Tea Together Tuesday: Origin Stories

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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 talk about the tea that was your gateway into tea culture. Now, I’ve spoken in the past about how I got into tea. And I could claim that the tea that got me into learning about tea culture outside of English-style afternoon tea was the Dragonwell I got at Teavana or the Moroccan Mint tea I had served at Epcot or the Wuyi oolong that was served at my family’s favorite local Chinese restaurant.

But really, none of these teas would probably have captured my fancy the way that they did if I hadn’t already been introduced to tea as a practice, a ritual, and an art in the form of afternoon tea parties with my mother when I was in kindergarten.

Yes, I was five years old, and rather than serving any old snack, my mother decided to teach me dining etiquette and have more fun by serving snack as afternoon tea. We often had tiny sandwiches, or homemade scones, or little tarts or pastries. Even if we simply had a plate of cookies, they would be laid out attractively and served with tea.

My mother’s preferred brand of tea was Twinings, and her favorite kind was Prince of Wales, a blend that I’ve now discovered is their only fully-Chinese blend of black teas. I actually purchased a tin of it loose for my Jane Austen historical tea video because Indian tea wasn’t widely available until decades after Austen’s death, and we know from her letters that Austen was also a dedicated Twinings customer.

I remember when I was in high school, the way that one of my boyfriends tried to ingratiate himself with my mother was by bringing a tin of Prince of Wales tea. While I tend to associate my mother with Earl Grey now, she had a special place in her heart for Prince of Wales, perhaps because it was slightly more difficult to find, in that it was not always available at the grocery store.

Beyond the tea we drank, we often used special china tea sets, which my grandmother thought was unendingly foolish for having tea with a young child. But I remember going to antique stores with my mother, looking for the various pieces of the tea set that I still have today. It is perhaps a bit small for daily use, but I have continued to pull it out as an homage to my tea roots, and as a way to play with the ideas of eastern-style tea culture with western pieces. I was thrilled to find a full-sized Brambly Hedge tea cup just last year, so that I can have an adult-sized cuppa while remembering those child-sized parties.

So while it was not the most globally-conscious introduction to tea, these afternoons with my mother taught me that tea was something special, to be savored and treated with respect and care. She taught me the value of sitting down, enjoying your tea and treats, and enjoying the company with it. Every time I sit down to tea, whether it is a solo session or with friends, I think about those afternoon tea parties and how my mother introduced me to the idea of having tea.

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

Beauty Review: Florishe Camellia Full Blossom Serum

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A while ago, I wrote about how, despite largely dropping sheet masks from my routine for environmental reasons, I was enjoying the Florishe sheet masks I was sent for review while we were in lockdown. Well, we’re still at home and I’m still loving my Florishe products, but since I’ve been testing it for a few weeks, I thought I’d share my thoughts on the Camellia Full Blossom Serum that is their flagship product. This is a creamy lotion-serum that contains hydrating ingredients, their signature green tea extract from sustainably-produced green tea, and oils to create a thin emulsion. It also smells lightly of flowers and bergamot in a way that always reminds me of Earl Grey. The scent is very light and natural and even though I am prone to migraines, it is generally okay for me unless I’m deeply in the throes of one that is making me react to literally everything (like the one where I was being triggered by my own body odor the other day).

As with all long-term use skincare products that I share on this blog, I made a commitment to test this for at least two weeks without adding anything else that was new to my routine. I enjoyed it enough that I actually ended up testing it longer and have been using for about the last month. I did take pictures of my face before I started testing it and after three weeks, but as I’ve discussed before, I have pretty generally good skin, so the differences are not dramatic. I simply feel like my skin looks a little more even and luminous.

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It’s also a wonderful one-step product to use after washing and vitamin C in the morning before using sunscreen, rather than my typical custom potion of hydrating serums and oils as my fancy takes me. This was highly appreciated in the depths of lockdown, when I felt my mental health deteriorating, and was barely able to face washing up in the morning, let alone a complicated skin care routine. And one of my go-to steps for the most minimal presentable face is to add a few drops of Niod Photography Fluid 12% to some moisturizer or serum and this is perfect for that.

Now, I will say, I am likely not going to repurchase this. First of all, I have a lineup of products that I have used for years and know I love. Yes, it means a little bit of witchery at my vanity to get the perfect fit, but for me, it’s not worth spending the money on another product right now, particularly one that is scented, since as I mentioned before I would occasionally have to avoid it. But for those who are not as into puttering around with their skin care, this is a fantastic thing to consider as a one-step hydrating and nourishing moisturizer, particularly in the warmer months when you don’t need a heavier moisturizer. And I like the company’s ideals concerning sustainability and relationships with their tea farmers, particularly given the dark truths about tea farming that I touched on a few weeks ago.

