Tea Party Tuesday: Friday Afternoon

The tea of the week is Friday Afternoon from Please and Thank You in Louisville, Kentucky, but that’s almost a sidebar for this post. Scroll down until you see pictures if that’s what you’re here for.

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Tea Party Tuesday: Hillbilly Tea’s Smoked

If you’ve been following this blog for a long time, you probably remember that I used to be the special events manager for an Appalachian tea house. If you haven’t been following this blog for a long time, allow me to tell you more: I used to be the special events manager for an Appalachian tea house. Though I’ve always liked tea and sought out the good stuff (RIP Clarinda’s Tea Room, stalwart of the Southern Indiana tea scene in the early ’90s), what I know about tea comes from this period of my life.

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The funny thing about working in tea is that people buy you tea as a present because they know you like it. What people perhaps do not consider is the sheer amount of free tea you receive throughout the course of your day. It’s a lot. Like, a whole lot. So much tea you cannot even imagine. For context: I quit Hillbilly Tea to become a writer and editor in 2013 and I still discover little vacuum-sealed baggies of dried leaves every time I reorganize my kitchen.

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Book Club: The Underground Railroad

The Underground Railroad is going to win the Pulitzer this year, of this I am certain. I’m sure you’ve heard about this incredible book by now if you’re not living under a literary rock. I’m not breaking new ground here telling you about it; I saw a copy at the grocery store a few weeks ago, and you can get it at an airport bookstore. Its ubiquity is well-deserved: everyone should read this.

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The Underground Railroad is a very, very difficult easy read, if you will. It’s so riveting that I read this whole thing on a cross-country flight, but you know how people are more susceptible to crying on planes? I was crying by page ten. It’s exceptionally hard to get through in a great many parts, but the writing and storytelling is so compelling that you can’t stay away, even as it shows you things that make your worst nightmares seem like an afternoon at Disneyland.

The book tells the story of a slave named Cora and her journey on the Underground Railroad. We move forward and backward in time and place, learning about her mother and grandmother’s experiences as slaves and seeing what the world is like in different parts of the American South. In Colson Whitehead’s imagining of the Underground Railroad, the railroad part is not a metaphor; it’s a literal railroad. There are actual locomotives and train schedules and conductors and stations.

While the book doesn’t tidily fit into the category of magic realism, it moves back and forth between heart-wrenching, unflinching depictions of American slavery and a bizarre dystopian dreamland, making the reader feel unmoored and uncertain, much like the protagonist. After Whitehead departs from a strictly linear and factual narrative, he’s freed up to touch on things that happen outside the timeline, like the advent of skyscrapers, the eugenics movement, and the Tuskeegee experiments. These slightly out-of-scope elements serve as a prescient warning to Cora (and the reader): this isn’t going to be over when you get out of the slave states and this isn’t going to be over at the end of the war.

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I’ve probably mentioned this before, but I hold a master’s degree in Southern Studies, so I’ve done a lot of reading and studying on how region and history is taught across the country. You were probably taught a very simplified version of events that was at best 20-60% accurate. It’s very tempting to make slavery, the Civil War, and Reconstruction into a tidy narrative of right and wrong, where everyone was either doing the enlightened and morally correct thing or they were not, and The Underground Railroad is not interested in furthering that story in any way, shape, or form. Whitehead integrated matter-of-fact primary sources that felt extraordinary and exceptional to me, but he periodically reminded me that no, this unimaginable cruelty and horror was pedestrian, and the fact that this is foreign to me speaks to my position of privilege. Whitehead skillfully wove in an under-discussed part of the post-war period in America: the sanitizing of slavery begun almost immediately and continues to this day. I was really in awe of how he drew parallels with the contemporary state of race in the United States with the Civil War; without ever saying it directly, he brought things like “stop and frisk” policies into context.

Whitehead has done copious research to place you in the direct path of the horrors of slavery, and he’s not about to let you off the hook with some story where everything works out great in the end and there’s a tidy moral. Things are not easy for Cora and her trials aren’t even close to over when she escapes the plantation. Many of the people who help her along her way meet gruesome ends. Some of the white railroad conductors are at best reluctant (with many deeply resentful of the circumstances that forced them into service) to help. The more well-intentioned pretty plainly don’t see former slaves as human beings, but rather something significantly less than they and exist almost completely in made up environs. It’s hard to read; you get to a point where you want badly for Cora and her friends along the way to eke out a win, but Whitehead withholds that because you know what? This is not Meet Addy or Dear America: 1863. You’re an adult and you need to acknowledge that slaves did not get an easy win, and racism is very much alive and well.  There’s hope, to be sure, but there aren’t any promises.

It’s important to read books that challenge you and expand your world view, and this book absolutely did that for me. Considering slave narratives in this surreal milieu shone a bright light on some things I hadn’t previously considered, to say nothing of how incredible his writing is. There’s so much to say about his research and storytelling that you almost forget, but paragraph for paragraph, the Underground Railroad was stuffed with beautiful prose that lunged off the page at me.

Next week, I’m reading this. Please join me!

Have you read the Underground Railroad? What did you think? Did you also cry to yourself for hours after finishing it? Tell me in the comments.

