A Week in the Life of a Non-Influencer

Or “Blogging for the Small Potato.”

Inspired by Tracy’s recent post at Fanserviced-B, I’ve been thinking a bit about what blogging means to me and what advice I would give to someone who was thinking about starting a blog. Because, you see, I’m a lot closer to where you would be than someone like Tracy is. While I have almost ten years’ worth of defunct blogs under my belt, I’ve only been at this space for a little over two years and have therefore built up two years’ worth of audience and “influence.”

And I’m just now starting to feel like a “blogger” rather than a person who happens to have a blog. That said, I don’t neglect much of my daily life in favor of blogging or social media. I don’t spend money on the blog, other than what I would already spend to “treat myself.” Because this isn’t strictly a beauty blog, I don’t have to keep a constant influx of product to maintain a review schedule. Honestly, I feel like I’m posting more beauty reviews that I would really like lately because I have a backlog of things I want to share with you because I’ve enjoyed them or because I have other opinions on them. And then there’s always tea. My goal is to post three posts a week, which has lately been one beauty review, one tea post, and one wildcard, but that has been known to change. Basically, I’m not making any money off this, not even to cover my costs, so I don’t feel terrible letting it fall by the wayside on weeks when life picks up.

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Here, I’ve decided to share what a week’s worth of blogging activities looks like for me, a small-time blogger. I have a full-time job and commute 2+ hours each day as well. After my week, I’ll also share some tips for the new blogger, from someone who hasn’t made it big.

Thursday:

On Thursdays, I telework, which means I wake up at 6-6:30 a.m. like normal, but I have a couple extra hours in the morning that I don’t spend commuting. I usually use this time for blog-related activities (although wedding planning has crept in at the edges sometimes).

Blogging: I usually try to post on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, so I looked at my blogging drafts and the photos I had and planned what I was going to post on Friday. I wrote the post reviewing my favorite deep conditioners and got it ready to post. I also took a bunch of photos while I had sun coming through the window.

Social Media: I actually joined an online course about increasing Instagram engagement since I’ve come to realize that Instagram is my preferred form of social media. But I need to be better about engaging with people myself.

Friday:

I managed to wake up on time and so I had some downtime in the morning before work to work on my blog post. In the evening, we took off to go to Philadelphia, which is halfway to New York City, where we planned to spend Saturday.

Blogging: I posted my review of hair masks.

Social Media: First Instagram lesson was optimizing your profile, so I updated my profile a bit. I also posted a bunch on my Story as we made our way up to Philly, plus my travel evening skin care routine.

Saturday:

Other than a few shares early in the morning (including a makeup routine selfie), I was largely radio silent on Saturday. We had our trip to the opera, which I talked about on Monday, but the main things were that 1.) our hostess didn’t like it when anyone pulled out a device during lunch (heavens forbid I’m that person with a phone out during the opera!), and 2.) no one else had their phones out to take photos, other than one family at the restaurant taking a family photo. I just felt gauche taking photos, even though I kept seeing things I wanted to share.

Blogging: None

Social Media: Posted in the morning and evening on my Instagram Story, plus posts of my makeup and a philosophical post after finishing a book. Instagram lesson was about cohesion of my feed, so I thought about how to tighten the visual theme of my images. I also started trying to increase my commenting on Instagram.

Sunday:

We were up early and on the road before 9 a.m., getting home before noon, but we were supposed to help out a friend who’d recently moved, so my afternoon was filled with that. Plus I was just dying of allergies.

Blogging: Sketched out the posts I wanted to put up for the week, including starting to write my opera review. Too dark to take photos by the time I got to blogging in the evening, though.

Social Media: Instagram lesson was about strategy, which I thought about. Decided to actually make an effort to post 1-3 times a day, spaced by at least eight hours.

Monday:

Teleworking again because of subway construction, so I had extra time to devote during the day.

Blogging: I used my extra time to finish my opera post and write a post for Wednesday. I also took photos while I had morning light.

Social Media: Instagram lesson was about focus, which I lack, both in my blog and my Instagram feed. I actually made the decision to write a general lifestyle/personal blog, rather than just writing a beauty blog or just writing a tea blog because this blog is a personal labor of love, not an attempt at starting a business. So I guess a little lack of focus is to be expected. But I’m hoping I can try to tie things together a little neater.

Tuesday:

Slept in because seasonal allergies are the pits. But I had some free time later in the day after work.

Blogging: Polished my Matchaeologist review and did some blog housekeeping. The Matchaeologist review made me break the seal on affiliate links, so I added an Affiliate and Referrals page and put up some referral links from other places that I frequent.

Social Media: Instagram lesson today was about using Instagram to sell products, which isn’t really useful to me right now. But hey, if there are any brands itching to do a collaboration, I put up a contact page so you know where to find me. Most of my progress was just keeping up the engagement. I should do an “Instagram Engagement for Introverts” post because I find it really hard to comment on other people’s posts because I get into my head and worry that no one cares what I have to say. Maybe they don’t, but it’s nice to get comment replies. I also discovered that standing on the platform waiting for the train is a great time to fit in some Instagram commenting. I also shared my blog page on my personal (i.e., non-pseudonymed) Facebook page, which was actually a big step. So now at least I know my mom reads my blog. After more than two years.

