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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
For more information, I strongly recommend checking out Manish’s blog. Kinda insightful about tea estate living. (This is my “jealous” face.)
This was originally going to be an entry on some crappy blends I concocted over the last month or so, but the focus has changed in light of some recent events. I won’t go into detail as to what those are, nor will I post links that illustrate the example. However, I will give a Cliff’s notes version:
Some stuff was written, some stuff was responded to, and some other stuff was further elaborated upon. End result: Pitchforks and torches raised. And – and as far as I’m concerned – with good reason. The problem? Both sides of the fence aren’t directly talking to each other. A dialogue doesn’t appear to exist.
Am I going to give advice on how to properly handle such situations? Heck no. I don’t know a damn thing about diffusing conflicts or tact. But I do know a thing or two about humility and balance. (It’s a Libra thing.) As such, I’m going to compare said crappy blends to some socially awkward tact moments I’ve been involved in.
Insecurity and the Wild White Mountain
I love Greek Mountain tea. When I can find it in Greek or Mediterranean delis, it is a permanent staple in my tea shelf. What I’d always wanted to do, though, was blend it with something – anything, really. I found a likely candidate in the form of Ya Bao – tea buds from a Camellia varietal other than the tea plant. They were hearty and yielded a strong brew.
What occurred to me after trying them was how closely they resembled the bulbs of the Sideritis plant (i.e. the Greek Mountain shrub in question). With the help of David over at Portland Tea Enthusiasts’ Alliance, I was able to give the blending a go. I wanted it to be perfect.
I mixed the herbs (half and half) in a bowl, then we brewed a strong batch of the stuff. The flavor came out slightly rough, lemony, hay-like, herbaceous, and floral. In short, I liked it. The measurements weren’t perfect, but overall, a good start. I kept asking David, repeatedly, if he liked it.
Later that week, I brewed up another pot to share with my brother. Same thing, I asked him repeatedly if he liked it. He said he did, but he wasn’t as ecstatic about it as I had hoped. This gave me pause.
Over the summer, I tried to take on a new “blogging style” – emphasizing fiction over form. Most of the entries were well thought out, but they didn’t receive the fanfare I had hoped for. After all the planning I went through to make the change, I had expended more resounding positive feedback. In my disappointment, I heatedly tossed the style aside and returned to business as usual.
What I should have considered – once my passions had cleared – was that I didn’t give it enough time or room to evolve. In this way, it was like blending. The first try is rarely perfect; one has to tinker with the recipe. Had I fostered it better, it could’ve grown into something. Seeking out feedback prior to ousting the project would’ve helped, too.
Hindsight and all that.
Accidents, Smoke and Overreaction
On an underwhelming day in November, I reached for a canister that housed some Darjeeling I wanted to finish. Risheehat Vintage Spring – a delightful first flush from 2011. What I realized far too late was that the canister also housed some Lapsang Souchong. The poor li’l bag o’ Darjeeling smelled like campfire. For a split second, I lamented.
But I recovered rather quickly with a, Smoked Darjeeling?! AWESOME!
I brewed the sucker up. It tasted like muscatel and spice with a hint of smoke. Each serendipitous sip was exquisite. What did I do after? I emptied the Darjeeling into the canister, and placed the Lapsang Souchong in a filter bag. It was a ghetto version of what the Chinese did with jasmine flowers and green tea. Then I waited a week.
One week turned into two because…well…I forgot about it. After the second week, I took the canister out and gave the contents a sniff. Smoke and wine. Holy wow! It was ready for another brew-up. The muscatel and spice were still there, but the smoky finish was even more pronounced. Not overpowering, however. The balance was near-perfect.
Recently, I posted a link to the “novel” I had worked on in November. It was rough; I knew it was rough. That and I knew I was inviting criticism when I posted it. Only a few people chimed in, but those that did seemed to like where it was going. One, however, didn’t. I won’t mention names, but they found that it was rather pointless and lacking in emotion.
I was pissed.
To say I overreacted to the criticism would be an understatement. Only after a few weeks of fomenting can I truly say that I could’ve handled that better. The points the responder highlighted were good ones – if poorly presented. Had I given myself time to process the information like a professional, I would’ve seen that.
Just like with the smoked Darjeeling. At first, I thought the accidental smoking-scenting was a bad thing. Yet it led to one of my greatest sipping experiences. All because I gave myself pause.
Leonard’s Open Dialogue
I wasn’t expecting anything for Christmas, let alone tea. But right on Christmas Eve, a splendid little package was waiting for me from Canton Tea Co.’s Tea Club. Instead of being a single origin tea, or a pre-made blend, it was an ounce of Assam and various smaller herbal packages. Licorice root, coconut flakes, cocoa nibs, cinnamon, orange peel, etc. It was a create-your-own-blend care packages.
Simply. Awesome. (Or “Assam”. Heh. Heh. Ahem…)
Unfortunately, I didn’t get to tinker with the blending kit until well after Christmas. The blend I had in mind was something that tasted like a chocolate orange – only…tea-ish. For the first try, I used a tablespoon of Assam, a teaspoon of orange, a teaspoon of cocoa nibs and a dash of cinnamon. All intended for a 16-ounce brew.
I steeped the contents for four minutes and drafted my brother as a taste-testing guinea pig. Moment of truth: The blend looked lovely, but it smelled…off. I couldn’t quite place it. We both gave it a sip and winced a little.
My brother voiced my thoughts, “It tastes like tomato basil.”
The next day, I attempted a phase two. Instead of adhering to exact measurements, I used a hefty amount of Assam – sprinkling orange, cocoa nibs, and licorice root conservatively. The result was far better than the first attempt, but other than a citrus front and an astringently malty finish, it still didn’t taste like a chocolate orange. While not the intended result, I still gave it a pass. Even if it was still missing something.
I named the blend Leonard.
Some years ago – early on in my reviewing days – I was called upon to review a very old sheng pu-erh. At the time, my pu-erh palate was not yet developed. Nor did I know what “gongfu” was. I brewed it Western-style…and tasted straight dirt. I hated it. I wrote about how much I hated it, sparing no hyperboles.
The vendor responded to the negative review – not angrily or defensively, merely with suggestions on how to brew it. That opened up a dialogue that is still in existence today. Said vendor and I still have a professional relationship of sorts. All because – cliché as it sounds – cooler heads prevailed.
