One More For Philadelphia

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That title sounded open-ended enough, that there will be more from just one of my favorite cities.   So tis the season for fun, for friendship, friends (wait what), family, food, and frenzy!

And there’s always room for tea.  Because tea encompasses everything I stated above, and so much more.

Several months back, I went on a tea shopping spree in Philadelphia (you can read about them here and here) and the experiences were awesome overall.   And I saved a few gems for later.  When I was going to get to them all depended on timing, whether the content was relevant, and how the holidays would influence my posts.

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However, if I waited too long, my visit to Ray’s Cafe & Tea House in Chinatown may feel more like a footnote than a proper review of a charming experience.

There’s no thrills to this place.  If you look on the outside, one might presume exactly that. And that’s a good thing.  Many of the businesses in the neighborhood follow the same pattern on the outside and from within.

The interior had a standard counter for ordering, with all the teas on display in the back, and just a few tables for sitting.  It felt cozy enough to feel like I was in a friends’ living room, without feeling too cramped.  My initial thought was the tables were bunched up together.  No, it was just right.

But I came for tea, not for critiquing the showroom.

I love my seasonal teas this time of year.  Actually I love ’em any time of year.  I equivocate that too the Soup of the Day or the daily special at my favorite restaurant.  It can be an exciting surprise, and a change of pace versus ordering off the menu.

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Much to my hilarious surprise the seasonal Green Tea I went with tasted a bit too familiar. Where have I tasted this before?  Could it be that’s it actually the tea listed below, the Jasmine Green?   I can trick my mind into otherwise, but the taste is too overpowering too ignore.

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No I’m not complaining.  The tea was wonderful.   The pot and overall display was overall magnifique.  And what is seasonal to you and me, might be seasonal to someone else.  Maybe I ordered the Jasmine and not realized.  Maybe their seasonal tea is a play on that too.  Maybe they were making fun of me.   I would be too. The manager saw me taking photos.  I was in awe of this set-up.  Many have been posted for your viewing pleasure

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And how can anyone complain about getting a free cookie?  That’s a holiday special in and of itself

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The tea was divine.  The energy inside was divine. The tea never stood a chance.  I sipped it in proper time.  After I did my photos, I enjoyed myself for a long while.  I was in my zen pose.  No, I actually wan’t posing.  I was just at peace.

I did this place.  I will be back and maybe order something off of their extensive menu.  But for now, I’ll savor this experience.

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If you’re in the Chinatown neighborhood of Philadelphia, give them a visit. It’s a tranquil experience in a city that doesn’t always attract that kind of calming.

This was the perfect segue into the holidays.  I look forward to what December will bring. But I truly appreciate Ray’s for what it was. It’s simple, soothing, and the tea was sensational.  If you find a better synonym (oops) that starts with ‘s”,  I’ll change it.

More alliteration and awesome (ha) tea reviews to come.

Happy Holiday Season,

Ideen

Feeling Grateful

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Every experience is just that, an experience.   For some, getting a cup of tea or any beverage, like a cup of coffee, or a meal is just standard operating procedure. For me, the tea drinking experience is one of the most spiritual of all.   I see it as more than just drinking tea.  There’s a sense of zen and calming that usually happens for me, especially when I’m not looking for it. This isn’t always case.  But more times than not a feeling comes over me.

If I’m feeling down or bummed out about something, a cup of tea can slowly lift my spirits and re-energize my soul.  It’s a gradual process.  If it’s rapid, it’s only because the experience is pure.  Otherwise it’s inauthentic and unnatural.  And that contradicts the journey of a tea lover.   So this post really embodies why tea means so much to me.  And I knew it was going to happen as soon as I found….

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How fitting that I get to write about Matcha Time Cafe just days before Thanksgiving.

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Once again my travels bring me to one of my favorite parts of the state of Maryland, Ellicott City.  I’ve made mention recently about my love for this town and I’m blessed and thankful to have another opportunity to write about EC and as an added bonus, this remarkable  cafe.

