Tea Time at Reverie: Teasenz’s Oriental Beauty Blooming Tea

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Today marks another first for us: our first blooming tea review! Teavana fans might already been familiar with this unique artisan tea from China. If you aren’t, here’s a quick lesson.

Blooming tea combines traditional tea leaves (usually green or white) with flowers such as osmanthus, jasmine, lilies, marigolds, and globe amaranths. The leaves and flowers are sewn together, then rolled and shaped into a ball and held together by cotton threads. When the tea ball is immersed in hot water, it unfurls to reveal its colorful blossoms. Hence the tea’s namesake. ;) Click here to learn more about blooming tea.

Our friends at Teasenz volunteered to send two blooming tea samples for review. The first one we’ll cover is Oriental Beauty Blooming Tea, a refreshing mix of floral and fruit flavors. And because this is blooming tea, I took some photos to go along with the review! You can view larger versions of each one by double-clicking on them.

The Basics

Photo courtesy of Teasenz

Photo courtesy of Teasenz

Teasenz’s Description: An artistically hand-tied blooming tea from Fujian Province with floral fresh taste and a truly unique appearance. Brew this blooming tea in a glass teapot or teacup and witness a natural wonder unfolding. Made from delicate flowers and silver needle white tea leaves.”

Ingredients: Green tea leaves, globe amaranth, jasmine, lily, and silver needle white tea leaves

Steeping Instructions: Use 1 blooming tea ball for every 8 oz of water. Heat water to boiling (212 degrees Fahrenheit / 100 degrees Celsius) and steep for 3 to 4 minutes.

Multiple Brews?: 4 to 5 times

Bagged or Loose Leaf?: Loose leaf

Caffeine Level: High

The Experience

Photo courtesy of Teasenz

Photo courtesy of Teasenz

A blooming tea ball looks a lot like a jasmine pearl, with one noticeable difference: It’s huge! This Oriental Beauty fits in the palm of my hand, and is about the size of a U.S. silver dollar or a grape tomato. It’s also gorgeous in appearance: dark green, silver, and white strands, with bits of bright pink and yellow in between. The ball’s thread-like exterior feels silky-smooth, yet the ball itself doesn’t give when gently squeezed.

Size comparison, from left to right: a U.S. silver dollar, a Oriental Beauty tea ball, and a grape tomato / Photo courtesy of Sara Letourneau

Size comparison, from left to right: a quarter, a Oriental Beauty tea ball, and a grape tomato / Photo courtesy of Sara Letourneau

When dry, Oriental Beauty doesn’t have a real fragrance. I pick up hints of grass (green tea), flowers, and hay (Silver Needle white tea) if I hold the ball up to my nose. My guess is those scents will become more pronounced once the tea has brewed. Which makes sense, considering the brewing process is the true reason for enjoying blooming tea.

A glass vessel is the ideal brewing method for blooming tea. I steeped Oriental Beauty in a Pagoda Glass Teapot from Teavana, which comes with a removable glass strainer where the blooming tea ball sits. To prepare the tea, I poured boiling water from a stovetop-safe teapot into the glass teapot, inserted the strainer with the Oriental Beauty ball inside, and closed the lid. Then I let the tea steep for 4 minutes – and watched it unfurl! The photo below shows Oriental Beauty fully bloomed, just before pouring.

Brewing Oriental Beauty at home / Photo courtesy of Sara Letourneau

Brewing Oriental Beauty at home / Photo courtesy of Sara Letourneau

The first cup of Oriental Beauty justifies the tea’s name well. The pale golden yellow infusion carries a floral fragrance with traces of fruit. I can’t pinpoint which flowers or fruits it reminds me of until I take a few sips…

Wow. Oriental Beauty may be delicate, but it’s full of flavor. It’s got the exotic tang of jasmine, the hay essence of Silver Needle, a peach-like juiciness, and traces of pineapple – a summery and delicious combination. Texture-wise, it’s smooth and light, with a meditative airiness. The finish emphasizes the fruit flavors without a cloying sweetness, and leaves a slight dryness on the tongue.

I let the Oriental Beauty flower sit in the glass teapot as I savored Steep #1. And I’m thrilled I did that, because I liked Steeps #2 and #3 even more! The liquid had turned a beautiful amber-orange, and the peach and floral flavors were more prominent. Even better, the tea hadn’t turned bitter or developed too dry of a mouthfeel. White tea normally does either (or both) when you oversteep it, so this was a wonderful surprise. I wonder if that’s the case for all blooming teas.

