Tea Together Tuesday: Pumpkin-ish

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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 “pumpkin or pumpkin-spiced tea.” Well, “pumpkin spice” can be a pretty broad category, and even the PSL progeniteur, Starbucks, has pointed out that “pumpkin spice” merely refers to the spices in pumpkin products, not the pumpkin itself, so I am going to interpret that to include any tea that blends that particular combination of spices so characteristic of my favorite pumpkin treat: pumpkin pie.

And it just so happens that I’ve been enjoying a cup of a delicious spiced beverage each morning for the last week or so. And it even looks a bit like a pumpkin-y potion. Kind of.

Yella, by Ivy’s Tea Co., is a spiced turmeric blend that you can steep in water or milk (or milk alternative). I’ve been preparing it similarly to how I make a dairy-free masala chai, by steeping it in a mixture of coconut milk and water, simmering it on the stove for five minutes, and sweetening with jaggery or honey (although it is also delicious simply steeped in hot oat milk). The bright color is from the turmeric that is the base for the blend, but it also contains cinnamon, clove, ginger, and cardamom, among other ingredients.

It also happens to be blended by an herbalist who chose a lot of the blend for both the flavor and the anti-inflammatory benefits. While I’m not an herbalist or medical doctor, I find that when I wake up feeling creaky and a little delicate of tummy, I can make up a cup of that as my first breakfast and it soothes my stomach, warms my body, and nourishes me gently. As the mornings get cooler and cooler, it’s what I keep reaching for as my first cup of the day. So I decided to go and buy a whole bunch of it to keep in a lovely jar in my cupboard so it’s always accessible.

And I’m excited to not only be supporting a Black-woman-owned-and-run business, but also a local business. In fact, Ivy’s Tea Co., until recently, used honey from the same local apiary that I buy from as the base for their infused honeys. Perhaps when we’re able to see people in, well, person, I’ll have to get together to chat herbs and hot beverages with the owners. Until then, I’ll just content myself with their lovely tea blends.

So if you’re not a PSL person and still want that burst of spicy goodness and a cheery, pumpkin-y color to welcome the autumn, perhaps it’s time to give Ivy’s Tea Co. a try. And they’re dropping a new batch of their customized teacups on November 1st!

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

Tea Together Tuesday: Yancha Season

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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 perfect tea for autumn. And, well, while I’ve talked about my love of hojicha in the autumn before, I have to say that this autumn, I’m all about yancha once more.

Last year, I got my first traditional clay pot, a Da Hong Pao Chaozhou pot from Bitterleaf Teas. I actually bought it for an historical video (I told myself), but it has come be one of my favorite pieces. But since I seasoned it with yancha, I found myself ignoring it more and more as the weather got warming and I was less drawn to the rich, nutty, roasted flavors of what is probably my favorite of my favorite teas. Now, as the days grow shorter and the mornings cooler, I find I want that warm, comforting roasted flavor.

Yancha is rock oolong tea from the Wuyi mountains in China. It’s typically roasted, and can have aromas of fragrant woods, flowers, or even fruit, with a pronounced minerality in the flavor, call the “rock taste.” The naming of the teas and the (likely-apocryphal) stories behind many of those names lends a sense of romance and whimsy to a tea that hardly needs the help. While I had had yanchas in the past, it was when I got my Chaozhou pot and knew I wanted to use it to recreate Yuan Mei’s introduction to Wuyi oolongs that I really started appreciating all yancha had to offer.

Now, this particular tea is from one of my favorite, Wuyi-focused tea companies (although I have a couple right now — if you’re in DC, definitely check out Valley Brook Tea in Dupont Circle!) and one that I discovered when I first started focusing on yancha: Old Ways Tea. Over the last year, I’ve gotten to know many of their teas quite well. While I’m not a fan of the packaging waste, I like that their teas are conveniently packaged to try just a little (or share with friends!). If I were in the mood to write a “gift guide,” I might mention that the traditional 5-8g packages would make excellent stocking stuffers.

