Tea Together Tuesday: Revisiting Rooibos

IMG_2053

Today on Tea Together Tuesday, a delightful community tea prompt hosted by Tea with Jann and Tea is a Wish, the prompt is to share a tea or tisane that you did not used to like but now do. Of course, I knew I had to share my difficult relationship with rooibos.

I probably first discovered rooibos tea at Teavana in the 90s, so it was likely flavored and sweetened. Looking back, one of the most popular flavorings for rooibos is vanilla and I generally dislike vanilla-flavored teas, since the artificial-vanilla-scent reminds me of vanilla notes in perfume, which I also dislike (I prefer my scents based with wood, moss, or vetiver). Rooibos was just one of those things that I Didn’t Like. I even said as much when I was first contacted by brands offering me review samples and I quit my first tea subscription after accumulating nearly a dozen rooibos blends that I had no interest in trying.

But then I read the incomparable Henrietta Lovell’s book Infused and was enchanted by her description of the farms where she sources wild rooibos in South Africa. I’ve talked before about how reading her book certainly infused me with a desire to try all of the teas she discusses, and led to a somewhat large-ish order from the Rare Tea Company, including a pouch of the wild rooibos. After re-reading Henrietta’s book and chatting with some friends, I realized that I likely had never had rooibos steeped as strong as it needs to be. So when I received my tea, I steeped it strong, boiling it in water for five minutes, before straining into a mug. And I was floored by the woody complexity of flavors. It reminded me more of an Islay whisky than the cloying blends of my past.

That started a new habit of making either plain rooibos or rooibos boiled with spices every evening after dinner. It made a rich and comforting evening cup, without any caffeine. And soon, I had finished the 50-g packet that I had initially been concerned about buying since it seemed so large for a tea I probably would not enjoy. Now I had to buy more.

Since I had newly rediscovered my love of rooibos, I decided to try another company. I had long been intrigued by the principles of sustainability, stewardship, and conscience behind the company Arbor Teas, so I decided to include some of their organic rooibos in an order. And while I no longer drink it every night, I particularly like it on chillier evenings when most relaxing herbals feel a bit cooling. The brilliant auburn color and warm, woody texture make the perfect nightcap.

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

Connecting with Tea Lovers through History and in the Modern Day

IMG_1999

It is no secret that I love old things. I originally envisioned this blog as a vintage blog, before my love of beauty and later tea took center stage. And over the last year, my Historical Tea Sessions have been some of my favorite videos to research and create. And I think one of my favorite things about this project is connecting with historical figures who seem to have shared my own intrigue with new and different teas.

In my Baisao video, I mention how the old tea seller writes of his get-togethers with a friend who brings him a new tea and how intensely interested he is in that experience, while in my video on Abigail Adams, I talked about how her husband John wrote in his letters about sending her new teas to try that he encountered on his travels. This idea of sharing tea with loved ones and fellow tea-lovers transcending the boundaries of time and geography fills me with a unique warmth. Similarly, I’ve found my own little worldwide community of tea-lovers in the present day with whom to share new and interesting teas we’ve found.

And I think one of the most interesting new things I’ve learned through my tea community was that white teas outside of Fuding in China are definitely worth checking out. It started with Chado Tea House reaching out to me and offering me some teas for review. I chose one based on an upcoming literary tea session, but the other, I took their suggestion to try their Colombian white tea, simply because it just sounded so intriguing. I was unaware that tea was grown in Colombia, and to have it be a white tea, rather than a commodity black tea was curiouser and curiouser.

When it arrived, it was an extremely generous quarter pound of tea, in a massive bag to contain the large and fluffy leaves. It had the fluff level of a really nice Bai Mudan. I decided to pretend I was a professional tea taster and sit down to this in my cupping set, steeped with boiling water (as I do almost all of my white teas), for a few minutes at a time. Now, this isn’t a comprehensive tasting note post, as I want to try this gongfu style before sharing my official thoughts, but right away I was struck by how different this was from Chinese white tea. It almost reminded me of Taiwanese teas, with its smooth mouthfeel and subtle sweetness. Keep an eye out for full tasting notes in the future.

