One small benefit living as an artist is, from time to time, you and fellow artists will get together to show your work and socialize. As a matter of custom, especially with creative writers, you bring one of those prepackaged cheese plates, maybe the meat one too if you’ve had good news recently, and a bottle of wine that doesn’t reach too far above $6. When the stars align in one’s favor, typically during the winter and tax seasons, the gathering has more wine than is physically possible to consume, and the host needs people to take some extra bottles off their hands.
Soon I was on my way home with three bottles of red wine despite resolving at the new year that I wouldn’t keep alcohol in the house for myself. For a while I convinced myself that I must be one of those people who benefit from a glass of wine every day, and never really found that I was a danger to myself and others. But after I started to have conversations with myself about how a “glass” was a subjective and social construction while the internet continued to pour filth my way, I figured I needed to keep drinking for when I have company.
Now that social media isn’t about 90% of my life anymore, I’ve been studying tea and its rituals. Coming from a place that didn’t have a strong cafe culture, the most involved I got into tea was the most extravagant and obviously flavored Teavana teas that would make connoisseurs’ monocles pop in unison. Now, I’m drinking Real Tea™ that is named after estates (so fancy) instead of how many sugary foods you can fit into one pot. It’s interesting, how much there is really a snobbery of what’s Actually This Thing and how it isn’t at all just a games quirk. Games definitely bludgeon with it a lot more, the tea world kind of does it in a way I imagine a colonial English headmistress would.
Something that struck me, however, was the terminology tea and the different elements that go into actually brewing it. I’m used to getting ready-brew with a bag in it, and now I brew sex-positively loose tea. In tea stuff, there’s a lot of attention to the tea leaves itself and the water it is brewed in, while the end product, called the liquor interestingly enough, is almost secondary. I’m reading a book that has an extensive account of old Chinese writings that ranked the mountain springs from which was most superior to brew tea in, and how the quality and taste of the water ultimately decides whether a tea is going to be good or not.
So why not steep tea in wine, my sluggish brain decided, being pulled backwards by the last BART train towards the east bay. What a great idea.
There is actually some precedent to this. Tea is sometimes infused into certain spirits, mostly vodka, to make fancy cocktails at fancy places. I also mulled wine for the first time during December, which I found was ultimately infusing spices into wine. One of the ingredients I needed to get was allspice, think a mix between nutmeg and black pepper if you’re unfamiliar, which is a popular Jamaican spice. My parents used it in cooking a lot, or at least, when I smelled it upfront like that after I opened the jar, I felt like I identified a part of something that was always around me in the past that’s missing now. It’s strange, I don’t have a good relationship with my family, and spent most of my adolescence distancing myself from my heritage. Slowly, I’ve been reintegrating certain things. I refused to eat curry until I moved to San Francisco, living on Valencia street and meeting part way over to my partner’s house. I have an unfinished game called I Hate Curry that might never be completed.
Smelling that jar of allspice made me want to explore my connection with my past again. It smells in the corners of my mind, something unmistakably there, but I never knew what it was. I felt roused, like I do whenever I want to write down fiction or create a play experience. But how, with food?
Ever since moving to the bay, I’ve had a rising interest in food justice. San Francisco, in particular, likes to boast about how good its food is, along with other terms like local, sustainable, ethical. Yet it was obvious to me, as someone who was at poverty level income for the majority of their adult life, that having pride in the food and especially produce of the area was not for everyone. There is a performance of eating well all over our country, something that’s tortured me for a long time, wondering why I couldn’t ‘eat right’ on my minimum wage paycheck.
I don’t necessarily want access to fancy foods. I live near a Farmer’s Market now, and I try to go, mostly hoping some cute farm hand will show me the difference between all seven of his pomelos, and buying exclusively from it would bankrupt me.
In a way, I want to take back cooking and eating, as art forms, back from the affluent. I want everyone to connect with what is tied so strongly to our memories. What is it that allspice means to me? If anything, everyone is going to have a different emotional tie to a food or flavor. And, in a way, there is something romantic and powerful about literally consuming a piece of expression. Made for you to feel something other than, maybe, fullness and titillation. Which brings me to now, sipping on oolong-infused Merlot.
As I wait for my next paycheck so I can spring on some spices, I decided to take the teas I’ve been tasting and learning about and infuse them into the Merlot I left that party with. The Merlot is another trigger, it reminds me of when I went to church as a child, and the church wine. Which is another mystery to me; what exactly is the kind of wine that my church served, did it mean anything, and did all churches have the same wine?
But mostly, transfiguration is what triggered my choice the most. Wine into liquor, the taste of the past to the very, just a few seconds ago, now, alcohol into blood. Kicking myself a little now that I didn’t think to mix allspice into one batch of the Merlot to remember Palm Sunday and a grand-uncle that I don’t think ever liked me.
I divided the Merlot into twelve separate jars, about 2 ounces in each, and dumped a ½ teaspoon of a tea on top. I say dumped because I unmatched a guy on Tinder just before for being a jerk and it felt good. I screwed on the caps and shook it all a little, then tucked it under my bed, only partly sure what I’m doing is legal.
