Tasting Tuesday: 2008 Da Hong Pao from Old Ways Tea

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Let me tell you a secret: I don’t really enjoy writing down tasting notes. I find it removes me from the experience of a tea and interrupts my enjoyment. But the exercise is an important one to be able to converse intelligently among many in the tea community, so I practice it at least once a week. Yet, my dislike means that often I end up taking notes on teas that I feel more of an academic interest in for these weekly posts, rather than a tea that I find truly exciting.

Well, the other week, I went live with Ezra, known as @the_god_of_tea on Instagram, and had this aged Da Hong Pao and I found it so interesting that I rather regretted that our conversation was so engaging that I barely paid it its proper attention. So I resolved to take notes to share with everyone, and perhaps see if I can make an attempt to quantify what I found so compelling about it. As I’ve said before, Da Hong Pao is one of my favorite teas, from a variety that has quickly become my favorite among teas, yancha. Now, I realize that modern Da Hong Pao is rarely plucked from the original mother tree, and that it is most often blended from different yanchas, particularly Shui Xian and Rou Gui, but as I have tried most of the yancha varieties, I find that Da Hong Pao is most often the one that just has the certain special something that I enjoy. I find it reminds me of fresh cookies or brown sugar cake, a lovely warm comforting flavor.

I brewed this tea in my Chaozhou clay pot, which holds about 80ml of water. I used half a packet of tea from Old Ways, which is about 4g. I brewed at 99C. I warmed the pot and warmed the leaves and was able to detect aromas of leather and wood from the warm, dry leaf. I did not rinse, choosing instead to jump right into brewing.

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The first infusion went for ten seconds. The wet leaves gave off aromas of warm cinnamon coffee with cream. The liquor was a rich mahogany color and had a rich mouthfeel with nutty and creamy flavors. I was reminded of nothing so much as hazelnut tuiles with caramel and coffee buttercream. There was a faint leathery aftertaste.

The second steeping, for fifteen seconds, yielded aromas of cream, honey, nuts, and leather on the wet leaves. The flavor developed a slight tannic bite with a sour aftertaste that I found enjoyable, but with a rich roasted, leathery flavor underneath, and perhaps a slight undertone of sweat. It is a very sensual tea and fills the mouth and facial cavity. I was reminded of how Shuiwen from Floating Leaves Tea calls teas “puffy” and I think it might be something like that.

The third steeping was also for fifteen seconds. The roast aroma came through more on the wet leaf. The mouthfeel was pure coffee and cream, with an ever so slightly lighter colored liquor, perhaps cherrywood rather than mahogany. The flavor still had a pleasant tannic bitterness on the tip of the tongue and a sourness under the tongue that reminded me of the lightly roasted coffee from our favorite artisan roaster. The lingering flavor was coffee with cream.

The fourth steeping was for twenty seconds and yielded aromas of roast and wood on the wet leaves. After that, I simply forgot to take notes on the flavors. The body feel and experience of this tea was languid, like a cat stretched out on a velvet settee. I resumed my attention for the fifth steeping, which I let go for forty seconds. I noticed the wet leaves taking on the “wet paper” aroma that I notice as yanchas start to fade. The flavor, however, was still surprisingly bright and warm.

The sixth and seventh steepings both went for a minute each. The sixth yielded a honey-floral aroma on the wet leaves and flavor that seemed to be a mellowed amalgam of the flavors of the previous steepings, with a brightness that reminded me of a citrusy black tea cutting through it. The seventh aroma continued to fade, but with a surprising sweetness that came through as the other flavors dulled.

I steeped the tea for an eighth time for two minutes and was rewarded with a cup of tea that, while faded in flavor, color, and aroma, still managed to be enjoyable and warming, beyond a mere cup of tinted hot water. And it lacked the wet paper/pasta water flavor I get at the end of a session of other yanchas. The ninth steeping, for three minutes, showed that the tea was well and truly done. It still might have been nice steeped grandpa style, as I often do with my yanchas, but the main session was over and I was confident there would be no new tasting notes.

