Monthly Archives

April 2015

The Sunday Letter

Sunday Sundries | Vol. 9


There is no more beautiful bond than the love between man and kitty.

THESE NEXT FEW WEEKS are going to be busy. I’m coming up to my last month at my law firm job before taking the whole summer off to road trip and write across North America. I also won a spot at BlogHouse taking place this June in Milwaukee that I think will help push my writing further along; I’m also registered for both the coding and computer-aided journalism course at King’s Data School the week before and after BlogHouse, and then there’s the whole list of articles I want to write and website improvements to make before any of that happens.

Imagine a scroll the size of a cartoon Santa’s naughty or nice list, or maybe depictions of the scrolls at the library of Alexandria, and you’ll have some idea of what my to-do list looks like right now.

Last night was a friend’s 29th birthday party, which reminded me:

a) how delicious pulled pork sliders are;

b) how dangerous bourbon whipped cream is; and,

c) why I don’t drink like I’m in university anymore.

I’m going to decompress now with painting teapots and drinking lattés at the Clay Café. I’ll let you know if that goes well. Also: I finished It’s What I Do by Lynsey Addario and am on to The Teahouse Fire by Ellis Avery, which puts me on track for my 41 Books/41 Weeks goal. Woo!

Here are some good links filled with insight, awesomeness, an alpaca farm, and FYI:

Δ You’re not obsessed with photographing your food, you’re driving the economy.

Δ Find out how to create your own vintage travel poster. Her blog seems pretty cool too!

Δ Travel as often as possible for as cheap as possible – sounds good to me!

Δ Fun ways to display your postcards. Also, please send me more postcards. This reminds me of my friend’s cousin’s kitchen where we stayed in Berlin.

Δ Seth’s Five Steps to Digital Hygiene. Extremely important.

Δ These portraits of skateboarding Afghan girls are awesome on so many levels.

Δ Compare these anime backgrounds to real locations in Japan – awesome!

Δ I hope this rumour that Volkswagen might be bringing back VW Campers (but electric) is true!

Δ Remembering to exercise while travelling can be hard. Check out these Tips for Staying Fit While Backpacking.

Δ I think you need to check out South Korea’s badass old mermaid women.

Δ For photographers, these videos give a nice overview of some of the new, fun stuff in Lightroom CC!

Δ Postmodern Jukebox’s cover of Radiohead’s Creep makes me want to drink cocktails on the set of Bladerunner and then disappear mysteriously into the night. Also, I would pay them to do a whole album of Radiohead covers like this. Their vocalist (Haley Reinhart) is SO GOOD.

Δ Women used to be prohibited from running the Boston Marathon. Some women said, “Fuck that.” and snuck into the race anyway. Check out these photos of those rebels.

Δ If you haven’t been following the coverage of the earthquake in Nepal, here’s BBC latest update.

Δ To overcome an irrational fear…

Δ The President of Japan Tourism talks about presenting Japan to the world in preparation for the Olympics in 2020.

Δ 12 reasons people are shooting film over digital.

Δ Cooking tip: apparently, storing your bacon in the freezer is the way to go.

Δ  Hovelstay is an awesome, cheap alternative to AirBnb with all sorts of cool and off-the-beaten-path accommodations, including a freaking Alpaca Farm in Israel. That’s where I want to go!

Δ The earliest home page. I wonder what the smorgasbord option was.

Δ The best gold spray paint, vetted. Good to know.

Δ A photo of a QUADRUPLE RAINBOW from this past week!

Δ Before I Go is a powerful essay on time, life and love by neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi who was diagnosed with metastatic lung cancer and passed away at age 37. Watch the video.  I cried.

Also, Postmodern Jukebox’s cover of Creep IS so good, that I’m just going to post it here, because I’m concerned you might not have clicked the link above.


Tea Events

Everything You Missed at Halifax’s First Tea Festival

Warning: Long Post!

AN EARLY WEEKEND in April saw Halifax’s inaugural tea festival. During April 11th and 12th, tea enthusiasts and friends of tea enthusiasts flocked to the gymnasium in the basement of the United Church on Brunswick street for a weekend full of tea learning and exhibitors.

