On Traveling With a Complicated Skin Care Routine

A few weeks ago I shared some photos on Instagram of the toiletries bag I took with me on a one-week trip to the mountains of Maine. I wanted to expound a bit on my tips and tricks for travel skin care here.

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I opted to bring only carry-on luggage, so I was limited to a 3-1-1 bag, as per TSA standards. I found out that sheet masks don’t generally count towards your liquids/gels/aerosol limit, and can confirm that I brought them through security with no trouble. But I still had to fit a multi-step, Korean-inspired skin care routine, hair care for thick, mid-back-length hair, plus deodorant and bug spray into a quart-sized bag. While I managed, it was a tight fit and definitely used my Tetris skills.

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You can see the difference between the compact bag and the laid out contents of just the plastic bag above! Here’s a list of products:

  • Julep Love Your Bare Face cleansing oil, trial size
  • Sulwhasoo Snowise EX cleansing foam, sample packets
  • Skylake Herbal face mist, trial size
  • Missha Time Revolution First Treatment Essence and Night Activator Ampoule, sample packets
  • Assorted foil samples (Tatcha Rice Powder exfoliator, Paula’s Choice Skin Recovery moisturizer, Fresh Black Tea Age Delay cream)
  • Trilogy Antioxidant oil, trial size
  • Mamonde Rose Honey sleeping mask, decant
  • Urban Decay Vice lipstick, two sample blister packs
  • L’Oreal Nude Balm in Plush Plum
  • Missha Signature Real Complete BB Cream in #23, sample packs
  • Sensodyne Pronamel toothpaste, trial size
  • Tom’s of Maine Long Lasting unscented deodorant
  • Sawyer Picaridin bug repellent, trial size
  • Kiss My Face SPF 30 lip balm
  • Homemade lip balm
  • DHC Lash Tonic
  • Skylake Silk Cocoon Conditioner, 2 trial size tubes
  • Skylake Herbal Cool Shampoo, trial size
  • Biore UV Perfect Milk

In addition to this, I brought three sheet masks: Skylake Trouble Care, Evercos Chameleon Leaf, and LoveMore Aloe and Loofah. As you can see, I’ve left a few things at home, like exfoliating acids, vitamin C, and most of my makeup. I chose to focus on skin care, and include just enough makeup to cover a breakout if I needed and enhance my lips naturally. I opted not to bring bright red lipstick to the mountains. Here are my tips for traveling with your complicated routine:

  1. Decide what is non-negotiable: For me, number one is sunscreen. I knew I was bringing a full-sized bottle of a water-resistant sunscreen that I knew wouldn’t break me out. I also knew I wanted my essence. In the future, I will refill my decant jar with my preferred gel moisturizer as well.
  2. See where you can edit: Like I said, I didn’t bring my whole makeup bag or even all the steps I use for skin care. The first thing I decided to leave at home was my vitamin C, as the antioxidant oil has some vitamin C in it, and I didn’t want to risk oxidizing my vitamin C serum by carting it around for who-knows-how-long during travel. Then I also chose to leave my exfoliating acids at home because travel notoriously upsets my skin and the last thing upset skin needs is actives. Finally, I drastically simplified my makeup because the conference I was attending involves a lot of outdoor activities and I knew I wouldn’t be wearing a red lip while hiking anyway. I also chose to buy sunscreen for my body at the conference site because you need enough to get proper coverage, that it’s not hard to use up a full-sized tube during a week of constant daily outdoor activity.
  3. Find trial and sample sizes: I found trial sizes of my shampoo, a good conditioner, cleansing oil, facial oil, and toner. I’ll probably refill some of the trial-size containers with products I use regularly, too. Then I got sample packets of essence, ampoule, cleanser, and BB cream. And I tested literally everything weeks before leaving on my trip. I also had some samples from Sephora and other orders that I’d tried before and knew I liked. Generally not a good idea to bring anything that’s utterly untested on travel.
  4. Decant where necessary: I didn’t have to decant my own products (the Mamonde decant was one I bought off a skincare exchange board), but I will next time. I can replace the cleansing oil with my everyday cleansing oil and the sleeping mask with my night moisturizer. I also have some small travel bottles to decant my other hydrating essence, if I want to in the future.
  5. Supplement with soothing and hydrating sheet masks: I looked around and decided that it was a pretty safe bet to bring sheet masks outside my 3-1-1 bag, so I threw a few sheet masks in my bag. I focused on masks that are good for breakouts and upset skin because I knew that 1.) travel makes me break out and 2.) I would be spending a lot of time outside. And it turned out great. I came home from one particularly long afternoon hike, took a long shower, and sat for a half an hour with an aloe mask on before evening sessions and my skin was very happy indeed.

