Steep Stories

of the Lazy Literatus

Page 3 of 35

Revisiting Russian Tea Gardens

I’ve written a lot about Russian tea gardens over the last couple of years.

Image owned by Tea in the City

But I didn’t think, for one second (at the time), that I was one of the only English language sources on the subject. That is, until I got a message from Thomas Tomporowski of Tea in the City, a vendor op located in the United Kingdom. He was looking to research the possibility of carrying Russian teas for his new company, but when he went to research the gardens in Sochi region . . . I was pretty much it. And, granted, that ain’t much.

Luckily, for the tea community at large, he took that leaf journey a step further . . . and actually went to some of these gardens himself. He even blogged about the experience HEREYou should read it. I’ll wait.

All caught up? Great!

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Green Teas of the Arakai Tea Estate

One uneventful day, I was checking out the Arakai Tea Estate‘s Instagram feed, and I noticed this picture.

Image owned by the Arakai Estate.

Simply put, they were showing how their black tea was rolled. They also left a humorous anecdote about the foam that formed as a result of the rolling . . . and wondered (jokingly) if it had any possible pharmaceutical application. I could only think of one.

“I’d freebase it,” I commented.

To which they replied, amusedly, “The value of this foamy stuff just went up ten-fold!”

What does this have to do with their farm-grown, Australian green teas? Er . . . I was foaming at the mouth after trying them? Yeah, that’s a smooth segue. On to the green teas!

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Black Teas of the Arakai Tea Estate

Two months ago, I wrote about two teas from The Arakai Tea Estate. They’re a family-owned tea garden/forestry farm situated in Bellthorpe, Queensland, Australia. I was notably impressed with what I tasted. Just as I was impressed with the garden owners’ ingenuity. Because . . .

Image owned by the Arakai Tea Estate.


Anyway . . . shortly after that article went live, farmer Brendon got a hold of me, wondering if I wanted to do a comparison. This time? Teas from spring 2015 and ’16, plus a little something extra.

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Teas I Bought at the Northwest Tea Festival

I spent a lot of money last October. A loooot of money. Like, “had-to-get-a-second-job-for-two-months” lot of money. The reason? Northwest Tea Festival.

Train tickets, hotel stay, Uber rides, class/tasting prices, entry fees, and—of course—tea. I bought a few weird teas while I was there, and I thought I’d highlight some of them. Er, now that I’ve tried them all (a whole-whopping three months later.)

Starting with . . .

Crimson Lotus Tea Jingmai Sheng Puerh(s). Plural.

My first goal when I hit the trade show floor was to finally talk to the husband/wife team behind Crimson Lotus face-to-face. I talked to Glen and Lamu respectively over the Interwebz about their puerhs, but never in person. Lamu held down the sales floor fort with volunteers, whereas Glen hosted tastings in front of their booth. And he did so while sitting on a log.


I can’t remember exactly what I tasted at his log, but I ended up leaving their booth with two samples from Yunnan’s Jingmai region in Simao prefecture. Can’t say I was that well-versed in the region, but one of my first white teas hailed from there. For comparison’s sake, I picked up two spring 2016 puerh beeng chisels—Midas Touch and Jingmai LOVE, respectively.

I dipped into them two months later:


This sheng was seasonally spring to the core. Each infused liquor was a bright green-yellow-bronze mélange of youthful exuberance. Their aromas were zesty, mildly citrus and stone-fruity, with a hint of mint and pine. On taste? If I was sipping this blind, I would swear I was tasting a full-bodied, whole-leaf green tea. It was pear-like, cantaloupe-y, grassy and verbena-ish, like a few greens I’ve demolished. The only attribute that gave way that this was a puerh was a mild underpinning of moss on the backend.

I liked it quite a bit. It was easy drinking. No bitterness or roughness to speak of, like some young shengs. However, it would be interesting to see what this does in five years. I haven’t any predictions.


What I found odd was that the liquors for the first three infusions brewed up rather light compared to the Midas. There wasn’t a gradual darkening of color based on steep time, either. Each infusion remained consistent to the others—light green, yellow-ish, bordering on brass. The aroma was also still young-seeming, but with a definite underpinning that marked it as a different beast. There was a smokiness and “earthen-pottery clay” sensation to the scent.

