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 “mug shot” or your favorite tea in your favorite mug. Well, I don’t really play favorites with my tea, but my mugs are another thing. So this morning, I’m sharing the tea I drink most often in the mug that has been part of my tea journey for a long time.
Most mornings, especially since we started isolating at home in March, I make myself a pot of stovetop masala chai as my first breakfast. It’s light for my first-thing-in-the-morning stomach, but it provides a little hit of energy after a long fast since dinner and perhaps an early morning yoga practice. It’s warming and soothing, so even in summer, the mornings feel cool enough to want that bit of coziness. And after an invigorating yoga practice, when I’ve built some heat in my body, I don’t want to throw a bunch of cold water into my stomach right away.
So I generally rise with the sun (or before!) and do my yoga, perhaps a bit of meditation, maybe take some time to myself to check social media or read a book. And I make a pot of masala chai, which I often pour into what I call my Ithaca mug. I got it from a local potter’s stall at the farmers market when I was in college and first lived on my own in a one-bedroom apartment that teetered over the edge of Cascadilla Gorge. Back then, I made my morning coffee while looking out over the gorge in the morning and drank it out of this mug, or I would make a cup of peppermint tea in the evenings to sip after dinner from the mug.
To me, it symbolizes my first steps towards adulthood and self-sufficiency. It reminds me of meals that I planned and prepared myself, and of days in my solitary apartment, something I didn’t experience again until seven years later when I divorced my first husband. The Ithaca mug represents my time in Ithaca, where I started learning who I am and how to be comfortable alone with that person. I learned the value of solitude in my life. And I learned the value of a morning routine, no matter how small.
Of course, on a more utilitarian note, the mug is big. It can easily hold 12 oz. of tea with plenty of extra room if I carry it back to the bedroom to sit with Elliot while my spouse takes a shower. It’s a heavy, handmade mug, and it’s bottom-heavy, so it’s difficult to spill. I’ve dropped it more times than I remember and it has survived. And the top being slightly narrower than the base helps keep things hot longer.
Unlike most of my teaware, this mug gets washed in the dishwasher, or with soap. This is not a mug for tasting small amounts of a fine tea. It is a mug for a builder’s brew or a cup of strong coffee. It is a mug to comfort and sustain. So when I make my masala chai for it, I make it strong. I boil together Assam, my current favorite being from Calabash Tea and Tonic (of course if you like your tea and spices pre-blended, Calabash’s Love Potion #10 is also excellent when I’m not in the mood to prepare my own spices), lots of spices, some brown sugar, and some coconut milk, along with the water. I make sure it simmers for at least five minutes, usually more. It makes an eye-opening brew, and this mug is perfect for it.
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 “straight” tea and how you like to make it. I assume straight tea is simply unblended, unflavored tea, something that I drink quite often, so obviously I cannot choose just one favorite. But I can share my favorite tea of the moment (I have, unfortunately, run out of the Baozhong that so captivated me a few weeks ago).
I received this Colombian White Tea from Chado Tea Room as PR a little while ago. I actually used their Egyptian chamomile in my Hercule Poirot literary tea session, and chose the Colombian white as my second sample because it was just so intriguing. Who knew they grew and processed white tea in Colombia? Well, I shared my thoughts a little while ago, but one thing I hadn’t tried was cold-brewing it. Yes, it is still nearly 100 degrees Fahrenheit here most afternoons, so cold tea is the way to go.
And oh my goodness! This tea is delightful cold-brewed. It has that soft tannin coupled with a sugarcane-juice sweetness that I associate with Taiwanese black teas, without the hay-like quality I get in the flavor of some leaf-heavy white teas. But the cold-brewed version had a peach note to it that made it just taste like summer. It almost tasted like peach sweet tea, but without anything added. I had grand designs to make some sort of tea cocktail or mocktail with it, but I drank the entire litre of tea before adding anything to it, so this is certainly the straightest of straight teas. Nothing added because nothing is needed.
