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A couple people asked me recently to make a post about tea. I'm delighted to hear that people are interested, because I sometimes feel like readers must be getting sick of how much I post about and share pictures of tea.
I drink tea just about every day. The only days I don't drink it are when it's too inconvenient, or when I start getting paranoid that I might become dependent on it because I drink it so much. But then I take a few days off and nothing seems to change, so I start again.
The first step to good tea is having good quality water. The best thing to do is to get a reverse osmosis filter like this one. I have one like this in Las Vegas and I really like the water that comes out of it. You can also get something like this, which I have in my RV, or just go the cheap route and get a brita filter.
If you're drinking anything in the range of white tea to medium oolong, you really want filtered water. Once you get dark oolongs, blacks, and puerhs, it matters a lot less unless your water is really bad.
Bad water can really ruin good tea, though, so it's worth it to make sure you have good water.
I mostly drink oolong tea. If you were to go in order of oxidation (how dark a tea is, in practical terms), you'd go white, green, oolong, puerh and black. All white teas are essentially unoxidized, all greens are about the same oxidation, blacks and puerh are both generally very dark, but oolongs have a huge range. Some oolongs are light and floral, others are nearly black.
Oolongs can generally be steeped many times in a row. That coupled with the complex flavors they have make them my go-to. I might like good Japanese green teas even more, but they don't steep as many times.
If you want to sip a day in my shoes, get yourself a good Phoenix oolong from somewhere like Samovar or Tap Twice Tea. Phoenix Oolong is medium-oxidation and is really easy to like, in my opinion. You can steep it about a dozen times, it's pretty easy to brew well, and it has a decent amount of caffeine. It's a great daily tea.
The easiest way to consistently brew tea is the "gong fu" method, using a gaiwan. Gong fu is actually the same word as Kung Fu, just Americanized differently. It means great skill, but even without great skill you can make great tea.
All you need is a gaiwan, which is a special lidded cup, and some cups to drink out of. It's also good to have a "fairness pitcher", but not totally essential. Here's a cheap set on Amazon.
Now you need to heat your water. In the RV I use a cast iron pot over the stove. It takes about eight minutes to heat up. In Vegas I have a Bona Vita Variable Gooseneck tea kettle. This is sort of the gold standard of tea kettles. It's easy to pour, can do any temperature, and can keep the water at that temperature.
Side note: never put anything besides plain filtered water in your kettle. If you start brewing things directly in the kettle it will take on the taste after a while and get weird.
I also have a three liter Zojirushi water boiler at my desk. It makes it convenient to slowly drink tea over a few hours while working. If I'm having tea by myself I just use this, but if I have guests I go to my tearoom and use the bona vita.
I also travel with this cheap immersion boiler. If I can just get a paper cup to fill with water, I can use it to warm it up. At home I have a really nice hand-engraved gaiwan set, but when I travel, which is most of the time, I use a cheap travel tea set like this.
If you're making Phoenix oolong, go with 185 degrees. You could probably make a case for anything from 175-190, but it's not going to matter too much. If you're using your stove, put a thermometer in the kettle. Even after a ton of practice, I still can't guess within 10 degrees.
While the water is heating, I fill the gaiwan 1/3 full of leaves. It doesn't have to be exact. Then I pour the 185 degree water in and cover it with the lid. If I'm making tea for others, I immediately pour out the tea. Special gong-fu trays have reservoirs so that you can just dump tea out, but you can also just dump it in the sink or in a spare bowl.
The point of doing this is to open up the leaves and to wash them a little bit. It's mostly ceremony, though, so if I'm making tea for myself I usually don't do it.
Then I give the tea a short steeping. Maybe thirty seconds without a rinse or fifteen with. I pour it into the fairness pitcher to help the top and the bottom of the tea mix, and then I decant it into small cups.
People sometimes laugh at how small gong-fu cups are, but they are small for a reason. The idea is that you get many tastes of a tea as it progresses, rather than one taste of a big steep. They're also perfect for sharing.
Unlike green teas, the best steeping of oolong teas is the second or third. That's because by then the leaves are fully untwisted or unrolled and are maximally exposed. If you oversteep the first steeping, you can damage the second and third. So I err on the side of a light steeping for the first one. It tastes good, but its biggest function is to untwist the leaves.
The next few steepings are fast-- five to ten seconds max. The tea should be a golden color. If it's really watery I know I didn't steep it long enough, and if it's bitter I know I oversteeped it. I'll adjust the next steeping.
One indicator of how good an oolong is is how many times you can steep it. A good one can go a dozen times and still be very flavorful. A bad one will taste bland or weird after just a few.
