For the last six or so weeks, I’ve been obsessed– obsessed– with my health (“to the surprise of absolutely no one,” says my roommate. “I bet you also love to read advice columns.” He’s on to me.). I’ve been thinking about it constantly. I’ve been blessed to have great health, but preventative medicine is the best medicine, or so I heard on NPR. There’s so much conflicting information out there and it makes me feel like I may as well keep doing what I’m doing, because hey, that’s not going badly, or at least not yet. I consulted with a variety of friends in the medical field about how to take care of myself– a pharmacist, someone who works in insurance, two nurses, a personal trainer, a nutritionist, a surgeon, a physical therapist, a medical journalist, and three doctors– and got a ton of information. It inspired me to take stock of my habits and practices, get my family’s complete medical records, and do some research about what options are available for me for care. It’s helping me to sleep better at night, and so I wanted to pass that along to you.
I’m fond of hating on Savannah. Not to say I don’t like Savannah, I do. It’s a fun town with gorgeous architecture and great restaurants and friendly folks and beautiful art. It’s just that Charleston is so. much. better. I like to tell people who are deciding between the two for vacation spots (not sure why these two are always paired, but there you have it): Anything you can do there, you can do better here.
I would like to amend that statement in two regards: one, they have way better thrift stores. Two, they have much, much better tea offerings. Today’s tea, the Blueberry Black, is from the Tea Room, a little shop on Broughton that specializes in tea and its myriad accouterments.* It’s slightly precious inside, but the tea ladies are knowledgeable and their offerings are many.
As you might have expected, today’s tea is a black, and it’s from China. It’s mild and smooth, and I don’t know much about it. It’s mild like an assam, though and was pretty caffeinated. The bright blue flecks you see in the photo are cornflowers and I think they’re just for color. I liked how pretty it was to look at. I know that’s a stupid thing to like about something you’re going to soak in water and then drink, but the cerulean was a nice surprise when I opened the bag.
The nose on this thing is very fruity, and it’s pleasant– somewhere between a real blueberry smell and a Bath and Body Works blueberry body spray (I know you know what I mean). A teaspoon steeps for roughly three minutes on the first infusion, and more like five or six on the second.
The taste is nice, pleasant, not overbearing in the slightest. The black tea was smooth and light; very drinkable. Blueberries were not super-strong, but there was a nice bit of fruitiness. If you aren’t usually a tea drinker, this might be one to change your heart. It was a great breakfast tea, but this would be a great iced tea– toss in a sprig of mint and you’re in business. I’ll be putting this away in volume come summer.
Blackberry Blue runs 3.75/ounce and can be purchased online or at the Tea Room.
Sometimes, you think it is Tuesday, so you get up and get dressed and go to work, but then you get a phone call, and two hours later you’re eating a week-old mango in the parking lot of South of the Border on the way to Fayetteville, North Carolina. While I don’t recommend that particular timeline for your stress levels or workplace productivity, these things happen.
Before we begin, I would like to say that if you ever find yourself in Fayetteville, I strongly recommend you wander over to Marquis Market. It’s on Person Street in the historic part of downtown, and it’s a hidden gem. Expansive and warm, it looks like something on Apartment Therapy, and has Boylan sodas in the machine and good coffee and sandwiches to boot. It’s also super cheap. They stock Octavia Teas, which I am not too familiar with. I grabbed a cup of the Blood Orange White and commenced to drinking and contemplating how I got to this place.
What do you know about white tea? You probably know it’s a little pricier and would guess it’s a bit delicate in flavor. It’s a lightly oxidized tea, and it is purported to have antibacterial properties. Cool, right? It also helps improve blood flow and can reduce stress. Blood oranges have a ton of vitamin C, so you can’t lose there, either.
I wanted to love this, because I love the gentle flavors that white teas have, and I am eager for citrus season every year. I was curious how the blood oranges, which are a vibrant taste, and the more nuanced tea would balance and they just…didn’t. It didn’t really have enough of either to be satisfying, and it mostly just tasted like a gently scented water. It tasted like the third steep on the first. If you like something very, very mild, this might be for you, but I wasn’t crazy about it.
I’m interested in trying out some of the other products Octavia’s got. If this sounds like it’s for you, it’s $13 for an ounce and a quarter and can be purchased here.
Anyone tried a tea I might should try? I’m all ears.
A couple of weeks ago, I was driving down the road in the Charleston suburbs, and there I spotted a sign: A Southern Season.
By Jove, could it be the beloved kitchen/grocery store from Chapel Hill that took a lot of my money when I worked in Durham> It couldn’t be. I didn’t dare to check just in case I was wrong. I was utterly terrified that my heart could not bear it.
But it was. It was! It was. To celebrate, I went there on their opening day and purchased a couple of their loose leaf teas, tea budget be damned. Yeah, I have a tea budget, and if you want to fight about it, please refer to the “About” tab.
This week, the selection is cranberry acai herbal. I’m not an enormous herbal tea drinker, since I like to get some real bang for my caffeine buck, but the berries looked so chubby and juicy in the tea bins that I had to try it. When I opened up the canister to do that annoying wafting thing that people do when they want to be horrible, all the autumn smells were pungent and singular. I think it’s the mark of a really good herbal tea if everything still smells like it should. Think about when you haul out the pear-vanilla Celestial Seasonings or whatever: it smells pleasant, to be sure, but not like something specific.
