The Road Trip Sextet, Part 4 – “An Excellent Different Beach House Tea Party”

For Part 1, go HERE.

For Part 2, go HERE.

For Part 3, go HERE.

I think I mentioned in the prior entry I only allowed myself one day at World Tea Expo this year. It wasn’t for lack of things to do, or desire, but rather a simple matter of timing and priorities. The overall trip had a twofold purpose – one was Expo, but the other was to see family members. As luck would have it, my cousin had a place a mere fifteen-minute drive from Long Beach. I stayed with him the two nights I’d allotted for everything Expo-ish. The second day – effectively the last day of Expo – was spent with him pal-ing around and getting into some sort of well-mannered mischief.

When we rousted, he brewed himself his usual coffee and allowed me to siphon hot water for some Doke Rolling Thunder.

Doke Rolling Thunder

It seemed only fitting that I end my Expo-ish adventure – brief, though it was – with a tea from the Lochan garden. One of the only regrets I had from my Expo brevity was that I didn’t get to talk with Rajiv Lochan more. We only had time for a brief meet-and-greet, totally my fault. However, there was another opportunity to see him, and a bunch of other tea folks, yet I was undecided about it.

So, while the last day of Expo commenced, my cousin and I (and a female friend of his) gallivanted around downtown Orange.

Downtown Orange

(Yes, there is a city called “Orange” in Orange County. I didn’t know that, either.)

While fellow tea bloggers marveled at the sight of cosplayers from a neighboring Comic Con at the Long Beach Convention Center, our little trio tried on various ancient battle regalia at antique shops.

Knight of Nih!

A fitting parallel.

After a sizable waffle sandwich lunch, though, something tugged at me. I received a few texts and/or tweets regarding a beach house party that night in Long Beach proper. Team Tealet had mentioned they were throwing a “World Tea Expo After-Party” following the major festivi-teas. I caught wind of it when I visited their booth the day prior, but was unsure about my own attendance.

By that afternoon, I had decided.

Team Tealet had rented out a beach house through Airbnb mere minutes drive from the convention center. Several other people had ponied up cash to be a part of the living arrangement – all folks I knew, including the aforementioned Rajiv Lochan. How could I not go?!

Beach House

Photo by Rajiv Lochan

The only regretful occurrence was Naomi “Joy’s Teaspoon”-‘s early departure. She had to be back home that night, but she did pass on a fond farewell via text. D’awwwww.

I arrived just in time to see Tealet’s Elyse ‘n Mike and a few others (including Tea For Me Please’s Nicole) making a beer run. Naturally, I joined in. Once that trip was done, it was back to the beach house. And I finally got to lounge back and shoot the breeze with RAJIV!!!

Rajiv!!!

No, I can’t say his name without shouting.

In our conversation, I marveled at the fact that he had a Lochan Tea “tea-shirt”. I asked, “How can I get one of those with your face on it?” And he almost – quite literally – gave me the shirt off his back. That’s the kind of guy he is.

Shortly after, I made the acquaintance of one of the members of JoJo Tea – a wholesaler op out of Florida. And…we fist-pumped over our mutual love of Oriental Beauty oolong. Probably the only time a fist-pump was ever naturally-occurring.

As the night progressed, randomness ensued. Adventure Tea’s Alex graced us with his elfin presence. He and Snooty Tea Person’s Natasha carried on a conversation in fluent French, which boggled my mind. Teaity/Tea-Guy Chris and I talked a bit of shop. I was also introduced to World Tea House’s Phil Holman’s among many others. Tealet’s Rie “Oolong City” showed me basic kung fu forms. And throughout, tea and alcohol flowed freely.

The highlight was the true purpose of the party, which was a presentation on  Tealet’s latest trip around the world dubbed “The Amazing Tea Race”. One of their more famous stops was the Goe Tea Garden in Nantou County, Taiwan headed by Alfredo Lin.

I have no idea how to express how awesome this guy is, just watch this:

How can one not love a guy that sings to his tea plants?!

The phrase “Excellent Different” became a meme-like catchphrase and has since proliferated into every aspect of tea-related social media.

As an added bonus, samples of Goe’s Zhushan Oolong was served.

Goe Zhushan Oolong

It was extremely pleasant – lightly sweet, slightly buttery, and all-around aromatic. A great, greener-style oolong.

Before my inevitable exodus from the party, I was suckered into an unusual experiment. Since I somehow – over the course of the night ended up with a flower pin in my hair, Oolong City Rie felt my “transformation wasn’t complete”…or something. And then broke out her make-up kit. Being two beers and lots of oolong in, I acquiesced to this strange request.

The Great Mississippi Tea Company’s Timothy took over to finish me off.

bigger party

 

Wait, that sounded wrong. I mean, he completed the “prettying” with the subtle application of…well…I guess it was guyliner.

The result?

Eddie Izzard Look-a-Like

I looked like Eddie Izzard.

Make-up removed, socializing complete, and mildly sobered up, I finally had to take my leave of Chez Tealet. Fond farewells were made, samples were imparted, and I left with a general feeling of bliss. I’ve been to many parties in my time, but I can’t say I was so…in my element as I was with that crowd.

Over a month later, when I brewed up my own stash of Goe oolong, I got a little choked up when I thought about how generally happy I was there.

Goe

No other social gathering – save for a precious few – have had that effect on me.

I wonder when I’ll be able to experience even a fraction of that feeling again.

Tealet

Huh…sooner than I thought.

Continued in Part 5, HERE.

The Road Trip Sextet, Part 3 – “The ‘Tease’ of World Tea Expo”

For Part 1, go HERE.

For Part 2, go HERE.

You know it’s been awhile since you’ve blogged when your mother says as much in a Facebook message. Earlier this week, my Mum sent me such a message: “So, is June 9th the last entry of Steep Stories?”

