Today on Tea Together Tuesday, a delightful community tea prompt hosted by Tea with Jann and Tea is a Wish, the prompt is to talk about the tea that was your gateway into tea culture. Now, I’ve spoken in the past about how I got into tea. And I could claim that the tea that got me into learning about tea culture outside of English-style afternoon tea was the Dragonwell I got at Teavana or the Moroccan Mint tea I had served at Epcot or the Wuyi oolong that was served at my family’s favorite local Chinese restaurant.
But really, none of these teas would probably have captured my fancy the way that they did if I hadn’t already been introduced to tea as a practice, a ritual, and an art in the form of afternoon tea parties with my mother when I was in kindergarten.
Yes, I was five years old, and rather than serving any old snack, my mother decided to teach me dining etiquette and have more fun by serving snack as afternoon tea. We often had tiny sandwiches, or homemade scones, or little tarts or pastries. Even if we simply had a plate of cookies, they would be laid out attractively and served with tea.
My mother’s preferred brand of tea was Twinings, and her favorite kind was Prince of Wales, a blend that I’ve now discovered is their only fully-Chinese blend of black teas. I actually purchased a tin of it loose for my Jane Austen historical tea video because Indian tea wasn’t widely available until decades after Austen’s death, and we know from her letters that Austen was also a dedicated Twinings customer.
I remember when I was in high school, the way that one of my boyfriends tried to ingratiate himself with my mother was by bringing a tin of Prince of Wales tea. While I tend to associate my mother with Earl Grey now, she had a special place in her heart for Prince of Wales, perhaps because it was slightly more difficult to find, in that it was not always available at the grocery store.
Beyond the tea we drank, we often used special china tea sets, which my grandmother thought was unendingly foolish for having tea with a young child. But I remember going to antique stores with my mother, looking for the various pieces of the tea set that I still have today. It is perhaps a bit small for daily use, but I have continued to pull it out as an homage to my tea roots, and as a way to play with the ideas of eastern-style tea culture with western pieces. I was thrilled to find a full-sized Brambly Hedge tea cup just last year, so that I can have an adult-sized cuppa while remembering those child-sized parties.
So while it was not the most globally-conscious introduction to tea, these afternoons with my mother taught me that tea was something special, to be savored and treated with respect and care. She taught me the value of sitting down, enjoying your tea and treats, and enjoying the company with it. Every time I sit down to tea, whether it is a solo session or with friends, I think about those afternoon tea parties and how my mother introduced me to the idea of having tea.
A while ago, I wrote about how, despite largely dropping sheet masks from my routine for environmental reasons, I was enjoying the Florishe sheet masks I was sent for review while we were in lockdown. Well, we’re still at home and I’m still loving my Florishe products, but since I’ve been testing it for a few weeks, I thought I’d share my thoughts on the Camellia Full Blossom Serum that is their flagship product. This is a creamy lotion-serum that contains hydrating ingredients, their signature green tea extract from sustainably-produced green tea, and oils to create a thin emulsion. It also smells lightly of flowers and bergamot in a way that always reminds me of Earl Grey. The scent is very light and natural and even though I am prone to migraines, it is generally okay for me unless I’m deeply in the throes of one that is making me react to literally everything (like the one where I was being triggered by my own body odor the other day).
As with all long-term use skincare products that I share on this blog, I made a commitment to test this for at least two weeks without adding anything else that was new to my routine. I enjoyed it enough that I actually ended up testing it longer and have been using for about the last month. I did take pictures of my face before I started testing it and after three weeks, but as I’ve discussed before, I have pretty generally good skin, so the differences are not dramatic. I simply feel like my skin looks a little more even and luminous.
It’s also a wonderful one-step product to use after washing and vitamin C in the morning before using sunscreen, rather than my typical custom potion of hydrating serums and oils as my fancy takes me. This was highly appreciated in the depths of lockdown, when I felt my mental health deteriorating, and was barely able to face washing up in the morning, let alone a complicated skin care routine. And one of my go-to steps for the most minimal presentable face is to add a few drops of Niod Photography Fluid 12% to some moisturizer or serum and this is perfect for that.
Now, I will say, I am likely not going to repurchase this. First of all, I have a lineup of products that I have used for years and know I love. Yes, it means a little bit of witchery at my vanity to get the perfect fit, but for me, it’s not worth spending the money on another product right now, particularly one that is scented, since as I mentioned before I would occasionally have to avoid it. But for those who are not as into puttering around with their skin care, this is a fantastic thing to consider as a one-step hydrating and nourishing moisturizer, particularly in the warmer months when you don’t need a heavier moisturizer. And I like the company’s ideals concerning sustainability and relationships with their tea farmers, particularly given the dark truths about tea farming that I touched on a few weeks ago.
