Don’t Quit Sugar

English Breakfast

I talk a lot about how no one should put more than 2 sugars in their hot beverages. I suppose an explanation is in order.

Sugar is bad for you.

It’s not new news. It’s not even news. Everyone knows that sugar has absolutely zero health benefits. But I still like it. I am firm believer in cake (especially cheesecake). Chocolate was created for bad moods. Canada is a country devoted entirely to syrup, and I love both country and substance.

So why my objection to sugar in tea?

There’s a couple of reasons. First, tea is vast and varied and can be manipulated to suit tastebuds without the addition of sugar. People who believe in good whiskey tend not to cut it with anything, because then you’ll miss some aspect of the whiskey. (At least, this is the impression I get from whiskey drinkers. I’m completely allergic to alcohol myself, so I’m winging it here). If you want to understand the nuance, depth and complexity of a tea, you have to drink it and learn to enjoy it without any sugar first.

Some teas do come alive with a hint of sweetener. A touch of honey in chai is a terrific idea every now and then. A drop of maple syrup in New York Breakfast tastes divine. And Madagascan Vanilla is a new tea when you have it with sugar or milk or sugar and milk. But the only reason I can appreciate these teas with sweetener is because I first understood their profile without.

All well and good for people like me who are big fans of enjoying a cup of tea down to its last sip, but not everyone is that devoted to the morning cuppa. Fair enough. I still think sugar in tea as a principle is not a good idea. It’s because I like sugar that I don’t think it should be in tea. As I mentioned, I believe in cake, in scones and jam, and chocolate chip bikkies. And when you believe in these things, and hope to live beyond 45 years old, you have to cut out sugar somewhere.

Tea hosts so many health benefits, that by dumping in a small mound of sweetener, you’re ruining your chances of those health benefits making any kind of a difference. And because I believe in sugary treats, I have to believe in balancing this with good food options on a day-to-day basis. Personally, I’d rather have a full blown slice of cake in the place of 10 sugar-added cups of tea. I don’t think you can enjoy both and live a long and happy life.

And so, we arrive at English Breakfast. It’s a bit of a beast to be honest. Not at all a smooth tea, it boasts an astringent flavour. It’s as though the British values of tutting, queuing and whinging were crystallised into a flavour and infused into a tea leaf. That’s English Breakfast. I have a hard time taking it without milk. There is a bitterness in a cup of English Breakfast that betrays the expectation of a forecast of drizzle and disappointment. That said, it’s hard to imagine not drinking English Breakfast. It is such a classic flavour, and nearly always on offer, alongside Earl Grey.

It is a truly tempting tea to add sweetener to. The flavour won’t suffer for it, in fact, sugar would probably be an improvement. But it is a matter of principle that I take it with milk only. If I’m honest, English Breakfast is such well worn start to the day, I have recommended to friends that they replace their morning coffee with a cup of the iconic tea. This suggestion is rarely received well and often devolves into me defending the superiority of tea to virtually no avail. But most people I speak to who drink coffee require a minimum of 2 sugars. If your drink is that bitter, you don’t actually like the taste of it. Few are prepared to admit that they don’t like the taste of coffee, but they do enjoy the buzz of the caffeine. But I, in all confidence, can assure you, that I like the taste of tea. Even without sugar.

English Breakfast: 3/5
Enjoy with: the first rays of the day.

Better than Sydney

Melbourne Breakfast

Ah, Melbourne. The city voted ‘Better than Sydney’ by 100% of people raised in Melbourne. The San Francisco/New York/Paris/London/Prague/Milan of Australia. A place so good, you definitely will never be good enough for it. The home of snootiness, because apparently, it’s, “So liveable!”

That said, I love Melbourne. And I like it better than Sydney.  Maybe I could learn to hate it, but for now, I think it’s fantastic. Melbourne speaks to my interests: the arts, especially theatre, good food, TEA CULTURE, excellent public transport, live comedy, and a CBD in a grid. But, for all my enjoyment of Melbourne, I haven’t spent all that much time there.

