Tea Together Tuesday: How Do You Brew?

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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.

Difficult History: Feminization and White Supremacy in British Tea Culture

This is an ongoing series on injustices perpetuated through the history and present of Western tea culture.

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This month’s installment of “Difficult History” is one that I have had in mind to write since I first started A Thirst for Empire and read the introduction, in which the author hints at the complex interplay of white supremacy and misogyny that led to the marketing of tea as a feminine commodity. When we think of a cup of tea, particularly in the Western style, we often think of something distinctly feminine, perhaps with aspects of old-fashioned femininity attached to it. We think of it as something our grandmothers would do. We joke about burly men drinking tea. We refer to our Chinese-inspired practice as “kung fu tea” to emphasize its difference from the feminized British afternoon tea image. But the original white drinkers of tea were explorers (colonizers), imperialists, and missionaries, who were largely men. So how did tea go from a drink of explorers to a drink of dainty ladies?

Well, the early seeds of this were likely planted in the 18th century, as tea became more popular among all classes of people in Britain. In 1733, John Waldron wrote in his A Satyr against Tea that rather than curing headaches and improving virility, as was claimed by some medical texts of the 17th and 18th centuries, tea would instead turn men into bed-wetters and made them womanish in their lust for luxury and waste. Later, in 1756, Jonas Hanaway wrote in his An Essay on Tea (a text that was addressed “to two ladies”) that tea had turned the Chinese into “the most effeminate people on the face of the whole earth,” as contrasted with the manly British. While he goes on to bemoan adulturation and lack of quality control of Chinese tea, his ultimate message is that tea-sipping turns you into a womanish person — like those dreadfully effeminate Chinese.

It is important to remember that at this point, the first attempt of the Chinese government to stem the import of opium from British traders, who used it to trade for tea, had been enacted in 1729. The relationship between Britain and China had started to sour and there was some controversy about whether it was wholly patriotic and British to drink a foreign drink like tea. While the British tried to paint the Chinese as savage or backwards, like they had done in other parts of the world they seized and exploited, it seemed that they couldn’t quite make that stick. So instead, they othered the Chinese by calling their refinement and culture feminine. And tried to demonize Chinese tea as both feminizing, thereby making it dangerous to soldiers and other manly British men, and also potentially contaminated with any number of poisons, as the Chinese had a near-monopoly on the production and export of tea at this time (Japanese tea export would not flourish until the 19th century).

Eventually, the British would ignite the Opium Wars in the 19th century and there would be a focused effort to move British tea consumption away from an independent China to the British-controlled India and Ceylon. By the time tea production in India had become industrially viable on the scale needed, in the late 19th century, the marketing had been cemented. British-controlled Indian tea was pure while Chinese tea was foreign and therefore suspect. In fact, a lot of these attitudes persist into the modern day.

But tea was still associated more strongly with the British woman than with men. In the early 19th century, the temperance movement caught on that tea could be used as a social beverage in place of spirits. However, some advocates of temperance and frugality could not get behind tea. In his 1822 Cottage Economy, William Cobbett refers to tea as, among other evils, “an an engenderer of effeminacy and laziness.” Echoing this sentiment, Esther Copley wrote in her Cottage Comforts, recommends instead to use “the common herbs of mint and balm,” which are just as good as tea, and cheaper and not likely to damage one’s strength. Yet, the temperance tea party seems to have caught on, at least in part due to the idea of the supposed civilizing effect of tea, which is somewhat ironic considering it was originally demonized for its association with the feeble and effeminate Chinese.

By 1874, in his book titled Foods, Dr. Edward Smith says “If to be an Englishman is to eat beef, to be an Englishwoman is to drink tea.” And therein is condensed the attitude that seems to have persisted to the modern day. Men eat steak and women sip tea. And it was with that attitude that British dealers of commodity tea that had been produced in colonized South Asia embarked upon their advertising campaigns. But this time, rather than simply using women as the target customer, they also used the white woman as a symbol. A white girl or a white woman was used as the symbol the tea’s purity, thereby taking on yet another layer of the complicated blanket of white supremacy that cloaks Western tea culture to this day.

