Steep Stories

of the Lazy Literatus

Month: February 2014

“Taiwan’s Wild Side” – Big Brass Butikis, Round 1

Big Brass Butikis, Round 1: “Taiwan’s Wild Side”

I have a confession to make: I’m in love with Butiki Teas. They are one of five (maybe six?) companies that have my kind of business model. That being: What’s that? Is it weird? SWEET! I’ll buy ALL of it!

Fry

It’s like they took a piece of my brain, examined it, got rid of all the porny parts, and rolled with the rest.

Granted, they do have custom blends and flavored teas, too. But they go side-by-side with their esoteric partners on the beautiful Butiki list o’ wares. Butiki Teas provided me with the first Kenyan Purple Tea I ever tried, as well as the first Purple Pu-erh I gongfu’d the hell out of.

Heck, they even somehow carried a Nilgiri oolong that blew me away. Nilgiri oolongs never blow me away. (Okay, maybe a back-alley old fashioned from the Dunsdale estate, but that doesn’t count. Does it?)

This time, I was treated to two black teas from Yuchih Township, Nantou County, Taiwan. One was an Assam variant; the other was semi-wild-crafted. Oh my…Taiwanese black teas. I am in lust with Taiwanese black teas. Haven’t met one I haven’t liked, yet. And by the smell of these two sample bags, I was in for some sweet, sweet tea-lovin’.

Premium Taiwanese Assam

I love Taiwanese black teas for specifically one reason – the Taiwanese don’t f**k around with the leaves too much. Unlike regular Assams that are cut to the size of needles, these were long and twisty. Brown – sure. Rolled – sure. But still very unmistakably only-somewhat-tampered-with leaves. I’m a huge fan of teas that are completely and utterly whole leaf. (Mainly for the fact that they take more abuse.)

Taiwanese Assam

The smell was another dimension entirely. Like other Taiwanese blacks I’ve tried, there was a requisite sweetness to the aroma and an almost-cocoa quality. It was like whiffing a chocolate-laden breakfast cereal. Er…in leaf form.

The leaves infused to a medium-red liquor with a rustically sweet aroma, almost like a wild stevia plant – only lighter. It was Taiwanese through-and-through in its aromatic presentation. What surprised me was the taste. While it wasn’t initially sweet on leaf-sniffing, the flavor took on loads of cocoa notes. Almost like a Li Shan black – another Taiwanese tea. I was expecting malt, but didn’t get any. This was a strong, if gentle, beast of a brew.

Tawanese Wild Mountain Black

First reason to love this tea? It was bug-bitten! Like an Oriental Beauty or a Gui Fei. Er…when you’ve reached my level of tea fanboydom, you’ll find that endlessly exciting.

Leafhopper

Second, everyone I knew in the tea community was bragging about this stuff. Particularly my Tandem Tea Tasting circle. As luck/coincidence would have it, I had some on-hand but hadn’t dipped into it, yet. Peer pressure got the better of me.

Moving on.

The appearance for this was almost identical to the Assam – long, twisty brown leaves. These differed considerably in aroma, however, imparting a subtle sweetness and a woodsy/malty lean. Still very Taiwanese, but with some characteristics similar a Yunnan Dian Hong. There was also a hint of honey on the back-whiff.

Taiwanese Wild Mountain Black

The Wild Taiwanese brewed up a bit lighter than the Assam – by at least a shade or two. A sweet aroma from the dry leaves was still there, but after being…uh…wetted, they gave off a minty quality to the brew as well. Taste-wise, it was malty, sweet (as I’ve said a thousand times) and spry on the malt. Like a Ruby 18 but a little more…buff.

Paired

Left: Premium Taiwanese Assam. Right: Wild Taiwanese Black

The Winner: Wild Mountain Black. By a mile. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the Taiwanese Assam. But the Wild Mountain Black just did everything right…in my mouth. Like meeting a nice, sweet girl with a wild streak…but “old fashioned” at heart.

Old Fashion

V-Day Tea Day with Mum

I think I’ve mentioned my mother’s in town for a couple of months, right?

