Well…this is embarrassing.

The day I finally got around to trying this – after whittling down my significant tea backlog – three revelations hit me square in the sack. Revelation #1: I had already written taster notes for this tea. Revelation #2: I had already taken pictures of the tasting experience. And Revelation #3: Said pictures had already been posted online. Not only did I feel like a schmuck, but an absentminded one to boot.

That said, once I reviewed my notes and visual aids, I fondly remembered what I had sipped. Like a mob hitman remembering his first victim.

hitman

Okay…bad example, but a perfect(-ish) segue to…

This young pu-erh was harvested in March of 2013 from Bada Mountain in Yunnan Province, China. Said region is one of the oldest tea producing areas, and the wonderfully-named “Bada” is one of 26 classic tea producing mountains. Pulang and Hani minorities grew and harvested the tea leaves for this offering from some of the world’s oldest tea trees.

JalamTeas offered this up to my (un)usual scrutiny in May. By vague recollection (and by that, I mean Instagram), I remember digging into the beengcha (tea cake) the following month. In my defense, there was a lot going on in June. World Tea Expo, for instance.

When I dug into this, I chuckled at the mountain’s name. Most would immediately think of a Goodfellas riff, what with the “Bada” moniker. Me? I was more reminded of this cute li’l gem.

leeloo

As with all of JalamTeas wares, this was a beautiful beengcha. The pressed green and silver-tipped leaves gave off a springtime scent of flowers, soil, and something vaguely herbaceous and medicinal. It also came across – in scent and sight – as older than it actually was. I almost felt bad that I had to tear a sliver from the li’l, pretty cake.

bada

There was only one way I could approach this – gongfoolishly. Several smaller infusions at about thirty seconds or more, boiled water for the base. For the purposes of playing, I prepped three steeps to start.

The aroma wafting from all three amber-gold-liquored cups was straight leaves from fruit trees. Unlike the deceptive dry presentation, brewed up, this came across as young as it was. On taste, I felt like I was sipping a non-astringent, low-altitude Darjeeling green tea. With a pu-erh-ish lean, of course. I have no clue how this will turn out in a few years. With other young shengs, one has some idea how they’ll age – this one was a little more secretive. I don’t mind a little mystery.

bada brewed

I’ll revisit it again in five years. If I don’t drink it all by then, that is. Chances are, though, I’ll forget. Must be age catching up with me; perfect for aging pu-erh.

Now get off my mountain…I mean, lawn. I mean…where am I?

Bancha (literally translated as “ordinary tea”) is the redheaded stepchild of the Japanese green tea family. Whereas the topmost tea leaves are reserved for higher grade sencha, gyokuro and matcha, the older, courser leaves are reserved for lesser brews. They typically lack the flavorful kick of the top-tier leaves or the caffeine level.

Left with no other option, the Japanese do what comes naturally with these late-harvest, leafy underachievers. They f**k around with them. Sometimes, the results are magical – as demonstrated with houjicha, a charcoal-roasted tea. Other times…*sigh*…abominations like genmaicha – tea leaves blended with rice – occur.

Okay, that’s not entirely fair. Genmaicha has plenty of fans out there, and that’s all well and good. We’re allowed to like terrible things. I’ve been known to chuckle at an Adam Sandler movie or two, for instance.

sandler

But I digress.

One of my favorite f**ckarounds the Japanese devised seems like it was lifted from the Chinese/Taiwanese handbook. It was as if there was a meeting that went something like this:

Guy 1: “So…what should we do with all these autumn harvest bancha leaves?”

Guy 2: “I dunno…let’s age ‘em.”

Guy 1: “No, too long of a wait…and the Taiwanese already do that.”

Guy 2: “Uh…we could ferment it?”

Guy 1: “Don’t the Chinese already do that?”

Guy 2: “Yeah, so?”

Guy 1: “Fair point.”

Which brings me to Goishicha.

goishicha stacks

Source: Tosa Wave Blog

Goishicha originates from a town called Otoyo in the mountains of Kochi Prefecture. It is so named because of the tea’s compressed appearance – resembling playing pieces for the game, Go. The process involved in making it is rather labor intensive. Bancha leaves are steamed, stacked on the ground, flattened by a mat, left to ferment, then stacked into a barrel, and left to ferment a second time.

For awhile, this was considered the only post-fermented tea coming out of Japan. A tea so rare that at one time there was only one known producer of the stuff. That has changed in recent years due to a rise in Japanese tea experimentation. With the proliferation of other Japanese heicha (“dark tea”) surfacing, it was only a matter of time before the Goishicha practice resurfaced.

I first ran into mentions of Goishicha while researching another fermented bancha for an article – Awabancha. That eventually led me to getting in contact with Yunomi.us about acquiring some for a write-up. Around the same time, I also sampled two other Japanese dark teas through Yunomi – Batabatacha and Mimasaka Bancha, respectively. I covered both on my oft-overlooked Tumblr page. After those taste-tests, I could safely say I had a palate for “dark bancha”. All that remained to be seen was if I took a liking to the granddaddy of them all.

goishicha piece

This was one of the most unique dark teas or banchas I’d ever come across. In appearance, the leaves were compressed like a Chinese heicha, but more complete. It was like the makers just took the unbroken leave, without bothering to roll or cut them, and just pressed ‘em – waiting for fermentation. The aroma they gave off was also rather bizarre. I’ve encountered teas with kelp-like characteristics, but this was straight saltine seaweed snacks on smell. It took a whole lot of composure to not bite into the sliver.

