Steep Stories

of the Lazy Literatus

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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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Japanese Style Green Tea . . . From Australia

Australian Tea Week, Day 3: “Japanese Style Green Tea . . . From Australia”

I received the subject of today’s blog from this fingergun-toting, doughnut-destroying badass.

Naomi in her natural habitat . . . the gym.

This is Naomi Rosen; no, she’s not Australian. But she could certainly pass for one. She’s the purveyor of Joy’s Teaspoon. Aside from selling some really good teas, she could also probably take down a bear singlehandedly . . . and show more love in her left pinkie . . . while still restraining said bear. This last summer, she was gracious enough to let me crash for a few nights while attending World Tea Expo. On my last day with her, she decided to part ways with some of these lovelies.

Japanese style green tea. From Australia.

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Effie’s Tea Offerings

Australian Tea Week, Day 2: “Effie’s Tea Offerings”

This is Effie Gidakos . . .

She’s a tea nerd, like I am. She even takes to social media (and local radio) about her love of tea. She’s also obsessed with Christmas (obviously). And—per this week’s theme—she’s also Australian.

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The Arakai Estate

Australian Tea Week! Day 1: “The Arakai Estate”

Australia.

The Land Down Under. Oz. Or whatever other people (including the locals) call it. Our southernmost Pacific neighbor is known for many things: weird and diverse wildlife, a wicked sense of humor, numerous flora and fauna that can kill you in a heartbeat, sometimes good beer . . . and . . . women. Oh my, the women!

one-day-rebel

One day, Rebel. One day.

Where was I? Oh yes . . .

One thing people might not know, however, is that parts of continent have taken up tea growing as a trade. They’ve tried their hand at it since the 1880s. Of course, because Australia is . . . well . . . Australia, sustainable plantings didn’t take hold successfully until around the 1960s. However, since then, many operations have emerged—Daintree, Madura, etc.

Which brings me to the Arakai estate—a garden in Bellthorpe, Queensland, Australia.

arakai

Image owned by the Arakai estate

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Once Bug-Bitten, Twice Shy

Well . . . I guess it’s time to put a certain theory to pasture.

And it’s all because of these two.

team-unytea

Who are they? I’ll get to that.

What theory? Oh, I had this hypothesis that tea and dating (or courtship, whatever) didn’t “blend”.

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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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Hugs, High-Fives, and Farmer Style Sencha

A couple of years ago—on a visit to the Jasmine Pearl Tea Merchants shop— I tried a Japanese tea (that wasn’t sencha) that just . . . blew me away.

yuzu

It was a black tea blended with yuzu rind. Yes, the Japanese orange.

When I described it to people, all I could muster was, “It’s like an Earl Grey that followed the Bushido code.” The astringency was balanced, there was a malty kick, and of course there was that effervescent blast of citrus at the top note. Never tried anything like it.

The Jasmine Pearl folks told me that it came from one particular farmer in Kawanehon-town in Shizuoka prefecture.

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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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Puerh . . . After a Fashion

Shou (or cooked/ripe) puerh is difficult to market. Hell, puerh in general is difficult to spin. How do you convince people that something that’s fermented is something they want? Fermented leaves, no less; in cake form.

puerh-cake-chunk

The conundrum gets even hairier once you try to explain to people what the “cooking” process even is. Example: “Oh yeah, and over here we have some shou puerh—sometimes called cooked puerh. Not to be confused with raw puerh, which ages naturally. Unlike that stuff, wet leaves are composted by piling them together in a hot roo— . . . hey, where are you going?”

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Cooked “Puerh” from Laos

LaosTea—a wholesaler of heicha from Laos—had a booth at World Tea Expo again this last summer.

laos-tea-at-world-tea-expo

Image mooched from LaosTea’s Instagram.

And I didn’t visit it once.

In my mind, I kept saying, Eh, I’ve already tried everything they have to offer.

What I should’ve been thinking was, I really need to solidify some of my vendor networking contacts!

Hindsight and all that.

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