For all the times I’ve been in town, I’ve never actually been here.  I’ve never noticed it. Nestled in the heart of town (and I mean heart) almost seems fitting.  It’s in the center where some other charming shoppes and restaurants are located.  It’s the epitome of the beautiful small town settings you read about, or sometimes seen portrayed positively in television shows or cinemas.  Here I go again raving about a place and I haven’t even walked in and tried a thing.

But like I said earlier.  I knew this would be special.   After literally getting goose bumps walking towards Matcha, I finally walked in.

I figured that based on the name and the decor, that the store is Japanese owned and operated.  This adds an authenticity you don’t get everywhere.

I wish I talked to the manager more.  She was as friendly a person as I’ve ever come across. She and the friendly person at the register let me sample their seasonal teas.

Tis the season, so holiday themed teas are a must.   My first scent was the Cinnamon Plum and without any hesitation that’s what I went with.  I ordered a pot because I figure let me take this all in.  I’m not in any rush.  The rush will come as we approach Christmas.  Right now (well it should be like this most of the time) is a time to rest, relax, and be at peace with myself and my surroundings.  And that’s exactly what I did.

I had a few minutes before my pot would be ready.  So I did some browsing…

There’s a beautiful gift shop within the cafe.  I took pictures for your viewing pleasure.  For those local to the area, keep that in mind for your small business shopping.  I intend to be back soon.

Before I completely digress I want to make mention that I’m fascinated with Japanese culture so I felt right at home and not everything looked unfamiliar to me.  I don’t want to make this too much about me but what did this do is enhance this experience.  And yes this is all without having a sip of tea.

My new friend had asked me where I wanted to sit.  It was nice enough outside that I gladly found a seat on the front patio.

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This is where charming goes to a whole new level.  She gave me a timer with a countdown clock, essentially telling me that after 5 minutes the tea will be perfect enough to drink. Otherwise it may get lost with how hot it would be.  This is taking customer service to a whole new level.  I was so happy in that moment.

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She even gave me a holder for my strainer after each cup was well, strained.  I got a good three plus cups out of it.  And I took my time.  I mean I really took my time.  I was alone but I wasn’t.   I felt like I was the only man on earth but I was with spirits.  Whether they were angels or something else I don’t know.  But I felt an energy field around me that words will never give it justice.  It’s one of those things that I almost left out.  It’s also one of those experiences that maybe I keep to myself and in my internal memory bank.

But no, this is a small business, this is Ellicott City, and this is a world class operation that deserves all the praise in the world.  And oh yes the tea was incredible.  The cinnamon and plum combination is one that rejuvenated me by cup number three.  Like I said before, it was organic and ethereal.  It’s something that can never be recreated.  I’m glad I took a lot of photos.  But after a while I said enough, this is for me.  It can be for you too.  It can be for any of us.  If you’re within driving distance, you’ve got to come here.

I think I was here a good hour, maybe more.  Where that time went I don’t know. Time stood still.  My vantage point was pretty awesome.  Some photos I will keep to myself but I’ll definitely post some to give you the impression of what I was feeling.

But what I said in the beginning rings true.  Every experience is different and can be similar.  It’s all what we choose to see.  I chose to see the best in this when it was already breathtaking to begin with.

As I was returning my pot and cup, the manager actually bowed to me.  It was so flattering, but all I could think is I should be bowing to her.  I know it’s Japanese tradition but it should have been me humbling myself to her.   So this is me bowing to Matcha and saying thank you, Happy Thanksgiving, and Happy Holidays.

Here is their menu, brewing info (which I’m mesmerized by), and some education materials.

And here’s another post I made on beautiful Ellicott City.

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It’s going to be a great holiday season.  On this experience alone, it’s already first class. I can’t wait to see what’s in store next.

Ideen

Super Everything

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I had heard about Chocolatea in passing by a few friends, but never had the opportunity or gave myself time to make the short drive to the Tuscany/Caterbury neighborhood of Baltimore.  That’s actually the location.   I will always think of it as on the peripheral  to Johns Hopkins University.

Sadly, I only have a few more days to think of it as that.   For after 10 years, they will be closing their doors on November 20th.