I remember visiting when I was about 4 years old. I have family in Melbourne and this was our first visit I can remember, also my first time on a plane. I was 4 and I had such a barking cough, I threw up my dinner on the plane. The flight attendant took our trays away before we could save our small packets of M&Ms. It was the first time I’d seen M&Ms too. I’ve spent a large portion of my adulthood making up for that lack. Anyway, it was winter when we visited Melbourne, and the days were so much colder than they were up north. I remember freezing at the back of the church hall during the Sunday service, and then roasting in the central heating at someone’s house afterwards. I remember very little else.

We visited the family again, for Christmas, when I was about 11. I got a discman for Christmas that year. I was excited to have a gadget before all my other friends, and disappointed to discover how much those stupid things skipped. We went to Sovereign Hill during this trip and spent a lot of time sitting quietly in people’s living rooms. I don’t know who these people were, but my parents must have. I hope. We did go into the CBD, but we spent a lot of time looking for the RACV for some reason. I do remember seeing a good number of the sights though.

My most recent, and indeed, only grown-up visit to Melbourne was not long after MM and I got married. That’s getting to be a few years ago now. My grandparents had decided not to make the trip to our wedding, so I decided introductions were in order. We had a short getaway to Melbourne and loved it.

This time, we sat politely in only one living room, that of my grandparents. They’re very accommodating people, and were pleased to meet my new husband. After spending a day with them, we had 2 days to do the city. We ate black fungus at a Korean restaurant. We ate at Lord of the Fries before it had more than 1 location. We found amazing cups of tea (and MM drank some decent coffee, apparently). We went to a Chronicles of Narnia exhibit and saw a letter C.S. Lewis penned himself. We lost ourselves in cozy bookshops. We laughed ourselves almost sick at a comedy bar, and didn’t realise how fortunate we were to be seeing Celia Pacquola live for the cost of a donation at the door. She only had a short set, among many others, but it stands out in my mind as one of the wittiest pieces of stand up I’ve ever seen. And as time wore on and she started doing more and more, I’ve been able to retain a small, smug feeling that I knew her work and liked her long before most. I have never been on the front end of any trend before, so I’m a happy camper just to have this. For a short break, it invokes so many happy memories, I wonder how long before I can book another little getaway.

In lieu of a visit, I have Melbourne Breakfast. The blend is perfect for the first cup of the day, and equally as perfect in the afternoon. It is sweet and vanilla while being boldly and unapologetically black. This is the tea for pick me ups and for contemplation. It can be appreciated as a treat to sip mindfully, or a workhorse to see you meet a deadline. Beret or Business suit, Melbourne breakfast has your back. It’s perfect on its own, but a splash of milk can give it a full-bodied, creamy richness. For a perfect cup, use vanilla soy.

Melbourne Breakfast: 5/5

Enjoy with: everyone. Everyone likes this tea.

Memory Lapse

Lung Ching Classic

I knew this would happen. I knew there would come a tea for which I scribbled down some hasty notes, with all good intentions of drafting up a post about it very soon after, and then forgetting to. Well Lung Ching, you’re the lucky candidate (and you might not be the last if I’m honest).

I can’t make a usual length post from the notes I made on this tea. They simply read:

Hard to describe
Smooth Green (surprising)
Raspberry notes?
4/5

That’s it. I don’t remember much about the tea at all. These notes are sandwiched between two long to-do lists, with about 30 items on each list. I was clearing drinking this tea with other things on my mind. Once I realised this, I was prepared to write a self berating post about how it’s much easier to do a good job at something if it is given your whole attention and how I should work on one thing at a time.

But in fairness, life doesn’t always give you that chance. You have those days where thoughts buzz mercilessly and you just CAN’T stop to pay better attention to anything else. So you leave home without your wallet or your house keys or your kid (that hasn’t happened to me yet, but I’m banking on it in the future).

And sometimes the best recommendations you can give to a friend are the vague ones. If someone says to me, “I definitely enjoyed that tea/restaurant/book/other thing. I can’t quite remember why, but I’m confident it was good,” I go into the experience with some expectations, but they aren’t sky high. And when I make up my own mind, I don’t feel like I’m doing it against someone else’s extraordinary experience. Similarly, if someone says, “I don’t remember being a big fan of that. I can’t really remember why,” I don’t feel like I’ve been warned off something I was interested in just because someone else had a bad experience.

