It might be possible that our April Teafluencer has the coolest job on the planet. A former tea blogger and wildly creative cook, baker and recipe curator, Bonnie Eng also happens to create out-of-this-world cool recipes and crafts for Disney Eats and Pixar. You can’t help but grin like the Cheshire Cat when you see what Bonnie creates, plus she’s just as big a tea nerd as we are around here! (She’s also making something special just for Harney, sip sip hooray!) Enjoy meeting Bonnie and getting that zippity do dah feeling when you see her creations.
Harney: Tell us a little about you. Where are you from, educational/professional background, where you live, family, etc.
Bonnie: I’m a tea lover, Disney enthusiast and content creator based out of Los Angeles. I attended undergrad at UCLA, where I studied Psychobiology and Asian American Studies. After undergrad, I went on to get my Masters in Public Health across town at USC. Even though I’ve been to professional baking school, I consider myself an avid home cook and spend much of my time creating recipes ranging from cute character food art to small eats and bakes that pair nicely with a cup of tea. I currently live in Orange County with my husband, 4-year-old daughter, and a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel named Ben.
Bonnie Eng for Disney
Harney:You may be about the biggest tea enthusiast we know, Bonnie! When and how did your love of tea begin?
Bonnie: My earliest childhood memories of drinking tea are in LA’s Chinatown with my grandfather, where I’d enjoy sips of Pu-erh between delicious bites of dim sum. After eating a steamy hot dumpling or a rich egg tart, having a sip of tea was the best thing ever. As is Chinese custom, any of my adult relatives would be quick to pour me more tea whenever my cup was starting to look empty. Simple, sweet memories like this are why tea holds a very special place in my heart.
Harney: On your website Thirsty for Tea, you say “My background is in health education, Asian American Studies, and the culinary arts. Although these interests may seem broad, with tea I’m able to join these passions together into one creative space.” Tell us how you do that, please.
Bonnie: As most tea lovers already know, tea isn’t just something to quench your thirst—it’s a lifestyle, a meditation, a way of living. Want to encourage healthier habits? Drink tea! Want to learn about history and culture? Think about how your tea is prepared and where it comes from. Want to cook something amazing for dinner tonight? Maybe tea should be your secret ingredient. I’m able to showcase tea in a special way because I recognize it as much more than just a drink.
Harney: While we know you love a good cuppa, you certainly take tea outside the teacup and use it in many ways. Let’s start with cooking. You use tea in so many foods! Do you make up your own recipes?
Bonnie: Yes, I love to create not-so-common ways to enjoy tea! Tea is thought of as a beverage, but it can truly be used and enjoyed in so many different ways! I especially love to cook with it because it’s like cooking with spice. Used artfully, it adds layers of flavor and enhances the other ingredients used along with it. It’s more common to come across tea-infused sweets, but I find tea-infused savory recipes that much more intriguing! If you’ve ever enjoyed a Chinese tea egg or bitten into a piece of Sweet Tea Brined Chicken then you know what I mean!
Harney: How do you decide which teas will work best in different types of recipes?
Bonnie: I often create tea-infused recipes by considering which teas I would like to drink alongside certain foods. For instance, what tea would you enjoy with a slice of blueberry pie? I think Earl Grey would be nice. So how about blueberry pie with a buttery crust flecked with Earl Grey!? Sounds like a match to me! It’s also important to think about the texture of the tea leaves themselves. The more tender the leaves are, the more you can do with them. And of course, with powdered tea like matcha, the possibilities are endless.
Harney: With all the recipes you showcase on your blog, it’s hard to pick just one to talk about…but the Tea Colored Donuts, wow! They’re so fun, and you used different teas as an alternative to food coloring, right? What a great idea! You obviously see inspo all around you. Then there’s the tea-themed crafts – so many super fun, creative ideas! From potpourri to green tea bath bombs to tea advent calendars and so much more. Are you always thinking, “Hmmm, what can I use tea to make today?”
Bonnie: My intention is always to showcase tea as dynamic and full of possibilities. Tea is enjoyed by so many cultures around the world. Because it’s often seen as a traditional drink (which it is), I like to catch a reader’s attention by using it in ways that are unexpected and sometimes even quirky. That’s the thing—tea is ancient and time-honored, modern and fresh—all at the same time!
Harney: You’ve even created a special recipe and craft using Harney teas! We’re so excited and honored! Please tell us what you decided to make.
Bonnie: Disney’s 1951 adaptation of Lewis Caroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is a uniquely curious classic. To celebrate this iconic film, I’ll be decorating a teapot, creamer and sugar bowl to look like Alice, Cheshire Cat and White Rabbit. I’ll also be creating Very Merry Unbirthday Petit Fours. These are a mini version of the funny-looking upside down cake that you see in the movie’s tea party scene.
Harney: Speaking of all things wildly creative…let’s talk about your work as a content creator for Disney. How did that come about?
Bonnie: After having my daughter, I was no longer able to regularly contribute to my tea blog. It was hard not having a creative outlet, but coincidentally during this time an opportunity to work for Disney came up. I’m a huge Disney fan and was so honored to create content for their platforms. Many Disney movies make references to tea and tea culture, so whenever possible I try to shine a light on those.