I had mentioned to a close friend that it’s important to venture out of our usual comfortable and all-too-familiar places of Baltimore.  It’s great for our spirits, our souls, and our sanity’s to change it up as much as possible.  I’ll give some of the credit to the Supermoon.

But if I hadn’t looked up going here on this day, this experience was never going to happen.  Seriously.  That freaks me out in a way.  Fate and destiny were calling.  This one and only visit was supposed to happen today and no other time.  I love the speculation.

I’m going to project a bit here.  I’ve driven by the storefront so many times that I’ve lost count.  But I never thought anything of the location.  And not in a bad way.  It’s a habit I have.  And I would be willing to say that many of us have a way of overlooking and flying past things, entities, places, etc that are right in front of us.   I took this location for granted and now it’s being taken away before I really got the chance to fully embrace what could have been my favorite tea shop in the city.

Now I could be heaping high praise simply because the place is closing its doors.  That’s possible.  But knowing me and knowing many of my friends it’s the continued sign that times are changing and much more rapidly than I anticipated or wanted to believe.  More on that in a few.  Onto the teas, and more…

My friend and I had no idea what to expect other than it was most likely going to be cozy and feel as authentic as a cafe can be.  We were correct on both counts.

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There’s less items available since they’re in the final days so I was happy and grateful to get the Peppermint Tea in honor of the holidays.   My pal ordered a chocolate peanut butter coffee.  Not tea but I think in honor of everything, exceptions for this blog can be made.

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I ordered a pot and the tea press that was presented to me was a dream.   You could literally see the leaves brewing and steeping in front of your very eyes.   I got a few magical cups from it and could have made many more.  And I mean that.

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This was a tea that never stood a chance.  My only wish is I could have savored it longer. And we were there over an hour but it didn’t feel like enough. Our conversation was off the charts and that only enhanced this experience.

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We did order cookies to complement our cups.   A chocolate chip went with the coffee.  I got an oatmeal raisin for mine.  They were great too.  But it didn’t matter, we could have likely had any food and beverage combination and it would have been a masterpiece.  And since you asked I did get a sip of that coffee.  It was decadent.

But this is one of the many reasons why I love tea :

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It hurts my heart that Chocoaltea is closing.  I can’t pretend to have any history with this place but it felt so familiar.  I felt an energy, a spirit,  connection that felt so familiar.  I don’t know where it was from but it made me sad to know the end was near.  But also there was this feeling of relief and finality that we got to experience this.  One time only is better than no time at all.

I got to meet one of the partners, Janice, as I was leaving and told her about this blog.  She could not have been more friendly.  She told me after a good 10 years it was time for a change.  I hear that.  Change can be good. Our visit to this Baltimore staple was a necessary change.  New experiences and situations is what life is all about.  I’m so thankful to have been a part of this one.

It’s not a complete goodbye.  Even though their doors are closing, you can still find them at Ejji Ramen in the Belvedere Square Market.

If you live in the area and get a chance before the 20th, go check them out.

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I’m hoping this is where I get to talk about them again.  So instead of goodbye, it’s a see ya in the next life, or see ya soon!  Whichever comes first!

More holiday posts soon!

Ideen

 

 

Cup of Cheers

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Well we caved.  After last weeks post I thought I would slowly work my way to Thanksgiving… Yes, I’m not going to throw myself under the bus alone.  Me and some close friends have fully embraced the holidays much sooner than we’re supposed to.  But what the rationale is a case-by-case thing isn’t it?   And wait just a minute is that at Christmas tree you see above?  Uh…

Just when you think Trader Joe’s can’t top itself, it brings another in its rich tradition of amazing teas to the holiday party.  Wait, who’s having a party?   I love a good holiday shindig.  So this is a review of the first official party of this 2016 Thanksgiving and yes, the Christmas season.  Merry Merry.

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The Vanilla & Cinnamon Black Tea is a joy on so many levels.  It’s been around for a few years, but I suppose I was only meant to try it now.  And that means I’m late to another party.  This is one I’m not happy I’m fashionably late for, but better than the alternative.

