Autumn Tea Blend for Samhain

Blessed Samhain to my friends who celebrate! In this season of pumpkin spice, I sometimes find myself craving something a bit deeper, so I thought I’d share a little tea I blended up for myself today.

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I’ve long had a complicated relationship with traditional “pumpkin spice” blends, as I’m not often fond of cinnamon, except in very specific contexts. More often than not, I prefer to focus on other spices, such as the cardamom and allspice in my Regency-inspired drinking chocolate recipe. And allspice, to me, is that certain je ne sais quoi that defines autumn spice. So my blend keeps allspice, but eschews the rest.

But what it lacks in spice, it makes up for in a deep, rich roasted quality that brings to mind cool forests and evening fires. Dark roast hojicha from Hojicha.Co gives that deep, smoky campfire note, while wild rooibos from The Rare Tea Company marries with the hojicha in a beautiful and inseparable way. I spoke yesterday about my previous dislike of rooibos, but this wild rooibos tastes of earth and wood and reminds me more of a good whisky than the insipid and artificial caffeine-free flavored blends I’d had previously. Combined with hojicha and allspice, this blend tastes like autumn in a cup.

I’ve left this recipe relatively unadorned, but I imagine it might be delicious with some additions. Add a splash of apple cider or maple syrup if you prefer something sweeter. A cinnamon stick wouldn’t go amiss, if you’re into that kind of thing. The most important thing is to experiment and have fun.

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Dark Samhain Night Tea Blend

2.5g dark roast hojicha
2.5g wild rooibos
0.5g allspice berries

Add the ingredients to a teapot or infuser mug and pour 250ml of boiling water over them. Allow to steep for five minutes. Sweeten to taste, if desired, and enjoy. May be resteeped at least once with delightful results.

NB: All ingredients were purchased by me with no incentive to feature.

On My Bookshelf: Infused: Adventures in Tea

Everyone and their brother in the tea social media universe has become enamoured of Henrietta Lovell’s new book Infused: Adventures in Tea. So of course I need to add to the chorus of her praises here with my own thoughts on this fun little book. It is an ambitious work, blending memoir and tea education into a work that reminds me more of some books on yogic philosophy that I read years ago than a typical tea primer. Henrietta has led an amazing life as “The Tea Lady” and this book is foremost a collection of her experiences in tea.

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She starts at her home, where she discusses her “bed tea,” that first cup of tea in the morning, preferably drunk in bed. From there, we circle the globe, meeting tea producers and tea consumers the world over. It is perhaps worth noting that the chapters follow the teas that her company, The Rare Tea Company, sells, which is perhaps a brilliant marketing strategy because as I read the book, I became enchanted by the stories she tells and wanted to try the teas. So I can now make myself a cup of her White Silver Tips as my own cup of bed tea and have a little ponder about this delightful little book.

I think the thing that makes this book so utterly enjoyable is that you get a clear sense of Henrietta’s personality in her writing style. She is a classic British lady (English, mostly, and Scottish when it suits her) with a love of tea and red lipstick. How could I resist? While I have not had the pleasure of meeting her in person, as she had not yet made plans to come to Washington, D.C., on her tour, friends who have met her insist she is exactly like you would imagine from the book. As an avid reader of fiction, it is charming to believe that one of these characters from a book I loved might be walking around in my world. As she travels the globe investigating tea and other plants, she often gives her guests in each chapter the starring role, but there is enough personal anecdote to feel like you’re in the room with Henrietta as she regales you with stories of her life.

And while I’ve mentioned that the book serves as an excellent advertisement for her company’s teas, it doesn’t come off as artificial. The desire to try her teas is so strong precisely because she gives the teas and farmers the stage, letting them present themselves, rather than sounding like a salesperson. By punctuating her chapters with recipes, she entices you to try her tea, though she always writes to allow that you may order the same variety of tea elsewhere. And her final appendix on making a good cup of tea is approachable to anyone with an interest in tea, not just the expert or connoissieur. While she herself uses a gaiwan and often drinks tea gongfu style with tea masters, she does not demand it of her reader, nor does she presume to educate on these forms. Her book is about the leaf, first and foremost.