I think this tasting quantified the enjoyment I got from this tea in a strange way, in that it showed that it is somewhat unquantifiable. If anything, it is likely the complexity of flavors that draws me to Da Hong Pao, particularly aged Da Hong Pao. That leathery undertone in the flavor and aroma draws in a poetic part of myself. Indeed, I believe this is one of the longest tasting posts I’ve written, at least in recent weeks. And I still maintain that my first impression of any Da Hong Pao I’ve tasted is freshly baked brown sugar cookies, fresh from the oven, which is perhaps more of an emotional association than anything else. I’m curious to try the 2000 Da Hong Pao to see if the further aging will change my impression of the tea in general, particularly since it will be the oldest Da Hong Pao I will have tried thusfar.

NB: Nothing to declare. If you are interested in why I switched from tea reviews to tasting notes, read the explanation in this post. If you are interested in collaborating me or contacting me to offer my notes for your tea, please read my contact and collaboration information.

 

The Virus Diaries: Community in Isolation

NB: I am not sick at the time of writing this, but I’ve decided to make this post the first in my “Virus Diaries” series while I wait in self-isolation at home.

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If you’re in the same position as many of the people around the world, then you, like me, might be “social distancing” at home the last couple of weeks due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Or perhaps you’re actively quarantined and on official government lockdown like some of my friends. Or maybe you’re just highly introverted or have a disability that prevents you from leaving the house, even when there isn’t a global pandemic going on. Whatever the case, I’ve obviously been thinking a lot lately about feeling connected while in isolation.

Now, this is not going to be a “how to maintain sanity while suddenly working from home” post. While I do already regularly telework once a week, I’m certainly no expert in it. And I tend to break every rule in the book. Plus, I think that a certain level of forgiveness for yourself is necessary in times like these where we might not be home entirely by choice. Plus, better bloggers than I have tackled the subject brilliantly.

Oddly enough, I’ve been less isolated the last two weeks because not only am I working from home, but my husband and toddler are also home. So I get comparatively little time alone. But the one thing that I have had to sacrifice are plans that involve going out with other people. No more tea dates or rehearsals or gym classes. And, surprisingly enough for my introverted self, that’s been tough. But the most poignant thing I’ve noticed since this isolation started is that people in my circles of friends are stepping up and engaging in so much more virtual communication. People are going live on Instagram. People are hosting Zoom play readings. I’ve been added to a Facebook group where we post phone videos of us singing Broadway songs according to the weekly theme. And I’ve found myself involved with some friends on Instagram who are keeping up their fitness routines using the Daily Yoga app.

I was originally enabled by Jude Chao at Fifty Shades of Snail to download and try the Daily Yoga app. While I’m a yogini of twenty years and used to have a very robust home practice, that has changed a lot since having a baby and moving to a smaller house and I’ve found myself lacking the motivation to get up and do yoga in the morning. Couple that with a sudden lack of walking now that I’m no longer walking over a mile each way to get to and from work and I found myself looking at a bout of inactivity-induced depression. So I started posting to their hashtag and tagging the others and linked up with a group of people who are also just trying to beat back inactivity and maybe get a little bit bendier.

Yesterday, I celebrated my fourteenth day of a yoga practice streak, which is the longest I’ve gone since starting on the app a month or so ago. And I seriously couldn’t have done it without the support and accountability of my virtual friends. To celebrate, I ordered some new silver needle white tea and a meditating woman statuette to use as a tea pet on my tray from my favorite local tea shop, Valley Brook Tea.

I think, in general, I’ve found that millennials might be dealing with distancing better because we’re used to “making friends” virtually. I already have a bunch of friends I’ve never met face to face, or have met maybe once in person, but with whom I feel pretty close. So it’s not that big of a stretch to transfer some of my in-person friendships to the virtual world for a while. At the same time, I’m noticing some of my older friends bemoaning the “isolation” because they don’t consider virtual community “real” community. But these are communities. I’ve even heard people insist on calling this “physical distancing” instead of “social distancing” because we can still connect socially, even if we’re not physically in each other’s company.

So I have so much gratitude for my community, virtual or otherwise. Happy distancing.

NB: Nothing to declare. For more information about collaborating with me, click here.

