Steep Stories

of the Lazy Literatus

Month: September 2014

A Bourbon-Scented, Tea Seeding Saga

Back in June, one of the many wonderful things I came back with from World Tea Expo…was tea plant seeds.

tea seeds

The Camellia Forest Nursery in North Carolina had donated some to the Tealet booth as gifts for passersby. Of course, I was one of those who jumped at the chance. Who wouldn’t want to grow their own tea plant?!

Problem was I was not known for my green thumb. Heck, I killed a cactus back in college. So, a couple of weeks later, I enlisted the help of my amateur gardener brother. He possessed the pots, the soil, and some of the know-how. All we needed to do was set a day…and we did for that following Saturday.

Unfortunately, the day of, I saw a photograph by Smith Teamaker’s resident bartender/photographer – Tea MC Tiff (as I call her).

bourbon mugging

Image owned by Tiffany Talbott.

The bottle of bourbon in particular caught my eye.

I asked about the photo, and if it heralded the arrival of a new barrel-aged tea to Smith’s roster. Tea MC Tiff confirmed that it did. Steven Smith and his blending team got a hold of a Temperance Kentucky Bourbon Barrel and decided to age some Nokhroy estate second flush Assam in the sucker. It was put on the shelves the night before I inquired about it.

I called my brother.

“Um…” I started eloquently. “We have to make a detour before we plant tea seeds.”

And off to Smith Teamaker HQ, we went.

The two teatenders on duty – Claire and Lauren, respectively – allowed my brother and me to share a pot of the stuff.

bourbon black

It was straight bourbon and malt. That’s all I have for taster notes. Bourbon smoke on the front, Assam on the back, like some sort of…tea-alcohol…mullet. Or something.

Short answer, “Wow.”

I lamented the price of a two-ounce box of the stuff, but my brother – to my surprise – said, “Here, I’ll get it. Early birthday present.”

I think I squealed.

In an odd turn of self-control, though, I didn’t break in my personal stash for several weeks. In the interim, I had a newly potted tea plant to take care of. My brother had loaned me a teapot, and – in return – I’d given him one of my tea seeds. I kept the pot by the window, and per his instructions, checked soil moistness once a week.

tea plant

Then came a “Tandem Tea Tasters” Google+ Hangout. The theme for the night was to present a new, unique tea to “share with the class”. That was a tough one, since…well…most of my teas fell into that category. However, I looked up on my shelf and noticed that the Smith’s Bourbon Black Tea hadn’t been open yet. Decision: Made.

private stash

 

I don’t recall the exact details of the evening, but I do remember those who were there – Jo “A Gift of Tea” Johnson and Rachel “I Heart Teas” Carter. And all three of us were one shade of tea drunk or another. To the point where Rachel insisted on using Google’s drawing function to make me a Ferengi/Klingon hybrid…and Jo photographed it.

Klingon Ferengi

After pint…oh…three of the Bourbon Black, I was whistling Dixie. Almost literally. No, there was no alcohol in the tea, but Assam normally packs quite a caffeinated wallop. And, somehow, in my tea drunk haze, I decided I had to water my tea plant.

Forgetting that I had already watered it that day.

Fast-forward to a month or so later. I was over at my brother’s house for dinner, and I marveled at how well his tea plant was thriving.

brother's tea plant

Vibrant green leaves had sprouted and were reaching joyously to the sun.

Mine on the other hand?

seppuku

I think it committed seppuku in the soil before drowning.

Moral of the story: If you’re going to drink bourbon barrel-aged tea, don’t do any gardening…I guess.

The Dog Days of Summer, Sipping Darjeeling

Over the course of the Summer, I was occasionally called upon by my brother and his wife to watch this li’l guy.

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Why does he have a cone on? I’ll get to that…

Bro and sis-in-law were called away this time to take on the wilds of Canada with her family. I housesat and dog-sat in the interim. The first couple of days saw the dog and I getting used to each other, as is often the case. The galoot would test the boundaries (and my patience), and I would develop a routine around his quixotic, Bernardian behavior.

The wrinkle this time around was his butt. No really.

Before the bro-fam left for Canada, a flea had bitten him, and said hindquarters itched profusely. He would do what any dog did – bite the ever-loving hell out of it. Unfortunately, being a dog, he didn’t know when to stop. Hence…cone.

For the house/dog-sitting week, I only brought a few teas to subsist on. One of these was Norbu Tea’s Thurbo Oriental Moon, First Flush, 2014. I had plenty of it, and I figured it would do the trick. If it didn’t, I brought back-ups.

Short version: I never had to rely on the back-ups.

The leaves were like that of first flushes I’d seen before, but what surprised me more was how tippy the leafy bouquet was.

