Steep Stories

of the Lazy Literatus

Tag: Butiki Teas

With Open Eyes

While it has never been expressly stated, it’s common knowledge that I don’t usually write about tea blends. If and when I do, it’s usually if they have a story behind them. About a year ago, Stacy Lim of Butiki Teas had urged me to try some of theirs, but I was hesitant. Then she explained the story about one such blend.

I was hooked.

Back in December of 2012, Stacy was contacted by Sally Taylor – the daughter of James Taylor and Carly Simon. She proposed that a tea blend be donated to a rather ambitious artistic project. The venture was called Consenses. Its goal was to gather 130 artists from several different mediums and have them build upon each others inspiration with new creations. Think of a weird amalgamation of “Pay It Forward” and a game of “Telephone”. One artist would come up with one piece, another (perhaps a writer) would follow that up with a piece inspired by the prior. Rinse and repeat.

Butiki Teas contributing branch was thus:

She was tasked with coming up with a blend inspired by a painting featuring two creatures. Even more daunting than that? The one following her up – doing a story based on her blend – was Wes Craven.

Yes, that Wes Craven.

To top it all off, she only had a week to prepare it. Blending the right ingredients usually took months of trials. After a few attempts, she had come up with a combination – Long Jing (representing past expectations), strawberries (symbolizing new beginnings) and butter toffee (for hope). Ginger rounded out the blend, I guess, for sass. The blend was dubbed “With Open Eyes”.

The result was a not-too-pungent bouquet of green and bold red with an aroma of berries and wine. At least, that’s what I thought. The problem with using any sort of berry for a tea blend – strawberry or otherwise – is that dried fruits don’t really contribute much flavor. They contribute some, but not enough to be noticeable.

Flavoring is required to create a bolder profile. Luckily, the natural flavoring used for this blend was vegan-sourced. It was the one time I was happy to see the word “vegan” in anything. Reason being, some natural flavorings come from rather…uh…disgusting sources. Case in point, some strawberry flavorings comes from the anal glands of this poor li’l bastard.

That’s right, if you have something with strawberry flavoring, and it’s not vegan…you’re probably ingesting beaver butts. You’re welcome.

Relief aside, the blend smelled wonderful, and I was happy to see that the green tea base used was Long Jing. Not a cheap tea to use. For brewing, I went with the recommendation on the sample bag: 1 teaspoon in 8oz. of 180F heated water. Steep time – two minutes, thirty seconds.

The result was a light green liquor with a pleasant aroma of berries and cream. Ginger was nowhere to be found in the aromatics, but that was alright. In all likelihood, it was roundhouse-kicked by the toffee. I was okay with that.

As for taste, well, it did exactly as promised. Long Jing’s winy notes took point, followed closely by a strawberry-rich middle, and a creamy finish. It did taste like new beginnings.

In August of 2014, the Consenses gallery finally opened up in Martha’s Vineyard.

Butiki’s blend was front and center, next to the other pieces in its artistic branch. The Wes Craven story it inspired was called “The Man Who Vanished”. I hope to someday encounter it.

I had received the blend to try back in April of 2014. Butiki Teas announced they were closing their virtual doors in October of that same year. I didn’t dip into “With Open Eyes” until later that same month. By then, it had completely sold out, which wasn’t a surprise to me. I just wish I had told this story sooner.

In any case, I raise a toast to the Butiki family, to all they’ve done for the tea community at large, and the stories they’ve left behind. May they greet their new beginnings with open eyes…

…And without beaver butts.

Playing with Purple Tea before a Tandem Taiwanese Tasting

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

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

(How’s that for a long-arse title?)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Purple Duel

Left: Green Tea. Right: Oolong Tea

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

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

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

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No jealousy here…none at all.

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

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

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

But that was just on my end.

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

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

Rachel asked, “What’s your address?”

I rattled it off, then asked why.

“No reason,” she said cryptically.

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

“Late Christmas present,” Rachel said.

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

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

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

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

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

No matter how far.

