Steep Stories

of the Lazy Literatus

Month: December 2011

Tea Gift Gratitude

It is technically the morning before the actual day that houses the night before Christmas. Or as I like to call it, “A work day”. I found a brief amount of time between family visits, pajama-ing, whiny cat-sitting, and getting-ready-for-work-‘er-ing to reflect on something I’ve been meaning to for some time. 2011 has had a lot of ups and downs. Some of which were whined about ad nauseam over the various social media feeds I infest. One thing has remained fairly consistent – the e-tea world.

My tea world, as it exists in the intangible realm of cyberspace (and in small part, the real world as well) has been a source of escape and elation. And better still, it’s been steady. Drama has been light, and camaraderie has been lengthy. And, of course, let’s not forget the tea. There’s been plenty of that. So, I wanted to take the time and bestow gratitude to some fellow bloggers who contributed some pretty darn good tea to me this year.

Joie de Tea

Or as she’s known in some circles – Veri”Tea” Fisher – is a Tolkien-loving Aussie lass steeped in tea, baking, and adorable bookwormdom. I encountered her through another mutual “Teaussie” – Robert Godden (better known as The Devotea) – and have spoken with her at some length on various topics of nerddom. The real reason she’s featured here can be summed up in one word – “Daintree”.

She read my Tea “WANT!” List and saw that Australian-grown Daintree black tea was at the very top. Being the kind soul she is, she bought me some and shipped it internationally. And not just a dainty amount o’ Daintree – oh no! A lot! I’ve been sharing it liberally.

It was a very mellow black tea with a very generic OP palate, but it was ever-so-pleasant. Not very often you run into a black tea that actually embodies a taste best described as “soothing”. Thanks to Verity, I was finally able to notch it off my bucket list.

(And if Hodgkin’s Law of Parallel Planetary Development exists on a small scale, I can hopefully find her single American equivalent.)

You can follow her teadventures HERE.

Little Miss WifeyPurrMewCollar

Courtney Powers is a brave woman for putting up with more than one cat. She’s downright impervious for putting up with more than one online persona. I’m not even sure how to address her most of the time. One thing is certain, she’s a Jill of all Trades.

I wasn’t aware of her until around this time last year. She appeared like some sort of tea ninja from the Internet aether. Simply put, one moment …”POOF!”…there was a WifeyWoman in our midst. The lucky lass was able to attend World Tea East this year, and didn’t want to leave me out of the festivities. A couple of weeks after the convention, she shipped off a care package with samples from the featured wares.

Notable standouts were an English Breakfast variant from Royal Tea of Kenya (my first from the company) and an Assam from Lochan Tea – an Indian op that’d been on my radar for some time. Both teas were manliness personified. Ironic that it took a woman for me to see that.

In short, she’s lovable, she’s adorable…and if you mess with her, you’ll have the full contingent of the Beasts of Brewdom to contend with.

You can follow her teadventures HERE.

Tea For Me Please

Nicole Martin and I share a mutual tea-home in the form of the review site – Teaviews.com. She actually started her own independent tea blog long before I did. I chimed in on it every once in awhile to see if there was something on it I needed to add to my list. She is also in the oenophile business.

I meant to send her a tea care package, but life got in the way. (Hey, November and December suuuucked.) Nicole decided to beat me to the punch and sent off a care package of her own – a few wares from Chicago Tea Garden, including an orange-aged pu-erh that’d been on the illustrious List.

The pu-erh was fantastic and as citrusy as I hoped – not loudly so, but pleasantly understated. The aged, ripe pu-erh started off with a smokey/citrus forefront before melding into more of an earthy profile. Probably one of the more pleasant shou-type pu-erhs to hit my tongue. Grateful doesn’t even cut my reaction for finally having a chance to try it.

I don’t know much about Nicole outside of the tea-ing, but what little I do is ovation-worthy.

You can follow her teadventures HERE.

Head Cheerleader of the Portland Tea Enthusiasts’ Alliance

David Galli and I finally crossed IRL paths in the Fall of this year. Being the more ambitious sort, David had it in his mind to hunt down a tea group. Not being able to locate one, he decided to form one. Through him and his fledgling vision, I experienced something I hadn’t before – having tea with tea friends in real-time. Not just with casual friends who were humoring my absurd hobby.

On our first meet-up, he also imparted a gift from a teashop in New York. Knowing my love for obscure growing regions, he picked up a sizable bag of Guatamalan-grown black from White Heron Tea. I gave the black tea a couple of test-drives before I found the perfect brewing approach.  This was a tea that sorta looked like Japanese kocha, or the aforementioned Daintree, but required a strong brew-beating to bring out its true character. At a boiling temp and a five-minute brew time, the resulting tea was a floral and smoky cup worthy of wake-up.

