Steep Stories

of the Lazy Literatus

Reading Tea Blogs as History

As of this year, I’ll have written about tea on the Internet—in some capacity or another—for eleven years.

It boggles my mind that I’ve been at it for this long.  A part of me even wonders why I still do it. Honestly, not much has come of it. The blog itself really hasn’t changed much. I cover weird teas, and share my weird stories about tea. A part of me felt the blog itself peaked in 2016, and that my irreverent joy of it petered out long before that.

And as far as it leading to professional writing projects? . . . Eh . . . we won’t get into that.

But, lately, I felt the tug of burnout. When would my last strand of proverbial tea prosaic rope finally fray and break? When would I put this here blog to rest and become a mere blip in the annals of tea blogging history?

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The Travails of Moving Tea

I think we can all agree on one thing: moving is a pain in the arse.

Moving when you’re a tea drinker? Even more so. But I think I stumbled across the perfect way to do it this time.

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A Tea Man on Tinder

So . . . I joined Tinder last week.

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What the Heicha?! A Shou “Puerh” from Fujian?

Back in the spring of 2017, tea afficianado Nicky “Steady Hand Tea” Evers passed on a unique specimen.

A Wuyi oolong from 2005 that was wet-piled, dried … and stored in Taiwan. It fell into no discernible category. The taste was “like” a Hunan heicha … with notes of cliff side roast. I compared it to any ol’ dark tea being rubbed against a muddy, burnt cliff face, or jujubes that were sent to solitary confinement… then roasted on a spit. They died for my sins. Short version: it was interesting.

And as I’m wont to do after trying something far removed from any palatial paradigm, I began to wonder: were there other Fujian province-borne heichas out there. The only heicha or puerh-“like” things I’d encountered from that province were white tea cakes. Sure, those were good, but they weren’t dark tea. Or at least, per the definition I’ve come to adopt. (For now.)

Then I ran across . . . this . . .

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Darjeeling in Autumn

I chose a weird time to talk about autumn flush Darjeelings.

Photo by Rajiv Lochan.

For one thing, it hasn’t been a typical year for the region. (An understatement, true.) But before I get into that, I should probably explain what I mean by “Darjeeling autumn flush”. Here’s a bit of a primer.

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Should Sheng Cha Be Considered Heicha?

In May of 2017, I asked tea peers on social media a simple question: Is Vietnamese sheng puerh style heicha a thing?

At least . . . I thought it was a simple question.

That query sparked a minor debate about the nature of heicha, and whether or not sheng puerh (or sheng puerh-style tea) was considered as such. At the time, I rested firmly in the camp that it was. After all, heicha (or “dark tea”, as it was more commonly known in English) encompassed all fermented teas. Sheng (or raw) puerh, following a long period of aging, went through a microbial change similar to heicha from other parts of China.

Or did it?

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A Tea Pairing from One Wuyi Artisan

For those that have tuned in to my li’l corner of “the In-Tea-Net”, folks can tell I have an affinity for talking about where the tea comes from. I have focused a lot of text-space to estates, gardens, factories, and the farmers that supply their wares to them. Less frequent, though, are my forays into focusing on the ways-‘n-means of the artisans.

Image owned by Seven Cups.

Mainly because . . . the opportunity hasn’t arisen.

Until Austin Hodge of Seven Cups Fine Chinese Teas contacted me.

Austin Hodge; Image owned by Seven Cups.

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Making the Most of a “Meh” Year

If I were to sum up 2017 in one image, it would be . . .

Yeah, that about says it.

The year wasn’t quite the dumpster fire that 2016 was, but it did have its ups and downs. Winter flew by like a brisk, cold nap. Spring reverberated with optimism and hope. And summer, like an oppressive heatwave, took that hope and crushed it with a sweaty fist. Autumn tried to resuscitate some shred of exuberance, but flat-lined by the time the holiday season rolled around.

Through it all, my mood soured on salvaging even a shred good cheer. That dour outlook permeated throughout my writing work; and my various social media feeds. Some even wondered if I needed a really long hug. (To which the answer was a resounding, “Yes!”) However, looking back on the past year, I realized there were many positive occurrences that I completely skated over—moments of pure tea whimsy that I forgot to document.

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A Custom Blended Christmas

Christmas is usually my favorite time of year. But this year . . . I simply wasn’t feeling it. And it wasn’t for lack of trying.

A week or so before the impending, I found a green bow on the floor of the parking lot at my work. It pretty much summed up how I felt. I tried to find yuletide joy in the little things around me, but even that proved difficult.

I’m not entirely sure if it was because I had to work through the majority of it, or because my finances were severely depleted—thus not allowing me to buy gifts for close family—or some combination therein. As December rolled around, I simply wanted it all to be over. Even Christmas music couldn’t lift my “bah humbag”-ish demeanor.

Then it hit me.

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The “Heritage” of Assam

I’ve covered Assam before, and the many tea gardens that lie within the Indian state. To date, though, I don’t think I’ve focused on tea factories in the region. So, this post will be something a little bit different. But let’s start at the beginning.

World Tea Expo, 2014: it was my second such tradeshow. And the wholesale outfit that had the biggest booth there was Tealet.

Image owned by Tealet.

My first day on the tradeshow floor, I recall making multiple loop-arounds to their booth. On one such boomerang, they were serving up a  unique tea from Assam. A green tea that was smoked over oakwood.

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