Frank Harris of Just Us! pours a cup of properly brewed tea for a participant in his Frank Harris of Just Us! pours a cup of properly brewed tea for a participant in his “Brewing the Perfect Cup” workshop on Sunday afternoon.

Both days saw a well-attended event, with guests skirting around kettles of hot water being walked around the room to fuel the tea samples offered at each booth. There was live local music between workshops, and even a Russian bellydance performance.

The Vendors & Workshops

Tea Geek’ery owner Lacey Bain kicked off the workshops on Saturday with Grow Your Own Tea 101  . ‘Grow Your Own Tisanes’ might have been more accurate, as she doesn’t actually grow tea plants, but does grow a number of organic herbs and produce which she then blends to create delicious herbal infusions, such as the Apple Bliss they were offering samples of.

Laceland, her family’s farm in the valley uses no pesticides, and no artificial colours, flavours or preservatives make their way into her teas. She started blending and drinking tea in response to skin and stomach problems, and developed the business once she discovered her love for putting things in hot water. She also recalls being a child and creating a dandelion-infusion for her Dad to drink, which he did, despite its questionable taste.

Extremely popular at Tea Geekery’s booth was the ‘mix your own tea’ station, featuring a number of jars containing organic steepables. “We brought 28 jars of product thinking it would last both days, but we blew through that in one day,” said Lacey. For the tea they can’t grow, they source organically from all over the world, “black and white tea from China, Rooibos from South Africa, Chamomile from Germany.” I ask her what their most popular blends are. “In the valley they like vanilla crisp and dulcie chai, the familiar flavours.”

Not only was there lots of tea at the festival, but tea accessories as well. Estylle, based in Fall River, does made-to-order tea cosies, mug cosies, and pretty much anything else you can find on Pinterest. Apparently, beanie beards and Minions hats were big this Christmas, “I must have made fifty,” says founder Serena Gauthier.

The festival wasn’t all small, local vendors; King Cole also had a booth and were offering  strawberry pineapple tea – hot or cold. While I was skeptical of how much ‘tea’ was actually in this summer concoction, it was nice to learn that all King Cole products are blended locally in Sussex, New Brunswick, and that the company that runs it all (Barbours) is almost 150 years old. They also employ one of the two North American Tea Masters, Des McCarthy. It’s still not clear to me what exactly being a “tea master” entails, or how you receive that designation, but I’ll admit, it’s very cool sounding.

I was really exited to see a table from Novel Tea in Truro at the festival! I’ve been meaning to visit this place. They offer really good good, lots of tea paraphernaelia, and second hand books. What’s not to like? They’re also expanding their shop this year, and I hear the mango lemon iced tea is really good.

Satya Tea (above) is one of the larger local vendors I didn’t even know existed before the festival. They currently offer 244 types of tea – all blended and packaged here in Halifax. For so many teas, the company has only two employees, co-owners Laura Evans and David Moore.

One of the more unique vendors, Sense & SensibiliTea markets their old-school English tea and chocolates with steampunk flare and a lot of history.

Owner Wanda Aulenback (seen above with the amazing tea holdster) was originally a costume studies student at Dal, but ended up studying history. A perfect combo for her venture, and her ‘Tea for Time Travellers’ workshop was full of great historical facts.

Did you know? In the 17th and 18th century, the English would steep their tea over and over again, until all the flavour was gone?  Bergamot was first adde to tea to mask the stale or old tea smell. Once people realized they enjoyed the scent so much, it was added to fresher tea as well and Earl Grey was born.

Did you know? Most tea cups didn’t have handles when the drink first landed in Britain. The cup was held with two fingers – one on top and one on bottom, until women complained and requested handles be put on.

Did you know? John Hancock, inciter of the Boston Tea Party riots was actually a tea smuggler. He wanted people to buy his cheaper, smuggled tea instead of the government-sanctioned tea sold by the East India Company. He started the rumour of a ‘tea tax’ to rile people up, but really he just wanted to sell his contraband tea since the East India Company had a monopoly at the time.

Next, I had Penny Lighthall read my tea leaves.

This was my most esoteric experience at the tea festival. In my tea Ieaves Penny found the following symbols: a wanderer, a dryad (“It’s like a hobbit hut not a hobbit; Bigger than a pixie, not a leprechaun.”), a sleeping dragon, a thunderbird, a freshwater tap, a mermaid, several small bats, and a few baby dragons.

