Tea Together Tuesday: The Greatest Gift…

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Today on Tea Together Tuesday, a delightful community tea prompt hosted by Tea with Jann and Tea is a Wish, the prompt is to share your dream tea gift because it’s Jann’s birthday! Happy birthday, Jann!

Well, I’m going to get a little sappy right now. Last month, we were asked about our best tea-related gift that we’ve already received and I talked about my fantastic pure silver teapot that I got for my first birthday as a mother from my own mother. But this month, I’m going to go a bit more sentimental. You see, in reality, the greatest tea-related gift I’ve gotten is the amazing virtual (and occasionally in-person) circle of tea friends I’ve made over the last few years.

The last seven months of isolation have really highlighted this, as I haven’t felt so isolated, if only because I’m talking to people almost more often. I mentioned it before, when I was heartened in the early days of COVID because of the great increase in live sessions and virtual tea events that popped up, nearly overnight, like mushrooms. But as this has dragged on, it has become very apparent to me that, as much as I miss our in-person gatherings, the virtual friend group I’ve made through a mutual love of tea has been instrumental in helping me with my mental health.

I’ve gushed about new jobs, bemoaned family issues, listened to struggles with health, and shared personal and family milestones. I’ve seen friends through the loss of family members and the welcoming of new ones (furry and otherwise). I’ve even seen friends launch new businesses and projects that I have wholeheartedly supported. The sense of community, particularly for a weird introvert like me, as been essential to my well-being.

So I think the best gift I could receive would be to be able to have a big party, like the eleventy-first birthday party from The Lord of the Rings, with everyone around at tables, having tea and just generally enjoying the company that we’ve shared virtually for so long. Of course, in the age of travel restrictions and tightening budgets, this is as much a fantasy as the hobbity inspiration, but a girl can dream.

And what a dream it is. We could set up long tables, brew copious amounts of tea. Perhaps we’d have a gongfu station (like a carving station, but better!) where people could sit around a big tea table and share in a gongfu session, while others could enjoy a British-style low tea with tiny pastries and finger sandwiches. And of course, some of us would merely opt for a good solid mug of something comforting, and a hearty meal with lots of mushrooms! But maybe we’d skip the pipeweed…

In the meantime, I’m going to content myself with the latest in Nazanin’s excellent series of holiday countdown boxes. Opening a little gift everyday has been that much more fun being able to imagine Nazanin’s face as the selected each gift. And it reminds me of the gift of amazing tea friends.

NB: Nothing to disclose. If you are interested in collaborating with me, please read my collaboration information for more details.

MyTeaPal: Blending technology and tradition

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Recently, I signed up to be a beta tester for a new tea app called MyTeaPal. It’s a timer, steeping guide, stash inventory, and log all in one, and will be available soon for iOS and Android. I mentioned it on Sunday in my literary tea video, but I thought I’d talk a bit about what I like about the app in more depth.

MyTeaPal is an app developed by Vincent, a tea-lover and computer science major. He learned about tea during his time in Chengdu, China, and has a list of tea certifications and community roles that speak to his deep love for tea art and culture. His app is intended to be a personal journal, an educational tool, and will be free with no ads. When I learned about this app, I was intrigued, as I like apps to track a lot of my life, but I’ve never found a truly universal tea app that I like (that was available for iOS). So I contacted Vincent and he agreed to let me beta-test, which I have been for the last couple of weeks.

One caveat to my review: Since I downloaded the beta app, it has been updated to include more tutorial and educational functionality, which I haven’t used. But that’s because I turn to it daily and tend to forget about the new functionality until I’m in the middle of a session and don’t want to interrupt it!

Anyway, when you first open the app, you can choose to select a tea to brew or add a new tea to brew. The app has a place to store a record of all the teas in your stash (I’ve mostly been adding them as I use them for an app-enabled session) and an auto-tracking function to let you know how much of each you have left, based on the original amount you enter and how much you use in each session. Entries for teas give you the option to enter a photo, the tea name, the tea type (green, black, oolong, puerh, dark, etc.), the harvest information, origin, cultivar, vendor, elevation at which it was grown, and steeping instructions (among other things). You can also enter an inventory of your teaware, including teaware type, material, and a photo. Both types of entries also have a “notes” section. The breadth of information it allows you to enter makes me happy. It even gives you the option to select that a tea is a blend and enter the ingredients.