I’m not idealistic enough to say that folks in the tea community at large will always get along. We are nowhere near that utopian. If people are involved, there will always be disagreements. Guaranteed. What can be avoided, however, is seething rhetoric. What we say can affect the outcome of a conflict, no matter how small. How one reacts to a situation dictates the future of that relationship .
As the venerable Bill and Ted once said, “Be excellent to each other…”
And tea party on, dudes.
Thanks to my cuz, Ryan Norman, for the the last-minute Photoshop awesomeness.
The idea for this entry was suggested by my mother, as great ideas often are. It never occurred to me to pair tea with job hunting until she posed the idea after reading my tea-fueled rant. This reflection has – in no way – any science to back it up, just anecdotal “evidence”. Trial and error, hypotheses, and conjectures also played key roles in the missive. Oh, and oolong. Lots and lots of oolong.
As an unemployed person, one of the most difficult tasks is literally getting out of bed. Let’s face it, joblessness is depressing. Why does someone want to get started when it feels like their world is ending? The key is a self-fueled kick in the pants.
I’ve personally found that having a morning routine helps to motivate one away from the comfort of a ‘lectric blanky. Getting your day going as if you already have a job puts you in the right frame of mind to look for one. Shaving helps, too (for either gender). And for the love of God, put pants on!
Possible Tea Pairing:
Caffeine is required – lots of it. You need something that’ll give you an extra oomph! My personal recommendation is Assam. Better yet? Assam with some Lapsang Souchong sprinkled in. Nothing says, “Wake the f**k up!” like a caffeinated kick o’ campfire.
Writing a Resume and Cover Letter
If you – fair reader – are anything like me, you hate writing about yourself in a clinical manner. The urge to self-deprecate is a strong one. Same with wanting to sell yourself short. Some have a magical grasp of inflating their accomplishments; I am not one of them. Plus, I’m not very good at summarizing my abilities and accolades (whatever they are) concisely.
The importance is to consult others that have some expertise in these areas – people who’ve either submitted several times, or have a surefire approach. I’ve learned that submitting a resume or cover letter blindly, without having someone looking it over, is like turning in an obituary.
However, you don’t want to be too wired while you’re doing it. I’ve found that these two exercises require a lot of patience, or rather “calm wakefulness”.
Possible Tea Pairing:
I’m taking a page right out of Lindsey Goodwin’s recommendations by saying the best tea for writing is oolong. Sure, it’s caffeinated. And – depending on the sourcing – it can be strong. Yet I feel it truly gives someone a time-released dose of wake-up-call. Enough to instill a sense of focus. I turn to a good oolong – gongfu-ishly-styled – when I’m in the middle of a writing project. And believe me…resumes are a project.
Pounding the Pavement
As much as I hate to admit it, networking is the lifeblood of the job search. Talking to people, keeping your ears open, going from shop-to-shop, doing informational interviews, and putting yourself out there are mandatory. Ever hear that phrase, “It’s who you know…”
I’ll be damned if it ain’t correct.
Possible Tea Pairing:
Anything aged. In my experienced, teas – whether they’re oolongs, pu-erhs, black teas, or whites – that have at least five years on ‘em are eerily soothing. Sometimes they might actually taste as old as they are, but one thing can’t be denied. They make your brain feel like it’s sitting on a park bench feeding pigeons. Even when you’re doing something as socially uncomfortable as talking to people.
Just resist the urge to yell, “Get off my lawn!”
Congrats! You’ve made it to an actual interview. Someone has taken the time out of their busy schedule to interrogate you for thirty minutes to an hour. But you don’t want to come across as a complete tool. (Unless they’re looking for someone useful.)
There are tips and guides aplenty on how to prepare for an interview. I’ve personally found that dressing to the nines doesn’t hurt your prospects. Where I’ve tended to fail, though, is in the verbal delivery. You don’t want to talk too fast or sound too deliberate. That and you want to have answers to questions prepared – in your mind, anyway. (Note: Do not bring cue cards.)
Some unorthodox methods for confidence and relaxation I’ve heard are: (1) Doing push-ups before an interview. Sound – if odd – advice from my brother. (2) Giving yourself an affirmation speech in the mirror. I do this. (3) Talking to someone before you leave for the interview. I’ve found that parents help. (4) Having a theme song. Okay, I made that last one up. Still, that’d be pretty sweet.
Possible Tea Pairng:
Gotta go green or white here. I made the mistake of having a pint of Earl Grey before an interview. At a tearoom, no less. The result? I was a motormouth, talking a mile a minute. My posture was equally off-putting – hunched over, feet tamping nervously. In other words, the less caffeine, the better. If you want to split the difference – a heartily brewed Bai Mu Dan should do the trick.
Rinse and Repeat
Your day is done. You’ve talked to people, made the rounds, applied for new jobs, and now all you want to do is relax. A cup o’ something herbal will work wonders. Pat yourself on the back…because guess what?
You get to do the whole thing again tomorrow.
I’d like to thank my mother for this idea. Do me a favor and like her career advice page on Facebook – Careers/College Not By Chance – HERE. She is an invaluable resource.
In case it wasn’t evident in my last post, I’m on vacation. Said week-long constitutional has been in the blissfully backward, urbanely anonymous region of Cody, Wyoming. In a peculiar sort of way, I dig the hell out of this high-plain nowheresville. Granted, it’s an historic town. But let’s be honest, it’s historic in the way that no one quite recalls where it is exactly. As a result, it – and the surrounding areas – is beautiful and unfettered. Bighorn Basin beautiful, I’d call it.
What would justify me posting a mere day after my last entry – while on vacation, no less?
Answer: I found tea here. Good tea, even! And in places that no one would find it unless they were actively looking for it.
The entire break from the stresses of my Portlandian life was all thanks (in complete part) to my mother. She downright insisted I visit her and my step-dad, since I hadn’t been back to Cody in two years. There were two places in particular she had to take me. It just so happens, they were well-tea’d, which surprised me in a serendipitous sort of way.
First was a place called Heritage Bakery. My mother was the veritable “Norm Peterson” of the place. They knew her by name. I know what that is like. What I hadn’t expected – beyond the delicious sammiches and cinnamon rolls – was that they rolled out some decent tea as well. My dear Mum went for some White Peony, courtesy of Two Leaves Tea, whereas I went for something a little more lowbrow.