Wednesday:

Wednesday was a particularly big blog post day because I was posting a review of something I got at a discount in exchange for a review. Now, I’m a small-time blogger. I don’t get brands knocking on my email to offer my promotional products. Every free or discounted item I have ever gotten to review I have gotten by asking the brand’s PR team if they would send me something. This is a touchy subject among bloggers, so I’ll say this: The trick to asking for free stuff is to be gracious and accepting no matter what the response is. When I asked Matchaeologist, they said they could offer me a deep discount, but not something for free. And you know what? I probably would have bought something anyway because it was a thing I was interested in.

Blogging: Published my Matchaeologist review.

Social Media: Wednesday is the day when I get up at 5:30 a.m. and go to barre class, so I posted my early morning on my Story. Instagram lesson was about sounding like an authority, which I’m oddly good at, considering I’m not much of an authority about anything I blog about.

So that was my week. It’s far less exciting than an actual influencer, but it gives a little idea about what blogging is like for mere mortals. This will probably never be a career for me, and I don’t expect it to, but I’ve seen a creep in my traffic over the last two years, without really doing much of anything but write about what interests me. So I guess I’ll leave you with my tips for novice bloggers:

  1. Remember that the bloggers that inspire you have been at this for a while. It’ll probably take two to five years build the following they have, unless you want to play games with clickbait titles and topics.
  2. Do this because you enjoy it, at least at first. Especially since it’s going to be costing you way more money than it makes you.
  3. Use what you already have and supplement sparingly. Instead of buying a DSLR right away, see where your iPhone will get you. Or try to find an inexpensive camera to get started. When I started thinking about doing more videos, I bought a tripod for my phone, rather than a new video camera. It’s not the absolute best quality, but I’d rather spend $14 to see if I enjoy something rather than $600 to discover that I hate it.
  4. If you’re planning on doing reviews, make a plan for the products you review. Know how long you’re going to test them and when the review will come out. That way you’ll avoid having a backlog to work through and can try to budget your beauty purchases.
  5. Give it some time to figure out your voice. Things will change. You will look back on old posts and cringe. We all go through it.

So I guess that’s what I have to say about blogging, as a small-time blogger. I think it’s important to see both sides, especially when you’re starting a new blog, because chances are you’ll be a lot more like me than like someone like Tracy, at least at first. Good luck!

Tea Tasting: Matsu Matcha and the Matcha Brewing Kit from Matchaeologist

NB: These products were provided to me at a discount in return for this review, but all opinions are my own. If you would like to support this blog, please use my affiliate link to access the store here. It has also been added to my Affiliate and Referral Links page. For more information about sponsorship at Tea Leaves and Tweed, click here.

Last week, I wrote about my experience tasting a Korean matcha that suggested to me that I had not perhaps exhausted the higher end of quality in my previous matcha tastings. I decided to expand my matcha horizons, and to that end, I contacted Matchaeologist to see if they were interested in working with me on a review. They were very helpful and suggested I use the discount they offered me to purchase their Matcha Brewing Kit.

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First I should make a note about preparing matcha. Traditionally, match is prepared in a special bowl, called a chawan, whisked with a traditional handmade bamboo whisk, called a chasen. The Matchaeologist kit includes both of these things, along with a bamboo measuring spoon (“chashaku”), although the chawan is a more modern, double-walled clear glass bowl. That said, I have never owned any of these things before. I made my matcha in a mug or tea cup, using a handheld electric milk frother to create the foam and blend the matcha. And it works well, for less money than purchasing a full matcha setup. I did use this method to brew the matcha from Matchaeologist at least once to see how it held up, and it produced a nice cup of matcha. I do prefer the whisk because I can make a cup of matcha without sifting the powder, but matcha novices should consider getting an inexpensive electric frother if the traditional setup seems a bit expensive, although the kit does provide a slight discount from the pieces purchased individually.

Now, on to the matcha. Matchaeologist includes a tin of their mid-range Matsu matcha in the brewing kit. It is a ceremonial grade matcha, with a price on par with most high-quality matcha I’ve seen elsewhere. The powder is silky smooth and very bright green, and the vegetal smell hits you as soon as you add the first bit of water to mix it. I mixed two measuring spoons (about one teaspoon) of powder with about two ounces of water to make usucha for my morning cup. It blends easily and whisks up to a nice stable froth (in the photo above, the usucha had cooled considerably by the time I got that photo, and yet the foam remained).

Upon tasting, it is a much more intense flavor than the delicate Wooree Korean matcha I reviewed last week. The flavor is powerfully of green, leafy vegetables. It tastes of cooked spinach and chard, although not unpleasantly. It tastes of bright green cooked vegetables, not overcooked vegetables, and it lacks almost any bitterness or pronounced acidity. It has a smooth mouthfeel and an almost creamy undertone to the flavor that makes it quite easy to drink, almost like the feel of a matcha latte without actually having sugar or milk. I can feel an immediate physical effect: that particular matcha buzz that makes me feel I could take on the world with a smile and a whistle. And even when I drink it on an empty stomach, it does not upset it.

It was, in fact, such a lovely experience, that I am now excited to go back and buy the three more grades of matcha that Matchaeologist offers. There are two ceremonial grades, one more and one less expensive than Matsu, plus a culinary grade that looks quite intriguing. I’m curious to see if Matchaeologist’s Midori culinary grade matcha could make a matcha latte without any sweetener that still satisfies that craving. If their other grades are anything like their Matsu matcha, I expect to be impressed.