And that I think epitomizes my main praise of this app: it is not an app for tea snobs. Yes, it is invaluable for a gongfu session or a Western-style steeping of a flavored tea. The session itself is entirely customizable, giving you the option to enter your own water temperature and type (tap, filtered, bottled, etc.), as well as steeping time for each steeping. You can vary the temperature and time by hand for each infusion, but also add a set time to add to each infusion, if you just want to go with it. This time added to each infusion is also customizable, so if you start with 5 seconds added to each steeping and decide to try adding more to later infusions, you can do that.

I also find it really useful for teas like the ones from Mountain Stream Teas (such as the Missed Opportunity, pictured above), because Matt gives such precise instructions on how he recommends brewing his teas and I can enter in the exact steeping parameters easily without having to remember what steeping I’m on or reset a timer. I enter in 30 seconds for the first steeping, add 10 seconds for the second, add 20 seconds for the third, and then add 15 seconds for each steeping after that. I like how having the timing off my mental plate leaves me more open to appreciate the experience of the tea.

And as far as the experience goes, the app gives you an easy way to record aroma and flavor notes. If I had one suggestion, it would be to have aroma and flavor separated. And, while I appreciate that I can add my own aroma and flavor characteristics, I wish they would save for future sessions and give me the option to nest them under one of the overarching flavor/aroma categories (e.g., I would like to be able to permanently add “sandalwood” under “woody”).

On to the timing itself. The timer gives you the option to play or not play timer noises. The timer noise is a simple flowing water sound while the timer is counting down, and a single bell/singing bowl tone at the end. I appreciate that I don’t need to turn off an alarm, and I like that I can look at the water visualization and know how much of my timer remains from across the kitchen because I’m often watching my toddler while making tea. I also like that I can edit and continue saved tea sessions for those times when the aforementioned toddler decides to run off with my phone and close all my apps in the middle of a session.

All-in-all, this is a very well-thought-out app that actually enhances my tea experience, rather than being a fun novelty. And perhaps it will eventually lead me to actually keep track of my tea stash.

NB: I was given early access to this app as a blogger, but with no explicit expectation of a review. If you are interested in collaborating with me, please read my collaboration information for more details.

Tea Together Tuesday: Pumpkin-ish

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Today on Tea Together Tuesday, a delightful community tea prompt hosted by Tea with Jann and Tea is a Wish, the prompt is to share your favorite “pumpkin or pumpkin-spiced tea.” Well, “pumpkin spice” can be a pretty broad category, and even the PSL progeniteur, Starbucks, has pointed out that “pumpkin spice” merely refers to the spices in pumpkin products, not the pumpkin itself, so I am going to interpret that to include any tea that blends that particular combination of spices so characteristic of my favorite pumpkin treat: pumpkin pie.

And it just so happens that I’ve been enjoying a cup of a delicious spiced beverage each morning for the last week or so. And it even looks a bit like a pumpkin-y potion. Kind of.

Yella, by Ivy’s Tea Co., is a spiced turmeric blend that you can steep in water or milk (or milk alternative). I’ve been preparing it similarly to how I make a dairy-free masala chai, by steeping it in a mixture of coconut milk and water, simmering it on the stove for five minutes, and sweetening with jaggery or honey (although it is also delicious simply steeped in hot oat milk). The bright color is from the turmeric that is the base for the blend, but it also contains cinnamon, clove, ginger, and cardamom, among other ingredients.

It also happens to be blended by an herbalist who chose a lot of the blend for both the flavor and the anti-inflammatory benefits. While I’m not an herbalist or medical doctor, I find that when I wake up feeling creaky and a little delicate of tummy, I can make up a cup of that as my first breakfast and it soothes my stomach, warms my body, and nourishes me gently. As the mornings get cooler and cooler, it’s what I keep reaching for as my first cup of the day. So I decided to go and buy a whole bunch of it to keep in a lovely jar in my cupboard so it’s always accessible.

And I’m excited to not only be supporting a Black-woman-owned-and-run business, but also a local business. In fact, Ivy’s Tea Co., until recently, used honey from the same local apiary that I buy from as the base for their infused honeys. Perhaps when we’re able to see people in, well, person, I’ll have to get together to chat herbs and hot beverages with the owners. Until then, I’ll just content myself with their lovely tea blends.