They had sweet tea on the menu and touted that it was done Tennessee-style – water, sugar and Lipton. I’m not normally a Lipton proponent, but it does have its place – iced to submission and laden with sugar. And you know what? I inhaled it with sweet, syrupy glee. The cinnamon roll that accompanied it was equally ‘gasmic, but that’s a subject for a foodie to cover.
In short, I can see why this was her haunt away from home. It would be mine, too. Oh, who am I kidding? I’d be an instant squatter.
The following day, dear Mum made reservations at a teashop she discovered a couple of years ago by accident. It was called the Willow Fence, and when she tried to describe it to me, I was instantly perplexed. She made it sound like a barn brandished with princess tea parlor décor. A year or so later, my sister and I had a chance to visit it…and – I’ll be damned – it was exactly as my mother had elaborated.
I can’t even find the right words to fully do it justice. It was like a set piece straight out of a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I’m convinced faery folk designed the interior. The colors were all earth tones, tree branches separated tables, and mannequins and tapestries lined the walls. There was no tearoom quite like it.
On our present visit, Mum and I were finally taking advantage of their lunch menu. Tea-wise, she started with a peach rooibos while I settled on a single estate Assam I’d never heard of. Doomur Dullong – even the name sounds like a Klingon phallic rite of passage. The taste was sufficiently malty and manly. There was even an aftertaste of bitter rawhide for good measure. I downed at least two steeps-worth – by the pot!
The Willow Fence lunches and scones were also worthy of mention. I left amiably rollie-pollie, filled to the tummy brim with green bisque soup, grilled cheese sammich, and cranberry scone. Thankfully, I left a smidge of room in one of my love handles for one more cup of Assam before I undulated for the door.
Both Heritage and Willow Fence haven’t been around for very long – less than ten years each. Neither place even has a website, yet. (Heritage has a Facebook page, but with only about fifty-some-odd “Likes”.) If this entry serves any useful purpose, it’s to shine a light on these two off-the-beaten-path tea havens. Should you – fair reader – ever find yourself passing through Cody, Wyoming, and you have a penchant for good tea and good service, give these places a looksy. You’ll be glad ya did. Darn-tootin’, yee-haw…etcetera.
(PS ~ Mum, I love you. This has been a wonderful vacation.)
UPDATE: It has been brought to my attention that The Willow Fence does have a website. You can find it HERE.
This review is actually a sequel of sorts. To read its predecessor – for context – go HERE.
Don’t you hate it when you wake up in the morning and end up in another time period? So do I. As far as I know, it’s only happened once – today. I found myself awake at the ungodly hour of 7AM after hearing a loud gagging noise coming from my cat. That was usually the early warning sign of an impending (and rather messy) hairball.
After dealing with that little nuisance, I figured I might as well stay up and get some water boiling. It felt like an oolong morning, so – naturally – I went for the gaiwan. Pot and apparatus at the ready, I proceeded to plug the kettle in.
And…nothing happened. I pressed a button – still nothing. I gave the thing a good punch. And…
A flash of light transported me, my plastic tea kettle, my gaiwan, and my pajama’d self to somewhere straight out of a Jules Vernian nightmare.
A “geared” world at sunrise greeted me. Airships dotted the sky, hovering about almost aimlessly. The ground below them was rattled with structures of varying shades of copper and rust. My immediate attention, though, was directed at an Irishman pointing a revolver at me.
His beard wasn’t just red – it was magenta. His attire was so flamboyant that even a metrosexual leprechaun would’ve blushed. What topped off the dandy’s appearance was a crown perched ever-so-slightly to one side of his head. He flashed a welcoming grin as he cocked the brass-plated pistol.
“Welcome to 1910, Mr. Literatus,” the Irishman lilted.
“Looks more like the 1890s,” I replied, backing away slightly.
Something pointy prevented me from backstepping any further.
“Ah-ah-ah,” a feminine voice from behind me warned. “Stay put, my dear.”
I turned my head as I raised my hands in the air. The mysterious woman behind me was shrouded by purpble robes. A bejeweled dagger was the “pointy thing” that gave me pause.
“Perhaps some introductions are in order,” the Irishman said. “I am Finbarr. This is Persian Princess.”
“She doesn’t have a name?” I wondered aloud.
“None that you need to know,” the woman said, giving a light poke with the pointy.
“And Finbarr…you don’t mean the fairy king of the Daoine Sidhe, do you?” I asked.
“No, that’s my cousin,” the Irish dandy corrected. “Finn Bheara.”
“More than a little,” Finbarr shrugged.
“Wait a minute,” I said with rising frustration. “Finbarr…Persian Prin-…THE DEVOTEA SENT YOU!!!”
At that moment, a slightly transparent, disembodied head appeared out of thin air.
“What he said,” Finbarr agreed as the disembodied Devotea winked out of existence.
“Then why are you here? Why am I here!?” I demanded.
“Truth be told, we’re seeing if our namesake blends actually hold up,” Finbarr explained.
“We want to make sure he’s doing us justice,” the Persian woman practically purred.
“And who told you that kidnapping reviewers was the way to do it?” I asked again.
“Petersham, of course,” Finbarr said delightfully.
“Of course,” I repeated flatly, rolling my eyes.
A table with a tea set, three bags, brewing equipment and a tea kettle miraculously appeared amidst sparkles and smoke. It was an odd thing to say that this was becoming far too routine for me. I perused the different ounce bags. One was labeled “1910”, another “Finbarr’s Revenge”, and a purple bag read “Persian Princess” embroidered in gold trim.
I put down the gaiwan and plastic tea kettle I’d forgotten I was still holding. “Well…let’s get this over with.”
The first I went for was the English Breakfast variant – the 1910.
“It’s a blend of Ceylon, Indian teas, an-“
“I know what it is,” I interrupted.
The dry leaves were both burly with malt and fruit-sweet on the nose, giving the impression that the blend consisted of Assam, Keemun, and a low-altitude Dimbulla Ceylon. It’s a credit to the blender that the leaves all looked the same, creating the illusion of single origin orthodoxy.
