Dear Diary

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Product design has intrigued me for quite some time, but it always seemed like too massive a project to take on by myself. I was over the moon when Teapigs, one of my favourite tea brands approached our team to design a limited edition mug for their holiday collection!

The only issue is… I’m not really a designer. Luckily I have Johanna as our in-house artist, and our intern Olivia who’s a total design BOSS. Together they worked with hand-painted watercolour textures and fun fonts. We probably did about 50 mock ups combined with the Teapigs design team before we finally settled on the final version that you see now. Crazy right?! It’s amazing how much time and energy goes into just one of the products you find on a store shelf. Definitely feeling a newfound appreciation for beautiful design details!

So here it is, after months of reworking and reimagining, just in time for Christmas! Rise and Sparkle comes from the idea that every day should be extraordinary… don’t just rise and shine, rise and SPARKLE! Tis’ the season to sparkle more than ever, right?

When I say sparkle however, I don’t just mean pile on the illuminator and dress only in sequins. Being sparkly is so much more about spreading joy wherever you go, like a beam of sunshine in the middle of a snowstorm (and there WILL be snowstorms ahead Toronto friends!) With this philosophy in mind I decided to donate $1 of each mug to a local charity that always makes me smile: Save our Scruff. Rescuing adorable dogs day and night from all over the world, SOS brings joy to so many pups and humans alike, and I can only hope our donations from this project can help find as many furry friends a home for the holidays as possible!

Scroll down for a holiday gift from us… aka a CONTEST!

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Want to win a Rise and Sparkle mug + a pack of Teapigs tea? Think of it as a gift from us to you!

To enter simply:

1 // Follow RAOP and Teapigs on Instagram

2 // Tag a friend who loves tea on today’s Instagram post

3 // For bonus points, comment here with your Instagram handle, or tweet the link to this post (just make sure you tag me so I can find you)

Winner will be announced Friday here and on Instagram. Good luck!

Ready to get cozy AND support a great cause? Shop the mug here now!

Get CreativeSips, Sweets & Snacks

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Tea and #RAOPxStudioB (wow that’s a mouthful) go way back- in fact we almost always work together over cups of piping hot tea! A few years ago I had the pleasure of taking a job at Sloane Fine Tea Merchants, a local company with a lot of heart and SO much knowledge about tea.

If you think tea is simply those little squished bags of Red Rose hanging out in your grandmother’s cupboard, you’ve got a lot to learn. Working in the world of tea constantly surprised and enchanted me, and as I shared my newfound facts with Paige she only found herself more and more interested as well. That said, both of our knowledge combined doesn’t even come close to more than the tip of the iceberg. If you want real tea expertise, you have to turn to Hoda Paripoush, founder of Sloane Tea.

Hoda has experience in perfumery, which makes her uniquely suited to create the most magical teas in all the land. After travelling the world visiting tea estates, she launched Sloane right here in Toronto. One of the few tea companies that blends on Canadian soil and directly trades with ancient tea estates, I’ve never met anyone who “gets” tea quite like Hoda.

So if you’re ready to learn about proper tea steeping times, the difference between Oolong and Green Tea, the definition of Camellia sinensis chinensis and more, cozy up with a cup of your favourite blend and keep reading!

Scroll down for Hoda’s tea 101 and tips!

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Where does tea come from //

All tea, be it black, green, oolong, or white tea (and even some other types) come from the same plant: camellia sinensis. The plant was originally discovered growing in China, and was later cultivated in other parts of Asia. There are two subspecies of this plant: the Assam varietal (Camellis sinensis assamica) and the China varietal (Camellia sinensis chinensis). Grown in India, Sri Lanka and in other parts of the world, the Assam varietal produces larges, bold tasting leaves. The China varietal, cultivated in China, Taiwan, Japan and in parts of Darjeeling produces smaller leaves with a more delicate flavour profile.

What makes different types of tea //

The difference between types of tea is the state of oxidation. A black tea, for example, is fully-oxidized and undergoes a complete firing/baking process- hence why it is darker in colour. That being said, each tea type has a most unique and distinct flavour, with a variety of differences within each tea type. I highly encourage people to try tea types that they may not have tried previously, or even teas that they may have tasted before but were not fond of. Just as your palate changes with time, your experience will change as well, especially if you had a tea that was not properly prepared the first time. There is no end to the types of tea flavours available, so the more you explore, the larger your repertoire of fine and favourite teas will be!

Black Tea = fully oxidized

Oolong Tea = partially oxidized

White Tea = un-oxidized

Green Tea = un-oxidized

How to properly prepare each type

No matter what type of tea you are purchasing, you need to become very clear on the proper preparation methods. I say this because even if someone purchases one of the worlds most exquisite teas, if the crucial factors of water temperature and steeping time are ignored, then you can take an extremely high quality tea and ruin it very quickly.

Some teas require boiling water (such as black and herbal teas), some less than boiling water, and all need to be steeped for a different length of time.

When preparing a traditional black tea, the process is as such:

1. Warm the teapot with hot water.

2. Fill the kettle with freshly drawn water and bring it to a boil. Water that has been double-boiled will affect the taste of the tea.

