Steep Stories

of the Lazy Literatus

Month: April 2014

The Scoop on a Black Fusion

I want to introduce you all to the oldest tea tool in my arsenal.

scoop

This li’l guy has been in my tea retinue for the better part of five years. That’s longer than any teacup, gaiwan, electric kettle, tin or pot. He first turned up in bag of Chrysanthemum Silver Needle I purchased in 2009, and he’s been with me ever since. You – fair reader – may have seen him show up in more than one photo on this blog. Until about a month ago, I didn’t realize the significance of that.

A blue plastic scoop – useful for its simple ability to measure out a teaspoon or tablespoon of leaves – has been with me for as long as I’ve been writing about tea.

And, yet, the li’l guy doesn’t even have a name. I should change that. I dub thee…uh…Scoopy.

Eh, good enough.

tablespoon

Anyway, I wanted to commemorate the fifth anniversary of this useful, yet seemingly-insignificant tool in a special way. Alas, I couldn’t think of one. Then a package arrived this week.

It was from Lochan Tea!

The week before, Vivek Lochan informed me that I would be receiving a delivery of 2014 first flush Darjeelings, as well as a couple of teas from their family-owned tea estate – Doke. I’d covered their estate in the past, and three of the teas they produced. To call them great would be an understatement.

Of the two new Doke wares was their new flagship handmade black tea – one simply dubbed “Black Fusion”. I’d been looking forward to trying this new experiment for months. And I was even more stoked to be one of the first Doke fanboys to write about it.

A quick aside: The moment I got the package, my 14-year-old niece barged into my room. Her eyes instantly turned to the package.

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She said, “Oooo, you got a package?!”

“Yep,” I replied. “Tea.”

“Can I pet it with my foot?” she asked…already caressing it with her foot.

No!” I bellowed, swatting her away.

Then I went to digging.

Amidst the Darjeelings, I found it in a simple bag. I could think of no better way to celebrate a Scoopaversary than with a new, never-before-seen black tea. It was brewin’ time.

The leaves for this were…simply beautiful.

Black leaves

Typically, hand-crafted teas come in two varieties – largely un-tampered with and just “there”, or beautiful/thoughtfully pressed. This was the latter. So much care seemed to be put into the visual presentation – like an oolong, only twinier. The aroma was similar to Doke’s other semi-oxidized offering – their Rolling Thunder oolong – only more robust. There was a malty/woodsy underpinning along with a Dian Hong-ish peppery profile. Very unusual for an Indian tea.

I had absolutely no idea how to brew this one, to be honest. There weren’t any pre-made brewing instructions on the Lochan Tea site for it, and there weren’t any other bloggers’ prior notes to go off of. This was new territory, folks. New tea, new approach. So, I chanced a typical, touchy black tea approach – 1 teaspoon in li’l Scoopy, a 6oz. steeper cup, boiled water, and a three-minute steep.

The liquor brewed light-to-medium amber – a very oolong-y color. Aromatically, the cuppa steam was nutty, slightly earthy, and possessed the malty presence I was expecting. Not unlike the Doke Rolling Thunder in this regard.

As for taste?

It was like someone took a Malawi-grown black tea and drenched Bihar’s soil with it. And the bushes that this black tea sprang from ended up with that profile, plus a Darjeeling/Assam hybrid presence. This was unlike any other Indian tea I’d ever tasted. For a first flush tea, it had a second flush body with an autumnal flavor kick. “Nutty,” in both definitions of the word. As far as experiments go, this was great right out of the starting gate.

brewed

My only regret is that I didn’t have more to play with. Luckily, the teaspoon of leaves I’d used lasted two more infusions. Each with their own flavor profile of revolving nuts and malt. My hat (if I was wearing one) goes off to the Lochan family. This is probably my favorite of their excellent pantheon of Doke-grown wares.

I couldn’t think of a better tea to commemorate Scoopy’s “birthaversary” with.

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Grown in Michigan

Like any good tea drinker, I occasionally frequent teashops. There is one in particular that I’ve gone to for the better part of three years (or more?). It has a bar. Note to future teashop owners: Get a bar. People like me will hang out there. Or don’t…if you want to avoid that sort of thing.

Point being: In my regular loitering, I’ve seen teabartenders come and go, learn and grow. Sometimes, they even tap into my overflowing well of useless knowledge. One particular teabartender started working there about a year-and-a-half ago – about as green as one could possibly be, couldn’t tell a jasmine green tea from a Dragonwell. Now? She could even stump me on tea plant varieties. (Note: There are three, not two – sinensis, assamica, and the oft-debated “java bush”. Color me informed.)

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For the sake of this write-up and anonymity, we’ll call her Michigan-Grown Teashop Girl – or MGTG, for short.

