mokie: A package of meat wishes you happy holidays (holiday personal)
MERRY CHRISTMAS! In Armenia, at least.

Here in the West, it's Epiphany/Twelfth Night/Three Kings Day, celebrating the day the three wise men visited the newborn Jesus, the official final night of Christmas celebrations, the night on which some poor sod got a drumline as a present, and the start of Carnival.

Or as most people call it, "What?" The times, oh, how they change.

So I'll embrace a couple of holidays that are closer to home for me: the coldest month of the year is also - what a coincidence! - National Hot Tea Month and National Soup Month.
mokie: Cartoon of an angry tea pot raging (drink tea)
I will not lie to you, journal: this review for Republic of Tea's coconut puerh is short because I polished the tea off before I had the chance to write it up. It was that good.

In the Bag:
Visually, it's very dark and well-shredded tea with big hunks of coconut in it.

Olfactorily (really, we have no better word?), it's a syrupy, milky coconut smell--a little odd, but an improvement over the plainly chemical coconut scent I've encountered elsewhere, like Adagio's coconut black, which isn't bad, but isn't good either.

Yes, I've tried multiple coconut teas. I was not joshing you about how dire a coconut allergy would have been for me.

The Steepening:
Boiling tap water over a teaspoon of tea, steeped a minute or so longer than my usual test time because puerh likes it that way, served up plain with no sweetener and no milk/creamer.

On any given puerh tea, you'll see some "This is the worst black tea I've ever tried!" comments, and you can ignore them, because puerh isn't black tea--it's not just oxidized, it's fermented and put away for a long while to get funky, let things grow in it, be tripped over by hobbitses, and so forth. Generally speaking, the funk those reviewers are complaining about is what puerh is supposed to be. But in order for it to brew up deep and earthy and a little shroomy, rather than muddy and dank and suspiciously fishy (in the sense that one asks, "Is there fish in this tea?"), it usually needs a brief rinse. Most loose leaf teas benefit from a rinse, really--dried leaves packed into small contains and jostling against each other in transit can lead to a fair bit of grindage and dust, and that's putting aside any actual dust (etc.) they might have picked up in picking, processing and waiting around on the market.

The point of all that is, I got a whiff of fishiness and realized I'd forgotten to give the cup a quick rinse. The scent of the tea was mostly rich earthy dark chocolate (!) and coconut, but with a little background aquarium tang. More disturbing than the fish tang was that this was not an unappealing combination of scents.

When I used the last of the sampler, I gave it a proper rinse. It eliminated the fishy scent, but it also took some of the depth from the flavor. I've decided not to think too hard about that.

The Verdict:
Some strange alchemy of the base puerh and coconut chunks gives this a complex dark chocolate/coconut vibe. I would accuse the coconut of playing mind tricks on my taste buds, but as I said, this isn't my first coconut tea, and it's never gone chocolatey on me before. It's got to be the fish.

But I'm okay with that.
mokie: Cartoon of an angry tea pot raging (drink tea)
Time for another tin from the Republic of Tea, because cheapo shipping sale = lots of samplers!

The tea of the now is Orange Ginger Mint Herbal Full-Leaf, which contains no camellia sinensis and is thus not actually a tea but a tisane. It's a good distinction to make: when I buy herbs, I want herbs, not herbalish tea, and when I buy tea, I want tea, not drinkable herbs. It also avoids awkward naming conundrums, like 'red tea', which can refer to fully fermented tea according to China (what we call black tea), rooibos tea according to manufacturers (though that's daft, since people usually go out of their way to buy rooibos specifically to avoid tea), or hibiscus tea according to the insane and masochistic (because damn you, hibiscus).

But I digress. Orange! Ginger! Mint! All three good companion flavors to other beverages. What's not to love?

In the Bag Tin:
The smell. The smell is not to love. I opened the tin to a scent memory of when my mother smoked Kool cigarettes. I wouldn't say the herbal blend smells like tobacco outright, but that the other ingredients trip the mint over into dirty menthol territory.

It's nothing spectacular visually, but that's to be expected--pre-steeped tisanes do tend to look like stuff swept from under the couch.