The liquor brewed lighter than I expected – a full-bodied bronze rather than the usual English Breakfast copper. The color may have been because of a Yunnan sourcing for the Chinese black in the blend, rather than Keemun. The smell was exquisitely smoky, really not sure how that happened. This was an incredibly smooth morning cup – no bitterness, dryness or kickback.
“Deceptively smooth and quite invigorating,” I said with approval.
“Next is my namesake,” Finbarr gestured toward the second set-up.
I couldn’t tell what went in this, but my best guess was Assam and low-altitude Ceylon. The smell was straight, burly malt (like the 1910) with no other deviation. One would think they were having a straight-up Assam on whiff. I actually decided upon a full pot of it.
The liquor brewed bold copper with the same manly malty aroma as the dry leaves. On taste, though, it was oddly forgiving. Instead of punching the tongue with its chewy presence, it shook hands first, imparting a floral forefront before the introduction of the malty middle. Here, the Ceylon and Assam worked quite well together. And – boy! – did it wake me up.
“This stuff actually gives you the courtesy of a reach-around before punching you in the junk,” I commented.
“Rightly said!” Finbarr guffawed, patting me on the back – hard.
The Persian Princess gave a loud – and disgusted – sigh. Speaking of which, it was time for her blend. She didn’t bother speaking up about it, though.
The thing that really surprised me about this blend was how sweet it smelled. There was some requisite malt, but a woody and sweet underpinning crept up in the fragrance. I’m pretty sure the teas used were Assam and Yunnan, but – as with the other Devotea blends – one can never be too sure.
The resulting brew-up was an amber-colored liquor with a smooth, Ceylon-ish aroma – floral. On taste, the deceptive sweetness came back packaged with a strong, malty intro. Then it did the oddest thing by smoothing out completely – like an actual princess with a feigned, even-keel temperament. The best part? No bitterness to speak of and only mild astringency.
“Strong but not bitter,” I said briefly. “Like an actual princess should be.”
She still said nothing.
“Can I go now?”
Finbarr looked confused, “Go where?”
“Home? To 2012? My 2012.”
“Oh, lad,” Finbarr laughed, but there was mischievous shift in it. “This is your home now.”
“Aye, the trip’s one-way only.”
“Revenge,” the Persian Princess finally spoke.
One would think a man whisked out of space and time would do something brave – like, say, fight off both of his assailants. Not the case, here. I took off running as fast as my slippered feet could carry me. Like a little bitch. I did make sure my beeline to…nowhere put me in contact with my trusty gaiwan and kettle, though.
Both of my kidnappers were in hot pursuit. Denizens of this steampunkish realm observed the spectacle with some amusement. I supposed they didn’t get many men in sleep attire – brandishing tea equipment – running down their streets. I ducked down an alleyway, hoping to lose the blend-named pair. As my luck would have it, though, it dead-ended at a bonfire surrounded by this realm’s version of the homeless.
“Nowhere to run now, eh laddy?” Finbarr said with a pant.
The Persian Princess glided in front of the Irishman, dagger drawn and eyes fixed. I did the only thing a man-bitch could do – I let out a full-bodied scream. In my ensuing panic, I lost my grip on the plastic kettle. It fell into the makeshift hobo fire. Then something…well…terribly inappropriate happened.
A blood curdling scream resonated from the flames. The discarded kettle fumed, smoked, melted and contorted into something hideous. The only comparison I could make was a demonic vagina.
It floated in the air, wailing loudly. Finbarr and Persian Princess halted their advance, but the vagrants around the fire fled in terror, providing me ample time to think.
That shouldn’t be possible, I thought. Unless…
“A dream!” I said out loud.
I looked down at my one remaining tea apparatus – my trusty gaiwan. If Leo had a spinning top as an anchor in Inception, then this lidded cup was mine. Turning around, I walked straight into the bonfire. I expected to feel warmth and…uh…”burning”. Instead, I was back in my kitchen – still pajama’d, still tired, but fully tea’d.
“Well, that could’ve gone better,” Finbarr said, scratching his head.
“His time will come,” the Persian Princess said, disrobing her covered head. A porcelain, Asian woman’s face turned toward the Irishman. “At least we know his weakness now.”
“You’re one stubborn woman, Ms. Guan Yin,” he remarked.
“Take the tea away from a man, then he is just a man,” she said to no one in particular. “Take the teacup from a man, then he is merely a boy…in hot water.”
The End (?)
To Purchase The Devotea’s Teas (1910, Finbarr’s Revenge, and Persian Princess):
For once, I thought I’d get a full night’s sleep. The work week had been murder, and for some odd reason, I couldn’t stay in bed for more than six hours. Well, this time I had an excuse. A loud roar jolted me from sleep. When I opened my eyes, standing in front of me was the Bodhisattva of Compassion herself – Guan Yin – standing atop a rubber ducky (???). And she looked pissed.
How did she get in my room? Wait…where was my room?! I was greeted by blackness all around me as I sat straight up. The only occupants in this void/nullspace were me (still in bed), the ducky-perched Chinese goddess, and a third shadowy figure.
“Are you the one they call the Lazy Clitoris?” the bodhisattva asked.
“That’s…Literatus,” I corrected her. “Ma’am.”
“Silence!” she snapped.
“But you asked me to speak,” I reminded her.
She did not take my dry comment well, bringing a lightning bolt down within an inch of my bed. The smell of ozone wafted once the crackling ceased. I didn’t even know she had that ability.
“You have wronged me greatly,” Guan Yin said, lowering her duck.
“True or not, you have sullied my name,” she said. “And now, you must make reparations.”
“Why are you on a duck?” I had to ask.
“My dragon – Ao Bing – is…on vacation,” she replied, flustered.
“But why a duck?”
“A mutual interested party provided him,” she said, motioning for the shadowy figure to step forward.
A youthful man in dated formal attire approached in a carriage…pulled by two very imposing Bengal tigers. His attire was a mix-and-match of Victorian and Georgian influences, his cravat was flashy, and his top hat seemed to glow with its own aura. The man’s visage bore a striking resemblance to American actor, James Franco.
The Faux-Franco bowed in my direction, “Viscount Petersham, at your service.”
I cocked an eyebrow, “Petersham?”
“Who is Peter, and why is he a sham?” I asked with a half-smile.
He simply looked at me for a moment, then spoke, “Oh! That was an attempt at humor. How precious.”