1000Teas in Budapest has an excellent Phoenix at a really low price, so whenever I am in Budapest I buy more bags of it. Even the fifteenth or twentieth steeping is still pretty good.
Drinking tea usually takes at least an hour, sometimes two. If I'm having tea with a friend we generally put our phones away and have a good conversation. If I'm having it by myself I reflect, think about the upcoming day, and browse the web. By the time I finish I am usually pretty excited to get to work and I know what I'm going to do first.
I'm not a foodie or a connoisseur of anything besides tea. But I've really come to enjoy making and drinking tea. It's really one of my favorite parts of every day. I love when I'm on a plane and I make tea with my little travel set. It makes the flight go by very quickly.
At the same time, I have to admit that I think it's a little bit ridiculous that I go through such lengths to essentially put some leaves in water. I don't think how much I like it is totally defensible.
Then again, it's probably the healthiest thing you can develop some snobbery around. Tea is very healthy for you and also hydrates you in the morning when you're at your least hydrated. Better that than food, alcohol, drugs, or tobacco.
It's a real shame that most people are exposed to such poor quality tea. The tea I drink bears zero resemblance to the tiny tea bags that we've all experienced. I think that if more people had access to good tea they would choose it over other beverages and be better off for it.
Photo is my tea room in Vegas. It's a work in progress, but it's a nice place to have tea.
Summer is just beginning, which means that in my family as well as many others, people are graduating college and preparing to enter the workforce. I just heard that one of my cousins got a job. My first reaction was to be excited for her, and then the second was to be a little bit nervous: the habits she builds in her first few months of receiving a paycheck are very likely to affect her entire life an an enormous way.
While the amount of money you earn is important, what you do with that money is far more important. There is no shortage of people who make hundreds of thousands or millions who end up bankrupt or severely in debt. It happens all the time. But at the same time there are plenty of people who earn very little money but spend it wisely and never have a financial worry in their lives.
Money trouble is a leading cause of divorce. It's can be a huge source of stress. Not having enough money restricts your freedom, making it impossible to change jobs or to move to a different city.
Most Americans don't have enough money to handle an unexpected $1000 expense. This is MOST Americans, not just those who don't make a lot of money. And almost everyone will eventually have a $1000 expense they aren't expecting. A car breaks, they miss a flight, they get injured, their water heater floods, they get into a car accident, or they lose their job.
I'm not sure how I've made it my entire life without knowing that my grandmother was an only child. I'm sitting in a pizza place in Vermont with my grandmother, surrounded by my father and aunts, my cousins, and my cousins' children. We have so many people that we don't know how many to tell the hostess, and we can't even count. We just keep flowing in and taking all of the tables.
I had just told her how much I appreciated what she did for us kids. Every summer all of us kids would go up and stay with our grandparents for a week or two. It didn't seem like a huge deal back in the day, but now I understand that it was essentially a full time job. Laundry, food, and corralling us.
"I'm on only child," she says, "but I had lots of cousins I grew up with, so I wanted to make sure that you all had the same thing."
I look around at the visible evidence of her success. We're all really close. Some of us haven't seen each other for years, but it feels like we were just hanging out yesterday. Such a lovely group of people.
A entrepreneur friend of mine, who happens to be female, and I were talking. Another female entrepreneur had said that she couldn't get funding for her company because she was female, and that she would have easily gotten it if she was male.
Now, I have no idea if this is true or not. As a straight white male, basically no one has any biases against me. And I have enough female friends to know that women are, in some ways, treated worse than men. That's an unfortunate fact of modern life that seems to be changing in a positive direction. Venture capitalists seems like a smart enough bunch that they would see an opportunity if female entrepreneurs weren't getting the same amount of funding as their male peers, but again I have no firsthand experience so I don't really know.
My friend and I were talking about this and she said something that I thought was really smart. She said, "There are disadvantages to being female, but their are advantages to it, too. And either way, I'm going to do the best I can with what I've got."
What a perfect attitude. It's so obviously true, and it's both a diagnosis of the situation and a solution to it as well. She will be discriminated against in some cases because she's female. But she will also get some opportunities as a result. And either way, she's going to play the cards she's dealt to the best of her ability.
Making decisions is fascinating to me. Once you build a base level of competence, where you can trust that you will follow through with whatever you decide to do, you could say that your life is largely an exercise in decision making.
There's a concept we've all probably heard of, called paralysis of choice, where when given too many options, it becomes difficult to choose one specific one. There's a gelato place in Las Vegas called Gelatology that has twenty or so new flavors every day. It's nearly impossible to choose just one or two.
