The Virus Diaries: Routines and Self Care

IMG_0504

(Make sure to read to the end for a discount code to try my latest morning tea!)

It has been a while since I’ve shared a Virus Diaries update, but since we just passed the six-month mark of isolating at home, I thought it was time. Today, I’m going to be talking a bit about some routines I’ve started to try to break up the day and take moments for self-care. In the before times, I woke up around 5:30 or 6 to have time to myself and make sure I got my shower before my spouse and toddler woke up. I had a pretty solid morning routine, along with an hour-long commute, to help me set my mental tone of the day. But with the complete upheaval of my routines due to isolating, I’ve found myself less and less inclined to stick to my routines.

A friend on Facebook posted a Twitter thread from someone who has experiencing working on long-term disaster response projects about how the six-month mark of a response is one of the walls that you tend to hit. I know I’m feeling that. I haven’t been terribly coy about my mental health issues in the past, but the last month has been particularly difficult, as it’s becoming apparent that I might need a medication adjustment. As such, I’ve found myself dealing with slightly worse depression. This does not make me want to stick to a routine, even though sticking to a routine is one of the things that I know will make me feel better.

Well, one of the things I’ve been trying to do is to come up with a micro-routine. I’ve talked about this idea when I’ve talked about skin care — this is basically an emotional version of my “minimum acceptable routine” for my skin care. For me, that means having something to mark the morning and something to mark the evening. And of course, being who I am, this is going to involve tea.

Gone are the days when I started my mornings with a long gongfucha session with some yancha, but I can make a cup of herbal tea. So I was tickled when Mircea and Ana from Health from Transylvania contacted me about trying some more of their herbal teas and the collection they sent me included their Transylvanian Sunrise and Sunset teas. While both are herbals and contain no caffeine, the Sunrise tea contains some more invigorating herbs, like wild mint, rosemary, and nettle, while the Sunset tea is practically the same blend I like to make for myself in the evenings: lemon balm, lavender, and chamomile.

I was surprised by the complexity and uniqueness of the Sunrise tea. The flavor and aroma are savory, brisk, and yet also slightly sweet. The wild mint in the blend lends it this beautiful light herbal sweetness, while the nettle and rosemary give it a savory quality that I love first thing in the morning on an empty stomach. I make a cup of it as they recommend using slightly under boiling water. It takes just a few minutes and I have a cup of something to sit and sip for as long as I get until my toddler wakes up and my day starts in earnest. It’s not a half an hour of yoga and a long gongfu session, but it’s something.

Then, in the evening, while Elliot gets his bath and I’m working on my evening skin care, I can make a cup of the Sunset tea. The blend is intensely familiar to me, and each flavor is perfectly balanced, so that it doesn’t taste like one herb with an afterthought of the other flavors. It’s soothing and calming. I brew my tea in a covered mug to keep it warm while I put Elliot to bed, and then I can sit in the dark and sip my tea while reading a book to wind down before going to sleep.

Perhaps my favorite thing about the herbal teas from Health from Transylvania is that they are not cut-and-sifted herbs. These look like whole herbs, plucked from the garden, and dried without crumbling, before being packaged and sent off. They look like the (very few) herbs I forage from my yard and dry myself. They look like real plants. While I love my bulk cut-and-sifted herbs, there is an extra element of connection to the plants that I feel when I use these teas. I can identify the specific part of the blend as I put the leaf into an infuser or teapot, and that adds to the experience. Needless to say, the quality is amazing and the flavor, too.

If you are interested in trying teas from Health from Transylvania, I have a code, JENN15, that will get you 15% off your first order and will give me a small commission to support my work here and on other platforms. Let me know if you try these amazing teas! They also sell jams, which I’ve also tried and enjoy, so be sure to check those out.

NB: These teas were sent to me free of charge for me to feature, and my discount code, JENN15, earns me a commission if you make a purchase with it. All thoughts are my own. If you are interested in collaborating with me, please see my contact and collaboration information.

