Imagine the biggest smile you can. You finished a book and the ending was so perfect that it left you happy for days. You spent an hour playing with a puppy. You watched Yuzuru Hanyu come out on the ice burning like a phoenix and your whole brain chemistry fundamentally changed. It's impossible not to smile because your whole being is radiant with delight.
That is what this tea tastes like.
(I asked my husband to read this description. He said it was some of the best tea he'd ever had but he probably wouldn't describe it like that.)
A handful of weeks ago, I talked about this Japanese post-fermented tea from Morimachi in which (spoiler) I discovered that I needed to learn how to brew the tea and then it was amazing. Naturally, I did what I do every time I discover an amazing tea: I went out and looked for more Japanese post-fermented tea.
Googling led me to SONO Organic, a small tea store where the proprietor has individual relationships with farmers who use organic and traditional methods, and that led me to this tea.
This tea is bright: it's bright with lactic acid, bright with a taste that I can only describe as “sunshine,” bright with a sweet depth of flavor that keeps going and going and going. More than that, though, whatever chemicals are brewing off this tea seem to induce a deep and potent feeling of calm, centered happiness. (The second anaerobic fermentation stage has been scientifically shown to convert glutamic acid to gamma-aminobutyric acid, which helps calm you down, but on the other hand, studies are unclear whether taking GABA by mouth actually enters the brain.)
I don't know how many steeps I did on this tea. I honestly went past the point where I would normally stop steeping simply because there is a flavor to this unlike anything I have ever tasted, something that felt so fundamentally welcoming that tasting it for the first time seemed like a piece of home.
This is quite simply one of the best teas I've ever had.
(The shipping cost from the site is non-trivial but if you're into truly gorgeous teas, this one is well worth it. Also, I corresponded a bit with the owner of the site and Watanabe-san was incredibly helpful.)
care writ small
It feels like way too many places that used to be highly functional and are gradually getting worse and worse by design. Just about everywhere seems to be deep in this cycle. Amazon, a place that used to be pretty functional and now returns more books I don't want when I search for an author name than the actual thing I want to purchase. Twitter is…lol. Facebook…also lol. Things that once worked are becoming less functional in order to extract more and greater profits.
It's not that people are making mistakes, either. So much of the world we interact with is grimly indifferent to what we as human beings need. Our existence is reduced to a collection of profit centers. Callousness feels inescapable.
When I was reading about how ishizuchi kurocha was produced, I felt strangely emotional. The tea grows on wild trees high up a mountain. The leaves are collected and carefully washed in pure spring water, before steaming. They are then carried into storerooms up the mountain (in the case of this specific tea, into a hermitage attached to temple that dates from at least the ninth century), where a fermenting agent that can only be produced in that cool, high-altitude begins to cover the leaves. This is rubbed into the leaves, which then undergo a second, anaerobic fermentation inside big barrels.
This ancient method of tea production was nearly lost, and it was only in the last few decades that researchers made an attempt to save it before it could be gone for good.
In a world that feels dominated by the opposite of callousness, where even slap-dash efforts are turning into less slap and more dash, this tea feels like the opposite: a well of deep caring, a desire to do everything to put something beautiful in the world.
the duke who didn't
On the one hand, this is a cute book about a woman who just wants her father's sauce to get the recognition it deserves.
But one of the things that ended up in this book, after months of painstaking research, was a line about fermentation from Chloe's father:
The things that cause fermentation…exist everywhere, as long as you give them a place to grow. But they are not the same everywhere. Nothing I have cultured anywhere will ever taste like it was made with the qu from Look King, the village where I grew up. Nothing here in England has ever tasted like Guangzhou or Nanjing or Trinidad. And the culture that grows here in Wedgeford tastes just a little different too.
There were many ways I meant this when I was writing, but in large part, I was thinking about how invisible aspects of your environment will always shape you.
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