If you’re into Rorshach ink blots and the mystical, you’ll love this. The funnest part was actually seeing the shapes she’d point out, and thinking, “Yeah, that does look like a baby dragon!” Penny was very nice to talk to, and she’s also a bird whisperer.

Steeped Tea was also present – you may know them as the brand owned by the couple (Tonia and Hatem Jahshan) from Hamilton, Ontario who struck it big with this idea on Dragon’s Den a few years ago. They had a smokey ranch dip infused with lapsang souchon there – I can attest it was very tasty.

Just Us! Coffee Roasters Co-Op was also there. Although their forefront foray has always been coffee, they’re making their way more into the tea game as well. They were selling tea-infused truffles made at their Grand Pré location. I tried dark, smokey chocolate with lapsang souchon and sea salt. Too many weaknesses combined.

According to Spring Garden location manager Justin, they also do a unique lapsang latté with honey – sounds awesome.

Just Us!’s internal sales rep, Frank Harris (above) also gave a workshop about brewing tea correctly, “the grower can make it perfectly, it was be packaged perfectly, but if brewed the wrong way can be ruined.” He also joked during his presentation about how his parents used to brew tea – the typical English way – steeped too long and strong. “What they were trying to do was turn it into coffee”‘ he jokes.

Laurel Schut’s Kombucha DIY workshop taught me what a SCOBY is (Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast, and a “slimy pancake”) and how to make this effervescent drink at home.

Humani-T Café co-owner Nehmat Sobhani gave an inspiring talk about tea, From Plantation To Your Cup where he spoke extremely knowledgeably about the production of all types of white – from white to black and everything in between, including rooibos, and yerba maté (which he is holding in the photo below).  Of all the vendors, I ended up speaking with him the most.

Nehmat is originally from Iran and moved to Nova Scotia in 1983. He studied electrical engineering at Dalhousie University (then TUNS), but after he graduated it seemed the only jobs available were all weapons-related. Not wanting his legacy to be missile-tracking systems, he instead went into business.

As a teenager he attended school in Kandi, Sri Lanka. Conveniently, many of his classmates grew up to be tea plantation owners who he does business with today. He has even climbed Adam’s Peak in Sri Lanka, a famous 2,250 metre high tea-growing mountain, the tea from which is extremely rare and expensive. The roots of the tea plant on high peaks like this sometimes go 100 feet deep into the side of the mountains, to get at the fresh spring water underneath.

You can see the passion that runs the business, when he tells us, “Tea enhances community building, enhances conversation,” or poetically describes unoxidized leaves drying on long swathes of white fabric as, “a green lake, with the tea leaves shimmering.”

In the photo above, left to right you’ll see: Nehmat, his nephew Kiyan Sobhani and brother Shahrooz Sobhani, who all co-own and run Humani-T’s two locations.

Truly a family business, many of the cafés treats are based on family recipes, “that is one my father used to make” he says as he points at their Raw Energy Squares. Nehmat also describes his father buying teas, “a but of ceylon, a bit of assam, a bit of darjeeling” and blending them until he found the “right” flavour.

Their Prince of Persia blend, for example is from four plantations in Sri Lanka. It is blended to hit both parts of your tongue, “the taste that hits the back of the tongue is the one that has you running for your next cup of tea.” Nehmat grins. I try it cold. It is very good.

Their Rooibos Chai is also available for testing. Nehmat describes how when they first decided to have a chai, they thought they would buy the blend from India, “who better to make it?” However, when they had their first import, the chai they opened smelled strongly of chemicals, and other additives, something against the Humani-T philosophy. “We sent it back.” Indians known how to make chai beautifully at home, but corporate India had sent them something very different.

Taking matters into their own hands, they bought a german stone mill to crush their own chai spices: cardamom, fennel, cloves, cinnamon, peppercorn, ginger… “A lot of the stuff in here will treat Schedule A diseases: cancer, arthritis, etc. Of course, I’m not allowed to tell you that.” he winks.

He explains how chai is very thermogenic (creates warmth) and how rooibos can help with digestion and is also caffeine-free. “There’s also very little tannic acid – you can boil and boil without damaging it, and also reuse it. It’s very forgiving to make.”

