Steep Stories

of the Lazy Literatus

Tag: A Gift of Tea

Obligatorily Weird Thanksgiving Tea Post

NaNoTeaMo, Day 26: “Obligatorily Weird Thanksgiving Tea Post”

I think it’s mandatory that if one is going to post a blog on Thanksgiving Day, they actually have to give thanks to something or someone. And, trust me, I will do just that. But not right this second. You see, I have a weird Camellia species to talk about first.

Photo owned by Seven Cups

Photo owned by Seven Cups

Read More

A Bourbon-Scented, Tea Seeding Saga

Back in June, one of the many wonderful things I came back with from World Tea Expo…was tea plant seeds.

tea seeds

The Camellia Forest Nursery in North Carolina had donated some to the Tealet booth as gifts for passersby. Of course, I was one of those who jumped at the chance. Who wouldn’t want to grow their own tea plant?!

Problem was I was not known for my green thumb. Heck, I killed a cactus back in college. So, a couple of weeks later, I enlisted the help of my amateur gardener brother. He possessed the pots, the soil, and some of the know-how. All we needed to do was set a day…and we did for that following Saturday.

Unfortunately, the day of, I saw a photograph by Smith Teamaker’s resident bartender/photographer – Tea MC Tiff (as I call her).

bourbon mugging

Image owned by Tiffany Talbott.

The bottle of bourbon in particular caught my eye.

I asked about the photo, and if it heralded the arrival of a new barrel-aged tea to Smith’s roster. Tea MC Tiff confirmed that it did. Steven Smith and his blending team got a hold of a Temperance Kentucky Bourbon Barrel and decided to age some Nokhroy estate second flush Assam in the sucker. It was put on the shelves the night before I inquired about it.

I called my brother.

“Um…” I started eloquently. “We have to make a detour before we plant tea seeds.”

And off to Smith Teamaker HQ, we went.

The two teatenders on duty – Claire and Lauren, respectively – allowed my brother and me to share a pot of the stuff.

bourbon black

It was straight bourbon and malt. That’s all I have for taster notes. Bourbon smoke on the front, Assam on the back, like some sort of…tea-alcohol…mullet. Or something.

Short answer, “Wow.”

I lamented the price of a two-ounce box of the stuff, but my brother – to my surprise – said, “Here, I’ll get it. Early birthday present.”

I think I squealed.

In an odd turn of self-control, though, I didn’t break in my personal stash for several weeks. In the interim, I had a newly potted tea plant to take care of. My brother had loaned me a teapot, and – in return – I’d given him one of my tea seeds. I kept the pot by the window, and per his instructions, checked soil moistness once a week.

tea plant

Then came a “Tandem Tea Tasters” Google+ Hangout. The theme for the night was to present a new, unique tea to “share with the class”. That was a tough one, since…well…most of my teas fell into that category. However, I looked up on my shelf and noticed that the Smith’s Bourbon Black Tea hadn’t been open yet. Decision: Made.

private stash

 

I don’t recall the exact details of the evening, but I do remember those who were there – Jo “A Gift of Tea” Johnson and Rachel “I Heart Teas” Carter. And all three of us were one shade of tea drunk or another. To the point where Rachel insisted on using Google’s drawing function to make me a Ferengi/Klingon hybrid…and Jo photographed it.

Klingon Ferengi

After pint…oh…three of the Bourbon Black, I was whistling Dixie. Almost literally. No, there was no alcohol in the tea, but Assam normally packs quite a caffeinated wallop. And, somehow, in my tea drunk haze, I decided I had to water my tea plant.

Forgetting that I had already watered it that day.

Fast-forward to a month or so later. I was over at my brother’s house for dinner, and I marveled at how well his tea plant was thriving.

brother's tea plant

Vibrant green leaves had sprouted and were reaching joyously to the sun.

Mine on the other hand?

seppuku

I think it committed seppuku in the soil before drowning.

Moral of the story: If you’re going to drink bourbon barrel-aged tea, don’t do any gardening…I guess.

Playing with Purple Tea before a Tandem Taiwanese Tasting

So, the events herein are from a couple of weeks ago, but the work week from Hades prevented its etching onto this holiest blog-tomes. But…here it is now. Late. As expected. As always.

Big Brass Butiki-s, Round 2: “Playing with Purple Tea before a Tandem Taiwanese Tasting”

(How’s that for a long-arse title?)

March’s Tandem Tea Tasters Googly meet-up was scheduled for the last week in March. The tea in question was to be Butiki Teas’ Taiwanese Wild Mountain Black. A fabulous tea, if I do say so. Problem was, I already used up all of my sample…for this write-up.

Originally, my plan was to use my remaining Taiwanese Assam in substitution. Then a better idea hit me. Yes, I occasionally have those. Not often, but sometimes.