I’ve got a lot to be thankful for, thanks to this dude. For one…getting me out of the house.

You can follow the Portland Tea Enthusiasts’ Alliance progress HERE.

Or follow David’s own tea musings HERE.

A Gift of Tea

And the last on this list – and the inspiration for the entry’s title – is Jo Johnson, a regular on Tea Trade with a fascinatingly eclectic blog with an alluring focus. On the side, she is also a tea consultant. I envy anyone who can make tea into a viable business model. I certainly haven’t figured out how to do that.

Some weeks back, she sent me the cutest care package imaginable – one bearing the logo of her company and their newly-released children’s book. The World’s Special Teaby both Jo Johnson and Joya Powell –is a book idea that I wish I’d come up with – a simple-as-could-be history of tea put to poetry. It is sheer genius dipped in honey. The tiny book only took me five minutes to read, but it skirted through the various milestones in leaf-steeping. (The uglier bits were passed over, obviously.)

Included with the book were a custom greeting card and a specialized, kid-friendly rooibos blend to go along with the book. My envy for this approach knows no bounds. Way to go, Jo. I have professional jealousy.

In addition to the “Gift of Tea” stuff was…well…even more tea. Jo passed along some a Shou Mei white, a Phoenix Honey oolong, and an herbal blend. I dipped into the Phoenix Honey while I was writing this – surprisingly zesty for a Chinese oolong. Lasted a good six infusions, too.

Put shortly, she’s a talented and driven woman. I don’t know much more about her than that – which seems to be a running theme for this article – but she’s light-years ahead of me in the life plan department.

You can learn more about her business and book HERE.

You can follow her “scandalous” blog HERE.

And that does it for this entry. I hope you all have a tea-filled holiday – whatever holiday that may be – and that the New Year brings even more steeped goodness. I know mine will.

Monday Morning Tea Errands

Mondays – for me – usually go something like this: (1) Get off work at 7AM. (2) Head home. (3) Crawl out of work uniform and smother into pajamas. (4) Crank the electric blanket on high and fire up the ol’ Netflix…until I fall asleep. Pretty routine for a night-worker to not want the word “productivity” encroaching on sleep. Yesterday (read: Monday) morning, however, I had to be up and about. And, oddly enough, I was glad of it. These were tea-related errands – my favorite kind – some I had been shirking for one reason or another, others that recently fell into my lap.

This is a breakdown of how that all turned out.

First Errand: Smith HQ

I received an e-mail a week prior from Mrs. Teamaker herself saying there was a package waiting for me at Smith’s. Curiosity baited, I said I would be in that following Monday. An impatient part of me wanted to go in a lot sooner, but I was still fighting the monkey flu from Hades. Waiting until I was more cogent and less – er – phlegmy seemed the better strategy.

Being the punctual not-so-little sprite that I am, I showed up right when the doors opened. My Smith trip this time was threefold. I needed a light-load of caffeine for further errands ahead; for which some White Petal was required. Second, I needed to pick up some chamomile. Sleep was a rare commodity these days, for some reason. Of all the teas in my arsenal, none were straight chamomile. Third, I had to pick up said surprise package.

Smith himself and Tea MC Tiff were on hand when I got there. Steve then lugged over a black back with the company logo on it. Not sure what I did to deserve it, but I manblushed and accepted. After that, I shot the breeze with the Tea MC for an hour over my pot o’ Petal before venturing on to the next task.

Second Errand: Paper Zone

I was in dire need of little plastic baggies in which to carry samples. As far as I knew, only one place clear on the other side of the river carried ‘em. The reason I needed ‘em was simple: Tea swaps. I needed something to ship the leaves in. Dollar Tree sandwich bags – my usual back-up – just screamed, “I’m a cheap-ass!” So close to the holidays, I wanted the delivery presentations to come to be more presentable.

As soon as I entered, a chipper-ish floor person greeted me. I fumbled and studdered my request, and the gal bee-lined to a small aisle near the back. Not only did they have the bags I was looking for, they had different sizes. And the best part? Buying a hundred of them didn’t break the bank. I was in and out in five minutes.

Paper Zone, if you were a girl…I’d marry you on the spot.

Third Errand: Stash Tea Store

Only one place on the Westside carried the next item on my list at a decent price. When I’m at work, I try to rely on loose leaf teas as much as possible. However, I don’t have the luxury of bringing all my brewing equipment with me. A gaiwan simply doesn’t work to well when you’re constantly moving about. As much as it would make some of you, fair tea-readers, cringe…I rely on do-it-yourself teabags. The Japanese foldy kind.

Shut up, they’re awesome.

I can easily store any tea I need for that day, brim a coffee cup with boiling water, and dunk that bad boy. Instant tea-happy. You go with what you can due to time constraints. The nearest place for me to get them is – and has always been – the Stash Tea Store. I’m so glad it’s in my neck o’ the woods.