Readers of this blog are invited to use the code “tealeavesandtweed” to get 15% off a purchase at Matchaeologist (expiring 31 July 2017), and again, if you would like to support this blog, please use the affiliate link at the top of this post to go to the store. It’s likely any affiliate income will simply go into purchasing more matcha to share with you!

Outings: A Trip to the Metropolitan Opera and Eugene Onegin

This weekend, I had a bit of a treat: it was my yearly trip to the Metropolitan Opera with Fiancé’s family friend. It’s always something I look forward to, since we started doing it a couple years back, because it’s both a fun thing for someone with theater and voice training to experience, as well as a glimpse into a kind of old-fashioned lifestyle that I wouldn’t otherwise get to see.

Our weekend always starts with a drive up to Fiancé’s parents’ house the night before. They live at approximately the halfway point between our house and New York City, so it makes sense to drive up that evening, sleep there, and drive to New York City in the morning, where the closer proximity makes it an easier day trip. The next morning, we leave bright and early, stopping for Starbucks at our usual stop, and then arriving in the city just before noon.

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This time, we ate at the Opera house restaurant, which is an exercise in luxury and service. The gentleman who served us seemed like an old pro, like those old steak houses where the waiters seem like they’ve been serving ladies and gentlemen steaks as a career for the last 40 years. It was early in the day, so we had a choice of lunch or brunch. Fiancé’s friend and her friend chose lunch; we chose brunch. Fiancé chose one of the most decadent French toasts I’ve ever had. And of course, prosecco to accompany.

From there, we went to the box, where we watched the first act of Eugene Onegin, an opera that is unmistakably Tchaikovsky from its opening notes. It’s an interesting opera because the first of the three acts feels interminably long. It takes over an hour for our young heroine Tatiana to fall in love at first sight with her neighbor’s handsome friend, Onegin, for her to confess her love in a cringeworthy teenage love letter, and be (gently) rebuffed by him. Even the opera veterans with us complained a bit that they were ready for a break.

At intermission, we returned to the Opera House restaurant to find a pot of coffee waiting for us at our table for Fiancé. Upon our arrival, fresh chocolate soufflés were brought out, along with a little pitcher of crème Anglaise. They were delicious, though lighter in chocolate flavor than my absolute favorite chocolate soufflé. But a delightful interlude. The intermission lasted longer than it took to have soufflé and coffee, so Fiancé and I walked around and looked at the costumes on display on the Parterre level.

Act II picked up the pace considerably. A grand country house’s ball opened the scene, and I recognized a fair amount of music from barre exercises in my old ballet classes, which was fun. There was even a little section sung in French, which was a welcome contrast to Russian. And then, to end the act, a duel and what is probably the absolute swiftest operatic death scene I’ve ever seen.

The second scene of the second act is where the story starts taking a darker turn, with two friends dueling over a woman with whom the title character only flirts with out of his own misplaced sense of annoyance. And the scenery reflected that so beautifully. They used mirrors to give a sense that the barren wasteland of the set went on forever. It reminded me of something out of a Dali painting.

Act III was similarly paced, again opening with a ball scene. This act reinforced something that I had noticed from the beginning: the use of offstage singing to give a sense that the onstage character was somehow set apart from the rest of the world. In the first act, the women open the show onstage while villagers sing offstage, giving a quaint feeling of a stolen glance at private life. In the third act, Onegin sits in the periphery of a dazzling party. But they used the same wasteland set, with only the addition of columns to suggest the architecture of St. Petersburg. As Onegin sits miserably on the sidelines, he sees a vision of his past: Tatiana, the girl he spurned. Only now, she has blossomed into a self-confident woman, and of course he falls madly in love with her.

And she is not unaffected by him. But the highlight of the first scene is the beautiful basso aria sung by her husband, the Prince Gremin, about how much he loves her. I got a sense of a woman, spurned by her first love, meeting a man who showers her with all the affection she had hoped for from the other. But upon seeing Onegin again, she remembers what it is to feel that love herself.

In the final scene, the two of them meet and Onegin declares his love, begging her to run away with him. This is where the opera dazzled. Instead of spurning him right away, or falling desperately into his arms and a happy ending, Tatiana first rounds on him and asks him why now. Why is she good enough for his love now? It’s a brilliant sight, watching this grown woman throw a petulant and immature man’s declaration in his face. He himself had admitted only a scene earlier that he hasn’t made anything of himself, and yet she has gone from a clueless country girl to a princess.

Then, she turns to him and tells him that she loves him, too. He looks up, and you can see the hope and joy in him that his love loves him. He is going to get what he wants.

But, no. This is opera, after all, and a Russian one at that. Tatiana continues to say that although she still loves him, she is not going to forswear her marital oaths. She then tells him farewell forever (echoed from the second act when her sister’s ill-fated lover leaves her to duel his friend). And in a beautiful parallel, made all the more poignant by the complete silence of the orchestra, she walks to him, pulls him into a passionate kiss, as he had done in the first act when he spurned her. And then she turns and walks away, her heels echoing through the entire opera house.