Also, the set with the serum and five sheet masks comes with an adorable canvas bag that my spouse has already claimed for our collection of shopping bags. And since it’s cotton, we can toss it into the wash after taking it out, in case we’re worried about contamination! So check out Florishe and see if they have something you might enjoy, whether you’re a tea lover or a skin care lover (or both, like me!).

NB: The serum was sent to me free of charge in exchange for featuring. All thoughts are my own. Links are not affiliate links. If you’re interested in collaborating with me, please read my contact and collaboration information.

Tea Together Tuesday: Three Easy Steps to Tea Love!

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Do you like my attempt at a clickbait title? 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 top three tips for new tea drinkers or people who are just discovering tea. Now, I’ve actually written a multi-part series on approaching tea from various points in your journey, but I like the idea of distilling my tea philosophy down into three top tips, particularly since my own philosophy and attitudes have changed in the nearly two years since I published my Tea Primer.

Step One: Be Very, Very Wary of Anyone Claiming to Be Teaching the “One True Way”

Like with anything, there will always be evangelists who want to convince you that the tea they sell or the way they brew tea is the best way or even the only way to brew tea to truly enjoy it. Or they will claim some ancient, unbroken lineage for their methods or traditions. No, we do not brew tea the way that Lu Yu, the “Sage of Tea,” author of the earliest known written work exclusively devoted to tea, did. Maybe some people do, and of course more people might try it once as a curiosity or an historical exercise, but for the most part, the Tang Dynasty method of tea is not the same as modern gongfucha or even very similar to the way most of us drink our daily tea, even without the salt.

One thing that studying the history of tea culture around the world has taught me is that tea is not monolithic, even within China, its birthplace (although that is up for debate, as there is evidence that tea plants evolved independently in other parts of south and southeast Asia). Tea was originally used as a medicinal plant; that’s why the most common story of its origins as a beverage involve the legendary founder of traditional Chinese medicine and its mention is traced to medical texts. While it eventually developed into a pleasure beverage and aesthetic pursuit, tea has always been considered for its health benefits, and it has always been drunk blended and flavored by many of those who use it. Flavoring teas is not a new phenomenon. Drinking tea for the benefits is not a new phenomenon. And what is now popularized as gongfucha is not an ancient secret, nor is it the only way tea is drunk by those who really appreciate it.

Step 2: Drink What You Like, How You Like It

Do you prefer your tea unsweetened and un-lightened so you can really taste the intricate flavor notes of the particular cultivar or processing style you’re enjoying? Great! Do you like a brew so strong you can stand the spoon up in it, sweetened within an inch of its life, and with enough milk to keep your mouth from turning inside out at the tannin? Also great!

Again, historically, the British did not invent putting milk in tea. Even the supposed tale of the British learning it from the French is likely not true. The truth is that the Qing Emperor who reigned during the early heyday of Western tea trade was a Manchurian who drank milk tea (much to the supposed dismay of the Han Chinese, who preferred their delicate green teas). Was this emperor a literal barbarian? Well, that term has all sorts of uncomfortable racial connotations, so perhaps it’s best to just let him have his milk tea, and let the rest of us add milk or not as we like.

Sugar is also a common ingredient in traditional Chinese medicinal concoctions, with different sorts of sugars having different supposedly benefits for the body. Traditionally-prepared brown or unrefined sugar is supposed to have all sorts of lovely benefits for women, at least according to one of my favorite Chinese YouTubers. So, again, it is entirely possible that it was the Chinese who taught Westerners that sugar was a good thing to add to tea. So there is no historical basis for the tea purism that sometimes permeates modern tea communities and discourages new people from coming in and trying the tea, since they sometimes need a spoonful of sugar, at least at first.

(Please note, I am not going to get into it about anything to do with the healthfulness or unhealthfulness of sugar. Carbohydrates are a necessary macronutrient and that’s where this post ends on the matter. Ableist or fatphobic comments will not be entertained or approved.)

