually wrapped tea bags. That being said, the more attractive the wrapping is on the tea bags, the better. And to continue the tree theme I always like to add at least a few green tea bags into the mix.

My best suggestion is to look up the brand of tea bags you plan on buying before you get to the store. Some tea bags aren’t individually wrapped, so you just want to make sure. My favorite brands to use for modern looking trees are Pukka or Tazo tea bags, but for a more traditional look go for Twinings or TWG.

Customize this Christmas Tea Tree for any occasion by switching up the color palettes and tea flavors. A wrap of cellophane and a large bow, and you have unique gift that will be the centerpiece of holiday tea drinking!

Christmas Tea Trees 

What You’ll Need:

styrofoam cones

individually wrapped tea bags, the number depends on how big the cone is

glue gun with glue sticks

small paper mache boxes or some kind of short, round cylinder to use as the “stump”

wooden stars or other star trinkets for embellishment

rice, for weighing down boxes (optional)


1.)  Adhere tea bags starting at the base of the cone. Place a thin line of hot glue along the upper edge of the back of a tea bag, then attach it to the cone. Hold the tea bag in place until the glue sets.

2.)  When you glue the next tea bag, slightly overlap it over the one that was just glued so that you cover up the styrofoam cone underneath. How much you overlap the tea bags depends on the size of your tea bags. Finish the entire base before moving upwards, then repeat the gluing process until you reach the top.

3.)  Attach the top of the paper mache box to the base of the cone using hot glue. 
For more stability, add some rice in the bottom half of the box to serve as a weight, then use glue to seal the top piece of the paper mache box to the bottom piece to create one unified “stump.”

4.)  Attach a wooden star trinket to top of the cone, again using hot glue. When it’s tea time, carefully rip the tea bags off the tea tree and enjoy!

2014 Gifts for Tea Lovers

Nine days and counting! Just a few days ago, I spent hours online trying to buy Christmas gifts for my friends and family (the non-tea loving ones). At this point, I can only hope that I chose some gifts that won’t end up at the back of the broom closet come New Year’s.

Luckily, tea lovers are easy to shop for. The art of buying tea-themed gifts is to choose something unique, a bit different from the usual. If you are shopping for the tea lover in your life, look no further. I’m sure at least one of these tea goodies will bring a smile to their face.

ChaHoney Monthly Tea Subscription

My friend Elizabeth launched her company ChaHoney this year, with a vision to share her passion for discovering new teas. If you’ve ever purchased a tea that you didn’t like (and never drank again), you know how important it is to sample a tea before committing. Nobody wants boxes of less-than-pleasing tea taking up room in their tea cabinet.

A ChaHoney subscription is effortless and genius: each month, 4 featured tea samples will arrive at your doorstep. Curious? You can even try out a one-time sampler pack for starters. The code THIRSTY10TEA will give you 10% off any of the subscriptions through December 25th. Support small business, taste a world of teas, and discover the ones you love most through ChaHoney!

Kami Wood Cups

I don’t want these teacups, I need them. These wooden Japanese teacups are hand crafted in Hokkaido. They are made with gorgeous castor aralia wood, which has a grain similar to unfinished birch wood. There couldn’t be a better way to enjoy a cup of grassy Japanese sencha.

Smartea Tea Set

I like to describe this teapot as the BMW of teapots. It’s functional and sleek at the same time, the image of a modern tea drinker’s teapot. I love that you can insert a tea light in the base so that your tea stays warm from first sip to last.

Fresh’s Black Tea Face Mask

My sister introduced me to this stuff several years ago when she said I was starting to get wrinkles (thank you, Melissa!). Now that I look back, I suppose it was kind of her because I love this black tea mask and haven’t found a better antioxidant mask since. The best way to describe its texture is velvety. When the weather is cold and dry, I leave it on my face for anywhere from 10 minutes up to an hour for a deeply hydrating effect.

Tea Leaf Reading Kit

Are there any Harry Potter fans out there? I know there are. If you are one of them, the word tessomancy may sound familiar. Term refers to the art of reading tea leaves (Professor Trelawney reads Harry Potter’s tea cup during Divination lessons), and this whimsical little kit brings that idea to life.