So those are my thoughts about traveling with skin care. I will have another chance to put the tips into practice soon, but I think that’s a good place to start when trying to curate your routine for travel. Who still has fun vacation plans coming up?

On Taking a Break, Remembering One’s Mortality, and Finding Simple Joy

What an ominous title, I know. But I’ve had a bit of an ominous weekend and I thought I’d talk about it. It has been a long time since I’ve posted here, and this was not the post I was planning for my triumphant return. In fact, I’ll be posting about travel beauty products later. But then this came up.

This weekend, I spent Sunday morning at the Urgent Care center because I thought there was something wrong with my heart.

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Spoiler: there is nothing wrong with my heart.

Anyway, starting about a week ago, I was trying to fall asleep and I felt what I can only describe as a kind of flutter-thud in my chest. My heartbeat felt weird. Like it was skipping every fifth beat. I tried taking my pulse with a heart rate app I have, as well as by feeling my neck, and I had Boyfriend try to take it independently. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that my chest felt… wrong. Now, I know I have anxiety, and I know I have a family history of anxiety sending people to the ER. I also know I have no family history of heart disease. So intellectually, I knew that I was almost certainly not having a heart attack. So I didn’t let Boyfriend drive me to the ER that night. But then the next night it happened. And the next night. When I noticed it during the day the next day, I decided I needed to do something. I called up and got a next-day appointment. And tried to relax until it was time to go.

That night, I really wondered if I’d done the right thing by not insisting on going in right away. What would happen if I’d been wrong and my heart stopped the night before I was supposed to see the doctor. Now, Boyfriend had a big event coming up, so I didn’t want to worry him as much as possible, so I stewed in silence. And I didn’t really sleep.

Sunday, we woke up, showered, and went for our standard Sunday morning coffee date, though I stuck to herbal tea. And then to the doctor. The actual visit was relatively mundane, although perhaps I was forcing myself to see it as mundane to prevent myself from freaking out. Fewer than five minutes after I checked in, I was called in to get an ECG. I made a Matrix joke as they hooked up all the electrodes. Then, I was shown to a bed. Not the waiting room. Not a chair in an exam room. But a bed in a private, curtained room. That was a bit weird. I gave samples of practically all my fluids, and talked to the doctor, who listened to my heart and chatted a bit about what they were up to. Basically ruling out the big stuff so that I could go home with peace of mind. Then I got a gown and a chest X-ray. Then, back to my bed until they looked at all the tests. I joked around and texted hospital gown selfies to Boyfriend, who was still in the waiting room, and messaged with a friend of mine who had dealt with something similar. And then the doctor came in and told me that everything looked clear except a couple of non-time-critical tests that took longer to process. I was free to go once they removed my IV.

And then it was over. I was free. Clean bill of health, nothing immediately wrong. I almost instantly felt better, just knowing that I was okay. Of course, they hadn’t actually done anything, but I had already suspected this was mostly due to nerves.

But then, every time I looked down at my arm, I saw the bruising from the IV. And I would keep getting email alerts of new test results (all negative). And I realized that it wasn’t all mundane and casual.

I woke up the next morning and walked around the lake and looked around me and realized just how much I was looking at the world just a bit differently. Even though I’m still young, it was one of my first real reminders of my own mortality in a long time, and it was poignant, if not serious. And really, the only thing I could think to do was to sit down and write a little bit about it, because I haven’t really fully processed it yet.

Fukamushi Shincha from Tomotcha: First Impression of a New Subscription

I mentioned on Twitter a little bit ago that I was cancelling my subscription to Simple Loose Leaf in favor of a sub with less variety but more likely to provide teas I’m interested in trying. I signed up for Tomotcha earlier this month with the hope that I’d get my first tea in early June. Imagine my suprise when a flat little packet from Japan showed up in my letterbox earlier this week! Immediately after signing up, I was a little regretful, as the Tomotcha website leaves something to be desired. Other than an address confirmation from them, there is no way to sign into an account on their website and check on your subscription. Their Twitter feed hasn’t updated since last winter, and I was beginning to worry that maybe I signed up for a defunct service that was still charging people through automated web services.