Perhaps the highest praise I can personally give this book is that her immersive prose has convinced me to give a second chance to a tea I have for years thought I despised: rooibos. Her chapter on the farmer who grows Rare Tea Company’s Wild Rooibos is excellent and her description of the complex flavor of the infusion made me second guess my own convictions. And the conviction that I dislike rooibos has long been my most firmly-held. But upon tasting Rare Tea Company’s Wild Rooibos, prepared using the method in Henrietta’s book, I found a warm cup that rivaled the complexity of my favorite whiskies.

So those are my thoughts on this lovely book. It is certainly one I would recommend to any tea lover, or as a gift to anyone with even a passing interest in tea. I am already wondering who among my friends and family might receive a copy for the holidays.

NB: I purchased everything mentioned in this post with my own money and was provided no incentive to review or feature them.

Tuesday Tasting: Storm King Tea Bai Mudan

This Tuesday, I’m finishing off the last of a tea that came as part of a sampler I purchased on Amazon last year from Storm King Tea. I’ve featured other teas from them over the last year, but, as I’ve written before, I’ve had a bit of a difficult relationship with Bai Mudan, or white peony. So I thought it might be a good idea to sit down and actually do a full, detailed tasting to see what I get. Plus, I had the packet out for my matcha experiments, and I had just enough leaf leftover for a gongfu session.

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I brewed 5.5 grams in my 120-ml gaiwan with 180F water. I started on an empty stomach, but the session ended up stretching all day, so I had some food starting with bread and butter after the first infusion.

The dry leaf is a mix of olive-green-to-brown leaves and silvery fuzzy buds. There is an aroma of sweetgrass and fresh hay from the dry leaf. After a rinse, I get an intense white floral aroma off the leaves, which I interpreted as jasmine. I steeped the tea ten times, starting with ten seconds and increasing by five seconds each subsequent steeping.

The aroma of the first steeping was floral from the gaiwan lid with something a bit deeper, and cannabis-like from the leaf itself. The liquor was a medium apricot gold color with a fruity aroma. It had a light juicy mouthfeel and tasted of tannin and fruit, like persimmons, with a creamy undertone. During the second steeping, some apricot fruity aromas joined the floral aromas, with more fruity tannin on the flavors. The second steeping was the only one that almost skewed a bit harsh, tasting a bit like perfume.

By the third steeping, it had calmed down and the floral aromas dominated. It had a less dry mouthfeel and went back to juicy. There was a little tingle on the tongue, similar to what I experience from infusions of very good medicinal herbs. I noticed the aromas had faded a bit on the fourth infusion, and some fresh, raw peachy flavors came through.

I thought the fifth infusion would be the last, but from the fifth through the tenth infusion, this tea held remarkably steady. I did note that the sixth infusion had an aroma that was very similar to “white tea” scented things, particularly one of the GapScents from the 90s (was it “Cloud” or “Heaven” that had green tea as a note?). There was no unpleasant astringency. But by the tenth infusion, while the aroma was still lovely, the flavor was pretty much done. Not bad for a white tea I bought off Amazon on a whim.

Thoughts on Pregnancy Loss, Two Years Later

NB: Today I’m going to be talking about my past pregnancy loss. I am also going to be talking about my subsequent pregnancy and living child. So if either of those are topics that you’d rather not hear about, please enjoy this picture of my cat and come back next week for more tea and frivolity.

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For those who don’t know, October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. It also happens to be the month in which I personally became aware of the reality of pregnancy loss. I shared my original feelings in a post here.

Two years ago today, I went for what I thought would be my first look at our new baby. And then I learned how it feels when things go not at all the way you’d expected or hoped. It wasn’t a dramatic moment, but I will never forget sitting on that table, looking at the ultrasound monitor with my husband and the technician and hearing her say, “It’s a little… small.” She quickly walked it back and said we would see the doctor to discuss it. I’d spent enough time on pregnancy subreddits to know what my eight-week ultrasound should have looked like, so I sat for the half an hour that it took for the doctor to be ready and tried not to cry. I failed.

It felt like hours that we spent in the room with the doctor as she explained why she thought I’d had what is called a missed miscarriage, comforted us, and talked us through what came next. It turned into an almost-month-long process of trying different methods to pass the pregnancy, but that first moment of connection was, oddly enough, what cemented for me that I wanted to stay with this doctor’s office when I eventually got pregnant again.

