Steep Stories

of the Lazy Literatus

Tag: Blending

A Custom Blended Christmas

Christmas is usually my favorite time of year. But this year . . . I simply wasn’t feeling it. And it wasn’t for lack of trying.

A week or so before the impending, I found a green bow on the floor of the parking lot at my work. It pretty much summed up how I felt. I tried to find yuletide joy in the little things around me, but even that proved difficult.

I’m not entirely sure if it was because I had to work through the majority of it, or because my finances were severely depleted—thus not allowing me to buy gifts for close family—or some combination therein. As December rolled around, I simply wanted it all to be over. Even Christmas music couldn’t lift my “bah humbag”-ish demeanor.

Then it hit me.

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Tea, Tact and the Art of Blending Badly

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:

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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.

Tact

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.

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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.

Social Comparison

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.

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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.

Social Comparison

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.

Happy accidents.

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.”

Well, shite.

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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.

Social Comparison

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.

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Thanks to my cuz, Ryan Norman, for the the last-minute Photoshop awesomeness.

Lazy Tea Prep (with Video)

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.

You can find more stuff by him HERE.

Our other collabs can be found HERE.

“Written” and “Starring”:

Me, of course. Honestly, other than coming up with the idea for this, writing a one-page script, and doing copious amounts of begging, my contributions were minor by comparison.

Special Guest Star:

Thanks to Robert “The Devotea” Godden for lending me his blender disapproval.

You can find his tea videos HERE.

You can find his blog HERE.

You can purchase his blends HERE.

Teas:

06-June Khongea Golden Tips Second Flush Assam TGFOP1 provided by KTeas.

My thoughts on it – by itself – can be found HERE.

Gift Keemun Hong Mao Feng provided by Vicony Teas

My thoughts HERE.

Tea Props:

Eight Cranes Perfect Steeper

Adagio UtiliTea

Wardrobe:

“Pot Head” shirt purchased at The Jasmine Pearl Tea Merchants

Pet Cameos:

Abacus St. Bernard

Georgia Poopybottom

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