Tea Tales: Farewell K’Tizo

K'Tizo Japanese tea ceremony

On July 28, a warm summer evening, I attended a Japanese tea ceremony at K’Tizo tea. I have attended K’Tizo tea events before, and I have also attended a Japanese tea ceremony before, but this evening carried a somber note with it, because it was the last time I would be able to visit Cafe K’Tizo. Like so many other small businesses, K’Tizo wasn’t able to keep going with the closures and restrictions of COVID-19. The owner will continue selling tea and products online, and will also be available to appear at events by appointment, but the cozy atmosphere of the cafe where I’ve often met with friends and sipped on tea and nibbled scones will be closed after August 15, 2020. This is very sad news, and I’m grateful for the memories and the time I got to spend there.

The tea ceremony we experienced was called “Yuuzari-no-chaji” (夕ざりの茶事), which is a ceremony specifically for early evening in the warm summer months. It was shorter and more simple (and much more affordably priced) than the other ceremony I had experienced in Michigan, but still beautiful and reflective. We were given several kinds of wagashi (Japanese sweets), served on beautiful Japanese paper that functioned as a little plate:

Wagashi and Matcha

Strawberry and nut mochi with matcha tea and sponge cake.

The kind staff offered several rounds of these sweets and matcha! I was not complaining!!

Judy, wearing a kimono, scoops the matcha.

Judy, wearing a kimono, scoops the matcha.

The host guided us through the ceremony, and invited us to focus on the nature sounds and environment around us, as well as be silent and think about loved ones we miss, or that we’re grateful for. In these COVID days, there’s plenty of opportunity to miss others to be sure.

To close the ceremony, we were invited to introduce ourselves and say a brief word. Many people, including me, spoke about how much they had enjoyed K’Tizo and would miss it. There were tears in the audience. I was particularly taken with a reflection by one of the store managers who said working with the owner had changed her life and taught her so much. It was all very moving.

Strawberry mochi

Inside the strawberry mochi. Foods served at tea ceremonies often reflect what is currently in season for that time of year.

The ceremony in microcosm embodied a bittersweetness that many are experiencing right now, trying to focus on the good and the beautiful things around us in the moment while feeling real loss, and changes over which we have little control. I’m learning how to hold both the bitter and the sweet in my hands, letting them both exist and be acknowledged without allowing either to dominate my attention. Both need to be felt.

Iced tea pitcher with infuser

Iced tea pitcher with infuser, and my first batch of Thai iced tea.

At the end of the evening, I walked into the cafe one last time to purchase a half gallon iced tea infuser and pitcher that I had been eyeing. Today I made Thai iced tea with it, and have already had a large glass of that cool, orange sweetness. The pitcher will help me make iced tea more simply, and enjoy summer. It will also remind me of K’Tizo, and the memories made there.

A warm thank you to the staff of K’Tizo for a place that has been a wonderful gift to our community over the years. You will be missed.

Arigatou gozaimasu

Until next time…tea you later

Tea Tales – Making Matcha, and a Harry Potter Teaspoon

Since receiving matcha powder as a surprise gift, and acquiring the needed tools to make it, I finally got up the bravery to make matcha a few times! Although I’m still very much a beginner, the steps are shown in the photos below:

Step 1: Gather the tools, including the whisk, whisk rest, matcha, bowl, and bamboo scoop.

Step 1: Gather the tools, including the whisk, whisk rest, matcha, bowl, and bamboo scoop.

Step 2: Scoop the matcha powder with the bamboo scoop into a bowl. The directions for the kind I got recommend "two heaping scoops" or 1 teaspoon of powder.

Step 2: Scoop the matcha powder with the bamboo scoop into a bowl. The directions for the kind I got recommend “two heaping scoops” or 1 teaspoon of powder. I find that using the scoop is actually a lot easier than a spoon.

Step 3: Add 4 oz. of 175 F degree water to powder, and agitate the powder and water with the whisk until they look frothy. Keep your whisk as vertical as possible and try not to scrape the bottom of the bowl.