Numi’s Artisan’s Tea Blending Kit

Last month when I visited Adagio Teas in Chicago I was so impressed to find a tea blending station. Tea blenders take years to perfect their craft, but if you’ve ever been curious this kit is a great place to start. Blend, taste, and blend again…perhaps you have a knack for tea blending too!

Zoku Ice Cream Maker

Have you ever thought of making your own tea flavored ice creams at home? Problem is, the process is often way to fussy with those large, awkward ice cream makers. Place this ice cream bowl straight into the freezer. When it’s chilled you can make smaller batches of fresh ice cream within moments. Matcha frozen yogurt? No problem. Creamy gelato made with your favorite Earl Grey? Coming right up!

Pantone Universe Mugs

If you are familiar with Pantone, you know that they serve as a color atlas for designers. They make a variety of fine bone china mugs in their signature colors, and these babies are ideal for a distinctively colorful tea time. Their color of the year is Marsala, a spicy, pomegranate shade of red that’s Christmas-like and cheery.

Valerie Confection’s Matcha and Rose Petal Petit Fours

Based out of Los Angeles, there’s no better way to describe this confectionary’s petit fours than to say that they are perfect. Not too big, not to small, not too sweet…just perfect. They have several petit four flavors, from champagne to mint, but the rose petal variety is my favorite.

Trader Joe’s Tea Sampler

When it comes to snacking and tasty eating, Trader Joe’s almost never fails. I came across this box of internationally sourced loose teas last week, and was delighted when I opened the package to reveal this eclectic collection of 10 tea-filled vials. Forget the chocolates and give tea this year. No calories, more flavor, and for $12.99 a tea gift doesn’t get better than this.

Kombucha Revolution

This book takes some of the mystery out of making Kombucha, that effervescent fermented tea that’s prized for its flavor and health benefits. The book is written by Stephen Lee, a co-founder of both Tazo and Stash Brand Teas. I have the book myself and can’t wait to try the Long Kombucha Iced Tea and BambuCha recipes soon…don’t they sound delish?

Tea Cup Stool

If this were easier for me to buy in the US, I would have my feet propped up on one in my living room right now. If you live the UK you are lucky, because apparently these are readily available there and delivery is free! I’ve decided that my life isn’t complete until I get one of these…need one now.

Magnetic Tea Chalkboard

Some gifts just can’t be purchased, so if you’re crafty this might be just the project for you. This board is great for featuring colorful teas or for anyone in need of some simple organization. The board is highly customizable to suit a selective tea drinker, and can be reused in so many ways long after the tea is drunk!

Magnetic Tea Chalkboard

During the the busy holiday season, I only make crafty gifts for those I love most. A few weeks ago, I created a Magnetic Tea Board for my dear friend Danielle over at This Picture Book Life. She seemed thrilled to receive it, and at the very least I was proud to call it one-of-a-kind, something she couldn’t buy in a store.
As Danielle prefers herbals over the caffeinated kind, I filled her tea board with tisanes like honeybush, peppermint, and Hawaiian Mamaki tea. That’s the great thing about this little project, you can tailor the tea board to please all kinds of tea drinkers. How about a tea board with a variety of chai teas or only Christmas themed teas? The possibilities are endless.  And speaking of possibilities, you can use this board for much more than just tea. The favor tins could hold spices, vitamins, sprinkles, jewelry, or even your workspace desk supplies! Depending on what your frame looks like, you can play around with the shapes of tea tins you use. Just make sure that you use sturdy tins, well made ones that have tops that snugly attach to the bottoms so that the tins’ contents are well contained.

If you use this magnetic board for tea, a tea timer is a nice touch to the project. Although I like to use an elegant sand tea timer, you could also use a precise digital tea timer instead. The key is to pick the frame, timer, and teas to suit a specific style. The board that I made here has a slightly French look, inspired by the sexy little tea timer that I bought from Fauchon in France.

I guess it’s a bit ironic that I used labels on this chalkboard, but if you’ve ever seen my penmanship–trust me, it would make sense. If you are able to write out a lovely script, by all means show it off here! I’ve decided to go the more reliable route, using an embossed label maker. I love that the embossed label gives the board a trendy vibe, so that the aesthetic elements of the board come together to look organized.