One particular week, I came in to try whatever they had that was new. MGTG informed me that there was a new Japanese black tea they acquired. I requested a piping-hot mug of it…and proceeded to hang out for an hour or so – all the while, hugging the mug lovingly. (What? It was warm.)

Between her customer rushes, we discussed American-grown tea. I told her of the Hawaiian ones I’ve tried, bonded over our mutual love of a Washington-grown white, and so on. Then…she stumped me. I’m not used to being stumped when tea is involved.

Okay, not true. I’m stumped all the time. But still!

She said, “Have you heard of Light of Day Organics?”

“Nope,” I said dismissively between sips. When I hear the word “organics”, my brain usually glazes over.

“They’re a garden in Michigan,” MGTG continued. “They apparently grow their own tea and sell it.”

It was at this time she mentioned she was from Michigan, and was interested in trying their homegrown orthodox offering – a limited edition white tea. As I do when presented with new information, I immediately took to my smart phone. How did a tea garden in Michigan of all places escape my notice?!

After a brief perusal, I realized I had run into it before…but skated over it. Tony Gebely had mentioned it in his article on U.S. tea growers. Light of Day Organics showed up in other articles I had seen, also. So, the fact of the matter was…I was just dense and unobservant.

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Image owned by Light of Day Organics

Light of Day Organics is the only biodynamic tea farm in the U.S. It was started in 2003 by Angela Macke – a registered nurse/organic horticulturist. The 25-acre outfit dedicated its space to (obviously) organically-grown ingredients for the various blends they sell. But the jewel of the operation was their Camellia sinensis “branch”.

One would not think that tea plants could grow in Michigan, due to the weather conditions. Normally, that would be true, but in this case not so much. Light of Day Organics utilizes un-heated hoophouses and greenhouses to keep the harrier aspects of Michigan weather at bay. Or so I’d assume.

Long story short, a week later, I bought some of their All White Tea.

It arrived the following week.

The leaves were, well, leaves on first impression. As is often the case with Bai Mu Dan-style white teas, there were green-to-brown larger leaves followed by the occasional fuzzy buds in the mix. Stems were also quite omnipresent, but that wasn’t a deal-breaker. Not by a long shot. Some of the best White Peonies I’ve ever had were quite stemmy. The aroma from the leaves was also rather trippy – hints of wintergreen, autumn mist, and maple.

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For brewing, I went with my typical white tea approach – 1 teaspoon-ish in a 6oz. steeper cup infused for three minutes in 160-ish F water. Yes, the A Light of Day Organics website had some brewing instructions…but I didn’t pay attention. I figured I’d been doing this long enough to know what’d work. Okay, sometimes I’m wrong, but not often…-ish.

The liquor brewed pale yellow (as all good white teas should) with an oddly coniferous aroma – reminding me of pine needles and some type of incense. I was reminded of a hippie-esque rave in the middle of a forest in Bend, Oregon for some reason. (No, I’ve never been to one. )

white brewed

Taste? Hoo-boy. Where to start…

That same fir-tipped, pine-needly presence continued on the palate presentation. I’ve had my fair share of needle-oriented things – be they beer, tea…er…actual needles (long story). Point being, this was a very pine forest-like taste. More so than any tea I’ve tasted, white or no. It was like a pine tree and a mint bush hugged it out after a big fight in a field of Silver Needle tea leaves.

Short answer? Perfect white tea.

Once I was done with it, I began plotting. To me, it seemed only natural that I…well…gift some of this white tea to the very girl that brought it to my attention. Michigan-grown white tea for a Michigan-Grown Teashop Girl – perfectly natural, perfectly innocent.

care package

When I finally had a day that allowed me enough time to get from work to the teashop, I prepped a care package. I went in, grabbed some iced black tea, and waited. Michigan-Grown Teashop Girl wasn’t working that day, but another teabartender friend-o’-mine was. I handed off the package to him.

He said with a knowing smile, “I’ll make sure she gets it.”

nudge nudge

I tried to deny any ulterior motive…and left after finishing my cuppa.

Mission accomplished. The girl hopefully got her tea, and the idea of that made me happy. Nothing more was expected than that. Honest.

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.

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Why’re you all looking at me like that?

 

Nan Nuo Revisited – Still My Favorite Mountain

Of all the tea blogs I’ve written, none have possessed the traction that my Nan Nuo Mountain coverage displayed. And I don’t mean in terms of viewership. (Let’s face it, what viewership?) But rather the enormity of vendors that specialize in single origin teas who’ve contacted me in its wake; I think the count is up to three? Point being, for that reason alone, it’s my new favorite post. Because of it, I wouldn’t have run into So-Han Fan.

Said wacky gent is the proprietor of West China Tea Company, which (I’m guessing) is a fairly new outfit. I’d never heard of it before, and I’ve been around. (Er…not like that.)