Funny thing happened, though. As I was ready to check-out at the counter, I asked the aproned teller a question he wasn’t quite prepared for. Although, he initially said something to the contrary.

“I have a strange question,” I started.

“You’d be surprised what I hear,” he said with a smirk.

“Can I take a picture inside?”

“Nope,” he said curtly.

“Oh.”

“Vendors don’t approve of it,” the teller said flatly. “You can take a picture of that wall.”

He pointed at a colorful mural.

“Ah, that’s okay,” I declined.

“Why did you want to?” he asked me in return.

“I’m a blogger,” I replied.

“Uh…huh…” he nodded slowly.

I gave a polite nod and left – inwardly chuckling at the irony that I took a picture with Stash’s former owner in his own shop a mere two hours prior.

Fourth Errand: Post Office

Having acquired the sample bags I wanted, I returned home and began preparing packages. There were seven teas I needed to divvy up between two lovely lady bloggers that showered me with teaffectious awesomeness prior. Returning the favor in as bountiful a way as possible was mandatory. The new bags worked like a charm. Preparing the samples took no time at all. What worried me was the post office.

It was the holidays, and – as expected – traffic was a mess, thanks to last-minute shoppers. I half-expected the line at the local USPS to be equally as hellish. Indeed, when I got there, a line was clear to the door. A funny thing happened, though.

It actually moved. I barely had time to finish addressing the packages before I found my place in the cattle-call of people. For once, the post office was moving – dare I say it – efficiently. Maybe some Power That Be sensed that my caffeine reserves were fading. I was grumbling to myself, after all. Yet I was at the counter in fifteen-to-twenty minutes with nary a curse word parted from my lips.

I returned home accomplished, then went about my delayed post-graveyard shift routine. Jammies and ‘lectric blanky were primed, alarm was set, NyQuil was imbibed…and I was off to dreamland. If this had been any more whimsical a day, I would’ve counted teacups to sleep.

Hark! I Herald Booze Blends

I’ve noticed a particular trend lately – one that I fully encourage and support. Nay, I salute it! Tea and alcohol, while completely opposite beverages on the Sin-o-Meter, pair exceptionally well. Whether it be tea-infused alcohol or alcohol-scented tea, the combination of both bring an added dimension of badass that I fully back. The high-points for me in this new blend-trend have been recorded for posterity on this here site…and waxed non-poetically over the Twitterverse.

Of all the combinations, I ran into a yerba maté variant only once – that being an India Pale Ale brewed with yerba maté leaves. Well, someone finally went the opposite route and used yerba maté as a base for scenting. I had associated with Caleb Brown – purveyor of Handmade Tea – over Twitter for a few months but had never tried any of his wares. His tea business model was a unique one – offering subscriptions to his one-blend-a-month formula. It was a similar approach employed by 52Teas but with more of a personal touch.

Caleb does all the blending himself, and includes the blending ingredients in separate tins for perusal. In addition to that, he sends a personally-stamped letter (for authenticity, I guess?), and films an accompanying video about the tea. That’s a lot of effort for one blend, which is probably why he only does one a month.

December’s offering – dubbed “Hark!” for the impending holiday season – was a yerba maté medley comprised of Vietnamese cinnamon and whole leaf peppermint. The real grab, though (and the reason he contacted me), was what he did with the maté base. He hand-smoked it over whiskey oak chips.

So. Much. Awesome.

Upon opening the tin, the first thing I noted was how strong the peppermint aroma was. That didn’t come as a surprise, but I was worried about it dominating the other elements. There was a smoky presence to the scent as well, which showed in the introduction and after-whiff. Cinnamon was…well…it was understated, and that was fine by me.

The logo-stamped letter came with brewing instructions for the blend, something I greatly appreciated. The recommended approach was the use of up-to-212F water and an infusion time of five minutes. That was about right, given the strong herbals at play here. I measured out a teaspoon and used one 8oz. cup at the time recommended.

The liquor brewed a foggy gold with a boldly minty cloud wafting from the cup. So much for the peppermint being understated. On taste, the first thing to hit me was the feeling of peat smoke – an excellent start. That was followed up by a middle entirely monopolized by the mint. Nothing else had a chance to shine through. However, once that faded a bit, the smokiness returned with a fervor lined with a spicy-sweetness imparted by the cinnamon. Said sweetness had remained as an undercurrent until the right reveal. A very Keemun-like aftertaste; no complaint here.

For s**ts and giggles, I brewed up the whiskey-smoked yerba maté sample by itself. I would’ve been just as happy drinking that as with the fully-blended Hark!. The best part was that it didn’t taste like yerba maté, which – in my opinion – has the flavor of splinters. All that said, this was a festively naughty blend with just the right amount cool cleanliness (thanks to the mint). Like a gentleman’s club lined with holiday décor.