Step 3: Add 4 oz. of 175 F degree water, and agitate the powder and water with the whisk until they look frothy. Keep your whisk as vertical as possible and try not to scrape the bottom of the bowl. This image is of the whisk after it’s been used and rinsed off, sitting on the whisk rest.

Comments on Step 3: I found that I had to add more water to fully have the powder dissolve properly (maybe my “heaping scoops” were too “heaping”?). I also don’t have a good way to measure my water temp, so I just made sure it was at a rolling boil. Avoiding scraping the bottom of the bowl while whisking is really hard, and also confusing. Wouldn’t it be better to scrape a bit to ensure all the powder is agitated, assuming you could be gentle with the whisk so it’s not damaged?

Step 4: Once frothy and when the powder is dissolved, drink and enjoy!

Step 4: Once frothy and when the powder is dissolved, drink and enjoy!

Matcha has what some people call a “grassy” flavor that might take some getting used to, especially for western tastes. It’s a bit bitter as well, but I find it delicious and refreshing! I also enjoy drinking it while eating something sweet (like chocolate, or a cinnamon roll) so the tastes balance each other. I first discovered how eating things while drinking tea can dramatically change the way the tea tastes at my Twining’s tea tasting in London.

I’ve had matcha before, but making it at home has been really fun. I also noticed that the energy boost that comes with it feels much different than other caffeinated teas I’ve had. The boost feels less drastic, and has the essence of a natural, healthy energy rather than a superficial one. With matcha, you are drinking the actual tea leaves as well rather than using them to steep the tea and then discarding them. You therefore absorb all the health benefits they have directly rather than second-hand.


Another new “tea toy” that has entered my household is this teaspoon:

Teaspoon

The bowl of the spoon reads: “Ron’s Emotional Range,” which will be appreciated by Harry Potter fans who recall this memorable quote from Hermione to Ron in movie / book 5.

Hermione and Ron

Rons emotional range

This delightful item came from LitJoy Crate, and I smile every time I use it. 🙂

Until next time…tea you later!

How I got my Job at the Wade Center: Celebrating 15 Years

On May 23, 2020, I’ll celebrate 15 years working at the Marion E. Wade Center as the Archivist. A good milestone for reflection. I also get asked frequently: “how did you get your job?” So I figured a blog post explaining just that wouldn’t be a bad idea either.

EARLY DAYS

High school Laura dressed as a hobbit. This hand-made cloak still comes out for occasional use in student play productions and costume parties.

To fully answer the question, “how did you get your job,” we have to start in third grade when I was introduced to C.S. Lewis by a kind teacher in public school who read us The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. C.S. Lewis was my favorite author by seventh grade when I dressed up like him for a “famous figures” research project at school and learned more about his life. I wish I had a photo of me dressed as C.S. Lewis, but alas, I do not. In eighth grade I read The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, followed closely by The Lord of the Rings in early high school, and was a fully-devoted Tolkien fan once I’d finished. Unlike the Lewis costume, I do have a photo of myself dressed as a hobbit from high school in a pre-Jackson films era costume! Maybe I’ll discuss more fully how I got to know Lewis and Tolkien in a separate blog post sometime.  Suffice it to say, Lewis and Tolkien were favorite authors by high school, and have remained that way to this day.

My older sister entered Wheaton College when I was in sixth grade, and it didn’t take me long to discover the Wade Center existed. When I was on campus visiting her, I would make the pilgrimage to the Wade Center, camp out on the floor of the reading room in front of the glass-front book cases, and pull off volume after volume exploring a new world of resources. The archivist at the time, named Alicia, was very kind to me, and said, “back again?” as I turned up several days in a row. I’ll be the first to admit I still have a big soft spot for kids who visit the Wade and remind me of this younger version of myself. It’s important that they’re treated with kindness. Archives can be scary places to the uninitiated. I still remember the way the staircase smelled when the Wade was in Buswell Library on the second floor. Going up those stairs was the gateway to my Narnia and Middle-earth. It was sacred. It was holy. That staircase is still there and smells the same. I’ll miss it when the library eventually gets remodeled, the plans for which are already in the works.