3. Measure one rounded teaspoon of tea into the teapot for each person, and one extra spoonful of tealeaves “for the pot”.

4. Remove the kettle as soon as it boils and allow it to come off the boil for a minute or two.

5. Pour the not-quite-boiling water onto the leaves and leave to steep for 4-5 minutes.

6. Serve in fine bone china cups as the delicacy of the cup does seem to enhance the delicacy of the tea within.

7. Add a splash of milk or a slice of lemon to taste.

As green tea is un-oxidized, caution must be taken when steeping it as over-steeping the tea produces a bitter cup. As well, green tea is not to be steeped in fully boiled water, as too hot a temperature will also produce a bitter cup. Less than boiling water is what is ideal when preparing green tea, as it is with white and oolong teas.

Proper storage of tea is also of crucial importance, as it helps to maximize the shelf-life and freshness of tea. The oils in tea are highly volatile, and as such, they easily absorb surrounding odours. Hence, you need to store your tea in a space that is separate from your spices and items heavy in scent. In addition, the tea should be stored at room temperature in a low humidity environment, and away from direct light.

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Perfect pairings //

When it comes to pairings, it’s often a matter of preference. However, with milk specifically there is good reason for adding the milk last. If you are drinking an unfamiliar tea, it is easier to judge the correct amount of milk to add once you have seen the strength and colour of the tea. On the other hand, pouring the milk in first means that the fat in the milk emulsifies in a different manner when the tea is poured, which alters the flavour of the tea, providing for an even more creamier flavour. It also cools the tea slightly to a more acceptable drinking temperature.

However, milk is really only to be added in black tea, but not in all black teas. Darjeeling black teas, specifically, should never be paired with milk as it’s the equivalent of adding ice in your wine. Darjeeling tea is so delicate and refined in flavour that the addition of milk washes out the nuances of what makes it unique.
Green, oolong and white teas should always be savoured straight- without the addition of any milk products. Herbal teas, though they should be enjoyed without the addition of milk can often be paired with honey and other natural sweeteners (depending on preference). Personally, I don’t add sugar into my tea but I can never resist the pairing of a sweet biscuit or scone with the trimmings.

The difference between tea bags and whole leaf/loose leaf //

The world of tea has come a very, very long way since it’s discovery, as have teabags. Though the charm of loose leaf tea will always remain, the innovation of the pyramid tea bag has made it so you can still enjoy the beauty of exceptional loose leaf teas with an incredible amount of convenience. Quality does not have to be compromised for convenience. At Sloane Tea, we use the exact same tea in our whole leaf sachets as you experience in our loose leaf tea caddies. The pyramid shape of the tea bag allows us to fill it with a fine variety of full premium tea leaves and exotic ingredients such as herbs, flowers and real fruit pieces. It’s innovative design allows for optimal flow of the ingredients into your cup, creating a consistent infusion every single time.

Fun tea facts //

The origin of tea is infused with a fine blend of fact, myth, and ancient concepts of spirituality and philosophy. According to an ancient Chinese legend, the story of tea was born over 4700 years ago when a fortuitous blunder caused a few dry leaves to accidentally fall into a pot of boiling water that was being prepared for emperor Shen Nong in the hills of China. The emperor enjoyed drinking the infused water as it had a most unusual and delicious flavour. He felt so immensely invigorated and refreshed, and as he was a skilled scientist and ruler he set out to further research the plant whereby he discovered tea to possess medicinal properties.

Since that time, through exploration, discovery and experimentation, tea has exploded into the most widely consumed beverage in the world, second to water. It is a world that has become so very vast and specialized- just like that of fine wine.

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Sips, Sweets & Snacks

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Today we’re sharing an extra special guest post from Sophie at Kitten and the Bear, and it involves making the cutest little sandwiches you ever did see! Did somebody say lavender cucumber?!

“There are a few things that transform just any old party into a tried and true Tea Party. Tea cups are an absolute must (bonus points for vintage, mismatched and pastel!), tiered trays and lots of fresh florals certainly set the mood, and scones and jam must be present for tradition’s sake. But, a tea party isn’t really a tea party without those tiny, little white bread sandwiches we all know and love! The most classic choices are cucumber and butter, smoked salmon, chicken, and egg salad, but for us, the more beautiful, tiny, colourful, and intricate the better! So, as a little supplement to our Pastel Garden Brunch we styled with Alyssa of Random Acts of Pastel (full photo set coming next week!), we wanted to share our spin on the classic tea sandwich, done KATB-style 3 different ways to add a little flair to your tea party table!”

Scroll down for full recipes!

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Tea Sandwiches 3 Ways //

Ingredients:

Loaf of classic white Wonder Bread
1 fresh cucumber
1 pint of fresh strawberries
1-3 jars of KATB jam, preferably in a variety of colours
Lavender oil (we used this one from A L’Olivier)
Butter, at room temperature
Cream Cheese, at room temperature
Culinary-grade lavender blossoms
Fresh sprigs of mint
2.25” round cookie cutter
The tiniest heart-shaped cookie cutter you can find (we found ours at Bulk Barn!)

