Outing: West China Tea House in Austin, TX

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In my post on tea and travel, I mentioned that I didn’t need to pack any gongfucha essentials because if I needed my gongfucha “fix,” I could visit West China Tea House in Austin, run by the tea community great Sohan of the Tea House Ghost YouTube channel. Well, I didn’t just visit once, but twice! It’s a gorgeous space in an unassuming building off of I-35 and I had a blast.

The first visit was on a Wednesday evening, around 6pm, with a friend. We sat at the communal table, where you can have tea served by one of their tea-arts-trained staff for $5 a pot. We had Ben make us tea and he shared some of his favorites with us: the Sticky Rice Sheng Puer, the Haunted Plum 1992 Oolong, and the Ultra Violet Red Tea. The sense of community is palpable and my friend and I were able to both catch up with each other, as well as make new friends at the table. We met Sohan’s wife Lindsay and their baby, Lark, and just generally had a blast. Plus, I got to taste three new-to-me teas that I immediately turned around and ordered for my own collection so I could recreate my tea house session at home, at least in theory.

Golden Turtle oolong to start the session

The communal tea table itself bears mentioning. It is a beautiful piece in dark wood, designed by a well-known tea practitioner in California and perfect for communal gongfucha. Despite practicing gongfucha for over five years, I feel like sitting at this table truly helped me understand the essential community aspect of tea. The semi-circular ledge of the table makes it easy for the host to reach all the guests from the central seat, creating a seamless tea experience that allowed the tea to be a centerpiece or an accompaniment to conversation as the session went on.

Of course, I did not get to meet Sohan that evening, as he was teaching a class the whole time. So I had to return. I went back on a Saturday afternoon, when the tea house was quiet and Sohan had just finished an Instagram Live. We immediately sat down and were able to converse like old friends, over copious rounds of teas, from oolongs to heicha. Every session was a revelation of the style of tea, and of course included stories from Sohan about sourcing each tea. I had mentioned that I had never had a truly memorable Dancong and of course was treated to an excellent one. I felt so special, treated to teas picked just for me from Sohan’s collection.

A fascinating hei cha

And of course, we talked. We talked about tea and tea houses. We talked about history and tea culture. We talked about our children and about life in general. We talked like it was college and we were staying up drinking until the wee hours of the morning. We spent three hours drinking tea and talking and I only left to make it back to my room before an event I had that evening. I could have easily spent all day at the shop drinking tea and talking with Sohan, Bernabe, and Montsho.

I will definitely be returning to West China Tea House the next time I visit Austin, but until then, I’ll be replenishing my own collection with teas from their site to help capture that thought and care Sohan puts into choosing his teas in my own personal practice.

NB: Nothing to disclose. For information about collaborating with me, see my contact and collaboration information.

Tuesday Tasting: Fortune Teller by Aera Tea Co.

I’m tasting another tea from my Tea Thoughts Halloween box today! This week, I’m tasting the Fortune Teller Nepalese black tea from Aera Tea Co. This is a pretty classic black tea and I was excited to sit down and taste it, at least for a couple of infusions, since I already knew it as a very cozy cup of black tea to just be with on a chilly morning.

But first, let’s talk about the name. Fortune Teller is an obvious reference to the archetype of the tea-leaf reader, which comes from Romani culture. The Romani people, originally from the Indian subcontinent, traveled throughout Asia, Europe, and parts of Africa, often following some of the same land routes that brought trade between Asia and Europe. They have communities all over the world today, and one of their most well-known cultural practices are those related to divination, such as tarot and tea-leaf reading.

While the practice became very popular in Britain, likely from existing folk practices of reading wax drippings and other nondistinct shapes, tasseography — divination from the leavings in a cup — originated in Romani culture and it is directly from their influence that these divination practices not only spread around the European world, but became wildly popular. It is important to remember these origins, as the archetype of the “fortune teller” often falls into the trap of stereotyping and harmful generalization based on racist tropes used against the Romani (particularly a certain word, beginning with G, that is often used as a synonym for “free spirit,” but in reality is a slur against the Romani). So I thought it was important to acknowledge the Romani contribution to the landscape of divinatory practices in the modern world, as their contributions permeate it, despite rarely being credited.

Anyway, on to the tea. I used 5 grams in my 120-ml fish teapot with boiling water. I warmed the pot and got aromas of black bread and raisins from the dry leaf. The first infusion was for twenty seconds, after which the wet leaf smelled of brown sugar and dark chocolate. The liquor itself had an intensely smooth, creamy texture in the mouth, a faint sweet aroma, and a sweet, bready flavor. The tannin was extremely mild and there was a very subtle bitter aftertaste, but like chocolate or coffee, and not unpleasant.