“Taiwan’s Wild Side” – Big Brass Butikis, Round 1

Big Brass Butikis, Round 1: “Taiwan’s Wild Side”

I have a confession to make: I’m in love with Butiki Teas. They are one of five (maybe six?) companies that have my kind of business model. That being: What’s that? Is it weird? SWEET! I’ll buy ALL of it!

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It’s like they took a piece of my brain, examined it, got rid of all the porny parts, and rolled with the rest.

Granted, they do have custom blends and flavored teas, too. But they go side-by-side with their esoteric partners on the beautiful Butiki list o’ wares. Butiki Teas provided me with the first Kenyan Purple Tea I ever tried, as well as the first Purple Pu-erh I gongfu’d the hell out of.

Heck, they even somehow carried a Nilgiri oolong that blew me away. Nilgiri oolongs never blow me away. (Okay, maybe a back-alley old fashioned from the Dunsdale estate, but that doesn’t count. Does it?)

This time, I was treated to two black teas from Yuchih Township, Nantou County, Taiwan. One was an Assam variant; the other was semi-wild-crafted. Oh my…Taiwanese black teas. I am in lust with Taiwanese black teas. Haven’t met one I haven’t liked, yet. And by the smell of these two sample bags, I was in for some sweet, sweet tea-lovin’.

Premium Taiwanese Assam

I love Taiwanese black teas for specifically one reason – the Taiwanese don’t f**k around with the leaves too much. Unlike regular Assams that are cut to the size of needles, these were long and twisty. Brown – sure. Rolled – sure. But still very unmistakably only-somewhat-tampered-with leaves. I’m a huge fan of teas that are completely and utterly whole leaf. (Mainly for the fact that they take more abuse.)

Taiwanese Assam

The smell was another dimension entirely. Like other Taiwanese blacks I’ve tried, there was a requisite sweetness to the aroma and an almost-cocoa quality. It was like whiffing a chocolate-laden breakfast cereal. Er…in leaf form.

The leaves infused to a medium-red liquor with a rustically sweet aroma, almost like a wild stevia plant – only lighter. It was Taiwanese through-and-through in its aromatic presentation. What surprised me was the taste. While it wasn’t initially sweet on leaf-sniffing, the flavor took on loads of cocoa notes. Almost like a Li Shan black – another Taiwanese tea. I was expecting malt, but didn’t get any. This was a strong, if gentle, beast of a brew.

Tawanese Wild Mountain Black

First reason to love this tea? It was bug-bitten! Like an Oriental Beauty or a Gui Fei. Er…when you’ve reached my level of tea fanboydom, you’ll find that endlessly exciting.

Leafhopper

Second, everyone I knew in the tea community was bragging about this stuff. Particularly my Tandem Tea Tasting circle. As luck/coincidence would have it, I had some on-hand but hadn’t dipped into it, yet. Peer pressure got the better of me.

Moving on.

The appearance for this was almost identical to the Assam – long, twisty brown leaves. These differed considerably in aroma, however, imparting a subtle sweetness and a woodsy/malty lean. Still very Taiwanese, but with some characteristics similar a Yunnan Dian Hong. There was also a hint of honey on the back-whiff.

Taiwanese Wild Mountain Black

The Wild Taiwanese brewed up a bit lighter than the Assam – by at least a shade or two. A sweet aroma from the dry leaves was still there, but after being…uh…wetted, they gave off a minty quality to the brew as well. Taste-wise, it was malty, sweet (as I’ve said a thousand times) and spry on the malt. Like a Ruby 18 but a little more…buff.

Paired

Left: Premium Taiwanese Assam. Right: Wild Taiwanese Black

The Winner: Wild Mountain Black. By a mile. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the Taiwanese Assam. But the Wild Mountain Black just did everything right…in my mouth. Like meeting a nice, sweet girl with a wild streak…but “old fashioned” at heart.

Old Fashion

2012 Wrap-Up – It’s All in the Tea Delivery

happy new year 2012 from father time and the new year's baby from histeria

2012 can suck it.