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But that wasn’t the case! Yay! I got my tea and wanted to brew some immediately. Of course, it was a weekday evening, so that would have led to some difficulty falling asleep. There was also the fact that I realized a day or two earlier that my gaiwan are not suited to brewing Japanese green teas, which have smaller leaves than the Chinese ones the gaiwan excels at brewing. So I ordered a simple glass kyusu set and some cups for my office. They arrived yesterday, so this morning I was finally able to taste my new tea.

The tea that arrived was a Fukamushi Shincha, which is a deeply-steamed green tea from the first harvest of Sencha. The dry leaves look like most Japanese green teas I’ve encountered and has a strong vegetal, seaweedy aroma. The first steeping is meant to be at about 160-170F for a minute. The first thing you notice is the brilliant color, which reminds me of everything springy and growing. It smells very, very green. The taste is fresh and grassy. It’s very refreshing on a hot day. Subsequent steepings were done for 30 seconds and retain this freshness.

All in all, I’m pleased so far with this service and now I’m looking forward to months to come!

A Hectic Weekend and a Skin Care Retreat

This weekend was pleasantly busy. We started with a Friday date night at our favorite Japanese restaurant, then went to a wedding Saturday night for two of Boyfriend’s friends, and capped it off by getting brunch with an old friend of mine Sunday late morning. Boyfriend was running about prepping for a business trip Sunday night, and was throwing laundry in so he could pack. At which point, he realized he couldn’t find his phone. We tried calling it from my phone, but he remembered he’d never taken off “Do Not Disturb” after the wedding ceremony Saturday. But after about an hour, he did finally find it.

In the washer. After the cycle had finished.

He washed his phone right before going out of town. Needless to say, he felt frustrated with himself and I was mildly irritated that he was going to effectively be out of contact while traveling. It almost turned into a fight while tensions were high.

But instead, I say “screw this” to myself and decided to do a mask. Now, I usually mask on Sunday nights, but I had bumped my masking up to Saturday so I could be dewy for the wedding (which happened in a downpour, so dewiness wasn’t really a trick). But I have a stash of 50 masks and even though some of them might be fancy or expensive, there’s not really much point in buying nice masks if I don’t use them, right?

So I double-cleansed, toned, applied some first essence, and then pulled out an illi Orchid Moisturizing mask. A lush, 2-piece, microfiber mask soaked in an surprisingly thin, wet essence that smells lightly of a beautiful flower garden. It was cooling and soothing and lifted my spirits while I just lounged for almost an hour. And when I peeled it off and topped off with some facial oil and cream, I felt so much of my frustration just disappear.

Self care. It’s a wonderful thing.

On Adventuring

I am not an adventurous person. Oh, yes, I will try new foods or new teas, or even put snails on my face. But when it comes to venturing outside my own house or neighborhood? Not so adventurous. My anxiety spiked when I took a new job that required a one-hour commute into the city rather than a 15-minute drive in my nice, familiar suburb. And the other thing I don’t often is travel.

Now, to be fair, until recently I’ve worked in a field where people at my level don’t get paid enough to travel much on their own dime and where it’s typical to only take time off to visit family once or twice a year. But there are plenty of people who find opportunities to go to international meetings. My ex-husband found himself invited to at least one international meeting per year and I did take the opportunity to travel with him when we were together. And it was a nice easing into the idea of travel because he took care of all the arrangements, but I was still left with eight or nine hours to fill by myself in a strange city where I may or may not speak the language well.

But even then, I tended to stick with European destinations for international travel. It’s my comfort zone. I speak fluent French and the other romance languages come pretty easily to me. And I’ve never really planned an international trip myself.

So this year, my new year’s resolution was to travel somewhere outside the country. And it seemed like it was going to be deferred, until Boyfriend and I decided that our vacation after his graduation didn’t have to be to a comfortable place we’d been before. So I started looking into planning a trip to Montreal — not exactly exotic, but it requires passports and may even put some of my rusty French into use. And it’s placing a toe outside my comfort zone.

