Steep Stories

of the Lazy Literatus

Tag: Assam (Page 1 of 2)

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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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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Montanan Breakfast Tea

NaNoTeaMo, Day 12: “Montanan Breakfast Tea”

This morning, I received a message from Gary Robson, o’ he of Red Lodge Books & Tea fame. I wasn’t quite awake, yet. My hands clumsily fumbled for my phone, and I accidentally activated Facebook’s calling function. No idea how it happened, but it led to a rather spirited conversation nonetheless.

Following that dialogue, I took that as a sign to brew up one of Gary’s signature wake-the-f**K-up blends. In my backlog box, there happened to be a tea he made called “Gary’s Kilty Pleasure”. I received it a couple of summer’s back on a trip to his tea bar in Montana.

Kilty bag

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Tea Presence from Across the Pond

I think I mentioned a certain British girl I used to work with on this blog before. Okay, make that twice. Alright . . . technically, it was three times, if you count a guest blog for Lochan Tea. Point being, she was one of my favorite highlights of 2014. A person to pal around tea places with. Alas, in December of that year, she moved back to England. We agreed to keep in touch, but – as with most long-distance friendships – I assumed contact would grow scarce.

I was wrong.

While long-winded missives were a scarcity between the both of us, there was just enough contact to keep things current. It started off with messages back and forth, regaling the remains of the week. But then the penpal-ing took an interesting turn.

One morning – while arriving to work in my usual blurry-eyed, pre-caffeinated state – one of the supervisors said to me, “There’s a present for you on the desk.”

Odd, I thought. I didn’t do anything to deserve a gift.

Then my eyes met the gift itself.

Tregothnan

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Colluding with a Kullad

Roughly a month ago, I received a package invoice in my business e-mail . . . and I wasn’t expecting one.

I get tea deliveries fairly frequently, but I clearly remember putting an unspoken moratorium on review samples. And I hadn’t bought anything. So, naturally, I was puzzled. The invoice was for no money, and a package was being sent my way from Joseph Wesley Tea. I had no problem with this development; JWT was awesomesauce incarnate. But I did want some clarification. So, I messaged to good ol’ Joe.

He confirmed that, indeed, a package was meant to be sent for me, and that it was a new item they were playing around with. A masala chai (spiced tea) kit, of sorts. It was a tin of JWT’s No. 2 Assam . . . and a traditional clay taster cup called a kullad. I’d never heard of it. The name sounded vaguely Klingon to me.

Image mooched from Joseph Wesley Tea's blog

Image mooched from Joseph Wesley Tea’s blog

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The T Project Grand Opening

The T Project Grand Opening – Teashop Adventure Week

Several months ago, I stopped through Northeast Portland to stay a spell at Tea Bar. And it was . . . crowded. As a self-professed introvert, I don’t do well in crowds. If I’m with peers, I mind them less. But if alone, crowds feel suffocating. While I was happy that Tea Bar was doing well, the sheer volume beautiful twentysomethings enjoying their lattes was panic-inducing to my olden heart. My plan was to grab my usual Lapsang Latte and go.

Then, toward the back, I saw a familiar face – Mizuba Tea’s Lauren Purvis was conversing with someone. Someone I knew! I thought. And I bee-lined for them . . . totally not thinking that I was interrupting a professional conversation . . . which I was.

The woman Lauren was speaking with was Teri Gelber, a soon-to-be teashop owner.

Image mooched from tprojectshop.com

Image mooched from tprojectshop.com

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A Saturday Evening with Friday Afternoon

It was a Saturday, as the title suggests. Saturday, March 21, to be precise. It was a really shitty Saturday, in other words.

The work shift was going frustratingly poorly. My student loan sharks announced they were tripling my monthly payment. And finally . . . a panic attack was looming. Not sure how that got there.

Amidst the chaos, I received a text from Misty Peak Teas’ Nick, informing me that there was a package waiting for me at Tea Bar. I kind of knew what it was, but it gave me something to look forward to. After the work shift, I made the trip out to NE Portland, sat myself at the bar like a regular, and ordered a Lapsang latte. My usual.

The barista handed off said Misty Peak mystery package. It was a giant bag of sheng pu-erh. That created an instant “happy”.

Misty Peak Teas

As I was about to nurse my latte, mood improved, I received a Facebook message. It was from someone I rarely heard from, a dude from my gaming circles. For those who haven’t figured it out, yet, I’m a bit of a geek. Occasionally, I’m easily roped into roleplaying and board game events. However, I’m what you would call a “casual”, at best. But I digress . . .

Said dude chimed in with, “Friday Afternoon Tea wants to meet you personally. She is at Gamestorm.”

My first thought was, “What’s a Gamestorm?”

He informed me that there was a gaming convention happening in Vancouver, WA. I knew of Friday Afternoon. I reviewed several of their teas when I still contributed to Teaviews. I remembered being particularly fond of their Snow Day blend.