Unlike some thirtysomething males, I actually like having my mother around. No, not because she buys the food. In fact, I insist that she not do so. However, there are times when she offers that even I can’t refuse. This time, she offered on Valentine’s Day.

I usually don’t mind being single. Contrary to my usual whining, I like my me-time. Who better to keep me company than…well…me? Valentine’s Day, though? It serves as a glaring – and oft omnipresent – reminder that there’s more to life than just me. I don’t like that sort of reminder.

Mum woke me up at the crack of 9AM on V-Day proper. Did I mention I had the day off of work? Oh, well I did. Of all the days I wanted to work, it was this one. Unfortunately, I had nothing to keep me busy, and I had no other plans save for being idle and sulking. Mum had other plans.

“I was thinking we could go have Indian food,” she said.

I mumbled something unintelligible from the pillow.

“I’m buying.”

That woke me right up.

I was showered and ready in thirty minutes. Then a pang of guilt hit me.

“How ‘bout we grab tea after lunch at Smith’s?” I suggested. “My treat.”

“Wonderful idea!” she beamed.

We gorged on various tandoori-ish offerings at our favorite local haunt called Abhiruchi. Best Indian lunch specials in town. Well, as far as I was concerned, it was the only Indian lunch special in town. I practically had to be rolled out of there. All-you-can-eat Indian food is dangerous to those with no impulse control.

Afterwards, we trekked to the Pearl side of Portland and into Smith Teamaker HQ. Mum ordered a pot of Peppermint, I settled on a two-person pot of Bai Hao Oolong. Okay, my request was probably more…uh…specific than that.

smith pots

“Two-person pot of Bai Hao, 180 degrees, two-minute steep, save the leaves,” I requested.

I’m a tea snob, sue me.

As I sipped from my note perfect pot of oolong, we discussed future plans. She rattled off about her future occupational endeavors, as I segued to my bits about a future book I was writing and World Tea Expo. (I’ll get to that in a later post.)We effectively killed two hours, which is par for course with me and Smith’s.

Upon departing, we journeyed a bit through downtown Portland before hitting the freeway. While meandering down a side street, I saw a man holding up a sign.

find

And that pretty much summed up my single person’s viewpoint on Valentine’s Day.

If you’re single, it’s not about sulking in your oneness, but doing something special for someone you care about. In my case, Mum bought me lunch, and I bought her tea. And we were both better (and fuller) for it.

Oh, and Smith’s…I’ll pay my tab next week. I swear.

“All’s Fair in Love and Wolves” – An Open Letter to the Tandem Tea Tasters

“All’s Fair in Love and Wolves” – An Open Letter to the Tandem Tea Tasters

 

To my dearest Tandem Tea Tasters – Rachel, Jo, Nicole, Darlene, Jackie and Julia

Tandem Tea Tasters

Image by Jo Johnson

I regret that I was unable to attend last Sunday’s Tandem Tea Tasting, and I equally lament that I never got to make the real(-ish)-time acquaintance of Xavier – the original Smiling Frenchman. While you might think I either flaked out on it, or had something better to do, I assure you the reason behind my absence was far more bizarre than that. And it all started with a snowstorm.

As most of you already know, Oregon finally felt the brunt of “Snowpocalypse 2014”. Some viewed it as karma for laughing at the East Coast and southern U.S., others looked upon it as a freak of nature. What no one knows…is that I was indirectly responsible for it.

Until now.

Thursday morning, news reports were starting to pour in about the impending inclement weather. In a rare case of forward thinking, I packed a bag in preparation. You see, I work at a hotel. If snow did fall, I had a place to stay. By noon, snow did fall…and hard.

Salute to snow

What was originally supposed to be a day’s stay turned into two…then three. Then four. For a while, I looked upon it as a “staycation” of sorts. There was a microbrewery nearby, and free food was offered to the employees that stayed the night. But by the the end of the fourth day, I was starting to grow weary of my surroundings.

