Tasting Tuesday: Classic Alishan Winter Pick from Mountain Stream Teas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Opening an Yixing Pot

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As I mentioned on Tuesday, I treated myself to an inexpensive Yixing pot the last time I was at Ching Ching Cha. While this wasn’t my first foray into traditional, unglazed Chinese clay, it was the first time I really made any kind of effort to “open” or “season” the pot, so I thought I’d share a little bit about my trial and error process.

My first clay pot, a Da Hong Pao Chaozhou pot from Bitterleaf Teas was specifically purchased for my Yuan Mei video, so I decided to dedicate it to yancha. This one, I was a bit more vague about, but I had the idea to use it for lighter Taiwanese oolongs. I tried it with some Eastern Beauty teas I had and was unimpressed, so I tried seasoning it by soaking it in tea. I was still unimpressed with the performance, so I tried a different tea. I tried a lightly roasted Cui Feng oolong from Wang Family Tea and was much more impressed. Sadly, I ran out of that tea pretty quickly, but I still had some of their medium-roasted Bagua Shan honey scent oolong, and had recently reordered a larger amount of that, so I tried that and also found it enjoyable. So I decided to continue my seasoning with that.

So on to my “process.” Before using the pot for the first time, I rinsed it well with warm water, and then brought a pot of water to a boil, dropped the heat, and placed the teapot in a ladle in the water (to keep it out of direct contact with the bottom of the pan) and let it sit in simmering water for about twenty minutes. Then I made some tea in it, found it lacking, so I used those leaves to steep a large pot of tea in a glass pot and poured that into the pot leaving it until it cooled. When I decided to switch to the honey-scent oolong, I decided I would give it a more proactive tea bath, so I brewed my tea with the pot in a bowl, simply pouring the brewed tea into the bowl each time. Then, I removed the leaves from the pot, filled it with brewed tea, and used a brush to wash the top of the pot with tea. I let this, again, sit until it was cool, and then emptied the pot and let it dry.

It’s been a rather slap-dash production, with me largely learning as  I go. I think if I had it to do over, I wouldn’t have even made any evaluation about what kind of tea I wanted to use it for. Once I started brewing oolong in the pot, I felt like I couldn’t fully switch streams, and it’s entirely possible that this pot would prefer to be brewing something else. That said, I mostly drink oolong, so if it wanted to drink something else, it would either be disappointed or neglected, so I chose the former. One thing I have learned is that Yixing enthusiasts referring to their pots like they are living things with preferences is not just an affectation.

So I look forward to more experimentation and getting to know this little pot. And hopefully this is not the beginning of a new collecting habit.

NB: Nothing to disclose.

Tasting Tuesday: Bagua Shan Honey Scent Oolong from Wang Family Tea

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Recently, I decided on an impulse to purchase a little Yixing clay pot from Ching Ching Cha in Georgetown. After some trial and error, which I will expand upon on Thursday, I decided that the tea it liked best was this Bagua Shan honey oolong from Wang Family Tea. I first ordered from Wang Family Teas late last year. I simply asked a contact their if they’d be willing to suggest 3-4 teas from their stock to get started with, and I bought those. They also sent me a sample of this oolong as well. Well, this one turned out to be my favorite so far, so when I sat down to do a tasting for this week, I decided that it was time to take some notes to see if I could quantify what I liked so much.

I used 6g of leaf in a 120-ml pot with 99C water. I decided to follow their steeping instructions for the first three steepings, and then see how it went from there. After warming my pot, I got aromas of honey and white florals from the warm dry leaf. After a brief rinse, the wet leaves smelled of sweet florals with a hint of incense.

The first steeping was for fifty-five seconds. The wet leaves smelled of honey and apricot with a bit of roasted hazelnut. The liquor was a golden honey color with aromas of honey and almond. It had a medium-thick mouthfeel, like diluted syrup, with perfume-y floral flavors that reminded me of orange blossom. The cup aroma was honey and nuts.