Also, the set with the serum and five sheet masks comes with an adorable canvas bag that my spouse has already claimed for our collection of shopping bags. And since it’s cotton, we can toss it into the wash after taking it out, in case we’re worried about contamination! So check out Florishe and see if they have something you might enjoy, whether you’re a tea lover or a skin care lover (or both, like me!).
NB: The serum was sent to me free of charge in exchange for featuring. All thoughts are my own. Links are not affiliate links. If you’re interested in collaborating with me, please read my contact and collaboration information.
Do you like my attempt at a clickbait title? 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 your top three tips for new tea drinkers or people who are just discovering tea. Now, I’ve actually written a multi-part series on approaching tea from various points in your journey, but I like the idea of distilling my tea philosophy down into three top tips, particularly since my own philosophy and attitudes have changed in the nearly two years since I published my Tea Primer.
Step One: Be Very, Very Wary of Anyone Claiming to Be Teaching the “One True Way”
Like with anything, there will always be evangelists who want to convince you that the tea they sell or the way they brew tea is the best way or even the only way to brew tea to truly enjoy it. Or they will claim some ancient, unbroken lineage for their methods or traditions. No, we do not brew tea the way that Lu Yu, the “Sage of Tea,” author of the earliest known written work exclusively devoted to tea, did. Maybe some people do, and of course more people might try it once as a curiosity or an historical exercise, but for the most part, the Tang Dynasty method of tea is not the same as modern gongfucha or even very similar to the way most of us drink our daily tea, even without the salt.
One thing that studying the history of tea culture around the world has taught me is that tea is not monolithic, even within China, its birthplace (although that is up for debate, as there is evidence that tea plants evolved independently in other parts of south and southeast Asia). Tea was originally used as a medicinal plant; that’s why the most common story of its origins as a beverage involve the legendary founder of traditional Chinese medicine and its mention is traced to medical texts. While it eventually developed into a pleasure beverage and aesthetic pursuit, tea has always been considered for its health benefits, and it has always been drunk blended and flavored by many of those who use it. Flavoring teas is not a new phenomenon. Drinking tea for the benefits is not a new phenomenon. And what is now popularized as gongfucha is not an ancient secret, nor is it the only way tea is drunk by those who really appreciate it.
Step 2: Drink What You Like, How You Like It
Do you prefer your tea unsweetened and un-lightened so you can really taste the intricate flavor notes of the particular cultivar or processing style you’re enjoying? Great! Do you like a brew so strong you can stand the spoon up in it, sweetened within an inch of its life, and with enough milk to keep your mouth from turning inside out at the tannin? Also great!
Again, historically, the British did not invent putting milk in tea. Even the supposed tale of the British learning it from the French is likely not true. The truth is that the Qing Emperor who reigned during the early heyday of Western tea trade was a Manchurian who drank milk tea (much to the supposed dismay of the Han Chinese, who preferred their delicate green teas). Was this emperor a literal barbarian? Well, that term has all sorts of uncomfortable racial connotations, so perhaps it’s best to just let him have his milk tea, and let the rest of us add milk or not as we like.
Sugar is also a common ingredient in traditional Chinese medicinal concoctions, with different sorts of sugars having different supposedly benefits for the body. Traditionally-prepared brown or unrefined sugar is supposed to have all sorts of lovely benefits for women, at least according to one of my favorite Chinese YouTubers. So, again, it is entirely possible that it was the Chinese who taught Westerners that sugar was a good thing to add to tea. So there is no historical basis for the tea purism that sometimes permeates modern tea communities and discourages new people from coming in and trying the tea, since they sometimes need a spoonful of sugar, at least at first.
(Please note, I am not going to get into it about anything to do with the healthfulness or unhealthfulness of sugar. Carbohydrates are a necessary macronutrient and that’s where this post ends on the matter. Ableist or fatphobic comments will not be entertained or approved.)
And I’ve already talked about how tea was originally blended. In my video on the earliest archaeological evidence of tea, I talked about how it seems likely from the chemical signatures found that the tea was blended with barley and other botanicals, possibly even the citrus peel, ginger, and scallions mentioned by Lu Yu (who was actually a bit of a tea snob, it seems). I’ve actually found that the combination of green tea, ginger, and orange peel (pictured above) has quickly become one of my favorite blends personally. Does it obscure some of the flavor notes in the tea that might come forward without the additions? Yes. But does it “ruin” it? Absolutely not. And, no, just because I don’t personally prefer most added artificial flavors doesn’t mean you should feel anything but enjoyment at your own favorite mocha-blueberry-s’mores-rooibos-puerh blend.
