Steep Stories

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I “Heart” Doke

I “heart” the Doke tea estate.

Photo by Rajiv Lochan.

No, I’m not ashamed to use the word “heart” instead of “love”. Especially today. Okay, I winced a tiny bit at the grammatical incorrectness of it (and the cutesiness of it) . . . but the sentiment still stands. And, given when this blog is going up, the cutesy incorrectness is fitting.

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All Four Doke First Flush Teas In One Day

Begin Doke Diary transmission.

I’ve already written about the Doke tea estate in Bihar, India on several occasions. Everyone who reads this blog already knows my leanings toward it. That being, it’s my absolute favorite Indian tea garden. Yes, in all of India.

Photo by Rachiv Lochan.

Photo by Rachiv Lochan.

But out of the countless tea profiles, taster notes, and lapses in narrative judgment, there is one thing I haven’t done. I haven’t had the opportunity to try all four of Doke’s teas from one season, in one year, in one day. That is, until Lochan Tea supplied me with such an opportunity.

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Defining a Doke Tea State of Mind

NaNoTeaMo, Day 6: “Defining a Doke Tea State of Mind”

doke

Doke

/’dōk/

noun

  1. A river located in the state of Bihar, India
  2. The surname of a tea estate in Bihar, India owned and operated by the Lochan family.

verb

  1. To induce a state of mind in a Doke tea drinker, wherein they experience equal parts bliss, resiliency . . . and/or blind, seething rage when denied said brew.

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A Dork Drunk on Doke

Let’s talk a little about terroir.

indeed

It’s a word usually bandied about by wine folks in order to sound “edumacated”. Blame the French. The word “terroir” derives from the French word “terre”, which literally means “land”. Terroir, as a concept, is applied to plants that are influenced by the “land” where they grow. Geology, geography, climate, and other aspects of the biosphere affect what grows in certain ways. And especially in the case of wine, coffee and tea, the taste of said terroir shows up in the finished product.

Tea plants are especially absorbent of their environment. Case in point (as I’ve mentioned in prior articles), Hawaiian teas taste distinctly . . . well . . . tropically Hawaiian. Wuyi cliff teas taste rather . . . uh . . . cliffy. [Credit: Nicole Martin] And teas from the Himalayas take on a grapy bend, for some reason.

Which brings me back to Doke Tea. Yet again.

Doke

Seriously, I think I’ve written about this tea garden more than any other. I can’t help it. Their teas are awesome, the Lochan family is awesome, and I feel awesome when drinking their wares.

Of the four or five types of teas this garden in Bihar, India produces, I’ve noticed a common underlying flavor profile. It’s difficult to describe, and far different from any other Indian tea growing region. Something about the terroir near the Doke River imparts an ever-present, honey-nut-spice taste trifecta. A trinity of taster notes that is especially present in their flagship black tea – Black Fusion.

I have a very interesting relationship with this tea. One would if they’ve written about it three times. After three successive growing seasons. Only now do I realize how wonderful an opportunity that was, to see a tea’s evolution and growth over the course of a year. And in February of this year, Vivek Lochan offered me a chance to try their 2015 first flush Black Fusion.

A slight digression: The journey of this tea to my cup was especially frustrating. I wasn’t at my apartment when the package arrived, so the courier left a note telling me where to pick it up. The next day, I went to fetch it after work . . . two towns away. I made the trek only to find out that they delivered it to my apartment complex’s office.

Well, why the hell didn’t you do that the FIRST time?! I said to myself (but not out loud).

Two months would go by before I dipped into the new batch of Black Fusion. The day I finally decided to brew it up, my Internet died. I needed something to calm me amidst the downtime.

black fusion loose

The leaves were gorgeous – brown-to-black, large, plump, and obviously hand-rolled. The smell was like last year’s various flushes of Black Fusion I tried – equal parts honey-like, malty, nutty and slightly spicy. The Doke terroir was in full effect, and I was pleased to see it again.

I approached it like I would any other Indian first flush tea, with a little bit of a light touch. I used about a teaspoon of leaves. (Although, with how large they were, it was more like a tablespoon.) I put them in a 6oz. steeper cup filled with 200F water, and waited for three minutes.

black fusion brewed

The result was a dark amber liquor with a deep-bodied, honey-nut machismo to the aroma. When I tasted it, I noticed immediately that it was different than last year’s offerings. The introduction was smooth and sultry, like a dark-haired Latina in a silk dress. As I kept it on my tongue, the honey-nut-spice thing it had going came to the forefront, but absent was the usual astringency that followed. That was the puzzling part. There was no astringency, or at least none that I could detect.