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I’m a sucker for animals.  And look at this happy lemur enjoying life while holding a hot cup of one can only hope is a tea that humans and lemur’s alike can both enjoy.  I’m happy to report that my pals and I enjoyed this so much.  And at $1.99 this is a bargain beyond belief.

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And there’s no need to dissect everything included because it’s simply black tea, cinnamon, and vanilla flavoring.   I love the cinnamon and that’s what sticks out the most. The health benefits of cinnamon are widely known and it makes this experience all the more merrier.  Yes. merrier.  I love the feeling of drinking healthy tea with even healthier spices thrown into the mix.  What’s not to love?  Hey, is that another animal friend below? Yay!

 

 

As a bonus, we had some horrific holiday movies already showing on one of those channels.  You know, it’s one of those networks that starts showing them at least two months in advance.  I saw them in passing a week or so ago and didn’t want to get sucked in.  It didn’t happen then but it happen yesterday.  Bad movies are even better (or worse) with good company.

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The weekend that just preceded and included this party was one for the books.

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I found myself in Annapolis for most of it, surrounded by good people and good circumstances.  The weather was glorious, the people were just the same, and the events we and (sometimes hrmyself in solitude) found ourselves attracting was as organic as it’s going to be.  And that’s what the holidays should be about too.

One of those events was the First Sunday Arts Festival, which had the most beautiful small town setting with vendors, arts, crafts, live music, wine and food tastings, demos, and anything else you could think of.  It was something I wish I could keep internally and not necessarily  share with with the world.  But’s a memory worth embracing with everyone included and something to make me feel warm inside.

And my friend let me use a teacup that’s only fitting for the occasion and for the weekend that was near its conclusion.

This festival may be revisited again when it comes to tea.  So there is a point to all this. There’s always a point to everything.  And it call connects.

I had to purchase something on my way out of the festival to support local business.  And the very last both was this very kind soul at Twinkle Candle Company.  Their aromatically awesome, ‘Autumn Fairy’, candle worked well with everything going on with this set-up. For those in the area, their seasonal selection of candles can be found at Local By Design.

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I went on quite the holiday tangent and I suspect it’ll be like this for a while.  Looks like the Annapolis Tea Party will continue next week.

See yas then!

Ideen

Auspicious Start To Autumn

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How do I begin?   It seems like quite a few folks (as some may call them, those ‘Pumpkin People’) started way back in August.  What exactly am I talking about?  It’s the extended pumpkin season that seems to grow longer and longer each year.

In case you hadn’t heard National Pumpkin Day was last week.

I’m not opposed to it.  People are looking for ways to make them feel good.   If that means celebrating holidays in advance (however absurd it may be to some) than good on you.  I’m not one to judge and nor should anyone else.   For me, when I see pumpkin lattes and coffee creamer showing up in later Summer, I do get sad.  I love what fall brings but the forewarning of what is to come with the colder temps can be heartbreaking.  It all depends on how you feel.  I love my summer but appreciate all that autumn has to offer.

If you live in a part of the country where you fully get all four seasons, it’s an amazing thing.  Not everyone can say that.  For me, three out of four ain’t bad.  But I’ll worry about that in January.

After that extended monologue, it’s time to celebrate autumn.  For me pumpkin season starts now.  It’s officially November and I don’t know where the time went.  Oh there I go with the monologue I promised to stop.  Onto one of the many reasons I love this season.

Trader Joe’s has always symbolized the good of ever season.  The holidays (yes it might be too early to say that, I’m partially one of those people) and TJ’s are synonymous to me.  I love a good display representing the time of year.

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I honestly thought I’d be late, considering end caps and featured items have been up for open a month.  Even though I’m supposedly late to the game and might have past the peak of season, I got my fill of goodies.  And that includes a tea I swear I’ve never seen before.

The Autumn Apple Rooibos seems to be a new addition to the season tea collection that Trader Joe’s is so good at cultivating.  Seriously, they make everything larger than life. And presentation is just as important as what you’re drinking (or eating, or whatever..) but speaking of which.  How does it taste?

Maybe it was the mood I was in but I loved it.  In my growing experience of drinking Rooibos, it’s becoming more evident that it’s a leaf I want more of.