Tea Party Tuesday: Elmwood Inn Lung Ching Green

A couple years ago, I started hearing about this place in Danville, Kentucky, serving world-class teas. Like pilgrimage-worthy teas. Person after person told me about this family who had started a tea room in a historic house, which then took off big time, so much so that they had to close said tea room to meet international demand for their amazing teas. Finally, when my friend Stuart, a local historian and expert on the Boyle County area, recommended it to me, I got in the car.

If you are not from Kentucky, which I suspect you are not, this is probably not particularly noteworthy information to you. If you are from Kentucky, I can hear what you’re thinking, which is probably something along the lines of, “k.” Danville is small, very small. We’re talking low five-figure population small.  The idea that it could sustain a world-class tea shop seems crazy. Hell, the idea that it would even have a tea shop is, in and of itself, unlikely.

But not only is there this lovely shop, but this lovely shop is so popular with locals and visitors alike that all three times I’ve gone, there’s been a line to get tea. The secret of the super-nice, extremely well-informed, low-key Richardson family is out, and for good reason: they’ve got an amazing product and they are willing to talk to you about it for as long as you’re interested.

They’ve got a whole range of historical teas (be still my heart) that I’ll tell you about at a later date, but for now, let’s talk about the Lung Ching Green I picked up on a recent visit.

 

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Look at that! This is the platonic ideal of green tea, if we want to get right down to brass tacks. It’s a classic pan-roasted Chinese green tea and it’s got a simple, earthy taste I love things like it to have. It’s also really pretty; check out how nice those leaves look! You can tell it’s high quality because of how flat and light the leaves are (that’s usually a good indicator with dragon well teas; lower quality ones will often have darker, less uniform leaves). I got three good cups of tea out of this and it stood up really nicely to multiple steepings. The flavor developed differently every time I added more water rather than collapsing and becoming sadder and more faded.

In keeping with the meeting-you-where-you-are ethos of the Elmwood Inn tea experience, this is an easy to make, easy to drink tea that has simple-to-follow prep instructions printed right on the label, making it ideal for a novice tea drinker who just wants to dip a toe into the uh, kettle of very hot tea water? That metaphor fell apart, but bottom line: this is a great tea if you’re new  to tea and want to try a clear-cut example of a near-perfect green tea, but it’s also wonderful if you’ve got a more developed tea palate because it’s just…really good drinking.

This Lung Ching green tea is available on their website (or in person at their adorable shop!) for $12.95/4 ounces.

Have you been to the Elmwood Inn shop? Read any of their great books about tea? Do you have a recommendation for an out-of-the-way tea shop for me? Tell me all about it! I’m listening.

Tea Party Tuesday: Pumpkin Pie

Hello, yes, it’s me! It’s me. I haven’t been around much since getting a full-time writing job and moving not once but twice (Charleston > Louisville > Italy), but I’m back and I wanted to dip my toe back in to blogging with one of my tea reviews.

Let’s get this out of the way: I am #basic. I am the #basickest. I love Target, autumn, yoga, brunch, and sweaters. I score favorably on quizzes such as this one. We can get into how I feel about the term basic at some other time; the fact remains that I am unapologetically #teambasic.

But I digress: Until Friday, I had never had that basic staple, the #starbucks #PSL. I’m on board with pumpkin pie, pumpkin smoothies, pumpkin burgers, and pumpkin cookies, but I’m just not that into sweet coffee drinks. My sweet friend Charlotte (hi, Charlotte!) took me to the airport, and indulged me when I got a 1/6th-the-pumps latte. Look, I had a buy-one-get-one coupon. Basics LOVE coupons. I couldn’t let it expire when I was on the plane. I know you’re on the edge of your seat: I didn’t hate it, but it was still a little too-too for me.

Rather than let them take my Basic Gold Card away, I headed straight for the tea shop and did the second-most basic thing I could: I bought pumpkin spice TEA so I’d have something to blog about on my blog no one reads. I know, so basic.

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And here it is: pumpkin pie tea from the Louisville Tea Company. As you see, it’s a black tea, and honestly, not a great one. Something the LTC (if I may) does really well is range. They’ve got stuff for people weaning off oversugared Lipton to really hard-to-find teas that will impress even the snobbiest drinker. They will happily sell you something from either end of the spectrum without being snotty or pushy about it. If having extremely high-quality leaves is a non-negotiable for you, may I be the first to recommend many of their very, very fine varietals, but if you’re approaching this whole beverage thing with a sense of humor and want to try something kinda fun, then this is for you.

In addition to the leaves, you get pieces of dried pumpkin, cinnamon bark, whole cloves, bits of caramel, and some tiny pumpkin sprinkles. Is it gimmicky? Sure. Is it good? You know what? It is. It brews darker than I had expected, isn’t too sweet, and stands up nicely to two or three steepings. Pumpkin Pie tea calls to mind bonfires and hayrides and apple picking, and those are all fun things I happen to like. I’d recommend this with a little bit of vanilla soymilk first thing in the morning, maybe sweetened with a bit of sorghum.

