So, the events herein are from a couple of weeks ago, but the work week from Hades prevented its etching onto this holiest blog-tomes. But…here it is now. Late. As expected. As always.

Big Brass Butiki-s, Round 2: “Playing with Purple Tea before a Tandem Taiwanese Tasting”

(How’s that for a long-arse title?)

March’s Tandem Tea Tasters Googly meet-up was scheduled for the last week in March. The tea in question was to be Butiki Teas’ Taiwanese Wild Mountain Black. A fabulous tea, if I do say so. Problem was, I already used up all of my sample…for this write-up.

Originally, my plan was to use my remaining Taiwanese Assam in substitution. Then a better idea hit me. Yes, I occasionally have those. Not often, but sometimes.

There were two other teas I had to notch off for write-up purposes, and I was getting off work early enough to do a proper…uh…”analysis”. The two in question were an oolong and green tea made from the Kenyan “Purple Tea” cultivar – TRFK 306/1.

I covered this manmade tea plant strain on two separate occasions. Butiki was actually the first company I approached about trying one. Thanks to them, I was one of the first “reviewers” to cover the unique plant. Several months later, I ran into a white version of the tea. It was only natural that it’d show up in other forms eventually. And – boy-howdy – did it.

The two Butiki was a steamed green tea variant and an oolong.

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The leaves for the Steamed Purple Green looked a lot like the regular orthodox Purple Tea of Kenya, except for the leaf-rolling caveat. Yes, the leaves were about the same size as the regular Purple, but they were more – well – leafy in appearance, instead of flaky. The aroma reminded me of something between a Kabusecha and a Long Jing. If it weren’t for the dark hue to the Purple, I wouldn’t have known what I was whiffing. It was sweet, slightly vegetal, and mildly mineral-like.

The Purple Sunset Oolong, on the other hand, looked like a roasted Chinese oolong in appearance. The leaves were long, dark, and twisty – a lot like a Dan Cong or a Da Hong Pao. The aroma the leaves gave off was sweet, mildly cocoa-like, and very subtle in its earthy lean.

Brewing instructions for both – per the Butiki page – were very similar. The oolong required 170F water; the other, 180F. The Steamed Green needed about a three-minute steep; same with the oolong. This was a cake-walk.

When finished, the Steamed Green’s liquor turned – dare I say it – dark purple. The steam wafting from the cup smelled like a sencha, but with a little more body. The Purple Sunset Oolong brewed darker with a more rust-red color, and an aroma that harkened back to Dan Cong brews of yore.

Purple Duel

Left: Green Tea. Right: Oolong Tea

Tastewise, the Steamed Green was vegetal and sweet with a creamy aftertaste. The Sunset Oolong possessed a malty introduction that transitioned to a tart middle, and ended with a roasty (almost Taiwanese-like) finish. Sipping between the two was like being sandwiched between two women. Whatever the outcome, my face was happy.

As to a favorite? Gotta go with the oolong, mainly for my oolong preference these last few months. The Steamed Green was damn good, but oolong is where my heart resides at the moment. I thought about doing a combined brew, but that didn’t feel right. These were artistically done on their own separate merits.

By the time I was done dousing myself in purple goodness, 6PM rolled around, and it was time for the Tandem Google Hangout. At first, there were only three of us total – Rachel of I Heart Teas and Jo of A Gift of Tea. Regulars Darlene and Nicole were indisposed – the latter of which was saddled with WORKING AT A TEASHOP!!!

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No jealousy here…none at all.

We three marveled and reflected on the Wild Mountain Black, but also discussed other things. The prevalent subject seemed to be the feeling of “chaaaaaange” surrounding the Spring season. I had made it clear I wasn’t a fan of Spring.

In the span of a few weeks, my finances had taken an even bigger nosedive than anticipated. My attempts to look for a second job were proving difficult. (Mainly, finding one that worked around my “full-time” job.) All that rigmarole curbed plans I originally had for World Tea Expo and a book I wanted to finish.

The only thing that was going according to plan was my li’l tea poetry Tumblr.

But that was just on my end.

Everyone else seemed to be going through some time of major upheaval. I won’t go into theirs or anyone else’s. Not my place. The overall feeling we were getting was that Spring was a time of rebirth, but something was preventing the process from taking shape – whether it was our own reluctance, or constant outside influence.

Throughout, the meet-up, my phone continued disconnecting me from Google+. I’m still awe-struck that a Google site has so much difficulty on a Google phone. Then a wonderful thing happened.

Rachel asked, “What’s your address?”

I rattled it off, then asked why.

“No reason,” she said cryptically.

Moments later, my Gmail pinged me. I opened the notification and just…gaped at the screen.

“Late Christmas present,” Rachel said.

Right before we were about to close the tasting off, Nicole (Tea for Me Please) chimed in from her teashop gig – Tea Drunk in NYC. And…the conversation continued for another hour or two. That’s how these tea things work. Time is relative. And we’re all relatives here. In a way.

Following that meet-up, I worked two six-day weeks – barely had enough time to sleep, let alone write. In the interim, though, two wonderful things happened:

(1)    Rachel’s late-Christmas present arrived. It was a new webcam. No more Google/phone trouble for me! We test-drove it a few days later. Over tea, of course.

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(2)    Jo passed along a note to check out Oprah’s magazine for the subsequent month and turn to page 136. And there was her photo…looking all regal with teacup in hand.

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As I write this, I’m mentally preparing for the next work day – hopped up on caked white tea. Yep, Spring-sewn change is in the air; transitions are inevitable. But at least I’m in good company.

No matter how far.

Back in January, I was contacted by JalamTeas to try another one of their pu-erhs. This was different than their Nan Nuo offering because it was a loose, young sheng as opposed to a beengcha (tea cake). Well, of course, I said, “Hell yeah!” Or something akin to it. JalamTeas had a pretty good eye for pu-erh.

Then a funny thing happened…

Peter

I received the sample about a week later, dove into it right away, loved it, but sat on the write-up for it. In the ensuing weeks, I had a dream that centered around JalamTeas. To this day, I still have no idea what to make of it. I’ll let you – fine reader(s) – be the judge:

This took place at a hotel. Jeff Fuchs – and, by extension – JalamTeas were hosting some sort of symposium. They were set to unveil a new product – a Kenyan “pu-erh”. I was also in attendance.

During the event, someone stole exactly $790 worth of product from the JalamTeas stores. From the corner of my eye, I saw a hooded figure down a hallway. Why I was the only one who noticed, I dunno. Dream-related narcissism, I guess.

