The Virus Diaries: Self-Sufficiency

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This week, I experienced something rather new: Having the house to myself for most of the day. It was very… quiet. But it was nice to have time truly alone, without having to worry that they’d be back in twenty minutes from a walk, and I was happy to have my family back in the house at the end of the day. It’s interesting to feel a bit like things are returning to “normal” while still recognizing that things are still completely different than they were in the Before Times.

One thing that I didn’t realize I was miss so terribly are all the little things that I associate with being out and about, running errands, or seeing friends, or just going out to eat. And the most prominent of these things is bubble tea.

Yes, bubble tea. Let me explain.

You see, I almost never actually go out for bubble tea. It’s something that we get when we’re out somewhere for another reason and end up seeing a bubble tea place and I decide I also want bubble tea. I got bubble tea when we went to see a movie a year and a half ago, or when we go to our favorite local ramen place, or when we met some friends for Korean BBQ. But I never just think “Oh, I want to go out just for some bubble tea.” Which meant that bubble tea was something that basically disappeared from my life once I stopped going out. There were no incidentals. Even though there is a bubble tea place near the grocery store, it’s not something I’m going to ask Dan to go out of his way to bring back on one of his biweekly shopping trips. Grocery shopping is all business now.

And at the same time, while we’ve relaxed our concerns about delivery food, I haven’t felt like it was worth the frivolous expenditure to get delivery bubble tea. Maybe if the place we get dinner from occasionally had my preferred drink (milk oolong, with brown sugar and tapioca pearls), it would have been different, but paying the service charge, delivery fee, and a tip for a $4 bubble tea just seemed too excessive, even for me.

So that meant I had to learn how to make it myself. Having done some research on the history of bubble tea (yup, future historical video will be forthcoming), I knew I wanted a Taiwanese-owned company, so I consulted my friend and Taiwanese-American extraordinaire, Jude Chao of Fifty Shades of Snails, who directed me to Teaspoons Co., a Canadian-based business that sells bubble tea necessities and kits. I decided to buy a la carte, instead of getting one of their inclusive kits, so I could get exactly what I wanted: tapioca pearls, roasted oolong tea, black sugar syrup, powdered creamer, and a reusable thick bubble tea straw (rose gold because I’m fancy).

It was surprisingly quick to get to me, given that it was coming from Canada, and Canada Post and USPS have spent most of the last six months in a grand competition to see who can be the slowest, but it arrived pretty quickly, and I was able to dive in. It comes with extensive instructions for preparing everything, with measurements down to the gram if you’re ridiculous like me and own a gram scale to measure what you make.

And it’s easy! The only tricky part is that you can’t save cooked tapioca pearls, so you have to make them when you know you want bubble tea, but they also take a little less than an hour to cook, so you basically have to decide you want boba and then wait an hour. But it’s mostly inactive time. I’ll probably do a video where I make it on camera so you can see how I do things, but the short answer is that I learned that the best way to get that lovely frothy, bubble-y tea is to shake the prepared tea, syrup, creamer powder, and ice in a mason jar until it gets cold, and then top it with your tapioca pearls, which promptly sink to the bottom.

Then, just slurp it up and pretend you’re out with friends and just happened to stop into a bubble tea place. It’s a little less spontaneous, but no less delicious.

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

Tea Together Tuesday: Coffee Talk

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 if you enjoy coffee or if you are strictly a tea/tisane person. Of course, if you’ve followed my Instagram for a while, you’ll know that, before I had Elliot, we used to go to our favorite coffee shop, Vigilante Coffee, every weekend where I had my weekly coffee drink. You see, I also love coffee, but sadly it doesn’t love me back. I find that if I have plain black coffee, it upsets my stomach, and even if I have a drink with milk, it’s not great on my digestion.

But like many things in my life, sometimes it’s worth it to risk it for a cup of something delicious. About three years ago, my spouse Dan and I took advantage of a mid-week holiday to go to the weekly coffee cupping at Vigilante’s roastery in Hyattsville, where we had the opportunity to not only learn about coffee cupping technique, but also to try four of their excellent single-origin coffees, including two that Cup of Excellence coffees. Dan loves that Vigilante generally roasts their coffees lighter than the popular nationwide coffee chains, and I… well, I just love tasting things. Tea, whisky, wine, coffee. If it tastes good, I’m going to be there.