“And why are you here?” I asked of him again. “Wherever here is?”
“The lovely Bodhisattva and I have come to an arrangement,” the viscount explained. “One that involves you.”
“What for and why me?”
“My, you’re annoying quizzical,” Petersham sighed. “You wronged her and an associate of mine. She brought you to this ‘space between spaces’ where you will be subjected to a Trial by Tea.”
“Tea!” Guan Yin finished for me. “If you pass, you live. If you fail…”
As if on cue, one of the Bengals roared. I gulped. No one wanted to die in their pajamas, especially not out-of-season Santa Claus pajamas.
“The idea, my good chap, is this,” the viscount said, dismounting from his grand tiger-chariot. “There are two teas in my repertoire that need testing. One was tailored specifically to me, the other – well – named for my feline friends over there.”
“So…what do I have to do?” I queried.
“Simply try them,” Petersham said with a grin.
“And if I don’t like them?”
“That won’t be possible.”
“Get on with it,” the goddess said impatiently.
“Yes, m’dear,” he said with a roll of the eyes.
He stretched out his hand. A platter, a teapot, a metallic kettle, two transparent 8-ounce teacups, and an hourglass perched above his hand.
“How did you-?” I started.
“I’m a dead man with two pet tigers,” Petersham stated flatly. “What can’t I do?”
“Fair point,” I nodded.
“Now, how do you take your tea, lad?” he asked.
Me? A lad? I look older than him! I said inwardly.
“1 teaspoon of leaves, boiling water, three-minute steep,” I replied.
“Only three minutes?!” Petersham looked aghast. “What are you, some kind of dandy?”
“You asked,” I shrugged – an odd question coming from a man with a lisp.
He sighed dramatically. “Very well.”
With a wave of a few fingers from his other hand, steam rose from the kettle – bubbling was heard from within. I wondered where the water had come from, but this was a magic void. Wondering was pointless. The kettle, then, poured the water itself into the pot. I guessed the leaves were already housed within. The hourglass flipped itself over independently and remained suspended in mid-air.
Three minutes passed by with awkward silence. Guan Yin had dismounted the rubber ducky and crouched down to pat the head of one of the tigers. It bellowed a loud purr in response. Petersham made unique use of a snuff box in the interim.
When the hourglass ran its last grain of sand, there was a loud chime. The tigers perked up in alarm. The source seemed to resound from all over. Petersham was unperturbed by it, gingerly waving a finger, and levitating the pot.
The liquor that poured into the clear cup was an even copper with a light gold ring on the periphery. It was a lovely looking beverage. I put cup to lips. On introduction, there was a bit of a citrus bite, followed by a slight tannic lean in the middle. Then it snapped at the top note with a presence of peppers, allspice, honey and Keemun sweetness. So many different flavors were at play – all vying for steeping supremacy.
“Damn,” I said with approval.
“Poetic, isn’t he?” Guan Yin said dryly.
The viscount, however, appeared overjoyed. “And, now, the Two Tigers blend.”
He repeated the same songless dance with a new set of “tea”-quipment. Water boiled, apparatuses flew about, and another clear cup was magically filled. The smell of the rising steam was strong on the nostrils.
The liquor had brewed only a slightly deeper copper than Petersham’s namesake blend with a very even and sweet aroma. Malt was also there but understated. Flavor-wise, it possessed a very crisp forefront, which transitioned to a strangely floral middle. It tapered off nicely without much lingering bitterness.
“A strong morning cup, for sure, but one polite enough to call you a cab afterwards,” I said.
The viscount looked puzzled. “I don’t quite follow.”
“It’s a sex reference,” Guan Yin growled, arms akimbo. “He does that.”
Again, Petersham was un-phased. “Splendid! You passed!”
“All I did was like the teas,” I said.
“That’s all that was needed,” Petersham said, clasping my shoulders. “You live to drink another day.”
With that, the youthful – and possibly immortal – lord retook the reigns of his tiger mounts, bid a gloved farewell with a “toodleloo ” of his left fingers, and rode off into the darkness. The cups of tea and brewing equipment, however, remained suspended in place – hovering. All that remained were me, the tea, an ill-tempered goddess, and a rubber ducky.
“Okay…” I started. “I passed. Guess that means I get to go now?”
“No,” she said.
“No?” I gulped – voice a little higher.
“You get to live, yes,” Guan Yin agreed. “But I get to determine the ‘where’.”
I said nothing, but my gaze narrowed.
“Here in the void,” she said with arms outstretched. “This suits you perfectly.”
“So, it’s like that, then,” I said, taking the cup with the Petersham blend.
“It’s like that,” she repeated.
I also grabbed the cup of the Two Tigers blend. “You’ve never read my work, have you?”
“You work?” she chuckled.
“I’ll take that as a ‘no’.”
I held out both transparent cups so she could clearly see them. At first, she appeared puzzled…but then her eyes widened. I bore a toothy grin as I poured the contents of one cup into the other.
“NO!” she screamed.
“You forget, Bodhisattva,” I began. “When I blend, I don’t think of the consequences. And when I drink…”
One of the cups began to glow. The copper liquid bubbled and churned from other. Out of thin air, a third cup appeared. No, not a cup. A mug. I moved the three together. The shape looked…oddly (but appropriately) phallic.
“This. Is. MY CUPPA!!!” I bellowed, taking a swig.
Both blends combined tasted like all the things that men are made off – earth and smoke with an astringent stubbornness that couldn’t be quelled. I relished in the power. This was true tiger’s blood.
Cracks and fissures of glowing light pierced the pocket void-realm. The “ceiling”/sky/whatever flaked and crumbled. Shadows retreated and the intruding rays of luminescence penetrated ever-inward. Guan Yin screamed as her handiwork unraveled in mere moments. Without a means to retaliate, she retreated to the solace of the rubber ducky and made a hasty retreat.
As the last of the shadows receded, I found myself back in my haphazard room. All was in shambles, but it was the mess I had made – not the goddess. My bed was as I left it. Yet I still held the combined, phallic-looking tri-teacup.
“This isn’t over, Clitoris,” boomed a disembodied woman’s voice. “Those blends were his, and he still owns you until you finish.”
“His? He who? Finish what?” I asked the ceiling.
