Steep Stories

of the Lazy Literatus

Month: September 2011

Damn You, Damiana

Damiana (or Turnera diffusa) is a shrub native to parts of Texas and just about every Spanish-speaking country south of that. Many Central and South American countries regarded it for its relaxing effects. However, it was Mexico that recognized it for another – less chaste – use. And no one had told my parents.

My mother and stepdad were on a cruise to Mexico. While in Cabo San Lucas, they came upon a vendor hocking an herbal “tea”. He explained that his herbal product had a list of purported health properties attached to it, including: Treatment for headaches, treatment for diabetes, and a tonic effect on the muscles and nervous system. Also in the fine print was another, more infamous use.

When they got back to the U.S., my mother proudly called me up to tell me what she picked up for me. She knew I had a thing for trying out new teas and tisanes, and – God bless her – her heart was in the right place. However…um…well, here’s how the conversation went:

Mom: “We picked up this tea for you in Cabo. It’s a cactus tea!”

Me: “That’s great!…Wait…it’s not ‘damiana’, is it?”

Mom: “That’s it.”

Me: “Mom…that’s an aphrodisiac.”

Mom: [long pause] “Oh…well, you don’t have to drink it for that.”

They stayed with my brother and I on a visit to drop off their wares. My mother let my stepdad do the “honors” of handing me said herb. His exact words were, “Here’s your boner tea. Enjoy.” Just like that.

A few months after that, a friend of mine also made a trip to Cabo. I had related the tale regarding the damiana to him, and – being the way he is – he texted me: “I picked you up some more damiana.”

I didn’t receive this second stash of sex tea until a tea party a few weeks back. I actually had the other bag of damiana with me in the hopes of giving it away. What use did I have for it? I wasn’t dating anyone. The moment I started unloading the bag of teas I had for said party, my friend handed me the damiana he bought for me.

It was from the same damn farmer my mother had purchased hers.

I guess there was no escaping the stuff. It wasn’t like I hadn’t tried damiana before. As I’ve related before, I had taste-tested it plenty of times over the course of years. I had blended it with gingko, lemon verbena, and other anti-inflammatory herbs for a “prostate” tea. (What? I’m a male in my 30s, I worry about this sorta thing.) While I didn’t remember liking it all that much by itself, I didn’t remember hating it either. This stuff was straight from the source, wild-harvested even. I guess a second go-around was in order.

The appearance was strikingly similar to quite a few other green-leaning herbs. There were leaf bits ranging from green to brown along with stems and twigs. I likened it to tulsi, only (obviously) greener. What really surprised me was the sweet/mint aroma it possessed. The last time I whiffed this stuff, it did not possess that profile. I expected herbaceous, and I got…fruit sweetness with a hint of spearmint. Maybe this wasn’t going to be so bad after all; maybe there was something to this wild-harvesting thing.

I didn’t adhere to any particular brewing instructions for this. Damiana blends past only required about a five-minute steep time in boiling water – roughly a teaspoon of herb per cup. I went a little stronger with a heaping teaspoon in 8oz. of boiled water for five minutes.

The liquor brewed up green-gold, almost jade-like with an aroma that made an eyebrow cock. It smelled like weed. What was it with Spanish-speaking country herbs smelling like weed?! Yerba mate smelled like it, guayusa kinda smelled like it, mate de coca definitely smelled like it. This at least had a nettle-ish lean to differentiate it from the druggie rabble. That’s not to say it was a good scent; it was just very herbal – questionably so.

As for flavor, it opened up with a spinachy front that caused my tongue to curl. Not unpalatable, just alarming. Mamaki and nettle leaf had a similar affect on me. That transitioned to an uphill top note of citrus and something bittersweet. The finish was both grassy and silky at the same time.

What was really worth noting was the immediate side effect upon imbibing. This stuff went straight to my skull like a brusque Assam. A couple of sips in and my frontal lobe went, “WTF?! Is that caffeine or something else?! Help, I need an adult!” Or something to that effect. There was no way to test out any…er…aphrodisiac results, but if the “woosh!” to my brain was any indication, it did increase blood flow.

I can’t say this is an herbal I would have on a regular basis. Sure, it’s pleasant enough on its own, but not habit-forming in the slightest. It tastes like something someone would take for its apparent health benefits. Like St. John’s Wort…only randy. It was exactly as I remembered it, but there was something to be said for getting it directly from a farmer. The sweeter profile was testament to that.

If I am ever in a situation where it’s “services” are required, though, it’s good to know that I have plenty on hand for just such an emergency. Ladies, I’m single.

(As if that’s a surprise.)

Photo by Kenneth Lu

Blending Tea and Dating

This one is for the fellas.

About three years ago, I received an invite to go to a bar trivia night in downtown Portland. I usually got the call when a group of friends required a “guy-that-knows-useless-shit”; that was me. Need someone that knows the composer for the “Death of Optimus Prime” scene in the ’86 animated Transformers: The Movie? I’m your man. I am a fountain of frivolous knowledge.