I hustled home with it and my suspicions were confirmed: It’s a damned winner. It’s berry-forward without tasting like jam, and is the perfect herbal tea for a quiet night spent reading with a dog/cat/chinchilla/large blanket. If you have a fireplace, more power to you. I remain a non-doctor, but acai is allegedly a powerful antioxidant, and cranberry helps ward off infectious beasts, so it couldn’t hurt to knock back a couple of cups. The fruits in this particular herbal are large enough, too, that I’m comfortable saying there’s probably some vitamin C to boot.
You can buy own here for about $3 for 2 ounces. Steep it for about 6 minutes on the first infusion, probably more like 8 in the second.
On account of ALL MY TEA being in storage while I seek a more permanent living arrangement, I haven’t been able to bring you tea updates each week, which has made me sad. Of all the things Charleston has, a great loose-leaf tea store is not one of them, and thus, I went cold-tur-tea. See what I did there? I’m very funny.
About every single time I talk to a locavore about tea, one of them asks me where they can get “local tea.” Well, you can’t. Ask pretty much any dedicated homesteader, organic farmer, or tea enthusiast and they’ll tell you a story about how they tried to grow tea this one time and so on and so forth and the story goes on for like, an hour, and finally they’re telling you they’d have been better off blowing their noses with the dollar bills they used to buy the seeds/plants/cuttings. Tea is a persnickety thing; it grows in Asia and that’s about it. Any teas from somewhere else are likely herbal teas and….well, briefly, herbal teas are not tea. They are tasty steeped beverages with health benefits, but they don’t have tea leaves in them and thus are not tea. This is akin to how you bake both potatoes and bread and they are both starches and a source of fiber, but a potato is not bread.
For some reason, Charleston’s subtropical, below-sea-level environment gets along well with tea trees, so they’ve been growing the stuff here for about 250 years. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I tried Charleston Tea Plantation’s Charleston Breakfast Tea, since you can’t very well say, “oh, I usually like American teas so this is probably like ______.”
Good news: this tea is right nice. It is very, very robust and is quite caffeinated. It’s a blended tea, and tastes like it’s perhaps a Ceylon/assam mix. The CTP has been using the same plants since colonial times, which is not impressive by old world standards, but is something at which to marvel in America. The Charleston Breakfast speaks to a distinctly American audience; unlike its more far-flung, sometimes delicate cousins, it’s suited to someone who might describe himself as a “coffee person.” Much like global stereotypes of Americans, the Charleston Breakfast is BOLD. FRIENDLY. DEFINITELY IMBUED WITH A STRONG SENSE OF IDENTITY WITH REGARDS TO ITS PLACE OF ORIGIN.
Have you tried this one? Do you want to or did I make it sound like your annoying flag-waving uncle? Tried any cool teas since I’ve been away?
*there are a couple places growing tea on a tea-ny (been saving these for a few weeks) scale in Washington, Alabama, and Hawaii, but they’ve only existed for a few years and no one is able to really scale it up for more than their own use and that of a few other folks.
Well, friends, it’s that time of week. Time to turn our attention to our livers. After last night’s shenanigans after the game, the poor dears probably need a detox. Never fear, green tea is here!
Sencha is the crappy tea you get in the teabags that are 100/$3 at the grocery store! The one I’ve brought you today is a much nicer version of that taste you probably already like. It’s a Japanese green tea that is made without grinding the tea leaves at all. It’s got a little caffeine to it, but probably something along the lines of 1/4 of the caffeine a cup of coffee might should have.
Allegedly, this will lower your cholesterol and increase your brain functions (you will suddenly remember that your girlfriend’s favorite flowers are peonies! crossword puzzles will be easy even on Sunday!), and can decrease your risk of certain kinds of cancer. I actually bathe in this stuff every morning.*
My boss has returned from China, and with him comes a ton of weird, wonderful, rare teas that I am SO EXCITED to share with you. Behold, bluegrass mountain:
Remember how I told you about oolongs? This is one of those, too! It’s got the weird variable caffeine/questionable health benefits, but this one is much greener, and oh.my.god. it is so good. Very delicate, vegetal, and a little clovery, it doesn’t smell like anything when you hold your face over it. It’s so fragile we have to keep it in a freezer case at all times, so it isn’t even available for sale. If you want to come try some, come by my office and I’ll pour you one.
Have you tried any weird teas since last we spoke?
I have a heartbreaker for you, friends. This week’s tea is unavailable to you, tea plebians. The aroma oolong is from Tea Bud, and they only sell wholesale. I feel really badly about this, but not THAT badly, because I’m still posting about it, mainly due to the fact that the pictures turned out nicely.
Don’t feel that bad, this tea is just okay. My mouth felt a little dry after drinking it, but it was really fragrant and it gives me a chance to share a little bit of information about oolong teas with you, dear reader. Oolongs (or wu-longs, if you’re fancy) are not definitively black or green and range from 8-85% oxidation, which is quite the range of flavors, caffeination, and coloration. This one, as I can easily tell by the shaking in my hands, is on the higher end of the scale. What makes an oolong an oolong is the process by which it is processed. Oolongs are withered under the sun, which gives them a twisted appearance. Isn’t that cool?
With the weekly caveat that I am STILL not a doctor, though my best friend is and so is one of my neighbors, oolongs are helpful with eczema, can prevent hardening of the arteries, and make you more alert. I don’t know why I’m not drinking this all day every day with a resume like that.
It’s available here for an unknown price if you’re a retailer looking to buy a ton of tea.