Posted in Drinking Tea

Going Out for Tea

It should come as no surprise that one of my favorite places to be in the world is a coffee shop.  The atmosphere is always pretty calm and relaxed, and I’m always surrounded by one of the things I love the most –tea!

I’ve lived in many places throughout Southern California and Minnesota, and I’ve grown to love many coffee shops that I frequented.  Of course because there seems to be fewer and fewer independent shops around these days, the majority of my favorite places are corporate-owned.  And that’s fine.  Honestly, I should be thankful that even these are around and seem to financially secure for now.  But what matters to me isn’t what the shop is called, but how I feel when I’m there.  When it comes to the location, the workers, and the atmosphere, these are the places that have made an impact on me.

Starbucks

Well, duh.  Starbucks is easily the most accessible coffee shop to find these days, especially in Southern California where you can probably find one on every corner.  Luckily I really like their teas, so it makes having to go there worth it.  Also, I like having a Gold Card, which works exactly like a gift card, except after 12 drinks you get a free drink (any drink, any size), plus a freebie on your birthday.  But not all Starbucks are the same – in fact, there are a couple that I know I usually avoided – but there are definitely some standouts.

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My fave location:

Promenade on the Peninsula in Rolling Hills, CA – The mall itself is meh (trust me, I used to work there), but the Starbucks is great.  It’s big, has plenty of seating indoors and out, and the baristas are still the best I’ve encountered.  The only downside is that even when it’s 100 degrees outside, it’s freezing inside, which makes it hard to stay for long periods of time unless you have a sweater to throw on.

The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf

My very first job when I moved out to California 12 years ago was a barista at The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf.  At that time, the only thing I ever drank was Diet Coke, so tea wasn’t even on my radar.  It wasn’t until years later when I became an iced tea drinker that I learned to love their teas.  They have a great variety of teas, a good pastry/snack selection, and a cheery atmosphere.  Unfortunately there are no Coffee Beans in MN, but it’s always a place I like to stop into when I’m back visiting CA.

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My fave location:

Manhattan Beach, Manhattan Beach, CA – While the one at which I worked in Studio City was pretty awesome, I prefer beach views as opposed to views of The Valley.  Located just a block from Starbucks, but has about half the crowd and double the seating.  Plus, it’s just up the street from the Pacific Ocean, so the views from the outside seating are pretty fabulous.

Caribou Coffee

Caribou Coffee might be the only coffee shop to outnumber Starbucks in the state of MN, due to the fact that its headquarters is right here in the Twin Cities.  The reasons why I love Caribou Coffee is mostly due to atmosphere, which is a lot more welcoming than most Starbucks.  I love the décor of the shops, which make them all look like you’re sitting in a comfy cabin in the woods, and I love their mantra of living life to the fullest and all that philosophical stuff.  When it comes to their tea, I thought the plain iced tea was pretty good until they accidently made me their Mango Black iced tea, which fortunately I ended up loving.  Now that’s my tea of choice.

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My fave location:

Highway 55 & Vicksburg – Plymouth, MN – My favorite thing about this Caribou Coffee is the atmosphere.  It had lots of seating, lots of windows, and a friendly staff.  If I ever want to go somewhere to sit and write, this is the one I always pick over any other coffee shop.  I could spend hours at this location and not feel stir crazy or cooped up because the layout is so open.  Plus it’s right across the street from the Plymouth library, so that’s always a plus!

Those are the big three in terms of where I get my tea, though I guess now it would be two since I don’t live in California anymore and don’t have access to The Coffee Bean.  I wish there were more local independently owned coffee places near me, but in my day-to-day routine, I always choose between the ‘Bucks and the ‘Bou.

What are some of your favorite places to get tea or coffee?

Posted in Drinking Tea

These Are a Few of My Favorite Teas

It’s probably safe to say that I love all teas.  Tea is tea, and I love everything about it.  I do, however, have some I can consider to be favorites of mine, the ones I tend to go back to after venturing out and trying others.  So if you’re new to tea, or want to try something different, then here’s the list for you!  And here’s an added plus – they’re not expensive!  Well, except for one, which is also really hard to find in it’s pure form unless you happen to be in China.  But all the others can be found at your local grocery stores.

Tazo Rest (Herbal)

51Zl1zMlE7LThe great thing about herbal teas is that you can drink them at night without worrying about the caffeine keeping you up for hours (something you start thinking about the older you get, trust me).  I first noticed this tea at Whole Foods because the packaging was pink due to the rose petals in it.  But also contains Lemon balm, honeybush, orange peel, lemon myrtle, lemon verbena, licorice root, lavender, valerian root, natural flavors, ginger, orange essence oil and Chinese geranium oil.  And all those work together to help people rest at the end of a busy day and fall asleep easier.  Oh, and it tastes super good, too.

Kirkland Green Tea Matcha Blend (Green)

itoen2I’ve tried many many green teas in my day, and while I usually love them all, one of my favorites is the kind you can buy in bulk at Costco, which is the last place I expected to find a good green tea.  But the flavor is really good – not too bitter, but not too weak, either – and it comes with the matcha powder (which is typical of Japanese green teas but not usually found in green teas sold at stores) that enhances the flavor a bit.  The bags are made of nylon which allows easy flow even if they’re not as environmentally friendly as other tea bags.  But still a pretty excellent choice of green tea.

Bigalow Earl Grey (Black)

Bigelow-Tea-Earl-Grey-Tea-072310001237All you have to do is tear open the package and inhale to know that this is a really good tea.  I usually drink my black tea iced, but lately I’ve been making it hot because of the Bigalow sample pack I got from my mother-in-law.  The Earl Grey tea is super fragrant due to the bergamot in it, and that carries over to the taste once water is added.  It tastes really good, and you can’t help but feel a little dignified as you sip a tea that the royals tend to sip during their afternoon tea.