Taking some time out from angsting over my keyboard about how I can’t seem to do anything but stare motionless into sex-education documents, I shake the little crate of wine cultures. It feels like what I imagine to be rocking a cradle full of glass animals.
After about ten hours, it’s time to take out the white and green teas. They smell like, well, tea in wine. Less boozy in the way church wine does and a little more fruity and maybe grassy. I sip a couple, and they basically taste like tea in wine. It’s not necessarily bad, and I’m not completely sure if I want things to taste, like, good, just, something? I imagine the green teas would taste better in a white wine. Things tend to be divided that way, dark and light, so I guess green goes with white and black goes with red.
It’s weird, the grassy, vegetal (I didn’t know that was really a word until I started reading up and tasting tea) flavor of many green teas brings out the berry-ness of the wine. Pai-Mu-Tan, a white tea that looks like someone dumped what they raked into a $20 tin and tastes somewhat like chlorine when you’re not used to it, made the wine smell like fucking Kool-Aid. Remember that stuff? I imagine it’s contrast, the bitterness brings out the sweet. But as I felt like I was drinking an alcohol-drenched rainforest, I realized that the instructions I got made for a total flavor overtake, and that wine comes with it’s own complexity and I probably should have thought to have added to the complexity instead of injecting tea flavor. I’m sure there’s a metaphor there. If you want to try infusing some loose green tea, I recommend Japanese greens in white wine, though I haven’t really tried it yet. In particular, Sencha and Gyokuro, though I’m curious as to how Genmaicha would work out. Let them sit for five hours, and then sip every hour until you get a taste you like. Apparently a lush, I forgot to take out my Gunpowder tea and it tastes bitter now.
When I woke up the next day, it was time to strain out the oolong and black teas. I was too curious to not try them right then and there, and would later be under my covers swiping right on numerous bay area men.
The oolong tasted kind of strange, which is to be expected, since it tends to be quite complex on its own. I like it for its novelty though. Blacks, now, black teas (can I admit how weird it was for me to see ‘blacks’ used in this context) are often more about body than greens (this metaphor is going places isn’t it) where I originally had a hard time telling their flavor part, but how the liquors rested in my mouth were completely different. The same is true for them being infused in red wine, apparently, and actually, they feel kind of right? They mix in with the red wine’s complexity in a way that I found jarring, but not unpleasant. Kenya in particular stood out to me, because if I’m not mistaken, it takes to fruity flavors well, and it smells marvelously fruity.
But of course, there’s Lapsang Souchong. I’ve never had a drinking buddy, but if I did, it would be Lapsang Souchong. Lapsang is deep and smoky, like literally, you’re drinking a campfire. I love it. Campfires are where the majority of my intimate memories from teen-hood are from. It was one of my good friend’s houses, we’d play truth or dare, I slightly miss truth or dare? And then, in my early twenties, over in the backyard of the first man who ever approached me in public and hit on me. I want to say successfully, but it was weird. I skipped class over a bit of anxiety I was having, and decided to sit outside of a Starbucks on my college campus at the time. We caught eyes a few times, and eventually he came over, gave me coffee, and immediately just left. I was extremely bewildered because the guy I was just eye smooching just gave me coffee, recognizing that we were, indeed, eye smooching, and then just left. I don’t even drink coffee. It was fucking romantic. A couple minutes later he returned, sat down next to me, and we talked awkwardly, then less awkwardly. I would later fall for him and he would break my heart.
I really like Lapsang Souchong, and I think I’m going to infuse every liquid I can find with it. Smoky tasting beverages just sounds so, like, not right, but at home for me. Shooting off fireworks, staring a bit too close. I never want that smell to leave me, no matter how painful.
Infuse your oolong and black teas for about ten hours, then taste them every hour after until you got a complexity you like. Go with the teas I pointed out, or hey, get some of your favorite flavored black teas to put in there. If there are cute little non-tea leaf objects in there though, you might have to taste and watch more often, because different things steep at different rates.
I realize that not many people are going to infuse tea into wine. I do, though, want to suggest that things give us memories and feelings, and there are ways to play with this. Transfiguration, maybe. Stock is made from basically infusing random remnants of things you cooked in water. Why does it have to be water? Or random remnants of things you cooked? What would it mean if I used Lapsang water to brew coffee for that man in my past?
Game design, really, right now, is object design. An object is crafted for use to interact with, and have a play experience. I feel like, in an effort to expand the DIY philosophy, we need to see video games, board games, whatever, as few of many objects we play with, and it’s the play we’re after to design. So, I want to let people know there are more objects to create, and things that you might already create everyday. You can make an object to play with every day, and just because it’s made to power your body doesn’t make it any less of a playful event. I want to know what the things I’ve been eating have been saying to me my entire life, as they’ve contributed to my wellness, and to my pain. Maybe as mulled wine is used as an excuse to be with other people, and to understand you will get through a dark time, maybe steeping this allspice might unlock a feeling, a remedy I’ve forgotten long ago.
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