Which is a first step.

Because I’ve decided that next year, I want to take a trip entirely outside my comfort zone. I’ve decided to visit Japan.

To that end, I’ve spent the last week learning hiragana and katakana, and even started a kanji study program, as well as lessons in speaking Japanese. I had forgotten how much I love learning new languages (I briefly studied Latin, German, and Romanian in the past, as well as picking up some Italian for a couple trips there). It feels like exercise for my brain. And I’ve been learning about the customs and culture, from the perspective of a visitor. It’s an exciting plan, and I hope to realize it next year. It will certainly be a bigger step in getting me out of my shell.

That Time I Met a Tea Sommelier

Once again, my posting as been erratic. Between illness and stress, when I find myself with nothing to do, I mostly feel like watching television shows and relaxing these days. But I have perpetual big plans to edit photos and start posting more regularly, I promise.

Anyway. Last weekend, my office had a big meeting at a fancy hotel downtown. I had forgotten how nice it is to be in a really nice hotel. There is a level of service that’s just above the places I usually buy for myself. It almost made up for having to get up and shower at 6 a.m. on a Sunday and 5 a.m. the next day. Almost. One thing I noticed about the fancy hotels downtown is that they take their tea very, very seriously. One of the hotels had pots of brewed tea out on warming stations outside the meeting rooms alongside the coffee. It was amazing. They had chamomile, which I skipped, and a delicious English Breakfast black tea. It was brewed to perfection, had lovely floral notes, not to astringent. And I decided to add a touch of honey to my cup to bring out the flavors, on the suggestion of another hotel’s tea sommelier.

Yes, I met a tea sommelier. I am of course familiar with the idea of a wine sommelier, and I’ve seen the concept extended to other alcoholic beverages, but I’d never seen it applied to tea before. It started when I was blearily wandering over the breakfast buffet upon arriving at the meeting entirely too early, even for me. As I examined the spread of eggs and sausages, I overheard a gentleman recommending the tea bread to a colleague. I looked over and saw a tray of sliced quickbread. I didn’t think much of it until he mentioned that it was Earl Grey tea bread, made with Earl Grey tea. Oh, that sounds lovely.

As I walked back to gather a slice for myself, I heard him go on about how they infuse the tea into the bread so that it not only tastes of bergamot but also takes on the deeper flavors of the black tea itself. He saw that I was listening and introduced himself. He was the hotel’s tea sommelier. What an interesting idea, I thought. I thanked him for the suggestion and he asked a bit about what I thought of tea. I told him I was, in fact, a tea-drinker and he was very excited. He asked if I would let him make me a cup of tea.

How lovely. Even when I’m at home and ask Boyfriend to make me a cup of tea, I generally dictate the entire tea-making process. To leave myself in the hands of a professional seemed decadent. He asked what kind of tea I liked and I responded that given the chilly, gloomy weather, I thought I’d like a cup of black tea. He seemed even more excited about this. We discussed different types of teas and he asked if I minded honey in my tea. He explained that he liked to put a bit of sweetener in certain kinds of tea to help bring out the flavors. I was intrigued, so I agreed to it. It reminded me a bit of having coffee at the Caffe San’Eustachio in Rome, where the default is sweetened coffee.

Several minutes later, I was reverently presented with a perfect cup of tea. It had the light flavor of a Darjeeling, with just a hint of sweetness. I was also presented with an herbal tea bag for later, which had some ginseng and gingko in it to help with focus without caffeine. It was a lovely conversation and perhaps next year I can see him again.

The Most Important Thing My Mother Taught Me

This post is my entry into Fiddy’s contest at Fifty Shades of Snail, in collaboration with Beautibi. I highly recommend you check out her blog as a fantastic resource for all things related to complicated skin care.

Mother

My mother is a remarkable woman. She was married for almost thirty years, raised two children, and has worked in multiple careers, reinventing herself after her divorce and overcoming challenges throughout her life. And I consider her one of the most inspiring people in my life. I’m sure she would be surprised to hear this as I’m certain she thinks both of her daughters have surpassed her professionally and intellectually. But the fact is I learned how to learn from my mother.