And then I saw a post from Jin and Tea about the Benifuki Japanese white tea from UNYtea that I’ve seen pop up throughout my social feeds and decided that it was finally time to give that a try. And, once again, I was met with a delightfully different white tea that expanded my concept of what a white tea is. As much as I bemoan the constant stream of new and interesting things that lead me to have such a bursting tea cabinet, social media is a wealth of inspiration to keep tea drinking interesting and new. And it reminds me of a modern-day equivalent to John Adams’ gifts to his wife or Baisao’s visiting friend. So let’s all keep in touch and keep our tea community alive for the next several hundred years!

NB: The Colombian white tea was sent to me free of charge in exchange for featuring. All thoughts are my own. If you’re interested in collaborating with me, please read my contact and collaboration information.

Tea Together Tuesday: A Perfect Cup for Spring

IMG_2043

Today on Tea Together Tuesday, a delightful community tea prompt hosted by Tea with Jann and Tea is a Wish, the prompt is to share a cup of tea that is perfect for spring. When I saw that prompt, a month ago, I knew exactly what tea I wanted to share: Sakura Sencha.

Perhaps you’ve had cherry blossom or “sakura” scented teas from companies that specialize in scented teas. I know I had one years ago from Capital Teas that blended cherry and rose flavorings and called it “Cherry Blossom.” But true sakura sencha is neither fruity nor rosy. It doesn’t smell or taste like a perfumed or scented tea. This tea uses the leaves of the sakura tree, along with a few dried petals, to add a deep warmth and sweet florality to an already-lovely cup of bright and umami sencha.

Part of why I love this tea is the contrast between the deeply green sencha leaves and the pale pink dried sakura petals that dot the dry leaf. It reminds me of the grass under my rosebushes when the roses have bloomed and are starting to fall, littering the green grass with pink petals. It just feels like the full glory of spring.

In fact, when I was in high school, I used to walk home from school, and in the spring, the cherry and apple trees would bloom. Eventually, the blossoms would run their course and start to fall, particularly on windy days. One afternoon, I was walking home with my first boyfriend and just as the wind picked up for a moment, we stopped for a kiss, and had a lovely, movie-perfect kiss under a blanket of falling pink petals. This fragrant tea is almost like a drinkable embodiment of that moment.

I usually purchase my sakura sencha from Yunomi, but this year, my shipment was unfortunately waylaid by coronivirus-related shipping disruptions. So I was delighted to find that Path of Cha offers a similar tea. In fact, it tastes identical to the sakura sencha I had last year from Yunomi. This year is was particularly bittersweet, as I was unable to enjoy the cherry blossoms in downtown DC due to stay-at-home orders and remote work, but sipping this tea brings back the delight of early spring with the sakura blossoms drifting through the air and scenting the world around them. A perfect spring scene.

So that is my perfect tea for spring. I hope you’ll share your own spring teas and how you’re celebrating this springtime in light of the perhaps different shapes our lives might be taking. Happy sipping!

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

Cha Xi Challenge: Tea, with a Story

IMG_1963

The Cha Xi Challenge, hosted by Rie of Tea Curious, wraps up tomorrow, and I have already shared three cha xi arrangements that I’ve created, but I wanted to share a fourth because it rather exemplifies my approach to tea practice. Today’s cha xi is a very playful little setup, where I tried to create a somewhat classic gongfucha arrangement using a very English tea set. I used my Brambly Hedge miniature tea set, with a 4-oz. tea pot and three tiny tea cups to approximate the classic tea-pot-and-three-cups arrangement that forms the ideal gongfu session.

The tea pot is originally made for tiny hands, but holds almost exactly the same volume of liquid as my Yixing pot, making it perfect for gongfu-style brewing, and poured out into three tiny cups, it is very similar to the idea of a teapot the size of a citron and cups the size of walnuts that is discussed in Yuan Mei’s first description of the tea practice of the Wuyi mountains that later came to be known widely as gongfucha. I used my well-loved practice of using a cake plate as a teapot saucer, and found that the milk pitcher made a lovely vase for a single rosebud from my garden, while the sugar bowl made a fitting vessel in which to display the tea leaves. They nestled into a basket with a cotton napkin as a base that fits the rustic-yet-refined aesthetic that Brambly Hedge evokes. As a side note, I chose a bud as a nod to the Japanese ikebana practice of choosing flowers that have not yet opened for arrangements so that the recipient can enjoy the full life cycle of the bloom.

