The Ruby Red Jewel of Drinks – Sweet Strawberry Lemonade & Sippers at Hammersmith’s, Part III

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It’s hot, it’s humid, and we’re capping off this 3-part Hammersmith’s series with a refreshing, juicy sweet drink: a fruity, punchy, thirst-quenching strawberry lemonade!  Hammersmith’s has quite the assortment of beverages and I was actually taken aback – in a good way – when I realized this.  Many places may excel in one particular food and drink category (savoury mains, desserts, wines, and drinks, for example), but it’s a real gem when you can find a place that wows you on all fronts and I love that Hammersmith’s kicks each one (food, dessert, and drink) in the pants with such graceful ease.  Their strawberry lemonade, at $3 a pop, preens from the chalkboard drink menu like the ruby red crown jewel that it is, sitting snuggly between other cold, homemade drinks such as regular lemonade, iced tea, grapefruit juice, and an Arnold Palmer which is half iced tea, half lemonade – you learn something new every day!  

In addition to getting giddy over the grapefruit juice and strawberry lemonade drinks on the chalkboard,  I went into conniptions over their selection of loose leaf tea!  Cream Earl Grey, organic peppermint, honeybush raspberry, and rooibos Canadian blueberry were just some of the ones I was really excited about.  I know it’s ridiculously hot out and I know for a fact I wouldn’t physically drink a hot tea outdoors in this type of weather, but I love loose leaf tea and for a split second, I considered ordering one that morning.  The flavours sounded delicous and having a morning tea has become somewhat of a morning ritual for me now, kind of like coffee to many folks.  And did I also mention that their loose leaf tea comes in a little pot of its own for $3 and perfectly this pairs with their brunch scones?!  No?  Okay, well, there’s that too.  But I stopped myself just before I could take the plunge knowing I’d need something cold to tide me over for the first part of the day.     

The strawberry lemonade packs a fruity punch and you can literally see some of the little strawberry seeds floating around in the glass – it’s that fresh.  It differs from the strawberry lemonade from Butler’s Pantry in that Hammersmith’s leans a little more on the sweet strawberry side than it does on the sour lemon and I love it because it is so fruity, summery, and refreshing.  It still has that lemon tang to it, but it’s not overwhelming and what’s great about it is that the flavour isn’t too concentrated or diluted and watered down.  It truly tastes like lemonade married with a basket of freshly picked strawberries at their peak of natural sweetness and it’s such a wonderful complement to the savoury brunch dishes, as a palate cleanser and as an equalizer when it comes to dishes that err on the side of bitter, like the asparagus and bitter greens.

Even though summer won’t be dying down anytime soon, I’m so looking forward to seeing what Hammersmith’s will have in store in the coming months with their seasonal menu and dishes.  I would love to come back later on in the summer and try their braised beef and goat cheese sandwich, their green beans and watercress, their duck plate, and of course some tea and sweets.  This first visit was amazing and it ended being so much more than I ever could have hoped for – great food, great drink, really nice people, and with my good timing and sheer stroke of luck, a delicious free cupcake!  Here’s to many more anniversaries celebrating amazing food.     

*****

Hammersmith’s is located at 807 Gerrard St. East in Riverdale, at the corner of Gerrard and Logan Ave.  They are a brunch and lunch cafe open from Wednesday to Sunday (10am-3:30pm on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, and 9:30am-4pm on Saturdays and Sundays), with a price fixe dinner currently available on Thursdays and Fridays for $35.  Currently, for the summer, they are also now open on Mondays from 10am-3pm!  They accept cash and debit only.

Green Tea Latte Mornings, Loose Leaf at ING Direct Cafe, and New Spring Collections – Tea Love News!

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I’m no coffee drinker, but I am one very enthusiastic tea and coffee shop drink junkie!  This post comes in the wake of recent tea drinking developments that have transpired over the past two weeks, developments that have me pretty excited.  For starters, I found out last week that one of my vegan friends loves tea just as much as I do and that my brother’s teas of choice are earl grey and chamomile.  I was shocked out of my pants.  My brother likes earl grey and soothing chamomile?!  I never in a million years thought my brother, who skims 6 feet tall, watches wrestling, and enjoys crashing cars in video games, would enjoy a tea with floral notes!  I always think of earl grey as the fancy pants stuff and just knowing he likes it makes me beam with pride like a proud mama.  My little man of a brother is all grown up and has fantastic taste in tea!  And my vegan friend who shares my adoration?  I cannot wait to haul her tooshie to L’Espresso Bar Mercurio for vegan lunch and loose leaf tea!