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The second steeping was for forty-five seconds. The wet leaves smelled of honey and cannabis. The liquor was a slightly darker color and smelled of honey and tobacco. The mouthfeel was ever so slightly drier, but still medium-thick and smooth, with a slight astringency and a sweet honey aftertaste. It reminded me of an apricot pastry with vanilla cream and a honey glaze, like a danish.

The third steeping was for fifty-five seconds again, after which I noticed aromas of honey, cream, vanilla, and antique furniture on the leaves and honey and vanilla aromas on the liquor. It had a sweet almond blossom honey flavor, and was reminiscent of a baked good.

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After those first three steepings, I continued with three more steepings for a minute each. After the fourth steeping, I noticed that the leaf aroma was lighter, while the flavor felt mellower, but still sweet. There was something botanical like linden or orange blossom on the flavor underneath the honey. I also noticed a pleasant body warmth at this point. The fifth steeping still yielded that light honey aroma, which got sweeter and less floral as is faded, and still had a nice honey flavor. On the sixth steeping, I noticed the flavor and aroma fading, but still having some sweetness and a buttery note.

To finish off this tea, I actually put the spent leaves into a travel flask and brewed them grandpa-style for rehearsal. It was a lovely restorative for a late evening, with remnants of the honey and floral flavors, and a bit more astringency coming through as they sat.

NB: The original sample of this tea was sent as a free sample with a purchase, but I have since repurchased even more. If you’re interested in reading why I’ve stopped reviewing teas, in favor of tasting notes, please read this post. If you’re interested in collaborating with me, please read my contact and collaboration information.

Outings: Valley Brook Tea in Dupont Circle

Recently, Nazanin over at Tea Thoughts told me about a new tea house that had opened in the Dupont Circle neighborhood called Valley Brook Tea and I knew I had to check it out. I work nearby, so I’m around there frequently and when I looked and saw that they had coffee-shop-style hours, starting at 7 a.m., I realized that this was a place that I could stop before work, especially if I left early enough to allow some time to sit and enjoy my tea. So I stopped by before work last week to check it out and see if maybe it was somewhere I wanted to go for a special treat during my work day on my birthday.

Well, it definitely was. I had a lovely time spending a half an hour sipping tea and chatting with owner Yunhan about their teas, tea culture, and how he probably has Teavana to thank for even being able to open a business like this. It’s a converted Starbucks, which is apparent, but Yunhan says he has plenty of people come in who say that they don’t drink coffee, but love tea. I was particularly pleased to see them get a little write up in the Washington Post’s Weekend section in their article on places to get a good cup of tea (which also includes Ching Ching Cha, which I have visited before).

I returned a week later for my birthday in the middle of the day, armed with an hour to spend and another tea friend, Peter. Once again, it was raining, and I found myself reaching for the yancha. While I had tried their Jin Mudan the first time I visited, this time I wanted to try their Rou Gui, after having Yunhan talk it up to me while we were chatting the week before. Interestingly, it was less sweet than I usually think of Rou Gui tasting (I also find cinnamon to taste sweet), but it was still spicy and delicious, and the cup aroma was a deep, roasted sweetness. An hour of tea and talk, with Peter and Yunhan was delightful and the perfect interlude for my birthday.

The shop itself is an interesting space. I need to return on a sunny day to see how the round alcove in the front is in proper light because I have a hunch it will not only be gorgeous, but also a lovely place to take some photos. The store is a converted Starbucks, which is obvious from its setup. The counter with treats and a tea bar is right up front as you walk in, with a small seating area to one side, and a staircase to a larger upstairs room. The upstairs room has a large communal table, a few free-standing tables, and a few half-booth tables with outlets set into the benches. There is also a seat with comfy chairs. It’s a nice space to sip and chat, sip and think, or sip and work. Unlike Ching Ching Cha, it has a decidedly modern and unfussy feel. It seems like it would be decidedly un-daunting to a tea newbie, especially since Yunhan is always willing to help show you how to use a gaiwan.

