Outings: A Tea Date at Ching Ching Cha

Be sure to check out my giveaway on Instagram, where I’m giving away one of Nazanin’s lovely pomegranate gaiwan pins!

This past weekend, I was lucky enough to finally find the time to meet up with my friend Nazanin from Tea Thoughts. We’d been meaning to meet for tea at a tea house in Washington, D.C. called Ching Ching Cha for a while, so when we both had time this weekend, we jumped at the opportunity. It’s such a unique space, both as a business and the space itself.

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Ching Ching Cha is on Wisconsin Ave. in Georgetown just next to one of the crossings of the C & O Canal. The storefront is shared with a salon upstairs and is rather unassuming. In fact, from the outside, it looks quite dark, and the only sign that there’s a delicious tea house inside is the small chalkboard of specials. When you walk in, there is a corridor with benches that leads into a row of teas and books for sale, and then you turn to see the tea room and the rest of the shop.

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The first thing you notice when you get into the tea house properly is how much natural light it gets. The building has a large skylight to provide entirely natural light in the main area. On one side of the shop is a platform with two low tables and cushions. You’re supposed to take your shoes off before stepping up onto the platforms, so it stays clean. There are also about eight additional tables with chairs. It is small and gets busy quickly, at least on a weekend, so I was glad we showed up right when they opened at 11 a.m.

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Each table has a traditional burner with a pot of water over it. The water stays very hot and is replenished by the wait staff so you can refill your own tea as much as you want. We looked at the menu and each decided on a tea. We both got oolong. Mine was a greener rolled Alishan oolong, while Nazanin got a roasted Phoenix oolong. They both came on a draining tea tray in a traditional clay pot. We were well-versed in the style of steeping, but we saw the staff showing others at the tea house how to steep the tea.

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We also got several plates of shareable foods: dumplings, tea egg, curry puff, and some sweets. All the food was delicious and went wonderfully with the tea, but the tea remained the star of the show.

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My Alishan was very delicate and creamy with a beautiful floral aroma and flavor. It had a silky mouthfeel and almost smelled like a milk oolong, but without the rich buttery notes. I lost count of how many times we steeped, but we sat there steeping and sipping and nibbling over the course of two hours. I had so much fun playing with the clay pot, since I’ve never used one before and I’ve wanted to buy one.

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After we finished and it became clear that the tea was finally exhausted, we paid and moved into the store to browse. All of the teas that they have on the menu were available pre-packaged, though they also have big cans of them stored toward the back of the shop. They also have an impressive array of teaware, ranging in price from just a few dollars to several hundred.

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They also have tea trays for sale that are the same as the ones they use for their service in the tea house, so I bought one, since I no longer have a wooden deck to use as a giant tea tray. I also got a strainer for my sharing pitcher and a cake of pressed dried roses that smells amazing. It was a thoroughly enjoyable outing and one that I highly recommend to anyone who loves tea or knows a tea lover. I know I will be back again, hopefully soon!

Tuesday Tasting: Anji Bai Cha from Yunnan Sourcing

Today’s Tuesday Tasting is the Anji Bai Cha from Yunnan Sourcing. I first found this tea when I was researching an historical tea video and I found out that the tea called “Anji Bai Cha” in a primary source about Song Dynasty tribute tea actually referred to a green tea, despite the name “Bai Cha” meaning white tea. I learned that this prized cultivar was lost until the 1980s when a bush was discovered that was believed to be the same cultivar as the tea prized by the Emperor Huizong who wrote a vivid Treatise on Tea that described the practice of preparing tribute tea in the Song Dynasty. The tea was called “Bai Cha” because the raw leaves are so pale, and only turn green when they are heated to stop the oxidation process. So I bought some at Yunnan Sourcing to try, even though I knew I wouldn’t be pressing, roasting, and grinding it to prepare true Song-Dynasty-style tea.

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The first thing I noticed about this tea is the needle-y leaves. They are long and skinny, like the needles of a Douglass fir or white pine. I decided to steep it in gaiwan, gongfu style, but have since determined that it might be better to steep this tea in a method that is more suited to delicate green teas. But here, I will describe my gongfu tasting.