Second, call me a bandwagoner, but yours truly finally has a thermo mug for her tea!  In honour of International Women’s Day last week, the ING Direct Cafe was giving away free thermo mugs with a choice of coffee or tea, which I happily took advantage of during lunch hour at the Lunchtime Office Market.  Even though having a thermo mug will mean an extra item in my already bulging bag (I used to carry small purses, but I have turned into a “I carry my life around with me” type of girl years ago and never converted back), I’m excited to have one to tote around for tea whether I steep it from home or get it filled up at a tea shop.  The tea and drinks selection at the ING Direct Cafe is one of the greatest things ever because 1) the tea is so reasonably priced for loose leaf – just $2!  and 2) all proceeds go to the Canadian Red Cross. 

The tea love has also been spreading because spring has arrived at our doorstep!  I’ve been seeing new tea and coffee shop drink collections crop up left and right: Second Cup’s new vanilla and maple collections, the decadent chocolate tea line at Teaopia, and the bright and shiny new spring collection from David’s Tea.  I haven’t been able to snag anything new and delicious from the aforementioned collections just yet, but I did sniff through the spring collection at David’s Tea and enjoy a sample of their new Tea of the Month, Organic Gold Rush, and it is a winner!  It’s a deliciuous white dessert tea and one everyone should try.  It’s been some time since I last did a fun cupcake and tea post so I’m hoping I’ll be able to do a few this spring. 

These photos that I’ve posted are part of what I call the “green tea latte morning” set, taken at Starbucks on a chilly morning.  I know the fuzzy mittens are a little out of place at the moment, having taken into account our balmy spring weather forecast this week, but the mornings are still a bit cold!  I’m still feeling my way around coffee shop drinks, but I have to say that green tea lattes are my absolute favourite.  The bright, grass green hue is gorgeous and so spring-like and I love the rich, matcha taste.  I sprinkled a little bit of vanilla and nutmeg in my drink for fun and enjoyed my frothy drink with visions of green tea desserts dancing in my head.  In addition to the special Oreo series that I’m doing, I’m excited to get a green tea series off the ground and I think this latte is a nice way to start!  Here’s a tea toast to many more lovely cups of tea and tea drinks this season. 

*****

Photographs taken at Starbucks, located at 5954-5956 Highway 7 East, at the corner of Highway 7 and Main Street Markham.  A big thank you goes to my sweet Richard for taking the 1st and 5th photos.

It’s Tea Time! Colourful Accessories, Holiday Brightness, and Coconut Almond Rooibos at Steeped & Infused

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I’ve been excited about the upcoming holiday season for awhile now, but something has really ignited my creative fire over the last few days and now I can’t get the Christmas season out of my head!  I’m thinking about all the cookies I want to bake, all the cupcakes I want to decorate, the craft projects I want to do (and speaking of which, I am so horribly behind on my scrapbooking for the blog it’s pathetic), and all the places in the city I want to visit, food-related and otherwise.  I love Christmas so much and there’s nothing like walking past city streets decorated to the nines with Christmas lights, wreaths, and beautiful, intricate storefronts that might as well be featured on a holiday themed runway.  I think about ice skating and I think about cupping my mittened hands around warm drinks, especially tea! 

Tea is my comfort drink and over the past three years, I’ve been overjoyed with all the different flavours and types that I’ve been able to try at different tea places around the city.  An old friend of mine got me hooked on David’s Tea a few years ago, I attended my very first afternoon tea at the Windsor Arms Hotel last year, and I finally introduced my tastebuds to Tealish over the summer.  I’m constantly finding out about sweet little tea shops for loose-leaf teas and the one tea discovery that has stuck with me for months now has been Steeped & Infused.

