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of the Lazy Literatus

Tag: Saint Bernard

Ginger Has Soul

Meet my brother…and his obscenely large dog.

RobAbacus

If you’re no stranger to this blog, then you’ve read my references to them in prior entries. My brother is my landlord/roommate. The dog? Well…he’s just there – acting all cute and hyper. To my sibling’s credit, he is a casual tea drinker. I say “casual” because he doesn’t worry about things like seasonal flushes, nebulous leaf grades, or what mountain his oolongs come from. I, on the other hand, do take those factors into consideration. What I’m about to confess, though, is that my brother has oftentimes influenced my tea drinking routine.

I sort of hinted at this in a prior entry about chamomile. Through him, I used to have an affinity for the relaxing flower. However, my palate has changed since then, and now chamomile – to me – tastes like…well…floral-flavored ass medicine. No, I can’t think of a better comparison.

But back to the subject at hand.

Roughly three years ago, my brother embarked on a bit of an experiment utilizing a jar, some teabags, and simple sunlight. Before him, I hadn’t even heard of “Sun Tea”, nor that it was a southern staple. All that was required was a three-hour wait, then presto. The results were eye-openingly delicious. Crude but credible.

A couple of years later, we tried it out with a couple of loose-leaf sachets of Smith Teamaker’s Exceptional Iced Tea blend. The results were “like” iced tea but slightly different. A good different, I assure you. When Summer comes around again, we’ll probably do the same thing. And to those that warn against bacterial growth. Well…we Normans are rebels.

Exceptional Sun Tea

On a simple day back in…uh…I think it was November, my brother up and decided that he was not going to fall ill anymore. His magic solution to this “ailment” was an old wives tale – apple cider vinegar, 1 tsp. a day. Normally, he added it to his tea. I thought the idea of that sounded disgusting.

Then I heard about the nationwide flu outbreak.

At my new job, I hadn’t earned health insurance yet. Nor did I have the money to get vaccinated. While I knew green tea helped to curb colds and influenza, it wasn’t a sure-fire answer. So, in the early morning before work, I would brew a pot of something dark, and the third cup was always doused with a dash of apple cider vinegar. And guess what? I liked it. The stuff went really well with an over-brewed black tea. Somehow, the tannins and the vinegar made magic – not sure.

Brother-made naan on the left.

Brother-made naan on the left.

February is almost over, and I still haven’t been sick. So…I guess there’s something to the stuff. Score two to the bro.

Some weeks back, brother dearest and his girlfriend tried another experiment. This time, it was an attempt to boil a tisane of fresh ginger by the pot. I – at my tea-snobbiest – said snootily, “The best results come from using dried ginger.”

They politely entertained my pontification, but humbly disagreed, and went on with their experiment. That gave me a moment of pause, and I turned to the FaceTwitPlus-o-sphere to garner second opinions from the rest of the tea community. The results were mixed. Some said better ginger flavor was yielded from brewing the dried stuff, others were proponents of fresh. On a second go-around, my bro and his lady-love tried it with smaller cut pieces of ginger.

Fresh Ginger

It was at this point I gave in and tried some. Small confession: I’m not a fan of ginger. At all. I went through a phase of drinking it every day but ended up with a wicked case of heartburn. That turned me off to most tisanes with the stuff. Same with peppermint. I could only stand blends with those ingredients if they were used sparingly.

My brother’s fresh ginger experiment was a game-changer. Sure, it tasted like ginger, but the flavor was more citrus-heavy than spice-laden. That and the fresh stuff was oddly cooling. Strange, considering ginger is normally a “heating” herb. The overall sensation was gentle, like a warm, relaxing electric blanket in liquid form.

Brotherhood Achievement: Unlocked.

My tea-snobbery was curb-stomped. I don’t know when I’ll ever learn to keep my preconceived notions at bay, but I suppose that’s what siblings are for. To bring you back down to Earth when you become to big for your beverage-y britches. Oh well…I did introduce him to Greek Mountain “tea” and Golden Yunnan…so I guess that means we’re even.

Oh wait, that’s three-to-two.

Damn.

© Jason Norman

© Jason Norman

Making Time for “A Tea Reader”: A [NOT] Book Review

I am a slow reader by design. It takes me an inordinate amount of time to dive into a book. Most can devour a hundred pages in an hour (I would guess?); I can only manage thirty-three. I think that’s my record to date. Attempts to speed read were always met with failure. Suggestions to pursue a career in editing went ignored for this very reason. The time it would take for me to read, let alone edit, a book could be measured in seasons.

Mooched from the Blog of Patrick Rothfuss

Mooched from the Blog of Patrick Rothfuss

That said, I still enjoy leisure reading but don’t do enough of it in my spare time. The times that I do, however, have been chronicled on my website. While not exactly professional literary critiques, they provide my thoughts in as succinct a manner as I am capable (which might not be saying much).