I’ve definitely found myself gravitating towards white teas these days. I think if I had to associate specific teas with specific seasons, I would put green teas with spring, white teas with summer, roasted oolongs and hojicha with autumn, and black teas with winter, but the unique flavor of this tea makes it one I could see myself drinking all year round. But brewed cold, it is just the essence of summer.
What’s your favorite tea? Does it change by the season?
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 transports you back to a specific moment in time. Now, while I have many, many tea-related memories, I was reminded of the one I’m going to share this week when I was filming my video this weekend on Tea with Catherine the Great. I made an offhand reference to how I was fascinated with the Russian practice of drinking strong tea with a lump of sugar held in the mouth.
I used to sit in my family’s tattered old wingchair, curled up with a book, sipping tea out of my very first thrifted tea cup, with a sugar cube. I would dip the cube at first, sip a little through the cube, and then eventually usually give up and toss a whole sugar cube in my cup of tea without bothering to stir, so I would get a gradient of flavor, similar to the idea behind East Frisian tea.
So today, I made myself a cup of Georgian black tea with a lump of sugar (homemade because I can’t simply run to the shop right now), and curled up in my own wingchair. I was instantly transported back to reading Crime and Punishment in my old chair, in our living room, a rather more formal room than our recreation room, with the comfortable sofa and the television. Our living room had a fancier sofa that my mother would sit on at the same time, just across the room, reading her own book. I remember spending hours like this, occasionally looking up to chat for a moment, or to go and get the telephone (the cord stretched all the way to the sofa). There was a window with some lace drapes by the chair so I had natural light as well as whatever lamps we had on. I could read here for ages, until I was fairly peeled up from my seat for a meal or some other responsibility.
And I read Crime and Punishment for fun when I was going through my phase of being fascinated by Russian culture. It was more of an aesthetic fascination, I think, before that was really something that was put into words. The dark atmosphere and gritty realism that it seemed permeated a lot of these works appealed to a privileged teenager just exploring rebellion and ennui. And of course, it went well with a cup of tea that was bitter at the top and sweet at the end.
Of course, I could re-read Dostoyevsky while I sip my time travel in a teacup, but instead I’ve opted to curl up with a book I have yet to finish. Enchantments was recommended to me by a coworker who has since moved on to another job, and I still haven’t gotten more than a couple chapters in. But perhaps the memories of afternoons spent absorbed in my childish concept of this mysterious foreign culture will inspire me to find the time to read the rest. If not, at least I will have a nice cup of tea.
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 way to jazz up iced tea. Now I have waxed rhapsodic about my love of cold-brewed tea over the years, most recently in my back-to-back videos about cold brewing both in plain water and sparkling, but today I am, surprisingly, not going to talk about cold brew!
After all, the prompt is “iced” tea, and I frequently never pour my cold-brewed teas over ice! I was also reminded when I signed onto social media this morning that it happens to be the Fête Nationale (or Bastille Day), during which French people and Francophiles around the world celebrate the liberation of the French Revolution. Since I spent much of my remembered childhood in a former Ursuline academy, I grew up steeped in French culture, and it seemed only appropriate to celebrate this festival at the end of Messidor, leading into the steamy Thermidor month, with a bleu-blanc-rouge inspired iced tea.
I was heavily inspired by Traci of Tea Infusiast, both to try her iced tea technique (borrowed from Taylor of Cup of Té) and create a Bastille Day inspired iced tea. I used the shaken iced tea technique to create a delightfully frothy chilled tea, using some White Silver Tips from the Rare Tea Company, and then strained it into a coupe glass (which has an appropriately-French apocryphal origin) studded with some fresh strawberries and blueberries. The froth almost gives it a champagne-like look, and the combination of the strongly-steeped silver needle tea with the slight dilution and muting of flavors from the chilling yields a tea that tastes like a summer day, with notes of fresh hay and summer stone fruits. It reminds me of walking through a peach orchard at the height of summer, where the grass is a little dry from the heat, and the scent of dry grass and peaches permeates the air. The strong steeping also reminds you that silver needle white tea, contrary to popular belief, can be rather high in caffeine, which concentrates in the tips of the tea plant. After a couple glasses of this, I was ready to take on the monarchy, or at least my ever-expanding to-do list.