When they decided to sell matcha, they ran into a similar problem as they did with the chai. They ordered a matcha mix from California, but it had an ingredient-list a mile long, and included several processed sugars. Again, they sent it back and decided to come up with a better solution.

Matcha lattés are ‘blasphemous’ I’m told, but when you order one at Humani-T, at least you get real matcha powder (with one ingredient: matcha), blended with milk and a bit of honey. No chemicals or additional processing here.

I’m sold. I buy both the Prince of Persia and the Rooibos Chai. I’ve been drinking the rooibos chai every night since. It’s one of the best chai blends I’ve ever had.

Humani-Tea opened as a café in 2010, so be sure to stop by sometime as they celebrate their 5th anniversary this year.

Margot Bureaux was Nova Scotia’s first certified tea sommelier. She laid out a fantastic presentation in her Tea Cupping and Overview of World Teas workshop, which included a full rainbow of tea-tasting. Everything from light peach-fuzz whites to the dark brick of puerh, including her favourite (Golden Hand-rolled Himalayan Tips Black Tea from Nepal).

May attendees from her packed session came up afterwards to grab a silver spoon and try the many variations.

Misc. Fun Facts From The Vendors:

  • Puerh tea used to be used as currency during the Ming and Qing dynasties in China.
  • All tea is camelia sinensis, but assamica species do better in humid temperatures, thus why it’s grown more in India.
  • Powdering green tea in Japan began so that more volume could fit on the donkeys carrying it up the mountain to the monasteries.
  • You should keep a tea pot for every different kind of tea, so each can develop a patina for its flavour.
  • Tea cosies aren’t dumb (as I had previous thought) – they actually do keep your tea warmer much longer.
  • The tea that makes it into tea bags is often the lowest of the low quality.
  • ‘Masala Chai’ means ‘spicy tea’. Masala = spicy; chai = tea. So ‘Masala Chai’ is technically what we call ‘chai’ in English. Chai just means any tea to the rest of the world.
  • Crew of ships in 1700s that carried tea would not get scurvy. Drinking tea seemed to offset the effects.
  • Matcha must be ground slowly in order to prevent the heat from friction, which would cause oxidation.
  • Licorice is an aphrodisiac.

A couple changes I would love to see next year:

  • Better location. The window-less basement gymnasium had intensely fluorescent, yellow-green lighting that made you feel like you were in a Cold War bunker. It was hard on the eyes, and going outside afterwards made you feel like a mole-person emerging from the ground after many years.
  • Separate area for workshops. The workshops took place in the middle of the market floor. Because of the building’s acoustics, even with the mic-system they had rigged up it was often difficult to hear speakers, and awkward as people were shopping five feet away, and trying to move through the crowd that had stopped to listen.

You can visit the Halifax Tea Festival website for more information. The whole festival was pulled together almost single-handedly by Ashton Rodenheiser, along with a faithful assortment of volunteers. Pretty impressive for such a small group.

If you’re a tea drinker or tea vendor, I would definitely email Ashton about signing up for next year — I can see this one becoming a successful Halifax annual.

All the best, and happy tea drinking. Now signing off from this mammoth post and going to reward myself with a certain hot beverage.



It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War by Lynsey Addario


“Walking between worlds is one of the great privileges of the foreign correspondent.” (p.247)

I WILL ALWAYS read stories of female combat photographers. I have never not been entranced by these women who put themselves in harm’s way because they feel the deep-seated need to get the truth out to people all over the world.

It’s What I Do was just released on February 5th of this year. I found out about it the day before it was published, and picked up a copy the day of. I finally got around to reading it this week, and was not disappointed.

I look up to Addario as a huge inspiration. Both for the sacrifices she’s made for her career, and because of the high-calibre of her body of work.

Everything I read made me more in awe: her time as a fledgling photographer working in Buenos Aires struggling to capture photos of Madonna on a balcony with an inadequate lens; her drinking tea with Taliban leaders; her shooting in refugee camps during the crisis in Darfur; her climbing up rock faces during six-hour march days carrying 40+ pounds of gear in the Korangal Valley in Afghanistan while embedded with American troops; her week-long capture by Qaddafi’s troops in Libya.

It might seem sensational when listed out, but Addario’s way of telling paints her very much as a human being constantly torn by the conflicting psychological aspects of war, and less of the adrenaline-junkie stereotype that is often associated with conflict photographers.

