Steep Stories

of the Lazy Literatus

Month: March 2014

Do Tea Drinkers Dream of Electric Kettles?

Back in January, I was contacted by JalamTeas to try another one of their pu-erhs. This was different than their Nan Nuo offering because it was a loose, young sheng as opposed to a beengcha (tea cake). Well, of course, I said, “Hell yeah!” Or something akin to it. JalamTeas had a pretty good eye for pu-erh.

Then a funny thing happened…

Peter

I received the sample about a week later, dove into it right away, loved it, but sat on the write-up for it. In the ensuing weeks, I had a dream that centered around JalamTeas. To this day, I still have no idea what to make of it. I’ll let you – fine reader(s) – be the judge:

This took place at a hotel. Jeff Fuchs – and, by extension – JalamTeas were hosting some sort of symposium. They were set to unveil a new product – a Kenyan “pu-erh”. I was also in attendance.

During the event, someone stole exactly $790 worth of product from the JalamTeas stores. From the corner of my eye, I saw a hooded figure down a hallway. Why I was the only one who noticed, I dunno. Dream-related narcissism, I guess.

I dashed down the hall after the supposed thief. To my surprise, I was keeping pretty good pace with the suspect. Maybe I’m fit in my dreams. Anyway…

He made his way out an emergency exit and ascended the fire escape stairs. I followed suit, closing the gap. By the top floor, the suspect stopped. I never got a good look at the guy, but I noticed a box of tea in his hands

Then…I immediately threw him over the balcony.

toss

And I woke up.

That was the first time I’d ever committed tea-related homicide in a dream. I must’ve really wanted to get my hands on some Kenyan heicha. Perhaps that was why I stayed away from this write-up for so long, to make sense of that quixotic dream. Then I thought, That’s not fair to the tea.

After all, as Lu Yu said (in some movie I watched once), “Tea is innocent.”

With that out of the way, I shall segue to…

Zhang Lang

This was actually the first of two such pu-erhs offered up by JalamTeas with the “Zhang Lang” name attached. Another one – a shou (or cooked) version was made available in January. The sheng (green) variant was their May release.

Both teas hailed from the Zhang Lang area near Bada Mountain, part of the greater Xishuangbanna region of Yunnan province, China. The Pulang people of the region picked and processed the leaves from medium-aged trees. By that, I mean, tea trees that ranged from thirty-to-seventy years old. Young by pu-erh standards.

Pulang

Image owned by JalamTeas

The leaves for this looked like no other pu-erh (sheng or otherwise) that I’d ever seen. Strangely enough, the leaves looked…Darjeeling-ish – multi-hued layers of brown, beige and green. The smell they gave off was also vaguely grapy and herbal. I had nothing else I could compare it to. Other loose sheng pu-erhs at least gave me some clue; this was its own beast.

Zhang Lang leaves

I went with a typical pu-erh brewing approach. I had plenty of leaves to play with, so I opted for a more traditional gongfu brew – about a tablespoon of leaves to a 6oz. gaiwan of boiled water, multiple steeps. Yes, I could’ve gone with more leaf than that, but I’m not that traditional.

Of the first three infusions – ranging from thirty-to-forty seconds (or whatever I felt like) – flavors ranged from straight grape-‘n-leaf to something akin to linden flower. By that, I mean herbal, sweet yet floral with something citrusy on the aftertaste. The experience was lingering with each cup. Spry, layered, fruity, sweet, herbal, slightly earthy, and…well…young.

Zhang Lang gongfu

Like with all young, greener pu-erhs I’ve tried, the only thing lacking was dimension. Given a half-decade or so, more nuanced and winy flavors will develop. It’s akin to watching girls grow into beautiful women. (Natalie Portman Syndrome.)This tastes great now, but I’m really excited to see what happens in the next few years.

I’d probably toss someone over a balcony for it, then.

balcony

Good Afternoon, Vietnamese Pu-Erh!

