Steep Stories

of the Lazy Literatus

Category: Tea Musings (Page 1 of 20)

Notes from the Tea Underground

The idea of an underground tea scene always intrigued me. Not sure when the notion entered the deep recesses of my tea-soaked brain; maybe it was Robert “The Devotea” Godden’s ebook Tea Story, or maybe someone mentioned the idea of it in passing? Whichever, whatever. Point being, the notion always fascinated me. I even envisioned an underground network of “steepeasies” in a story I had . . . yet to write.

Little did I know, though, there actually was such an underground tea network threading itself together. From Austin, Texas, to San Francisco, California, and further northward to Portland, Oregon; people communed over tea just under the radar. I had some affiliations with various members of this fledgling network, and in my various tea blog dealings, one name kept coming up.

Steve Odell.

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A Hundred Years is “Oolong” Time

Last weekend, I drank an oolong that was—quite possibly—a hundred years old.

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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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Bros, Bug Shit, and Black Tea

I don’t get out much.

Of course, with how “well” these brew-based blogs turn out, that goes without saying. In the last couple of months, I tried to make a concerted effort to step out of my comfort zone (i.e. my basement) and—maybe—explore new teashops. Well, that didn’t happen. I mean, there are places I need to check out, but they aren’t appearing here . . . yet. However, I thought I’d highlight two separate tea sessions—locally, as in, Portland-centric—I had with two tea-bros recently, instead.

What’s a tea-bro?

It’s a bro you have tea with. Duh.

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Looking for Hui Gan in High Mountain Oolongs

“This tea had quite a bit of Hui Gan,” someone said to me once.

“Who’s Hui Gan?” I asked, thinking they were referring to a Chinese scholar.

Clearly, I’d never heard the term before. Several people had used it in my presence, and I nodded as if I knew what they were talking about. Of course, I didn’t. I had to consult a more knowledgeable tea blogger friend to have it defined for me.

“Hui Gan” can be translated as “comeback sweetness”. And—like everything else in Chinese—what that means is a tad esoteric and abstract. Finding a definitive answer online was even more elusive. Some people referred to it as the lingering sweetness found in some teas after sipping. Others claimed it was the reflection of that sweetness later down-the-line. As in, a mental reflection, followed by a craving. Like tea drinker déjà vu . . . or something.

The last time I heard the term, it was from Greg “Norbu Tea” Glancy. We were discussing his Ali Shan offerings, and he mentioned that his new Winter ’16 oolong had “great Hui Gan”. I was interested in doing a back-to-back comparison of that tea with a batch of the Spring 2016. Both were greener style, high mountain Ali Shan oolongs, and I thought it’d be interesting to do a side-by-side. The whole Hui Gan hullabaloo became an added side-quest.

One fine day off from work, I got to brewing.

Both teas looked exactly the same—large, ball-fisted green leaves with li’l necktie stems. The Spring smelled buttery and floral, whereas the Winter had more of a “sweet bread” smell. And, I’ll be darned, that sweetness did linger, but it didn’t “come back”. But I wasn’t sure Hui Gan was supposed to show up in the aromatics or not.

These were my findings after the first infusions finished steeping.

Editor’s Note: Forgive the redundancies between the video and the narrative. The Lazy Literatus filmed the tasting notes before undertaking the write-up. That . . . and his attention span is quite short. 

 

I filmed about six minutes worth of additional material with two more infusions . . . but I screwed it up. Royally. I over-steeped the second infusion on both by a good ten seconds, and they turned out tasting like burnt salad. The third fared way better—the sweetness came back!—but the leaves were still a bit shaky from the earlier abuse. That and I accidentally thought “lingering sweetness” was “comeback sweetness”. Nope . . . totally different.

But then I let a few minutes go by . . . and then a few more . . . and then a few more after that. Then I suddenly had an itch in my right index finger. I grabbed my electric kettle, filled it with water, and put it back on its little ol’ heating pad. Once I saw those little fish-eye bubbles, I stopped the heat, and did a fourth re-steep of both.

And then a fifth.

I think I got a good two or three more infusions out of both those sets of leaves. In all honestly, I had planned on doing an entirely different tasting session after those two oolongs. But I lost track of time . . . by a good two hours. The tasting session started at around 11AM, and I carried it on until about 4PM. The only reason I finally stopped it was because I had to leave the house to meet friends in the early evening.