But it does beg the question I want to pose to the “teanut” gallery. What is the consensus regarding the marriage of tea and alcohol? What tea-totalers out there would drink something that’s flavored or scented with beer, wine or liquor? Would an alcohol connoisseur drink something with tea as the added ingredient? And, by proxy, would they drink tea with that same profile?

I straddle the fence of both sides like a village idiot – elixir in hand.

To subscribe to Handmade Tea, go HERE.

In a Pickle

A week and a half ago, my brother/roommate (bro-mate?) and I decided to grab happy hour and a movie. It was our typical Tuesday outing. The theater in our neck of the woods sold cheap tickets on that day. Cheap food and good microbrews seemed a perfect pre-funk. Even if the movie was bad, the resulting fuzziness could lighten the suck factor.

Not this time, though. My brother had reign over our selection, since last week was my choice (the gods-awful Immortals). And what did he decide upon? Twilight: Breaking Dawn – Part 1. I was dumbfounded.

To be fair, I didn’t loathe the movies as most men do. Well, except the second one; that was pure alien shite. The first, however, was okay…if forgettable. The third – Eclipse – actually appealed to me on a visceral level. To its core, it was a war movie interspersed with crappy romantic moments. It also helped that it was directed by David Slade – an actual horror movie headliner.

This time around…ugh…

I could go on for pages on how awful the movie was. Even by Twilight standards, it was putrid. But that’s a subject for another blog. What I’m here to reflect on is what it did to me; that being, turn me into a blubbering manbitch.

After coming home, my brother and I got into an argument about housework. He commented that I didn’t take the garbage out correctly; I retaliated with something unintelligible. (To his credit, his argument was sound.) This went on for a good twenty minutes before ending in my passive-aggressive silence.

To escape the homebodied tension, I turned to the Internet. Unfortunately, I proceeded to get into a “dildo” fight over Twitter. Worse still? I was taking offense. To the Internet. I shut it off. What the hell was happening?

The realization hit me like a two-ton Avon delivery truck. That crapstain of a movie had vaginalized me. There was no other explanation for the whimpering pile o’ girl parts I was acting like. A cure was needed, something with a manly combination.

What is manly? I thought to myself. Something phallic? No, too gay. Something that implies “phallus”, that could work. What is shaped like a penis? Pickles! Wait, still gay. Okay…something that implies “pickles” that in-turn implies “phallus”…all for the sake of restoring manhood.

Image Owned by Norbu Tea

The answer was simple: Combat femification with something deemed feminine with a manly connotation. It was right in front of me the whole time. That same night, I reached for a bag of “pickle tea”.

To clarify, no, it was not literally tea made from pickles, rather tea leaves that had gone through a fermenting (read: pickling) process. I received a sample from Norbu Tea of a Japanese green tea that’d been on my “WANT!” list for awhile. Funny thing is, before they chimed in, I didn’t even know what the stuff was called. All I knew was that it was barrel-aged…and I wanted it for that very reason. Everything from a barrel was awesome – including monkeys.

The leaves for this stuff were huge, fanned out, lumpy, dark green, and possessed a kelpy aroma. In other words, everything a typical Japanese tea was not. There was even a vinegary aspect to the scent – not quite as offensively so as kombucha, though. Brewing instructions were also thankfully simple. This was a green tea that could take boiling water. Norbu recommended a pre-wash of ten seconds, like with a pu-erh to “open” the leaves, followed by a heaping teaspoon of leaves in a cup of fully-boiled water, infused for up to three minutes.

The result was a liquor that brewed almost completely clear save for a slight tint of yellow-green. Even the palest of white teas were darker by comparison. The aroma, however, betrayed its bold character. And its taste rounded out its odyssey of a profile. Unlike the usual vegetal, nutty, pan-fried-to-hell senchas I’ve had, this citrusy and tangy. I felt relaxed and revitalized, and a slight – er – tickle of pickle showed up on aftertaste.

This was the anti-sencha. Perfect catharsis for a movie outing that reminded me of bad sencha one finds in a conveyor belt sushi restaurant. Nutty and mulchy…like a chick flick that even women wouldn’t touch. I prepared this tea several other times until my testicular fortitude felt renewed. It took a week before I felt completely normal again, but the job was done.

I don’t apologize for being bad at machismo. I don’t regret being a male tea drinker. But I do regret subjecting myself to worst form of movie emasculation ever put to celluloid. As irony would have it, all it took was a tea to bring me out of it.

To buy Norbu Tea’s Awabancha, go HERE.

To Have the new Twilight movie spoiled for you in an entertaining way, go HERE. (There…I just saved you two hours.)

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