The second steeping, for thirty seconds, brought out some rose aromas on the leaf and liquor. The texture was still that same amazing creamy smoothness and the flavor was mellow and chocolate-y. After the third steeping, for forty seconds, I noticed that the flavors and aroma were remarkably consistent, so I stopped taking notes and instead chose to simply enjoy this tea as long as it steeped out. The lack of bitterness makes me wonder if it might be a good candidate for winter grandpa-style brewing.

So a short tasting session today, but a thoroughly enjoyable one. I’m excited to have had a chance to taste this tea because it has made me curious about Aera’s other offerings.

NB: Nothing to disclose. If you are interested in collaborating with me, please read my collaboration information for more details.

MyTeaPal: Blending technology and tradition

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Recently, I signed up to be a beta tester for a new tea app called MyTeaPal. It’s a timer, steeping guide, stash inventory, and log all in one, and will be available soon for iOS and Android. I mentioned it on Sunday in my literary tea video, but I thought I’d talk a bit about what I like about the app in more depth.

MyTeaPal is an app developed by Vincent, a tea-lover and computer science major. He learned about tea during his time in Chengdu, China, and has a list of tea certifications and community roles that speak to his deep love for tea art and culture. His app is intended to be a personal journal, an educational tool, and will be free with no ads. When I learned about this app, I was intrigued, as I like apps to track a lot of my life, but I’ve never found a truly universal tea app that I like (that was available for iOS). So I contacted Vincent and he agreed to let me beta-test, which I have been for the last couple of weeks.

One caveat to my review: Since I downloaded the beta app, it has been updated to include more tutorial and educational functionality, which I haven’t used. But that’s because I turn to it daily and tend to forget about the new functionality until I’m in the middle of a session and don’t want to interrupt it!

Anyway, when you first open the app, you can choose to select a tea to brew or add a new tea to brew. The app has a place to store a record of all the teas in your stash (I’ve mostly been adding them as I use them for an app-enabled session) and an auto-tracking function to let you know how much of each you have left, based on the original amount you enter and how much you use in each session. Entries for teas give you the option to enter a photo, the tea name, the tea type (green, black, oolong, puerh, dark, etc.), the harvest information, origin, cultivar, vendor, elevation at which it was grown, and steeping instructions (among other things). You can also enter an inventory of your teaware, including teaware type, material, and a photo. Both types of entries also have a “notes” section. The breadth of information it allows you to enter makes me happy. It even gives you the option to select that a tea is a blend and enter the ingredients.

And that I think epitomizes my main praise of this app: it is not an app for tea snobs. Yes, it is invaluable for a gongfu session or a Western-style steeping of a flavored tea. The session itself is entirely customizable, giving you the option to enter your own water temperature and type (tap, filtered, bottled, etc.), as well as steeping time for each steeping. You can vary the temperature and time by hand for each infusion, but also add a set time to add to each infusion, if you just want to go with it. This time added to each infusion is also customizable, so if you start with 5 seconds added to each steeping and decide to try adding more to later infusions, you can do that.

I also find it really useful for teas like the ones from Mountain Stream Teas (such as the Missed Opportunity, pictured above), because Matt gives such precise instructions on how he recommends brewing his teas and I can enter in the exact steeping parameters easily without having to remember what steeping I’m on or reset a timer. I enter in 30 seconds for the first steeping, add 10 seconds for the second, add 20 seconds for the third, and then add 15 seconds for each steeping after that. I like how having the timing off my mental plate leaves me more open to appreciate the experience of the tea.

And as far as the experience goes, the app gives you an easy way to record aroma and flavor notes. If I had one suggestion, it would be to have aroma and flavor separated. And, while I appreciate that I can add my own aroma and flavor characteristics, I wish they would save for future sessions and give me the option to nest them under one of the overarching flavor/aroma categories (e.g., I would like to be able to permanently add “sandalwood” under “woody”).

On to the timing itself. The timer gives you the option to play or not play timer noises. The timer noise is a simple flowing water sound while the timer is counting down, and a single bell/singing bowl tone at the end. I appreciate that I don’t need to turn off an alarm, and I like that I can look at the water visualization and know how much of my timer remains from across the kitchen because I’m often watching my toddler while making tea. I also like that I can edit and continue saved tea sessions for those times when the aforementioned toddler decides to run off with my phone and close all my apps in the middle of a session.

