All Together Now

Pai Mu Tan

I have been watching Queer Eye, the Netflix reboot. I never watched the original show, because I was in high school and had no interest in watching men getting made over. Clearly, as I have aged, my appreciation for real life Hans Christian Anderson tales brought to life has grown. (I didn’t just want to say ‘Ugly Duckling’, because the point is the swan at the end, both in the story and on the show).

Without being able to say anything about the original series, I adore this reboot. It makes me think, it teaches me greater compassion, and I learn more about fundamental human needs the more I watch. The show has very little to do with outward makeovers, and much more to do with being your genuine self. If you boil the show down to one aspect, it’s that all men need a space where they can be vulnerable with other men they trust.

These men demonstrate a beautiful model of what true community can look like. A group of marginalised individuals (in this instance, gay men), bring together their professional strengths and their authenticity, asking the world to accept them as they are. They find someone who generally is not in the same marginalised position they are (though it’s not always the case), and share their skills so that the subject can learn to embrace authenticity. This is a group of people, sidelined by society, who say, “We would like to offer the best of ourselves, and for you to connect with the best of yourself.” In doing that, they bridge the societal divide, and prove that they are no different, no less acceptable, and no less loveable because of a single, inconsequential aspect of themselves. It’s pure poetry.

Another rich, complex, and enjoyable thing I have been getting into is the white tea, Pai Mu Tan. This white is smooth, and smokey. It has a leafy aspect that gives it a green tea like quality. The flavour is woody and mushroom, with rich earthy notes in every sip. This is a savoury white with a strong umami aftertaste. Pai Mu Tan is the earthy white tea answer to White Flowery Pekoe. If you want to try both sides of the white tea coin, this is the dynamic duo you’re after.

Pai Mu Tan: 5/5
Enjoy with: The Queer Eye reboot.

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It’s All About Taste

Strawberry Bliss Chai

If you pay any attention at all to the side bar (or hiding window if you read this on your mobile), you’ll notice the total number of teas on the list keeps fluctuating. This is because the T2 offerings alter slightly throughout the year as they discontinue old blends and introduce or reintroduce others. So, in an effort to keep up, I update my own list as often as possible, and it’s a bit sad to think there are some teas that will never get an outing. I have one of the last boxes of Orange Zing, but it’s not on offer anymore, so there’s no point trying to squeeze it into the blog within this year.

One thing T2 do that is a mixed blessing is turning limited editions into regular orange box teas. This was a stroke of genius in the case of Jade Mountain, but not so much with Strawberry Bliss Chai.

Not a single one of those words accurately describes the assault in a cup I tried earlier this year as a limited edition, and now I feel compelled to include because some bright spark welcomed it into the orange box fold. Let’s break it down. There is only the faintest, faintest hint of strawberry in this cup. It is drowned out by the battle royale that is cardamon, ginger, cloves, pepper, and chilli. Who said, “Hey, let’s mix up all these overwhelming spices and toss a fairly mild fruit in there, and name the tea after the fruit.”? That person needs a lie down. These flavours are a celebrity roast in your mouth, with zingers flying all over the place. Very much not the idyllic picture of ‘bliss’ you might expect. And to top it all off, it’s a green base. No. Just no. I have made my opinion of green based chai fairly clear. Stop chai-ing to to make green chair work.

To make matters worse, the limited edition popcorn chai released in winter, that tastes like a caramel nutty dream, has not made its way in the permanence hall of orange fame. Who is making these decisions? What is the deal? I’m suitably unimpressed.

Strawberry Bliss Chai: 1/5
Enjoy with: a knife fight, or another equally pleasant activity.

Beaming

Southern Sunrise

If you’re raised on Australia’s east coast, the possibility of going to the west coast of any country and watching the sun set over an ocean is a tantalisingly exciting prospect.

So imagine my joy when I moved to Los Angeles, lived by the beach, and had a year’s worth of ocean sunsets to lap up before returning to the east coast of Australia. The thing is, I lived just far away enough from the beach that it was a planned walking expedition and not a leisurely stroll to the sand type affair, so I just kept putting it off. On my final day in LA, a friend asked if there was anything I wanted to do. I said, “Watch the sunset over the ocean.” My friend was a little hesitant, but obliged anyway. The sunset over the ocean was nothing special, because the thing about LA is, it is heavily polluted. So there is a point at which the sun hits the smog line, and all the romance of the idea dies right then and there.

A short while after I got back home, I watched a sunrise on the beach, and it was magnificent. No smog, clear air, the possibility of a new day, a crisp, summery breeze. It was a complete winner. And this is why I am convinced T2 have a ‘Southern Sunrise’ and no ‘Western Sunset’.