Obviously implying something morbid.

To prove that this is indeed not the end, let’s continue wear I left off.

As I mentioned in my last write-up, I went to World Tea Expo this year with a plan of attack. Since I was going to be limited on time, I double-checked the list of vendor booths I wanted to hit and beelined to those first. Basically, it was a “unique tea” hunt. And the way I kept track of what I tasted? Twitter, of course.

Twitter was handy for two reasons: (1) It helped me keep tabs on everything I tried and things to follow up on. (2) It provided a good outline for any future taster notes I wanted to put in blog form…such as now.

So, I present to you – in no particular order – a stream-of-consciousness, Twitter-fueled rundown of some of my tea-related highlights from World Tea Expo 2014.

bacolapsang

The second booth I went to was based upon a blog I read by Gary Robson. He had mentioned coming across a Bacon Lapsang blend. When I found him on the Expo floor (which wasn’t hard to do), he offered to guide me to it. The folks that put out the blend were from The Tovah Team – an outfit based out of Las Vegas, NV. Said blend was dubbed “Country Breakfast”…and I’ll be damned if it didn’t taste like a country breakfast. A darn good start to the festivities.

Ujeon

I would’ve been remiss in my du-teas, if I didn’t stop by the Hankook Tea booth at least once. Their Hwancha was a favorite of mine from a couple of years back. This year, they had their Ujeon available for sampling – a high-grade green tea from Korea that’d been on my “list” for a while.

Ujeon

 

It was perfect. Like, gyokuro perfect, only with that sejak bend and something more. I don’t really remember exact nuances beyond the initial “Mmmmmm” effect.

Chris Giddings (of Teaity fame) grabbed me as I was moseying by and outright insisted I stop by the Elmwood Inn booth. The reason? A bourbon-scented black tea, of course.

Bourbon Black Tea

While not barrel-aged, like some other teas I’ve tried, it was instead a black tea blend infused with the essence of pure Kentucky bourbon. The results were creamy, slightly peaty, and sweet. Definitely one I want to revisit sometime soon.

Although I didn’t have a quixotic Twitter update about the booth, I have to talk about Tealet.

Image mooched from Tealet's Facebook Page.

Image mooched from Tealet’s Facebook Page.

Theirs was by far, the best booth at Expo this year. It was also the largest. They shared their space with the International Tea Farms Alliance. The result was a mega-tea-booth of sorts, complete with tasting tables and an interview space. The highlight there?

Four words: Smoked. Assam. Green. Tea.

Smoked Assam Green

The Heritage Tea Estate in Assam, India had smoked a green tea over firewood, and the results were pure manly bliss. Smoke, grass, astringency, and epic-ness fumed from my little taster cup. I would say more about my Tealet experience, but that’s a whole ‘nother entry unto itself.

WulongMaocha

In my wanderings, I came across the Seven Cups booth. Regrettably, I didn’t run into Austin Hodge this year, but I did try some of their wares for the first time. The tea that really caught my eye was – as mentioned above – their Wuyi Rock Wulong Maocha.

Wuyi Maocha

It tasted like a Wuyi oolong, only rougher around the edges. I wouldn’t say incomplete because that would imply imperfection. I would say it was more in line with a sheng pu-erh right before fermentation.

CamSin99AliShan

Along the same lines, and somewhat nearby, was the Camellia Sinensis booth. My goal there was to finally pick up some Laotian pu-erh for sampling. Unfortunately, they hadn’t brought any for sale this year. However, they did have a bit of aged Ali Shan oolong for the tasting. That was…well…yeah…awe-inspiring.

Satemwa

I was overjoyed to see a Malawi tea estate represented at the Expo. The name Satemwa had passed by my computer a few times, particularly their white teas. This year, though, I was hoping to taste one of their oolongs. Lo and behold, they were happy to oblige that simple request.

Satemwa

Their white teas were as good as I remembered. Their black teas: On par with others I’ve had from the region. The oolong? Man, I wanted to spend more time with that. Very nuanced flavor – almost like a midsummer Ti Guan Yin by way of a Taiwanese low-altitude oolong. Very interesting flavor.

They also had a pu-erh available for the smelling, but not enough to brew up. Looks like I’m going to be doing a highlight on that sometime soon…after some mandatory begging.

ModernTeaGirl

I had yacked with the folks behind Modern Tea Girl on Twitter for well over a year, even though I was nowhere near their target market. That said, when I learned that they were hosting a booth at Expo, I had to at least stop by and say, “Hi”. I wasn’t sure what they would be featuring – or if I could mention it – but those fears were assuaged when I saw their spread.

Modern Tea Girl

Matcha cake frosting…what more do I need to say?

It was fan-f**king-tastic. No nuance needed.

And finally…

YauponAsi

Of all the teas and herbs on display at Expo, this was the one I was most eager to try. After years of research and a few scant mentions, I was finally able to notch off this American-grown Yerba Mate cousin, thanks to Yaupon Asi.

Yaupon

 

Those that compare the taste to Yerba Mate don’t know what they’re talking about. Sure, there are similarities, but they end with the herbaceous forefront. Yaupon has more in common with another cousin – Guayusa. There’s a sweet underpinning throughout the taste that is just remarkably pleasant. I would say more, but I have an entire feature piece I want to do on this wonderful caffeinated herb.

And that about wraps up the notable tasting experiences this year. My swag bag of bounty was not as hefty as last year’s Expo, but I didn’t expect it to be. As I said, I was there with a specific goal in mind, and I more than met it. Yes, there were other wonderful teas I tried that weren’t mentioned above. Mostly because I plan to do something with each of them individually – TeaCuplets and whatnot. (Speaking of which, READ MY TEACUPLETS!!! Okay, done.)