I said to my gaming pal, “I can be there in twenty.”

It was the truth, I was in N.E. Portland, a mere skip across the river to Vancouver. He was a bit surprised at my impromptu decision, and so was I. But why not?! Up until now, my day had been shite. A little adventure wouldn’t hurt. (Much.) So, off I went to a gaming convention, to meet a tea blender op I’d never seen before.

When I got there, said friend met me at the front and directed me back to the vendor room. Toward the back was a woman with multicolored hair, decked out various pieces of geek flare (including Pac-Man earrings), chatting with other patrons. She was like a cross between Tank Girl, Kate Winslet a la Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and Pinki-Pie.

Pinkie Pie

In a word, “Adorkable”.

She was the patroness of Friday Afternoon Tea, and her actual name . . . was Friday. I was not expecting that, at all. Apparently, sci-fi conventions, gaming events and other geek ephemera were her bread-and-butter; the demographic she catered to. That and her blends reflected this. She had blends themed after Harry Potter, Firefly, Battlestar Galactica, and so on.

We got along fine.

I arrived just as she was closing up her booth for the day. She easily suckered me into buying a blend dubbed, “Setting Things on Fire” – one of her “Cylons for Breakfast” line of teas. It was a fusion of cooked pu-erh, Ceylon, and Assam – with a little bit of Lapsang Souchong sprinkled in for good measure. It smelled divine, had a kickass name . . . sold, to the gentleman with poor impulse control.

Friday Afternoon

We talked about various things under the geek umbrella, as we walked her daughter – dubbed TeaGirl – to the video gaming room. Before I knew it, two hours had passed. Not quite sure how that happened. She and her young ‘un called it a night, and I (somehow) got roped into a LAN game of Artemis with various other friends of mine at the con.

Before she left, though, she said, “You do know we’re best friends now, right?”

I was too befuddled to answer eloquently.

The next day, I broke in a mug of Setting Things on Fire. (That sentence sounded far less silly in my head.)

Setting Things on Fire, Loose

This was an incredibly even blend. What I mean by that is, all the elements fused well together. They all seemed as if they belonged together. The smaller cut Ceylon and Assam leaf pieces worked well with the more spindly pu-erh strands. The color palette ranged from tippy beige to chocolate brown. Nothing seemed out of place.

That even-ness carried over in the scent – strong contributions of malt, earth, smoke and . . . something fruity that I couldn’t quite place. Maybe I mistook the floral bend of the Ceylon for fruit. Stranger things have happened.

For brewing, I went with a typical black tea approach – 1 tablespoon of leaves for a 12oz. cup, steeped for four minutes in boiling water. Usually, I do three, but for something called “Setting Things on Fire”, I thought an extra minute would be fine.

Setting Things on Fire Brewed

The liquor brewed cedar brown with an alternating burly and sweet aroma. Crimson lined the edge of the soup, while it transitioned into a pool of dark brown. As even a transition in color as I would expect from such a blend. What shocked me was the taste. Contrary to the burly bits in the blend, this was a deceptively smooth operator, starting off with a floral front, ushering in a hint of malt, segueing (or even Segwaying) in a dash of smoke, and ending with a sensation of napping on a forest floor. Very deceptive . . . like a Cylon.

The weekend went from shit to shine.

Smoked Chai for the Momma’s Boy

It’s been a weird and busy month.

In the span of three weeks, I had driver’s license difficulties, car troubles, multiple projects, and some minor financial headaches. Yet all of these things didn’t affect my mood any. Reason being? My Mum had my back.

As if it wasn’t quite obvious, I’m a total momma’s boy. If I’m ever in a jam – and on months like this one, quite often – she’s the first person I turn to. The woman is there for me, and doesn’t bat a lash at some of the…uh…weirder requests I’ve made. Case in point…

For a couple of days, I was without a car. Mine was overdue for a visit to my mechanic due to a service engine light. And the only available chauffeur…was Mum. She even picked me up from a work party. One that got a little silly.

man boobs

Yes, that is me trying to pretend I have large breasts. No, I will not say how much alcohol was involved.

After two weeks of her assistance, I felt it was high time to compensate her for her troubles. Luckily, we both had a similar addiction. That being tea, of course. Because of me, she had developed a love for Smith Teamaker’s brick-‘n-mortar shop. Lord Bergamot was her poison of choice, while I ventured for whatever was new.

This trip – I will confess – wasn’t entirely selfless. I had intended to jaunt to the shop to try Smith’s new Smoked Chai. The process used to create the thing was manliness personified.

smoked tea

Image mooched from Smith Teamaker’s Instagram

Sarsaparilla was cold-soaked in water, bourbon and vanilla. Then the concoction was blended with dry hickory chips, which were (naturally) lit on fire! The smoke was then channeled through a bamboo tray full of whole leaf, tippy Assam. And once all was said, done and burnt, the fusion was rolled in spices.