Did I find the elusive Hui Gan? I still have no clue. Its like the Carmen Sandiego of taster notes. Once you think you have it pinned down—whether by sensation or semantics—you find you’re nowhere near it at all.

Perhaps I’ll reflect on it more, at a later juncture.

Sweetly.

To buy the Winter ’16 Ali Shan oolong I test-drove, go HERESee if you can find Hui Gan.

Attack of the Adorable Tea Vloggers

One of the biggest challenges to tea blogger productivity . . . is the Internet.

Yes, all of it.

While social media is the biggest time-suck—keeping me away from what little writery discipline I possess—YouTube is a close second. My addiction to that streaming site is as old as my tea habit. However, there weren’t many teacentric vloggers (video bloggers) on it.

Sure, some companies posted tutorials, but there were few (if any) tea nuts who posted their own appreciative content. For the longest time, that role was filled by Natasha “The [Martial] Artist Formerly Known as Snooty Tea Person” Nesic. (I’ve . . . written of my respect for her output at length.) Alas, she moved on to bigger and better things, and there was nothing to fill the Snooty-sized hole in the heart of YouTube.

Well, apparently, I hadn’t looked hard enough. Thanks to tea friend, Nicole “Tea For Me Please” Martin, my eyes were recently opened to a tea vlogger world I never knew existed. And the most surprising thing? They’re all . . . freakin’ adorable!

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Should “Tea” Be a Safe Word?

Let’s talk about tea, oversharing, and consent.

Of course, in order to do this I will have to—y’know—overshare. So, continuing past this point, or clicking the “Read More” button, will be considered a form of consent. Understood? Are we all on the same page? Great, let’s begin.

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Tea Will Change the World

In the not-too-distant past, I was reading one of my fictional stories to a friend. He stopped me within the first paragraph and asked a very simple question, “What are you trying to say?”

Not as in, what was I trying to say in the story, but rather, what was I trying to say as a writer? And I . . . didn’t have an answer for him. He further explained that some of his favorite authors were always trying to convey one particular message or theme in their various works—no matter how disparate.

J.R.R. Tolkien used The Lord of the Rings as a playground for his knowledge on languages, and as an allegory for the horrors of war. Robert Jordan used The Wheel of Time as a way to cope with PTSD. Whether they intended to or not, authors tried to say something in their writing. But I had no clue what it was I was trying to say.

Shortly after that, I found myself pouring over some of my old tea haikus. (Yes, I did some of those.) And I ran across this little forgotten “gem”:

A pretty tall claim, even for a haiku. However, it made me wonder, Was that my message? If so, it was an unabashedly optimistic (and ambitious) one. As I gave it more thought, the more it crystalized. Yeah . . . that was my message.

Tea will change the world.

Perhaps I should explain.

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The Parts of Portland’s Tea Culture that The Oregonian Missed.

In the summer of 2015, the unthinkable happened. I scheduled an interview with an honest-to-Lu-Yu newspaper. Our local rag, The Oregonianto be precise. They wanted to talk to me in my natural habitat, as a tea drinker. The reason? A soon-to-be-established feature on Portland’s tea culture. Lauren “Mizuba Tea Co.” Purvis recommended they talk to me, since—to some—I was considered the tea fanboy (manchild?) in Portland.

The day of the interview, I even cleaned my old room.

That’s how big a deal this was.

Both of the women that visited were very nice. We discussed many different aspects of tea and tea culture. I tried to get the point across that, while Portland did indeed have a burgeoning tea scene, it wasn’t a cohesive one. Not yet, anyway; not like Seattle.

The reporter and photographer told me they planned for an autumn 2015 release of the article . . . with the possibility of delay. And—hoo-boy—was there ever a delay; a year and a half, to be precise. On the first week of December (of 2016), a tea blogger friend shared with me an article via social media. The article! And . . .

Um . . .

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Tea Tales and Mocktails

Two weeks back, I received an invite to go here:

smith-tea-hq-storefront

Okay, I go to both Smith Tea locations quite a bit on my own, but this was a special occasion. Like last year, this was their media-only holiday pre-release party. They were going to be showcasing their upcoming blends, partnerships, and limited edition holiday offerings.  And I was convinced I couldn’t go. Work and all that.

I was so convinced about my lack of attendance, I even shot off an e-mail to lead blender dude, Tony Tellin, to see if I could mooch some of pre-release batches for an article. Y’know . . . to pretend I was there. I’m good at pretending. None of that was necessary because I was magically able to convince my work to let me off early that day.

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