The teas are served either pourover, into a sharing pitcher for drinking in the shop or in a to-go cup, or else for $2 extra, are served in a gaiwan with a 1-L carafe of water. The teas themselves are fantastic (caveat: I’ve only tried two and both were yancha), and it’s nice to be able to visit a tea shop and drink a cup of tea with the person who sources them and can tell you about the specific regions and villages they’re from. They also sell their tea, and it seems they have an online shop, so non-DC-area residents can try them. I’m certainly going to go back and try them all.

Now, I was being sociable and not trying to take too much time out to take photos, but the other striking thing about Valley Brook is their beautiful collection of teaware for sale. They have shelves of beautiful enameled and handmade teaware as you walk in, just opposite the counter where you order, and more small things right next to the register. they even have a collection of statuettes of people doing yoga that are like little yogi tea pets, in honor of the yoga studio that is kitty-corner to the shop across the intersection of P St. and 21st. I thought that was a clever little nod to the fact that they’re not just there to serve dedicated tea nerds like my friends and me, but also to bring quality tea to anyone who stops by, even if it’s just for a cup of tea after yoga class.

And if they get caught up in a conversation with Yunhan and start a new love of traditional Chinese tea culture? Well, that has to be even better than Teavana.

NB: I will disclose that Yunhan remembered my birthday and gifted Peter and I with bodhi leaf tea strainers as a small gift, but I was not paid for this post and all thoughts are my own.

Thoughts on My Thirty-Seventh Birthday

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Today is my birthday. Now, I’ve never actually posted on my birthday on this blog, in the roughly five years that I’ve been writing in this space, merely alluded to previous celebrations. And this time last year, I was on an extended hiatus as I rediscovered my own self after giving birth. So I thought in lieu of a Tuesday Tasting, I would ramble a bit about this birthday, previous birthdays, and some things I’ve been thinking about as I get older.

Two years ago, less than a month after my 35th birthday, I found out I was pregnant again. By the time I turned 36, I was mother to a two-month-old baby and trying to figure out who I wanted to be. The aftermath of my postpartum experience upended a lot of things I thought about myself. I could barely move for a month (and when I did, it hurt). I didn’t sleep more than a couple hours at a time. I was depressed and anxious in ways I’d never experienced. I lived in robes and nightgowns, with the occasional soft maxi dress when I had to go out. And I had a small being whose every need depended largely on me. When I say becoming a mother was an ordeal, I mean that in the sense of a time when I was physically and emotionally dismantled and then redistilled into a truer form of myself.

I started this blog with a vague idea that it would be about vintage-inspired lifestyle and beauty, with a strong affinity for tea because, well, I have a strong affinity for tea. Eventually, I discovered both Korean skin care and gongfucha, which split the blog further into two seemingly-dichotomous paths. Since then, I’ve found myself converging on a tea-focused, historically-inspired lifestyle. I’ve learned about history bounding and started dressing in a way that can only be described as Edwardian hobbit witch. I’ve started mixing my gongfucha accessories with my vintage tea cups. In fact, one of my first comments on YouTube was from a semi-famous tea personality saying that he enjoyed my mixing of teaware styles and I’ve taken that to heart. I’ve come to realize that, once you find yourself responsible for the continued existence of a helpless tiny human, it doesn’t really bother you as much to think that someone might think you look odd on public transportation or sniff derisively at the “impurity” of your tea practice.

And then I’ve gone further. I’ve deepened the link between my tea practice and my love of all things historical by starting my historical tea sessions. I find it endlessly fascinating to research the sources I need to learn about how tea practice has grown, changed, and maintained its identity through the ages (kind of like me). I’ve also returned to a somewhat more minimalist, historically-inspired beauty routine. I like to think I’ve gone from VIB Rouge to VIB (very important buveur) Rou Gui 😉

As I’ve more thoroughly committed my blog to being first and foremost a tea blog, I’ve toyed with the idea of taking down some of my old posts, particularly beauty product reviews that have little to no bearing on my current beauty routine. But ultimately, these posts reflect how I’ve grown through the years, and deserve a place in my archives. Perhaps eventually my reviews of Deciem products will no longer vastly outperform literally everything else I write, but until then, if people are finding my blog because they’re curious about inexpensive Canadian skin care, so be it.

