Virtual Insanity

Virtual Insanity

Whilst visiting some friends this weekend I was encouraged to try out a PS4 virtual reality game. Don’t worry I am not venturing into a gaming review blog, I don’t even know how to switch on a PS4! However this surreal experience really got me thinking about perception and the amazing capabilities of the human brain.

Feeling somewhat self conscious I donned the fetching head gear and was submersed into a virtual reality. To ease me into the experience they chose a deep sea diving adventure. I hate the sea, it scares the bejesus out of me, so I wasn’t convinced this was the best start.

I was surrounded by the bars of a diving cage and the vastness  of the deep blue beyond. My feet were on carpet, my limbs were dry and free moving yet my brain began to convince me I was submersed in the ocean. I felt my lungs contract and my breath get heavy as I took in my surroundings. Even talking to those around me could not bring my brain back to the reality of the situation. I resorted to holding on to my other halves shaved head to remind myself where I was but was soon banned from “cheating”.

The adventure continued as my cage was lowered deeper into the depths. Fish swam all around me and as I looked up I could see the daylight disappearing out of view. Below me was just darkness and my heart rate began to elevate. I fidget on the spot as my shoulders tense, why does this feel so real?!! For some reason I decided holding onto the head set would somehow comfort me but the resemblance to a diving mask simply made the experience more authentic. I try to catch my breath.

From the darkness I see a shipwreck begin to emerge, is there anything scarier than the site of a decomposing burial site frozen in time? I’ve reached my limit as the level of discomfort rises, instinctively I pull the headset from my eyes. I scan the room to observe my reassuring reality and reach for my glass of wine! On the TV screen is the footage I was presented with, in it’s 2D mundanity I can’t fathom why I was so scared.

It’s fascinating that no matter how many reality checks you have surrounding you (soft carpet, warm dry skin, the chatter of nearby friends) your brain will convince you that what you are presented with is real.Your fight or flight ready to kick in as your anxiety levels rise.

It got me thinking about what other realities are in fact virtual. When you smile at someone and they appear to snub you, your brain can convince you it’s because they don’t like you and you’re not good enough. But what is the reality? Your partner misses off the “xx” from the end of a text, you begin to believe it’s because they have gone off you and now you come to think about it they have been acting differently lately. But what is the reality? You’re unsuccessful when applying for a new job, it must be because you’re a failure and not driven enough to succeed. But what it the reality?

We are often our own worst enemy and if you look at all the evidence you will find your reality is virtual. The difficulty is that we are not always able to find out the facts and when something is unknown we default to negative opinions. Suffering from anxiety is like wearing a virtual reality headset 24/7, the brain presents “what if’s” and “maybe’s” as reality, distorting your vision of a perfectly normal situation.

Your brain isn’t always on your side so don’t let it trick you into thinking the worst. Take off your socks, feel the carpet beneath your toes, ground yourself and remove the headset – reality is not as scary as you think.

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Tea Diary: Kanuka

Tea Diary: Kanuka

I spy with my little eye something beginning with……….TEA!!!

With my journey into the world of loose tea gathering momentum I thought it was high time I visited a tea house local to me with more than your average cuppa to offer. The city of St Albans is awash with cafes and coffee shops but standing proud amongst them is “Kanuka”. This is reflected in its name which is Mauri for a hardy tree Native to New Zealand, it grows tall and fast, withstanding all weathers to flourish.

The decor is sophisticated with not a scrap of chintz or a vintage tea set in sight. Sleek wooden furniture and window seats maximise the space, all stylishly co-ordinated with mustard yellow furnishings in geometric prints. This look is echoed in their packaging; minimalistic grey pouches and polished silver urns contain the array of loose leaves on offer. The ambience is set off nicely by the acoustic chart music being played in the background.

As you enter you are faced with a sensory wall of teas housed in a bespoke dark wooden shelving unit. An apothecary of tea with each displayed exquisitely in its own down lit cubby hole. The prepackaged product is regimentally lined up ready for purchase and below each an open jar of leaves for you smell before you try. An information sheet tells you all you need to know and more about each leaf; where it was picked, caffeine content, flavour and how to brew it to bring out its best. For a budding tea geek like myself I was in heaven and could have spent all morning sniffing, reading and tasting the varieties on offer.

Being faced with this much choice is daunting but thankfully the teas are split into sections to help guide you. You can choose from the more traditional black teas, try something less common in the green or white tea section or perhaps one of their wellbeing blends would be your preference. The staff are very knowledgeable and were on hand to assist.

So many of the teas smelt amazing I found it hard to narrow it down. Finally deciding on two teas that come under the green tea umbrella, partly because the smell was divine but also the leaves themselves looked so interesting. Cleverly each tea is served in an insulating glass cup so I had plenty of time to enjoy both brews warm.

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Firstly I chose the Jade Oolong, not a tea I had heard of before but you have to admit it sounds pretty amazing. This tea originates from Taiwan & Vietnam and the leaves were twisted into “nuggets”, the info sheet describes how the heat from the water slowly unravels each nugget as it infuses. Unfortunately when you buy a cup you don’t get to witness this process but I was intrigued buy the look of this tea.

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Jade Oolong 

The leaves had quite a deep, intense floral smell. Quite earthy so I expected a relatively strong brew. When it was served I was surprised with how light in colour it was, like smooth honey. In contrast to the strong scent the flavour was light and the floral notes not over powering. Transporting me to somewhere humid and tropical where your senses are brought alive. The info sheet described it as being “buttery” which I initially found confusing but half a cup in I got that smoothness on the pallet which lingered with each sip.