Our track record this night was fairly steady. I was contributing answers to about a third of the more non sequitur questions – a little off my game but not too badly. A question came up that I wasn’t expecting, one that I thought I instantly had in the bag.

The Q/A emcee asked, “What group of people has better sex? Coffee drinkers or tea drinkers?”

Slam-friggin’-dunk.

My primary geek hobby – tea – started because of sex. There were at least three-to-four blends and tisanes I knew of that were beneficial for…er…”blood flow”. That and normal tea was a primary ingredient in many male enhancement products. (Don’t ask me how I know that.) Tea also made for a great conversation starter; plus, the rest of the world drank tea. It was a given.

The answer? Coffee drinkers.

I cost us the game.

How could I have been so wrong? All my perusals – scholastic and palate-related – pointed to tea as being the clear victor. How could the swill of Satan be the better boffing brew? The question plagued me on the drive home.

It hit me when I was in the shower the next day.

First off, tea was not a ubiquitous beverage in the United States, not since we dumped crates of it over a perfectly good harbor. Coffee dates were considered the universal icebreaker, almost to the point of cliché. If a guy wanted to get to know a potential…um…playmate, there were only two viable routes – coffee and alcohol. In some cases, both if the conversation went really well.

I looked back at my track record with tea dates. The first one I ever went on was with a girl from Craigslist. She was older than me by a month. Other than showing complete uninterested in me, she also related how she answered an ad to be an old man’s “sugarbaby”. In short, it was a bust.

The next – oh – several attempts ended one of two ways. The less common occurrence was that we hit it off in terms of conversation, trading barbs like old friends. But that was it, “friends”. Either one didn’t feel that mandatory “oomph” or the other – or both. The outing was so completely non-threatening and informal that any tension from the event was rendered impotent.

The more common outcome? The girl never showed up. Seriously.

A last attempt at a tea date was in March. I considered it the make-or-break for this anti-Friend Zone field test. In theory, tea dates should work, especially if one had some knowledge of the beverage prior. It was classy. Girls dug classy…right? Well, apparently not.

While it may be a sad conclusion – and one that most bros of brewdom don’t want to hear – tea dates don’t work. At least in my experience. It might be just an American conundrum; it may even be that I’m no good at dating in general. The simple summation is that tea and dating are a one-way ticket aboard the HMS Platonic. That isn’t to say, however, that there aren’t ways around that.

Just because you, fellow steeper, have this one peculiar hobby doesn’t mean you have to be ashamed of it. You can mention it in passing on a normal-ish date. Once an actual rapport and/or relationship are established, then you can let her into your wulong-rich world. A second – more lowbrow – approach would be to find establishments that serve tea-infused alcohol drinks. In my neck of the woods, I know of five. Can you think of a better gateway to “Awesome!”? I can’t.

I’m almost certain this entry will garner some amount of, “You’re wrong! My wife and I are the exception.” In statistics, you would be known as an “outlier”. For you to be an exception, there first has to be a general rule. Of course, I could be completely wrong on this. So, please, do relate your success stories if you have them. Prove me wrong, I beg of you.

And while you’re at it, kindly tell me where you’ve parked your unicorn.

Awesome Doodles by Aaron Grayson

The Sex Tea Saga

[This was the first tea blog I ever wrote. It was posted on Myspace in late ’07. (Remember that site?) The entry garnered 30+ responses over a week and even spent some time ranked in the Top 20 “Romance & Relationships” section. I have yet to top it, but I have also never revealed it to my tea circle. Until now.]

I’ve been asked on multiple occasions what started my unsurpassed obsession with tea. My leanings are neither hippie or New Age-y, and I shy away from most holistic approaches. The reason for my reluctance in relating this story is simple. It’s downright embarrassing. However, even I must acknowledge that it is a tale that must be told, and – so – here it is.

The origin of my fascination with tea.

It all started with a quest, a very manly quest.

It began in the fall of 2004, my first year back in Oregon. College was a somewhat distant memory, separated by summer’s lack of whimsy. Already, the four-year sabbatical to the desert state of Nevada had taken refuge in the recesses of my mind. The last six months were akin to a purgatorial nightmare. I was now home, back in the bosom of the Northwest. Real life – or so it felt – had just begun. The academic reverie was over. I was 27.

Changes occurred rather rapidly. My parents had moved to California and offered their three-story behemoth as a rental to my sister, her husband, and myself. Within a month, I was saddled with two jobs. In late-October I even landed myself a girlfriend. Quite quick indeed.

About a month into the relationship, it had reached “that stage” – the to-do or not-to-do dilemma. My experience level was infantile at best. College had trained me for many things, but I’d shied away from Hook-Up 101. Or more to the point, I think I fell asleep in class. Maybe it was geek thing, I dunno. Eh, we’ll blame it on that for now.

Our dates up to that point were mostly informal outings, occasional Blockbuster nights, a party or two, nothing grand. It was time for that next step: Inviting her to my place.

I made the necessary preparations:

Booze? Check.

Protection? Check.