On the other end of the spectrum, I think when our choices are artificially narrowed, we have a tendency to forget that other choices exist.
I get asked a lot if I'm ever going to settle down. Right now I visit maybe twenty or thirty countries per year, plus another five or ten cities within the US. It's a pace that I find pretty comfortable, but there are downsides to it.
One of two things is true: either you will experience chaos in life, or you are setting your sights drastically too low. With even medium-sized goals, you're going to occasionally run into a time where you've underestimated a project, or someone has slacked and pushed work onto your plate, or a great opportunity arose and you had to scramble to try to take advantage. If this happens to you constantly you're probably doing something wrong, but the same is true if it never happens.
What you'd really want in these cases is to be able to bank time. You save up money partially so that if your car breaks down you don't have to pay for it all out of your next paycheck. If only you could do the same with time, storing up spare minutes here and there for when things really get chaotic.
You actually can do that, though, it just doesn't happen at Wells Fargo. In fact, I'm doing it now.
I'm on a flight from Tokyo to Melbourne right now. Nine hours, and most people are using the time watching movies or playing games on their phone. And most of them are probably on vacation from work anyway, so it makes sense.
I did the math again. Fifteen minutes to get to the car rental place, five minutes to check out, five minutes to wait for the shuttle, fifteen minutes to get to the airport, five minutes to get through security, two minutes to run to my gate. That was forty-seven minutes to get to a plane that was leaving in forty-five. I'd already given up on the idea of filling up the gas at a reasonable price; I was about to miss my flight to Japan.
It was the first time I saw my friend Neil in five years or so, so I pushed the timeline a little bit. And then I wanted to test out his Tesla, so I pushed it even further. What I hadn't counted on was that there was much more traffic on the way back than the way there.
I'm the last person in the world to admit defeat and become helpless. I'm tenacious (or stubborn, depending on who you ask), so I am always hustling and trying to make something work up until the buzzer. When there's anything left to do before giving up, I'll do it.
But sometimes you just get stuck. There was nothing I could do to get to the airport faster. If the shuttle took ten minutes instead of five, I couldn't change that. I could talk my way to the front of the line in security, but if I get flagged by the TSA, it's out of my control.
I woke up yesterday morning prepared to grind away at Cruise Sheet all day. This is actually a great type of day for me-- I love non-workout days when I have the whole day to block off and make huge amounts of progress. I always start the same way, though: tea and email.
In my email I had an offer for two free tickets to Nicki Minaj in Las Vegas at the new T-Mobile arena. I was in San Francisco. I immediately reserved them and emailed friends to see if anyone wanted to come. My friend Lenore, whose go-to Karaoke song is Super Bass, snagged a cheap flight and agreed to go.
I still got a ton of work done on the plane, but my day ended much differently than I had expected when I woke up.
The night before I was having dinner with a bunch of my friends. We talked about music, and people got on my case because I said that I wasn't a huge fan of any female artists. I'm not a big Nicki Minaj fan, although I do like a bunch of her songs and collaborations. The point being that I didn't go to Vegas because I was a huge Nicki Minaj fan, I went because it was a spontaneous adventure.
The past dozen or so years of my life have been dedicated mostly to learning and growth. Not totally singlemindedly, of course; I've traveled around and done fun things and have also put out a respectable body of work, but most of my focus has been on improvement.
And I needed it. I learned social skills, productivity, programming, writing, and some parts of ten languages. I built strong social circles in several cities composed of people I love and respect, built home bases in Las Vegas and San Francisco, and immersed myself in many different cultures around the world.
Time well spent.
Last night I had the idle thought that I should learn Korean. I miss learning languages, and Korean is a pretty good one. Then I thought about how I plan on spending more time in Budapest and how I should learn Hungarian, even though it is, by all accounts, impossible.
I never published it, but I wrote a post a while back about how watching TV was my canary in the coalmine. If I wanted to watch TV, that was a surefire sign that I wasn't fully engaged in my work, and that I needed to take a look at what was causing that.
I've gone way overboard with my remodel of my bathroom in Las Vegas. The floor tiles were these horrible vinyl tiles that were peeling up and weren't even in a grid. If I have to redo the floor, I may as well get black marble tiles. And if I'm going to put tiles down, I may as well put in in-floor heating.
I haven't taken a shower in my own home in many months. The corner shower had a broken door and I wanted a tub, so I ripped it out and put in a tub. But then I had to redo the walls to make them waterproof. And wouldn't it be cool if one wall was teak wood instead of just tile?
And that's where my Tuesday went. I grouted the two tile walls, sawed boards, and began to attach them to the wall.