A page of “research notes” from my Wade visits during high school.

COLLEGE

When it came time for me to apply to colleges, Wheaton was at the top of my list. The Wade Center was there, and I wanted to be as close to it as possible. After acceptance to Wheaton, I quickly inquired about what I could do to become a student worker at the Wade. I began volunteering there in the fall of 1999 until funding came through to hire me as an official student worker later that same year. My first project: quality-checking the data entry of the Tolkien calendar collection in the Wade’s database, which at that time was ProCite. The Wade owns every Tolkien calendar back to 1973, and it was ecstasy for me to look through them and be introduced to Tolkien-inspired artists like The Brothers Hildebrandt, John Howe, and Alan Lee.

College-age Laura in front of Lewis’s wardrobe as a student worker at the Wade’s earlier location in Buswell Library.

I worked at the Wade my entire college career, completing a double major in English literature and history. I traveled to England and Ireland for the first time in the summer of 2001 and walked in the steps of the Inklings, visited the graves of Lewis and Tolkien, and fell in love with Oxford. I also saw the Wade Center move from a small shop in its old home to its own building my junior year. I remember the excitement of that new space, which opened on September 8, 2001 just a few days before 9/11 changed our world.

Working in a special collections environment at the Wade made me realize I would enjoy it as a career. I had known since early high school that I wanted to be a librarian, and my love of history and books, plus the Wade work experience, steered me towards special collections and earning a Master’s degree.

College Laura with Wade directors Marjorie Mead and Chris Mitchell, ca. August 2003.

I graduated from Wheaton a semester early, and worked at the Wade Center full-time somewhere in the realm between a student worker and staff member for 8 months before heading off to graduate school. I had grown very close to the Wade Center staff and counted them all as good friends. August 2003 was a bittersweet time for me as I said goodbye to many college friends, and thought I was ending my time working at the Wade Center forever. I remember a group of friends praying in a circle with me one evening in the parking lot just opposite the Wade Center asking God to bless and direct my future. I didn’t think I’d be back, and said a tearful goodbye to Wheaton.

GRADUATE SCHOOL

In fall 2003 I entered the School of Information at the University of Michigan to earn my master’s degree in the Science of Information (MSI) in a 2-year program. At the time, the program offered 4 different specializations: Human-Computer Interaction; Information Economics, Management & Policy; Archives & Records Management; and Library & Information Services. They’re up to 9 specializations the last time I heard. I was torn on whether to choose ARM or LIS, but in the end picked the Archives specialization as I wanted to focus on historic records, but also took a liberal amount of library classes since special collections are a blend of both, and I remained focused on getting a job in that field.

Grad school was challenging, and the SI program focused on thinking about all information holistically, whether that meant how computers store information, how librarians help people find information, how information can be abused, or how archivists preserve information long-term. Despite the fact that this meant I had to struggle through some classes involving economics and calculus, and study the history of computers, I value everything I learned there. You can’t learn how to solve every problem you will encounter during your career when you’re in school, but you can learn about the tools you need to solve those problems, and how to think through them effectively. The Wade was always in the back of my mind too, serving as an example as I learned things in my classes, and I emailed the Wade staff often, sharing insights with them that I was learning in school, and offering tidbits on problems I knew they were trying to solve with collection access and management.

I also had some great hands-on student work experiences in the Special Collections department of Hatcher Graduate Library, and as an archival assistant in processing and reference work at the Bentley Historical Library. What my classes taught me in theory, I learned about in practice at these jobs and via mentors. SI also hooked their grad students up with amazing spring break work experiences, and I spent my spring break of 2004 in the Berg Collection at the New York Public Library organizing beat poetry fragments while sitting 3 feet away from Charles Dickens’s writing desk.

Laura gives her first professional presentation on Tolkien in September 2003 at an American Tolkien Society event.