Tasting Tuesday: Yunnan “Early Spring Silver Strands” Green Tea of Simao from Yunnan Sourcing

 

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This Tuesday, I’m digging into my tea basket for some forgotten gems, including this Yunnan “Early Spring Silver Strands” Green Tea of Simao that I got from Yunnan Sourcing a while ago. True, green tea is usually at its best when it’s fresh, but that’s not stopping me from giving this a shot. And, I’d actually been looking for an assamica green tea for an upcoming historical tea video, so stay tuned!

I brewed this with 85C water. I used 5g in a 120-ml porcelain gaiwan. After warming my teaware, I noticed aromas of ripe apricots and fresh hay on the dry leaf. After a quick rinse, the wet leaf slightly green and floral with some dried fruit as well.

The first infusion was for ten seconds. The gaiwan lid smelled of underripe apricots while the leaf had aromas of grass and a very light smoke aroma. The liquor was light straw colored, like a pinot grigio with a very light tannic fruity aroma. The body was light and watery, with a light floral flavor, almost like jasmine, and a mild tannic sharpness that reminded me of wine.

The second infusion was for fifteen seconds, which yielded a slightly darker, more golden liquor, like chardonnay, with tart aromas from the liquor. The gaiwan lid and wet leaves both had aromas of green floral, fruit, and slight smoke. The flavor was bolder, with a thicker, juicy mouthfeel and a floral flavor.

The third infusion was for twenty seconds. The gaiwan lid smelled of floral and apricot with a light smoke aroma on the leaves. The liquor was similar in color to the previous infusion with a tart apricot aroma. The bitterness started coming in on this infusions. There was a sharpness on the tip of the tongue at first, with a lingering bitter aftertaste in the back of the throat.

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The fourth infusion, for twenty-five seconds, started developing this bitterness. Liquor color was the same, but the gaiwan lid aroma took on a greener quality, with notes of fresh-cut grass along with jasmine. The flavor was quite bitter, but with a floral quality that is similar to hops. It reminded me a bit of some sheng puerhs I’ve tried.

The fifth infusion was for thirty seconds and saw the aromas and flavors deepening into something warmer. The aromas were warmly floral while the flavor took on a nuttiness. There was still a light hoppy bitterness. By the sixth infusion, for thirty-five seconds, the flavors and aromas had started to fade, but maintained a bright, hoppy bitterness. But by the seventh infusion, for forty seconds, it was obvious the tea was done.

The spent leaves were a lovely olive green with a smoother leaf edge than I expected.

NB: Nothing to declare; tea was a sample included with an order. To learn more about why I switched from reviews to tasting notes, click here. For more information about collaborating with me, click here.

My Vintage-Inspired Beauty Routines: Revisiting One of My First Post Series

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In the first week of writing this blog, I began a series of posts in which I describe my vintage-inspired beauty routines, discussing how I cared for my facial skin, body, nails, hair, etc. Since then, not only have my philosophy about what ingredients are good in personal care changed, but I’ve gone through some pretty extreme phases in terms of how much or how little I do to my skin. I’ve also gone through some pretty major life events that have affected both how my skin behaves, as well as how much time, energy, and money I have to devote to beauty.  So it seemed like a good time to revisit these posts and talk about my routines in detail again, starting with skin care and talking about all the different routines I mentioned back five years ago.

But before I start, I thought a little retrospective overview on my beauty philosophy over the last five years might be in order. When I started this blog, I was not only very inspired by Victorian and early-to-mid-20th-century beauty routines, I was also heavily influenced by “clean” beauty marketing. I have since then learned that science and natural products can coexist and have changed my ideas of what types of ingredients my skin likes. I no longer strive to make my routine one that is as much homemade products as possible as I don’t have the formulator chops of actual beauty brands. Of the things that I still blend myself, it’s pretty much just facial oils, though I still love my oils from actual beauty brands. From this phase of my life, I learned that paying attention to ingredients is good for my skin, though not because I ban anything as “dirty,” and more that I now know what I’m putting on my skin so I can notice patterns of either positive or negative reactions.