I dashed down the hall after the supposed thief. To my surprise, I was keeping pretty good pace with the suspect. Maybe I’m fit in my dreams. Anyway…

He made his way out an emergency exit and ascended the fire escape stairs. I followed suit, closing the gap. By the top floor, the suspect stopped. I never got a good look at the guy, but I noticed a box of tea in his hands

Then…I immediately threw him over the balcony.

toss

And I woke up.

That was the first time I’d ever committed tea-related homicide in a dream. I must’ve really wanted to get my hands on some Kenyan heicha. Perhaps that was why I stayed away from this write-up for so long, to make sense of that quixotic dream. Then I thought, That’s not fair to the tea.

After all, as Lu Yu said (in some movie I watched once), “Tea is innocent.”

With that out of the way, I shall segue to…

Zhang Lang

This was actually the first of two such pu-erhs offered up by JalamTeas with the “Zhang Lang” name attached. Another one – a shou (or cooked) version was made available in January. The sheng (green) variant was their May release.

Both teas hailed from the Zhang Lang area near Bada Mountain, part of the greater Xishuangbanna region of Yunnan province, China. The Pulang people of the region picked and processed the leaves from medium-aged trees. By that, I mean, tea trees that ranged from thirty-to-seventy years old. Young by pu-erh standards.

Pulang

Image owned by JalamTeas

The leaves for this looked like no other pu-erh (sheng or otherwise) that I’d ever seen. Strangely enough, the leaves looked…Darjeeling-ish – multi-hued layers of brown, beige and green. The smell they gave off was also vaguely grapy and herbal. I had nothing else I could compare it to. Other loose sheng pu-erhs at least gave me some clue; this was its own beast.

Zhang Lang leaves

I went with a typical pu-erh brewing approach. I had plenty of leaves to play with, so I opted for a more traditional gongfu brew – about a tablespoon of leaves to a 6oz. gaiwan of boiled water, multiple steeps. Yes, I could’ve gone with more leaf than that, but I’m not that traditional.

Of the first three infusions – ranging from thirty-to-forty seconds (or whatever I felt like) – flavors ranged from straight grape-‘n-leaf to something akin to linden flower. By that, I mean herbal, sweet yet floral with something citrusy on the aftertaste. The experience was lingering with each cup. Spry, layered, fruity, sweet, herbal, slightly earthy, and…well…young.

Zhang Lang gongfu

Like with all young, greener pu-erhs I’ve tried, the only thing lacking was dimension. Given a half-decade or so, more nuanced and winy flavors will develop. It’s akin to watching girls grow into beautiful women. (Natalie Portman Syndrome.)This tastes great now, but I’m really excited to see what happens in the next few years.

I’d probably toss someone over a balcony for it, then.

balcony

In 2010, back in my review days, a Vietnamese cooked pu-erh happened upon my desktop. By then, I had developed a predilection for weird teas and new origins. So, the idea of a pu-erh, from somewhere other than Yunnan, excited me. That is, until I tasted it. Let’s just say, I wasn’t a fan.

Angry Williams

But – in its defense – that might have been my ‘Merica brewing approach.

I also mistakenly assumed that said cooked pu-erh was only named for being close to Vietnam, but wasn’t actually from there. As far as I knew back then, pu-erh wasn’t pu-erh unless it was from Yunnan province, China. Well, apparently, some parts of Yunnan and Vietnam are only separated by a river. Therefore, it was safe to assume that some Chinese pu-erh making techniques crossed the border.

Just this last year, I ran across a company that did sell Vietnamese pu-erh. Alas, they were all sold out of the stuff by the time I made an inquiry. However, around the same time (circa November), a forum topic was started by a new Tea Trader who went by the name “@Caobo”.

Apparently, he was affiliated with an outfit called Hung Cuong Trading Company, LTD, out of Ha Giang province, Vietnam. I knew nothing about the company. But further digging did turn up a website and a Facebook page.

Hung Cuong

Imaged owned by Hung Cuong Tea

The website was in Vietnames, but what did I expect? ‘Merican English everywhere?

After some discussion with Caobo, I was able to acquire two cooked pu-erh cakes – a 1999 and a 2005. And they. Were. Huge!

Vietnamese pu-erh cakes

Left- 1999. Right – 2005

Seriously, beautifully pressed cakes. Not that I’m an expert on the subject – I’m nowhere near. But these were gorgeous. However, time and life got the better of me, and I didn’t dip into these until four months later. I know, par for (lazy) course.

Let’s get this out of the way. As I mentioned above, yes, I know they can’t be considered pu-erh in the traditional sense because they’re not Chinese in origin. Anything not from Yunnan is simply a heicha (or “dark tea”) in the most generalist of terms. But you know what? If the only thing separating your pu-erh variant from Yunnan is a friggin’ river, I think you’ve earned the right to the name.

Anyway, enough ranting, on with the tasting.

The ’99 cake had an aroma of dirt and…Russian caravans. Seriously, it was as earthy as any aged cooked pu-erh I’ve ever come across. I felt like I was on a dirt road riding on horseback. The ’05, by contrast, had a more spry smell – mint, dust, dirt, and something medicinal on the back-whiff. Points to the ’99 for sniff-test win.

And now…the hard part: Cutting into these beautiful cakes. Seriously, not since childhood birthday parties have I been so torn. To cut into something so beautiful made my heart ache. But there was tasting to be done, so I went to stabbin’.

Cutting the cake

The ’99 was murderously difficult to cut into. And I do mean murderous. I had to channel some misplaced rage just to plunge the pu-erh pick deep enough. Once I was able to pry some slivers free, the rest was easy. The parts I did flake off did so with ease once pressed.

The ’05 didn’t put up as much of a fight as its older brother, but the pieces that came off were far flakier and small. I gathered up what I could and put them in the cup. Color-wise, there wasn’t a difference between either cake’s compressed leaves. Only their consistency differed. As one would expect, the ’99 leaves kept together in their pressed form, whereas the ’05 was more prone to loosening.

versus

Left- 1999. Right – 2005

For brewing, I decided to actually learn from past mistakes and went with a gongfu-ish approach. Boiled water, multiple steeps of about thirty seconds – gradually increasing the time on successive infusions. Given their age, and the “cooking” process, it was the only way to go.

The wet leaves for the ’99 stayed together after the first infusion, while the ’05 broke apart pretty easily under waterboarding stress. Aromatically, both couldn’t have been more different – the ’99 being straight earth, while the ’05 smelled like pipe tobacco.

