Join my newsletter and receive chapter one of Ancillary Mercy!

So, I’ll start this out with a disclaimer: Adagio contacted me and offered to give me some tea for free if I would review it on Twitter. I am not one to turn down free tea, and I already buy tea from Adagio more or less regularly. And they’re the home of the Imperial Radch Tea Blends, so.

I had a gift certificate to work with, so I actually got three things–one that’s already a favorite, one that wasn’t the sort of thing I usually get but what the heck, and one that I threw in on impulse before I checked out.

I’m not much of a white tea fan. I mean, I don’t dislike it, but it’s usually been not my fave–usually it just tastes like faintly leafy hot water to me. But I got a sample of a white tea with my Manual Tea Maker No 1, and either that tea was particularly good and/or the gaiwan style brewing really brought some nice flavor out. So I’d been meaning to try another white tea in the Manual and see what I thought.

This is Adagio’s White Symphony. The flavor is very delicate–I found I got best results using a touch more than I would have for another kind of tea. I tried it just in an infuser for 3 minutes, and then I tried it in the Manual. It definitely stands up to multiple steeps, but it wasn’t noticeably more interesting in the Manual. This is also the first tea that I’ve found doesn’t do well with my tap water. I was unhappy with the first cup, which was the old “faintly leafy hot water” thing. Then I tried using filtered water and the results were much better. It tasted like a very delicate tea, instead of hot water pretending to be tea. Seems like my problem with white tea might be more about my tap water, and I’m looking forward to drinking more of this one.

This is the sort of thing you’d sip and think about how it tastes. It is not, IMO, a great choice for a hearty cuppa, or for waking up in the morning.

This is Adagio’s Fujian Baroque. It’s a reliable favorite of mine. It has a sort-of-maybe sweet, faintly almost-chocolatey flavor, with no astringency. If you find ordinary grocery store orange pekoe or black tea too bitter or astringent, you might want to give this a shot. This is one of a couple of black teas I try to keep around. (The other is PG tips, because sometimes you just want a strong milky hit of tea.) I personally wouldn’t put milk or sugar in this, but I do find that it’s a good first-thing-in-the-morning tea.

And the third tea!

This is Chestnut flavored tea. I was clicking around and saw some reviews for this. The idea struck me as somewhat improbable, and by and large I’m not that much into flavored teas, but the reviews were good, so I figured I couldn’t go wrong throwing a sample package into my order. It’s really nice! It has a sort of toasty, nutty flavor that complements the black tea really well. I will certainly add this into my regular rotation, because I like it a lot.

(Adagio has one or two improbably flavored teas–I ordered some Artichoke back when it was available and…it was odd. But I read the reviews–it had its fans. Also Cucumber White, which I used in one of my blends. That was interesting, and actually maybe I need to revisit it now that I’ve discovered that white tea is better with filtered water.)

So, there are a lot of books that strike me as interesting and I want to make time to read them, and also I get sent quite a few books by folks hoping I’ll read them in time to blurb them. Spoiler: I rarely am able to read things in time for the blurb deadline! But I still like to say something about books I’ve enjoyed reading. Here’s the latest batch!

Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky

This won the Clarke last year! So I figured it’d be good.

It is good! I enjoyed this a lot. The last remnants of humanity find a terraformed planet! It was supposed to be seeded with primates who would be infected with a virus that would uplift them. There was an accident, though, and the primates never arrived. But the spiders were already there, so…

I enjoyed the onworld stuff from the spider POVs more than I did the stuff with humans on the ship. A lot of that was, I think, due to the constraints of setting and worldbuilding. I think I’d have some difficulty balancing those two settings, while also definitely wanting the inherent contrast they presented (heck, I’d probably want to set it up that way so there was that inherent contrast, to be honest, but the spiders were so cool that the ship humans were going to have to work awfully hard to compete). I highly recommend this book, even if you’ve got a thing about spiders. (Yes, actually, I am not a fan of spiders. I mean, I’m glad in the abstract that they exist, they eat bugs yay, the webs are pretty, biodiversity is good &c &c but on the level of the concrete and the specific, they have too many legs and are buggy and I would like them to stay far away from me please, thank you.)

Amatka by Karen Tidbeck

This isn’t out yet! You can read it starting June 27, and I recommend that you lay your hands on a copy. I managed to just miss the blurbing deadline on this, sadly, sorry!