Breath mints? Check.

Change out single bed for the guest room’s queen-sized? Check.

(Trying to explain the furniture move to my mother/landlord was a difficult task.)

The night was upon me.

She arrived with a batch of Coupling episodes she received from Netflix. We sat on the couch, popped the DVDs in, and cuddled a bit. Cuddling led to kissing then to the notorious “heavy petting” teenagers are condemned for. She whispered The Question as she straddled me on the couch. I cocked an eyebrow in confusion. She reiterated. I nodded.

Upstairs, we went.

Everything proceeded according to plan; the undressing, the massaging, the Trek-like exploration of vitals. Things were moving along like clockwork, textbook even. I caressed where I thought I should caress, kissed (and/or licked) where I thought I should lick. 80s sex comedies had trained me well, or so I thought.

We were go for Phase Two! That whole “unity” thing. But there was a problem. Nothing happened. The knight was suited, but for some ungodly reason…he’d forgotten his bloody horse.

My heart sank.

The mainsail hadn’t hoisted. The soldier didn’t salute. The batter never left the cage. The car wouldn’t leave the garage. Oh, hell, you get the point.

The night was officially a botch.

I drove her home. She was silent, and I was sullen. She may have put the blame on herself, as women often do in that situation, yet I knew where it lay- squarely on my shoulders. Something was wrong with me, and I didn’t know what. Everything had been perfect! The timing was right! Lust was in the air! Pheromones had fireworked! I had to learn what went wrong.

To the Internet!

According to various sites, the causes for impotence were innumerable. There was performance anxiety, reactions to medications, high blood pressure, obesity, illness, mental health, physical impairments – the factors were endless. I was stumped. Mr. Happy-Pants worked well enough for me during solo training, why the hell had it caved under pressure during the actual mission? (Maybe it was my terminology? Er…no.)

Eventually, I ruled out the physical causes. I wasn’t that obese, blood pressure was normal, and – for the most part – all my limbs were working. Well, except the bloody key one. That left the mental.

Only methods used to combat sexual anxiety were rigorous therapy, hypnotherapy, or resorting to the infamous “blue pill”. I really didn’t want to do that. To admit that I was under 30, moderately healthy and in need of boner-meds made my stomach knot. That left one other viable alternative. One I hadn’t ever dreamed I’d explore. It was notoriously out of character for me. I looked to male enhancement products.

Everyone has seen these big bottle-jars with names like Mega-X-Tone or Testost-X-Treme…or anything that had a bold-faced “X” in the title. They are a ghastly sight. Just looking at them makes one think they’re buying into the biggest scam on the planet. Not to mention even the staunchest atheist would think he was making Baby Jesus cry.

I read the ingredients. Some were elements in nature I hadn’t even heard of; herbs such as yohimbe bark, ginkgo biloba, kava kava, and…wait…

Green tea?

What the hell did green tea have to do with male enhancement?!

Each of the products I looked (or winced) at had one ingredient in common. Aside from the weirder African-sounding herbs, they all had a generous helping of green tea extract. I was no stranger to tea. At one time or another I’d partaken of Earl Grey or chamomile. The black teas tasted like smoky burlap, and chamomile knocked my ass clean out. Green tea was unexplored territory, and here I was seeing it on the back of a cheesy “X” label.

This revelation needed some back-up. My cousin’s girlfriend (at the time) was somewhat well-versed in the ways of green tea. She’d touted it for as long as I’d e-known her. While she couldn’t confirm the virility claim, she could attest to its other health properties. These were not limited to: weight-loss, lowered blood pressure, lowered cholesterol, increased immunity, the elimination of free radicals in the body, and increased blood flow.

The last benefit caught my interest. I won’t go into the inner workings of the male anatomy. If you don’t know by now, then there’s no hope for you. The Cliff’s Notes version being, erections rely on healthy blood flow. Hurray!

I started drinking green tea. To my surprise, I actually liked it. Grassy aftertaste and all. It was quite refreshing. Unfortunately, I didn’t notice any immediate “changes”. What can I say? I’m the impatient sort. As such, I browsed the tea aisle to see what different types of green tea were out there. One stood out above all the others.

Honey Lemon Ginseng.

When researching the herbal extract info on the aforementioned “X” varietals, I ran across mentions of ginseng. Panax ginseng, to be precise, was often touted as a sexual tonic in Asian cultures. This was news to me, so I bought a box.

The first test-drive was a train-wreck. It tasted good. Damn good. Lemony-green-ish goodness. I had five cups of the stuff in a two-hour sitting. Moderation? Who needed it! What I should have read more closely was that this blend was caffeinated.

Anyone in the herbal know is aware that Panax ginseng, while beneficial in some areas, is also a stimulant. Not as earth-shattering as caffeine, but rather one that is slow-building. The box even highlighted that the blend was for giving someone an extra kick in the morning. And kick it did.

The first day I tried it, I was jittery and buzzing. I went and saw a movie to calm myself down, can’t recall what. I called my Dad, rambling a mile a minute about feeling weird.