Mom was never one to shy away from a challenge. When we were children, she hand-made all of our Halloween costumes, despite being a mediocre seamstress at best. And when I invariably wanted to be something obscure (like Artemis, goddess of the hunt), she was the one who came with me to the library and poured over books finding ideas that were both faithful to the original material, as well as logistically feasible for outdoor trick-or-treating in weather that could range from unseasonably warm to snowing.

With the advent of the internet in our house, my mother started finding her true place to shine: internet research. In addition to Halloween costumes, over the years, she used her internet search savvy to help her in her divorce, as well as to become the reigning champion at her office football pool. When I started internships at national laboratories, she came to my summer symposium armed with knowledge to converse with Nobel Laureates despite not graduating college. For her, the important part was the process, not the superior feeling of knowing more than other people. She wanted to learn in order to interact.

And this is something that has stuck with me. It is not the best thing to know things; it is better still to enjoy learning. This has stuck with me through college and graduate school, a PhD and research jobs, and a career shift. It has taught me that even though others might treat me like I’m smarter, everyone has something to teach me. And she has taught me the skills I’ve needed to navigate my personal care routines. Her web research savvy has helped me find the resources to make educated decisions about my health and beauty when formal sources of knowledge have fallen short.

It is this that I most appreciate and that I most cherish. She may have taught me to make a bechamel sauce and how to put in a zipper (or at least tried!), but she also taught me to cherish learning for itself. And that will be useful no matter what I need to learn.

(The photo is from the first time we sheet masked together. What doesn’t show in the photo is my mother making a stabbing motion with her off-camera arm because she thinks we look like serial killers.)

On Instagram and my Blogging Evolution

When I was a teenager, I had a diary. I wrote in it erratically. When I was having boy troubles or drama, I would write in it more frequently. It wasn’t pink or have a lock; it was just a regular blank-book journal that I made entries in when I wanted to obsess about something normal teenaged girls obsess about or coo over how many dolphins I saw when we went to the beach. I remember some of the entries, although I don’t have the physical books anymore. My mother definitely used to read it, and even found out things she probably didn’t want to know about me from it.

Then the internet came along. I got an email account and a LiveJournal. I mostly wrote LiveJournal posts back and forth with my then-long-distance-boyfriend. When I was happy in my relationship, I wrote about inane things like taking long walks and having a lovely cup of tea (funny how things don’t change). I even got my first troll, who seemed personally offended by the light, happy, sweet tone of the journal. I eventually abandoned both the relationship and the LiveJournal.

Much later on, I started a Blogger blog about running and cooking. Mostly I’ve always been a fair cook and people always asked for my recipes. At the time, I was a relatively high-mileage runner, and I did long runs on Saturday, so I would blog each weekend about my post-run brunches. I also cooked dinner from scratch every night for my then-husband. It offered me an opportunity to make a record of my recipes and also an easy way to share the links with friends who asked. Along the way, I became interested in various alternative diets.

This morphed into a blog about herbalism, which later on morphed into a blog about Zen when I was going through the upheaval around my divorce. Eventually I realized that while Zen and minimalism appealed to me when I was essentially a nomad and feeling very cut loose in life, I am not by nature a minimalist, and my own personal lightness and fluff (long walks and tea time) started creeping back in.

Which brings us to Tea Leaves and Tweed. This is not an entirely fluffy blog. It’s not just a tea blog or a beauty blog or a style blog. It’s not really a lifestyle blog except inasmuch as it represents my lifestyle. But it’s a place to share my thoughts and hope that maybe someone else finds them interesting to read.

Sadly, I often become too lazy to do all the work that goes into a really good blog post. I don’t take the time to take photos, upload them, edit them, and craft them into a blog post with visual appeal. Sometimes it’s just me at the keys and my thoughts as text. But lately, I’ve started seeing Instagram as a sort of mini-blogging platform. Instead of just snapping a picture and sharing it with an “isn’t this neat?” caption, I’ll write a couple of sentences and share something from my life that goes along with the photo. So anyone who wonders where I’ve gone when I’m not posting here, I encourage you to check out my Instagram and see if that, more bite-sized format is proving less difficult for me at the time.

At the very least, you’ll get to see pictures from my long walks and tea times.