In 2010, back in my review days, a Vietnamese cooked pu-erh happened upon my desktop. By then, I had developed a predilection for weird teas and new origins. So, the idea of a pu-erh, from somewhere other than Yunnan, excited me. That is, until I tasted it. Let’s just say, I wasn’t a fan.

Angry Williams

But – in its defense – that might have been my ‘Merica brewing approach.

I also mistakenly assumed that said cooked pu-erh was only named for being close to Vietnam, but wasn’t actually from there. As far as I knew back then, pu-erh wasn’t pu-erh unless it was from Yunnan province, China. Well, apparently, some parts of Yunnan and Vietnam are only separated by a river. Therefore, it was safe to assume that some Chinese pu-erh making techniques crossed the border.

Just this last year, I ran across a company that did sell Vietnamese pu-erh. Alas, they were all sold out of the stuff by the time I made an inquiry. However, around the same time (circa November), a forum topic was started by a new Tea Trader who went by the name “@Caobo”.

Apparently, he was affiliated with an outfit called Hung Cuong Trading Company, LTD, out of Ha Giang province, Vietnam. I knew nothing about the company. But further digging did turn up a website and a Facebook page.

Hung Cuong

Imaged owned by Hung Cuong Tea

The website was in Vietnames, but what did I expect? ‘Merican English everywhere?

After some discussion with Caobo, I was able to acquire two cooked pu-erh cakes – a 1999 and a 2005. And they. Were. Huge!

Vietnamese pu-erh cakes

Left- 1999. Right – 2005

Seriously, beautifully pressed cakes. Not that I’m an expert on the subject – I’m nowhere near. But these were gorgeous. However, time and life got the better of me, and I didn’t dip into these until four months later. I know, par for (lazy) course.

Let’s get this out of the way. As I mentioned above, yes, I know they can’t be considered pu-erh in the traditional sense because they’re not Chinese in origin. Anything not from Yunnan is simply a heicha (or “dark tea”) in the most generalist of terms. But you know what? If the only thing separating your pu-erh variant from Yunnan is a friggin’ river, I think you’ve earned the right to the name.

Anyway, enough ranting, on with the tasting.

The ’99 cake had an aroma of dirt and…Russian caravans. Seriously, it was as earthy as any aged cooked pu-erh I’ve ever come across. I felt like I was on a dirt road riding on horseback. The ’05, by contrast, had a more spry smell – mint, dust, dirt, and something medicinal on the back-whiff. Points to the ’99 for sniff-test win.

And now…the hard part: Cutting into these beautiful cakes. Seriously, not since childhood birthday parties have I been so torn. To cut into something so beautiful made my heart ache. But there was tasting to be done, so I went to stabbin’.

Cutting the cake

The ’99 was murderously difficult to cut into. And I do mean murderous. I had to channel some misplaced rage just to plunge the pu-erh pick deep enough. Once I was able to pry some slivers free, the rest was easy. The parts I did flake off did so with ease once pressed.

The ’05 didn’t put up as much of a fight as its older brother, but the pieces that came off were far flakier and small. I gathered up what I could and put them in the cup. Color-wise, there wasn’t a difference between either cake’s compressed leaves. Only their consistency differed. As one would expect, the ’99 leaves kept together in their pressed form, whereas the ’05 was more prone to loosening.

versus

Left- 1999. Right – 2005

For brewing, I decided to actually learn from past mistakes and went with a gongfu-ish approach. Boiled water, multiple steeps of about thirty seconds – gradually increasing the time on successive infusions. Given their age, and the “cooking” process, it was the only way to go.

The wet leaves for the ’99 stayed together after the first infusion, while the ’05 broke apart pretty easily under waterboarding stress. Aromatically, both couldn’t have been more different – the ’99 being straight earth, while the ’05 smelled like pipe tobacco.

