This tea came as a free sample in my last tea order. It’s a 2017 raw pu-erh and I had it with breakfast. At first I thought, “hm, this is maybe a little too mild—this tea is almost water.” But then I realized I still had my water heater set to green tea temperature. I popped it up to 208° F, brewed, waited, and…
Still extremely mild. Almost tasteless. So naturally, I started wondering if it was COVID. Did I have symptoms? No, not other than not being able to taste much of a tea I’d never had before. But I could taste and smell everything else in my breakfast, and so I figured it probably wasn’t that.
Finally, as the meal wound up, as I was just about to conclude that maybe this tea was too mild for me, I asked myself a vitally important question: was it the breakfast?
You see, I’ve been eating natto at breakfast fairly regularly.
If you don’t know what natto is, it’s a fermented soybean product. No, not like soy sauce. No, not like miso. A different fermented soybean product. Natto is small, whole soybeans fermented with a particular enzyme, and the resulting food is extremely high in protein, fiber, probiotics, and a number of vitamins and minerals. Natto is also high in Vitamin K2, and natto consumption has been shown to have a strong correlation with decreased osteoporosis and better bone density, and since I’m at the age where I have to worry about those things, I’ve been making an effort to include it regularly in my diet.
There’s another thing you should know about natto: it is an extremely acquired taste. The texture is slimy: when you take it out of the carton, you stir it vigorously until the slime turns into slimy threads. The taste is—how shall we say it—aggressive. The smell is somewhat stinky, depending on the kind of natto you get. This is definitely not for everyone.
As it happens, I love natto, in part because I love food that I have to work for, and the act of mixing vigorously makes me happy. Plain natto would probably not be my first choice, although I’ve eaten natto long enough now that I’d probably be okay with it. But natto with a little soy sauce and sesame oil, especially mixed with rice, with a little roasted seaweed on top? Mmmmm.
To take this back to the tea: I ate natto; I drank tea. It turns out that the aggressive flavor of the natto was masking the somewhat milder taste of the tea.
So I had a few slices of Asian pear as a palate cleanser, and tried the tea again. And lo and behold, I could taste the tea!
This tea is sweet and mild like a delicate bloom, giving way to a bloom of more intense roughness after the first sip. This one is probably best enjoyed on its own, and not with stinky breakfast fermented beans or cheese.
Farmer Me: Tree Edition
The year we first moved into our house, I was very proactive (for once) and decided that we should plant fruit trees, on the theory that we would appreciate them one day. I planted the trees, watered them assiduously for exactly three months, and then forgot they existed. Thank you, ADHD.
Despite all of that, two of our plum trees, one of our pear trees, and one of our apple trees survived. This means we have a good number of pears, an absolute onslaught of plums… and maybe five apples, because the closest apple tree to ours is about 300 yards down the street.
We are finally remedying this. This year, we’re planting some more trees. For our second apple tree, we put in a crabapple. Fingers crossed that this one doesn’t die!
This is also the time of year when we get to find out if the plants that we spent months putting in the ground last year will decide to be perennials. It will probably take some time to determine who is dead and who is coming back, but for now, the yarrow (which never properly died overwinter), the lambs ear, and some of the desert phlox are putting up little green fingers. Some of the bulbs I planted last fall are finally blooming.Of course, the dandelions and thistles are also trying to make a go of it. We have to tell them no.We’ve spent the last month doing gradual winter clean-up (the advice is to let dead plants sit overwinter to provide shelter for small native species of insects and plants), and it’s been very exciting to trim plants and discover living wood after a very cold first winter.
The Countess Conspiracy
The Countess Conspiracy was a book I was working toward writing throughout the Brothers Sinisters series. I started with the idea that Violet was a world-renowned scientist, and that Sebastian was taking the credit for her work because there was no other way to get it published.
As much as this book is about that, however, it’s also a book about the gentle love for plants: about how Violet wanted to figure out how to breed a pink snapdragon, and instead discovered that it couldn’t be done, about how gardening (an allowable female pastime) turns into heresy if you think about it too much.
I actually wrote this newsletter well in advance because I knew I would not have time to write it this week, but the good news is, next week you’ll hear about the goofiness. With tea.
Until next week (this time with extra teaser),
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