And anyway, I’ve maintained and cultivated friendships on social media with many of the beauty influencers whose blogs and Instagram feeds I read and love as a way to learn about new beauty products. Some of them have even applauded what they see as me finding my true niche in my tea nerdery. Most of them I’ve never met in person, but they’re truly friends of mine now. And I’m starting to cultivate similar friendships in the tea community. Among the tea-lovers, the tea-growers, and the tea-sellers, I’m learning more and meeting more amazing people to help increase my feeling of connectedness to the world without having to venture out of my introvert bubble (much).

At thirty-seven, I am weirder and more fulfilled than ever before in my life, and I have my wonderful blog community to thank for it.

On Tea Expertise (plus, my experience at a tea class!)

I am not a tea expert.

I know that for many who know me, that statement seems surprising. I mean, I blog a lot about tea. I review and taste teas for my posts and often share my opinions. I’ve even written an entire series of posts presuming to teach you something about tea practice. But I still consider myself an enthusiastic amateur.

That said, I am often thought of as “the tea expert” (or, probably more accurately, “that weird tea lady”) by my friends, family, and acquaintances. I joked over the holidays to a family friend who struck up a conversation about tea that I know just enough about tea that everyone is too concerned that I’m judging them to offer me tea, kind of like being the chef that no one will invite over for dinner. And over the hospitable season, I’ve had more than one person remark that they don’t have a tea “that is up to your standards.” Which is part of why my Tea Primer starts with tea bags. Because I don’t look down on tea bags. Do I think there are more delicious options? Sure. But if you like them, you do you. And you will pry my half-sweet oolong milk bubble tea from my cold, dead fingers.

But as I’ve settled into my tea-blogging niche, I’ve thought a lot about how to communicate my love of tea to a broader audience, and the subject of expertise comes up a fair amount. I’ve toyed with the idea of some sort of formal tea education course or credential, like a Tea Sommelier certification, but it seems like a lot of money for a title that is controversial at best. Ultimately, while it would be fun to be seen as an expert, no amount of certification is ever going to alleviate what could charitably be called “perpetual beginner’s mind” and perhaps uncharitably called “imposter’s syndrome” when it comes to my knowledge of tea.

That said, I love learning and I am constantly striving to expand my knowledge of how to enjoy tea. So to this end, I decided to take a tea class from Victoria at MeiMei Fine Teas, a tea company based near me in Northern Virginia. I was thrilled when I found out that such a knowledgeable tea person lived so close to me and was willing to share her knowledge in classes! I signed up for two classes, one focusing on puerh and one focusing on oolong. This past Sunday, I attended the puerh class where I met some lovely tea-lovers and learned from such a graceful and wise teacher, who also happens to be incredibly nice!

The puerh class started with tea. Victoria brewed up two different sheng (or raw) puerhs, one from a cake and the other rolled into a dragon ball. The dragon ball rolled tea was amazingly sweet and right away, I knew this was going to be a better introduction to puerh teas than I could manage on my own because I was getting to taste much nicer teas than I could afford to buy all on my own! It was interesting that we started by tasting before Victoria started presenting her slides on Yunnan province, the growing, harvesting, and processing of puerh, and some notes on tasting. She intermixed the slides with tastings of various teas so that the slides felt like a break, and she paced them to always be relevant to the teas we were tasting. We tasted six sheng puerhs, ranging in age from a few years old to over two decades old, in order to see how the tea changes. I also got to learn the difference between sheng puerh and green tea, which was something I’d always wondered.

Only after we’d tasted a full range of ages of sheng puerh did she bring out the shu puerh. Because shu puerh processing was developed in the 1970s to speed up the sheng puerh aging process, it was interesting to see how the shu puerhs compared to the oldest of the sheng puerhs. It was particularly intriguing to see how the color of the sheng puerh changed with age. That said, I think my favorite moment was when we tried two teas side by side, one that was from a famous tea maker, and the other an unidentified cake from Victoria’s personal stash. The unidentified cake not only held its own against the famous cake, but it had the added interest of having a slight smoky flavor and aroma to it. It wasn’t as pronounced as a smoked tea, but it definitely had a note of pine smoke, similar to some whiskies that I enjoy. Upon noticing this, Victoria explained that puerh is processed by firing it in woks to kill off some of the compounds that cause oxidation, and sometimes tea processors heat this woks over wood fires, which allows a smoky note to get into the tea.