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Oriental Beauty after transfer to mug of cold water / Photo courtesy of Sara Letourneau

Once I was ready to clean the glass teapot, I transferred the flower to a tall glass mug filled with cold, filtered water. (The above photo shows Oriental Beauty at its full “height,” about 1 inch tall.) After 10 minutes, I realized the mug water had changed in color from clear to amber. The flower still had infusing power left – and the flavor profile, though somewhat subdued by now, was still sweet and refreshing! This would be delectable as an iced tea.

The Aftertaste

I never expect a tea to shatter my expectations when I try it for the first time – but Teasenz’s Oriental Beauty did so in a subtly succulent way. Its flavor profile strikes a fine balance between floral, fruit, and white tea; and it’s delightful for multiple brews. Not to mention you can’t overlook the exquisite craftsmanship of the tea ball and the flower that unfurls when immersed. This truly is a tea to behold during all phases of the brewing process. If you haven’t tried blooming tea before, there’s no better choice to start with than Oriental Beauty.

Grade: 10 / 10

Recommended For:

  • Tea Drinkers Who: Like blooming teas, or delicate green, white, or floral teas
  • Time of Day and Year: Afternoons and evenings in the spring or summer
  • Possible Book Pairings: Oriental Beauty’s personality reminds me of middle grade fantasy stories, where childhood innocence and the whimsicality of magic often battle it out against the forces of evil. Try this tea with Laini Taylor’s Blackbringer or Phillp Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, starting with The Golden Compass.

You can purchase Oriental Beauty Blooming Tea directly from Teasenz here.

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In addition to being a tea enthusiast, Sara Letourneau is an avid reader and a writer who… well, enjoys writing! Currently she’s working on a novel, and she writes book reviews and articles on the craft of writing. She’s also a published poet with works available in various print and online publications. Visit Sara at her personal blog, Facebook, or Twitter.

If you’re a tea seller and would like to have one of your products reviewed here, please visit the Contributors page for contact information.

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Review of World After by Susan Ee


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Review written by: Jessica C.

World After starts where Angelfall with Penryn and the rest struggling to survive in the aftermath of the destruction of the Aerie. Penryn, Paige, and their mother join up with a group focused and determined to survive. However, when Paige is viewed as no more than a monster by these same individuals, the situation results in an all out bloodbath and Paige being captured.

Once again Penryn is off on a new mission to find and rescue her sister. The only difference is that this time she is for the most part on her own. Without Raffe by her side, Penryn finds herself haunted by her constant desire to look up at the sky to search for him, and the flashbacks that his angel sword brings to Penryn in order to train her to become a sword wielding warrior.

Penryn’s mission leads her to discover the new plans of the angels. Mainly that of Belial and Uriel as the reason for the scorpions creation is revealed. As for Raffe, it seems undeniable that Penryn and his path would cross once more as he is determined to recover his wings. Yet the reunion with Penryn leaves both in question of whether forbidden affection can be surpassed. It is undeniable that both care for each other, however Raffe lives in struggle with the old ways and the rules that angels shall not love the Daughters of Man.

With forbidden love, adventure, and the corrupted determination of Belial and Uriel to seemingly unleash hell on earth, the reader is left to question what possibly can happen next. All I can say, dear readers, without ruining the book for you, is hope. In the end all that remains is hope.

Once more Susan Ee has managed to write a captivating tale of the world after the end of days. Each character is engaging and captivating. You cannot help but root for Raffe and Penryn to succeed. I eagerly await the next chapter in the End of Days, and I hope you do too. Until next time dear readers, happy reading!

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Review of As White As Snow by Salla Simmuka

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Review Written By: Jessica C.

Our faith is as white as snow. It is pure and bright. It leaves no room for doubt. Our faith is like the light that will blind the sinners with its strength. Our faith will burn them even as the stubble of the field is devoured by fire.

For those that read the review for As Red As Blood, the Finnish heroine of the first novel has returned. If you haven’t had an opportunity yet to read As Red As Bloodhere is a quick recap. As Red As Blood introduces the reader to Lumikki, a solitaire, quiet girl who finds herself drawn into unexpected situations and violent missions when she discovers a bag of blood soaked money left out to dry in a dark room. Now Lumikki has ventured to Prague after months have past from her prior ‘adventures’ to have a vacation and return to her solitaire life. Of course, such an anticipated time of relaxation is short lived when Lumikki meets the anxious Lenka who claims to be Lumikki’s half sister.

Despite Lumikki’s unwillingness to believe Lenka’s mysterious and heart breaking story, Lumikki eventually is pulled into Lenka’s life which in turn draws her into the dangerous cult called the White Family. Once again Lumikki is unexpectedly placed in situations that put her life in dangerous and leave her once more on the run. It is during these particular occasions that Lumikki realizes that perhaps she is unable to do everything alone when it comes to her own survival.