I used 5 grams in a 150-ml gaiwan with 170F water. From the dry leaf, I got some powerful vegetal aromas. I rinsed it and sniffed the wet leaf. The wet leaf aroma was sweet, herbal, and with a floral component that I guessed as sakura. It reminded me a lot of a Japanese sencha with sugared sakura leaves and dried sakura blossoms. I then steeped it starting with five seconds and increasing in five second increments.

 

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After the first steeping, the gaiwan lid smelled green and creamy while the wet leaf smelled of asparagus. The liquor was a pale jade color with a warm, sweet aroma. The mouthfeel was juicy with light brightness, and more of that sakura flavor. It got thicker and sweeter as it cooled off while I sipped. The second steeping was stronger, with stronger green aromas from the lid and sakura and asparagus aromas from the leaf. The liquor was still a pale jade, but had a spicy aroma that I guessed as clove. The mouthfeel was thicker, but still juicy and not cloying or syrupy, with tart, green flavors, like purslane.

The third steeping gave tarter aromas on the lid and nuttier on the leaf. The liquor had developed that clove or allspice aroma and the flavor was similar to the previous steeping. The fourth steeping had green floral aromas on the leaves and spicy aromas on the liquor with a slightly sweeter flavor. By the fifth steeping, the flavor had started to fade, and the aromas had gone somewhat spinach-y. The sixth steeping brought back that floral asparagus aroma with a lighter, but still present flavor. By the seventh steeping, I decided to steep it out for a minute and determined that the tea was done.

The spent leaves are only slightly lighter in color than the dry leaf, and still have a vivid spring green color. They are quite small, narrow leaves and have a deep crease down the center that is characteristic of the cultivar. While I thoroughly enjoyed this tea in gaiwan, join me this coming weekend for a video in which I share a session with steeped in a more traditional style for a green tea.

On Vintage Clothing Shopping Triumphs and Fails

When I first started this blog, one of my very clear goals was to share my love of vintage style. I fashioned my beauty routines after historical practices I read about and had started buying more vintage clothing to create a vintage and vintage-inspired wardrobe. Over the years, my wardrobe has fluctuated, but I still love a little vintage style. Unfortunately, I’ve discovered that many of my previously purchased vintage pieces fell victim to my occasional bouts of decluttering. Add to that a new personal effort to be more sustainable, which translates into attempting to reduce the amount of clothing I purchase new, plus changes in both my body shape and needs at work from pregnancy, and I was in need of a few vintage and secondhand basics. First, I made a plan for my color scheme, and since most of my clothing is neutral colored, with some jewel tones, I decided that neutrals (black, white, dark navy, grey, brown, and cream) paired with two accent colors would work. Since they are my favorite colors, my accents are green and purple.

I started, as I usually do, on Etsy, but soon grew somewhat disillusioned with both the prices and the need to ship from different countries. I realized that for some of my basics, if I wasn’t buying new fast fashion, I at least needed to find a place to buy secondhand that fit my schedule. So, after watching a video from Rachel Maksy, I decided to investigate ThredUp, an online thrift store of sorts. I started by putting together a custom “Goody Box” of ten different blouses that fit my pseudo-Victorian/Edwardian aesthetic, but with effectively free shipping (if I kept at least one item) and an easy-to-navigate return process when I didn’t want to keep everything. I ended up liking two of the ten blouses (I almost liked three, but ended up with an odd shoulder pads situation). While ThredUp isn’t perfect, it was a great way to buy secondhand for someone with enough going on in my life that I can’t really browse thrift shops for gems on a regular basis. And I particularly like that I can filter by material, so I can only look at items made with cotton, linen, silk, and wool.

After my initial Goody Box, I bought a few more things on ThredUp, including another couple blouses, some blazers, and a skirt. Only the skirt was a miss, but only because I misjudge the silhouette online, and it will still come in handy if I ever need to dress like a normal professional rather than a professional hobbit. But the jackets were some real finds. I found a jacket that is a modernized version of an historical-style riding jacket, as well as a velvet blazer that is probably from the 80s or earlier (because the company it’s from went out of business in the 80s). It’s interesting because nothing is labeled “vintage” on ThredUp, but they do definitely sell some things that might be considered vintage (I just keep reminding myself that when I was a teenager in the 90s, 70s was considered “vintage,” so, yes, 90s can be vintage now).

