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: A Cuppa Politics

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Alternate title: “The Boston Tea Party is Relevant Today and Not For the Reasons You Think”

Yes, another one. Apparently, a follower on Instagram who had missed my previous three posts on the political history of tea decided to tell me that “tea should be relaxing, not political.” Obviously, I disagree. And plenty of my other followers immediately came into my DMs with “Yeah, have they never heard of the Boston Tea Party?!” Oh yes, we’re doing the Boston Tea Party today.

But guess what? The Boston Tea Party isn’t what you think it is. It’s come up a lot recently because of the violence, property damage, and looting that occurred surrounding the protests in support of Black lives this year. People on one side of the argument pointed out that looting is considered patriotic when it’s white people destroying tea, while others turned to refute that by ascribing higher morals and debunking that the Boston Tea Party was at all similar to looting Target.

So, in case there are people who aren’t familiar with the “Boston Tea Party,” as it has been come to be called since the 19th century, it was an event in December 1773 when a group of men disguised themselves and destroyed a shipment of tea belonging to the British East India Company. But the details of the event, and its significance in the motivations for the American Revolution, have been shrouded in the mythology of the noble founding fathers.

The myth is that a group of noble Sons of Liberty valiantly destroyed only the tea belonging to the British East India Company in protest of the taxes levied by the crown, selflessly refusing to take anything for themselves or to touch any private property. After this single, glorious act, the cause of liberty was begun, leading to the American Revolution, which freed the colonies and created the new democratic country of the United States of America. Well… it’s actually a lot more nuanced than that.

First of all, they were not protesting higher taxes. They were actually, technically, protesting lower taxes. The Tea Act of 1773 granted license to the East India Tea Company to import their tea without the typical duties levied against other teas coming into the colonies. This amounted to a decrease in the cost of tea for the colonists, if they bought EIC tea. Now, Malcolm Gladwell has argued that the real motivation was that the tax break for the EIC meant that smugglers were now getting undercut, but that seems to be a slightly reductive, naive reading of the situation.

Instead, the main concern was not that tea was too expensive, but that the colonists were protesting the levying of taxes without their input and the fact that the Crown was giving a specific tax break to one large company, effectively granting them a monopoly. The phrase “no taxation without representation” became a rallying cry, not because taxes were too high, but because they were too biased. In fact, the phrase “End Taxation Without Representation” still appears on DC license plates, as the District is federally taxed without full representation in Congress, and yet DC statehood is not supported by many conservatives for *reasons*.

And, yes, notable founding fathers like George Washington and John Adams wrote negatively about “the destruction of the tea,” as it was called at the time. While they supported the cause of colonial liberty (well, for them, at least), they spoke out of both sides of their mouths, lest they sever ties with their business contacts. In my video “Tea with Abigail Adams,” I discuss how, despite the perception that drinking tea was unpatriotic immediately following the destruction of the tea, Americans seemed to have quickly forgotten their newfound protest and return to tea-drinking rather quickly. Adams writes frequently in the years after 1773 about some new tea or other that he has tried and wanted to send home to his wife, and Abigail Adams includes bohea tea in her list of household expenses.

Plus, many of John’s business contacts were in the hospitality business and maintained ties to British ideology in order to serve foreign dignitaries. The politics of business has always been murky. So it is nothing new when a modern company posts support for a cause one day, but continues the practices that benefit them the next. In fact, this is part of the legacy of the Boston Tea Party.

Now, we get to the ideological effect of the Boston Tea Party. First of all, the term “Boston Tea Party” seems to have been coined around 1825 by newspapers referring to the historic event some fifty years earlier. At the time, it was simply known as the destruction of the tea or the dumping of the tea. Even a famous engraving from 1789, which has been come to be called “The Boston Tea Party,” was originally simply titled “Americans throwing the cargoes of the tea ships into the river, at Boston.”

Beyond that, the disguise as Mohawk indigenous people, while it has been explained as a statement of identification with the indigenous population of the continent and not as British subjects, was not as comprehensive as later depictions suggest. Contemporary accounts talk of people grabbing ragged clothing and blackening their faces with soot to suggest “savages” rather than donning well-thought-out costumes. That, combined with the secrecy surrounding the identities of the protestors, suggests that the disguises were just that — a way to avoid being identified. And the result was that the Crown, in the absence of specific people to prosecute, cracked down on the whole of the colonies. And THAT was what brought together politically disparate colonial leaders into supporting the Revolution.

As far as the issue of theft goes, while it was generally accepted that the purpose of the event was protest and destruction, not personal gain, the eyewitness account does point out the one or two were caught pocketing the tea and were “roughly handled” by their fellows, but one can imagine that there must have been some who were not caught. While many of the protestors had this ideal, it is apparent that not all of them did. So it is also unrealistic to claim that none of the protestors would stoop to theft. If modern protestors are caught stealing, perhaps it is only because we have a lot more first-hand evidence of current events on camera than we have of events of 250 years ago.

Finally, the protest at Boston is 1773 was not an isolated event. It happens to be the most well-known, but tea protests occurred throughout the colonies, both before and after the Boston event. In 1774, tea protests occurred in my own home state of Maryland in Annapolis and Chestertown. This was not a single, isolated event, carried out by proud, non-violent, non-self-interested people. This was a rash of violence and destruction throughout the country, as it was at the time, that prompted a brutal response from the Crown. And this response led to war.

I suppose the point of this article is 1.) as a reminder that tea has been used as a symbol of politics in the United States specifically since before our country was founded, and 2.) that protest is nuanced. When we view past protest, we are viewing it through the filter of time and the biases of the historians. They say that history is written by the victors, and it’s true here as well. So when criticizing politics and political unrest, it is occasionally important to take a step back and who might be trying to encourage your emotional response to align with their opinion. It turns out the Boston Tea Party is very relevant to modern protests, but not because it was invariably hailed as good and pure from day one, but because it is a perfect example of an event that was decried as violent and destructive at the time becoming a symbol of freedom.

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.

MyTeaPal: Blending technology and tradition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tea Together Tuesday: 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 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.