There was no response, only the echoes of tittering laughter.
“That’s LiterATus!” I corrected…to no one in particular.
What had she meant by being owned? Who was I indebted to? Who owned and/or made those blends? Not Petersham, he said they were commissioned. Then whom?
The realization hit me when I looked down at my computer.
The rubber ducky? Petersham? I inhaled sharply. HIM?!
I was in someone’s debt, someone for whom I owed a writing project. So long as it went incomplete, he owned my soul. Without further thought, I fired up the computer and went to writing. Shivering all the while, imagining his eyes (and ducky) were looming over me.
Thanks are owed to Jackie, one of the co-pilots of Tea Trade, for passing the two Devotea blends my way.
Thanks, also, to The Devotea himself – Robert Godden – for making them. They were superb. (As if there was ever a doubt. One of these days, I’ll have to pick his brain for the recipes.)
The art of tea blending is one that has always eluded me. I know of people that consider themselves experts in the field, but I often wondered how much skill it really took to create a blend. Playing with different herbs and teas wasn’t a new thing to me. I did it all the time at home to varying degrees of success and failure. The one I had yet to try to mimic was English Breakfast.
I read somewhere that there was no set recipe for English Breakfast. Typically, there was an Assam base, and other like-flavored burly black teas rounded it out. Sometimes they included low-altitude Ceylon or earthy Yunnan Dian Hong. But I found a snippet that mentioned a truly good blend was done with equal parts Assam and Keemun. Seemed easy enough.
At a par”tea” thrown by a friend of mine, I decided to demonstrate the ease of English Breakfast blending. I went up to the host and said, “Wanna see how easy blending is?”
He nodded slowly.
I took a helping of Keemun Gongfu and another of Rani estate Assam, put them in a bag together and shook it vigorously.
“There,” I said. “I just blended.”
My friend sniffed the contents of the bag. “That smells awful.”
I cocked an eyebrow, whiffed…and came up with little discernible aroma.
Perhaps I needed to rethink my approach. When I got home I looked through my stash of teas to see what would work for a second English try-out. I figured that both ingredients had to have a similar aromatic and visual profile. As luck would have it, I was in possession of a very tippy Keemun Mao Feng as well as some gold-tipped Assam from Glenburn’s Khongea estate. Both had a similar malty profile – albeit the Keemun was sweeter.
The results were…well…how about I just show you.
Now that I’ve been (understandably) exiled to my room, I can reflect upon it. The liquor brewed as I expected it would, very crimson-to-copper. The aroma had the subtlety of a bitter battering ram – very dry on the nostrils followed by something bordering on malt. To the taste, it was extremely tannic on the forefront but eventually settled nicely into a malty echo.
Verdict: If I’m in a pinch, it’s good to know I can shake up something drinkable. As to the art of blending itself…I’ll leave that to the professionals. The ingredients I used were of exceptional quality on their own, but I had little regard for how to portion them correctly. Clearly, I have a lot to learn.
Credits and Acknowledgements
Directed and Edited by:
Robert Norman (my brother). Without his help, I wouldn’t have been able to put together this little “tutorial” video. Sometimes living with a film grad is useful.
Ever since I picked up tea as a hobby, there has been an inherent problem. No one else was really into it. My real life friends humored my off-kilter pursuit, and even came to me for recommendations, but – for the most part – it was a geek-ish lean that was entirely solitary. If it weren’t for social media outlets like Tea Trade or Twitter, my tea talk would’ve descended into monologues and murmurs. While connecting with friends of the leaf from far-flung locations had its appeal, the more tangible social connection was missing.
I had associated with him a bit on Twitter. Our palates for Chinese black teas were about the same. I hadn’t made the connection that he was a fellow Portlander until a couple of months into our tea talk. Around the same time, I also associated with a fledgling group-to-be called The Portland Tea Enthusiasts’ Alliance. Turns out that David was the founder/”Head Cheerleader” of the group. Yes, I know. I’m slow.
At around the same time, when I finally put two-and-two together, a promoter friend of mine also linked me to the Alliance and another tea enthusiast. Well, that settled it. I had to meet this self-proclaimed Head Cheerleader. A meeting of the steeps was already in the works, as David had contacted me about a greet-up and exchange of teas/thoughts. We agreed upon Smith Teamaker as our destination, since he’d never been. I was looking forward to going there with someone other than…er…myself.
We were treated like philosopher kings by the co-owner and Tea MC alike. Among the many wares we got to sample was a black tea blended with Douglas Fir tips. It tasted like concentrated Christmas. I so desperately wanted some. Unfortunately, it was only available through Eddie Bauer. Yes, the retail chain. The “Good Morning” blend – as she called it – also came paired with another tea; the packaging looked like a tea fancier’s happy meal. It was that awesome.
At the end of our sipping, the co-owner gave us a brief tour of the operation. Out of the two years I’d frequented there, I never wondered what their Wonka factory looked like. It was spectacular. They even had a break room with its own koi pond. It was the best kept secret in Portland, I thought. (Except that I outed it just now…oops.)
Duly sated and overly-caffeinated, David and I agreed on another meet-and-greet for an unspecified time in the future. The insecure side of me thought I had “regurgitated” my tea talk rather than conversed – like years of pent-up hobby-ing was brought to the forefront in one sitting. It was also oddly refreshing to encounter someone who had me stumped on tea trivia. Example: I hadn’t realized how uninformed I was about oolongs from Wuyi Shan. He had acquired more tea knowledge in a year than I had in three.
Roughly four days after that successful meet-up, plans were made for yet another. This time, it was to involve a slightly larger group – an informal gathering of like-minded folks interested in a fledgling tea group. The location? Smith Teamaker again. I had no argument with this.
I was the first to arrive. Traffic had actually been on my side on the trek there. The Tea MC (Tiffany) waved a “hello” and wondered how many others were destined to show. I honestly had no idea. My exact reply was, “Somewhere between three…and five?”
The second to show was Danyeke, a friend of the same promoter folks I mentioned earlier – a fellow writer and a female Lapsang Souchong drinker. David arrived soon after. A well-rounded Renaissance gent – Kevin – showed up some ten-to-twenty minutes later. Another kindly guy also made a brief appearance but ducked out to get back to work. Tea MC Tiff started us off with a unique taster flight. By unique, I mean it included two single estate Assams…and a PINOT NOIR BARREL-AGED BLACK TEA!