He said, “Maybe you should lay off the ginseng.”

I knew he was right, but I was stubborn. A part of me thought maybe this was its way of working. None of the other green tea blends ever made me want to run through walls while singing a merry tune. I gave it a second chance.

Day Two came around. My girlfriend and I were set to have dinner at her parents’ house. For the first time ever. I was another four-ish cups of Honey Lemon in, all jitter-buzz-a-go-go. Why four? I dunno. I thought we were going to do stuff later and wanted to be aptly prepared.

I had three mini-panic attacks during dinner. No one noticed, thankfully, but my breathing was fast and labored. My eyes darted from corner to corner. Sounds were sharper. Smells irritated my nostrils. I existed in a tunnel version of my own head.

She drove me home after. I went through some sort of Lamaze-style panting to keep from freaking out. Nausea crept up in me. She asked if I wanted to come over. I said I wasn’t feeling well. It was the truth, but try explaining that to a girlfriend convinced you weren’t attracted to her.

In a huff, she dropped me off. I went to the kitchen and threw away the lemony-goodness box, never to touch the stuff again. Back to square one.

December rolled around, and I made another discovery. I entered the world of herbal supplementation. My first foray was multivitamins, but on a whim, I purchased a bottle of ginkgo biloba. In addition to its X-pantheon tonic-like qualities, I also read it was good for memory and mental alertness. The extract gave me abdominal cramps almost instantly upon taking it.

I read the label after the fact and discovered that – in some rare cases – ginkgo could cause “gastrointestinal discomfort and irritability”. That was the same month I discovered I was sensitive to a lot of things. Certain health foods made me queasy, I couldn’t hold my liquor, I reacted quickly (and sometimes adversely) to certain herbs, and caffeine booted me in the head and gut at the same time. Reading side-effect information on anything became second nature.

Then I discovered a green tea online that had ginkgo and Panax ginseng in it! I read the label and ingredient information carefully. It was decaffeinated. I gleefully ordered a batch. It came in the mail about a week later. I poured myself a cup, nursed it gingerly, and waited for any adverse ginkgo-like stomach punches to occur. None did. It even helped in…uh…that area from what I observed.

Too bad it tasted like tree bark…and ass.

I tried to mix it with other teas to mask the flavor. Ginkgo has a distinctly tangy and leafy taste followed by a rough aftertaste, reminiscent of eucalyptus. It really is quite offensive to the tongue. The only other tea that would compliment it was a lemon-ish green tea blend that contained Siberian ginseng.

The potential horrors of Panax ginseng were firmly established, but I didn’t know much about its redheaded stepbrother, eleuthero (Siberian ginseng). I did some reading and learned that it had only mild stimulant effects, no sexual tonic properties, and mainly worked as a mental alertness enhancer, which was fine by me.

By the time I was ready to field-test the stuff, the relationship with my girlfriend had gone south. She was through waiting. This was a clear case of gender reversal. Instead of the girl being hesitant towards sex, it was me. I was the reluctant one. Part of this might have been due to our seven-year age gap or my continued anxiety, I dunno. We parted ways somewhat amicably.

Aside from a couple of dating stints here and there – one physical, others not-so-much, none long-term – sex had receded to non-issuedom. My tea habit hadn’t regressed, though. In fact, the addiction blossomed.

A love for green tea graduated into a love for white tea. A reverence for generic bagged teas grew into a quest for more esoteric blends. Eventually, I was ready for loose-leaf teas. I loved them. All of them. Black teas still hadn’t caught hold, but herbal blends, fruit fusions, and designer teas did. An amateur tea snob was born.

Work shifts without a cup of hotness seemed an irregularity. Tea became synonymous with, well, me. I would go to friends’ houses with a mug of some herbal concoction in hand. Often times, I would forget to take it with me. Proposed tea dates were my standard meet-and-greets with new women. While not a successful way to prove one’s self as more than a Friend Zone dweller, it did provide for a nice day out.

Knowing the locations of local teashops helped me broaden my leaf-like horizons. Beforehand, my knowledge of Portland and peripheral areas were limited to bars, clubs and tourist traps. The teashop quest allowed me to seek out odd-ended nooks and crannies of the surrounding area.

I also felt considerably better, rarely getting sick. And even if I did, the duration for the ailment was considerably shorter than usual. Colds were a rarity, flues were still commonplace but not as dreadful and bed-ridding, and stomach flues were cast aside after a day thanks to good ol’ Captain Chamomile. I was a proud herb-a-whore.

The ginkgo tea I took was the last vestige of my original purpose. Eventually, after further research, I learned that I was taking the medical equivalent to an Alzheimer’s patient’s dose per day. A normal healthy adult only needed, maybe, 120 mg of the stuff. The tea I drank contained over 600 mg. No wonder I felt surprisingly irritable. Like ginseng, ginkgo was also a stimulant. Sure, it helped in the one area I set out to improve, but in lieu of other health considerations, it had been rendered obsolete. By the end of 2005, I limited my intake to once a week, and eventually substituted it for it’s lesser ginseng-only cousin.