Tea Tasting: Purple au Naturalé from Leafberri

IMG_0467

It’s a good old-fashioned tea tasting! Recently, I found the company Leafberri, which sells purple tea from Kenya, and since purple is my favorite color, I had to try it. So today I’m sharing my (limited) tasting notes from the Purple au Naturalé from Leafberri, which is a pure purple tea with no other flavorings. They also sell blends and some black teas.

Now the history of tea cultivation in African countries is interesting and rich in and of itself, and I certainly plan to delve into it, particularly the connections to British colonization, in a future post. But purple tea is not a product of the British-driven mass-production of commodity tea (except in as much as it is made from the Assamica cultivar that was introduced to Africa by colonizers) on the continent. Instead, it is an artisan product from a newly-developed cultivar of the tea plant that concentrates anthocyanin pigments in the leaves, leading to the purple color. Yes, those are the same antioxidants found in blueberries. The tea represents 25 years of research, and is produced on small farms adhering to sustainable practices, providing a livelihood to the artisans who create the tea, rather than feeding into the commodity tea machine that I’ve mentioned before. Leafberri is also a Black-owned company with family ties to Kenya, where the tea is grown and processed.

The most fascinating thing to me is that, while the leaves look most similar to a black or oxidized oolong tea, the leaves do not undergo oxidation. Instead, they are put through something similar to a kill green process, which halts oxidation, before being rolled and dried. So they look like black tea leaves, but they have a unique flavor that reminds me of many things. The first time I tried this tea, I was reminded, oddly, of yancha, likely because of the woody notes in the flavor, but later sessions reminded me of a young sheng puerh, probably because I experimented with hotter water. So I decided to sit down with my cupping set and take careful notes.

IMG_0470

I used 3 grams of leaf in my 120-ml cupping set with boiling water. I did not pre-warm my tea ware, but still was able to detect a faint herbal aroma from the dry leaf. I brewed it for three minutes. The wet leaf smells very much like a green tea, particularly a green tea from Yunnan, which is unsurprising, given the cultivar. On my first sip, I detected a strong, clean bitter note. I couldn’t even really place the quality of the bitterness because there were no accompanying flavors muddying it. It had no astringency or stridency. Just a clean bitterness that was rather pleasant. It was similar to a young sheng, as I mentioned before.

But the mouthfeel was juicy, and reminded me of blackberries. If you’ve ever had blackberries that are ever so slightly underripe, that is exactly what I detected in the mouthfeel and aftertaste. I was curious, so I tried another steeping for three minutes, after which the bitterness started to soften and allowed this fruitiness to come forward. I would characterize it as a true fruity note, not exactly a sweetness.

Sadly, after the second steeping, my toddler decided to pull the entire tea set onto the floor, and I did not fancy seeing what cat hair added to the flavor profile, but this is definitely a tea I will be revisiting many times. Plus, y’know, purple.

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

Tea Together Tuesday: Tutti Fruitti

IMG_0426

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 fruity tea. Now, I’m not generally a fan of fruit-flavored teas, so this was a pretty easy choice. Those of you who have read my post on cold-brewing teas know that when I first started to experiment with cold brewing, I decided to try to make a gussied-up version of Wawa peach iced tea. Well, adding sweetness and fruit to iced teas is one thing I love in the summer, and it is definitely still summer here, but when I don’t feel like faffing about with homemade fruit syrups, I’ve found a fantastic substitute: Pharaoh Tea Company’s Ceylon Apricot, cold brewed with a touch of honey.

I was contacted by Pharaoh Tea Company, a Black-owned tea gift box company in Atlanta, Georgia, that sells an “all-in-one” box that includes loose tea, fillable tea bags, and two choices for sweetener — sugar and honey. They offered to send me one of their boxes to try, so I opted to try the Ceylon Apricot because, while I don’t love fruit-flavored teas generally, I do love all things apricot, and then they also suggested I try the Wild Strawberry. Well, while both were lovely, the apricot was by far my favorite. The fruit flavor is subtle and balanced and doesn’t overpower or taste fake, plus it has some gorgeous big chunks of dried apricot that rehydrate when you steep the tea!