Since my early days of all-DIY, I went to the opposite extreme. I discovered Korean and Asian beauty brands and started designing my own ten-step routine. I had multiple steps of essence, ampoule, and serum, and spent much of my “me time” lovingly patting each step into my skin. I even wrote about how the new (at the time) Western trend of Asian-inspired skin care tracked with my historically-inspired beauty, as historical beauties have always looked for that new thing that will give them naturally beautiful skin. And at least my sheet masks weren’t made of raw meat, right? The top lessons I took away from my Asian skin care days was that sunscreen is the most important skin care product I use and that sunscreens formulated for the Korean and Japanese markets are often nicer to use, and also that my skin likes some light, hydrating layers over a rich cream.

Eventually, I started trimming my routine back down, mostly out of laziness, but also because sometimes my skin looked a little congested or overloaded. And then, the first time I got pregnant, my skin freaked out. Luckily, my interest in ingredients lists helped me find very simple products that didn’t irritate my skin, but it meant dropping a lot of steps. As my second pregnancy went on, I lacked the energy to do a complicated routine, and after the baby came, I didn’t really see that time or energy come back.

So where I am now is like an amalgamation of where I’ve been, as we all are. In the next several weeks, I hope to revisit each of my “Vintage-Inspired Beauty Routine” posts and talk about where I am now. Come join me at my vanity!

NB: Nothing to declare.

Tasting Tuesday: Classic Alishan Winter Pick from Mountain Stream Teas

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Today’s tasting is of an oolong tea that I found in my tea stash and forgot that I’d gotten. It must have come with my February subscription order from Mountain Stream Teas. I did actually video the unboxing of that order, so perhaps I should go back and see. I was rather tickled to find it, as I’ve been yearning for some lightly-oxidized, high-mountain oolong lately, but I’ve been trying to work my way through my stash before buying anything new. Also, a “green” oolong seemed appropriate for today, right?

This is the Classic Alishan Winter Pick Oolong, a 20% oxidized, unroasted oolong from Alishan mountain in Taiwan. I’m a big fan of Taiwanese teas, particularly oolongs, and Mountain Stream has become one of my go-to sources. This was picked in Winter 2019. I used 5 grams in a 120-ml porcelain gaiwan with 99C water. I did without a rinse or warming my teaware because I was drinking in my tea room and had forgotten a discard bowl.

The first steeping was for thirty seconds. I was immediately struck by the creamy floral notes coming from the wet leaves. The mouthfeel was extremely smooth and creamy, with a hint of buttered popcorn in the flavor. The second steeping was for forty seconds and the buttery floral notes developed further. I noticed that the gaiwan lid smelled more floral, perhaps of lilies or gardenia, while the leaves themselves smelled of buttered spinach. The mouthfeel was even richer, and a sweet, buttery, vegetal flavor, like buttered fresh peas.

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The third steeping was for fifty seconds. The aromas from the leaf and lid started becoming stronger, the lid being more floral and the leaf being more green-vegetal, evoking Swiss chard. The flavor was a full, rich creamy flavor, with green vegetable notes, like a pureed cream of spring vegetable soup. It had a creamy, slick mouthfeel with a good amount of body. The fourth steeping was for a minute and was similar to the third infusion.

By the fifth infusion, for 70 seconds, I noticed more sweetness and florality coming through in the flavor, reminding me of orange blossom. It was still very smooth, but was slight less thick and vegetal. The sixth infusion, for 80 seconds, saw the lid and leaf aromas becoming more similar to each other, converging on a blend of floral and light vegetal aromas. The body lightened and went from brothy and creamy to juicy. The flavor was almost like a green tea, with a vegetal bright acidity. On the seventh steeping, for 90 seconds, I noticed the flavors and aromas fading. It was still a pleasant cup of tea, but I could tell it was on the downturn and decided to end the session on a high note.

The spent leaves were delightfully green and juicy-looking. They were rather large, with a fair amount of twig matter, and very small, sharp serrations on the leaf. All in all, this definitely scratched my high mountain itch and I still have half of the sample left!

NB: Nothing to declare, though I think this was a sample included with a paid order. For more information on collaborating with me, read this. To learn about my affiliate links and support the blog, click here.

On Opening an Yixing Pot

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As I mentioned on Tuesday, I treated myself to an inexpensive Yixing pot the last time I was at Ching Ching Cha. While this wasn’t my first foray into traditional, unglazed Chinese clay, it was the first time I really made any kind of effort to “open” or “season” the pot, so I thought I’d share a little bit about my trial and error process.