And what better tea to pair with such a delightful setup than a honey fragrance black tea from Taiwan? Taiwan has become a place, which, in my mind, has exemplified the blending of modern innovation and traditional tea practice. Plus, black tea is the perfect tea for such an English tea set, while the honey fragrance suggests the flavors of the countryside and the sweetener that would be most available to the woodland creatures of Brambly Hedge.

But this is not just a playful mix of East and West in my tea practice: Like so much of my tea collection, this set has a story. This pattern dates to the year I was born, and when I was five years old and started kindergarten, my mother introduced me to afternoon tea when she would have a low tea (the traditional “fancy tea party” that is often mistakenly called “high tea”) each afternoon when I returned from school as my afternoon snack. She would enjoy putting together a selection of tiny sandwiches and sweets, while I would enjoy learning about the etiquette of the tea table. Obviously, the practice stuck with me.

Most days, we used an inexpensive white stoneware tea set, but as time went on, my mother found this set, one piece at a time, in antique stores. I remember visiting antique stores in the town in which I now live, looking for specific seasons we were missing, or the tea pot that proved elusive. It was a shared experience of collection in a time when you could not just sign into Etsy or eBay and find a dozen examples of full sets available with free shipping. Scouring antique stores and learning about the pattern became something of a passion for both of us, and we both still enjoy searching for new teaware, albeit using all tools at our disposal now.

IMG_1965

So I suppose this cha xi is a perfect visual representation of the aesthetic of Tea Leaves and Tweed. It is both an attempt to remain true to the spirit of cha xi and gongfucha practice, while using a vintage English tea set, and one that retains a great deal of meaning and family connection. Plus, it is perfectly at home in the garden! And, of course, I spilled everywhere when I tried to pour the tea in the traditional way, circulating around all three cups to make an even pour in each.

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

Tea Together Tuesday: Old Favorites and New Discoveries

IMG_1972

Today on Tea Together Tuesday, a delightful community tea prompt hosted by Tea with Jann and Tea is a Wish, the question is “What is your favorite tea company and what was the first tea you had from them?” And, of course, I’m putting my own spin on things. I had to think long and hard about this one because I love so many tea companies and they all have their strengths and weaknesses. I’d obviously prefer not to play favorites. But in the interest of playing along with the prompt, I thought I would talk about my favorite tea business, one that has been with me the longest in my tea journey: Teaism.

I honestly don’t remember when I first went to Teaism. Looking at their history, it looks like they opened in 1996, and I distinctly remember going there when I was in college and home for the summers. But I also remember that those were not my first visits to the tea house, so I likely have been patronizing Teaism nearly as long as they’ve been open. As far as the first tea I tried there, it was probably Dragonwell or Moroccan Mint, but the first tea that I have a distinct memory of trying was their Anxi oolong, which is a type of Mao Xie, or “hairy crab,” which they’ve chosen to label as simple “Anxi” on their menu to avoid confusion and laughing. The Anxi oolong is a lightly oxidized, rolled oolong, with that light, floral-creamy flavor that I associated with oolongs for a long time (before I realized that I’ve been drinking Wuyi oolong practically since birth at our favorite Chinese restaurant!). I had it when I went downtown on a weekend morning to visit some museums and wanted to have a bit of breakfast first, so I stopped at Teaism.

At the time, I was living in Prince George’s County, MD, and the green line that took me down to Pennsylvania Ave., which is a short walk from the National Mall, takes me right next to the Penn Quarter location of Teaism. I ordered a waffle and a pot of tea and took both down into their very quiet downstairs dining area, where I could enjoy the ambiance and watch the koi in their indoor pond. I’ve always loved koi, and watching them reminds me of my childhood.