After many hours of tasting and talking tea, I had to leave, which was sad, but I’m excited to take a future class and further expand my tea knowledge. And joining this group of people showed me how much I have yet to learn, plus I found that tasting teas with others, regardless of their level of knowledge, can help expand my own tasting notes. So I continue on my journey, tasting and learning, and enjoy those I meet along the way.

NB: Photo was taken by me and used with Victoria’s permission.

Tuesday Tasting: Taiwanese Tea and Coffee Tasting from Mountain Stream Teas

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Recently, Matt at Mountain Stream Teas posted that some of his tea farmer friends had started experimenting with growing coffee and wondered if we might be interested in trying tea and coffee from the same terroir. Well, of course we would! Those of you who know me know that my husband Dan is something of a coffee snob, so I thought this would be a fun thing to try together, so I went ahead and ordered their February subscription box, which included the tea and coffee comparison. The box came with two coffees and two teas, from two different areas.

The set included samples of two coffees and two teas from two different places. There was a washed coffee and a Honey Fragrance Black Tea from Ruisui and a sun-dried coffee and a Red Oolong from Alishan. The coffees were obviously roasted to a medium-light roast, which is perfect because Dan strongly prefers lighter roast coffees.

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I decided to set up the tasting using professional evaluation methods for each drink. So the coffees were cupped according to the method we were taught when we tasted coffee at Vigilante Coffee a few years ago. The teas were tasted in a professional cupping set. We used stainless steep spoons to taste everything, which were rinsed between tastings.

The coffees were made with 6g of beans to 100ml of water, ground with a hand-powered burr grinder, while the tea was made with 3g of leaves for a 120-ml cupping set. Everything was made using 95C water. The coffees were allowed to bloom for about 4 minutes, while the teas were steeped for 2 minutes.

Right off, Dan and I decided we liked different coffees best. I loved the Alishan coffee, with its bright acidity and dark chocolate mouthfeel, but Dan interpreted the minerality as “chalky” and preferred the Ruisui coffee, which is said tasted like tea. I got a honey caramel aftertaste from the Ruisui and a more pronounced woody bitterness at first. The Alishan also had a bergamot aftertaste that I enjoyed.

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I agreed with Dan that the Ruisui tasted “like tea,” especially after tasting the similarities with the honey fragrance black tea. It had a very smooth tannin and a honey mouthfeel with almost oolong-level floral character. It definitely tasted very similar to the Ruisui coffee. The red oolong had a bright apricot fruitiness and a light, smooth mouthfeel. It echoed the bergamot brightness and had an almost slippery, mineral quality to the sweetness as it cooled. It was interesting to taste the similarities between the coffees and teas from each place. It was particularly interesting because they were so distinct from each other. I think choosing two different styles of tea to pair accentuated this, too.

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Ultimately, Dan finished the Ruisui coffee, while I drank as much of the Alishan coffee as I could before my stomach rebelled (I don’t do well with black coffee). I went on to taste a second steeping of the teas, steeped for 2:30. The Alishan developed a strong honey aroma on the liquor, with flavors of honey and bergamot and a honey-water mouthfeel. There was a sweet floral, maybe a gardenia or lily, note to the flavor as it lingered. The Ruisui tea didn’t have a lot of aroma on the liquor, with a light flavor that mostly showed fruity acidity and some honey aroma detected retronasally.

All in all, this was a fascinating experiment and I’m excited to try another coffee-and-tea tasting again sometime.

NB: Nothing to declare. If you’re interested in reading why I’ve stopped reviewing teas, in favor of tasting notes, please read this post. If you’re interested in collaborating with me, please read my contact and collaboration information.