My first clay pot, a Da Hong Pao Chaozhou pot from Bitterleaf Teas was specifically purchased for my Yuan Mei video, so I decided to dedicate it to yancha. This one, I was a bit more vague about, but I had the idea to use it for lighter Taiwanese oolongs. I tried it with some Eastern Beauty teas I had and was unimpressed, so I tried seasoning it by soaking it in tea. I was still unimpressed with the performance, so I tried a different tea. I tried a lightly roasted Cui Feng oolong from Wang Family Tea and was much more impressed. Sadly, I ran out of that tea pretty quickly, but I still had some of their medium-roasted Bagua Shan honey scent oolong, and had recently reordered a larger amount of that, so I tried that and also found it enjoyable. So I decided to continue my seasoning with that.

So on to my “process.” Before using the pot for the first time, I rinsed it well with warm water, and then brought a pot of water to a boil, dropped the heat, and placed the teapot in a ladle in the water (to keep it out of direct contact with the bottom of the pan) and let it sit in simmering water for about twenty minutes. Then I made some tea in it, found it lacking, so I used those leaves to steep a large pot of tea in a glass pot and poured that into the pot leaving it until it cooled. When I decided to switch to the honey-scent oolong, I decided I would give it a more proactive tea bath, so I brewed my tea with the pot in a bowl, simply pouring the brewed tea into the bowl each time. Then, I removed the leaves from the pot, filled it with brewed tea, and used a brush to wash the top of the pot with tea. I let this, again, sit until it was cool, and then emptied the pot and let it dry.

It’s been a rather slap-dash production, with me largely learning as  I go. I think if I had it to do over, I wouldn’t have even made any evaluation about what kind of tea I wanted to use it for. Once I started brewing oolong in the pot, I felt like I couldn’t fully switch streams, and it’s entirely possible that this pot would prefer to be brewing something else. That said, I mostly drink oolong, so if it wanted to drink something else, it would either be disappointed or neglected, so I chose the former. One thing I have learned is that Yixing enthusiasts referring to their pots like they are living things with preferences is not just an affectation.

So I look forward to more experimentation and getting to know this little pot. And hopefully this is not the beginning of a new collecting habit.

NB: Nothing to disclose.

Tasting Tuesday: Bagua Shan Honey Scent Oolong from Wang Family Tea

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Recently, I decided on an impulse to purchase a little Yixing clay pot from Ching Ching Cha in Georgetown. After some trial and error, which I will expand upon on Thursday, I decided that the tea it liked best was this Bagua Shan honey oolong from Wang Family Tea. I first ordered from Wang Family Teas late last year. I simply asked a contact their if they’d be willing to suggest 3-4 teas from their stock to get started with, and I bought those. They also sent me a sample of this oolong as well. Well, this one turned out to be my favorite so far, so when I sat down to do a tasting for this week, I decided that it was time to take some notes to see if I could quantify what I liked so much.

I used 6g of leaf in a 120-ml pot with 99C water. I decided to follow their steeping instructions for the first three steepings, and then see how it went from there. After warming my pot, I got aromas of honey and white florals from the warm dry leaf. After a brief rinse, the wet leaves smelled of sweet florals with a hint of incense.

The first steeping was for fifty-five seconds. The wet leaves smelled of honey and apricot with a bit of roasted hazelnut. The liquor was a golden honey color with aromas of honey and almond. It had a medium-thick mouthfeel, like diluted syrup, with perfume-y floral flavors that reminded me of orange blossom. The cup aroma was honey and nuts.

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The second steeping was for forty-five seconds. The wet leaves smelled of honey and cannabis. The liquor was a slightly darker color and smelled of honey and tobacco. The mouthfeel was ever so slightly drier, but still medium-thick and smooth, with a slight astringency and a sweet honey aftertaste. It reminded me of an apricot pastry with vanilla cream and a honey glaze, like a danish.

The third steeping was for fifty-five seconds again, after which I noticed aromas of honey, cream, vanilla, and antique furniture on the leaves and honey and vanilla aromas on the liquor. It had a sweet almond blossom honey flavor, and was reminiscent of a baked good.