Read this if you’re interested in: modern war, history, women’s rights, the War on Terror, photography, the middle east, Africa.

Here are some of my favourite passages:

“I became fascinated by the notion of dispelling stereotypes or misconceptions through photographs, of presenting the counterintuitive.” (p.93)

“I was now a photojournalist willing to die for stories that had the potential to educate people. I wanted to make people think, to open their minds, to give them a full picture of what  was happening in Iraq so they could decide whether they supported out presence there. When I risked by life to ultimately be censored by someone sitting in a cushy office in New York, who was deciding on behalf of regular Americans what was too harsh for their eyes, depriving them of the right to see what their own children were fighting, I was furious.” (p.172)

“I moved around the desert camp self-consciously, a white, well-fed woman trudging through their misery. The people understood that I was an international journalist, but I was still trying to figure out how to take pictures of them without compromising their dignity. As much as it would be natural to compare this misery to that in Iraq, it was impossible. Iraq and Darfur were two different worlds, yet my role was always the same: Tread lightly, be respectful, get into the story as deeply as I could without making the subject feel uncomfortable or objectified. I always approached them gingerly, smiling, using their traditional greeting.The Sudanese spoke Arabic in addition to their local languages, so it was familiar to me. “Salaam aleikum,” I would say, and then, “Kef halic? Ana sahafiya.” (How are you? I am a journalist.) “Sura mashi? Mish Mushkila?” (Photo OK? No problem?)” (p.179)

Definitely read this.

Or, watch it. Warner Brothers has bought the rights to the film, which will allegedly be directed by Stephen Spielberg, and star Jennifer Lawrence.

If you liked this book, I would also recommend A Photojournalists Field Guide by Stacy Pearsall. It’s more of a how-to guide, but it also contains a lot of anecdotes from her life as a military photojournalist.

I’m reading 41 books this year. See original post here.


Life Is Short… Make It Sweet

WHO BETTER to tell you how to live your life than a woman who lived to be 109 years old?

Sadie Delaney was the first black woman permitted to teach domestic science at the high-school level in New York, and her sister Annie was the second black female dentist to be licensed in New York State.

Although both women ended up living long lives (109 and 104 years old, respectively), their words ring ever true. Life is short and nothing is guaranteed, so go out there and enjoy all the sweetness around you, then go out and create some of your own.

Photo: from an outdoor market in Suncheon-si, South Korea

As always, click on the photo for a link to the free wallpaper download. Happy Wednesday. 🙂


The Happiness of Pursuit by Chris Guillebeau

TIME TO BACKTRACK HERE to the book that inadvertently kicked off my 41-books in 41-weeks reading streak (currently on 4/41!). 

I say inadvertent because it wasn’t until I was reading book 2/41 that I decided to turn this whole book-a-week schtick into a proper quest, but considering Happiness of Pursuit is all about goals, I have to give it a tip of my hat, as I’m sure it had some latent influence in my decision.

The book’s tagline, ‘Finding the quest that will bring purpose to your life’ is a bit cheesy and embarrassing to read in public. It sounds pretty self-helpful, but then again, cat posters that say ‘you can do it’ are also cheesy, but they’re also usually right. Never underestimate the power of a good cat poster. Anyway, back to this book.

I really like how Chris chalked up some of his passion for list-making and goal-seeking to his love of video games as a child. I played a lot of Legend of Zelda, Pokémon, Donkey Kong, Mario, and other classics as a kid, and having the video game narrative that’s basically, “do these things, become stronger, help people, save the world.” had a really huge impact on me for the better. 

Chris’ book is cool because it also ropes in lots of other people’s quests. He talks about their structure, what makes for a successful quest, and different types of quests (done from home, or done traveling the world).

I finished reading it at a coffee shop in Harvard Square, feeling quite accomplished and proud of myself for being in Boston for something (Women in Travel Summit) that fulfilled a part of a larger quest for me (how to make a career out of travelling the world writing and taking pictures). 

This book comes as recommended, but I don’t think there’s a whole lot of re-read value, so maybe ask to borrow a friend’s, or rent it from the library! Libraries rock.

I’m reading 41 books this year. See original post here.


