Steep Stories

of the Lazy Literatus

Category: Tea Features (Page 1 of 21)

A Mabian, Sichuan Tea Flight

This may come as a surprise (to no one), but I’m a bit of a lurker in the tea community.

Various social media groups exist celebrating our beloved beverage and the many facets therein. On Facebook alone, I keep a keen eye out for interesting posts by some members of these groups. Particularly if someone runs into something new or weird—y’know, my basic tea blog mission statement.  And on one such day, several months back, I ran into a photograph posted by West China Tea/Guan Yin Tea House’s purveyor, So Han Fan.

Image owned by So Han Fan.

A white tea grown and processed in Sichuan province, China.

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A Series of Single Origin Tea Sonnets

In the Spring of 2017, I met this eccentric chap.

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Tea, Coffee, and the Arakai Estate Terroir

The family Collins, purveyors of the Arakai Estate, have had a busy year.

Image owned by the Arakai Estate.

Which is a bit of an understatement.

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Tea Grown in Peru

Spoiler alert: there’s tea growing in Peru.

Photo by Arafat Espinoza

I know, that’s not a surprise to anyone. After all, the country is considered the 28th largest tea producer in the world. However, until last year, it was completely new news to me. But let’s begin with where I began in my pursuit for Peruvian tea.

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A Wild Darjeeling

This is an awkward statement to make right now . . . but . . . I’ve been on a bit of a Darjeeling kick, lately.

Photo by Nathalia Leter. Used with permission.

Especially given recent (at the time of this writing) news reports. And I’m not going to delve into any of that. This is a tea blog; I tell tea stories. And this is—for once—a happy tea story about Darjeeling. A “wild” one.

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A Kazuo Kit of Sencha from the Land of Bears

Let’s get right to the point, I’ve been a fan of the sencha brand, Mellow Monk, for years.

Image owned by Mellow Monk.

Pretty much since the early days of my tea blogging career. The only one who seemed unaware of this, however . . . was Mellow Monk.

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Singpho Phalap

Back in 2015, I was reading one of Nicole “Tea For Me Please” Martin’s weekly roundups. In those, she lists off her five favorite tea blog articles of that week. I happened to be reading it that day to . . . see if I made the cut. (Yes, I’m narcissistic.) But I soon got distracted by one of the articles she linked to. It talked about a tribe of people in Assam, India I’d never heard of before— the Singpho.

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Heicha Happy Hour

For most of this spring, I’ve been on a bit of a heicha kick.

Not puerh . . . heicha. As in, dark (or fermented) teas not from Yunnan province, China.

I’m not sure when it all started, but I have a feeling this dude had something to do with it.

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A Single Origin Georgian Tea Flight

To date, I’ve had three or four experiences with Georgian teas. As in, teas grown in the country of Georgia; not the U.S. state. However, there was one type of tasting session I had yet to do. That being, to try all the wares from one farmer/producer, in order to enjoy their individual quirks and artistry.

And then I read THIS.

You should read it, too. I’ll wait.

The folks behind Tea in the City (a UK-based online tea operation) made a sourcing trip across the entire expanse of the Caucasus range—from Azerbaijan, to Sochi, Russia, and then on down to Georgia. They visited many large producers in the country, and on their final leg of the journey, they ended up in the region of Guria. Specifically, they found a farmer in the small town of Ozurgeti, just outside of the larger resort town of Batumi.

The farmer in question? A guy named Davit.

Image owned by Tea in the City.

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Rou Gui’s Revenge

I think I’ve mentioned this before, but Rou Gui was the first Wuyi oolong (or Yancha) that I ever liked.

Image mooched from the Almighty Wiki.

Before a certain Da Hong Pao back-flipped my palate, I never really took a liking to Wuyi rock oolongs. They always tasted like . . . well . . . roasted rocks. In leaf form. Rou Gui, while as “burnt”-looking as the rest of them, seemed different. Not sure why, but there was room for more subtlety in the palate delivery.

Since then, I’ve come to appreciate a myriad of Wuyi oolongs. So much so, that poor ol’ Rou Gui kind of got left in the dust. Tie Luo Han took point as my overall favorite. Then I got an e-mail from Jeff Kovac of Four Seasons Tea some random month in 2016. He wondered if I got to one of the samples he sent some months back, particularly a Rou Gui called “Niu Lan Keng”.

I told him I hadn’t (but left out the part where I didn’t plan to). My exploration of Rou Gui as a tea was—so I thought—finished. However, Jeff re-emphasized that this stuff was special. It hailed from the same growing region as the really special Da Hong Pao he passed my way did—Zhengyan. Specifically, the Niu Lan Keng growing region.

Because the growing region was so narrow in parts, not very much was produced. Some farms lay between ravines of mountains. Tea plants grew in ravine corridors. Like this:

Image owned by Four Seasons Tea.

With low yields on a regionally specific tea came a high price tag. This tea cost even more per gram than “Mother Tree” Da Hong Pao. That, in and of itself, was astounding.

Sometime in autumn of last year, I finally got around to brewing it up. Was it at all special? I aimed to find out.

Most Wuyi oolongs I’ve come cross all have similar appearances. The leaves are long, twisty, and (for the most part) soot black—usually a result of the charcoal roasting. I was surprised in two ways with this one: (1) Some of the leaves actually had a shade of beige or green to their color. And (2) when I tore open the bag, all I could smell was straight butter. Well . . . butter that’d been roasted on charcoal. (Is that even possible—roasting butter on charcoal? Someone get on that.) Point being, it was a lovely visual and visceral bouquet. Yes, you’re catching me using the word “bouquet” in one of these yarns. Don’t get used to it.

For brewing, I approached it as . . .y’know what? I wasn’t really paying all that much attention. I knew I wanted to use a yixing pot; I know I wanted three or four successive steeps. Didn’t really care what leaf amount either. I guessed that I put about a tablespoon of leaves in the yixing pot, and I suppose each steep was about thirty-to-forty seconds. But—honestly—I didn’t care. The very essence of “gongfooling” as opposed to gongfu.

Each infusion was the color of steampunk magic brass. Not to be confused with normal brass, which is a bit dull on display. The liquors were bright, spry and . . . well . . . downright magical-looking. Magic brass; I’m sticking to that. The “roasted butter” showed up in the steam smell, along with fruit and roasted poetry. The taste was . . . oh my lord . . .

Stone fruit wine. I really don’t need to go any further than that. No, not plum wine. That’s common. I’ve never tasted anything like this, but winy notes were all over the place—but thankfully without any of that tannic, corky crap. I don’t think I’ve ever tasted a Wuyi oolong that was this tart and fruity, but in a refined and experienced sort of way. I certainly have never had a Rou Gui that was like this. Further infusions got even sweeter.

I guess I did have more to say about Rou Gui. A sweet taste was the sweetest retribution. This expensive beauty killed me with kindness. Revenge is a cup of tea best served cordially.

To by the Niu Lan Keng Rou Gui, go HERE.

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