And that, I suppose, is the upshot of this meandering historical argument. The idea that British tea culture is a feminine interest stems first from the idea of British superiority over the Chinese, due to their effeminate ways, and eventually became a distillation of white supremacist ideas of the purity of white womanhood as women became symbols for the purity of a product controlled by British imperialism over a product from an independent Asian nation. So when we parrot this idea, that tea is feminine, either by buying into it or by trying to subvert it and assume that tea needs to be “made masculine,” we are perpetuating this historical idea that Chinese=womanly=bad. And I say “we” because I am equally guilty of taking this idea of the tea-sipping lady as a given in my own practice. But, knowing better, we can realize that tea is simply a beverage and has no gender, nor do any particular trappings of tea. We can each choose and drink the tea we like the way we like it without having to apologize for being a man who likes mango-tango white tea buds or a woman who likes a Lapsang strong enough to make Winston Churchill blush (not that I’m aware of him ever feeling shame). So romanize your Chinese-inspired tea practice as “kung fu” or pull out your laciest doilies, but try not to see it as the masculine or feminine versions of tea, but rather as a culture that has passed all over the world though centuries of changes, and has landed here, on your tea table.

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

Sources:

A Thirst for Empire, by Erika Rappaport [link]

Foods, by Edward Smith [link]

An essay on tea, by Jonas Hanaway [link]

Cottage Comforts, by Esther Copley [link]

Cottage Economy, by William Cobbett [link]

Tea Together Tuesday: Soaking Up the Sun

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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 that is helping you soak up the sun this summer. Well, it’s the hottest month of the year here in Maryland and I’ve been enjoying my iced and cold-brewed teas, but since I have to be careful of how much caffeine I consume, having a big carafe of iced tea isn’t always the best way for me to stay hydrated in the sun. Good thing I follow some awesome chefs and food historians! So this week, I’m making a recipe I got from Michael Twitty‘s Instagram this weekend.

This weekend, Michael posted a picture of a jug of bissap — or agua de jamaica, or hibiscus tea, or red drink — an infusion of sorrel flower (also called flor de jamaica, hibiscus, roselle, bissap, and other names) that is commonly enjoyed around Christmas in the Black and Caribbean diaspora. Well, upon seeing how delicious it looked and sounded, I looked up sorrel flower and realized that it was the same thing that I have loads of in my herb cabinet. That, along with the fact that my spouse remembered to get citrus fruits at the store this week meant that I had to try it.

Now I’m not going to post a recipe because I literally followed Michael’s post, which you can find here, with only a few changes because of ingredients I lacked. But the final product is amazing. It’s the perfect balance of sweet and tart. I personally find tart drinks incredibly refreshing in the heat, but I often need just a bit of sweetness to go with it, especially when I often lose my appetite and need something with some energy to it if I don’t feel like eating all day. Plus the color just screams “summer camp” to me.

But I think the most fascinating thing I learned about sorrel flower while looking up this drink is that in addition to its more commonly-known actions in the body, it can be used to alleviate menstrual cramps. Well, that is… perhaps relevant to me this week. I found this article particularly interesting in learning about it. I had known a little about its effects on blood pressure from the warnings I got while pregnant, and Henrietta from the Rare Tea Company once warned me about its diuretic effects. So I was surprised to see that perhaps the fact that it sounded really good to me while I was dealing with some PMS this weekend might actually be my body knowing what it needed.

So I’ll be over here with a jug of sorrel infusion, making my way through these final scorching days of summer. And perhaps I’ll try it again at Christmas.

NB: I am not a medical professional or licensed herbalist, and nothing in this post should be taken as medical advice. It is best to consult your own medical practitioner before using any herbal products. No financial disclosures or PR samples. If you are interested in collaborating with me, please read my contact and collaboration information.