The Steepening:
A teaspoon of herbs, a cup of boiling tap water and thee. I gave it two minutes to swish in the mug/strainer combo before removing the tea, and still had tiny floaters. (It's not relevant, I just really hate floaters.)

I wish I could tell you that cigarette whiff goes away, but it would be a lie. It does evolve, though, into the smell of the tea aisle at the all-natural hippie shop, where you purchased that awful-tasting but supposedly good for you tea and considered telling the dude eyeballing the mineral deodorant that it was clearly not working out for him. The whales are great, dude, but think about your immediate environment, too.

It also tastes just like that tea: kind of stale, kind of medicinal, kind of like you messed up and steeped the cardboard box rather than the herbs.

Part of the problem? No actual orange in the herbal mix, so instead of orange flavor, just a vaguely 'bathroom cleaner' aroma. Not much mint flavor, either. They've tried to make the mint do double-duty by using orange bergamot mint, one of those mild mints that have a citrusy scent. You'd think the ginger would come roaring through, but there, in the ingredients list, is a bastard ninja ingredient: "Ginger root, orange bergamot mint, lemon thyme, anise hyssop, anise seeds and blackberry leaves".

If the ingredients were listed in terms of flavor rather than quantity, it would be: "Lemon thyme, ha ha, you thought you were buying orange ginger mint anything".

Like hibiscus, I can't not taste thyme. I thought the ginger would curbstomp everything else, but it's the thyme that comes out swinging, all medicinal and sticky. The sample could be stale, but I'm betting the dirty stale flavor is simply what happens to ginger after it fights thyme, just as the line-up of citrus-ish herbs and mint have conspired to create a vaguely disinfectant aftertaste.

I add a teaspoon of honey* in hopes of making the cup more palatable, maybe teasing out the mint or clarifying the citrus flavors. While it makes the orange-ishness more pronounced in the cup, it doesn't improve the dirty taste of it. Not earthy, dirty--the difference between puerh and poo.

What really improved the flavor was letting the cup go cold. Even then, though, it tastes like picking up a cardboard box that once held mints and licking it.

The Verdict:
Oh, God no.

Maybe someone could use it as the basis of a syrup for juleps. Insane amounts of sugar and alcohol might be able to dull the taste of thyme. If not, keep drinking till you don't care anymore.

* Honey of the now: Airborne's blend of New Zealand floral honeys, which is mild and tasty and doesn't make beverages taste like honey + beverage. Never again, clover honey.
mokie: Cartoon of an angry tea pot raging (drink tea)
Milk oolong. What? Is that a serving suggestion? A poetic translation, like "Monkey-picked tea"? (Spoiler: no actual monkeys involved.) Some bubble tea concoction? A new fad where the leaves are rolled in powdered milk?

According to shops, it's so named for its milky taste, but that explains nothing. Does that mean the tea tastes like milk? Does it taste like tea with milk already added? Or does it have a milky quality, like liquidized coconut or soy or rice or almonds or hemp or all the other not-actually-milks?

It has taunted me for over a year. Milk oolong. Sold in a variety of swanky online tea shops, but pricey and available only in the So you need a lot of tea sizes. No matter how curious I was, I couldn't go through a repeat of the lapsang souchong incident, of trying not to waste a large bag of tea, and trying to find a home for a tea I couldn't drink without making it sound like I was trying to pass along an undrinkable tea. (While feeling terribly ungrateful, too, since the bag had been a gift from concertina42Tina. Neither of us expected 'smoky quality' to mean it would trigger an allergic reaction, just like actual smoke.)

But Republic of Tea sent out a sale e-mail, and I'm not much of a tea snob--not enough of one to turn down a good sale, certainly. And there it was, milk oolong, and in a sampler tin at that.
Cup of Abundance - This delightful, hand-processed green oolong is grown high in the Fujian mountains in China. Famous for its “milky” taste and silky texture, the large, tightly-rolled leaves have the alluring fragrance of sweet cream and pineapple. The flavor is smooth with light, orchid notes. Great for multiple infusions.
Look at it, shamelessly tempting me with its multiple infusions.