Chinese Pu-erh Tea (Dark Tea)

Chinese_Raw_Puerh_Tea_CakeOkay, so this is the hard-to-get tea that I mentioned before.  You can probably find it in specialty stores, but the kind I have actually came from China.  My MIL went to China a few months ago and came back raving about this miracle tea that’s supposed to be the healthiest tea out there, and also one of the most expensive.  It comes packed into a hockey puck-like shape, and while the size of it varies, the ones I got are about an inch across.  You treat it like loose tea by putting it into an infuser in a pot and then pouring hot water over it to let it steep.  The disc comes apart and becomes a loose tea, slowly infusing into the water and becoming tea.  The taste was really weird at first because it’s not a black or green or herbal tea – it doesn’t taste like any of those.  It’s considered to a be a dark tea, and at first it tasted a little like grass and hay.  But I quickly got used to it, and now I love it.  For all the health benefits, read here.

Celestial Seasonings Honey Vanilla Chamomile (Herbal)

58573Chamomile has long been known to help with calming down and sleep, and I’ve always enjoyed the comforting, floral, cake-battery taste of it.  But when you add in bits of honey and vanilla, the taste just takes off.  It’s the perfect thing to have at the end of your day when you’re curled up in bed with a book, especially during the cold winter months or a chilly rainy day.

Tazo Zen (Green)

s0716908_sc7I usually drink just straight green tea, but sometimes I want a little extra flavor in it just to change things up.  There are a lot of different flavored green teas on the market (Lipton, for example, has a ton, including its “Superfruit” green teas), but the one I tend to enjoy the most is Tazo’s Zen Green Tea.  Besides your local grocery store, this is one of the two green teas that Starbucks serves at their shops (China Green Tips being the other, which I also enjoy).  Zen contains lemon grass, lemon verbena, and spearmint (so it’s not so lemony), and is just the right combo to boost your energy while still making you feel relaxed, if that makes sense.  And unlike some other minty teas, it doesn’t leave you feeling thirsty.

If you’re a fan of tea like me, I highly recommend branching out and trying new teas.  You don’t have to spend a lot of money doing it, and you may discover a new tea that might even become your new favorite.

Does anyone else have any good tea suggestions?

Posted in Drinking Tea, Reading Books

Gifts For People Who Love Tea and Books

Well, that time of year is upon us once again, and in the spirit of St. Nicholas (today is his day, after all) I thought I’d share a few ideas on what to get the tea and books lover in your life.  Of course all of our tastes are different, but let’s just assume for this post’s sake that they like the same things I do.  Because this is totally my own Christmas list in disguise.*

*Cue evil cackle

Tea Drinkware

Since moving to MN a year ago, I’ve come to fully embrace the Caribou Coffee chain, which I’m pretty sure outnumbers Starbucks here in Minnesota (at least outside of Target stores).  And the one thing that I love about the ‘Bou is their selection of drinkware – hot and cold tumblers, mugs, and cups that are well-made and fun to look at.  I currently use an ugly plastic tumbler from Perkins that I stole from my parents as my tea tumbler at work, and I definitely could use an upgrade.  My favorite is the ceramic tumbler with the silicone cover with all the cute drawings all over it depicting “things to stay awake for”, coming from Caribou’s unofficial slogan that I love: “What do you stay awake for?”

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Fancy, Expensive Teas

I’m just going to come out and say it – if you drink a lot of tea like I do, you’re probably not spending a whole lot of money on the habit.  I tend to buy inexpensive teas like Celestial Seasonings, Lipton, and Market Pantry (aka Target brand), all which are great anyway so it’s not a huge deal.  But trust me when I say that once in a while we cheap tea drinkers want to drink something we would never spend money on.  Like the $8.00 boxes of Mighty Leaf I see at Whole Foods , or the $10 tins of The Republic of Tea that look so pretty on the shelves.  Trust me – these are things we want to see in our stockings.

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Hardcover Books

With the convenience of library sales and ebooks and what-not, I don’t know too many people who shell out $20 for a hardcover book from Barnes and Noble these days.  That being said, it’s still something that we would love to receive.  There’s simply nothing quite like unwrapping a Christmas present and finding a beautiful, brand-new hard cover book inside that you didn’t have to buy yourself, all yours to open up and breathe in the new-book smell.  Especially if it’s a book that you simply cannot find at any library or one in which you’re WAY down on the waiting list, like the following:

–        Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

–        The Selection by Kiera Cass

–        Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor

–        Reached by Ally Condie

–        Finale by Becca Fitzpatrick

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Coffee Table Books

Everyone loves a good book they can place on their coffee table or on their bookshelves to make their house look extra fancy or give them something to page through when they’re bored.  We have a lot of books like that, but the one that I’ve always wanted but never bought is Avatar: The Last Airbender (The Art of the Animated Series.  Since it’s my favorite animated series of all time, I would love to look at all the beautiful art that went into making and shaping the show.  I would also accept any art book that involves Lord of the Rings / Hobbit, Star Wars, or anything about Disney animation, because all that stuff looks great on coffee tables.

Art_of_the_Animated_Series_cover

The Ultimate Book Bag

I don’t know about you, but I always have to bring a bag with me when making trips to the library.  Also, since I bring a book with me wherever I go, my purse has to be big enough to fit one (I make my decisions based on Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – if it fits, it’ll hold anything).  So a bag that’s big enough to hold any number of books is something that we’d love to receive.  You can find book bags at many places, but I tend to find the ones I really want on sites like Etsy (for something cute and original), Zappos (for a huge selection), and Zazzle (for something more personalized).

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Background Music

Personally, I don’t listen to music while I read.  If anything I’ll have on my white noise machine or a hair dryer (I know it’s totally weird, but if I’m cold sometimes I turn on a hair dryer while I read – the sound and the heat are oddly comforting to me).  But if you like to have on soft music while you read, I suggest anything that’s instrumental so the words don’t distract you from the words on the page.  Might I suggest the upcoming soundtrack to The Hobbit, a two-disc score that will be available December 11?  Wink, wink, nudge, nudge, pinch, pinch, KICK.

the-hobbit-soundtrack-special

An Awesome Teapot

I’m usually a teabag kind of girl, but that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy the occasional loose tea leaf.  And the only way to truly enjoy the loose tea experience is to get a awesome teapot.  Teapots come in many shapes in sizes – I have one for multiple cups and one for single servings, and you can find some really cool ones out there in the interwebs.  A great place to find an original teapot that will look great on your counter is Etsy or Think Geek, where you can find such kinds as a TARDIS teapot (for the Doctor Who fan) and a magic lamp teapot (for the Aladdin fan).