The Experiential Tea Tasting: Hojicha Classic from Hojicha Co

NB: This post has been sponsored by Hojicha Co. All thoughts are my own.

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Recently, Francois from Hojicha Co contacted me to see if I would like to taste and write about their newest release, Hojicha Classic, which releases today. Now, I’ve written about my love for their hojicha in the past, as well as shared a video about how their dark roast is my quintessential autumn tea. So when Francois mentioned that this release was a medium roast that was inspired by the classic methods of roasting hojicha in cafes in Kyoto, I was intrigued. I know how roast level affects my enjoyment of coffees, so I was curious how it would affect hojicha.

But the thing that hooked me in properly was his description of how this hojicha was intended to remind you of sitting in a cafe in Kyoto, having a cup of tea. Because I recently had to cancel my planned trip to Japan, the idea of experiencing a small part of that trip through tea sounded lovely. And the experiential side of tea tasting is something about which I’ve been thinking for a while. Eventually, I want to create a flavor and aroma wheel that takes into account how different flavors and aromas can evoke memory and emotion. So I thought I would share a bit about the experience of trying this tea, along with the actual concrete tasting notes themselves.

First of all, the hojicha from Hojicha Co is excellent, but their branding is also spot-on. Upon seeing the box on my front stoop, I cut into it and emptied the box onto a clean surface so I could discard the box and wash my hands. The contents of the box are already gorgeous. The simplicity of brown paper wrapping with a coarse twine tying it up, with just the simple Hojicha Co business card tucked into the twine not only sticks to their color scheme of brown to match the color of hojicha leaves, but also evokes the rustic simplicity of a product that until recently was a tea primarily enjoyed within Japan, and not a fancy export tea.

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From there, I opened the bag and was greeted with an intense aroma of freshly roasted nuts. It definitely smelled less roasted than their dark roast, but was still a pronounced warm aroma. The leaves are a uniform dark brown color, and are uneven in size, which makes sense given hojicha’s typically-humble origins.

I measured out eight grams of tea leaves while enjoying the cozy aromas of the dry leaf, and set my kettle to 90C. I used an open-top porcelain kyusu that holds about 300 ml, so I also weighed my water to ensure I was only adding 250 grams of hot water. I steeped the hojicha three times, for thirty, forty-five, and sixty seconds respectively.

Immediately upon pouring out the first pot, I noticed that the wet leaf aroma reminded me strongly of a yancha, though the liquor aroma was very roast-forward without any of the fruity or sweet notes in the nose that I often get from yanchas. But upon sipping the cup, I realized that not only was this a very smooth tea with a balanced roast flavor, but that fruitiness and juiciness came through. There was a slight tannin in the back of my throat as an aftertaste. On the second steeping, the roast flavor and aroma moved to the background, while the umami notes came forward and the tannic aftertaste faded completely. By the third steeping I was feeling hungry, so I decided to try the third steeping alongside a piece of homemade sourdough with chocolate hazelnut spread, which complemented it very well. The umami and the roast both accentuated the nuttiness and cut through the sweetness of the chocolate spread. The third steeping was lighter in flavor, but still bold enough to stand against a snack.

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As I sipped the tea, I felt a deep, comforting warmth rise up in my body. It is still hot here, though the mornings are cooler, so the body warmth was not unwelcome. I will definitely make sure to save at least a little of this try to in the middle of autumn when I start to miss spring and summer warmth. The whole experience is one of comfort. I’ve talked before of how the dark roast evoked memories of fireplace fires and crisp evenings in autumn. This feels somehow more urban than suburban. I can definitely see how tea sellers could have used the aroma of roasting hojicha to lure in customers, and the simple act of sitting at my table with a cup of hojicha and a piece of sweet toast made me feel for a fleeting instant as if I were having a quiet break at an off-the beaten-path cafe in Kyoto.