Throughout grad school, Tolkien continued to be part of my life. In fall 2003 my paper was selected to present at Tolkien’s 111st birthday party thrown by the American Tolkien Society in Frankenmuth, MI. That was my first experience giving a professional paper on Tolkien. I also attended my first Mythcon, which was magically held in Ann Arbor in the summer of 2004. How did the fates align that perfectly?! I presented my ATS paper again in that venue, and was thrilled to meet many scholars I’d only known before by their names from books I admired.

The kind ladies who adopted me at Marquette in October 2004.

In October 2004, another big Tolkien event occurred: the 50th Anniversary celebration of The Lord of the Rings, held in Milwaukee, WI at Marquette University. Marquette is the owner of the original manuscripts for Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and I’d been there once before when the Wade’s director, Chris Mitchell, took me for a visit during college. I reserved my spot at the conference, bought a plane ticket, and remember thinking as I was boarding the plane: “so my love of Tolkien has me hopping on planes now!” Although I went to the conference on my own, I met a lovely group of ladies there who befriended and adopted me. Tolkien fans are often very kind people! I also sat in awe listening to stimulating lectures by some of the best Tolkien scholars in the world, leaving with a glow that would last for weeks.

TO WADE OR NOT TO WADE?

Another big event occurred that same fall of 2004: the Wade Center’s current archivist had left the position, and they were looking to hire. Now you may well think to yourself (knowing how things turned out) that my applying for this position was a no-brainer, but it was a little more complex than that. For one thing, I was not due to graduate until spring 2005. Could the Wade wait that long? For another thing, I had said my goodbyes to Wheaton, and assumed I was done there. Was going back really the best decision for my career and my future, or simply the comfortable and easy (or dare I say lazy) decision to make?

Rene Descartes

The Wade did invite me to apply, and I spent some time soul-searching. The story of how I did this has been retold to others many times. I remembered from a college philosophy course (thank you, liberal arts), how Descartes had thrown everything he knew out and started from scratch to form his philosophical foundation, thus eventually coming up with “I think, therefore I am.” I did the same, throwing all assumptions away, and asked myself: “Laura, if you could work in any special collections repository in the world, where would it be?” I considered my background in history and English literature. If forced to choose between them, which way would I go? Literature. OK. Who is your favorite author, Laura? *pause* um, Tolkien. Alright then, which Tolkien special collections exist in the world? There are three: the Bodleian Library in Oxford, Marquette University in Milwaukee, and … the Marion E. Wade Center at Wheaton College. What would you like best about working at a Tolkien special collections, Laura? “I would love it if I could freely share how I see faith connected with Tolkien and how his works impact me as a Christian.” Well, which of those three institutions fit that wish best, as a Protestant evangelical, mind you? Wheaton…

And there I was, back again. Just as Chesterton relates in Orthodoxy setting sail to what he thinks is a far, strange, new country, coming ashore to discover he is once again in his homeland. And I had needed every ounce of my graduate school experience and training in order to be qualified for the position. The application process for the Wade Center was bathed in prayer, on both sides, and it became clear after a while that God was leading me back there. And could the Wade wait for me to graduate? It turns out they could, despite the hardship it caused the staff there to wait for me, bless them. I still remember funny things like turning up for my interview and being asked: “is it OK to give the applicant a big hug?” My cab to take me back to the airport was also late / lost at the end of the interview, and Chris ran down the street in his loafers to flag it down on my behalf. And Marj Mead’s comment once I was hired, that when the Wade needed an archivist it turned out they’d “grown their own.”

BACK HOME

And the rest, as they say, is history. I state plainly in the tone of Charlotte Bronte that “Reader, I did indeed find my dream job.” For the past 15 years I couldn’t have imagined myself in a more delightful environment, not only doing the archival work that I was trained to do, but loving the materials I work with each day with every fiber of my being, and taking great personal delight in seeing those materials come to life as they’re used by others. That’s the greatest reward, knowing that the work that goes into preserving and caring for these collections today will keep their wisdom accessible for future generations. They’re fragile time capsules with a legacy that it’s my job to care for at this stage in the journey, and that is a responsibility I take very seriously with a mixture of both humility and delight.

Gandalf?