When I returned home, I was also greeted by a box from TeaVivre. So, by proxy, I sort of included it with the WTE swag, just by sheer proximi-tea and timing.

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Next time…the epic beach house party.

For Part 4, go HERE.

The Road Trip Sextet, Part 2 – “Nicole Sandwiches, Blogger Roundtables, and World Tea Expo”

For Part 1, go HERE.

Trying to plan for this year’s World Tea Expo was a nightmare personified. Even more so than last year. At least with 2013, I had a plan (sorta) set in motion by December of 2012! This year, though? I wasn’t even sure I was going until two months prior to the actual event.

As some of you might have read in an oft-changed article, I originally set out to e-publish a book, get a press pass, then use the meager profits of said e-book to fund Expo. Those plans fell flat nearly as soon as I announced them. Plan B was to use my tax return to fund the trip. This was also curbed when the need to pay off some back-debt reared its ugly head.

There was no Plan C. Instead, I skipped ahead all the way to Plan W. After three trips to the same brewery with a friend, a miracle happened…and months later, I was off to California with my mother in tow.

For the first couple of days, I hung out in San Diego with family. All the while, I received texts , tweets, and taunts from fellow tea friends wondering why I wasn’t at the World Tea Expo, yet. My plan was to attend that Friday – the day of the Tea Bloggers Roundtable. Everything else was a bit of a crapshoot. However, I did have a basic plan in mind:

Step 1: Hand off tea gifts to people I promised things to (but never mailed).

Step 2: Visit new and old booths and try certain teas I researched prior.

Step 3: Nicole Sandwich.

Step 4: PROFIT!!!

(No, that South Park reference never gets old.)

The morning of Friday the 30th, I got up, donned my “uniform”, took an obligatory selfie

…And announced I was on my way to Long Beach. It was a mere two-hour drive from San Diego, and I scheduled the trek so that I’d miss the majority of California’s infamous traffic.

By 11:30-ish, I was inside the press room – basking in the glow of the trade show below.

World Tea Expo

This was way bigger a space than the year prior. Last year’s press box was a cubicle; this was a penthouse. Just like last year, Aaron Kiel – World Tea Media’s press guru – was there to greet me and hand off my press pass. I waited a moment in the room, gorging on candy, using the restroom, and quizzing Aaron on the etiquette this time around.

As I was on candy number…five?…my first bloggeriffic encounter appeared – Naomi (Joy’s Teaspoon).

Joy's Teaspoon

We yacked for a moment or seven, and then it was off to the Expo floor proper. I had no rhyme or reason as to how I was going to encounter other folks, so I went about enacting Step 2 of my Expo Plan – booth-hunting.

However, that plan got sidetracked frequently. In the best of friendly ways.

The first two I encountered on the Expo floor proper were International Tea Moment’s Jen P., and Nicole AmazonV. Another mandatory selfie ensued.

International Tea Moment

Further down the line, I encountered father-‘n-son team Gary “Tea With Gary” Robson and Doug Robson. One was in a cowboy hat, the other in a utilikilt. They weren’t difficult to spot. Sadly, I forgot to photograph said encounter. Yet gifts of un-Yunnan-ish “pu-erhs” were bestowed upon the duo.

Also – regrettably not photographed – was my chance encounter with the couple team from The Jasmine Pearl in the company of Zhi Tea’s Doctor Oolong – Jeff Lorien – Chris “Teaity/Tea-Guy” Giddings, Linda “The Tea Stylist” Gaylard, and everyone with Team Tealet. There were likely others that I’m forgetting to mention, but it’s all a blur. I was a wee bit tea drunk by that point, sue me.

Once my booth errands were finally completed (I’ll get to that in another blog), I tried to keep an eye out for another Nicole – Tea For Me Please. In my wanderings, I had yet to encounter her. I even tweeted as such.

Untitled

Around the same time, the League of U.S. Tea Growers meeting was convening. Per Naomi’s mention, I wanted to sit in on that, and see how things were coming along.

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Several growers were there, and Jason “Great Mississippi Tea Company” McDonald did the opening remarks. Bylaws were discussed, presentations were given, and slideshows about tea growth efforts were plenty. I envied everything they were doing.

After said meeting, I finally caught up with Tea For Me Please. She was – without peer – the oldest of my original tea contacts. Not in age, but duration. We both used to contribute to Teaviews.com. She went independent around 2008; I didn’t follow that example until the latter part of 2011. Aside from Google Hangouts, I’d never met her in person. We were like fast friends.

Tea For Me Please

That was when I declared that I had one more mission to accomplish. We found the other Nicole at the Teas Etc. booth. I commissioned Chambre De Sucre’s Lisa to take a photo of myself between the two Nicoles.

Nicole Sandwich!

Nicole Sandwich mission: Accomplished. (Not to be confused with a “knuckle sandwich”, which is far more unpleasant.)

Following the U.S. Growers meet-up, and the sandwich, there was the main event I wanted to attend: The Tea Bloggers Roundtable.

The Tea Bloggers Roundtable

Back in January, I himmed-and-hawed, complained-and-crawled to get on the panel. But my dubious chances of attending the Expo curbed such ambitions. In my place, Tea For Me Please took the chair. Frankly, she was the better choice because she actually worked in the industry. Joy’s Teaspoon’s Naomi presided over the panel like a pro.

 

I was overjoyed at the fact that among those in the audience were Ricardo of My Japanese Green Tea and Alex from AdventureTea. I had wondered if I was going to encounter either of them. That left only one more person I had to meet.

Dinner plans were made after the Roundtable concluded. Half the group went off to grab Ethiopian food, while the rest of us settled on an Irish pub across the street from the Long Beach Convention Center.

Yes, I know the picture sucks; I blame my phone.

Yes, I know the picture sucks; I blame my phone.