There were two other teas I had to notch off for write-up purposes, and I was getting off work early enough to do a proper…uh…”analysis”. The two in question were an oolong and green tea made from the Kenyan “Purple Tea” cultivar – TRFK 306/1.

I covered this manmade tea plant strain on two separate occasions. Butiki was actually the first company I approached about trying one. Thanks to them, I was one of the first “reviewers” to cover the unique plant. Several months later, I ran into a white version of the tea. It was only natural that it’d show up in other forms eventually. And – boy-howdy – did it.

The two Butiki was a steamed green tea variant and an oolong.

84d41caabb8511e38d2312109fa1fd8d_8

The leaves for the Steamed Purple Green looked a lot like the regular orthodox Purple Tea of Kenya, except for the leaf-rolling caveat. Yes, the leaves were about the same size as the regular Purple, but they were more – well – leafy in appearance, instead of flaky. The aroma reminded me of something between a Kabusecha and a Long Jing. If it weren’t for the dark hue to the Purple, I wouldn’t have known what I was whiffing. It was sweet, slightly vegetal, and mildly mineral-like.

The Purple Sunset Oolong, on the other hand, looked like a roasted Chinese oolong in appearance. The leaves were long, dark, and twisty – a lot like a Dan Cong or a Da Hong Pao. The aroma the leaves gave off was sweet, mildly cocoa-like, and very subtle in its earthy lean.

Brewing instructions for both – per the Butiki page – were very similar. The oolong required 170F water; the other, 180F. The Steamed Green needed about a three-minute steep; same with the oolong. This was a cake-walk.

When finished, the Steamed Green’s liquor turned – dare I say it – dark purple. The steam wafting from the cup smelled like a sencha, but with a little more body. The Purple Sunset Oolong brewed darker with a more rust-red color, and an aroma that harkened back to Dan Cong brews of yore.

Purple Duel

Left: Green Tea. Right: Oolong Tea

Tastewise, the Steamed Green was vegetal and sweet with a creamy aftertaste. The Sunset Oolong possessed a malty introduction that transitioned to a tart middle, and ended with a roasty (almost Taiwanese-like) finish. Sipping between the two was like being sandwiched between two women. Whatever the outcome, my face was happy.

As to a favorite? Gotta go with the oolong, mainly for my oolong preference these last few months. The Steamed Green was damn good, but oolong is where my heart resides at the moment. I thought about doing a combined brew, but that didn’t feel right. These were artistically done on their own separate merits.

By the time I was done dousing myself in purple goodness, 6PM rolled around, and it was time for the Tandem Google Hangout. At first, there were only three of us total – Rachel of I Heart Teas and Jo of A Gift of Tea. Regulars Darlene and Nicole were indisposed – the latter of which was saddled with WORKING AT A TEASHOP!!!

54d4d1a370e8c173482529fcf25ae97e

No jealousy here…none at all.

We three marveled and reflected on the Wild Mountain Black, but also discussed other things. The prevalent subject seemed to be the feeling of “chaaaaaange” surrounding the Spring season. I had made it clear I wasn’t a fan of Spring.

In the span of a few weeks, my finances had taken an even bigger nosedive than anticipated. My attempts to look for a second job were proving difficult. (Mainly, finding one that worked around my “full-time” job.) All that rigmarole curbed plans I originally had for World Tea Expo and a book I wanted to finish.

The only thing that was going according to plan was my li’l tea poetry Tumblr.

But that was just on my end.

Everyone else seemed to be going through some time of major upheaval. I won’t go into theirs or anyone else’s. Not my place. The overall feeling we were getting was that Spring was a time of rebirth, but something was preventing the process from taking shape – whether it was our own reluctance, or constant outside influence.

Throughout, the meet-up, my phone continued disconnecting me from Google+. I’m still awe-struck that a Google site has so much difficulty on a Google phone. Then a wonderful thing happened.

Rachel asked, “What’s your address?”

I rattled it off, then asked why.

“No reason,” she said cryptically.

Moments later, my Gmail pinged me. I opened the notification and just…gaped at the screen.

“Late Christmas present,” Rachel said.

Right before we were about to close the tasting off, Nicole (Tea for Me Please) chimed in from her teashop gig – Tea Drunk in NYC. And…the conversation continued for another hour or two. That’s how these tea things work. Time is relative. And we’re all relatives here. In a way.

Following that meet-up, I worked two six-day weeks – barely had enough time to sleep, let alone write. In the interim, though, two wonderful things happened:

(1)    Rachel’s late-Christmas present arrived. It was a new webcam. No more Google/phone trouble for me! We test-drove it a few days later. Over tea, of course.

4dab7824c05b11e3a9190002c9d67290_8

(2)    Jo passed along a note to check out Oprah’s magazine for the subsequent month and turn to page 136. And there was her photo…looking all regal with teacup in hand.