This is a weird little book. Brilars’ Vanja Essre Two is assigned to visit the colony of Amatka to research what kinds of hygiene products they might want to buy. Nothing too weird about that, right? Except Vanja’s name, but it’s quickly clear that this is a setting in which it’s vitally important that everyone agree on what everything is and call it what it’s supposed to be called. Because otherwise…well, that’s where things start getting weird. I’d say more, but this is one of those books where the gradual unfolding of what’s going on is part of the effect and I don’t want to mess with that. It’s compelling and disturbing and totally worth reading.

Pilot Down Presumed Dead by Marjorie Phleger

All right, this is kind of cheating. This book was published in 1963, and I got it as a gift when I was 9 or 10 and I loved it. Read it multiple times. I mostly read SFF at that age, and was largely uninterested in non-SFF books, but this one was just super gripping. Basically, small plane pilot Steve Ferris gets caught in a storm and is forced to put down on a little uncharted island. Wrecks his plane and spends the rest of the book surviving, trying to get the occasional passing ship to notice him, and ultimately attempting to get back to the mainland under his own power. In retrospect, I think it shares a number of features with the SFnal books I was already reading–much if not all of the plot is problem-solving and/or bits of exploration and exposition.

A friend of mine is a Montessori teacher and a while ago we were talking about how she’s always looking for cool things to read to her Lower Elementary kids and I remembered PDPD and suggested that it might be just the sort of thing she was looking for. SPOILER turns out the kids are loving it.

I picked up a used copy–my original copy is long gone–and gave it a read. Took me maybe two hours. Its written very simply, but the descriptions are vivid enough that some of the images have stayed with me for forty years. If you know a ten year old (or thereabouts) who’s looking for a good, engaging read, this book is a good bet.

The annual Con or Bust auction has begun! You can bid on all kinds of awesome things, but of course I’m particularly interested in this one:

A signed ARC of Provenance

The ARCs don’t even exist yet, but as soon as they do I will sign one and send it off to the high bidder.

Also, check out the other fabulous auctions going. I’ve seen some really cool stuff mentioned, so poke around and check it out!

So, this is basically more or less random musings triggered by this post by John Scalzi about doing readings.

Now, I completely agree with him on the value of being prepared, and knowing that at a reading (or on a panel, or some other sort of public appearance), you’re performing. I have also noticed the overlap between writers whose readings are lively and enjoyable and writers who have even some small amount of performance experience.

My own preparations for readings are a good deal less elaborate than John’s, but then I suspect I write very, very much more slowly than he does and I haven’t practiced my ukulele in quite a while. But basically, I pick a thing to read, trying to make sure it’s not too long (y’all at WorldCon got solid read-aloud, sorry, but then again not too sorry since folks seemed to enjoy it), and then spend any remaining time taking questions. I probably ought to think if there’s something I can add to switch things up for this fall.

Now as it happens, I have a tiny bit of theater experience, along with that music degree, so I’m actually pretty comfortable onstage. But you know what else I think has helped me–years of waiting tables. I am a serious introvert, but working at waiting tables gave me practice interacting with lots of strangers for hours at a time, keeping my demeanor pleasant and mostly cheerful. It’s practice that has stood me in good stead for a lot of my non-writing-related life, actually. In a lot of ways waiting tables can be a really miserable job, but that aspect of it, learning how to be “on” very pleasantly and confidently, has been super valuable to me.

So, a while ago, I think it might have been on Tumblr, I saw someone reblog a post where someone was saying that they wished there was some way to politely tell a waiter that it was all right, the waiter didn’t have to be fake cheery with them, the poster cringed at the idea of a waiter having to do that and it was okay to just drop the act.

This bugged me, but it took me a while to figure out why. Finally I decided that there were two things about it that bothered me.

First, the assumption that a waiter’s cheerfulness was fake and therefore bad. It’s true that the cheerfulness is a performance. No question. But “performance” and “fake” are…I mean, they’re related? I could perform a fake attitude, yeah. But I could also decide that a conscious performance is the best way to convey my actual attitude. And I know that, when I was waiting tables, one of the things I enjoyed was being able to put on the persona of someone who was cheerful and extraverted, comfortable with talking to strangers, and happy to help. Yeah, I enjoyed it less when I was working with a table full of assholes, sure, but there’s value in practicing one’s “I am a person who is unfailingly polite” persona under adverse conditions.

I could go off on a tangent here about the way the culture I grew up in and am surrounded by values “sincerity” over “performance” and defines sincerity in a way that doesn’t just mean “honest” but also unscripted and spontaneous. And confessional–to be sincere is to bare your soul, to show the intimate you. In fact, bets are you associate “honest” with unscripted and spontaneous and confessional.

