Steep Stories

of the Lazy Literatus

Month: April 2013

A Morning Matcha Routine

In case it isn’t obvious enough, given my sporadic TwitFacePlus updates, Spring and I don’t get along too well. I hear there’s this thing called Seasonal Affective Disorder that usually hits people in the Winter. (Lack of sun and all that.) Mine, however, is a bit of a procrastinator…and doesn’t rear it’s melancholic/metaphoric head until a couple of months later. The result? A drama queen-ish manchild with a dire need for stability and hibernation.

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Another astonishing surprise, I’m also a creature of habit. I don’t do “change” very well. Rituals – especially during this emotionally trying time – are very important to me. Routines keep me centered, distracted, and even-keel. When there are disruptions to my paradigm, shite hits the fan. Hard.

In the span of a week, my brother/roommate/landlord announced he was getting engaged. All of us were happy for him; myself included. A week after that, he gave us a date. August. Which meant…

I needed to find a new place to live within that period of time.

One would think that four months was plenty of time to find a new living situation, and they’d be right. Normally. Problem was, I had other things I was planning on for the Summer that required money – chiefly, World Tea Expo. With the cost of down-payments, pet deposits, and first-‘n-last-month rent, there was no room for a trip to Vegas.

I sadly took to my usual social media outlets and lamented the news. Moments later, my mother gave me a stern, “You’re going, and that’s final!” And offered to cover the plane ticket as an early “birthristmas” present. A fellow tea pal also offered to host my tea trunk/manchild arse for the duration of the expo.

And this hasn’t been the first hiccup to my plans. It almost seems like whenever I make plans in the Spring, something (or someone) comes in to throw a wrench in them – which further puts a snare on my already-strained mental faculties and emotional fortitude. And that is why having set routines keeps me – for the most part – as balanced as is humanly possible. The most important? That first cup of tea in the morning.

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Credit to BlueDragoFire900

Over a year ago, I relied on matcha (powdered green tea) as my morning kickstarter. With the right equipment, it was easy to prepare and took very little time to brew. A minute to heat the water, a few seconds to scoop the powder, forty-five seconds to whisk, and done – bubbly goodness-to-go. They don’t call it “ceremonial” matcha for nothin’. It’s a ritual in and of itself, and anyone can do it anyway they damn well please.

Most would say you’re not doing it right unless it’s done in a traditional “chanoyu” ceremony, but that’s too much work for 6AM. (That and I’d probably look lousy in a kimono.) So, I opt for a more…uh…”ch’annoying” approach. The aforementioned prep above, the use of a bamboo whisk, and a miso soup bowl to pour it into. My leaf-to-water ratio is probably also a bit more skewed than is traditionally acceptable. A typical koicha (or “thick tea”) prep requires 3 heaping teaspoons of powder, and roughly 3oz. of 150F-heated water. I use the same amount of powder…but twice the amount of water. A more usucha (“thin tea”) approach but double the fun.

Due to financial constrains – and a barely-above-minimum-wage day job – the affordability of matcha is usually beyond my grasp. At an average of $30 a tin for the good stuff, it just isn’t feasible. Usually.

However, that’s where upstart startups like Pure Matcha come into play. I’ve had a working (or rather, reviewing) relationship with this vendor before. Theirs was the first rooibos matcha I ever tried, and their Black Matcha was also a “uniquitea” notch-off. When I received word of their new organic ceremonial matcha, I jumped at the chance.

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The word “organic” usually doesn’t matter a damn to me. My main concern runs along the lines of, “Does it taste good?” It had some big shoes to fill with Pure Matcha’s regular ceremonial grade as competition. That offering convinced me that Nishio-produced matcha could give the Uji a run for its money. In a word, perfect.

The powder for Pure Matcha’ s Organic Ceremonial Grade wasn’t as bright a green color as the regular, but the aroma was just as spritely and sweet as before. I could whiff a matcha canister all danged day. It smelled like Spring. Well, minus the depressive suck.

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I’ll admit it, I delayed doing a write-up on this because I spent the next couple of weeks simply…well…having it every single morning. Did I mention I was a creature of habit? Let’s add delay-artist to that. That has a nice ring to it, “Delay Artist of Habit”. Okay, no it doesn’t.

Where was I? Oh yes…mornings.

A little known fact about matcha, it may be “technically” green tea, but it packs quite a caffeinated wallop. That’s what you get when you grind a leaf – with more caffeine per surface area than a coffee bean – to a fine powder. The more you use, the more you feel. Nothing like a bit of green cocaine to get ya started, eh?

Snort

(Seriously, though, don’t snort this.)

On to the taste. Matcha has a kind of grainy texture to the mouthfeel that some might find off-putting. Many would compare it to soup. I love it. If whisked properly, the effect is downright velvetine on the tongue. The more bubbles that froth up, the better the sensation. It’s like a morning mouth-massage. No, not the “happy ending” kind. (And…ew.) Top that off with a taste of natural sweetness, a slight vegetal kick, a dash of Zen, and it’s like a mini-milkshake for the soul.