That was the day I joined a club of really awesome people who have a really crappy thing in common.

I am not a naturally sunny or optimistic person. But I consider my miscarriage to have the silver lining of helping me not only realize how supportive my doctors were, but also to help me connect on a different level with so many people I already knew. Even at the lowest point in those first months, I had people I could turn to, and I was so so thankful. If you reached out to me or if I talked to you about my loss in those months, know that I appreciated it more than I ever expressed, even though I unevenly disappeared a lot back then. It hasn’t taken much to see the bright side of the situation.

Last year, my first pregnancy’s due date passed without remark because I was already pregnant and simply too ill with first trimester nausea to notice what day it was. A year ago, I was in my third trimester and on the edge of my seat, simultaneously excited and scared. The problem about pregnancy loss is that it’s not just about the pregnancy you lost. It is a stark reminder that, despite the reassuring statistics, you can lose your baby at any time. It’s a tough thing to deal with mentally when you just want to be excited, buy some cute baby clothes, and pee for the twentieth time in half a day. In a way, I was holding my breath the entire time I was pregnant with Elliot.

I felt myself release that breath the moment I heard Elliot cry in the operating room and the doctor pulled down the sheet for a moment to introduce me to my baby.

I would love to say that it all got better once my baby was born, but I’ve shared experiences on my pregnancy blog that would make you know that’s a lie. I will say that I have enjoyed every minute of being with this remarkable little being who made it through, even when I absolutely hated it. But it doesn’t erase my loss. And, somehow, seeing Elliot grow up has made me think more about the baby he wasn’t.

When Dan and I were talking about having babies, we would often talk about names. We had a lot of girls’ names we liked, and couldn’t agree on a boy’s name. I not-so-secretly hoped I had a girl. When I got pregnant for the first time, I wouldn’t have admitted it out loud, but I was sure I was going to have that little girl, and I knew what I wanted to name her.

Seraphina.

I am not a religious person, but that right there is dramatic irony. And when I got pregnant again and we discussed names, I knew that, even if this baby were a girl, I just didn’t want to use that name again. It wasn’t that it was cursed or bad luck or anything. It just… wasn’t the right name again. I also was much less sure that I was going to have a girl (although, I’m not one of those “I always knew” mothers — we had two names picked out, one for a boy and one for a girl).

So today, I’ll be thinking of Seraphina-who-wasn’t, and I’ll give Elliot-who-is a big hug and know that now it’s my turn to welcome new members into that really crappy club full of awesome people and let them know that it doesn’t go away, but it does go forward.

In My Queue: Murdoch Mysteries

It has been a while since I’ve talked about the vintage/historical-set television I’ve been enjoying on Netflix. Well, sadly, Murdoch Mysteries, is no longer available on Netflix, so “In My Queue” will be expanding its reach! Of course, there are plenty of lovely historical series on Amazon Prime, which I’ve also been enjoying, but I recently subscribed to Hulu, and that is in very large part to the fact that Murdoch Mysteries is there. But rest assured that I will talk about some of my other favorites in the future.

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Murdoch Mysteries combines two of my favorite things: the late Victorian/Edwardian aesthetic and idealized historical science (i.e., the thing that makes steampunk ever so appealing). Detective William Murdoch is a detective with the Toronto Constabulary in the late 19th and early 20th century who uses his brilliant mind to catch criminals, while working alongside a more traditional bully-boy inspector and a young constable-turned-acolyte. Murdoch manages to take the trope of the socially-blind, yet brilliant detective and make the character so charming and likable because, unlike Sherlock Holmes and his derivatives, he’s not a jerk. He’s a devout Catholic, but not preachy about it, kind and respectful, even beyond the norms of the times, and is always good to his mother (I made that last bit up). He takes the cool, logical mind to it’s rational (pun intended) endpoint and doesn’t see the point of the prejudices of the day.

