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I’ve been running this blog for about five years and have been drinking tea for almost my entire life, and I have hosted my fair share of tea parties. From the late-night, tea and biscuits nights with my friend Rebecca, where we would drink too much Earl Grey, eat Pepperidge Farm chocolate biscuits, and stay up all night watching British comedy, to my ever-so-proper bridal tea, my teas tend to be of the British persuasion. But as I’ve gotten more into tea cultures from around the world, I’ve wanted to try sharing my tea practices with my friends, especially those who have already expressed an interest. So I recently contacted two of my friends who are not seriously into tea, but who have made comments about wanting to learn, to come over and share a tea tasting.

I decided to taste three different teas that I find particularly interesting and that will introduce different types of teaware. I also put out a couple little dishes of nuts and dried fruit, just in case people needed a little to nibble, since we were tasting from about 10 a.m. to noon.

We started with a Rou Gui in my Chaozhou pot, served traditionally in a gongfu style so that I could demonstrate the practice. It was so fun to watch them taste this style of tea for the first time. We talked about aromas versus flavors versus mouthfeel, and they asked a ton of questions. I will say, it was a little difficult to try to avoid steering their perception of the tea, since I’m so used to tasting alone in front of a camera and having to carry the entire conversation, but I really enjoyed getting their perspectives on the tea. They were particularly intrigued that we didn’t need to steep it for a long time, and that the flavor evolved over the different steepings. And when we tasted the rinse at the end of the session, they noticed some flavors that I don’t usually.

Throughout the tasting, we used my Tea Notes pad from Tea Thoughts to jot down notes, and I love how Nazanin has organized the note sheet, with a spot for “Steep Memory,” so that you’re encouraged to connect emotionally with a tea. I also think it helped keep the tasting fun and not too serious.

After the yancha, we moved on to a sort of intermission with the Malawi Antlers tea from Rare Tea Company. I chose this tea in part because the stems will have less caffeine and I know at least one person at the tasting had to be careful of caffeine, but also because it’s a lovely example of how different parts of the tea plant can have different flavors. And it was a good way to demonstrate the use of the gaiwan before I gave each of them their own to play with. They were intrigued that the Malawi Antlers tasted almost more like an herbal infusion than tea because of the lack of tannins, and at least one of them said it was their favorite of the day.

Then, we moved on to the AAA Tieguanyin from Yunnan Sourcing, which you may remember from my recent comparative tasting video. I loved this tea and I thought sharing a really floral green oolong would be a nice contrast to the spicy roasted yancha earlier in the session. I also had each of them steep it themselves with one of my 60-ml gaiwans, so we had a little interlude where we practiced pouring cold water with the gaiwan.

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We ended up spending about two hours tasting tea, talking about it, and just enjoying each other’s company. It was a wonderful way to spend time with friends and share my interests in real life, since most of my tea-related interactions happen online. And it was fun to try out hosting a tasting. I definitely want to try it again sometime!

It’s a major gift-giving season, so I thought I’d write a post about gifts for tea lovers. Note that this isn’t a “gift guide” or a “buyer’s guide” of specific things that I think you should buy. If you’re interested in that sort of thing, along with some recommendations of good companies from which to buy things, check out Nazanin’s gift guide on Tea Thoughts. But one thing that I think doesn’t get addressed nearly often enough in “gift guides” is the idea that gift-giving is about choosing a gift, not buying a gift. Choosing a gift for someone requires a set of skills that is tricky for some people (including some people I dearly love), so I thought that going through my gift-choice thought process might be helpful. I’m focusing on tea because I know a little bit about being a tea lover, and in particular, I know a little bit about being a very particular person to shop for sometimes (although I appreciate all thoughtful gifts).

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The first thing you need to choose a gift is a certain knowledge about how a person likes their tea. I think this is more important than what kind of teas they like because someone who loves tea can often enjoy new flavors, and in fact would rather have new flavors than the same old thing all the time, but how a person makes and enjoys their tea will inform a lot about what kinds of teas you’re looking for. Does your recipient like their tea British-style in a cup and saucer with milk, sugar, and/or lemon? Or do they prefer to brew in an Asian style, such as gongfu or grandpa-style? Or are they a matcha fanatic? You wouldn’t get the same gift for all three of these, even though they could all be called “tea lovers.”

