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A photo of my white tea cabinet, with shelves full of different teas in smaller containers

State of the Tea Cabinet (and Other Stuff) 2022

Oh hey. It’s been over a year since I wrote anything here. I’m not going to make any excuses or apologies for being away. 2021 was a tough year, even though some good things happened to me, professionally.

I would like to write in here more often. But I’ve realized that making promises about any sort of metric (reading X books per year or writing Y posts per month, or writing Z words of fun writing per day) is just. Not going to work.

So. I’ll read shit and write shit and share cat pictures and gardening photos when I feel like it. No promises other than that.

My tea collection

However, since I’ve made a habit of writing about the state of my tea collection every other year at New Year’s (2016, 2018, 2020), I feel a need to keep up with precedent. So here’s what things are looking like, as of yesterday evening:

I reorganized everything from top to bottom, and moved most of the stuff I’m no longer using (gaiwans, teapots, etc) to the bottom shelf. Then, I moved my daily drinkers to the top, plus a few accessories. I might as well face up to the fact that I’ve gone back to my Basic Bitch, fruity green tea roots.

Tea TypeNo. of VarietiesWeight in Grams
Herbal13619.8 (plus 14 bags)
White3116.4
Green — Unflavoured5214.5
Green — Flavoured12575
Black — Unflavoured113.6
Black — Flavoured7157.5 (plus 8 bags)
Pu’erh9309.7
Rooibos5168.4 (plus 16 bags)
Other137

Looking back over past tea cabinet posts, it’s clear that I’ve managed to scale waaaay back from when I was heavily reviewing teas in 2016. Back then, I had 166 teas, weighing over 11 pounds total. Now, it’s 57 varieties, weighing just under 4.5 pounds.

This is good! One of the things I’ve learned about myself since the pandemic started is that I’ve got ADHD, and the fact that I went so hard into tea in 2014–2016 — and even started up a goddamned blog about it — is a classic example of hyperfocus.

The other thing is that, frankly, no one needs this much tea. And I’m really going to try and make a concerted effort to finish up the pu’erh I’ve got, because most of it has been sitting in my cupboard since I first bought it in 2016 (way back when I was in that hyperfocus phase).

I don’t really drink whole pots of tea the way I used to, either. Just a mug or two in the morning, and some herbal tea at night or if my stomach is upset. And then there are whole days where I don’t brew any tea at all.

It’s funny, because I’ve centred so much of my personality for a while around Being Really Into Tea. It’s hard to give something like that up. But that’s the way things are right now.

My tea collection in January 2020.

State of the Tea Cabinet (and My Life) 2020

What the Hell Happened in 2019?

Hey, happy 2020! Things have been pretty quiet around here. I had plans for reading and writing and blogging in 2019, but they fell off a cliff. For a good reason, though! In fact, for possibly one of the most exciting reasons imaginable — Mr. BooksandTea and I bought our first home last year, after living with my mother for the past decade and slowly saving money for a down payment!

Our New Home

We closed on a condo in the GTA in June, and have been living there for the past 6 months. It turns out moving was a big cognitive drain on me; while I was reading books in 2019, I read fewer than I planned to and just couldn’t muster the energy to write about them. On top of that, my day job was truly hectic last year, especially when we were moving. Hell, unpacking stuff in our new place and washing old dishes was actually how I relaxed over the summer. Moving stuff around meant I could turn my brain off!

On the plus side, the cats we adopted in 2018, Ash and Sabrina, like our new digs very much:

Ash and Sabrina, lazily enjoying the sunshine on the couch. It’s their couch, we just sit on it.

Books I Read in 2019, and Blogging Plans

My goal was to read 40 books in 2019. I ended up reading 33. My most significant reading project was finishing the entire The Dagger and the Coin series by Daniel Abraham. I’m pretty proud of this, as I normally take a much longer time to plow through a series of books – finishing one in a span of less than 5 months is quite the feat. (Dear Vorkosigan Saga, I haven’t forgotten about you, don’t worry!)

Plus, the Dagger and Coin books are thick. I even read the final 2 books back-to-back. That’s a testament to how fluid they are, I guess. I respect Abraham’s work ethic in putting out huge tomes like these like clockwork every year, and also his decision to not insert any hint of sexual violence towards his female point-of-view characters. GRRM could learn a lot from him, I think!

I also read The Outskirter’s Secret and The Lost Steersman by Rosemary Kirstein, both of which are sequels to The Steerswoman. I hope to read The Language of Power later this year, at which point I will have caught up on the series. Kirstein has indicated that the fifth volume should be out later this year, and that she’s also made significant progress on book 6. I look forward to reading both whenever they come out, as they will be worth the wait.