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And When All Else Fails…The Gift Card

People say that gift cards are impersonal, but I say nay, nay.  People who love tea and books most certainly love gift cards to Starbucks, Caribou Coffee, Barnes and Noble, Amazon, and iTunes  because it’s simply more fuel for their passion.  And it puts all those questions the buyer may have – “But do they like green tea or herbal tea?” or “Do they already have this book?” to rest.  And even though a place like Target carries books and tea, I don’t suggest getting them a Target gift card.  Because you know what they’ll end up buying with it?  Toilet paper and milk.  So stick with the tea and book-specific places – we’ll have loads of fun deciding what to buy with our gift cards.  Seriously.  Gift cards awesome.  Don’t be afraid.

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Posted in Drinking Tea

Sniffle, Cough, Sneeze…Pass the Tea, Please!

All the signs were there.  Sore throat.  Runny nose.  Watery eyes.  I thought I was going to be able to escape the virus that inhabited my daughter for a week like a superhero but, alas, it finally caught hold of me last night, letting me know as I crawled into bed that it was setting up shop and didn’t plan on leaving right away.

I don’t get very sick very often, which is awesome.  Having drank green tea everyday for over ten years, I think I’ve built up a pretty strong immune system.  However, I am not immune to four-year-olds who cough in my face and insist on kissing me goodnight depsite the fact that they have snot all over nose.

So there you have it.  I have a bit of a cold.  It’s not horrible – I can still function at work and drive and hold up a semi-decent conversation about how much I hate Counting Crows (which occured this morning) – but it’s enough to make one feel, well, kinda crappy.  I keep sneezing, and since I don’t have any tissues at my desk, I keep sniffling which, when other people do it, drives me nuts.  So I’m trying to keep the sniffling down to a minimum, dashing to the bathroom when I decide I really need to blow my nose.

Though I may need to purchase this to place at my desk.

While this all may seem immensely exciting to read about, I do have a purpose for today’s post, and that is what to drink when you’re suffering from the cold and flu blues.  The answer, of course, is tea, and I’m here to educate you on what teas to look for while miserably shuffling down the market aisle when all you want to do is crawl into bed and go to sleep.

In doing some research on this topic, I got a lot of my information from this site, which also has helpful information about other tea benefits.  So if you want to learn more about nature’s remedy for everything, head to that page.  Or just continue reading this awesome post right in front of you.

Since green tea is the one I drink the most of, I was pleased to learn that the ingredient in green tea, EGCG, specifically targets cold viruses.  So instead of taking that gross, syrupy red stuff to to take the sniffles away, I can drink unlimited cups of green tea and (hopefully) feel better.  Naturally!

It’s EASY being green.

Another tea you can drink to blast the bug is ginger tea combinded with honey.  Now I’m not a huge fan of ginger.  When I was pregnant and uber-sick, everyone told me to take ginger to make the nausea disappear.  The thought of ginger in itself made me vomit.  So I tend to stay away from the stuff.

However, if you don’t mind ginger, it can help warm the body and get rid of fevers.  It can also help ease congestion and thin out your gross mucus, which can help you sleep better at night.  Because believe me, one of the worst things in the world is to try to sleep when you can’t breathe.  Seriously, it sucks.

Gross.  But beneficial (if you like to breathe).

Got a sore throat?  Try gargling some sage tea (which makes things fun, too!)

Think you’re getting a cold?  Quick, drink some elderberry tea and shorten the length of that virus so you don’t waste all your sick time in one week!

Feel like you’re doing to die?  Better get some echinacea in you to weaken the intensity of that nasty cold!  But don’t drink it every day because your body will get used to it, giving you absolutely no help at well when you really need it.  Drink it sporatically to get the full immunity benefit.

There’s even a cute koala on the box.

Of course none of these claims are certified by the good ol’ FDA.  And I’m nowhere near being a doctor, so don’t think I have some sort of magical cure for that silly bug your kid passed on to you.  But it is proven that tea is healthy for you no matter what sort of state you’re in, so by just drinking it alone you’re doing yourself a favor.

A couch, a TV, and a good book can also do wonders.

Cheers!

Posted in Drinking Tea

Don’t Worry, I Still Drink Tea

So when I first started this blog a year ago, I was going to strictly focus on tea and books, hence the name Hot Tea, Hot Books. However, you can only write so much about tea until it becomes boring and you find so much more to write about, and then the title of your blog doesn’t even make sense anymore.

But not to worry. I still love tea and still make it a part of my daily routine. And since it’s been a LONG time since I last mentioned it, I thought today would be a good day to remind you all why drinking tea is so awesome and important and something every one of us should do.

First off, the health benefits. Remember these? Yes, tea is VERY healthy for you, one of the healthiest drinks you can consume, whether you’re drinking green, black, or herbal. I’ll just throw a few of them out there for you: increases life expectancy, can prevent certain kinds of cancer, can make your teeth and gums healthier, and provides excellent cardiovascular health. Some people drink green tea because it has been shown to speed up metabolism rates and help them lose weight. That’s all fine, of course, and a lot better than swallowing diet pills. Combined with a healthy food diet and exercise, it’s a great way of shedding pounds.

All that from a simple drink! Just think of all the unhealthy drinks some of us can consume throughout the day: soda (diet and regular), sugary juices, calorie-loaded Frappuccinos. You have one and you think, well, it’s just one. It’s fine. But add up everything you drink during the week, and the numbers can get kind of freaky. I’m not saying you can never have any of these drinks again – I’m totally guilty for drinking a Mountain Dew yesterday because the craving hit me like a hammer and I couldn’t resist (of course halfway through it tasted gross to me and I threw it out) – but at least try to balance it out with some healthy drinks, too. And drinking just one cup in the morning is an easy way to start.