But a lot of things that we consider to be spontaneous and heartfelt are, in fact, scripted gestures. They kind of have to be, you have to speak in terms another person will understand, if you want to communicate with them. If you look closely you can see the underpinning of social expectation and convention that mostly goes ignored.

The clearest example of what I’m talking about is a religious one. I grew up Catholic, and that meant I spent a good deal of my childhood memorizing prayers. The Mass, its variations throughout the liturgical year notwithstanding, is essentially the same carefully scripted ritual over and over and over again. I could recite much of it in my sleep. Or, I could have before they re-did the approved English translation.

It’s commonly assumed that the recitation of these prayers is nothing but empty ritual. That there’s no way they can be real engagement with the spiritual, no way they can truly express any kind of profound emotion. I am here to tell you that the common assumption is one hundred percent fucking wrong. In fact, the pervasive presence of those prayers lends a depth and eloquence to them that I don’t think I can convey to anyone who hasn’t had that experience.* From the outside it looks like droning meaningless syllables. From the inside it’s very different.

In opposition to the Catholic style prayers we have the supposedly spontaneous prayers of some Protestant churches. A true sincere and unscripted upwelling of praise and prayer! Except not. Listen to enough, and you realize they’re built out of pre-fabricated phrases, strung together at length, with various techniques for vamping until the next thought is organized, the next unit chosen. I assume that the folks who pray this way find it a deeply emotional experience, and consider themselves to be praying very sincerely. I don’t hear spontaneity though, it’s just as formulaic as the supposedly nothing but rote Catholic prayer I grew up with, just handled a different way.

My point isn’t that there’s a right or a wrong way to pray. My point is that both these practices are equally sincere, and calling the second sort spontaneous isn’t actually terribly accurate. It’s really a performance of something that purports to be spontaneity.

My point is that “sincere” and “spontaneous” are not the same thing.

Nor is “sincere” and “intimate.” Which was my next problem with the idea that it would be kind and generous to tell a waiter they could let the act drop, and be honest with the poster who wished to ask for this.

They weren’t, as they appeared to think, offering a chance to relax. No, the poster was, in a sense, wanting to demand an intimacy with the waiter that they just hadn’t earned. A waiter does not owe you any glimpses of their private self. That’s maybe for friends and family, right? We all behave differently with intimates and strangers. Strangers generally get a more formal, more distant face. You don’t tell someone to show you that part of themselves. Well, unless there’s a big enough power differential that you don’t even notice that’s what you’re doing.

It’s not generous. It’s insulting.

Anyway. I think it’s worth taking a second or third thought when we value actions as sincere or insincere based on whether or not we think they’re spontaneous or scripted or conventional. Are they really any of those things? Why does a conventional action that gets called spontaneous but really isn’t, why does that get valued so much more highly than an action that’s just as conventional, but more obviously so? Just something to ponder.

Anyway. That’s my random musings, from reading John’s blog post and connecting it with some stuff I’d been thinking about not long ago.

Like John, my “on” demeanor is me. It’s not fake. But it is a performance, in a lot of ways. It’s a public me. I enjoy the heck out of that performance, partly because it helps me be comfortable meeting lots of awesome people. It’s exhausting, but I’m glad to have the opportunity to do it.

___
*I occasionally wonder just how Fredo’s death in the second Godfather movie must seem to someone who doesn’t feel the end of the Hail Mary hanging there unsaid, a background echo to the shot. Does the scene have the same emotional weight? I suspect it doesn’t, quite.

**In case anyone worries, or feels I need reassurance, no one to my knowledge has accused me of being fake in public. And I’m not particularly worried that anyone might think that. It’s just that the question of what’s sincere, what’s spontaneous, and how those get valued by the people around me, is one I chew on sometimes, and I figured I’d share some of those thoughts.

GOOD NEWS, EVERYONE!

It looks like Orbit has moved the release date of Provenance from October 3 to…September 26.

I found out yesterday, when some friends I was out with were like “Amazon emailed to say there was a new release date! Did you know?” and I was like, “Oh, huh. Nope. But it’s not really my department, so.”

Later in the day I was talking to my US editor about the (now, yes, final) ms I’d turned in (it’s headed to the folks in Production, who turn Word documents into actual books! Yay!) and he was like “Oh, yeah, I didn’t think that was going to get changed officially for a few days, sorry, I was getting ready to tell you about it actually.”