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After those first three steepings, I continued with three more steepings for a minute each. After the fourth steeping, I noticed that the leaf aroma was lighter, while the flavor felt mellower, but still sweet. There was something botanical like linden or orange blossom on the flavor underneath the honey. I also noticed a pleasant body warmth at this point. The fifth steeping still yielded that light honey aroma, which got sweeter and less floral as is faded, and still had a nice honey flavor. On the sixth steeping, I noticed the flavor and aroma fading, but still having some sweetness and a buttery note.

To finish off this tea, I actually put the spent leaves into a travel flask and brewed them grandpa-style for rehearsal. It was a lovely restorative for a late evening, with remnants of the honey and floral flavors, and a bit more astringency coming through as they sat.

NB: The original sample of this tea was sent as a free sample with a purchase, but I have since repurchased even more. If you’re interested in reading why I’ve stopped reviewing teas, in favor of tasting notes, please read this post. If you’re interested in collaborating with me, please read my contact and collaboration information.

Outings: Valley Brook Tea in Dupont Circle

Recently, Nazanin over at Tea Thoughts told me about a new tea house that had opened in the Dupont Circle neighborhood called Valley Brook Tea and I knew I had to check it out. I work nearby, so I’m around there frequently and when I looked and saw that they had coffee-shop-style hours, starting at 7 a.m., I realized that this was a place that I could stop before work, especially if I left early enough to allow some time to sit and enjoy my tea. So I stopped by before work last week to check it out and see if maybe it was somewhere I wanted to go for a special treat during my work day on my birthday.

Well, it definitely was. I had a lovely time spending a half an hour sipping tea and chatting with owner Yunhan about their teas, tea culture, and how he probably has Teavana to thank for even being able to open a business like this. It’s a converted Starbucks, which is apparent, but Yunhan says he has plenty of people come in who say that they don’t drink coffee, but love tea. I was particularly pleased to see them get a little write up in the Washington Post’s Weekend section in their article on places to get a good cup of tea (which also includes Ching Ching Cha, which I have visited before).

I returned a week later for my birthday in the middle of the day, armed with an hour to spend and another tea friend, Peter. Once again, it was raining, and I found myself reaching for the yancha. While I had tried their Jin Mudan the first time I visited, this time I wanted to try their Rou Gui, after having Yunhan talk it up to me while we were chatting the week before. Interestingly, it was less sweet than I usually think of Rou Gui tasting (I also find cinnamon to taste sweet), but it was still spicy and delicious, and the cup aroma was a deep, roasted sweetness. An hour of tea and talk, with Peter and Yunhan was delightful and the perfect interlude for my birthday.

The shop itself is an interesting space. I need to return on a sunny day to see how the round alcove in the front is in proper light because I have a hunch it will not only be gorgeous, but also a lovely place to take some photos. The store is a converted Starbucks, which is obvious from its setup. The counter with treats and a tea bar is right up front as you walk in, with a small seating area to one side, and a staircase to a larger upstairs room. The upstairs room has a large communal table, a few free-standing tables, and a few half-booth tables with outlets set into the benches. There is also a seat with comfy chairs. It’s a nice space to sip and chat, sip and think, or sip and work. Unlike Ching Ching Cha, it has a decidedly modern and unfussy feel. It seems like it would be decidedly un-daunting to a tea newbie, especially since Yunhan is always willing to help show you how to use a gaiwan.

The teas are served either pourover, into a sharing pitcher for drinking in the shop or in a to-go cup, or else for $2 extra, are served in a gaiwan with a 1-L carafe of water. The teas themselves are fantastic (caveat: I’ve only tried two and both were yancha), and it’s nice to be able to visit a tea shop and drink a cup of tea with the person who sources them and can tell you about the specific regions and villages they’re from. They also sell their tea, and it seems they have an online shop, so non-DC-area residents can try them. I’m certainly going to go back and try them all.