I drink about three cups of green tea in the morning. That’s just always been my routine since I started drinking it ten years ago (except for when I was pregnant). Another great thing about tea is that it has less caffeine than coffee. Now, you’re probably thinking, “Why would I want to drink something with less caffeine in the morning? I need it to wake up!” Well, chances are you probably don’t need that much caffeine. The amount in tea – green or black – gets the job done for me, and I’m not left feeling all shaky because of too much caffeine.

Sometimes I’ll have a cup after dinner, but my nightly routine tends to be more of the herbal variety due to their lack of caffeine. I love herbal tea. There are so many different kinds of herbal teas out there with so many different flavors and health benefits that sometimes I just can’t make up my mind of which ones I want. I usually go for the herbal teas that are meant for nighttime – not that I have problems sleeping, but they definitely help me calm down to get ready to sleep. And there is nothing like curling up in bed with a good book and a hot cup of nighttime tea. Some of my favorite nighttime teas include Celestial Seasonings Sleepytime Tea (the one with the bear in his pajamas on the box) and Lipton’s Honey Vanilla Chamomile. Delicious. And truly beneficial.

During the day, I tend to drink iced tea (black, not green). It’s a popular drink, especially during these hot Minnesota summers, but people have always figured it didn’t carry as much beneficial weight as hot teas. Well, it turns out that’s wrong! Iced tea is still beneficial, according to studies done by Prevention magazine. In their tests they discovered the following:

1. Homebrewed iced tea (brewing tea bags and then chilling or cold-brew fridge teas) is more healthy than bottled iceds teas.

2. Cold-brew teas (fridge teas) contain more antioxidants than hot-brewed-then-chilled teas due what they call “agitation”.

3. Both green and black iced tea are equally has healthy, though green tends to be more of a cancer fighter and black tends to be more of a cardiovascular disease fighter.

4. While decaf teas had slightly lesser antioxidants than the regular kind, they still contained more antioxidants than most fruits and vegetables.*

*Note: That doesn’t mean you can skip out of fruits and vegetables. This is just an awesome addition.

I’m going to keep this post short, but I really hope you consider at least trying the stuff if you haven’t already. Someone – who had never drank green tea before – once asked me if I was one of those weird health nut people…you know, the kind who cleanses and juices and eats weird-smelling smelt bread and raw food – all because I drank green tea. Once I got over their ignorance, I explained that I don’t consider drinking green tea to be a “weird health nut person” thing – it’s just a way of life. I’m not the world’s healthiest eater – I’m slightly addicted to cookies and brownies and pizza – so my tea routine is just my small way of trying to find that balance. And if you’re looking for baby steps, a cup in the morning is where to begin.

Posted in Drinking Tea

I Love Coffee…But I Don’t Drink the Stuff.

Wait a second.  Is that even possible?  How can someone love coffee without drinking it?  It would be like saying you love the movie The Artist even though all you’ve ever seen are the clips they showed at the Academy Awards.  It would be like saying you love sushi even though your only experience is being welcomed by the sushi chefs when you walk in to order teriyaki chicken.

So here’s the thing.  It’s all about the idea.  I love the idea of The Artist because it’s a black-and-white silent film.  I love the idea of sushi because the rolls are visually appealing, like a work of art, and sushi restaurants with conveyor belts are kind of awesome.

This is how I feel about coffee.  I love the idea of coffee and everything that goes with it.    The smell, the establishment, the obsessive geekiness of it all.

Too bad it tastes disgusting.

First let’s talk about the smell.  Coffee smells delicious.  I don’t think I’ve met anyone who doesn’t like the smell of coffee, though I’m sure there are some weird people out there.  My first paying job when I moved to California was at The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf in Studio City, and one of the things I loved most about the job was the smell of the place when I would first walk in.  I usually worked in the morning, and even though it was 5:30 am and I was dead tired, the smell of the coffee not only woke me up, it also cheered me up.

I worked there for six months, and in between all the star sightings and spilled drinks, I never got sick of that smell.  I still feel happy when I walk into Starbucks, even though their smell has more of a burnt aroma to it.  I still associate that coffee smell with comfort and happiness, like the smell of coffee makes me feel safe, or something.

And then there’s The Coffeehouse.  I love coffeehouses.  I don’t care if we’re talking about Starbucks or Caribou Coffee, or the tiny independent place down the street.  The institution itself is almost as important as the coffee it serves.

According to the amazing Wikipedia, coffeehouses have existed for centuries, the first appearing sometime around the 16th century in the Ottoman Empire.  It then spread to Europe in places like Venice, Paris, and London, and then eventually to America in the 18th century, appearing for the first time in Boston.  They were mainly used as places to socialize and talk about politics and tell stories, and up until around the 19th century women were banned from coffeehouses in France and England, and sometimes they would dress in drag to gain entrance.

Coffeehouses today are still used as social centers, but many of the commercial ones have lost their personal appeal and appear to be just another corporation.  Starbucks is trying to shake that corporate feel off by making the experience more of a “true coffeehouse experience” by making each drink one at a time, but that doesn’t change the fact that Americans don’t have any patience and simply don’t like to wait for their drink.

And do you realize how many different types of drinks are made with coffee?  Wikipedia lists 63 different drinks, but I’m sure there’s more than that.  They range from the Red Eye to a cappuccino to a macchiato and something called a “Dirty Chai”, which is much less exciting that it sounds (it’s just chai tea with a shot of espresso).  And do you know about the Espresso Romano?  It’s a shot of espresso with a small rind of lemon and sugar added to it.  Or a Café Zorro, which is a double espresso added to hot water.  Just don’t go into a Dunn Bros. Coffee and order a Frappuccino – it’s a registered trademark of Starbucks.

Perhaps someday when I get old…older than I already am…I’ll grow accustomed to the taste of coffee and join the millions who consume it every day.  But for now, I will continue to appreciate the cup of coffee as an outsider and just enjoy my brewed cup of hot tea.

Which more people in the world drink anyway!