All-in-all, this is a very well-thought-out app that actually enhances my tea experience, rather than being a fun novelty. And perhaps it will eventually lead me to actually keep track of my tea stash.

NB: I was given early access to this app as a blogger, but with no explicit expectation of a review. If you are interested in collaborating with me, please read my collaboration information for more details.

Tea Together Tuesday: Shop Small!

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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 tea from a small business. Now, most of my tea comes from small businesses, but lately, I’ve been exploring Black-owned businesses on top of simply small business, and if you asked me what my favorite tea is right now, I’d say the Baozhong oolong from The Steeped Leaf Shop.

Not “favorite from a small business” or “favorite from a Black-owned business.” Favorite. Period. This tea is creamy, slightly sweet in that way that very fresh local cream is sweet, and has a gorgeous floral bouquet (it’s pronounced “boo-kay”). I’ve even started seasoning my newest Yixing pot with it even though it isn’t the right kind of tea for the clay and shape, AND I already have two clay pots that have been seasoned with oolong. But the pot loves this oolong as much as I do. I am certainly going to have to buy some more soon because it turns out an ounce doesn’t go very far, now does it?

I’ve tasted this both in porcelain and glazed clay, and in my unglazed Yixing pot. It steeps beautifully gongfu style, but I’ve also made a western-style cup and it retains its beautiful character. It doesn’t have a bite to it like some green oolongs can get when steeped too long, but it opens up into a gorgeous cup of flavor at the first short steeping. I can toss some of this into my gaiwan or pot in the morning and drink it all day as I make my way through a day that is often too hectic for a single, focused long gongfu session. And even Elliot likes it — he stole a sip the other day when it had cooled off and promptly declared it “Nummy.”

If The Steeped Leaf Shop sounds familiar, it’s because I wrote a similarly effusive post on Instagram last week for Matcha Monday about their ceremonial matcha. Wow. I’m all the more excited to try the sencha that Tammy tucked into my shipment as a free sample because so far she’s two for two with curating excellent teas.

I’ve written in the past about my frustration and suspicion of formal tea certifications, but when Tammy says she’s a certified tea specialist, I absolutely believe her, having tasted her teas. And she’s incredibly communicative and friendly, both on social media and via email. So even if your order falls victim to COVID-related shipping issues, you will know what’s going on and have utter faith in the process.

I know this sounds sponsored, but I promise it’s not. I just really like this tea. If you’re in the market for tea, I highly recommend checking her shop out. Shop small, shop Black-owned when you can, and always drink excellent tea!

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

Cha Xi Challenge: Tea, with a Story

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The Cha Xi Challenge, hosted by Rie of Tea Curious, wraps up tomorrow, and I have already shared three cha xi arrangements that I’ve created, but I wanted to share a fourth because it rather exemplifies my approach to tea practice. Today’s cha xi is a very playful little setup, where I tried to create a somewhat classic gongfucha arrangement using a very English tea set. I used my Brambly Hedge miniature tea set, with a 4-oz. tea pot and three tiny tea cups to approximate the classic tea-pot-and-three-cups arrangement that forms the ideal gongfu session.

The tea pot is originally made for tiny hands, but holds almost exactly the same volume of liquid as my Yixing pot, making it perfect for gongfu-style brewing, and poured out into three tiny cups, it is very similar to the idea of a teapot the size of a citron and cups the size of walnuts that is discussed in Yuan Mei’s first description of the tea practice of the Wuyi mountains that later came to be known widely as gongfucha. I used my well-loved practice of using a cake plate as a teapot saucer, and found that the milk pitcher made a lovely vase for a single rosebud from my garden, while the sugar bowl made a fitting vessel in which to display the tea leaves. They nestled into a basket with a cotton napkin as a base that fits the rustic-yet-refined aesthetic that Brambly Hedge evokes. As a side note, I chose a bud as a nod to the Japanese ikebana practice of choosing flowers that have not yet opened for arrangements so that the recipient can enjoy the full life cycle of the bloom.

And what better tea to pair with such a delightful setup than a honey fragrance black tea from Taiwan? Taiwan has become a place, which, in my mind, has exemplified the blending of modern innovation and traditional tea practice. Plus, black tea is the perfect tea for such an English tea set, while the honey fragrance suggests the flavors of the countryside and the sweetener that would be most available to the woodland creatures of Brambly Hedge.

But this is not just a playful mix of East and West in my tea practice: Like so much of my tea collection, this set has a story. This pattern dates to the year I was born, and when I was five years old and started kindergarten, my mother introduced me to afternoon tea when she would have a low tea (the traditional “fancy tea party” that is often mistakenly called “high tea”) each afternoon when I returned from school as my afternoon snack. She would enjoy putting together a selection of tiny sandwiches and sweets, while I would enjoy learning about the etiquette of the tea table. Obviously, the practice stuck with me.