And that’s it. Onegin falls to the ground, realizing what he’s lost and the curtain crashes down. It’s beautiful in its severity.

It almost took a moment to bring myself out of this lovely experience, but of course we had to drive back halfway home. But that is an opera I will keep with me for a while. Anyone who has the opportunity to see it should jump at it.

Beauty Review: Hair Masks and Deep Conditioning

As I’ve mentioned before, I have quite long hair. This means that, despite the fact that my scalp can actually be a bit oily, the length of my hair must be treated considerably more gently. Think of long hair as being a bit like an antique tablecloth: it takes approximately two months to grow an inch, on average, so that by the time hair is a foot long, the ends are two years old. My hair is probably close to two feet long by now, and I have been growing it for the last four years. Now hair is something we take for granted. It grows, matures, and falls out. It’s like a disposable thing. But with long hair, we have this delicate thing that has been around for year. So treating it like an antique lace table cloth isn’t a bad way to think about it (Full disclosure: this was a sentiment I first learned on The Long Hair Community when I joined about eight years ago).

And so, despite the fact that my hair is straight, normal, and relatively resilient under normal conditions, I rely on deep conditioners and hair masks as part of my regular hair routine, rather than using less potent formulations. As I’ve mentioned in the past, I’ve taken to washing my hair in one step to reduce hair fall in the shower, and the technique relies on finding quite thick formulations of both shampoo and conditioner. Because my favorite shampoo for this method is currently Deciem’s HiF Intensive Detox, which is a clarifying cleanser, I find that I need an extra-rich conditioner to protect my length from the cleansing power of the shampoo.

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Enter Klorane’s hair masks. I’ve been intrigued by Klorane every since I stepped foot into a pharmacie in Bordeaux on holiday and saw the beautiful display. They just seemed so natural, elegant, and French, without being overly chic or expensive like Phyto. But I never managed to try them. Then, when I started frequenting Sephora’s online site, I started eyeing them again. Sadly, the shampoos all seem to have sulfate surfactants in them, which my hair seems to dislike. So I let it fall by the wayside again. Finally, I managed to get a jar of the Mask with Desert Date into my cart, thinking it would be fun to try out. I was in a “Let’s try to be French” phase of my beauty philosophy and it appealed to that.

When I got the mask and opened it up, I was pleasantly surprised. Despite the fact that I generally dislike sweet scents for beauty products, this had a lightly confectionery scent that I still found pleasant. It helps that it’s fairly light and nondistinct (i.e., not explicitly vanilla or spice or anything recognizable, just lightly sweet and warm). It has a rich, thick, creamy consistency, almost like soft caramel frosting, and clings to my hair. I generally either wash my scalp or apply shampoo to the scalp as part of the one-step method, and then coat my length with conditioner and pin it up in a bun for a few minutes while I wash the rest of me. Then I rinse. It rinses cleanly, but leaves a nice slip, despite not having any silicones. I find that I can sometimes get away without using a leave-in creme or oil after washing, too.

After the success of the mask, I wanted to try the Conditioning Balm with Desert Date because it has very similar ingredients but costs 1/3 less than the mask. Plus, it’s in a tube, which solves the one problem I have with the mask: the jar packaging is difficult to maneuver in the shower if one wants to avoid getting water in the jar. I ordered both to compare them and have found the Conditioning Balm a worthy replacement. It is just as thick, if not a bit thicker. Indeed, I sometimes find it difficult to squeeze out of the tube. But I manage and am rewarded with the same softness and manageability.

One caveat: if you are used to using conditioners with silicones and the uncanny smoothness they impart, this conditioner may be a shock to your system. Because I wash my hair gently, I like to avoid silicones, as they can build up and make my hair oily or lank looking. So I’ve gotten used to the texture of my hair without them (although I will indulge occasionally when I’m going to wear my hair down). But at first, your hair may seem more tangled or rough because you are used to the texture when smoothed down. So if you require silicones to keep your hair manageable, this is probably not for you. And, of course, check the ingredients for your particular sensitivities. It does have a couple ingredients that I know might make my skin break out, so I make sure to wash my back after rinsing the conditioner to avoid spots on my back, but I haven’t seen a problem with hairline spots since I started using this.

The bottom line is that this is my favorite conditioner right now. If I didn’t still have a few others to finish up, I would use it exclusively, price be damned.

NB: I bought these products with my own money and have not been provided any incentive to review them. All opinions are my own.

Tea Tasting: Korean Imperial Blend Green Tea and Matcha from Wooree Tea

As my readers know, I’ve develop an interest in beauty products from East Asia, particularly from South Korea. The South Korean government has done a great job of marketing their exports and boosted the popularity of Korean beauty worldwide. Now, of course, I also drink a lot of tea, much of which comes from Asia, but until recently, I’ve never really looked into Korean teas. I tend to buy my green teas from Japan, my oolong from Taiwan, and my black teas from either China or India. Where does Korea fit in?

It turns out that Korea has an interesting tea-growing history. The apocryphal tale is that the Indian princess Heo Hwang-ok brought tea with her when she married the ruler of a kingdom in southeastern Korea in the first century BCE. Tea cultivation became more widespread as Buddhism took hold in Korea and was associated with that practice until the secularization of the Joseon Era. However, tea-drinking entered a decline, until a well-documented comment from a Joseon-Era king who, when presented with a way of making money by selling high-quality Korean tea, said “We do not have a tea-drinking custom in our country.” But there are still tea plantations in Korea, notably on Jeju Island, home of several skin care companies who tout green tea in their products.

