Thursday, 29 August 2013

Isle of Wight trip

We just visited the Isle of Wight for the first time in years, having been inspired by the route in my new 'Lost Lanes' cycling book!  Jack Thurston from The Bike Show, goes around the whole island in the book, but we thought we'd start off doing something easier and in one afternoon. The weather looked very drab in the morning, but the forecast was more optimistic so we kept our fingers crossed! 

Leaving Lymington, we landed at Yarmouth terminal, where we  got chatting to one of the ferry workers Nik, who recommended a nice route to the west of the Island. A local's advice is always gold when travelling, so we made sure to take note! The recommended bridleway towards Freshwater was perfect for cycling with either lovely views or through leafy tunnels.

We arrived at Freshwater just in time to see the Lifeboat launch.

En route, we found the Dimbola Museum and Gallery, home of a  Victorian photographer named Julia Margaret Cameron, whose work is now an exhibition. 

Greedily, we headed straight for the adjoining tearooms in need of lunch and with the sun coming out, found a spot amongst teacup plant pots in the garden.  This was a great setting for lunch, catering for locals and well as tourists and with very helpful staff. This is a place you'd describe as having 'old world charm' and I will have to try their Victorian High Tea next time when i'm not cycling.  

Love these plates... Food too of course!

My new purchase by the way - only a teapot bike bell! If any of you are looking to jazz up your bike with one of these then please let me know!

Moving on, we set off along the Tennyson Trail in the National Trust area of Compton Downs where a very steep gravel track runs through the centre of a golf course.  The hill is pure agony, where at the top the only option is to fall off ones bike and collapse onto the grass into a coma!  

But this steep incline wasn't the downside to today, because we came across some very rude golfers who shouted at us to move off the track!  This is such a stark contrast to the rest of the Island, where everyone is so friendly and keen to help and advise on best routes.  One couple showed us the way to a gate in the fence that lead down to a forest and through lovely fields.

Looping back to Yarmouth, this AMAZING shop Number Twenty caught my eye!  I had to stop, not just for the Wedgwood tea set in the window but because i'm a sucker for decorative antiques and vintage finds, not to mention anything to do with the age of discovery - perfect!  Good job we were on bikes or i'd have spent far too much on a portable typewriter, globe, vintage suitcase or China etc etc! Check out Number Twenty's Twitter page to follow the lovely owner Anthea @numbertwentyiow

Image: Number Twenty

Yarmouth Pier

So many great looking cafes to choose from...

For dinner, we cycled back through the first bridleway to the Red Lion pub, a traditional country pub recommended in the Lost Lanes book, where we looked over the route we'd taken.

Great to see vegetables being grown in the pub garden.  A lovely setting with the sun lowering over the sunflowers.

So stuffed, but had to ride back to catch the ferry.  We're always last minute!

 Fantastic sky display from the ferry.

For a short time only, Secret Escapes have a deal on at the Isle of Wight, at the Lakeside Park Hotel and Spa in Ryde (pic below from Secret Escapes).  We didn't go to Ryde so I can't personally recommend this hotel but it has great ratings on Tripadvisor and a spa sounds like a great way to end an afternoon of cycling!

Lakeside Park Hotel and Spa

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

#RealiTEA campaign

Drink Better Tea: 
Cafe Direct is a 100% Fairtrade company that have been campaigning to get people like you to pledge to 'drink better tea'.  The 'better tea' is of course their own brand of tea, and no this isn't one of my five quid per tea temple type artisan teas - this looks just like a British cuppa we know and love.

Cafédirect teabags contain the tender top two leaves and bud from the tea bush, made possible by paying actual human beings (imagine that) to pick the tea leaves by hand.  They claim this gives a better taste to their teabags compared to some estates that use machines to pick the tea.  This is because the machines grab leaves and twigs quite low down, leading to twiggy tea.

Another reason this campaign interests me is because I want to know where my brew comes from and I don't believe in sitting on my throne drinking tea while other unseen  people suffer.  Don't get me wrong, thrones suit me just fine, but why can't the economy benefit everyone?  To me, a fair trade, should be the norm and not a label.

Unfortunately though, it does need a label at the moment and Cafédirect are doing their best to represent it.  They say they only work directly with expert smallholders and by buying their brand, more money goes straight to the growers and not the 'middlemen'.  For a deeper explanation, see this infographic:

The #RealiTEA campaign asks you to pledge to swap your usual tea (provided by bigger brands) for Cafédirect teabags.  They may be a few pence more expensive but you'll apparently get a better taste and feel better for knowing the money has gone back into the tea industry.  But does it walk the walk or just talk the talk?

Lets have a go then...

Here are two tea bags.  The one on the left is the Cafédirect (CD) teabag and the other is a mass produced mystery teabag made by one of the top five most familiar brands (T5).  The teabags look very similar here, apart from the shape.  Only a slight difference in the scent.  