I had hoped to return home Sunday afternoon after my shift, but – while some of the snow and ice had started to melt – much of it still remained. There was no way my little Ford Focus would make it out of the driveway. Another night in, it was.

After grabbing a masala chai latte at the bar, I headed back to my room. As I lumbered down the hallway, I beheld an odd occurrence. Snowflakes were falling inside the hallway. They appeared out of nowhere…then disappeared before hitting the ground.

hallway

I continued down the hall and found the door to my room. Something must’ve been in that latte, for I was seeing things. Or perhaps I had been cooped up too long. As I opened my hotel room door, I was greeted by…

A wolf. Or was it a man? No, scratch that. It was a…

WOLFMAN!” I screamed.

The werewolf appeared taken aback by my girlish scream. He was dressed rather peasantly – ripped jeans, flannel shirt and a tattered scarf. His get-up was actually rather hip. He would’ve fit in well in Portland – wolfhead and all.

loup personne

“Th-th-that’s racist!” the were-hipster sputtered. In a French accent.

Where had I heard that answer before? Ah yes…from a were-tiger. That calmed me down right quick.

I closed the door and plopped down on the bed. “What do you want to be referred to as, then? Lycanthrope?”

The hip-wolf stared at me – stunned at my change in composure. What he didn’t know was that I had experienced similar occurrences before. Magical creatures whisking me away was nothing new to me.

“That’s even worse,” he said. “I am a loup personne.

I glared. “That just means ‘wolf person’ in French!”

He said nothing.

“Fine,” I gave in. “What do I call you, then? Quel est votre nom?”

“Your French is terrible,” the werewolf said, disgusted.

Pas de merde,” I replied. No translation needed.

“Theodor,” the wolf sighed. “My name is Theodor.”

“Okay, Ted.”

“Theodor,” he corrected.

“Whatever, Ted,” I continued. “Why are you here? And what’s with the snow inside the hotel?”

“The snow is a side-effect of opening a Narnia Gate,” he explained. “And I was told that you were a great warrior.”

My head hurt. “Narnia Gate?!”

“A magical tear in reality for transport from one place to another. The side-effect is snow within a three thousand mile radius.”

My eyes widened. I wasn’t very good with geography, but I knew what that encompassed. “How long ago did you cast that spell?”

“I started the incantation about two months ago.”

My stomach tightened. Just like that. I learned I was indirectly responsible for Snowpocalypse 2014.

“Why didn’t you use ley-line travel?” If it was good enough for Zombie Robert Fortune, surely it was good enough for a werewolf.

“On my salary?” His ears perked.

“There’s…magical minimum wage?”

Theodor said nothing.

I got up and patted him on the back. “I know that feels, bro.”

“So, are you?”

“Am I what?” I returned.

“A great warrior that helps others?” he clarified.

“Who told you that?”

“Shere Kahn of the Tee Faktorei.”

khan

“I’m a tea blogger,” I corrected.

What?!” Theodor roared. “The tiger-man lied!”

“Calm down,” I said, palms out. “What exactly did he say?”

“He told me to seek the aid of a Norman. I simply assumed he meant a warrior of Norse descent.”

I laughed. Hard. “Dude, I’m not even close.”

Theodor’s ears drooped, and he sighed a bit like a Saint Bernard I knew.

“How can I help?” I finally offered.

“I’m not sure you can. My mate, Romaine, was kidnapped by a dragon.”

“Any idea why?”

The wolfman shook his scruffy head.

“Well, I’d better get dressed,” I said, lifting myself from the bed.

“Aren’t you already dressed?”

“Not for a life-or-death tea tasting, I’m not.”

I grabbed some clothes and headed to the bathroom. When I re-emerged, I was attired in flannel-blue pajama bottoms, a blue J-TEA t-shirt (one size too big) and sneakers without socks. Theodor gave me a once-over.

“My mate’s life is on the line,” he argued. “This isn’t a sleepover.”

“Khan sent you to me,” I explained. “That means this has something to do with tea. This is my tea-tasting attire. If I’m going to help you, I’m going in uniform.”