Okay, perhaps I should elaborate. Since about – oh – 2008, I can’t say I’ve had a particularly “good” year, by any stretch. They’ve usually been a mish-mash of good and bad. The finest example of this was 2010, which was just…bipolar. 2012, however, was just all-around shite right out of the starting gate. So bad, in fact, that I took an (unintentional) hiatus from anything to do with writing for the better part of December. I had nothing positive to impart, and – frankly – didn’t feel like rehashing my dark mood.

As a result, for this entry, I’m going to focus on the (few but far between) positive moments of the last year. Over the summer – like I’ve said in prior entries – I decided to “retire” from tea reviewing. My heart (and time) weren’t into it anymore. I was also under the delusion of focusing on other projects. That didn’t quite pan out, but – honestly – was anyone really surprised?

One of the things I was looking forward to was finally whittling down my vast tea stores. Without an influx of new teas coming in, perhaps I could finally notch them off – one cup at a time. That didn’t quite pan out, either. Reason being? The kindness of strangers. I may have given up on tea reviewing…but it didn’t give up on me.

I would like to highlight and wax awesomely about some of these kind folks:

The Photo-Biker Tea Shaman

If – by the grace of Brahma – I ever make it to Darjeeling in my lifetime, the first person I’m looking up is Benoy Thapa of Thunderbolt Tea. Back in ’08, when I first started writing about tea, I received a random Facebook friend request from him. It took me to several months to do “the maths” to figure out that he was the headliner of Thunderbolt. The following year, he sent along a care-package of teas to review and a few other goodies.

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He is solely responsible for my complete 180° opinion change about Darjeeling teas. In 2012, he came through again with some exquisite teas from Turzum, Risheehat, and Castleton. I wrote about each and every one of them, and I still pull the packs out for reflection. Benoy is probably the nicest tea-guy I’ve ever met, and I hope one day to shake his hand. And buy all of his tea. All of it.

Tea MC Tiff

There was a time in the middle of the year when I made regular tea pit stops to my favorite brick-‘n-mortar stores. On Saturdays, I usually made runs to The Jasmine Pearl. On Mondays, I could be found at Smith Teamaker. For the latter, I usually went in the morning before the rush started.

Tiffany was often the host on duty, and gracefully put up with my esoteric tea-fueled diatribes for the two hours I was there. She also made a mean bowl of matcha. Aside from the bowl, I usually left the place about two pots in.

On one such outing, she informed me that she and her son were planning a trip to Japan. She asked if I knew of any tea gardens that were near Kyoto. I racked my brain for a bit while sipping, then it hit me. Obubu! (I love that name.)

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I gave her the info on how to contact the garden for a tour. The following week, she told me that her contact form hadn’t been approved yet, nor had she received a reply about it. I took to Twitter to contact their main sales-guy directly. He replied mere seconds later and sped up the process.

Tea MC Tiff ended up visiting the plantation and had a wonderful time. That and she brought back some teas (plural) from her trip. Chief among them, some Hawaiian green and sakura blossoms – the latter of which had been on my Tea WANT! list forever. It took me forever to try it, but I’m thankful for the opportunity.

It really is who ya know.

The Purrfect Cup

Courtney Powers (great spy name, by the way) is my girl-bro. I say that because I can’t think of any other gal that has had my back in 2012 like this sister-blogger. She encouraged me if/when I was ever down, she was the perfect NaNoWriMo cheerleader (which I never completed), and the best part…

She sent me some damn good tea.

Zhu-Rong-XL

Thanks to her, I was finally able to try some of the wares from Verdant Tea, a company that I’d been eyeing for several months. Their Zhu Rong and Laoshan series were topnotch. And I wouldn’t have been able to say that if it weren’t for her “purrfect powers”.

The SororiTea Sister

The funny thing about this fellow tea reviewer – alias, LiberTeas – is that she’s practically a neighbor. I’ve never met her – probably never will – but some of the best teas I tried this year stemmed from her. Steepster’s to blame. I saw an update on that tea social media site regarding a Darjeeling white I’d never tried from my favorite estate – Giddapahar.

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I left only one comment on the actual SororiTea Sisters review. I think it said, “WANT!”

