Tuesday Tasting: Alishan Snow Pick Oolong from Mountain Stream Teas

Alishan1

Continuing my investigation of the different high mountain oolongs of Taiwan, today, I’m trying a snow pick Alishan from Mountain Stream. I’ve previously tasted their winter pick Alishan, and last week, I shared my notes from the snow pick Lishan, so this was an interesting exercise into both noticing the differences between winter and snow pick, and the differences between the terroir of the two mountains.

Once again, I used 5g in a 120-ml porcelain gaiwan, with water at 212F (one of my kettles is set to Fahrenheit and the other to Celsius). I warmed the gaiwan and smelled the warm, dry leaf, noticing a light creamy floral aroma. I did not rinse the tea.

The first infusion was for thirty seconds. The wet leaves smelled of sweet floral, like an orchid or lily. The liquor was a pale straw color, like sauvignon blanc wine and had a very light floral aroma. The mouthfeel was buttery, like drawn butter with bright green flavors and a little retronasal floral.

The second infusion was for forty-five seconds. The wet leaves had a more pronounced floral aroma with a bit of green veg. The liquor was slightly greener in color and had a more pronounced floral aroma. The texture was more buttered spinach with a floral and vegetal flavor. The overall feeling of the infusion was more savory than sweet.

Alishan2

The third infusion was for a minute. The wet leaves had a very slight honey aroma underneath the same floral and vegetal notes as before. The liquor had aromas of lily and cannabis. The flavor and texture were pure buttered vegetables: spinach and asparagus.

The fourth infusion was for seventy-five seconds. It was on this infusion that I noticed I was feeling sleepy. It was the evening when I tasted this tea, but normally, I feel more awake after drinking several gongfu infusions. The wet leaves smelled of vegetables with a touch of honey. The liquor had a sweet floral aroma, perhaps violet. The buttered vegetable flavor persists and the buttery texture now feels slightly mineral as well.

The fifth infusion, for ninety seconds, was lighter in both flavor and aroma, but the buttery mouthfeel was largely present. By the sixth infusion, for two minutes, it was apparent the tea was done.

I was fascinated that I was able to start this tasting at 6:30 in the evening and still fell asleep easily around 9. At this point, I hypothesize that the most distinct difference among the mountains will be the mouthfeel of each tea, though it is striking that the sweetness of the snow pick Lishan was not as apparent in the Alishan. It’s worth noting that I noticed the same buttered spinach notes and mouthfeel in the winter pick Alishan from Mountain Stream. I’m curious to continue this exploration.

NB: Nothing to disclose. If you’re interested in reading why I switched from reviews to tasting notes, read this post. For more information about collaborating with me, click here.

The Virus Diaries: Weeks Four and Five

IMG_1705

You may have noticed I missed posting an update last week. Well, we’re all doing fine over here, health-wise, but I have noticed my mental health slipping a bit. Basically, I’m finding it hard to come up with the motivation to stick to a schedule with things, so I save most of my energy to meet deadlines at work and then tend to run out of extra energy to spend on my hobbies as the week wears on. But I’m back this week!

How is everyone doing in lockdown/quarantine/isolation? We’re starting to get a little stir-crazy. We dread the rainy days because going outside with Elliot is a necessary part of our routine. And we’re certainly settling into a routine of sorts. We’ve managed to grocery shop about every week and a half, although I have some ideas to help stretch that. I got my ten pounds of rye flour and five pounds of cornmeal from a local farm and I’m looking forward to ordering wheat flour and rolled oats once I work through my current stock. I’m definitely feeling a little bit “Little House on the Prairie” with my food preparation efforts. Last time Dan went to the store, they were out of a lot of things, such as most types of frozen veg, so I think next time we shop, we’ll try freezing our own fresh veg. And I’ve decided to start a victory garden in two large planters in our garden.