(Left to Right) Me, Danyeke, David, and Kevin
(Sidenote: Yes, it was as awesome as it sounds. Yes, there will be a review forthcoming.)
Our second dig-in was of Smith’s Yunnan Dian Hong, Brahmin’s Choice, a Darjeeling first flush (Marybong estate), and a Keemun Hao Ya B. All brewed to the peak of smoky perfection. These were also the first teas of my day…and technically, they were also breakfast.
We ended up staying at Smith’s for two hours – waxing poetic about tea, astrology, origin stories, fiction, nonfiction, and different countries. It was more well-rounded and camaraderie-filled than any tea outing I experienced up to that point. Rarely was there a moment of awkward pause. Again, the insecure part of me hoped I wasn’t too bombastic a blowhard in real life as I was often considered online. But rarely did I feel that way.
Tea is – by its very existence – a beverage of contemplation, but there is a social element to it as well. I hadn’t really experienced that. For once, I wasn’t the lone steeper in the room…and it was quite wonderful.
Teas from the northeastern state of India called Assam are known for many things. First and foremost are their robust and malty characteristics. Second (and this is one I’ve noticed) is their lean towards – how to put it – tiramisu sweetness. Very odd. Part of their unique character comes from the varietal of tea plant used – one that is actually native to the region. Unlike Darjeeling, which uses Chinese cultivars, Assam has its own native bush, the Camellia sinensis var. assamica. Until the British came along, this shrub was only used for Ayurvedic purposes.
To me and a few others in my tea circle, Assams hold the honor of being the second manliest type of tea in existence. First place, of course, goes to the pine-smoked monstrosity that is Lapsang Souchong. I have since sampled quite a few single estate offerings – some better than others – and all have put a spring in my step thanks to the s**tstorm of caffeine they impart. But no one told me…
That there was a white Assam out there.
White teas are my muse. They started me on the path of tea exploration; they continue to haunt and heighten it. I have tried whites from China, Sri Lanka, Darjeeling, and even here in the Pacific Northwest. All were one shade of awesome or another, but I had never had a white Assam.
It’s white buffalo-esque existence came to my attention upon visiting a local tea shop. I was perusing the vast array of loose leaf whites when I came across it. So shocked was I that I could barely form the words, “I’ll get an ounce of this.”
The teller said, “That’ll be $15.”
Like a Tex Avery cartoon, my jaw dropped. I ended up leaving with just my do-it-yourself teabags. My quest was at an end by way of moth-wallet.
A year later, I received a white tea variety pack from Canton Tea Co. They always treated me super well. Of the unique teas in the batch, I expected the Darjeeling white, the Silver Needle, and the White Peony. (I adored all of ‘em.) Quietly tucked away in the mailbag, though, was something I wasn’t expecting. Scrawled in Asiatic-looking script were the words “Assam White”.
I shrieked. My brother/roommate jumped at the sound. His dog looked at me quizzically. My cat’s tail bristled in alarm. I tried to explain the significance of this one shiny, silver bag of “Awesome”…but it all came out like geeky sputters.
I brewed it up the next day.
The dry leaves looked like Silver Needle white tea by way of lawn-clippings – small, reed-like, and light green. The aroma also didn’t give off anything particularly extraordinary. It smelled like grass with a bit of a melon-mint profile – white tea-ish but not uncharacteristic. As a result, I brewed it up as I would any normal white tea; 1 heaping teaspoon in 8oz. of 165F water for three minutes. Big mistake.
I basically brewed…water. It had no character to speak of whatsoever. This being made from the same burly leaf Assam blacks were, though, I knew I’d done something wrong. I did it again, but this time I dialed the temperature on my water kettle to 180F. This was pushing it, but it was for science, damn it!
The results were pure…well..awesome.
Okay, if you want specifics, the liquor brewed to a transparent gold with a strong nose of parsley, sage, rosemary and F**KING AWESOME!!! It had the character of other white teas but with some of the malt that made Assam blacks so delectable. It was like someone said, “Melon meet Malt. Now…FIGHT TO THE DEATH!” Imagine a Viking in a tu-tu, and you’ll get the idea. Sure, he’s wearing a tu-tu, but you wouldn’t call him a sissy. This was no sissy white tea.
Further proof of its lack of sissy-ness arrived by steep five. Yeah, you heard right. Steep f**king five. This pitbull puppy of a tea lasted five infusions without letting go of its flavor. I only ran into one other white tea that lasted that long, and that was from the U.S. of A. Most taper off by steep three.
Canton Tea Co. mentions that this white tea is from the Mothola tea estate, one of the only estates in Assam to produce white teas. In other words, this was a rare pleasure indeed, and that sort of explains the high price tag for Assam whites in general. Still, considering how much bang you get for that buck (five steeps!), I’d say fork it over. This was not a white tea for wimps…even though I am one.
To buy Canton Tea’s Assam White, go HERE! (If you dare…)
My mother is an idea gal – always has been. The part that’s most frustrating – especially for me, the eldest of her brood – is that she is right 90% of the time. I think she missed her calling as the head of a newspaper, the magnate of an advertising agency or the moderator for a think tank. Her braingems should be bottled and sold on the black market for six figures. I say this because…well…she’s the reason this entry exists.
One phrase from her, just one phrase: “You should do movie reviews with tea.”
At first I scoffed at the idea, but then I tossed it around in my head (over a cup of tea). I thought back to the last few summer movies I’d seen, mulled over my opinions but also what teas I felt like drinking after them. Surprisingly, finding matches didn’t take that long.
Here are my thoughts:
I was not excited for this movie at all when I first saw the trailer. It resembled Flash Gordon by way of Iron Man – cheesy but visceral. The choice for director also made my brow furrow. What did Kenneth Branagh know about directing a comic book movie?! Granted, he could easily pull off “EPIC!” if he had, too…but a Space Viking movie? Secondly, it was Thor. I don’t know anyone that cares about the wing-helmeted thunder god.
What gave me some measure of hope was the writer who penned the script. I was already a fan of J. Michael Straczynski from his five-year magnum opus, Babylon 5. He also had extensive experience as a comic book writer. If anyone could make the foundation translate to cinema, he could. And, boy, did he.