In the Bag Tin:
Wee wrinkled pellets that smell like the Platonic ideal of peaches. You know the way some oolongs are described as having notes of peach? (Or maybe that's mostly Ti Kuan Yin.) This tea mocks those teas. Sweet cream and pineapple? I won't argue with RoT's writers--a ripe peach all sun-warmed and dripping juice isn't far off from sweet cream and pineapple to me.

The Steepening:
Eyeballing pellets when you're used to loose leaf is a pain.

For the first cup, fresh tap water straight from the boiling kettle over an eyeballed allotment of wee wrinkled pellets, steeped about two minutes (it's easier to steep longer next time than fix a too-bitter first impression) and served hot and plain. I thought at first I'd added too many pellets, because the steeping pot was packed with green and red leaves, all rumpled and looking like a very misplaced salad. Then I noticed those wee wrinkled pellets had unfolded into the biggest damn tea leaves I have ever seen. The leaves of other teas? Mocked. We're talking capsule-into-spongeosaurus expansion.

The resulting liquor was a touch lighter in color than expected, but it packed a lush floral scent that filled the room and waved a baseball bat at the neighbors.

"Light, orchid notes" is misleading: the flavor is like sitting down to tea in the middle of a hothouse in full bloom. The flavor-scent of orchid isn't the assault on the senses that strong lavender and rose can be, though, so it's a gorgeous sensation, with a good whiff of natural fruity sweetness underneath. What others refer to as a milky taste I would describe as a natural mildness in the flavor, as if the tea were served with cream, and a rich, almost luxurious mouthfeel. Even the aftertaste, a slightly dry perfumed pucker, is delicious.

The second cup got a few minutes more to brew. (Resteepings should in general, but I also wanted to try the tea a little stronger.) It held up well in scent and flavor, and I chilled some for later testing. Cold, it's a little fruitier than floral, with less mouthfeel but more aftertaste, like a fruity herbal tea but without the hibiscus dilemma.*

The third cup is still fruity and floral but noticeably weaker, low on that lovely mouthfeel, and as it cools, more of a standard green tea flavor--but pleasantly floral green, like a favorite cousin to jasmine. I don't think I can squeeze more resteepings out of this batch of leaves tonight (summer, mold, ick!), but I intend to jump back into testing on a smaller steep soon.

The Verdict:
I may have a new contender for Best Tea Ever.

* Hibiscus is a popular filler in flavored teas for its fruity twang. In herbal teas, it can add a fullness and body to an otherwise weak fruity cup, and cover up a bit of unpleasant earthiness or bitterness. Some herbals, if served without a strong tent pole ingredient like hibiscus, taste weak and watery. On the other hand, herbals with a strong tent pole ingredient like hibiscus often taste most strongly of that ingredient, which is annoying if you hate that ingredient and/or expect your herbals to taste like the herb(s) in the name.

I call it the hibiscus dilemma, but it could as easily be "Goddammit, this is rooibos."
mokie: Cartoon of an angry tea pot raging (drink tea)
Is there anything more fun than being slammed with a cold/sinus infection and still having work to do? Besides being dangled from a tree like a piñata full of phlegm and hit with sticks by small children, that is. Being sick sends me back to my comfort teas, one of which is Eastern Shore Tea Company's Plum Good, which can be ordered from Baltimore Coffee & Tea Company.

In the Bag:
This tea also sends me back to that problem of unlisted ingredients. The site describes Plum Good as, "Deep, rich, satisfying flavor, highlighted with soft cinnamon, for an intriguing aroma. Flavored black tea. Contains caffeine. Loose tea in 1 lb. (454 g.) bag." It mentions nothing of cloves, which are plain to see, or finely red shredded petals that a recent Steepster review called hibiscus. [ETA: the company confirmed the ingredients by email as black tea, soft cinnamon, clove, hibiscus and plum extract.] Both are ingredients that make people wary--hibiscus is my mortal enemy, for example--and neither is present here in significant amounts, so I can see leaving them out of the tea's sales blurb. Omitting mention of them entirely is a different story.