My second choice originated from China and was slightly more familiar to me in flavour but not in leaf; Jasmine Pearls. The indisputable scent of summer, floral and light. The leaves were indeed pearls of flavour, wound tightly into little balls. As with the Oolong I imagine they look stunning as they brew but this step it only witnessed by staff when you order a cup.

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Jasmine Pearls 

I wondered if the brew may be too heavily perfumed but was pleasantly surprised. Even lighter in colour that the Oolong, the palest of yellow kissed the steaming water as the light shone through the glass mug. Much more floral on the pallet than the Oolong but what it lacked in smoothness it made up for in freshness. If I closed my eyes I could almost feel the sun on my skin and the grass beneath my feet.

Perhaps the most shocking part of this experience is that I didn’t feel the need to partner these brews with any cake! Believe me no one is more surprised than me. There was a selection of sweet and savoury treats on offer but the emphasis is on the tea. I personally didn’t feel a slice of cake would have enhanced my experience and looking around the busy store it was obvious others felt the same. This is the place to tantalise your tastebuds with a brew from a far flung destination, push your boundaries and open your senses up to a new adventure. It’s easy to be intimidated by fancy names that you cant pronounce and leaves that resemble pot pourri but this is not a pretentious establishment that will look down their nose at you when you mispronounce Lapsang Souchon. This is the place to learn something new and try something new, but if you prefer you can order a coffee or their Proper Builders Brew! As the guy who started Kanuka was originally a builder by trade I imagine you cant go wrong with that.

Kanuka, 3b Christopher Place, St Albans, AL3 5DQ            TEL: 01727 898358

Tantalising Tealicious

Tantalising Tealicious

It has taken me a little while to publish this blog, not though lack of trying, just that it needed my full attention. Now the festive season has passed I had a weekend to myself so I was able to do it justice, or so I hope!

I was introduced to a company called Tealicious through a colleague at work. On hearing about my blog she recommended I tried some of the products they offer. The fact there was a Hertfordshire based loose tea company intrigued me and after checking out their website I ordered myself a few taster tins; Royal Reserve, Afternoon Tea & Rwanda Green.

Shortly after my order confirmation email I was sent a follow up advising me that the Rwanda Green was not available, a real disappointment as I am always in search of a Green Tea I find easy to drink. Thankfully they had offered to replace this with a Green Tea from the Yunnan region of China and for the inconvenience they added a Darjeeling taster tin as well!! What fabulous customer service!!

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My order arrived swiftly and after spending some time tasting them here is my review:

Darjeeling 

Let’s start with the freebie. I am so glad Tealicious sent this to me as I have never tried it and for some reason shy away from it in favour of more familiar teas. This is known as the Queen of Teas and certainly has the presence of royalty. The temperature, altitude and soil all playing their part in nurturing this earthy brew and give it real substance.dsc_0489

Tealicious recommend a 3 minute brew time which I found to be sufficient, much longer and it becomes too astringent. The leaves smell of dry autumn leaves and hay bales, strong and peaty. The water turns golden as it brews and the scent becomes much lighter and fresher. You can add milk if you wish but I enjoyed it without. The earthy flavour lingers in the aftertaste but I didn’t find it over powering. Warm and comforting this is a sturdy brew grounded in its Himalayan routes.

Royal Reserve

If, like me, you find Darjeeling a little intimidating then I recommend you try this regal blend. The earthy Darjeeling is blended with malty Assam which softens it enough for new comers but doesn’t sacrifice any of its depth. Brew for 4 minutes, as recommended by Tealicious, or perhaps a touch less if you’re new to these flavours.dsc_0484

The brew has warm, inviting russet tones with a light scent. The Assam brings a smokey background which lingers after each sip. You are welcome to add a splash of milk which does make it a little smoother on the pallet but I found it unnecessary as well as making it less appealing to the eye. A well balanced, smoky brew, strong enough to accompany any afternoon tea.

Afternoon Tea Blend

This a beautifully light combination of Ceylon & Assam, not smoky like the Royal Reserve as the light touch of malt shines through. Light and golden it is as refreshing to the eyes as it is to the pallet, very easy to drink. I found it had an almost creamy quality even without milk, although you can add a drop if you fancy. The grassy citrus from the Ceylon finishes each mouthful on a refreshing note. A very balanced brew which I could drink at any time of day.

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Yunnan Green 

So this was my replacement blend and my first venture into loose green tea. I have to say all the bags I buy leave me with such an astringent taste in my mouth I end up drinking green tea as you would take medication as a child; grin and bare it as the benefits should out weigh the negative taste! I am pleased to say this brew did not leave such a bitter taste in my mouth. Tealicious recommend a 3-4 minute brew and ideally let the water cool just a touch before pouring it onto the leaves to bring out the best flavour.dsc_0491

This brew has a golden green glow, far more appetising than the pond water effect you get from most bags! Smoky background notes warm the pallet with a balanced astringency you associate with green tea but no bitterness at all.

 

 

Each brew has it’s own personality and I enjoyed each in its own way. If I had to pick a favourite it would be the Afternoon Blend as it was so light and moreish, very drinkable for all pallets. The others may be preferred by more adventurous tea drinkers but the taster tins are perfect for trying something new for a very reasonable price.

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Whether you are an tea fanatic or you just enjoy a simple brew I urge you to check out Tealicious. Their blends are non fussy and reasonably priced, each with expert advice on where it’s grown and how to brew it. You can order on line or, if you are local, visit one of their stockists in Hertfordshire and London. I love the simplicity of this company and I mean that as a compliment. It’s clear that thought and compassion goes into each blend selection, high quality, hand selected and accessible – everything you could ask for in a decent cup of tea. Happy Brewing!

www.tealiciousltd.co.uk 

Pearce’s Farm Shop & Cafe (Stockist)