*replace butter and cream cheese with vegan versions to make these sammies vegan friendly!

Cucumber & Lavender //

Using a sharp knife or mandolin, slice your cucumber as thin as possible crosswise.
Spread a thin coat of butter on your slices of white bread, and delicately place your cucumber slices in one layer to create a mosaic effect, overlapping the crusts.

Then, using a sharp knife, cut through the cucumber and bread into your desired shape. We chose squares for our cucumber sammies, and got 1 sammie out of each piece of bread. Tip: if you find that your cucumber slices are slipping as you try to cut through them, place the whole palm of your (clean) hand on top of your sammie to hold everything in place as you cut. Don’t be nervous to press down a little bit – the Wonder Bread will bounce right back!

Set aside…

Strawberry & Mint //

Spread a thin layer of butter on a couple slices of Wonder Bread, then cut off the crusts and into 3 long rectangles.

Using a sharp knife, hull the greenery from the top of your berries. Sit them on their “heads,” slice them thin, and, keeping them in their original order, use your fingers to carefully fan the slices and place them on each rectangle of bread.

Set aside…

Stained Glass Jam Sammies //

For these little gems, you will get one sammie per every two pieces of bread. So, for three sammies, arrange 6 slices of bread on your cutting board in a 2×3 grid.

Using the circle cutter, cut rounds out of all of the pieces of bread – 3 for the bases of your sammies, 3 for the tops. Then, cut hearts out of only 3 (half) of the rounds.

Spread your cream cheese on each of the bases, then add a dollop of jam and give it a slight spread with the back of your spoon. Be careful not to spread the jam too close to the edges, or you will have a messy tea sandwich. Also, using a variety of different types of preserves will add visual beauty and colour to your display!

Place the heart-cut-out tops on top of each base, and press gently to “seal” the sammie and push the cheese and jam to the outer edges.

The grand finale…

When you are ready to serve your tea sandwiches…

Drizzle a small amount of lavender oil over your cucumber mosaics, and a little sprinkle of lavender blossoms,

Pluck the tiniest leaves and any flowers from the tips of your mint sprigs, and place prettily on your strawberries…

Load all of your tea sammies onto your tiered tray, serve, and enjoy! Pinkies up!

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Sips, Sweets & Snacks

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For a sweet tooth like me, the holidays really are the most wonderful time of the year. Between chocolate oranges, peppermint ice cream, shortbread cookies, candy canes… the list could go on and on. That said, my absolute favourite Christmas-specific treat has to be gingerbread cookies from an old school local bakery.

When I spotted gingerbread whisky at the liquor store a few weeks ago I immediately scooped up a bottle, eager to translate my favourite holiday cookie into a drinkable glass of sugary goodness. After a few rounds of experimentation we had finally nailed down a recipe idea that covered all of my criteria: it tasted like a cookie, it was pink, and it involved sprinkles.

scroll down for recipe…

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Ingredients //

Forever Nuts from Davids Tea
Spicebox Gingerbread Whisky
Vanilla Coconut Milk
Maple Syrup
Sprinkles

Recipe //

Make a tea concentrate by steeping 4 tsp of Forever Nuts Tea in 6oz of boiling water. Let it sit for at least 15 mins (if you can, brew it the night before and let it sit overnight in the fridge.)

When you’re almost ready to serve the cocktails, rim glasses in sprinkles using maple syrup to help them stick.

Fill your cocktail shaker with 1/4 cup of ice, the tea concentrate (now cooled). Stir, then add 1 oz of Spicebox Gingerbread Whisky, a cup of Vanilla Coconut Milk & a splash of Maple Syrup.

Shake the mixture until frothy, then carefully pour your tea mixture into the rimmed glasses and stir with your favourite holiday straws!

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Party Time

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Every year the holidays roll around, and every single year I have a whole list of big plans that I never get to execute. As happy and bubbly as I am year-round, Christmas time really brings out the best in me, but sadly I always end up too busy with work to really enjoy the magic of the season. From ice skating to sugar cookie baking, the little pleasures I associate with this time of year always seem to escape me, but this year I’m putting my foot down- this year, I’m going full elf.

I’ll be sharing a list of all my favourite holiday “to-do’s” here very soon so you can follow along, but in the meantime I’m hard at work planning something that has managed to escape me for years: a sparkly pastel holiday photo shoot! I’ve teamed up with Kitten and the Bear, and together we’ve dreamt up the concept of a pastel christmas tea party (henceforth to be known as #pastelxmaspartea!) Think Blush and Bloom florals, Sweet Bakeshop sugar cookies, and sequins, tinsel and fairy lights in every corner- all captured by the very talented Gillian of Sounds like Yellow!

Over the next few weeks as we get everything together we’ll be sharing sneak peeks, plus exclusive holiday DIY’s and tutorials, so be sure to keep an eye on our hashtag for updates (or take a gander at our inspiration Pin Board!)

We hope we’ve got you dreaming of a Pastel Christmas like we are!

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All images via my Pinterest