It wouldn’t gain favor again until February of 2006.

I won’t (i.e. can’t) go into detail as to the encounter, for I’m sworn to some amount of discretion regarding the finer points, but I will say that Ol’ Man Ginkgo came to the rescue. For a good three hours. Okay, yes, there were “union breaks”, but it didn’t take long to get back into the swing of things. The stuff really did work!

There was still the taste issue, however, even with the Siberian ginseng’d green tea’s citrus-y cover-up. Nothing could get rid of the tree-bark-ness of it, nor contribute to the virility issue. Er…not that anything really needed to top what was already included, but – hey – while your kicking ass, might as well jot a few names. Right?

The final breakthrough wouldn’t appear until February this year. Perusing a tea store – which was conveniently located in my stomping grounds, huzzah! – a fellow tea-nerd and I noticed a strange line of herbal blends. The cashier informed us that they were herbal fusions specifically designed to coincide with each of the bodies chakra points – all seven of them.

I bought the sample pack to try each one.

If you don’t know what chakra points are, well, I really don’t have time (or space) to go into the finer nuances of it. Just look up any yoga-related material on Google, or you can be extra nerdy and watch a couple of episodes of Avatar: The Last Airbender. Those will give you a basic rundown.

I digress.

The one that grabbed my attention was for Chakra #2, the dragonfruit blend. The bag and box describe it as vital for “tantra and sexuality”. Contained in the blend was an herb known as damiana. Further inquiries revealed that the herb was often used as a sexual tonic for women in Latin America. Studies regarding its potency were still in its infancy, but apparently it also worked on men. Hoo-boy, did it! I found out the hard way at work…pun quite intended.

The taste was also pleasant – light citrus, faintly tangerine-like without the tartness. Very pleasant and very subtle. So, I tried it with the ginkgo tea. The bark-ass taste was gone. No aftertaste either. I no longer felt like I was tasting tree! Victory was achieved.

Which brings us to the present.

I have yet to try my newfound Sex Tea blend in a practical setting. Not quite sure where/how that’ll happen in the near-ish future. But when it does…

And I do mean when…not if…

She won’t know what hit her.

Trippin’ on Moonlight

Some weeks back, I got a message from my cousin. He made an outright demand for “ADVENTURE!” Yes, in all caps. At first, he had a hankering to go to the Oregon Coast, particularly a brewery (or two) we had stopped at before. I suggested something a little more approachable – an idea we’d discussed in passing, the Columbia Gorge. There was a brewery on the Washington side of the river we had yet to hit. He jumped on that idea like it was a trampoline.

Photo by Bruce Berrien

Before leaving for parts un-sober, we grabbed burritos for lunch and did a quick run to Starbucks. My cuz happened to be the customer of the month at this place. They even had his picture framed, knew him by name, and cracked barbs with him like he was Norm from Cheers. So, both he and the baristas kinda looked at me funny when I only asked for hot water rather than tea or coffee. Like a true pretentious douche, I brought my own tea leaves in a do-it-yourself baggy. Worse still, I was all shifty about it.

Once we hit the highway – and I’d timed the coffee cup steep at three minutes (yes, I do that) – I took a sip of the contents. I’m not sure what happened, but I had a full-body euphoric reaction. It was like a lazy man’s outta body experience…’cept no one went anywhere.

My cousin looked over and said, “Jesus, man, you look like you had an orgasm.”

In a tea-ist – almost spiritual (and less messy) – sorta way, I did. The tea in question was a second flush Darjeeling that was sent to me by a Twitter friend in Darjeeling – one Benoy Thapa of Thunderbolt Tea. Who is he? Probably one of the nicest fellows I’ve ever e-met. That and the only motorcycle-riding, tea-field-diving, ponytail-donning, camera-weilding family man/tea vendor I’ve heard about. It was thanks to him that I was finally exposed to real Darjeeling tea in the first place – not just the dust found in teabags.

He sent me a peculiar tea from the Castleton tea estate. Said garden was named for a building in the neighboring city of Kurseong that looked like a castle. The fields were first planted in 1885 by a Brit named Dr. Charles Graham. At present, the estate is 70% British-owned and quite known for its Chinese varietals that produce a world-renowned second flush product.

The one I had in my possession – and the one that caused the full-bodied teagasm – was a different sort of offering. Unlike the other OPs produced, this was technically an oolong. I even asked my Thunderbolt contact what type it was and he confirmed it, saying that was the information he received from the current owner.

This was unlike any other second flush Darjeeling I’d encountered. Okay, I’ve said that on other occasions, but I really mean it this time! The leaves were the color of…um…forest? Yes, a veritable bouquet of colors you’d associate with that image – root brown, soil yellow, canopied tree green, and sun gold. I had a little trouble finding a comparison. Its anomalous aroma didn’t help, either. The scent brought feelings of fresh water streams, wild berries, lemons and honey. I know, this is sounding more metaphoric than olfactory; I’m sorry. This was difficult to pin down.