Which of course, sets the series up to have some pretty fantasy-aspirational female characters. When the series opens, the coroner with whom Murdoch works (and plays *wink*) is a woman who has clawed her way through medical school to be recognized as a doctor. Despite her occasionally annoyingly “girlish” voice, Dr. Julia Ogden is the foil to Murdoch’s seemingly-conventional straight man. She does not intend to fit any of society’s molds, be it chastity or demureness. And she does it all in fantastic costumes (though they do veer out of the area of historical accuracy at times) with impeccable hair.

After Dr. Ogden has to leave the morgue, she is replaced by Dr. Emily Grace, who is a foil in a different way to Murdoch, as well as to his increasingly-prominent constable. Dr. Grace is similarly uninterested in sticking to societies rules, even going so far as to bend Victorian heteronormative relationships, but her attitude is less emotional and passionate than Dr. Ogden, instead resembling Murdoch in a lot of ways, albeit in a more commonly-written “aloof brilliant mind” way. In fact, Dr. Grace’s similarities to Murdoch highlight what it is about Murdoch that makes him so appealing as a character, despite the fact that he’s a devotedly religious man who doesn’t drink and rarely uses colorful language.

But like all good shows, the real gems are in the supporting characters. As mentioned before, Constable George Crabtree is one of these stars. He desperately wants to be like Murdoch, but he just isn’t, and often that’s the best thing for the situation. He makes bizarre connections that are often nonsensical, but occasionally help Murdoch see something his rationality was hiding from him. And despite seeming much less intelligent than Murdoch, he is perhaps more creative. He’s just so sweet and endearing that sometimes I wish he were the main character so it were more likely he’d end up “getting the girl” (I haven’t finished the available episodes, yet, so I have hope).

Finally, Inspector Thomas Brackenreid is the slow burn of the series. While he initially comes off as a traditional, bully-boy, toxically-masculine caricature of a turn-of-the-century copper, he honestly shows the most growth throughout the series. And despite falling prey to plenty of the prejudices of the times, he is always willing to be proven wrong. I find his character oddly compelling, particularly as the series goes on and you see his relationships with his wife and children in more detail. I also find it cute that he keeps an autograph book with signatures of the various special guests in the show.

And that brings me to a key aspect of the series: Murdoch meets famous historical figures, from Nikola Tesla to Winston Churchill. And one of the main running threads of dramatic irony is having Murdoch (or occasionally another character, most often Crabtree) make some comment or suggestion that the audience knows becomes a famous aspect of that person’s life. Murdoch also invents things, often showing a remarkable prescience, such as when he invents a rudimentary polygraph machine. It’s just silly enough to be clear that the show’s creators aren’t intending this to be taken seriously, while being helped by Murdoch’s earnest bearing as a character. Again, the whiz-bang aspect is part of what makes steampunk so appealing. And while Murdoch Mysteries may not be steampunk, in it’s most literal sense, it certainly shares plenty of that appeal. At least, I find it so.

Tuesday Tasting: Tea Tasting versus Tea Reviewing, plus Yunnan Sourcing Mengku Grade 3 Ripe Puerh mini tuo cha

Reviews are a cornerstone of many blogging universes, and this blog hasn’t been very different. Some of my most popular posts are reviews (mostly of beauty products), and recently, a large portion of my posts have been tea reviews. But lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of “reviewing” something like tea, which is so beholden to the reviewer’s personal tastes.

That said, of course I’m going to keep sharing my thoughts on teas I’m tasting. Have no fear. But I think I shall structure my thoughts as tea tastings rather than tea reviews. It may seem a silly distinction, but here is my rationale: flavors that I enjoy, you might not, and vice versa. I think my video on the immensely popular Lapsang Souchong is proof enough of that. So rather than “review” teas that come my way, either as gifts or my own purchases, I shall sit down and do a long tasting session, taking careful notes, so that I can share the impressions I get of the flavors and aromas I get from the tea. Hopefully, that way, it will provide some benefit beyond just “I liked this tea” or “I didn’t like this tea.” And it means that there’s no such thing as a positive or negative review. Just a tasting.

For now, I’m going to be very ambitious and try to do a tasting every Tuesday. And occasionally, I may also post about some topics relevant to tea tasting. I will say, this is my way of becoming more serious about my tea, without taking a formal class, so you should know that I merely have a lot of feelings about tea, rather than any real training. I take my descriptions from my experiences with perfumes, wine, cooking, and other hobbies of mine.