Beers were had, jokes were made (sometimes at my expense), and a good time with good company (and food) were had all around. Members of Team Tealet also joined our merry band. It was then that I found out the whereabouts of the final person I had to meet. The Snooty Tea Person, herself.

Rie (Oolong City) and Tea For Me Please discussed how they were going to pick her up at the LBC airport, and I forced myself along. Sure, I was pushy, but then I wouldn’t have gotten this:

And she was the final person I had to bestow a tea gift bag on.

Snooty Tea Person

Final mission: Accomplished.

Whoah, I haven’t even gotten to all the teas I tried yet.

Oh well…tune in next time. As they say.

For Part 3, go HERE.

This might come as a big shock to a lot of you, but I don’t do a lot of dating.

922jw

For the record, it’s mostly my fault. I don’t put much effort into looking, and I’m in no real hurry to start. That and I’m perpetually broke, I don’t take wonderful care of myself, nor do I cultivate a personality oozing of confidence. And – like my tea palate – I’m insanely picky. That said, a drought is still a drought.

If one were reaching, they could even compare it to the recent scourge of waterlessness that struck Darjeeling earlier this year. According to this article posted by Happy Earth Tea, areas of Darjeeling saw their usual yields cut in half by the absence of rainfall. Darjeeling East fared better than most, but a lot of tea estates in the region saw their production cut significantly by the chronically dry weather. The result? Less Darjeeling to go around at a far higher price.

I even saw many a Darjeeling estate director express “water from their eyes” at the lack of “water from the skies”.

I know, wrong kind of Indian, but the image fit.

I know, wrong kind of Indian, but the image fit.

Poetic, really. Darjeeling wasn’t alone. Assam saw a similar lack of precipitation, as did my beloved Doke Estate in Bihar. Plans for certain teas were altogether discarded from many due to the lack of leaf abundance.

As a result, I wasn’t expecting to see any of this year’s Darjeeling yields pass by my cup. After 2013′s underwhelming second flushes, I wasn’t too disappointed. Oh, how wrong I was.

In the span of a week after reading that article, Happy Earth Tea informed me that 2014 First Flush samples were heading toward me. As far as Darjeelings went, first flushes were typically my favorite. However, I was expecting more of the same from this year’s batch – spice, faint muscatel notes and nuts. Again…I was wrong. Twice in row.

I already did TeaCuplets for Happy Earth’s Singbulli and Arya Ruby first flushes, respectively. Not only was I blown away, but I actually had to say that these were the best first flushes I ever had. Even better than my favorite year – 2011.

So, what does this have to do with dating, and why did I deem it necessary to do a blog on two disparate subject matters? I’m getting to that. Chill, dudes/dudettes.

This last week, I was moving on to my third Darjeeling in the new Happy Earth Tea retinue – their 2014 Puttabong.

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This was a tea estate I had no strong feelings about. I’d had teas from their I liked, and others that I didn’t care for as much. So far, my palate was “take-it/leave-it”. Although, I always giggled when I heard the name. Kinda reminded me of a certain bit of drug paraphernalia.

Puttabong in it!

(Note: No, I was not going to post a picture of a bong.)

The first time I brewed it up, I wasn’t paying too much attention to technique. I over-boiled some water, prepped two scoops of leaves, dumped them in a strainer, poured water into a travel mug, guesstimated three-ish minutes, then left for work. As I drank it on my drive, something tasted…off. I couldn’t put my finger on it.

Sure, the nuts and spices were there in the taste, but there was also a great deal of astringency. As the water cooled down, that chalk-like feeling on the tongue grew stronger. There was only one conclusion I could come to: I had over-brewed it. Damn, that was a bad omen. A bad first cup of tea meant a bad rest-of-the-day.

As I stepped through the door, though…something magical happened.

surprise face

Between two departmental managers was a woman I hadn’t seen before. She was tall, slender (in a willowy sort of way) with shoulder-length curly brown hair. She had an ivory complexion, a cute button nose, and medium-to-full lips. It was like she’d stepped off of a Jane Austen novel jacket. The assistant manager had told me they’d recently hired someone who was a British ex-pat, but nothing prepared me for this.

She introduced herself; I returned the favor – albeit clumsily. Then I went off to start my tasks. All the while humming songs from Disney’s Robin Hood for some reason. Okay, I knew the reason. Her original home just happened to be a place made popular by Robin Hood lore. That’s all I’m going to say on the subject.

Oh alright, here’s a clue:

Not in_____

A few hours later, as I was in the middle of cleaning a toilet (yes, I do that)…she approached me.

“I hear you’re a tea drinker,” she said with grace, “I would love to talk to you about that some time.”

“Oh yes, quite into it,” I said, still scrubbing the rim of the bowl. “The first flush Darjeelings are great this year.”

She laughed. It was the greatest sound in the world at that moment.

“Oh wow!” she exclaimed, seemingly impressed. “You’re really into it.”

“Uh-yep.” I said shortly. Then went back to scrubbing. Yep, still got it, I said to myself sarcastically.

Later on, I worked up the nerve to talk to her again, after she waved and smiled at me.

“So…” I had no idea how to ‘open’, so I went with, “What was in your cup this morning?”

“Oh, I had an iced coffee.”

My heart sank.

It was never meant to be.

I went home and revisited that ol’ Puttabong sample. I still possessed the spent leaves from the earlier brew. This time, I took more care in the brewing – three-minute steep. The results were…pure palatial poetry.

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I tasted straight grapes. No, not a hint of muscatel…or whatever crap taster notes people associate with Darjeelings. Far bolder than that. This was transcendent of wine grapes – it was sweet, kind, welcoming, warm – kind of like the laughter of…oh…

And then I understood.