Anyway, this tea is their Lao Cong Shui Xian, or Old Tree Shui Xian. The leaves are appropriately gnarled and large, like the roots of an old tree, and the flavor is warm and complex. I get a strong roast note, but in a fragrant way, like sandalwood or incense, and a sweetness that reminds me of maple syrup. The whole effect is like autumn in a cup, or seven. Of course, the autumnal color palette of the seasoned clay doesn’t hurt the effect. It reminds me of crisp winds and falling leaves, misty mornings, and the smell of smoke in the distance. It’s close and cozy without being stifling or cloying. And after a long, hot summer of cold-brewed green teas, I’m ready for it again.

NB: I don’t rightly know if this is a tea that I purchased or if it is one of the gifts that Phil tends to tuck into my orders from them, but I was not provided any particular incentive to feature it here. If you are interested in collaborating with me, please read my collaboration information for more details.

The Virus Diaries: Self-Sufficiency

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This week, I experienced something rather new: Having the house to myself for most of the day. It was very… quiet. But it was nice to have time truly alone, without having to worry that they’d be back in twenty minutes from a walk, and I was happy to have my family back in the house at the end of the day. It’s interesting to feel a bit like things are returning to “normal” while still recognizing that things are still completely different than they were in the Before Times.

One thing that I didn’t realize I was miss so terribly are all the little things that I associate with being out and about, running errands, or seeing friends, or just going out to eat. And the most prominent of these things is bubble tea.

Yes, bubble tea. Let me explain.

You see, I almost never actually go out for bubble tea. It’s something that we get when we’re out somewhere for another reason and end up seeing a bubble tea place and I decide I also want bubble tea. I got bubble tea when we went to see a movie a year and a half ago, or when we go to our favorite local ramen place, or when we met some friends for Korean BBQ. But I never just think “Oh, I want to go out just for some bubble tea.” Which meant that bubble tea was something that basically disappeared from my life once I stopped going out. There were no incidentals. Even though there is a bubble tea place near the grocery store, it’s not something I’m going to ask Dan to go out of his way to bring back on one of his biweekly shopping trips. Grocery shopping is all business now.

And at the same time, while we’ve relaxed our concerns about delivery food, I haven’t felt like it was worth the frivolous expenditure to get delivery bubble tea. Maybe if the place we get dinner from occasionally had my preferred drink (milk oolong, with brown sugar and tapioca pearls), it would have been different, but paying the service charge, delivery fee, and a tip for a $4 bubble tea just seemed too excessive, even for me.

So that meant I had to learn how to make it myself. Having done some research on the history of bubble tea (yup, future historical video will be forthcoming), I knew I wanted a Taiwanese-owned company, so I consulted my friend and Taiwanese-American extraordinaire, Jude Chao of Fifty Shades of Snails, who directed me to Teaspoons Co., a Canadian-based business that sells bubble tea necessities and kits. I decided to buy a la carte, instead of getting one of their inclusive kits, so I could get exactly what I wanted: tapioca pearls, roasted oolong tea, black sugar syrup, powdered creamer, and a reusable thick bubble tea straw (rose gold because I’m fancy).

It was surprisingly quick to get to me, given that it was coming from Canada, and Canada Post and USPS have spent most of the last six months in a grand competition to see who can be the slowest, but it arrived pretty quickly, and I was able to dive in. It comes with extensive instructions for preparing everything, with measurements down to the gram if you’re ridiculous like me and own a gram scale to measure what you make.

And it’s easy! The only tricky part is that you can’t save cooked tapioca pearls, so you have to make them when you know you want bubble tea, but they also take a little less than an hour to cook, so you basically have to decide you want boba and then wait an hour. But it’s mostly inactive time. I’ll probably do a video where I make it on camera so you can see how I do things, but the short answer is that I learned that the best way to get that lovely frothy, bubble-y tea is to shake the prepared tea, syrup, creamer powder, and ice in a mason jar until it gets cold, and then top it with your tapioca pearls, which promptly sink to the bottom.