But I’ve had so many teas and so much delicious food at Teaism over the years. It has been the site of dates and interviews, as well as quiet moments by myself. I’ve always loved eating in cafes and restaurants by myself, and the particular atmosphere at Teaism makes it even more enjoyable. I think my favorite is to sit near a window in the somewhat crowded, but paradoxically private upstairs room at the Dupont Circle location with a pot of tea, gazing out the window at the city below, alone with my thoughts, yet in a room full of people.

When I got my job in downtown DC, after years of working in the suburbs, Teaism was a familiar face in a new routine. On mornings when I was rushed or slept late or simply didn’t feel like making my own breakfast, I would stop for breakfast and some tea. They always treat their teas with care, whether you are sipping in the restaurant or taking it to go, your paper cup containing hot water and a little dumpling of tea leaves that plump up in the water as they expand to fill the hand-filled bag. I’ve even taken these leaves and had a second tea session in my gaiwan at the office after my walk!

Sadly, as a restaurant, they are feeling the pain of virus-related closures and disruptions. Their owner, Michelle, has been active on Instagram, highlighting her own daily tea practice, as well as keeping us informed about online orders and how they’re trying to support their employees. So recently, I decided to place a small order of some Japanese teas from them. Because I missed my trip to Yame, I decided to get some gyokuro.

And the other morning, I just felt off. So I brewed up a shiboridashi full of gyokuro and went out to my garden to gather roses. I sat and sipped an intensely calming cup of green tea while I processed roses to arrange. And at the end of it, I had a beautiful little arrangement and an uplifted spirit from this little moment of calm and beauty in my day, just like I used to feel from visiting the Teaism shop. I’ve had limited experience with gyokuro, but this one was a beautiful balance of umami, brightness, and a bitterness that melted into sweetness in the mouth.

If you feel like supporting Teaism, please consider shopping at their online store or contributing to their employee relief fund. Also, consider adding cilantro, scallions, and ginger to your scrambled eggs, like they do. It’s amazing.

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

The Virus Diaries: Chaxi and Strolls

IMG_1949

I’m back with another update from social distancing. It’s been almost eight weeks of our new normal and we’re definitely starting to get into some new routines. I think we’ve almost completely figured out the whole getting food thing, grocery shopping once every other week and getting weekly contact-free deliveries of fresh vegetables, with the occasional contact-free delivery of beer and wine, plus picking up flour as we run out (we’re about to run out again). We’ve cooked everything at home since we started staying home since my health complications make me nervous about more contact with delivery people, but we do rely frequently on frozen prepared foods to keep it simple during the day when I’m working and Dan watches Elliot.

But I’ve baked a lot of bread and sweets and I’ve gotten back into the habit of making homemade bone broth when we eat a roasted chicken. We’re definitely moving towards all of our food being produced locally, simply because it’s becoming easier to rely on local foods in a lot of ways. The other week, I made a meal of local lamb chops, with a salad of local pea shoots, radishes, and mint, and pretzels made from local flour and local milk. And I’ve joined the ranks of sourdough bakers and turned out the most amazing boule this weekend after maturing my starter last week. I must say, using really good bread flour makes a huge difference. My first loaf was almost too light and fluffy and I’m considering adding rye flour to my next batch just to make it denser!

I’ve had less success in the growing-my-own-food arena. My two planters are still pretty sparse since the squirrels keep digging things up. The basil we planted seems to have died and the parsley looks unhappy, plus the kale is hanging on, but just barely. A few of my chard and collard seeds have sprouted, but I tried to start a new batch inside, and it looks like the soil might have mold on it. I’m not entirely sure what to do about that. I’m going to replace the basil with more scallions because we have tons of scallions in our vegetable box this week, and if I could have a perpetual source of scallions to make scallion pancakes, I’d probably be happy. I’m less concerned about vegetables anyway, since the Number 1 Sons vegetable deliveries have been such a success. In addition to just getting us more fresh veggies, it’s also introduced us to new things like ramps and sunchokes, and also made me realize that I actually do like salad, but only if it’s very fresh.

