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REVIEW: Kusmi Tea Party

27 Sep

I confess that tea has always been my drug of choice; I cannot function without it. Having once sacrificed my habbit for Lent, I proceeded to look ill and diseased for the entire 40 days of withdrawal. So epic was my decline, my work colleagues celebrated when my fast ended, proclaiming: “You have never looked so terrible, thank God it’s over.” Tea, it seems, is both my drug and my beauty therapist.

Thus, when I spotted a competition on Twitter, run by Sauce Communications, to win an exclusive invitation to Kusmi‘s Tea Party, I knew I had to enter! To say I was excited when I won would only scratch the surface of my elation!

Stepping into the Kusmi Tea store in Marylebone was like stepping into a Pirate’s treasure trove. Wherever I looked, there was a rich bounty of exquisite tea blends, in all different flavours. Coloured boxes lined the shelves like twinkling jewels, pulling me towards them like a magpie to shiny trinkets. For a tea addict such as myself, Kusmi’s shop was a Wonka-esque utopia of colour, flavour and charm.

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The tea party was the perfect soiree: hot and iced Kusmi teas, organic cakes by Marlette, makeover and beauty treatments courtesy of Michael John and Laura Mercier, beautiful artworks from YellowKorner and lovely, welcoming staff with a genuine passion for their products!

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I loved hearing about Kusmi’s origins; the esteemed tea company is steeped in history! Having begun life in St Petersburg, Russia, in 1867 – where customers included Tsar Nicholas II – the company, founded by Pavel Kousmichoff, had already launched a subsidiary in London before settling permanently in Paris, France, during 1916 (just ahead of the revolution in which the Tsar and his family were assasinated).

There were two teas available to sample at the party: BB DETOX from a new Wellness range and ANASTASIA, a signature Russian blend. Poured into the most gorgeous, branded cups, the Iced Grapefruit-infused BB Detox tea was served with an old-fashioned paper straw, adding to the evening’s party vibe. Refreshing, light and packed with health-boosting antioxidents, the tea smelt as fruity as it tasted!

Anastasia, served warm, was a comforting blend of Earl Grey, lemon and orange blossom. In truth, I have never been a fan of Earl Grey, hating its floral and bergamot notes, but this tea was beautiful. Named in honour of Tsar Nicholas’ most famous daughter (in the decades following the revolution, claims persisted that she was still alive), it was so addictive, I bought a box to take home – making use of the great discounts available on the night for party guests!

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Offered alongside the teas were a fantastic array of cakes, courtesy of home-baking brand Marlette. The French company offers a range of HOME-BAKE CAKE & BREAD MIXES – all organic and free from nasty additives.

I’ve never admired home-bake mixes, particularly as many seem to produce a cardboard crust or a chewy centre, but Marlette’s products had no such problems and I was impressed by the quality of their cakes.

Pairing Kusmi’s Anastasia tea with slices of Marlette’s moreish almond Financiers and squares of gooey Fondant au Chocolat (brownie), I was in sugar-high heaven. There was even a Cereal Bar Cake – a fragrant slab packed with figs and apricot – which nicely complimented Kusmi’s iced BB Detox.

I’ve since spotted the chocolate fondant mix in my local M&S store, priced around £7. I’ll be stocking up on these, along with tins of Kusmi teas, throughout December – for inclusion in homemade Christmas hampers for family and friends.

During the party, I paused for a sojourn in the rectangular store’s ‘Chill Out Corner’, created especially for the event with gallery chain YellowKorner. I was blown away by some of the dazzling prints on display, which included limited edition exclusives, vowing to visit the gallery’s Westfield and Mayfair outlets very soon to check out more show-stopping artworks!

I spent the rest of my evening chatting to fellow guests and admiring the amazing skills of Sara Chatterton, from luxury salon chain Michael John – who was blow-drying curls and ringlets with finesse – and the nimble fingers of a beautician from Laura Mercier, who was expertly transforming guests into goddesses with eyeshadows, liners, skin products, blusher and plenty of lippy!

Upon leaving, I was presented with a stunning goody bag, containing over £50 worth of treats! Items included a tin of Kusmi’s Anastasia loose leaf tea, a Laura Mercier Foundation Primer, a packet of Marlette’s Organic Fondant au Chocolat mix, a 50% off voucher for a cut and blow-dry at any Michael John salon, a discount coupon for YellowKorner and lots of fantastic information about the brands.

The Kusmi Tea Party was a fabulous affair – stylish and entertaining, with plenty of delicious treats. The store was a grotto of delights – parading everything from funky tea pots to exclusive, Russian tea blends! A brilliant event with top-notch food, entertainment and staff, I walked away with loads of Christmas gift ideas and a range of new favourite tea flavours.

