Tuesday Tea – Philosopher

Every writer has a favorite beverage he or she imbibes while working through the creative process. Some are famous for partaking of large quantities of their preferred poison. But whether you enjoy coffee, tea, wine, or a stronger spirit, I’m sure you would admit that you’re not at your best until a cup, mug, glass, or tumbler of your chosen libation is coursing through your veins.

For me, that magic elixir is a large cup of tea. I’ve become a fan of loose-leaf teas and purchased stainless steel tea balls in single cup size and teapot size. I’m always on the lookout for my next favorite tea, and Philosopher from Gnat and Bee is the latest winner.

I love black tea, and as a black tea blend, Philosopher instantly caught my eye. What drew me in was the description: dark and earthy with chaga mushrooms for pensive mornings or afternoons. Isn’t that perfectly charming! It’s as if it was made for writers who stare out the window, seeing nothing before their eyes but everything about the scene taking place in their mind.

The specific ingredients are Yunnan black tea, Assam black tea, chaga mushrooms, toasted barley, and black peppercorns. The teas, mushrooms, and peppercorns are certified organic, and the packaging is eco-friendly. What’s not to love?

Dry in the bag, the initial aroma is sweet and slightly woody. Don’t inhale too deeply or you’ll set off a round of sneezing from the black peppercorns, although they finish the fragrance with a pleasant zestiness. You won’t taste the peppercorns as much as you’ll experience them as warmth on the backend of your sip. It’s much the same as when you’ve eaten something with a spicy ingredient that you feel in your mouth instead of taste as an individual flavor.

And speaking of flavor, Philosopher tastes like the quintessential tea. It’s what tea is supposed to taste like. It is the pinnacle of teas as far as I’m concerned. I know that sounds vague, so let me see if I can expound upon that description.

It’s smooth and silky, rich and earthy, elegant and unpretentious on the palate. It evokes images a hawk flying on a cloudy day, the sun burning through fog, dew on the grass, and slipping into a warm, dry barn to escape a sudden shower.

Please do not be put off by the presence of the chaga mushrooms, toasted barley, or black peppercorns. If you do not care for any one of these, I promise you will not taste them individually. Gnat and Bee have created a balanced blend that works in perfect harmony.

Water should be hot but not boiling, and brew time is perfect at four minutes of steeping and one minute of swirling the tea ball around my mug. This is, of course, adjustable based on the size of your cup and desired strength. I prefer mine without cream or sugar because I want to taste the tea itself. If you try it with one or both, please let me know in the comments how that worked for you.

Once brewed, the aroma becomes mild tobacco and sweet leather, the color is deep mahogany.

I hope you try Philosopher by Gnat and Bee. Let me know in the comments how their marvelous tea influenced your own pensive morning or afternoon.

Christmas Morning Hot Cocoa

Christmas Day has a special quality that is difficult to describe. For me, as a child, it began long before the day arrived. My excitement was wrapped up in anticipation of my family gathering in the morning and spending the entire day together. I admit the presents were a bonus, but what I’m talking about is the sacred, magical characteristics unique to Christmas.

Creamy Hot Cocoa

Creamy Hot Cocoa

I tried to capture the essence of what I mentioned above in my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles. The year is 1917 and Johnny is still a boy living on the farm with his family in Harford County, Maryland. The morning is almost ruined by an unwelcome visitor before Johnny’s stepmother, Collie, comes to the rescue.

Collie surprises the family with slices of pound cake and hot cocoa in addition to their usual fare. The food in this scene came from a memory I have of my mother waking my brother and me with slices of pound cake and hot cocoa one summer morning. I thought the rich cake and hot beverage would translate well to winter dining.

Sometimes the terms hot chocolate and hot cocoa are used interchangeably and incorrectly. Hot chocolate is milk and cream based with vanilla and shavings of semisweet or bittersweet chocolate. In some recipes, the quantity of chocolate used can make the drink so thick one has to spoon it out of the cup. Hot cocoa, on the other hand, is made with water, a little cream, sugar, and cocoa powder. This version is thinner with a more concentrated chocolate flavor.

For my novel, I chose to include the recipe my mother makes. It’s somewhere between the above-mentioned methods. My best memories of hot cocoa are made with the following recipe. Enjoy!

One 8 – 10 oz. mug per person

Whole Milk

Sugar (I use raw sugar)

Hershey’s Cocoa

Vanilla

Use one mug to measure out the quantity of milk needed, enough for each person, into a saucepan. Add 1 t. vanilla per person to the milk and warm on the stove. While the milk/vanilla is heating, measure 2 t. Hershey’s cocoa into each cup and 2 – 3 t sugar (depending on how sweet you like it.) When the milk/vanilla mixture is steaming, ladle it into each cup. Stir until sugar and cocoa are thoroughly mixed in. Garnish as desired.

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