The liquor for the ’99 also came out considerably darker (plus more difficult to pour, for some reason). The ’05 looked more like a small-cut Nilgiri black tea in liquor color. As for the steam scent off of both cups – ’99 was more pungent and dusty, and the ’05 was mild in its “essence of wilderness”.

liquors

Left- 1999. Right – 2005

As one would expect, the ’99 tasted much older – giving off a fungal vibe on the tongue, mixed with the earthen qualities already present. While the elder was more nuanced, the ’05 was a far smoother drink – reminding me of a light-smoked Lapsang Souchong in character.

Further infusions provided deeper dimensions to both, but honestly, after steep #2…descriptors escaped me. I was well into tea drunk by then. The only thing I can say for certain is that the ’99 the Elder started developing an oddly sweeter profile as time went on. The ’05 still stuck to its toasty guns on the smoke end of the spectrum – with a tickle of spice (???).

After I was done with all that finagling – and feeling a wee bit Zen-peachy – I decided to take the powdery dregs from both aged cakes…and gongfu them together.  Oh, c’mon, like you weren’t expecting this?!

The results were…schizophrenic. Best to keep these two siblings apart. Age before beauty.

liquor fusion

My favorite?

Well, they’re both tied, but for different reasons and in much different ways. I liked the way the ’99 felt and made me feel. I liked the ’05 for how it tasted and how comfortable it went down. For everyday drinking, the ’05 wins out. It’s a very approachable pu-erh. For the discerning palate throwing a special gathering of like-minded tea snoots? The ’99 wins out. All said, these were even better than some Yunnan cooked pu-erhs I’ve come across.

Consider me a very vocal Vietnamese tea fan.

Happy Williams

Expos, eBooks, and Media

State of the Minion Address #3: “Expos, eBooks, and Media”

Ladies and (not-so-)Gentlemen!

Soapbox

I have a few announcements to make…

It’s been awhile since I’ve done one of these State of the Minion things – outlining future projects, current states of mind, and the like. However, a ton of things are on the horizon. Truth be told, I don’t know if I’ll even be able to accomplish it all. I’m certainly going to give it the good ol’ post-collegiate try, but (as is to be expected)…I make no guarantees.

Here’s the shortlist of projects and projected events that are in my future:

World Tea Expo 2014 (See Below)

Originally, I had no plans to go this year. I didn’t have much reason. Thus far, there hadn’t been word on any bloggy-related events. That and the Expo had been relocated to Long Beach. I was a little hesitant about that. Then I learned this was happening again…

WTE Poster Update 2014.jpg.opt800x800o0,0s800x800

Imaged mooched from Jo “A Gift of Tea” Johnson

How could I not go?!

After a generous helping of begging and pleading, I weaseled my way onto the panel. Only a few things stand in my way of making all this a reality:

(1)   Money. That always seems to be a continuous problem, doesn’t it?

(2)   Time off from work

(3)   Means of getting there.

(4)   Press pass

#2 and #3 have been dealt with. #4…I’m still waiting on word from. It’s the first one that remains to be determined.

Which brings me to…

The eBook (See Below)

Yes, folks. You are reading that right. I’m finally writing an ebook. Technically, it’s halfway done, since it will incorporate things I’ve posted for this blog or other side-projects. Still, it’s the most monumental writer-ish undertaking I’ve ever…uh…undertaken.

The title (at the moment) is To Boldly Tea: A Fiction-Infused Anthology, and the book is as the title implies – a collection of tea fiction stories. The collection will include the following:

The Legend of Lapsang” – My first foray into tea fiction, ever. Bat-s**t crazy, it was.

Oolong Way from Gnome” – The epic story of the gnome who traveled from India to China with the Journey to the West gang of legend. It’s a third of the way done.

Fortune and the Goddess” – Arguably my most “famous” and controversial short story to date, and my first real post on the Beasts of Brewdom page.

“Border Line” – A story that came to me in a dream. It’s a tragic love story set in a Texas border town (called Margaret’s Hope) in 1902 dealing with monsters and yerba mate’.

“Breakfast, the Irish Way” – A short story I wrote for another anthology involving tea, U.S. senators, and Irish crime syndicates.

