Steep Stories

of the Lazy Literatus

Texans and Tong Mu

Let’s start with a simple introduction for the rookies: Lapsang Souchong is a pinewood (or pine needle)-smoked black tea, originally hailing from Fujian province, China. I’ve waxed manly-melodic about Lapsang Souchong (originally known as Zhen Shan Xiao Zhong) on two different blogs. Several, several times. And I’ve even paid homage to the li’l UNESCO protected village that created the smoky brew – Tong Mu. In more recent years, I also lamented that said village cut back its production of it in favor of a more profitable product; Jin Jun Mei.

That all said – even with the rarity of running into the true single origin smoky stuff – I’ve managed to do just that. On two different occasions. What’s even funnier is that I found the really rare Tong Mu produced stuff from two vendors . . . in the same state.



What. Are. The odds?

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Tea Presence from Across the Pond

I think I mentioned a certain British girl I used to work with on this blog before. Okay, make that twice. Alright . . . technically, it was three times, if you count a guest blog for Lochan Tea. Point being, she was one of my favorite highlights of 2014. A person to pal around tea places with. Alas, in December of that year, she moved back to England. We agreed to keep in touch, but – as with most long-distance friendships – I assumed contact would grow scarce.

I was wrong.

While long-winded missives were a scarcity between the both of us, there was just enough contact to keep things current. It started off with messages back and forth, regaling the remains of the week. But then the penpal-ing took an interesting turn.

One morning – while arriving to work in my usual blurry-eyed, pre-caffeinated state – one of the supervisors said to me, “There’s a present for you on the desk.”

Odd, I thought. I didn’t do anything to deserve a gift.

Then my eyes met the gift itself.


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Bitter Gourd Oolong for a Bitter Day

Everything that could go wrong this morning – did.

The original plan for today was to be up by 6AM, showered and clothed by 6:30AM, and gassed up and ready to go by 7AM. The destination? Northwest Tea Festival in Seattle. It was the first tea festival I ever attended (back in 2012), and I meant to go again. But every single time, something got in the way. In 2013, it was a financial hiccup . . . until the day of. In 2014, I completely spaced the week it was happening. As for 2015?

Sit back a moment.


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Colluding with a Kullad

Roughly a month ago, I received a package invoice in my business e-mail . . . and I wasn’t expecting one.

I get tea deliveries fairly frequently, but I clearly remember putting an unspoken moratorium on review samples. And I hadn’t bought anything. So, naturally, I was puzzled. The invoice was for no money, and a package was being sent my way from Joseph Wesley Tea. I had no problem with this development; JWT was awesomesauce incarnate. But I did want some clarification. So, I messaged to good ol’ Joe.

He confirmed that, indeed, a package was meant to be sent for me, and that it was a new item they were playing around with. A masala chai (spiced tea) kit, of sorts. It was a tin of JWT’s No. 2 Assam . . . and a traditional clay taster cup called a kullad. I’d never heard of it. The name sounded vaguely Klingon to me.

Image mooched from Joseph Wesley Tea's blog

Image mooched from Joseph Wesley Tea’s blog

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An Open Letter to Europe.

Dear Europe . . .

gaiwan writing

Yes, this concerns all of you. Hey! Sit down, Luxembourg! I don’t care how small you are. You founded this damn coalition, so you have to stay here, too. Okay, y’all settled? Grand. Let’s get started.

As a very outside observer (i.e. a ‘Merican, if you will), it seems to me that you have yourselves in quite a human rights pickle at the moment. The shores of Italy and Greece are swamped with refugees.

Shut up, Britain! Yes! They’re refugees, not migrants. I know you Limey bastards like to mince words, but not this time. Can I finish? Much obliged.

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The Battle of Five Tea Rants

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?

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A Castleton Comparison

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

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The White Pu-Erh for the Right Time.

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

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My Tea Snobbery and the Source of Steampunk Whimsy

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.

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Having Oolong Ice Cream Every Which Way

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.

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