Step Three: Experiment and Explore
Now, that said, while you’re drinking what you like, you should never feel afraid to experiment. Yes, it can be scary to think about “ruining” a cup of tea by steeping it too hot or too long or with the wrong teaware, especially when you start getting into the realm of 20-year-old oolongs or puerhs from the year you were born that you can only afford 10g of at a time. But ultimately, it’s just tea. It’s an ephemeral pleasure, no matter how long you want to store and age it, it is ultimately meant to be consumed. Try to pay attention more to what you do enjoy and merely make a note of what you don’t like to try to avoid it in the future.
Once again returning to the blend in my photo, did I added citrus peel and ginger to the very last of my 2020 fresh all-bud expensive green tea from white2tea? Yes. Was it awesome? Also yes. No regrets.
If you’re 100% brand-new to tea, yes, it’s a good idea to look up some general guidelines or read the packet to get an idea of how to brew this tea. But “brewing instructions” are like the Pirate Code — they’re really more like guidelines. Don’t fully enjoy that tea made the way the instructions say to make it? Try something different with it! Try brewing at a different temperature or with a different amount of leaves or for a different amount of time. I’ve written in the past about how I “troubleshoot” a difficult tea, and that is a good place to start, but I also love Rie’s experiments at Tea Curious. If you have the time, try to catch one of her tea practice Live sessions on Instagram where she often performs experiments to see how different parameters really affect tea. I’ve even tried my hand at these experiments, by testing out whether a bamboo whisk is really the best way to make matcha, and I have more tests planned in the future.
So there you have it — my top three tips for new tea drinkers. We were all new to this once, and honestly, the best thing I’ve brought to my tea practice is the concept of “beginner’s mind.” Always be learning, never consider yourself finished or an expert. There is always something new to explore and always someone who can teach you. Happy sipping!
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 which celebrity you would most like to join you for tea. I have to say, this one was probably the most difficult prompt yet! I am not very plugged into what most people would think of as celebrity culture. As an actor myself, I don’t often feel like I absolutely have to meet the actors who play my favorite characters because I’m intimately familiar with the disconnect between a character and a person’s real personality.
Personally, I’ve met one of the people whom I would consider Instagram celebrities for tea once. I had tea with Stephen Alain Ko and a friend of his at Teaism a few years ago and it was absolutely lovely. I had an oolong and I don’t remember what he had (maybe bubble tea?). But perhaps a niche skincare Instagrammer doesn’t really count as a celebrity.
So back to the question at hand. I think if I want to stick to what I imagine the spirit of the word “celebrity” is, I would have to give in to my American anglophile tendencies and choose a member of the British royal family. But because I am always curious about those who might be treated as outsiders, I think I would want to have tea with Meghan, Duchess of Sussex. She is doubly a celebrity because she was a famous actress before she ever married into royalty. Plus, we’re about the same age. I have a great deal of respect for her outspoken commentary on issues of equality and justice, mostly recently pausing her own pet projects to focus on Black Lives Matter.
But what tea do you serve to a duchess? While it would be easy to choose one of the “favorite teas” she has mentioned in interviews, I think I would want to offer her something a bit different. And this almond oolong from Cuples Tea House, cold-brewed in sparkling mineral water, is just that. The tea smells exactly like cream soda, so the effect is a glass of what smells like cream soda, but lacks that tooth-coating sweetness that always disappoints me about soda. And served up in a champagne coupe, it’s just that right level of fancy, plus it’s perfect for the ever-warming weather here in the northern hemisphere.
So that’s my answer: in a fantasy world where I could choose any celebrity to join me for tea, I think I would want to sit and sip and chat with Meghan, Duchess of Sussex. That said, however, there are plenty of others that I consider as admirable as any “real” celebrity, and it’s quite possible that I might be able to have virtual tea with at least one of them soon. So with that tantalizing crumb, I shall leave you to ponder which celebrity you would like to come ’round for tea.
In light of the obvious unwillingness of some people to acknowledge the harms that have gotten them where they are today, I’ve decided to start a series about the difficult topics that often get glossed over in the history of tea. Now, I’m a white person and a person who blogs largely about tea, this is where I’ve decided my voice might be helpful — talking about how systems were put in place to advantage white people at the expense of other people. If this post upsets you, I encourage you to pause for a minute and think about why you’re upset, and perhaps take a look at this excellent anti-racism resource.
Alright. As those of you who have followed my blog for a while might remember, a few years ago, I wrote a guest post for Fifty Shades of Snail about how concerns about fetishization and appropriation play into the Western adoption of Korean and Asian skin care routines (Oh, look! I was still blogging under my nom de blogue). So issues of white privilege and avoiding exploitation have always been on my mind. But I haven’t ever really shared my thoughts on how they relate to the tea community. This weekend, however, I was unfortunate enough to witness a truly egregious display of insensitivity on the part of a tea company on Instagram that decided to make light of the Black Lives Matter movement. I think the most egregious part of this is that Western tea culture is explicitly part of the structures that led us to our current system of inequality. We need to actively do better, since part of this is our doing.