I’ve become sort of an expert on the Doke flagship tea, at this point. I even adamantly declared that August 2014’s batch of the tea was my favorite, May was second, and December rounded out third. All were wonderful; all were different. But they all had a rough character to them. This year’s batch was like a distilled whiskey or a matured wine. It was Black Fusion refined – terroir transcendent.

A day or so after I did my solo tasting, I was greeted with a photo posted to my Facebook Wall.

iced Doke

It read: “Iced Black Fusion from Doke in their office in Siliguri, jealous?”

 

Phil “World Tea House” Holmans had visited the Doke Tea Estate with a bunch of other tea folks I knew. Jealous? Oh yes, quite a bit. Those lucky bastitches were sampling Doke teas straight from the terroir! My only reaction to this was to drink. A lot. Not sure if it was my seething jealousy, or my poor impulse control, but I went on a total Doke bender that week.

During a chat session with other tea bloggers (Rachel, Jo, Nicole, Other Nicole, and Chris, respectively), I was hopped up on Doke Silver Needle white tea.

Doke Silver Needle

About three pints of it.

A mere day after that, I prepped my daily travel mug with some Doke Rolling Thunder oolong.

Doke Rolling Thunder

And brewed it at double the usual strength. Coworkers noted that I was a tad off the wall. One girl even said, “I like you like this.” I was too hyper to properly manblush.

I concluded the week taking the last vestiges of my first flush 2015 Black Fusion . . . and blending it with the two 2014s I had in my possession.

spent leaves

Yes, individually, they all tasted differently, but put together . . . magic ensued. It was like the honey-nut-spice terroir was somehow amplified. All the creamy, sweet, spicy, malty, nutty, and majestic aspects coalesced into the ultimate tasting experience. Like I was tasting pure Doke.

Toward the conclusion of this brew-binge, a friend of mine dubbed me a “Doke dork”. I had no rebuttal to that. If I had, I probably would’ve answered like some terroir-spouting wine snob, “I can quit whenever I want.”

I Dream of Doke for a Day

White Tea Week, Day 4: “I Dream of Doke for a Day”

The Doke tea estate is a small garden situated in the northeastern state of Bihar, India. In 1998, Rajiv Lochan – of Lochan Tea – got the best of all retirement presents. His own tea garden to do with as he wished. Best. Retirement. Ever.

Doke

Since then, the li’l-garden-that-could has become one of the more experimental gardens in India. In fact, in conversations with two of the Lochan children, who also work for the garden, talks have emerged of playing around with smoked tea…which always has me excited.

I first heard about this estate when a certain e-“steamed” blog colleague ranted and raved about a Bai Mu Dan-style white tea he discovered. Upon hearing that the region it hailed from was neither in Darjeeling or Assam, my curiosity was already peaked.

Curious George

After making some beggar-eyes at Tea Trade Jackie, I was able to acquire Doke Tea’s 2012 Silver Needle. I found it to be a very serviceable white tea, reminding me quite a bit of a Darjeeling white in overall character. It was somewhat spicy, lightly grassy, with a hint of melon and something else. All in all, rather memorable. As was the Doke Rolling Thunder Oolong.

Fast-forward to 2013, and I began hearing across-the-board praise for the new batch of second flush Doke teas. Particularly, the Silver Needle. The same blog colleague even went so far as to declare it his favorite tea in the history of Ever. (My words, not his.) Doke Tea must’ve had ears against the Internet walls. Before I knew it, there was a package at my door with a sample of the new Silver Needle, as well as Doke’s other wares.

Doke teas

First off, let me say that this tea was a gorgeous site to behold. The Doke Silver Needle of a year ago was nowhere near as refined-looking as this. The rolled leaves were light green, plump, evenly shaped throughout, and possessed the downy hairs associated with its tea type. The aroma was spry, like salted lemons, and possessed something that reminded me of a muscatel Darjeeling by way of a Yunnan Silver Needle white.

IMAG1339

For the first brewing, I went with 1 heaping teaspoon of leaves in a 6oz. gaiwan of 175-ishF water, steeped for three minutes.