Like with the Puttabong, my first impression of British Girl was one of high expectations and fantasies. It wasn’t until a second impression that those unrealistic notions were completely dispelled and surpassed! Sure, my palate is picky, but it also admits when it’s wrong. After all, there was a time when I didn’t even like Darjeelings – sad but true.

The next day, British Girl and I had a few tasks to work on together. We talked, she laughed at my dumb jokes, and her smile always lingered just a bit longer than necessary. I could’ve listened to her laugh all day. When my shift ended, I even stuck around for an extra ten minutes just to hear her talk some more.

Eventually, I did pry myself away from work and return home. A couple of hours in, I brewed up some more Puttabong. It was like a fond, lingering smile in my cup.

Perhaps the drought has ended.

Imagine my [NOT] surprise when I saw this on J-TEA’s Facebook one day a couple of months back.

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A brand-spankin’ new Buffalo Trace bourbon barrel from Kentucky.

Okay, perhaps a little background is in order. Back in December, I wrote about a new bourbon barrel-aged pu-erh put out by Eugene-based tea company – J-Tea International. I, quite accidentally, had a hand in its origin story. It was a fantastic tea, and I’m not just saying that out of native bias.

Josh Chamberlain, the shop’s owner, had mentioned wanting to do another tea at some point, but I had no clue it would be so soon. The barrel victim this time around was a mid-to-heavy charcoal-roasted Taiwanese oolong dubbed Charcoal Dawn. And I had no idea how well that would work. My mind couldn’t even comprehend it…and that’s saying something.

This month – May, to you later readers – I was able to acquire some. The package arrived after a period of time that I can only call a “sub-era of suck”. However, once this arrived, everything seemed – I dunno – possible again. Booze-flavored anything has that effect on me.

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I immediately demanded scissors from my family members/roommates to tear open the bag. They were unbecoming (and unmoving), so I found ‘em myself and dug in. The first thing I did was just…smell. Roasty notes came first, followed by this wonderful peaty afterglow. Er…if smells could glow, that is.

As for leaf appearance, it – well – looked like a roasted oolong. Ball-fisted leaves of dark greens and blues. Not much more to say than that. So, I went back to sniffing the bag again. And again.

I stopped eventually.

For brewing, I went with an approach that Josh and I had come to call “gongfool”. It’s kinda like gongfu…but you completely negate whatever credibility can be garnered from the original technique. In its stead, you basically “bro” it. Steep how you want, whatever works – at your leisure – in a fashion similar to gongfu.

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The first three thirty-second-ish infusions resulted in amber liquors that didn’t vary in appearance or aroma. What differences could be noticed were found in taste. And – holy balls – was there a taste. As I said, this was a roasted oolong – a charcoal-roasted one, no less. That was obviously going to take point in taste, and it did with a wallop. But then a strange thing happened.

It gentled out into this nice, shot-glass sized note of soft single malt Scotch. Like someone had just punched me in the face, then sat me down with a cigar and a shot glass. Each infusion was like this. Charcoal wallop, whiskey afterburner. Like…uh…a friggin’ jet!

I’m cuing up Kenny Loggins, right friggin’ now.

After a few minutes reveling, drinking, guffawing…and reveling some more, I finally dared a Western-ish style steep of the stuff.

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It was all smoke and peat at that point. Mostly smoke. Like you accidentally spilled whiskey in a stove, then tried to lick it up afterwards. Still awesome, but the gongfoolish approach is the way to go.

In closing, is it as strong on the bourbon as the previous pu-erh attempt ? No. Whereas the liquor grabbed the lead on the fermented tea, here the tea flavor went in first. The liquor notes were the wingmen. And what welcomed wingmen they were.

This tea would make sure you didn’t go home with the wrong woman. Or man. Or both. Tea doesn’t judge.

According to the Almighty Wiki, yuzu is a citrus fruit native to East Asia, which may be a hybrid between sour mandarin oranges and Ichang papeda (whatever that is).

Yuzu

I first learned of its existence when “researching” Korean jarred teas. Sometimes, yuzu was used as an ingredient – along with honey – to create a jelly-like tisane. Since the odd li’l citrus fruit was frightfully aromatic, the flavor came through rather well.

A couple of years later, I ran into a tamaryokucha (read: curly sencha) that was blended with yuzu rind. Alas, I never had the money to buy it. But the idea of a yuzu-blended anything occupied a bit of synaptic real estate in my brain. I figured, if it was anything like an Earl Grey, I’d like it.

Fast-forward another year or so, the owners of one of my favorite tea haunts – The Jasmine Pearl Tea Merchants – paid a visit to Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan. A grower there passed along several of his wares for sale. I even featured three of his senchas in my first ever TeaCuplets entry.

However, his green teas weren’t the only thing he passed on.

The owners also brought back a black tea blend created by the grower – one blended with yuzu rind. Upon tasting it, they – and those that worked for them – exclaimed, “Oh yeah, we’re gonna need more of this!”

The story behind the blend goes as thus: On the tea farm owned by this Shizuokan grower, there is a solitary yuzu tree. It was planted by his ancestors several hundred years ago. Said grower used the fruit from that one tree, ground up the rind, then blended and scented a batch of kocha (Japanese black tea) with it. The results (apparently) were magic.

When I learned all of this, I had actually come into The Jasmine Pearl for my usual standby – their Earl Grey. When the teashop girl on duty told me about this, though, I immediately demanded a cup. A large cup.

yuzu big cup

 

I proceeded to nurse three servings of the stuff over the next two hours.

A week or so went by, and I couldn’t get the tea out of my head. It was like an Earl Grey…but for samurai. I could seriously see a bunch of swordsmen in kendo gear drinking this prior to sparring. It was very much a Zen Earl Grey.