It is also important to think about what kind of brewing they are comfortable with. A person who usually puts a tea bag in a mug of water will probably not have the equipment to get the most out of gyokuro, just as a person who brews all of their tea gongfu style probably won’t be able to appreciate a CTC Assam, since it often does poorly in gongfucha. Remember that a gift is first and foremost meant to enrich the life of the person receiving it, and giving them something they can’t or won’t use isn’t terribly enriching, even if it’s a very nice thing. So the person who drinks mostly teabag tea might like a selection of bagged teas from a company that takes care to use high-quality tea. And the person who drinks everything gongfu style will prefer a loose-leaf tea, probably from China or Korea.

The next thing to think about is whether or not you know that the person is interested in trying a new method. My first gaiwan was a gift from my mother because she knew I was interested in expanding my knowledge of tea brewing methods. Similarly, I bought a friend a matcha set because she expressed an interest in matcha. If you have that friend that drinks tea from a tea bag every day, but has expressed that they wished they could try something better and they just don’t know where to start, it might be appropriate to get them a simple infuser and some loose leaf tea. Or the person who drinks loose leaf and has expressed an interest in different tea cultures might appreciate being gifted teaware and tea that are associated with those cultures. I think the trick here is to know if you will need to get them the tools as well as the tea, since getting one without the other wouldn’t be very helpful.

In my tea primer, I go through different “levels” of tea (so called because they follow my own personal progression of tea practice, not because some practices are inherently superior than others) and what tools and teas might be appropriate for people at different points in their tea journey, so taking a look at that might be helpful in deciding what kind of tools you might want to get. Plus, there is something to be said for getting something that someone wants (and people rarely keep things like this a very private secret, if you listen), but thinks is too silly to buy for themself. One of my favorite recent tea gifts was a set of Turkish tea cups and tea from Rize that I got from two friends. I would never have thought to get it for myself, but I’m always interested in learning about new tea cultures, so it was like getting a tea set, tea, and a new research rabbit hole to dive down all in one!

At this point, it’s time to think about what kind of teas your recipient likes. It helps to know dislikes more than likes, since dislikes are often non-negotiable, but likes can evolve. For example, I wouldn’t get my mother a green tea because she generally dislikes green teas, but just because I know Earl Grey is her favorite doesn’t mean that I would only ever buy her Earl Grey. If you don’t have a strong knowledge of different styles of tea, it might help to see if there is a tea shop near you where the staff might be able to discuss similarities among different types of teas. For example, if your friend likes green tea, they might also enjoy a less-oxidized oolong, or if they love black teas, a roasted oolong might be an interesting new thing for them to try.

And don’t forget that tea lovers love teaware! Never underestimate the allure of even a very inexpensive tea cup, either from a Chinese gift shop or a thrift store with vintage finds. Some of my favorite teacups in my collection were purchased for under $5 from a thrift shop. I wish everyone a joyful holiday season and hope this helps take some of the stress out of gift shopping!

(Also, I know this isn’t a buyer’s guide, but if you’re looking for a beautiful gift for someone who enjoys teas from the Wuyi region of China, the photo above is how my recent purchase from Old Ways Tea came packaged and I think any tea-lover would be tickled by opening such a pretty box!)

Today I’m finishing off the third in my series of raw puerhs from Yunnan Sourcing’s “Intro to Puerh” sampler. This week’s tasting is of the set’s aged raw puerh, which is the 2002 Tai Lian “Kunming Tea Market Opening” Anniversary Cake. I was particularly excited to taste this teas because I’ve been intrigued by aging and the effects of aging on teas. Next, I want to try different years of the same tea, which I happen to have from Crimson Lotus. But on to this tasting.

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I used 7.5 grams in a 120-ml gaiwan with water at 190F. I noticed aromas of henna and caramelized sugar from the dry leaf. I rinsed it and then steeped eleven times, starting with a ten-second steeping and increasing by five seconds each steeping until the last three steepings, which were one minute, ninety seconds, and two minutes. After a rinse, I got aromas of smoke from the gaiwan lid and fruitcake from the wet leaf.

After the first steeping, the gaiwan lid had an almost Lapsang-level of smoke aroma and the wet leaf had a light smoky aroma and some sugar. The liquor was whisky colored and smelled of Islay whisky. It had a medium-light body with no dryness or bitterness and a light fruity flavor. The second steeping started to open up more, with both lid and leaf smelling of smoke and peat. The liquor was slightly darker with a prune aroma. It was still a medium-light mouthfeel with a bit more dryness and the bitterness started coming through. It was a citrus-peel bitterness. The steeping reminded me of fruitcake soaked in good whisky.