So if you are interested in knowing details of my tasting notes, stay tuned. And if you happen to sell tea and wish to offer up a tea for tasting, let me know through the contact form.

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Today’s tasting is of the 2011 Mengku Grade 3 Ripe Puer mini tuo cha I received as a free sample in one of my recent orders from Yunnan Sourcing. While the tea was provided free of charge, it was a normal sample-with-purchase rather than one provided for promotional reasons.

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I used one 4.7-gram tuo cha in a 120-ml gaiwan with boiling filtered water. I rinsed the tea, and then steeped this eight times, starting at 10 seconds and increasing by five seconds for each steeping, and then finished with a ninth steeping for one minute.

The dry tuo cha is quite compact, with a very subtle earthy scent after being warmed in the gaiwan. Upon rinsing, the leaves released a light aroma of wet earth.

After the first steeping, the gaiwan lid held the light aroma of petrichor and damp earth and the wet leaf itself smelled more strongly of earth. The liquor smelled of mushrooms and was a surprisingly light rosy amber color. The flavor of the first steeping was surprisingly sweet, with notes of Biscoff, brown sugar, and maple syrup.

The second steeping brought out a slightly darker color, like Grade B maple syrup. The wet leaf smelled of forest floor while the gaiwan lid brought out a sweeter woody aroma that took me some time to place. I believe I eventually settled on some sort of aromatic wood or liquorice root. The mouthfeel was noticeably creamy, with a little less sweetness and more fruit. It had jammy apricot notes and custard, so I noted a flavor of apricot tart.

During the third steeping, I was still trying to place the lid aroma. The liquor was much darker and started developing that rich, dark earthy flavor that I associate with ripe puer, though it still had some sweetness. By the fourth steeping, I had placed that the lid aroma was some sort of sweetly aromatic wood, though not spicy like sandalwood. I also noted that the tuo cha had started to noticeably come apart. The sweetness of the liquor had died down a bit, but it paradoxically retained a very smooth chocolatey flavor, almost like milk chocolate without sweetness, or perhaps like Crio Bru brewed cacao.

By the fifth steeping, I was starting to notice a bit of warmth in my body and was feeling rather good. Despite drinking on an empty stomach first thing in the morning, I had no stomach upset. The fifth steeping was the deep, dark color that I associate with ripe puer — almost like coffee — and the aromas were all sweet woods and earth, with some mulchiness in the wet leaf itself. I, very poetically, wrote that the liquor “tastes like the forest on a rainy day.” I then went on to wonder if there was such a thing as “poetic cha qi” and noted that I feel like lounging around like a cat. It had a very substantial, chocolatey mouthfeel and the tuo cha had completely come apart.

The sixth steeping had the same earthy aromas and dark liquor, though the flavors were somewhat muted. The color of the liquor had started to fade again at the seventh infusion, but still had strong earthy aromas and the leaf almost smelled of firewood. The flavors brought forward minerals — iron and salt. The eighth steeping looked very similar to the second steeping, with a little return of that woody sweetness. It was here that I identified liquorice root in the flavor. By the ninth steeping, I decided it was pretty much done, though with some pleasant lingering sweetness.

Upon examining the spent leaf, I noticed a fair amount of sticks. The overall mass of leaf was very dark, with little color variation.

The Red Lipstick Diaries: My New Everyday Red Lip

Years ago, I challenged myself to wear all my red lipsticks and tried to cultivate a “signature red” for everyday wear. In the intervening years, much has changed. Not only has my personal style moved from the mid-20th-century to a more late-19th/early-20th-century aesthetic, but I fell out of the habit of wearing lipstick altogether when I was pregnant last year (as well as really any makeup at all). But lately, I’ve felt the pull of the bold lip once more.

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And, in my exploration of early-20th-century beauty, I’ve discovered that it’s not entirely surprising. Apparently, the women’s suffrage movement used red lipstick as a symbol of women’s power in the 1910’s. So perhaps red lipstick isn’t entirely out of line with my aesthetic.