Which, I said, no big deal. Not my department, like I said, and the folks whose department it is know their business, and really in the end it means everyone has one week less to wait for the book than we all thought, so it’s all good, as far as I’m concerned.

Con or Bust is an organization that helps PoC get to SFF conventions. They hold an annual auction fundraiser so they can do that. It’s a good cause, check them out!

This year Orbit Books is donating a signed Advance Reading Copy of Provenance. Which officially comes out October 3 of this year.

In fact the ARCs don’t physically exist yet, and won’t for a bit–I’m doing some small edits on the ms right now, and if my editors approve of them then they’ll hand things off to the wonderful folks in Production, who do all the stuff that turns a manuscript into an actual book. But as soon as there are actual, physical ARCs, Orbit will send me one, which I will happily sign and send off to the winner of this auction.

So, as it happens, I have a book coming out this year!

Also as it happens, it turns out I lied a little when I said folks who didn’t follow me on Tumblr weren’t missing anything but silly stuff. It’s mostly true–mostly I’m just silly on Tumblr. But this weekend Tumblr followers were treated to a slow-motion reveal of (most of) the cover (and title, since the title is, you know, on the cover) of my next book. It was pretty fun, actually, with people trying to guess the title from incomplete information, and cow poems, and just a good time.

And now, today, Book Riot has the official, internet-wide reveal. So click on over to take a look at the cover and the description.

If it seems appealing to you, the book is pre-orderable, though last I checked there was still a placeholder title and cover (which nonetheless I can see from the amazon rank that folks have been pre-ordering it, which is equal parts amazing and terrifying). It’s out October 3, I hope you like it!

At any rate, Amazon links! US Amazon, and UK Amazon.

So, the other day–nearly a week ago–I was in one of those situations where I was asked a question that really needed a long answer, but I didn’t have unlimited time in which to do so.

The question was, given that I never expected any editor to even buy Ancillary Justice but that I had turned out to be oh so very wrong, what lesson might there be in that for other (maybe new, aspiring) writers?

So. On the one hand, in one sense there isn’t much of a lesson there for anyone–the ways of publishing are mysterious, no one really knows why any particular book does or doesn’t sell, etc.

On the other hand, there are some instructive aspects, at least in my opinion. It’s just that they’re complicated(ish) and full of caveats. And I’ve given some of this advice before, but I think it’s worth repeating.

Part of my answer at the time I was asked: there’s a narrative about what sorts of books (and authors) are likely to sell to major publishers and what sorts aren’t, and I feel ambivalent about that narrative. On the one hand, it’s entirely accurate to say that there’s a huge amount of systemic prejudice operating (there, and in so many other areas of life) and yes, it’s going to be really difficult for certain kinds of authors (and certain kinds of books by those authors) to grab editors, or at least to go all the way from grabbing to “buy this.” This is absolutely true.

On the other hand, I’ve more than once seen someone say of their fabulous book that they didn’t see any point in even trying to sub certain places–major publishers, for example–because of course it would be hopeless. When, you know, yeah, it’s an uphill battle, and it’s emotionally draining to go through that, and when it’s on top of everything else you’re enduring day after day, any given person might very legitimately decide it was too much to deal with. But it’s not necessarily entirely hopeless.

Hence my ambivalence–the difficulties are real, and I know every writer has to make their own decision about what to go through, how much rejection to deal with (and whether or not they can handle cluelessly–or maybe intentionally–hurtful comments along with that rejection, including offhand remarks about certain sorts of people not really existing or not being interesting or worthy of stories, when that would include you, yourself). At the same time–if you can do it, if you can stomach it, well, the chances may be really small, but you never know.

And there’s a thing that Mark Tiedemann said to me a while back that I thought was really smart. He said that really, when you submit to an editor over and over (we were mostly talking about shortfic here but still), you’re teaching them how to read your work.

Part of that systemic prejudice, part of what upholds it, is the way people are only familiar with certain kinds of stories. Other kinds feel off, weird, unrealistic (no matter how accurate and realistic they may be). It’s that incessant repetition of the “right” kind of story that keeps reinforcing itself. And this didn’t happen by accident–we’ve many of us been trained from small to appreciate certain kinds of stories, just like we’re taught from infancy to appreciate certain kinds of music. Most of the work, most of the training, is exposure to a high volume of work that fits the culturally approved model.