“Castleton: Tea Gun for Hire” – The story of a James Bond-like tea consultant and his mission to resolve a conspiracy about a tea estate, a huge corporation, and a lost city.

“Knights of the Apocalypse” – The descendants of the Earl of Grey (dubbed Mr. Excellent) and Viscount Petersham infiltrate a mutant-infested Scotland to save a very special…tree. Inspired by two tea blends.

“Steep Stories of a Lazy Literatus” – All of my tea fiction meta-reviews compiled into one novella-sized chunk. Including ones I have yet to write.

The Tea Trolley” – The Milly ode I wrote a couple of years back. I couldn’t think of a more perfect capper than that.

Of the list, four stories still need to be finished, which means there’ll be a lot of new, never-before-seen content. My goal is to have the rough draft done in a month, and edited and put up on Amazon by early May. The idea is to see if it generates any sales that will help fund my World Tea Expo…so I can pimp it some more.

pimp

And speaking of pimping…

Tumbling with Tea

Because everything is happening so fast (and so much keeps piling on), one of the things that’s been suffering is my blogging output. As you’ve likely noticed, I (maybe) have time for one blog a week. That leaves several teas unexplored.

IMAG1570

Yeah, that’s only half of what I need to get through.

So, I think I found a solution…and it involves Tumblr.

My Mum helped me come up with this idea. Of the teas I have to get through, only a few fit the “model” for my blog – that being new and interesting teas with stories to tell. That isn’t to say they’re not good – quite the opposite – I just don’t have a lot to say about them beyond taster notes.

So, I came up with a quickie solution. I started a Tumblr for poetry-related tea taster notes. They will be called TeaCuplets, and the goal is to get through one every other day. You will be able to find them HERE.

No, there aren’t any, yet. I just opened up the page for them…today. But I do have some down the pipeline.

*****

Well, that’s it. Everything I currently have on my plate. Will I be able to accomplish it all – effectively and efficiently? We shall see. I may be overloading myself, or over-estimating my skills at time management. That and soooooooo many things could go wrong between now and late-May.

If I accomplish even a smidge of this list, I will be happy.

Thanks for reading.

P1040217

UPDATE:

Due to financial difficulties and other work-related things, the World Tea Expo trip has been scrapped. The ebook project has also been postponed indefinitely until things calm down on the personal (and financial) front. The TeaCuplets “initiative”, however, will still remain in effect.

Sorry for the inconvenience and false hope.

A Teaity Chat Adventure

Let’s put things in perspective.

Last Tuesday, there was a Teaity-hosted Twitter chat, and it was amazing!

Teaity

I, however, wasn’t amazing in it. In fact, one could even say – albeit crudely/colloquially – that I was out of my f**king mind. Reasons being: Too much caffeine…and family.

I started off the day – a work day, mind you – at 6AM. Somehow, I had the bright idea to pre-funk with some Hankook Tea Gamnong Sejak “matcha” (read: Korean powdered green tea).

Hankook Gamnong Matcha

The stuff is amazingly tasty. Looks like a mid-grade matcha from Izu, Japan…but tastes like a high-grade Uji ceremonial. It froths up handsomely, has a velvety texture going down, and caffeinates you like an immortal battering ram. That would’ve been enough.

But then I brewed some Butiki Teas Taiwanese Wild Mountain black for the road trip to work. That…put me over the edge. I wasn’t just immortal; I was freaking celestial. Nothing could’ve penetrated my high.

Said work shift went by like an old-fashioned VCR on fast-forward. I was casually aware of time, but not affected by it. If problems arose, I handled it with all the aplomb of a pubescent spelling bee contestant. And best of all? No crash.

One would think that was enough caffeine for the day, right? Well…apparently my brain never got that memo. When riding high, better continue the party – right?

When I came home, I smelled the old Wild Mountain leaves. They still had life in ‘em. So, I brewed up a second infusion.