There weren’t any specific brewing instructions for this on the Thunderbolt site. Mr. Thapa – as mentioned above – said this was an oolong. Granted, during the trial sip, I went lowbrow with a coffee mug. This time, though, I figured the best way would be to give it a traditional oolong send-off. And I bought a new gaiwan for the occasion. (It’s a he, and his name is Guy-1.) I heated some water to just under a boil, and prepped four successive infusions – two at thirty seconds, two at forty – with 1 heaping teaspoon of leaves.

First infusion (thirty seconds): The liquor brewed light amber with a malty nose. (Very Indian.) The flavor possessed an herbaceous front that transitioned creamily to a vanilla-dipped grape crescendo before tapering off gently. A damn good start, if I do say so.

Second infusion (thirty seconds): The soup infused to a prime-gold color with an amber-ish periphery. It was lighter but also…shinier. As for taste, the initial sip was crisper than before, followed by a bolder middle profile kicking with lemon and apple. Very cider-like, except – y’know – without the fizz or mind-numbing parts.

Third infusion (forty seconds): Yep, still gold. However, the steam aroma changed its tune to something creamy and sweet – like actual vanilla was in there. That didn’t quite translate to taste, but it was still wonderful with a floral aspect appearing alongside the citrusy lean.

Fourth infusion (forty seconds): This was the lightest of the four infusions, but it was also the most obviously “oolong” of ‘em. The foretaste was still crisp, yet there was a rougher, mineral-like transition to the muscatel middle. I likened it to a Formosa Alishan.

Two more steeps followed the initial four, but I didn’t take notes on them. Needless to say, they were nifty. While it held up to a gongfu(-ish) approach quite well, I think the Western way gave it a one-time punch of perfection. Like a liquid rendition of a one-night stand. That isn’t to say the four short steeps weren’t awesome; they just weren’t dipped in awesome like the A-MURR-ican mega-steep.

As luck would have it, I had an opportunity through another vendor to try the first flush Moonlight. I liked it quite a bit, but it had nowhere near the nuance of the summertime cup that nearly road-tripped my tongue to tea-ish ecstasy. Without exaggeration or pontification, this was the best darned Darjeeling I have ever had. Worth a howl or two.

To buy Thunderbolt Tea’s Castleton Moonlight (2011 2nd Flush) go HERE.

Missing the Forest for the Teas

Photo by Rick Gutleber

Photo by Rick Gutleber

Yet again, I journeyed to Hawaii. Okay, not literally but at least in tea form. I hope to get to those damn islands someday, but when your wallet’s a moth-colony, you have to settle on a cup of tropical tea instead. This marks the third Hawaiian-grown tea I’ve sampled. The first was a black tea that was wonderful, if unusual; the second was an oolong that lent well to a gaiwan/gongfu approach – loudly fruity, too. The existence of a Hawaiian-grown white, however, reached me a bit late.

Independent growers Eva Lee and Chiu Long of the Volcano Village estate grew tea plants at an elevation of 4,000ft., deep within the rainforest at the base of Mt. Kilauea. Both were also behind the big push for forming Hawaii’s first tea farming collective – The Hawaii Tea Society. While they offered four different types of tea, the Forest White was actually one they grew, dried and rolled themselves.

I saw rumblings about the Kilauea Forest White on Steepster. Many were singing its praises, but it wasn’t available for regular purchase. In the following months, I learned that KTeas – an internet-based “virtual tearoom” (as they call themselves) – had acquired some for sale. The titular “K” of that vendor op had a good eye for good tea and apparently scored some. Via Twitter, I “nudge-nudge-wink-wink”-ed about possibly reviewing it in the near-future.

Surprisingly, she remembered that nudge and – in no time at all – the Kilauea Forest White was in my possession. Yet another checkmark notched on my “Tea WANT!” list. (They’re falling like flies, I swear.)

The leaves for this were larger than most white teas I’ve beheld, ranging from light greens to dark purples in spectrum. It didn’t even smell like a white tea on first sniff, yielding an aroma of peppers, spice and charred earth. First impression, for me, would’ve been that this was a green tea – an unorthodox one at that. However, the leaves did have the mandatory downy fur that embodied most quality whites.

Brewing instructions on the sample bag recommended 3g of leaves (roughly a teaspoon) per serving. I assumed that meant an 8oz cup. Also puzzling was how one could measure out a teaspoon when the leaves were so bloody large. What really confused me further was the brewing temperature they recommended – 208F.

Now, sometimes I’m a bit of a simpleton in the steeping department, but I know for a fact that white teas generally require a lighter steep. Sure, there are some that can take boiling water – Assam, Darjeeling, and Ceylon whites come to mind – but rule o’ thumb is to administer a light touch. That and this stuff was pricy; I didn’t have a lot of it, either. Screw up a brew, and that’s two dollars down the drain. Literally. The KTeas site mirrored the prep with a three-minute steep.

Oh well, I risked it.