10254097_1404332169841553_137036398_n

As I write this, I’m mentally preparing for the next work day – hopped up on caked white tea. Yep, Spring-sewn change is in the air; transitions are inevitable. But at least I’m in good company.

No matter how far.

A “Potential” Story

The last two weeks were a busy time. Yes, tea was included in the list of activities, but it wasn’t the central occurrence. Instead, the most common element in everything that happened can be summed up in one word: “Potential”. I’ll try to explain…

A Teaneer Tandem Tasting

At the start of January, I “attended” yet another Tandem Tea Tasting with the girls – Jo “A Gift of Tea/Scandalous Tea” Johnson, Nicole “Tea For Me Please” Martin, Darlene “The Tea Enthusiast’s Scrapbook”/”Tea Lover’s Archive” Meyers-Perry, and Rachel “I Heart Teas” Carter. This time, it was Nicole’s turn to provide the wares for discussion. These were teas I was particularly excited about.

In Nilgiri, India there’s a new organic tea outfit called Vijayalashmi Natural Tea Farms. So new are they, that they don’t even have a website up yet – just a Facebook page, at the moment. One of the fantastic things about this outfit – and their spokesman, Teaneer Suresh – is what they’re doing to change the face of Nilgiri teas in general. The region sometimes gets a bad rep for low quality, CTC-grade bulk teas. Rarely is it considered a region of orthodox exploration – save for a few estates like Tiger Hill.

What I found fascinating about Teaneer Teas was their emphasis on other tea types besides the old Nilgiri standby – black tea. Of the four Nicole sent to us, none of them were blacks or oolongs. One was a white, one was a yellow, and two were green. A bit on the impatient side, I dug into the white tea before the tandem tasting, and found that it hit all the right marks.

IMAG1437

The flavor was odd – like salted grapes – but the character was very White Peony-ish with a Nilgiri lean.

During the tandem tasting, I put the Aristocrat Green Tea, Flow Green Tea and Yellow Tea back-to-back. The greens reminded me of one other Nilgiri green tea I’d tried – same kelpy taste and everything. The yellow was the real surprise. Never had I tasted a “yellow tea” outside of China that actually resembled a Huang Ya. Peppery, nutty, and vegetal only in a “cooked green beans” sorta way. This was my favorite of the four. The yellow also seemed to be the consensual favorite of the group – or from what I gathered.

IMAG1464

It was also (mostly) agreed upon that while Teaneer was off to a good start, they hadn’t quite reached greatness, yet. I could almost compare their upward progress to that of the Doke estate in 2012. They were still in their experimental phase, trying to find the approach that worked best. The teas were good, but I saw a greater potential. (See? There’s that word again.)

And speaking of potential…

After discussing the teas at length, we segued into a discussion about the tea community as a whole. Particularly about “bad eggs” in the social fray. There were some dissenting voices to one of Nicole’s posts about tea snobbery toward the end of 2013. I also had my disagreements with it, but only to one aspect – that of defending a discerning palate.

We agreed overall that while there were…unpleasant tea drinkers on the fringes of the community, they were given many chances to prove themselves. No one was automatically shut out of the discussion – no matter how blowhard – just because of one social infraction. Forgiveness and tolerance were prevalent in all the “corners” of the cuppa circle. All I had to do was point to the tea community’s tolerance of me. If they could put up with my antics, they could put up with anybody. That is…for a time.

We – no matter how splintered, jaded or clique-ish we got – saw potential in any tea drinker new or old. No one was exiled…except under circumstances of extreme douchebaggery. Even teabaggers were welcome. Hey, sometimes I’m one. Yeah, I admit it. What of it? Come at me, bro.

And speaking of anti-teabaggers…

An Infusiastic Trip

Last week, I was drafted by my Mum to help her road trip from Wyoming to Oregon. There were more job opportunities in the rainy state, and she wanted company for early winter trek. I burned three vacation days and agreed to fly out. (On her dime, of course.)

Being the neurotic sort, I liked to arrive at the airport early. If mobile Internet didn’t provide enough of a time-waster, I went with something old school – a good ol’ book. The only one I grabbed from home was Robert “The Devotea” Godden’s story collection, The Infusiast.

IMAG0820

I’d intended the book to last me the entire trip, thinking it would last through several spurts of reading. The moment I started the damn thing, I couldn’t put it down. By the time I arrived in Wyoming, I was at the epilogue. And I’m not that fast of a reader.

The book was potential realized – a humorous, touching and thought-provoking guide to all things tea. Sure, it only hit certain bullet points of interest to the author, but they were intriguing ones. And it was nice to see his humor and wit display on good ol’ fashioned paper. My favorite bits were the ones dealing with Orwell. Yes, that Orwell.

