There’s an unwritten rule in the tea community – that if you can’t say something nice, think it over after a few cups of tea. If then – and only then – you still feel that way, you can voice said grievance . . . politely. For the most part (at least in writing), I’ve abided by this unwritten rule. If slighted or slightly irked, I shrug it off – pu-erh in hand.

But sometimes . . . just sometimes . . . even the Almighty Leaf can’t keep away the Id. This year, I’ve seen five occurrences that demand my ire, my piss-‘n-vinegar-drenched diatribe. And I’m going to voice them all in one fell swoop, so that I can return to a state of mind closely resembling sanity.

Gaiwan warrior

Can we stop calling tea a “health beverage”, now?

As of last year, I’ve been a tea geek for the better part of ten years. One lone eyesore of rhetoric has remained at the forefront throughout that drink-laden decade. Tea has a label it can’t quite shake – that of being good for you. There are claims aplenty about how it’s sublime for your skin, wonderful for weight-loss, awesome for its antioxidants, and so on and so forth.

I fell into that trap early on, but crawled out of the pseudo-science muck by 2010 – brain mostly intact. However, as my clout grew, I began receiving inquiries from various people. Health . . . inquiries. One relative asked if I could recommend pu-erh for weight-loss. Another wondered what would be great for yeast infections. Men asked me about what teas were good for virility. (I probably shouldn’t have written a blog on the subject, in hindsight.)

One statement from a coworker finally put me over the edge. She said, “Oh, I totally drink tea. It’s great for detoxing.”

And I lost it.

Here’s the thing, folks. I’m not going quote scientific data one way or the other to convince you that most of the claims regarding tea’s health benefits are bullshit. There’s already a blog/website out there that does that quite well. What I will do is give you some anecdotal evidence . . . in the form of a self-description.

I’m a fat man, my skin sucks, my diet sucks, my attitude sucks, and I’m pretty sure I’ll be dead by fifty. The only thing tea is doing is keeping me calm enough to not take all of you fucking health nuts with me when I do finally croak. And if I hear the word “detox” again, I will personally rip out your liver and kidneys, show them to you, and cry, “THESE ALREADY DO THE DETOXING FOR YOU!!!

I hope we’re clear.

And speaking of “health teas” that are currently in the spotlight . . .

Matcha is now a “thing”, and that might not be a good thing.

For the record, I love matcha. I thrive on the stuff. It gives me that extra zip of caffeine once I run out of steeps from whatever I was drinking to start the day. It’s like a radioactive green espresso that never leads to a crash. I’m pretty sure it gives me superpowers (without the detox bullshit).

matcha

One small snag, though. Everyone else seems to have discovered it, too. I know how hipster that concern sounds, but hear me out. Matcha’s popularity in the last two years has skyrocketed in the U.S. Matcha bars are popping up like urban zits. Specialty coffee shops are now offering various matcha-infused drinks on their menus.

Normally, I would be happy about this, but one thing irks me. What if it becomes too popular? Japan is not that big of an island. Only a handful of regions actually produce the good, high-quality stuff. While powdered green teas are on the rise, actual hardcore matcha drinking is in sharp decline. The stuff that’s being used in these new specialty drinks is culinary grade, not ceremonial grade. Reason? Not enough of the good shit to go around.

With the growing demand in occidental countries, places outside of Japan might take up the challenge to meet demand. The problem is these other countries don’t even come close to creating the good stuff, aside from a couple of exceptions. Secondly, if it’s made outside of Japan, it can’t be called matcha!!!

The end result to this high demand will be the “teabagging” of the matcha world – low-grade powdered poo-shit tea made into a happa-frappa-fuck-me-this-sucks drink. Doused in soy milk.

Just give me a bowl and a bamboo whisk, and I’ll go mumble angrily in a corner.

And speaking of high quality tea . . . and mumbling angrily . . .

“Speshul”-ty tea tact.

The tea world was dealt yet another death blow with the passing of one David Walker – a pioneer in the promotion of specialty tea. Several within the tea community made posts showing their lament. One person, however, chose to use his death as an excuse to push an agenda. This person, we’ll call “Twatty Teapot”.

I’m not one to name names on this blog, but this time is different. For those who’ve never heard of the above woman, Mrs. Twatty is a bit like the resident village idiot of the larger tea community.

Yes, even more so than me. Her inane yammerings are usually met with equal parts shrugs and facepalms. Not anymore. This time she chose to use David Walker’s coffin as a soapbox to express her opinions on the specialty tea movement in the U.S., and how the market would not accept it.

batshit crazy

No, I will not link to her blog. I will not give her the satisfaction of increasing her site’s traffic.

To be (only slightly) fair, she raised some interesting points for future discussion. A dialogue that could happen at any other time . . . but not after a specialty tea pioneer fucking died! That’s like someone questioning Christopher Lee’s war record after his death, or commenting on Robin William’s sanity following his.

There are just some things you don’t do. You don’t speak ill of the recently deceased, and you don’t use their deaths to further your own agenda.

Twatty Teapot, on behalf of the tea community, I hereby revoke your citizenship to our village. There’s the gate, please let it hit you on the way out. Yes, you can have a moment to gather your things.

But leave the Little Yellow Teapot, we have plans for him.

hammer

Final plans.

And speaking of specialty tea . . .

Just build the damn roads, already, Darjeeling.

A vendor friend of mine recently turned me onto a Facebook group called The Darjeeling Chronicle. A few weeks ago they shared a photo album and article about some of the working and transportation conditions at a tea estate called Jungpana. The tea estate prides itself on its near isolationism, and the sheer difficulty in reaching it. The problem is . . . it’s also difficult for the people who work there.

An average trek to reach the estate and/or leave it takes hours. There are no paved roads to and from the estate. Unsafe paths and rickety bridges are the only inlets to the gigantic complex. The thing is, Jungpana is not the only one with these working conditions. Many such estates also have substandard transportation infrastructure. It’s the middle of 2015, and these tea leaf pickers are working in the 19th century.

Tea crating

To top it off, most tea estate employees make less than a dollar a day. Now, some of you might be mumbling about exchange rates and affordability of the product. And someone else might mention Kenya as an example. They produce poor quality, or low-grade CTC tea for cheap, and thus labor is cheap.

Well, guess what? The average, good quality Darjeeling tea is about $10 an ounce wholesale. That’s almost U.S. or Taiwan-grown prices.

Jungpana . . . wait, no, Darjeeling . . . hell, India at large, get with the fucking program. Build the goddamn roads. Take care of your tea people. I don’t want to taste tears in my first flush.