By the third steeping, the leaf had started to smell a bit greener, though the lid was still smoky. The liquor was a darker amber color with a smoky aroma. There was more citrus peel bitterness and I noticed the smoke coming through in the flavor more. I could feel some sort of body sensation but couldn’t quite put my finger on what. The fourth steeping brought less smokiness and more fruitcake into the aroma and I felt like the bitterness was evolving. By the fifth steeping, I was noticing a long sweetness behind the bitterness and the sixth steeping brought an interesting bright astringency.

The seventh steeping felt like it had mellowed. I wrote that it’s “just kind of warm and cozy,” with a bright citrus peel flavor and a little tingle. On the eighth steeping, I noticed a bit of anise aroma and a tiny hint of maple in the flavor. I pushed it on the ninth, tenth, and eleventh steepings because I could tell the flavor was starting to fade, but I was still enjoying it. I noticed it mellow into a creamy mouthfeel with flavors of sweet fruits. The tenth steeping had a lovely viscosity to the mouthfeel and a sugar sweetness, but by the eleventh steeping it was obviously done.

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The spent leaves show a slightly varied color, ranging from olive green to tan, with more broken leaves. I found this tea very interesting and I’m really curious to try it again in silver.

NB: I was sent the TEA.L Ceremony Set free of charge by TEA.L, in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts are my own. Also, TEA.L is currently offering an automatic 30% off from now until Christmas, with no code needed!

When I was a kid, my mother introduced me to afternoon tea, which we would have every afternoon when I came home from kindergarten. It was at that point that I developed a lifelong love of tea. Later on, I also developed a love of fantasy books, particularly those with dragons, so when my mother was looking for a gift for me at one point, she ended up buying me a tin of Dragonwell tea. This was my first experience with tea outside of British-style black tea with milk and sugar, and has remained a tea that is close to my heart (hence why I always have some on hand, as I mentioned in my Marie Antoinette video).

All of this is a convoluted way of explaining why, when I heard that a skincare brand was infusing their products with Dragonwell tea, I knew it might be meant to be. I first heard about the brand on Marco’s Instagram at Steap’d, and when I commented on his post, the brand reached out and offered to send me something to try. They ended up sending me their full set.

TEA.L is a skin care company whose star ingredient is Dragonwell green tea infused into the oils they use in their naturally-led products. A quick note about “green” or “clean” products: I no longer specifically seek out “natural” products, as I explain here, but I appreciate the brand’s transparency about why they choose the ingredients they do, particularly when they admit that the “paraben-free” hype is probably just marketing. And, as someone who has had a reaction to “natural” fragrance, I’m glad that they list their essential oils rather than using “fragrance” as a hide-all ingredient.

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The TEA.L Ceremony Set includes three products: the Green Tea + Guayusa Face Care, the Green Tea + Rooibos Body Care, and the Green Tea + Yerba Mate Eye Care. I started testing the Body Care and Eye Care on 11/2, and then added the Face Care a week later, just to make sure I didn’t have any reaction. At the time I’m writing this review, I’ve been using the Eye Care for four weeks and the Face Care for three weeks, morning and night. You can find my current skin care routine here; I apply the eye cream after hydrating serum but before oil, and I apply the cream after oil. I introduced each face product in complete isolation for one week at least, and I waited until after my period to make sure any breakouts were hormone-related.

Let’s start with the body cream. I only recently discovered I even like rooibos to drink after years of thinking I hated it, so I was worried I’d hate the scent of this, since Marco said it smells exactly like rooibos. And he’s not wrong, but it’s delicious. It’s a deep, earthy scent with that light bright woodiness that I get from good rooibos. My husband thinks it smells like shou puerh, but he also has the worst sense of smell. The one thing it doesn’t smell like is perfume, so I feel like I can use this even when I’m using other fragrance without it clashing. I mostly used it on my dry, dark elbows, and noticed that they got smoother, less itchy, and lighter colored.

Okay, now eyes. So first of all, I don’t use eye cream. It’s not some philosophical thing; I just don’t use it. But I tried really, really hard, and I did use my eye cream all but maybe one or two days of my testing for this. The eye cream has a rich texture, but it feels light on the skin, doesn’t irritate my eyes, and it absorbs very nicely. Also, despite being silicone-free, it spreads amazingly and I have to use an extremely small amount for both eyes — like the size of a grain of rice. It smells like cucumbers to me, which is odd given that it has no synthetic fragrance, but I like it. My absolute only complaint is that the formula does thicken in the pump head and will sometimes clog, but that’s going to happen with any cream with a high percentage of natural butters.