Which made me wonder…

On a second visit to the Pearl, I asked for the Yuzu Black iced. It was a hot enough day, I could totally justify it.

iced yuzu

I expected some sort of flavor loss – less rind in the taster notes and such – but the exact opposite occurred. The citrus presence was even stronger than before. Even further cementing my earlier Earl Grey comparison.

Another week went by, and I sampled many other teas from many other sources. But thoughts of yuzu still danced in my tiny brain. I had just finished a 93-hour, two-week pay period, and I was exhausted. However, the results of that labor showed on the paycheck. I had a little bit of extra money in my jeans.

I did two things: One, I purchased a U.S.-grown white tea I’d been eyeing. And two, I finally picked up a couple of ounces of the Yuzu Black for home use. Every few days or so, between my usual morning bouts of eso-“tea”-rica, I eye the bag.

Then I get to brewing.

homebrew

Earl Grey, I think you have a challenger, and he’s armed with a katana and a teacup.

tea master 2

I was first contacted by Temple Road Tea back in late-March. They were a relatively new outfit specializing in Taiwanese high mountain oolongs. The foremost oolong they wanted me to yack about was their Tiger Monk Roasted Oolong. My first inclination was to decline because…roasted oolongs weren’t really my thing. That and I really didn’t have anything specific to talk about regarding them.

However, the description of this particular oolong caught my eye. As per the product notes, they said the name was inspired by the Warrior Tiger Monks of millennia old martial arts traditions. Frankly, I’d never heard of Warrior Tiger Monks before. The only thing I knew about tiger-related martial arts were what I learned from Kung Fu Panda.

 In other words, not much.

All I knew is that I started picturing myself as a warrior monk in tiger-skin robes – leaping from tree to tree – felling enemies with my deadly claw-slings! Okay, those probably weren’t actual weapons back then, but I saw something similar in Kung Pow: Enter the Fist…so, it’s totally relevant.

bettyclaw

That aside, the fact that this was a triple-roasted, medium-oxidized oolong really sold it. I was in – hook, line, and cupper. A week or so later, I received it.

The package was already made of WIN. The oolong was vacuum-sealed in gold foil with a golden label. If anything could bring out my inner Charlie Bucket – besides being poor – that was it.

golden ticket

The leaves were the standard brown, ball-fisted oolong fair, but with an aroma of hickory, charcoal and chocolate. It honestly reminded me of a medium-roast Dong Ding on first impression. The nuttiness toward the end of the whiff also added to that. It was a very pleasant, warming smell.

Temple Road Tea recommended brewing 3 grams of leaves (roughly a teaspoon) in a 200ml pot of boiled water. I was a little dicey with this, so I opted for a gongfu-ish approach instead. Thirty-to-forty-second infusions each.

gongfu

The liquor for the gongfu approach came out green on all three steeps I tried for. The roastiness was also similar with each infusion. They only differed in intensity. Subsequent steeps developed more depth in flavor – more toasted nut notes further down the line. All very Dong Ding-ish, save for a creamy texture on the finish.

After (not much) inner deliberation, I finally decided to chance the six-minute steep on another go-around with fresh leaves. I dipped a teaspoon of leaves in boiled water in a gaiwan…and waited. Kinda prayed that I hadn’t blown it, too.

The results were…

six minutes

Oh my.

The liquor brewed a lovely, bold amber with a requisite roasty aroma that wafted from the cup in plumes. Taste-wise, it was like buckwheat, Ali Shan and a Buddhist prayer all rolled into one. Seriously, I hadn’t quite experienced that effect with a roasted oolong before. Tea drunkenness hit after one sip. Imagine how I looked after five.

sheentiger

Later on that day – for monks and giggles – I took the spent leaves from both brew attempts, and stuck ‘em in a pot. I was almost ready to take a nap and needed an evening upper. I boiled some fresh water and poured it over the already-used leaves. Both rounds still had plenty of flavors to grant. Roasted stubbornness personified.

pour

Charlie Sheen, I think I found your tiger’s blood source.

I don’t care how dated that pop-culture reference is. Totally relevant here.

I want to introduce you all to the oldest tea tool in my arsenal.

scoop

This li’l guy has been in my tea retinue for the better part of five years. That’s longer than any teacup, gaiwan, electric kettle, tin or pot. He first turned up in bag of Chrysanthemum Silver Needle I purchased in 2009, and he’s been with me ever since. You – fair reader – may have seen him show up in more than one photo on this blog. Until about a month ago, I didn’t realize the significance of that.

A blue plastic scoop – useful for its simple ability to measure out a teaspoon or tablespoon of leaves – has been with me for as long as I’ve been writing about tea.

And, yet, the li’l guy doesn’t even have a name. I should change that. I dub thee…uh…Scoopy.

Eh, good enough.

tablespoon

Anyway, I wanted to commemorate the fifth anniversary of this useful, yet seemingly-insignificant tool in a special way. Alas, I couldn’t think of one. Then a package arrived this week.

It was from Lochan Tea!

The week before, Vivek Lochan informed me that I would be receiving a delivery of 2014 first flush Darjeelings, as well as a couple of teas from their family-owned tea estate – Doke. I’d covered their estate in the past, and three of the teas they produced. To call them great would be an understatement.

Of the two new Doke wares was their new flagship handmade black tea – one simply dubbed “Black Fusion”. I’d been looking forward to trying this new experiment for months. And I was even more stoked to be one of the first Doke fanboys to write about it.

A quick aside: The moment I got the package, my 14-year-old niece barged into my room. Her eyes instantly turned to the package.

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She said, “Oooo, you got a package?!”

“Yep,” I replied. “Tea.”

“Can I pet it with my foot?” she asked…already caressing it with her foot.

No!” I bellowed, swatting her away.

Then I went to digging.