There’s nothing like a hand-made gift to tell someone how much you appreciate them. This stylish and versatile Magnetic Tea Board has so many uses, I love that it’s a visual reminder to make time for a tea break. Make one for yourself or for someone special…there couldn’t be a better gift for the avid tea-lover.

Magnetic Tea Chalkboard

What You’ll Need:

magnetic chalk board sheet

12″ x 12″ frame, glass removed

adhesive craft magnets

favor tins

4 button magnets

tea timer

permanent craft glue (p.s. the glue from a glue gun won’t work here)

label maker (optional)


a selection of teas


1.)  Prepare the magnetic chalk board by inserting and securing the magnetic chalk board sheet into the 12″ x 12″ frame.

2.)  Attach 1 adhesive magnet to the back of each favor tin you plan on using. Now the tins are ready to be filled with teas of your choice.

3.)  Attach the button magnets to the back side of the tea timer using the permanent craft glue. Let the glue dry according to the package instructions before attaching the timer to the magnetic board.

4.)  Create labels for the teas using the label maker, or simply use chalk to write in the names of the teas onto the board wherever you see fit.

5.)  Affix the labels on the board, then attach the tins and tea timer onto the board. Hang the finished tea board up in a convenient location (in the kitchen, or by your desk at work) for an effortless and organized tea time…enjoy!

Peppermint Tea Bath

My hubby and I are planning a trip to Whistler in Canada this February. It’ll be my first time at a ski resort, so as a non-skiier I’m not quite sure what to expect. Cabins, snow-laden trees, mugs of hot cocoa–there’s an image that I have of what ski-resorting looks like, and these Peppermint Tea Bath Salts are a part of that picture.

This Peppermint Tea Bath takes minutes to make but is so perfect for chasing away those wintertime blues. The bath mix gets a punch of brightness from a healthy dose of peppermint tea that not only helps to nourish your skin, but also gives off a naturally invigorating scent. While the epsom salts help to soothe tired muscles and soften skin, some clean, pine-like tea tree essential oil helps to give an uplifting dose of aromatherapy.

If you haven’t ever tried using epsom salts for taking baths or making body scrubs, they are simply fantastic. Just before summer this year I made a luxurious Lavender Foot Soak. This Peppermint Tea Bath is the winter version of that. The best way to package the bath salts is to place them into cotton sachets that you can tie up and throw right into your bath. The cotton bags are reusable, so simply fill them up again when it’s time for your next luxurious dip.

If you’d like your Peppermint Tea Bath to smell more peppermint-like than pine-like, feel free to use substitute some peppermint essential oil for a portion of the tea tree oil. You might smell like a walking candy cane (or like my favorite Candy Cane Green Tea) afterwards but hey, who said that’s a bad thing? Personally, I like to use 2 cups of this salt blend to make one hot, relaxing bath. Peppermint Bath Salts are an ideal gift or stocking stuffer for anyone in need of a little wintertime pampering. Mix a batch up for yourself and you’ll see why!

Peppermint Tea Bath 

What You’ll Need:

large mixing bowl


2 cups epsom salt

1 cup loose peppermint tea

20 drops of tea tree essential oil, or 10 drops tea tree essential oil + 10 drops peppermint essential oil

cotton tea bags or a large, double layer of cheesecloth with a tie

lidded jars, for gifting (optional)


1.)  Mix the salts, tea, and essential oil together in a large mixing bowl. Place the mixture in cotton tea bags, lidded jars, or some other containers until ready to use.

2.)  When ready for the bath, place 1-2 cups of the salts into cotton tea bags or a large piece of cheesecloth, then tie to make a closed pouch. Let the fragrant salts dissolve into a large tub of warm water, then sit back and relax!