We shall see how that goes. I’ve also been eyeing the weeds for potential fresh veg sources. I know we have a nice crop of chickweed growing in our yard, as well as the ubiquitous dandelions. And I think there’s a patch of mugwort, but I need to do a bit more research to make sure I’ve properly identified it before I do anything with it. Plus, I’ve been trying to regrow some scallions that I used just the greens from for scallion pancakes. My mental state is much better on weeks when I can make scallion pancakes.

I do miss takeout. Sadly, because of my underlying condition, we’ve opted to avoid delivery and make all of our own food at home, plus my favorite Sichuan place isn’t delivering out to us right now anyway. Perhaps we’ll crack on that in the coming months, but it’s been over a month since we’ve had anything but home-cooked food (although we do rely on some frozen convenience foods for lunches, since Dan usually has to make that while watching Elliot).

I’ve been making a lot of bread and I continue to experiment with ratios of rye to wheat flour in my no-knead bread for the best combination of flavor and texture. And we have plenty of homemade broth, plus an extra chicken carcass in the freezer and a whole chicken to cook this week so I will be able to make more easily. Soups with dried lentils are a great lunch option when I make lunch since I can toss broth and lentils in a pot and just let them simmer until we’re ready to eat. Along with some homemade bread, it’s a fantastic lunch. Although, I have made more than one joke about how we’re slowly turning into medieval peasants.

The past two weeks, I’ve also gotten back into sewing and embroidery. I decided to make cloth masks for myself and Dan. Dan’s was the most important because he goes out to the store, but I figured I should have one for if I ever venture out of our yard, if only to normalize the wearing of masks. I hand-sewed them, and made one extra for my mother (although it was really the first one I made that turned out a bit too small for Dan’s face because of his beard). And then I decided to do something fun, so I pulled out my scraps from the sewing basket and started looking for inspiration for an embroidery project. I’m currently using a golden brocade silk to make a gothic embroidered pillow, inspired by the story “The Yellow Wallpaper.” The pattern and color of the fabric reminded me of the story, so I chose to embroider on a black hellebore because it’s poisonous and sinister, but also has folk uses as a treatment for insanity. And then a friend suggested pairing it with some hemlock leaves as an accent. Once I have the embroidery finished, I think I’ll sew it up into a small cushion, although I don’t rightly know what I can use to stuff it right now, but perhaps I shall just have to wait to completely finish it until later.

In the realm of things I shall have to remember to finish later, while planning my project, I originally wanted to do a beetle embroidery, and I bought the most beautiful embroidery pattern, but ended up unable to transfer it to my fabric, so I think I shall wait until I can go out and get transfer supplies to do it right. It’s frustrating to be limited to what I can find in the house, but also a boon to creativity in a way. I’m hoping to have the same flash of inspiration that I had when I came up with the hellebore motif when I put together my container garden since I’m once again limited to what we already have on hand (plus, hopefully, some seeds, either purchased or harvested from some local produce).

As far as mental state goes, I wanted to make a bit of a confession: I think the lockdown is triggering my disordered eating a bit. I’ve noticed myself skipping meals and snacks and realized I’ve been eating much less than usual, not because I want to lose weight, but because I’m worried about running out of food. Some mornings, my only food until lunch is a cup of masala chai, like the one in the photo. Even though we have a fully stocked pantry and our stores have not shown signs of being dangerously empty of food, I am worried. I hope that the garden will help alleviate some of that, but simply putting words to it is helping me think a bit more rationally and eat what I need. It helps that Dan has also noticed, if only because I am unpleasant to be around when I’m hungry, and has been reminding me to eat something. But I imagine these are feelings that are coming up with a fair number of people around the world at this time, and I hope that hearing about it helps people not feel like they’re being silly or weird. Hopefully we all keep our pantries stocked and our bellies full.

I think I shall end here. It’s been an interesting couple of weeks and an even more interesting month. I hope my readers are all doing well! Perhaps next week I’ll come up with a more structured post to try to encourage me to post. Perhaps something like “things that have gotten me through lockdown” or some such.