My least favorite? The tea/food recipes. Truth be told, I skipped them. I can’t cook; didn’t apply to me. Although, I would totally taste-test someone’s attempt at a tea pizza. Like, the entire pizza.

Steeping Lady Violet

The first thing I wanted to do the moment I arrived in Wyoming was sniff a certain tea. Darlene had sent my mother a bag of her new Tea Lovers Archive blend – Lady Violet – after I mentioned she was a Downton Abbey fan. During the tandem tasting, Darlene mentioned the blend was made of black tea, malva petals and violet flavoring. While I’m not much of a blend person (er, anymore), this one had me curious. What the heck does “violet” even smell like?

Apparently, it smells like blueberries, at least to my odd nose.

IMAG1496

I dug into it the next morning, and it tasted exactly like it smelled – a floral and berry-ish black tea. I steeped that sucker twice, and the flavor never let up. In fact, I think I preferred the second steeping to the first. More refined and witty, like Lady Violet herself. It was good to have a good tea with Mum again.

Three Generations

Throughout the two-day drive to Portland, my mother and I had many discussions. The focus was primarily on transition. I felt like a self-centered idiot having not realized she had been in a bit of a winter funk since the beginning December. Throughout all our phone conversations, she never let on that she’d been down at all. Either she was sparing me the worry, or she was glad to speak to someone else about their issues, I have no clue. Point being, I felt like I’d let her down by not inquiring about her.

But I made up for it on the car ride.

She was hoping that a brief stint in Oregon would reinvigorate her. I, for one, was glad to have her back. The woman was one of the few people who motivated me out of my lazier habits. We talked of future plans and hypotheses for two straight days. And it was glorious.

IMAG1501

Upon returning, we also learned that my sister/roommate had a hard week at work, and that my niece had passed all of her classes by the skin of her teeth. Sis had realized that there were limits to even what she could accomplish and realized her potential as a proper delegator. Whereas my niece realized that she was indeed smarter than what her earlier grades indicated.

That Sunday, we relaxed in front of the television – three generations of people in transition – and partook of a double-helping of Downton Abbey  and Sherlock. So much potential in one room, all in pajamas. And me, slippers donned, raising a tea-laden Chewbacca chalice in celebration.

IMAG1415

The Infusiast’s Book Launch and a Meeting of Beasts – A Vegas Tea Party, Day 1

Brace yourself, this is a three-parter. Maybe four. Depends on if I get the information all organized. Liking herding cats, it is. Kittens, actually. Hyper ones.

First and foremost, I need to get a few acknowledgements out of the way. Planning for this World Tea Expo trip has been nothing short of murder. Four fantastic folks made it as smooth as possible. My mother spotted for the plane ticket to Vegas as an early “birthristmas” present, and my dad helped put spending money in my pocket after a mutually beneficial business transaction. I’ve written about both occurrences.

The other two, I have not written about. Naomi Rosen (aka Joy’s Teaspoon) was gracious enough to put me up for the five days I was in Vegas. That kind gesture alone saved me hundreds. Second is Jo Johnson (A Gift of Tea), who acted as a mentor as I took it all in when I needed it. She kept me apprised of the expo goings-on so that I could maximize my experience. Both went completely out of their way for a schmo they’d never met in real life. Gratitude abound.

And now for a picture of the Rosens’ Basset Hound sitting on my feet.

Teej

With that out of the way, on with the show.

The Meeting of Beasts

I didn’t arrive on the day of World Tea Expo proper, but rather a couple of days before. My “official” reason was to help Joy’s Teaspoon out with the U.S. book launch of The Infusiast: Diatribes of the Devotea by Robert Godden. However, my ulterior motive was to finally meet the writer for the first time and trade barbs. Oh, and buy his book. Gotta show support and all that.

The wacky Aussie and I had e-known each other for over three years. We even (very occasionally) collaborated on a “manly tea” blog – The Beasts of Brewdom. This was to be the first meeting of the minds.

Lord and The Lady Devotea arrived – not by chariot, as one would expect – but by humble Vegas cab. The moment I saw the fedora’d, suit-clad Aussie, I said: “We don’t serve your kind here!” With a smile, of course. Dunno how well that joke translates Down Under.

And the Universe didn't explode.

And the Universe didn’t explode.

He immediately grasped me in a hug. Like we were old friends. And technically, we were.

The rest of the evening consisted of him regaling tales of teashop ownership and anecdotes from his book, while his captive (of their own free will) audience drank some of his blends – Lord Petersham and Rose Blush, respectively.

Said book launch and tea party provided another delight – chance meet-ups with The Tea Stylist’s Linda Gaylard, Teaity’s/Tea Guy’s Chris Giddings, and the aforementioned (and striking) Jo Johnson.