The very first time I drank tea from Steeped & Infused was actually almost a year ago in The Distillery District!  For those of you who have followed me on the blog since the very beginning, do you remember my Christmas in the Distillery District posts from last December?  Remember the gorgeous, gigantic Christmas tree, wreaths, and jaw-droppingly adorable life-size gingerbread house from Sweet Escape Patisserie?  It was all part of the beautiful Toronto Christmas Market at the Distillery District last year, and Steeped & Infused was there with some much needed hot tea and warmth during those cold winter days!  During my visit to the market, I bought a little 10g packet of loose-leaf coconut almond rooibos from their  amazing collection and selection and it quickly became one of my favourite teas ever.  Fast forward to last week.  I had the most monstrous craving for the coconut almond rooibos tea that I absolutely could not shake off and that’s when I knew I needed to visit the shop and get my Steeped & Infused fix. 

Located on Queen Street East in Leslieville, Steeped & Infused is a beautiful, cheerful loose-leaf tea shop dressed in a bright outfit of forest green, white, and bright purple.  The shop is a tea lover’s emporium with tea accessories, gift sets, and kitchen and dining decor, and in the store you’ll find two giant walls of loose-leaf teas in packages and canisters with everything from white tea to green, black, rooibos, herbal, pu-reh, oolong, yerba mate, and fruit tisanes.  There are descriptions of all the teas that correspond to the little canisters on the shelves which you can open and take a heavenly sniff from.  Their loose leaf teas are available for purchase in either prepackaged bags or in measured increments of 50, 100, and 250 grams, along with a vast selection of 10 gram samples on spinning carousel racks by the cash counter.

Not only can you spin the tea wheel and take you pick from their many loose leaf varieties for a hot tea to go, but you can also fancy things up by having your tea in the form of iced teas, hot tea lattes, iced tea lattes, matcha tea lattes, matcha iced tea lattes, and matcha tea smoothies.  Their drink menu is huge and the flavour selection is fantastic.  Their menu of hot tea lattes include masala chai, chocolate supreme, chocolate cappuccino, caramel oolong, vanilla bourbon, and black currant berry among others. 

What makes the drink menu even more fabulous?  The lattes can be made vegan because you can have your lattes and matcha lattes with soy, rice, or almond milk!  I am so giddy about this!  I am in love with almond milk and I’ve had friends ask me about coffee and tea shops that specifically offer rice milk and I’m ecstatic that Steeped & Infused offers these options!  I know a number of places that offer soy milk and/or almond milk, but all three of these?  Fabulousity!  The presence of these options means that vegans and those with lactose intolerance and nut and/or soy allergies have choices and that’s always a great thing.

I’m excited to try their other tea drinks, especially some of the hot tea lattes and matcha tea lattes.  If they’re anything like my beloved coconut almond rooibos, they will be delicious.  What has disappointed me about a few of the teas I’ve had in the past at other places was the lack of flavour strength.  Coffee and tea drinkers alike will agree that one of the most common ways of ruining a coffee or tea beverage is to dilute and water down.  The whole point is to smell those aromas and have them translate into tasty, strong flavours, not to taste something that tastes like plain hot water or watered down flavoured water.  If the flavour itself ends up not being your cup of tea (pun totally intended), that’s okay, so long as the flavour is actually there. 

The coconut almond is just all sorts of yummy.  The tea itself has such a wonderful, rich and creamy taste to it which is pretty remarkable considering there isn’t a hint of cream in sight!  The creaminess of the coconut comes out full strength when you first drink it and the almond taste comes after, just as you’re about to swallow and the creamy coconut and almond flavour lingers as an aftertaste.  I have friends who worry about bitter tea aftertastes, but you won’t find that with this one.

My favourite things about Steeped & Infused have to be the accessories (the teapots and dish and tea towels are adorable!), their gift sets (hello, holidays!), and their 10 gram samples.  For those who enjoy having a variety of teas to drink through as opposed to being committed to just one, the 10 grams samples are wonderful and I love them.  They’re $1.75 and each 10 gram sample is good for about 3-4 cups of tea!  My sample from the Distillery District market gave me 4 cups and you can bet I’ll be getting more this holiday season!  I’m super happy because the Christmas Market at the Distillery will be back again this year from December 2nd-18th and Steeped & Infused has already secured their spot.  The shop is so pretty, the ladies who work here are really nice and helpful, and there’s plenty to browse and shop through when you’re here.  I’m already looking forward to my next visit.