Tuesday Tasting: Snow Pick Pear Mountain Oolong from Mountain Stream Teas

Lishan1

Recently, I decided to place a biggish order from my two favorite shops for Taiwanese teas in an effort to expand my knowledge of Taiwanese high mountain oolongs. So over the next few weeks, Tasting Tuesday will focus on the different teas I chose. This week, I’m starting with Mountain Stream Teas’ Snow Pick Pear Mountain (Lishan), which is both a new mountain for me, and my first experience with snow-picked tea.

I used 5 grams in a 120-ml porcelain gaiwan with 99C water. After warming the gaiwan, I warmed the leaf and the aroma of the warm, dry leaf gave off aromas of freshly baked sugar cookies. I went right into steeping with no rinse.

The first infusion was for thirty seconds. The wet leaves smelled powerfully vegetal and also had a strong honey aroma. The liquor was a bright green-yellow with no aroma. The flavor was very light, but the mouthfeel was creamy, smooth, and full. There was a faint vegetal sweetness and a distinctly sweet aftertaste. As I sipped on it, the flavor developed bright juiciness and a creamy floral aftertaste.

Lishan2

The second steeping was for forty-five seconds. The wet leaf smelled of spinach and honey and the liquor smelled similar. It was the same color as the first steeping. It had a bright vegetal tartness on the first sip, with the texture of tea with cream and honey in it. There was a light wildflower honey sweetness and a floral aftertaste. I could also get a lot of floral from the retronasal aroma.

The third steeping was for a minute. The wet leaves still had a green and honey aroma. The texture took on a more savory quality, almost like soup, with a light sweetness. I was reminded of a cream soup of sweet fresh spring vegetables, or fresh peas in cream. It had what I called “that classic oolong florality” in the aftertaste.

The fourth steeping was for a minute and fifteen seconds and yielded the same silky smooth texture and same aromas. By the fifth steeping, for a minute and a half, I noticed the aroma fading, though the flavors were the same. The sixth and seventh steepings were both for two minutes each. I steeped a eighth time for two and a half minutes and a ninth time for three minutes. Over the course of these steepings, I noticed the flavors and aromas staying mostly the same, with varying levels of intensity. The bright, juicy, honey flavor and aroma was the dominant note, with a beautiful creamy mouthfeel. After nine steepings, I could tell this tea had more to give, so I tossed the leaves into a mug and continued to sip it grandpa-style throughout the rest of the day.

NB: Nothing to disclose. If you’re interested in reading why I switched from reviews to tasting notes, read this post. For more information about collaborating with me, click here.

Tuesday Tasting: 2019 Elemental Bulang Sheng Puerh from Crimson Lotus Tea

Yesterday, I posted to Instagram that I had been reading The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane. Well, that gave me a wild craving for sheng puerh, so I decided to dig out my Crimson Lotus Tea Elemental Puerh sample set. I’ve heard good things about this Bulang Sheng Puerh dragon ball, so I went for it.

I used one 8g dragon ball in my 150-ml classical flowers porcelain gaiwan with 99C water. I warmed the gaiwan and didn’t get much aroma off the dry leaf, just some light dried fruit and maybe honey. I rinsed it once and got a warm, sweet aroma off the wet dragon ball.

The first infusion I let go for fifteen seconds, after which I didn’t notice much aroma, just that same faint warm, sweet aroma as I noticed after the rinse. The liquor was a very pale champagne color and had little to no flavor or aroma. So I went on to the second steeping for twenty seconds, after which I started to notice an aroma that I can only liken to cheap sunscreen, although not in an unpleasant way. The liquor was a slightly darker champagne gold and had a light henna and fruit aroma. The mouthfeel was very smooth and honey-like with a slight sweetness.

The third steeping was for twenty five seconds. The wet leaf gave off aromas of dried apricots and honey. The liquor was darker gold, like a Tokaji wine, and smelled faintly of honey and spice, like a honey cake. The flavor took on some bright, citrusy bitter notes with a smooth, clean mouthfeel. I also noticed what I called “some sassy energy” from the tea in my notes. At the very least, I felt gregarious and a little mischievous while drinking it.

