Tea Tasting: Three New Blends from Naoki Matcha

NB: These three teas were sent free of charge in exchange for my honest opinion. Please see my contact and collaboration information if you are interested in collaborating.

It’s not a secret that Naoki Matcha is one of my favorite matcha companies and recently, they contacted me to be part of the tasters for their new blends coming out. They sent me 20g of each blend from three different regions of Japan and while they were content with private feedback, I thought I would share my notes here.

The packaging is a sleek black resealable bag with the Naoki Matcha branding. I love the gold-on-black color scheme. The powder itself is very creamy-textured, almost like a really high-end eyeshadow. There wasn’t a whole lot of variation in the colors among the three of them, but all three are vibrantly green. And they were all a little complicated to sift because that creamy texture tended to stick in the sifter, but a little tap with my scoop freed it.

I tasted all three of these whisked traditionally with a bamboo whisk. I used the same white glazed clay chawan for all three and kept parameters consistent. All three were made with 2g of matcha powder, sifted, and whisked with 60ml of water that was at 85C.

Uji Harmony

This is the most subtle of the three. The aroma of the dry powder is green and nutty, like cooked chicory. It has a smooth mouthfeel that I described as like velvet and thick cream. The flavor is mellow, with little discernible bitterness initially, but a soft bitterness on the back of the tongue. The froth is thick and dense, like a flat white. The overall flavor experience is like a leafy green vegetable cooked in a peppery olive oil, with a vegetal umami flavor. The body energy of this matcha was very warm and stimulating.

Wazuka Hilltop

This powder immediately reminded me of the “classic” matcha baked good aroma. When you think of something being green-tea flavored, this is what it smells like. The foam was a slightly brighter green and looked very glossy upon being whisked. The flavor is much brighter, with a tart or fruity astringency on the initial flavor. This has a milder umami flavor and a lighter mouthfeel that dissipates without coating the mouth. There is some bitterness on the aftertaste, but it is tempered by the astringent brightness. I tasted a lingering tartness at the back of my tongue.

Nishio Bloom

This one has a savory aroma and a creamy texture. I taste it almost entirely in the back of my mouth, with flavors of asparagus in butter. The bitterness perfectly matches the bitterness of very fresh asparagus (which I’ve recently had the opportunity to taste, as I grow it myself). It looked gritty in the bowl, like I didn’t whisk it enough but I didn’t detect any feeling of grit in the mouth. The asparagus flavor fills the mouth and lingers in the aftertaste, with a creamy, mouth-coating texture. This one had a chill body energy.

I haven’t tried any of these blends in lattes, but I might experiment with that soon. For now, each of them has their own unique qualities that I turn to for different mornings. Uji Harmony is more inspirational, while Nishio Bloom is a more low-key morning. And all three have made their way into my matcha practice, if not for good (these might be limited edition), at least for as long as they last.

On Pleasure

When I was in college, I dated a guy who explained why we were together using the concept of utility matrices from economics. This wasn’t a reference to any money either of us had, but rather he used the idea of maximizing the utility matrix and applied it to maximizing personal pleasure. Now, as a romantic 20-something, this sounded horribly dry and unappealing to me, and that relationship… didn’t last. But I suppose I owe him an apology because as I grow older, I somewhat understand what he meant.

Rather than seeing it as a dispassionate calculation, I realize that happiness and pleasure are in fact a balance of different options. And as I progress in my life, pleasure is one of the things that I strive to maximize. But what brings me pleasure and what brings others pleasure are going to be different. That balance and optimization are going to be different for everyone.

On its basest level, pleasure is the avoidance of discomfort. And on the base of my understanding of pleasure comes the experiences I’ve had that convince me that certain things, though I may enjoy them in the moment, will ultimately have displeasure that outweighs their pleasure. Coffee is one of those things. As I get older, my body increasingly shows its displeasure at being given coffee. So even though I actually adore the taste and experience of coffee, I’ve started largely limiting myself to enjoying the aroma when my spouse makes his morning cup.

On the flip side of that, sometimes something that seems unpleasant can yield more pleasure than the initial unpleasantness. Waking at 5:30 a.m. and exercising it not many people’s idea of a good time, but the endorphins from the exercise and the delicious experience of the still quiet of the early morning brings me more pleasure than lying in bed until noon ever did (with a few exceptions ;)). And I always choose exercise that I enjoy, so it’s not an ordeal to get through to get to the afterglow. By the time I have my workout clothes on and push the button to start my video, I’m excited, I’m anticipating the joy of this ritual.