My memory of Lung Ching Classic

I’m a big fan of people justifying their reviews. If someone says they hate a movie outright because the director/lead actor/make up designer is Desmond Destiny Goldsparkle the Third and they have taken a vow to despise all work that comes in contact with Des, then I know it’s just personal. If people say they didn’t like something because it was racist or sexist, then I know it’s probably worth avoiding on principle. But sometimes, the vague review is the friend of many.

So tea friends, I enjoyed Lung Ching Classic. It was a smooth green. I think it had a hint of raspberry. I don’t remember too much else about it, but it might be worth checking out.

Lung Ching Classic: 4/5
Enjoy with: something…

Remarkable

Orange Pekoe

Standing at the top of the world, bracing against the roaring gale, witnessing the whole sky dance and unable to take it all in at once, I had never felt so tiny and so human. And it all began with a cup of tea.

Reykjavik is the capital city of Iceland, the most northern capital city in the world. But for a country with ‘ice’ in its name, it is surprisingly warm, even in the depths of winter. The Gulf Stream from Mexico empties out right above Iceland, so winter temperatures are reasonably stable within a few degrees of zero. Sure, that’s cold, but it’s not deathly cold just to walk outside. And it is winter after all.

20141231_172050

Iceland is a magical country. It’s so untouched by the rest of the world, but also familiarly European enough not be alien. The snow clings to the ground like a dusting of wonder, and the long winter nights lend themselves to cozy fires, warm drinks, and reading. Storytelling is in the fabric of the culture. Arriving just after Christmas gave me an insight into some of the holiday traditions. The Yule Lads complement Santa. One of 14 troll-like creatures come in the windows of children’s bedrooms each night in the lead up to Christmas. Children leave out a shoe where the trolls deposit a chocolate for well behaved children, and a potato for the naughty ones. Reading that the majority of Icelanders still believe in the elves (Huldufólk) of their ancient folklore sounded absurd to me, until I arrived. I’d believe in elves too if I’d grown up in that country. It has an indescribable mystical quality in the atmosphere and the dark winter is friend to the imagination.

My main ambition while in Iceland was to witness the Aurora Borealis. I’d read and heard about this phenomenon for many years, and could hardly believe I would be in the right part of the world at the right time of year to behold the Lights for myself. I booked a tour with remarkable optimism. The evening came, the tour bus arrived, we eagerly hopped on board. The conditions were perfect. Clear sky, high solar wind activity. We waited, we watched, and we waited some more. Alas, there was no sighting that night. The tour company offered a complimentary tour due to the lack of sighting.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The next night, the tour was cancelled. It was overcast and the atmospheric conditions were not ideal. We would have to wait one more night. As the evening wore on, the sky cleared and a strong wind picked up from the harbour. Deciding to brave the wind, we went in search of a hot drink, and found ourselves at a basement tea bar on the main street. The room was heaving with people and hot drink orders were about to close (the booze was only just starting to flow though). I jostled for a table and my Main Man was left to make drink orders. He returned with an Orange Pekoe for me. The warm tea was heavenly on the cold night. Patrons playing the piano in the corner provided a lively atmosphere amongst the cozy candlelight. We toasted our decision to travel to the other side of the world once again. Aurora or not, this was a trip worth taking and a country worth visiting. When we were walking home, hearts and stomachs warmed, for no reason, MM looked up at the sky.

“What colour do you think that is?” he asked.

We stared for a minute.

“Wait! That’s Aurora!”

We dashed up the hill, the wind fighting us the entire way, until we were standing in the square outside the cathedral. We could see the entire sky from our vantage point, but could scarcely take it all in. Band after band of colour rippled across the sky, twisting, turning, teasing us. It didn’t need our existence, nor did it dance for our benefit, it simply glowed because it was supposed to. The sky becomes so much larger when you try to survey the whole thing at once. It highlights how small you are, how incapable you are of conjuring something this spectacular because you’re just a human. It made think just how much easier it is to believe something else, something bigger or more magical, exists in moments just like these.

In the middle of the city, where we were told the light pollution would destroy all chance of seeing the Lights, on a night when we were told there was no chance of a sighting, we stood, open-mouthed and marvelling. And all because a little earlier in the evening we’d gone in search of a cup of tea.