At $16 for 80 grams of tea, this is certainly cheaper than a flight to Japan, and quite a bit more flexible in a time when many of us are canceling travel for the foreseeable future. It won’t bring back my trip, but it is an enjoyable little piece of Japan I can enjoy at home.

NB: Product provided free of charge for this sponsored post. If you are interested in collaborating with me, please see my collaboration information.

Tea Together Tuesday: Playing with Blends

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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 dream tea blend with five ingredients or less. This is a topics that I’ve actually thought about for a while, so I decided to try to create my dream blend, rather than just dreaming. Blended and flavored teas can be a controversial topics among tea lovers, with some believing that tea should only be drunk pure and unflavored, but in reality, flavoring tea is something we’ve been doing for as long as we’ve been consuming tea!

So this blend has its origins in a day at work when I couldn’t decide if I wanted to have oolong or black tea. So I mixed them! I mixed an unroasted Tieguanyin with a lovely Dian Hong and found that the creamy notes of the TGY blended with the chocolate-y notes in the DH and made a lovely blend. Since then, I’ve been playing around with mixing black and oolong teas to see what combinations work well together.

Then, a little later on, Jann from Tea with Jann posted about trying a rose oolong that sounded amazing and my local tea and herb shop posted about a new raspberry rose oolong they had just gotten in. I love the combination of rose and raspberry because the heady, sweet floral nature of the rose blends beautifully with the zingy sweetness of raspberry. But I never got out to buy any AND I never managed to remember to buy the ingredients when I was at the store.

Fast forward to last month when I had grand plans of trying to make homemade macarons, only to be thwarted by my spouse’s inability to find cream of tartar at the store. So he came home with all the other ingredients, including the freeze dried raspberries that I had hoped to use for color and flavor. Well, that, along with the gorgeously fragrant rose buds in my herb cupboard meant I now had everything I needed.

But raspberry and rose are very decadent, confectionary flavors in my mind, so why not add some black tea to the oolong to bring in that chocolate note? Chocolate and raspberries are a natural combination in my mind and I know that the chocolate-y black tea and creamy, floral oolong go together.

So here we have raspberry rose blend with Baozhong oolong from The Steeped Leaf and Keemun from Storm King Teas. The first pass, I just used the tea, rose buds, and some freeze dried raspberries, but upon trying it, I decided it needed a touch of sweetness and added a half teaspoon of brown sugar. And it was amazing. The juicy tartness of the raspberries brought out the fruity tannins of the black tea while the creamy floral of the oolong both melded with the roses and smoothed out and enhanced the chocolate notes of the Keemun. It’s both very floral and would be lovely in spring, but the black tea adds a body to it that remains quite warming and cozy, perhaps for one of those chilly early spring days. And the brown sugar adds a depth of sweetness that I think fits the whole flavor profile better than white sugar or honey.

I think if I wanted to tweak this, I might try looking for dried, sweetened raspberries to see how the flavor differed, or perhaps try a bolder Qimen, like the one I got from The Sweetest Dew (which is no longer available). Blending teas and other flavors is a lot of fun! And it’s a lot like the food pairing thing, where as long as you have a vague idea of how flavors balance, you should be able to come up with something tasty. And if you don’t, try again!

So I look forward to hearing about all your blends!

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

In My Queue: Cursed

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So recently, Netflix recommended their new series Cursed to me and I was initially skeptical. But as I went through my days, I felt the need to put something rather silly, and somewhat related to fairies and wizards, on in the background while I sewed on the weekends during Elliot’s nap. And, well, there is a reason algorithms are used to target content. I have thoroughly enjoyed the first season of this show and I’m hoping the decide to expand into a second season because I definitely don’t feel like the story is over. I will try to avoid spoilers, but know that the biggest spoiler is actually revealed in the first few seconds of the opening of the series, so there’s not a whole lot else to spoil.