But beyond the trade-off pleasures that I have, my routines are also maximized to deliver things that I solely enjoy. Like my morning croissant. The full sensory experience of my tea practice, calling on all of my senses to fully immerse myself in a practice of pleasure each day. The bright swipe of lipstick or the feel of my favorite skin care against my skin. Feeling the grass between my toes as I enjoy my yard or tend to the garden. The smell and flavor of fresh herbs.

The primary reason I do most of what I do is for pleasure. Yes, I still work, but I try to find the joy in it. And if you were to ask me why I do anything “unnecessary” in my life, the answer would be the same: for pleasure. There is no aspect of my personal hobbies that are done for anything other than the enjoyment they bring. While my historical studies of tea have taught me that medicinal qualities of teas have their place in tea culture, I drink tea because I enjoy it. It’s one of the reasons I can be so selective about the teas I accept as samples anymore, because it’s not worth it to me to drink a tea I don’t enjoy simply to build a brand relationship. I’d rather build a relationship with those whose teas I enjoy, even if they never decide to send me anything for free.

But that is my personal idea of pleasure. Everyone’s idea of pleasure and enjoyment will be different. In the same way that some people like bananas and I do not, some people enjoy being able to turn their passion for tea into a career by cultivating wide business networks. Or their passion for beauty, for skincare, for fashion. And that is their pleasure.

I think my favorite saying is “Don’t yuck someone’s yum.” It is a reminder to let people enjoy what they enjoy, whether it’s a 50-year-old, well-stored sheng puer from your favorite mountain, or a perfect red lip.

Outing: West China Tea House in Austin, TX

Sohan pouring tea

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.

Difficult History: Gong Fu Cha Isn’t the One True Chinese Tea Practice

Okay, so this is the one that I’ve been the most hesitant to write, not only because I think it might upset some self-avowed “teaheads,” but also because I pride myself on my use of good sources, and frankly, I can’t actually read many of the primary sources that I would really, really like to in this case. But I have phenomenal respect for Lawrence Zhang and his excellent article that is the main source for this post (also cited below with the one primary source I found in English). So here we go.

The concept of gongfucha as “The Chinese Tea Ceremony” is a product of political turmoil and erases the complexity and variety of culture in the country of China. And it isn’t the only way to make tea “in the Chinese style” or the pinnacle of tea brewing practice. There are not only other ways to make tea, there are other Chinese ways of making tea. And the way Westerners talk about gongfucha sometimes borders on fetishization (and it can even erase other, non-Chinese ways of making tea).

First of all, it’s important to understand that gongfucha is not an “ancient Chinese tea ceremony.” It’s not ancient, and until the 20th century it was largely unknown outside of a small area in the southeast of what we now call the country of China. Brewing loose tea leaves was not common practice among the noble class in Imperial China until the Ming Dynasty (the 14th-17th century), but loose leaf brewing may have become popular in the 14th or 15th century in the regions where the practices that influenced gongfucha originated. And while the 14th and 15th centuries are before tea came to Europe, it isn’t really “ancient.”

And then there is the fact that this practice was simply a regional method, unknown outside of the region it was practiced, until the late 18th century, when famed Qing dynasty poet and gastronome Yuan Mei published his Suiyuan Shidan in which he described the tea practice of the monks in the Wuyi mountains. And even then, he didn’t use the phrase “gong fu cha” to describe it. That came later.

Even in the 20th century, gongfucha was not a common style of tea in China. In 1937, Fuijian native Lin Yutang describes a method of steeping tea that sounds remarkably similar to modern-day gongfucha and then comments that this is “a strict description of preparing a special kind of tea…in my native province [of Fujian], an art generally unknown in North China.” The first dedicated writing on gongfucha comes in 1957 when Weng Huidong publishes his documentation of this process.

So why is this regional practice, largely unknown until the 20th century now considered “The Chinese tea ceremony” outside of China? Well, that comes from its association with the Han Chinese who fled to the island of Taiwan in the 1970s. You can read the details in Zhang’s paper, but basically, the Han Chinese who opposed the Communist Party in mainland China set about developing formal cultural arts that they felt connected them authentically to their mainland heritage.