In a necessary twist of irony, one of the most remarkable events in my life was preceded by one of the most unremarkable teas. Every Orange Pekoe I’ve tried is an unremarkable black, and T2’s offering is no different. It’s a straight black tea, without much depth, and a bit temperamental to brew. It’s not difficult to get a cardboard flavour out of this tea, and milk doesn’t do much for the flavour. My personal recommendation is a squeeze of lemon to lift the cup somewhat. My other recommendation is to see the Northern Lights to lift the experience immensely.

Orange Pekoe: 3/5
Enjoy with: a squeeze of lemon and a celestial marvel.

Let the Bagpipes Blare!

Don your kilt and break out some shortbread, Scots Breakfast is a thing!

T2 has had a shopfront in Glasgow for a little while now, but hasn’t released the customary breakfast blend.

UNTIL NOW!

Well, I think it’s been released. It isn’t available to purchase in the online shop yet, I only saw a post on Twitter about it. Since I’m very new (i.e. hopeless) at Twitter, I can’t find the original post again. But I DID see it, and I DID reply to it, and they DID like my reply, so no one can pretend it didn’t happen.

I’m excited to get my hands on it.

Anyone else tried it yet?

The Boss Boss

Apple Crumble

This is the story about the best boss I have ever had. I’ve had more jobs than I would probably like to admit, mostly due to the number of years I was a student (and to be honest, I’m probably not done being a student, but motherhood is a great reason for a hiatus). When you’re a student you find yourself flitting between some strange jobs, and picking up work when and where you can. Upskilling is great, but it doesn’t lend itself to a regular routine.

All that being said, numerous jobs leads to numerous bosses. They all have their own particular style of leading their employees and most of them are terrific at it. You rarely become the boss if you’re completely inept, although rarely doesn’t mean never. I once talked to a regional supervisor of mine, and I was uneasy knowing this person had a drivers’ licence. I’m not quite sure how they got out of bed and dressed each morning, let alone manage an entire region. Still, had this person done a good job managing the region, I wouldn’t have been on the phone to them.

I have had some truly spectacular bosses who cared about the organisation, the employees and managed to balance the organisational direction with the personal ambitions of the employees. These were my best bosses.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

But one stands out high above the rest. And I’m happy to list a few of the things that made her such a spectacular boss.

1. She was the boss who knew how to delegate. There’s a fine line between dumping your garbage on someone you supervise and delegating tasks. My boss worked out the things in her role that only she could do, and kept those to herself. Everything else was up for grabs. As a result, she built a hierarchy into our team so that she didn’t have to be the first port of call all the time.

2. She collaborated often. When she had a task on her plate that directly affected someone in the team, she would pull them in on every discussion possible so they could be a part of the project at every stage. This was how we came to trust her, and how she knew which of us she could trust.

3. She groomed us for promotion. There was one fixture on our team who will probably be in the same job beyond retirement age, but the rest of us were vying for better jobs in our futures. Rather than try and reign us all in and keep us in her team, our boss gave us all the tasks she could to propel us in the direction we wanted to go. She suggested us for promotions within the organisation whenever possible.

4. She let us be whole people. When we came to work, we weren’t just a body filling a role. We had families, hobbies, study, and interests and she brought all of this together in our team, encouraging us to lead lives rather than have jobs. In doing so, she has bred loyalty into the team. Sure, nearly all of us were hoping to have better jobs in the future, but until something better came alone, we weren’t going to leave her.

5. She drank tea. This was exceptionally important to me as a tea drinker. It also meant we could be social with our boss. We saw her as someone with a whole life, and treated her accordingly.

She doesn’t drink tea with apple in it though, because it doesn’t sit well with her. And though we shared many cups of different tea in the years I worked for her, I think of her most when I drink tea with apple in it.

As I sipped Apple Crumble, I thought of her. I reflected on how much she added to my life. She was understanding beyond the call of duty when I was trying to complete my Masters, and when I was pregnant and vomiting for nearly 30 weeks. She pushed me for promotion again and again. She visited me when my Main Man was away for a while and I was home alone with LL. She believed in me, and it’s always nice when someone believes in you.

Apple Crumble is aptly named. It’s sweet and fruity and full of apple flavour. It has a mild nutty flavour and a hint of creaminess to it. The aftertaste is a tiny bit woody due to the chickory and spicy thanks to a helping of cinnamon. As a tisane, it’s a perfect post-dinner tea especially if some rumination is on the cards.

