Steep Stories

of the Lazy Literatus

Month: January 2014 (Page 2 of 2)

A Bourbon Barrel Pu-erh Origin Story

Art by Dave Snider

Art by Dave Snider

I talk a lot about new and interesting teas on this blog. It’s kind of my thing. But this article’s going to be a little bit different. I’ve always tried to talk about the origins to unique teas, or the regions they stem from. This is the first time where I was actually there when the tea was conceived. And it all started…in a bar.

On October 23rd, I made the two-hour trek to Eugene, OR .for an event called Tea Beer Fest. Of course I was going to go; how could I not? That’s – like – the combination of my two favorite things on the whole planet. I’d heard about the event through Josh “J-TEA” Chamberlain, and the fine tea lad even acted as a gracious host for my soon-to-be-tea-drunk arse.

When I first met up with Josh, it was – fittingly enough – at his teashop. J-TEA HQ. As I sipped copious amounts of sheng pu-erh and aged Baozhong, I even got a brief tour of the operation. Eventually, I had to address the elephant in the room. And by elephant, I mean…bourbon barrel.

He told me several months prior that he’d acquired such a barrel from the Buffalo Trace Distillery in Kentucky. I was just surprised it hadn’t been used yet. Originally, he told me that he was going to load it up with Eugene Breakfast – a Yunnan Dian Hong – but was a little tight-lipped about his hesitance to barrel said tea.

Teabeer drinking commenced later that evening. As I was I-fergit-how-many-pints in, I brought up the bourbon barrel again. Because nothing says social tact like beer. I barreled into the subject with all the finesse of a village idiot. Keep in mind, this is how I recall the conversation…and granted, it’s a little fuzzy.

“So…how come you haven’t loaded that barrel with tea, yet?” There might have been a slight slur to my speech at this point.

“Truthfully,” he began (and I’m paraphrasing). “I sell a lot of Eugene Breakfast. I don’t know if I have any to spare for that.”

I mused. “What tea do you have that you’d want to sacrifice to the altar of awesomeness?”

(Okay, I didn’t quite put it like that, but – in hindsight – I wish I had.)

Josh thought it over for a moment, “I’ve got this loose cooked pu-erh I could use.”

I snapped my fingers. “Yes! There you go. Pour some in, age it for a month or two, and done!”

“If it doesn’t work, I’m naming it after you.”

“Challenge accepted.”

The next day – after returning to Portland – I ran across this video on J-TEA’s Google+ page.

Oh lord, what had I done?

It wasn’t the first time, I’d operated in a “soft” consulting capacity before. For some reason, people in the tea industry/community value my opinion. Not sure why, sometimes. But this was the first case where someone had remembered one of my suggestions…over beer. I prayed to whatever Tea Gods that existed on high – heck, even Lu Yu himself – to make the tea turn out well.

The day after Christmas, my can arrived. Yes, I said can. Because everything that’s wonderful in ‘Merica comes in a f**king can!

The moment I got the can, I pried it open with my house-key and just…inhaled. It smelled like the inside of a bourbon barrel, as it bloody well should have. Strong peat and gasoline aromas invaded my nostrils like a sophisticated frat party. Whiskey notes took point, followed closely behind a hint of pu-erh earthiness. Not pu-erh fishiness – earthiness. This was a quality five-year-aged Yunnan cooked pu-erh; from that I could tell. The two different aromas complimented one another, translating from oak to earth with nary a jarring sensation.

(Sidenote: A day didn’t go by when I wasn’t caught just sniffing the can for minutes on end. One time, my sister/roommate came in as I was in mid-whiff. I had to say something akin to, “It’s not what it looks like.”)

I dug into this the very night I got it. I chose to brew it two different ways – one gongfoolishly, the other Western-ishly. The first: Boiling water, thirty-second steeps. The second: Boiling water, three-minute steep. The vessel I used was a gaiwan, and I infused 1 tablespoon of leaves.

For the gongfoolish prep, the liquor brewed up…well…dark as night. Even after only thirty seconds, the brew was as dark as any – uh – dark tea I’d ever tried. The aroma from the cup was almost strictly pu-erh-ish – alternating between earth and wood. Not so with the taste. On first sip, I was met with bourbon-drenched oak. A feeling I’d only encountered with bourbon barrel-aged beers. It was sweet, smoky, vaguely alcoholic, and flowed right into a cooked pu-erh woodsiness.

Most alcoholic barrel or drench-scented teas I’ve come across usually have the savory notes on the finish as a compliment. A subtle nuance in its character. This was the first time where I ran into such a flavor on introduction. Not even the one whiskey barrel-aged Lapsang Souchong had so strong an intro.