On taste, that showed through even more, earth and subtle smoke took point, followed by . . . whatever the stage is between grapes and raisins. Towards the finish, I was all like, “Yeah, this is a sheng puerh, alright. From 2012.” This sucker was wise beyond its years.

Favorite? I liked both . . . but I loved the Jingmai LOVE.


Floating Leaves Tea Red Peony

I think the standout star of the festival this year was Shiuwen Tai of Floating Leaves Tea.

Photo by Jake Knapp of Cloud 9 Design

This was her first year having a booth at the festival (from what I was told), and—every time!—it was packed. The only time when there was room to navigate was on the final day. I was loitering with a few other tea pals (Oolong Owl, included). They were sipping on something strange, and I inquired as to what it was.

“White tea,” Owl replied, “made from the Ruby 18 cultivar.”

WHAT?!?” I exclaimed . . . rather loudly.

My brain had difficulty processing that information. A Taiwanese white tea made from the Ruby 18 cultivar. Sure, it was possible. I mean, any tea bush cultivar could be used to create different types of tea. I just never assumed a cultivar normally used for a “meh”-ish black tea would be used that way. I bought an ounce.

The liquor brewed up yellow-to-bronze; dark enough to be mistaken for a Darjeeling first flush on first glance. The aroma was equally . . . Himalayan. Along with the expected wintergreen notes was a feeling of stone fruit and . . . other fruits. Grapes, even. And other plant-like things, such as figs and maybe a hint of fennel. Nutty in all senses of the word. The top-note was forest-like, and then it trailed off into Buddhist fairydust land. Hell if I know how else to describe it.

I guess the key takeaway here is that I liked it better than the black tea version. Sacrilege, I know.


Phoenix Tea Shop Dong Fang Mei Ren

Phoenix Tea Shop’s booth was another must-stop. Like Floating Leaves, they were also insanely busy for most of the festival. On one such drop-in, I think I remember one of the owners saying, “I think I’m going insane.” But don’t quote me (or them) on that.

Both Cinnabar and Chris pointed me in the direction of one such tea that they knew would have my attention. With all my myriad of stops at their storefront over the years, they knew where my palate lay. The Realm of the Weird. And they pointed me to this:

A Dong Fang Mei Ren (Oriental Beauty) oolong from Taiwan . . . that wasn’t bug-bitten. How, you may ask? Oriental Beauty was defined by the fact that the leaves were bug-bitten. That’s what gave the leaves that lovely honeyesque flavor. To that I say, “No clue.”

Best guess? The leaves were processed—open-style—much like a regular Oriental Beauty, but from tea bushes that weren’t subject to leafhopper feeding frenzies. That had my interest and attention . . . and, yes, I bought it.

I brewed it up on a night after a very difficult work shift.

As for tasting notes . . . um . . . I’ll just let this chat transcript do all the talking.

That pretty much sums it up. I have nothing more to add. I even lost count of how many steeps I made of the stuff.

This concludes the journey down my poor impulse control. I felt that there was one more “tea festival adjacent” post in me. Turns out it was about the teas themselves; who knew? If you’re ever in Seattle, or if you’re curious about the wares of the operations featured, give ’em a shout—online or in real-life.

Me? I have more drinking to do.

See ya.

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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The Harendong Estate

Four years ago, I “discovered” the Harendong estate.

Image owned by Harendong

I put “discovered” in air-quotes because . . . it’d been there for eight years by the time I ran across it. Perhaps I should say, it was new to me. They had a booth at the 2013 World Tea Expo—under their Banten Tea brand—and the thing that excited me about them was where they were from.

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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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Christmas on FIRE!!!

I’ll make this quick, I swear. Well, quicker than usual. I know you all have Christmas/holiday shopping to do, or something equally as holiday-y. But I have a cute li’l holiday blurb to get off my chest . . . so deal with it.

At World Tea Expo in June, I tried THIS at the Nepali Tea Traders booth.

They called it “Green Pearls of Agni“, named for the Hindu fire god. (“Agni” literally translates to “fire”, from the original Sanskrit.) It resembled Bi Luo Chun (the Chinese green tea) in its visual delivery, but—unlike good ol’ “Green Snail Spring”—they lightly smoked the leaves over oak wood. The results showed up in the fragrance, campfire and cinders.

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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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