So-Han’s primary focus is – as the company name implies – teas from Western China, with a strong emphasis on Yunnan. He contacted me via my “normal” website, and mentioned that he carried two unique teas from Nan Nuo Shan (my favorite mountain, remember?). That and he also mentioned digging my tea fiction. Way to butter up the blogger, S-H. *heh*

Point being, I was more than excited to experience other teas from Nan Nuo, but when they arrived…there was a dilemma. I couldn’t tell the two apart. S-H had mentioned in the e-mail that I’d be able to identify them easily…but my blind eye-‘n-taste-testing skills weren’t that…uh…honed.

Both looked (and smelled) like loose sheng pu-erhs.

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Sure, one smelled grapier than the other, but I needed a bit more of a walkthrough with these. S-H gladly got back to me about the two teas. When he finally identified them, my mouth was agape.

One of them was a black tea.

Unroasted Yunnan Hong Cha

The process – as described to me – for making this tea was…confusing. As far as I know, the leaves don’t go through a standard quickening of the oxidation process. (I.e. No cooking, roasting, pan-frying, kill-greening, speed-drying, what-have-you.) Instead, the leaves are…uh…massaged every two-to-three hours after picking to hasten the drying/dying process. In other words, old school oxidation by way of hand.

As I mentioned above: When I first received this sample, it was hard to tell it apart from a regular loose sheng pu-erh. The only thing that differed was the color of the leaves themselves – ranging from green-brown to black. However, the aroma was indiscernible from a sheng, which probably can be attributed to its “raw”-ness.

For brewing, I decided to do as the West China Tea Co. website suggested, and went with a gongfu-ish prep. They recommended a pre-wash…but I always end up drinking the pre-wash anyway. So, three steeps to start – each at thirty-to-forty-seconds.

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The results were dark amber infusions with earthy-to-floral aromas. Nothing special was leaping out at me, yet. Then I took a sip. Holy whoah. It was like someone decided to see what would happen if a high altitude black tea made sweet-sweet love to a young sheng pu-erh. Flavors present were flowers, fruit, earth, sweetened wood, and…blanket.

Yes, blanket. This was one heckuva relaxing black tea. I just wanted to curl up with it, and talk about our future plans together.

Nan Nuo High Mountain Immortal Dew 2009 Loose Sheng Pu-Erh

Probably one of the most unique aged shengs I’ve come across. It was made in a small village called Duo Yi, at the summit of Nan Nuo.

Duo Yi Shu

Photo taken (and owned by) Villie Jokinen

No paved roads lead to the village, and many of the tea trees in the area range from 700-to-900 years old. This Nan Nuo sheng wasn’t commonly prepared for export, but rather used for everyday drinking for the Hani folks that prepared it.

The leaves were just as long and twisty as the Nan Nuo hong cha, but greener and wider. Plus, the scent they gave off was straight grapes. I’ve only ever encountered one other pu-erh that had that aromatic effect. Said smell also helped me tell the two teas apart.

In a typical gongfoolish fashion, I brewed about a tablespoon of the long leaves in a 6oz. gaiwan – using boiled water. Each infusion was roughly thirty seconds. To be honest, I wasn’t keeping accurate count.

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The result was three starter steeps of bright green-to-amber liquors wafting springtime scents of lemon and grapes. On taste, the grape lean continued even stronger. There was a winy note to the pu-erh, one that comes with at least five years of age. The sensation was like tasting a heated Riesling. In more oblique terms, it was like being fed grape juice that was pulverized by the feet of a goddess.

Nan Nuo pu-erhs still have no equal.

Favorite?

I have to be an indecisive schmuck again. Everyone’s a winner here. I’m so beyond ecstatic that I got to try such a rare black tea from the mountain, and even more stoked that there was a new style of Nan Nuo pu-erh I hadn’t tried yet. The only thing that’s settled is that Nan Nuo Shan is now on my tea-do vacation list.

Paved roads or no.

We don't need roads

Playing with Purple Tea before a Tandem Taiwanese Tasting

So, the events herein are from a couple of weeks ago, but the work week from Hades prevented its etching onto this holiest blog-tomes. But…here it is now. Late. As expected. As always.

Big Brass Butiki-s, Round 2: “Playing with Purple Tea before a Tandem Taiwanese Tasting”

(How’s that for a long-arse title?)

March’s Tandem Tea Tasters Googly meet-up was scheduled for the last week in March. The tea in question was to be Butiki Teas’ Taiwanese Wild Mountain Black. A fabulous tea, if I do say so. Problem was, I already used up all of my sample…for this write-up.

Originally, my plan was to use my remaining Taiwanese Assam in substitution. Then a better idea hit me. Yes, I occasionally have those. Not often, but sometimes.

