After a long winter, nothing could be more welcome than the sight of green grass, budding trees, and blooming flowers bringing life and color to the world. This springtime ideal has not quite arrived yet here in New York and eager to spring into the season, I took a quick holiday to Walt Disney World to experience the ultimate springtime extravaganza: the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival.
Epcot is my favorite park at the Walt Disney World Resort and it is truly at its most beautiful during this special annual event. Encompassing more than 300 acres, the festival is a feast for the senses and showcases a plethora of stunning flora along with the magic guests have come to expect from Disney: 30 million blooms, 700 gardens, 240 floating flower planters, 30 flower towers, and nearly 100 incredible Disney character topiaries. Walt Disney World horticulturists – 400 total! – prepare for more than one full year to present this incredible display.
I always make a beeline for the lovely United Kingdom pavilion – be sure to read my blog post detailing this enchanting area of Epcot! – and there were special festival offerings that brought even more magic to this pavilion. The highlight was certainly the English Tea Garden Tour presented by Twinings of London.
A Cast Member – born and raised in the UK and working in Epcot’s UK pavilion through the Walt Disney World International Program – was specially trained by Twinings to guide our small group through the English country garden located behind The Tea Caddy shop. The garden featured more than a dozen tea-flavoring plants tucked inside oversize teacups and saucers strewn throughout the garden, with each tea-cup planter showcasing a specific tea blend offered by Twinings. Focusing on the history and art of tea blending, the charmingly-presented tour gave a glimpse into the artistry behind the growing and blending of tea and assorted herbs, which are necessary for the creation of Twinings’ unique and flavorful brews. I certainly gained a new appreciation for the considerable skill, time, and effort that Twinings devotes to its teas – an eye-opening learning experience that will make me truly savor each and every cup from now on!
An unexpected delight during my visit was the opportunity to meet Stephen Twining, tenth generation of the Twining family, who continues his clan’s legacy by serving as the brand’s tea ambassador to the world. What a thrilling Anglophile experience!
Mr. Twining was visiting Epcot’s UK pavilion to celebrate the Flower & Garden Festival’s opening weekend and Twinings’ presentation of the English Tea Garden Tour. What do you ask the man who knows everything there is to know about tea?! I was most curious to learn how HE brews his tea, including the dreaded “milk or no milk?” debate. He kindly chatted with me and shared fascinating insight that tea-lovers everywhere will be keen to hear!
He joked that “one could start a war!” with the milk or no milk question but offered his tried-and-true method of the perfect cup of tea: place your teabag of choice into your cup/mug, pour in hot water, let brew for your desired strength, remove the teabag, and then pour the milk. However, adding milk before or after the tea does not affect the taste. Historically, milk was added to the cup before pouring in the brewed tea, but today it is common to add milk after tea has been poured into a cup, allowing an individual to add as little or as much milk as they enjoy. However, one must never add sugar to tea! He cautioned against this “uncouth” practice, insisting that sugar disrupts the natural flavor of the tea.
While he confirmed that tea strength – and thus steeping time – is a matter of personal taste, he suggested allowing a teabag to steep for approximately three minutes and loose tea to steep for approximately five minutes. Additionally, he suggested using low fat milk with Earl Grey tea, as he believes it blends to create a lighter flavor. Exactly how many cups of tea does he drink each day? More than ten cups! He particularly enjoys Assam tea – a black tea from India – but advocates starting the day with English breakfast tea, enjoying Earl Grey tea in the afternoon (possibly substituting refreshing green tea on warmer afternoons), and either black tea or herbal tea in the evening (depending on how caffeine will affect you before bedtime). I could have talked for hours with this engaging and knowledgeable gentleman, preferably over a cup of tea! An Anglophile can certainly dream!
