Steep Stories

of the Lazy Literatus

Month: November 2014

Smoked Chai for the Momma’s Boy

It’s been a weird and busy month.

In the span of three weeks, I had driver’s license difficulties, car troubles, multiple projects, and some minor financial headaches. Yet all of these things didn’t affect my mood any. Reason being? My Mum had my back.

As if it wasn’t quite obvious, I’m a total momma’s boy. If I’m ever in a jam – and on months like this one, quite often – she’s the first person I turn to. The woman is there for me, and doesn’t bat a lash at some of the…uh…weirder requests I’ve made. Case in point…

For a couple of days, I was without a car. Mine was overdue for a visit to my mechanic due to a service engine light. And the only available chauffeur…was Mum. She even picked me up from a work party. One that got a little silly.

man boobs

Yes, that is me trying to pretend I have large breasts. No, I will not say how much alcohol was involved.

After two weeks of her assistance, I felt it was high time to compensate her for her troubles. Luckily, we both had a similar addiction. That being tea, of course. Because of me, she had developed a love for Smith Teamaker’s brick-‘n-mortar shop. Lord Bergamot was her poison of choice, while I ventured for whatever was new.

This trip – I will confess – wasn’t entirely selfless. I had intended to jaunt to the shop to try Smith’s new Smoked Chai. The process used to create the thing was manliness personified.

smoked tea

Image mooched from Smith Teamaker’s Instagram

Sarsaparilla was cold-soaked in water, bourbon and vanilla. Then the concoction was blended with dry hickory chips, which were (naturally) lit on fire! The smoke was then channeled through a bamboo tray full of whole leaf, tippy Assam. And once all was said, done and burnt, the fusion was rolled in spices.

The resulting brew tasted like receiving a hug from a ginger beer-drunk bear that’d emerged from a chimney. Smoke touched off the flavor, followed by a warm ginger-y blanket of awesome, and trailed off like a smooth root beer. I remember draining my two-person pot in less than ten minutes.

smoked chai

After a two-hour stint, I cashed us out, and then treated Mum to lunch. She acquiesced to my last request, which was to follow me down to my mechanic – Dimitri’s Auto Service in Milwaukie, OR. It was a heckuva request.

That Monday, as we waited for my car’s eventual return to mobility, we grabbed breakfast at an eatery dubbed, “The Bomber Restaurant”. There was an actual B-17G bomber in front of it. My testosterone wept with glee.

bomber

The breakfast was pretty darn good, too.

Moral of this story?

Let your mother take care of you, even when you’re an adult, and always take care of her in return.

And most importantly…real men take their mothers to tea.

mother and son

Photo by Tiffany Talbott.

Three Teas, Two Trips, and One Garden

Over the course of the summer, I saw repeated updates that frustrated the hell out of me. Tea drinkers, far and wide – from California to New York – were taste-testing a new, Oregon-grown oolong. The folks behind Minto Island Growers had finally soft-launched their own outfit, dubbed Oregon Tea Crafters. They commissioned a gentleman by the name of Balez Oh’Hops Hanger to do the processing.

Here it was, an Oregon-grown and processed tea…and I was the last person to try it. Even new Portlandian transpants were trying it before me. This had to be rectified with due swiftness, and in September, I planned a trip to the source – Minto Island Growers HQ in Salem, OR.

1 old plot

The garden was just as I remembered it from my visit the year prior. It was a garden; it was pretty. One could kill hours just wandering its wilds. A few things had changed, however. Aside from the 1989-planted, half-acre plot of tea bushes of yore, next to the Minto market stand was a brand new tea plot.

new plot

What made it different from the old plot was fact that it was cultivar-specific. The one from 25 years ago was a test-plot to see if tea plants could grow in the Pacific Northwest. Whereas the new one focused on which cultivars thrived better than others. It was an exciting development to my phone-affixed eyes.

After an informal walk-through of the new plot, I picked up the oolong and green tea, took a photo of the old tea plot…

Oregon Tea Crafters

Then made my way back home.

Upon my return, though, I realized I had made an error. The half-ounce bags I picked up…?

same green

…Were the same exact tea. I’d failed to fetch the oolong.

God. Damn. It.

So! At the end of the week, I went back to Minto Island and fetched it. The last oolong bag, no less. A week or so passed, and then…another Minto-related update appeared in my various social media feeds.

Image mooched from J-TEA's Oolong Times blog

Image mooched from J-TEA’s Oolong Times blog

That’s right. Team J-TEA made a Minto trip over the summer, harvested some leaves and was putting out a Version 3.0 of their Minto Island Black Tea. Of course, I had to get a hold of some – just to complete the trifecta – but I wasn’t making a third trip out to Salem. That and a Eugene trip to J-TEA HQ were not in the cards. I went the wholly-boring (and entirely lazy) route of ordering it online.

After all that effort, how did all three teas fare?

Oregon Tea Crafters Green Tea

Oregon green tea

I remembered learning that this one was wok-fired, much in the same way Chinese green teas were, but the flavor profile turned out far different. It reminded me of a Darjeeling green tea in delivery – crisp, smooth and not very grassy. With just a bit of a fruit finish.

Oregon Tea Crafters Oolong

Oregon oolong

It took me a little bit to pin down what this reminded me of. The dry leaf scent reminded me of a Nilgiri at first, but when brewed, the character changed. Approached from a gong fu angle, it was very similar to a higher-altitude, greener-style Ali Shan – if slightly lighter in body. Aromatic with a floral underpinning.

J-TEA Oregon Grown Minto Island Black

J-Tea

This was far different from the first and second versions of Minto black that came before. The leaves were more oxidized, the aroma was subtler, and the leaf-rolling technique was different. Part of this was because of the later leaf-plucking. Version 2.0 (in 2013) was plucked in May, while this was prepared in mid-summer. And it showed.

While a bit of the Taiwanese influence was still present in its sweet taste, a woodier/mintier character took point this time ‘round. The overall experience was akin to a far subtler Dian Hong, rather than a bug-bitten Taiwanese Ali Shan black. That said, it was as forgiving as ever, putting up with whatever brewing punishment I dished out. Ten-minute steeps and all.

Which tea did I like best?

For taste? Going with the oolong. For ease, effectiveness and overall experience, though? Going with the black tea. Any tea that I don’t have to think too hard on brewing in the mornings is a clear favorite. That and Team J-TEA’s had three years to toy with their technique.

Worth the trips – plural?

Always.

tea plants

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