Now, I was being sociable and not trying to take too much time out to take photos, but the other striking thing about Valley Brook is their beautiful collection of teaware for sale. They have shelves of beautiful enameled and handmade teaware as you walk in, just opposite the counter where you order, and more small things right next to the register. they even have a collection of statuettes of people doing yoga that are like little yogi tea pets, in honor of the yoga studio that is kitty-corner to the shop across the intersection of P St. and 21st. I thought that was a clever little nod to the fact that they’re not just there to serve dedicated tea nerds like my friends and me, but also to bring quality tea to anyone who stops by, even if it’s just for a cup of tea after yoga class.

And if they get caught up in a conversation with Yunhan and start a new love of traditional Chinese tea culture? Well, that has to be even better than Teavana.

NB: I will disclose that Yunhan remembered my birthday and gifted Peter and I with bodhi leaf tea strainers as a small gift, but I was not paid for this post and all thoughts are my own.

Thoughts on My Thirty-Seventh Birthday

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Today is my birthday. Now, I’ve never actually posted on my birthday on this blog, in the roughly five years that I’ve been writing in this space, merely alluded to previous celebrations. And this time last year, I was on an extended hiatus as I rediscovered my own self after giving birth. So I thought in lieu of a Tuesday Tasting, I would ramble a bit about this birthday, previous birthdays, and some things I’ve been thinking about as I get older.

Two years ago, less than a month after my 35th birthday, I found out I was pregnant again. By the time I turned 36, I was mother to a two-month-old baby and trying to figure out who I wanted to be. The aftermath of my postpartum experience upended a lot of things I thought about myself. I could barely move for a month (and when I did, it hurt). I didn’t sleep more than a couple hours at a time. I was depressed and anxious in ways I’d never experienced. I lived in robes and nightgowns, with the occasional soft maxi dress when I had to go out. And I had a small being whose every need depended largely on me. When I say becoming a mother was an ordeal, I mean that in the sense of a time when I was physically and emotionally dismantled and then redistilled into a truer form of myself.

I started this blog with a vague idea that it would be about vintage-inspired lifestyle and beauty, with a strong affinity for tea because, well, I have a strong affinity for tea. Eventually, I discovered both Korean skin care and gongfucha, which split the blog further into two seemingly-dichotomous paths. Since then, I’ve found myself converging on a tea-focused, historically-inspired lifestyle. I’ve learned about history bounding and started dressing in a way that can only be described as Edwardian hobbit witch. I’ve started mixing my gongfucha accessories with my vintage tea cups. In fact, one of my first comments on YouTube was from a semi-famous tea personality saying that he enjoyed my mixing of teaware styles and I’ve taken that to heart. I’ve come to realize that, once you find yourself responsible for the continued existence of a helpless tiny human, it doesn’t really bother you as much to think that someone might think you look odd on public transportation or sniff derisively at the “impurity” of your tea practice.

And then I’ve gone further. I’ve deepened the link between my tea practice and my love of all things historical by starting my historical tea sessions. I find it endlessly fascinating to research the sources I need to learn about how tea practice has grown, changed, and maintained its identity through the ages (kind of like me). I’ve also returned to a somewhat more minimalist, historically-inspired beauty routine. I like to think I’ve gone from VIB Rouge to VIB (very important buveur) Rou Gui 😉

As I’ve more thoroughly committed my blog to being first and foremost a tea blog, I’ve toyed with the idea of taking down some of my old posts, particularly beauty product reviews that have little to no bearing on my current beauty routine. But ultimately, these posts reflect how I’ve grown through the years, and deserve a place in my archives. Perhaps eventually my reviews of Deciem products will no longer vastly outperform literally everything else I write, but until then, if people are finding my blog because they’re curious about inexpensive Canadian skin care, so be it.

And anyway, I’ve maintained and cultivated friendships on social media with many of the beauty influencers whose blogs and Instagram feeds I read and love as a way to learn about new beauty products. Some of them have even applauded what they see as me finding my true niche in my tea nerdery. Most of them I’ve never met in person, but they’re truly friends of mine now. And I’m starting to cultivate similar friendships in the tea community. Among the tea-lovers, the tea-growers, and the tea-sellers, I’m learning more and meeting more amazing people to help increase my feeling of connectedness to the world without having to venture out of my introvert bubble (much).

At thirty-seven, I am weirder and more fulfilled than ever before in my life, and I have my wonderful blog community to thank for it.