But beyond our physical needs, we’ve had to work on fulfilling our emotional needs as much as possible. Besides just feeling a bit lonely and isolated, we’re also dealing with varying levels of anxiety. For me, the two biggest things that help are spending some time outside and my tea practice. Well, over the last few weeks, I’ve been taking more time to make my tea practices really beautiful and meaningful, when I have the energy to do so. And this has been helped by Rie at Tea Curious, who has started her Cha Xi Challenge. Cha xi is something I first encountered listening to Ken Cohen’s Talking Tea podcast when he interviewed Stephane Erler of Tea Masters and it is something I play with on occasion, but the combination of new flowers blooming, lots of time inside, and Rie’s challenge has made me revisit it in a more focused way, albeit with my own flair.

So taking a few minutes to put together a beautiful and cohesive tea session, where teaware, tea, and accompaniments all have particular significance and harmony, helps bring brightness to some otherwise rather dim days. And it helps me bring some of the outside world into my house, which is particularly nice on days when I don’t get out.

Speaking of getting out, the other thing that has helped lately is that, in addition to my morning yoga practice, today I was able to get out for an early morning walk around the neighborhood. My neighbors have been pretty dismal at heeding social distancing guidelines, so, with my health issue, I haven’t felt very comfortable going beyond my own fenced yard, particularly later in the days when everyone is out. But this morning, I managed to get up early enough to go out just after sunrise and walk around for twenty minutes in the quiet of the morning. It’s been over a month since I’ve just gone for a walk, and it was unimaginably wonderful. And all my neighbors’ flowers are blooming, too!

So that has been the last couple of weeks here. We’re still keeping on keeping on and staying as safe as we can. How has life been treating everyone else?

Tea Together Tuesday: My “Daily Drinker”

 

IMG_1895

Today starts “Tea Together Tuesday”, hosted by Tea with Jann and Tea is a Wish! Each Tuesday in May, we’re writing, filming, or otherwise posting about a prompt to share our tea time with our tea community. It’s particularly important in the age of social distancing — and a reminder that we can be physically distanced without being socially isolated!

This week’s prompt is “If you could have only one tea or tisane for the rest of your life, what would it be?” Now this is an interesting prompt because, while I get into phases, where I drink a lot of the same type of tea, I don’t really have one tea, or even type of tea, that I drink every single day. But I mentioned in my video this weekend that I do have one tea that is about as close to a “daily drinker” as I get: the Bagua Shan Honey Scent oolong from Wang Family Tea. I’ve shared my tasting notes about this tea in the past, and I’ve even seasoned my Yixing pot with it.

So what is it about this tea that makes it my closest candidate for a daily drinker? Well, first of all, it’s oolong. Oolong is definitely my favorite style of tea. And while I’ve waxed rhapsodic in the past about how Da Hong Pao is my favorite tea, it does not fit as many of my moods as this tea. It’s not heavily roasted, so it doesn’t have that autumn-and-winter, sit-by-the-fire coziness that sometimes feels out of place in the warmer months. It’s oxidized, so it doesn’t have that bright, light greenness that feels too cooling in the colder months. It has a beautiful rich texture and honey flavor to it that is delightful on its own, but doesn’t clash with many flavors that I could pair with it.

I think the one thing I would want to experiment with is whether or not it cold brews well (although, I’ve cold-brewed similar teas with great success) and to see how it pairs with alcohol (the honey aroma suggests that bourbon would be its perfect match). But ultimately, what I do with my tea is steep it in hot water and drink it. And this tea excels at being put in hot water and drunk. I’ve brewed it carefully and carelessly, and it takes fully boiling water, so there’s no need for a fancy kettle.

But perhaps the best argument for choosing this as my forever tea is that, after finishing a sample of it from Wang Family Tea, I turned around and immediately bought 75 more grams of it. For someone with a perpetually bursting tea cabinet and a tendency to never buy more than the smallest amount offered of any tea so I can have variety, that is high praise. If I ever pare down my tea cabinet to just my essentials, this will certainly be on the shelf, perhaps in its own fancy canister.

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 collaborating with me, please read my contact and collaboration information.