Anyway, the premise is that this is sort of an alternate Arthurian universe in which humans live alongside people known as Fey on the Britannic isle. The Fey have magic, a connection with the land, and often some sort of physical trait that distinguishes them from humans. But eventually, the relationship turns sour and there is a lot of prejudice among the humans against the Fey, which is epitomized by the Red Paladins, who are a religious sect that travels around slaughtering Fey and burning their villages in the name of “cleansing” the isle of evil. The king is Uther Pendragon, and he seems largely ineffective at managing… well most things. And he frequently turns to his Fey magician advisor, Merlin, who is loathed by humans for being Fey and loathed by Fey for working with humans. Plus, he has a drinking problem and may or may not have lost his magic.

Among this turmoil, a girl from a Fey village named Nimue has some sort of unorthodox connection to the nature spirits that her village worships. She is somehow ostracized by her village because while Fey are magic, her magic is the wrong kind of magic. And therefore she’s cursed. Eventually, she ends up with a magical sword that chooses the rightful ruler of Britannia and sets off on a quest to return it to Merlin. Along the way she meets a rogue named Arthur whose sister Morgana is a nun who goes by Ygraine. Nimue also has to learn to deal with her peculiar magical abilities, which involve harnessing the violent will of plants. And also avoid being captured, tortured, and executed by the Red Paladins.

It is a sufficiently silly premise, with just enough deviation from the source legends, that I went into with basically zero expectations. Because the show is not at all faithful to pretty much all of the Arthurian legends, save perhaps for the names and the setting, the nitpicky, Arthurian-nerd section of my brain didn’t get triggered, and I was able to enjoy it for the fairies-and-wizards romp that it is. It is perhaps a bit heavy-handed with the racial metaphors, but at its core, it reminded me of a show like Carnival Row, if a bit less serious and obviously aimed at a younger audience.

Hands down, my absolute favorite part of the show is the use of color. There is a striking color palette different between the Fey and the Red Paladins that is echoed throughout the series, and even somewhat foreshadows alliances and intrigues that are revealed later in the show. And the jewel-toned-plus-green palette of the Fey delights my frivolously fae-inspired aesthetic self. Plus, they actually made some nods to actual medieval clothing, rather than going full fantasy and yielding to sexy armor.

Some quibbles: the actor who plays Arthur seems very wooden and I can’t tell if it’s him or the direction. The actor who plays Merlin is the same person who plays Floki in Vikings and I wonder if the casting director wanted to cast the actor or Floki because the performance is very similar. In fact, much of the acting is not terrific, but that’s not really the kind of show it is. I kind of like the actor who plays Nimue’s friend Pym, though. Oh, and the graphic-novel-style scene transitions make it seem like the production wanted to scream “This show is made by Frank Miller!” with every change. None of this really took away from my enjoyment of the series, though it helps that I went into it looking for a confection, not high art.

So if you’re into fairies, wizards, maybe-King-Arthur, and visually stunning shots, this was a delightful way to spend a few days binge-watching (or at least as much as I can when I’m limited to the 1-3 hours of my toddler’s daily nap).

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

Tea Together Tuesday: Everyday Pairings

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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 food and tea pairing. Now, food and beverage pairing is something that can seem daunting to a lot of people. It evokes images of snooty sommeliers and people tasting wines and declaring that they have notes of mineral and cat’s piss. It evokes fancy restaurants where you get a quarter-sized piece of steak and a single pea for your main course, paired, bien sur, with something that was made in a chateau that crumbled sometime around the 18th century.

So I decided to go a different way. At it’s essence, food pairing is about balancing flavors. Have you ever had something really sweet and felt like you needed something bitter or sour or fresh to “cut through” the sweetness? That is food pairing, in a nutshell. Samin Nosrat really wrote the book on this one (and made the Netflix special), but balancing flavors is the foundation of all enjoyment of good food and drink. I used to get a lot of surprise when I said I made all my own salad dressing, but once you understand how to balance flavors, it’s not much more difficult than putting your ingredients into a jar with a tightly-fitting lid and shaking until it’s dressing.

