The Shapes of Clouds (Organic Black Tea with Lemon Balm)

A small white bowl almost overfilled with a blend of black tea and lemon balm.  It is set on a marble and wood table, the image pulled in close on the tea.

There were many things that came out of the Doom Flu that stole my January and sent me into a catch-up scramble that I haven’t finished with yet.

The Shapes of Clouds was one of them.

Flus are interesting, and so are the various forms of delirium one can experience while sick.  Sometimes, when your mind is slightly less than lucid, you find odd little useful threads of thought.

One of the things that floated up out of my brain, with Mister Tea’s help, was an idea for how to better store our in-use herbs.1

When I’d first started fiddling with plants, we’d created wall pockets.  Scrap denim from jeans, some material left over from back in my SCA days – sturdy fabrics to stand up to the wear and tear of consistent use.2  They put all the herbs out in the open, in easy access, and the house we were living in at the time was desperately shy of things like useful storage space.  However, we had tons of wall space.  I stored (and still store) my cooking spices in the same manner.

This worked beautifully when we were making teas for ourselves and for a fairly tight circle of friends and family.  And, as it was the method we started with, we stuck with it for years.

Over time I’d noticed that the process of putting away the herb bags when I was done with them took forever.  I’d blend a bunch of teas, taking a couple hours to do so, and then it would take me at least an additional hour to put everything back where it belonged.3

However, when a process and method becomes habitual, sometimes it takes a long time to realize that there might be a more effective and efficient way of going about it.

During the sick we realized that the drawers we kept our larger stocks in were a perfect height for Mason jars – which seal rather well, and are shaped and textured for relative ease of gripping, even when my finger joints are in argumentative mode.

We’d also done a pantry clearing, which meant I had some shelf space in one of our cabinets free.

Poof – a eureka moment – and a sizable project was added to the to-do list, in the hopes that it would streamline the tea making process.4

Transferring all of the herbs from the bags to the jars took quite a bit of time.  However, there was an unexpected bonus to the process.  As I was doing the transferring, I was experiencing the scent of each ingredient in a full force sort of way.  Some of those scents settled into my brain as “I should do more with this.”

Lemon Balm was one of those herbs, and wanting to do more with it was more than a passing whim.  Especially as, when I stopped to think about it, I realized we hadn’t created any tasty teas to showcase the loveliness of its scent and flavour.

I mentioned on Twitter that I felt the need to blend some tasty teas with Lemon Balm, and was gifted a memory of childhood from one of our followers.5

Lemon Balm was added to sun tea, and it was a taste that she remembered and missed.6

After checking to make sure my assumption as to what the tea used would have been was correct, I scribbled a note, and went back to the projects I was working on.

It was on the list for “soon, but not immediate” as I had a number of other ideas I had fixated on that needed to be dealt with first – most of them medicinal, to one extent or another.  (Accio Spoons, Solace, and Sanctuary.)

Then came a day where a package arrived.

And in it were vessels for holding tea.

A white tea mug with the words: "Tea doesn't ask silly questions, tea understands,  In it is a tea strainer with a blue lid.  There is a grey pilot fountain pen to the left, a large bag of lemon balm behind, and there is a part of a roll of packing tape behind the mug, too.

Really spiffy vessels.

It only seemed right to make the first use of them the test blend for a new tea.

It was late in the day and I should probably have been winding down – and I did try to resist…

…for less than half an hour.

I did know that I should aim for something a bit simpler than many of our blends, because I didn’t have a whole lot of energy left – and I did need to save a bit for being at least somewhat coherent when Mister Tea got home.

So I snagged a blending bowl and the appropriate tea journal, scribbled down some thoughts as to ratios on the “combine lemon balm and black tea” page, and put together a test blend.

One of my habits when blending a new tea is to take a photo of that first test and send it out into the world –  “Look at the new thing I’m working on!”  Generally followed by an assessment of how it worked out, and sometimes the first attempts at naming whatever it is come out of that thread.

Closeup image of the inside of a metal bowl, you can only see hints of one edge - with lemon balm and black tea piled in a bowl next to each other.  The herbs reflect in the side of the bowl, too.

In this particular case, the way the tea and balm had landed in the bowl looked like…  a number of different things to me.  I commented to that effect, and on how I sort of felt like the image of the test blend was a special tea image Rorschach bowl.

I was gleeful when some of our followers weighed in with what they saw in the bowl of tea.  It is wonderful when others tap into a bit of your weird and run with it.

In the end this led to the suggestion of naming the tea The Shapes of Clouds, because what we had done with finding imagination in the bowl of tea was very much like gazing up at conglomerated water vapor and imagining shapes within.

It also tied in to childhood and summer, because it is not an uncommon memory to have, leaning against a tree or lying back on the grass, looking up at the sky and letting your imagination soar.  I remember writing mini-stories with friends, based on what we saw in the sky – and now the taste of this tea will remind me of those times.

A small white bowl of tea filled with a blend of lemon balm and black tea.  To either side are tea tins, behind it a large bag and a small rectangular packet that looks as if it could hold a teabag.  The labels read: "The Shapes of Clouds, Ingredients:  Black Tea, Lemon Balm, (All Organic).

Now for the basics:

Organic Ingredients: Black Tea, Lemon Balm

Batch Size: 2.8 ounces (in the vicinity of 79 grams), and will make at least 40 servings of tea.

Options: Loose Tea (Sample, Bag), Teabags (Single, Sample, Bag)

Additionally, as we are hoping to make the standard for the teas we can manage it with, The Shape of Clouds is available in both caffeinated and decaffeinated.

Purchasing: Personal Shop, Etsy Store

  1. We keep a certain amount out and on hand, and our primary stores separate. Hard to maneuver 1 lb bags with enough delicacy and finesse to measure partial ounces.
  2. Made mostly by hand. And without a whole lot of data on how to properly sew. Among the discoveries that were made: Standard sewing machines balk at stitching through six layers of denim; and it is entirely possible to stab yourself quite thoroughly with the BACK of a needle when you try to do so by hand.
  3. The process of blending was also complicated by the fact that Ziplocs and I do not get along. It takes me multiple tries to get them closed properly, most of the time, and the additional fiddliness this added to the process was somewhat maddening. Mister Tea feels they are a nemesis for me.
  4. And it has. Quite a bit more than I expected, actually.
  5. I almost feel like I need to come up with a cool name for the wonderful people on Twitter who regularly weigh in on the random things that come up regarding tea and ideas and…
  6. There was also some commentary about wondering what magic her mother had used to make dill pickle jars clean enough to make sun tea – which, once mentioned, I wondered about, too. I remember giant pickle jars. I also remember wondering what it was about the pickling process that seemed to forever infuse GLASS with the scents of dill and vinegar. My grandmother never used a jar for anything but pickles once it had been put to that particular purpose.

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