One thing that has always been out of line with my aesthetic were liquid lipsticks. I just preferred the experience of applying and reapplying lipstick from the tube, as well as the look of the tube on my vanity. But as I haven’t bought lipstick in a long while, most of my old lipsticks are either gone, or gone bad, so I had to replenish my collection. At first, I looked at some favorite bullet formulas, but when I started looking to reduce my plastic waste, I started exploring other options. And managed to stumble upon the liquid lipsticks from Beauty Bakerie.

Of course, I do not, in fact, live under a rock (and even confirmed hobbit Rachel Maksy has reviewed them), so I had heard of Beauty Bakerie, mostly through their unbelievable social media ads that show how tough their lipsticks wear. But I was intrigued by the idea of a lipstick that I wouldn’t have to faff around with, and that wouldn’t leave marks on my tea cups. So I spent my $20 plus shipping and waited.

And I’m definitely impressed. I got the shade Mon Cheri, which is a gorgeous bright true red on me. It has become my everyday red lip. I’ve been slightly tempted to try some of the other shades, but really, Mon Cheri is such a perfect red on me (if you want to see it in action, check out this video), I don’t really need to branch out. And I’m glad I can get them at Ulta because my only complaint is that the single tube of lipstick came with an amount of packaging that would make Amazon blush. So I will be strictly be buying this locally from now on.

But the formula is gorgeous (and it doesn’t have any scent, despite the sweets-themed branding). Yes, you have to prep your lips. I always apply a thick lip balm over night (Aquaphor or Base for Lips from The Library Apothecary) and then in the morning, after I’ve had tea and brushed my teeth, I apply another layer of lip balm. I let that set while I put on sunscreen, and then wipe it off with a damp washcloth for a little exfoliation, and blot dry with a towel. Thus, are my lips prepped.

It is a little fiddly to apply, but only because it stays so well. I usually apply to the center of my lips and then work it outward, using the tip of the applicator to line my lips. If I catch any mistakes in the first few seconds, I can wipe them with a careful finger, but otherwise, your mistakes will stay until you remove the lipstick. I will say, I did not experience having to go back for more dips of product while applying. I use the amount of lipstick that coats the front and back of the applicator, and it’s the perfect amount to cover my lips in a thin, even layer, that doesn’t get flaky or gummy.

Yes, it dries down, and no, you can’t put on lip balm over it if you want to preserve the transfer-proof finish, but it’s not unbearable. I think having a decent lip care routine outside of your lipstick-wearing hours helps. And it wears all day without the need for one touchup. I wear this all day at work, through several meals and many, many cups of tea, and I’ve never had scary lips (or lipstick on my chin). And the glass tube is so pretty, I can forgive it for not being a vintage-y gold bullet. Plus, the tube is glass, which is more recyclable than plastics.

So there you have it: what might be the last lipstick review I ever post (doubtful). But for now, this is the only lipstick I feel the need to wear most days.

NB: I purchased this lipstick with my own money and was not provided any incentive to review.

Tea Review: Path of Cha Da Hong Pao and Golden Monkey

NB: The teas featured here were sent to me in exchange for review. All thoughts are my own.

Recently, I was fortunate enough to win a couple teas from Path of Cha on Instagram, and I was thoroughly enjoying them. About a month or so later, Angie from Path of Cha reached out and asked if I’d be interested in trying more and reviewing them on the blog, so I agreed readily. We discussed a bit and I mentioned how the cooling weather has me craving some darker oolongs and black teas, so they put together a couple of black and oolong teas for me to try. Less than a week later, I had my package in hand (similarly to how quickly my giveaway winnings arrived) and I’ve been enjoying trying them out. I suppose since I’ve finished one and I’m nearly finished with the other, it’s time to offer my review.

First of all, Path of Cha has fantastic service in terms of website and shipping. Their website is full of information for anyone at any point in their tea journey. I’ve enjoyed their blog and YouTube channel for a while, and the individual listings for each tea give a good amount of information, including little stories about each tea. They’re located in Brooklyn, NY, so it’s not surprising that the tea gets to me quite quickly. And shipping is free for orders over $40 and under $4 otherwise. But perhaps my favorite thing is that they obviously personalize the instructions on each package. Each package has a suggested water temperature, and parameters for brewing Western style and gong fu style. They don’t make any judgments on how you enjoy your tea.