I would be kidding myself if I wasn’t drawn to the antelope on the cover.  There’s the presentation aspect.  The holiday themed colors and artwork also attracted me.  Heck, the tea section always attracts me, but this is the the good stuff.

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Who am I kidding?  I didn’t know that was a Springbok Antelope.  I thought for sure it was a reindeer.  Oh, here I go… But nevertheless, I was committed to buying this tea and honored to get the season rolling with this splendid conconction.

Whether or not the apple flavor is natural is a moot point.  To me it tastes good.  This time of year is about indulging in things you ordinarily wouldn’t.  Health and counting calories, additives, and artificial sweeteners tends to fall by the wayside.  But this is still healthy and rejuvenated my soul and my spirit.  That’s what drinking tea is all about.

The ingredients also include Natural Apple and other Natural Flavors.  Well, that doesn’t tell you anything, but when you drink something so soothing, the questions tend to not matter.

I kept the bag in the whole time as it was not as rich and overpowering as I feared.  And I went way past the suggested six minute steeping mark.  Like it even says, it’s a suggested amount of time.  There’s no rules to this thing.  I just bent them a little and the results were magnificent.

The last few sips really got some good apple flavor in them.   But I got them throughout my cups.  Yes I had a couple of these and I may just have another.  This is such a good tea.  Did I happen to mention that? Go get this tea if you live near a Trader Joe’s.

Can I recall such a wonderful tea that symbolizes the season?  I honestly don’t know.  I’m asking myself and you a loaded question.  Maybe I’m just loaded from the tea.

Maybe I’m loaded from the pumpkin commotion.  Yes I got a bit carried away with the treats.  Yes that’s pumpkin soup crackers, tortilla chips, and fall harvest.  And we need pumpkins in the photos, so thankfully the kind staff gave me a sugar cookie for free.  No that wasn’t pumpkin flavored.

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Most important of all, the cooling of the temperatures, the shorter days, and longer nights are a reminder of what is truly important to us.  We need to feel a little warm and cozy. And we’re going to need to feel even warmer soon.  So what perfect gesture than to get a tea cup that is so fitting of what’s important to me.   And hey look, there’s a friend within the mug.  So fun!  This tea was so fun.

I don’t know how the rest of the month will pan out, but hopefully it will be representative of all the good this time of year has to offer. There’s so many flavors and scents to appreciate.  I hope I’ll be presenting some of them to you.

For all my past Trader Joe’s posts, click here.    And here’s a few more.

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Let Pumpkin Ring,

 

Ideen

 

 

Kombucha Koolness

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Never underestimate the art of alliteration.   And boy does it apply here.

For our friends in the Baltimore area, you might have heard of Wild Kombucha from the fine folks at Mobtown Fermentation.

First here is some information on what Kombucha exactly is, or you can scroll up and down their website for a primer.

The festivals, parties, and other excuses to hang out accelerates as we’re deep into fall, and we’re approaching the happy holidays.   Leave it to a Pumpkin Party (there goes that alliteration again) to get the ball rolling this season.   And this party took place at Rooftop Hot in the Highlandtown neighborhood of Baltimore, which is one of one my favorites and most down-to-earth parts of the city.

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There was food, live music, outdoor chilling, and all the other stuff that goes along with a festival.  You know, the usual.   And that’s more than enough but when you add free samples of their kombucha, now you know it’s a party.  But if you hadn’t look closely, you would think they were handing out free samples of beer.  The bottles would make you think so.  Never judge a bottle by it’s cover (make sure to look first) and make sure you know what’s being served.  That didn’t mean to come off as dopey as it sounded.

So yes they had samples of all four of their delightful beverages.  Yes I’ve already given away my thoughts on this.  The pumpkin display with their drinks on ice was a great presentation.  It really made it seem like this is a beer tasting.   My peers thought so.  I initially thought so.  I don’t care for beer so this was a relief.

Let’s talk about the drinks.  They had all four of their creations available for sampling.  Yes I loved them all.