Most days, we used an inexpensive white stoneware tea set, but as time went on, my mother found this set, one piece at a time, in antique stores. I remember visiting antique stores in the town in which I now live, looking for specific seasons we were missing, or the tea pot that proved elusive. It was a shared experience of collection in a time when you could not just sign into Etsy or eBay and find a dozen examples of full sets available with free shipping. Scouring antique stores and learning about the pattern became something of a passion for both of us, and we both still enjoy searching for new teaware, albeit using all tools at our disposal now.

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So I suppose this cha xi is a perfect visual representation of the aesthetic of Tea Leaves and Tweed. It is both an attempt to remain true to the spirit of cha xi and gongfucha practice, while using a vintage English tea set, and one that retains a great deal of meaning and family connection. Plus, it is perfectly at home in the garden! And, of course, I spilled everywhere when I tried to pour the tea in the traditional way, circulating around all three cups to make an even pour in each.

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

Tuesday Tasting: Alishan Snow Pick Oolong from Mountain Stream Teas

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Continuing my investigation of the different high mountain oolongs of Taiwan, today, I’m trying a snow pick Alishan from Mountain Stream. I’ve previously tasted their winter pick Alishan, and last week, I shared my notes from the snow pick Lishan, so this was an interesting exercise into both noticing the differences between winter and snow pick, and the differences between the terroir of the two mountains.

Once again, I used 5g in a 120-ml porcelain gaiwan, with water at 212F (one of my kettles is set to Fahrenheit and the other to Celsius). I warmed the gaiwan and smelled the warm, dry leaf, noticing a light creamy floral aroma. I did not rinse the tea.

The first infusion was for thirty seconds. The wet leaves smelled of sweet floral, like an orchid or lily. The liquor was a pale straw color, like sauvignon blanc wine and had a very light floral aroma. The mouthfeel was buttery, like drawn butter with bright green flavors and a little retronasal floral.

The second infusion was for forty-five seconds. The wet leaves had a more pronounced floral aroma with a bit of green veg. The liquor was slightly greener in color and had a more pronounced floral aroma. The texture was more buttered spinach with a floral and vegetal flavor. The overall feeling of the infusion was more savory than sweet.

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The third infusion was for a minute. The wet leaves had a very slight honey aroma underneath the same floral and vegetal notes as before. The liquor had aromas of lily and cannabis. The flavor and texture were pure buttered vegetables: spinach and asparagus.

The fourth infusion was for seventy-five seconds. It was on this infusion that I noticed I was feeling sleepy. It was the evening when I tasted this tea, but normally, I feel more awake after drinking several gongfu infusions. The wet leaves smelled of vegetables with a touch of honey. The liquor had a sweet floral aroma, perhaps violet. The buttered vegetable flavor persists and the buttery texture now feels slightly mineral as well.

The fifth infusion, for ninety seconds, was lighter in both flavor and aroma, but the buttery mouthfeel was largely present. By the sixth infusion, for two minutes, it was apparent the tea was done.

I was fascinated that I was able to start this tasting at 6:30 in the evening and still fell asleep easily around 9. At this point, I hypothesize that the most distinct difference among the mountains will be the mouthfeel of each tea, though it is striking that the sweetness of the snow pick Lishan was not as apparent in the Alishan. It’s worth noting that I noticed the same buttered spinach notes and mouthfeel in the winter pick Alishan from Mountain Stream. I’m curious to continue this exploration.

NB: Nothing to disclose. If you’re interested in reading why I switched from reviews to tasting notes, read this post. For more information about collaborating with me, click here.

Tasting Tuesday: Yunnan “Early Spring Silver Strands” Green Tea of Simao from Yunnan Sourcing

 

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This Tuesday, I’m digging into my tea basket for some forgotten gems, including this Yunnan “Early Spring Silver Strands” Green Tea of Simao that I got from Yunnan Sourcing a while ago. True, green tea is usually at its best when it’s fresh, but that’s not stopping me from giving this a shot. And, I’d actually been looking for an assamica green tea for an upcoming historical tea video, so stay tuned!

I brewed this with 85C water. I used 5g in a 120-ml porcelain gaiwan. After warming my teaware, I noticed aromas of ripe apricots and fresh hay on the dry leaf. After a quick rinse, the wet leaf slightly green and floral with some dried fruit as well.