And speaking of luxury . . .

Tea should not be a luxury item.

Many Western countries are taking up the challenge of growing tea. The U.S., Great Britain, and even the French (?!?!) are growing – or thinking about growing – tea. However, with First World countries comes First World problems, particularly the issue of labor costs. Picking tea is a difficult endeavor. And cultivating a high yield requires a lot of labor, and an enormous labor force, especially if one goes with tried-and-true hand-crafting techniques. Turning a profit on something so costly may prove difficult.

Well, some growers have found a solution – albeit a temporary and bloody stupid one. Luxury hotels and fancy delicatessens. That’s right, Western growers are targeting the eateries of the top 1% to turn their green leaves into green bills. Some have even gone for an asking price of $70 per 15 grams of tea produced. That equates to . . . uh . . . I suck at high maths. It equates to a metric fuckton of cash I’d never see, even after three paychecks.

So far, they can justify such an asking price because of the sheer rarity and novelty attached to titles such as, “Grown in the Alps” or some other bumfuck location. But in the long-term, such ambitions won’t last. For one, other (newer) growers will emerge, further glutting the market. And two? When’s the last time you met a really rich person that gives a fuck about quality tea?

You heard me. The top tier twats that go for the temporary novel-“tea” will only do so . . . once, maybe twice. The return business is nonexistent, whereas, your average tea drinker will come back for more. If the price is right.

The answer to a more affordable product lies in what the Japanese have done. No, not in their techniques in specific, but their approach in general. Hybrid mechanization. Take the tea picker out of the equation if you have to. Leave the hand-crafting to one-shot seasonal offerings. But for general, everyday tea-drinking, find a more cost-effective method.

Or you can ignore me. Many do.

So, go on you lovable tea-growing scamps. Pander to the monocle-‘n-pampered members of high society while you can. That is, until they move on to the next “it thing”. By the time you realize the mistake you’ve made, you will have already alienated those who truly wanted to enjoy what you produced.

Hell, the whole practice might alienate the tea world altogether. The average drinker will look at the guilty tear-stained cup of first flush whatever (from wherever) and say, “Nope, pass me the cheap stuff.” Or move on to whatever “health tea” is proven to make their uterus or prostate glow in the dark.

And all the while, village idiots will emerge, yelling, “All is as it should me.” Over the twitching corpse of Lu Yu.

luyu

But no.

I don’t believe that. I won’t believe that. I can’t let people turn my favorite drink, my passion into a health-nut-friendy, village-idiot-prone, guilt-ridden, luxury IT beverage. I will continue to speak my mind, flash a middle finger with cup raised, pinky out . . . . and nostrils flared.

But I’ll be really polite about it.

At first.

While this has easily been the worst summer of my life, there was an anniversary of sorts. One I had completely forgotten about until I received an e-mail from Vivek Lochan of Lochan Tea. It read: “In continuing with tradition, a sample of the 2015 Castelton Moonlight has been sent to you yesterday by courier.”

Whoah! I thought. Just a few days prior, I’d wondered how I was going to acquire some of that tea this year. For those that don’t know, Castleton Moonlight, second flush, is my absolute favorite tea. Of all time. I first fell in love with it in 2011. And I’ve made it a point to get a hold of it every year since. It’s an oolong from the Darjeeling tea estate dubbed Castleton. I did a full write-up on my history with that tea for the Lochans, which can be found HERE.

If I did get a hold of it, that would mark my fifth anniversary with said tea.

They were curious how this year’s stacked up against last year’s offering. And, truth be told, I was morbidly curious as well. Teas and tea types tend to growing season to growing season. Influences like weather, processing, and quality of the terroir all play a part, and all factors are never completely consistent year-to-year. From what I heard, Darjeeling second flush teas had a late start this year due to weather conditions.

I received the package a week later, and immediately tore into it. Keep in mind, this was at 6PM. Well beyond my usual “black tea” hour.

Moonlight loose

When I opened the bag for the 2015 stuff, it was like my nose was magnetically drawn to it. This had a markedly different scent than 2014, which stayed on the side of floral. This was spicy! Even a step beyond the normal first flush spicy. Usually, that Darjeeling spiciness didn’t show up as strongly in the second flush – to be replaced, instead, with that whole “muscatel” thing. Nope, this was straight basil-blended-cheese-powder spicy. Sure, the usual floral aromatics were there, but spice won out.

The appearance of the leaves also differed from the 2014.

Moonlight loose comparison

2014 on the left; 2015 on the right.

While the prior year was greener and tippier than the average Darjeeling, this year’s leaves were browner, longer and twisty . . . -er. It’s like the Castleton estate had changed up their rolling technique. There were still some lighter-colored leaves in the fray, but the browns clearly dominated, giving it a more traditional pekoe appearance.

Fully brewed, both years looked exactly the same. Both liquors were a bright, medium amber – no deviation there.

Moonlght brewed comparison

The differences emerged once I sniffed. The 2014 smelled distinctly “oolong”-y – sweet on the nose – whereas the 2015 was maltier with more notes of nuts and wood. Those same differences also showed up in taste. The floral profile of the 2014 (with a sweet bend) was still in full effect, and the 2015 . . .

Well, sometimes I’ve wondered if mahogany might have a metaphoric taste. No, not by licking a desk, but a taste that embodies mahogany. That was the 2015 to me. It was a totally different tea; burlier, slightly more astringent, but still possessing some of the same layers as last year’s. There was even a layer of “burnt firewood” in the top note, which I found particularly appealing.

Now, the key question: Which one did I like better?

This is a first folks . . . I haven’t a clue. I’m quite partial to the more oolong-y profile of 2014, but the 2015 had a richer profile overall. So, in the meantime . . . color me quizzical. These year-off siblings are tied. Different shades of perfection. Yet again.

This summer needed a little taste of perfect.

moonlight brewed

At the end of June, Portland, Ore. was dealt one of its most severe heatwaves in recent memory. And I got the flu during it. A mere week ago, we were dealt another STRONGER heatwave . . . and I got the flu again. That’s eerily coincidental.

Luckily, I caught this one in time and doused myself with various forms of ‘Quil on the market. That and I offset the medicine head with copious amounts of apple cider vinegar and lemon juice. But of course, there was also the issue of what tea to drink.

For most normal people that isn’t an issue, but tea still had to play an integral part somewhere. When knee-deep in flu-plague the recommended real tea is white tea. Straight-up young tea leaves and buds that are withered, dried and nothing else. They supposedly have antiviral properties, but – like the downy furs on the leaf buds – the science is a bit fuzzy on that claim.