Even with the boiling water and lengthier infusion, the liquor only brewed to a pale gold typical of white teas. The aroma echoed another American-borne white I had – the Sakuma Bros. Sun Dried White. It was equal parts sweet, buttery, and grapy. Like a Bai Mu Dan by way of a Bai Hao oolong. As for flavor, the first thing to note was the fruity kick; it channeled tropical fruit and basalt on “tongue”-down. The middle was where it kept some of its white tea trappings – the nuttiness, melony lean, and floral texture – while the finish tapered with pleasant grassiness and a creamy trail-off.

I dared a second infusion at an undetermined steep time. In the interim, I surfed the web for cat pictures that made me giggle…and nearly forgot about the tea. When I came back, the liquor had darkened to amber-gold with a mango-sweet aroma, which was weird. This time ‘round, the flavor started with a creamy texture laced with fruitiness, transitioning to a top note of sour citrus that faintly reminded me of…bergamot? Quite bizarre but awesome.

It lasted one more indeterminate, “faint fruit” infusion before fading. I’ve gotta hand it to the grower, this is one badass leaf. It can take a boiled beating and yield some fabulous results. Even more surprising was the level of caffeine. This is not your usual, fluttery, cup o’ wussy white. I made the mistake of sipping this at midnight and have the jitters to prove it. Tread lightly with this not-so-light white…but do enjoy. I certainly did.

To purchase the KTeas Kilauea Forest White Tea, go HERE.

Iran So Far for…Tea

Some time ago, I made a necessary pit stop to The Jasmine Pearl, a teashop owned by a very nice couple in Northeast Portland. I had been in before, and they were one of the few places I could pick up Yunnan-grown “Golden Needles” at a decent price. It was the perfect black tea, the shop was perfectly close, and I was perfectly broke; it worked itself out.

While conversing with the owners over a cup of GABA oolong, they made mention of a friend in Iran who was bringing back some Persian-grown tea. I thought they had said “pearls tea” at first. My ears burned when they corrected me. My “Tea WANT!” list wasn’t entirely in dire need of new additions, but the idea of tea from a growing region I wasn’t familiar with peaked my interest. Up to that point, all I knew about Persian tea was the way they served it – steeped in enough sugar to make a Southern belle blush.


When I returned home, I immediately went to digging up information about Iran’s tea history. My occidental notions of a backward country in the middle of the desert surrounded by rugs and dervishes were “a tad” inaccurate. Iran actually had a rather rich tea history, thanks to its close proximity to China – one that pre-dated European interest by a good 200 years. The town of Lahijan in the north even had their own Robert Fortune-type character. The biggest irony was that he stole seedlings from the British in India…who – in turn – had originally stolen from the Chinese.

Cultivation in Gilan province began roughly around 1900, while the first modern tea factory was built some thirty-ish years later. To this day, Iran alone produces 60,000 tons of black tea a year. The biggest tragedy, though, is that the U.S. sees nary a leaf of it. If it isn’t readily apparent to you, fair reader, relations between the United States and Iran are piss-poor at best. Reasons for this are quite valid, and I won’t go into any of that here. This is a tea blog, not a political soapbox.

It’s not entirely impossible to acquire Iranian-grown tea as an American, but chances are one would have to turn to an international site. And strong though my tea itch was, international shipping charges did much to quell the urge. That, however, didn’t stop me from posting several whiny forum queries wondering where I could acquire some without having to pound at an embargo.

Enter TeaGeek.net. Yet again.

Again, Michael J. Coffey – that sleuth of the steep – chimed in with a proverbial, “I got what’choo NEED!” (Yes, I can even hear him pounding the pavement with a pimp cane while saying that.)

Available exclusively to TeaGeek members was a tea gained through mysterious methods dubbed “Treasure of Persia”. He mentioned he’d received it in an unnamed plastic bag, and the route used to obtain it made some drug deals pale by comparison. That made this one-off sample all the more interesting.

The leaves for this were jet black, long, wide, and oozing with malt-scent. The aroma reminded me of chocolate covered berries mixed with dry smoke. In appearance, they resembled another TeaGeek score – the old-woman-handmade Georgian tea I had. They even smelled alike. For a moment there, I wondered if a fast one had been pulled on us. On close inspection, though, there were subtle differences. The cut of the Persian leaves were smaller, the rolling method seemed different, and the leaves weren’t as tippy as the Georgian. Strikingly similar, but still different beasts.

There weren’t any established brewing instructions for this, so I had to go with what I was familiar with. Like the Georgian, this looked strong enough to take a four-minute steep, but I wasn’t sure what leaf amount to use. I went balls-in with a tablespoon-worth steeped in 8oz of boiling water for the allotted four.

The result was an amber-ish liquor with a dry and smoky nose, not unlike Russian Caravan or a subtle Taiwanese Lapsang Souchong. They certainly had my attention with whiff alone. On taste, the impression shifted ever-so-awesomely to a sip with a nutty forefront. That was quickly followed up with a fruity segue to a malty middle. As far as the finish was concerned, it was all Cavendish smokiness that tapered off handsomely.