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“Golden Monkey” Jin Hou Black Tea: This is a classic Chinese black tea, and the Path of Cha version is a delightful representation of it. I first tried this tea on a morning when I didn’t have time for a full tea session because we were meeting friends for a walk on a Saturday morning and I just needed something warm and caffeinated to put in a flask. It certainly fit that bill. I steeped it Western-style and had to pour it into the flask after just a few sips, and it held beautifully, warming me on an early morning walk around the garden.

When I had more time, I was able to explore it gong fu style and really taste the full development of flavors. I got chocolate and malt from the aroma of the dry leaf, which is curly and flecked with gold tips. The first infusion or so is mellow and delicate, with burnt sugar and honey in the aroma and malt and cereal in the flavor, but it expands into something very rich and round and perfect for cooler weather, with just enough astringency that you know you’re drinking black tea, but not so much that your mouth dries out or you feel the need to add anything to it. As the flavors develop, I get fruitcake and brandy, so I imagine this will work well into winter. It lasted about six steepings before the flavor started to fade, but it faded so slowly that I got another few steepings before it really felt spent.

It’s such a well-balanced tea that it works beautifully steeped grandpa-style. I’ve had plenty of mornings where I get up at 5:30, set the kettle before getting into the shower, and can make tea in less than a minute by chucking a couple grams into a mug and topping with water after I get out. Twenty-five grams of this tea sells for $10 on their website.

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Organic “Big Red Robe” Da Hong Pao Oolong Tea: I first tried Da Hong Pao for my tea sessions inspired by the Crazy Rich Asians series, as it’s infamous as one of the most expensive teas in the world (when it comes from one of the original ancient trees). But non-ancient DHP is a delightful roasted oolong that doesn’t need to cost an arm and a leg. This one is only $14 for twenty-five grams.

I dove right into steeping this one gong fu style and was rewarded for my efforts. I went eight steepings with this and found each one a new experience. The aroma goes from caramel and biscuits on the dry leaf to a mineraly, almost peaty aroma on the wet leaf after a few steepings. The empty cup aroma has intense vanilla and pipe tobacco notes, with the roast and smokiness coming through later on. And the flavor is sweet and bright to begin, with the roast coming through later, but never with that old-coffee-grounds flavor that some over-roasted oolongs get. This stays smoky and with notes of bitter chocolate and sweetness. I don’t normally think of oolong as a tea with a lot of cha qi, but I definitely felt something after several steepings of this.

This one is also beautiful grandpa-style, though the complex flavors all kind of blend together, so I tried to stop myself from using this all up in the early mornings. But it’s rich and satisfying and just feels like sitting in front of a low fire with a soft cashmere blanket when I drink it. In fact, when a colleague offered me some caramel apple tea because she thought it tastes like fall, I decided to offer her some of this because this is what I think fall tastes like. I’ve hoarded it a bit, but I’m likely to finish it off this week, and I’m almost certain to buy some more.

Tea Review: Naoki Matcha Silver Yame Ceremonial Blend

Several weeks ago, one of my favorite tea bloggers posted a review of a matcha from Yame in Fukuoka prefecture. Now, given that I am currently in the process of planning a trip to Fukuoka, I was intrigued, and decided to buy some for myself. You may remember in this Sunday’s historical tea video, I featured this matcha while discussing a well-traveled woman who figured into the history of Japan’s tea culture, and mentioned that I would have to do a more in-depth review later. So here is that review.

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First of all, I purchased the Silver Yame Ceremonial Blend Matcha from Naoki’s own site, though they also sell on Amazon if you absolutely must have your matcha in two days. But my experience on Naoki’s website was pleasant enough not to feel the need to patronize Amazon. I paid $22.99 for 40g, which is actually a bit less than it’s currently listed for on their site (there was apparently a website glitch when I ordered, but they honored the price). It’s currently listed at $24.99 for 40g, which is about $0.62 per gram, and pretty solidly mid-pack for price among the high-quality matchas I drink. They also offer free shipping. I placed my order on a Sunday, it shipped on the Tuesday, and I received it Friday, so less than a week’s turnaround was quite the treat for someone used to waiting for shipping from halfway around the world.