The fourth steeping was for thirty seconds and had that same sunscreen aroma on the leaf, with a pronounced grapefruit peel bitterness in the flavor. It was inducing saliva and the aftertaste was almost savory, rather than sweet like I’m used to with sheng puerh. It also made me hungry, so at this point, I paused for some lunch.

After lunch, I went for a fifth steeping, for thirty seconds again. Despite not having any taste of my lunch left in my mouth (I had some black tea with lunch to rinse my mouth), I found that the bitterness had all but disappeared, leaving a silky-smooth, almost oily-textured liquor with a citrus sweetness that danced on the tongue. It was almost like a hot lemonade, but somehow rich, like a soup. And it induced some lovely salivation, which tasted even sweeter.

IMG_1619

The sixth steeping, for forty seconds, resulted in a lighter leaf aroma with a small amount of bitterness, but mostly that same lovely, slippery, rich mouthfeel and some minerality. There was a tingle on the tip of my tongue. After the seventh steeping, for fifty seconds, I was still smelling sunscreen on the leaf and made a note that I’m curious what this tea will taste like in ten years. It was still silky, slightly oily. It gave me the impression of a whisky, if not the exact same flavor. The eighth infusion, for a minute, was more of the same. At this point, I decided to adjourn to sip the rest of this tea grandpa-style from my favorite mug and continued to enjoy it far into the day.

The “spent” leaves before I threw it in my mug were gorgeous with a mix of olive green and plum purple shades. There were some noticeable buds and beautiful slender whole leaves with fine serrations. After writing up my notes, I decided that I ought to buy more of this tea to keep around so that perhaps I will remember to taste it again in ten years.

NB: Nothing to disclose. If you’re interested in reading why I switched from reviews to tasting notes, read this post. For more information about collaborating with me, click here.

The Virus Diaries: Weeks One to Three

First of all, at the time I’m writing this, I am NOT sick that I know of; I just thought I would make a catchy title. I know I posted two weeks ago that I was going to revisit my beauty routines, but right now I just have more on my mind, plus the rather profound changes in my daily routines have meant that some of my beauty and self-care practices have fallen by the wayside and it would be dishonest to pretend like I still wake up every morning and put on sunscreen and then brush my hair fifty times before going to bed.

IMG_1560

This week, I thought I would start a weekly diary of my experiences isolating at home during the novel coronavirus pandemic. Perhaps in five years, when my blog doubles its age, I’ll look back and appreciate this look into my mindset at this time. I really hope so. This is going to get heavy at times. I’ve never been terribly private about my mental health, so know that I already grapple with anxiety and depression pretty much on a daily basis and this has added an exciting new layer to that.

My own awareness of this virus started in February, when we had to decide if we were going to go ahead with our planned trip to Japan. While we had ultimately decided not to go, the decision was also made for us when the events we were traveling to attend and even most of our flights were canceled. As reports of cases in the US started becoming more frequent, I found myself not only worried about travel, but about my near-daily travels on Washington, DC’s delightfully cozy public transportation (I say with no small touch of verbal irony). While I was heartened by the reports that the disease seems mild in young children, and therefore did not worry about Elliot, I realized that my own chronic asthma, which has sent me to urgent care with complications from the common cold before, meant that I suddenly had to face the very real-seeming fear that I would not only be very likely to be infected if it came to DC, but also that, if infected, I was more likely to face serious complications.

I will admit, I had a rough couple of weeks as I dealt with this. Lest you think I am now at peace with my own more-real mortality, I am not. I am merely more confident that, as I have been almost three weeks without leaving my house beyond a walk around the block, I am less likely to be exposed to a high risk of infection. But before I officially got the okay from my employer to switch to remote work for the foreseeable future, I actually recorded a video for Elliot in case I didn’t make it. I realized that not only would he not remember me if I died, but that most of the available video of me would be my YouTube videos, which are relatively representative, but still an idealized version of myself. Luckily, I now feel like I probably will never have to show it to him, although I might keep it if he ever asks us about our experiences during this time.