Since tea history is my most avid interest, I thought it would be worth reminding my readership of the history of Western tea culture. Tea was brought to the West when the Age of Exploration gave European explorers the ability to travel by sea to far away places. No sooner had Europeans landed in a new place than they tended to look at it in terms of what they could take from that place, whether natural resources, cultural practices, or literal people. In the future, I fully plan on delving into specific instances of history, complete with references, but today, I’m giving an overview and urging you to do your own looking into the dark history of exploration, colonization, and trade in the early modern period.
Tea in particular has gone back and forth in popularity throughout history. While, as a novelty, it quickly became a sought-after luxury, eventually that pendulum swung back and tea was viewed with distrust. Even the fear of adulteration in Chinese teas has its roots in the history of xenophobic fear-mongering, often for financial reasons (in addition to just plain racism), rather than any concrete incident. I’m currently reading A Thirst for Empire, which goes into this at some length in the first chapter.
The British tried to exploit the addictive qualities of opium to try to get tea from China without spending so much silver, and when that started to fail, turned to its colonized lands to try to reproduce tea farming in places that were firmly under their control. A combination of corporate espionage and exploitation of an indigenous workforce led to tea production in India, and later in Africa. Even now, Kenya (among others) is still feeling the effects of exploitation under British colonial rule. The labor of kidnapped people has still been found to be present in some modern tea plantations. The history of tea, as described on many company websites, often glosses over the fact that the years they cite as the founding years of various tea plantations are years during which the country in which those plantations grow were under British colonial rule, some until the mid-20th century.
This, of course, doesn’t even touch on the fact that British tea was generally drunk sweetened with sugar from plantations worked by enslaved people. While some British writers write of their distaste for sweetened tea, this was not the norm, and sugar was often considered an integral part of the tea service, down to special tools to break small lumps off the bulk sugar cones produced on early plantations. While this was sugar production, yes, tea consumption and sugar consumption had a symbiotic relationship in the British consumer culture of the 18th and 19th centuries, and the harms of one color the effects of the other. Even after the abolition of slavery in the British Empire, the Indian indentured servants that continued to work these lands lived under the same conditions as enslaved people.
According to Henrietta Lovell of the Rare Tea Company, life expectancies for workers in modern tea communities in East Africa, India, and Sri Lanka can be as low as the forties. As commodity tea prices drop, conditions get harder for these people. This is a direct results of the racist ideologies that led white Europeans to steal these lands and start industries on them using the native population as a cheap workforce.
Even into the modern day, people look at teas with mistrust because of their origin. We worry about pesticides, heavy metals, and now even viruses in our Chinese teas and radiation in our Japanese teas. While we can point to justification and logic for our fears, we should also pause and ask ourselves how much different this is from British tea sellers convincing consumers that Indian tea was more wholesome than Chinese tea because it was under their standards of purity.
Again, this is a very top-level broad overview of the general sense of xenophobia, racism, and exploitation that made Western tea culture what it is today. All of the examples I’ve mentioned in passing are topics that deserve their own focused exploration, and I plan on investigating them each in dedicated posts in the future. I’m not here to shame anyone for drinking tea, but as a community, we have to be aware that this history and these problems exist and do better to make sure our mindset is one of sensitivity and moving towards equality. And, at the very least, not mocking those who are fighting for their lives.
NB: I want to thank @food_historian for help with research and both he and Henrietta Lovell for illuminating conversations.
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 your favorite tea for making a tea latte. Now, I don’t make a lot of tea lattes, but when I do, it’s usually matcha or hojicha. But I thought I would take this prompt in a different direction.
Several weeks ago I had a dream that I got a tea care package from the lovely Jann herself and in it was a matcha latte mix that was flavored with rose and had glitter in it! I woke up determined to recreate this idea of a glitter rose matcha latte.
Now, first I had to source the glitter. I found Brew Glitter online and was pleased to see that I could order a sample of a few different colors, since I didn’t know what I would like best, and I’m not planning on making a gallon of matcha latte. I got white, clear, rose gold, red, and green, and they shipped very quickly. I’ve decided to accent the green of the matcha with rose gold glitter. Though the photo shows that the glitter doesn’t show up well in pictures, in real life, it’s quite pretty. I mixed a pinch of glitter with the matcha before whisking and then sprinkled a little more on top of the frothed milk before pouring it into the matcha.
Rose is one of my favorite flavors, too, and I love the subtle, Turkish-delight flavor that rosewater gives this, as opposed to infusing rosebuds. A little goes a long way, but definitely add it to your taste, and I find a dash of sugar helps it come out.
Whisk up the matcha with a pinch of glitter and an ounce of water and add to the bottom of your cup. Add the sugar and rosewater to the hot milk and froth. Add a pinch of glitter to the top of the froth and pour into the matcha.