The problem with most white teas, though, is that they aren’t strong enough. Okay, not entirely true. White tea leaves actually possess more caffeine than any other type because of their minimal processing. However, for most types to taste any good, they have to be brewed as light as possible. Boiled to death, yes, one would get the necessary daily-start caffeine wallop, but the brew itself would taste like a grassy turd. There are exceptions to this, but they’re hit or miss.

My phlegmatic redemption lay in the form of two freakish teas from Norbu Tea I had in my repertoire that – as per usual – I had yet to get around to writing about. There were pu-erh teas out there that were made from young tea leaves and buds.

White pu-erhs

For all intents and purposes, they looked like white teas, but unlike their softer kin they went through a partial pan-frying – thus allowing the microflora in the leaves to change over time. In short, leaf buds that were meant to mature like wine.

I featured a white pu-erh cake from Norbu Tea a year or so ago. It was amazing. This time around, I had one that was indistinguishable from a Yunnan Silver Needle, and another made from a wild-crafted, purple-hued cultivar. And I subsisted on both for a solid week.

Here are the results:

Yong De White Buds

Yong De White Buds

Right out of the starting gate, I was confused. The leaves for this looked like a straight-up Bai Hao Yin Zhen (Fujian Silver Needles)-inspired white tea. The leaves were needle-like buds with fur. They were even fuzzy to the touch. I couldn’t stop petting them. No, really. I was getting rather creepy about it, actually.

The aroma also screamed, “white tea,” betraying a melon-‘n-grass scent that further perplexed my tea-trained nostrils. The fragrance was equal parts sweet, floral, and reminiscent of the scents one encounters while on a confusing hike at night. I . . . happen to like confusing hikes at night, and I’m easily lost. Moving on!

I approached this gongfu style because, hell, if it’s going prance around like a pu-erh, it might as well drown like one.

Yong De White Buds Brewed Gong Fu

Brewed with short infusions, the liquor was pale yellow (like any old white tea) with a melon-like aroma. The true change – as warned – was in the taste. It was like a white tea on the forefront, which trap-doored into a sheng pu-erh palate. I felt like an unsuspecting gazelle pounced by a perplexed pu-erh cake. I imagined this tea wearing a white tea cologne, then stripping off its clothing to reveal its earthy wonder. And reveal, it did. The flavor reminded me of a few aged white tea cakes I’d test-driven.

Then I brewed it Western style.

Yong De Western

The liquor was bold amber with a nose of straight . . . white tea. I couldn’t tell it a part from a Yunnan Moonlight white. On taste? Same difference. It was as if my palate gave me a proverbial “eff-you”, and left me to figure out what the hell I just drank. Yes, I liked it. Loved it, in point of fact. But I’ll be damned if I could identify it properly.

In short, if you actually want to identify it by its given process – as a pu-erh – you have to gongfu it . .. or your brain will melt at the palatial paradox.

Zi Ya Bao

Zi Ya Bao

The wild purple buds of the Zi Ya Bao looked exactly like their name implied – purplish young leaves that hadn’t opened, yet. They looked similar to regular Ya Bao, save for the fact that the buds were thinner, possessed a typical tea leaf shape, and were actually of the tea plant species – Camellia sinensis. Their dry aroma was off-putting at first, very woody – reminiscent of wilderness weeds – but it grew on me. There was a sweet underpinning to its distinctly “wild” scent.

After three successive, short infusions, a puzzling thing happened. Usually, when doing teas gongfu style, the infusions get incrementally darker. Not the case here. The first infusion was the darkest – revealing a bold but subtle amber palette, whereas further steeps proceeded to lighten in color. As if the tea blew its wad on the first go.

Zi Ya Bao Gong Fu

Another interesting enigma was the taste. The first infusion was notably sage-like, similar to a Yunnan Moonlight white tea, but further (lighter) infusions were noticeably sweeter. The transition from sage to sweetness was lovely, and the change was organic, not jarring. (Unlike someone who eats only organic.) I would love to see this compressed as a cake and aged for ten years.

A second attempt with new leaves brewed Western style, yielded a less complex brew. It turned out like a strong Yunnan white tea.

Zi Ya Bao Western

Not a bad thing, though.

Was there a favorite? Well, I actually found myself brewing more of the Zi Ya Bao over the course of the week. I mainly did the Yong De in the mid-to-late-afternoon. So, for functionality – and ability to put up with more punishment – the purple buds won out. For taste? The Yong De White Buds, by a mile.

Did it help end my flu-plague? How the heck should I know? What do I look like, a snake oil salesman? They’re good teas, just trust in that. Every time is the right time for good tea.

Almost three years ago, I wrote a rant about steampunk – a sci-fi sub-genre focusing on a fanciful Victorian aesthetic. It wasn’t very kind to the various gear-laden facets of the retro offshoot. I argued that the sub-genre lacked a key component that was the beating heart of any alt-history endeavor – a sense of whimsy. To be fair, I did point out its positive aspects, but I largely dismissed the sub-genre as a whole. Like some sort of tea snob hipster douchebag.

Well . . . then I went to a steampunk-themed concert featuring these guys/gals:

abney park

And I was forced to rethink my stance. I always enjoyed [most of] Abney Park’s work, but I was curious what sort of show they would put on live. That and what sort of people would attend such a thing. The answer was simple: Geeks. Lots of them. In every shape and size. Sure, there were some posturing goths amidst the rabble, but for the most part – retro-cosplaying geeks. The whole shebang was downright . . . whimsical.

Why was that? And how was my – albeit anecdotal – analysis so way off? What was the source of this whimsy I had missed in my initial missive? As is not hard to believe, the answer was in front of me the whole time. In my damn cup.

The point was further drilled into my brain on an impromptu trip to Seattle. That eccentric metropolis had a very close link to the steampunk sub-genre. Abney Park was based in Seattle. A few authors also called the berg home. But those were just the tip of the chimney.

I was in Seattle visiting a geek/tea blender friend, and we ended up walking around the Fremont neighborhood. Then we stopped and beheld a place with this sign:

B Fuller sign

A steampunk-themed teashop. Awesome.

We went inside, and the place just about made my jaw drop.

B. Fuller's Interior (shrink)

It screamed of period piece whimsy. Various knickknacks lay strewn about the interior. Pistols, old devices and other antiquities were on display. The hostess that greeted us was even wearing a tiny top hat. Nothing screams whimsy like a tiny top hat.