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Wooree Tea started when the founders visited Korea as part of their charity work with orphans there. They tried some of the local tea and were so impressed by it that they decided to start a company, based in their native Auckland, NZ, selling luxury Korean teas, with a portion of the profits going to help orphans in Korea. They claim their tea has a softer and sweeter taste than Chinese tea. They claim their matcha, in contrast to Japanese matcha, is grown under natural shade from trees and mountains and tends to be grown more organically, which can translate into a softer flavor. It’s worth noting here that calling this Korean-grown powdered tea matcha may leave a bad taste in some people’s mouths, as true matcha must be made from tea leaves that are grown in deliberate shade for twenty days, which it sounds like this has not. I, however, put these prejudices aside to taste the tea.

The company had a special sample offer, where they were offering a 10g sample of their Imperial Blend green tea for NZ$0.01, plus the cost of shipping (NZ$2.50). They had an additional option to include a 10g sample of their Korean matcha for an additional NZ$6.99. So for NZ$9.50, I ordered samples of both the full-leaf green tea and the powdered tea. Do note that these are in New Zealand dollars: I found the exchange rate favorable and got away under US$7 for the whole thing. Also, despite the fact that the company stresses that they are selling a luxury product for a high price, I did not find the prices of Wooree’s teas to be exorbitant. Should I wish to repurchase the Imperial Blend green tea, it will run NZ$16 (just over US$11) for 40g in a tin or NZ$19 (just over US$13) for 80g without a tin. Compared to other tea companies I’ve ordered from, this is not even on the high end of the price range. The matcha is NZ$20 (about US$14) for 40g, which is honestly on the low end of what I’ve found for ceremonial-grade matcha (of course, this cannot be called ceremonial grade) and about on par with standard-grade matcha.

Alright, so now onto the tea. I ordered on April 10th and got a shipment notification the next day. It had shipped from Korea, so I didn’t expect it any time soon, but received my package on April 15th, which is pretty quick, I have to say. I immediately broke into my package to look at what I’d gotten and brew myself a cup.

Imperial Blend Green Tea:

This tea is very much a green tea in the Chinese style, although I find the leaves a bit smaller and more delicate than typical Chinese green tea. I will admit, I wasn’t expecting much, as I don’t typically enjoy the seaweedy, vegetal-earthy flavor of Chinese green teas. But I wanted to give it full consideration. First, I brewed it according to their brewing instructions: boil a kettle, let it cool for 3 minutes (I did this in my electric kettle with the lid open), and then steep one teaspoon of leaf in a cup of water for three minutes. This produced a very light, but enjoyable cup of tea. The first thing I noticed was that the tea was very fragrant. It smelled about like a cup of Chinese green tea, but with more subtlety. The flavor was similar, although I will say it had more flavor than the pale, almost straw-color brew suggested it would have. I got a few infusions out of it with this method.

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Next, I tried it in gaiwan, which meant the same amount of leaf in less water. I also used my kettle’s temperature control setting and brewed it at 180 F instead of boiling and cooling. I steeped for the three minutes for the first infusion, then a minute and a half the second infusion, and then a third infusion for three minutes. This method brought the flavors forward and intensified them, but still avoided both the off flavors that I dislike in Chinese green tea and also the tendency of Chinese green tea to upset my stomach.

Finally, I brewed it with my standard office brewing tools. I used my fish-lid travel gongfu set to brew with water from our hot water tap at work for three minutes, two minutes, and three minutes. Once again, it yielded an enjoyable result with none of the off flavors I get from Chinese green tea. All in all, I would call this tea a great one and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed tasting it. I will probably reorder it soon, probably in the 80g size so that I can split it between two tins: one for home and one for work.

Update: I have indeed repurchased this tea in the 80g size, which arrived as two sealed 40g packages. I now find it my favorite daily green tea, and I generally drink it grandpa-style.

Korean Matcha

As I mentioned before, it’s odd to consider this “luxury matcha,” as it is not shade-grown in accordance with the highest standards of Japanese matcha, and it is not sold at a high price. Indeed, the main photo on the Wooree website of this matcha is that of a matcha latte, which is not where you would use a high-quality matcha powder, both for economic reasons and because the subtleties of a high-grade matcha would be lost in the flavor of the milk. But the fact that it’s not terribly expensive allows me to overlook this and just taste tea.

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Now, I’ve drunk matcha in the past, but I’ve come to the realization that what I had was not very high grade. Also, I lack real matcha preparation tools. So I took my Korean matcha and saw how it behaved with a hobbyist’s toolset. I sifted a teaspoon into a tea cup with a tea strainer, and then added two ounces of 176 F water and mixed it with my electric milk frother.

And oh my. It was a lovely cup of matcha. It was smooth and while it had an intense green tea flavor and bitterness, it was never unpleasant. Indeed, the smoothness almost gave it the creamy, soft flavor of a matcha latte, but without the milk or sugar. It also frothed up nicely with a stable crema using the electric whisk, and I found no grit or sediment after I finished my cup. The second time I tried it, I tried skipping the sifting and found it was still an enjoyable cup, but there was a bit more sediment, so I will continue to sift it in the future.