On Modesty and Personal Style

A blogger I occasionally read posted recently about how she dislikes having the “modest” label applied to her personal style. This comes pretty soon after I received a couple of comments from people in my life about the modesty of my own personal style. One came from Boyfriend, who joked that he never sees my knees when I wore a dress that bared them to work the other day, and the other came from my boss, who was commenting about how he didn’t worry about my adherence to a dress code because they generally just needed to find something to “cover up” some of the employees who showed too much skin at a meeting we host every year.

I’ve written before about how I like dresses that go below my knees and tend not to show much of my body. I joke that my personal style is somewhere akin to “severe English governess,” with my pulled-back hair, below-the-knee dresses, and relatively high necklines. But the reality is that I, too, don’t consider myself a “modest” dresser. I don’t dress this way out of some misplaced dislike for the display of the female body. In fact, I feel nothing but mild envy for those women I see in tiny, fluttery skirts, midriff-baring tops, and backless outfits on a regular basis. In Enchanted April, I’ve had to play a character who is considerably more comfortable baring her body than I am.

The reason I don’t like to wear clothing that shows my body is because I don’t like my body. I don’t consider that a positive thing about myself. I try to find flattering styles that make me feel pretty within the limitations of my own hang-ups, but the fact remains that I often feel frumpy in what I choose to wear, and yet I feel uncomfortable in anything more revealing.

I will take a sidebar to mention how I interact with the men in my environment. When I was younger, I had a problem being harrassed by random men on the subway and on the street downtown. Misguided female relatives would tell me “One day, they’ll stop commenting and then you’ll miss it.” Well, in the six months since I’ve had a job downtown, I’ve gotten exactly one catcall (that may not have been directed towards me, honestly), and I would like to say it is amazing not to have to deal with that on a regular basis. Perhaps it’s because I’m over 30 and perhaps it’s because I dress like Frau Blucher. But I can honestly say that the only sadness I feel is that I don’t immediately assume it is because men in this city have become more respectful. I have gotten a few compliments from women on some of my cuter dresses, which was lovely.

Anyway. I suppose there’s no real conclusion to this other than this: I am not modest; I’m hung-up on my body. I don’t consider it freeing to work within the limitations of my own hang-ups. I don’t consider it freeing to think back to my body when I danced 5 hours a week or ran marathons or woke up at the crack of dawn every morning to do an hour of yoga whenever I try to wear something more revealing and see the softness that has set in (despite the fact that I am not actually fat). So I dress as best I can within my personal limitations. Vintage style has certainly gone a long way towards providing me with positive examples of styles that make me feel pretty and covered. But I imagine the real victory for me would be to go ahead and wear that crop top without wishing I looked like I did a bit more exercise and ate a bit less chocolate on a daily basis.

An Ode to the Simplicity of Grandpa-Style Tea

I had a British colleague at my old job who was known as “dirty mug guy” because he rarely washed his tea mug and the stains had built up to name-worthy proportions. I fear that I may be becoming “dirty mug gal” at my current job, though I doubt anyone else has noticed. It’s gotten to the point that I think I need to give my infuser a bit of a scrubdown with baking soda to remove the old stains. But being as lazy as I often am, and as forgetful, I keep forgetting to bring baking soda to work and get to that.

So I’ve been drinking my tea grandpa-style. Grandpa-style tea is a fairly traditional way of drinking tea in China, where the leaves are dumped into a mug, topped off with hot water, and sipped throughout the day, refilling with water as desired. You can filter the leaves through your teeth, or wait for them to settle out. I generally do some combination of the two.

This is not a method for strong black teas, at least for me, because the tea gets too strong. It is also not a method for very nuanced teas, as the delicacy can be lost in the rather open-ended steeping time. But I love it for a nice green or light oolong that is tasty without being fancy. It is also a rather frugal method, as the way to prevent your first tea from being undrinkably oversteeps is to use a smaller portion of tea leaves.

I generally toss a teaspoon or so of leaves into my mug, top with just enough water to cover the leaves and let the leaves sit in the water for a minute to soak up some water. Then, I fill the mug the rest of the way. This gives the leaves a bit of a head start at saturating and falling to the bottom of the mug. Then, I can sip for a bit, leaving maybe an inch in the bottom to act as a kind of concentrate to start the next cup.

It is a very relaxed and unfussy way of drinking tea, and one that appeals to me on a busy day when I can’t be bothered to deal with multiple pieces of an infuser mug. And perhaps one of these days, I’ll get around to scrubbing up.