Once again I found myself fascinated and fond of Lumikki. Watching Lumikki change and adapt from a solitaire creature to a woman growing to survive and love is a beautiful event to watch unfold. Her fondness of Lenka is a kinship that any reader can relate to whether they have their own siblings or have bonded with others that have become like family.

I have to say though that one of my favorite parts of Simukka’s story telling, (because in truth sometimes that is what she does when it comes to Lumikki) is her gradual revelations of why Lumikki is how she is. I adore the fact that she has interwoven the Snow White and the Snow White and Rose Red fairytales so seamlessly into her writing even though Lumikki’s tale is so different from what we expect to read when the reader sees a trilogy titled the Snow White trilogy.

I wait and hope that with the finale, we see more of Lumikki’s past revealed, especially that of Blaze. I will keep my fingers crossed for our unwilling heroine that she finds her happy ending. Until next time, happy reading!

The sky above them was dark and full of stars. In that moment, every single one burned just for them

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Review of Jessica Knoll’s “Luckiest Girl Alive,” & Interview with author Jessica Knoll

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     Interview with the writer, Jessica Knoll, can be found right below this review, due to the fact one of the questions contains a spoiler warning.  

Review:

Sometimes you select a book based entirely on its premise alone,while sometimes you’re succored by the promotional statement emblazoned on the press-release that boldly states that “it is like Gone Girl” or something to that effect. Having never read Gone Girl but wanting to read it someday (knowing it has a premise that always sounded really interesting to me), I probably went into reading this book under the wrong pretenses, but thankfully I had never read Gone Girl to be able to make any clear-headed comparisons between both books. Anyhow, it is best  to eschew any and all preconceived notions you may have about this book, even your very first impressions from the first 20 or so pages that are so carefully written as a trick of sharply-written “narrator duality.” It’s essentially an illusion of character, and it’s done so well that I hate even having to bring up here in this review. It catches you off-guard so much, and I want to be as discreet as possible in order not to further destroy the well-placed suspense in this story.

    Tifani and Ani  (two identites of the main character/main perspective of the story) are one and the same; one exists in a fragile, psychoanalytic hall of mirrors during the fragmented, melodramatic, confused-identity crisis days of being a teenager. Another exists in the present scene of the novel, where the reader from the beginning is under the impression that she is a very successful writer and woman, someone bound to have the blissful American Dream. Yet the present scene cracks, and we get a story that quite literally hops into a psychological rabbit hole. This is where the story gets extremely interesting, and Ani is a truly complex, flawed female character, who has defects and strengths, but she is never presented as some icon of perfection. Having read some books where the female character exists as a figure, emblematic of a certain one-dimensional notion of female strength (a human being, devoid of flaws), it was extremely refreshing to read someone that has a callous, sometimes narcissistic personality, yet is a human being that has been injured by a dark, twisted past. And both these personalities of the main character, enhanced by her internal complexions, play out in a rich, complicated way throughout many of the exciting, heart-pounding pages of this very well-written psychological thriller.

There is an abundant amount of things to say, and while the writing hits a snag at the beginning with unclear direction of where it it going to go. This intentional confusion of character, in the beginning, becomes more clear as you read on, in that the intended meandering style of the narrator’s tone  in the present time of the novel’s events is actually purposefully fraught with anxiety and torment over the character’s dark past. This dark past gets explored in visceral depth, and the way the final revelation of the deepest source of pain and regret plays out ultimately in the end is refreshing and masterful. Throughout all of it, Ani/Tifani remains beautifully imperfect, in that her defects and foibles of character make her into someone that is truly three-dimensional. You don’t always love her, sometimes you have viscous doubts about her as a character, in the same way a frustratingly difficult character in a Thomas Hardy book might make you feel like you’re arguing at times with the character.

Many of the side characters are just as well-developed too, in that they’re characters, versus caricatures, that all have depth, but most importantly, an ample amount of realistic flaws. It’s these flaws that truly make this a worthwhile read, and I actually ended up greatly loving and admiring Ani’s spunk, snark, wit, all spun up in a tangled web of past regrets, misgivings, and yet all these facets of her character are covered with that smooth, deceptively self-assured layer of brash egotism, which again all adds up to a character that you cannot help but find deeply fascinating. She is the type of female character I want to read more about. In a sense, this story serves as a symbol of true progression in the growth and evolution of female characters, in that Ani is allowed to be flawed, sometimes unlikable, without treading on her depth.

As a psychological thriller, Luckiest Girl Alive is an intense, beautifully-written dark fable of the dark side of the human psyche, and the way deeply traumatic events in our lives render us deeply injured or hurt in some way, for a long span of time. Sometimes part of the healing is more complex than simply letting it go, as our minds are always mired in past regrets. We live with the past and present, intertwined within us at all times. We have to learn to live with this strange paradox, and sometimes having the past/present live within ourselves, with its undeniable history of pain,sorrow, and moments of happiness, can make us feel like we are of “two,divided personalities,” much like Ani within this story.