The liquor brewed to a very pale yellow with a faint, wilderness/wheaty aroma crossed with melons. On taste, it was all Silver Needle all the way – in the best possible ways. This was even better than most Fujian-made Silver Needles I’d come across. So many things at work on taste: A hint of lemon, melon, grass, leaf, a shot of maple, I don’t even know where to start. It was quite nuanced.

Silver Needle

A second infusion at about 185F turned up a yellow-amber liquor with a bit more vegetal nose. The taste, though, changed quite a bit – picking up some aromatic high-altitude oolong notes. No astringency or spinaching to speak of, though. Like a white peony, only with a bit more…awesome.

I dared a third infusion at just under a boil (190F), per the recommendations of the e-“steamed” tea compatriot. The soup was straight amber, and the nose was…strangely smoky. Oh, dear God, I burnt the tea, I thought. Quite the contrary, actually. This was my favorite steep yet with bold notes of apricot and a distant memory of peaches. Plus, there was a cinnamon-like lean toward the finish.

To that I say…I dunno what to say. Kinda floored here. I got more steeps out of it after that, bringing the tally to five. Each at three minutes or more.

As luck would have it, I found some of the ol’ 2012 Doke Silver Needle second flush in a random tin while looking for an oolong. This gave me a splendid opportunity to taste and compare the two years; see how far the Lochan technique had come in just twelve months.

side-by-side

Visually, the differences in the leave cutting and rolling were night and day. The 2012 leaves were small, pine-like needles – dark green in appearance with a very spry aroma. Whereas 2013 needles were large, plump, downy-furred and brimming with a pungent, melon-like aroma. It made me wonder if Doke HQ changed their cut-‘n-roll techniques or went with a different cultivar.

When brewed, the liquor for the 2012 was considerably darker, more amber-ish, while the 2013 maintained a subtle yellow palette in the cup. Taste-wise, they both conveyed a citrusy, herbaceous and melon-like delivery. The 2013 just tasted more refined, more reassured – perfumy, elegant and vibrant.

Doke liquor

Like I said, night and day. But a perfect day for both.

I can only dream of what 2014 will bring.

EDIT: It would appear the Lochan Tea site is all sold out of the 2013 Doke Silver Needle, but fear not! If you’re in the U.S., you can fetch it at Butiki Teas HERE. And if you want to compare/contrast with the 2012 Doke Silver Needle, you can pick that up at The Devotea USA HERE.

Confessions of a Tea Cake Artist

This all started because of a tea cake.

No, not that kind of tea cake. An actual cake. The kind you eat; not drink.

Instagram has been a useful tool for several reasons. One, it put me in contact with new tea people across the world—some personal, others professional. But it has also helped me touch bases with old friends from the hither and yon. Case in point:

Meet Kristin Barger.

Image owned by Küchlein Bakery.

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A Transparent Tea Liquor

This is a white tea called Doke Silver Needle.

doke-silver-needle-tea

I . . . may have written about it several times.

I know exactly where it comes from. (The Doke tea estate in Bihar, India.) I know who owns the estate. (Rajiv Lochan.) I know who makes it. (Rajiv’s daughter, Neha “Dolly” Lochan.) And I know who sells it directly to me. (Rajiv’s son, Vivek Lochan.) When brewed, the liquor is as transparent as the entire experience. I know just about everything I need to about this tea, and—each year—it continues to surprise me.

Lately, however, I realized I’ve taken this experience for granted. Knowing that much about a tea is an exception, not the norm. Compounded with that, I’m a tea blogger that specializes in telling stories about teas. So, painting a transparent picture of the tea experience is something I’m focused on. That is also far removed from the average tea drinker. It made me wonder . . . how important is transparency to the everyday cupper?

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Pocket Oolongs and After-Parties

Pocket Oolongs and After-Parties – World Tea Expo, Day 3

I tried to sleep in. Really, I did.

But the anticipation of the last day of World Tea Expo activities loomed at the forefront of my brain. By 8AM, I gave up and rousted from my cousin’s couch (where I’d been sleeping for two days quite comfortably), and went about waking up. Starting off with a swift kick o’ caffeine from an Ito-En matcha shot . . . IN A CAN!

 matcha shot

I both love and hate to admit it. I sometimes love easy fixes in cans. It’s a very American sensibility.