Happy drinking!

Posted in Drinking Tea, Learning Things, Living Life

Getting Adjusted

It’s been almost three weeks since I made the move from Los Angeles to Minneapolis, and let me tell you…it hasn’t been easy.  I made a similar move ten years ago when I moved from Minneapolis to Los Angeles right after graduating from college, and that was cake.  Seriously, all I took with me was a large suitcase full of clothes and a handful of books, and then whatever would fit in my 1993 Pontiac Grand Prix that my parents so willingly drove across the country for me while I took a plane.  I don’t remember feeling that much stress, except for the “oh-my-God-I’m-moving-to-California” stress that was to be expected.  Other than that…easy.

Since meeting my husband, we have moved five times, all within the Los Angeles area.  All moves were pretty easy, even the fifth one from Corona to Torrance when our daughter was just 10 months old.  So when we finally made the decision to move 2000 miles, I thought, “Well, we’ve done this so much, it’s gonna be easy!”

Way wrong.  This move – for lack of a better word – sucked.  For one thing we have way too much stuff ( I, however, have just the right amount of books), and it took forever to pack up all our stuff.  We also only had one 16 ft POD in which to pack our belongings, and that made for a tight squeeze, even after selling a lot of our stuff, and packing that thing was like the ultimate game of TETRIS.

Minus the cool creepy Nutcracker music.

Don’t forget that our daughter is now 3 and a half, and fully aware that we were packing up her precious toys.  I won’t go into detail about how much that sucked.  Just use your imagination.

But after all that (and a lot of money spent), we eventually made it here to Minnesota.  And while I thought getting the move over and done with would bring relief, it hasn’t.  At least the relief that I wanted.  We’re in completely different state, surrounded by completely different people, and even though I was born here and lived in this state for 18 years (and Wisconsin for four), things are just…different.  Let me explain.

1.  The Weather

Ah, yes…the one thing most of the people commented on when we told them we were moving.  “But it’s so cold there!”  Yes, people, it’s cold in Minnesota.  I’ve lived here, so I know how cold it can get.  And yes, it was a bit of a shock when I got off the plane.  But it’s just something you get used to.  It’s only 10 degrees outside?  You dress for it.  Add another layer, throw on a scarf, stick a hat on your head.  Wear some fuzzy socks and some ugly boots.  You just deal with it.  On the upside, however, it has been unseasonably warm this January, and yesterday it even got above 40 degrees, making me want to break out the spring jackets.  Of course had I been in LA and it got down to 40 degrees, I probably wouldn’t have even stepped outside.  Because it just becomes all relative.

Wait…is that supposed to be below the zero?

2.  The People

There’s this thing people talk about called “Minnesota Nice”, which refers to niceness of the natives of this state.  Growing up I never really noticed it, probably because not everyone is nice in middle and high school.  But living ten years in Los Angeles made me appreciate the whole “Minnesota Nice” phenomenon, because you know what?  People are really nice here!  I’m not saying that there aren’t nice people in LA, because there are.  But working in retail for the past six years made me realize that there are a lot of NOT nice people there.  Even just walking down the street people looked either upset or pissed off or just plain mean.  And while I’m sure there are some not nice people in Minnesota, my experiences with the public have been very pleasant.  Where else would a complete stranger at IKEA offer give us some rope from his truck and help us strap a mattress to the top of our car?

3.  The Freeways

I’m not going to talk about the obvious difference in traffic between Los Angeles and Minneapolis.  We all know the difference.  What I’m talking about here are the actual Twin Cities freeways themselves, and how I don’t understand them one bit.  Freeway driving in Los Angeles, despite all the traffic, is actually really easy.  They all pretty much go East/West and North/South, and you always have the mountains and the ocean as a directional guide.  Going north?  Ocean’s on your left.  Going West?  Mountains are on your right.  You know that, and you can’t get lost.  But here?  Seriously, I feel like I’m driving in circles.  All the time.  If it wasn’t for my GPS, I’d probably be in South Dakota right now.

Um…huh?

4.  The Coffeehouse

Living in LA, I was used to finding a Starbucks on pretty much every corner I turned.  Getting my Venti Unsweetened Black Iced Tea became a thing of routine, something I had to get everyday – plus a free refill – or else my day would be total crap (I’m serious – I did a study on it).  So when I came here I thought, “Well, since there are more Starbucks than people in LA, I’m sure to find a few in my neighborhood here!”  HA.  Not so.  Minnesota-grown Caribou Coffee seems to have the “one-on-every-corner” market taken here in the Twin Cities, and while the iced tea there isn’t bad, it just isn’t the same.  It’s not like we don’t have Starbucks here – most of them being inside of Super Targets – but out of convenience I’ve had to resort to the ‘Bou just about everyday.  It’s just something I’m going to have to get used to, I guess.  Le sigh.

It’s a slow process – especially for my daughter – but I know things are going to get better.  My husband and I may be unemployed and living in my parents’ basement (PARTY!), but as of the writing of this blog we both have interviews lined up, so I’m actually typing with my fingers crossed.  Seriously, try it sometime.  It’s not easy.  But it can be done.

It can be done.

Happy living!

Posted in Drinking Tea

The Tea Drinking World Tour

In past posts I’ve written about the different kinds of tea and some of their benefits.  But what I haven’t talked about is the way tea is consumed around the world.  Not everyone throws a tea bag in a mug and pours hot water on it (like me).  Tea is taken very seriously in various parts of the world, and each part does it in their own, unique way.

Indian Tea Culture

India is known for its Assam and Darjeeling teas, and is popular all over as a breakfast and evening drink.  It is usually served with milk and sugar, and is almost always black tea.  The tea leaves are boiled in water, and then the milk is added.  Offering tea to visitors rather than alcohol is customary in India.

Don’t be offended if you’re offered it in a steel mug.  This is also customary.

*Side note: I have a co-worker who’s from India and loves her afternoon tea breaks.  Yet she never offers me tea when I come into work.  What’s up with that???