*****

Steeped & Infused is located at 1258 Queen Street East in Leslieville, at the corner of Queen Street East and Hastings Ave.  They also have a mini location inside a store called Adornments on Queen at 338 Queen Street East.  They are open 6 days a week from 11am-7pm on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, 11am-6pm on Fridays, 10:30am-6pm on Saturdays, and 11:30am-5pm on Sundays.  The shop is closed on Mondays.  You can visit their website here and follow them on Twitter @steepedinfused.  

Sipping Tea in the Park on a Sunshiney Day – “Tea”licious Coconut Blossom Green Tea at Tealish!

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Tealish is a place that makes me cheerful and happy the minute I step through the door.   A fun and fresh tea boutique located at 728 Queen St. West, Tealish’s walls are lined with shelves upon shelves of colourful pastel coloured canisters offering everything from black, green, white, oolong, rooibos, and herbal loose leaf tea, as well as adorable tea accessories.  Think little red, blue, and turquoise teapots, little tea cups, tea thermoses, tea strainers, and individual loose leaf tea packets in a host of flavours.  Tins of loose leaf tea in any one of their 100+ flavours can be purchased in 50g, 100g, and 250g, and prepackaged tins of loose leaf tea are available for purchase in gift sets and individual tins on the shelves.

With its hardwood floors and bright lime green and white decor and storefront, there’s a brightness and freshness about that is so refreshing and inviting.  It feels and looks so cozy inside, especially on a sunny morning with the warm sunlight filtering in through the storefront window.  It’s the feeling you get when you’re lying back relaxing with a good book a lazy summer day.  When you’re inside, you don’t feel like you’re in a tea shop in the retail sense of the word; you feel like you’re in a sunny country kitchen with an inviting tea room in the back just beckoning you to sit back, relax, and sip on some soothing and delicious tea.

I love Tealish’s loose leaf tea selection.  For one thing, deciding on the type of tea you want is super easy because 1) each shelf is allocated to a specific type of tea and 2) each type of tea is colour-coded.  If you want loose leaf flavoured green tea, check out the lime green canisters on the 3rd shelf.  Feel like a rooibos variety?  Puruse the bottom shelf with the pretty pink metal tins.  I am crazy about fruit teas and dessert teas and Tealish has plenty to choose from.  Just the thought of teas such as lemon meringue, coconut cream chai, orange marzipan, and double chocolate make me salivate.

I knew I wanted a dessert tea and because I’m crazy for coconut flavoured anything and everything, I got myself a small ($2.50) coconut blossom green tea, iced.  I was so excited about my tea that I completely forgot to write down and take note of the prices for the other sizes, so I promise I’ll get that for next time!  Now, I love coconut dessert stuff and I enjoy green tea, but I’ll be honest and say that I really didn’t know what to expect from this tea.  I didn’t know if the coconut flavour would be too subtle for my taste, if it would end up being diluted, if it would come across too artificial in taste, that kind of thing. 

I was not disappointed AT ALL!  In fact, this tea figuratively knocked my shoes off.  The coconut blossom green tea is DELICIOUS!  The coconut flavour hits you right from the first sip but isn’t so strong or aggressive that it takes away from the green tea herbalness.  It’s a beautiful meshing of flavours and there is no mistaking the coconut flavour.  It tickles your tastebuds as you drink and it leaves a yummy after taste that leaves you licking your lips for more.  Drinking this tea makes you feel like you’re eating a piece of sweet coconut cream pie.  It’s THAT good.

Located in the West Queen West neighbourhood, Tealish is just steps away from Trinity Bellwoods Park which I think is such a perfect fit.  In the spring and summer, it’s so nice sitting out on a bench sipping some iced tea and in the fall and winter, you have your hot cup of tea to warm you up while you crunch through fallen leaves and fresh snow.  And that’s exactly what I did with my coconut blossom green iced tea.  I sipped on my cool drink, sat back on a bench with the warm sunshine beaming down at me while I watched cute puppies running around, and enjoyed the nice breeze that nipped the trees around me.  With a tea as “tealish” as this one, I almost felt like I was catching some rays out on a cabana.  Almost 😉

*****

Tealish is located at 728 Queen St. West at Claremont St. just steps away from Trinity Bellwoods Park.  In terms of major streets and intersections, Tealish is located in between Bathurst St. and Ossington Ave. on Queen.  Their official website is located here where you can purchase teas online and puruse their many “tea”licious flavours!