This stuff had all of the usual taste trappings in spades. It frothed up amazingly, and that translated ot the taste and texture perfectly. It was a little rougher on the palate than the regular ceremonial grade, but it was also gentler. In short, another shade of perfect. While it had the usual matcha price tag attached, it was well worth every penny.

You can’t put a price on ritual happiness.

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Wrestling a Wild Yeti

The yeti – or Abominable Snowman – is a possibly mythical, ape-like beast native to Nepal and Tibet. The name “Yeti” derives from a Tibetan compound word that loosely translates to “manbear from the rocky place”…or something like that. “Abominable Snowman” was coined by a British lieutenant-colonel on a Mount Everest expedition. They located some tracks that their Sherpa associated with the illusive snowbeast.

My first “exposure” to the legend – or at least, the one that I remember – was from Disney’s Matterhorn ride. Along the rollercoaster’s path, you encounter a rather lifelike animatronic yeti on one of the many twisty turns. To a five-year-old, it was piss-your-pants scary. Beyond that moment, I never paid the mythical man-bear-ape-thing much heed.

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Until I saw an oolong named after it; an oolong from a country I didn’t know did oolongs.

I’ve had plenty of teas from Nepal.  Not sure what region they came from, since I suck at geography, but I can run off the names of tea estates forever. Many of them had he word “Ilam” in their names. Still not sure what that means; too lazy to google it. What I didn’t know was that there was an actual region in Nepal called Ilam.

Nepali Tea Traders is a company based in Colorado founded by Maggie Le Beau. They are the first (as far as I know) company specializing in sourcing teas directly from private farmers in Nepal. I know plenty of vendors that source from tea estates, but not from actual farmers. The company first came to my attention when I saw mention of a Nepalese pu-erh. That sent me a-buzzing, and while perusing their site, I ran across their oolong selections. One had the word “Yeti” in it. By manly mandate, I had to try it.

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The leaves were black and gold with a curly, hand-rolled appearance – similar to a Darjeeling or Assamese oolong. It differed from these in scent, however, bestowing a toasty and slightly fruity aroma to the nose. Tearing myself away from the bag was a chore; I could’ve whiffed it all day.

Typically with any type of oolong, I like to try it both Western-style and gongfu-style to see what the differences are. But a tea with a name like “Wild Yeti”, there was only one way to go : Go big or go home. I brewed this in a pint-sized filter mug for the full three minutes using boiled water. Screw nuance, I wanted to see what kind of punch it delivered.

The liquor brewed up as ruby dark as any black tea I’ve ever had. The aroma from the steam was like…plumbs dipped in cocao batter by way of…lava? Unusual but enjoyable. Flavor-wise, I was in for a surprise. This actually tasted like a full-on mid-roasted oolong from Taiwan, very much like an autumn Dong Ding without the graphite lean.

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Most Himalayan oolongs maintain a bit of their muscatel nature, regardless of the oxidization. While this was still very pekoe-ish, it gave me more of an oolong impression than those of similar processing from Darjeeling. That and there was a very smooth, wine-like finish. I like wine; and I like…uh…finishes? Wait, that came out wrong.

Point being!…I love me some knew tea-ish experiences, especially good ones. This was mostly definitely a good one, and one that I’m hopped up on while writing this. Wow, this has a caffeinated kick. I could really wrestle a yeti now. And lose horribly.

© Kate McCurrach

© Kate McCurrach

For more information – or to buy – this beast, go HERE.

Sidenote: Nepali Tea Traders has launched a Kickstarter campaign to help further their business model. Their goal is to expand their merchandise selection by buying some of the Ilam region’s first flush 2013 teas directly. This is a Kickstarter campaign I have NO problem throwing my hat in for. As per their business model, because they’re purchasing these teas from the private growers directly, more money goes to them and their families.

Tea is Magic to a Darjeeling-Drenched Dresden Phile

This is the part of the entry – the introduction, no less – where the blogger is supposed to “apologize for not blogging in a while”. This is usually followed by an excuse of some sort – work, school, girlfriends, boyfriends, abductions, pets, zombie apocalypses, what-have-you. Well, I don’t have any excuse – at least, not a good one. I’ll blame it on one word: Magic.

As mentioned in my priory entry, I’m currently neck-deep in The Dresden Files. I’m on book…oh…eight? Cliff’s notes version: It’s about a wizard – Harry Dresden – who acts as a private eye in Chicago, and epic events happen around the man. It’s urban fantasy for the post-Harry Potter set. And damn awesome at that.

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The fourteen-(and counting)-book series also inspired a short-lived TV series. It was nowhere near as epic as the book series. Events and characters were changed to cater to a scaled-down TV show budget. And, hoo-boy, was it ever scaled down. There was one key difference between the books and show that I found interesting – a character trait that the show had over the written word.

In the books, Dresden was a coffee drinker; in the TV series, a tea drinker.

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There were a couple of episodes that focused rather heavily on the magical properties of plants, and they played an integral part of a potion in one episode. On a couple of occasions, he was also seen drinking from a Japanese cast-iron tea cup. No one drinks coffee out of cast-iron. Er, not that I know of.