Note: Not an actual likeness.

Note: Not an actual likeness.

I’m not sure what Theodor did next, but it looked like a facepalm. Or rather, a facepaw. We left the room.

One moment, we were walking down a snowed-in hotel highway, the next we stood in a grand cavern. Statues lined the walls – all of them various dragons of different shapes and sizes. Some Eastern, some Western. At the center of the cavernous meeting hall was an altar of some sort. Dead center, shackled to the wall was…well…a female werewolf with jet-black fur. She was unconscious but otherwise looked unharmed.

“Romaine!” Theodor yelled and ran forward.

I tried to grab him, but I was one step too late. As the wolfman dashed forward, the ground rumbled. A high-pitched roar echoed throughout the interior. Pink smoke billowed from the right side of the room. Theodor froze in mid-stride – legs shaking.

And a dragon appeared. Or rather…what passed for one

The “dragon” – if one could call it that – stood approximately seven feet tall with milky-white scales. Along its spine were various horns and protrusions, but they were knobbed and uneven. Its eyes looked glassed over, and – to my surprise – it wore actual glasses. With the thickest frames I ever did see.

Oh, and did I forget to mention that the dragon was fat? I mean, morbidly obese.

Francis

Art by Barb Bjornson

“So, Theodor,” it spoke. “This is the warrior you bring to face Francis the Ferocious.”

I tried really hard not to laugh. I failed.

“Who dares chortle in my direction?” spoke Francis the Ferocious. Oddly enough, his voice reminded me of Benny Hill.

“Uh sorry, Francis…um…sir,” I said. “I was just…laughing at the coincidence of your name. You see, my middle name is Francis.” It was the truth, too.

Francis brought a pudgy paw to his chin, “You have good taste, o’ warrior.”

“I’m not a warrior,” I said. “Just a tea geek. Like yourself.”

The dragon glared, “How did you know this was about tea?”

“You look like a tea drinker.” And in truth, he really did. Then I added, “Mr. Ferocious, sir.”

“Then perhaps you can help me where our Theodor here could not,” Francis said, pacing toward me.

The ground shook near me, and several black obsidian pieces magically coalesced into a table. A white Ceylon steeper cup and a sample bag shimmered into being. A stainless steel kettle winked into existence as well – water already heated.

The brand on the bag o’ tea I’d seen only once before, a couple of weeks back. Maison de thè THEODOR – the company my Tandem Tea Tasting group was covering today. What were the odds?!

The sample bag read: Thé Du Loup. My high school French was a little rusty, but I knew “Tea of the Wolf” when I saw it. Awesome name, I thought. I should remember that for a story.

The blend looked exactly like it was supposed to…a blend. A very French one, at that. The black tea base consisted of small-cut pieces with flecks of yellow flower petals for visual appeal. Marigolds, I thought to myself. Couldn’t be sure, though. I thought I also noticed a piece of orange or something akin to it.

Dry The Du Loup

As to aroma, this thing wasn’t kidding around, and I voiced as such. “It smells like…cookies.”

“Well, what kind of cookies?!” the dragon asked urgently.

“Girl Scout cookies?” I shrugged.

“Made of actual Girl Scouts?” Francis asked…a little too excitedly.

“You watched The Addams Family recently, didn’t you?”

The dragon looked confused.

“Nevermind,” I grumbled.

I thought I recalled a recommendation for 185F water or the Celcius equivalent. I found that a bit light for a black tea, but then again the tea leaves were small. And the blend was French. A lighter touch, it was.

The Du Loup

The liquor brewed to a dark red-brown, almost like a chocolate-dipped cherry. The aroma was cocoa mixed with vanilla with a floral underpinning – sweet all around but not too perfumy. Some of the floral character came through on the taste with a very pungent forefront that reminded me of candy-dipped flowers. (Or whatever I thought that would taste like.) The rest was rather pleasant. Some of the natural tea flavor showed up in the middle, and the blend ended on a candy-ish finish.