Kusmi Tea, 15 Marylebone High Street, London, W1U 4NU

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REVIEW: The Cake & Bake Show 2013

17 Sep

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Bruised shoulders, stubbed toes, sweaty foreheads, strained back muscles, full tummies and arms laden with bags – these were the side effects of attending The Cake & Bake Show in London’s Earl’s Court on Sunday (15th September).

To say that the event was mobbed would be like describing meringues as “white globs”; traversing certain ailses was akin to being caught up in the London riots (shin pads and helmets would have been exceedingly useful before venturing towards the cupcake stalls but, sadly, I left my riot gear at home).

The huge turnout – totalling over 30,000 visitors – reflected the growth of the Home Baking market and retail sales of baked goods in the UK. Recent figures confirm that 41% of Brits bake at least once a fortnight* and the nation consumes £23.5m** worth of cupcakes a year. The Home Baking sector is now worth a staggering £645m and the average consumer eats home-baked goods 4.6 times every fortnight*.

Flooding into the venue alongside all the other budding Mary Berrys, we exchanged a miserably grey weekend for a world of dizzying colour and creativity. From the neon glare of fushia pink cupcakes, pearly white icing and violet edible flowers to the warmth of glossy chocolate slabs, golden caramel fudge and red velvet whoopie pies, the London venue was a Dulux palette of sugar and confectionery. Willy Wonka would have sung in approval.

The Golden Tickets required for entry to this ganache-crafted world of imagination were available to buy, but the sugar Gods sweetened my fortunes with two free tickets. I entered a competition via Twitter, run by Stork in the week leading up to the event… and won!

Squealing as the shock sank in, I jumped up and down in elation and thanked my lucky [sugared] stars for such an amazing prize. Some people get babies… my Stork brings me Cake & Bake Show tickets. Methinks I definitely got the better deal.

One of the highlights of the event was the margarine brand’s spectacular “Cake Runway” where the models were all beautifully crafted cakes! ‘Plus Size’ got a whole new meaning as we looked at the curves of fat-tiered cakes sporting wonderfully intricate designs.

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The show was split into defined sections, including food retail areas, homeware and baking supplies, exhibition stands, masterclass theatres and demonstration stations. Many workshops with high-profile icons – such as baker, Eric Lanlard – had to be pre-booked, but the likes of Renshaw, Betty Crocker and Dr. Oetker ran several more informal events that attracted a spontaneous audience.

Goody bags were available to purchase upon arrival, priced at £5 each. Each branded cotton bag contained a wealth of money off vouchers, a Betty Crocker packet mix for Red Velvet Cupcakes, a bottle of Russian limeade called ‘Zeo’ and a fabulously glossy Christmas recipe book from sugar brand Billingtons.

Navigating the scrum of visitors was difficult, and at times unbearable, but the bruising was well worth it! Here are some of my favourite finds from the show:

MINCE PIES BY FLOUR POWER CITY BAKERY

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I have an obsession with mince pies and have spent many years on a mission to try every variety in London. These ones had perfectly short pastry and an old-fashioned, tangy filling – superb!

VEGAN CHILLI CHOCOLATE CUPCAKES BY SUGAR CREAM CAKES

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This vegan cupcake was a delightful surprise. A soft, chocolatey sponge was tasty and harmless – the heat was all in the icing! Delicious!

MUSCOVADO AND MOLASSES FUDGE BY BILLINGTONS

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The sugar brand had a wonderful hut at the event, showcasing their wares and a range of mind-blowing fudge varieties, especially made for the show to demonstrate how their individual products can be used at home.

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A fudge recipe was included in their Christmas-themed cookbook, included in the official Cake & Bake Show goody bag – which I shall definitely be making over the Yuletide period!

PAUL A. YOUNG CHOCOLATES & BROWNIES

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My favourite chocolatier once again had the best cocoa creations for sale – annihilating the competition in flavour, texture and presentation.

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Although I was none too impressed with his introduction of a Marmite Brownie – I hate the stuff! Nevertheless, I persuaded two doubtful shoppers to buy one of his Signature Brownies – one of the richest and delicious in the UK.

MERINGUES BY THE MERINGUE GIRLS

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Colourful, light, vibrant and inviting – I loved the girls’ stall at the show. With an array of flavours on offer, it was unsurprising to discover that their products were selling quickly!

OTHER AMAZING SIGHTS IN PICTURES:

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Sources:
*Kantar Worldpanel ^SymphonyIRI
**Companies & Markets (July 3rd, 2013)