In fact, if you happened to be around when Dan and I tried to start a food blog, you’ll remember our post about cupping at Vigilante. Now, due to other factors at play in our lives during the end of 2017 and into 2018, we didn’t manage to continue the blog for long, but we did continue visiting Vigilante Coffee. I even managed a visit two days before I went into the hospital to give birth to Elliot! Their coffee is not only carefully sourced in partnership with farmers around the world, but the care they take in roasting it shines through in the elegant and complex flavors. I’m not usually a fan of acidic coffee, but their coffees have this characteristic brightness that isn’t unpleasant.

Sadly, we moved away from Vigilante last year and, while we were visiting a local cafe that serves their coffee for a while, the pandemic brought that to an end. Dan has started getting their coffee subscription delivered as we’ve moved towards getting more and more of our local food delivered, but I haven’t been able to indulge in a barista drink for a while. My go-to was a flat white, which has the most velvety milk texture, going beautifully with their espresso.

But for now, I’ll mostly enjoy the delightful aromas whenever Dan makes his morning coffee and hope to get my flat white again soon.

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

Brand Spotlight: Live Botanical (and some thoughts about “natural” skincare)

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I thought that today’s Mini Moon Challenge prompt required a bit of a longer post, and I wanted to talk about something I’ve noticed over the years in the beauty community: the science-vs.-nature false dichotomy. And this was an ideal place to discuss it because the prompt of “a full routine” not only brings up something I’ve talk about for years — the idea of a minimum acceptable routine — but also gives me a chance to highlight a brand that I think represents a balance between the ideas of “natural” products and “science-based” products.

I’ve written in the past about my previous insistence of “all-natural” products and how I no longer subscribe to that requirement, but anyone who reads this blog knows that I am still dedicated to the idea that botanicals can work with more recent compounds to make a truly holistic routine. And this isn’t just in my personal thoughts about herbalism and medicine, but also extends to beauty products. But so many of the brands that offer botanically-based products also perpetuate some of the most pernicious anti-science myths that plague the community, and so many of the brands that base their identity in scientific backing work to distance themselves from the botanical beauty concept to differentiate themselves from those myths. It becomes a kind of zero-sum game where you’re either nature or science, as though mankind doesn’t exist as a part of the global ecosystem.

The idea that science is at odds with nature, or vice versa, is artificial, since 1.) human beings are also a part of nature and the idea that nature is something you have to return to is based in the idea that man is “better” than nature, and 2.) all scientific progress at its core came from observations about nature, and was synthesized from or to replace specific natural products. So where are the brands that recognize this?

Enter Live Botanical. While this is not the only brand that manages to blend science and botanicals, it is the one that I’m most excited about right now. Not only are the products made with both botanical wisdom and scientific knowledge, but she also doesn’t engage in marketing based on myths. While her products happen to be paraben-free, she doesn’t market that loudly and doesn’t try to act like her products are somehow “safer” or “non-toxic” compared to others. What she does emphasize is how she sources ingredients, specifically how far they have to travel to get to her. Where she finds the most value in sourcing products from botanicals is in the fact that she can grow many of herself and distill extracts and hydrosols, or else source ingredients from close to her home, rather than focusing on “exotic” ingredients that not only travel great distances, but might also contribute to the othering of historically marginalized and oppressed cultures.

On each bottle, rather than stating the percentage of “natural” ingredients or claims about the safety of the products, she states the percentage of the product that is “regionally sourced,” as a way to think about the true meaning of sustainability when consuming beauty products. But these botanically-led products also contain ingredients with strong scientific backings like niacinamide, ceramides, hyaluronic acid, tremella mushroom extract, and more. She tests the pH of her cleanser and makes sure it is in an acid-mantle-friendly range. And she uses a clearly-stated preservative system that includes both ingredients as well as packaging. Plus, she acknowledges indigenous wisdom and donates to organizations that promote social justice.