Then, just slurp it up and pretend you’re out with friends and just happened to stop into a bubble tea place. It’s a little less spontaneous, but no less delicious.

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

Tea Together Tuesday: Coffee Talk

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 if you enjoy coffee or if you are strictly a tea/tisane person. Of course, if you’ve followed my Instagram for a while, you’ll know that, before I had Elliot, we used to go to our favorite coffee shop, Vigilante Coffee, every weekend where I had my weekly coffee drink. You see, I also love coffee, but sadly it doesn’t love me back. I find that if I have plain black coffee, it upsets my stomach, and even if I have a drink with milk, it’s not great on my digestion.

But like many things in my life, sometimes it’s worth it to risk it for a cup of something delicious. About three years ago, my spouse Dan and I took advantage of a mid-week holiday to go to the weekly coffee cupping at Vigilante’s roastery in Hyattsville, where we had the opportunity to not only learn about coffee cupping technique, but also to try four of their excellent single-origin coffees, including two that Cup of Excellence coffees. Dan loves that Vigilante generally roasts their coffees lighter than the popular nationwide coffee chains, and I… well, I just love tasting things. Tea, whisky, wine, coffee. If it tastes good, I’m going to be there.

In fact, if you happened to be around when Dan and I tried to start a food blog, you’ll remember our post about cupping at Vigilante. Now, due to other factors at play in our lives during the end of 2017 and into 2018, we didn’t manage to continue the blog for long, but we did continue visiting Vigilante Coffee. I even managed a visit two days before I went into the hospital to give birth to Elliot! Their coffee is not only carefully sourced in partnership with farmers around the world, but the care they take in roasting it shines through in the elegant and complex flavors. I’m not usually a fan of acidic coffee, but their coffees have this characteristic brightness that isn’t unpleasant.

Sadly, we moved away from Vigilante last year and, while we were visiting a local cafe that serves their coffee for a while, the pandemic brought that to an end. Dan has started getting their coffee subscription delivered as we’ve moved towards getting more and more of our local food delivered, but I haven’t been able to indulge in a barista drink for a while. My go-to was a flat white, which has the most velvety milk texture, going beautifully with their espresso.

But for now, I’ll mostly enjoy the delightful aromas whenever Dan makes his morning coffee and hope to get my flat white again soon.

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

Tea Together Tuesday: On Gifts and Love Languages

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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 the best gift you’ve received since beginning your tea journey. Well, I would be completely remiss if I didn’t talk about my number one supporter of my love of tea and teaware: My mother. She has given me at least half the vintage cups in my collection, as well as plenty of my other teaware. In our family, little gifts, often for no particular reason, are one of the ways we show love, and gifts for events (birthdays, holidays, celebrating milestones, etc.) doubly so.

So I would have to say that the best gift I’ve gotten has been her amazing gift of a pure silver teapot for my birthday last year. After Elliot’s birth, I went through a period of time of rediscovering my identity, and moving away from being “that tea lady” to identifying myself more with my role as a parent. But eventually, I did have to return to tea beyond a simple mug of grandpa-style brew, and this gift had a lot to do with that. In addition to just being completely gorgeous, it represented a new kind of teaware that I needed to investigate and experiment with.

I first heard about the benefits of pure silver teaware while reading Char’s blog Oolong Owl, and later realized that Scott of Yunnan Sourcing uses one in his videos on YouTube. Similarly to unglazed clays, the 99% (or higher) purity silver reacts with the tea inside and can change the flavor of your tea in interesting ways. I chose to start with silver and not clay for a very simple reason: I am clumsy and would be less likely to break a metal teapot. Plus, silver isn’t absorbent like clay can be and you can use it for multiple types of teas without worrying about flavor mixing.