“And now for the ‘Love Tea’,” Francis ordered.

The obsidian slab rotated in on itself, replaced by a near identical taster cup. I marveled at the transformation, but remained bewildered at the fact that this dragon’s brewing equipment looked exactly like mine. Great minds…?

I looked at the sample bag. Indeed, it was a “Love Tea”, literally. The ornate letters on the bag read: Je t’aime. With Valentine’s Day a week away, I had to groan a little.

Taim

The leaves for this blend looked like…ah, hell, they looked the same as the Thé Du Loup – small black tea leaves, marigolds, orange pieces et al. The only considerable difference I could glean between the two was that the Je t’aime smelled creamier and more citrusy.

“Are you sure these are different blends?” I asked the dragon.

“These samples were gifted to me by a trusted colleague!” he roared. “Do you doubt me?!”

“No, sir!” Theodor kowtowed. Then shot me a glare and whispered, “Stop pissing him off!”

“I’m not trying to!” I rasped back.

I brewed the Je t’aime up the same way I had the Loup. The liquor turned out a shade lighter than the prior tea. The aroma was similar but a lot more delicate. Vanilla and something citrus-ish took point. Taste-wise, it was a lot more spry and less full-bodied that the wolf-named tea. It was also the most French. And, ironically, it was my favorite.

All Taim

“Very French,” I said with a nod. “But very good.”

Theodor rolled his eyes. “You’re a poet.”

“Your mom’s a poet,” I countered.

The werewolf growled. It was about as threatening as a puppy chewing on a fake steak.

“Well?” Francis the Ferocious pressed.

“Well what?” I asked, confused.

“Are they worth buying?”

Theodor looked at me, pleading.

“Um…” I had no idea what to say. “Blends aren’t usually my thing, but…yeah?” I shrugged a little with the cup in hand.

“Splendid!” Francis squealed, clapping his pudgy hands together. He pointed at Theodor. “I’ll take four ounces of each.”

“I…don’t sell tea,” Theodor said. “I’m a cashier at a butcher shop.”

“….What?” the dragon growled, fists clenched. Knuckles turning even whiter.

Before wolfman could answer, I stepped between the two of them. “I think there’s been a misunderstanding.”

“How so?” Francis said, eyes leveling on me.

“I think you confused the ‘wolf’-named tea and ‘love’ tea from the THEODOR brand…with an actual wolf’s lover…named Theodor,” I explained.

“I never make mistakes!” Francis whined.

“What browser do you use?” I asked again.

“Um…Internet Explorer.” Francis answered.

“Search engine?”

“Bing.”

“I can see where you got confused, then.” I nodded, hand to chin. “How about you let this poor wolf’s girl go, and let them leave in peace. In return, I’ll help you make the tea purchase, okay?”

Francis kicked up some dirt, looking slightly embarrassed. “Okay.”

Over the next hour or so, as Theodor made his escape with Romaine’s unconscious form, I stayed with the dragon. Apparently, no one in his usual dragon-y circles had heard of Google, nor learned that some sites could be translated into different languages. Lucky for us, the THEODOR site had an English version, thus dispelling any future confusion…or kidnappings.

Before long, the dragon/nerd and I were having tea – an Uva Ceylon he had on hand. It was also nice to have a dragon nearby that could heat the water simply with his breath. We talked of small nothings and big anythings. All the while, sipping the night away.

Tea

Francis returned me to my hotel’s hallway via ley-line port. Far smoother than the Narnia Gate, and less cold. When I returned to my room, Theodor was waiting by the door.

“Where’s Romaine?” I asked.

“Two floors up,” he said. “We got a room for the night. I…can’t afford to open another Narnia Gate.”

“Just be sure to take human form when you go to breakfast.”

Theodor nodded.

“Something else you needed?”

“To apologize.”

“For what?”

“I doubted you,” he admitted. “You are a great warrior.”

“Nope,” I confessed. “I just look good in pajamas.”

Theodor seemed to accept that answer and left.

I slept rather soundly that night.