Tea of the Week: Trader Joe’s Candy Cane Green Tea

trader joes candy cane tea 1I came across Trader Joe’s Candy Cane Green Tea a few years ago when my friend Lynnelle discovered it and was sweet enough to share some with me. I still remember her dropping several of these pillow-like tea bags into a ziplock sandwich bag at the end of our girl’s night out saying “You have to try this tea, Bonnie!” So here I am now, sharing that very same tea with you.

trader joes candy cane tea 2Every Christmas since, I take advantage of the holiday season by stocking up on this budget-friendly yet tasty tea. The blend tastes of refreshing peppermint candy canes in the most natural way, where the brightness of the mint is balanced by a touch of soft vanilla. I also love that the tea is decaffeinated, a festive drink that everyone can enjoy.

trader joes candy cane tea 4Trader Joe’s Candy Cane Green Tea is only available during Christmas time, so now is the time to try it and decide if you might want to stock up too! The tea’s fun packaging makes it a perfect stocking stuffer or gift card tag along. After all, who can resist the image of an adorable tea-loving polar bear wearing an ugly Christmas sweater? For a few bucks, this cool tasting hot tea is really one you should try…get some while it still lasts!trader joes candy cane tea 5

Tasting Notes for Trader Joe’s Candy Cane Tea:

BREWING TIPS:  Brew with water just under the boiling point. Steep for 3 minutes and avoid over brewing.

THE BLEND:  A mix of peppermint leaf, decaf green tea, orange peel, natural vanilla and mint flavors, cinnamon, milk thistle, blackberry leaves, roasted carob, roasted chicory, and vanilla bean.

THE SCENT:  Bright, fresh peppermint scent muted with a touch of soft vanilla. You could put a bag of this in your car and it would smell fantastic!

THE STEEP:  If you brew the tea correctly, the taste of the green tea should be subtle. The brew tastes of candy canes, without the cloying sweetness. Slightly sweet from the orange peel, vanilla, and cinnamon flavors. Well balanced, and very soothing on a cold night.

GET IT:  At Trader Joe’s, and on, although it is significantly marked up there.

FOOD PAIRING:  Hmm, would it be strange to say a candy cane? This would also be great with a decadent slice of chocolate cake or other sweets that are simple in flavor like my Lemon Matcha Cake Bites, which will echo the green tea flavors in this blend. If you are brewing this for a holiday get together, you must try making some decorative Christmas Tree Stroopwafels to prop on top of your filled teacups…what a festive holiday treat this pair will make!

trader joes candy cane tea 6

Dim Sum Recipe #11 : Vegetable Egg Rolls

If you’ve followed along for a while, I’m guessing that you probably love dim sum as much as I do. Since dim sum tends to be a fat laden meal, I often try to make these treats a bit healthier when creating them at home. I figure that you can get the full-fat version at your local dim sum house, and then come back to my recipes when you feel like cutting back a bit.

I’m happy to say that I’ve been able to avoid deep fat frying in my dim sum recipes up to this point. When I finally get around to covering even more dim sum favorites I don’t know that I’ll be able to hold to this, but for now I’m happy to say that these Baked Veggie Egg Rolls are every bit as delicious as the originals. Instead of deep fat frying, these rolls are wrapped with a phyllo pastry that’s lightly misted with oil spray. Less fat, lots of fresh veggie flavor, and no used oil clean up…what’s not to love?

There are a few tricks to creating a perfectly crisp baked egg roll. First, you want to pick veggies with less water content. For this reason, I like to use regular cabbage instead of napa cabbage and dried shiitake mushrooms instead of fresh ones. When you cook the filling over high heat, the goal is to reduce the water content in the veggies, which also helps to concentrate their flavor.

Another thing you’ll want to do is to make sure the filling is completely cooled to room temperature before wrapping it with the phyllo. This is a very important step since steam coming off of the cooked veggies will sog up an otherwise crisp wrapper.

My last tip (and this is an easy one), is to eat these while they’re still freshly baked. You can keep the phyllo and veggie filling in the fridge, and just make the number of rolls you plan on eating when the time is right. This assures a crisp, golden crust that shatters, just like what you’d expect in the most delicious deep-fried kind. Serve these up with some oolong tea based Sweet & Sour Sauce and poof! Chinese take-out night without the guilt!

Dim Sum Recipe #10: Veggie Egg Rolls

Makes 12 egg rolls.