Chinese Tea Arts

In China, there are several special circumstances in which tea is prepared and consumed.  For example, tea is consumed as a sign of respect.  The younger generation always shows its respect to the older generation by offering a cup of tea.  Inviting and paying for their elders to go to restaurants for tea is a traditional activity on holidays.  Tea is also used to apologize to others.  For example, children serving tea to their parents is a sign of regret and submission.

Sorry I’m being such an evil witch today.  Here’s some tea!

During a traditional Chinese wedding, the bride and groom kneel in front of their parents and serve them tea as a way of expressing gratitude. And then they usually say something like this: “Thank you for bringing us up. Now we are getting married. We owe it all to you.”  Even though what I’m pretty sure is going through their mind is this: “Okay, we’re doing this because we have to…you really had nothing to do with this marriage…you just met the person I’m marrying two days ago…so drink your tea and let’s get on with it.”

*Side note: Finger tapping on the table is the customary way of thanking the tea master for your tea.  I’m totally going to try this the next time I’m at Starbucks.

Japanese Tea Ceremony

Green tea is the most popular tea served in Japan.  It’s served in companies during afternoon breaks, and it also served when guests visit Japanese homes.  At restaurants, cups of green tea are served – no charge – with unlimited refills.

Many Japanese are still taught the art of the Japanese Tea Ceremony, or chanoyu.  There are two versions – we’ll just call them the short version and the long version, with the long version lasting up to four hours.  The ceremony is performed in tea rooms covered in tatami mats, and different equipment is used depending on the season: the chakin (a small cloth), a tea bowl, a tea caddy, a tea scoop, and a tea whisk. And then once your guests arrive, this is what you do (in layman’s terms)

– Put on socks

– Bow

– Wash hands

– Rinse mouth

– Enter tea room through small crawl space

– Snacks

– Sake shots

– Sweets

– Break time

– Wash hands (again)

– Rinse mouth (again)

– Bow (again)

– Pass the tea bowl to the left-hand side

– Admire all the nifty utensils being used

– Bow (last time, I swear)

-Put your shoes back on

-Sayonara

-Please return your socks upon exit.

Taiwanese Bubble Tea

Okay, so this isn’t really a “ritual” of sorts, but I’m sort of weirded out by bubble tea, so I have to include it.  The whole bubble tea craze came about in Taiwan in the 1980s, and eventually made its way over to the States, especially where I live in SoCal.  What is bubble tea?  It’s a combination of a tea base (black or green) with fruit syrup and milk.  Also called “pearl milk tea”, some varieties contain small chewy made with tapioca starch (those would be the “pearls”).

*Side note: Want a blended iced bubble tea?  Just order a Snow Bubble.

A WARNING: Boba pearls, milk powder, and juice syrups may contain banned chemical additives in order to reduce costs.  In May of 2011 they discovered in Taiwan that a chemical plasticizer and potential carcinogen used to make plastic was found in some bubble teas.  And some of these products were shipped to the U.S.

*Another side note: Bubble tea may kill you.

British Tea Culture

In Britain, black tea is usually served with milk (never cream!!!) and sometimes with sugar.  And while there’s no formal ceremony done in this part of the world, the Brits love their tea – consuming as much as 15-20 cups a day – and tea breaks are an essential part of every day.  The Brits also like their cups and saucers, as opposed to mugs, and the way they do “tea” is done to a science:

– Boil water in kettle

– Pour in pot

– Add loose tea leaves or tea bags – One per person and one for the pot

– Add freshly boiled water to pot and brew for a few minutes

– Please tea cosy on pot to keep warm

– Add milk

– Pour tea through strainer to catch leaves

– Give tea to guests, let them sugar to taste

– Replace tea cosy

Sounds awfully refined, yeah?  But did you know that when to add the milk is actually a matter of debate?  Back in the day, milk would be poured into the cup first to avoid the thermal shock of hot tea cracking the delicate porcelain.  If you add it in after the tea is poured, you may scald the milk.  In other words, pouring milk after tea produces abrupt milk heating, while pouring tea after milk produces more gradual milk heating.  So pick your side.

*Side note: Adding milk – whether it’s before or after – is gross.

So there you have it.  If you want to know more about how tea is consumed in other countries, for example, Russia (uber strong, no milk), then you need not look further than Wikipedia or Google.  Until then…

Happy drinking!

Posted in Drinking Tea

Tea of the Week: Acai Tea

You may have noticed the word “acai” popping up in various places lately – coffee shops, grocery stores, bakeries, and other places where cool people in the know tend to hang out.  It seems the acai berry is the new blueberry – the new healthy berry – and there are many reasons why it’s suddenly making its way into the mainstream.

Acai berries are fairly similar to blueberries but are found mostly in South America (blueberries are obviously a North American thing).  They have about the same concentration of antioxidants and measure around the same size, but the difference can be found in the taste.  Acai berries has been said to have a taste combination of red wine and chocolate.  Um…yum!

Sold!

The acai berry also has an abundance of Omega-3 fatty acids, which are usually found in fish, and are uber good for you.  They’re great for the heart as they help lower the levels of the harmful triglycerides in the blood. And one of the reasons why the berry has become so popular lately is due to the claim that it helps in weight loss. However, that hasn’t been scientifically proven, and you’re probably better off eating the berry for the health benefits after running a few miles to lose the weight.

Acai tea is usually made by combining the freeze-dried acai berry powder with either black, green, or herbal teas.  And because the base teas already have a lot of antioxidants, adding in the acai simply doubles the health benefits of the tea!

Acai tea also contains an amino acid called Aspartic Acid, which helps in creating energy and raising metabolism (I would still run, though, if you want to lose the weight).  I also helps with the functioning of the nerves and the brain, as well as enhancing the immune system.

With all these benefits, drinking a cup of acai tea once a day seems like a no brainer.  But does it really taste good?

Let me remind you…

Yes.  Yes it does.

Happy drinking!