So if you’re not a PSL person and still want that burst of spicy goodness and a cheery, pumpkin-y color to welcome the autumn, perhaps it’s time to give Ivy’s Tea Co. a try. And they’re dropping a new batch of their customized teacups on November 1st!

NB: Nothing to disclose. If you are interested in collaborating with me, please read my collaboration information for more details.

On My Bookshelf: Jane Eyre

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I will be very honest here: I tried to read Jane Eyre as a high schooler and failed. I never made it past the Red Room. This is a common theme in my life, and in recent years I’ve revisited classic books that I either didn’t like or couldn’t finish (or couldn’t finish because I didn’t like) when I was forced to read them in school. Jane Eyre was no exception; I originally started reading it at summer camp because it was on my summer reading list.

But many of my friends love this book, and when Tracy at Fanserviced-B recommended it on Instagram, I decided it was time to revisit it (incidentally, I think I’ve loved every book recommendation I’ve gotten from Tracy). So I went to find it for Kindle, as most of my reading time happens in the dark after putting the baby to bed. And it turned out, I’d actually attempted to re-read the book a while ago because it was already on my Kindle (no, Amazon is not yet so creepy that it can predict that I’d be getting around to re-reading Jane Eyre soon… I don’t think).

Anyway, the book. If you are concerned about spoilers for a book that was written over 150 years ago, well, you probably should leave now. Yes, I recognize that not everyone has read the book, and some people might be genuinely surprised by the twists and turns of the plot, but really, elements of the plot have become commonly-referenced literary tropes (ones that I’ve referenced even when I’d never read that far in the book).

The story follows the life of Jane Eyre, an orphan who was sent to live with her aunt and their three children, including their oldest, John. After being neglected and abused until the age of ten, she is sent to a girls’ boarding school that is infamous in it’s poor treatment of its charges. While there, she befriends a girl who later dies of consumption, and a teacher, who doesn’t. She makes her way through the trials and tribulations of the school, eventually becoming a teacher there, and then leaves at 18 to take a position with a man who is looking for a governess for his young ward.

Jane arrives at Thornfield Hall to find a motley assortment of characters, including her pupil, a very silly French girl named Adele, who may or may not be her employer’s illegitimate daughter. She eventually meets her elusive employer, Mr. Rochester, when his horse throws him while passing her in the street. Their relationship is very reminiscent of the Disney “Beauty and the Beast” montage of Belle and the Beast. All the while, there are strange goings-on, including a fire from which Jane saves Mr. Rochester, all of which Jane attributes to the servant Grace Poole, whose job is not made immediately obvious, and who apparently has a taste for strong drink.

After Jane saves his life, Mr. Rochester starts to act more warmly towards Jane, and she starts to wonder if she might be falling in love with him. But shortly after, he brings in a pretty heiress who is speculated to be a potential new wife for him. Jane is jealous, which Mr. Rochester can sense, and uses this jealousy to get her to admit her feelings for him, at which point he proposes marriage to her and she accepts. But the strange events escalate, with a mysterious woman coming into Jane’s room to rip her veil apart one night. And during the wedding ceremony, a man arrives to announce that Mr. Rochester cannot marry Jane because he is already married, though his wife has a congenital disorder that results in erratic behavior and has been imprisoned in the attic of the house. It is therefore revealed that Grace Poole’s job has been to guard her, and they mysterious incidents are the doing of Mrs. Rochester when she escapes.

Despite Mr. Rochester confirming his love for Jane and offering to live with her as husband and wife in another country, Jane refuses him and leaves. At this point, I realized that I didn’t really know all that much about the book, since I never really thought about the fact that there was plot outside of the “mad wife in the attic” reveal, but it was here that you see Jane’s character start to anneal and become stronger. While her early life is certainly hard, it is almost entirely the result of other people doing horrible things to her. At this point, she makes a decision for herself, and chooses not only to leave Thornfield Hall, but to leave it immediately, with little preparation and no notice to anyone else.

And she is immediately beset with surprisingly realistic troubles. While she has a little money and brings along a bundle of belongings, her money does not get her as far as she had hoped, and she ends up losing her belongings on the coach she takes away from Thornfield Hall, so she finds herself sleeping rough on the moors, nearly starving. She manages to find a village, where she is generally refused by the inhabitants of the houses she approaches, but eventually finds the house of the local clergyman and is rescued. Once again, she has a new life into which to settle, until she learns that her elusive uncle, who never knew of her ill treatment at the hands of his wife and children, had previously found her at Thornfield, and later died and left his sizable fortune to her. Not only that, but the clergyman and his sisters, with whom she has becoming close, are her cousins. She shares her new fortune with her newfound cousins and continues to live with them.