Amidst the Darjeelings, I found it in a simple bag. I could think of no better way to celebrate a Scoopaversary than with a new, never-before-seen black tea. It was brewin’ time.

The leaves for this were…simply beautiful.

Black leaves

Typically, hand-crafted teas come in two varieties – largely un-tampered with and just “there”, or beautiful/thoughtfully pressed. This was the latter. So much care seemed to be put into the visual presentation – like an oolong, only twinier. The aroma was similar to Doke’s other semi-oxidized offering – their Rolling Thunder oolong – only more robust. There was a malty/woodsy underpinning along with a Dian Hong-ish peppery profile. Very unusual for an Indian tea.

I had absolutely no idea how to brew this one, to be honest. There weren’t any pre-made brewing instructions on the Lochan Tea site for it, and there weren’t any other bloggers’ prior notes to go off of. This was new territory, folks. New tea, new approach. So, I chanced a typical, touchy black tea approach – 1 teaspoon in li’l Scoopy, a 6oz. steeper cup, boiled water, and a three-minute steep.

The liquor brewed light-to-medium amber – a very oolong-y color. Aromatically, the cuppa steam was nutty, slightly earthy, and possessed the malty presence I was expecting. Not unlike the Doke Rolling Thunder in this regard.

As for taste?

It was like someone took a Malawi-grown black tea and drenched Bihar’s soil with it. And the bushes that this black tea sprang from ended up with that profile, plus a Darjeeling/Assam hybrid presence. This was unlike any other Indian tea I’d ever tasted. For a first flush tea, it had a second flush body with an autumnal flavor kick. “Nutty,” in both definitions of the word. As far as experiments go, this was great right out of the starting gate.

brewed

My only regret is that I didn’t have more to play with. Luckily, the teaspoon of leaves I’d used lasted two more infusions. Each with their own flavor profile of revolving nuts and malt. My hat (if I was wearing one) goes off to the Lochan family. This is probably my favorite of their excellent pantheon of Doke-grown wares.

I couldn’t think of a better tea to commemorate Scoopy’s “birthaversary” with.

birfday

Like any good tea drinker, I occasionally frequent teashops. There is one in particular that I’ve gone to for the better part of three years (or more?). It has a bar. Note to future teashop owners: Get a bar. People like me will hang out there. Or don’t…if you want to avoid that sort of thing.

Point being: In my regular loitering, I’ve seen teabartenders come and go, learn and grow. Sometimes, they even tap into my overflowing well of useless knowledge. One particular teabartender started working there about a year-and-a-half ago – about as green as one could possibly be, couldn’t tell a jasmine green tea from a Dragonwell. Now? She could even stump me on tea plant varieties. (Note: There are three, not two – sinensis, assamica, and the oft-debated “java bush”. Color me informed.)

whoah

For the sake of this write-up and anonymity, we’ll call her Michigan-Grown Teashop Girl – or MGTG, for short.

One particular week, I came in to try whatever they had that was new. MGTG informed me that there was a new Japanese black tea they acquired. I requested a piping-hot mug of it…and proceeded to hang out for an hour or so – all the while, hugging the mug lovingly. (What? It was warm.)

Between her customer rushes, we discussed American-grown tea. I told her of the Hawaiian ones I’ve tried, bonded over our mutual love of a Washington-grown white, and so on. Then…she stumped me. I’m not used to being stumped when tea is involved.

Okay, not true. I’m stumped all the time. But still!

She said, “Have you heard of Light of Day Organics?”

“Nope,” I said dismissively between sips. When I hear the word “organics”, my brain usually glazes over.

“They’re a garden in Michigan,” MGTG continued. “They apparently grow their own tea and sell it.”

It was at this time she mentioned she was from Michigan, and was interested in trying their homegrown orthodox offering – a limited edition white tea. As I do when presented with new information, I immediately took to my smart phone. How did a tea garden in Michigan of all places escape my notice?!

After a brief perusal, I realized I had run into it before…but skated over it. Tony Gebely had mentioned it in his article on U.S. tea growers. Light of Day Organics showed up in other articles I had seen, also. So, the fact of the matter was…I was just dense and unobservant.

light of day

Image owned by Light of Day Organics

Light of Day Organics is the only biodynamic tea farm in the U.S. It was started in 2003 by Angela Macke – a registered nurse/organic horticulturist. The 25-acre outfit dedicated its space to (obviously) organically-grown ingredients for the various blends they sell. But the jewel of the operation was their Camellia sinensis “branch”.

One would not think that tea plants could grow in Michigan, due to the weather conditions. Normally, that would be true, but in this case not so much. Light of Day Organics utilizes un-heated hoophouses and greenhouses to keep the harrier aspects of Michigan weather at bay. Or so I’d assume.

Long story short, a week later, I bought some of their All White Tea.

It arrived the following week.

The leaves were, well, leaves on first impression. As is often the case with Bai Mu Dan-style white teas, there were green-to-brown larger leaves followed by the occasional fuzzy buds in the mix. Stems were also quite omnipresent, but that wasn’t a deal-breaker. Not by a long shot. Some of the best White Peonies I’ve ever had were quite stemmy. The aroma from the leaves was also rather trippy – hints of wintergreen, autumn mist, and maple.

can

For brewing, I went with my typical white tea approach – 1 teaspoon-ish in a 6oz. steeper cup infused for three minutes in 160-ish F water. Yes, the A Light of Day Organics website had some brewing instructions…but I didn’t pay attention. I figured I’d been doing this long enough to know what’d work. Okay, sometimes I’m wrong, but not often…-ish.