A call went out by a very talented tea blogger – Katrina Avila Munichiello- in my “TeaTwit” circle to review a book she was putting out called A Tea Reader. The concept was genius in its simplicity. It’s a collection of vignettes and short stories – spanning centuries – about how tea inspires. As the books tagline (and, by proxy, the author) states: “This is not a book about tea. This is a book about people.”

I was beyond elated and honored to be chosen to review the book in advance of its official release. And I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little jealous that Mrs. Munichiello beat me to such wonderful idea. She succeeded where many of us tea writers only daydream…er…over a cup of tea. The approach she chose to take for the narrative was also inspired.

Now I just had to find time to read it. Several factors hindered the timeliness of my perusal. One: The aforementioned slow reading pace. Two: A very active “oooo shiny!” gland. And three: Georgia.

I’ve mentioned the last one in passing before. My cat – like many of her ilk – is not one to be easily ignored. She makes this point abundantly clear during feeding time. However, she also voices her displeasure in creative ways when something else holds my attention other than her. Y’know…like a girlfriend. A very…hairy…girlfriend.

Note: This photo wasn't staged. Seriously

Note: This photo wasn't staged. Seriously.

In the case of book reading, “G” will stroll in front of the book while I’m reading it. Attempts to shoo her away are interpreted as play time. Even when I relocate to someplace she wouldn’t normally go – like the couch in the living room – she’s only a step or two behind me emitting her usual growl-purr.

I found moderate success with the couch camping, though. It was easy to position myself in such a way she couldn’t interrupt. Eventually, her tiny little mind forgot what she came there to do. The couch also offered up an opportunity to successfully put myself in tea-reading mode. If there was one thing I learned, this book had to be read with tea a-brewin’.

But there was a second obstacle – the damn dog.

Note: This wasn't staged either.

Yes, folks, there is also a dog in the mix – a very large, year-and-change-old Saint Bernard named Abacus. He belongs to my brother. Every time I brew tea – and I mean every time – he is instantly drawn to my electric kettle. Add a gaiwan to the mix, and he’s enraptured. I can’t really fathom why. Maybe he just really likes oolong a lot. Dunno.

Those were obstacles to my reading Zen that I could not prevent. The preventable ones were the major problem. I blame the Internet. All of it. As one entity. I don’t blame myself. Okay…maybe a little.

Before I knew it, two months rolled by. Here I was, a week past the release date of the book…and I’d only made it halfway through. It wasn’t as if another book had taken its place; I had read nothing for the whole of Fall. I lamented my reviewer FAIL.

Then a thought occurred to me – not so much as a metaphoric light bulb but as a very cheery glowworm. This book was tailor made for distractedly slow readers such as myself. Let me explain: The beauty of anthologies is that they can be devoured a piece at a time. A reader can pick it up and put it down at their own pace, even the molasses ones like myself.

A Tea Reader is even more suited to this than the average anthology because the average vignette is, maybe four-to-five pages – essays, really. Tightly written ones, too, for the easily spacey. I didn’t really have that problem, though. The different viewpoints were ultimately fascinating. Particular standouts (for me so far) were: “I Don’t Drink Tea” (the tale of a coffee drinker’s denial), “The Mistri-Sahib” (about a Scottish engineer in India, what’s not to love?), and “Immersion” (about a woman’s first flight with gongfu).

Each thematic section is divided into “steeps” rather than books or acts, providing one with a figurative tea expression to go along with the read. The author herself provides commentary to bridge each steep with her own thoughts. Her tone is relaxing and concise, marking the perfect lead-in for stories “steeped” (har-har) in the esoteric and evocative.

Which brings me to the book’s one principle flaw…if it can even be called that.

This is not a book for the uninitiated, and by that I mean non-tea drinkers. Tea appreciation has its own language – its own lexicon, if you will. And this book is imbued with it. Part of that is due to the inclusion of older essays as well as new and their dispersion throughout. The author does her best to include footnotes to some of the more obscure terminology, but at times it can be jarring. I, however, didn’t really find this to be a flaw.

As I said earlier, this is a book that screams, “Read me with a cup of tea, damn it!” To not do so would fail to capture the full effect, as far as I’m concerned. What’s the point of reading a book about people inspired by tea if you aren’t reading while drinking tea? That’s like going to a baseball game without a foam finger on one hand. Can’t be done.

In summary, I’m at the “glass-half-full” point of the book, and I’m loving every self-styled-slow minute of it. I start a new vignette with a cup of tea when I have a spare minute between distractions and pet mayhem. I hope to do a follow-up commentary on it once I’ve finally reached the end, but I still felt I had to put something to “paper” in appreciation. Just as these contributors and their maven did…all over an inspired cup of tea.

For more information, go HERE.

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