But now on to the main event: Etsy. Eventually, I realized that ThredUp wasn’t really going to fit my needs for skirts, so I returned to Etsy. Knowing that I would be spending more, I decided to get two wool skirts, to replace the two skirts (one cotton and one linen) that were my standard work rotation in the warmer weather. I wanted one to be black and one to be a neutral non-black color, or one of my accent colors of green and purple. Then, I needed to get an accurate waist measurement and determine how long I needed the skirt to be to fall below my knees, which is what I feel most comfortable wearing. Sadly, the amazing purple wool skirts I found were all too small for me, but I found a lovely black wool skirt and a brown tweed wool skirt. I was struck when they arrived how much nicer they were than the previous skirts I’d remembered buying on Etsy. The fabric is sturdy but not scratchy, and there is even little piping sewn into the black skirt to create a ridged embellishment. Plus, the waist measurements were scrupulously accurate. And the seller who sold me the black skirt even included a lovely scarf as a little extra, which is fun thing about buying from Etsy sellers.

Of course, this post is called “triumphs and fails,” not “vintage triumphs,” so now we come to the fail. While I was on Etsy, I started looking around at some of the vintage “[decade] does Victorian” blouses and fell in love with an adorable Victorian-inspired silk blouse. The main problem with Etsy is that there is no consistency in how vendors disclose the condition of their items, so when I didn’t see any particular issues called out in the listing, I splurged. But when it arrived, the cuffs were frayed and missing some stitching, not terribly so, but badly enough that I would have felt like it needed to be repaired before wearing it to work. After going back and forth with the seller, they decided they’d rather just accept a return than have me get a quote for repairing it, which is fine, but it meant that I had to pay to ship it back overseas. So there is a sense of buyer beware on Etsy. Don’t be like me; contact your vintage sellers and ask about condition before clicking “Buy.”

So there is my current status on fall/winter fashion. I’ve created a largely second-hand or self-thrifted (i.e., from my own closet because the most sustainable option is to wear what you already have) wardrobe with strong historical influences. I’m certainly not “fashionable,” but I feel like my clothes show the strongest sense of personal style that I’ve ever had, and I feel the most like myself. I’ll definitely be wearing these clothes in future tea videos, so you’ll get to see them even without modeling shots here. Happy dressing!

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One last thing: For anyone who has watched my most recent tea video, today is the birthday of the lovely friend who made the handmade mug I use in that video (and that frequently makes an appearance on Instagram). If you wish her a happy birthday in the comments, I’ll certainly pass along the well wishes!

NB: This post is not sponsored or affiliated with any of the companies mentioned.

Tuesday Tasting: Tea Sparrow October 2019 Tea Box

NB: Tea Sparrow sent me their October box for free in exchange for posting a tasting. All thoughts are my own. Links are not affiliate links.

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This week, I’m sharing a bit of a different tasting. While I generally drink unflavored pure teas and often taste my teas gong fu style, I am a firm believer in evaluating teas on their own terms rather than trying to shoe-horn different teas into gongfucha. I was recently contacted by Tea Sparrow, a company that sells subscription tea boxes. Most of their teas are flavored, but everything is organic and natural and they use biodegradable packaging, so I was intrigued to try. Plus, I know plenty of my readers are not necessarily solely interested in drinking fussy pure teas and might appreciate knowing about some good flavored teas. They sent me their October box, which included two caffeine-free herbal teas, a flavored green tea, and a flavored black tea, so I thought I would do my tasting using their brewing parameters.

But of course, this isn’t a review; this is a tasting. So I still made sure to check aroma and look of the “leaf” at various points during the brewing. And I made a point to really roll the flavors around in my mouth, the way I would with any other tea. Let’s see how the October teas do with a full tea tasting.