And in the same way, pairing any beverage with food is about balancing flavors. And do you want to know the best part about balancing flavors? It’s uniquely personal. Do you think that the richness of a really good cut of roasted salmon goes beautifully with a full-bodied red wine? Well, guess what? That’s great! No amount of pairing advice will change the fact of what you enjoy eating and drinking. Like “steeping instructions,” pairing suggestions are like the pirate code — they’re really more like guidelines. If you’re completely lost, start there. But don’t be afraid to break the rules because there is no such thing as the pairing police. And even if there were, well…

So tea and food pairing. I’ve talked about cheese and tea pairing when I discussed my love of Ken Cohen’s Talking Tea podcast. But I really wanted to go for something a little more mundane today, even than cheese I can buy at my grocery store. So I’m sharing my breakfast, which is, at its core, a food and tea pairing. I don’t drink tea with most of my meals, but breakfast is usually some combination of food and tea. So this morning’s (first) breakfast was a slice of toast with some chocolate-hazelnut spread. And because it is very sweet, I paired it with a cup of Black Dragon Pearls from The Steeped Leaf Shop.

I find this Black Dragon Pearl tea fascinating because it has the full body and rich, almost chocolate-y notes of a Chinese black tea, but it doesn’t have the malty sweetness I associate with a Dian Hong or a Qimen tea. This lack of inherent sweet notes makes it perfect (to my tastes) alongside a very sweet breakfast, and the cocoa notes tie in with the chocolate in the spread. It’s like when Claire uses milk and dark chocolate when she recreates a gourmet version of a candy treat because they balance each other.

So that is my humble pairing and a little musing about the concept of food pairings. I am unlikely to pair my breakfast with wine very often, but choosing your tea to complement your breakfast food is one way to start thinking about the balance of flavors that go into all kinds of food experimentation. Carry on and pair delicious things!

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

Celebrating Lughnasadh

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This week it is the festival of Lughnasadh. Now, technically, Lughnasadh is the first day of August. Or perhaps the full moon the closest to the first of August. Or perhaps it is the day that is astronomically directly between the summer solstice and the autumn equinox. So I tend to be a bit flexible, and more or less celebrate for almost a week. Other festivals get several days of celebration, and what else have I got going on right now?

Lughnasadh is a harvest celebration, the first of the year, and this year it seems even more appropriate to celebrate. In fact, I got a 20-lb. bag of freshly harvested and milled wheat flour from my favorite local farm on Sunday. I’ve been baking throughout our isolation for the last several months, but this weekend, I bumped it up. I made a loaf of sourdough, along with a pan of spiced pecan buns, and an apple pie. And I bought myself some small gifts to help with my baking — a new baking scale and a hand-carved dough lame.

Saturday, the first, I made my sourdough bread, along with some sourdough waffles with the discarded starter. I made a big dinner of pork chops, fresh local salad, and that beautiful fresh bread. Sunday was a breakfast celebration, with spiced buns made from the appropriately-sunny-colored dough from Max Miller’s Sally Lun Bun recipe, filled with ginger, cinnamon, allspice, honey, and pecans. That with a cup of Quantum Mechanics blend from Viridian Tea Company with a little extra fresh spearmint from the garden made for a delightfully festive breakfast before I sent my spouse to pick up the flour. And I set the table with some dried ornamental grass from our garden. It isn’t a corn dolly or ears of wheat, but it maintains the spirit. Then, the evening brought an apple pie with the fresh local apples that we’ve gotten from our farm box.

While most of the celebration was focused on the weekend, I did engage in a bit more bread baking once my new gifts had arrived. And since this promises to be a quarter of new beginnings for me, I made sure take some solitary time to meditate and read my tarot for guidance for the coming months.

Lughnasadh is similar to Imbolc in my mind. Where Imbolc starts to remind us that spring is coming, Lughnasadh promises the coolness of fall. We even got a bit of cooler weather this week (although Sunday was appropriately summery). But the harvest is starting and the weather will chill and the year keeps turning. Blessed Lughnasadh!