And yet, when we practice gongfucha in the States or in Europe, there is very little acknowledgement of this history of displacement and political turmoil. We simply see it as a fancy art that makes us feel connected to another culture. And while it’s not a problem to share in a culture that has been shared with us, it is important to recognize that viewing gongfucha as the only authentically Chinese way to make tea is not only a product of deeply complicated politics, but also simply untrue. I’ve spoken before about how many people in China drink their tea in a way that Zhang dubbed “grandpa style” after the older men he saw drink this way. I personally saw that my Chinese friends in grad school drank their tea this way — loose leaves in a mug, often with a cover to keep it warm as it just steeped untimed, refilled with hot water as needed. Even in the famed Pu’erh-producing regions of Yunnan province, this is a common way to drink tea.

Finally, by focusing on gongfucha as the “true tea,” we are erasing other country’s tea practices (which is ironic, considering that Japanese tea practice directly influenced the framing of gongfucha as “the Chinese tea ceremony”), which can have deep roots in their resistance of colonialism. I have seen someone in a tea group ask for a way to make masala chai using gongfucha methods because he wanted to make it “better.” But this implies that the cultural tradition of boiling tea with milk and spices that makes masala chai masala chai is somehow inferior to our perception of what makes tea preparation “correct.” Gongfucha is not the only way to make tea (it’s not even the only Chinese way of making tea) and it is not the “best” way to make tea. And treating it as such, especially as a Westerner without a firm understanding of its complex history and modern origins, turns appreciation into fetishization.

So enjoy your gongfu tea practice. Collect your teaware. Tell receptive friends about it. But don’t treat it like it is somehow on top of a false hierarchy of cultural practices. And recognize that gongfucha, as we practice it, is not an ancient practice.

Sources:

“A Foreign Infusion: The Forgotten Legacy of Japanese Chadō on Modern Chinese Tea Arts,” by Lawrence Zhang: http://www.marshaln.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/GFC1601_06_Zhang-3.pdf

The Importance of Living, by Lin Yutang (pub. 1937)

Tea and Travel

As you may be aware, the last year and a bit have been unusual. But recently, I received my second vaccine dose and not long after that, my job decided that it was time for me to start traveling for work again. What you may not know is that I actually haven’t traveled for work in almost three years, since I was pregnant, because I didn’t travel for the first year of Elliot’s life, and once I was ready to consider it again, we were plunged into isolation. So last week, I found myself back on a plane and plopped down in a new city.

And of course, I cannot travel without having a plan for my tea. Now, I love my travel gongfu set, but because I was visiting Austin, TX, I knew I could forgo a lot of equipment in favor of some simple grandpa-style brewing and teas that work well for that. Of course, if I needed a gongfucha fix, I could visit West China Tea House.

This gets at the heart of my travel philosophy: travel to the place you are going. You aren’t going to need all things for all places. If I were going to a small resort in the mountains of New England, I might prioritize different things, but going to a city where I knew there was a world-class tea house, I knew I could save space in my bag (I travel exclusively with carry-on) and focus on quick, everyday tea that wouldn’t immediately brand me as high maintenance or eccentric in my professional life. Well, at least not more eccentric…

My favorite travel brewing method is grandpa style because you just pop the tea in your vessel, add water, and go. I can use my trusty 16-oz. thermal flask that also doubles as a water bottle. And my favorite teas for brewing grandpa style are teas that don’t become unpleasantly bitter when steeped for a very long time, and teas that are large-leaf or rolled, like rolled oolongs or pearl teas. So this time, I brought my beloved Black Dragon Pearls from The Steeped Leaf, as well as a 10g sample of Pear Mountain oolong from Mountain Stream teas. I love samples for travel because they don’t take up space, I feel free to share them with interested colleagues, and I can usually finish the whole packet on my trip so they don’t take up space on the way back.

All I need at my hotel or room is a source of hot water. I try to choose teas that are not fussy about water temperature, so that I can plunk some tea into my vessel, add water, and go. In a room with a kitchenette or a shared apartment or house, I can relax with a mug and watch the leaves unfurl, but on a busy morning, I can go straight into my travel flask and be ready for my day.

