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!

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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.)