A couple of months later, I received a package from her with that Darjeeling white, and a few others she thought I’d enjoy. Prior to that, we had made a few tea swaps, and almost always, they had been unsolicited. She’s just that nice. I still have quite a few of those samples to pound through, too.

The Powers That Be

Along with insanely good blogging tools and advice, the Davenport duo that run this here site have also shown great tea patronage. This year, Jackie imparted some offerings from the Doke estate – the one managed by the Lochan family. One was an oolong; one was a white. Both were exquisite.

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I had plans to include them in an epic story, but that never came to pass – alas. But I’m still grateful to have had the opportunity to sip them. Copiously.

Big Brass Butiki-s

As I’ve mentioned before, Stacy Lim – the purveyor of Butiki Teas – is on my palate wavelength. She has a flare for the unusual, a leaning I can relate to and respect. She sent me an e-mail some months ago wondering if I’d ever heard of Japanese pu-erh. I rattled off some things I had tried, yet she said those weren’t what she was thinking of.

organic japanese puerh

Before I could apologize for not being more useful…she offered some up for sampling. A month or two later – barring hurricane delays – I received an ample package containing a sample of the aforementioned pu-erh and a few others. Of the nine, I’ve unfortunately only made it to two. With tea patronage like this, delays are inevitable. I couldn’t thank her enough.

“The Hero of Canton”

Back in the spring, I was “commissioned” by Canton Tea Co. for a guest blog on a couple of new Dan Congs they were putting on the market. Unfortunately, being well…uh…me, I didn’t finish the guest blog until that summer. I received an e-mail back from their sales lead stating that they had other plans for the blog. They were about ready to launch a new weekly tea club, and they wanted me to be a VIP.

What this meant exactly, I had no clue. I thought it consisted of a couple of samples as payment for the guest blog, and that was it. Boy, was I wrong.

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It’s been twelve (or so?) weeks since the official Canton Tea Club launch, and I’m still a member. I get new and unique teas once per week. They have yet to call upon me to do another write-up, but the teas keep a-comin’. I’m starting to wonder if it’s a clerical error, or if they’re seriously just that cool. For now, I’ll go with the latter and not question it.

I “heart” them dearly. And, seriously, their tea club is a game changer. You – fair reader(s?) – should check it out.

The Great Wizard Zendalf

Also in the spring, I received a DM over Twitter from Zen Tara requesting to send me some Darjeeling to review. This was prior to my “retirement”, so I naturally said, “Hell yeah!”

Time went by, though, and I never saw a package. I didn’t press them on it because – well – that’d be douche-y. What would I have said, “Hey, where’s mah free tea?!”

Uh…no.

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I let it slide, and forgot about it over the passage of time. Literally a week before Christmas, I received a rather large box in the mail. Five teas were contained in said box with a letter from “The Great Wizard Zendalf”. It told an epic story of how this delivery came to be, and instantly earned my approval of awesomeness. Among the teas in the package was a note-perfect golden-tipped Assam from the Khongea estate that I’ll be reflecting on at a later juncture. Still, what a way to make an entrance, Zen Tara. You know me too well.

Clouds and Mist

This wouldn’t be a true gratitude blog if I didn’t mention tea authoress, Jo Johnson. On top of being one of my biggest cheerleaders from the get-go, she also mentioned that I’m in the forward of her upcoming book. That alone caused more warm-fuzzies than any other moment this year.

A couple of weeks back I received a Christmas card and a sample packet of tea. It was a Cloud & Mist green, a type I’m not usually a fan of. However, I brewed it up anyway.

Not sure if it was the tea, my gratitude, or a bunch of other factors…but it was the best green I’d tried.

And I think that pretty much sums the good things from this year.

2012 can suck it

But I will still sip it.

Leaves of tea

Writing Epiphanies and Japanese Pu-erh

I had an epiphany last week…and I abhor it.

While in the middle of filing some tax papers at a temp agency gig, I was attempting to outline my CheatoWriMo project. Motivation was proving hard to muster. The idea of compiling and collating old blogs and stories seemed boring. An odd realization to come by while compiling and collating. If the prospect of preparing such a yarn didn’t appeal to me, how was it going to appeal to a reader? Then something hit me square in the brain – a surge of epic proportions.