But eventually, her cousin the clergyman thinks that she would make an ideal clergyman’s wife, and proposes marriage to her, despite being in love with another. Jane refuses him at first, but when she considers accepting, she mysteriously hears Mr. Rochester’s voice echoing over the moors saying her name. In the one moment of “deus ex machina,” Jane returns to find that Thornfield has been burned to the ground, and Mrs. Rochester died by suicide while it burned. Mr. Rochester has been gravely injured, and though he still loves her, he fears his injuries make him too hideous for her. But, in a moment of impeccable sass, when he asks Jane if she finds him hideous, she replies that he is, of course, as he always has been. And thus, the two lovers, neither particularly pretty, are together in the end.

I love this book because Jane is flawed and impulsive and naive and makes mistakes, but is ultimately led by a strong moral compass. Though I don’t necessarily share her faith or morals, I admire how she doesn’t compromise them, even to achieve happiness. She also has a strong need to care for other people, but tries her hardest not to lose herself in the care of others, as evidence by her interactions with her cousin St. John when she knows he is proposing a loveless marriage for the sake of having a useful wife on mission with him.

But I think the best part of this book, and one that is supremely overlooked in pretty much all of the film and television adaptations, is that both of the romantic protagonists are explicitly said to be not very attractive. While the story is told from Jane’s perspective, so it could be excused as overmodesty on her part, it is referenced by other characters. And Mr. Rochester’s coarse appearance is also commented upon throughout his parts of the story, which gives the story more of its “Beauty and the Beast” feeling. But while Rochester is aloof, he doesn’t cross the line into abusive or cruel, even alleviating Jane’s jealous virtually as soon as he learns of it. And when they reunite, it is clear that it is Jane’s choice to be with him and care for him.

I love the agency that Jane has, despite having some real tribulations befall her. While she is somewhat forced into some very nasty situations, she neither despairs nor blames fate and instead chooses to make her own way as best as she can. It’s a remarkable book and one that I’m sad that I never read sooner. Like many “classic books” that I was assigned to read in high school, I feel like it is the kind of book that benefits from the insight of age. I highly recommend everyone try to re-read a few of the books that you hated when you were forced to read them in school. You may find some new insights.

Tea Together Tuesday: Yancha Season

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Today on Tea Together Tuesday, a delightful community tea prompt hosted by Tea with Jann and Tea is a Wish, the prompt is to share your perfect tea for autumn. And, well, while I’ve talked about my love of hojicha in the autumn before, I have to say that this autumn, I’m all about yancha once more.

Last year, I got my first traditional clay pot, a Da Hong Pao Chaozhou pot from Bitterleaf Teas. I actually bought it for an historical video (I told myself), but it has come be one of my favorite pieces. But since I seasoned it with yancha, I found myself ignoring it more and more as the weather got warming and I was less drawn to the rich, nutty, roasted flavors of what is probably my favorite of my favorite teas. Now, as the days grow shorter and the mornings cooler, I find I want that warm, comforting roasted flavor.

Yancha is rock oolong tea from the Wuyi mountains in China. It’s typically roasted, and can have aromas of fragrant woods, flowers, or even fruit, with a pronounced minerality in the flavor, call the “rock taste.” The naming of the teas and the (likely-apocryphal) stories behind many of those names lends a sense of romance and whimsy to a tea that hardly needs the help. While I had had yanchas in the past, it was when I got my Chaozhou pot and knew I wanted to use it to recreate Yuan Mei’s introduction to Wuyi oolongs that I really started appreciating all yancha had to offer.

Now, this particular tea is from one of my favorite, Wuyi-focused tea companies (although I have a couple right now — if you’re in DC, definitely check out Valley Brook Tea in Dupont Circle!) and one that I discovered when I first started focusing on yancha: Old Ways Tea. Over the last year, I’ve gotten to know many of their teas quite well. While I’m not a fan of the packaging waste, I like that their teas are conveniently packaged to try just a little (or share with friends!). If I were in the mood to write a “gift guide,” I might mention that the traditional 5-8g packages would make excellent stocking stuffers.