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

Tea Together Tuesday: Mug Shot

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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 “mug shot” or your favorite tea in your favorite mug. Well, I don’t really play favorites with my tea, but my mugs are another thing. So this morning, I’m sharing the tea I drink most often in the mug that has been part of my tea journey for a long time.

Most mornings, especially since we started isolating at home in March, I make myself a pot of stovetop masala chai as my first breakfast. It’s light for my first-thing-in-the-morning stomach, but it provides a little hit of energy after a long fast since dinner and perhaps an early morning yoga practice. It’s warming and soothing, so even in summer, the mornings feel cool enough to want that bit of coziness. And after an invigorating yoga practice, when I’ve built some heat in my body, I don’t want to throw a bunch of cold water into my stomach right away.

So I generally rise with the sun (or before!) and do my yoga, perhaps a bit of meditation, maybe take some time to myself to check social media or read a book. And I make a pot of masala chai, which I often pour into what I call my Ithaca mug. I got it from a local potter’s stall at the farmers market when I was in college and first lived on my own in a one-bedroom apartment that teetered over the edge of Cascadilla Gorge. Back then, I made my morning coffee while looking out over the gorge in the morning and drank it out of this mug, or I would make a cup of peppermint tea in the evenings to sip after dinner from the mug.

To me, it symbolizes my first steps towards adulthood and self-sufficiency. It reminds me of meals that I planned and prepared myself, and of days in my solitary apartment, something I didn’t experience again until seven years later when I divorced my first husband. The Ithaca mug represents my time in Ithaca, where I started learning who I am and how to be comfortable alone with that person. I learned the value of solitude in my life. And I learned the value of a morning routine, no matter how small.

Of course, on a more utilitarian note, the mug is big. It can easily hold 12 oz. of tea with plenty of extra room if I carry it back to the bedroom to sit with Elliot while my spouse takes a shower. It’s a heavy, handmade mug, and it’s bottom-heavy, so it’s difficult to spill. I’ve dropped it more times than I remember and it has survived. And the top being slightly narrower than the base helps keep things hot longer.

Unlike most of my teaware, this mug gets washed in the dishwasher, or with soap. This is not a mug for tasting small amounts of a fine tea. It is a mug for a builder’s brew or a cup of strong coffee. It is a mug to comfort and sustain. So when I make my masala chai for it, I make it strong. I boil together Assam, my current favorite being from Calabash Tea and Tonic (of course if you like your tea and spices pre-blended, Calabash’s Love Potion #10 is also excellent when I’m not in the mood to prepare my own spices), lots of spices, some brown sugar, and some coconut milk, along with the water. I make sure it simmers for at least five minutes, usually more. It makes an eye-opening brew, and this mug is perfect for it.

What does your daily mug or cuppa look like?

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

Re-examining Herbalism in the Light of Colonialism

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When I wrote my tea primer, I included a section about herbal teas, in which I talk about the importance of botanical or scientific names in identifying the herbs that you are purchasing or planning to use. But a recent post from Justin Robinson on Instagram has made me not only rethink my relationship to the names of plants, but also my relationship with herbalism and its roots in colonialism and cultural appropriation.

Robinson talks about how “scientific” names were actually more like the colonized names of a plant. In his video about hydrangea, he talks about how the original name was ajisai, as it originated in Japan, but the Greek-derived name “hydrangea” leads us to forget or never know the plants origins. And in some cases, the scientific name can be so completely divorced from the native plant itself that it even honors a European botanist that never even saw the plant itself in its natural habitat, such as the plant spiderwort, which is part of genus Tradescantia, named for John Tradescant the Elder, who never even travelled to the new world. His study of specimens from the Americas was solely from plants that were brought to him by colonizers (including his problematic friend, John Smith). While many of the common names for plants of this genus are equally problematic, the name spiderwort likely refers to the spider-leg-like leaves or the way the flowers grow in clusters. Interestingly, this common name makes it easier for me to identify the plant, as it only flowers for a short window of the day, and the characteristic leaves and bud clusters are much more recognizable later in the afternoon.