{Egg Rolls}

2 Tbsp vegetable oil

1 medium brown onion, diced (1 cup)

1 Tbsp garlic, finely chopped

2 tsp ginger, grated

1 oz dried shiitake mushrooms, rehydrated, rinsed, squeezed dry, stems removed, then diced

1 Tbsp sherry or cooking wine

2 carrots, shredded (1 1/4 cups)

1 red bell pepper, diced (1 cup)

1/2 small head of cabbage, diced (5 cups)

1 tsp sesame oil

1/2 tsp white pepper

1 tsp sugar

3 Tbsp vegetarian oyster sauce

2 green onions, sliced finely

12 large sheets of phyllo dough, thawed and kept moist

vegetable oil spray

{Orange Oolong Sweet & Sour Sauce}


large wok or skillet

large baking sheet

large cooling rack

work surface

1/4 cup measure


1.) Place a wok on high heat. Add the vegetable oil to the pan, wait for it to shimmer, then add the onion, garlic, and ginger to the pan and cook for 1 minute. After a minute, toss the diced mushrooms into the pan with the onion, garlic, and ginger, and stir fry for 2 minutes.

2.) Add 1 Tbsp of sherry to the cooking vegetables, then let it cook out.

3.) Next add the shredded carrots and diced red bell pepper. Stir fry them with the mushroom-onion mixture for 3 minutes, then add the diced cabbage to the wok.

4.) Stir fry the vegetables for about 3 minutes, then add the sesame oil, white pepper, sugar, and vegetarian oyster sauce. Continue to cook the mixture over high heat for an additional 4 minutes until all the excess moisture has evaporated and the veggies are slightly browned. Place the vegetable filling on a large plate to cool completely to room temperature.

5.) When the filling has completely cooled to room temperature, mix in the green onions with the veggies, then preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

6.) Place a sheet of the phyllo on a work surface, then spray it lightly and evenly with vegetable oil spray. Place 1/4 cup of the veggie mixture on one side of the phyllo sheet (my sheet was 9″ x 14″), about 1″in from the edge on the short (9″ side). Form the filling roughly into a 4″ log. Fold in the long (14″) sides of the pastry evenly around the filling, then roll the egg roll up in a sushi-like fashion, until you a finished egg roll. Repeat this step 12 times to make 12 egg rolls.

7.) Lightly spray a large baking sheet with the same vegetable oil spray, then park the egg rolls on the baking sheet seam side down. Give each egg roll a final even, light spray of oil, then bake them for about 10 minutes until golden brown and crisp.

8.) Let the Baked Veggie Egg Rolls cool on a cooling rack for a few minutes, serve them with Orange Oolong Sweet & Sour Sauce on the side, and enjoy!

David’s Tea in Chicago

David’s Tea embodies everything I love about modern tea culture. The brand is bold and colorful, and they never fail to impress me with their creative tea flavors. You can’t go wrong with tea names like Sugar Plum Forest and Yes We Cran.  Glitter and Gold? Simply gotta have it…and I do!

davids tea 2Since December officially marks a month of endless shopping, I thought it might be a good time to share with you my visit to David’s Tea in Chicago last month. The shop I visited on Armitage Avenue lies in the center of a trendy, upscale shopping area on the north side of the city. The street is studded with one-of-a-kind, eclectic boutique stores like Art Effect, where I got my new favorite tea cup (it’s across the street from David’s Tea).

For a gal from Southern California, David’s Tea isn’t the easiest to find. David’s Tea is based in Canada and has several stores in the colder regions of the US (in New England and the Midwest), and a number of locations on the non-Canadian West Coast in Northern California.

For those like myself in far off places like SoCal, I love shopping online at David’s Tea. Their themed tea packages like David’s Starter Kit, Healthy Collection, or Teas That Say Thanks are ideal for gift giving and appeal to a wide range of tea enthusiasts. I love that they sell so many yummy herbal blends that everyone can enjoy, any time of day.

One of my favorite David’s Tea blends is Happy Kombucha, a fermented oolong blend that’s mixed with chunks of pineapple and mango. It’s ideal for the healthful hippie dreaming of a tropical vacation. Forever Nuts is another favorite. This caffeine-free, nut based herbal is perfection during months of cold weather.

What I love most about David’s Tea is that they make each blend entertaining. If you’ve never had a cup of one of their blends, you’re totally missing out! My only gripe is that they need to open up more stores, especially in and around LA. The Oh Canada! blend is great, but can you imagine how delicious a tea called Dawn’s Early Light would be? More David’s Teas in the US…that’s my vote!

David’s Tea-Lincoln Park

924 West Armitage Ave
Chicago, IL, 60614