*****

The next morning, I worked a six-hour shift. I was a bit ornery the entire time, longing for home. As I was pushing a housekeeping cart, a couple passed by me. The man was wearing a flannel shirt and a scarf, and the woman on his arm had a long mane of jet-black hair. Both were speaking French. The man looked back, and shot me a nod and a grin. I nodded back.

And that, my friends, is the truth of it. I hope nothing quite as outlandish happens by the time the next Tandem Tea Tasting comes around. But I make no promises. The magical world is a tricky mistress, and she always seems to catch me in my pajamas.

 

With regards,

Geoffrey F. Norman

The Lazy Literatus

Tea and a letter

“The Subtlety of Smoke” – The Changing Face of Lapsang Souchong, Part 2

This is Part 2 of a trilogy of posts about Lapsang Souchong. For Part 1, go HERE.

The Changing Face of Lapsang Souchong, Part 2: “The Subtlety of Smoke”

The branding and categorizing of tea can get a little fuzzy, especially where China is concerned. The main reason being, a lot of the origin stories surrounding tea can’t be corroborated or catalogued. Many of them have fallen into myth and legend. Few attempts are made to say, “This is this because it comes from here!” And if they do, it’s very hard to back it up.

Marvin

That’s not to say there haven’t been attempts to maintain brand integri-“tea” in China. Case in point, Keemun can’t really be considered Keemun if it isn’t from Qimen County, Anhui province, China. Pu-erh can’t be considered pu-erh if it isn’t from Yunnan province, China. And in 1732, the mayor of Changan County said that a tea couldn’t be considered real “hong cha” (what we call, “black tea”) unless it was grown/processed within an area of 600 square miles of Tong Mu village, Fujian province, China. (Source: Seven Cups)

Lucky for us tea drinkers, that last ruling never stuck. However, to a lesser degree, that category still holds true for Lapsang Souchong. If it is to be considered a smoked tea worthy of that name, it has to be grown from the rocks and cliffs of Wu Yi Mountain. Granted, Tong Mu Village doesn’t make smoky Lapsang anymore, at least not on the scale it used to. That isn’t to say other villages in the region didn’t pick up the slack. Enter Tong Cheng, one such village. And Joseph Wesley Black Tea, an eagerly experimental vendor.

I’m not sure what process they used for their Lapsang Souchong, or how Joseph Wesley Black Tea got a hold of it, but it differed from ones I was used to. The difference probably had something to do with the processing. Smoking tea leaves over dry pinewood led to a stronger, campfiery profile. Smoking them over wet pinewood yielded something subtler. Whether it was the wood…uh…wetness, or simply lighter smoke utilized, the results were a far different Lapsang paradigm.

leaves

The look and the smell of the leaves were different from any other Lapsang I’d encountered. Most are comprised of small black leaves and a pungently smoky aroma. The leaves here were larger and the smoky smell was much more subtle – like a ninja on a cigarette break.

Ninja Cigarette

It was a pleasantly earthy, malty, and distant-campfire-y aroma. I could’ve sniffed it all day.

There weren’t any brewing instructions on the Joseph Wesley page, so I had to go with my gut. (Never a good thing.) I did 1 heaping teaspoon of leaves in a 6oz. steeper cup, with water heated to boiling, and a three-minute steep. A good ol’ black tea standby. It wasn’t until I was done steeping that I saw brewing instructions on the tea can. Whoops.

The liquor brewed to the color of rust with a rustic and malty aroma.

Joseph Wesley Lapsang Souchong

Smoke did show up as an underpinning, but very mild in comparison to its forest-fire cousins. On first sip, the first thing I noticed was astringency – like a good Assam – and it quickly translated to a woodsy, roasty and surprisingly comfortable mid-note. The finish was like the after-effects of a business meeting in a comfortable smoking room underneath a Scottish bar. One can’t smell the cigars anymore, but there’s still an echo. Same with this tea. It’s a Lapsang, alright; it’s just sneakier about it.