(Left to Right) Me, Chris Giddings, Jo Johnson, and Lady Devotea

(Left to Right) Me, Chris Giddings, Jo Johnson, and Lady Devotea

My favorite exchanges:

The Devotea: “Oh, Geoff. I have a present for your Mum. Because I give her such a hard time on Facebook.”

…And…

Jo: [to me] “You’re going to the tea and beer pairing…”

Me: “I dunno. It’s a hot commodity, plus I’m not sure I can afford it.”

Jo: “That wasn’t a question. You’re going. It’s already been arranged.”

Me: [pause followed by grin] “Okay, then.”

The book launch ended with as much fanfare as it had begun. Teaity Chris and I opted to do Joy’s Teaspoon a favor and pick up her cousin, Lady Earl Steeper. Thus completing our unintentional Vegas Tea Party quartet. Once that task was done, we retired to Chez Joy for a generous dose of a card game called…well…Cards Against Humanity. Think Apples to Apples, only sick and wrong.

We were up until 2AM.

And this was only Day 1.

IMAG0820

To be continued…

Golden Fleece Feast Fest, A Taste of Eugene, and Tea from Neighbors

I might sound like a broken record here, but the last couple of weeks or so have been insane. Moments of import at casa de chaos are innumerable and frustrating…and totally not worth reflecting upon. Instead, I want to pay homage to the good things – the tea trifecta, if you will – that have happened in recent weeks. Starting with…

Ducktales FTW!

Golden Fleece Feast Fest

Nearly a month ago, I lamented via the social mediasphere – like I always do – about everyone’s acquisition of Verdant Tea’s Golden Fleece. I remember everyone extolling its virtues from on high. Envy set in like a car crash. I love Yunnan blacks; I love Yunnan golds more. Unfortunately, it was never in my budget to acquire some – either back then or now.

Ever the tealanthropist, Rachel Carter of IHeartTeas offered to send me a sample of this year’s batch. A couple of others were also including in the gifting. Not sure if I was the first to suggest it, or if someone else whispered in my ear, but the idea to do a “tandem blog” gained favor. I.e. Everyone trying the tea at the same time – discussing it over a chat medium first – then simultaneously posting blogs about their experiences.

Naturally, I agreed to it (or patted myself on the back for the idea, whichever), forgetting one simple thing. I suck at keeping to a deadline, unless I’m being paid for it. Tandem blogging was probably the most antithetical idea I could’ve agreed to or suggested. It didn’t help that I was in the midst of some home-related SNAFUs at the time.

Google+’s Hangout feature was our chosen get-together medium. Participants included: The aforementioned Fleece-gifter, Rachel, Nicole Martin of Tea For Me Please, Jo Johnson of A Gift of Tea, Jackie D (aka. Mrs. Tea Trade), and Darlene Meyers-Perry of The Tea Lover’s Archive. I was the only guy there…and it showed. A joke by me involving the “b-word” in reference to my cat was met with shocked gasps. Sometimes, I should adjust my social filter to “Female”.

That said, it was an extremely animated evening gathering. I was duly caffeinated by the end of it, and equally energized by all the tea talk. As you can tell by the glibness of this post so far, I don’t get to do that very often. Tea gatherings, for me, are like a nerd-geyser going off.

Oh yeah! The tea itself…

IMAG0737

The leaves looked like a Yunnan Jin Cha (or “Gold Bud”) through and through. What was different about these buds, though, were the furs. Yes, these leaf buds still had downy furs present – like a good Yinzhen does. I’ve had many a Yunnan gold, but this was the gold..-iest. (I know, not a word.) Taste-wise, it was smooth, silky, honey-like, and a tad malty on the finish. It lacked some of the peppery lean others of its ilk possess, but that was hardly missed. It was, in a word, perfect. As was the gathering.

Thanks again, Rachel, for the sample and conversation. I’ll do better on the tandeming next time. Er, maybe.

To read Nicole’s take, go HERE.

To read Jo’s take, go HERE.

To read Rachel’s take, go HERE.

To purchase Verdant Tea’s Golden Fleece, go HERE.

A Taste of Eugene

Remember a year or so ago how I wrote about trying a gin barrel-aged oolong beer? You don’t? Well, go HERE, then get back to me. Done? Good. Well, what if I told you that beer had a f**king sequel?!

I found out (again) from Josh Chamberlain of J-TEA that Oakshire Brewing came out with yet another rendition of the Frederic’s Lost Arm. This new one was from the same batch, but instead of a gin barrel, the Oakshire boys aged it for two years in a Pinot Noir barrel – thus dubbing it Frederic C. Noir. Unfortunately, none of the rare bottles were going to make it to Portland.

After a week of himming-and-hawing, I asked the kind folks at 16 Tons if they still had any left available. They said, “Yes.” A split second later I said, “Hold one for me, I’m coming down.” Keep in mind, this shop was in Eugene…which is a two-hour drive from Portland. I decided to devote one of my day’s off to the road trip.