Posted in Drinking Tea

Tea of the Week – Sweet Southern Edition

As I was thinking about which tea to write about today, I thought I would look to see if any holidays landed on this day that I could relate to a certain kind of tea. For example, if today were Christmas, I would write about Christmas Tea, a Ceylon black tea flavored with cinnamon, cloves, and orange peels. But, alas, it’s not Christmas. In fact, no actual holiday falls on this day that I can relate to any kind of tea. It’s Michael Jackson’s birthday, but I have no idea if he was a tea drinker. Although I did find out that a couple years ago some personal items of his went up for auction, like a whistling train teapot.

But despite the Michael Jackson fire engine tea kettle, I couldn’t find enough info for an entire blog. So I settled on a different “holiday” today, and I put that word in quotes because it’s not actually a “holiday”. Today marks the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s destructive landfall in New Orleans, and in honor of that, I will write about a certain kind of tea that’s quite popular in New Orleans and all over the south.

I’m talking about Sweet Tea.

Now, let’s get one thing straight. I don’t drink Sweet Tea. In fact, every time Starbucks screws up my drink and “accidentally” puts sweetener in my iced tea, I almost gag and want to spit it all over the windshield (because it always happens when I’m in the drive-thru). But a lot of people love Sweet Tea, and since some of you may not know a whole lot about the southern drink, here’s a brief introduction.

Dolly Parton’s character in Steel Magnolias called sweet tea the “house wine of the South” – a clear, orange-to-red tinted tea brewed from six or seven Lipton tea bags, poured hot onto a cup or more of sugar or a pool of simple syrup, and then diluted into a gallon pitcher in the fridge (gag). And when they say “sweet”, they really mean “sweet”. I read somewhere that the sweetest glasses can contain up to 22 Brix (the degree of sugar content) of sugar. That’s about twice the amount that’s in a can of Coke! But because the brewed tea is so strong, the bitter and the sweet balance out (but it still sounds gross to me).

And when the sun does down, you can turn that sweet tea into a mint julep, which is basically sweet tea, mint, ice, simple syrup, and whiskey. Wow, that sounds really Southern.

But either way you drink it, make sure your pour it over a bucket full of ice. Because apparently Southerners love lots of ice. Well, I don’t blame them, really. I heard it gets pretty hot down there.

Nearly every single restaurant in the South serves sweet tea – it’s pretty much like water there – but it’s not as easy to find up here (unless you add sweetener to your Starbucks iced tea, which I heard isn’t the same). However, if you need to quench that craving you have for sweet tea – and you don’t want to spend a lot of funny – there’s always McDonalds.

But…to each their own.

Happy (sweet) drinking! (Or bitter, if you’re like me. Which is way cooler).

Posted in Drinking Tea

Tea of the Week – British Edition

So…my original plan was going to be to introduce a new tea every week.  It has, however, been two weeks since I’ve even mentioned the word tea.  I wish I could say that I was totally busy and just didn’t have the time, but that’s not really the case.  I blame The Doctor.

Seriously, my husband and I have been watching episodes of Doctor Who every night.  We’ve gone through one and a half seasons in just over a week, and now we’re all caught up just in time for the rest of season premiering this Saturday.  Why this sudden interest in The Doctor?  Not sure.  I just decided to watch the first episode of season 5 – the first season with the Eleventh Doctor (don’t ask me to explain the evolution of The Doctors; just go with it) – and was hooked after about five minutes.  After watching 20 episodes of Matt Smith as The Doctor, Karen Gillan as Amy Pond, and Arthur Darvill as Rory, I’ve decided that Doctor Who is currently the best show on television.

BUT…I’m not here to talk about my latest television obsession.  I’m here to talk about tea!  And in honor of Doctor Who and all it’s Britishness, I’m going to tell you about a tea that’s also full of Britishness: Earl Grey.

Earl Grey is a black tea that contains oil extracted from the rind of the bergamot orange, and named after the British Prime Minister in the 1830s.  There are different ways of preparing Earl Grey tea, for example, the “Lady Grey”, made with lemon and Seville orange in addition to bergamot.  And then there’s the “London Fog”, a combination of Earl Grey, steamed milk, and vanilla syrup.

And since we’re talking about tea, there are obviously some benefits to drinking Earl Grey.  Black tea itself is known to contain antioxidants, while bergamot is said to be a potent nervine enhancer (helps the nervous system), although if you add milk you do reduce the strength of the benefits.  What else can Earl Grey do?  Well, how about this:

  • Earl grey tea may help enhance the immune system and fight viruses that cause coughs, colds and flu.
  • Earl grey tea may help protect against cancer.
  • Earl grey tea may help protect against certain cardiovascular diseases.
  • Earl grey tea may help fight insomnia.
  • Earl grey tea may help induce relaxation and fight anxiety.
  • Earl grey tea may help fight depression and uplift the mood.
  • Earl grey tea may aid in proper digestion.
  • Earl grey tea may help in fighting inflammation.
And, above all else, Earl Grey tea is very British, and we all know that British things are very cool.  So if you’re ever in the mood to drink some tea and feel a little British, put some water on the stove and pour yourself a cup of Earl Grey tea.  And have a biscuit.  You’ll be instantly cool.
Happy drinking!  Cheerio!

Posted in Drinking Tea

Tea of the Week – An Introduction

Since we live in a world of soda and beer, I’ve decided that once a week I will introduce you to a new tea and share with you the benefits of that particular tea.  There are so many teas out there, yet all people are really familiar with are black and green.  But did you know that there are eleven varieties of black tea?  And eleven different kinds of green?  And how much do you know about white and red teas?  And what on earth is Rooibos?

Let me educate you.

Black Tea

Black tea is the most popular and most commonly used tea in the West.  Black Tea undergoes full oxidation and fermentation, letting the leaves turn black, and that’s how they get their strong, typical flavor.  It’s what the Brits drink during afternoon tea, and it’s what constitues most iced teas (like at Starbucks).  Some people drink it black, and some people (Brits) prefer to add milk and sugar.  But no matter how you drink it, you can’t deny it’s benefits.  According to leading medical journals, black tea is known to be a heart tonic, cancer blocker, fat buster, immune stimulant, arthritis soother, virus fighter, and cholesterol detoxifier.