But what about the products? Well, I’m a hair’s breadth from the classic three-step routine with her products. While my actual routine varies widely based on the weather, season, and my mood (or mental state), lately, they have been firmly based around these four products. In the morning, I cleanse with her cleansing gel, apply vitamin C if I feel like it, and then use the Radiance Elixir and Ambient Moisture Liquid. In the evening, I double cleanse with her cleansing oil and gel and then use an acid serum. From there, it’s the same Radiance Elixir and Ambient Moisture Liquid, plus a balm if I’m feeling extra dry, or an oil if I’m not. And on days or nights when I just can’t do anything more, I can always cleanse with her cleansing gel and apply a couple pumps of Ambient Moisture Liquid.

I love that I have been able to try minis of all her products. I’ve already rebought full-sized bottles of the cleansing oil, Radiance Elixir, and Ambient Moisture Liquid, but I’m trying to decide if I want to go back to my old cleanser to use up my current stock before repurchasing the cleansing gel. I probably won’t and will simply gift my unopened bottle of my previous favorite to a friend or family member because I seriously love the cleansing gel. My skin is extremely picky about water-based cleansers and this is literally only the second one that hasn’t eventually caused my skin or wonky eye to freak out. And this has the benefit of being made by a company of less dubious morality than my previous favorite.

So that’s my rant about natural beauty and how I base my routine largely around products from Live Botanical. I highly recommend you check them out. And if you have, please let me know what your favorite product is!

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.

Tea Together Tuesday: On Gifts and Love Languages

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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 the best gift you’ve received since beginning your tea journey. Well, I would be completely remiss if I didn’t talk about my number one supporter of my love of tea and teaware: My mother. She has given me at least half the vintage cups in my collection, as well as plenty of my other teaware. In our family, little gifts, often for no particular reason, are one of the ways we show love, and gifts for events (birthdays, holidays, celebrating milestones, etc.) doubly so.

So I would have to say that the best gift I’ve gotten has been her amazing gift of a pure silver teapot for my birthday last year. After Elliot’s birth, I went through a period of time of rediscovering my identity, and moving away from being “that tea lady” to identifying myself more with my role as a parent. But eventually, I did have to return to tea beyond a simple mug of grandpa-style brew, and this gift had a lot to do with that. In addition to just being completely gorgeous, it represented a new kind of teaware that I needed to investigate and experiment with.

I first heard about the benefits of pure silver teaware while reading Char’s blog Oolong Owl, and later realized that Scott of Yunnan Sourcing uses one in his videos on YouTube. Similarly to unglazed clays, the 99% (or higher) purity silver reacts with the tea inside and can change the flavor of your tea in interesting ways. I chose to start with silver and not clay for a very simple reason: I am clumsy and would be less likely to break a metal teapot. Plus, silver isn’t absorbent like clay can be and you can use it for multiple types of teas without worrying about flavor mixing.

But they are rather pricey, generally running at least $250-500. So I was excited when my mother, who always strives to make sure we really treat ourselves to something frivolous and impractical for our birthdays, had me pick out a teapot and a tea subscription to go with it. So now I had a beautiful new piece of teaware to excite my tea passions, as well as months of new teas.

Over the year and a half that I’ve had it, I’ve come to get to know the pot quite a bit. I find that it tends to soften and smooth out teas, so it’s nice with a slightly edgy black tea or raw puer, but I think my favorite in it is aged white tea. I was chatting with Misha from Path of Cha and he mentioned that he likes aged white teas in silver, so I pulled out a neglected cake of Shou Mei that I got off Amazon and, wow, the combination of a little age and the silver made it much more enjoyable than I had remembered. It wasn’t bad, just forgettable, and the silver really made it syrupy and sweet.

And from here, I realized that I would eventually actually have to try a clay pot…

NB: The pot featured in this post was a gift from my mother. If you are interested in collaborating, please see my collaboration and contact information.

The Virus Diaries: Routines and Self Care

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tea Tasting: Purple au Naturalé from Leafberri

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tea Together Tuesday: Tutti Fruitti

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On My Bookshelf: Luster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tea Together Tuesday: How Do You Brew?

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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]