Apple Crumble: 4/5
Enjoy with: Contemplation

Spaghetti Arms

Chocolate

I understand it’s quite fashionable to talk about one’s mental health problems. I’m all for fighting the stigma around mental health, but part of the issue with talking about mental health like we talk about physical health is that is removes most of the nuance surrounding mental health conditions. I think people who suffer from mental illnesses should be allowed to say they are sick. I think they should be allowed to access the same health services as those suffering physical ailments. And I think they should be treated with the same gravity as someone suffering a long term physical illness. But I also think nuance is important in the discussion.

There’s a distinct difference between feeling depressed for a few days and battling suicidal thoughts for a few years. There’s a difference between the baby blues and prolonged post-natal depression. There’s a difference between concern over a big work presentation and debilitating anxiety. And like the general public has learned to recognise the difference between a sprained ankle and torn ligaments, the public ought to be privy to the differences in degrees of mental health concerns, and the circular causes that perpetuate certain mental illnesses. Every statistic and study and in the world won’t necessarily help the average, mentally healthy person come to grips with the complexity of what an unhealthy individual faces. That is why stories matter.

Mental illness is not untreatable, however, as a patient it can feel as though the future is bleak because it takes time, commitment, and experimentation for an individual health solution to be reached. The common remedy for most mental illnesses is a combination of good sleep, healthy eating, physical activity, routine, social connection, medication, counselling, and some kind of mental rejuvenation habit like mindfulness or meditation. To a healthy person, it seems like this is a manageable combination of factors with a little bit of dedication.

So why does a mentally unhealthy person have so much trouble managing?

Well, imagine the 8 things listed above are physical items you have to hold. Healthy people will find a way to cradle them in their arms, or just put 1 or 2 things down if it’s too much to hold all of them. The mentally unhealthy have arms made of overcooked spaghetti. So we stand in front of the very things that will help us improve our situation, with no way of knowing even how to move our arms. And so, we despair. How are we ever going to get better? We can’t move our spaghetti arms.

It’s not unusual that well-meaning people tell us sick folk to ‘just try to get up’, or to ‘have a green smoothie’, or ‘go for a run’. All good suggestions, all things helpful to overall well being. But you’re a step ahead of us, healthy people. We have the spaghetti arms thing going on.

Some people carry on as if they don’t have spaghetti arms, and these folk are one step behind again. First they need to be able to accept their slippery appendage situation. And this isn’t easy, especially when for your whole life, you’ve had normal arms, and you look at everyone around you with normal arms and you wish for all your life the spaghetti arms weren’t a thing. But they are a thing, and some of us have them.

This is one of the many reasons it can be so frustrating to hear stories of people who have successfully managed their mental illness. They say the same things helped them: exercising regularly, sleeping well, eating healthier food. I’ve found myself reading success stories thinking, “I KNOW all this, but I just CAN’T!” I haven’t learned to work my pasta arms. I hear these things and it makes me feel like I might never get better, which exacerbates my condition.

We need you to be patient as we learn to accept our new wobbly-armed existence. And as we learn to hold all the pieces in place with our wobbly arms, one baby step at a time. And for all my spaghetti-armed buddies out there, be kind to yourself. Sometimes you’ll hold it all together. Sometimes you’ll drop everything and have to start from the beginning again. But on those days, just wave your spaghetti arms high in the air with me. You can count it as exercise for the day.

The ‘what’ might be very similar between people when it comes to recovery, but the how is going to change from person to person. All the spaghetti arm stories matter. They’re all a little bit different.

On the days when we’re waving our wavy arms in the air, we have to be kind to ourselves. Most of us have some kind of coping mechanism we resort to. I’m a big fan of chocolate.

20170709_203249

I tried really hard to eat less chocolate, by investing in Chocolate tea. And hear this: it’s a great tea. It’s a strong black tea with cocoa husks in it. This means it tastes like black tea, but comes with some added sweetness and an aftertaste a little like you ate dark chocolate half an hour ago. It’s a terrific tea. A little bit of milk makes is creamy, but I like it best all on its own.

But when you are looking for a block of chocolate, don’t put those expectations on the tea. It will not deliver. If you’re like me, some days you can’t substitute the big guns.

Chocolate: 3/5
Enjoy with: spaghetti-armed chums