And I’ve already talked about how tea was originally blended. In my video on the earliest archaeological evidence of tea, I talked about how it seems likely from the chemical signatures found that the tea was blended with barley and other botanicals, possibly even the citrus peel, ginger, and scallions mentioned by Lu Yu (who was actually a bit of a tea snob, it seems). I’ve actually found that the combination of green tea, ginger, and orange peel (pictured above) has quickly become one of my favorite blends personally. Does it obscure some of the flavor notes in the tea that might come forward without the additions? Yes. But does it “ruin” it? Absolutely not. And, no, just because I don’t personally prefer most added artificial flavors doesn’t mean you should feel anything but enjoyment at your own favorite mocha-blueberry-s’mores-rooibos-puerh blend.

Step Three: Experiment and Explore

Now, that said, while you’re drinking what you like, you should never feel afraid to experiment. Yes, it can be scary to think about “ruining” a cup of tea by steeping it too hot or too long or with the wrong teaware, especially when you start getting into the realm of 20-year-old oolongs or puerhs from the year you were born that you can only afford 10g of at a time. But ultimately, it’s just tea. It’s an ephemeral pleasure, no matter how long you want to store and age it, it is ultimately meant to be consumed. Try to pay attention more to what you do enjoy and merely make a note of what you don’t like to try to avoid it in the future.

Once again returning to the blend in my photo, did I added citrus peel and ginger to the very last of my 2020 fresh all-bud expensive green tea from white2tea? Yes. Was it awesome? Also yes. No regrets.

If you’re 100% brand-new to tea, yes, it’s a good idea to look up some general guidelines or read the packet to get an idea of how to brew this tea. But “brewing instructions” are like the Pirate Code — they’re really more like guidelines. Don’t fully enjoy that tea made the way the instructions say to make it? Try something different with it! Try brewing at a different temperature or with a different amount of leaves or for a different amount of time. I’ve written in the past about how I “troubleshoot” a difficult tea, and that is a good place to start, but I also love Rie’s experiments at Tea Curious. If you have the time, try to catch one of her tea practice Live sessions on Instagram where she often performs experiments to see how different parameters really affect tea. I’ve even tried my hand at these experiments, by testing out whether a bamboo whisk is really the best way to make matcha, and I have more tests planned in the future.

So there you have it — my top three tips for new tea drinkers. We were all new to this once, and honestly, the best thing I’ve brought to my tea practice is the concept of “beginner’s mind.” Always be learning, never consider yourself finished or an expert. There is always something new to explore and always someone who can teach you. Happy sipping!

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

Tea Together Tuesday: What Makes a Celebrity?

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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 which celebrity you would most like to join you for tea. I have to say, this one was probably the most difficult prompt yet! I am not very plugged into what most people would think of as celebrity culture. As an actor myself, I don’t often feel like I absolutely have to meet the actors who play my favorite characters because I’m intimately familiar with the disconnect between a character and a person’s real personality.

And it got me thinking, what is a celebrity anyway, especially in this day and age? While I don’t watch a terrible lot of television or film, I do watch a lot of YouTube videos. Are YouTube creators celebrities? Does it depend on how many subscribers they have? Do they have to have a million subscribers? Five hundred thousand? A hundred thousand? Ten thousand? Five thousand (or slightly less than five thousand)? A thousand (congrats, Jann!)? Or does being the author of a widely-read and reviewed book count? What about Instagrammers? Are they celebrities?

Personally, I’ve met one of the people whom I would consider Instagram celebrities for tea once. I had tea with Stephen Alain Ko and a friend of his at Teaism a few years ago and it was absolutely lovely. I had an oolong and I don’t remember what he had (maybe bubble tea?). But perhaps a niche skincare Instagrammer doesn’t really count as a celebrity.

So back to the question at hand. I think if I want to stick to what I imagine the spirit of the word “celebrity” is, I would have to give in to my American anglophile tendencies and choose a member of the British royal family. But because I am always curious about those who might be treated as outsiders, I think I would want to have tea with Meghan, Duchess of Sussex. She is doubly a celebrity because she was a famous actress before she ever married into royalty. Plus, we’re about the same age. I have a great deal of respect for her outspoken commentary on issues of equality and justice, mostly recently pausing her own pet projects to focus on Black Lives Matter.

But what tea do you serve to a duchess? While it would be easy to choose one of the “favorite teas” she has mentioned in interviews, I think I would want to offer her something a bit different. And this almond oolong from Cuples Tea House, cold-brewed in sparkling mineral water, is just that. The tea smells exactly like cream soda, so the effect is a glass of what smells like cream soda, but lacks that tooth-coating sweetness that always disappoints me about soda. And served up in a champagne coupe, it’s just that right level of fancy, plus it’s perfect for the ever-warming weather here in the northern hemisphere.