We also met the owner – William Sullivan – briefly before he stepped out. As was fitting for a steampunk teashop owner, he had an epic mustache.

nph stach

Not quite an accurate likeness . . . but close.

As we explored the various sites and smells of the interior, I looked at their selection. They were primarily a blend-specific op, as I figured they would be. But they had some orthodox wares in their arsenal as well. Of particular note, a Darjeeling from the Risheehat estate; I nodded approvingly.

While talking with the tiny-top-hatted hostess, I made some offhand comment about, “judging tearooms by the pu-erhs they carry.” Even going so far as to say that one particular place “could still have my patronage” if they kept carrying this one particular sheng pu-erh.

My tea blender friend gave me a look and said, “I’m sorry . . . but just now you sounded like a tea snob hipster douchebag.”

At first, I was offended, but then – after a bout of naval-gazing – I realized she had a point. She could’ve put it more delicately . . .

delicate

 

. . . but she had a point.

At what point did I lose MY sense of whimsy? I thought.

Here I was, judging a sub-genre for losing its childlike sense of glee, and I was displaying a veritable absence of the very glee I was championing. Over tea, no less! The SOURCE of my whimsy! A ways back, I wrote about the need for having a discerning palate, but never had I thought it would lead to my own snobbery. What the hell happened? I needed to prove something to myself.

Before leaving, I picked up two of their blends that interested my discerning douchebaggy palate – Clockwork Orange (an Earl Grey variant) and Leprechaun (a blend of Lapsang Souchong and peppermint). Both interested me on a purely visceral level. Nothing made me more whimsical or gleeful than an Earl Grey or a Lapsang Souchong cuppa.

A month later I dug in . . .

wrapped

First off, I have to say, I loved their packaging aesthetic.

unwrapping

The wrapping was a custom-made faux-newspaper advertisement for various steampunk-related gatherings, organizations and establishments.

beakers!

The teas themselves were housed in test tubes. Freakin’ test tubes! Further supporting the shop’s apothecarial motif.

Great ways to keep with the steam-theme.

Clockwork Orange

First off, there was nothing droog-like about this blend, save for the name itself. It was advertised as a super-dose of orange, an even more citrusy Earl Grey. The ingredients list supported that claim: Earl Grey, orange peel and orange extract.

clockwork orange loose

Upon uncorking the test tube, straight citrus met my nostrils. However, it wasn’t overpowering, which was my initial worry. It was a very balanced – and still very bergamot-heavy – Earl Grey. And I know my Earls. (Not a snobby statement; just fact.)

clockwork orange brewed

The blend itself brewed as dark red as anticipated, and echoed it’s dry, aromatic presentation on taste. This was an Earl, alright, only wrapped in a strong blanket of citrus rind. It was a burly blend, but also light on its feet. Like an anvil ballet? Wait, no.

Leprechaun

This was the blend I was both anticipating and dreading. Lapsang Souchong and peppermint were already strong flavors on their own. Put together, I guessed they would duke it out for supremacy of my mouth. But that was not the case.

Leprechaun

Quite the opposite happened, actually. Just like the dry aroma, the burnt-wood-smelling Lapsang, and the cool-herbaceous peppermint played rather nicely together. Like a campfire on a wintery day. I have no other way to put it. B. Fuller’s mentioned that it was reminiscent of whiskey in its delivery, but I only kinda agreed with that comparision. It was more akin to gin – still quite balanced, though, even for as meaty as it was.

Leprechaun brewed

Moment of truth?

Like the steampunk sub-genre itself, I would have to say my whimsy is still very much intact. And, also like steampunk, I have my moments of poseur posturing and pomposity. (Plus, an unhealthy love of alliteration.) All said, though, I still retain a certain amount of childlike glee when it comes to tea, and I think that it is also the whimsical, polished-brass, beating heart of the steam-world as well.

steampunk whimsy

But if I find someone putting milk in a Risheehat Darjeeling . . . there may be fighting words.

fight!

Several weeks ago, I made a trip to Smith Teamaker’s to try out some new tea concoctions they were working on. Tony Tellin, the lead blender was already doing a pouring of their new Masala Chai ON NITRO! . . . and I stuck around to try something else that was not yet on the market. He and a few other staff members had informed me that they partnered with Tyler Malek – owner of Salt & Straw, a local ice creamery – to create a new oolong blend.

This was fascinating to me on two levels. One, when I thought of Salt & Straw, I didn’t think of “tea”. All I thought of were long lines.

Note: Not the actual line (but close).

Note: Not the actual line (but close).

Really long lines. The place was almost too popular a spot in Portland.

That said, somehow/someway both Tony ‘n Tyler got together and concocted this . . .

oolong ice cream box

. . . and dubbed it – fittingly enough – Oolong Ice Cream. The first in a limited edition line of teas called The Maker’s Series.

I asked Tony how the blend was made, and the explanation just about made my eyes glaze over. He, literally, had to explain it to me twice and send me an e-mail so I could get the process all down.

at the lab

First, they sourced a Jin Xuan milk oolong from Nantou county, Taiwan. Milk oolongs from that region were rather dicey. While “officially” they were supposed to have a naturally milky/silky taste due to temperature changes during the harvest period, the Taiwanese had been known to milk-steam the leaves prior to drying/rolling. It was a minor cheat, but a cheat nonetheless. However, Tony assured me this stuff was the real deal.

Next, they dry-scented the oolong leaves with bourbon vanilla bean for one month. After that, Marcona almonds were cut and sifted, then the dust from the cuttings were reserved for later. White jasmine blossoms were conditioned and sifted. Indian sarsaparilla root was also sifted.

Last but not least was Tyler Malek’s addition – making sugar candy. Cane sugar was melted and poured over bourbon vanilla dust from the original sifting. Sea salt was added, then the concoction was left to stand and solidify. The candy was, then, cracked and sifted to about the size of ball-fisted oolong leaves, and – finally – blended with the almond dust from way at the beginning.

In short, a lot of work went into this. A less ambitious blender would’ve just added ice cream flavoring and called it a day. The result was a beautiful blend that looked (and smelled) similar to ice cream – as was intended. Before I left, Tony gifted me with a few sachets to play with.

oolong ice cream sachet

From within the sachet, the leaves looked predominately . . . well . . . oolong. The jasmine blossoms rounded out the palette with their yellowness. But for the most part, this was all oolong. All ball-fisted green meteorites of glory. It was difficult to see that anything had been done to them at all, save for the addition of flowers. The aroma gave a different impression. No joke, it smelled like a root beer float laden with buttermilk ice cream.