(Curiously enough, I knew there were cloves in it when I went to order, and was surprised that they weren't listed. It makes me wonder if the 3oz 'ribbon bags' I used to buy locally do/did have a full ingredient list.)

When I open the bag, the scent is a burst of bubblegum. Bubblegum flavor itself is a blend of wintergreen, vanilla and cinnamon (or cassia), so I wouldn't be surprised by a bit of vanilla in the ingredients/flavoring, too, though it may just be the fruity plum and cinnamon scent playing off my mental scent pre-sets.

The Steepening:
For the first cup, a teaspoon (eyeballed) in a mug with a mesh basket infuser, boiling water straight from the kettle, steeped about 2 minutes, and topped with a small dollop of mixed local and orange blossom honey for my sore throat. (Because I hate having 2 tall jars each with a half-inch of honey left, when I can have one smaller jar with plenty. Also, local honey is clover-heavy, and clover honey is an affront to all that is good and teaful.) For the second cup, the tea resteeped, no honey and untimed because I'm easily distracted. The scent is warm and fruity, all cinnamon and plum, as advertised.

The Verdict:
Not as deep and rich as you'd expect from the description, nor as complex or spicy as you might expect with cinnamon and cloves in the mix, but very satisfying nonetheless--not unlike a tea-incarnation of the Doors' "The End" perhaps. (Sorry, Boomers.) Sure, it's got a little bass and depth, and isn't the high and bright one-note tea many fruit blends are. Its spicy side is nicely warm and mellow and supports that fruity depth like a wonderbra or a really mixed metaphor, where many spicy blends are just heat, or just spice for the sake of being spicy. It plays well with both milk and sweeteners, but has a natural sweetness if you want to forgo the extras.

But it isn't all that deep or complicated, and that's a good thing, because sometimes you just want the tea equivalent of a warm blanket. A warm, bubblegum-scented, 10-minute groovin' Space Coyote blanket. Okay, maybe that last bit's the decongestant talking.

If the red petals are hibiscus, I'm impressed that I don't taste it. I'm used to companies overusing it as filler, and letting it overwhelm the taste of their blends, but if it's hibiscus, it seems to be only accentuating the fruitiness of the plum in this blend. For those suspicious of cloves, they're not a supervillain here either: SeriousEats suggests that clove boosts fruity flavors, adds a little heat and plays well with cinnamon, and it just seems to be doing just that and only that. And adding a little Christmas vibe, but I don't think it can help that.

It's the perfect cup for waking up from an 11-hour nap and considering going back to bed.
mokie: Cartoon of an angry tea pot raging (drink tea)
What's the secret to green tea, mokie?

Time and temperature, mokie. Mostly time.

Experts suggest water heated to 160 - 180 °F for green tea, 190-ish °F for oolong and 212 °F for black, and argue over 140 °F or 212 °F for white, presumably debating whether to lower the temp because of the lower oxidation or raise it since herbals are given a full boil. Herbal experts, meanwhile, huff that just as you can't boil all teas, you can't boil all tisanes. (That's the proper name for an herbal tea, since they don't actually contain, you know, tea.) And yet more expert experts point out that there's a difference between Japanese and Chinese greens, and spring-plucked and summer-plucked greens. All that's before you even get into the Celsius conversions or the debate over whether greens should be steeped just 1 minute or 7 minutes...

And they wonder why green tea didn't take off in the US until Lipton started bottling it.

Let me make your life easier the Chinese granny way: 'shrimp eyes'.

For black tea, your water needs to come to a full raging boil, but when you put on the water for green tea, wait for little bubbles rising to the top, the size of--you guessed it--shrimp eyes. The next two steps up are 'crab eyes' and 'fish eyes', and they're well within the green tea range. If you think your bubbles are too big, or you've just lost track of time and hit full boil, turn the pot off and let it sit a minute or two. With a bit of practice, you'll be able to tell where your water is just by the sound of the kettle.