The liquor for the ’99 also came out considerably darker (plus more difficult to pour, for some reason). The ’05 looked more like a small-cut Nilgiri black tea in liquor color. As for the steam scent off of both cups – ’99 was more pungent and dusty, and the ’05 was mild in its “essence of wilderness”.

liquors

Left- 1999. Right – 2005

As one would expect, the ’99 tasted much older – giving off a fungal vibe on the tongue, mixed with the earthen qualities already present. While the elder was more nuanced, the ’05 was a far smoother drink – reminding me of a light-smoked Lapsang Souchong in character.

Further infusions provided deeper dimensions to both, but honestly, after steep #2…descriptors escaped me. I was well into tea drunk by then. The only thing I can say for certain is that the ’99 the Elder started developing an oddly sweeter profile as time went on. The ’05 still stuck to its toasty guns on the smoke end of the spectrum – with a tickle of spice (???).

After I was done with all that finagling – and feeling a wee bit Zen-peachy – I decided to take the powdery dregs from both aged cakes…and gongfu them together.  Oh, c’mon, like you weren’t expecting this?!

The results were…schizophrenic. Best to keep these two siblings apart. Age before beauty.

liquor fusion

My favorite?

Well, they’re both tied, but for different reasons and in much different ways. I liked the way the ’99 felt and made me feel. I liked the ’05 for how it tasted and how comfortable it went down. For everyday drinking, the ’05 wins out. It’s a very approachable pu-erh. For the discerning palate throwing a special gathering of like-minded tea snoots? The ’99 wins out. All said, these were even better than some Yunnan cooked pu-erhs I’ve come across.

Consider me a very vocal Vietnamese tea fan.

Happy Williams

State of the Minion Address #3: “Expos, eBooks, and Media”

Ladies and (not-so-)Gentlemen!

Soapbox

I have a few announcements to make…

It’s been awhile since I’ve done one of these State of the Minion things – outlining future projects, current states of mind, and the like. However, a ton of things are on the horizon. Truth be told, I don’t know if I’ll even be able to accomplish it all. I’m certainly going to give it the good ol’ post-collegiate try, but (as is to be expected)…I make no guarantees.

Here’s the shortlist of projects and projected events that are in my future:

World Tea Expo 2014 (See Below)

Originally, I had no plans to go this year. I didn’t have much reason. Thus far, there hadn’t been word on any bloggy-related events. That and the Expo had been relocated to Long Beach. I was a little hesitant about that. Then I learned this was happening again…

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Imaged mooched from Jo “A Gift of Tea” Johnson

How could I not go?!

After a generous helping of begging and pleading, I weaseled my way onto the panel. Only a few things stand in my way of making all this a reality:

(1)   Money. That always seems to be a continuous problem, doesn’t it?

(2)   Time off from work

(3)   Means of getting there.

(4)   Press pass

#2 and #3 have been dealt with. #4…I’m still waiting on word from. It’s the first one that remains to be determined.

Which brings me to…

The eBook (See Below)

Yes, folks. You are reading that right. I’m finally writing an ebook. Technically, it’s halfway done, since it will incorporate things I’ve posted for this blog or other side-projects. Still, it’s the most monumental writer-ish undertaking I’ve ever…uh…undertaken.

The title (at the moment) is To Boldly Tea: A Fiction-Infused Anthology, and the book is as the title implies – a collection of tea fiction stories. The collection will include the following:

The Legend of Lapsang” – My first foray into tea fiction, ever. Bat-s**t crazy, it was.

Oolong Way from Gnome” – The epic story of the gnome who traveled from India to China with the Journey to the West gang of legend. It’s a third of the way done.

Fortune and the Goddess” – Arguably my most “famous” and controversial short story to date, and my first real post on the Beasts of Brewdom page.

“Border Line” – A story that came to me in a dream. It’s a tragic love story set in a Texas border town (called Margaret’s Hope) in 1902 dealing with monsters and yerba mate’.

“Breakfast, the Irish Way” – A short story I wrote for another anthology involving tea, U.S. senators, and Irish crime syndicates.

“Castleton: Tea Gun for Hire” – The story of a James Bond-like tea consultant and his mission to resolve a conspiracy about a tea estate, a huge corporation, and a lost city.

“Knights of the Apocalypse” – The descendants of the Earl of Grey (dubbed Mr. Excellent) and Viscount Petersham infiltrate a mutant-infested Scotland to save a very special…tree. Inspired by two tea blends.

“Steep Stories of a Lazy Literatus” – All of my tea fiction meta-reviews compiled into one novella-sized chunk. Including ones I have yet to write.

The Tea Trolley” – The Milly ode I wrote a couple of years back. I couldn’t think of a more perfect capper than that.

Of the list, four stories still need to be finished, which means there’ll be a lot of new, never-before-seen content. My goal is to have the rough draft done in a month, and edited and put up on Amazon by early May. The idea is to see if it generates any sales that will help fund my World Tea Expo…so I can pimp it some more.

pimp

And speaking of pimping…

Tumbling with Tea

Because everything is happening so fast (and so much keeps piling on), one of the things that’s been suffering is my blogging output. As you’ve likely noticed, I (maybe) have time for one blog a week. That leaves several teas unexplored.

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Yeah, that’s only half of what I need to get through.

So, I think I found a solution…and it involves Tumblr.

My Mum helped me come up with this idea. Of the teas I have to get through, only a few fit the “model” for my blog – that being new and interesting teas with stories to tell. That isn’t to say they’re not good – quite the opposite – I just don’t have a lot to say about them beyond taster notes.

So, I came up with a quickie solution. I started a Tumblr for poetry-related tea taster notes. They will be called TeaCuplets, and the goal is to get through one every other day. You will be able to find them HERE.

No, there aren’t any, yet. I just opened up the page for them…today. But I do have some down the pipeline.

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Well, that’s it. Everything I currently have on my plate. Will I be able to accomplish it all – effectively and efficiently? We shall see. I may be overloading myself, or over-estimating my skills at time management. That and soooooooo many things could go wrong between now and late-May.

If I accomplish even a smidge of this list, I will be happy.

Thanks for reading.

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UPDATE:

Due to financial difficulties and other work-related things, the World Tea Expo trip has been scrapped. The ebook project has also been postponed indefinitely until things calm down on the personal (and financial) front. The TeaCuplets “initiative”, however, will still remain in effect.

Sorry for the inconvenience and false hope.

Let’s put things in perspective.

Last Tuesday, there was a Teaity-hosted Twitter chat, and it was amazing!

Teaity

I, however, wasn’t amazing in it. In fact, one could even say – albeit crudely/colloquially – that I was out of my f**king mind. Reasons being: Too much caffeine…and family.