For the video, I decided to pre-sift a few teaspoons of matcha into a clean, reused tin from Ippodo (if you happen to recognize the logo in the picture), instead of sifting it directly into the bowl like I often do. The matcha sifted easily because it’s a nice, soft, fine powder. It whisks well with no residual clumps, even after I’d stored the pre-sifted powder in the fridge for a day or two. I did have a little trouble getting a good froth the first two times I whisked it, but I later got the hang of it. Perhaps I’m just out of practice.

Tasting this matcha for the first time was a revelation. It was sweet, creamy, and mild. It reminded me of the time I ordered a rye and soda and was convinced they’d given me Sprite because the soda added such a pronounced sweetness to the rye. The first sip of this was just so smooth. And then the sweetness and richness develops into an umami aftertaste as you finish your three sips. I’m loathe to overuse the word buttery (Tracy), but, yes, the description “buttery” would apply here. This would be a very nice starter matcha for someone who wants to taste the good stuff and doesn’t want to be hit with really complicated flavors. It’s also really nice for the summer when I’m just too darn hot to have a serious conversation with my tea.

So, once again, Oolong Owl has steered me right. I suppose the dual morals of this story are that you should try Naoki Silver Yame matcha (and that I will likely want to try others of their offerings), and that you should follow Oolong Owl’s blog and allow her to enable you with wild abandon.

NB: I purchased this product with my own money and was given no incentive to feature or review it.

Finding My Roots

Last year, I decided to take a commercial DNA test out of an idle curiosity about my ancestry. I was pregnant and thinking a lot more about family roots and traditions. The results were interesting, though not entirely surprising — mostly British with a little German and Eastern European mixed in — but I was intrigued by the level of Scandinavian ancestry. So this year, I decided to work on exploring my genealogy. And in honor of my efforts, my mother decided to add to my tea cup collection with this cup from Herend Hungary, as a relatively recent part of my heritage is from Hungary.

IMG_0483

Now, I want to pause here and acknowledge two things. The first is that I’m extraordinarily privileged to be able to find records of my ancestors coming over to the States from their birth countries. Not everyone has this luxury, as not all crossings were recorded with details of all travelers’ names, given that not all crossings were by choice. The second is that I fully acknowledge that I am in the grips of an American’s desire to be seen as not American, but somehow connected to my “culture of origin.” I know this is often viewed with amusement by others, and I can see that. But, given that some of my non-American heritage is rather recent, there are still traditions that play into my modern life from some of them. So I wanted to explore it. Plus, a haughty relative once determined that our family is qualified to join the Daughters of the American Revolution, and I was intrigued by that, given what I knew of our more recent immigrant history.

But on to my discoveries. The first is that one of my most recent immigrant ancestors came over in the 20th century, from Yorkshire, England. I had always assumed that my Catholic grandparents were of Irish descent, but it was fascinating to learn something that happened to correspond with my interest in Tudor-era history, given that Yorkshire was a pocket of Catholic recusancy during the Reformation of the English church. I also had ancestors on another side of the family from Derbyshire. And I was already aware of the relatives that emigrated from Hungary in the early 20th century. Interestingly, while my ancestors would now be considered to be from Hungary and Romania, when they were born, the whole of their birthplaces would have been part of the Kingdom of Hungary. It was particularly interesting to see the variations on names as records sprouted spelling errors and the like.

And on the other side, I was able to trace all the lines of the family back to their original crossing and found that the Revolutionary heroes largely traced their origins back to colonies that were founded by Dutch settlers. In fact, one ancestor came over shortly after the original founding of New Amsterdam. Still another line traces back to Denmark. So far, I’ve been able to find three different ancestors who found in the American Revolution, two of whom survived, not including the ancestor claimed by my great grandfather’s stepmother, whose records helped launch my own research.

So this has been a fun project. I’m not entirely sure what to do with it. I suppose I should find a way to make a hard copy to store and pass on to Elliot so he does not have to do the same work, should he be so inclined. I used Ancestry.com for most of the research, which does charge a membership fee to actively look at records, and charges additional to look at international records (hence, only tracing ancestors back as far as their original crossings to the States), but the interface is nice, and you can view your tree for free. Perhaps in the future, I will return to it to collect it into a genalogy book, to go with the book my father-in-law made for my husband’s family.