Steep Stories

of the Lazy Literatus

My Detox Horror Story

Over the last year or so, I’ve expressed my . . . displeasure with detox culture. I particularly took issue with the belief that someone could eliminate “toxins” from their body by ingesting weird herbs and other unlikely ingredients (like literal silver and gold). When talk of these practices spilled over into my tea life (in the form of “teatoxing”), I grew more vocal in my vehemence.

I made the same counter claims as many other tea friends did. Examples: (1) Unless you had overdosed on a drug or were exposed to an actual poison, detoxing wasn’t necessary. (2) Anything in trace amounts wasn’t overly harmful. (3) “Toxins”—as a malicious, invisible entity—were as mythical as fairy dust. And finally, (4) if someone had a workable liver and kidney(s), their body had all it needed to do the natural detoxing for them. If they didn’t have those . . . they were probably dead already.

Of course, my online ravings fell squarely on deaf ears. My corner of the tea Internet was way below the radar of the twentysomethings, fashionistas, health food folks, and . . . well . . . pretty much everyone, really. I even had to distance myself from a tea shop I loved because they started hocking detox drinks.

The only way I could get through to people was to finally come clean. For you see? When I was in my twenties, I was one of them. This is . . .


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Dong Ding Near-Death Experiences

In 2009, Shiuwen Tai—the plucky owner of Floating Leaves Tea in Seattle—made her first trip to Dong Ding Mountain in Taiwan . . .

Shiuwen Tai on Dong Ding Mountain in 2016. Photo by Jake Knapp.

Shiuwen Tai on Dong Ding Mountain in 2016. Photo by Jake Knapp.

. . . And almost died.

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Mengku Puerh Plastered

A couple of weeks ago, while attending the Northwest Tea Festival in Seattle, a few tea connoisseurs hosted . . . after tea parties.


Basically tea parties removed from the regular events of the festival. One such small partyholder-to-be was my ol’ Agarwood puerh dealer, Jeffrey McIntosh. He planned to host two puerh tastings—one that Saturday night and one that Sunday.

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Tea and Bullshit with Rajah Banerjee

Two weeks ago, I attended the Northwest Tea Festival.


For both days, even!

It was an epic time of tea drunkenness and cuppa camaraderie. But when the time came to actually write about the two-day tea-stravaganza . . . I had nothing to say. Sure, I drank a lot of tea, met new people, reunited with old friends and contacts, but there was no story there. I drank, I saw, and then I trained home. That was pretty much it. If you want full(er) accounts on the tea fest, I suggest visiting The Oolong Owl and Delights of the Heart. Their coverage was pretty comprehensive, and I probably couldn’t have said it better. (Or more concisely.)

The festive weekend, however, did serve one weird purpose. It was a springboard for a few stories that I need to tell. This is one of them:

The first day of the tea fest, I stopped by the Young Mountain Tea booth a couple of times. One, to talk to the owner, Raj Vable, again—since I hadn’t seen him in (what felt like) years; two, I wanted to meet his guest of honor. Rajah Banerjee, owner and manager of the Makaibari tea estate in Darjeeling.

Rajah Banerjee and Raj Vable

Rajah Banerjee and Raj Vable

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My 40th Un-Birthday Mad Hatter Tea Party

Back in June, my friend Aaron asked me, “Why haven’t you ever thrown a tea party?”

To which I responded with, “Huh . . . why haven’t I thrown a tea party?!”

Then the ol’ mental gears started a-turnin’. In a few short months, my 40th birthday was coming up. I didn’t drink alcohol anymore, and other forms of mid-life debauchery bored me. The decision hit me like an Assam-fueled caffeine jolt.

Mad Hatter Tea Party!

Mad Hatter Tea Party

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A Tiny Bit of Canadian Oolong in a Tiny Gaiwan

In 2003, husband and wife team—Victor Vesely and Margit Nelleman—purchased an old cattle and horse farm near the small town of Westholme. It was located in the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. Their first inspiration was to create an “Artfarm”, where they could grow herbs and produce, as well as sell some of Margit’s handmade pottery wares. In 2010, after hosting various events and attending others, they decided on a new focus. They would turn their tiny corner of Vancouver Island into Canada’s first tea farm.

Image owned by Westholme Tea Farm

Image owned by Westholme Tea Farm

And I’ve been stalking monitoring their progress ever since.

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A Kanchan View Darjeeling Pairing

The Kanchan View tea estate in Darjeeling has a rough history.


Photo by Rajiv Lochan

The garden was first established in the 1880s, where it first went by the name “Rungneet”. At the peak of its hundred-plus-year production, the 250-acre garden accounted for at least 100,000 kilos of tea a year. Now? It only does about ten percent of that. The reasons for this are long, complicated, and varied.

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Reading the Coffee Leaves

In the spring of 2013, I tried a tisane made from the dried leaves of a Hawaiian coffee plant.


Arabica coffee plant. Image owned by Wize Monkey.

And I wasn’t a fan.

The flavor was not overly offensive, just . . . herbal. And nutty. Nutty-herbal. Okay, on “Internet” paper that doesn’t sound too terrible or unappetizing, but it wasn’t very palatable, either. It reminded me of nettle leaf that had gone slightly off. It would take another two years before I’d revisit the prospect of trying it again.

At World Tea Expo 2015, such an opportunity arose. The culprit? Wize Monkey.

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A Totem Tea Story

The definition of the word “totem” is thus: “A natural object or animal believed by a particular society to have spiritual significance and adopted by it as an emblem.” It is derived from the Native American language, Ojibwe; the word, dodaem.

The concept, however, is not limited to just Native American cultures and religious practices. Many cultures worldwide also place such significances on totems as well. Totem poles, on the other hand—at least to the tribes of the Pacific Northwest—use these objects and animals as family crests and as a way to recount stories of that family group’s past.

So why did a tea company use “Totem” in their name?


I’ll get to that.

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Japanese Black Tea . . . from Brazil

It may be a surprise to a lot of people, but Brazil used to produce a lot of tea. As early as 1812, even. The ugly truth of it was, though, most of those old plantations were dependent on slave labor. When slavery was abolished in 1888 . . . tea production collapsed.

Enter the Japanese.


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