Pumpkin Pie Black will run you about $7/50g  from Louisville Tea Company. It’s a seasonal item, but you knew that.

Anyone had been surprised at liking a tea outside their usual favorites? Have you had another pumpkin spice tea you enjoyed? Tell me all about it.

Dear Fancy: The Deep Cuts

So, as you may know, I have an advice column called Dear Fancy, formerly of the Hairpin, now on Jezebel. This piece of advice got cut from a recent column since this kind of advice is found in myriad places over the internet, but I thought readers of Chronderlust might enjoy it! Let me know what you think in the comments.

Dear Fancy,

I just started dating this amazing guy who I met on OKCupid. When people ask how we met, I get a little embarrassed to say “online.” Should I come up with a meet-cute story or is it socially acceptable to say “we met on the internet” these days?

Signed,

OKStupid

 

Dear OK,

In an informal poll of my highly fun and extremely sexually desirable friends, I found that about 100% of the ones who aren’t dating/married to someone they met either in school or as friends who blossomed into Something More have tried online dating and had some success with it. I also found that approximately 92% of them were somewhat embarrassed by this. Pretty much everyone does online dating (including me!), but we’re all a little secretive about it.

Look, dating is weird in general, and it’s the last facet of our lives we consider mildly embarrassing to do online. Unlike selling your handmade fingerpuppets on Etsy, you’re writing up a description of yourself and picking out your best pictures, tacitly saying, “Hey, largest bar in the entire world, I’m really looking to find someone to love me, even though I’m not perfect.”

That’s scary, but it’s also incredible. You have access to tons of people who could be great for you who are also looking for the same thing. This means you don’t have to settle for the only guy in your social group who isn’t taken by default, and that is a luxury no previous generation of inhabitants of Spaceship Earth have had. Embrace it.

You met a great guy your friends didn’t know already, and if it weren’t for the magic of the interconnecting series of tubes, you probably never would have gotten the chance to do so. Most couples who don’t meet online have super boring stories (“she was in my algebra class” or “we hated each other in high school and he kind of grew on me in our mid-twenties”), so let go of the rom-com ideal of locking eyes with a hot bus driver as you get splashed by a huge puddle on the way to a job interview and searching for each other all over Cleveland. Tell the truth and grin about it. When someone asks how you met, say, “We met on Tinder and I couldn’t swipe right fast enough. I mean, look at him.” I guarantee you that person will say, “Oh! My sister met her husband on JDate!” and not, “What’s wrong with you?”

Yours in Love,

Fancy

Tea Party Tuesday: Kusmi Petrushka

Everyone who loves tea comes to it differently. Some people have a particularly transfixing pot at a restaurant and are hooked. Some people just evolve from drinking oversweet iced tea into more egalitarian drinkers. Like with most things I now like and excel at, I started liking tea to impress someone else.

My favorite aunt, Sheryl, is basically a master class on how to be an awesome human being. She went to college very young, was Miss University of Evansville, and became Dr. O’Sullivan before the age of 25. She then went on to educate the masses, including a young Paris Hilton. On top of all that, she is a world-class dancer, devout Christian who lives her faith with a quiet grace I can’t even process, and a truly awesome mom, sister, godmother, and daughter. That’s right: she’s pretty, smart, athletic, kind, and cool. It’s horrible to be around her sometimes.

When it came time for me to start drinking caffeine to keep myself functional, I was maybe 15 and still definitely the kind of person who wanted the approval of adults. Spoiler: I❤ approval. The coffee/tea choice was laid in front of me, and I picked tea to be more like Sheri and have something to talk about with her as I aged out of children’s literature (this is her particular academic realm of excellence). Because I was the sort of child who memorized books wholesale and repeated them back to anyone who would listen, I got kind of obsessed with tea, and well, here we are.

I knew my aunt was going to be in town, so I grabbed the Kusmi Petrushka, seduced by its truly gorgeous packaging. No photo I took did it justice, so just click around at the bottom of this post to check it out. I am so easily taken in by good colors and pretty patterns.

All casual-like, I just made the tea for her one morning like, “oh, this old thing? Had it forever! Definitely did not buy this on account of anyone else.”

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The color looks great, but this is really just to show you we drank these side by side.

This comes in bag and loose on the website, but the only had bag at the shop. Reader, I bought it. I know. It drinks like the nicest loose leaf, though! Promise. They come in these hand-sewn muslin sachets and you can tell Kusmi didn’t stick you with the gross dregs that they couldn’t put in a canister and sell at a premium. Kusmi is an old French company, and this particular varietal is from their Russian Imperial collection, the contents of which look between good and awe-inspiring. It’s a black tea with orange peel, vanilla, and almond notes, and it’s smooth and spicy in the best way possible, like if Earl Grey had a lovechild with real-deal chai. In a surprise twist, the second steep of this is even better than the first, though that trend didn’t carry on forever.

If I had it to do over again, I might drink this in the afternoon instead of first thing, but I have no regrets. And yes, my aunt loved it!

You can buy 4.4 ounces for about $20 here. They’re sold out of this one on their website for good reason, but go to Kusmi to check out their offerings.