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The website doesn’t list it, but their Apple Spice was my favorite.  It tasted great and tastes like fall.  So a full appreciation of this was taking place.   Joey, who was doing the tasting, was kind enough to give us multiple pours of all the flavors.  But this was one I’d want to drink on a regular basis for sure.  That tint is gorgeous too.

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The Elderberry was rocking too.  You’re going to see a theme here.  This may have been my second favorite.  This just fits what they’re doing.  I’m not sure if that makes sense, but Elderberry is the perfect flavor for their fermented tea.  And that color just luminates and radiates.  And it tastes good too.  That’s the most important aspect of all of these.

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Next, the Mango Peach.  It was energizing but I would fully appreciate this more in the warmer months.  But this is another winner.  These guys know what they’re doing.

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Finally, the Ginger-Grapefruit tastes the most like tea.  Ginger has always been one of my favorite components of a tea.  The pairing with Green Tea, lemon, and honey and other flavors has always been a go-to for me.  This’ll now be another go-to as well.  I just love Ginger.  And I loved this one too.

It’s hard to compare these four.  They all are special and blessed in their own way.  I may alternate which of these drinks will be my favorites based on the day and the season.

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This was a stellar experience.  Once again, a huge thanks to Joey for being so accommodating, and giving me more pours than I had any business having.  I hope  I don’t get you in trouble.

At the bottom of their page, is where you can find their divine drinks, their story, and contact information.   They make it look so easy. 

Hopefully, more awesome fall posts to come.  Actually,  that’s a yes.

Yes!

Ideen

My Little Yogi

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This weather is something else.  It’ll be in the 80’s this week here in Baltimore.  I love it. I’ll take this on a regular basis.  However, there this coziness with autumn.  The changing of the colors, the festival season picking up, and more of our friends home means even more fun things to do.  It’s also a sign that it’s only going to get colder.  That makes some excited.  That makes me well, want some hot tea.

Yogi Tea has been one of those brands that exudes positive vibes.  And that’s not just from their teas alone.   From their positives quotes on each tea, promoting well-being, wellness, and yoga poses, the goodness emanates from all over.

Speaking of goodness, I’m grateful to have friends from all over that also share the love of tea, and especially Yogi.

I was at some dear friends’ house this past weekend for an inspiring night of doing nothing and loads of professional chilling (that’s a term we may have coined by the way), which meant loads of good food, maybe some vino, a comfortable couch or recliner, and a cup of tea for the ages.

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When you’re in a house with pals, that term, ‘mi casa es su casa’, might be taken too far and too literally.  In this instance, I had the green light to grab a tea from the tea cabinet. It was narrowed down to a couple.  But not even blog related, I hadn’t had a Yogi Tea in quite some time.

This would be my first (and won’t be the last) time having the Cinnamon Vanilla Healthy Skin.

If you hadn’t told me this was going to make my skin clearer, I wouldn’t have known any difference.  This is not a knock on the tea.  I find this more of a bonus.

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This was one of the most enjoyable cups I’ve had in a long time.   Facing facts, most teas I come across are good to masterful.  This is closer to the latter.  I just had a sense while I was steeping that this was going to be special.  How about that color?  It’s got a tint that screams cinnamon and other enjoyable flavors.  It screams fall and it screams friendship.

I hadn’t heard of a single herb in the tea’s description but now they’ll be ingredients I’ll look for when it comes to my tea.  I’ll seek them out in other products that rejuvenate and rebuild my skin, and who know what else?

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Cinnamon, cardamomom, cocoa shells, and vanilla bean make this one of the most eclectic and genuine blends you’re ever going to have.

It also helps being in a place of peace and around some of your favorite friends.  That enhances just about any experience.  It’ll make even the most mediocre of teas, foods, and anything else for that matter a lot more pleasurable.  That’s how life works.

It was a snack party so the tea went with some of our favorite finger foods.  But this was also treasured alone.  And whenever an animal friend joins the party, it’s definitely the best party ever.  For more on this lavish spread, click here.

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For more on where to find Yogi Teas in your area, click here, or shop online!

And here’s my two previous discussions on this amazing company.

More Yogi reviews to come!

Thanks so much,

Ideen