I don’t know if I’ll go for longer-form book reviews this year like the ones I wrote in years past. One author whose blogging style I really like is Carrie Vaughn; she writes lots of posts, but they’re short and somewhat impressionistic. I’m hoping to adopt a similar posting schedule to hers —frequent updates, short but in-depth thoughts about what I’m reading/watching, and occasional digressions into non-book aspects of life.

Tea Shelf Shenanigans

Things are significantly more under control in my tea cabinet now than they were 2 years ago. My lucky break was that, soon after my last tea post, my workplace moved into a brand-new open-space office. I restocked the empty kitchen cabinets with teas that I no longer wanted. I also gave teas I no longer wanted to friends, and tossed a few that I didn’t think were worth keeping around any longer.

Tea I Currently Have

So what’s the damage? Right now, my tea cabinet looks like this:

Top shelf: Pots, cups, pitchers, and other accessories. Second shelf: Green and white tea. Third shelf: Black, herbal, and rooibos tea. Bottom shelf: Gaiwans, pu’erh, and thermoses.

Total number of teas in my cabinet: 68 (This is down from 166 teas in 2018 and 156 in 2016)

Total weight of all teas: 2297.3 grams (and 129 individual bags). That’s just over 5 pounds — still a staggering amount, but I had more than twice as much in 2018!

Here’s a more detailed breakdown:

Tea TypeNo. of VarietiesWeight in Grams
Herbal11340.2 (plus 45 bags)
White599.8
Green — Unflavoured6358.3
Green — Flavoured10588
Black — Unflavoured372.4
Black — Flavoured561.9
Pu’erh23582.3
Rooibos4119.4
Yerba Mate175

How My Tea Habits Have Changed

The big difference between my tea cabinet now versus how it was in 2018 or 2016 is that I’ve cut down on black tea. I’ve also cut out oolongs altogether. As good as they taste, I don’t want to risk my digestive health, since both of those types can be triggers for my IBS.

In other words, I’ve gone back to my basic-ass-bitch ways from when I first started on my tea journey, and am sticking mostly with fruity greens. They’re tasty, abundant, and don’t mess my stomach up.

My goal in 2020 is to cut my collection down to 50 teas total, either through finishing off what I’ve got or giving it away to others. In particular, I need to get more diligent about drinking down my pu’erh: I bought a huuuuuge amount of it back in late 2015, and I’ve been slowly picking away at it ever since.

State of the Tea Cabinet, 2018

Holy crap, it’s New Year’s Day. Wow.

It’s 2018, and now Books & Tea is 2.5 years old. 2017 was kind of a mess for my mental health and organization/time management skills so I didn’t post as much as I wanted. On the plus side, right before the holidays, I finally got a diagnosis for the digestive issues that have been plaguing me for the past few years: Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

I’ve been reading up on IBS for the past week or so as a result. I’ve also been learning about the low-FODMAP diet through things like the Monash FODMAP app and low-FODMAP cookbooks. For the first few months of the year, I’m going to try an elimination diet (to the best of my ability) to determine what my food triggers are.

One wrinkle to this is that the research on how tea relates to low-FODMAP diets is unclear. Here’s what the Monash app tells me when I search for recommendations about tea:

  • Green tea is considered “safe” to drink in the low-FODMAP diet.
  • Black tea can be considered safe, unsafe, or of moderate safety depending on whether it’s brewed weak or strong, or whether it’s brewed with water or with milk — and depending on whether it’s straight black tea or a masala chai blend.
  • Oolong tea is considered unsafe to drink.
  • Rooibos is safe, but chamomile isn’t.
  • Fennel tea is unsafe to drink, but fennel bulbs, fennel fronds, and fennel seeds are all safe to eat.

In other words, it’s all over the map! I’m especially curious about why green tea is good and black tea is okay, but oolong is considered bad, even though oolong is in between black and green tea in terms of oxidation. It makes very little sense.

So I’m not sure how many tea reviews I’ll write this year. I certainly have a backlog of teas to taste and reviews to finish, so I’ll try to do what I can. But I will continue to write about books; in particular, I’ll be interviewing a bunch of Canadian SF/F authors, talking about their recent and upcoming works, and letting you know about cool new releases.

In the meantime, with the holidays in full swing, I got a chance to sit down, relax, and do a full inventory of my tea collection.  The last time I did this was 2 years ago, and things have not gotten any better since then. In fact, it’s even larger and more unwieldy. So let me show you my shame: here’s my cleaned-out cabinet in all its glory.