Adventures in Portable Tea with Tea Drops

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Recently, Tea Drops* offered to send me some of their flavors after I was accepted into their affiliate program, so I’ve been trying their Classic Tea Drops Assortment* over the last couple of weeks. As I mentioned in my post on Pique Tea’s offerings, I’m a fan of finding ways to take tea with me on the go that is less complicated even than bringing a high-quality tea bag. Add to that recent concerns with microplastics in silky tea bags, and I’m always in the market for a way to take tea along with me that doesn’t immediately reveal me as a high-maintenance tea snob.

Tea Drops are a different direction of portable tea because they focus on flavors. Tea Drops are sweetened because the form is a compressed tea nugget, almost like a tea-flavored sugar cube, rather than a packet of powder. It’s worth noting that if you have to avoid all sugar, they do have some unsweetened types, but I went for their classic flavors: Rose Earl Grey*, Sweet Peppermint*, Citrus Ginger*, and Matcha Green Tea*. They come in a wooden gift box with two of each flavor. But the sweetened original Tea Drops have between 1-2 teaspoons of sugar each, so it’s not a huge amount of sugar. Just enough to give a pleasantly sweet cup of tea.

Now, I don’t drink a lot of sweetened tea, so these fit into a specific part of my life: namely lattes and after-dinner drinks. In the mornings, I will often have a lightly-sweetened tea latte instead of a solid breakfast. Sadly, the Rose Earl Grey Tea Drop didn’t have quite the right balance of sweetness, rose, and Earl Grey flavor for me. I had hoped that it would be a quick and easy way to recreate my favorite Rose Earl Grey latte from the local coffee shop. Plus, the tea is actually finely powdered tea leaves, not dehydrated brewed tea like the Pique Tea crystals. So there was a fair amount of sediment in the cup.

But the Matcha Green Tea Drop was made from a good blend of sugar and matcha powder. It wasn’t the best quality matcha powder, but it was certainly comparable to what you’d get at a Starbucks. In fact, a Matcha Tea Drop mixed into a cup of hot milk with my electric frother is probably the easiest dupe of a Starbucks green tea latte (I get mine “unsweetened” — that is, without the additional syrup on top of the sugar in their green tea powder). And the matcha mixes into the latte with little to no sediment.

The two caffeine-free flavors I tried were good for the other time I drink tea with sugar: when I want something sweet after dinner, but don’t want to eat a full dessert. Since Elliot started on solids, I’ve been watching how often I eat sweets, and we’ve largely stopped eating dessert most nights of the week. But once in a while I want a little something sweet, and while I love a hot chocolate, I don’t always want the dairy right before bed. So I’ve started having one of the caffeine-free Tea Drops as an after-dinner treat. It’s the perfect level of sweetness for me. The Citrus Ginger is a little heavier on the citrus and a little lighter on the ginger than I prefer (although I do drink straight sliced ginger in hot water, so I like it spicy). The Sweet Peppermint one is my favorite. It’s the perfect mix of peppermint tea and sweetness. These also have a sediment problem, but it’s fine enough not to be unpleasant, and it doesn’t detract from the experience.

Tea Drops also makes some other flavors that look interesting, such as their Cardamom Spice and their Dessert Collection, so perhaps I will keep exploring. All in all, I enjoyed this foray into sweetened, portable tea. If you like your tea a little sweet and want something that you could toss in your purse and take with you for when you have hot water or milk, these are definitely worth a look.

NB: These were sent to me free of charge in exchange for my honest thoughts. Links may be affiliate links, which are marked with an asterisk. If you’re interested in my other affiliate links, you can find them here. If you’re interested in contacting me for a collaboration, please read this page.

Tuesday Tasting: Two Dongfeng Meiren Teas

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Today, I’m doing another comparative tasting, this time of two Dongfang Meiren (or “Eastern Beauty”) teas I got from two different sources. I got the first in my Floating Leaves Tea order that I mentioned last week, and the second I bought at Ching Ching Cha in Georgetown after Nazanin of Tea Thoughts mentioned that it was good. After trying them both separately, I thought it would be interesting to try them side-by-side. I’m continuing to use my cupping sets because it’s supposed to be a good way to evaluate teas quickly.