Incorporating the  suspenseful mastery and macabre psychodrama of an Edgar Allen Poe story while  dressed up with the sleekness and brazen spunk of a modern thriller, Jessica Knoll’s Luckiest Girl Alive is a true page-turner, which will have you reading while neglecting your surroundings for the time spent, racing through this book, and beholding its alluring, though dark truths about the human psyche. I cannot wait to read more from this very impressive, skilled novelist!

INTERVIEW WITH AUTHOR JESSICA KNOLL:

Key for Initials- BR-Bibliophile’s Reverie ;JK-Jessica Knoll

SPOILER ALERT: There is a spoiler warning/advisory for question five below. You may want to read only through questions #1-4, and question 6, if you’re planning to read this book. If you don’t mind the spoiler, you are free to read the question of course, but know that you’ve been warned about being spoiled!

1. BR:I always start with the most conventional question first. What inspired, or really impassioned, you to write this book?

JK: I have always wanted to write a novel, but I wanted whatever I wrote to really land in the cultural conversation. I didn’t feel I had much to say until I turned twenty-eight and suddenly felt an enormous pressure to get engaged, as though there was something wrong with me that it hadn’t happened yet. No matter I was a senior editor at Cosmopolitan and had made it in New York City—I felt like a failure for not having a ring on my finger too. I found there was a real disconnect between the “Lean In” message we were pushing at Cosmo and how I felt about my personal life, and I know many of my friends felt the same way.

From there I started to craft this idea for a story about a girl who feels she really needs marriage—and to a guy from a family like Luke Harrison—as a sort of solvent for her past. So what happened to her in her past? What was this reputation she was trying so desperately to scrub? I built out the plot from there.

2. BR: When you start reading, you are immediately caught off guard by a spunky, derisive, even nonchalant tone to the main character of “Ani,” that you think this will be the dominant voice for the novel, but it isn’t. How did you consciously make the decision, as to where to slowly switch gears, in terms of her voice?

JK: It wasn’t conscious at all, though I’m happy that transition comes across. It happened organically once I really got into the trenches with Ani—recounting the trauma and pain she had been through naturally triggered a more broken, desperate voice than the one I started out with, when Ani was still on top of her game.

3. BR:Speaking of the duality of the main character’s voice, what about the duality of a person’s psyche makes it so an enduring, interesting subject for thriller novels of this kind?

JK:For me, the most interesting duality is in who we are to the people around us and who we really are deep down. I think it’s something a lot of women can relate to—that you are all these different things to different people, you swap your hat depending on who you are with, and sometimes our true, authentic voice gets lost in that shuffle. I wanted to really illustrate how pronounced that dissonance is for Ani, and what happens when that chasm widens so much that you have no other choice but to snap.

4. BR:Surprisingly, I actually reside in the suburbs of Philly, and have lived here for awhile, so it was really neat to read about “the Main Line” while reading this book. I mean, some of the towns mentioned are places I pass on the train twice a week, when heading to class. Why did you choose this area as the setting for the main action of the novel? Was it hard to piece together memories of this area from your mind, as you wrote?

JK: I drew a lot from my own life in writing this novel, and I grew up slightly outside of the Main Line (in Chester Springs) but I attended The Shipley School, in Bryn Mawr. I wasn’t as much an obvious outlier the way Ani was, but I also didn’t come from old money the way many of my peers did. That distinction wasn’t as clear to me at the time, but as an adult, I can look back and see it now. It seemed like a really interesting dynamic to emphasize in the book—girl from the wrong side of the tracks lands in a tony private school—and one that people have a strong emotional response to. Everyone loves the story about the new girl from the boonies making her way in the big city! The Main Line just served as Ani’s big city.

Spoiler Warning Ahead: For those planning on reading this book, please skip forward to question six, if you wish not to have a crucial part of the story spoiled. It may be wise to refrain from reading the below section, until you’ve finished reading this awesome book. Thanks!

5. BR:For many of the psychological phenomenons in the novel, there was clear evidence you did some research to make sure the information was accurate. Can you describe the most interesting bit about the research process behind the novel?

JK:I read Columbine by Dave Cullen. It was so informative and eye-opening that I even thanked him in my acknowledgements. I had no idea that the media had gotten the story of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold so wrong. They were not bullied, they were not unpopular rejects, and Columbine was never planned as a school shooting. They were well-liked guys who came from loving families and had plenty of friends—they attended prom, and reportedly had a great time, the weekend before they attacked their school! Additionally, their goal was to commit a terrorist attack—not a school shooting. They revered Timothy McVeigh and had the bombs they placed in the cafeteria detonated, the death toll would have topped nearly 1,000, which, at the time, would have been deadliest terrorist attack on U.S. soil, as it was pre-9/11.

