Tea Party Tuesday: Profumo di Capri

It’s a national holiday here in Italy, and while I was promised a parade replete with marching bands and elderly veterans in feathered hats, the truth is, it’s raining and no one seems to want to go out.

I spent some time on the island of Capri recently (I’m publishing my guide to the area tomorrow!) and the whole place smells incredible; imagine your fantasy laundry detergent plus the base notes of you favorite aunt’s signature everyday perfume in the ’90s with just a dash of brine. Everything smells just like that. It’s enough to make you highly likely to buy ANYTHING labeled “smells somewhat like here.” My credit card statement will confirm this.

Right before I got on the ferry home, I was browsing a little tourist shop for some candied Capri lemon peels and noticed they were selling the island’s signature tea blend. Since I cannot resist coming home with a tiny sachet of tea, it came in a cute tin, and it said that was Capri-scented, I bought 50 grams.

When I got home, I popped open the (very cute) tin and took a whiff. It smells not at all like tea, but rather strongly of Lemon Pledge, a scent I associate strongly with a fear of disappointing my mom and low-stakes accomplishment. A meaningful connection, to be sure, but maybe not the best impression for a tea to make. I dumped out five grams to take a look, and it was not photogenic; the lemon peels aren’t very yellow, and the leaves themselves were unshapely.

I brewed it according to the instructions and…it tastes like Lemon Pledge (or what I imagine Lemon Pledge tastes like had my mother not repeatedly warned me not to drink cleaning products as a child).

Look, sometimes you buy a dud. If you’re in a country where no one really likes tea on an island where it’s always sunny in a tourist shop that traffics mostly in liquors and bon bons, you should expect you’re going to get sub-par tea. In retrospect, I should have heeded a few warnings: one, the importers for this tea are based in Ferrara. Two, the label didn’t tell me anything about the mysterious “té nero limone” so it really could have been anything. Three, the one piece of info on the can said something to the effect of “packaged for the XYZ Brothers’ Liquor Distributors.” The takeaway is that I’m an idiot.

Silver lining? I think I can salvage it as some Delta-style lemon-mint iced tea here in a few weeks when the weather turns around. Tell me of your tea fails, readers! Surely I cannot be the only one.

The Exact Wrong Thing to Discover Today

I’m elbow-deep in this week’s book, Emma Cline’s The Girls, and the Manson vibes in the novel + the creepy Lolita energy I’m getting off this means I’ve checked the locks on my house four times today and it’s broad daylight.

Book Club: The Sellout

When I was home for a wedding last month, I visited my favorite local bookstore, Carmichael’s, a couple times. We don’t have an English-language bookstore in my city in Italy (and my reading level in Italian is roughly that of a ten-year-old), so I luxuriated in a store full of things I could potentially actually read. I’m going to need everyone to stop writing books for the next six to ten years so I can catch up; there’s so much amazing stuff and somehow there’s always more. 

The guy behind the desk recommended three books for me to take home, one of which was The Sellout by Paul Beatty. “You like Josh Ferris, right?” I do, yes. “And you were into Confederacy of Dunces?” Sure was. “Already read the new Ta-Nehisi Coates?” Twice. “Great, here.”

I devoured The Sellout on the plane home, though I don’t know if I would describe my appetite for it as voracious. As you and the rest of the English-speaking world likely already know, The Sellout was the first book by an American to win the Man Booker, which should have warned me. Remains of the Day, A Brief History of Seven Killings, God of Small Thingsand The Blind Assassin are some of my other favorite winners, and they all fall squarely into the category of “things I am glad I read and agree are for sure outstanding art but made me want to die the whole time.”

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Photo of the author holding The Sellout, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Here’s the premise, and let me know when you start squirming:

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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.