Around 9AM, I arrived at the Long Beach Convention Center in my tiny rental car. Before the show floor opened, I hung out in the press room, sifting through social media crap. Amidst my zoning, I noticed Ricardo Caicedo of My Japanese Green Tea had entered. Unlike last year, I spent more than five seconds talking to him. Really knowledgeable and humble guy – a veritable encyclopedia of Japanese tea esoterica.

While we were yacking, I also noticed that Charissa “The Oolong Owl” Gascho had entered – a fellow blogger whom I had yet to talk to at length. Charissa’s blog was probably one of the most unique in the tea community because she hand-wove her own mascots – tea owls. And they were amazing. (Someday, I will have one for my very own! Just you wait!)

After some nudging, I was able to convince the two of them to join me at The Finest Brew booth once the floor opened. Unfortunately, I had my times wrong, and we waited by the door – albeit awkwardly – for about twenty minutes. In that time, Nicole “Tea For Me Please” Martin also joined our waiting party.

Once the Expo floor doors opened, our quartet spilled in and bee-lined for The Finest Brew. The booth folks roped in their Tea MC, “Gee”, and we got to sampling. In the span of ten minutes, our quartet swelled to . . . over double that.

 

The Finest Brew

Photo by The Finest Brew. Left to Right(ish): Charissa Gascho, Nicole Martin, Me, Rachel Carter, TJ Williams, Rachel Carter, Chris Giddings, Ricardo Caicedo, Nicole Schwartz and Gee

The reason? Well, Gee had made a promise. If Nicole Martin won the Best Social Media Reach award from the night prior, he would break out the aged oolongs he kept in his pockets. True to his word, he broke ‘em out, both Tie Guan Yins – aged twenty-plus years.

pocket oolong

Before all of us could sip it, though, Nicole had to do the honors first. She nearly buckled (and chuckled) under our searing stares of anticipation.

Photo by Nicole Schwartz

Photo by Nicole Schwartz

Then we dug in. The oolongs were transcendental – toasty, medicinal, floral, aromatic, multidimensional. Just . . . gah. Before I could get more oolong-dazed, I departed to check out the Wize Monkey booth.

The day before, they promised to have their coffee leaf “Earl Grey” variant available for tasting. That and I promised Naomi “Joy’s Teaspoon” Rosen that I’d meet her there. I had tried a green version of coffee leaf tea a year ago and didn’t care for it much. However, the Wize Monkey boys featured a semi-oxidized version that I found quite tasty. With bergamot oil dashed on the leaves . . . well . . .

coffee tea leaf

My inner Earl was quite happy. Naomi was quite satisfied with their version blended with jasmine. It had “Joy” written all over it.

Following that, I intercepted Nicole Martin again, and followed her to the event area where an ITTC cupping was about to take place. Several international growers and wholesalers were displaying their wares for the tasting. There was a Dan Cong oolong, a Darjeeling oolong, a sencha, and one black tea. But not just any black tea . . . Doke Black Fusion, 2015 Second Flush, with a backstory explained by Rajiv Lochan himself.

 

Me and Rajiv Lochan

Me and Rajiv Lochan

Still one of my favorite teas presented by one of my favorite tea people; I think I smuggled, like, five cups of the stuff just in that one tasting.

2PM rolled around, and it was time for me to take a brief hiatus from the World Tea festivities. I had promised my cousin we would hang out in Orange County for a bit, and I owed him a dinner for putting me up for three days. The next three-to-four hours were spent bumming around a comic book shop, waxing nostalgic, and eating fancy fish.

Cousinly geekery sated, I was back on the road for the final leg of my World Tea Expo journey – the inevitable Tealet Beach House After-Party.

TJ Williams

Photo by TJ “World Tea Podcast” Williams

When I arrived, the place was packed. The beach house was filled to the brim with people – a veritable cornucopia of cuppa professionals. It was a who’s-who of tealebrities. James Norwood Pratt and his son Sterling were there. Tony and Katie Gebely were in attendance. Nigel Melican was instilling sage advice. And – through it all – Team Tealet (of course) were presiding over the menagerie. It was sensory overload.

I lasted about a half-hour before I meandered to the backyard to grab some air. It was around that time that Jason McDonald (of The Great Mississippi Tea Company) was starting his second tea seed germination workshop.

germination

I’ll confess to only half-paying attention because I was drafted to dance around to keep the porch light from shutting down. (It was on a motion sensor.)