6). BR: I really enjoyed this book, so I hope others that read this blog will check it out. Do you have a message for the devoted readers of A Bibliophile’s Reverie?

JK:Thank you! I would just say that I hope for you to give Ani a chance. There is a reason for her sharp edges, and it’s not just because she’s been through a shocking and horrific ordeal as an adolescent. Ani is part of a generation of women who have been trained to think that “having it all”— the career, the man, the perfect body, etc.—is the recipe for happiness. It’s an enormous amount of pressure to be under, and it can be terrifying to discover that you’ve done all the “right” things and yet you’re miserable. Ani is trying to sort out how she can chart her own course when you first meet her, and she does get there.

Also, I’ll add that she’s funny. Viciously funny, but funny nonetheless. I think some people may not see her that way, but she’s definitely got a wicked sense of humor if you allow yourself to see it!

Thank you to Jessica Knoll for taking the time to answer the following questions for this blog feature! :)

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Review of Catherine Chanter’s “The Well,” & Literary Tea Feature-Two Leaves and a Bud’s “Orange Sencha Green Tea”

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Beginning in a literary comatose state, Catherine Chanter’s grim, methodical psychological thriller “The Well” takes some time for the reader to adjust to the slow pacing of the story. The beginning of the story has a glacial pace, introducing us to the story’s main first-person perspective Ruth Ardingly, who remind readers of the passive,rather mundane Offred from Margeret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, as both character perspectives begin with a rather deceptively sedate story in a rather mundane setting. Within many speculative fiction novels of this kind that involve some feasible future scenario, attention is invariably focused upon the foreignness of the post-apocalyptic setting, or litanies of description about the snazzy, otherworldly technology.  The Well could have easily been a cautionary tale about overuse of finite resources like water, in a speculative fiction novel that has an ecological thrust in its didactic message. Instead, the speculative fiction elements of this story are merely narrative elements or motifs that merely provide an interesting premise to pull readers in. It certainly caught my attention, as I am easily succored by novels with premises that promise an interesting speculative story-line that tackles the worrisome issues of our time in a futuristic, what if? sense.

Yes, there are some minimal discussion about the way the depleted water resources, due to a seemingly endless drought in the UK, has been crippling the whole country’s economy, and causing mass riots. Yet the story is really mostly about the disintegration of a family, a marriage, an introspective glance at one character Ruth, with a strange proclivity towards spirituality. She never really tries to exhume from her subconscious a better sense of her own self-identity as a woman, especially when she rather smother herself in societal strictures and facades versus thinking too much on her own self.

This novel cannot be classified as science fiction, or post-apocalyptic; speculative psychological thriller is probably the most apt description for the type of novel The Well is. Returning to the story’s main first-person perspective, Ruth seems fairly normal, unsuspectingly sane, at least from the reader’s first impression, but the magical realism (another good phrase) of the novel exists in the form of magical realistic elements like the strange phenomenon of Ruth and her husband’s Mark’s farm, being the one sole place that still carries water, or the eccentric matriarchal (almost militant feminist) nuns that later come in, who revere Ruth as the sainted “Rose” that dwells in an oasis within a blighted UK under a severe drought. Ruth’s own muddled perception of her identity is a sharp contrast to the refining qualities that a small idyllic with abundant water would otherwise deliver to most character. More important, Rose never feels like she can truly trust the husband she had been married for twenty years, especially after being acquitted for the charge of purportedly having child pornography stored away on his computer. IMG_0034

Through her ruminations ,the story unravels through her many disparate recollections of the twisted past. In the present, she is under house arrest for illegally having possession of gratuitous amounts of water, and the murder of her grandson, Lucien. Confined to the farm where it seems to magically rain where rain is such an elusive force elsewhere in England, she is forced to mull over so many loose-ends, unfulfilled bits from his past, marred by the grief of the lost of her grandson, and consequently, her husband’s departure. In many stories, abundant rain often means restoration for the character and redemption for their past, yet the novel paradoxically, again lets the aspect of rain resemble the way that Ruth’s own mind is flooded with so much regret, self-loathing that her very identity is entirely out-of-reach for a large portion of the novel. And the reader is the one that must juxtapose the loose bits, and then exhume meaning from the story itself, and figure out who exactly “Ruth” is, and whether she is entirely reliable as a narrator.

