Header for Courtney’s weekly tea
An illustrated pink gaiwan filled with amber liquid
the weekly tea
1970s SSHC
Liu Bao
from the essence of tea
weekly tea: 1970s SSHC Liu Bao
Let me set the stage for this tea: in my upcoming book that I haven’t given you a title or a description for, despite where I am in the production stage, I wanted to find a tea that my heroine could bring from China for her grandfather who lives in Wedgeford. I wanted it to be something that was hyperlocal to where he came from and something that you wouldn’t readily find in England.
The thing I initially came up with is a tea called liu bao. Liu bao is a fermented tea. The process of fermentation is slightly different from pu-erh, the fermented tea that people are more likely to know about, and the tea hails from the Guangxi region of China, which is a believable-ish place for someone to come from in the late 1800s.
I looked for a place to get liu bao, saw some good reviews for The Essence of Tea, noticed that they had some older teas that were stupidly expensive, and since this was for a book, decided to splurge on this tea, which was $57 for 10 grams of tea. I’m not sure why I made that decision. Go big or go home, I guess?
It was…all right? Honestly, it tasted like a less complex, less interesting shou (ripe) pu-erh. Some woodiness; some dark notes. Altogether not particularly exciting. I don’t know; I had hoped that there would be something kind of cool to say about it, something that would work in a book, but the options are that either this vendor is…not a great source (I have a few other samples to try, and may report back on that), or this tea just does not do it for me.
It was enough for me to decide to wiggle the part of the book with liu bao to a minor portion, perhaps not even showing up by name, and to make something else take a more prominent role.
In retrospect, I really love the idea of the “something else” that I came up with, and I am going to tell you what that is.

Does your brain not do that?
For the last two and a half months, I have been trying to get my health insurance to cover ADHD medication. It has been annoying, in large part because American health insurance is just fundamentally an irritant, but also because I have extremely idiosyncratic reactions to drugs.
I already knew this. I tried antidepressants much earlier in my life and noped out because of the way they made me itch in places I couldn't scratch, or just making me feel flat. None of this was preferable to managing my depression through non-drug means.
I also know that my drug reactions are pretty extreme. I can't drink coffee or Mountain Dew--the amount of caffeine in those is so intense that I can feel it operating in my brain, like a big old glowing light in my head. 
I tried marijuana once and hated it because it made it harder to do math in my head. It was like someone had filled my head with thick cotton and I was trying to reach through it to find connections. I gave the friends I was with a lecture about how if this didn’t wear off I would volunteer to go to schools and tell them that I was living proof that you should never do drugs, because I did an undergraduate major in mathematics but after that I did marijuana once, and now I couldn’t add two-digit numbers.
This was apparently extreme comedy for my friends, normal people who got high in a regular manner. Thank you, idiosyncratic drug reaction.
But I tried to explain to my doctor that one of the medications that she started me on could not work because it made me feel like my brain was made of crinkly plastic and she asked, “what does that mean?”
What does it mean? It's a literal description. It makes me feel like my brain is made of crinkly plastic. That's exactly what it feels like. Does your brain not do that?
This has been a rude awakening for me. Apparently, most people aren't aware of their brains. Their brains don't feel like anything. They're not aware of what part of their brain they're thinking with. It's just there and it never has any colors or texture or electric quality. This seems extremely fake to me. It's your literal brain. It is the very thing thinking. How can it not be aware of itself?
I remember lying in bed as a kid and thinking about how I could tell where in my brain I was thinking, and doing little experiments where I tried to move where I was thinking to a different part of my brain, to the back, to the side, down my brain stem and into my spine. I kept trying to see if I could think with my hand but I could never get out of my head or central core. I also tried to transform the way my thinking felt in my mind: what if it were more diffuse and spread out? How big could I make the space that my thinking took up? What if I made it a different color or tried to give it a pattern?
It had never occurred to me that other people don't feel their brains or see the pattern of their thoughts, and now I'm thinking, “when I put stuff like this in my books, do people think I'm being especially flowery? Is feeling the crackle of electricity through your head when you make a connection not a common human experience? Are we not all aware of the place our consciousness sits in our bodies?”
In any event, I have no access to human experiences other than mine, but I am endlessly fascinated by how each of us access the state of understanding ourselves.
I'll end with probably the weirdest, least explainable, and probably the most extraordinary brain story I've ever read: in which a woman started hearing voices in her head telling her that she had a brain tumor and she needed to get a scan, and directing her to go to an address where she could get a scan.
After repeatedly trying antipsychotics, the doctors eventually got her a brain scan. She did, indeed have a tumor. There was an operation; the tumor was removed, and the voices said, “We are pleased to have helped you. Good bye.” She never heard them again.
You can see the medical write up of this case here, which includes multiple explanations for what could have caused this.
My conclusion is this: brains are weird and endlessly fascinating, and for all that they make up who we are, I don't think we understand them.

Until next week!
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