Demonstration concluded, I socialized a bit with Tony “World of Tea” Gebely. He even broke out a special Fujian all-bud black tea (Meizhan cultivar) from his personal stash for some of us to try.

Dian Hong

It was, indeed, something special. Although, I wished I’d brought my own stash of bourbon barrel-aged Dian Hong as a counterpoint. Oh well.

Tea drunk and (only slightly) teetering, I went out to the backyard again. The only people out there were Michael “JoJo Tea” Ortiz and a tea grower from Georgia (whose name escapes me). They were retelling their tea origin stories. Michael was just about to begin his when Natasha Nesic came out to bid adieu. I regretted that I barely talked to her this Expo. (Next year.)

Michael was about to continue his tea story when I heard my phone ping.

It was a Facebook message from Nicole Martin, it read: “Please help me.”

I said to Michael, “I really want to hear the rest of this, but I have to rescue Nicole.”

(For THAT story, go HERE.)

Nicole and I returned from that little adventure largely unscathed. By then, the gathering out in the backyard had swollen to a gaggle. Nicole recounted her bus stop horror story, and the conversation eventually segued to other things. Somewhere down the line, Nicole mentioned that a tea vendor had one time referred to her as “Tea Lady Nicole” on social media.

I remarked, “’Tea Lady Nicole’? That sounds like the name of an Irish folk song.”

And then . . . to everyone’s amazement (or horror) . . . I began to sing.

Tea Lady Nicole

(For the full lyrics, go HERE.)

Sterling Pratt backed me up on the chorus. It sounded far too eerily perfect. Nicole was full-body blushing. Mission: Accomplished. Then we were told to keep our voices down by the hostess.

Toward the end of the party, I ventured up to the loft upstairs. It was the unit being rented by Chris “Teaity Tea-Guy” Giddings and Nicole “AmazonV” Schwartz. I had heard a few people were having a mini-party up there, and decided to take a look. When I got up there, though, no one was there – save one.

Nicole Schwartz was the only one there; in her room – door open – on her bed, in her pajamas, reading a book. She looked up in surprise. The whole time, I was thinking, I used to watch movies that started like this. On Cinemax. Late at night.

I turned to see myself out, but Nicole S. convinced me to stay and chat for a spell. Nothing happened, I swear. All we did was talk about past Dungeons & Dragons exploits from yester-campaigns. Seriously, that was it. I behaved myself.

Other folks from the party downstairs weren’t too sure. Throughout our conversation, various people came to check on us, and make sure I was being a gentleman. And I was! . . . uh . . . yer honor.

What finally pulled me away from the gaming conversation was the promise of Phil Tea. What is that? I hear you – fair reader – not asking. Well, I’ll tell you.

 

Photo by Naomi Rosen

Photo by Naomi Rosen

Phil “World Tea House” Holmans had processed some green tea at the Doke Tea Estate in Bihar, India. And he was finally test-driving it. Damn, it was quite good. For a tea that was produced via shits-and-giggles.

1AM chimed and my eyelids weighed heavy. I bid farewell to the beach house tea party that was still in progress. On my drive back to my cousin’s place, I was informed that I missed out on an epic game of Cards Against Humanity . . . and later heard that the party continued its caffeine-induced reverie until 5 in the morning.

I slept soundly that night.

The day after, it was off to the airport. My carry-on bag was nothing but tea swag. My travel mug? Filled with Doke Black Fusion.

tea swag

This was my third World Tea Expo . . . but it was the first where I felt I was part of a greater industry. Part of a greater, international community. Three weeks have passed since those magical three days, and I’m still in awe of it. My passion for this stupid little beverage made from stupid little leaves, poured into stupid little cups has not wavered. If anything, my appreciation has only widened.

Your move, World Tea Expo 2016. See you in Vegas.

Tea and Tubas

I picked a helluva month to quit drinkin’.

Okay, not “quit”, per se, but definitely a self-imposed sabbatical toward beer. A beerbatical, if you will. Over the last couple of years, I’d naval-gazed my relationship with alcohol. Sure, I didn’t overdue it often, but questionable decisions had been made. That and it was no longer as “social” a beverage as it once was.

I hung out with maybe five other dudes who drank – never all at once. That’s not a party; that’s a Family Guy episode. And I won’t even go into the missing hubcap on my car.