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Seriously, like, every other piece was a tip varying amounts of downy fuzz present. Usually, such a thing is only present on Darjeeling oolongs, but I wasn’t complaining. The dry aroma was nutty, slightly citrusy, and – of course – herbaceous by any good first flush standards.

Brewing was easy enough. 1 teaspoon, 6oz. steeper cup, hot water, three-minute steep…and done. Yet I still observed a bit of care when brewing – making sure I didn’t over-brew. Some Darjeelings didn’t take to that well.

The liquor brewed to a green tea-ish pale gold with an aroma of grapes and nuts.

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I swear, Darjeelings this year have had the grapiest aromas compared to prior ones. Not muscatel wine grapes, just straight grapes. This was one of the sweeter ones on fragrance alone. Taste-wise, there was a creamy introduction, followed by something akin to…blueberries(???)…and a finish akin to a dry Riesling. Of all the first flushes I’ve tried thus far this year, I think this was the best.

No wonder I lived on it.

Over the course of the week, I brewed it hot in the mornings before work and got the dog fed. After work, I brewed the same leaves iced prior to a dog walk.

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It held up just as sweetly in a pint glass on the rocks.

The owners came home to a happy dog-sitter and a slightly spoiled brat of a Saint Bernard.

I’m not sure why I always turn to Darjeeling every time I watch that dog. Heck, this is the second (or third?) blog I’ve written on the subject. But, hey, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Or just put a cone on it.

Three Words: Japanese. White. Tea.

This all started a year ago, and it’s all Greg’s fault.

By “a year ago”, I literally mean a year ago! Like, last August. And by “Greg”, I mean the dude behind Norbu Tea. One fateful day, in August of 2013, I noticed he had retweeted something interesting.

Alas, I’d seen the update too late. They’d sold out of that batch of Japanese white tea in less than two months. I even wrote about said lament in an article on Taiwanese white tea. However, they did encourage me to check back in a year – when the new harvest came in.

And wait, I did. Like some kind of deranged tea stalker.

Over the course of the year, I checked the site at least once a week. Hitting refresh a few times before moving on. That fierce determination lulled a bit in the spring months, but this last July…all that stalking paid off. A new batch had come in! Same location, same growing months, different cultivar.

For those not in the tea “know”, the Japanese don’t usually deviate from producing green tea. In recent years, that’s been a-changin’ – what with increased production in Japanese black tea, oolong, and in some cases, heicha. All that said, white tea was still undiscovered territory.

The farmer that devised this stuff hails from Gokase Town, Nishiusuki District, Miyazaki Prefecture, Kyushu, Japan. Say that five times fast. The region has had a healthy history of tea experimentation, particularly in oolong production. White tea, though, was a new venture. The farmer(s?) in question had only been at this style for two or three years.

The cultivar utilized for this batch was 100% Kanayamidori. From what I could find, it was registered in 1970 (source: My Japanese Green Tea), and is best known for producing very fragrant leaves. Ideal picking occurring in early-to-mid-May. The product I chose to buy was plucked around May 9th, and – according to Yuuki-Cha – was notably sweeter than later plucks. They had me at “sweet”.

Unlike Chinese white teas, these leaves were mostly un-tampered with. Plucked, withered and dried; no rolling that I could see, or at least not much. That and none of the leaves were “downy furs” young. They were youthful, yes, but more like toddlers in the leafy scheme of things. In appearance, they reminded me of Taiwanese white teas I’d tried. If I were a “Lay” tea person, I’d think these looked like lawn shavings. The aroma, though, would’ve dispelled that . It was note-for-note like Arya Pearl – a Darjeeling white of similar aesthetics – spicy on the nose with a grassy bend.

There weren’t any brewing instructions to go by on the Yuuki-Cha page, so I had to work with prior white tea knowledge on this. I went with roughly 170F-ish water and a three minute steep – roughly 1 tsp. of leaves in a 6oz. steeper cup. It worked for everything on the light end of the tea spectrum.

The liquor brewed a bold (if pale) yellow with an aroma of straight…well…sweetness. Not like a flavored tea, more like a fruit of some sort, but I’d be hard-pressed to narrow it down. It was just fruit-sweet on the nose. Same with the taste; first sip and I was whistling. This was perhaps the sweetest white tea I’ve come across since an Ali Shan Taiwanese white, or a Makaibari Silver Tips. Nothing about this outright screamed, “Nippon!”, save for a smidge of nuttiness on the aftertaste.

In baser terms, it was like a Taiwanese white tea seduced a Darjeeling white in a pachinko parlor, skipped town, and was greeted a year later with a bouncing baby Kanayamidori at its doorstep.

Worth the year-long wait? I’d say, “Mostly yes.”

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