If I’m going somewhere with good examples of tea culture — like when I visited Tetere in Barcelona three years ago — I try to look at my schedule and at least roughly plan when I might be able to visit the tea house during my trip. This trip, I was lucky to have two opportunities to visit West China Tea House: once with a fried as a sort of spur-of-the-moment decision, and once again on my own over the weekend. Of course, those visits deserve their own post, so watch for that this week. But exploring tea culture in the cities I visit is a wonderful way to connect with places I might not be visiting entirely by choice, but by necessity, and also scratch my tea itches. And sometimes, an enthusiastic tea artist introduces you to the most amazing aged oolong you’ve ever had…

NB: Nothing to disclose. To learn 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.

Tuesday Tasting: Witch’s Broom from Ohio Tea Co.

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Hallowe’en might be over, but I’m still in the spooky season mood, so what better tea than to brew than the most intriguing one from the Tea Thoughts Countdown to Halloween box? This was day eight’s gift and was the perfect tea to ring in the Hallowe’en season. Witch’s Broom from the Ohio Tea Co. is a raw puerh tea that is sold as a maocha, or loose leaves, and is so named because the long, large leaves (similar to a Tai Ping Hou Kui) look like besoms or brooms.

I decided to use MyTeaPal to brew because I was curious how it did with a more focused tasting, including notes, which I hadn’t tried yet, plus I seem to have misplaced my tea-tasting notebook. I brewed 5g of dry leaf in my 150-ml porcelain pot from Bitterleaf Teas with 190F water, as recommended by the package.

Immediately upon taking out the leaves, I noticed an earthy aroma, which only became more pronounced when I put them into the warmed pot. I did rinse them, as I tend to do with puerh, and noticed a damp earth and fragrant wood aroma on the wet leaf. I did my first infusion for ten seconds, after which, the liquor was very light in flavor, with hints of licorice and wood smoke.

The second infusion, which was for fifteen seconds, yielded a more pronounced juicy mouthfeel and smooth texture. The woody sweetness persisted, along with a stronger smoke note after the tea had been allowed to cool for a few minutes. The third infusion, for twent seconds, yielded a lighter flavor, though more smoke in the aromas. I was impressed by the utter lack of bitterness in this tea. Interestingly, while the packet says that this tea is aged for five years, the website says that the tea is from 2001, so it’s unclear just how long it has aged. My naive tastebuds suggest that the longer time might be correct.

On the fourth infusion, for thirty seconds, the leaf aroma seemed to be fading, but the texture was still smooth and juicy, with a slight fruity tang on the flavor, along with that subtle, but distinct, smoke flavor note. It’s interesting because this isn’t the kind of smoke note that would be on a smoked tea, but you can tell that there is some kind of smokiness to it, like when you sit near-ish to a campfire and still have some linger smoke aroma on your clothes, even after they’ve been airing overnight. In the puerh class I took with Victoria from MeiMei Fine Teas, she said that the smoke notes in puerhs usually come from the way that the teas are processed at the kill green stage, which is sometimes done in woks over wood fires, causing the leaves to pick up that subtle smokiness.

At the fifth infusion, for forty-five seconds, I noticed the flavor fading, but it still had such a nice mouthfeel that I was still enjoying the tea. That was the same for the sixth infusion, for a minute, so I decided to end the formal tasting there, though I might continue enjoying this tea throughout the day.

I will say, the shape of the leaves, and the little I know about the tea culture in the rural regions where puerhs were historically produced, suggests that this tea might be better enjoyed grandpa-style. Sadly, this does not lend itself well to a formal, note-taking tasting session, but I will likely try it in the future. The fact that this tea showed no bitterness seems promising for brewing it grandpa-style.

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

Meditations on a Rainy Day

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We’re getting the tail end of a hurricane today, so it is gloomy and rainy, and honestly, very nearly my favorite kind of weather (I would prefer it a little less wet, so I could go wander outside in the grey). So rather than anything more meaningful, I thought I would simply expound in random thoughts to go with this somewhat sleepy-feeling day.

As Samhain approaches, I’ve been thinking a lot about renewal and the new year. If you follow me on Instagram, you might have noticed that I’m starting a new account where I’ll concentrate more of my pagan and witchy pursuits, including my continued studies of herbalism. While I started my correspondence herbalism course in January, I had largely stopped working on it after the first lesson, but the idea of renewed efforts has me trying to start up again.