For the first test, I brewed this Western-style(ish) in the sachet . . . with the gaiwan. I used boiled water (cooled for three minutes), then steeped it for three minutes.

oolong ice cream western

The result was a pale yellow liquor with an aroma of sweetened butter and vanilla. On taste, there was a crisp vanilla smack on the tongue, followed by a popcorny massage in the middle, which then curtsied with a sweet-flower outro. I seriously wanted this as an actual ice cream. Or rather, probably not. I would down this by the pint – nightly.

Next up, I de-sachet the leafy bits and decided to gongfu ‘em. I was interested to see if three short infusions yielded different results given the elements at play.

oolong ice cream loose

After cutting open the sachet, I got a better look at the leaves and other components. The flakes of almonds and vanilla beans were more clear to the eye, now. And the aroma seemed somehow . . . freed. More floral, but also more creamy.

First infusion (thirty seconds): More aromatic and floral on the front, followed – very distantly – by the vanilla cream sweetness that was added. Like a regular Ali Shan that’d been dipped in honey.

Second infusion (thirty seconds): More crisp than the first infusion, but also sweeter. The vanilla-nut dual punch comes through far stronger than the milky Jin Xuan oolong, which takes an only partial backseat (but still gives directions).

Third infusion (forty-five seconds): Oh wow, creamiest of the three! All the butternut-vanilla-ness came out in one wallop on first sip. Not as strongly floral as brewed Western-style, but retaining all the bits that gave it that ice creamy moniker.

oolong ice cream gongfu

But I wasn’t done, yet. I still had four more sachets, and a thought kept nagging me: What would this taste like as a latte? Around the same time, someone on Instagram mused about what it would taste like iced. That got me wondering as well. And, so, I made a trip down to Smith HQ to find out. Luckily, I was able to convince the staff to humor the odd request for both preparations.

First up, the latte.

oolong ice cream latte

Two sachets were used along with 1 tsp. of sugar, half-‘n-half and 2% milk. The result was . . . well . . . perfection! This tasted exactly like melted ice cream. And I was all-too-familiar with that taste, having left many a bowl of ice cream unattended after scooping. The creaminess was more pronounced in this form.

And lastly, the iced tea.

oolong ice cream iced

Simple prep: Pint glass, two sachets brewed as a concentrate, poured over ice. Done. This was perhaps the weakest form. None of the vanilla, almonds, or sweet aspects showed through as prominently. The dominant notes were – oddly enough – the oolong aromatics and the floral jasmine. Those took point with some residual sweetness on the back-end.

It took me about a month to get to this writing. The limited edition boxes they prepped for this blend sold out within two weeks after pressing. That revelation almost made me regret going through so many sachets, brewing this up every which way. But only “almost”.

Yeah, I’d stand in line for this.

Okay, learning time.

Everyone knows about black tea, green tea, oolong, and so on . . . but I’m sure there are some newbies passing by this article that don’t know what pu-erh is. Well, I’ll tell you, but I’ll keep it brief. In short, it’s heicha (dark tea). Or rather, tea that’s meant to be aged. The leaves are processed in such a way that they’re only “mostly dead”.

miraclemax

Meaning, they still go through an enzymatic change (i.e. fermentation) well after processing and pressing. Pu-erh, specifically refers to aged teas from Yunnan province, China. Like champagne, pu-erh is not pu-erh if it doesn’t hail from this province. All pu-erhs are dark teas, but not all dark teas are pu-erh. Got that? No?

Well, read this article I did for Teaity, then. It goes into a bit more detail. And I won’t even get into the difference between raw (sheng) and ripe (shou). Let’s just say I usually only deal in raw, naturally-aged pu-erh, and that’s what I’m specifically sticking with here.

To date, the oldest raw pu-erh I’d sipped was eighteen years old. I had yet to pass the two-decade mark. People have told me what it was like, but I had yet to experience it for myself. What was even odder? No one could give me a definitive answer as to what the taste profile was for really old pu-erh. There was a consensus that pu-erhs between ten and twenty years of age took on a wine-like note. But older than that, opinions got less . . . lucid . . .

The only words I heard in common between all the old pu-erh connoisseurs out there were “old” and “clean”. That was a similar reaction held by fellow weird tea drinker, Greg “Norbu Tea” Glancy. He got in a few old old pu-erhs that I took notice of, and kindly provided me with some cake chisels to play with.

old pu

So, I decided to give two(or more)-decade-old pu-erhs my fair shake. Full disclosure: I’m not a pu-erh expert by any stretch. Hell, I don’t even know what it means when a pu-erh has a “Green Mark” or a “Yellow Mark”. For all I know, they could be martial arts belts. I can think of several people more qualified to deal with the nuances of really old pu-erh. (And a lot of Russians.) But I’m going to give it the old college try.

1990s Loose Sheng

The late-90s pu-erh leaves definitely looked their part. They looked every bit their two decades of age, old, ash-colored and earth-smelling. There was a bit of dust to the aroma, but it wasn’t unpleasant. It was like a “discovering-an-old-cupboard” smell.

1990s loose sheng

I brewed the leaves gongfu-style, and – given the age of the leaves – did a ten-second pre-wash before dipping into actual, drinkable brews. However, given that it was me, I drank the pre-wash anyway. Why let a cup go to waste?

The result was a pleasantly dark crimson liquor from each short steep, and an aroma of “ancient” from each cup. That same sensation reflected in the taste. The earth notes were strong but gentle, like getting a massage from a certified body builder. It wasn’t as dusty as I was expecting on first sip, either. Just pleasant. Yes, there was that requisite taste of “old tea”, but it was a calming one. This put me quite at ease.

loose sheng gong fu

Now onto the cakes . . .

True story, when I went to brew up both of the old cakes, I lost track of which was which. Couldn’t tell ‘em apart by sight or smell. So, I had to do a re-brew on the first one. Not that I minded.

1990s CNNP Green Mark

Green Mark loose cake

The chisels of the 1990s sheng cake were dark brown but loosely packed. It was easy to break pieces off of them. The aroma the chunk gave off was less “old” and more “vintage”. It was a fragrance that was hard to pin down. My nose could only tell my brain that the smell was “all-knowing”, if that makes sense.

Green Mark brewed

I gongfu’d three infusions, and each one (at around thirty seconds) brewed up pitch dark. Like a ripe pu-erh, but that’s where the similarity ended. The aroma was all earth, moss and mint. On taste, it conveyed that same earthiness, but with the added benefit of third-eye-opening depth. The intro was sage-y (both plant and scholar), like a Yunnan white tea, which transitioned to a forest floor-like sensation on the tongue. That trailed off to an herbaceous (if fungal) finish that just whispered, “Yum” . . . if creepily/seductively.