I started off the day – a work day, mind you – at 6AM. Somehow, I had the bright idea to pre-funk with some Hankook Tea Gamnong Sejak “matcha” (read: Korean powdered green tea).

Hankook Gamnong Matcha

The stuff is amazingly tasty. Looks like a mid-grade matcha from Izu, Japan…but tastes like a high-grade Uji ceremonial. It froths up handsomely, has a velvety texture going down, and caffeinates you like an immortal battering ram. That would’ve been enough.

But then I brewed some Butiki Teas Taiwanese Wild Mountain black for the road trip to work. That…put me over the edge. I wasn’t just immortal; I was freaking celestial. Nothing could’ve penetrated my high.

Said work shift went by like an old-fashioned VCR on fast-forward. I was casually aware of time, but not affected by it. If problems arose, I handled it with all the aplomb of a pubescent spelling bee contestant. And best of all? No crash.

One would think that was enough caffeine for the day, right? Well…apparently my brain never got that memo. When riding high, better continue the party – right?

When I came home, I smelled the old Wild Mountain leaves. They still had life in ‘em. So, I brewed up a second infusion.

In the interim, my Mum was pacing and yelling at her phone. I asked what was bugging her. She had been on the phone with my niece, but the signal cut off. The 14-year-old had said she was walking home from school, but an hour had passed. Her school is a mere three streets away.

Forgetting about the tea, I grabbed Mum and we headed out to go look for the missing niece. Just as we were heading out of the apartment complex, we saw a teenage girl loping up the hill. It was the niece in question. After I told her to get in the car, she explained what had happened.

Her phone died…and she got lost in a cul de sac.

No, seriously.

How?!

After that li’l adventure, I saw mentions on Facebook and Twitter that Teaity’s Chat Party was happening.

Oh snap!  I thought. I forgot to RSVP.

I quickly shot a tweet to Naomi Rosen (Mrs. Joy’s Teaspoon) about how to do exactly that. She and Nicole “Tea For Me Please” Martin were co-hosting the chat session with Teaity’s founder – Chris Giddings. I knew next to nothing of how it was going down, save for the fact that it was happening.

I did the RSPV thing, looked on Google+ (thinking it was a Hangout or something), then did a proverbial “Derp!” upon realizing that it was a Twitter chat. People chimed in on it by using the hashtag “#TeaityChat” on Twitter.  Finally, I chimed in…still somewhat wired after tanking my over-brewed mug of Wild Mountain.

And it was like I stepped into Peter Griffin’s version of Bed Bath & Beyond.

TeaityChat

So many people. So many conversations happening all at once. At first, I joined in with a simple, “Ahoy!” But then I thought the best idea would be to answer one of the questions put out to the crowd.

teaity pants

Hey, I said it was my best idea…I didn’t say it was a good idea.

However, there was one problem. Here I was, in the middle of a tea chat, but I had no tea. For months, I’d been meaning to do a piece on Teaity and its “timer” function, and this was my excuse. The issue I was having, though, was finding a tea in my collection that was on the Teaity roster. Most of the stuff I had on-hand was downright esoteric.

All the while during the chat, I tore my collection apart looking for a brand and brew to join in with. About two-thirds the way through the multiple conversations, I found it. Teaity had AdventureTea’s Hawaiian Green listed. I brewed it up, using Teaity’s timer as a guide.

Teaity Timer

The results were even better than the trial-‘n-error brews I’d administered before. The flavor was like tropical fruit crossed with Hawaiian Mamaki leaf. Green, herbaceous, slightly citrusy, and nowhere-near-grassy. Probably the best green tea I’d had from Hawaii. (Although, granted, I’ve only had two others.)

Hawaiian Green Tea

If I wasn’t over-caffeinated by then, I certainly was now. I couldn’t even recall how many pints/pots of tea I was in at that point. All I knew was, it was almost 9PM…and I was nowhere near tired.

Then I saw them on my tea shelf.

Ants. Tons of ‘em. Going after the whole whoppin’ two flavored teas I had in my collection. They smelled like vanilla and chocolate, so – naturally – the critters bee(or ant)-lined to them. With how much caffeine I had in my system, I panicked. I tore all the teas off the bookshelf, and moved everything aside.

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Then I grabbed our one vacuum and combed the room with it. Unfortunately, the damn thing was clogged to the gills with dust and debris from the last major suck-up. I began to curse

Mum, sis, and niece each inquired as to what I was doing.

Phrases I…may have uttered.

“There’re ants everywhere.”

“I had to blow out the vacuum pipes with my mouth!

“I’m going to get herpes from this!”

Er…the last part was because I actually knew a guy who did get an STD from a vacuum. Long story, won’t go into it here.

After gutting and rearranging my room, I finally sat down – having expended all my excess energy. All that was left was a slight buzzing feeling in my brain. That and an odd sensation of feeling both hypochondriac…and accomplished. Very strange.

Moral of the story: There is such a thing as too much tea.

But, boy, it makes for an awesome story to tell.

Big Brass Butikis, Round 1: “Taiwan’s Wild Side”

I have a confession to make: I’m in love with Butiki Teas. They are one of five (maybe six?) companies that have my kind of business model. That being: What’s that? Is it weird? SWEET! I’ll buy ALL of it!

Fry

It’s like they took a piece of my brain, examined it, got rid of all the porny parts, and rolled with the rest.

Granted, they do have custom blends and flavored teas, too. But they go side-by-side with their esoteric partners on the beautiful Butiki list o’ wares. Butiki Teas provided me with the first Kenyan Purple Tea I ever tried, as well as the first Purple Pu-erh I gongfu’d the hell out of.

Heck, they even somehow carried a Nilgiri oolong that blew me away. Nilgiri oolongs never blow me away. (Okay, maybe a back-alley old fashioned from the Dunsdale estate, but that doesn’t count. Does it?)

This time, I was treated to two black teas from Yuchih Township, Nantou County, Taiwan. One was an Assam variant; the other was semi-wild-crafted. Oh my…Taiwanese black teas. I am in lust with Taiwanese black teas. Haven’t met one I haven’t liked, yet. And by the smell of these two sample bags, I was in for some sweet, sweet tea-lovin’.

Premium Taiwanese Assam

I love Taiwanese black teas for specifically one reason – the Taiwanese don’t f**k around with the leaves too much. Unlike regular Assams that are cut to the size of needles, these were long and twisty. Brown – sure. Rolled – sure. But still very unmistakably only-somewhat-tampered-with leaves. I’m a huge fan of teas that are completely and utterly whole leaf. (Mainly for the fact that they take more abuse.)