It occurred to me that there were two novel ideas I had that I put on mothballs – one was called Brunch with Phantoms, the other was Love at Second Sight. Coupled with those was an idea from awhile back retelling the events from my blog – “The Sex Tea Saga” – in a fictitious manner. None of them had enough material in them to warrent their own novels. But together…

And with that revelation, my CheatoWriMo project became a lot harder. Instead of compiling and repurposing previously written material, I was now going to have to start from scratch. Oh, yippee. The “evolved”/new premise was thus:

 Raymond Elkins is a 25-year-old recent college grad with a life he thought he wanted. Everything was going according to “plan”, until one evening the unthinkable happened. He botched his anniversary with his girlfriend…by not getting it up.

Distraught, the twentysomething consults friends, family and the Internet for suggestions. This eventually leads him to an unassuming leaf found in some male enhancement products – tea. What begins, at first, as a quest for better sex leads him down a surreal and magical road – one wrought with danger and daring-do.

He must dodge vengeful goddesses, succubi,  snake-people, sentient birds and wizards bent on ending his accidental quest. And all he has to guide him are a talking cat, a low-rent psychic, an ill-tempered gnome, and an undead Scottish botanist. Where this journey may lead him, no one can know. But he just might find true love, a good cup of tea, and save the world while he’s at it.

Yeah, I know, it’s bats**t crazy, and starting it was like pulling teeth. I was actually beginning a legitimate NaNoWriMo novel now – albeit very delayed. It also didn’t help that there were distractions along the way. All tea-related.

Friday afternoon, a package was waiting for me when I returned from running errands. It was from Butiki Teas, and I muffled a squeal of delight as a courtesy to the neighbors. One particular tea in the fray demanded immediate attention – a Japanese pu-erh. You heard right, and – no – I didn’t know such a thing existed, either.

Apparently, those wacky Japanese in Shizuoka prefecture were playing around with new styles of fermented tea. I already knew of two, and even tried one last year (which I liked quite a bit). This was a different beast altogether. I can’t even fathom the process that created it. Appearance-wise, it looked like a typical Japanese kocha (black tea), but the aroma was far different – coffee, chestnuts, soy sauce, plums and…er, awesome?

According to the Butiki Teas bio, this was a tea that was fermented for two-to-three days – artificially – with/in a brown rice culture. In other words, a wacky Japanese take on the Menghai shou (or cooked) method of aging pu-erh. To be frank, this smelled a lot better than most cooked pu-erhs I’ve tried. Normally, I can’t stand the stuff. New teas, however? Totally my thing.

There was only one snag; I did not want to share this alone. So, I gave ol’ David of PDX Tea a shout and wondered if he wanted to partake as well. It didn’t take long to get an affirmative. That and he also had better brewing equipment for such an experiment than I did. We prepped it like the Butiki site recommended – 1.5 tsps., boiling water, four-minute wait.

I can’t even being to describe how this tasted. It was part barley, part coffee, part roasted oolong, part Korean black, and all delicious. It was probably one of the more unusual teas I’ve tried all year, and – boy – I’d had some doozies. The cocoa-ish aftertaste lasted well after the sip. A part of me wanted to acquire “moar!” just so I could age it myself for a few years. But, honestly, I don’t have that kind of patience.

Some pu-erh purists out there might be thinking that it can’t be called pu-erh if it doesn’t hail from Yunnan province, China. And they have a point. Technically, this would be a heicha, I suppose. I would call it “Japuerh”, but that sounds kinda racist.

The second tea-related distraction from my writing responsibilities was something I found out right after David and I finished copious amounts of oolong. His Alliance space and Charity Chalmers (of Chariteas fame) were hosting a Portland tea meet-up, and the emphasis was on aged teas. How could I not go?