I haven’t tried the beer yet, so that’ll be a subject for another post. What I will share here is my major (and enlightening pit stop) before picking it up. I decided to pre-funk at the very tea shop that provided the oolong for said beer in the first place. I had heard great things about J-TEA, and I’d associated with the owner via Twitter on a few occasions. My first aged oolong ever was acquired there – an aged Dong Fei Mei Ren (Oriental Beauty/Bai Hao) oolong. Loved that stuff.

Never heard of the place? Well, it’s the shop in Oregon for the aged oolong crowd. Josh’s selection is probably the most extensive I’ve come across. My main reason for going – other than picking at Josh’s brain – was to sample some 20-year-aged Baozhongs.

IMAG0746

Josh was kind of to preside over a taste comparison between a 1984 and 1989 Baozhong offering. Both were exquisitely herbaceous and strangely calming. I’m sure that “calm wakefulness” crap that tea folks talk about stems from trying aged oolongs. I didn’t feel too wired, just…aware. Of the two, the ’84 was a clear favorite; there was something deeper at play in that cup. Not sure how to properly explain it, something just clicked with me.

The second treat he dished out was one I had inquired about several months prior. For a Black Friday event, Josh had processed some leaves he picked from Minto Island Growers into a black tea. For those not familiar with MIG, they’re an outfit with a section of garden devoted to tea varietals in Oregon. Yes, you heard right. Tea plants in Oregon! And lucky for me, there was still some of J-TEA’s black experiment left.

IMAG0747

What can I say, it was darn near perfect, and note-for-note like a Taiwanese Ruby 18. The cuppa was chewy and chocolaty with an odd floral sensation in the top note. I instantly wanted more. Since there wasn’t a lot to go around, J let me keep the leaves to re-steep. Which I did. Four times. Those suckers were resilient.

I made a purchase of some ’09 Li Shan black, and settled my bill for the tea tasters o’ awesomeness. Before I left for the beer leg of my journey, we went on a dialogue tangent about barrel-aged teas. Right as I was about to leave, Josh mentioned in passing, “I acquired a bourbon barrel from Kentucky.”

Damn it. The man knows my weakness.

To check out J-TEA’s selection of aged oolongs, go HERE.

For their selection of black teas, go HERE.

It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

The first weekend of every month starts with an event in our neighborhood simply known as “Beer Night”. I know, clever. Each month has a theme. Some notable ones from the past months were “Weird Beers”, “Foreign Beers”, “Wheat Beers”, and so on. This month, it was “Beer Cocktails”…and I had no idea what I was going to contribute. Initially, I was going to offer up my tea-beer experiment, but the weather was too hot to justify it. As a result, I decided to skip out on it.

Both my neighbor Tim and my brother talked me out of it, and – truthfully – it didn’t take a lot of arm-twisting. It’s beer. Good beer. And good people. I would eventually give in.

Neighbor Tim and his wife, Katie, had just returned from Ethiopia to meet twins they were adopting. Before they left, I texted Tim as an afterthought, “If you can, pick up some Ethiopian-grown tea!” I knew the stuff existed after a conversation with Cinnabar Gong Fu of Phoenix Tea from a couple of years back. While not officially on the “Tea WANT!” list, it was a contender.

Well, when I got to the barbeque with my brother, Tim’s wife came up to me and said they had picked up nearly a kilo of Ethiopian tea. I was shocked by the amount she signified…until she told me how cheap it was. At the end of the gathering, Tim gifted me with 100 grams of it.

IMAG0755

And I tried it the next morning.

It’s not a complex tea by any stretch. If anything, because of the thin (practically fannings) cut of the leaves, the liquor had a lot in common with cheap Rize-grown Turkish black tea or like products from Guatemala or Bolivia. However, it wasn’t as astringent as the South American stuff, or as sweet as the Turkish, but very reminiscent of Australian Daintree.

The best part? It iced well. My god, did it ice well.

IMAG0756

What? I’m an American. We do that here.

In closing, I suppose I can sum up that the best and simplest things in life fall back to good tea and good people. Well, for those of us that like tea. And people. Jury’s still out on the “people” part, but so far, I’ve had pretty good luck.

leprechaun tea

Flavored of the Week

cuppa fruitI love Sundays.

It’s usually my day off from the perpetual work grind, and – by some de facto decision – my DRINK TEA ALL DAY!…uh…day. By happenstance, it is also the day when Michael “Tea Geek” Coffey hosts his weekly Google+ Hangout dubbed “Tea Salon”. The hour-long online discussion is often the highlight of my week – the one time I can geek out on all things tea (and un-tea-related) with like-minded cuppa-folks. This Sunday in particular, we discussed Yunnan Dian Hong (black tea), and – as per usual – the conversation sidetracked often.