Taiwanese Assam

The smell was another dimension entirely. Like other Taiwanese blacks I’ve tried, there was a requisite sweetness to the aroma and an almost-cocoa quality. It was like whiffing a chocolate-laden breakfast cereal. Er…in leaf form.

The leaves infused to a medium-red liquor with a rustically sweet aroma, almost like a wild stevia plant – only lighter. It was Taiwanese through-and-through in its aromatic presentation. What surprised me was the taste. While it wasn’t initially sweet on leaf-sniffing, the flavor took on loads of cocoa notes. Almost like a Li Shan black – another Taiwanese tea. I was expecting malt, but didn’t get any. This was a strong, if gentle, beast of a brew.

Tawanese Wild Mountain Black

First reason to love this tea? It was bug-bitten! Like an Oriental Beauty or a Gui Fei. Er…when you’ve reached my level of tea fanboydom, you’ll find that endlessly exciting.

Leafhopper

Second, everyone I knew in the tea community was bragging about this stuff. Particularly my Tandem Tea Tasting circle. As luck/coincidence would have it, I had some on-hand but hadn’t dipped into it, yet. Peer pressure got the better of me.

Moving on.

The appearance for this was almost identical to the Assam – long, twisty brown leaves. These differed considerably in aroma, however, imparting a subtle sweetness and a woodsy/malty lean. Still very Taiwanese, but with some characteristics similar a Yunnan Dian Hong. There was also a hint of honey on the back-whiff.

Taiwanese Wild Mountain Black

The Wild Taiwanese brewed up a bit lighter than the Assam – by at least a shade or two. A sweet aroma from the dry leaves was still there, but after being…uh…wetted, they gave off a minty quality to the brew as well. Taste-wise, it was malty, sweet (as I’ve said a thousand times) and spry on the malt. Like a Ruby 18 but a little more…buff.

Paired

Left: Premium Taiwanese Assam. Right: Wild Taiwanese Black

The Winner: Wild Mountain Black. By a mile. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the Taiwanese Assam. But the Wild Mountain Black just did everything right…in my mouth. Like meeting a nice, sweet girl with a wild streak…but “old fashioned” at heart.

Old Fashion

I think I’ve mentioned my mother’s in town for a couple of months, right?

Unlike some thirtysomething males, I actually like having my mother around. No, not because she buys the food. In fact, I insist that she not do so. However, there are times when she offers that even I can’t refuse. This time, she offered on Valentine’s Day.

I usually don’t mind being single. Contrary to my usual whining, I like my me-time. Who better to keep me company than…well…me? Valentine’s Day, though? It serves as a glaring – and oft omnipresent – reminder that there’s more to life than just me. I don’t like that sort of reminder.

Mum woke me up at the crack of 9AM on V-Day proper. Did I mention I had the day off of work? Oh, well I did. Of all the days I wanted to work, it was this one. Unfortunately, I had nothing to keep me busy, and I had no other plans save for being idle and sulking. Mum had other plans.

“I was thinking we could go have Indian food,” she said.

I mumbled something unintelligible from the pillow.

“I’m buying.”

That woke me right up.

I was showered and ready in thirty minutes. Then a pang of guilt hit me.

“How ‘bout we grab tea after lunch at Smith’s?” I suggested. “My treat.”

“Wonderful idea!” she beamed.

We gorged on various tandoori-ish offerings at our favorite local haunt called Abhiruchi. Best Indian lunch specials in town. Well, as far as I was concerned, it was the only Indian lunch special in town. I practically had to be rolled out of there. All-you-can-eat Indian food is dangerous to those with no impulse control.

Afterwards, we trekked to the Pearl side of Portland and into Smith Teamaker HQ. Mum ordered a pot of Peppermint, I settled on a two-person pot of Bai Hao Oolong. Okay, my request was probably more…uh…specific than that.

smith pots

“Two-person pot of Bai Hao, 180 degrees, two-minute steep, save the leaves,” I requested.

I’m a tea snob, sue me.

As I sipped from my note perfect pot of oolong, we discussed future plans. She rattled off about her future occupational endeavors, as I segued to my bits about a future book I was writing and World Tea Expo. (I’ll get to that in a later post.)We effectively killed two hours, which is par for course with me and Smith’s.

Upon departing, we journeyed a bit through downtown Portland before hitting the freeway. While meandering down a side street, I saw a man holding up a sign.

find

And that pretty much summed up my single person’s viewpoint on Valentine’s Day.

If you’re single, it’s not about sulking in your oneness, but doing something special for someone you care about. In my case, Mum bought me lunch, and I bought her tea. And we were both better (and fuller) for it.

Oh, and Smith’s…I’ll pay my tab next week. I swear.

“All’s Fair in Love and Wolves” – An Open Letter to the Tandem Tea Tasters

 

To my dearest Tandem Tea Tasters – Rachel, Jo, Nicole, Darlene, Jackie and Julia

Tandem Tea Tasters

Image by Jo Johnson

I regret that I was unable to attend last Sunday’s Tandem Tea Tasting, and I equally lament that I never got to make the real(-ish)-time acquaintance of Xavier – the original Smiling Frenchman. While you might think I either flaked out on it, or had something better to do, I assure you the reason behind my absence was far more bizarre than that. And it all started with a snowstorm.

As most of you already know, Oregon finally felt the brunt of “Snowpocalypse 2014”. Some viewed it as karma for laughing at the East Coast and southern U.S., others looked upon it as a freak of nature. What no one knows…is that I was indirectly responsible for it.

Until now.

Thursday morning, news reports were starting to pour in about the impending inclement weather. In a rare case of forward thinking, I packed a bag in preparation. You see, I work at a hotel. If snow did fall, I had a place to stay. By noon, snow did fall…and hard.

Salute to snow

What was originally supposed to be a day’s stay turned into two…then three. Then four. For a while, I looked upon it as a “staycation” of sorts. There was a microbrewery nearby, and free food was offered to the employees that stayed the night. But by the the end of the fourth day, I was starting to grow weary of my surroundings.

I had hoped to return home Sunday afternoon after my shift, but – while some of the snow and ice had started to melt – much of it still remained. There was no way my little Ford Focus would make it out of the driveway. Another night in, it was.

After grabbing a masala chai latte at the bar, I headed back to my room. As I lumbered down the hallway, I beheld an odd occurrence. Snowflakes were falling inside the hallway. They appeared out of nowhere…then disappeared before hitting the ground.

hallway

I continued down the hall and found the door to my room. Something must’ve been in that latte, for I was seeing things. Or perhaps I had been cooped up too long. As I opened my hotel room door, I was greeted by…

A wolf. Or was it a man? No, scratch that. It was a…

WOLFMAN!” I screamed.