Here are the eleven popular varieties of black teas that you may be interested in trying:

Green Tea

Green tea is pretty awesome.  It’s my tea of choice, and also the choice of most of China and Japan.  To some, green tea is a wonder drug.  It has been known to lower the risk of cancer, lower the risk of stroke and heart disease, lower blood pressure, prevents tooth decay, and inhibits viruses. Seriously, people.  It does all that!!  And yet most of us prefer sugary soda-y drinks.

I first started drinking green tea ten years ago when a girl who worked at the Health Bar at Equinox Fitness Club (where I was also employed) told me that green tea speeds up your metabolism, thus causing you to lost weight.  Well, I was 23 at the time, so of course I was all for being skinny (I know better now).  I don’t know if it really did speed up my metabolism, though studies have shown that it does, but it did get me addicted to the tea.  It just made me feel better.  I started drinking it everyday, and to this day I still have a cup in the morning and a couple cups at night after dinner.  And I may be jinxing myself as I type, but since I started drinking green tea, I rarely get sick.  If I get a cold, it only lasts a couple of days.  Is it because of a boosted immune system due to the green tea?  Perhaps.  If not, well, I’m going to keep drinking it everyday anyway because I love it so much.

You can probably find these varieties of green tea at local health food stores like Whole Foods or Sprouts.  If you can pronounce them.

White Tea
White tea has become more popular over the past few years due to studies that have shown it’s even more healthier than green tea.  Unlike other teas, white tea doesn’t go through any oxidization or fermentation.  While green tea leaves are roasted in a pan, white tea leaves are fast-dried, which keeps in most of the antioxidants in the tea.  White tea also has a slightly lower caffeine level than green tea, for those of you who don’t need the extra energy boost (even though tea in general has much lower caffeine content than coffee).
Red Tea
Red Tea got its name from the rich amber color that most red teas give off once steeped.  It’s derived from herbs grown in South Africa, giving it a smooth, almost fruity taste.  I personally haven’t had much experience with red tea, but it’s something I’m interested in.  Red tea has lots of antioxidants that provide protection from free radical damage, not to mention is filled with vitamins and nutrients such as calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, potassium, sodium, vitamin c, and zinc.  It also may help calm and soothe the nervous system, helping you relax during the day.
Rooibos Tea
This tea, like black and green, is rich in antioxidants and flavonoids.  Besides containing antioxidants that’s not found in other teas, rooibos tea can limit the effect of free radicals and slow the process of aging.  Rooibos tea is also recommended for people suffering from irritability, headaches, disturbed sleeping patterns, insomnia, nervous tension, mild depression, and hypertension.  A couple more crazy benefits?  It also contains lots of fluoride for healthy teeth, and has a soothing effect on the skin, relieving itching and and certain skin irritations like eczema, diaper rash, and acne when directly applied to the affected area.
Well, I don’t know about you, but I want to start drinking rooibos today, like, TODAY.
Herbal Tea
Although people think of herbal tea as a type of tea, it really isn’t, not in the true sense.  It doesn’t contain tea leaves, it only contains an infusion of herbs.  When the herbs are heated in water, their medicinal properties seep out.  Herbal tea can provide people with laxative, curative, sedative, refreshing, or antacid effects.  Some popular herbal teas include chamomile, mint, ginger, and jasmine, all which have different kinds of healthy effects on people.
There are many, many different kinds of herbal teas, and it would take forever to list them here in this blog.  Which is why I will introduce you to a new kind of tea every week.  One week it might be as common as chamomile tea, the next week it might be something you’ve never heard of, like boneset tea, and each tea will come from the categories I mentioned in this blog.  So prepare yourself for lots of learning, and prepare yourself for a healthier lifestyle.  You might be surprised at yourself for finding a new favorite drink!
Happy drinking!
Posted in Drinking Tea

Tea…I drink with jam and bread

Tea is considered to be the most consumed drink in the world. More people drink tea than Swedes drink coffee, or Germans drink beer. Yet where I live (U.S.) I don’t know why more people don’t drink tea. It’s super healthy for you, refreshing when it’s cold, and calming when it’s hot. Seriously, if I could bring the whole “high tea” thing to Southern California, I totally would.

Now I know that high tea is still done in some places in the U.S. (probably Greenwich, CT), but it definitely isn’t the norm. Most of us are too busy working and getting our fix at Starbucks whenever we can, and really…it would probably be way too exhausting making tiny little sandwiches and petit fours everyday and then finding something equally as fashionable to wear. Because you can’t just wear a pair of jeans and a Harry Potter T-shirt to high tea (since that’s usually what I show up to Starbucks wearing).

Since I’m not planning any High Tea parties anytime soon (at least any real ones that don’t involve Tinkerbell and Cinderella), I’ll just stick to my normal tea routine: Hot green tea in the morning (right now it’s the 365 brand from Whole Foods, iced black tea from Starbucks when I get to work (I get the Venti size so I can get my free refill during my lunch – they don’t refill Trenta sizes. I’m “in” with the awesome crew at the Rolling Hills Starbucks; they hook me up), and then usually decaf green tea at night after dinner depending on how early I have to get up the next day. My current decaf fave is Allegro’s Decaffeinated Green – it’s smooth, tasty, and goes down easy at night.

And sometimes after a long day at work (and there are LOTS of long days), the thing that does the trick is a hot cup of Chamomile tea. Seriously, after the first sip, I can literally feel my body calming down.

When I first tried chamomile tea ten years ago, I thought it tasted like cake batter. I’m serious – it was like drinking a cup of hot cupcakes. But it’s really made up of “daisy-like plants” that smell like flowers, fennel, and apple (the word “chamomile” coming from the Greek word “ground apple”). But whatever it is you smell or taste, chamomile is good stuff, and it has the health benefits to back it up, from curing colds and calming cramps. Sounds a lot better than popping pills! First-timers should try Celestial Seasonings Chamomile Herbal Tea – it’s inexpensive but also very tasty. Trust me, you’ll feel better at night.

Happy drinking!