So that’s my answer: in a fantasy world where I could choose any celebrity to join me for tea, I think I would want to sit and sip and chat with Meghan, Duchess of Sussex. That said, however, there are plenty of others that I consider as admirable as any “real” celebrity, and it’s quite possible that I might be able to have virtual tea with at least one of them soon. So with that tantalizing crumb, I shall leave you to ponder which celebrity you would like to come ’round for tea.

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

Tea Together Tuesday: Revisiting Rooibos

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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 or tisane that you did not used to like but now do. Of course, I knew I had to share my difficult relationship with rooibos.

I probably first discovered rooibos tea at Teavana in the 90s, so it was likely flavored and sweetened. Looking back, one of the most popular flavorings for rooibos is vanilla and I generally dislike vanilla-flavored teas, since the artificial-vanilla-scent reminds me of vanilla notes in perfume, which I also dislike (I prefer my scents based with wood, moss, or vetiver). Rooibos was just one of those things that I Didn’t Like. I even said as much when I was first contacted by brands offering me review samples and I quit my first tea subscription after accumulating nearly a dozen rooibos blends that I had no interest in trying.

But then I read the incomparable Henrietta Lovell’s book Infused and was enchanted by her description of the farms where she sources wild rooibos in South Africa. I’ve talked before about how reading her book certainly infused me with a desire to try all of the teas she discusses, and led to a somewhat large-ish order from the Rare Tea Company, including a pouch of the wild rooibos. After re-reading Henrietta’s book and chatting with some friends, I realized that I likely had never had rooibos steeped as strong as it needs to be. So when I received my tea, I steeped it strong, boiling it in water for five minutes, before straining into a mug. And I was floored by the woody complexity of flavors. It reminded me more of an Islay whisky than the cloying blends of my past.

That started a new habit of making either plain rooibos or rooibos boiled with spices every evening after dinner. It made a rich and comforting evening cup, without any caffeine. And soon, I had finished the 50-g packet that I had initially been concerned about buying since it seemed so large for a tea I probably would not enjoy. Now I had to buy more.

Since I had newly rediscovered my love of rooibos, I decided to try another company. I had long been intrigued by the principles of sustainability, stewardship, and conscience behind the company Arbor Teas, so I decided to include some of their organic rooibos in an order. And while I no longer drink it every night, I particularly like it on chillier evenings when most relaxing herbals feel a bit cooling. The brilliant auburn color and warm, woody texture make the perfect nightcap.

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

Connecting with Tea Lovers through History and in the Modern Day

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It is no secret that I love old things. I originally envisioned this blog as a vintage blog, before my love of beauty and later tea took center stage. And over the last year, my Historical Tea Sessions have been some of my favorite videos to research and create. And I think one of my favorite things about this project is connecting with historical figures who seem to have shared my own intrigue with new and different teas.

In my Baisao video, I mention how the old tea seller writes of his get-togethers with a friend who brings him a new tea and how intensely interested he is in that experience, while in my video on Abigail Adams, I talked about how her husband John wrote in his letters about sending her new teas to try that he encountered on his travels. This idea of sharing tea with loved ones and fellow tea-lovers transcending the boundaries of time and geography fills me with a unique warmth. Similarly, I’ve found my own little worldwide community of tea-lovers in the present day with whom to share new and interesting teas we’ve found.

And I think one of the most interesting new things I’ve learned through my tea community was that white teas outside of Fuding in China are definitely worth checking out. It started with Chado Tea House reaching out to me and offering me some teas for review. I chose one based on an upcoming literary tea session, but the other, I took their suggestion to try their Colombian white tea, simply because it just sounded so intriguing. I was unaware that tea was grown in Colombia, and to have it be a white tea, rather than a commodity black tea was curiouser and curiouser.

When it arrived, it was an extremely generous quarter pound of tea, in a massive bag to contain the large and fluffy leaves. It had the fluff level of a really nice Bai Mudan. I decided to pretend I was a professional tea taster and sit down to this in my cupping set, steeped with boiling water (as I do almost all of my white teas), for a few minutes at a time. Now, this isn’t a comprehensive tasting note post, as I want to try this gongfu style before sharing my official thoughts, but right away I was struck by how different this was from Chinese white tea. It almost reminded me of Taiwanese teas, with its smooth mouthfeel and subtle sweetness. Keep an eye out for full tasting notes in the future.