A white plywood cabinet with four shelves inside. Each shelf contains several boxes of loose-leaf tea, and each box belongs to its own category.

Top shelf: teaware and herbal teas. Second shelf: green, yellow, and white teas, plus some random yerba mate blends. Third shelf: black teas. Bottom shelf: pu’erh, oolong and rooibos teas, plus filters and a container for scoops and picks.

Total number of teas in my cabinet: 166

Total weight of all teas: 5,226 grams, 1 blooming tea, and 129 individually-wrapped bags. That’s about 11.5 pounds!

Breaking it down even further, here’s what things look like:

Tea Type Number of Varieties Weight in Grams
Herbal 24  1156.9 (plus 26 bags)
White 11  167.24 (plus 16 bags)
Green — Unflavoured 3  19.9
Green — Flavoured 17  517.5 (plus 24 bags and 1 blooming tea)
Black — Unflavoured 10  466.1 (plus 5 bags)
Black — Flavoured 32  665.1 (plus 58 bags)
Pu’erh 33  1,327.2
Oolong 20  290.6
Rooibos 11  521.2
Yellow 3  25.9
Yerba Mate 2  68

 

Good god, I have no idea if I’ll be able to drink it all. If you want me to mail you some, send me a message! I need all the help I can get.

Maple Baked Pear Honeybush Tea from 52Teas

It’s the first day of autumn here in the northern hemisphere, which means that it’s the perfect time to discuss harvest-y things. Mulling spices. Cool, nippy breezes. Pears and apples. Warm mugs of tea. You know. Today’s tea, Maple Baked Pear Honeybush Tea from 52Teas is perfect to celebrate the coming of fall.

But first, a confession:

You know how squirrels hoard acorns and bury them for the future? I’m like that with tea. I have stuff in my cupboard that’s been there for at least 2 years by now. Some of it is stuff I’ve bought and have not opened even once — because I have so much tea that sometime’s I just don’t want to look at it, I’m so overwhelmed.

Today’s tea is one of those kinds. It’s yet another blend that I bought from the 52Teas 2015 Christmas Kickstarter campaign, and yes, even though I got it in December 2015, I didn’t actually open it until….about 2 months ago.

Luckily, Anne seals her packages very well, and since I didn’t break the seal for over a year, the tea inside was still delectable. So, say hello to Maple Baked Pear Honeybush tea from 52Teas!

An unopened zip-locked bag of Maple Baked Pear Honeybush tea.

This tea was one of the bonus, non-Christmas-flavoured teas offered by the campaign. The ingredients are honeybush, dried pear, cinnamon pieces, nutmeg, and other natural flavours. Overall, it’s meant to be fruity yet toasty – perfect for this time of year.

The dry leaf smelled really interesting: I smelled cinnamon and pear right up front. Eventually I also smelled maple, although it was hard to tell apart from the cinnamon. However, the most interesting smell was hard to describe: deep, nutty, and pastry-like, almost like pecan pie but not quite. That scent was eager to hang around in the back of my mouth and my sinuses.

It looked just as interesting, too. I’ve never had a pure honeybush tea before, and it looks distinctly different from its cousin, rooibos. Depending on the variety, dry rooibos seems red and feathery, like if you made peach fuzz out of cedar wood. But the texture of dry honeybush appears to be much darker and coarser, like coffee grounds. Amid the honeybush bits are also nuggets of dried cinnamon.

Dried Maple Baked Pear Honeybush tea leaf. The dried leaf is somewhat coarse-looking, like reddish coffee grounds, mixed with small cinnamon pieces.

To brew this, I steeped 1.5 teaspoons of dried leaf in 95°C water in a large mug for 6 minutes, and then let it sit for 10-15 minutes afterward to really cool down. The resulting liquid was a cool reddish brown, a rich colour like stained wood or old leaves on the forest floor. Lovely stuff.

The brewed Maple Baked Pear Honeybush tea is a reddish brown colour and smells like granola clusters.

After letting it cool and taking a first, experimental sip, I finally twigged onto what that unusual nutty, pastry-like note was: granola! The tea, both dry and brewed, smells like sweet granola clusters, with fruity hints of blueberry muffin and apple.

The flavour is different from that, but not completely so. It was mild, with a gentle aftertaste of cinnamon and maple on the back of my tongue. However, I didn’t notice much pear with this Maple Baked Pear Honeybush tea. Cinnamon was the dominant note and made the tea sweet. I ended up not adding any sweetener to the mix and it was just fine, though I’m sure that adding some agave or honey would amp things up.