I do not know if I will repurchase the matcha, as I have more matcha coming from a Japanese company soon, but I am curious how the Korean matcha compares to high-grade Japanese matcha, particularly when I get my proper matcha tools. I would definitely call this a successful experiment. Plus, I love the happy buzz I get with matcha as compared to other sorts of tea.

I would certainly recommend that anyone interested in expanding their green tea horizons.

NB: I was not provided any special discount in exchange for this review. Although I was approached by Wooree about their ongoing sample offer on Instagram, the sample offer is open to the public at large. All thoughts are my own. More information about sponsorship here.

Sponsored Beauty Review: Naruko Raw Job’s Tears Sheet Mask

NB: I was sent these masks by Naruko in return for writing a review, but all opinions are my own. My official statement about sponsorship offers is here.

A couple weeks ago, Rachel from Naruko offered to send me a few masks so that I could review them and see how I liked them. I’ve been intrigued by Naruko since seeing Jude’s posts on them, but I always got distracted by something shinier when I went to buy something from them. So I leapt at the opportunity. We had a little conversation about my skin type and concerns and one of the masks she suggested was the Raw Job’s Tears Supercritical CO2 Pore Minimizing and Brightening Mask. Say that one five times fast!

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Naruko is a Taiwanese company, founded by the preternaturally youthful and attractive Niuer, which focuses on creating products of superior effectiveness and quality control. They also happen to have products in a variety of price ranges, and using both scientifically-studied ingredients and more traditional botanical ingredients. I was particularly drawn to them because of their various floral lines. In fact, I’ve been eyeing products from their Rose line for ages because, well, I just love anything rose. They even make a Rose cushion blush that might make its way into my cart in future.

Now, I received the masks in record time and they just happened to come at time when I was plagued with spots from a hormonal swing, as well as just general stress and poor health habits during tech week for Pygmalion. So I jumped right in and used one of these masks on the Sunday after our second weekend of shows, which happened to be the weekend we had had four shows, a positive marathon compared to my usual community theatre experience. I had a large spot sprouting on the side of my chin. I figured at the very least, the coolness of a mask would calm it down.

Well, the first mask I tried didn’t really do much except generally soothe and hydrate my skin, but when I tried it again later in the week, when the spot had had a little time to run its course, I noticed an immediate reduction of the appearance of the remnants of this spot. So it’s a nice effect. I used the third mask they sent last night because I was PMSing pretty hard core and expecting some spots to appear, but they haven’t yet.

The essence is lightweight and not sticky and absorbs quickly after I’ve taken the mask off, but it stays pretty moist for 40 minutes or so. It smells lightly of apple juice to me, which is odd but not unpleasant. The fit isn’t bad — it basically fits my face with a little tenting around the bridge of the nose and gaps around the nose, but it’s stretchy enough to deal with the slightly small eye holes. All in all, a nice mask. I might repurchase this when I’ve run through my other stash of masks because it is nice for the occasional breakout. The pore care aspect of is something I usually rely on my Tosowoong Pure Propolis Mask for, but I find the essence in the Naruko Job’s Tears Mask to be lighter and possibly more in line with summer skin care.

This was a lovely introduction to Naruko, however, and I’m excited to try the other masks they’ve sent, as well as maybe branching out into the rest of their line.

A Bridal Tea (and a recipe, at the end!)

This weekend, my mother and my dear friend hosted what I like to call a bridal tea in my honor. You see, Fiancé and I have decided to forgo any gifts for our wedding, but my lady friends still wanted to have a day to get together and celebrate my engagement. What better way, I thought, than to have an afternoon tea?

When I was a small girl, my mother used to have tea parties with me at least a few times a week. I would come home from kindergarten in the afternoon and instead of just making a snack, she would lay out little sandwiches, some sweets, and a pot of tea. She even had an adorable collection of miniature tea sets for the occasion, her crowning glory (and my inheritance) being the Brambly Hedge miniature tea set. I remember going to antique stores trying to find one of every season in the set.

So I knew my mother would host a wonderful tea. I also asked my friend to help her because she makes delicious homemade bread and what could be a better accompaniment to my mother’s amazing baked goods than tea sandwiches made on homemade bread? And the afternoon tea time slot was perfect for a celebration, as I still had one more evening show of Pygmalion to perform, and we would all be finished in time to get to the theatre.

The celebration was beautiful, and we had far too much food, which was all delicious. I did make a batch of my own famous cream scones, as well as a batch of mini Victoria sandwich cakes to add to the celebration, but by and large, the spread was done entirely by the two hostesses and I got to sit back, maybe fuss over a pot of tea. My mother even made miniature panna cotta with a raspberry topping in their own individual cups, as well as getting a box of macarons from a local French bakery and a box of assorted mini pastries from the bakery we’ve frequented since I was young.

Fiancé left for the afternoon so we ladies could flutter and coo to our hearts’ content. It was lovely to see this quite eclectic group of my friends and family (and soon-to-be family) come together and socialize. The director of Pygmalion even brought a silly hat with a veil that I could wear, as the bride. It rather felt like my entrée into the final stretch of my wedding planning, honestly. With Pygmalion at an end and the wedding looming next month, I have the last finishing touches to finish up before the big event. And what better way to get back into the swing of planning than with a cuppa tea?