Further infusions yielded smokier results. I, at least, got a good four more steeps out of a small helping of leaves. Granted, the liquor did lighten, but there was still nuance to be had. If you can call an echo of “brushfire” nuance.

forest fire

For Part 3, go HERE.

“Silver and Smoke” – The Changing Face of Lapsang Souchong, Part 1

This is the first installment in a trilogy of posts about Lapsang Souchong.

The Changing Face of Lapsang Souchong, Part 1: “Silver and Smoke”

Tong Mu Guan is a village on Wu Yi Shan (read: “mountain”) in Fujian province, China. It is considered the birthplace of modern day black tea. As legend has it, the first black tea (or hong cha/”red tea”) was produced by quickening the drying process by smoking the tea over wet pinewood. The result was something dubbed “Bohea”, at the time – a term that referred to simple low-to-mid-grade black tea in the 18th and 19th century.

Image mooched from (and owned by) Canton Tea Co.

Image mooched from (and owned by) Canton Tea Co.

Another variant came to pass, which was more smoked than Bohea – utilizing a process involving dried pinewood. That resulted in the campfire-tasting beverage known as Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong, or more commonly referred to as Lapsang Souchong. There are many stories regarding its origin, some involving armies staying and armies passing through, but the end result is the same – heavily pine-smoked black tea that sold well abroad.

Lapsang Souchong is a love-it or hate-it affair. Believe it or not, the first Lapsang I ever bought was from the original Tong Mu village. I didn’t understand at the time how great a privilege that was. And I hated it. It tasted stale and burnt – old, even.

magmin2

Later on down the line, I tried another Lapsang Souchong not from Tong Mu. Loved every sip of it. The hickory flavor gelled with me. Since then, every smoked tea variant I’ve consumed has been a pyromaniac’s palatial love affair.

Sometime in 2011, I happened across another Tong Mu-made black tea called Jin Jun Mei – roughly translated, “Golden Beautiful Eyebrow”. It was reedy-looking, gold-tipped like a Yunnan Jin Cha, and very young-seeming. I could tell they were young buds by the presence of some furs. Funny thing is, though, I don’t remember much about it other than it reminding me of Golden Monkey – another Fujian province black. Other than acknowledging its immediate deliciousness, I didn’t find anything extraordinary about it.

Then I read an article by Austin Hodge of Seven Cups. Apparently, I had tasted one of the rarest, most in-demand teas in the world. And it had wiped out Lapsang Souchong production in Tong Mu village. I will confess to having wept a wee bit while reading it.

Sad Smokey

Around the same time, Smith Teamaker’s tech guru, Alex, had teased me with a smoked tea sample they got in. I immediately hunted him and it down within that week. They gifted me a couple of servings of the stuff. The name for it was Yin Jun Mei.

This required some research. Putting my geek cap on, I looked up whatever information I could find on it. While doing so, I kept finding its name tied inexplicably with Jin Jun Mei. Both were considered Lapsang Souchong, and both hailed from Tong Mu. Apparently, Yin Jun Mei (read: “Silver Beautiful Eyebrow) was Jin Jun Mei’s lightly-smoked sibling. Whereas Jin wasn’t smoked at all, Yin underwent a process similar to traditional Bohea – smoked over wet pinewood, resulting in a subtler smoky taste.

I brewed it up the next day to find out.

The leaves had no silver tips among them, as the name would imply, but rather gold tips. They were small, curly and ranged from brown to gold. The overall appearance reminded me of Golden Monkey – only darker. I didn’t get much of an aroma from the sample, other than a scant shade of wood and malt. No actual smoky sensation – much like Jin Jun Mei in that respect.

Yin Jun Mei

For brewing, I went with a typical black tea approach – 1 tsp. in a 6oz. gaiwan, steeped in boiled water for three minutes. Tried and true method for anything Lapsang-ish. I hoped some smoke emerged from the infusion.