I’ve also reconnected with my meditation practices, which is the perfect practice for a rainy day. I woke this morning when it was still dark and lit a candle in my tea room. I sat for a while, considering the candle flame and listening to the soft sounds of the rain falling against the house. Breathing. In and out. No input other than my own senses. As we head into this liminal time between Samhain and the longest night, I am reminded that part of new life, of growth, is that dark and closed time at the beginning of growth, when you are still a seed under the ground.

And so I’m tucked in, cozy and dark, in my garden bed of shawls and darkness, centering and focusing, which is just the first step towards growth. I’m forging connections in my mind and gathering nourishment to me, physically, emotionally, and mentally.

As I make my way through this cooling and darkening time, I’m finding myself strongly drawn towards black teas, rather than the roasted oolongs and hojicha that I usually prefer this time of year, first thing in the morning. In one of my historical videos, I talked a bit about the historical idea that black teas were more nurturing and supportive of delicate constitutions than green teas, which were considered overly stimulating and not as healthful. So perhaps my body is appreciating that extra oxidation as I ease into each day.

Of course, I often indulge in a yancha session a bit later, perhaps once the sun has risen a bit. When it isn’t pouring rain, I will often enjoy my tea outside in the little cozy tea corner where I shoot my videos. The mossy woods fit well with the gnarled oolong leaves and the rich aromas and flavors of sandalwood and spices I get from my favorite yanchas. And on rainy days like today, I can enjoy my tea next to a window, which is the next best thing.

If you’re interested in following my witchy blog, it is called Cailleach’s Daughter and will launch on Samhain. You can also follow along on Instagram.

Is it raining where you are today? How are you enjoying the end of your week and the slide into the dark half of the year?

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

Tea Together Tuesday: The Greatest Gift…

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Today on Tea Together Tuesday, a delightful community tea prompt hosted by Tea with Jann and Tea is a Wish, the prompt is to share your dream tea gift because it’s Jann’s birthday! Happy birthday, Jann!

Well, I’m going to get a little sappy right now. Last month, we were asked about our best tea-related gift that we’ve already received and I talked about my fantastic pure silver teapot that I got for my first birthday as a mother from my own mother. But this month, I’m going to go a bit more sentimental. You see, in reality, the greatest tea-related gift I’ve gotten is the amazing virtual (and occasionally in-person) circle of tea friends I’ve made over the last few years.

The last seven months of isolation have really highlighted this, as I haven’t felt so isolated, if only because I’m talking to people almost more often. I mentioned it before, when I was heartened in the early days of COVID because of the great increase in live sessions and virtual tea events that popped up, nearly overnight, like mushrooms. But as this has dragged on, it has become very apparent to me that, as much as I miss our in-person gatherings, the virtual friend group I’ve made through a mutual love of tea has been instrumental in helping me with my mental health.

I’ve gushed about new jobs, bemoaned family issues, listened to struggles with health, and shared personal and family milestones. I’ve seen friends through the loss of family members and the welcoming of new ones (furry and otherwise). I’ve even seen friends launch new businesses and projects that I have wholeheartedly supported. The sense of community, particularly for a weird introvert like me, as been essential to my well-being.

So I think the best gift I could receive would be to be able to have a big party, like the eleventy-first birthday party from The Lord of the Rings, with everyone around at tables, having tea and just generally enjoying the company that we’ve shared virtually for so long. Of course, in the age of travel restrictions and tightening budgets, this is as much a fantasy as the hobbity inspiration, but a girl can dream.

And what a dream it is. We could set up long tables, brew copious amounts of tea. Perhaps we’d have a gongfu station (like a carving station, but better!) where people could sit around a big tea table and share in a gongfu session, while others could enjoy a British-style low tea with tiny pastries and finger sandwiches. And of course, some of us would merely opt for a good solid mug of something comforting, and a hearty meal with lots of mushrooms! But maybe we’d skip the pipeweed…

In the meantime, I’m going to content myself with the latest in Nazanin’s excellent series of holiday countdown boxes. Opening a little gift everyday has been that much more fun being able to imagine Nazanin’s face as the selected each gift. And it reminds me of the gift of amazing tea friends.

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.