Anyway, this tea is their Lao Cong Shui Xian, or Old Tree Shui Xian. The leaves are appropriately gnarled and large, like the roots of an old tree, and the flavor is warm and complex. I get a strong roast note, but in a fragrant way, like sandalwood or incense, and a sweetness that reminds me of maple syrup. The whole effect is like autumn in a cup, or seven. Of course, the autumnal color palette of the seasoned clay doesn’t hurt the effect. It reminds me of crisp winds and falling leaves, misty mornings, and the smell of smoke in the distance. It’s close and cozy without being stifling or cloying. And after a long, hot summer of cold-brewed green teas, I’m ready for it again.

NB: I don’t rightly know if this is a tea that I purchased or if it is one of the gifts that Phil tends to tuck into my orders from them, but I was not provided any particular incentive to feature it here. If you are interested in collaborating with me, please read my collaboration information for more details.

The Virus Diaries: Self-Sufficiency

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This week, I experienced something rather new: Having the house to myself for most of the day. It was very… quiet. But it was nice to have time truly alone, without having to worry that they’d be back in twenty minutes from a walk, and I was happy to have my family back in the house at the end of the day. It’s interesting to feel a bit like things are returning to “normal” while still recognizing that things are still completely different than they were in the Before Times.

One thing that I didn’t realize I was miss so terribly are all the little things that I associate with being out and about, running errands, or seeing friends, or just going out to eat. And the most prominent of these things is bubble tea.

Yes, bubble tea. Let me explain.

You see, I almost never actually go out for bubble tea. It’s something that we get when we’re out somewhere for another reason and end up seeing a bubble tea place and I decide I also want bubble tea. I got bubble tea when we went to see a movie a year and a half ago, or when we go to our favorite local ramen place, or when we met some friends for Korean BBQ. But I never just think “Oh, I want to go out just for some bubble tea.” Which meant that bubble tea was something that basically disappeared from my life once I stopped going out. There were no incidentals. Even though there is a bubble tea place near the grocery store, it’s not something I’m going to ask Dan to go out of his way to bring back on one of his biweekly shopping trips. Grocery shopping is all business now.

And at the same time, while we’ve relaxed our concerns about delivery food, I haven’t felt like it was worth the frivolous expenditure to get delivery bubble tea. Maybe if the place we get dinner from occasionally had my preferred drink (milk oolong, with brown sugar and tapioca pearls), it would have been different, but paying the service charge, delivery fee, and a tip for a $4 bubble tea just seemed too excessive, even for me.

So that meant I had to learn how to make it myself. Having done some research on the history of bubble tea (yup, future historical video will be forthcoming), I knew I wanted a Taiwanese-owned company, so I consulted my friend and Taiwanese-American extraordinaire, Jude Chao of Fifty Shades of Snails, who directed me to Teaspoons Co., a Canadian-based business that sells bubble tea necessities and kits. I decided to buy a la carte, instead of getting one of their inclusive kits, so I could get exactly what I wanted: tapioca pearls, roasted oolong tea, black sugar syrup, powdered creamer, and a reusable thick bubble tea straw (rose gold because I’m fancy).

It was surprisingly quick to get to me, given that it was coming from Canada, and Canada Post and USPS have spent most of the last six months in a grand competition to see who can be the slowest, but it arrived pretty quickly, and I was able to dive in. It comes with extensive instructions for preparing everything, with measurements down to the gram if you’re ridiculous like me and own a gram scale to measure what you make.

And it’s easy! The only tricky part is that you can’t save cooked tapioca pearls, so you have to make them when you know you want bubble tea, but they also take a little less than an hour to cook, so you basically have to decide you want boba and then wait an hour. But it’s mostly inactive time. I’ll probably do a video where I make it on camera so you can see how I do things, but the short answer is that I learned that the best way to get that lovely frothy, bubble-y tea is to shake the prepared tea, syrup, creamer powder, and ice in a mason jar until it gets cold, and then top it with your tapioca pearls, which promptly sink to the bottom.

Then, just slurp it up and pretend you’re out with friends and just happened to stop into a bubble tea place. It’s a little less spontaneous, but no less delicious.

NB: Nothing to disclose. If you are interested in collaborating with me, please see my contact and collaboration information.