Sometimes the novel gets very lost, confused, as to where it intends to go, narrative-wise. The story becomes overwrought at these portions, getting lost itself if the labyrinthine daze of Ruth’s own recollections. The novel almost entirely falls apart in the end, yet oddly enough picks back pace, when the mystery of the son’s murder is focused more on, then there is a gradual climb, and this successive ascent to clarity of meaning towards the end of the novel, in a novel that otherwise gets “lost in translation”  at times. This is most evident within parts, where the convoluted thought patterns of a despondent,grief ridden main character, like Ruth, just become far too bloated and senseless for the casual reader. The ending of the novel is far better, as the author reorganizes the narrative, and really gives it a much more neatly organized ending, to where many of the things you thought were purposeless at times seem to actually carry more significance in the novel.

The novel is especially interesting, when dealing with the question of the purpose of spirituality. Does spirituality really serve as a life-enhancing element for us, or is it a way to lose clarity about ourselves and suppress any thought of authentic self-reflection? In a sense, Ruth drowns herself in the quasi-new age spirituality that the marauding nuns sorta force upon her. She quickly loses herself in the meta-narrative, constructed by these four nuns that enigmatically  come into her life. Ruth thus gets ensnared into even more nebulous thoughts. She loses awareness of the more pragmatic aspects of the spirituality, in that the nuns are actually using Ruth and the miraculous existence of water on her homestead (and her naivete) to really make a profit out of her as the matriarch of a new religion/symbolic lead maiden that exists as an artifice of a person that wishes not to reflect on her disappointing drug-addict of a daughter, her husband she cannot exactly trust even after he is acquitted of a sordid crime. This area of novel’s concentration is where the novel does sometimes get wayward, but yet it’s all so irresistibly interesting, and reminiscent of something from Doris Lessing’s brilliant short story, Room Nineteen, concerning a woman with a fragmented, confused perception of herself.

Is it worth the occasional slog? Yes, The Well is the type of psychological thriller that really rewards patient, scrupulous readers, willing to wade through Ruth’s maze of a mind, and mine a very interesting story that is filled with many intriguing psychological phenomenon. Of course, many stories have dealt with the notion of unreliable narrators, or unclear memory recall, or selective recall. But this story remarkably documents a very different psychological phenomenon, which looks at the very confusing paradox of “why are some people more inclined towards expressions of spirituality, or why is it that more introspection leads us to a more pronounced confusion about ourselves?” Ruth is a character, who acts as a passive observer of the world around her, and she quickly becomes enmeshed,or consumed by whatever large force figures largely in her life. For most of her life, it was about her marriage, or being the figurehead of a new age, militant feminist-driven spiritual cult.

All these disparate elements really come together towards the end, and you will actually be unable to stop pondering the whole novel by the end. You will undoubtedly not be thinking too hard about the ecological thread of the story, which again only serves as a motif of the novel versus being a large part of the story’s plot. Rather, this story  sometimes gets trapped in its own unclear, convoluted ruminations on identity and the purpose of spirituality in our lives (or the dangers of spirituality gone wrong), until the careful reader can really elucidate the meaning of these confused elements themselves. In the end, Catherne Chanter’s The Well  is a very interesting, mostly well-written speculative fiction story that I think any readers that enjoy books that are more slow and methodical and force the reader to tease out the meaning more themselves will positively love for the most part. It looks at the conundrum of identity, grief, and spirituality, in a way that is very different from other novels in the genre of either psychological thrillers or speculative fiction.

Essentially, this novel is very much the spiritual cousin to a Doris Lessing story, and being a huge fan of her meandering, though deeply meaningful psychological novels; I think The Well has that same complex, off-beat element of not feeling like a clear-headed story that oddly enough carries some startling clear insights about the human psyche. The weirdness of the novel will be off-putting or unpalatable to some, but the eccentricities of the novel is what made me eventually greatly appreciate what I read, and it’s something that I can’t help but continue to reflect more on, long after I’ve finished it.

Literary Tea Recommendation: Two Leaves and a Bud’s Organic Orange Sencha Green Tea:

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For a novel that is puzzling at its core, I recommend a refreshing blend of tea, the Organic Sencha Green Tea from Two Leaves and Bud, that carries a light orange, tangy sencha green tea flavor that lingers in your palate, as long as the disordered thoughts contained within The Well’s Ruth’s own jumbled-up mind.

Also, it is the perfect antidote to the blistering sunlight of late spring/early summer. Even when it is served hot, the tea still carries that rare ability to quench your thirst and successfully refresh you, though you would think any hot tea consumed in hot weather is something that wouldn’t carry those qualities anymore in such weather.

Whenever I drink it, I first taste that familiar flavorful smooth sencha green tea taste, characteristic of any high quality sencha green tea, accompanied by a very tangy zing of orange citrus, which compliments the sencha green tea flavor exceptionally well.  The tea recalls that paradox of the novel’s antithetical elements at play, in that the magical existence of a farm with abundant rain, in a drought-infected England, doesn’t entirely satisfy  the restless person that resides at that idyllic farm. Ruth is essentially living in an ideal English cottage, yet her past and own dissatisfaction and confusion about her life creates inexplicable chaos within an oasis.