1980s CNNP Yellow Mark

The final cake piece was also the oldest, dating back to sometime during the Reagan administration. Not sure which one. The pressed leaves were as dark, brown and earth-toned as the 90s cake, but the smell was older and cleaner. In fact, that seemed to be a running theme here – “old and clean”. Like that old Outkast song “So Fresh, So Clean”, only . . . y’know . . . retired. Point being! It smelled like something I wanted to drink.

1980s Yellow Mark

I gongfu’d it like the other two. Each successive infusion was darker than the other, leading to a pond of rust-brown almost-blackness in the last (third) cup. The first sip was like drinking distilled cedar; there was a definite coniferal note on the forefront. That transitioned to the requisite pu-erh earthiness, but with the added benefit of “something” toasty and tongue-numbing. An odd sensation of inner body warmth lingered in substitution of a cohesive aftertaste. If you could taste the inside of your soul’s face, I’m sure it’s something like this.

1980s Yellow Mark brewed

I tried all of these over the course of a week. On one day off, I had this ambitious notion of notching ‘em all off in one day. Problem was, after just one session with one of these teas, my tongue was too damn slap-happy to move on to the next one. It’s like being stoned, only you’re not as hungry. And you smell better.

In conclusion: If you’re new to pu-erh, start off young and work your way up. If you only care about wine-like flavors, anything around the ten-year mark is a good bet. If you’re ready for old and clean teas that’ll make you feel the inside of your soul’s face, then you’re ready for the two-decade “marks”.

The Road to Eugene Is Paved in Tea – Teashop Adventure Week

June was a shitty month.

Between two deaths in the family, a work-related back injury, and a two-week bout of influenza to cap things off, I think it’s safe to say it was the shittiest month I’ve had in nearly a decade. There were small bouts of cheer, however. And one of them came in the form of a text message.

Josh Chamberlain of J-TEA International sent me the following, “When can you come down to Eugene to try all of our iced teas?”

Eugene was about two hours away from Portland, but . . . Fuck it, I thought. I needed a distraction. What better diversion than a day trip. For tea. There were worse reasons. I made it there in record time, got to the store in roughly an hour and a half. Unheard of.

The storefront was just as I remembered it.

JTEA storefront

I didn’t remember there being as much shading, or as many places to site, but it was as welcoming as my last trip. If I ever considered bailing from Portland permanently (and believe me, I have), I would consider Eugene – if only for this one teashop.

The moment I stepped in, Josh came out and had his on-hand lackey – Andrew – start with the pouring. Their process for iced tea differed from other tea shops. They took the tea concentrate, filled a cocktail shaker with ice, and then . . . shook vigorously. The result a was bold tea with a thick, frothy head. And, depending on the recipe, compote was added. My first iced tea out of the starting gate was their Logan Black – Eugene Breakfast concentrate with loganberry compote. It looked like a beer.

Logan Black

Tasted like an iced tea, but with a burlier, fruitier taste. Like berries with a manly musk . . . and chest hair? No, that sounds weird. It was just so unbelievably refreshing. The heat wave and undue June stress just washed away.

And that was only one of six iced teas I tried.

various iced teas

By the end of the range I was already a-buzzin’. The Rhubarboolong concoction was probably my favorite, seconded by the Marion Black. Because . . . freakin’ marionberries!

Next, we moved on to some new teas that were coming out of their respective bourbon barrels. In the teashop proper, there were (I think?) four used bourbon barrels lined up against the wall. The two new additions to the drunken tea family were a bourbon barrel-aged Ceylon, and a greener, light-roast oolong hit with the same treatment.

The small cut of the Ceylon leaves really picked up the bourbon notes well. Almost too well. The leaf aroma was sweet and liquor-y. The same was definitely the case for the taste.

Bourbon Ceylon

Just . . . “Whoah!”

The greener oolong had an interesting story to it. Apparently, when Josh and Co. got the barrel, it still had a little bit o’ bourbon left in it. (Wettest. Barrel. Ever?) Instead of clearing it out, Josh ordered his crew to dump the oolong in anyway. After a month or so of aging, he did a re-roast to dissipate the alcohol. It wasn’t the first time I’d heard of that process being used, but this was the first where a barrel was involved.

Bourbon Oolong

The results spoke for themselves. Oolongs were tough to age in barrels. They didn’t pick up on scents very easily, likely due to their rolling technique or the semi-oxidation. One either had to age them longer – three months or so – or do something more drastic. In this case, drastic worked. It picked up on the bourbon, but still maintained its buttery/oolong-y profile.

The final treat of the visit was a special one. Josh had two mini-tea gardens he’d been cultivating over the last couple of years. A few Russian cultivars toward the back of the shop, a Korean cultivar hedge at the front, and a few from his house. For shits and giggles, he decided – this year – prep a mini-batch of black tea from those various bushes.

Eugene

Once he was done plucking, he subjected them to a drying process. However, because the amount was so small, he couldn’t use a conventional roaster or bamboo tray. He simply put his home stove on a low setting and waited for a set amount of time, then ding! Ready.

The result was something akin to a Wuyi cliff tea both in sight and character.

Eugene Grown

The liquor brewed light, but the aroma was straight roastiness. That was reflected in the taste as well. If I was coming at this blind, I would’ve thought I was imbibing a Da Hong Pao, except . . . yknow . . . good. (Sorry, not a fan of Da Hong Pao.) It was different from his other black tea efforts, no Taiwanese-ish sweetness. But it was still damn fine in its own right.

By 3PM, Josh said, “Well . . . I don’t think I have anything else to show ya.”

I looked at my phone and realized I’d just killed three hours having who-knows-how-many gallons of tea. With a wave, I bid my farewells and promised another visit in the not-so-distance future. June may have been a shitty month, but with teashop adventures like that one . . . I coped.

The road ahead is paved in tea, and I have my swimsuit donned.

Smith Tea . . . ON NITRO! – Teashop Adventure Week

On nitro!

Two words that I greatly missed from my beer-drinking days. From what I heard from a master brewer once, the process of pumping a beer keg full of nitrous oxide was to mimic the character of cask conditioning. The result was a normal-textured, full-bodied beverage with a full, thick head of foam – differing from the fizzy head of modern conditioning techniques. Sure, a regular Irish stout was good, but an Irish stout on nitro was really where it was at.