This made me wonder – in a not-so-serious fashion – if there was something to this “tea-is-magic” stuff. I consider myself a bit of an amateur expert on the subject of tea and magic, but I hadn’t done an anecdotal (read: nonfictional) “study” on the subject. So, I decided to reflect on the last month or so using one common factor for this little meta-tea study: My last three encounters with Smith Teamaker teas.

What? It’s not a scientific theory unless it’s been proven three times, right? At least, I think that’s how it goes. Oh, right…on to the magic.

Fraud and First Flush

When I received the phone call, I was under a bed. At work.

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I won’t say what I do for work, or why I was under a bed, but I will say that it was an inopportune time to be answering the phone. The call was from a third-party fraud department that worked in tandem with my credit union.

The woman on the other end asked, “Did you make any purchases in Georgia or North Carolina?”

I said, “Um…no.”

“You’re still in Oregon, then?” she continued.

“Yes,” I answered. Slightly more annoyed.

“Well, your debit card was used in the following locations,” and then she went on to explain that said debit card was now frozen as a result. I had no access to funds until my credit union branch opened on Monday.

In the interim, whoever the mysterious fraud culprit was continued to rack up charges on my debit card, thus negating the claim that my account had been frozen. By Sunday of that weekend, I was penniless. That and a credit card payment that I’d made in advance was going to bounce.

Come Monday morning, I had a rather heated exchange with a bank rep about the situation. At first, she was un-empathetic to my penniless plight, but seeing me on the verge of a breakdown softened her Sikh heart. I filed the necessary incident report, noted the fraudulent charges, and signed on the dotted line. She agreed to contact me once everything was resolved, but warned it might take a day or two.

As catharsis, I journeyed to Northwest Portland to have a relieving pot of first flush Darjeeling from the Chamong estate at Smith Teamaker HQ. Claire – the tea bartender on duty – patiently listened to me rant about my banking woes. While I slowly sipped away at my two-person pot, I received a phone call from the bank rep. Everything was wrapped up in a tight little bow. All fraudulent charges were removed, and any overdraft fees were refunded.

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I called my credit card company to make sure that the payment from my credit union went through without a hitch. They confirmed there were no issues. I stared at my phone – shocked.

All crises were averted…in the time it took me to down a pot of tea. Coincidence?

Sakura and Sun Tea

I’ve already talked about how my brother introduced me to “sun tea” a couple of years ago. On further attempts, we used Smith Teamaker’s Exceptional Iced Tea blend to make more. I still had four huge-arse sachets of the stuff left, and we decided to give it another run on the first warm day of Spring. My brother put it by the cherry blossom tree in our backyard.

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Three hours later, it was ready. We went through half the jar in only two days. On one of those days, I downed at least two pints – right before I was to attend my usually Monday board game night at a friend’s house. The usual default for us is a game called Settlers of Catan.

Simply put, it’s The Game of Life meets Olde World economy. Wicked fun…and I suck at it. I, maybe, win one game in twenty. By the skin of my sheep. This time around, my avenues of settlement expansion were cut in half, leaving very little potential for growth or gameplay. That’s what I thought at first.

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Not only were the dice on my side, but by some stone-‘n-mortar miracle, I made a massive comeback. By the end of it, I earned the ten points needed to win the game naturally with no development cards or added sundries. I left that game night practically glowing and in tears. A board game victory should never be that poignant and powerful.

Yes, I blame the sun tea. That’s all I had to drink the entire day.

A Darjeeling Tea Tasting

While at work (yes, again with the work moments), I received an e-mail from Alex – Smith Teamaker’s tech-‘n-sales guru – about an upcoming Darjeeling tasting thingy. The next day. New 2013 first flushes had come in. The problem with my job, though, was that I had no clue what time I’d be done. I was a supervisor of a staff of six or seven, and our departure time was contingent upon their speed.

In anticipation, I called my boss’s boss to see if I could cut out early for the tasting. He said, “Yes.” And I kowtowed in extreme appreciation. Luckily, the need for his permission wasn’t necessary. The day of the tasting, I ended up getting out an hour early!  Truly, magic at work.

The tasting itself was hosted by both Alex and Blender Tony. The latter of whom described the importance and minutiae of Darjeeling teas from a vendor perspective in great detail. We tasted roughly ten teas from seven different estates. My favorites were from the Phoobsering estate – known for their kick-arse oolongs.

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As an added bonus, I got to take those home with me.

The remainder of my week was spent finishing the last few chapters of Dead Beat – arguably the best book in the Dresden series. I can see the pro arguments. I mean, Dresden rides a zombie T-rex into battle – how cool is that?!

What I found particularly odd, though, was that there was a heckuva lot more tea drinking in this book than in the prior installments. Very little mention of coffee. I’m not sure if the books took a page out of the TV series, but I smile a bit at the coincidence.

Bah, I think I’ve proven I don’t believe in coincidences.

As I sip my second pot of Darjeeling while writing this.

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