Here are some other fascinating insights I learned during the tour:
- All teas (except herbal teas) are born of one plant: Camellia sinensis. Two varieties – one for Chinese teas and one for Indian Assam teas – are the foundation of black tea, oolong tea, green tea, and white tea. So how does each tea type differ? By the differing processes of leaf picking, oxidation, and infusions of various complementary flavors. Herbal teas are made solely from herbs, with no inclusion of the Camellia sinensis plant; as a result, herbal teas are sometimes labeled “infusion” or “tisane” in various countries, as they believe a true “tea” must contain the Camellia sinensis plant.
- Herbal teas contain little to no caffeine, and are a great option for those looking to eliminate caffeine but still enjoy the flavor of tea or for those looking for a decaffeinated tea to enjoy in the evening.
- For optimal flavor, different teas should ideally be stored separately. Tea absorbs any flavor, so if multiple varieties/blends are mixed together in a tea box or canister, the flavors will slowly but surely mix together over time.
- There are nine master blenders – Twinings’ “Masters of Tea” – who are responsible for every type of tea Twinings produces. Only nine people! Isn’t that extraordinary?! Each master blender must train for a mandatory five years before they can blend a certain type of tea. For example, if a master blender has completed the mandatory training for black tea and after focusing on black tea blends for a certain period of time, decides to then work with oolong tea, s/he must complete another five years of mandatory oolong tea training before they can begin blending oolong teas! The expertise and exacting standards of Twinings’ tea-blending talent ensures that wherever you drink a Twinings blend – anywhere in the world – it will taste exactly the same.
- My tour guide (the lovely Liza from Birmingham, England) was astonished upon her arrival in the United States to learn that Americans enjoy “iced tea.” She shared that she couldn’t believe it at first! During her entire life in the UK, she had never tasted anything other than hot tea. Although she still prefers traditional hot tea, she admitted that she is developing a taste for our iced tea… but NOT for sweet tea – “too much sugar!” she exclaimed! Her tip for perfect and undiluted cold tea is to freeze prepared tea into ice cube trays: keeps the tea cold without watering-down the flavor!
- My tour guide also shared the story behind the creation of Twinings’ Pumpkin Spice Chai tea. When the company realized Americans’ affinity for the pumpkin spice flavor (doesn’t it seem like pumpkin spice is everywhere during the autumn and winter months here in the US?!), the Twinings master blenders spent FOUR YEARS developing this particular blend to ensure it met their exacting standards for perfect pumpkin spice flavor. In fact, this flavor does not exist in the UK – it was developed for the American market, where it has become a very popular flavor amongst Twinings’ wide range of teas. Having never tasted pumpkin spice tea before arriving in the UK, my guide was hesitant at first but admitted she has become a convert!
- A new tea blend – Earl Grey with Lavender – will be released later this spring exclusively at The Tea Caddy shop within Epcot’s UK pavilion. Doesn’t this flavor sound delicious? Perfect for an evening cuppa or anytime you crave a comforting and calming cup of tea! I guess I’ll have to make another trip to Epcot soon!
Before our journey through Epcot’s UK pavilion comes to an end, I want to share a few more special touches that charmed this Anglophile’s heart.
In commemoration of William Shakespeare’s anniversary year – 2016 commemorates 400 years since the death of the Bard – a beautiful Shakespeare garden was a special addition to the pavilion. Shakespeare often used flowers and exotic gardens to help set the scenes for his plays and just as often, he used the beautiful plants as symbols and metaphors. Plaques tucked throughout the small garden identified various flowers and herbs and the accompanying line or verse from a work of Shakespeare in which each plant was mentioned. A plaque even invited guests to “Take a look and discover the plants that, by any other name, would smell as sweet…”
Finally, a visit to Walt Disney World in the spring would not be complete without seeing the spectacular topiaries that Disney infuses with its own special magic…
Wishing you all a wonderful and colorful spring… with many cups of tea!
Meghan McKillop is American by birth but British at heart. Endlessly fascinated by British culture, entertainment, history, royalty, literature, and travel, she aspires to indulge her curiosity while sharing her passions and discoveries with Anglophiles everywhere.