The liquor brewed pale yellow (as all good white teas should) with an oddly coniferous aroma – reminding me of pine needles and some type of incense. I was reminded of a hippie-esque rave in the middle of a forest in Bend, Oregon for some reason. (No, I’ve never been to one. )

white brewed

Taste? Hoo-boy. Where to start…

That same fir-tipped, pine-needly presence continued on the palate presentation. I’ve had my fair share of needle-oriented things – be they beer, tea…er…actual needles (long story). Point being, this was a very pine forest-like taste. More so than any tea I’ve tasted, white or no. It was like a pine tree and a mint bush hugged it out after a big fight in a field of Silver Needle tea leaves.

Short answer? Perfect white tea.

Once I was done with it, I began plotting. To me, it seemed only natural that I…well…gift some of this white tea to the very girl that brought it to my attention. Michigan-grown white tea for a Michigan-Grown Teashop Girl – perfectly natural, perfectly innocent.

care package

When I finally had a day that allowed me enough time to get from work to the teashop, I prepped a care package. I went in, grabbed some iced black tea, and waited. Michigan-Grown Teashop Girl wasn’t working that day, but another teabartender friend-o’-mine was. I handed off the package to him.

He said with a knowing smile, “I’ll make sure she gets it.”

nudge nudge

I tried to deny any ulterior motive…and left after finishing my cuppa.

Mission accomplished. The girl hopefully got her tea, and the idea of that made me happy. Nothing more was expected than that. Honest.

.

.

.

Why’re you all looking at me like that?

 

Of all the tea blogs I’ve written, none have possessed the traction that my Nan Nuo Mountain coverage displayed. And I don’t mean in terms of viewership. (Let’s face it, what viewership?) But rather the enormity of vendors that specialize in single origin teas who’ve contacted me in its wake; I think the count is up to three? Point being, for that reason alone, it’s my new favorite post. Because of it, I wouldn’t have run into So-Han Fan.

Said wacky gent is the proprietor of West China Tea Company, which (I’m guessing) is a fairly new outfit. I’d never heard of it before, and I’ve been around. (Er…not like that.)

So-Han’s primary focus is – as the company name implies – teas from Western China, with a strong emphasis on Yunnan. He contacted me via my “normal” website, and mentioned that he carried two unique teas from Nan Nuo Shan (my favorite mountain, remember?). That and he also mentioned digging my tea fiction. Way to butter up the blogger, S-H. *heh*

Point being, I was more than excited to experience other teas from Nan Nuo, but when they arrived…there was a dilemma. I couldn’t tell the two apart. S-H had mentioned in the e-mail that I’d be able to identify them easily…but my blind eye-‘n-taste-testing skills weren’t that…uh…honed.

Both looked (and smelled) like loose sheng pu-erhs.

IMAG1627

Sure, one smelled grapier than the other, but I needed a bit more of a walkthrough with these. S-H gladly got back to me about the two teas. When he finally identified them, my mouth was agape.

One of them was a black tea.

Unroasted Yunnan Hong Cha

The process – as described to me – for making this tea was…confusing. As far as I know, the leaves don’t go through a standard quickening of the oxidation process. (I.e. No cooking, roasting, pan-frying, kill-greening, speed-drying, what-have-you.) Instead, the leaves are…uh…massaged every two-to-three hours after picking to hasten the drying/dying process. In other words, old school oxidation by way of hand.

As I mentioned above: When I first received this sample, it was hard to tell it apart from a regular loose sheng pu-erh. The only thing that differed was the color of the leaves themselves – ranging from green-brown to black. However, the aroma was indiscernible from a sheng, which probably can be attributed to its “raw”-ness.

For brewing, I decided to do as the West China Tea Co. website suggested, and went with a gongfu-ish prep. They recommended a pre-wash…but I always end up drinking the pre-wash anyway. So, three steeps to start – each at thirty-to-forty-seconds.

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The results were dark amber infusions with earthy-to-floral aromas. Nothing special was leaping out at me, yet. Then I took a sip. Holy whoah. It was like someone decided to see what would happen if a high altitude black tea made sweet-sweet love to a young sheng pu-erh. Flavors present were flowers, fruit, earth, sweetened wood, and…blanket.

Yes, blanket. This was one heckuva relaxing black tea. I just wanted to curl up with it, and talk about our future plans together.

Nan Nuo High Mountain Immortal Dew 2009 Loose Sheng Pu-Erh

Probably one of the most unique aged shengs I’ve come across. It was made in a small village called Duo Yi, at the summit of Nan Nuo.

Duo Yi Shu

Photo taken (and owned by) Villie Jokinen

No paved roads lead to the village, and many of the tea trees in the area range from 700-to-900 years old. This Nan Nuo sheng wasn’t commonly prepared for export, but rather used for everyday drinking for the Hani folks that prepared it.

The leaves were just as long and twisty as the Nan Nuo hong cha, but greener and wider. Plus, the scent they gave off was straight grapes. I’ve only ever encountered one other pu-erh that had that aromatic effect. Said smell also helped me tell the two teas apart.

In a typical gongfoolish fashion, I brewed about a tablespoon of the long leaves in a 6oz. gaiwan – using boiled water. Each infusion was roughly thirty seconds. To be honest, I wasn’t keeping accurate count.

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The result was three starter steeps of bright green-to-amber liquors wafting springtime scents of lemon and grapes. On taste, the grape lean continued even stronger. There was a winy note to the pu-erh, one that comes with at least five years of age. The sensation was like tasting a heated Riesling. In more oblique terms, it was like being fed grape juice that was pulverized by the feet of a goddess.

Nan Nuo pu-erhs still have no equal.

Favorite?

I have to be an indecisive schmuck again. Everyone’s a winner here. I’m so beyond ecstatic that I got to try such a rare black tea from the mountain, and even more stoked that there was a new style of Nan Nuo pu-erh I hadn’t tried yet. The only thing that’s settled is that Nan Nuo Shan is now on my tea-do vacation list.

Paved roads or no.

We don't need roads