While the fruit does not so much imbue the tea with its flavor (although you get a lovely whiff of strawberry as you sip), the tea-soaked fruit at the end makes a lovely treat. I also encourage you to try this with actual champagne, as raspberries that have steeped in champagne is not only delicious, but one of our family’s Christmas traditions.
So in keeping with the community theme and the ideal of brotherhood celebrated on Bastille day, I offer up this community-inspired tea drink. Sip in good health and good company, be it in person or virtually.
NB: Nothing to disclose. The tea mentioned was purchased by me and I was not paid or incentivized to write this post. If you are interested in collaborating, please see my collaboration and contact information.
Not “favorite from a small business” or “favorite from a Black-owned business.” Favorite. Period. This tea is creamy, slightly sweet in that way that very fresh local cream is sweet, and has a gorgeous floral bouquet (it’s pronounced “boo-kay”). I’ve even started seasoning my newest Yixing pot with it even though it isn’t the right kind of tea for the clay and shape, AND I already have two clay pots that have been seasoned with oolong. But the pot loves this oolong as much as I do. I am certainly going to have to buy some more soon because it turns out an ounce doesn’t go very far, now does it?
I’ve tasted this both in porcelain and glazed clay, and in my unglazed Yixing pot. It steeps beautifully gongfu style, but I’ve also made a western-style cup and it retains its beautiful character. It doesn’t have a bite to it like some green oolongs can get when steeped too long, but it opens up into a gorgeous cup of flavor at the first short steeping. I can toss some of this into my gaiwan or pot in the morning and drink it all day as I make my way through a day that is often too hectic for a single, focused long gongfu session. And even Elliot likes it — he stole a sip the other day when it had cooled off and promptly declared it “Nummy.”
If The Steeped Leaf Shop sounds familiar, it’s because I wrote a similarly effusive post on Instagram last week for Matcha Monday about their ceremonial matcha. Wow. I’m all the more excited to try the sencha that Tammy tucked into my shipment as a free sample because so far she’s two for two with curating excellent teas.
I’ve written in the past about my frustration and suspicion of formal tea certifications, but when Tammy says she’s a certified tea specialist, I absolutely believe her, having tasted her teas. And she’s incredibly communicative and friendly, both on social media and via email. So even if your order falls victim to COVID-related shipping issues, you will know what’s going on and have utter faith in the process.
I know this sounds sponsored, but I promise it’s not. I just really like this tea. If you’re in the market for tea, I highly recommend checking her shop out. Shop small, shop Black-owned when you can, and always drink excellent tea!
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.
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!
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.
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.
Today on Tea Together Tuesday, a delightful community tea prompt hosted by Tea with Jann and Tea is a Wish, the prompt is to share your favorite tea for making a tea latte. Now, I don’t make a lot of tea lattes, but when I do, it’s usually matcha or hojicha. But I thought I would take this prompt in a different direction.
Several weeks ago I had a dream that I got a tea care package from the lovely Jann herself and in it was a matcha latte mix that was flavored with rose and had glitter in it! I woke up determined to recreate this idea of a glitter rose matcha latte.
Now, first I had to source the glitter. I found Brew Glitter online and was pleased to see that I could order a sample of a few different colors, since I didn’t know what I would like best, and I’m not planning on making a gallon of matcha latte. I got white, clear, rose gold, red, and green, and they shipped very quickly. I’ve decided to accent the green of the matcha with rose gold glitter. Though the photo shows that the glitter doesn’t show up well in pictures, in real life, it’s quite pretty. I mixed a pinch of glitter with the matcha before whisking and then sprinkled a little more on top of the frothed milk before pouring it into the matcha.
Rose is one of my favorite flavors, too, and I love the subtle, Turkish-delight flavor that rosewater gives this, as opposed to infusing rosebuds. A little goes a long way, but definitely add it to your taste, and I find a dash of sugar helps it come out.
Whisk up the matcha with a pinch of glitter and an ounce of water and add to the bottom of your cup. Add the sugar and rosewater to the hot milk and froth. Add a pinch of glitter to the top of the froth and pour into the matcha.
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.