It was one of those sacrifices I was going to have to live with . . . or so I thought.

Roughly a month ago, Tony Tellin, head tea blender at Smith Teamaker noticed me nursing a pot of Darjeeling in their shop. He came out to give greetings, and also to invite me back to their “lab”. Yes, they have a lab.

Smith Lab

He wanted my opinion on a rather fizzy red beverage. It was “like” a regular iced tea, but the texture was entirely different. There were shades of vanilla, something nut-sweet, and . . . strawberries. A part of my brain – six months dormant now – wriggled a little, thinking, Is that a beer?

Tony answered my quizzical look with a description, “It’s our new Strawberry Honeybush Sparkling Iced Tea.” He then went on to explain how they used actual vanilla beans, steeped actual strawberries for a lengthy period of time, and brewed a condensed batch of honeybush. And the best part? Nitrous oxide. Yes, it was an iced tea on nitro!

That particular concoction was sent off to Portland’s own Stumptown Coffee per a new partnership. However, Tony assured me that there were a few other, similar recipes in the pipeline, and that he’d keep me posted on their progress. Along with another partnership project with a local ice creamery, Salt & Straw. I was familiar with both operations, but didn’t feel “Portlandian” enough to frequent either. That thought aside, I appreciated that Tony wanted to keep me in the loop.

Weeks went by with only a word or two exchanged between the two of us. Then one evening last week, Tony zapped me an e-mail, wondering if I had time that following Friday to stop by. I had already intended to drop in for a new masala chai iced tea they were test-driving, anyway. So, I zapped off a polite, “Hell yeah!”

The next day, I walked into the shop. The teaman at the counter, Aaron, looked at me and said, “Just go right on back.” As if I was expected. Awesome, I thought.

When I peeked in, Tony was already in mid-conversation with a group of other passersby, talking about their new masala chai iced tea. It, too, was on nitro! And served in a mother-f’ing beaker!

chai

 

 

Because . . . lab.

Also present was their in-house homebrewer named Joe. Because . . . of course his name was Joe. I think it’s like a Portland bylaw that all homebrewers need to change their name to Joe. And grow a beard.

While Tony was explaining the process, my eyes honed in on a beautiful red and black pint.

pint!

I took a whiff and smelled . . . berries and crisp blackness. Tony noticed my distraction and segued into a description of that concoction. It was their Brahmin blend (an English Breakfast-inspired creation), brewed as a concentrate, and added to fresh-brewed blackberries – a process they called “fruitsmithing”.

Tony Tellin

Tony Tellin

I sipped a sample of the blackberry Brahmin first, and it was exactly what you’d think based on the name. An iced tea made from berries that could benchpress a house after a raging kegger. Tony also mentioned that it was his “favorite”. Not too surprised there.

The masala chai variant was a simpler recipe – spiced tea blend brewed concentrated, with ginger juice added, and then pumped with CO2 and N2O. The combination was what gave it the epic head of foam on the pour.

Between the two, it was hard for me to choose a favorite. The ginger-heavy iced masala chai was a good every-time-‘o-day drink, but the blackberry Brahmin just appealed to the part of me that was a fan of all things MAN! All it needed to complete the ideal macho-tea-geek scenario was to be served by an owlbear.

(Look it up.)

Throughout the hour, various patrons were escorted into the lab to hear the spiel on the new creations. All the while, I hung back and sipped more than my fair share of all of them. Including a nice sparkling rooibos/marionberry fusion served in a wine glass.

Rooibos Marionberry

As the iced tea event ended, then Tony presented me with a small paper plate. It smelled of vanilla-drenched butterscotch ice cream. But it was an oolong . . . with a few other things. It was their new blend, fittingly named . . .  Oolong Ice Cream.

Oolong Ice Cream

Taiwanese Jin Xuan milk oolong blended with vanilla and a few other bells and whistles. Brewed Western-style, it tasted like . . . well . . . an oolong that’d been drenched in ice cream. Seriously, I had difficulty pinpointing nuances. Especially amidst my Charlie Bucket-ish grin.

I had every intention of simply mooching the plate. But I was stopped.

Sample mooching

Yes, this picture was totally staged.

However, Tony did part with a few sachets for me to play around with for a future write-up. I will definitely be going into that tea in further detai. In closing . . . I left all a-buzz and bubbly. (Bluzzably?) Like a Roald Dahl-esque child character that’d imbibed one too many fizzy lifting drinks . . .

ON NITRO!!!

blackberry brahmin

The T Project Grand Opening – Teashop Adventure Week

Several months ago, I stopped through Northeast Portland to stay a spell at Tea Bar. And it was . . . crowded. As a self-professed introvert, I don’t do well in crowds. If I’m with peers, I mind them less. But if alone, crowds feel suffocating. While I was happy that Tea Bar was doing well, the sheer volume beautiful twentysomethings enjoying their lattes was panic-inducing to my olden heart. My plan was to grab my usual Lapsang Latte and go.

Then, toward the back, I saw a familiar face – Mizuba Tea’s Lauren Purvis was conversing with someone. Someone I knew! I thought. And I bee-lined for them . . . totally not thinking that I was interrupting a professional conversation . . . which I was.

The woman Lauren was speaking with was Teri Gelber, a soon-to-be teashop owner.

Image mooched from tprojectshop.com

Image mooched from tprojectshop.com

I had never heard of the new op, and I usually had a pretty good bead on the pulse of Portland’s tea scene, but I’d been hermitic of late – admittedly. Before parting ways, I exchanged information with Teri, and told her to keep me up to date on her progress. I’ll admit, I promptly forgot about it. I suck at networking.

Fast-forward to early June, and I received an e-mail and a notice from Teri about her shop’s pre-opening party. The shop in question was to be called T Project, located in Portland’s trendy Pearl District.

T Project

While her focus was primarily themed blends, she was also going to be carrying matcha and matcha brewing tools – hence her conversation with Lauren. The grand opening was the 12th of that month, but prior to that, there was an invite-only opening gala of sorts. For press and other “important” types. To date, I’d only attended . . . no teashop grand openings. None. At all. Huh, how surprising.