In the interim, my Mum was pacing and yelling at her phone. I asked what was bugging her. She had been on the phone with my niece, but the signal cut off. The 14-year-old had said she was walking home from school, but an hour had passed. Her school is a mere three streets away.

Forgetting about the tea, I grabbed Mum and we headed out to go look for the missing niece. Just as we were heading out of the apartment complex, we saw a teenage girl loping up the hill. It was the niece in question. After I told her to get in the car, she explained what had happened.

Her phone died…and she got lost in a cul de sac.

No, seriously.

How?!

After that li’l adventure, I saw mentions on Facebook and Twitter that Teaity’s Chat Party was happening.

Oh snap!  I thought. I forgot to RSVP.

I quickly shot a tweet to Naomi Rosen (Mrs. Joy’s Teaspoon) about how to do exactly that. She and Nicole “Tea For Me Please” Martin were co-hosting the chat session with Teaity’s founder – Chris Giddings. I knew next to nothing of how it was going down, save for the fact that it was happening.

I did the RSPV thing, looked on Google+ (thinking it was a Hangout or something), then did a proverbial “Derp!” upon realizing that it was a Twitter chat. People chimed in on it by using the hashtag “#TeaityChat” on Twitter.  Finally, I chimed in…still somewhat wired after tanking my over-brewed mug of Wild Mountain.

And it was like I stepped into Peter Griffin’s version of Bed Bath & Beyond.

TeaityChat

So many people. So many conversations happening all at once. At first, I joined in with a simple, “Ahoy!” But then I thought the best idea would be to answer one of the questions put out to the crowd.

teaity pants

Hey, I said it was my best idea…I didn’t say it was a good idea.

However, there was one problem. Here I was, in the middle of a tea chat, but I had no tea. For months, I’d been meaning to do a piece on Teaity and its “timer” function, and this was my excuse. The issue I was having, though, was finding a tea in my collection that was on the Teaity roster. Most of the stuff I had on-hand was downright esoteric.

All the while during the chat, I tore my collection apart looking for a brand and brew to join in with. About two-thirds the way through the multiple conversations, I found it. Teaity had AdventureTea’s Hawaiian Green listed. I brewed it up, using Teaity’s timer as a guide.

Teaity Timer

The results were even better than the trial-‘n-error brews I’d administered before. The flavor was like tropical fruit crossed with Hawaiian Mamaki leaf. Green, herbaceous, slightly citrusy, and nowhere-near-grassy. Probably the best green tea I’d had from Hawaii. (Although, granted, I’ve only had two others.)

Hawaiian Green Tea

If I wasn’t over-caffeinated by then, I certainly was now. I couldn’t even recall how many pints/pots of tea I was in at that point. All I knew was, it was almost 9PM…and I was nowhere near tired.

Then I saw them on my tea shelf.

Ants. Tons of ‘em. Going after the whole whoppin’ two flavored teas I had in my collection. They smelled like vanilla and chocolate, so – naturally – the critters bee(or ant)-lined to them. With how much caffeine I had in my system, I panicked. I tore all the teas off the bookshelf, and moved everything aside.

IMAG1554

Then I grabbed our one vacuum and combed the room with it. Unfortunately, the damn thing was clogged to the gills with dust and debris from the last major suck-up. I began to curse

Mum, sis, and niece each inquired as to what I was doing.

Phrases I…may have uttered.

“There’re ants everywhere.”

“I had to blow out the vacuum pipes with my mouth!

“I’m going to get herpes from this!”

Er…the last part was because I actually knew a guy who did get an STD from a vacuum. Long story, won’t go into it here.

After gutting and rearranging my room, I finally sat down – having expended all my excess energy. All that was left was a slight buzzing feeling in my brain. That and an odd sensation of feeling both hypochondriac…and accomplished. Very strange.

Moral of the story: There is such a thing as too much tea.

But, boy, it makes for an awesome story to tell.

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén

Skysa App Bar
Skip to toolbar