With that, I suppose I shall leave you with my recipe for mini Victoria sponges, which are not so much my recipe as a recipe my castmate shared from her days in home economics in Wales.

Mini Victoria Sandwiches

Makes 12 cakes

Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 F. Line a cupcake tin with non-stick paper cases. I like these the best.
  2. Weigh three large eggs in their shells. Measure out the same weight each of self-raising flour, granulated or caster sugar, and soft unsalted butter. Lay the eggs in a bowl of hot water to come to room temperature.
  3. Beat together the butter and sugar until combined and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well, and about a teaspoon of vanilla extract. Add the flour and beat until combined.
  4. Add milk a tablespoon at a time until the batter is a soft dropping consistency, about like frozen custard or soft-serve ice cream.
  5. Spoon into the cupcake tin, filling about 2/3 full.
  6. Bake for 13-15 minutes, or until golden around the edges.
  7. Let the cakes cool in the tin until the tin is cool enough to handle without a potholder, and then remove them to a cooling rack to cool completely. Victoria sponge is very delicate when warm, but quite sturdy once it cools, so handle warm sponges gently.
  8. When they are cool, split them in half with a sharp serrated knife. Fill with jam (I like raspberry) and lightly sweetened whipped cream. Dust with icing/powdered sugar to serve.

Tea Review: My First What-Cha Tea Haul

About a month ago, I posted an unboxing of a tea order from What-Cha. I was inspired (enabled) to order after an extended conversation on Facebook about white tea and jasmine pearl tea, and considered asking if he wanted to join me in an order so we could make the free shipping minimum more easily. And then I looked at my basket and I had already made free shipping. Oops. But of course, I was running low on some things, and I wanted to try some things, so while it was maybe a bit more of a “haul” than I usually indulge in, I went with it. I looked up some reviews and saw that the company, based across the pond from me, usually took a couple weeks to ship, so I promptly decided to forget about it until it showed up as a pleasant surprise. And then it showed up a week later, which was an even more pleasant surprise.

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I was immediately touched by the handwritten note tucked in by Alastair from What-Cha. Not only does he have beautiful handwriting, but it really made me feel like the order was given a bit of a personal touch. I wondered if the samples and mystery tea in my order were selected based on considering the other things I’d ordered, rather than just tossing in whatever they had a crate of. So far, I’ve tasted almost all of the teas included, so I thought I’d share my thoughts.

Sticky Rice oolong: This was the first tea I tried from the order and it was actually the free sample they provided. It is a rolled oolong that smells of sticky rice (or popcorn, to me). And it really does smell like popcorn. I brewed it in gaiwan and shared my first impression on my Instagram Story and anyone who caught that knows that I found the popcorn scent completely enchanting. It has a nice flavor, mellow and characteristically oolong. It’s a fun little tea.

Tie Guan Yin heavy roast oolong: This is a pretty representative Tie Guan Yin oolong. It brews up into a heady tea with notes of wood, cannabis, and oak in the nose and a creamy smokiness in the flavor that I really enjoyed. I also brewed this in gaiwan and it does well there.

Yunnan Jingmai light roast oolong: I first tried this on my birthday. I bought it because I wanted to try an oolong that was rolled into what they call “Dragon Balls.” It’s basically a little ball of tea leaves, about 3/4″ in diameter. It seems like it would be a good amount for a standard tea pot, but I found that using one dragon ball in my little gongfu set produced a brew that sent me bouncing off the walls of my office. So I cut one dragon ball in half and use it for two brewing sessions. And this does give you a session. I can easily get ten steepings out of this, starting at 30 seconds and going up to a minute with no flagging in the flavor coming out of the tea. I tend to stop steeping out of exhaustion (or over-caffeination) than out of depletion of the tea itself. I find this tea also benefits from a bit of a rinse, as the first cup is otherwise a bit insipid until the dragon ball softens and opens up a bit.

Sencha of the Summer Sun: This is a standard, lovely Japanese green tea. I’ve actually taken to drinking it from my English bone china tea-for-one set instead of faffing about with my kyushu set because it just handles suboptimal conditions so perfectly without becoming bitter or unpleasant. It’s a sunny little tea and, though not ground-breaking, perfectly enjoyable.

Jasmine green tea pearls: I have only tried this one once, so I don’t have a lot of notes on it, but this is a lovely jasmine tea. It is jasmine-scented, rather than flavored with jasmine petals, but the scenting is not heavy-handed and it makes a delightful cuppa.

Silver Needle white tea: This is such an amazing tea. I will admit that I had never tried white tea before. It all seemed rather a gimmick to me and I didn’t really know that there would be much difference between white and green tea. Well, there is. First of all, the leaves themselves do look like large pine needles, and have a soft, delicate, velvety texture. I just want to pet the leaves before I even steep them. But if I can bring myself to steep them, they yield a brew that is not as subtle as I was expecting, and very, very floral. It almost tastes as though they have jasmine or magnolia scent added to them, even though they don’t. I brew this in my gongfu set for 1-3 minutes and get several steepings out of it.