As a result of this catharsis, I decided a break was in order. I wish I’d known what was ahead of me before I did so. Work drama, matters of the heart, and other familiar growing pains manifested in rapid succession. Good things were happening, true, but they were automatically offset by a perpetual feeling of being kneed in the groin.

I needed an outlet – a social one.

Enter the Portland Tea MeetUp group.

Tea – the beverage that never steered me wrong. I drank it often, but I was rarely social with it. Sure, I was social online about my tea consumption, but rarely in real life. There was a burgeoning tea community present in Portland, but I stuck to its periphery like some kind of creeper with a cup. I thought it high time to change that.

As luck would have it, a meet-up was scheduled for this weekend. The reason? Freaking tubas!!! In Downtown Portland, situated at Pioneer Square, was a holiday tuba concert. Tubas…playing Christmas carols. And we would drink tea during it.

Everything about that sounded amazing.

The biggest issue for me? Finding the perfect tea to bring. The internal struggle didn’t last long. I chose the best black tea I’d had all year.

Black Fusion, Autumn Flush 2014, from the Doke Tea Estate.

Yes, I’m aware I’ve already written about it. There’s even a Batman Brews video floating around extolling its virtues. But that was only the first flush version. The one I had in my possession now was the autumn flush. And it was perfect.

Like the first flush, there were notes of nuts, spice and malt – betraying it’s assamica heritage – but for the autumnal crop, there was an added nuance. I didn’t quite put my finger on it until the day I brewed it for the tuba gathering. There was a strong sensation I had while tasting it that reminded me of honey. The autumn flush was sweeter and more textured than the first.

*Sigh* Oh yeah…back to the meet-up.

I was almost late to the gathering. Traffic was a particularly artful brand of “SUCK!” that day, and I had a prior engagement on the other side of town. Along with my expected road rage was a feeling of…dread. It wasn’t as if I hadn’t socialized with tea before, but rather that I wasn’t particularly good at it. I’m a bit of a geek, can’t help it.

Luckily, so were they. The moment I arrived, I felt like I was in like company. Three folks brought canisters of chai. One particular gent was rockin’ two travel carafes. One held a high-oxidized Taiwanese oolong; the other, a seven-year-aged purple varietal pu-erh. I partook of both.

The purple varietal…oh my.

Another of the group members brought cups and homemade banana bread for the sharing. It went perfectly with…well…everything. Particularly with the tea.

And in the background, tubas played. The square was jam-packed with people, however. I think I caught a glimpse of, maybe, one tuba – two at the most – until the crowd dispersed. If I had one complaint about the performance, it was that the carols they chose were too down-tempo. If you’re rockin’ a gosh-durned tuba, you must have bombastic carols in your rotation. “Little Drummer Boy”, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”, etcetera. While the concert was nice, it faded into background noise over conversations of tea and general geekery.

I did have moments of occasional social faux pas, though, particularly when I uttered the line, “I am a man, and the world is my toilet!” Yes, I was sober. Tea drunk, maybe…but sober.

In closing, I think I could get used to this “tea socializing” thing.

Next time, I’ll work on the tact.

An Excellent Different Beach House Tea Party

The Road Trip Sextet, Part 4 – “An Excellent Different Beach House Tea Party”

For Part 1, go HERE.

For Part 2, go HERE.

For Part 3, go HERE.

I think I mentioned in the prior entry I only allowed myself one day at World Tea Expo this year. It wasn’t for lack of things to do, or desire, but rather a simple matter of timing and priorities. The overall trip had a twofold purpose – one was Expo, but the other was to see family members. As luck would have it, my cousin had a place a mere fifteen-minute drive from Long Beach. I stayed with him the two nights I’d allotted for everything Expo-ish. The second day – effectively the last day of Expo – was spent with him pal-ing around and getting into some sort of well-mannered mischief.

When we rousted, he brewed himself his usual coffee and allowed me to siphon hot water for some Doke Rolling Thunder.

Doke Rolling Thunder

It seemed only fitting that I end my Expo-ish adventure – brief, though it was – with a tea from the Lochan garden. One of the only regrets I had from my Expo brevity was that I didn’t get to talk with Rajiv Lochan more. We only had time for a brief meet-and-greet, totally my fault. However, there was another opportunity to see him, and a bunch of other tea folks, yet I was undecided about it.