The liquor brewed to a foggy red-amber with a spry, almost Keemun-like aroma. Smoky yet sweet. The taste was the most surprising aspect. Smoke did emerge on the forefront, but not in that strong, hickory sort of way. It was understated but definitely there. What followed really had me floored. It was a sensation that was almost like a white tea – an herbaceous punch of zest coupled with a smidge of malt. Whatever it was, it was delicious. And I can see why this and its “gold” sibling are taking Tong Mu away.

Yin Jun Mei Tea

That said, I still have a soft spot for the unsophisticated, pinewood punch of the ol’ Lapsang. So, I write this glowing approval of this Jun Mei type with a metaphoric tear of lament. Lapsang Souchong, I salute ye.

salute

In all your forms.

For Part 2, go HERE

A Pre-Super Bowl Kombucha Beer?

*Sigh*

Alright, I’ll make this quick. Most of you have a sports event to go to. At least, most of you in the States, anyway. Why am I posting a blog on Super Bowl  Sunday? Well, this story sort of ties into it – a tea(ish) one.

I have this friend – we’ll call him…uh…ah, hell with it, his name is Jeremy. Anyway, Jeremy and his wife throw Super Bowl parties every year. They are quite well-renowned for their nachos. Oh lord, the nachos.

epic nacho

Moving on.

This year, I didn’t think I would be able to attend because of my work schedule. The best I could hope for was getting off early. That was the case last year, and maybe such a miracle would occur this time as well.

On Friday, my boss pulled me aside to show me the new schedule, and said, “I’m sorry, I couldn’t get you two days off in a row this week.”

I took a deep breath and looked. My eyes widened.

“You gave me Sunday off?!” I practically yelled. “Sweet! There’s someplace I have to be.”

I relayed the good news to Jeremy, he texted back with the address (since I never seem to remember where he lives).

I asked if he wanted me to bring anything.

He said, “The brew of your choosing would suffice.”

Mission in hand, I hit one of my nearby specialty beer haunts – Birra Deli – to do some hunting. Jeremy had a preference for ciders and red ales. Finding the right ones would be a chore, though. That and I was a horrible judge of cider quality. If it tasted anything like apple and not – well – ass, I generally liked it.

Birra Deli

Image mooched from Birra Deli’s Facebook page.

My search, though, was sidelined when I looked at the beers on top. Topping the list was something that made my eyes glaze over. Four words: “Kombucha Mama Apple Sass”. Eureka! A teabeer! I thought. As some of you well know, I’m sort of an amateur expert on the subject.

I ordered one, took a sip, and was greeted by something that tasted like a hard apple cider only more syrupy and…well…fermented. It almost reminded me of an apple ale I tried months ago, only sweeter. Like someone had taken several Red Deliciouses and plopped them in a boiling keg. I sipped lovingly as I continued my search.

Six beers bought, and a pint swigged, I left there with only the slightest hint of a buzz. I wondered how much alcohol that supposed kombucha ale had. Well…

Kombucha Beer

I arrived home, stuck the six-pack in the fridge, and went online to check out Kombucha Mama’s website. What I had drunk was just…regular kombucha. No alcohol in it. At all. Well, save for the .01% ABV caused by the fermentation. But why did it taste different from other kombuchas I’d tried? And what the hell was it doing in a bar?!

Turns out the way Kombucha Mama did their “tea” was slightly different. That and they marketed to bars as part of their business model. Not sure what alchemic process they administered, but their kombucha had more in common with mulled cider than the cold-brewed tea-‘n-bacteria cocktails I was associated with. Sure, the main process was the same, but there was something they did that shook it up a little. Most kombuchas have a hint of vinegar to them; the Apple Sass did not.

I had normal kombucha, and my brain had thought I was actually buzzed on beer.

Scumbag Brain

Nay, I was tea-drunk. Sometimes it’s hard to tell, but no brain cells died in the process. Just pride.

I amended a tweet I’d made about the supposed kombucha beer.

I received a reply that went like this:

Tweet

An image of sixty Scoby mothers coalescing into one being and doing this came to mind.

Hello, my honey!

I’ll take my imaginary beer buzz, thanks.

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