Tea Together Tuesday: Coffee Talk

Today on Tea Together Tuesday, a delightful community tea prompt hosted by Tea with Jann and Tea is a Wish, the prompt is to share if you enjoy coffee or if you are strictly a tea/tisane person. Of course, if you’ve followed my Instagram for a while, you’ll know that, before I had Elliot, we used to go to our favorite coffee shop, Vigilante Coffee, every weekend where I had my weekly coffee drink. You see, I also love coffee, but sadly it doesn’t love me back. I find that if I have plain black coffee, it upsets my stomach, and even if I have a drink with milk, it’s not great on my digestion.

But like many things in my life, sometimes it’s worth it to risk it for a cup of something delicious. About three years ago, my spouse Dan and I took advantage of a mid-week holiday to go to the weekly coffee cupping at Vigilante’s roastery in Hyattsville, where we had the opportunity to not only learn about coffee cupping technique, but also to try four of their excellent single-origin coffees, including two that Cup of Excellence coffees. Dan loves that Vigilante generally roasts their coffees lighter than the popular nationwide coffee chains, and I… well, I just love tasting things. Tea, whisky, wine, coffee. If it tastes good, I’m going to be there.

In fact, if you happened to be around when Dan and I tried to start a food blog, you’ll remember our post about cupping at Vigilante. Now, due to other factors at play in our lives during the end of 2017 and into 2018, we didn’t manage to continue the blog for long, but we did continue visiting Vigilante Coffee. I even managed a visit two days before I went into the hospital to give birth to Elliot! Their coffee is not only carefully sourced in partnership with farmers around the world, but the care they take in roasting it shines through in the elegant and complex flavors. I’m not usually a fan of acidic coffee, but their coffees have this characteristic brightness that isn’t unpleasant.

Sadly, we moved away from Vigilante last year and, while we were visiting a local cafe that serves their coffee for a while, the pandemic brought that to an end. Dan has started getting their coffee subscription delivered as we’ve moved towards getting more and more of our local food delivered, but I haven’t been able to indulge in a barista drink for a while. My go-to was a flat white, which has the most velvety milk texture, going beautifully with their espresso.

But for now, I’ll mostly enjoy the delightful aromas whenever Dan makes his morning coffee and hope to get my flat white again soon.

NB: Nothing to disclose. If you are interested in collaborating with me, please see my contact and collaboration information.

Brand Spotlight: Live Botanical (and some thoughts about “natural” skincare)

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I thought that today’s Mini Moon Challenge prompt required a bit of a longer post, and I wanted to talk about something I’ve noticed over the years in the beauty community: the science-vs.-nature false dichotomy. And this was an ideal place to discuss it because the prompt of “a full routine” not only brings up something I’ve talk about for years — the idea of a minimum acceptable routine — but also gives me a chance to highlight a brand that I think represents a balance between the ideas of “natural” products and “science-based” products.

I’ve written in the past about my previous insistence of “all-natural” products and how I no longer subscribe to that requirement, but anyone who reads this blog knows that I am still dedicated to the idea that botanicals can work with more recent compounds to make a truly holistic routine. And this isn’t just in my personal thoughts about herbalism and medicine, but also extends to beauty products. But so many of the brands that offer botanically-based products also perpetuate some of the most pernicious anti-science myths that plague the community, and so many of the brands that base their identity in scientific backing work to distance themselves from the botanical beauty concept to differentiate themselves from those myths. It becomes a kind of zero-sum game where you’re either nature or science, as though mankind doesn’t exist as a part of the global ecosystem.

The idea that science is at odds with nature, or vice versa, is artificial, since 1.) human beings are also a part of nature and the idea that nature is something you have to return to is based in the idea that man is “better” than nature, and 2.) all scientific progress at its core came from observations about nature, and was synthesized from or to replace specific natural products. So where are the brands that recognize this?

Enter Live Botanical. While this is not the only brand that manages to blend science and botanicals, it is the one that I’m most excited about right now. Not only are the products made with both botanical wisdom and scientific knowledge, but she also doesn’t engage in marketing based on myths. While her products happen to be paraben-free, she doesn’t market that loudly and doesn’t try to act like her products are somehow “safer” or “non-toxic” compared to others. What she does emphasize is how she sources ingredients, specifically how far they have to travel to get to her. Where she finds the most value in sourcing products from botanicals is in the fact that she can grow many of herself and distill extracts and hydrosols, or else source ingredients from close to her home, rather than focusing on “exotic” ingredients that not only travel great distances, but might also contribute to the othering of historically marginalized and oppressed cultures.