That said, time is the killer. Water that's too hot may leave you with a bitter green, but most greens, including those you're going to pick up from the shops, also become bitter or astringent if they're steeped too long. Most packaging on green teas is oblivious to this; people from countries that drink sugary coffee milkshakes and sugary milky black tea are told to steep their green teas up to 7 minutes, as if to confirm the healthy benefits of green tea we must first make it taste godawful. Trust me and aim for 3 minutes; if your cup is too weak/strong, you'll at least have a good reference point for adjusting the timing on the next pot.

Now that's out of the way...

What's the biggest problem with flowering teas, mokie?

Time and temperature, mokie. Mostly time.

First, let me explain (finally, halfway down the entry) that flowering teas are whole tea leaves tied together in such a way that, as they steep, they 'bloom' from a hard round ball into a floating 'flower' in the pot, often with actual flowers like jasmine at the center. It's also, according to some, a very pretty way to sell off really outdated tea stock, and I believe it, since I haven't had any yet that didn't taste stale.

Second, there's the issue of steeping time. A flowering tea starts out as a hard bound ball o' tea, but tea leaves need room to move and infuse--that's why bagged tea is chopped into tiny pieces (more surface area), and why tea balls are great for corralling herbs and herbals, but not so great for actual teas. It can take anywhere from 3 - 7 minutes for the outer leaves of a flowering tea to infuse enough that they unfold, and that means that while the outer leaves are oversteeping, the inner leaves aren't getting much room to infuse and expand at all. You can easily end up with a contrarily astringent cup of weak tea.

Which I did.

In the Bag:
Oh look, the actual review! The brand in the cup today is Primula's flowering green jasmine tea. It has several negative Amazon reviews which mention that the customers' tea arrived already several years old judging by the 'manufacture' date and/or expired. I find this perversely funny, since, again, flowering teas seem to be made exclusively from stale tea.

In the bag, this is a little knobby ball that smells a little dusty. No jasmine scent.

The Steepening:
Took forever.

The unfolding of the leaves and flowers into a little bouquet is the real point of flowering teas (more on that below), but this one underwhelmed me. The leaves are rolled and bound in such a way that it didn't gently bloom into a dainty bouquet, awaiting the oohs and aahs of onlookers, as much as it porcupined out into a delicate tea mine, awaiting passing U-boats.

The scent was also disappointing. The mark of any good jasmine tea is its ability to make you forget you're supposed to drink it, because you're too busy inhaling the aroma wafting off the pot, but jasmine barely showed up to the party in this tea.

The Verdict:
Weak, astringent, and not even particularly jasmine-ish? Blah.

I'll admit that the primary draw of flowering teas isn't the cup but the pot: they're not drinking teas, they're watching teas. If you're hosting a little girl's tea party (raiding party, whatever), and everyone's going to drink their flower tea with a heaping spoon of sugar and a handful of cookies anyway, then it's not a problem. They're also not too shabby for that relative who'll drink it and think, "Ah, so that's what a fancy tea tastes like," and then return to her Diet Coke quite pleased at having had fancy tea that one time.

If you want a drinking tea, though, flowering teas aren't the way to go. And if you want a watching tea, you can certainly do better than Primula's.
mokie: Cartoon of an angry tea pot raging (drink tea)
Earlier this year, I imposed a tea moratorium: not another box, pouch, brick or bag would I buy until my drinking was under control. Until my stash no longer took up its own kitchen cabinet. Until I no longer had more varieties than the grocery store. Until I could look at my supply and reasonably say, "Uh-oh, better buy more tea before I run out."

It wasn't easy. I ran out of my favorite blends one by one. I used up my runners-up. I forced myself to pitch the try-it-outs that didn't work out. But finally, in November, my stash was down to one basket on the kitchen counter. Sure, it was holding about a pound of tea, but seven or eight varieties, and most of those green, and shut up, I don't have a problem, you have a problem! with cold weather coming, I decided some black teas were in order.

Long story short: I've got new sippage, so you get new tea reviews!

One of my new regular vendors is the English Tea Store, purveyors of bulk tea and snackage from the UK. One of the teas I ordered was 4 oz of blackcurrant 'naturally flavored' loose leaf black tea, to see how it stacked up to my custom currant-y blend from Adagio Teas. I love the custom blend, but Adagio botched it twice in a row and their customer service leaves one wishing for the care and attention of, say, Charter or AT&T.