And the Wade, in turn, graciously puts up with this goofball who sometimes wears a Gandalf hat at the archivist desk or comes to work wearing elf ears, still delights in stories with a child-like reverence, and is always ready for a theme party.

I could not be more grateful, and look forward to what the future brings.

SOME MORE PHOTOS (JUST FOR FUN)

Starting off at the Wade in 2005! Me at the archivist’s desk in the Reading Room.

By the wardrobe in 2006.

Playing games at a student worker holiday party in 2007.

Handling books from C.S. Lewis’s library, ca. 2010.

Enjoying this artifact that celebrates one of the lesser-known Wade authors, ca. 2010.

The Wade’s current staff of super heroes, October 2019.

Tea Tales – New Teas on my Shelf

[In homage to “If you Give a Mouse a Cookie“]

Unexpected matcha

If you give Laura an unexpected gift of matcha in the mail…
…she’ll think it’s finally time to get a matcha whisk,
and a bamboo matcha scoop too.
Because matcha ought to be prepared correctly.
And while she’s on the Serene Teaz site,
she might as well get a re-fill of that tea she’s almost out of.
Then she’ll think: “why not also get some of that other tea I’ve always wanted to try?”
And now that she has a few items in her cart, she adds a few more to get free shipping.
Because you can’t steep and sip postage.
And then she scratches her head and wonders how her order got so big,
but then decides that helping a small business she loves is worth it.
All because of unexpected matcha in the mail.


I had never purchased myself matcha powder before because I thought it was a bit too extravagant, and needed the proper tools. When a generous unexpected gift of some arrived from a friend, it was time to invest! Here are the matcha supplies together:

Matcha whisk, scoop, and matcha powder

And although I don’t have a matcha-specific bowl, I do have this lovely one I found in Chinatown last August that I think will work quite nicely:

And here are the other teas that somehow found their way into my cart:

New teas!

I have tried the Jasmine Rose before and remember loving it! It’s just as delicious as in my memories. The Caramel Harmony is a re-fill of tea I know I like, and the others are black teas that I’ve somehow never tried from Serene Teaz. I LOVE Earl Grey, but have only tried their “Earl Grey de la Creme” and not the regular Earl Grey. That’s unacceptable. Looking forward to tasting them all!!

Until next time…tea you later!

Tea Tales – What’s on my Tea Shelves?

With spending a lot more time at home recently, I’ve been inspired to share what teas I own, a “tea shelfie,” if you will… It occurred to me that sharing the kinds of tea you enjoy helps others learn a little bit more about you, your tastes, and your personality! I invite you to share some teas you own as well in the comments to help me get to know you a bit better too!

Here is my tea basket, primarily with boxes of bagged teas. It fits nicely on a shelf under my microwave in the kitchen, and it’s easy to select which tea I’m hankering for in a nice, organized fashion.

The Tea Basket

I also have a wooden box on my buffet in the dining area for individual tea bags that I offer to guests, providing what I hope is a wide array of choices for whatever kind of tea is desired.

Tea box for guests

Looking closer at the tea basket, here are the teas by type.

Herbal Teas

Herbal teas have no caffeine, and are the perfect beverage right before bedtime.

My visit to the Celestial Seasonings tea factory in Boulder, CO is largely to blame for how many CS teas I have. 🙂

I really enjoy mint and vanilla in herbal teas. The Decaf Sweet Coconut Thai Chai was recommended to me when I visited Celestial Seasonings, and is nice for when you want more of a spicy kick. Believe it or not, I have not yet tried the classic “Sleepytime” tea, but look forward to doing so! It’s the most popular tea they sell, so it must be good! I’ve even pretended to be the Sleepytime Bear, so I really owe it to him to try his tea.

Twinings is another favorite brand of mine, and after a try with mail ordering their tea I discovered these wonderful herbal blends.

Twinings herbal teas

Buttermint combines mint and vanilla, which is amazing, and the taste of orange and cinnamon together is so soothing.

