Eating-up Stratford
Bite by Byte

Friday, July 9, 2010

Tempest n' a Teapot

Ariel: I drink the air before me...
(William Shakespeare, The Tempest)

When I was a kid my big sister (who always seemed to pull rank on the family Betamax) made me watch The Sound of Music about two thousand times. So to me, Christopher Plummer is more than just one of Canada's most accomplished film and theatre actors. He's family.
I wish I could have brought my sister along with me the other night: I was afforded a special opportunity to be an audience-member while Plummer and the cast of The Tempest were filmed performing their spectacular Stratford production of this dazzling play. The production is so good it's being turned into a movie: people all around the world will soon be able to enjoy Plummer's superlative Stratford performance in the role of Prospero, the exiled wizard who uses magic to conjure-up supernatural scenarios. 
Earlier in the day, I had another very special opportunity to participate in a cupping session with Karen Hartwick, Stratford's one and only tea sommelier, at her Tea Leaves Tea Tasting Bar. She showed me that brewing tea is a form of magical alchemy that's definitely something to get excited about!
In the spirit of The Tempest, Shakespeare's most sorcerous play, I asked Karen if she would take-on the role of Prospero and select what she thought was the most magical among her 150 types of tea. She proclaimed, "They're all magical to me!" But then, inspired, she took me on an adventure that involved our partaking in the tastes, smells and stories of several types of Oolong, a category of tea grown exclusively on enchanted tropical islands of the East. Jade Oolong, I learned, is particularly charmed as it can be infused seven full times, "It's a patient tea that's different every time". The ceremony and ritual associated with tea in many cultures is evident in Karen's cupping session, which involves a special Chinese tea tray and small cups designed to enhance the smell and taste of these meticulous potions. Karen encouraged me to be mindful of everything I was sensing and experiencing as I sipped the Phoenix Mountain Oolong, and when I closed my eyes I was transported to the misty green hills of Taiwan where this tea was cultivated.
Karen is a born teacher. There is so much to know about tea beyond the glimpse most of us get of various types of tea bags. Karen is  exceptional at explaining the qualities associated with the staggering array of teas that are produced throughout the world. She loves to share her knowledge of all-things-tea to those who attend her tastings, or to make recommendations to those who come to her shop looking for a truly special cuppa brew.

I was particularly interested in also finding out about the Ontario teas that she herself blends. Karen invited me to smell the refreshing fruitiness of her Local Organic Herbal, made with red raspberry leaves and spearmint. Her Savoury Green blend was on par with any great chef's creation as it balanced lemon verbena and lemon balm with rosemary and sage. Many of her blends are featured on some of the best menus in Stratford, inlcluding The Old Prune and Bijou, and Karen has also engineered custom teas for local food producers, such as the Earl of Monforte that's currently available at the Monforte Dairy.

It was incredible to see Christopher Plummer working with Tempest director Des McAnuff  to create theatrical and cinematic magic before our very eyes. Karen Hartwick has created her own brand of magic at the Tea Leaves Tasting Bar. Call her to schedule a tasting, drop-in from Wednesday to Sunday to peruse her store, or, if you're  coming to see The Tempest and are looking for a place to stay that has a whole lot of really, really good tea, book a room at her Rosewood Manor Bed and Breakfast. And for opportunities like the one I got to watch the filming of The Tempest for free, follow Stratfest on Twitter.

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