But they are rather pricey, generally running at least $250-500. So I was excited when my mother, who always strives to make sure we really treat ourselves to something frivolous and impractical for our birthdays, had me pick out a teapot and a tea subscription to go with it. So now I had a beautiful new piece of teaware to excite my tea passions, as well as months of new teas.

Over the year and a half that I’ve had it, I’ve come to get to know the pot quite a bit. I find that it tends to soften and smooth out teas, so it’s nice with a slightly edgy black tea or raw puer, but I think my favorite in it is aged white tea. I was chatting with Misha from Path of Cha and he mentioned that he likes aged white teas in silver, so I pulled out a neglected cake of Shou Mei that I got off Amazon and, wow, the combination of a little age and the silver made it much more enjoyable than I had remembered. It wasn’t bad, just forgettable, and the silver really made it syrupy and sweet.

And from here, I realized that I would eventually actually have to try a clay pot…

NB: The pot featured in this post was a gift from my mother. If you are interested in collaborating, please see my collaboration and contact information.

Tea Tasting: Purple au Naturalé from Leafberri

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It’s a good old-fashioned tea tasting! Recently, I found the company Leafberri, which sells purple tea from Kenya, and since purple is my favorite color, I had to try it. So today I’m sharing my (limited) tasting notes from the Purple au Naturalé from Leafberri, which is a pure purple tea with no other flavorings. They also sell blends and some black teas.

Now the history of tea cultivation in African countries is interesting and rich in and of itself, and I certainly plan to delve into it, particularly the connections to British colonization, in a future post. But purple tea is not a product of the British-driven mass-production of commodity tea (except in as much as it is made from the Assamica cultivar that was introduced to Africa by colonizers) on the continent. Instead, it is an artisan product from a newly-developed cultivar of the tea plant that concentrates anthocyanin pigments in the leaves, leading to the purple color. Yes, those are the same antioxidants found in blueberries. The tea represents 25 years of research, and is produced on small farms adhering to sustainable practices, providing a livelihood to the artisans who create the tea, rather than feeding into the commodity tea machine that I’ve mentioned before. Leafberri is also a Black-owned company with family ties to Kenya, where the tea is grown and processed.

The most fascinating thing to me is that, while the leaves look most similar to a black or oxidized oolong tea, the leaves do not undergo oxidation. Instead, they are put through something similar to a kill green process, which halts oxidation, before being rolled and dried. So they look like black tea leaves, but they have a unique flavor that reminds me of many things. The first time I tried this tea, I was reminded, oddly, of yancha, likely because of the woody notes in the flavor, but later sessions reminded me of a young sheng puerh, probably because I experimented with hotter water. So I decided to sit down with my cupping set and take careful notes.

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I used 3 grams of leaf in my 120-ml cupping set with boiling water. I did not pre-warm my tea ware, but still was able to detect a faint herbal aroma from the dry leaf. I brewed it for three minutes. The wet leaf smells very much like a green tea, particularly a green tea from Yunnan, which is unsurprising, given the cultivar. On my first sip, I detected a strong, clean bitter note. I couldn’t even really place the quality of the bitterness because there were no accompanying flavors muddying it. It had no astringency or stridency. Just a clean bitterness that was rather pleasant. It was similar to a young sheng, as I mentioned before.

But the mouthfeel was juicy, and reminded me of blackberries. If you’ve ever had blackberries that are ever so slightly underripe, that is exactly what I detected in the mouthfeel and aftertaste. I was curious, so I tried another steeping for three minutes, after which the bitterness started to soften and allowed this fruitiness to come forward. I would characterize it as a true fruity note, not exactly a sweetness.

Sadly, after the second steeping, my toddler decided to pull the entire tea set onto the floor, and I did not fancy seeing what cat hair added to the flavor profile, but this is definitely a tea I will be revisiting many times. Plus, y’know, purple.