Southern Sunrise is a gorgeous summery tisane. It is bursting with tropical punch flavour: sweet pineapple, mango, paw paw, citrus in a balanced harmony. The overall effect is sweet, bright and fruity, making it a good candidate for iced tea. This brew is zingy and sherbety, perfect for summer days or nights when you’re after a refreshing hit.

Southern Sunrise: 4/5
Enjoy with: sunrise, sunset, or any other time of day.

The Best Parenting Advice Ever

Spring

I am not a big fan of mummy blogs. They are numerous, they come across as overwrought, and most of them read as the smug catharsis of privileged housewives. In my own, subjective opinion, it’s not a true ‘mummy blog’ if there isn’t that air of smugness. Good ideas, activities, recipes, and book recommendations by mothers are great. Keep blogging, you’re terrific! If you’re just telling me all about how Dewdrop and Xavianitus are the beaming light of your life and today you drank a coffee on yak milk and did yoga while suspended from a skyscraper, spare us.

Maybe I’m being unfair, but I’d really prefer parenting advice to come from people with some kind of education to back up their experience. One mummy blogger I once read gave a long recount of the conversation she had with her 8-year-old about some lost chess pieces. We got the full details of why the chess set was so important, and where it had come from, and why it was so devastating that some pieces were missing. She recalled the full dialogue between them, where she basically put all the responsibility on him for the game now being ruined because some pieces were lost. The comments were full of showers of admiration for how she ‘taught her child responsibility’, when all I could see was an adult thrusting guilt upon their child. The child, I might add, when alerted to the missing pieces, began to search for them frantically, until the mother told him to stop because, “They were lost.” How is that teaching responsibility? Unless you’ve been taking this precious chess board with it’s hand carved marble pieces on a variety of excursions, the pieces should be in the house somewhere. Keep looking!

Another mummy blogger I read a couple of posts from (thankfully they were shorter), kept using the phrase, “Now, I’m not saying I’m perfect.” It drove me nuts. I didn’t expect she was saying she was perfect, until she pointed out she wasn’t, at which point I now found the rest of what she had to say extraordinarily smug. Of course you’re not perfect, and neither is your advice, because you’re a parent who is making this up along with the rest of us!

So, here is the best parenting advice I have to offer, because, I’m not saying I’m perfect, but I’ve been doing this a couple of years now, so I’ve pretty much got it figured out.

Here it comes: get to know your kid/s, then do what works for your family.

I know, it’s earth shattering. But seriously, I don’t read that kind of advice often enough. (And it is possible I have oversold this advice in the title). My parenting is not going to work for another parent because we are different and we’re rearing different offspring. This is why I’m a fan of experts who can give some context to the psychological, educational, and social dynamics at play when we do and say different things. Give me some options to choose from, all with healthy outcomes, then let me go from there.

So what does any of this have to do with tea?

Well, I would say that Spring is the ‘mummy blog’ of teas. It’s overworked, obtuse, and smug, if teas can be such a thing. It draws you in with it’s seemingly pleasant name: Spring. I think, hooray, fruity and maybe a bit floral. Oh no, Hibiscus is in charge like the Mega Mummy Bloggers who have OPINIONS about APPROPRIATE activities, food, and entertainment for their DARLING CHERUBS (sometimes referred to a sanctimummies). Behind the hibiscus cowers some non-descript fruity flavours, with a hint of citrus, parading as ‘Spring’ (just as a mummy blog parades as sound advice) without having any substance whatsoever. Some people go nuts for it, I’m just not a big fan.

Spring: 2/5
Enjoy with: a good, un-smug read.

UnAustralian

Mangoes and Cream

I am not mad about mangoes. It’s a really unAustralian thing to admit, I know. When I was a lot younger, and agricultural technology was not what it is today, mangoes were rare. The season was exceptionally short and the yield was low. Mangoes bruised easily and only grew in hot, steamy conditions, which are perfect condition to make them tor at an alarming rate. Mangoes were that rare and that expensive, they were a real treat. I’m convinced people went crazy for them because of their scarcity.

Although, my Main Man ardently disagrees. He thinks mangoes are pure joy and sunshine wrapped up in an edible form. He doesn’t think that wrestling the fibrous flesh off the inconvenient bone and getting covered in juice is too much hassle at all. ButI do. I think the texture is all wrong, and the flavour doesn’t do enough for me to persist. So you can keep your mangoes.

I came to mangoes and cream with some trepidation, but I was pleasantly surprised. It doesn’t so much taste like mango as it tastes like mango flavour. More like dried mango, with some peachy notes thrown in for good measure. When brewed hot it’s punchy and very sweet, but I couldn’t pick the ‘cream’ (the same problem I had before). Once you try it iced it becomes more refreshing and less punchy. Plus there’s the slightest whiff of ‘cream’ as well, so I suppose it passes. If you’re looking for something bold and sweet, or a tea that ices fine on its own, Mangoes and Cream is a winner.