I also regularly order from Baltimore Coffee & Tea Company, because they own the Eastern Shore Tea Company, seller of loose leaf tea in white paper pouches with nifty labels and reusable muslin bags. I don't remember where Eastern Shore and I first met, but after a long dry spell, they turned up again sporadically in the shop at the Missouri Botanical Garden, tucked behind items on random shelves like they'd been stocked by someone who's never worked proper retail before little surprises. Though it's been a few years since I had their blackcurrant tea, named Black Raven in honor of Poe, I purchased a pound because I remembered it fondly.

In the Bag:
- The English Tea Store's blackcurrant contains blue and yellow petals--cornflower and sunflower, probably, since they're popular fillers these days. (I guess hibiscus has been retired.) The petals aren't in the sample photo and the ingredients only list black tea and 'natural flavor' (i.e. flavoring sprayed on the tea leaves), so either the site is outdated or you only get uncut tea in larger amounts.

The bag smells like perfume with a whiff of berry behind it, and the reviewers describe it as 'smooth and fruity', much like you'd expect from people who've never tasted blackcurrant-flavored anything before. Put the two together and it doesn't bode well.

- Eastern Shore Tea Co.'s blackcurrant is just flavor-spritzed tea with no petals or mystery bits, so it's already a step ahead. It smells like malty black tea and Ribena. Taste buds puckered, I had a brief flashback and wondered what markfinnMark's up to these days. Good signs!

The Steepening:
Plain cold tap water boiled in the electric kettle and a little hot tap water in the pots to swish off any dust from the tea--a general hazard of dried plant matter rubbing against itself in packaging. Each tea steeped long enough for me to put on coffee for the non-tea drinkers, and each poured mug was sniffed and sipped hot before cream and sugar, for thorough comparisons.

- The English Tea Store's blackcurrant is ridiculously floral, almost like a berry chamomile, with a strange oily mouthfeel. Maybe the base tea is too bright--it's all perfume and no fruit, especially as it cools down. The effect is less a nice blackcurrant tea than it is sipping regular tea out of your great-grandmother's powdered cleavage.

- Eastern Shore's blackcurrant is already gone. I finished the cup before I could write anything down. Dark, malty and tart and perfect for cold mornings and long novels.

The Verdict:
Oh, Black Raven, I'll never let you go again.

Meanwhile, a quick trip to Google [turned up a now-defunct link that] confirms that it's not me: the English Tea Store's blackcurrant tea is all wrong. Not just cornflower and sunflower petals, but blackberry (not blackcurrant!) leaves, which are the special ingredient that gives Celestial Seasoning teas its gritty "How do you fuck up herbal?" astringency, and mallow flowers, which Google proclaims floral and earthy, and which is on the list of ragweed relatives (along with chamomile) for allergy sufferers to avoid--which explains why I had to suck down ibuprofen and sinus meds after breakfast.

And, again, none of these are listed as ingredients on the packaging or the website, but now I've got an inkling why their Earl Grey left me sick as a dog...

Update: The now-defunct link was to a blogger who had requested a full list of ingredients for the tea. The blog's MIA, but the English Tea Store itself now lists ingredients, so that's good.
mokie: Cartoon of an angry tea pot raging (drink coffee)
The climate is changing, and the important issue isn't whether this change has been caused by man or is merely influenced by human activities.

No, friends. The issue is how do we save the coffee?
Running Arabica’s chances against three emission scenarios, over three timescales (2020, 2050 and 2080), and with a geographical resolution of 1 Km for the plant’s Ethiopian homeland, the models “showed a profoundly negative influence on the number and extent of wild Arabica populations”, Kew says. (Richard Chirgwin, "Coffee next on climate chopping-block: The looming ARABICA APOCALYPSE," The Register 10 November 2012)
This is how the zombie apocalypse starts.

Or the Rage virus pandemic, because I will surely beat someone to death without coffee.
mokie: Ghostbusters' Vinz Clortho wears a collander and answers questions (nerdy)
Ready? Okay!

