Like a lot of hourly, barely-above-minimum wage types, my “weekend” off doesn’t actually fall on a weekend. I’m lucky if I even get two days off in a row to call a weekend. Lately, though, I’ve been graced with exactly that.
Do I use the time off to party, get things done, or run errands? Nope. I tea. A lot. At least, that’s how it happens on the first day off.
Last Thursday was just such an opportunity. I can’t remember what I had – or how much of it – but I do remember feeling mighty nice that late morning. Of course, having an entire day to myself, clad in pajamas, was also a plus.
However, there was something I did have to prepare for in the evening – another tandem tea tasting with the ol’ Google Hangout crew. It was hard to believe that one month had passed already.
The subject this time was bug-bitten teas. For those not in the know, aphids and other species of “pest” like the taste of tea leaves. But the tea leaves don’t like them; that much is obvious. As a bit of a defense mechanism, once bitten, tea leaves develop a coating that attracts spiders. Then the eight-legged freaks go to town on the pests. Sciencey, I know.
Most interestingly, though, is what happens to those leaves once they’ve been coated with this unique compound – monoterprene diol. The flavor profile changes, often being compared to honey. It is this process that gives Darjeelings their “muscatel” flavor profile, and what is specifically isolated for the production of Taiwanese Dong Fang Mei Ren, or known by the offensively colloquial name, “Oriental Beauty”.
Taiwanese oolong and black tea producers also developed other teas from bug-bitten leaves – Mi Xian and Gui Fei come to mind. But Taiwan isn’t alone in this. Other countries have also taken up the practice – parts of China, Japan, Vietnam . . . and even Thailand. The last of which was where I got my Oriental Beauty variant from.
In attendance were the usual suspects, Jo “A Gift of Tea/Scandalous Tea” Johnson, Nicole “AmazonV/Devotea USA” Schwartz, Nicole “Tea For Me Please” Martin, Rachel “I Heart Teas” Carter, and William “Sir Will of the Leaf” Dietz.
Much was discussed, most of which I can’t (for the life of me) remember, and a good time was had by all. Bug bitten tea drunk, we all were. I think I got a good eight or nine steeps out of mine. It was far sweeter than many bug-bitten teas I’d tried, and I figured that had something to do with the Thai terroir (Thairroir?). Thai grown teas tend to have this “Fruit Roll-Up” quality to them, I’ve found. Really weird, but really tasty; it makes me want to dig into more.
On Friday, I only had one errand to run – to pick up my paycheck. After that, the day was a free-for-all. I had no plan, and no clue what to make of one. But there was one urge that kept creeping to the forefront of my brain, and that was to revisit Smith Tea’s new HQ.
I hadn’t been back since November, but there was a particular item on their menu that I wanted to notch off. That being, their Irish Moringa tea latte. It was their Irish whiskey barrel-aged holiday herbal blend – which I’ll confess I wasn’t a fan of – but done as a latte. I decided to give the tricky tisane fusion a second chance.
For the record, I hate Southeast Portland. Well, I hate Portland in general, but SE holds a large amount of my ire. Everything bad and well-known about Portland is personified in Southeast. And that’s where Smith’s new headquarters was located. Dammit.
I arrived there around 1:45, parked my car on one of the side roads and went in. I was pleased there were a couple of faces on staff that I recognized, and I even recognized one of the patrons from one of the few tea social gatherings I’d attended. As I saddled up to the front, I made the order.
It took them awhile to prep the latte, which made me a little perplexed. What were they doing to it that made it take that much time? Granted, it was busy that day, but there was something about the labor intensity of this particular item that held my attention.
When the cup was put in front me, I understood. For the bearded-‘n-bowtied barista was also brandishing . . . a torch. That’s right; the Irish Moringa tea latte . . . was LIT ON FIRE!!
Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration; the cinnamon that topped the milk foam was melted down with the torch for consistency’s sake. I mentioned that the process seemed similar to an Irish coffee. The beardrista told me that was the end-goal.
How did it taste?
I’ll be damned, it might as well have been an Irish coffee.
After that, I proceeded to stay for another hour or so. A typical side-effect of tea. I followed up the Irish-punched latte with a pot of their Bai Hao oolong. A Fujian-produced bug-bitten tea, I might add. I drained that in two sittings.
Then a newer staff member even convinced me to try out a chai latte with salt. (Not on the menu.)
Apparently, it was a rendition of a Kashmiri creation called a “Nun Chai”. (“Nun” meaning “salt”.) Can’t say I was a fan. Even when the salt dose was lessened, but it was a unique experience.
I left Smith HQ good and tea drunk, and thought to myself, Huh, maybe Southeast Portland isn’t so bad after all.
Then I was greeted with this:
Screw you, Southeast Portland.