Mangoes and Cream: 4/5
Enjoy with: the many other summer fruits that are just as delicious.

Please, Thank You, and To You

Lamington

I once saw Miranda Hart live, and I loved it. A large portion of her show was devoted to explaining how baffling some social norms are.

Like why can’t we walk out of a shop, realise we’re going in the wrong direction, and just turn around? No checking watch or phone, just turn around and head the direction you mean to?

And parties! I’m not a parties person. Anything over 12 people is a heaving crowd and I’ll be looking for a quiet corner and convenient excuse for a swift exit. Miranda has a lot to say about parties. Like dress codes and chit chat etiquette.

Not being Australian, Miranda presented us with an array of Australian party food that she found to be utterly hysterical. She loved Cheezels, though she will never have the joy of being small enough to fit them on her fingers, because she is not under 5. I feel like the success of Cheezels lies almost completely in nostalgia. She also presented us with a tray of, “The most disgusting cake-like thing in the world.” Lamingtons.

And I agree with her. Supermarket lamingtons are truly woeful. The only worse way to consume a lamington is to have one frozen then not quite thawed out by the time you eat it. My mum used to freeze lamingtons for the school lunchbox. I’m done. I’ll have the occasional, fresh made, huge square, filled with jam and cream type from the CWA every few years. But never again on the supermarket lamingtons.

And it’s a similar situation for Lamington tea. It has a beautiful coconut, chocolatey, vanilla cake smell. Take a sip and that vanilla note disappears instantly. This is the kind of tea some people go ballistic for, but in honesty I think the cocoa and coconut highlight all the worst traits of the black tea. It’s astringent and kind of tangy and not the least bit satisfying. And the whole brew is muted if you add even the slightest bit of milk. So if you’re keen on a trip down memory lane where the frozen then thawed supermarket lamingtons lie, be my guest. My tastebuds have better things to be drinking.

Lamington: 2/5
Enjoy with: a healthy dash of Miranda Hart.

Off the Menu

Earl Grey

I do not trust ordering off the menu. I know you often wind up with something better. Something more delicious. Something no one else is ordering. But I have had too many difficulties ordering on the menu to be confident ordering something that doesn’t even technically exist.

When I lived in the US, I had friends who were completely comfortable ordering something that wasn’t offered on the pages in front of them. Why? How? I would wonder. But I came to benefit from how bold they were. I have never ordered a strawberry syrup sprite from Denny’s, but I have drunk one. All because my friend ordered one and I said, “Can I have one of those as well, please?”

Still, burned into my memory are the dozens of times I’ve ordered something (usually at a noisy cafe or food court) and spent several minutes asking for a standard menu item. I don’t know why this happens to me, but it does. The time I ordered lasagne and ended up with salad. The time I had to ask the disgruntled teenager to repeat every question because they mumbled every word, and in the end, I still wasn’t sure what was going to show up (an aside: I would like less customisation. I would like to order the thing, and get the thing how it comes. The only options should be big and small). There was the time I was 7 and my Mum decided I was old enough to order my own ice-cream cone. I wanted the one dipped in chocolate and covered in nuts. It was called a, “Nutty Nibble.” I said to the middle-aged woman who was somewhat hard of hearing, “Can I please have a Nutty Nibble?” “What do you want?” “A Nutty Nibble cone, please.” “Which one is that?” “The one on the sign behind you. With all the nuts.” “OH, I see! You had a good try, sweetheart. Well done.”
All I wanted to say was, “Yes, yes I did deserve that ‘well done’ because you are a grown up who doesn’t even know the menu items at the place you work.” My mum came to join me by the time the cone was ready, and condescending ice-cream lady said to Mum, “She tried.” I obliterated that woman with my scowl.

So, I heard about these off the menu beverages called, “London Fog.” It’s an Earl Grey tea latte with a shot of vanilla. The chain cafe down the road from my college was making them when a barista on duty knew what you were on about. I was skeptical. I have never had a good off the menu experience. Then a multitude of people told me that fancy cafe around the corner did London Fogs. I wanted one, so I ventured to fancy cafe around the corner the following weekend. I ordered a London Fog. “What’s that?” came the response. Ugh! Just my luck. I don’t order off the menu anymore. I make my own London Fog.

T2’s Earl Grey is a good one for London Fog, but as an Earl Grey on it’s own, I find it too strong. It’s a hearty black with a good dose of tannin, mild citrus note and a strong bergamot flavour. The overall effect is super bold and without milk, it punches your right between the eyes. (My earl grey heart belongs to Twinings. Sorry.)

Early Grey: 3/5
Enjoy with: Steamed milk and a shot of vanilla. Just make it at home, don’t try to order it off the menu.