On each bottle, rather than stating the percentage of “natural” ingredients or claims about the safety of the products, she states the percentage of the product that is “regionally sourced,” as a way to think about the true meaning of sustainability when consuming beauty products. But these botanically-led products also contain ingredients with strong scientific backings like niacinamide, ceramides, hyaluronic acid, tremella mushroom extract, and more. She tests the pH of her cleanser and makes sure it is in an acid-mantle-friendly range. And she uses a clearly-stated preservative system that includes both ingredients as well as packaging. Plus, she acknowledges indigenous wisdom and donates to organizations that promote social justice.

But what about the products? Well, I’m a hair’s breadth from the classic three-step routine with her products. While my actual routine varies widely based on the weather, season, and my mood (or mental state), lately, they have been firmly based around these four products. In the morning, I cleanse with her cleansing gel, apply vitamin C if I feel like it, and then use the Radiance Elixir and Ambient Moisture Liquid. In the evening, I double cleanse with her cleansing oil and gel and then use an acid serum. From there, it’s the same Radiance Elixir and Ambient Moisture Liquid, plus a balm if I’m feeling extra dry, or an oil if I’m not. And on days or nights when I just can’t do anything more, I can always cleanse with her cleansing gel and apply a couple pumps of Ambient Moisture Liquid.

I love that I have been able to try minis of all her products. I’ve already rebought full-sized bottles of the cleansing oil, Radiance Elixir, and Ambient Moisture Liquid, but I’m trying to decide if I want to go back to my old cleanser to use up my current stock before repurchasing the cleansing gel. I probably won’t and will simply gift my unopened bottle of my previous favorite to a friend or family member because I seriously love the cleansing gel. My skin is extremely picky about water-based cleansers and this is literally only the second one that hasn’t eventually caused my skin or wonky eye to freak out. And this has the benefit of being made by a company of less dubious morality than my previous favorite.

So that’s my rant about natural beauty and how I base my routine largely around products from Live Botanical. I highly recommend you check them out. And if you have, please let me know what your favorite product is!

NB: I am not a medical professional or a licensed herbalist. None of this is intended to be taken as medical advice. Please consult your own treatment professionals for advice. No brand relationships or PR gifts to disclose. For more information about collaborating with me, see my contact and collaboration information.

Tea Together Tuesday: On Gifts and Love Languages

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Today on Tea Together Tuesday, a delightful community tea prompt hosted by Tea with Jann and Tea is a Wish, the prompt is to share the best gift you’ve received since beginning your tea journey. Well, I would be completely remiss if I didn’t talk about my number one supporter of my love of tea and teaware: My mother. She has given me at least half the vintage cups in my collection, as well as plenty of my other teaware. In our family, little gifts, often for no particular reason, are one of the ways we show love, and gifts for events (birthdays, holidays, celebrating milestones, etc.) doubly so.

So I would have to say that the best gift I’ve gotten has been her amazing gift of a pure silver teapot for my birthday last year. After Elliot’s birth, I went through a period of time of rediscovering my identity, and moving away from being “that tea lady” to identifying myself more with my role as a parent. But eventually, I did have to return to tea beyond a simple mug of grandpa-style brew, and this gift had a lot to do with that. In addition to just being completely gorgeous, it represented a new kind of teaware that I needed to investigate and experiment with.

I first heard about the benefits of pure silver teaware while reading Char’s blog Oolong Owl, and later realized that Scott of Yunnan Sourcing uses one in his videos on YouTube. Similarly to unglazed clays, the 99% (or higher) purity silver reacts with the tea inside and can change the flavor of your tea in interesting ways. I chose to start with silver and not clay for a very simple reason: I am clumsy and would be less likely to break a metal teapot. Plus, silver isn’t absorbent like clay can be and you can use it for multiple types of teas without worrying about flavor mixing.

But they are rather pricey, generally running at least $250-500. So I was excited when my mother, who always strives to make sure we really treat ourselves to something frivolous and impractical for our birthdays, had me pick out a teapot and a tea subscription to go with it. So now I had a beautiful new piece of teaware to excite my tea passions, as well as months of new teas.