Tea Places

The Russian tea room in Massachusetts

The phrase, “You like Russia? You should visit Clinton, in Massachusetts.” is high on a list of things I never thought I’d hear at the Women in Travel Summit in Boston, but it happened, so I went.

Included in the price of purchasing my conference ticket was the chance to visit the Museum of Russian Icons in Clinton. It was definitely the curveball stop in our otherwise conventional list of “Johnny Appleseed Country” type visits on our regional tour, but it ended up being my favourite place because of its interesting history and complete randomness.

The front door to the Museum of Russian Icons in Clinton, Massachusetts. (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)

The front door to the Museum of Russian Icons in Clinton, Massachusetts. (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)

An interesting history

So how did this Museum of Russian icons end up in small town Massachusetts? The answer — an eccentric millionaire: Gordon B. Lankton.

Lankton built his fortune as CEO of Nypro, Inc., a plastics company. Before Nypro he was a plastics engineer and a soldier. He was an avid traveller, and even wrote a memoir about the motorcycle trip he took around the world in 1956 and 1957 after being stationed in Germany. He wanted to visit Russia for a long time but because of his soldier status he was unable to enter Russia during the Cold War.

Once the war ended he went to Russia. With the help of a Russian-speaking tour guide he toured local markets and bazaars and acquired his first icon at a flea market in the Izmaylovo District in Russia

This was where his obsession with Russian icons began.

Now Lankton travels to Russia and buys up all the icons he can find. He’s been doing it for the past thirty years. He built the museum to house his collection and it currently has over 700 Russian icons and related artifacts. As a result, he has the largest collection of Russian icons in North America.

Their oldest icon is from 1450 and they have an old cross from the 5th century.


The whole museum was lit with these really subtle, pulsing LEDs that according to the guide are meant to mimic the light coming in through a stained glass window. There’s also traditional Christian Orthodox monk chanting music playing softly in the background. The museum itself has also been blessed by the Russian Orthodox Church, so it’s actually possible for Christian Orthodox couples to be married here. (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)


Russian icons

An icon is a religious painting done by the Russian Orthodox Christians. The tradition can be traced back to AD988 in Russia (called Kievan Rus at the time). Icons depict saints, so Russian Orthodox Christians kept them in their homes and churches for luck and prayed to them. Smaller icons were carried by soldiers into battle or by travellers as a good luck charm. They’re often made of wood painted with egg tempura.

Early Orthodox Christians in Russia thought of icons as portals to the divine. I’ve been told that if hordes were invading a village, the resident holy man would run towards the invading horde with an icon raised for protection.

There is also a specific way to portray each Saint and there are over 450 ways to paint the Virgin Mary.

That sounds like a song lyric, doesn’t it?


One of the most beautiful and unique aspects of Russian Icons I learned about were minyeia. Pictured above, these are calendars with each day featuring one or more saints. The details were so miniscule. Our museum guide told us that some brushes might only have one hair on them, and that the painters would have to paint, “between heartbeats”. (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)

Russian tea room


Although it was awe-inspiring to be in the presence of ancient icons, I was equally excited when we made our way to the tea room in the basement. This cozy space featured lots of Kusmi Teas (also available in the gift shop) and various Russian snacks.

Although they keep a Keurig which provides the hot water for day-to-day guests like myself, they had a whole back wall full of beautiful samovars.


Samovars are the traditional water heating tools for tea in Russia, Turkey and parts of the Middle East. They’re an old tradition, but not as old as the icons upstairs — the first known samovar was manufactured in 1717. “One is electric,” our tour guide grins, “but we take the plug out when it’s on display.”

If you visit on an average day you’ll likely get your water from the Keurig in the room, but the museum does host a Russian tea ceremony once a month.

I had Kusmi’s Prince Wladimir, an earl grey base blended with vanilla and spices.  It was pretty good for a bagged tea and appropriately Russian, but I wish we’d gotten to use the samovars.

Still, for a tea junkie like me it was nice just to see their collection of samovars had a place among the ancient icons in this strangely old yet futuristic building.


If you go, entrance is $10 for adults and $5 for students. See if you can catch the Russian tea ceremony. If tea and icons aren’t you’re fancy, the building’s energy-efficient design and LED lighting scheme are impressive nonetheless.