Steep Stories

of the Lazy Literatus

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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White Teas from Vietnam

In the fall of 2015, I found myself reading a tea blog (instead of writing one). Fellow tea geek Amanda Freeman used to keep one of the more prolific tea blogs in the community, and—at times—I suffered from a bit of professional jealousy. Often, she’d run into weird and strange teas before I did. And on this particular day, she wrote about this:

Photo by Amanda Freeman. Used with permission.

A white tea from Vietnam.

My jaw dropped and I salivated. So much so, that I contacted the vendor—What-Cha Tea—and begged for a sample myself. In typical fashion, I didn’t “punctually” drink it until . . . February. I remember it being a beautiful looking white made from exquisitely cultivated tea leaf buds, and the taste resembled nothing I had tried before; white or otherwise.

So, why haven’t I talked about it until now?

Good question.

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Lazy Gongfool Tastings: Nan Nuo Shan Sheng Puerh

Hiya.

So, I decided to try something new. I have quite a few new teas to get through that don’t particularly fall within the parameters of my regular blog. That being, they don’t have much of a story to tell. Okay, they probably *HAVE* a story, but it was not one I could spin.

I decided that these teas deserved their own fair shake in the spotlight. As a result, I’m experimenting with doing a semi-regular video series called “Lazy Gongfool”. This is still experimental (and not in the kinky way). The idea is to churn out tea tasters, while still being entertaining.

I’ll let you decide if that was successful.

This week, I dipped into two sheng puerhs from Nan Nuo Shan (Mountain) in Yunnan province, China. (I.e. My favorite puerh mountain!) One is from 2017, but the other is from 2012. Both are made from old (but not ancient) tea tree leaf material. These were gifted to me by Jeffrey McIntosh.

Left: 2012, Right: 2017

Left: 2012, Right: 2017

Jeffrey McIntosh’s Puerh Mastery Patreon can be found HERE.

Thank you for watching.

A Tea Leaf on the Wind

In the hierarchy of tea businesses, monthly tea subscription services are like man-buns.

Unless you have a really good reason for starting one—or your name is Toshiro Mifune—it is usually best not to. Since 2014, there has been a veritable surge of tea start-ups, and the route they’ve all chosen? You guessed it, the monthly subscription model. When I attended World Tea Expo that year, every new vendor present was either (a) trying to start one, or (b) “thinking” of starting one. And from a business perspective, it makes sense.

All a potential “monthly” vendor had to do was acquire enough wholesale product at cost in order to meet the demand of their current subscriber base. They could easily keep a tally of how much to purchase and when—i.e. once a month. This strategy kept costs low and overhead even. No gambling.

The problem?

With a glut of so many subscription services out there, and a dearth of people interested in tea, it’s hard to stand-out. A vendor would need to have a very unique angle to the strategy in order to stick out in the rough. And, no, custom blending doesn’t count. At least, not anymore.

So, when I was approached by Tea Runners in June of this year, one can understand why I went into the conversation skeptical. I was approached by Charlie Ritchie, and—just from the initial email—I already liked the guy. His tone was conversational, jovial, and it didn’t come across as a normal cut-‘n-paste e-mail job. Even it if was, I couldn’t tell, so . . . go him! That and his replies to my queries were prompt and polite.

Tea Vendor Etiquette Level: Wizard.

After the initial message, I did a little research. I, at least, wanted to give this li’l start-up the benefit of the doubt before I turned my nose up. I went to their bio and saw . . .

Left to Right: Charlie Ritchie and Jewel Staite. Image owned by Tea Runners.

Wait a minute . . .

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