Pina Colada Green Tea

I will admit, when I saw this tea, my first thought was

Anyone who reads this blog knows that not only am I not usually a fan of flavored teas, but “dessert-y” type flavors like this are at the bottom of my list of likes (top of my list of dislikes?). But this is a tasting, not a review, so here we go.

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Right off, I could smell the coconut through the package, and it had an almost sunscreen-y aroma, but as soon as I opened it and poured it out into a warmed teapot, the scent became this rich, very true coconut aroma. It’s actually a very warm scent, which is odd for what I thought would be a summery tea. The dry green tea is medium olive-ish green and has moderately small, straight and flat leaves. It almost looks like a Japanese green tea (or a Chinese green processed like a Japanese tea?). There are also pieces of sugared pineapple and flakes of toasted coconut. I tasted one of the pineapple pieces and it’s sweet and has taken on the coconut flavor.

I first steeped this tea using one tablespoon, which was 4.8g, in a 250-ml glass teapot with 180 F water for two minutes, as per the instructions. The wet leaf had an almost savory aroma and the liquor was pale gold with a light coconut aroma. The dominant flavor was green tea, with noticeable umami and a lightly astringent finish. The coconut was an undertone to the flavor, with no noticeable sweetness and a surprisingly warm flavor.

Out of curiosity, I took the same leaves and cold-brewed them for three hours. The cold-brewed liquor was buttery and fragrant with a more pronounced fruity flavor.

Organic Vanilla Mint Rooibos

They are not kidding when they say this tea is “peppermint forward.” Again, I could smell the peppermint through the package. The dry leaf is an obvious blend of rooibos and dried peppermint leaf. The dry leaf smells strongly of peppermint, but the addition of vanilla and rooibos adds a rich depth that reminded me of a York peppermint patty. In my notes, I put a parenthetical that it “clears your sinuses.”

I used one tablespoon, which was 4.4g, in a 12-oz. mug with boiling water for five minutes. The liquor is a deep reddish brown and has a distinct aroma of each individual component, rather than blasting your sinuses with menthol like the wet and dry leaf. Peppermint is still the strongest flavor and it is a menthol-y peppermint, not a green peppermint flavor. Rooibos is the second most prominent with a rich woody flavor and the vanilla is subtle and reads as chocolate to my tastebuds, without that weird artificial vanilla flavor that happens with vanilla-flavored teas.

Organic Crimson Currants

This was the first tea I tried from the box, the day it came, as my evening cup. I like to unwind with a warm beverage after I put Elliot to bed, and I get tired of lavender-chamomile. This is a blend of dried fruit, rosehips (which are also a fruit), rooibos, and lemongrass. You can see all the components in the dry “leaf.”

I steeped one tablespoon, which was 6.5g, in 250 ml of boiling water for five minutes. The liquor is a deep crimson color and has an almost thick look to it as it pours. It has the same fruity aroma as the dry leaf. I made a note that it looks like stage blood (corn syrup and red food coloring)! The first flavor that hits you is tart, probably from the rosehips and hibiscus. It’s a thicker tartness than hibiscus usually gives, but without the sickly, almost tomato-y flavor I sometimes get from rosehips. It has a syrupy mouthfeel but no actual sweet favor. There is a little bit of lemon-candy flavor from the lemongrass. The berries are very subtle and I didn’t taste any rooibos from this at all. My final note is that “this tea is what ‘Red Zinger’ wants to be.”

Organic Masala Chai

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This, I tasted both plain and with milk and honey, since masala chai is actually a drink made with tea, not just a tea, so the traditional drink involves dairy and sweetener. The dry leaf shows a lot of whole spices like clove and cardamom among the very typical-looking Indian tea leaves. I can definitely smell the cinnamon flavoring, as it had strong, sweet cinnamon scent, like Ceylon cinnamon, but the ginger is also present as a base note to the dry leaf aroma.

To start off, I brewed one tablespoon, which was 5.9g, in 250 ml of boiling water for five minutes. The liquor “smells like Christmas,” according to my notes. There is a strong cinnamon aroma. Interestingly enough, the flavor is not overly cinnamon-y. The ginger comes through nicely and I get a little of the cardamom. It has a spicy finish, but the dominant flavor is from the Assam, with a big malt flavor, currant notes, and not too much tannin.