- I recently did some work on ad copy for a line of toys.* Next Christmas, you should expect to see me in the local toy store, laughing maniacally at my newfound power over the minds of the young and innocent.

- Just found out that the host of Adagio's webcast reviewing custom blends is apparently a well-known and much-travelled public speaker who appears all over yon webbish TV/*cast enterprises, especially tea-related ones. Oh, and he's a Mizzou student. Queue Cue conflicting feelings of, "Oh, hey, Columbia!" and "Oh, God, how old is he?"

- Somewhere along the way, I stopped spelling it 'cue' and started spelling it 'queue.' I don't know when or how to stop.

[On a queue, for a cue, on a queue, for a cue--I will remember this!]

- Current brief obsession under investigation: streaming music. What are the real differences between Pandora and Rdio and and so forth? I will not rest until I find out! Or lose interest! [Done!]

- For those who haven't heard, from Why Have Hackers Hit Russia's Most Popular Blogging Service?

Short answer: probably a politically-motivated attack to silence dissent. If you haven't been able to access Livejournal, this is why.

If you're feeling anxious and would like to back your journal up, you can do that, but bear in mind that it adds to the strain on the system and that LJ's probably not going anywhere. You might consider instead signing up for one of the alternate sites (read: LJ clones) until the dust settles--just update to the new site and, when LJ's back up, copy and/or crosspost. It's also a generally convenient way to mirror your journal so people in your particular hobby/interest-based community can keep up with you no matter what site they prefer.

As for the clones...

There's DeadJournal, which is the granddaddy of the clones and thus lacks some of the later LJ functionality (and accompanying glitches). I've had an account since LJ's 2001 growing pains, and never noticed any technical problems. I've noticed that the user base skews a little dark and gothy, and it's not really a hopping joint, so if you're looking for lots of Golden Girls fandom interaction, it might not be the ideal destination for you

There's InsaneJournal, which became fandom's favorite once the creator of GreatestJournal flipped everyone the bird and let it die. It could simply be growing pains, but IJ is very prone to technical troubles of its own, and if everyone rushes over when LJ's down you'll probably see that in action. If you're looking for active community action you'll find it, but if you're just looking to post something while LJ's down, you may want to look elsewhere.

There's Dreamwidth, the idealistic newcomer. They started out with some very specific goals and intentions (see the guiding principles and diversity statement), they've expanded with fandom and roleplayers in mind, and they've taken the open source part of LJ's code and done very interesting things with it--including things that LJ users have been dreaming of for years. (Hello, in-line cut expansion!) Unfortunately, things are still a little quiet at DW--its slice of fandom consists mostly of the serious discussion of issues folks (see the guiding principles and diversity statement?), while the icon-making squeefuls are happy enough camped out at IJ. You may not find the activity you're looking for.

In other words, pick your high school lunch buddy: the antisocial kid in black who doesn't mind loaning you a buck for the jello cup but won't keep up conversation, the comedian who's great for a laugh but will flake out on you at the drop of a hat, or the very reliable junior feminist who will tell you all about the new club she's starting to save marmosets. DJ and DW both require invite codes and I have some to share, because I was down with all the cliques in high school, donchaknow.**

Alternately, you could just update LJ via a client like Semagic, which can queue posts for later if LJ happens to be down. That's why it's magic!

* No specifics. You never know where I'll strike.
** Well, not so much 'down with' as 'oblivious to.' Also, there were only about 2-300 kids in my entire high school.***
*** Yes, I was the flake. Still am, to tell the truth.

About dream/reading tags

y-* tags categorize dreams.

For types: beyond the obvious, there are dreamlets (very short dreams), stubs (fragment/outline of a partially-lost dream), gnatter (residual impression of a lost dream).

For characters: there are roles (characters fitting an archetype), symbols (characters as symbols), and sigils (recurring figures with a significance bigger than a single dream's role/symbolism).

x-* tags categorize books.

Material is categorized primarily by structure, style and setting. If searching for a particular genre, look for the defining features of that genre, e.g. x-form:nonfic:bio, x-style:horror, x-setting:dystopian.