But when I saw this prompt, I knew I had to try this tea cold-brewed. I added 12g of the tea to a litre of water and added about 2 Tbsp. of honey and cold-steeped that overnight. The perfect touch of sweetness brought out the juicy, refreshing apricot, and, with a twist of lemon for acidity, it made the perfect late afternoon summer refresher.

I was contacted by Pharaoh Tea Company, a Black-owned tea gift box company in Atlanta, Georgia, that sells an “all-in-one” box that includes loose tea, fillable tea bags, and two choices for sweetener — sugar and honey. They offered to send me one of their boxes to try, so I opted to try the Ceylon Apricot because, while I don’t love fruit-flavored teas generally, I do love all things apricot, and then they also suggested I try the Wild Strawberry. Well, while both were lovely, the apricot was by far my favorite. The fruit flavor is subtle and balanced and doesn’t overpower or taste fake, plus it has some gorgeous big chunks of dried apricot that rehydrate when you steep the tea!

But when I saw this prompt, I knew I had to try this tea cold-brewed. I added 12g of the tea to a litre of water and added about 2 Tbsp. of honey and cold-steeped that overnight. The perfect touch of sweetness brought out the juicy, refreshing apricot, and, with a twist of lemon for acidity, it made the perfect late afternoon summer refresher. Since I don’t actually drink a lot of sweetened drinks, I was also glad that I was able to keep it for a couple days without noticing the flavor changing or it going off.

I’m also curious to try it with cardamom or rosewater or even rose petals added in to blend with the apricot, as apricot, cardamom, and rose often go well together. I also wonder what it would be like sweetened with sugar, rather than honey. But for now, I’m glad I’ve found this delicious way to cool off as we finish out the summer!

NB: This product was sent free of charge in exchange for featuring. All thoughts are my own. If you are interested in collaborating, please see my collaboration and contact information.

On My Bookshelf: Luster

IMG_0445

I want to start this post by saying, up front, that I bought this book because I knew the author when she worked in my office. While I appreciated how good she was at her job there, I’m thrilled that she’s moved on to bigger and better things. This is not the kind of book that I would typically buy, largely because it is firmly in the “literary fiction” camp (how could it not be when the prose very rightly feels like it was written by a poet?) and it is firmly a modern, non-fantastical story.

I was expecting to finish it, and maybe even enjoy it. I was not expecting to devour it and feel it working it’s way into my mind for days after. As I mentioned in an aside before, the writing style in Luster, by Raven Leilani, is deft. The main character, Edie, is a painter who has lost the drive to paint, and I think similarly to how Raven describes Edie’s process of crafting a painting, from reconstituting dried-out paints to mixing colors to create a face, she also creates her scenes and emotions from the words she chooses. It is no surprise that her words feel poetic because she has previously published poetry in some of the most prestigious outlets.

But what surprises me most is that for such an obviously well-written book by someone who understands that the point of literary fiction is to communicate humanity, I never find the book annoying or overwrought, like I’ve found so many other literary fiction books. There is something about the loveliness of the mundane that makes the store engaging and intriguing without ever feeling like Raven is gloating over her intellectual superiority or artistic skill.

One warning: This is probably not a book you can talk about at the office. This is a book that will leave you biting the edge of your lip and glancing around to see if anyone else notices the heat rising up the side of your neck as you read Raven’s accounts of Edie’s sexual encounters and fantasies. Somehow, she captures the awkwardness of actual sex without losing the appeal of some of her more erotic scenes. And I find Edie’s asides about her sexual misadventures endearing, to the point where you almost root for her to get some every time she does.

But it’s not all sex. To my first read, it didn’t even really read as being mostly about sex. The sexual relationship that initiates the plot turns out to be the least important part of the actual story. There are so many intriguing relationships in the book that I somehow feel it is a disservice to talk about it like it is the story of a women becoming a part of a man’s open marriage. Edie’s relationships with the two women in the family far outshine her relationship with any man.