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Finally, the face cream. I loved the texture of the face cream. It was somehow buttery, yet light, and it almost had a sort of water-drop feeling on the skin. I used half a pump for daytime before sunscreen and a full pump at night before applying my face balm. I haven’t really used a cream regularly for a while, so I was fully prepared to feel kind of meh about it, but, honestly, I love it. Of the three products, this is the one I’m going to repurchase when I run out. I love the scent (I usually hate geranium and ylang-ylang, but the earthiness of the infused botanicals seem to ground it in a way I like). I love the texture. I love the effect on my skin. And I started using another product, the Deciem Photography Fluid, with it by adding a drop or two to my morning half-pump, and my skin looks truly stunning. Check out my Anji Bai Cha tasting video for it in action — it actually makes your skin look better under fluorescent lights.

And I actually remembered to take before and after photos! This is before starting testing on the left and after on the right (because I’m not a monster). I took the photos in the morning before putting anything on my face, or even washing it, so these are “I woke up like this” photos. So I obviously didn’t get the lighting exactly the same between them (in fact, I did try editing the “before” picture a bit to get the exposure a bit more similar), but two things immediately jumped out at me. One, my skin looks just generally evener, less red, and glowier in the after photo. And the second is that I actually notice that the crinkles at the corners of my eyes are noticeably less, well, noticeable in the after photo. Now, I’m not trying to stop the aging process, but perhaps these products are helping my skin be healthier and more elastic, which isn’t a bad thing. Of course, it’s possible that simply applying a separate eye cream is what’s doing it. But still. Color me impressed.

So those are my thoughts about the TEA.L products. I was actually really impressed, and at least one product is going to make it into my daily routine for good, which is high praise, given how much I’ve pared down my routine in recent years. Definitely check them out if you’re looking for a new cream.

Today, I’m continuing my tasting of the raw pu-erhs in Yunnan Sourcing’s “Intro to Pu-erh” sampler with their single estate raw pu-erh, the 2014 Wu Liang Mountain Wild Arbor raw pu-erh. Once again, this sample is a piece taken off a larger cake, and the sampler includes 25g of this tea, so I can taste it a few times. I tasted it in gaiwan for these notes.

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I used 7.26 grams in a 120-ml gaiwan with 190F water. After warming my teaware, I got aromas of henna, cardamom, and earth off the dry leaf. I did a rinse and then noticed aromas of fruit and woodsmoke from the wet leaf. I steeped this ten times, starting at ten seconds and increasing by five seconds each steeping, until a final steeping of a minute.

The first steeping gave off aromas of woodsmoke, fruitcake, and plums from the gaiwan lid and the wet leaf itself. The liquor was gold with a henna aroma. It had a medium-light body with no bitterness. There was a faint juiciness to the flavor, with initial notes of cardamom and ginger and a peach or apricot aftertaste. The second steeping, the liquor darkened slightly to an apricot color. The wet leaf smelled of green wood smoke and henna and the liquor had a faint fruity aroma. This steeping got a tiny bit of hoppy bitterness started, with some apricots (a blend of dried and fresh). I already started noticing a languid energy to this tea, and the cup had a sweet herbal aroma.

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The third steeping, the liquor darkened a bit more. The gaiwan lid had a henna aroma while the wet leaf had a sandalwood aroma. The liquor had a very balanced smooth bitterness, a lubricating mouthfeel, and an aftertaste of apricots and smoke. The fourth steeping brought out more smoke aromas from the liquor, and a light bitterness on the flavor and additional notes of smoky whisky and sweetness. It had an aromatic herbal finish. By the fifth steeping, I noticed the smokiness fading and the fruit coming forward. I got aromas of fresh, ripe apricots. The bitterness was also fading, with aromatic herbal flavors coming forward and a sweet aftertaste.

The sixth steeping, I started noticing an incense-y aroma off the leaves and a tip-of-the-tongue bitterness that reminded me of grapefruit peel, with a lighter mouthfeel. The seventh steeping have a beautiful balanced bitterness and aromas of incense and fruitcake. By the eighth steeping, I noticed the aromas fading somewhat, though it still had a nice apricot aroma on the liquor. The bitterness was fading, though the fruitiness remained and it had an anise aftertaste. By the ninth steeping, the aromas and flavors were still fading, and by the tenth steeping, it was obviously done.

The wet leaves were an even olive color, with some smaller leaves and buds.