The werewolf appeared taken aback by my girlish scream. He was dressed rather peasantly – ripped jeans, flannel shirt and a tattered scarf. His get-up was actually rather hip. He would’ve fit in well in Portland – wolfhead and all.

loup personne

“Th-th-that’s racist!” the were-hipster sputtered. In a French accent.

Where had I heard that answer before? Ah yes…from a were-tiger. That calmed me down right quick.

I closed the door and plopped down on the bed. “What do you want to be referred to as, then? Lycanthrope?”

The hip-wolf stared at me – stunned at my change in composure. What he didn’t know was that I had experienced similar occurrences before. Magical creatures whisking me away was nothing new to me.

“That’s even worse,” he said. “I am a loup personne.

I glared. “That just means ‘wolf person’ in French!”

He said nothing.

“Fine,” I gave in. “What do I call you, then? Quel est votre nom?”

“Your French is terrible,” the werewolf said, disgusted.

Pas de merde,” I replied. No translation needed.

“Theodor,” the wolf sighed. “My name is Theodor.”

“Okay, Ted.”

“Theodor,” he corrected.

“Whatever, Ted,” I continued. “Why are you here? And what’s with the snow inside the hotel?”

“The snow is a side-effect of opening a Narnia Gate,” he explained. “And I was told that you were a great warrior.”

My head hurt. “Narnia Gate?!”

“A magical tear in reality for transport from one place to another. The side-effect is snow within a three thousand mile radius.”

My eyes widened. I wasn’t very good with geography, but I knew what that encompassed. “How long ago did you cast that spell?”

“I started the incantation about two months ago.”

My stomach tightened. Just like that. I learned I was indirectly responsible for Snowpocalypse 2014.

“Why didn’t you use ley-line travel?” If it was good enough for Zombie Robert Fortune, surely it was good enough for a werewolf.

“On my salary?” His ears perked.

“There’s…magical minimum wage?”

Theodor said nothing.

I got up and patted him on the back. “I know that feels, bro.”

“So, are you?”

“Am I what?” I returned.

“A great warrior that helps others?” he clarified.

“Who told you that?”

“Shere Kahn of the Tee Faktorei.”

khan

“I’m a tea blogger,” I corrected.

What?!” Theodor roared. “The tiger-man lied!”

“Calm down,” I said, palms out. “What exactly did he say?”

“He told me to seek the aid of a Norman. I simply assumed he meant a warrior of Norse descent.”

I laughed. Hard. “Dude, I’m not even close.”

Theodor’s ears drooped, and he sighed a bit like a Saint Bernard I knew.

“How can I help?” I finally offered.

“I’m not sure you can. My mate, Romaine, was kidnapped by a dragon.”

“Any idea why?”

The wolfman shook his scruffy head.

“Well, I’d better get dressed,” I said, lifting myself from the bed.

“Aren’t you already dressed?”

“Not for a life-or-death tea tasting, I’m not.”

I grabbed some clothes and headed to the bathroom. When I re-emerged, I was attired in flannel-blue pajama bottoms, a blue J-TEA t-shirt (one size too big) and sneakers without socks. Theodor gave me a once-over.

“My mate’s life is on the line,” he argued. “This isn’t a sleepover.”

“Khan sent you to me,” I explained. “That means this has something to do with tea. This is my tea-tasting attire. If I’m going to help you, I’m going in uniform.”

Note: Not an actual likeness.

Note: Not an actual likeness.

I’m not sure what Theodor did next, but it looked like a facepalm. Or rather, a facepaw. We left the room.

One moment, we were walking down a snowed-in hotel highway, the next we stood in a grand cavern. Statues lined the walls – all of them various dragons of different shapes and sizes. Some Eastern, some Western. At the center of the cavernous meeting hall was an altar of some sort. Dead center, shackled to the wall was…well…a female werewolf with jet-black fur. She was unconscious but otherwise looked unharmed.

“Romaine!” Theodor yelled and ran forward.

I tried to grab him, but I was one step too late. As the wolfman dashed forward, the ground rumbled. A high-pitched roar echoed throughout the interior. Pink smoke billowed from the right side of the room. Theodor froze in mid-stride – legs shaking.

And a dragon appeared. Or rather…what passed for one

The “dragon” – if one could call it that – stood approximately seven feet tall with milky-white scales. Along its spine were various horns and protrusions, but they were knobbed and uneven. Its eyes looked glassed over, and – to my surprise – it wore actual glasses. With the thickest frames I ever did see.

Oh, and did I forget to mention that the dragon was fat? I mean, morbidly obese.

Francis

Art by Barb Bjornson

“So, Theodor,” it spoke. “This is the warrior you bring to face Francis the Ferocious.”

I tried really hard not to laugh. I failed.

“Who dares chortle in my direction?” spoke Francis the Ferocious. Oddly enough, his voice reminded me of Benny Hill.

“Uh sorry, Francis…um…sir,” I said. “I was just…laughing at the coincidence of your name. You see, my middle name is Francis.” It was the truth, too.

Francis brought a pudgy paw to his chin, “You have good taste, o’ warrior.”

“I’m not a warrior,” I said. “Just a tea geek. Like yourself.”

The dragon glared, “How did you know this was about tea?”

“You look like a tea drinker.” And in truth, he really did. Then I added, “Mr. Ferocious, sir.”

“Then perhaps you can help me where our Theodor here could not,” Francis said, pacing toward me.

The ground shook near me, and several black obsidian pieces magically coalesced into a table. A white Ceylon steeper cup and a sample bag shimmered into being. A stainless steel kettle winked into existence as well – water already heated.

The brand on the bag o’ tea I’d seen only once before, a couple of weeks back. Maison de thè THEODOR – the company my Tandem Tea Tasting group was covering today. What were the odds?!

The sample bag read: Thé Du Loup. My high school French was a little rusty, but I knew “Tea of the Wolf” when I saw it. Awesome name, I thought. I should remember that for a story.

The blend looked exactly like it was supposed to…a blend. A very French one, at that. The black tea base consisted of small-cut pieces with flecks of yellow flower petals for visual appeal. Marigolds, I thought to myself. Couldn’t be sure, though. I thought I also noticed a piece of orange or something akin to it.

Dry The Du Loup

As to aroma, this thing wasn’t kidding around, and I voiced as such. “It smells like…cookies.”

“Well, what kind of cookies?!” the dragon asked urgently.

“Girl Scout cookies?” I shrugged.