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

Tea Together Tuesday: Tutti Fruitti

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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 fruity tea. Now, I’m not generally a fan of fruit-flavored teas, so this was a pretty easy choice. Those of you who have read my post on cold-brewing teas know that when I first started to experiment with cold brewing, I decided to try to make a gussied-up version of Wawa peach iced tea. Well, adding sweetness and fruit to iced teas is one thing I love in the summer, and it is definitely still summer here, but when I don’t feel like faffing about with homemade fruit syrups, I’ve found a fantastic substitute: Pharaoh Tea Company’s Ceylon Apricot, cold brewed with a touch of honey.

I was contacted by Pharaoh Tea Company, a Black-owned tea gift box company in Atlanta, Georgia, that sells an “all-in-one” box that includes loose tea, fillable tea bags, and two choices for sweetener — sugar and honey. They offered to send me one of their boxes to try, so I opted to try the Ceylon Apricot because, while I don’t love fruit-flavored teas generally, I do love all things apricot, and then they also suggested I try the Wild Strawberry. Well, while both were lovely, the apricot was by far my favorite. The fruit flavor is subtle and balanced and doesn’t overpower or taste fake, plus it has some gorgeous big chunks of dried apricot that rehydrate when you steep the tea!

But when I saw this prompt, I knew I had to try this tea cold-brewed. I added 12g of the tea to a litre of water and added about 2 Tbsp. of honey and cold-steeped that overnight. The perfect touch of sweetness brought out the juicy, refreshing apricot, and, with a twist of lemon for acidity, it made the perfect late afternoon summer refresher.

I was contacted by Pharaoh Tea Company, a Black-owned tea gift box company in Atlanta, Georgia, that sells an “all-in-one” box that includes loose tea, fillable tea bags, and two choices for sweetener — sugar and honey. They offered to send me one of their boxes to try, so I opted to try the Ceylon Apricot because, while I don’t love fruit-flavored teas generally, I do love all things apricot, and then they also suggested I try the Wild Strawberry. Well, while both were lovely, the apricot was by far my favorite. The fruit flavor is subtle and balanced and doesn’t overpower or taste fake, plus it has some gorgeous big chunks of dried apricot that rehydrate when you steep the tea!

But when I saw this prompt, I knew I had to try this tea cold-brewed. I added 12g of the tea to a litre of water and added about 2 Tbsp. of honey and cold-steeped that overnight. The perfect touch of sweetness brought out the juicy, refreshing apricot, and, with a twist of lemon for acidity, it made the perfect late afternoon summer refresher. Since I don’t actually drink a lot of sweetened drinks, I was also glad that I was able to keep it for a couple days without noticing the flavor changing or it going off.

I’m also curious to try it with cardamom or rosewater or even rose petals added in to blend with the apricot, as apricot, cardamom, and rose often go well together. I also wonder what it would be like sweetened with sugar, rather than honey. But for now, I’m glad I’ve found this delicious way to cool off as we finish out the summer!

NB: This product was sent free of charge in exchange for featuring. All thoughts are my own. If you are interested in collaborating, please see my collaboration and contact information.

Tea Together Tuesday: How Do You Brew?

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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 method of brewing tea. Well, I can never waste an opportunity to wax rhapsodic about grandpa- or farmer-style brewing — also known as probably the most common way to brew tea in China. I’ve definitely talked about grandpa-style brewing in the past, both here and on my YouTube channel, but it is worth repeating.

Why is grandpa style my favorite way to brew tea? Quite simply because it’s, well, quite simple. It is the least effort to put into a cup of tea and often gives you the broadest look at the flavor profile of a tea. I’ve found notes in teas that surprised me when I brew them grandpa style.

