estonia: 3 posts

The Allure of Estonian Birch Tar

“The allure of Estonian birch tar” isn’t a combination of words one encounters often, but I rather like it. My recent article, The Evocative Allure of Birch Tar Perfumes, appears in the FT magazine and celebrates the delicious darkness and smokiness of birch tar, which can add an interesting undercurrent to fragrances and give them a new dimension. From Chanel Cuir de Russie to Juliette has a Gun’s Midnight Oud, this note plays a special role. Birch tar can mimic leather, smoke or even woods.

Yet, my first experience of birch tar came not from a perfume but from a soap I bought as a curio from Tallinn. I enjoyed its smoky aroma so much that I’ve since sourced a similar pine-tar version (€4.95 for 100g) by an Estonian brand called Nurme, and learnt that tar derived from different trees has been used for skincare in Baltic countries for centuries due to its antibacterial and soothing properties. To continue reading, please click here.

Do you like all things dark and smoky?

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

Estonian Linens and Scents : Snowbird Family Farm

NB: The Snowbird Family Farm is now called Firera Home.

I met Maria of The Snowbird Family Farm via that sometimes praised and sometimes maligned invention called the Instagram hashtag. One day I decided to search for #kama. Kama is one of my favorite things to eat for breakfast or whenever I want a light but filling snack. It’s a cereal powder of malted and toasted grains that in Estonia finds its way into everything, from kefir shakes to chocolate bars. Kama has a delicately smoky, nutty flavor, and I love it mixed into yogurt and topped with honey. It softens, while retaining its pleasing granular texture.

As I discovered in my #kama search, chocolate and ice cream is not the limit, and kama can even be used in soap. A small artisanal outfit Pääsukese talu, which means the ‘Swallow Farm’ in Estonian, made delicious looking blocks of organic soap with kama. Maria, the genie behind the enterprise, assured me that it will exfoliate the skin, and I placed an order for 10 soaps. Since Maria was at that point trying new directions, she soon stopped making soap and instead focused on traditional Estonian linen weaving, a big passion of her mother’s. Eventually they added ceramics from local studios, and that’s how Snowbird Family Farm was born.

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Estonian Blue Tea

The tea in my cup was bright blue. The friend who gave me a herbal mixture for what she called “Estonian Blue Lagoon Tea” promised lots of color, but I still didn’t expect a shade of aquamarine. The taste was refreshing and minty, perfect as both a cooling summer drink and a morning pick me up. I wondered what the famous devotee of herbal teas, Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot, would make of it. What was this mysterious blue herb?

blue-mallow-tea

Poirot’s detective skills weren’t needed to discover that Estonian tea, or more properly tisane, since it contains no true tea leaves, is made of blue mallow or hollyhock. It’s the same plant that the Roman scholar Pliny recommended for so many ailments that it became known as an omnimorbia, or cure-all, while the feisty Japanese lady-in-waiting Sei Shonagon found its beautiful flowers most unsuitable if worn in frizzled hair. All of this only added to the appeal of my Estonian discovery, which I loved as much for its gorgeous color as its soft floral taste.

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