Adding honey to it brought out the cinnamon, and milk brings out an almost chocolatey quality. I also re-steeped this with boiling water for five minutes, giving it a little stir, and found that the ginger and cardamom were more pronounced, even when I added honey.

So there are my tastings of the four teas that came in the Tea Sparrow October 2019 box. And if you like flavored teas and are interested in trying a box, or buying any of these teas on their web store, you can use the code “TeaLeavesandTweed” on their site for a 20% discount on your first order or your first month of the subscription.

Skin Care Update, Fall/Winter 2019

I have another beauty review in the works, so I thought I should write a current skin care update with my baseline favorite products right now. Of course, my skin had gone through some serious changes over the last two years, with my pregnancy and postpartum, and I’ve also made some choices in my personal consumption habits that have affected my skin care. The last time I wrote about my regular skin care routine, it was in the context of how I’ve had to change my habits as I balance parenting responsibilities and self-care. Before that, I wrote about my pregnancy skin care over a year ago.

Of course, nothing is constant in parenting, and I eventually had to change up my routine again because Elliot’s sleeping patterns changed. I could no longer count on any longer chunks of sleep at night, so I decided that getting to bed as soon as I could was more important than facial massage. I still have roughly the same routine of cleanse, hydrate, and nourish, but I’ve discovered some new favorite products.

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Last time I wrote, I had discovered the Voltaire and Chatelet oils from The Library Apothecary. Well, since then, I’ve fully become a Library girl (it’s like a Glossier girl, but with less pink and more amber glass). I’ve started using Mara’s Rose Oil at night after cleansing and hydrating, and following it with her Elder Balm, which is a wonderfully fragrant experience that also happens to both nourish and calm my skin. I even add a little dab in the mornings under my mineral sunscreen to prevent it from becoming too matte. If she came out with a cleanser and a hydrating serum, pretty much all of my routine would come from her, minus actives and sunscreen. And I promise this isn’t sponsored — The Library Apothecary is a one-person operation and I’m pretty sure she doesn’t exactly have an advertising budget.

The other major development is that I am no longer using Glossier Milky Jelly. In my efforts to create a more sustainable skin care routine, I decided to try the Trilogy Cream Cleanser, as it is packaged in a glass pump bottle, rather than plastic. It has a skin-friendly pH and doesn’t foam, and I’ve found it a reasonable swap for my skin. It is scented with essential oils, but I find the aroma strangely appealing now that I’ve been using it for a while, and it doesn’t irritate my eyes, which is why I had previous had to stop using every other cleanser I tried besides the Glossier. Do I wish it were unscented? Yes. Am I willing to try the unscented version that uses an oil that my skin has disliked in the past and is more expensive and hasn’t been explicitly pH tested by a blogger I trust? No.

I’ve also switched to a very bare-bones hydrating serum from Timeless Skin Care, as well as using their pure squalane oil for my first cleanse (I’m using it up after buying a giant pump bottle for Elliot’s cradle cap, which went away after one treatment). I apply three pumps of squalane to dry skin and massage to break up sunscreen and lipstick. Then I remove it with a flannel soaked in warm water and follow with the Trilogy cleanser. Three times a week, I use my Bell-Evolve Lac-Luronic serum (I’ve also been using it as a deodorant — thanks, Tracy!), and then apply hyaluronic acid and Rose Oil, followed with a pea-sized amount of the Elder Balm. I use a tiny silver vintage spoon that my mother gave me as part of a set to use with my vintage Brambly Hedge teaset, but since Elliot is still a few years away from enjoying tea time with the good china, I don’t think he’ll mind if I borrow this little choking hazard to scoop my fancy skin balm. I’ve been told that it’s a “dupe” for the May Lindstrom Blue Cocoon, despite clearly being superior because it’s purple and also doesn’t contain the one ingredient that always causes me to break out.