Green Tea & Jasmine

I love green tea and jasmine tea, and Twinings makes a tea that combines both of them that is lovely. The green tea shown here came from Mitsuwa, a local Japanese grocery store, and the jasmine tea came from Chinatown in downtown Chicago.

I also enjoy matcha when I get my hands on it, but don’t have any at home at the moment other than a few remaining Blendy Stick packages (which I confess are pretty tasty, and a no-fuss way to get a matcha latte).

Black Teas

I’m a huge fan of flavored black teas. You’ll see that my favorite flavors include a lot of vanilla, cinnamon, and orange.

Bigelow brand does a particularly fine job with their Vanilla Chai and Vanilla Caramel. The tastes those produce are incredibly rich and robust. If you like a strong flavor to your tea, I highly recommend those!

If I had to pick only one kind of tea to drink for the rest of my life, it would be Earl Grey. I enjoy Twinings brand Earl Grey, and their Lady Grey when I’m in more of a citrus-y mood. Thai iced tea has become a new favorite recently, but it’s harder (and messy) to prepare at home and requires an unconscionable amount of sugar. Easier (and less guilt-inducing) to just buy a can of it now and again from an Asian market when I get the chance. And many Brits swear by Yorkshire Gold, and I don’t blame them. It is the tea I choose when I want a strong, down to business, wake up quickly, rich black tea. I always add milk to it as well for a smoother taste.

Loose Leaf Teas

I realize there’s some overlap with the teas above, but in my mind I always put loose leaf in a separate class from bagged teas. It is prepared differently, and often has a better or more sophisticated taste. My Dream Steeper from Serene Teaz makes tea preparation easy and tidy, and I would die without it. HIGHLY recommended. Steeping this way rather than in a bag also allows better circulation of the tea leaves for an overall better taste and thorough infusion with the water.

Loose leaf black teas

My favorite tea of all-time is Earl Grey de la Creme from Serene Teaz. I thankfully have two 4 oz. bags of it at the moment, so I’m set for a while. The tea in the white bag has its own story that you can read about elsewhere. Midnight Vanilla helps feed my insatiable craving for vanilla teas, and although I’m not a big fruit tea person, I LOVE the authentic taste of peaches in the Peach Tea from Serene Teaz. I used to adore their Ginger Peach tea, but alas, it was discontinued. Fresh peaches are delicious, so when expertly mixed into a black tea (no artificial flavors, mind you), your tea experience becomes truly delectable. Caramel Harmony is a way to sweeten up the earthy taste of Pu-erh tea, but I really appreciate straight Pu-erh as well. Pu-erh can be difficult to brew when made from cakes, so I find this loose leaf solution a nice way to get the taste without much work. It’s a very strong tea, and would be my pick for days with similar needs like the Yorkshire Gold tea supplies (but sweetened by the caramel).

Rooibos, Yerba Mate, and Green loose leaf teas

And to wrap things up, here are some non-black teas I enjoy from Serene Teaz. I love strong-tasting teas, and these all fit that criteria well. The Candy Cane Forest tea is very similar to the Twinings Buttermint tea above with a mixture of vanilla and mint, so I’m going to finish this before opening that box. The Minty Mate is my loose-leaf mint choice (excellent hot or cold), and the Cinnamon Toffee tea has a strong enough flavor to fool you into thinking it’s a black tea, which really won me over. I will admit that the Maple Glazed Cinnamon Roll tea is more enjoyable in name than in flavor in my opinion, but I still had to give it a try. I would take the Bigelow Cinnamon Stick tea, or Celestial Seasoning’s Cinnamon Express black tea over this one any day.

This completes the “tea shelfie” tour of my tea shelves! I hope you enjoyed it, and will share some tea suggestions of your own.

Until next time…tea you later! 🙂

“Those Who Lived to see Such Times”: Suggested Readings from the Wade Authors during Times of Uncertainty

For anyone needing some reading suggestions and digitally-accessible resources for yourself and your family, here you are! Enjoy these recommended reads by the seven authors of the Marion E. Wade Center.