And then I saw a post from Jin and Tea about the Benifuki Japanese white tea from UNYtea that I’ve seen pop up throughout my social feeds and decided that it was finally time to give that a try. And, once again, I was met with a delightfully different white tea that expanded my concept of what a white tea is. As much as I bemoan the constant stream of new and interesting things that lead me to have such a bursting tea cabinet, social media is a wealth of inspiration to keep tea drinking interesting and new. And it reminds me of a modern-day equivalent to John Adams’ gifts to his wife or Baisao’s visiting friend. So let’s all keep in touch and keep our tea community alive for the next several hundred years!

NB: The Colombian white tea was sent to me free of charge in exchange for featuring. All thoughts are my own. If you’re interested in collaborating with me, please read my contact and collaboration information.

Tea Together Tuesday: A Perfect Cup for Spring

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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 cup of tea that is perfect for spring. When I saw that prompt, a month ago, I knew exactly what tea I wanted to share: Sakura Sencha.

Perhaps you’ve had cherry blossom or “sakura” scented teas from companies that specialize in scented teas. I know I had one years ago from Capital Teas that blended cherry and rose flavorings and called it “Cherry Blossom.” But true sakura sencha is neither fruity nor rosy. It doesn’t smell or taste like a perfumed or scented tea. This tea uses the leaves of the sakura tree, along with a few dried petals, to add a deep warmth and sweet florality to an already-lovely cup of bright and umami sencha.

Part of why I love this tea is the contrast between the deeply green sencha leaves and the pale pink dried sakura petals that dot the dry leaf. It reminds me of the grass under my rosebushes when the roses have bloomed and are starting to fall, littering the green grass with pink petals. It just feels like the full glory of spring.

In fact, when I was in high school, I used to walk home from school, and in the spring, the cherry and apple trees would bloom. Eventually, the blossoms would run their course and start to fall, particularly on windy days. One afternoon, I was walking home with my first boyfriend and just as the wind picked up for a moment, we stopped for a kiss, and had a lovely, movie-perfect kiss under a blanket of falling pink petals. This fragrant tea is almost like a drinkable embodiment of that moment.

I usually purchase my sakura sencha from Yunomi, but this year, my shipment was unfortunately waylaid by coronivirus-related shipping disruptions. So I was delighted to find that Path of Cha offers a similar tea. In fact, it tastes identical to the sakura sencha I had last year from Yunomi. This year is was particularly bittersweet, as I was unable to enjoy the cherry blossoms in downtown DC due to stay-at-home orders and remote work, but sipping this tea brings back the delight of early spring with the sakura blossoms drifting through the air and scenting the world around them. A perfect spring scene.

So that is my perfect tea for spring. I hope you’ll share your own spring teas and how you’re celebrating this springtime in light of the perhaps different shapes our lives might be taking. Happy sipping!

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.

Tea Together Tuesday: My “Daily Drinker”

 

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Today starts “Tea Together Tuesday”, hosted by Tea with Jann and Tea is a Wish! Each Tuesday in May, we’re writing, filming, or otherwise posting about a prompt to share our tea time with our tea community. It’s particularly important in the age of social distancing — and a reminder that we can be physically distanced without being socially isolated!

This week’s prompt is “If you could have only one tea or tisane for the rest of your life, what would it be?” Now this is an interesting prompt because, while I get into phases, where I drink a lot of the same type of tea, I don’t really have one tea, or even type of tea, that I drink every single day. But I mentioned in my video this weekend that I do have one tea that is about as close to a “daily drinker” as I get: the Bagua Shan Honey Scent oolong from Wang Family Tea. I’ve shared my tasting notes about this tea in the past, and I’ve even seasoned my Yixing pot with it.

So what is it about this tea that makes it my closest candidate for a daily drinker? Well, first of all, it’s oolong. Oolong is definitely my favorite style of tea. And while I’ve waxed rhapsodic in the past about how Da Hong Pao is my favorite tea, it does not fit as many of my moods as this tea. It’s not heavily roasted, so it doesn’t have that autumn-and-winter, sit-by-the-fire coziness that sometimes feels out of place in the warmer months. It’s oxidized, so it doesn’t have that bright, light greenness that feels too cooling in the colder months. It has a beautiful rich texture and honey flavor to it that is delightful on its own, but doesn’t clash with many flavors that I could pair with it.

I think the one thing I would want to experiment with is whether or not it cold brews well (although, I’ve cold-brewed similar teas with great success) and to see how it pairs with alcohol (the honey aroma suggests that bourbon would be its perfect match). But ultimately, what I do with my tea is steep it in hot water and drink it. And this tea excels at being put in hot water and drunk. I’ve brewed it carefully and carelessly, and it takes fully boiling water, so there’s no need for a fancy kettle.

