One might recall – if they actually read this blog – that I made an impromptu trip to Eugene, Oregon…for a beer. An oolong beer, to be precise. While there, I also stopped by the shop that provided the oolong – J-Tea International. It’s a great little shop situated in the ‘burbs run by Josh (the titular “J” in the name) Chamberlain. While I was there, I was treated to an experiment of his, a black tea made from leaves grown in Oregon. An outfit called Minto Island Growers, in the state’s capital of Salem, had a half-acre plot of garden set aside for tea bushes.
The tea in question was exquisite, very much like a Taiwanese Ruby 18 only – well – ‘Merica. Deep, medium-bodied and slightly fruity. Color me shocked several months later when I saw a photo of Josh shoveling a bunch of black tea out of a cooker.
More Minto Island black, to be clear. I salivated on my keyboard. Apparently, this time ‘round, he’d acquired enough leaf to make a product out of it. Well, of course, I was going to buy a tea grown in Oregon! And buy I did. On my phone. As I was stepping out of a fast food joint.
It arrived a week later, and I paid it as much fanfare as one could a new baby or puppy. Y’know, skipping, dancing, hooting and hollering; things a thirtysomething-year-old man shouldn’t do unless he intended to scare children. I tore open the bag to get a good whiff. By sight and smell, I could tell this was already going to be a different beast than the Minto Island Black Mark-1. Instead of a Ruby-ish smell, this resembled…maple? Very wildernessy.
When I brewed 2 teaspoons of leaves per pint of boiled water for five minutes, I was shocked by how light it was in color. That said, it still tasted damn good. Instead of a solid Ruby through-and-through, this was more…Li Shan black by way of a Nuwara Eliya Ceylon. High-altitude in character, floral on taste, with trickles of fruit notes interspersed throughout the flavorful experience.
I finally read the description on the J-Tea site and found out why it was so different. The leaves were first flush. Not sure what the Mark-1 leaves were, but my gut tells me they were later. This did have first flush written all over it in both appearance and appetite. Light but with a kick. By sheer negligence, I also learned it could take a punishment of ten minutes or more with barely a tannic tickle.
However, a part of me kept egging me on, insisting that my experience with this tea was far from over. I’d had an urge to visit Minto Island Growers’ tea plot for over a year. If my experience at Sakuma Bros. had done anything, it was to instill a sense of, “Just f**kin’ do it!” And so I did it.
I e-mailed Elizabeth and Chris Jenkins to see if I could stop by and photograph the tea bushes for my blog. Elizabeth responded promptly, gave her consent, and followed that up with directions. The day I was to leave, I hadn’t intended to bring anything, but a last minute thought entered my brain: Brew a pint of Minto Island black and bring it with you!
I’m a “jeenyus”.
The trek was made that Wednesday. And, naturally, I got horribly lost before finding it. I found the Minto Island Growers market stand, and – by chance – got to meet Elizabeth. She pointed me in the right direction again, and – within a minute or two – I was standing in a tea garden again. A mere week after being one in Burlington.
I took my pint of Minto Island black with me. When I was about at the center of the garden, I began swigging. No words can describe what it feels like to drink a tea in the middle of the garden it came from. I could try, but my mere words would only act as a tribute. I now know how tea gardeners must feel.