Only a tea that can carry two different dimensions of light, refreshing taste that oddly carries a certain depth can be paired with a book that has that same ineffable sensation of feeling quaint, and oddly mundane, yet also be an extremely interesting psychological story.

When drought is nigh, be sure to stock up on some Organic Sencha Green Tea, from Two Leaves and a Bud.

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Review of Nancy Thayer’s “The Guest Cottage”

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This is a fair, honest review of the book, even though I did receive a complimentary copy of the book in exchange for a review.

Reviewing beach reads, as with reviewing books of varying genres, tends to involve an entirely different rubric or set of rules. The rubric contains all the predictable litany of tropes one expects from this genre of books, as Nancy Thayer’s newest novel The Guest Cottage certainly falls under the beach read column. It wasn’t really my type of books for the most, and I could certainly feel that instinct while I was reading it. Certain things about this book, though, really set it apart from other books of this more like, traditionally cloying type of genre (some of the more mediocre reads, in this category, tend to be negatively described or referred to as either cloying or saccharine).

The plot-line of The Guest Cottage is fairly run-of-the-mill beach read, focused on a woman with a disheartening marriage with a rather arrogant, over-achieving architecture. Her marriage with him was as structured,and shallow as the facade of an architectural creation, which her husband may have diligently helped prepare as someone whose main business concerns in life superseded that of the life of her family. They set-up of whom the main character falls in love with, and the scenario that causes these star-crossed lovers feels also a tad bit silly and formulaic, as the contrivance that brings them together is the fact that both Sophie (the main character) and Trevor, the talented web designer who recently lost his actress wife to drug overdose) happen to be renting a beach house for the same main purpose of looking for emotional retreat from their emotionally-disfigured lives.

The writing itself was surprisingly very cleanly-written, sometimes certain prose techniques felt a bit borderline purple, but the actual character development and dialogue was fairly well-written for the most part. It certainly made for an easy,enjoyable read. The actual development of the romance, again, was mainly predictable, but for the genre of writing that this is centered in, I would rate it higher than other books in this genre, as you expect the development to be a bit more relaxed, as it is primarily a beach read, and the readers normally looking for this type of read are to expect this.

Surprisingly, the one element that set this apart from other books in this genre is a substantial focus on the perspective of the male love interest, who is able to exhibit many of the same types of passionate, emotionally-driven emotional responces as the female character in this situation. He often feels just as enamored or taken with the female love interest, as the female character, from her perspective, does with the male character. You often don’t see this type of egalitarian reciprocity, in terms of the perspectives shown in these types of books, as books of this sort tend to make the male character “stereotypical gallant,” though devoid of any feminine emotional sensitivities, whereas the female character is often stereotypical demur, over-the-top emotional to a theatrical extreme. In this story, there is a gender equality with the way both Trevor and Sophie are developed, and that was one of the high points of this book for me, even though, it again really isn’t something I’d either normally read, or frankly, not a book in a genre I typically set out to buy books from.

Nonetheless, I think it will serve as a good respite of a “feel-good” beach read for the demographic that it is being marketed towards. It is a mostly enjoyable book, though I do have a few caveats, in that some of the development is a bit predictable, and there are a few patches of purple prose, here and there. But for the most part, I would say it is mostly a good read, and those looking for something of this type of light fare, may want to bring it with them to the beach, or some other vacation spot, awaiting them this Memorial Day weekend (which is in a few weeks from now).

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Tea Time at Reverie: Yezi Tea’s Dragon Well High Grade Long Jing Green Tea

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If I had to pick a favorite green tea, Dragon Well would be my vote. I was fascinated by its unexpectedly full flavor and the distinct appearance of its leaves the first time I tried it. So, I was thrilled when Yezi Tea sent a sample for Tea Time.

Known as Long Jing (Chinese for “dragon well”) in its native China, Dragon Well is celebrated as an Imperial Tea and surrounded by all kinds of lore. Listing all of the legends would take a while; but after researching, it’s clear why emperors loved this tea. Dragon Well is harvested exclusively in Hangzhou’s lakes region, and is comprised of unopened leaf buds called “dragon sprouts” (a.k.a. water lily hearts). The leaves are plucked by hand during the first couple weeks of spring, then pressed in a hot wok until the ideal shape is achieved. As for the scent and taste… Well, that’s what this review is for, right? ;)

The Basics

Photo courtesy of Yezi Tea

Photo courtesy of Yezi Tea

Yezi Tea’s Description: “With the first brew, you will enjoy the distinct and powerful tastes that are not characteristically associated with green tea. You will sense the assertive notes of grass, spinach and seaweed that fill out the body of this ancient tea. You will roll your tongue in your mouth and you will contemplate. And you will know that the Xi Hu Long Jing is a bold tea worthy of the fiercest dragon.”