I mean, there’s only so much one can say about Yunnan black tea. It’s black tea. It’s from Yunnan. Next topic. But the counter-discussions toward the end were what fascinated me the most. The subject segued to supply-and-demand, and a tea vendor’s adaptability to the market. We all lamented and commented on the state of tea consumption in the United States. Consensus? There seems to be a growing emphasis on flavored tea concoctions rather than orthodox teas (i.e. single-source, unfettered offerings from specific regions/varietals).

The subject came up because there was an event – if it can be called that – known as the “Pu-erh Bubble” that occurred in the first decade of the 21st century. For a shining moment, people took a zealous interest in aged teas from Yunnan, and the regions they stemmed from. That splintered into interests in other orthodox teas as well, particularly oolongs from Taiwan and other parts of China.

Said pu-erh bubble, however, burst somehow in 2008, which I find ironic. Why? Because that was the time when I became a tea reviewer and started taking an interest in orthodox teas. One of the first companies I ever reviewed sourced the first Himalayan-grown black I ever had. They were also the company that introduced me to one of my favorite herbal infusions – Greek Mountain. As the years went by, though, their direction and philosophy changed. Slowly but surely, they placed more emphasis on their flavored blends.flavored cat

Let me iterate that I’m not against blends. Some of the best teas I’ve tried have been blends – some even flavored ones. I need not look any further than The Devotea’s Lord Petersham or Joy’s Teaspoon Lemon Zest (a rooibos monstrosity of awesomeness) as key examples. What I was irked by was the primary focus being placed on these. Orthodoxy was slowly taking a backseat with a lot of vendors.

I won’t name names, but one of my favorite local haunts in N.E. Portland – one I visited frequently – scaled down their oolong and pu-erh lines in favor of flavored blends. While I liked a majority of them, I was sorry to see some of those oolongs go the way of the dodo bird. Again, I reiterate, I love their blends, and I still visit for their awesome Earl Grey, but I loved their orthodox stuff more.

During the Tea Salon discussion, though, the ever-reliable (and folliclely blessed) Jo Johnson brought up an interesting point. I shall paraphrase what she said slightly, “So what if the U.S. market aims toward flavored teas?! That means more for us!”

derpAnd she nailed it.

We orthodox tea drinkers are a niche market; we are not what the average tea vendor aims for when seeking profit. However, there are those that do source their teas from single estates and specific regions. They’ve tailored their business plans to meet that need. Leaving the normal, flavored tea drinker to their generalist sellers.

To them, I say, “Have at it.”

The niche market isn’t going away, it’s just becoming more secular. We don’t want everyone drinking up all of our orthodox stores. That would cause a price hike, and I – for one – can’t afford a damn scaled-up Golden Needle or single estate Darjeeling. The less of a market there is for those, the more there is for me…and for a whole lot less.

So, to the undiscerning tea drinkers out there…drink up. Keeping consuming your Maple Cheesecake Derpdeederp. I salute you. Because of you, there will be more Sikkim Temi for me. My cup clanks (and gives thanks) to thee.

laughing tea snob

Meeting a Tea Moment

Sometimes – just sometimes – Twitter is steeped in awesome. A fellow tea blogger – Jen of An International Tea Moment – reached out to the Twit-o’-Sphere to see if there were any decent tearooms in Portland. Another fellow tea blogger – Nicole of Tea For Me Please – directed her to me. Because…apparently, I’m the go-to guy for Portland tea-binging. I passed along some suggestions and inquired about what was bringing her to my corner of the ‘burb. Tea Moment Jen replied that she was in town on a business trip and had a smidge of time to track down some good tea.

Naturally, I calmly and professionally suggested we should meet up.

She obliged, and we traded contact info to see if it was in the cards. We agreed that Tea Chai Te was a good enough place for a hypothetical meet-and-greet. I hadn’t been there in well over a year.

The next day, while awaiting the possible tea-chime, I started my “morning” with a Nilgiri green and cereal. It was far stronger than I anticipated, leaving me practically bouncing off the walls. (Er…in my mind.) Roughly around noon, Tea Moment Jen texted informing me that she was on her way from the airport to Tea Chai Te. I took off like a bat outta hell, outright ignoring certain traffic laws.

Tea Chai Te is a curious little tearoom situated in Portland’s Pearl District – right off of NW 23rd, or “Trendy”-Third as the locals call it. It’s urban to the core, small, but oozes adorability. Early on in my tea exploration, I was a frequenter of the place. Somehow, though, my visits became fewer and far between. Probably because I had tea dates there that didn’t go so well.

I arrived in roughly fifteen-ish minutes – record time for such a trek – and found Tea Moment Jen sitting in a corner with soup and teapot. I scissored my way past a couple of hipsters and clumsily introduced myself. She did likewise with far better poise. I excused myself for a moment to order a pint of something dark.