The last tea is the Mystery Tea that I selected. I was curious what would come of it, so I selected the option that let them give me anything: green, oolong, or black. I ended up getting a kukicha tea that looks interesting, but that I haven’t tried quite yet. I suppose I shall have to report back when I have tasted it, but I will likely post it on my Instagram, rather than taking up blog space. Please do follow my Instagram and check out my Stories for tea reviews and first impressions.

NB: I purchased of these teas with my own money and was not offered any compensation for writing this review.

In My Queue: Call the Midwife

Part of my preparation for the role of Eliza Doolittle involved trying to find good examples of the Cockney dialect. This proved a bit difficult, particularly because the Cockney dialect of the early 20th century doesn’t really exist anymore in modern life. But one suggest from our esteemed dialect coach was to try watching Call the Midwife. Well, it’s a show set in mid-century in England with a strong female cast and a willingness to observe all classes of life, which is right up my alley, so I gave it a gander. And it has quickly become one of my favorite shows to watch when I have some downtime alone.

And apart from the obvious immersion in East End London dialect, it is a fascinating story. Briefly, the first few seasons are directly based on the memoirs of a Jennifer Worth (nee Lee), who worked as a midwife in the East End of London. My favorite part is that the show follows the stories of a class of people who have not traditionally been represented in film and television, or else represented in a romanticized way. As the show progresses, the characters take on enough of their own life to let the show stray from the original source material, especially when the main character of Jenny Lee leaves the convent at which she works. Currently, I’m in the second season, so I’m curious to see how the show handles losing the main character, but so many of the other characters are engaging enough, I imagine it will work well.

I will admit that I originally avoided this show because for some reason I thought it was a modern reality show. It is, however, a rather gritty look at the reality for women in the East End in the mid century. The show does not shy away from the harsh conditions these women have to face, and it also gave new context to the lines spoken by Eliza and her father in Pygmalion. When Mr. Doolittle says “What else is there but the workhouse in my old age” if he throws away a bequest that has been needling him into respectability, this is not a flippant remark about Doolittle’s aversion to hard work; it is an honest fear that he will end up in a place that leaves people traumatized or worse. When Eliza remarks that her old flat “wasn’t fit for a pig to live in,” she is not engaging in hyperbole. Some of the places the midwives visit seem like the sort of place you would call animal control if you saw a dog forced to live there.

By contrasting the lives of the East End patients and the lives of the midwives, the show is an interesting study of privilege. When she first comes to the convent, Nurse Lee shows her privileged ignorance when dealing with her patients. Well, no, the woman who is abused by her husband can’t necessarily leave him. And there are many other examples. The character of Chummy is a particularly fascinating look at class and privilege, as she comes from a wealthy, upper-class family and often finds herself clashing with one of the convent’s sisters over class differences, simply because she doesn’t know that others didn’t have the access to things she had growing up. But she shows no stubborn pride and is able to become both an able midwife and a relatable friend to the other characters.

I will say that I am excited that the show continues on after the departure of Nurse Lee because it really sets it up as a true ensemble cast, as opposed to a main character with an ensemble behind her, the trap that Penny Dreadful fell into, to my dismay. I look forward to continuing to enjoy this lovely series, long after Pygmalion closes and I no longer need to drop my haitches and muddy my vowels.

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Beauty Review: My New Favorite Multitasker

I never thought I would be one of those women who waxed rhapsodic about a toner. But here we are. I recently bought the Klairs Supple Preparation Toner on a whim because I needed a hydrating layer and had been investigating the “seven-skin” method, where you apply multiple layers of a hydrating toner to help plump up your skin without a heavy moisturizer. The Klairs toner was recommended often enough, I decided to give it a try.

Oh my.

This toner belies its humble name. Some people consider toner next to worthless, a throwback to a time when we believed that dousing our faces in drying alcohol would rid us of our skincare sins, or else a subtle insult to the power of our cleansers. In a world of double cleansing and avoidance of irritants, why would we still need the toner? It turns out that toners can be different things to different people, and to some people, a toner is a light, liquidy layer of hydration. Some women in Seoul even started patting in seven layers of toner on a humid summer day and skipping any other form of moisturizer, in favor of the light hydration of the toner.

So I tried the Klairs toner and found it not only hydrating (it has a slightly-more-viscous-than-water texture that feels like a cushion of hydration for your face), but also soothing and amazingly relaxing. It has a light lavender scent, but not the sickly sweet version of lavender some cosmetics have. This plays up the herbaceous, spicy notes of lavender. It smells like herbal medicine, almost, and brings down any redness I might have on my face. While it does have anti-acne plant extracts, I cannot honestly say if it really did much to heal my occasional spots, though the red, angry ones do seem maybe a bit less red and angry after I’ve applied it.

I love the texture. I almost always apply at least three layers of this, simply because I love putting on my face. It’s a bit of a hazard because I find myself going through the bottle rather quickly without trying. But the product absorbs so nicely and really does feel like it is prepping my skin to absorb whatever comes next, be it a serum, sheet mask, or my beloved Liquid Gold.

All in all, this is a bit more time than I would normally spend praising a toner, but this toner has been more than a toner to me. I use it as my intermediate hydrating step, morning and night, and have actually stopped using any other essences in addition to it. This is certainly a new go-to product for me, and I’m sure I will be repurchasing this sooner rather than later.

NB: I purchased this product with my own money and have been given no incentive, financial or otherwise, to review it here.