The way a reader learns to appreciate other sorts of stories, from other points of view, is to be exposed to them over and over. Editors and agents and slush readers–every time you submit, they are being exposed to your work.

Now, like I said, I can’t blame anyone for just not sending to places where they know they’ll get hurtful rejections. I don’t blame anyone for sticking with places they think they’ll have a fighting chance at. I’m just saying, if you can do it, it’s very possibly worth submitting to those places anyway. Not the editors that send abusive replies, those exist and no, they’re not worth it. But the “that place? It’d be awesome but nah, they never buy stuff like mine, by writers like me.” Well, maybe not. But if you can, give it a shot. If nothing else, you’re exposing the editor, the agent, the slusher, to your kind of thing. Every little bit, right? And besides. You never know.

Relatedly–write your story. I mean, write your story. Write it the way you think it needs to be written, don’t worry about whether it’s going to appeal to guys or White people or straight folks. Don’t worry about things you’ve heard that editors like or don’t like, buy or don’t buy. First of all, nobody knows, least of all editors, what will make them buy something or not. Second–and I’ve said this before, and other writers have said this before–you can make your work as smoothly, blandly, perfectly commercial as possible and it might not sell. There are no guarantees. You can rip your heart out trying to pretend to be the right sort of writer and get nowhere. But you know what you can guarantee? That the work you do is yours, that it’s what you want to be working on, that you’re proud of it. Do that work, and no matter what happens you will always have that.

Once it’s done, send it out with as much ambition as you had writing. No guarantees. But that’s no guarantees of failure either, right? Send it out to the publishers of your dreams, wherever those may be. Every little bit, every drop of water against a stone.

I’m not gonna lie, it’s not easy. No guarantees. And maybe it’s not you who’ll benefit, maybe it’s that next writer the editor sees whose work will suddenly seem more familiar because they saw yours already. Or maybe not, but. Do the hopeful thing, if you can find it in you. That’s my advice. That’s what we have, as writers, we have the work we do, and the completely ridiculous hope that sending that work out will be worth it. And sometimes? You never know when, exactly, but sometimes we’re right.

NOTE don’t point to this as me saying that imbalances in who gets published is just a question of who submits. It’s pretty manifestly not. My advice for editors concerned about those obvious imbalances is very different. And until you’ve had the experience of being someone who endures prejudice every single day and then gets more of it in the face reading and hearing advice about what’s publishable (somehow never you, as yourself), maybe even getting rotten feedback from clueless editors–until that’s your life, don’t be telling folks what should or shouldn’t be easy for them to go through or what they “should” be feeling or doing.

This is mostly for the St Louisans who read my blog, because I don’t imagine it will do anyone else much good.

I found a place in St Louis that sells kouign-amann!

That place is Nathaniel Reid Bakery.

Nathaniel Reid himself–who is a very personable young man, he was behind the counter when I was there this morning–is apparently an award winning pastry chef guy. The bakery sells all sorts of cakes and macrons and croissants and things, plus coffee (including espresso and such) and hot chocolate (made from actual chocolate and milk and cream, he told me, not any kind of powder or syrup), and tea but it’s the usual afterthought tea generally is. They also have sandwich-sandwiches, and a small space to sit and eat.

I would tell you how the kouign-amann is but I was diverted by the breakfast sandwiches, which mine was even more delicious than it looked or sounded. It was also filling, so that box with the kouign-amann in it will have to wait a bit. But this is an excellent development!

Huge thanks to Anna Schwind for the heads-up on this!

Hey, there’s some stressful and depressing shit going down lately. Let’s talk about something pleasant and stress-reducing!

Well, okay, so being super picky about making tea may be stress-INducing for some. If so, no worries. I have one, firm position on how to make the best cup of tea: the best cup of tea is one you enjoyed making (or making it didn’t annoy you too much) and tastes good to you. I will not budge from that position.

That said. There are some ways in which attempts to make that cup of tea are susceptible to various predictable failures. And so I figured I would share the things that work for me to prevent those failures. And also maybe provide opportunities for folks who might actively enjoy the fiddly tea making process if they tried it to have a bit more fun with it and nerd out even more than they already might. (Those of you who are already nerding out probably already do or have most of these things.)

So! The first, most common pitfall in making tea: You heat the water, throw the bag (or the infuser full of leaves) into the cup, pour the water, set it on the desk beside you and…promptly forget about it as you dive into your work. Hours later you remember that tea, now cold– and bitter enough to strip paint.