First question out of her mouth (like any good tea geek) was, “What did you order?”

“The Zhen Qu Gold Buds,” I replied.

Her eyes widened. “That’s what I ordered!”

Badass, I thought.

How was Tea Moment Jen in person? Just as elegant and eloquent as her blog indicates her to be. We discussed everything under the sun from favorite teas, Russia, how we got into tea, to how awesome Jo Johnson is, to tea vendors we liked. The conversation ran the entire tea-ish gamut. I was talking a mile a minute like a hyper-caffeinated motormouth.

After about an hour, though, we had to part ways. I left feeling accomplished, enlightened, and…bouncy. (Damn you, Zhen Qu!) While brief, the outing was beautiful and badassery-incarnate. Another blogger friend notched off the “tea-in-real-life” list.

Kindly ignore my obvious bed-hair.

Kindly ignore my obvious bed-hair.

Soba Up, Buckwheat! You’ve Had too Much Oolong Beer!

Obviously, I’m still playing catch-up. This is a flashback to late-January. I assure you, though, it’s totally worth it. Well, if you like tea in your beer. Moving along…

Tea and beer are my two favorite beverages in the world. Yes, the entire world. Both are also extremely habitual and have a lot of history to them. As a result, becoming geekily obsessed with the minutiae surrounding either drink is an obvious conclusion. So, what happens when I learn that both have been – somehow/someway – combined?

Answer: Geek overload.

I have tried several examples where tea and alcohol have been combined. In some cases, it was merely scented teas – either smoked or aged in a barrel – but on the other end of the spectrum are the alcoholic drinks that use tea leaves as an ingredient. My favorites of those, to date, have been an Earl Grey/tangerine zest ale and a jasmine green tea mead. I had yet to run into a brewery that found a creative use for oolong, though.

In the Fall, a friend brought to my attention that Oakshire Brewing out of Eugene, OR. had done just that. Alas, I was a whole week behind the times. The stuff had long since been drunk dry. Fast-forward to January: The purveyor of J-Tea – the pivotal “J” himself – brought to my attention that it wasn’t all done yet. In fact, the beer in question had a second go-around left. Better still? It was a gin-barrel-aged, Belgian-style saison that was brewed with Taiwanese greener-style oolong as an ingredient. An oolong provided by “J”.

Josh Chamberlain brewing oolong in a keg!

Josh Chamberlain brewing oolong in a keg!

My brain exploded.

The tasting itself was being held at a cheese bar in Southeast Portland, and – as luck would have it – it was also one of my days off. Only one small snag, though. I was still sick from the second round of “Le Plague”. I didn’t care; this was worth leaving quarantine.

I was able to form a mini-posse with two other friends to make the trip. Matt Van Wyk – Oakshire’s brewmaster himself – was also on-hand to answer any questions about the brew itself. (And pick his brain, I did.) The name of it was completely awesome: Frederic’s Lost Arm. I couldn’t tell ya what it meant, though.

The brew itself? Needless to say, it was superb. The Oakshire folks know how to brew a damn good beer, and this was no exception. It was strong on the juniper note toward the front, followed by the sour Belgian-ish-ness in the middle. The aftertaste was both sweet and bitey. The only disadvantage was, there was no sign of oolong to be found. I guess all the cask-conditioning willowed away any punch the green Formosa could deliver. No surprise there. Taiwanese oolongs can be on the gentle side. However, if I tried – even through my clogged state – I could remember a bit of a honey-like texture to it.

Short answer: “Dayamn”.

*****

On a completely unrelated night that same week, I finally tore into a sample that was sent my way by fellow writer/blogger, Jo Johnson. She had seen mention of soba-cha on my “Tea WANT!” list and decided to impart some to me. I knew it wasn’t a rare tea to come by, but I was extremely grateful that she beat me to the punch.

For those who don’t know, “soba” simply means “buckwheat” in Japanese. I don’t know much about the grain other than the name being applied to idiots. That said, when I took a whiff of the stuff, I was greeted by a pungently nut-sweet aroma that could rival rooibos in its delivery.

Alas, the taste didn’t quite reflect the aroma’s sweetness, imparting a nutty brew that reminded me of rice, barley, and sweetened peanuts. While surprised with the change in profile, I still rather enjoyed it. The little granules held up to a boiled-water/five-minute brew-up with surprising sturdiness, and it was a far cry better than some rice-laden teas I’ve tried. (Yes, I’m talking to you genmaicha.)

Speaking of genmaicha…recently, I had an epiphany to one day try this blended with a kabusecha-style tamaryokucha (heavily-shaded, curly green tea from Kumomoto) and maybe a dash of Nishio-grown matcha. Maybe I’ll give it a try soon and record the results…but that’s a subject for another schizoid rambling.

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén

Skip to toolbar