CD leaves are slightly bigger and more intact whereas the mystery T5 brand almost look wet as the smaller dust pieces can be smudged.  The T5 brand is also lighter and browner with more brown pieces in it, possibly the twigs.  CD texture is harder and crunchier whereas the T5 is soft like sand.

CD is unbearable without milk as it's a strong brew.  T5 is softer so can handle without milk, although both obviously designed for milk so doesn't matter.

With milk added, the CD appearance has darker red tones and T5 a yellow lighter appearance.  CD a bit bland.  T5 feels dustier/softer but more sweet for some reason and more the normal brew used to and even comforting.

With milk plus sugar; the sugar adds a nice sweet note to the decent base provided by CD, which makes it the best now.  The T5 with sugar doesn't add to the taste for me and falls a bit flat.


The Cafédirect tea has a harder edge to its taste and the mystery top five known brand has a softer, rounder taste.  So one is straight down to business and the other a little wimpy but friendlier (sounds like a relationship!).  If I took both teas with just milk, i'd go for the top five brand for taste as it's a bit more gentle.  However, with a pinch of sugar i'd choose the Cafédirect teabag, which really comes into its own with a sweet note on it.

This might not be a simple answer, but I think you can see and taste that the Cafédirect tea is of higher quality.  Whether your taste buds agree is a different thing altogether.  Then again, I like the taste of Mcdonalds fries! And if this experiment is anything to go by, I don't mind twig tea either!

I'd suggest that if Cafédirect's fairtrade report is as good as it sounds, then it would be worth trying a box for yourself and making your own mind up because if you like it, you're potentially doing a lot more to help growers and as well as re-investing into the tea industry.

Knowing this, i'd be happy to choose Cafédirect if it's going, but I do wonder if there's a slight change to the blend they could do to sweeten it up a bit (it's a little serious) as this would make it superior on all levels.  I'd also like to see them move to organic as well in the future, which could lead to better health for growers and consumers.

To take the pledge and for more info:
Cafédirect's Facebook page here

Click here to buy Cafédirect Tea through Ethical Superstore

Friday, 9 August 2013

'Tea Horse' Review

Do you like the look of the teas on Tea Street blog, but are too busy to know where to start?  Well, Tea Horse has sent me a box, with logo green tissue paper inside, which to unwrap makes me feel like it's my birthday.  Inside are four tea packets of quality loose tea and a leaflet with info about each one. I'm officially in the Tea Horse club..!

Tea Horse is a subscription service, and like a magazine subscription it's delivered straight to your door each month.  What a novel idea! It's aimed at "anyone looking to discover new flavours and explore the world of gourmet loose tea".

In each exciting monthly tea package, will be a selection of four different teas that are said to be fresh, quality teas not found on the high street.  The flavours hail from all over the world and their Master Taster is only the Director of the UK Tea Council!

In this instance, i've been sent Kukicha tea from Japan, Ceylon Tea from Sri Lanka, Panyong Golden Needle Tea from China and Earl Grey from India.  I can see why the leaflet is called 'Four Nations'!  Out of these I only know a bit about Ceylon and Earl Grey and am new to Kukicha and Golden needle, so this will be interesting!   

In the box is a set of tea filters aka large tea bags! They're unbleached and biodegradable and sent to you so you can drink your loose tea samples wherever you are, even without a teapot!     I read the leaflet for notes on each tea and how to take it, and find a space on the back to write my notes.  This begins to feel like a Masterclass..!


This is the science, as they say!  I've measured out the amounts per cup and brewed according to the instructions.  

Clockwise from top left: Kukicha, Ceylon, Earl Grey, Panyong Golden Needle

Kukicha looks the most different at the moment because it's the only green in the selection.  The flavours between each one prove to be much more diverse. 

I can tell that all these teas are of good quality and slurp mindfully to learn about how each one tastes.  The Japanese Kukicha and the Earl Grey stand out for me as they're unusual with interesting new tastes for me!


This service is a novel way to taste and learn about many different quality teas without ending up with a bunch of expensive no-goes in the cupboard!  You can trust that the specialist tasters at Tea Horse are doing the running around for you and all you have to do is pick up the box from the doormat and see whether it's a yes or a no!  

It's £11.95 per month (so about £3 per 20mg packet - a bargain in my opinion), £35 for 3 months and £120 for a year.  I think i'd do a few months worth until i'd found my favourites and then buy these individually in larger amounts. For example, I couldn't get enough of the Earl Grey (as usual!) so I could go to the Tea Horse store and buy just this one for £4.30 for 50g or a larger size. 

It also makes me think it'd be worth starting a tea group with teas such as these, meeting up with friends or in the village and doing an 'Avon/Tupperware/book' type club!  Like a wine circle and being able to walk in a straight line afterwards!  Otherwise it's fun to discuss online so let me know if you've tried any of these on facebook or twitter!