Friends, there is a simple solution to this, provided you remember to implement it: a timer. This could be a voice assistant on your computer or your phone, an app made purposely for timing the steeping of tea, or a dollar store kitchen timer shaped like a strawberry. Really, it doesn’t matter, but this is a tea-hack that can cost very little and vastly improve your tea-drinking experiences.

For the style of brewing that’s the default in the US (the sort most of you reading this likely think of as just “making tea”), you’ll probably like black tea best at 3-5 minutes, green tea 1-3 minutes (if you’ve got a really nice sencha you might even want to go 30-45 seconds), oolong 3-5 minutes, and white tea 2-5 minutes depending on the actual tea. Those are just guidelines, adjust as needed for your taste. If you want to be super nerdy you can note down what times work best for you for each tea. I don’t do that. I just do black & oolong at 3 minutes, most Chinese greens at 2-3, and sencha at 1 minute. When I’m making them in a cup with an infuser, anyway. If I’m doing the “lots of leaves, many short steeps” method (in a gaiwan, say) I won’t go much longer than a minute, but that’s something to play with if you find you enjoy that kind of thing, and that’s not a brewing method that’s suitable for the “get some caffeine in me so I can get to work this morning” thing.

If you’ve moved to loose leaf brewing, you’ve probably found that measuring out teaspoons of leaves doesn’t quite work. It might work for stuff with very small leaves, or that’s been cut into very small pieces, but it’s useless for large-leaved teas–different teas take up space very differently and some just won’t go into a spoon, no not even that cute little “perfect cup of tea” spoon so many places sell. This makes it difficult to get the amount of leaves just right, let alone consistent from cup to cup (or pot to pot).

So. Doing loos leaf? Want maybe another level of nerdery/tea improvement? Consider a scale. You can get a nice little pocket scale for about ten bucks. The one at that link is the one I have. I set my infuser on it–I use these bad boys–turn it on, and then add however much tea I’m going to use. Rule of thumb for most teas (Western default style brewing) is about 3g per 8oz of water. That’s only a rule of thumb–some need more and some might be fine with less.

You might want to find out how many fluid oz your favorite mugs hold, by the way, so that when you stagger into the kitchen you’ve already done the math and know that you need 5g of tea or whatever.

Once you’ve got this down, you can play with other styles of brewing, btw. For instance, I’m not much of a white tea fan–but I do enjoy it a fair amount when I use the high-volume-of-leaves/low-steeping-time/many-steeps method. Poke around for information on using a gaiwan–though you could totally do something similar in a cup with an infuser, which honestly I recommend because as awesome as gaiwans are I always burn the everliving fuck out of my fingers when I try to use one, and the Manual Tea Maker No 1, which I love and which solves that problem for me, is kind of pricey.

If you really want to get nerdy, you can fiddle with water temperature. There’s an expensive way to do this, and a cheap one. The expensive one involves buying a variable temperature kettle. Which is super fun, but, yeah, costs.

However, if you have a food thermometer–and if you cook it really is a good idea to have one–you can heat your water to whatever temp you like on a stove or with your regular kettle. Either heat to boiling and test the temp till it drops to where you want it, or test it as it heats till it gets to the right place. I’ll be honest, that sounds like a drag to me, but lots of folks do it and enjoy it. Google around for some recommended temperature ranges, try some things out and see what you like best.

For keeping pots of tea (or sufficiently large and stable cups) warm, check out the various glass, ceramic, or cast iron tea warmers. I use this one, but there are others out there. You put a candle in them–a tea light, right? Yeah, that’s why they’re called that!–and set the pot or cup on top. These work really well, but remember not to just leave the candle burning if you walk away for more than a few minutes. I’ve never actually had a problem, but when it comes to candles you’re better safe than sorry. There are also electric tea warmers out there, just the right size for a cup or a mug to sit on. Once again, don’t forget they’re plugged in and switched on.

Oh, and hey! Almost forgot this one. Matcha has been kind of trendy, and you can get a cool matcha set with a bamboo whisk and learn to froth it, and if that’s something that you’ll enjoy then I salute you! But me, I use a very large mug (which I only fill about three quarters full of water) and a little $3 battery-powered milk frother. No, it’s not meditative or anything. But I like it.

So there you go, a few ways to maybe increase your tea nerdery and also give you a more consistently excellent cup of tea, none of which cost much. If you try only one of them, try the timer. It’s a ridiculously simple tea-hack, honestly, that’s made my life so much nicer.