Off the Shelf

C.S. Lewis at RAF Chaplaincy School, 1944 C.S. Lewis at R.A.F. Chaplaincy School, 1944. Image in the public domain. Original print at R.A.F. Chaplaincy Branch Archive, R.A.F. Museum, Hendon, London.

The world is currently experiencing a unique and unsettling time with the Coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19). As you are aware, most businesses have closures or limited services, cultural and social centers such as libraries and museums (including the Wade Center) are closed to the public, large public events have been cancelled, and individuals are being encouraged to keep their distance for safety in order to prevent the spread of the virus. This isolation is hard, and it has made many fearful. However, our current circumstances are very reminiscent of what five of the seven Wade authors experienced while living in 20th century Britain through some of the most difficult periods in modern history. During this time, they witnessed both world wars, and four of them (Owen Barfield…

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Tea Tales – The Tale of the Discontinued Tea

Let me introduce you to a wonderful tea, sold by Trader Joe’s during the holiday season:

It may look simple, but this sweet blend of vanilla and cinnamon in a strong, delicious tasting black tea is full of magic and happiness. It was a favorite of at least 3 other friends, and probably lots of other folks too.

When I first discovered it by a box given to me by a friend, I intentionally went to Trader Joe’s to buy more of it. I don’t usually shop at Trader Joe’s, so when I couldn’t find it in one store, I went to another. It wasn’t there either. I queried the staff, but got no answers. Not to be dismayed, I wrote to TJ’s corporate office to find out what was going on, and they told me it had been discontinued due to “limited shelf space, needing to make room for more products” or some other hogwash.

This was not just disappointment, this was tragedy. To discover a new tea that immediately had me in the throes of taste paradise, and then have it so abruptly taken away forever was positively heart-breaking. Another friend of mine, seeing my despair, lovingly gave me her last box, and I have hoarded that box and used each tea bag with near religious devotion. I discussed the sad state of affairs with other friends who were also hoarding their last boxes.

When I got down to 2 tea bags left, I had an idea. Looking at the ingredients list, I thought to myself, “surely this can be duplicated somehow if one has the right ingredients? Where could I go for such a task?” And then I realized that I had a source that welcomes custom loose-leaf tea blending: Nuovo Tea.

After using the second to last tea bag, I carried the box and the remaining tea bag with great care to Nuovo Tea and my friend Kathleen to ask if she could do anything to clone it, and I was willing to sacrifice the last tea bag for the experiment. The seed would be planted for the hope of a later harvest. Kathleen kindly took the tea bag, said she would try it, and then I could come back and she’d give me a few options to see which I liked best and which came closest to the taste. “But we don’t do any artificial ingredients,” she said, “only natural ingredients are used.” I was OK with that, blessed her, and said I’d return in a week.

The new tea

On February 5, I returned to Nuovo with nervous anticipation. Despite the store being a bit busy, Kathleen kindly invited me to take a seat and said she had tried combining a vanilla oolong and a cinnamon black tea and had good results. I tried it, instantly dismayed. The taste of the oolong (which isn’t my favorite to begin with) was too strong and added a bitter taste, but the aftertaste had a whisper of what it could be. Not put-off, Kathleen suggested adding more cinnamon. This got it closer. She then increased the black tea and reduced the oolong, added cinnamon, AND added agave to sweeten it a bit further without compromising the taste, which something like honey would do.

First sip with the new flavor combination: BINGO! It was as close as one could get without breaking into the Trader Joe’s factory and demanding the secret recipe with a group of assassin ninjas. I was pretty thrilled, and brought home a bag of 2 oz. to start with, writing the combination down carefully so it could be reproduced again at a later date:

  • 1.25 oz. black cinnamon tea
  • 0.2 oz. additional cinnamon
  • 0.75 oz. vanilla oolong
  • agave or other sweetener to taste

When I got it home, I tried adding a few drops of vanilla extract to the cup as well, but it didn’t enhance it in the way I had hoped, just made it taste more…extract-y.

Still, it’s as close to the original as I can currently get, and I’m incredibly grateful to Kathleen and Nuovo for helping me out. I intend to share samples of it with my other sad friends who miss the tea and see what they think. If they like it…they know where they can get more.