There were two other teas I had to notch off for write-up purposes, and I was getting off work early enough to do a proper…uh…”analysis”. The two in question were an oolong and green tea made from the Kenyan “Purple Tea” cultivar – TRFK 306/1.

I covered this manmade tea plant strain on two separate occasions. Butiki was actually the first company I approached about trying one. Thanks to them, I was one of the first “reviewers” to cover the unique plant. Several months later, I ran into a white version of the tea. It was only natural that it’d show up in other forms eventually. And – boy-howdy – did it.

The two Butiki was a steamed green tea variant and an oolong.

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The leaves for the Steamed Purple Green looked a lot like the regular orthodox Purple Tea of Kenya, except for the leaf-rolling caveat. Yes, the leaves were about the same size as the regular Purple, but they were more – well – leafy in appearance, instead of flaky. The aroma reminded me of something between a Kabusecha and a Long Jing. If it weren’t for the dark hue to the Purple, I wouldn’t have known what I was whiffing. It was sweet, slightly vegetal, and mildly mineral-like.

The Purple Sunset Oolong, on the other hand, looked like a roasted Chinese oolong in appearance. The leaves were long, dark, and twisty – a lot like a Dan Cong or a Da Hong Pao. The aroma the leaves gave off was sweet, mildly cocoa-like, and very subtle in its earthy lean.

Brewing instructions for both – per the Butiki page – were very similar. The oolong required 170F water; the other, 180F. The Steamed Green needed about a three-minute steep; same with the oolong. This was a cake-walk.

When finished, the Steamed Green’s liquor turned – dare I say it – dark purple. The steam wafting from the cup smelled like a sencha, but with a little more body. The Purple Sunset Oolong brewed darker with a more rust-red color, and an aroma that harkened back to Dan Cong brews of yore.

Purple Duel

Left: Green Tea. Right: Oolong Tea

Tastewise, the Steamed Green was vegetal and sweet with a creamy aftertaste. The Sunset Oolong possessed a malty introduction that transitioned to a tart middle, and ended with a roasty (almost Taiwanese-like) finish. Sipping between the two was like being sandwiched between two women. Whatever the outcome, my face was happy.

As to a favorite? Gotta go with the oolong, mainly for my oolong preference these last few months. The Steamed Green was damn good, but oolong is where my heart resides at the moment. I thought about doing a combined brew, but that didn’t feel right. These were artistically done on their own separate merits.

By the time I was done dousing myself in purple goodness, 6PM rolled around, and it was time for the Tandem Google Hangout. At first, there were only three of us total – Rachel of I Heart Teas and Jo of A Gift of Tea. Regulars Darlene and Nicole were indisposed – the latter of which was saddled with WORKING AT A TEASHOP!!!

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No jealousy here…none at all.

We three marveled and reflected on the Wild Mountain Black, but also discussed other things. The prevalent subject seemed to be the feeling of “chaaaaaange” surrounding the Spring season. I had made it clear I wasn’t a fan of Spring.

In the span of a few weeks, my finances had taken an even bigger nosedive than anticipated. My attempts to look for a second job were proving difficult. (Mainly, finding one that worked around my “full-time” job.) All that rigmarole curbed plans I originally had for World Tea Expo and a book I wanted to finish.

The only thing that was going according to plan was my li’l tea poetry Tumblr.

But that was just on my end.

Everyone else seemed to be going through some time of major upheaval. I won’t go into theirs or anyone else’s. Not my place. The overall feeling we were getting was that Spring was a time of rebirth, but something was preventing the process from taking shape – whether it was our own reluctance, or constant outside influence.

Throughout, the meet-up, my phone continued disconnecting me from Google+. I’m still awe-struck that a Google site has so much difficulty on a Google phone. Then a wonderful thing happened.

Rachel asked, “What’s your address?”

I rattled it off, then asked why.

“No reason,” she said cryptically.

Moments later, my Gmail pinged me. I opened the notification and just…gaped at the screen.

“Late Christmas present,” Rachel said.

Right before we were about to close the tasting off, Nicole (Tea for Me Please) chimed in from her teashop gig – Tea Drunk in NYC. And…the conversation continued for another hour or two. That’s how these tea things work. Time is relative. And we’re all relatives here. In a way.

Following that meet-up, I worked two six-day weeks – barely had enough time to sleep, let alone write. In the interim, though, two wonderful things happened:

(1)    Rachel’s late-Christmas present arrived. It was a new webcam. No more Google/phone trouble for me! We test-drove it a few days later. Over tea, of course.

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(2)    Jo passed along a note to check out Oprah’s magazine for the subsequent month and turn to page 136. And there was her photo…looking all regal with teacup in hand.

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As I write this, I’m mentally preparing for the next work day – hopped up on caked white tea. Yep, Spring-sewn change is in the air; transitions are inevitable. But at least I’m in good company.

No matter how far.

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