Harney: What kind of projects do you work on for Disney?
Bonnie: I’ve created recipes and crafts for Disney, which includes Pixar and Disney Eats. Some of my recipes include a Chip Mug Cake (made with Earl Grey and takes only two minutes to make!), Mad Tea Party Dessert Cups inspired by the ride at Disneyland, and Mickey Tin Can Planters that can be created using old tea tins!
Harney: What has been your favorite Disney project? Do you have a favorite Disney character?
Bonnie: My favorite project for Disney was working as a food stylist on a live version of the “Be Our Guest” scene from Beauty and the Beast. I was able to create exact replicas of the foods from the 1998 animated classic, including some very fancy hors d’oeuvres! Beauty and the Beast is my favorite Disney movie, so this was a dream come true for me. And speaking of favorites, my favorite Disney character is the adorable fella Gus Gus from Cinderella (1950). He seems to be perpetually either under a teacup or in one, which makes him especially charming in my book!
Harney: It appears you never pass up a chance to visit tea shops and have tea at restaurants, hotels and cafés wherever you are. Other than our Harney & Sons store in SoHo, which we know you’ve visited, what places would you recommend people go for a wonderful afternoon tea experience?
Bonnie: If you are in the LA area, I highly suggest getting afternoon tea at The Polo Lounge in The Beverly Hills Hotel. It’s certainly upscale, but gives you a beautiful sense of retro Hollywood culture. If you’re interested in more casual takes on tea, Jin Teahouse in Pasadena makes a beautiful cup of Taiwanese tea, and the Ten-Ren chain is a neat place to try foods cooked with tea. With lush English, Chinese and Japanese themed gardens, The Huntington Library is also a beautiful place to soak up LA sunshine while enjoying a good cup of tea. Now that the pandemic has calmed down a bit, Steep LA in Chinatown and YE Stage & Tea in Koreatown are next up on my to-drink list!
Harney: Obviously you’re a tea fan! Take us through a typical day – what tea do you start with, how does tea take you through your day, what teas do you enjoy at night? Any special teacups, pots or wares that you use for different teas?
Bonnie: I’m definitely not a morning person, so in the AM I need strong tea! Harney & Sons Paris or Hot Cinnamon Spice are both favorites, as is a brisk cup of Assam. In the afternoons, I like to start “plussing” my tea (a Disney term!), which basically means experimenting or tweaking to make something good even better. This could mean adding a slice of Meyer lemon to my cup of tea, making an extra peppery pot of masala chai from scratch, getting my chasen bamboo whisk out to create an ultra frothy cup of matcha, or perhaps even getting my favorite teacups out to match my tea and my mood. I’m a firm believer that tea tastes better in a proper cup. As a result, I have an insane, almost embarrassing number of tea pots and cups. One of my favorites is an It’s A Small World mug. It reminds me how you can travel the world through a cup of tea. There are two teas that I can drink any day at any time, and those are Genmaicha and ripe Pu-erh.
Harney: For people who think tea is this ho hum, not-a-lot-of-flavor black tea from their childhood, what would you say to encourage them to give tea another try?
Bonnie: This couldn’t be further from the truth! There are so many types of tea to enjoy and so many ways to enjoy them. I would first ask about which flavors or cuisines they tend to prefer, and then make suggestions based on that. When I share tea with friends, I also try to observe their interests and style. Do they love to indulge or do they eat super healthy? Do they drink coffee at all or do they try to stay away from caffeine? What colors and brands do they like? These kinds of considerations will help me to guide them toward that perfect cup.
Harney: Do you have any favorite flavors or types of Harney & Sons tea or anything on your list you’ve been wanting to try?
Bonnie: I have so many favorite Harney & Sons teas! Paris and Hot Cinnamon Spice have been long time, tried-and-true favorites. I used to cater small tea parties, and Paris was always the most popular for very good reason—it’s both rich and delicate at the same time! I’m extremely excited to try the Royal Palace Tea, part of the Harney Royal Palace Collection. I will make some Kensington Palace Scones to go with! As for Chinese tea, I love the giant leaves and sweet taste of Tai Ping Hou Kui, so I’m excited to try Harney & Sons traditional hand-rolled version. I’m also fascinated with East Frisian tea culture and can’t wait to enjoy Harney & Sons East Frisian tea in its own proper way. Traditionally, East Frisian tea is served with a piece of rock sugar. Hot black tea is poured atop the sugar followed by a small pour of cream into the tea without stirring. It’s going to take a lot of self-control for me not to pick up a spoon! A big thanks to Harney & Sons for opening the doors to a new adventure in tea!
See what we mean? Bonnie’s creativitea is off the charts, and her shared love of tea is inspirational. Get ready to go down the rabbit hole when you are unable to stop looking at all Bonnie’s wonderful creations on her website and Instagram. We’re so appreciative of Bonnie’s time and enthusiasm for all things tea! Photos courtesy of Bonnie Eng for Disney.
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