The first infusion was for ten seconds. The gaiwan lid smelled of underripe apricots while the leaf had aromas of grass and a very light smoke aroma. The liquor was light straw colored, like a pinot grigio with a very light tannic fruity aroma. The body was light and watery, with a light floral flavor, almost like jasmine, and a mild tannic sharpness that reminded me of wine.

The second infusion was for fifteen seconds, which yielded a slightly darker, more golden liquor, like chardonnay, with tart aromas from the liquor. The gaiwan lid and wet leaves both had aromas of green floral, fruit, and slight smoke. The flavor was bolder, with a thicker, juicy mouthfeel and a floral flavor.

The third infusion was for twenty seconds. The gaiwan lid smelled of floral and apricot with a light smoke aroma on the leaves. The liquor was similar in color to the previous infusion with a tart apricot aroma. The bitterness started coming in on this infusions. There was a sharpness on the tip of the tongue at first, with a lingering bitter aftertaste in the back of the throat.

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The fourth infusion, for twenty-five seconds, started developing this bitterness. Liquor color was the same, but the gaiwan lid aroma took on a greener quality, with notes of fresh-cut grass along with jasmine. The flavor was quite bitter, but with a floral quality that is similar to hops. It reminded me a bit of some sheng puerhs I’ve tried.

The fifth infusion was for thirty seconds and saw the aromas and flavors deepening into something warmer. The aromas were warmly floral while the flavor took on a nuttiness. There was still a light hoppy bitterness. By the sixth infusion, for thirty-five seconds, the flavors and aromas had started to fade, but maintained a bright, hoppy bitterness. But by the seventh infusion, for forty seconds, it was obvious the tea was done.

The spent leaves were a lovely olive green with a smoother leaf edge than I expected.

NB: Nothing to declare; tea was a sample included with an order. To learn more about why I switched from reviews to tasting notes, click here. For more information about collaborating with me, click here.

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.

Tuesday Tasting: 2016 Little Mountain White Tea from Bitterleaf Teas

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I tasted this tea in my recent video, but since then, I’ve read others’ tasting notes and determined that I got some very different flavors from this one. So I decided to sit down and do a proper tasting, with my own house filtered water and after cleaning my tea ware with some baking soda to make sure there weren’t any old off flavors affecting things. The 2016 Little Mountains are a compressed Shou Mei white tea that I originally received in my anniversary sale order, but that I have since bought more just because I enjoyed them. I’m tasting it in my silver teapot because I tend to enjoy aged white teas more when I’m drinking them out of silver.

I used a 5.4-gram mini-cake in a 140-ml teapot with boiling water. I warmed the pot and then warmed the leaf. From the dry leaf, I got aromas of some sort of sweet baked good. After a rinse, I got aromas of sweetgrass from the wet leaf.

The first steeping, I let this go for a minute, as per Bitterleaf’s suggestion. The liquor was the color of Tokaji wine, a lovely mellow gold. The wet leaf had aromas of fresh, sweet alfalfa, though the liquor itself did not have a lot of aroma. The mouthfeel was thick — syrupy, but not oily — and I got a slightly fruity tartness from the liquor, kind of like a very fresh apricot that isn’t overly ripe. The aftertaste was caramel. Despite this sweetness, I still felt like the tea had an umami quality, almost like it feels sweet more than it actually tastes sweet.

The second steeping was for thirty seconds, and yielded a similarly-colored liquor with a similar leaf aroma as the first, though the liquor had taken on a honey aroma. The mouthfeel was smooth and lubricating, with flavors of almond blossom honey. The third steeping was also for thirty seconds, after which the leaf smelled of honey and fresh hay and the liquor was slightly darker and had the same syrupy texture. The flavor had gotten sweeter, with a flavor similar to chamomile. The fourth steeping, I bumped the time up to forty seconds and got a darker amber-gold liquor with a slightly smoky and herbal aroma from the leaves. It still had the same honey-sweetness.

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The fifth and sixth steepings were for forty-five seconds each and held steady in flavor and aroma. I went up on one minute for the seventh steeping and two minutes for the eighth steeping. By then, I felt like I once again was tasting alliums, perhaps some caramelized onion or leek. After that, I decided to finish by boiling the leaves in a cup of water for about ten minutes. This yielded a very dark infusion with a reddish-brown liquor and a strong flavor that had a bit of bite in the back of my throat. I would probably be less aggressive in the final boil, but all in all, I definitely get more of the sweetness that others have found, so perhaps it didn’t play well with the tap water in the Philadelphia suburbs. If anyone is in the Philly area and has tried this with their tap water, did you get honey or onion soup?