Coffee, Tea, or Me: You May Choose Me, But I Choose Tea

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Being Canadian-born, I should be used to the frigidly cold temperatures and wind chills, right?  I mean, after all, I certainly wasn’t raised in a hothouse like California so the cold should be old hat to me.  Or so I think.  Experiencing winter does not get easier with age.  I wish it did because that would mean I would have skin of steel by the time I’m 70!  So to soothe my little shivering body, I turn to tea. 

I may get things thrown at me for saying this, but I actually don’t like coffee *ducks*.  My mom looooves coffee but I have never been a coffee drinker and have always preferred tea since my teeny tot dim-sum-with-grandma-and-grandpa days where grandpa would order oolong and b0-lay (as we would say in Chinese, I’ll find out the English translation for y’all!).  Ahhh, nice warm tea.  Tea that comforts every inch of you and makes you feel like burrowing in a blanket burrito all day.  It’s no coincidence that I’ve been drinking a cup nearly every day for the past 2 months and I’m so very lucky to have a number of tea shops in the city at my disposal for all my loose-leaf needs.

An old friend of mine introduced me to David’s Tea (proudly Canadian!) and I have enjoyed many a cup there for over a year now.  Not only do the cute tea shops have shelves upon shelves of loose-leaf varieties in black, green, white, herbal, and rooibos tea, for example, but they have lots of tea accessories, gift sets, and books for sale.  I’ve bought cute little steel mesh balls for my loose-leaf tea as well as gift sets for presents.  And like a true sucker for seasonal delights (ha!), I happily anticipate their seasonal lineups and collections.  They sell loose-leaf tea by the gram and you can get small packets of it, or you can go big and get a tin for 50 grams.  Prices vary depending on the type that you pick, but you can usually get a 50 gram tin for about $4.50-$8 (with the exception of white tea and some of the oolong varieties that are more expensive, from $11.50 and up) and it’s good for about 20-25 cups of tea.  And of course, you can walk right in and order a mug of hot tea or a chilled version to go or to enjoy in the shop.

Yay!  Okay, time for recommendations!  Now, I’m by no means an expert, but I know what I like and what I don’t and although I wouldn’t say there have been teas I haven’t likedI do have favourites.  My favourite seasonal collection is definitely the fall one (as shown in my scrapbook page.  Owl decals on the storefront window, how cute!  And Lemon Cream Pie tea, how yummy and exciting!).  However, in terms of single loose-leaf teas I have tried:

  1. Love Tea #7
  2. Lemon Cream Pie (pictured in my scrapbook page above); fall seasonal
  3. Crème Brulée
  4. Caramel Pear
  5. Watermelon; summer seasonal
  6. Elf’s Help; holiday seasonal
  7. Baked Apple; winter seasonal

Out of those 7 teas, my favourite, hands down, is the Crème Brulée.  Tied for second is the Baked Apple and Lemon Cream Pie.  Both the Baked Apple and Lemon Cream Pie teas I had chilled with ice and the Crème Brulée tea I had hot in a mug and was it ever delicious, mmmm.  Every ounce of flavour comes out in this one.  Some teas are strong, some are subtle, and some just miss the mark entirely and just taste like hot water.  This one hits it BANG ON and I would recommend this one to anyone who likes tea and who likes the sweet dessert teas.  I find that I’m always gravitating toward the rooibos varieties (not just at David’s Tea but at other tea places as well) and this one does not disappoint at all.  I can’t wait to share more tea stories with you guys so enjoy this one for now as I have plenty more up my sleeve.

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David’s Tea boasts 5 locations in and around the downtown core, Scarborough, and Thornhill:

  1. 2285 Bloor St. W (Bloor West Village, west of High Park and Runnymede subway stations)
  2. 336 Queen St. W (just east of Spadina)
  3. 2389 Yonge St. (intersection of Yonge & Eglinton; north of Eglinton)
  4. Scarborough Town Centre (between McCowan and Brimley Rd. off Highway 401)
  5. Promenade Mall, Thornhill (Bathurst and Centre St.)