Tea Together Tuesday: Soaking Up the Sun

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Experiential Tea Tasting: Hojicha Classic from Hojicha Co

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tea Together Tuesday: Playing with Blends

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So I look forward to hearing about all your blends!

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

In My Queue: Cursed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tea Together Tuesday: Everyday Pairings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celebrating Lughnasadh

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tea Together Tuesday: Mug Shot

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Today on Tea Together Tuesday, a delightful community tea prompt hosted by Tea with Jann and Tea is a Wish, the prompt is to share your “mug shot” or your favorite tea in your favorite mug. Well, I don’t really play favorites with my tea, but my mugs are another thing. So this morning, I’m sharing the tea I drink most often in the mug that has been part of my tea journey for a long time.

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

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

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

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

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

What does your daily mug or cuppa look like?

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

Re-examining Herbalism in the Light of Colonialism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tea Together Tuesday: Straight Talk

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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 “straight” tea and how you like to make it. I assume straight tea is simply unblended, unflavored tea, something that I drink quite often, so obviously I cannot choose just one favorite. But I can share my favorite tea of the moment (I have, unfortunately, run out of the Baozhong that so captivated me a few weeks ago).

I received this Colombian White Tea from Chado Tea Room as PR a little while ago. I actually used their Egyptian chamomile in my Hercule Poirot literary tea session, and chose the Colombian white as my second sample because it was just so intriguing. Who knew they grew and processed white tea in Colombia? Well, I shared my thoughts a little while ago, but one thing I hadn’t tried was cold-brewing it. Yes, it is still nearly 100 degrees Fahrenheit here most afternoons, so cold tea is the way to go.

And oh my goodness! This tea is delightful cold-brewed. It has that soft tannin coupled with a sugarcane-juice sweetness that I associate with Taiwanese black teas, without the hay-like quality I get in the flavor of some leaf-heavy white teas. But the cold-brewed version had a peach note to it that made it just taste like summer. It almost tasted like peach sweet tea, but without anything added. I had grand designs to make some sort of tea cocktail or mocktail with it, but I drank the entire litre of tea before adding anything to it, so this is certainly the straightest of straight teas. Nothing added because nothing is needed.

I’ve definitely found myself gravitating towards white teas these days. I think if I had to associate specific teas with specific seasons, I would put green teas with spring, white teas with summer, roasted oolongs and hojicha with autumn, and black teas with winter, but the unique flavor of this tea makes it one I could see myself drinking all year round. But brewed cold, it is just the essence of summer.

What’s your favorite tea? Does it change by the season?

NB: Tea was provided by Chado Tea Room in exchange for sharing my tasting notes, which I shared previously. If you are interested in collaborating, please see my collaboration and contact information.

Experiments in Tea: How to Stay Cool

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It’s definitively summer here in Maryland, and we are feeling it, at home with our non-industrial air conditioning. By about 3pm (if we’re lucky), our aircon stops being able to keep up with the daily heat and the temperature inside starts to creep up, too. So sometimes, I just don’t feel like having a hot cup of tea. Now I’ve talked in the past about my love of cold-brewed tea, but that is not the iciest glass of tea I can make. For that, I have to turn to the Japanese technique that is known as shinobi-cha or kori-dashi, which is the practice of brewing tea with ice.

Now, if you’re new to ice-brewing, it may sound like some sort of Coors Lite gimmick, but let me tell you, it produces and singularly smooth, and very cold cup of tea. And I personally find it very well-suited to Japanese teas, possibly because of the power of suggestion, but also because of the delicate balance of umami and sweetness that dances in those leaves. It’s particularly prized as a method for brewing gyokuro, but I also love it for a delicate sencha.

So this week, with the weather sweltering, I weighed out 120g of fresh ice cubes made from filtered water (you don’t want them to have absorbed any weird odors while sitting in the freezer), and added 4g of sencha from The Steeped Leaf Shop on top. I’ve made it both with the leaves on the bottom and the leaves on top, and I find leaves on top makes for a more flavorful brew. And this sencha is one that I’ve particularly enjoyed, with a balanced umami, sweetness, and brightness that comes through beautifully when iced.

Now, you can use one big ice cube, if you wish. I will often weigh out a 120-g portion of water in a silicone container and freeze it overnight to have that one big, Instagrammable, ice dome, but I was impatient and brewing on a whim, so I used smaller cubes from the ice maker (our ice maker frightens the cat, so we only run it when we need ice right then). I haven’t noticed a big difference in the result, but the time it takes for the ice to melt is shorter with smaller cubes.

And that’s how you brew it — you put tea over ice, or ice over tea, and let it melt. When it has melted, it’s done. Personally, I like to let it nearly melt, so that the last little bits of ice are still solid, ensuring that the final brew is still icy cold. It is a long wait for a relatively small bit of tea, but the flavor experience is exceptional, and it’s probably the only tea I don’t feel absolutely disgusting taking outside to my garden after noon!

NB: Nothing to disclose. The tea mentioned was purchased by me and I was not paid or incentivized to write this post. If you are interested in collaborating, please see my collaboration and contact information.