Over the year and a half that I’ve had it, I’ve come to get to know the pot quite a bit. I find that it tends to soften and smooth out teas, so it’s nice with a slightly edgy black tea or raw puer, but I think my favorite in it is aged white tea. I was chatting with Misha from Path of Cha and he mentioned that he likes aged white teas in silver, so I pulled out a neglected cake of Shou Mei that I got off Amazon and, wow, the combination of a little age and the silver made it much more enjoyable than I had remembered. It wasn’t bad, just forgettable, and the silver really made it syrupy and sweet.

And from here, I realized that I would eventually actually have to try a clay pot…

NB: The pot featured in this post was a gift from my mother. If you are interested in collaborating, please see my collaboration and contact information.

The Virus Diaries: Routines and Self Care

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(Make sure to read to the end for a discount code to try my latest morning tea!)

It has been a while since I’ve shared a Virus Diaries update, but since we just passed the six-month mark of isolating at home, I thought it was time. Today, I’m going to be talking a bit about some routines I’ve started to try to break up the day and take moments for self-care. In the before times, I woke up around 5:30 or 6 to have time to myself and make sure I got my shower before my spouse and toddler woke up. I had a pretty solid morning routine, along with an hour-long commute, to help me set my mental tone of the day. But with the complete upheaval of my routines due to isolating, I’ve found myself less and less inclined to stick to my routines.

A friend on Facebook posted a Twitter thread from someone who has experiencing working on long-term disaster response projects about how the six-month mark of a response is one of the walls that you tend to hit. I know I’m feeling that. I haven’t been terribly coy about my mental health issues in the past, but the last month has been particularly difficult, as it’s becoming apparent that I might need a medication adjustment. As such, I’ve found myself dealing with slightly worse depression. This does not make me want to stick to a routine, even though sticking to a routine is one of the things that I know will make me feel better.

Well, one of the things I’ve been trying to do is to come up with a micro-routine. I’ve talked about this idea when I’ve talked about skin care — this is basically an emotional version of my “minimum acceptable routine” for my skin care. For me, that means having something to mark the morning and something to mark the evening. And of course, being who I am, this is going to involve tea.

Gone are the days when I started my mornings with a long gongfucha session with some yancha, but I can make a cup of herbal tea. So I was tickled when Mircea and Ana from Health from Europe contacted me about trying some more of their herbal teas and the collection they sent me included their Sunrise and Sunset teas. While both are herbals and contain no caffeine, the Sunrise tea contains some more invigorating herbs, like wild mint, rosemary, and nettle, while the Sunset tea is practically the same blend I like to make for myself in the evenings: lemon balm, lavender, and chamomile.

I was surprised by the complexity and uniqueness of the Sunrise tea. The flavor and aroma are savory, brisk, and yet also slightly sweet. The wild mint in the blend lends it this beautiful light herbal sweetness, while the nettle and rosemary give it a savory quality that I love first thing in the morning on an empty stomach. I make a cup of it as they recommend using slightly under boiling water. It takes just a few minutes and I have a cup of something to sit and sip for as long as I get until my toddler wakes up and my day starts in earnest. It’s not a half an hour of yoga and a long gongfu session, but it’s something.

Then, in the evening, while Elliot gets his bath and I’m working on my evening skin care, I can make a cup of the Sunset tea. The blend is intensely familiar to me, and each flavor is perfectly balanced, so that it doesn’t taste like one herb with an afterthought of the other flavors. It’s soothing and calming. I brew my tea in a covered mug to keep it warm while I put Elliot to bed, and then I can sit in the dark and sip my tea while reading a book to wind down before going to sleep.

Perhaps my favorite thing about the herbal teas from Health from Transylvania is that they are not cut-and-sifted herbs. These look like whole herbs, plucked from the garden, and dried without crumbling, before being packaged and sent off. They look like the (very few) herbs I forage from my yard and dry myself. They look like real plants. While I love my bulk cut-and-sifted herbs, there is an extra element of connection to the plants that I feel when I use these teas. I can identify the specific part of the blend as I put the leaf into an infuser or teapot, and that adds to the experience. Needless to say, the quality is amazing and the flavor, too.

If you are interested in trying teas from Health from Europe, I have a code, JENN15, that will get you 15% off your first order and will give me a small commission to support my work here and on other platforms. Let me know if you try these amazing teas! They also sell jams, which I’ve also tried and enjoy, so be sure to check those out.

NB: These teas were sent to me free of charge for me to feature, and my discount code, JENN15, earns me a commission if you make a purchase with it. All thoughts are my own. If you are interested in collaborating with me, please see my contact and collaboration information.