Ingredients: Dragon Well green tea leaves

Steeping Instructions: Use 1 tsp of tea for every 2 to 3 ounces of water. Heat water to under boiling (167 – 176 degrees Fahrenheit / 75 to 80 degrees Celsius), and steep for 90 seconds. Add 30 seconds for each subsequent brew.

Additional Brews?: Yes, 3 to 4 times

Bagged or Loose Leaf?: Loose leaf

Caffeine Level: Medium

The Experience

We’ve mentioned before that it’s easy to confuse Japanese Sencha and Chinese Dragon Well green teas. Both are famous for their flattened leaves, which results from each tea’s unique heating process. However, Dragon Well’s leaves are lighter in color. Yezi’s in particular are a bright jade green, like springtime grass. Which would lead you to think that Dragon Well would smell like grass, right?

Nope! Or, at least I don’t smell grass in Yezi’s High Grade Dragon Well. To me, the dry leaves have a seaweed aroma, with a nutty, almost roasted overtone. In fact, the phrase “roasted seaweed” comes to mind. (Not that I’ve ever smelled or eaten roasted seaweed, but I imagine it might smell like this.) It’s intense for a green tea. Some tea lovers might find it too strong for their liking. Yet there’s something fresh about this Dragon Well that reminds me of the beach. Not in a salty or tropical way, but more like the breezy, rocky coasts of Maine on a hot summer’s day.

With that image in mind, I brewed my first cup of Yezi’s High Grade Dragon Well, steeping 2 teaspoons for 90 seconds. Out comes a pale golden-yellow infusion that whispers the same mingling of seaweed and roasted notes. Yes, “whispers.” The liquid’s aroma is not nearly as strong as that of the dry leaf. The taste, however, is noticeably pronounced. Equal parts seaweed and nutty (maybe pistachios?) with hints of grass, this Dragon Well is slightly sweet yet more assertive than a typical green tea. A mild astringency also dries out my tongue once each sip goes down.

Later brews of Yezi’s High Grade Dragon Well taste very similar to Steep #1. Each one smells and tastes of seaweed and pistachio nuts with a toasty-roasty ambiance. Also, if the cup cools long enough, the brew takes on a cinnamon-like aftertaste. It’s neither sugary nor spicy; rather, it’s a happy medium between the two. Some tea drinkers might be put off by the combination. Not me, though. As soon as one cup’s gone, I’m off to make another.

Now, here’s the real reason why I like Dragon Well teas so much: The final brews are brighter and a tad on the fruity side. With Steeps #4 (3:00 minutes) and #5 (3:30 minutes), the original seaweed-nutty presence fades while light citrus notes perk up. I’d describe it as pineapple tinged with grass. And they really are delicious. As much as I liked the bolder previous infusions, these last two might be my favorites of the bunch.

The Aftertaste

Yezi’s High Grade Dragon Well soars to majestic heights that most green teas don’t reach. Then again, it’s incredibly unique, veering off the beaten path with its fresh, full profile of seaweed, pistachios, and (later on) citrus flavors. It’s such a distinct and rich green tea that it takes some getting used to. I wouldn’t recommend it to green tea newcomers for this reason. However, Dragon Well is a must-try for anyone who enjoys Asian green teas; and since Yezi Tea’s offerings are all of excellent quality, their High Grade Dragon Well is a great place to start.

Grade: 9 / 10

Recommended For:

  • Tea Drinkers Who: Like green tea
  • Time of Day and Year: Afternoons year-round, especially during spring and summer
  • Possible Book Pairings: Hearing the words “dragon well” make me think of dragons – especially Danaerys Targaryen’s dragons in George R.R. Martin’s A Song Of Fire And Ice saga. Try Yezi’s High Grade Dragon Well with any of the five books out so far, starting with A Game Of Thrones. The tea’s fierce, flavorful presence makes it an appropriate choice for this sweeping and tumultuous epic fantasy series.

You can purchase Dragon Well High Grade Long Jing Green Tea directly from Yezi Tea here.

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In addition to being a tea enthusiast, Sara Letourneau is an avid reader and a writer who… well, enjoys writing! Currently she’s working on a novel, and she writes book reviews and articles on the craft of writing. She’s also a published poet with works available in various print and online publications. Visit Sara at her personal blog, Facebook, or Twitter.

If you’re a tea seller and would like to have one of your products reviewed here, please visit the Contributors page for contact information.

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