Yunomi.us recommended three different forms of brewing, but the basic gist was the same for each method. Boil water, put a piece in per cup size, wait for four-to-five minutes. I went with the scaled down version for a steeper cup’s worth of testing.

goishicha brewed

The liquor brewed bronze with an aroma that reminded me of a rice-cultured Japanese pu-erh variant from yesterbrews. On taste, just…whoah. Sooooo much going on. The flavor started with a soy-sauce-tart and salty introduction, then shifted to something akin to prunes or raisins, and finished with a lingering, earthy mouthfeel. Basically, like a pu-erh that the Japanese would concoct. It may sound rather primal, but a part of me compared it to a rum barrel-aged beer I had long ago.

If this is what bancha could become after embracing its dark side, then consider me a steeping Sith Lord.

ITS TOO HOT!!!

Fengqing is a county located in Lincang Prefecture, Yunnan Province, China.

Source: Yunnan Adventure

Source: Yunnan Adventure

The Almighty Wiki listed at least four different ethnic groups indigenous to the region, two of which I recognized as pu-erh producers. In the early 1940s, the Fengqing Tea Factory came into existence and was instrumental in the development of Dian Hong (Yunnan black tea) as we know it today.

To date, I’d only ever tried two black teas from Fengqing and no pu-erhs. Angel from Teavivre approached me a few months ago with an opportunity to sample – not one, but three – offerings from the county. A unique black tea and two pu-erhs, respectively. I jumped at the chance, and over the course of a week I took a veritable sipping journey to the region.

Fengqing Dragon Pearl Black Tea

Looking at these li’l suckers was a trip. They were indeed as advertised – gold-tipped leaves that pressed into the shape of pearls. I’m not sure how many leaves made up one pearl, but by the looks of it, several. On aroma, they gave off a fragrance similar to any other gold-tipped Dian Hong, but with a more earthen, leathery edge. Similar to another Fengqing black I had years ago.

Dragon Pearls

For brewing, I went with a scaled-down, gongfu approach. Three pearls to a 6oz. steeper cup of boiling water. First infusion was for thirty seconds, followed by further steeps with an added twenty seconds successively.

The first infusion – I’ll confess – was the rinse, which I should’ve dumped. But I never dump the rinse; seems like a waste of tea to me. So, I’m incorrectly considering it the first infusion. Anyway, the rinse was pale, but the second and third infusions brewed boldly dark crimson. The aroma on each steep was straight chocolate by way of a rawhide belt. On taste? Again, straight chocolate. No rawhide this time, but a bit of honey, some pepper, and a whole lotta “yum!” It was note-for-note like the pressed Fengqing gold bars I coveted months ago.

Dragon Pearls brewed

Fengqing Arbor Tree Ripened Pu-erh Cake 2010

Pu-erhs from Arbor cultivars were among my favorites. This wasn’t the full cake, but rather chunks of it shaved off for easy sampling, which was fine. The pressed leaves looked like – well – wood that’d been shaved off the side of an “arbor” tree. Albeit far better smelling. This was an earthy pu-erh to the core – notes of earth and dust were prevalent. Commonplace in a ripe/cooked pu-erh, but I also detected an underlying sweetness.

arbor

For brewing, I stuck with a typical gongfoolish approach – several different steeps at varying degrees of time. Then hoped for the best. It was my way. Thirty seconds for the first, adding ten to the subsequent infusions.

The liquor for the first three infusions brewed dark crimson to blackest night (with a red tinge). The aroma from each possessed that same wood-sweet earthen sensation from the dry whiff. In fact, the same characteristics showed up in taste. Sure, it had all the trappings of a regular cooked pu-erh (minus the young fishiness), but there was that sweetness – just out of sight, but still making its presence known. Not strong but subtle; like being waved at by a pixie.

Arbor brewed

Fengqing Zhuan Cha Ripened Pu-erh Brick Tea 2006

When I went to open this sucker up, I was greeted by (fittingly enough) a chunk of brick. I’d had teas from a zhuan cha (or “brick tea”) before, but this was the first chunk I had to play with at home. Like the Arbor Tree pu-erh, there was an earthy smell with a tinge of sweetness. No young pu-erh fishiness here, either. The smell was straight-up ancient.

zhuan cha

For brewing, same ol’ same ol’, like with the other pu-erh. Gongfoolishly with a side of “tired”.

After pouring three successive infusions of the stuff, I noticed the liquor gradually darkened from deep crimson to brown-black. Typical of a shou (cooked) pu-erh, but the majesty for this one was in the aroma. As is common knowledge, I’m not much of a fan of cooked pu-erh unless it’s had about five years to age. Well, this had about nine, and it showed. Each infusion was earthy, slightly smoky, deep-bodied, practically chewy…and damn smooth! The mouthfeel was like an Italian red wine. Heck, on the last infusion I dared, I was having flashbacks of a good Barbera.

Zhuan Cha brewed

Hrm…that should be a new taster note – earthwine. Yes, perfect! I vote this one as the poster child.

Conclusion

I’d be hard-pressed (heh, get it?) to find a favorite out of the three. All I will say is that they occupied the same pantheon of “Awesome!” in their respective categories. The cooked pu-erhs were miles ahead of others I’ve tried, and those black pearls…man…I want to pair that with chocolate ice cream someday. In short, all three roads led to the same destination…

Deliciousness.

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.

10431876_147208755449651_2147087504_n

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.

968934_4947558241961_1052879800_n

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.

10388046_881082105251586_686316215_n

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.

10326421_1424052974533635_20652938_n

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.

1525630_10152107056741827_2041187975_n

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.

IMAG1723-1

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.

927300_244000285803652_916144655_n

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.

IMAG1725-1

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.