Steep Stories

of the Lazy Literatus

Russian Dark Tea

Russians love tea. Like . . . really love tea. Even the British and Irish look at the Russian love affair with tea and say, “Would you kindly tone it down?”

I learned of this secondhand when I was doing research a couple of years ago on tea grown in Russia. Not exactly sure how it happened, but Russians took a rather strong liking to low-altitude Ceylon. Brewed as a concentrate . . . from a giant brass water heater . . . that was stoked with a boot. Yes, a Samovar.

But in recent years, there’s been a shift in the Russian tea palate. One I learned of from – of all places – Instagram.

Photo used with permission from Electrogorilla

Photo used with permission from Electrogorilla

Young Russians love dark tea (or “heicha”). Like . . . really love dark tea. Puerh, to be precise.

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Tea Drunk Vs. Actual Drunk

A couple of weeks ago, I was in a chatroom. Okay, that alone isn’t worthy of note, but this was a tea chatroom. And for some reason – some awesome reason! – the concept of “tea drunk” popped up in mid-conversation. It’s a phrase that gets bandied around a lot in the community. Mostly for comedic effect, and all of us know it really is a thing.

Think actual drunkenness but without “most” of the weaknesses associated with it.

Art by Jason Norman; Concept by Me.

Art by Jason Norman; Concept by Me.

In the middle of this chat, I began to wonder how tea drunkenness and actual drunkenness would compare and contrast. And also, how best to illustrate that dichotomy. Truth was . . . I couldn’t.

I needed an artist, and I only knew of one “fit” for the job.

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The Green Teas of Nepal

I’ve confessed (here and there) to turning into a bit of a Nepalese tea fanboy lately. I may have even made a lofty claim that whatever it is they’re doing may very well be a possible future for the tea industry. (But that’s a whole ‘nother article.) While I’m not going to retract that statement, I am going to clarify it a bit. Simply put, imagine that India is the “Reinheitsgebot” (Bavarian Beer Purity Law”) of South Asian tea growing countries. Nepal would be Belgium. They take the old rules and just . . . toss ‘em out the window.

Nepal’s tea growers, farmers, farming collectives, and estates don’t have a solid model in which to base their industry on yet, but they have a pretty good start. They’re not afraid to buck tradition to try something wacky. And I  was recently sent three green teas – courtesy of Norbu Tea Company – that solidly illustrated my point.

Nepali green teas

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A Weekend of Bug-Bitten Beauties and a Torched Tea Latte

Like a lot of hourly, barely-above-minimum wage types, my “weekend” off doesn’t actually fall on a weekend. I’m lucky if I even get two days off in a row to call a weekend. Lately, though, I’ve been graced with exactly that.

Do I use the time off to party, get things done, or run errands? Nope. I tea. A lot. At least, that’s how it happens on the first day off.

thai oriental beauty brewed

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There Is No Money in Tea

Over the last few weeks, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend in the tea community. And I mean all of the tea community. From growers, to wholesalers, to vendors, to buyers, and – finally – even to us “humble” bloggers. It seems to be a phenomenon directly related to the year prior.

2015 was a piss-poor year for our favorite cuppa. Many tea growing regions reported lower-than-average bulk sales, Darjeeling especially. Online retailers got their collective asses kicked. And even the megalithic chains had a tough time of it. This all culminated with the announcement that Starbucks would be closing several of its Teavana tea bars.

What does this all mean? Hard to say. But I can tell you all one thing. The backdraft from this slump has been anything but pleasant to witness. Human rights violations on macro tea farms. Questionable marketing practices among vendors. Vendors attacking other vendors. And, of course, everyday tea drinkers getting sucked into all the kerfuffle.

In the immortal words of Lu Yu . . .

Lu Yu redo

Image courtesy of Jo Johnson. Altered by me. (Slightly.)


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A Day at Chariteas

On my days off, it is not uncommon to find me at a tearoom. I mean, having tea at home is great and all, but sometimes one has a desire to leave the house . . . and even the comforting confines of one’s pajamas. Last week (that being, January 14th, 2015, depending on when you – fine reader – are viewing this), I originally had plans to grab a tea latte with a co-worker. She had to cancel due to financial constraints – a plight I know all too well. So, a Plan B was needed, even if it wasn’t entirely planned.

Following the co-worker cancelation, I was in the middle of a chat with the owner of Chariteas – the titular “Charity” of the name. I mentioned I had some teas to pass on her way, and wondered if I could stop by the shop. I also had a hankering for one of their chicken salad sandwiches and a scone. She said she’d be there, and that a stop by around lunch time was fine.

And thus, I made the hour-long jaunt to Sandy, OR. to Chariteas.

Chariteas exterior

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A Sidrapong Heritage Story

The Arya tea estate has a fascinating history, even among the many that dot the Darjeeling region, especially because of its original name – Sidrapong.

Arya, formerly Sidrapong

According to legend, the original site was home to Buddhist monks on an unknown pilgrimage in the mid-to-late 1700s. They were looking for a place to build a new monastery and somehow ended up in Darjeeling. The monks, then, planted a garden with various Chinese seeds and dubbed it “Sidrapong”. To date, I have yet to come up with an exact translation for this. And believe me, I looked. The nearest thing I could find, after consulting several sources, was a claim that it meant “house on fire” in the old Lepcha language.

Eventually, the garden was renamed “Arya” – a Sanskrit word meaning “noble” or “respected”. In 1885, it was transformed into a tea garden, presumably by the British. Over ten years later, the garden became home to a new tenant – a technological one.

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Tea Time at the Rhondarosa

Back in May, before attending World Tea Expo in Long Beach, I did a brief stint with family in San Diego. I set aside three days during that trip for no agenda whatsoever. My only plan was to stay with my dad and stepmother. Everything else was up in the air.

During dinner, though, my stepmother did ask me if there was anything in particular I did want to accomplish. I replied, “I kinda want to see Auntie Rhonda.”

Rhonda was my stepmother’s sister. I hadn’t seen her in . . . wow, I think it’d been nearly a decade. And nearly two decades since I’d visited their home in Temecula – aptly named “The Rhondarosa”. I forgot why it was called that; I know they told me, but I spaced it. I think it was because it was a ranch-style house. In the middle of SoCal wine country. But I’m getting off-topic . . .

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Wuyi Oolong on New Year’s Eve

2015 was a year of ups and downs, like a lot of years. But there was one particular occurrence – while in hindsight it was rather small – sort of summed up this mixed bag of a year. And that small occurrence started with this bag.

Qilan Wuyi oolong bag

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A Crappy Christmas Cat Poem with a Cuppa Tea

T’was the day before Christmas Eve,

And all was quite spiffy.

I stayed in my PJs all day –

In neither a hurry nor jiffy.


I babysat two cats,

Made sure they were fed.

Never overstayed my welcome,

For they both wished me dead.


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