The resulting brew tasted like receiving a hug from a ginger beer-drunk bear that’d emerged from a chimney. Smoke touched off the flavor, followed by a warm ginger-y blanket of awesome, and trailed off like a smooth root beer. I remember draining my two-person pot in less than ten minutes.

smoked chai

After a two-hour stint, I cashed us out, and then treated Mum to lunch. She acquiesced to my last request, which was to follow me down to my mechanic – Dimitri’s Auto Service in Milwaukie, OR. It was a heckuva request.

That Monday, as we waited for my car’s eventual return to mobility, we grabbed breakfast at an eatery dubbed, “The Bomber Restaurant”. There was an actual B-17G bomber in front of it. My testosterone wept with glee.

bomber

The breakfast was pretty darn good, too.

Moral of this story?

Let your mother take care of you, even when you’re an adult, and always take care of her in return.

And most importantly…real men take their mothers to tea.

mother and son

Photo by Tiffany Talbott.

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.

Assam Green Tea?!?!?!?

Let’s rewind back to April of this year.

I noticed a new follower of my “Twit”-arded updates. Their handle was about as descriptive as it needed to be to perk my interest – “@AssamGreenTea”. Green tea. From Assam.

Assam green tea? That’s a thing?! I thought to myself.

I’m convinced that – biologically – I’m equipped with a geekcentric radar that rears its metaphoric antennae whenever something new or unique appears. Especially for those occurrences well within my area of interest. Thus far, I’d notched off Assam oolong and Assam white tea. Both were from the same estate – a possibly magical place called the Mothola estate. This, however, was something different.

The man behind the Assam Green Tea handle was Manish Bhartia, part of the family-owned Bhartia estate. I’d never heard of the estate before, but that’s nothing new. Tea estates in Assam are a dime a dozen. Estates focusing on green tea, though…

Bhartia tea fields

The Bhartia estate – or so Manish told me – was located near Joypur Village in Upper Assam. I wasn’t given any more information about what else they produced, but he obliged a really odd request I made of him. To, of course, sample some of his family estate’s green tea.

He graciously obliged the request, and kept me up-to-date on the delivery’s progress. One thing of note: Shipping from India to the U.S. is an exercise in patience. Sometimes it can take months. And this one did. I remained ever hopeful that the item would make it to my fair berg. This was, after all, the first time I’d ever contacted a tea estate directly for a unique ware.

On an oddly rainy day in July, I went to check the mail. A package had arrived, but it was too big to fit in the mailbox. That and the package cages were in use. I had to travel to the post office halfway across town to acquire it. I didn’t care, though. There was time to kill between errand-running, and a new tea was on the horizon. I remained excited the entire time.

What I did not expect was how big the package actually was. Manish had sent me a lot of Assam green tea. Like, at least 100 grams of the stuff.

Big package

When I requested a sample, I was expecting – maybe – 6 grams. Enough to play around with. The Assamese are hardcore when it comes to tea, apparently. I tore it open as soon as I got home – as I often do.

What was most striking was the visual presentation. This did not look like a green tea at all. Rather, it resembled a typical – if tippy – Assam black tea, except that the tips were silver instead of gold.

Green tea?

Some of the leaves were long-cut, while others were broken pekoe-ish in appearance. What gave it away as a green tea was the scent – straight grass and wilderness. It was quite lovely.

Over the course of the week, I played around with this tea to see what it was made of. It was definitely Assamese in the fact that it had one defining characteristic it wanted to highlight. Assam black teas lean toward malt – all the time. It was only fitting that a green tea from that region would highlight a typical green tea trait – grass. The hotter water I used, the grassier it got. I didn’t mind, no matter which way I tried it. Heck, one wouldn’t be drinking green tea if they didn’t like a little “grass” in their cup.

After some trial and error, though, I came to an odd but interesting conclusion. This tea was…*le gasp!*…delicate. A delicate Assam; my head reeled.

After a week or so, I finally sat down to give it a proper treatment. This time, I took 1 tsp. of leaves, put it in a 6oz. gaiwan, and brewed it in 170F water for three minutes. I went lighter to see what transpired.

green tea

The liquor brewed a pretty yellow-gold with a spry scent of freshly-mowed lawn and herbs. Taste-wise, the first thing I noticed on the front was – of course – grass. While it did indeed have a grassy lean, there was also a slight tickle of malt and flowers. Odd for me to say, but it reminded me of a curly sencha (tamaryokucha) by way of a Mao Feng. Not much in the way of subtlety, but still quite enjoyable. Unlike other Assam teas, though, it required a gentler touch to bring out its strengths.

Like a geek with a metaphoric radar.

Radar

For more information, I strongly recommend checking out Manish’s blog. Kinda insightful about tea estate living. (This is my “jealous” face.)

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