Alright, now on to the diary part. I first decided to start working from home on March 12th, after my home state reported its first confirmed cases. I went in the next day to gather what I might need to work from home long-term and chat with my boss. We had already discussed the possibility, in light of my delicate lungs, and he was more than gracious about it. I commuted early that morning so I could visit two of my favorite local places to get one last pastry and cup of tea before leaving indefinitely, and I left in the middle of the day to avoid evening rush hour. And then, I settled in. Shortly thereafter, we got word that our entire organization was switching to remote, as possible. That evening, I discussed things with my husband and he agreed to also work from home, which was good because halfway through our first week home, his workplace closed down, which included our daycare.

Now, this is not a place where I spend too much time discussing my parenting experience, but I do want to say that I am extraordinarily fortunate that my husband 1.) has a job that involves a lot of inactive “work,” and 2.) is willing to take on the bulk of the child care during my business hours, so that I can give most of my full attention to my work. The first week found me not only acclimating myself to our new normal, but also trying to finish a major yearly report that was due that week. My husband rallied and took on nearly all of the childcare and I could see the strain it left on him. That Friday, he took some time in the late morning to go grocery shopping, to avoid weekend crowds, and we stocked up so we wouldn’t have to go out again for another couple weeks. We even found a local brewery that was doing deliveries of their beer.

The second week, we started settling into something like a routine, while at the same time abandoning the pretense of a routine. I will say that I tend to break every rule in the teleworking book, frequently forgetting to shower, dress, or eat on a regular schedule. Oddly enough, having the toddler around has helped, as we need to keep him on some semblance of a schedule, if only to make sure he gets all his meals in, as he’s rather slim and tall, like his father. Having a child to feed has also forced us to prepare healthier meals, since we don’t want to feed him nothing but random odds and ends like we might eat ourselves, left to our own devices. I was able to plan a reasonable number of meals from things that were either hardy enough to last a week in the fridge, or else were made from frozen or shelf-stable staples, including the vegan chili that Elliot seems to love.

The second week also saw me emerge from my work cocoon more often to help with Elliot while keeping an eye on email, rather than devoting my fullest energy to work for eight hours straight and leaving Dan to it. I found a happy medium of getting a full day’s work done over the course of our waking hours without abandoning Dan to the toddler for eight hours straight. And I started using virtual meetings, both for family and friend connections, and for more official uses, including an all-staff meeting and a rehearsal via Zoom. Sadly, towards the end of last week, my most recent play was postponed for two years due to facilities closures.

This weekend, I continued connecting with virtual tea friends with a video meetup on Discord with a group of people I’ve met through a tea friend I met in person earlier this month. It was nice to chat tea and see people’s setups, and perhaps I have found a new tea community to engage with. The weekend also saw me succumb to a bit of boredom and start an Instagram account for Sophie, a k a TweedCat.

And now, my state is on an official stay-at-home order from the governor since Monday. It’s interesting because not much has changed about my life — I haven’t left the house except to check the mail box or for a couple walks around the neighborhood since the 13th, but it feels different. Also, I’m wondering how empty the grocery stores will be when we shop this weekend since everyone likely ran out to panic buy things again when the order was announced. I will admit to ordering some flour from a local farm, but that’s mostly because I, like most of the country, have rediscovered a love of bread making. So I guess I’ll just sit and bake and while away the hours until this is all over. Meet me back here to see how week two of official quarantine is going!

Tasting Tuesday: 2008 Da Hong Pao from Old Ways Tea

IMG_1556

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

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

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

IMG_1552

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Virus Diaries: Community in Isolation

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

IMG_1529

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

IMG_1516

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_1518

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_1461

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

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

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

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

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

NB: Nothing to declare.

Tasting Tuesday: Classic Alishan Winter Pick from Mountain Stream Teas

IMG_1471

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

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

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

IMG_1473

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

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

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

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