But wait, what is grandpa-style brewing? Well, you take the tea leaves and put them in a large-ish vessel. And then you add water. And then… you drink. Yes, you will probably drink some leaves. It’s okay, they won’t hurt you. And you don’t worry about timing or even really water temperature or leaf ratio. It’s generally better to use fewer leaves because then they’re more likely to get saturated and sink as you go. But, really, if your tea becomes too unpleasantly strong, you just add more water. There are some people who think this can only be done with certain teas, but I have done it successfully with all kinds of teas.

Some of my favorite teas for grandpa-style brewing are unroasted oolongs, like this Baozhong oolong from The Steeped Leaf. I find that brewing them this way allows the full expression of creamy and fruity notes to come out, plus the leaves are bigger and less likely to get slurped up once they’ve fully unfurled. In fact, this is the method of loose-leaf tea drinking that I tend to recommend to people who are trying high-quality loose leaf teas because you probably have everything but the tea at home already.

Personally, I usually use a big mug to drink grandpa-style, but I like the aesthetics of using this vintage pressed-glass glass so you can see the leaves. And most of us have a drinking glass at home. I’ve done this with regular Ikea drinking glasses, or a novelty pint glass from a local radio station. I also use my insulated flask to bring a grandpa-style brew with me on my commute. All you need is a vessel big enough to let the leaves unfurl and still take up less than half of the volume (so you still have some liquid to drink after the leaves have absorbed it).

In professional tea tasting, grandpa-style is very similar to bowl brewing, where the leaves and water are placed in a tea bowl and sipped, often with a tasting spoon. Shiuwen of Floating Leaves Tea has said that she likes bowl-style tasting because she can get a sense of how the tea changes as it sits. I like it because I can easily make a cup of tea and just need to reheat the kettle if I need more tea and my glass has gone cold. This was actually the only way I drank tea the first few weeks after I had Elliot because we didn’t have a lot of extra time or energy for more complicated brewing.

As I mentioned before, it is also one of the more common ways to drink tea in China, either in a glass like I’ve shown, or in an insulated flask like I mentioned before. In fact, my Chinese and Korean colleagues used to tease me for actually worrying about straining out the leaves from my tea. They would chuck some tea in a mug, fill it with hot water, and put a lid on it to keep warm. Bob’s your uncle.

So while I might have an ever-increasing collection of fancy tea ware, my favorite brewing method will likely remain the humble grandpa-style cup.

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

Difficult History: Feminization and White Supremacy in British Tea Culture

This is an ongoing series on injustices perpetuated through the history and present of Western tea culture.

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This month’s installment of “Difficult History” is one that I have had in mind to write since I first started A Thirst for Empire and read the introduction, in which the author hints at the complex interplay of white supremacy and misogyny that led to the marketing of tea as a feminine commodity. When we think of a cup of tea, particularly in the Western style, we often think of something distinctly feminine, perhaps with aspects of old-fashioned femininity attached to it. We think of it as something our grandmothers would do. We joke about burly men drinking tea. We refer to our Chinese-inspired practice as “kung fu tea” to emphasize its difference from the feminized British afternoon tea image. But the original white drinkers of tea were explorers (colonizers), imperialists, and missionaries, who were largely men. So how did tea go from a drink of explorers to a drink of dainty ladies?

Well, the early seeds of this were likely planted in the 18th century, as tea became more popular among all classes of people in Britain. In 1733, John Waldron wrote in his A Satyr against Tea that rather than curing headaches and improving virility, as was claimed by some medical texts of the 17th and 18th centuries, tea would instead turn men into bed-wetters and made them womanish in their lust for luxury and waste. Later, in 1756, Jonas Hanaway wrote in his An Essay on Tea (a text that was addressed “to two ladies”) that tea had turned the Chinese into “the most effeminate people on the face of the whole earth,” as contrasted with the manly British. While he goes on to bemoan adulturation and lack of quality control of Chinese tea, his ultimate message is that tea-sipping turns you into a womanish person — like those dreadfully effeminate Chinese.

