Do I actually not like Japanese green teas, or am I just brewing them wrong? Do I actually not like Japanese green teas, or have I just not had good quality Japanese green teas before, and I'm judging amazing Chinese tea against indifferent sencha in teabags?
The best case scenario is that I am wrong and I open myself up to more sources of delicious tea. The worst case scenario is that I suffer through drinkable tea for science.
So this kabusecha is going to be the first (but not the last) test of whether I actually seem to like Japanese green tea. In brewing this, I paid strict attention to the directions: brew at 60-70 degrees celsius (that's 140-158 F for those of us who are metrically challenged) for 1.5 minutes.
That is a lot cooler than I normally brew even greens, mostly because my Zojirushi automatic water heater has a low-end heat maintenance of 170 F and instead of having the patience to decant water and then wait for it to cool, I have ADHD.
But for science? I can have a little patience as a treat. So I poured hot water off and let it sit, testing the temperature with my handy ThermoPop, until we hit 149 F. I then set a timer for exactly 90 seconds.
The smell was delicious. The taste was not particularly bitter, and just a little grassy, and had many of the elements that I liked about tea. It was aggressively acceptable.
So I tried changing variables: tea at 140 F. Tea at 158 F. Tea brewed slightly longer and tea brewed slightly shorter. Tea brewed with a rinse and tea brewed without one.
My favorite brew—and by this time, after about seven successive brews starting from new leaves, I have to admit I was so hopped up on caffeine that it wasn't funny—was brewed in a tokoname kyusu, for 1.5 minutes, with water at 155 F. This tea was actually what I would call good rather than okay.
I still wouldn't go out of my way to tell people it was great.
You might think from this that the experiment was a failure, but I'm very heartened by the results. One of the things that I took from this was that small changes added up. A few degrees celsius, the brewing vessel, the brew time…all of these can make a difference between “meh” and “okay, that's good.”
So maybe a different tea will be the one that gets me to truly love Japanese green tea.
2% climate solutions
A few weeks ago I talked about feeling climate despair. I'm not going to reiterate what I said there, because I feel better now.
One of the reasons for this is that I talked to my big sister, who is a grounding voice of hope every time I feel myself despairing. She also knows more about climate than anyone I could ever possibly meet in this lifetime. She is a literal McArthur genius grant recipient who works on climate issues from the engineering-ish side. I say engineering-ish because she's also one of the kinds of engineers who asks questions like “how” and “will humans do this” and “why have humans done it this other way” and instead of insisting that humans should just do the best thing from the engineering perspective, listens to what people say in a compassionate way.
I am not going to try to summarize our conversation, but ultimately the thing I took from it is this: There are lots of reasons to hope, and the biggest one is that hope is the way out.
I've been thinking about a book I read a few years ago where a woman challenged herself to produce as little plastic waste as possible. In order to meet her “no plastic” rule she used strategies like “I took my reusable container to my local olive oil distiller and I had them refill it from the barrel!” I remember reading this and thinking… Okay? That's not actionable. Most of us do not have a local olive oil manufacturer.
This is, I think, what a 100% solution looks like: dedicating yourself assiduously to a single problem with all of your effort. I don't think this is bad. But I also don't think it's realistic or effective. Most of us need to use somewhere between 80% and 120% of our effort to stay alive. And you can prevent 100% of plastic waste and still be doing nothing about any of the other issues around you.
Instead, I've decided to look for 2% solutions: places where I can put in 2% effort and instantly make a difference.
As an example: earlier this year, I decided to try to replace as many plastic bottles of cleaning things with non-plastic options as I could. So I switched most of my household plastic bottle things (shampoo, laundry, detergent, etc) to plastic-free alternatives. It took me a few afternoons on Saturdays to source options, and now that momentary 2% of effort is back down to 0% additional effort because I just have to keep rebuying the stuff that works.
It's not a big impact, but it is an impact.
I also had a wild afternoon where I was thinking about sunscreen and some of my face creams (which don't have a good non-plastic alternative) and for one hazy, ADHD-driven moment I imagined using my languishing chemistry degree to make my own face creams. Then I remembered that I was (a) never particularly good at actual practical labs, I really just did theory, (b) it was going to take forever and I have zero executive function, and (c) I was also going to have to order materials and they would come in plastic bottles.
Most importantly, the 2% solution of sourcing things I need from plastic-free manufacturers helps sustain a manufacturing ecosystem. I can tell people I did it and they can also do it. But if I tell people I make my own face creams using my chemistry degree, it's just the olive oil thing all over again.
I know we need to do more. But the big changes are not things that I can realistically do on my own, and so for me, I'm identifying 2% solutions that I can do to make my life slightly more climate friendly.
0% climate solutions
I will share one thing from my talk with my sister.
There is one thing that is zero percent effective at saving the planet, and it is feeling guilty but doing the exact same thing anyway.
Action is useful. Guilt is not.
My point in all of this is not to make anyone feel guilty, but to hopefully help people to feel more empowered. Start with something small, and do it, because small is better than nothing, and small changes are a practice of hope.
For the big stuff? Here's the biggest source of hope: Most of the people who are indifferent because they can get money now and won't be around for the worst years of climate change are going to die and stop being in charge.
Our goal is to try to preserve as much as possible for the time when (not if) that happens.
This book contains a side character whose book I am unlikely to write at this point, and I'm very sorry about that because the backstory for it is one of my favorite things ever. I am going to share it with you because if I ever do write this book, it will come out in the first handful of pages so it's not really a spoiler.
Anyway, Anj, Maria's friend in this book has a pet shark that she has genetically modified to be biofluorescent, because who amongst us does not want a genetically modified pet shark?
In any event, this isn't simply normal mad scientist bullshit, although it is absolutely mad scientist bullshit.
Not stated in this book: Anj is planning to one day genetically engineer reef sharks so that they can withstand higher ocean temperatures, because reef sharks are a keystone species in the coral reef ecosystem. They eat the medium-sized fish that would otherwise eat the small fish, leaving more small fish around. Small fish eat the algae that covers coral reefs in increasing numbers as the ocean temperature rises, and doing so makes the coral more resistant to bleaching.
So yes, Anj is at the super-villain level of “I am building an army of genetically modified sharks” but she just wants to keep coral ecosystems alive for another quarter to half a degree of warming and I have to tell you one of the reasons I will probably never write this book is just the sheer glee I take in ARMY OF GENETICALLY MODIFIED SHARKS FOR CLIMATE EQUITY would probably wildly overshadow any romance.
This should not be read as my endorsement of genetically engineering sharks and releasing them in the wild without testing, because, while I think that would be extremely cool in the fictional sense, it's unethical in reality.
So don't do that. But if for some reason, you have genetically engineered sharks, please tell me all about it.
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