I used 3 grams of leaves for each 125-ml cupping set, with 95C water. I did warm the vessels before adding the dry leaves, but I didn’t rinse. I ended up steeping each three times. The dry leaf aroma on the Floating Leaves (FL) tea was of toast with honey, while the Ching Ching Cha (CCC) tea smelled of floral honey.

The first steeping was for two minutes. The FL wet leaves smelled of clover honey and yielded a medium-dark gold liquor with a light hay or alfalfa flavor and a light mouthfeel. The empty cup smelled of muguet. The CCC wet leaves smelled of buckwheat honey and yielded a lighter gold liquor with a honey aroma. It had a sweet fruity flavor and a honey-water mouthfeel. There was a lingering cereal sweetness and the empty cup smelled of hay and honey.

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The second steeping was for two and a half minutes. The CCC wet leaves smelled of honey with a touch of smoke. The liquor aroma had a slight incense-smoke quality to it. The mouthfeel was thicker and juicier with a more pronounced straw flavor and less sweetness. There was a mild tannin. The empty cup smelled of honey and sandalwood. The FL wet leaves smelled of sweet grain. The mouthfeel was syrupy with floral and mild tannins. It tasted a bit like red raspberry leaf tea. The empty cup smelled faintly of caramel.

The third steeping was for three minutes. Both teas were obviously past their best flavors. The FL wet leaves had started to smell a bit like wet paper, and had a light honey sweetness but was obviously fading. The CCC had a sweet aroma, but fading, with a fruity honey sweetness. The spent leaves were similar in appearance, though the CCC leaves seemed a bit bigger.

NB: No affiliate links or promotional samples to disclose. To learn about contacting me for a collaboration, click here.

On Affiliate Links, Collaborations, Sponsorship, and Making Money as a Blogger

So this comes up more often in the beauty community, but every review blogging niche has some sort of relationship with brands and affiliate networks. While I’m a relatively small-time blogger, especially by beauty-and-lifestyle measures, I’ve accepted products in exchange for review and used referral links in the past. I’ve never done a fully sponsored post and video, but I would be open to it, and my contact information gives the guidelines I set out for such a collaboration. But I see people all the time either belittling bloggers and social media users who accept sponsorship or review samples, or else proudly proclaiming that they don’t accept products for review or sponsorship, and I thought I’d share some thoughts I have on the subject.

On the face of it, it seems like refusing to accept any compensation, whether in product or currency, for your blogging is admirable. You can’t be bought, and there’s no worry that you’ll give a product a good review because you feel bad criticizing it when you got it for free. Well, Tracy at Fanserviced talked about that a while ago, and, as she points out, concrete “stuff” is not the only “compensation” bloggers and social media users get for mentioning products in their spaces. It can feel warm and fuzzy when a seemingly-unapproachable brand notices you because you said something nice about their product. Getting mentioned by a brand can be a fantastic way to increase your visibility on some channels, and mentioning their products is a good way to do that.

But that discounts something even more insidious about blogging, particularly review blogging: it can be a really expensive hobby. I mean, if I still reviewed beauty products, how much readership would I still have, given that I haven’t really added a new product to my routine in months? I certainly wouldn’t be able to post every week, since I just don’t buy that much new product. And if I did, even if it were a moderately-priced range like The Ordinary, I would still probably be spending at least $100 per month to keep posting twice a week, if I were just reviewing products. Even as a tea blogger, I spend a lot of money on tea, but I’m fortunate enough to consider that “fun money” rather than something I need to do (I have plenty of fodder for Tasting Tuesday from my own stash and haven’t bought anything special for it yet). But someone who doesn’t have as much disposable income as I do wouldn’t necessarily be able to showcase as many things on a blog. And that means they wouldn’t get much traffic.