In the morning, I cleanse with a half a pump of the Trilogy cleanser, and then apply some vitamin C serum. I’m currently using Mad Hippie‘s because I can buy it locally. After that, I hydrate and apply one pump of Chatelet oil, followed with a lentil-sized amount of Elder Balm if it’s a dry day. Then I apply my sunscreen, which is currently the Marie Veronique Everyday Coverage in Extra Light Tint, which isn’t my favorite, but it ticks the boxes I need for now, but it’s oddly gritty, so I’m still looking. Unfortunately, every time I try to return to an organic sun filter, my skin freaks out, so I’m sticking with inorganic right now. I have a new one on the way, though.

I’ve actually stopped wearing pretty much any other makeup other than tinted sunscreen and lipstick, unless I’m doing photos or a video, so my routine is quite minimal indeed. And my biggest sustainability habit has been to stop buying sheet masks. I still have a few left in my mask drawer, but for the most part, the only mask I do is a weekly clay mask that I mix myself from bulk purchased green clay mixed with matcha. And my regular daily routines seem to provide enough hydration so that I don’t need anything else.

So it is from this baseline that I will be testing some new products. Right now my skin is the calmest and clearest it’s been in my adult memory, so I’m hesitant to shake things up, but I do have a few review products that I’ve been sent, so stay tuned for that.

NB: All products were purchased with my own money and I was not given any incentive to feature them here. All thoughts are my own. None of the links are affiliate.

Tuesday Tasting: Mystery Oolong from Yunnan Sourcing

This Tuesday’s tasting is a tea I found in my tea cupboard that I cannot link to because I don’t know precisely which tea it is! I know it came from Yunnan Sourcing, in my oolong tea subscription box, and was from Autumn 2018, but beyond that, I have only what I can glean from my eyes, nose, and tongue because I accidentally cut off most of the label when I opened the packet.

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You can see that it is a rolled oolong that has a bit of roast and oxidation on it. The leaves are obviously rolled, but super tightly like some oolongs. I used 5g in a 120-ml gaiwan and steeped it at 190F. I rinsed and then steeped, starting with 15 seconds and increased each steeping by five seconds (except for the seventh and the ninth).

From the dry leaf, I got aromas of pipe tobacco, roasted nuts, and a faint bit of woodsmoke. After the rinse, the wet leaf smelled creamy, with notes of caramel and leather, and just a little cannabis. After the first steeping, the lid of the gaiwan smelled of toasted hazelnuts while the wet leaf smelled of spent firewood. The liquor was a medium amber-gold color and smelled of tobacco. It had a creamy mouthfeel with flavors of browned butter and a maple syrup aftertaste. The empty cup had the aroma of vanilla and wood.

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The second steeping gave a slightly richer color liquor that had more roasted aromas coming through. The lid and leaf both smelled of charcoal while the liquor still smelled of tobacco. The flavor had a bit more tartness or tannin with a bit of mineral dryness and a sweet finish. The mouthfeel was custardy and I got sandalwood on the finish. The third steeping had more sweetness still, with the same roasted and tobacco aromas.

On the fourth steeping, I noticed a cedar smoke aroma. The flavors were much lighter and I noticed I was feeling some body warmth. By the fifth steeping, the aroma seemed to be fading, along with the flavor, but I still noticed a biscuit flavor and a very smooth finish. The sixth steeping brought out charred flavors: charred meat on the aroma and a charred oak flavor, like a whisky. The seventh steeping I actually only steeped for maybe 20 seconds because I forgot to wait for it to steep before straining it. I got more of a meaty flavor, almost like a stew from this steeping.

By the eighth steeping, it seemed pretty done, though I still got that characteristic tobacco aroma, so I did a ninth and final steeping for 90 seconds, which gave the last bits of a smoky, meaty aroma and left me feeling a bit jittery.

Oddly enough, the spent leaf was a deep green color, not brown like the dry leaf and roast would suggest. It was the color of pickled grape leaves. They were still quite shriveled and upon inspecting them closer, there were no fully intact leaves. A final sniff of the leaves brought out aromas of spinach or kale and a light marine aroma.

Perhaps in the future, I would be able to actually identify a tea from such a tasting. Any guesses?

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.