An example that is even closer to home is mugwort, which I have pictured above. It is a common weed, native to Europe, Asia, and Northern Africa, and invasive to North America. Its scientific name is Artemesia vulgaris, which suggests its relationship to wormwood (A. absinthum), as well as suggesting a connection to some of the herbs used in ancient Greece that may or may not be similar. But the common name mugwort is what suggests its traditional use — its dried flowers were used as a bittering agent to flavor beer, much the same way hops is more commonly used today. And like hops, mugwort has digestive actions, as a bitter plant, as well as anti-parasitic and preservative qualities, and nervine actions. The scientific name, while somewhat standardized and “official” is not terribly indicative of what the plant can do, merely indicating that it is the most common example of the genus named after ancient Greek tradition.

These examples are just one reason why I’ve chosen to re-evaluate my herbal education in the light of colonialism and appropriation. All of the teachers I’ve turned to and schools I’ve gone to for herbal education in the past have been started by white women. The companies from which I buy herbs are white-owned and many of the books I use for reference are white-written. And apart from just diversifying the voices in my education, these people often use traditions that are not those in which they were raised without properly calling out the problematic history that has made those traditions available to us. A commonly-used example is the practice of smudging with white sage. While burning herbs to drive out miasma, “bad humors,” evil spirits, or any other unseen harmful entity, is common through folk traditions around the world, the specific practice of “smudging” and the use of white sage is specific to certain nations indigenous to the Americas. In fact, sage was only one of the sacred herbs used in this ceremony, and it was illegal for many of these people to practice their traditional religions until the late 1970s, making it even more insensitive for those descended from colonizers to use this practice lightly, perhaps to “cleanse” a new house they’ve bought with the generational wealth they’ve built on the backs of colonized nations. Plus, white sage is endangered and is often produced in highly unsustainable ways, making it even less available to those who use it for sacred traditions.

An even more insidious example is stevia, which went from a traditional plant used by the Guarani people to a mass-marketed product patented by Coca-Cola. Despite the fact that the only reason European colonizers learned how to use stevia (or ka’a he’e, as they call it) as a sweetener comes from the shared knowledge of the Guarani, white-owned corporations are patenting and profiting off this knowledge, while providing none of this wealth to the people who originated the practices. Plus, the actual stevia plant is not considered “safe” by the FDA and is banned from import. So this traditional plant is only deemed acceptable when it has been processed through the factory of colonial capitalism.

So what can we do to fight against this? Well, personally, I am trying to learn more of my herbalism from non-white sources. Robinson is one such teacher, as is Farai Harreld, whose Folk Herbalism for Everyone is on Patreon, among many others. The phenomenon of Black and indigenous herbalists reclaiming their traditional knowledge is particularly poignant, as these communities might have a very well-earned distrust of the mainstream medical community. Generations of abuse, exploitation, and experimentation has left them with a desire to make do on their own as much as they can. And while I don’t share their generational distrust of modern medicine, I appreciate the idea of using traditional medicine and allopathic medicine together.

But I have many gaps. For one, while many of the herbalists I follow sell products they have made, the return on value-added products, like tinctures, tea blends, and salves or oils, is much higher than selling bulk herbs. But I would like to find a source of bulk herbs that is owned by BIPOC herbalists, rather than one started with the benefit of generational wealth and access to startup funding. I am always new and always learning and appreciate any recommendations people have to give. For now, I will be re-examining my relationship with who I consider an authority in all spheres of my life.

NB: I am not a medical professional or a licensed herbalist. None of this is intended to be taken as medical advice. Please consult your own treatment professionals for advice. No brand relationships or PR gifts to disclose. For more information about collaborating with me, see my contact and collaboration information.