But perhaps the best argument for choosing this as my forever tea is that, after finishing a sample of it from Wang Family Tea, I turned around and immediately bought 75 more grams of it. For someone with a perpetually bursting tea cabinet and a tendency to never buy more than the smallest amount offered of any tea so I can have variety, that is high praise. If I ever pare down my tea cabinet to just my essentials, this will certainly be on the shelf, perhaps in its own fancy canister.

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 collaborating with me, please read my contact and collaboration information.

The Virus Diaries: Five Things Keeping Me Sane During Stay-At-Home

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Hello! How is everyone this week? This week, instead of a simple update, I thought I’d share five things that have been helping me stay comparatively sane while we’re staying at home. We’re just at the end of six weeks of self-isolating at home, with only the occasional shopping trip for food (once every ten days or so). Isolating is hard, even when you’re a dyed-in-the-wool introvert like I am. It’s been made even more difficult by the fact that I actually get less time to myself since my husband and child are home all the time.

So here is where I’m approaching this from: We are safe, we are healthy, and we are financially solvent. We are fortunate enough to have jobs that allow us to work from home, at least inasmuch as our employers have decided to continue paying us. My job is a bit more work-from-home friendly, so I typically have a standard 9-5-ish day, while my husband can use his flexibility to take care of the bulk of the childcare during my workday. But I still miss my coworkers, my castmates, my long daily walks through the city, my favorite shops downtown, and the delicious alone time I used to get every week when I worked from home while Dan and Elliot were off at work or daycare. But, all-in-all, we are extremely lucky.

But there are definitely some things that are making a non-ideal situation more bearable or even enjoyable.

  1. Local farms and producers: Like most of the US, it seems, I am also baking a lot during stay-at-home. As my Isolation Baking videos might suggest, I love to bake. In particular, I’m baking quite a bit of bread and baking bread means you go through a lot of flour. Especially since our grocery store has stopped production of their in-house artisan sourdough, for sanitation reasons, I’ve felt the need to pick up a bit of the slack by baking my own bread. But of course, it’s getting more and more difficult to find flour, especially specialty flours. So I was delighted to find a local farm, Migrash Farm, that is still fully stocked and willing to deliver for free to a nearby farmer’s market. Similarly, I’ve enjoyed contactless beer delivery from Denizen’s Brewing Co., and we’re getting our first vegetable delivery from Number 1 Sons this week, so I’m hoping that will be a way to have fresh vegetables every week, even if we only go out every other week.
  2. Tea: Of course, tea has been a constant companion since I was young, but since I’m now home all the time, my tea practice has become even more important. Whether I’m making a pot of Earl Grey, a saucepan of masala chai, or a full gong fu session, tea practice gives me space to slow down and focus on one thing, rather than getting lost in the chaos that is sometimes our home life right now.
  3. Outside time: Normally, I walk three miles, round-trip, on my daily commute, so suddenly spending the entire day in the house has largely depressed my mental state. I find that getting outside, even for a few minutes, helps perk it back up. Even better if I can enjoy a peaceful, early morning tea session in the yard before anyone else around me is awake. Despite not needing to leave the house by 7 a.m., I still wake up quite early, if only to get that time.
  4. Daily Yoga app: While I’ve had an on and off home yoga practice for over twenty years, I’ve recently found it difficult to stick to my home practice, especially since we moved to a house that has a bit more limited floor space for yoga. But the Daily Yoga app, plus my #ringofaccountability on Instagram, have inspired me to stick with my daily practice. I’m currently on a forty-day streak and counting.
  5. Small touches of beauty in my life: I have not been sticking to my regular beauty routine, and for the first time in years, I’ve started using dry shampoo, but I do try to do something to make myself feel connected to beauty each day. I’ve been wearing my historically-inspired clothing, and trying to do makeup and hair at least a few days a week. And my new Camellia sinensis necklace from Tea Thoughts has been immensely inspiring to my beauty routine. Some days I only get dressed to give myself an excuse to wear this little beauty.

I should likely mention a bonus other thing that helps keep me sane: my medication for depression and anxiety. I believe in being totally honest about medication and don’t think it should be stigmatized. It certainly is making the difference between being appropriately concerned for the future and helplessly anxious. I would be remiss if I didn’t give that an extra shout-out.

So that’s what’s keeping me together these days. Are you also existing held together with a thin veneer of red lipstick and homemade bread? What’s your stay-at-home routine look like? Until next week, stay safe everyone!

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