“Made of actual Girl Scouts?” Francis asked…a little too excitedly.

“You watched The Addams Family recently, didn’t you?”

The dragon looked confused.

“Nevermind,” I grumbled.

I thought I recalled a recommendation for 185F water or the Celcius equivalent. I found that a bit light for a black tea, but then again the tea leaves were small. And the blend was French. A lighter touch, it was.

The Du Loup

The liquor brewed to a dark red-brown, almost like a chocolate-dipped cherry. The aroma was cocoa mixed with vanilla with a floral underpinning – sweet all around but not too perfumy. Some of the floral character came through on the taste with a very pungent forefront that reminded me of candy-dipped flowers. (Or whatever I thought that would taste like.) The rest was rather pleasant. Some of the natural tea flavor showed up in the middle, and the blend ended on a candy-ish finish.

“And now for the ‘Love Tea’,” Francis ordered.

The obsidian slab rotated in on itself, replaced by a near identical taster cup. I marveled at the transformation, but remained bewildered at the fact that this dragon’s brewing equipment looked exactly like mine. Great minds…?

I looked at the sample bag. Indeed, it was a “Love Tea”, literally. The ornate letters on the bag read: Je t’aime. With Valentine’s Day a week away, I had to groan a little.

Taim

The leaves for this blend looked like…ah, hell, they looked the same as the Thé Du Loup – small black tea leaves, marigolds, orange pieces et al. The only considerable difference I could glean between the two was that the Je t’aime smelled creamier and more citrusy.

“Are you sure these are different blends?” I asked the dragon.

“These samples were gifted to me by a trusted colleague!” he roared. “Do you doubt me?!”

“No, sir!” Theodor kowtowed. Then shot me a glare and whispered, “Stop pissing him off!”

“I’m not trying to!” I rasped back.

I brewed the Je t’aime up the same way I had the Loup. The liquor turned out a shade lighter than the prior tea. The aroma was similar but a lot more delicate. Vanilla and something citrus-ish took point. Taste-wise, it was a lot more spry and less full-bodied that the wolf-named tea. It was also the most French. And, ironically, it was my favorite.

All Taim

“Very French,” I said with a nod. “But very good.”

Theodor rolled his eyes. “You’re a poet.”

“Your mom’s a poet,” I countered.

The werewolf growled. It was about as threatening as a puppy chewing on a fake steak.

“Well?” Francis the Ferocious pressed.

“Well what?” I asked, confused.

“Are they worth buying?”

Theodor looked at me, pleading.

“Um…” I had no idea what to say. “Blends aren’t usually my thing, but…yeah?” I shrugged a little with the cup in hand.

“Splendid!” Francis squealed, clapping his pudgy hands together. He pointed at Theodor. “I’ll take four ounces of each.”

“I…don’t sell tea,” Theodor said. “I’m a cashier at a butcher shop.”

“….What?” the dragon growled, fists clenched. Knuckles turning even whiter.

Before wolfman could answer, I stepped between the two of them. “I think there’s been a misunderstanding.”

“How so?” Francis said, eyes leveling on me.

“I think you confused the ‘wolf’-named tea and ‘love’ tea from the THEODOR brand…with an actual wolf’s lover…named Theodor,” I explained.

“I never make mistakes!” Francis whined.

“What browser do you use?” I asked again.

“Um…Internet Explorer.” Francis answered.

“Search engine?”

“Bing.”

“I can see where you got confused, then.” I nodded, hand to chin. “How about you let this poor wolf’s girl go, and let them leave in peace. In return, I’ll help you make the tea purchase, okay?”

Francis kicked up some dirt, looking slightly embarrassed. “Okay.”

Over the next hour or so, as Theodor made his escape with Romaine’s unconscious form, I stayed with the dragon. Apparently, no one in his usual dragon-y circles had heard of Google, nor learned that some sites could be translated into different languages. Lucky for us, the THEODOR site had an English version, thus dispelling any future confusion…or kidnappings.

Before long, the dragon/nerd and I were having tea – an Uva Ceylon he had on hand. It was also nice to have a dragon nearby that could heat the water simply with his breath. We talked of small nothings and big anythings. All the while, sipping the night away.

Tea

Francis returned me to my hotel’s hallway via ley-line port. Far smoother than the Narnia Gate, and less cold. When I returned to my room, Theodor was waiting by the door.

“Where’s Romaine?” I asked.

“Two floors up,” he said. “We got a room for the night. I…can’t afford to open another Narnia Gate.”

“Just be sure to take human form when you go to breakfast.”

Theodor nodded.

“Something else you needed?”

“To apologize.”

“For what?”

“I doubted you,” he admitted. “You are a great warrior.”

“Nope,” I confessed. “I just look good in pajamas.”

Theodor seemed to accept that answer and left.

I slept rather soundly that night.

*****

The next morning, I worked a six-hour shift. I was a bit ornery the entire time, longing for home. As I was pushing a housekeeping cart, a couple passed by me. The man was wearing a flannel shirt and a scarf, and the woman on his arm had a long mane of jet-black hair. Both were speaking French. The man looked back, and shot me a nod and a grin. I nodded back.

And that, my friends, is the truth of it. I hope nothing quite as outlandish happens by the time the next Tandem Tea Tasting comes around. But I make no promises. The magical world is a tricky mistress, and she always seems to catch me in my pajamas.

 

With regards,

Geoffrey F. Norman

The Lazy Literatus

Tea and a letter

This is Part 2 of a trilogy of posts about Lapsang Souchong. For Part 1, go HERE.

The Changing Face of Lapsang Souchong, Part 2: “The Subtlety of Smoke”

The branding and categorizing of tea can get a little fuzzy, especially where China is concerned. The main reason being, a lot of the origin stories surrounding tea can’t be corroborated or catalogued. Many of them have fallen into myth and legend. Few attempts are made to say, “This is this because it comes from here!” And if they do, it’s very hard to back it up.

Marvin

That’s not to say there haven’t been attempts to maintain brand integri-“tea” in China. Case in point, Keemun can’t really be considered Keemun if it isn’t from Qimen County, Anhui province, China. Pu-erh can’t be considered pu-erh if it isn’t from Yunnan province, China. And in 1732, the mayor of Changan County said that a tea couldn’t be considered real “hong cha” (what we call, “black tea”) unless it was grown/processed within an area of 600 square miles of Tong Mu village, Fujian province, China. (Source: Seven Cups)

Lucky for us tea drinkers, that last ruling never stuck. However, to a lesser degree, that category still holds true for Lapsang Souchong. If it is to be considered a smoked tea worthy of that name, it has to be grown from the rocks and cliffs of Wu Yi Mountain. Granted, Tong Mu Village doesn’t make smoky Lapsang anymore, at least not on the scale it used to. That isn’t to say other villages in the region didn’t pick up the slack. Enter Tong Cheng, one such village. And Joseph Wesley Black Tea, an eagerly experimental vendor.