This blend is unfortunately NOT available on the 52Teas site because I’m lazy and let things pile up in my cupboard. But there’s always something worth investigating on 52Teas, so you can take a look any time.

Tea-Flavoured Candy from Squish and Bali’s Best

It’s time to do something different today at Books & Tea! Sometimes you just need a sugar rush, so this post is all about tea-flavoured candy.

Tea-flavoured candy is actually not that hard to find if you know where to look, whether you check Amazon, tea shops, or even specialty candy stores. Hell, Kit-Kat makes both green tea and houjicha-flavoured Kit-Kat bars, the latter of which sounds amazing.

I tried two types of tea-flavoured candy in particular: gummies from Squish Candies and hard candies from Bali’s Best. How do they hold up?

Tea Leaves Candy from Squish Candies

Here’s how Squish Candies describes these tea-flavoured gummies:

For tea lovers who just can’t get enough, this is the ultimate blend, with hints of black currant, peach, orange, lemon and mango. These fruity leaves with real green tea extract are everyone’s cup of tea.

The gummies come in a plastic, zip-sealed bag weighing 140 grams; you can buy larger sizes online, but this is the only size available in stores. They’re about a half-inch long and shaped like tea leaves, and they come in four colours: green, yellow, red and orange. It’s hard to tell the orange ones apart from a distance, though.

The ingredients label lists green tea extract, black currant, lemon, carrot, safflower, and spirulina, among other things. However, the aroma of the open bag of candies was generically sharp and fruity. If I squinched my nose I could smell mango, but I also sensed that sharp, green, astringent note that perfumers and confectioners always use when they want to impart a “tea-like” aroma or flavour.

You know the smell I’m talking about. It’s sharp and vegetal, but also lemony. It’s a cool, green, misty sort of smell, the kind of thing you associate with spas and cosmetics. But, goddamnit, tea doesn’t really smell like that! Or at least, tea can smell like a lot of things, and I hardly ever see its full variety of aromas represented when people try to make tea-scented or tea-flavoured things.

It’s kind of annoying. But I digress.

The green candies are the most strongly tea-flavoured of the lot. When you eat them, you get a real hit of straight-up matcha flavour, tempered with some sweet, acid fruitiness. The yellow candies are less strongly tea-flavoured; instead, there’s a somewhat bitter yet flavourful citrus note. I had a hard time pinning down what citrus the yellow ones reminded me of. Yuzu, perhaps? Kumquat? In any event, the yellow tea candies don’t taste sunny, bright, juicy, or lip-smacking. Rather, the citrus flavour is subtle, mature, refined. Elegant, even.

The red and orange candies are not quite as sucessful – they taste generically fruity with a hint of that astringent tea flavour going on in the background. At various times, I tasted mango, orange, carrot, and blackcurrant.

As a final test, I popped all four flavours into my mouth at once and went to town. I could taste each flavour individually but no flavour won out over the others. Most of all, I just tasted that generic lemon/vegetal tea note I talked about above.

The candy’s texture was chewy, but not soft like gummy bears or jujubes. Instead, it was tougher in the mouth – almost like fruit leather, but with a bit more resilience and springiness.

You can buy Tea Leaves from Squish Candies online here.

Bali’s Best Tea Candy

Bali’s Best Tea Candies are hard candies about the same size and shape as Werther’s Original caramels. I tried two different flavours: Green Tea Latte and Citrus Green Tea – they were sent to me through the mail either from Anne of 52Teas or by Char of Oolong Owl. Here are some close-ups of each wrapper.

The candies themselves weren’t particularly photogenic, and the citrus one had melted somewhat inside its wrapper, so no photos there. Just imagine a really dark green Werther’s Original and you’re pretty close.

The Green Tea Latte candy was extremely sweet. However, while it also tasted strongly of matcha, it was a one-note sensation. There was very little depth to the tea flavour. Finally, despite the word “latte” in the name, I didn’t taste any milk or creaminess. It was just straight-up sugar and matcha flavouring, without a lot of the marine/umami quality of actual matcha powder. It took 3-4 minutes for the entire candy to dissolve in my mouth.

The Citrus Green Tea candy fared a little better, but not by much. The flavour was evenly divided between citrus – lemongrass, in fact, rather than a fruit like yuzu or lemon on mandarin – and green tea. Other than the hit of lemongrass, this candy was pretty unexceptional.

Neither variety was outright awful, but I’ve had more pleasant candies AND more pleasant teas.

You can buy Bali’s Best tea-flavoured candy in stores, or order in bulk online.

Verdict

In the end, I preferred the gummies from Squish Candies, especially the green and yellow ones. I’d buy them again, given the opportunity.

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