So, while the last day of Expo commenced, my cousin and I (and a female friend of his) gallivanted around downtown Orange.

Downtown Orange

(Yes, there is a city called “Orange” in Orange County. I didn’t know that, either.)

While fellow tea bloggers marveled at the sight of cosplayers from a neighboring Comic Con at the Long Beach Convention Center, our little trio tried on various ancient battle regalia at antique shops.

Knight of Nih!

A fitting parallel.

After a sizable waffle sandwich lunch, though, something tugged at me. I received a few texts and/or tweets regarding a beach house party that night in Long Beach proper. Team Tealet had mentioned they were throwing a “World Tea Expo After-Party” following the major festivi-teas. I caught wind of it when I visited their booth the day prior, but was unsure about my own attendance.

By that afternoon, I had decided.

Team Tealet had rented out a beach house through Airbnb mere minutes drive from the convention center. Several other people had ponied up cash to be a part of the living arrangement – all folks I knew, including the aforementioned Rajiv Lochan. How could I not go?!

Beach House

Photo by Rajiv Lochan

The only regretful occurrence was Naomi “Joy’s Teaspoon”-‘s early departure. She had to be back home that night, but she did pass on a fond farewell via text. D’awwwww.

I arrived just in time to see Tealet’s Elyse ‘n Mike and a few others (including Tea For Me Please’s Nicole) making a beer run. Naturally, I joined in. Once that trip was done, it was back to the beach house. And I finally got to lounge back and shoot the breeze with RAJIV!!!

Rajiv!!!

No, I can’t say his name without shouting.

In our conversation, I marveled at the fact that he had a Lochan Tea “tea-shirt”. I asked, “How can I get one of those with your face on it?” And he almost – quite literally – gave me the shirt off his back. That’s the kind of guy he is.

Shortly after, I made the acquaintance of one of the members of JoJo Tea – a wholesaler op out of Florida. And…we fist-pumped over our mutual love of Oriental Beauty oolong. Probably the only time a fist-pump was ever naturally-occurring.

As the night progressed, randomness ensued. Adventure Tea’s Alex graced us with his elfin presence. He and Snooty Tea Person’s Natasha carried on a conversation in fluent French, which boggled my mind. Teaity/Tea-Guy Chris and I talked a bit of shop. I was also introduced to World Tea House’s Phil Holman’s among many others. Tealet’s Rie “Oolong City” showed me basic kung fu forms. And throughout, tea and alcohol flowed freely.

The highlight was the true purpose of the party, which was a presentation on  Tealet’s latest trip around the world dubbed “The Amazing Tea Race”. One of their more famous stops was the Goe Tea Garden in Nantou County, Taiwan headed by Alfredo Lin.

I have no idea how to express how awesome this guy is, just watch this:

How can one not love a guy that sings to his tea plants?!

The phrase “Excellent Different” became a meme-like catchphrase and has since proliferated into every aspect of tea-related social media.

As an added bonus, samples of Goe’s Zhushan Oolong was served.

Goe Zhushan Oolong

It was extremely pleasant – lightly sweet, slightly buttery, and all-around aromatic. A great, greener-style oolong.

Before my inevitable exodus from the party, I was suckered into an unusual experiment. Since I somehow – over the course of the night ended up with a flower pin in my hair, Oolong City Rie felt my “transformation wasn’t complete”…or something. And then broke out her make-up kit. Being two beers and lots of oolong in, I acquiesced to this strange request.

The Great Mississippi Tea Company’s Timothy took over to finish me off.

bigger party

 

Wait, that sounded wrong. I mean, he completed the “prettying” with the subtle application of…well…I guess it was guyliner.

The result?

Eddie Izzard Look-a-Like

I looked like Eddie Izzard.

Make-up removed, socializing complete, and mildly sobered up, I finally had to take my leave of Chez Tealet. Fond farewells were made, samples were imparted, and I left with a general feeling of bliss. I’ve been to many parties in my time, but I can’t say I was so…in my element as I was with that crowd.

Over a month later, when I brewed up my own stash of Goe oolong, I got a little choked up when I thought about how generally happy I was there.

Goe

No other social gathering – save for a precious few – have had that effect on me.

I wonder when I’ll be able to experience even a fraction of that feeling again.

Tealet

Huh…sooner than I thought.

Continued in Part 5, HERE.

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