I RSVP’d, responded to Teri’s e-mail, and awaited the day. June 11th rolled around, and I got there early. Highly unlike me. Lauren was already setting up in the brewing corner. I did what I always did, said “Hi” without much regard to my surroundings.

lauren

The shop itself possessed a beautiful interior. There was a wooden counter/brewing station to the back left, quaint seating past that, and various teaware on display throughout. The collection of matcha bowls (chawan), in the seating area, was particularly enticing. Lauren’s own brother, Austin Danson, had one of his homemade bowls on display.

matcha bowls

In short order, though, as the time for the actual party rolled around, other guests started to arrive. Make that, a lot of guests. Within mere minutes, the place was . . . crowded.

crowded

Luckily, there were folks in attendance that I knew, including fellow Portlandian tea blogger, Steph W. of Steph’s Cup of Tea. I lasted, maybe, another hour after that, though In the interim, I was able to acquire two of Teri’s blends for peaceful sipping – sans crowds – Golden Years and I Feel Love. The first was a Yunnan black tea blended with chrysanthemums; the other was an Indian black tea blend with herbs, and scented with bergamot. (The latter had me at “bergamot”.)

Golden Years

Golden Years was a unique looking blend. Simple in execution, yet complex in aromatic delivery. The Yunnan Dian Hong used as the base contributed an earthy and malty foundation for the gently floral presence that came in the after-whiff. The snow chrysanthemum bulbs used for the blend were small, gold, and contributed a subtle yet stubborn scent that added to the experience.

Golden Years loose

For brewing, I approached this with a light touch – one teaspoon in a standard gaiwan filled with boiled water, steeped for three minutes.

Golden Years brewed

The result was typically copper liquor with . . . the single burliest floral scent I’ve ever come across. It was like I was sniffing the musk of a ‘roided flower after its daily cross-training routine. Not a bad scent, just very strong. The taste was equally as manly. The Dian Hong – to my shock – did not take point on first sip. The snow chrysanthemum floral beatdown came first, followed by the black tea’s earthy astringency. This was like having tea time with a retired boxer . . . or with Bee Arthur . . . and I’m strangely okay either of those scenarios.

Bea

(Blogger’s note: It would seem – at the time of this writing – Golden Years has been changed to not include chrysanthemums. Just straight Yunnan black tea. Still a great tea, though.)

 

I Feel Love

The optimistically titled “I Feel Love” was one of the busier blends I’ve had in years. It contained an unknown mix of Indian black teas as the base and was rounded out by orange peel, lemon myrtle, lemon verbena, roses, lavender and bergamot oil. The result was a hearty-seeming black tea in theory, but the blended pieces were small and didn’t overpower the base. The aroma was also mostly pleasant, alternating between the various spectra of citrus. (Lavender was thankfully muted.)

I Feel Love loose

There came a morning when I had a craving for bergamot anything, and I gave this a brew-up. I went with a standard Western approach – boiled water, 1 tsp. of leaves in a 6oz. gaiwan and a three-minute steep. I could tell this was Assam-heavy, so I chose to lighten it up a li’l bit.

I Feel Love brewed

The liquor brewed bold copper (as expected) with a strangely black tea heavy aroma. I say “strangely” because a lot of busier blends lead with the herbal scents first. This was a malty miasma followed by a citrus back-whiff – very welcome. The opposite was true for the taste. The introduction was all citrus, followed by black tea tannins, and ending on a floral note. Lavender – again – was thankfully understated.

Just from those two examples, I’d say T Project is off to a pretty decent start. I wish Teri all the success in the world. Yes, even . . . *sigh * . . . the crowds.

Sometimes, I think the ancient Chinese are trolling us from beyond their ancestral graves. How else do you explain an oolong that is – essentially – a poop joke?

poop troll

Yashi Xiang (Duck Shit Fragrance) Dan Cong is an oolong hailing from Guangdong province, China. I first learned of it from fellow weird tea friend, Greg “Norbu Tea” Glancy. (As in, he’s into weird teas, like me; not that he – himself – is weird . . . like me. I don’t think?) I spotted a conversation on Twitter that he was having with a client, and caught wind of the words “duck shit”. That made my inner eleven-year-old perk up.

Image owned by Steve Cribbs

Image owned by Steve Cribbs

He didn’t have any of the stuff, but I filed that bit of tea knowledge away for future use. Roughly two years later, I was contacted by Paul “Two Dog Tea Blog” Murray. The message read, “I should probably send you some tea, shouldn’t I?” (Or something to that effect.) I had no idea I was someone folks had to send tea to . . . but okay.

He was one of my favorite types of folks, a tea blogger that decided to make the plunge into selling tea. His focus: Unique pu-erhs and – if necessity dictated – odd oolongs and black teas.

The name of his op? White 2 Tea. I had no idea what that stood for, and I forgot to ask. All I knew was that he had a wicked sense of humor, and that he was based in Beijing, China. That and his branding kicked ass. Case in point: This was the label for his Yashi Xiang Dan Cong.

duck shit label

I want that duck (with turd) as a tea pet.

The funny thing about this “Duck Shit” oolong is that it didn’t look like duck shit. I even did an image search for comparative reference. (I will spare you – fine readers – of that visual experience.) Nope, the leaves were definitely not reminiscent of water fowl’s . . . uh . . . foul. I could’ve spared myself that delightful search if I’d just read the product notes.

duck shit loose

The yashi referred to the fragrance of the leaves, not the appearance of them. I also found this decidedly odd because – having been a precocious child once – I remember what duckscrement smelled like. Up close. This was not the same.

The leaves were large and spindly, resembling a large leaf Yunnan hong cha rather than an oolong. There were even gold-tipped bits to the leaves, which further confused the issue. The supposed fowl feces-inspired aroma was actually . . . floral and buttery. So, I’m chalking this naming scheme to being a rather ancient joke pulled on unsuspecting buyers. And bloggers with way too much time on their hands.

Measuring the leaves out for brewing was a chore, due to the average leaf size. Neither a teaspoon nor a tablespoon could cut it. In the end, I had to guesstimate a gaiwan’s brew of about a small half-handful, and then boiled the water. I utilized as close to a gongfu-style prep as possible.

duck shit brewed

All three infusions brewed up to a warm medium-amber liquor with the same floral aroma on the dry leaves. Whereas most Dan Congs exhibited a requisite tartness on the first sip, this had a crisp introduction, followed closely by a bit of astringency, and trailed off to a creamy/minerally nuanced tug-‘o-war. Further infusions deepened with notes of apricot . . . but still subtle. All steeps had a lingering sweetness on aftertaste. No notes of poo.

Not really sure how to end this, appropriately. As far as ancient poop jokes go, this was delicious. I was already a massive fan of Dan Congs, but now I was positively overflowing with good will toward them. All negative emotions flushed away.

Hehe . . . duck shit . . . okay, that’s funny.

Daffy disapproved