So I guess all of this was a lot of words that never really told you what this story is about. And, well, a lot of that is by design. You see, the story is mostly about being a human being with a body and needs and a socio-political place in the world, whether it is as a millennial or as a woman or as a Black person or as an artist. Edie explores her identities both in terms of who she is when she’s by herself and who she is when she’s with others.

If you like books, I am not promising you’ll like this book. But you should definitely try it.

(If you’re wondering about the drink in the photo, it’s a cocktail inspired by Raven and her book. It’s 1.5 oz. Hendricks gin, 1.5 oz. lavender kombucha (y’know, for probiotics), and topped with Rare Tea Company TeaLady Grey cold brewed in sparkling water, with a lemon wedge because I didn’t have limes)

NB: Nothing to disclose. If you are interested in collaborating, please see my collaboration and contact information.

Tea Together Tuesday: How Do You Brew?

IMG_0437

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 method of brewing tea. Well, I can never waste an opportunity to wax rhapsodic about grandpa- or farmer-style brewing — also known as probably the most common way to brew tea in China. I’ve definitely talked about grandpa-style brewing in the past, both here and on my YouTube channel, but it is worth repeating.

Why is grandpa style my favorite way to brew tea? Quite simply because it’s, well, quite simple. It is the least effort to put into a cup of tea and often gives you the broadest look at the flavor profile of a tea. I’ve found notes in teas that surprised me when I brew them grandpa style.

But wait, what is grandpa-style brewing? Well, you take the tea leaves and put them in a large-ish vessel. And then you add water. And then… you drink. Yes, you will probably drink some leaves. It’s okay, they won’t hurt you. And you don’t worry about timing or even really water temperature or leaf ratio. It’s generally better to use fewer leaves because then they’re more likely to get saturated and sink as you go. But, really, if your tea becomes too unpleasantly strong, you just add more water. There are some people who think this can only be done with certain teas, but I have done it successfully with all kinds of teas.

Some of my favorite teas for grandpa-style brewing are unroasted oolongs, like this Baozhong oolong from The Steeped Leaf. I find that brewing them this way allows the full expression of creamy and fruity notes to come out, plus the leaves are bigger and less likely to get slurped up once they’ve fully unfurled. In fact, this is the method of loose-leaf tea drinking that I tend to recommend to people who are trying high-quality loose leaf teas because you probably have everything but the tea at home already.

Personally, I usually use a big mug to drink grandpa-style, but I like the aesthetics of using this vintage pressed-glass glass so you can see the leaves. And most of us have a drinking glass at home. I’ve done this with regular Ikea drinking glasses, or a novelty pint glass from a local radio station. I also use my insulated flask to bring a grandpa-style brew with me on my commute. All you need is a vessel big enough to let the leaves unfurl and still take up less than half of the volume (so you still have some liquid to drink after the leaves have absorbed it).

In professional tea tasting, grandpa-style is very similar to bowl brewing, where the leaves and water are placed in a tea bowl and sipped, often with a tasting spoon. Shiuwen of Floating Leaves Tea has said that she likes bowl-style tasting because she can get a sense of how the tea changes as it sits. I like it because I can easily make a cup of tea and just need to reheat the kettle if I need more tea and my glass has gone cold. This was actually the only way I drank tea the first few weeks after I had Elliot because we didn’t have a lot of extra time or energy for more complicated brewing.

As I mentioned before, it is also one of the more common ways to drink tea in China, either in a glass like I’ve shown, or in an insulated flask like I mentioned before. In fact, my Chinese and Korean colleagues used to tease me for actually worrying about straining out the leaves from my tea. They would chuck some tea in a mug, fill it with hot water, and put a lid on it to keep warm. Bob’s your uncle.

So while I might have an ever-increasing collection of fancy tea ware, my favorite brewing method will likely remain the humble grandpa-style cup.

NB: Nothing to disclose. If you are interested in collaborating, please see my collaboration and contact information.