The combination of tongue-in-cheek, fish-outta-water, and Shakespearean posturing made this one of the most entertaining trips to the multiplex in some time. Marvel really knows how to dial up the “FUN” factor for an intro to summer. In hindsight, nothing much appeared to happen, but I look back on it fondly.
Tea Match: “Golden-Tipped Assam”
Assams tend to be thick, malty teas usually used as the base for wake-up breakfast blends. Tippier Assams – I’ve found – possess a honey-like texture to them, similar to a Golden Yunnan. That smooth sweetness along with the burly malt bite are a good compliment to a movie featuring a golden-haired, muscle-bound god with a ridiculously large hammer.
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
The first Pirates of the Caribbean did the impossible; it was a well-crafted and witty movie inspired by a theme-park ride and single-handedly brought back the swashbuckler. To that, I say, “Bravo.” Unfortunately, that movie had siblings. Snot-nosed, whiny, fat, bloated siblings. The two follow-ups were a complete and utter mess. They were well executed, special effects were top-notch, but the story (or what passed for one) was pure seagull splatter. I was not looking forward to a fourth outing.
On a whim, I caught a late showing of On Stranger Tides and found myself…not hating it. Oh, it was still as drivel-ish as her two predecessors, it looked cheaper than it was, and making Cap’n Jack Sparrow a protagonist was a horrible idea, but it at least tried to match the medium scale and old-school feel of the first one. I won’t see it again, but it didn’t leave a poor taste in my mouth.
Tea Match: “Kombucha”
No, I don’t mean the bacterially-cultured “mushroom tea”. Kombu is the Japanese word for “kelp or seaweed”. I personally haven’t had it, but I’ve eaten the key ingredient. Kelp has a very sweetly vegetal, salty profile, and I assume the same could be said for its infused namesake. Unfortunately, it shares the name with another “tea” that utilizes steeped bacteria…and tastes like iced vinegar. Seeing a fourth Pirates movie was exactly like that name/flavor confusion – a well-meaning but unfortunately-named oddity.
Kung Fu Panda 2
The first Kung Fu Panda was lightning in a f**king bottle. It succeeded with what it set out to do – tell a story of a kung fu fanboy given the opportunity to be martial arts legend. That premise alone is every chop-socky geek’s wet dream. The fact that it also stayed true to the trappings of the martial arts genre helped it to transcend its Dreamworks label. Thankfully, it was also successful with mainstream audiences. (It starred a panda; this was a given.)
A sequel was inevitable, and Dreamworks was hit-or-miss with animated follow-ups. I hoped they’d learned their lesson from the last three Shrek movies. In my opinion, they succeeded. KP2 continues where its predecessor left off and explores its protagonist’s background – one that is steeped in prophecy and folklore. I even got a little man-teary towards the end, a good sign.
Tea Match: “Keemun Hao Ya B (with cream and sugar)”
Keemun is a Chinese black (or “red”) tea with an interesting flavor profile. It is almost as malty as an Assam, but also possesses shades of sweetness and smokiness. If done right, it brews to a bold crimson and – when sipped slowly – imparts its nuances gradually. Hoa Ya is a grade known for its silver tippy buds and delicate delivery. The “B” sub-variety tends to be a tad more rough around the edges – as is Kung Fu Panda 2 in comparison to its predecessor.But it takes cream and sugar well, making it more palatable for the kiddies.
X-Men: First Class
Like the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, X-Men suffered from a severe case of Sh**ty-Sequelitis. Well, third time’s a charm, according to the Powers That Be. However, to justify the existence of yet another prequel after the disastrous Wolverine movie, some major liberties had to be taken. In a brilliant move, they adopted a typical comic book motif to do this. They ret-conned and pretended the last two X-movies never existed.
For the most part, the maneuver paid off. While none of the secondary ensemble characters do much in the movie other than look badass or attractive, the dynamic between a young, brash Charles Xavier and a hot-headed (but suave) Erik Lensherr – soon-to-be Professor X and Magneto, respectively – is surprisingly well-crafted. There are plot-holes abound, special effects misfires, and some dreadful acting from a certain blonde that makes Keanu look nuanced. All said, it holds up well. Time will tell if it’s as memorable as the first two.
Tea Match: “English Breakfast (with a blended Keemun/Assam base)”
There is no set recipe for English Breakfast; the only adherence that must be made is to its strength. The blend should zing! you awake in a matter of sips. Tasting good is optional. I’ve heard some schools of thought state that Keemun is the preferred foundation, while others say Assam. What is agreed upon is that it must have an ensemble of ingredients that jolt the drinker upright. EB does this, and so does the new X.
“MOAR LENSFLARE!!!”…seems to be the battle-cry of writer-director-producer-mindf**ker, J.J. Abrams. I’m not sure when this cinematographic calling card began, but it was most apparent in his reboot of the Star Trek franchise. In Super 8, he tones the flare down a bit but keeps just enough to give the movie a retro feel – as was his intention. This pays homage to the Steven Spielberg sci-fi flicks he grew up with and it shows.
All the ingredients are there: Unseen monster from space? Check. Comedy relief in the form of a high-voiced fat kid? Check.Shadowy military conspiracy? Check. Coming of age romance? Check. Mix and serve. If it had one major flaw – and it’s a doozie – it’s that the movie has no real identity. The strongest parts were the Spielbergian/kiddie character scenes. Everything else seemed “meh” by comparison. This could’ve been a true 80s sci-fi send-up if it weren’t so schizophrenic.
Tea Match: “Matcha-Iri Genmaicha”
I love matcha (Japanese powdered tea), but I loathe genmaicha (Japanese “poor man’s” tea…blended with rice).Put the two together, and you have something that I begrudgingly enjoy. The nuttiness of the rice is downplayed by the kelp-like sweetness of the matcha. The blend is even better if the green tea base is a higher-grade sencha rather than crude bancha. This is as conflicted a blend as the elements of Super 8 are. Parts work, parts don’t. The experience is watchable/drinkable, pretty to look at, but – in the end – forgettable.
To conclude, I had way too much fun doing this. My mother’s brain wins again. The summer’s still young, and I can’t wait to ponder what brews up well with other blockbusters. I wonder if I could sneak a teapot into the theater. Hrm. Probably a subject for another blog.