I’m not sure what process they used for their Lapsang Souchong, or how Joseph Wesley Black Tea got a hold of it, but it differed from ones I was used to. The difference probably had something to do with the processing. Smoking tea leaves over dry pinewood led to a stronger, campfiery profile. Smoking them over wet pinewood yielded something subtler. Whether it was the wood…uh…wetness, or simply lighter smoke utilized, the results were a far different Lapsang paradigm.

leaves

The look and the smell of the leaves were different from any other Lapsang I’d encountered. Most are comprised of small black leaves and a pungently smoky aroma. The leaves here were larger and the smoky smell was much more subtle – like a ninja on a cigarette break.

Ninja Cigarette

It was a pleasantly earthy, malty, and distant-campfire-y aroma. I could’ve sniffed it all day.

There weren’t any brewing instructions on the Joseph Wesley page, so I had to go with my gut. (Never a good thing.) I did 1 heaping teaspoon of leaves in a 6oz. steeper cup, with water heated to boiling, and a three-minute steep. A good ol’ black tea standby. It wasn’t until I was done steeping that I saw brewing instructions on the tea can. Whoops.

The liquor brewed to the color of rust with a rustic and malty aroma.

Joseph Wesley Lapsang Souchong

Smoke did show up as an underpinning, but very mild in comparison to its forest-fire cousins. On first sip, the first thing I noticed was astringency – like a good Assam – and it quickly translated to a woodsy, roasty and surprisingly comfortable mid-note. The finish was like the after-effects of a business meeting in a comfortable smoking room underneath a Scottish bar. One can’t smell the cigars anymore, but there’s still an echo. Same with this tea. It’s a Lapsang, alright; it’s just sneakier about it.

Further infusions yielded smokier results. I, at least, got a good four more steeps out of a small helping of leaves. Granted, the liquor did lighten, but there was still nuance to be had. If you can call an echo of “brushfire” nuance.

forest fire

For Part 3, go HERE.

This is the first installment in a trilogy of posts about Lapsang Souchong.

The Changing Face of Lapsang Souchong, Part 1: “Silver and Smoke”

Tong Mu Guan is a village on Wu Yi Shan (read: “mountain”) in Fujian province, China. It is considered the birthplace of modern day black tea. As legend has it, the first black tea (or hong cha/”red tea”) was produced by quickening the drying process by smoking the tea over wet pinewood. The result was something dubbed “Bohea”, at the time – a term that referred to simple low-to-mid-grade black tea in the 18th and 19th century.

Image mooched from (and owned by) Canton Tea Co.

Image mooched from (and owned by) Canton Tea Co.

Another variant came to pass, which was more smoked than Bohea – utilizing a process involving dried pinewood. That resulted in the campfire-tasting beverage known as Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong, or more commonly referred to as Lapsang Souchong. There are many stories regarding its origin, some involving armies staying and armies passing through, but the end result is the same – heavily pine-smoked black tea that sold well abroad.

Lapsang Souchong is a love-it or hate-it affair. Believe it or not, the first Lapsang I ever bought was from the original Tong Mu village. I didn’t understand at the time how great a privilege that was. And I hated it. It tasted stale and burnt – old, even.

magmin2

Later on down the line, I tried another Lapsang Souchong not from Tong Mu. Loved every sip of it. The hickory flavor gelled with me. Since then, every smoked tea variant I’ve consumed has been a pyromaniac’s palatial love affair.

Sometime in 2011, I happened across another Tong Mu-made black tea called Jin Jun Mei – roughly translated, “Golden Beautiful Eyebrow”. It was reedy-looking, gold-tipped like a Yunnan Jin Cha, and very young-seeming. I could tell they were young buds by the presence of some furs. Funny thing is, though, I don’t remember much about it other than it reminding me of Golden Monkey – another Fujian province black. Other than acknowledging its immediate deliciousness, I didn’t find anything extraordinary about it.

Then I read an article by Austin Hodge of Seven Cups. Apparently, I had tasted one of the rarest, most in-demand teas in the world. And it had wiped out Lapsang Souchong production in Tong Mu village. I will confess to having wept a wee bit while reading it.

Sad Smokey

Around the same time, Smith Teamaker’s tech guru, Alex, had teased me with a smoked tea sample they got in. I immediately hunted him and it down within that week. They gifted me a couple of servings of the stuff. The name for it was Yin Jun Mei.

This required some research. Putting my geek cap on, I looked up whatever information I could find on it. While doing so, I kept finding its name tied inexplicably with Jin Jun Mei. Both were considered Lapsang Souchong, and both hailed from Tong Mu. Apparently, Yin Jun Mei (read: “Silver Beautiful Eyebrow) was Jin Jun Mei’s lightly-smoked sibling. Whereas Jin wasn’t smoked at all, Yin underwent a process similar to traditional Bohea – smoked over wet pinewood, resulting in a subtler smoky taste.

I brewed it up the next day to find out.

The leaves had no silver tips among them, as the name would imply, but rather gold tips. They were small, curly and ranged from brown to gold. The overall appearance reminded me of Golden Monkey – only darker. I didn’t get much of an aroma from the sample, other than a scant shade of wood and malt. No actual smoky sensation – much like Jin Jun Mei in that respect.

Yin Jun Mei

For brewing, I went with a typical black tea approach – 1 tsp. in a 6oz. gaiwan, steeped in boiled water for three minutes. Tried and true method for anything Lapsang-ish. I hoped some smoke emerged from the infusion.

The liquor brewed to a foggy red-amber with a spry, almost Keemun-like aroma. Smoky yet sweet. The taste was the most surprising aspect. Smoke did emerge on the forefront, but not in that strong, hickory sort of way. It was understated but definitely there. What followed really had me floored. It was a sensation that was almost like a white tea – an herbaceous punch of zest coupled with a smidge of malt. Whatever it was, it was delicious. And I can see why this and its “gold” sibling are taking Tong Mu away.

Yin Jun Mei Tea

That said, I still have a soft spot for the unsophisticated, pinewood punch of the ol’ Lapsang. So, I write this glowing approval of this Jun Mei type with a metaphoric tear of lament. Lapsang Souchong, I salute ye.

salute

In all your forms.

For Part 2, go HERE