When gongfu-ed, the leaves lasted a good eight infusions before diluting. The pu-erh notes took over after about Steep #6, but still…that’s a long way to go for a scented tea. Brewed Western-style, I have to say the results weren’t that different. It lasted three good, strong infusions, but the notes were exactly the same. No real change.

My only real regret is that I didn’t have any original, unscented cooked pu-erh on hand to compare and contrast. No matter. I suppose I’ll make do with what I have in front of me – a can I can repeatedly sniff like glue.

For more info on this tea, go HERE.

The Moonlight of 2013

Earlier today, I finally clicked on my “2013: Year in Review” thingy on Facebook.

2013 review

For those not on the accursed social media site – all two of you in Zambia – at the end of the year, your most frequented status updates are compiled logarithmically. The Top 20 are listed in order, giving the user a basic rundown of their highlights for that year.

If my Top 20 is to be believed, the only things I accomplished in 2013 are: (1) Drinking beer. (2) Watching Doctor Who. (3) Commenting on my brother’s wedding. (4) Posting a picture of myself from when I was a teenager.

1234311_560373377351206_8905290_n

Yes, I’m aware I looked like an extra from Saved by the Bell. It was the 90s, after all.

The thing I found unsettling, though, wasn’t the fact that I’d accomplished so very little over the last year as a human being. I was quite aware of that. Writing projects went unfinished. My station in life had not improved at all. (If anything, it got worse.) But there was one key factor that was missing; one thing that made the year – despite my lack of evolution – the best of my life.

Where the f**k was all the tea?!

Sure, my life hadn’t changed much, but as a tea writer, everything changed. I attended my first World Tea Expo. I went to – not one but two – tea gardens over the summer. I met just about every tea blogger in my social media circle in person, save for a precious few. I attended a teabeer fest. And – last but certainly not least – I met The Devotea. (He’d kill me if he didn’t at least get his own sentence.)

How had Facebook forgotten all of that?! And why weren’t they higher on the list? I know for a fact more than one tea status update was just as popular or frequented as…Doctor Friggin’ Who!!!

Tardis Teapot

Image owned by ThinkGeek

Then I promptly had a cup of tea and calmed down. I reflected on the year that was, and on the present. The last couple of months of 2013 were a might depressing. Financial woes were looming overhead. Job hours were being cut – again. And prospects for the future were…nonexistent at best.

Yet still, 2013 was the best year of my life. How could I express that in a few words? I know…

I would reflect upon the best tea I had all year – a new incarnation on an old favorite.

Thanks to Norbu Tea Company, I was able to get a hold of this last year’s Castleton estate second flush oolong dubbed “Moonlight”. The first time I ever had this tea was in 2011, and it just about made my brain melt. Same thing happened in 2012. (And that was a really s**ty year.) How about the 2013?

Moonlight Luckily, I still had some of the 2012 from Thunderbolt Tea for comparison’s sake. The two like-named teas smelled like what I expected – awesomeness. Floral, zesty, muscatel, with an herbaceous finish. The 2013, however, had a nuttier profile. Both had a menagerie of colored leaves on display, ranging from browns, to greens, to downy-furred tips. The 2013, however, had more fur-tipped pieces.

The 2012 liquor brewed up darker bronze than the 2013. The taste was – well – pure, unadulterated heaven. All the sensations I got from the aroma and more. I could try to narrow it down, but I’m still fuzzy…and basking.

The 2013 possessed many of the traits as the 2012…but with one added caveat. There was a presence of chocolate-covered almonds in the flavor. In this regard, it lost most of its oolong-y comparison, but added a dimension that was definitely full-on orange pekoe.

Left: 2012. Right: 2013

Left: 2012. Right: 2013

How did they both measure up? It was like comparing two different interpretations of perfection. The latter year had a chocolate/malt/almond thing going that both added and changed the vote. The former was more fruity and floral. It was (and still is) a tough call. They evened out to identical palates upon further steepings. Yes, I said further steepings. Both lasted two more strong infusions before giving out – two Western-style infusions.

And I think that best sums up my opinion of 2013. In normal terms, it was just as “eh” as 2012, but nowhere near as tragic. I didn’t change much, but certain aspects were more transcendent. In short, it was more of the same, but my horizons were broadened. I committed more to my tea-ish leanings, and they rewarded me tenfold.

I guess this is the part where the writer offers a look at the year ahead – a hint of what’s in store. Resolutions, too, if ambitious. To tell you the truth, I have none…and I’ve made none. Well, not entirely the case. To borrow from a recent Devotea status update, my only resolution is to:

 

Image Owned by The Devotea

Image Owned by The Devotea

The rest will sort itself out.

As the best years of our lives often do.

2014

Page 2 of 2

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén

Skip to toolbar