It is important to remember that at this point, the first attempt of the Chinese government to stem the import of opium from British traders, who used it to trade for tea, had been enacted in 1729. The relationship between Britain and China had started to sour and there was some controversy about whether it was wholly patriotic and British to drink a foreign drink like tea. While the British tried to paint the Chinese as savage or backwards, like they had done in other parts of the world they seized and exploited, it seemed that they couldn’t quite make that stick. So instead, they othered the Chinese by calling their refinement and culture feminine. And tried to demonize Chinese tea as both feminizing, thereby making it dangerous to soldiers and other manly British men, and also potentially contaminated with any number of poisons, as the Chinese had a near-monopoly on the production and export of tea at this time (Japanese tea export would not flourish until the 19th century).

Eventually, the British would ignite the Opium Wars in the 19th century and there would be a focused effort to move British tea consumption away from an independent China to the British-controlled India and Ceylon. By the time tea production in India had become industrially viable on the scale needed, in the late 19th century, the marketing had been cemented. British-controlled Indian tea was pure while Chinese tea was foreign and therefore suspect. In fact, a lot of these attitudes persist into the modern day.

But tea was still associated more strongly with the British woman than with men. In the early 19th century, the temperance movement caught on that tea could be used as a social beverage in place of spirits. However, some advocates of temperance and frugality could not get behind tea. In his 1822 Cottage Economy, William Cobbett refers to tea as, among other evils, “an an engenderer of effeminacy and laziness.” Echoing this sentiment, Esther Copley wrote in her Cottage Comforts, recommends instead to use “the common herbs of mint and balm,” which are just as good as tea, and cheaper and not likely to damage one’s strength. Yet, the temperance tea party seems to have caught on, at least in part due to the idea of the supposed civilizing effect of tea, which is somewhat ironic considering it was originally demonized for its association with the feeble and effeminate Chinese.

By 1874, in his book titled Foods, Dr. Edward Smith says “If to be an Englishman is to eat beef, to be an Englishwoman is to drink tea.” And therein is condensed the attitude that seems to have persisted to the modern day. Men eat steak and women sip tea. And it was with that attitude that British dealers of commodity tea that had been produced in colonized South Asia embarked upon their advertising campaigns. But this time, rather than simply using women as the target customer, they also used the white woman as a symbol. A white girl or a white woman was used as the symbol the tea’s purity, thereby taking on yet another layer of the complicated blanket of white supremacy that cloaks Western tea culture to this day.

And that, I suppose, is the upshot of this meandering historical argument. The idea that British tea culture is a feminine interest stems first from the idea of British superiority over the Chinese, due to their effeminate ways, and eventually became a distillation of white supremacist ideas of the purity of white womanhood as women became symbols for the purity of a product controlled by British imperialism over a product from an independent Asian nation. So when we parrot this idea, that tea is feminine, either by buying into it or by trying to subvert it and assume that tea needs to be “made masculine,” we are perpetuating this historical idea that Chinese=womanly=bad. And I say “we” because I am equally guilty of taking this idea of the tea-sipping lady as a given in my own practice. But, knowing better, we can realize that tea is simply a beverage and has no gender, nor do any particular trappings of tea. We can each choose and drink the tea we like the way we like it without having to apologize for being a man who likes mango-tango white tea buds or a woman who likes a Lapsang strong enough to make Winston Churchill blush (not that I’m aware of him ever feeling shame). So romanize your Chinese-inspired tea practice as “kung fu” or pull out your laciest doilies, but try not to see it as the masculine or feminine versions of tea, but rather as a culture that has passed all over the world though centuries of changes, and has landed here, on your tea table.

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

Sources:

A Thirst for Empire, by Erika Rappaport [link]

Foods, by Edward Smith [link]

An essay on tea, by Jonas Hanaway [link]

Cottage Comforts, by Esther Copley [link]

Cottage Economy, by William Cobbett [link]

Tea Together Tuesday: Soaking Up the Sun

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

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

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

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

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

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