Until next time…tea you later!

Tea Tales – Naperville

You never know when a Tea Tale will happen. One shouldn’t be surprised they happen when two or more people meet who are passionate about tea. It also helps to have a large group of college students with you to draw attention to yourself in a small tea shop.

This is what happened on February 9, 2020 at David’s Tea in downtown Naperville. Several fine members of the Wheaton College Tolkien Society were with me exploring the wonders of Anderson’s Bookshop and Le Chocolat French Bistro. We needed a transitional spot to graze in as we left the bookstore and waited for our dinner reservation time at Le Chocolat, and what better spot than a tea store?

We had several in our group who loved tea, a few who liked tea, and one who didn’t like it at all (name withheld for the protection of the innocent / misguided). We entered David’s Tea and began roaming the shelves, picking up the screw jars to smell different blends, and it did not take the staff long to come over and welcome us. One even started handing us free samples of tea in small glasses. After 2 free samples and the encouragement to try more, I decided we’d met a new friend.

Katie: provider of samples.

Katie was our kind staff helper, and the provider of the samples. She was also a fan of Pu’erh tea, Japan, and mushrooms – all good recommenders for immediate friendship.

Always up for trying a good pu’erh, but also wanting to pick something that the students with me (and the one non-tea drinker) might be game to try, we settled on trying a cup of the Hot Chocolate Pu’erh tea. It had the richness of the pu’erh with the sweetness of chocolate, and all of us received a small cup to sample. The non-tea drinker declared it “palatable” (so, close to a win?), and everyone else seemed to enjoy trying it out.

It’s these serendipi-teas that make the life of tea drinking so lovely. This was a great memory we all got to share thanks to a good group of people and kind store staff.

Until next time…tea you later!

Sign on the shop door as you leave.

Tea Tales – Tea Bath Bomb

As described in the previous blog post, I wasn’t overly impressed with the tub tea bag I tried, but would be willing to try another tea bath product in the future. That moment came on January 24, 2020 when I dropped this new bath bomb into the tub to try it out:

The bath bomb

It looked pretty cool, but take a gander at the ingredients:

Where is the TEA in there?! That’s rather…disappointing.

They do get bonus points for the funnily-worded warning on the package, though:

Just in case you were confused about the whole “external use” thing.

Despite the lack of actual TEA in there, I dropped it in the tub.

Bombs away

What is happening?

That’s kinda cool…almost pretty.

Nope, we’re back to disturbing again. It’s not looking good, folks.

And eventually we got this (that other thing in the tub is my washcloth, but it could also be an evil jellyfish:

Witch’s brew, anyone?

The charcoal powder possibly contributed to the dark color, but trust me, it did not look super tempting to climb into. However in the true spirit of trying new things, I did slither in, and found it overall pleasant smelling and made my skin feel nice.

Review:

  • Pleasant smell
  • Nice skin feel
  • Disturbing appearance
  • No actual TEA on tea-named product

So, I remain disappointed, and have yet to experience what bathing in an actual vat of tea would be like. Maybe someday that will happen, but that day is not this day.

Until next time…tea you later!

Tea Tales – Tea Time and Bath Time

While at the Celestial Seasonings tea factory, featured in our last Tea Tale, I discovered “Tub Tea,” a kind of bath bomb shaped like a tea bag. There were several varieties, but in the end I settled on one that had lavender, bergamot (my Earl Grey homage), and pink grapefruit.

The packaging was very nice, and makes you feel like you’re putting a giant tea bag in your bath to create a tub full of tea! I enjoyed the string and label attached to the bag.

After I placed the tea bag in the running water, and swished it around a bit, the water became a little bubbly and had a sweet scent, but I didn’t note any color change. The bath felt pleasant and smelled nice, but it wasn’t a life-changing experience. Still, it was well worth the fun of trying it out, and if I come across another variety of this under a different brand name, I’d definitely give it another go.

I’d give it a 6 out of 10 review score.

Until next time…tea you later!