Now, as I said when I talked about switching from reviewing to tasting notes on teas, taste is subjective, just as beauty products are often intensely personal. So I’m not here to tell anyone they should or shouldn’t buy a specific tea. But because I spend my own money on tea, I’m looking at things like “value” from the perspective of my personal budget. So while I might not be willing to spend $150 on a cake of raw puerh, I would be perfectly willing to spend $65 on the same size cake of aged white tea. But let’s be honest with ourselves: these are luxuries. And $65 is solidly out of the budget of plenty of people. So me saying that a $65 cake is “worth the money” doesn’t mean much to someone with $5 a week to spend on nonessentials. And my honesty that I loved the $150 cake, but it’s too expensive to repurchase if I hadn’t gotten a sample for review, might actually be more applicable to more of my readers, especially since it leads me to talk about ways to try the tea for less money (i.e., samples).

So given that review blogging can be an expensive hobby, do we really want to make income a barrier to entry for the people we trust as “more authentic” sources of reviews? Would you rather read a review of a $100 face cream from someone who has hundreds of dollars of discretionary income to spend on luxuries each month, or a review of a sample of a $200 face cream that someone got for free and wouldn’t have been able to try otherwise? Do you want to limit blogging to a hobby for relatively wealthy people, or would you rather support bloggers who try to earn some income from their blogging so that there is more socioeconomic diversity in the field? These aren’t questions I can answer for anyone but myself, and it bears thinking about all sides of this. But, given that there is already a recognized correlation between financial wealth and good skin, I’m concerned that limiting beauty blogging, in particular, to those with the independent means to support it will limit reviews to those who might already have good skin to begin with (or at the very least, more access to other ways to improve their skin besides over-the-counter products).

And then, for me, there is the fact that not everyone who reads this blog has my exact tastes in tea, and I’m not only writing this blog for myself. Let’s be honest, if I were only writing for myself, I would keep it as a private journal, not a public blog. And as I dive deeper into the tea community, I’ve realized that the snobbery that sometimes underscores a lot of specialty tea writing doesn’t do us any favors. So why not feature some products that offer convenience or variety to those of my readers who aren’t looking for the funkiest puerh or the most obscure yancha? Which is part of the reason I accepted my recent review samples from Tea Sparrow — as a North American-based company that offers high-quality flavored teas, they’re poised to appeal to a larger variety of people and can help me bring quality loose leaf tea to more of my friends and family (I have already gotten my mother and my coworker hooked on their teas). Would I buy myself a box from them? No. I am not generally a fan of flavored teas. But was it probably helpful for some of my readers who enjoy flavored teas? Hopefully. And apart from that, I hope that sharing notes from teas like that helps foster a sense that there isn’t a hierarchy of tea purity where you’re not a “real tea lover” if you’re not drinking a specific level of tea. I’m not a fan of that attitude. If you want to drink pina colada tea with sugar and milk (coconut milk might be fun), you do you.

Plus, there is the idea of compensating creators for what they create. Apart from the monetary outlay of purchasing products for review posts, writing takes time. I’m fortunate to have a reasonable amount of free time and a talent for writing quickly, but I still probably spend at least a few hours every week writing content (and that’s not even getting into the time I spend on my YouTube channel) and promoting it on various social media channels so people actually see it. Yes, I write because I love it, but it still takes time, and I’m a firm believer that if you appreciate the work a creator makes, you should support it monetarily, either by donating to them (as I do to my favorite podcast and my favorite radio station) or by supporting their efforts to monetize their work through ads and affiliate links. You wouldn’t expect an artist to give you their art for free (don’t answer that; I know many people do), so why is a blogger less worthy of receiving compensation for their time, effort, and talent?

I suppose all of this rambling is also a bit of an introduction to my own affiliate practices. While I’ve used referral links in the past (for Glossier, most notably), I’ve recently decided to start using some affiliate links to see if I could offset a little of the cost of running this blog. I currently make exactly zero money from blogging, and even if I could start making enough money to support my half of the bread that I currently win for my family, I probably wouldn’t quit my job. I like my day job. But I still sometimes feel compelled to buy things specifically for a blog or YouTube idea I have, and this might help offset that (especially with my historical videos). And, at the end of the day, I don’t really think that having the money to spend on a blog should be a badge of honor.