Do you know how this tea made me feel? Like I was sitting on a weather-worn rock bedazzled in jewels, silks, and gold-trimmed whatevers while Disney-esque Jasmine-like maidens fanned large feathers at me. Oh, and there was an elephant for shade because…well…all Persian fantasies require an elephant. This didn’t even need to be sweetened to death in the typical Persian tea style, but I’m sure the approach would work wonders. A very outstanding cup of U.S.-embargoed hotness.

For more information from the TeaGeek, go HERE.

The inspiration for the “punny” title of this blog can be found HERE. Don’t watch if you have no sense of humor.

From Georgia with Love

I just can’t seem to get away from “Georgia”. It truly is a name that follows me wherever I go. I have friends that live in that accursedly hot state. My cat bears the name (one I didn’t give her). And women I try to avoid like the plague – but still haunt me – bear the moniker. The word is everywhere…and it all stemmed from a country’s particular love of a particular Saint George. What a way to start a tea entry, eh?

The country of Georgia has a very assorted, sordid, and peculiar history…none of which I’ll cover here due to self-imposed length-constraints and laziness. Suffice to say, it’s unique, its people are unique, and the region has a unique sub-history in the pantheon of tea cultivation. Tea was first grown and produced in the 1890s. The country possessed an ideal climate for Camellia sinensis (the tea plant to you noobs), and modernized farming practices made it a viable crop.

Given that Georgia was part of the greater Russian Empire at the time, it certainly needed to be viable. Russians downed tea as if it were caffeinated vodka. A ready supply from someplace nearby was a necessity. And for awhile, the Georgian tea industry thrived…until a certain neighboring nuclear power plant went critical. You all know which one.

Photo by Bo Nielsen

Photo by Bo Nielsen

And there went the Georgian tea industry. Okay, that’s a bit of a dramatic generalization. Some of it also had to do with the mass production methods used in the ‘80s that cut back on quality. (Think: Nilgiri CTC-grade, only worse.) However, the meltdown didn’t help.

That didn’t stop individual farmers from continuing the art of handmade tea. Several areas – including the village of Nagobileui in Western Georgia – were upwind of the doomed power plant. Therefore…no radioactive-“tea”. (*Badam-tish*) In 2003, many of these tea families formed into their own collective, dubbed The Tea Producer Famers’ Association. Their goal: The promotion of Caucasus Tea. Their requirement of members: The tea has to be handmade. No machinery.

One of the founders – Natela Gujabidze – first started plucking tea leaves with her mother-in-law at the tender age of 17. She later worked in Soviet tea fields for 15 years. In 1977, she traveled to China to learn more about the nuances of tea production. The way she plucks, withers, and dries the ’em result in leaves with their own character. They are long, strand-like, gold-tipped, and oozing with aroma. How do I know this? Well…against all odds, I was able to score some.

The Natela-named GOPA was made available exclusively to TeaGeek members courtesy of Michael J. Coffey – probably one of the most resourceful tea educators I’ve e-talked to. Before he mentioned it, Georgian-made tea hadn’t even been on my “Tea WANT” radar. I buried my nose in the in the bag when it arrived in the mail and whiffed grapes, smoke, earth and caramel. This promised to be an interesting cup of somethin’ special. Or so I hoped.

I asked Sir Coffey [He of the Ironic Surnames} the best way to brew this; he said to brew it like any other black tea. A trial run with a unique and rare beverage called for some patience and precision. On my first attempts with it, I went with my Darjeeling-ish approach – 1 heaping teaspoon in 8oz. of water for three minutes.

The liquor I ended up with was far lighter than I expected from a former Russian territory. The tea infused to straight amber. If I was spotting it without context, I would’ve guessed I was looking at a cup of oolong at most. The scent even made it difficult to discern blindly. It was rich with different (yet still subtle) fruit notes. Taste-wise, I detected very little dryness or bitterness; neither were present on forefront or finish. Citrus and a mysterious nuttiness came through in the middle. Interesting, indeed.

Now that I knew that worked, I had to play with it a little. Given how light it turned out at the three-minute mark, I dared an extra one for s**ts-‘n-giggles. At four, the liquor was darker – beige-to-tawny-brown with a gold-trim to it, a very bright cup. The aroma this time matched some high-altitude Ceylons I’ve tried with a floral front and a little kick of astringency. That sensation was followed up with a delicate, slightly fruit-sweet middle and a finish of…malt?

Malt?! Seriously! Sure, there are plenty of black teas that have a malty character to them, but none actually finish on that note. Especially one as light as this.

Epilogue: This was worth the hurdles it took to acquire it. Even if the whole attempt was like a scene out of some drug deal. This fix was totally worth it. I wish Natela another hundred years of success. Someone give the ol’ gal an immortality pill, please?!

Special thanks to Michael J. Coffey of TeaGeek.net for the member sample. For more information on his site…er…just go to it. (Seriously, he has a self-made tea encyclopedia there.) Or follow his musings HERE.

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