Besides my own donations to the cause, highlights for my palate were a Yue Guang Bai white sheng pu-erh cake and a Bai Liang bamboo basket-woven pu-erh cake. Both were zesty, earthy, floral, winy and all around Entish. Yes, that’s a good thing. Mrs. Chariteas seemed to know her rare teas, and I made a mental note to visit her shop at some point in the near future.

Saturday, I finally got started on A Steep Story (the new title for the novel). Reliving some of those past, embarrassing events was mildly uncomfortable. Some say you aren’t writing anything worthwhile unless your soul bleeds. I’m not sure I buy that. I would hardly call what I put to paper Voltaire levels of excellence…but it’s a start.

A…very…small…start.

While this is technically playing by NaNoWriMo rules (i.e. starting from scratch), there’s still a hint of CheatoWriMo as well. I didn’t get started until about nine days in, so I’m giving myself nine days in December to continue. Beyond, if I have to. I’ll be damned if I’m not going to do this Little Nemo-meets-Scott Pilgrim yarn justice.

Pwned by Purple Pu-Erh

I remember when I first tried pu-erh; I couldn’t stand it. The black muck someone pushed in front of me didn’t seem like tea. It had the consistency of thin oil and the smell of sardines. This wasn’t something I could fathom anyone drinking. I was even more surprised to learn that there were pu-erh enthusiasts, and that it could be aged like wine. Prices sometimes rose in the thousands. “That does it,” I said to myself. “That will be my snobbery capper.” The moment I started worrying about the age of my tea would be the moment I’d stop drinking it.

That changed in a matter of years.

Now that I was completely far gone in my pursuit of aged teas, most raw pu-erhs (and all cooked pu-erhs) made before 2009 were met with skepticism. It was the winy note produced by the older ones; for some reason the youngling Yunnans lacked it. Even with that unwritten rule established, I was still a sucker for something unique. Even if it was new.

In this case, not only was it young…but it was produced this year. That made it no older than most Long Jings (a spring-harvested green). Along with some Kenyan Purple Tea (which I loved), Butiki Teas also sent me a rare sheng (read: raw) pu-erh that was dubbed “Wild Purple Buds”. The tea trees for this sheng pu-erh grew at an elevation of 6,000 ft., and naturally possess a higher level of anthocyanin (a flavonoid), which gave the leaves their purplish hue. Unlike the new Kenyan strain that was tailored to produce more anthocyanin, the leaves from this Yunnan cultivar already had it. Likeliest of reasons for this naturally-occuring…uh…”purple”-ing might’ve been the UV radiation exposure due to the higher elevation.

According to Butiki, the leaves for this uniquely young pu-erh were harvested from ancient tea trees (Da Ye, perhaps?) by the Wa tribe. From what I read, there are only 350,000 Wa living in China. They are predominately a rural culture living out of bamboo houses, and they still practice a form of slash-and-burn agriculture. Historically they are known for two bits of infamy – headhunting and their involvement in the opium trade. Most reside along the border of Thailand and Myanmar.

I found this mountaineering tribe far too interesting for my own good. Trying a tea from a former opiate-fueled, headhunting culture? Yeah that screamed “Awesome!” (Not a politically correct thing to say, I know.) It was time to give this purple beast a brew-up.

The dried leaves weren’t that purple to the eye, but there was a semblance of their fresher days in the red-brown palette on display. If I squinted, I could make out a purple leaf piece or two. They were also prettier than their more aged kin, looking more like wild leaves than – say – compost. Like with the Kenyan Purple, there wasn’t much of an aroma to speak of. What I could discern – if I tried – was a mild, wilderness berry-ish scent with a tinge of leafy smokiness. Definitely a sheng pu-erh.

Butiki Teas’ brewing instructions recommended a water temp of up-to-212F and twenty different infusions at three seconds or more – 1 level teaspoon of leaves per cup. I honestly didn’t have that kind of time. The first infusion I went for would be three seconds, but the last two – for note-taking’s sake – would be at my usual thirty-to-forty seconds approach. I also middle-grounded the temperature at 200F.

First infusion (ten seconds…accidental): I meant to do this for only three seconds (per the instructions), but I was having technical difficulties with the camera. That shot the three-second mark up to ten seconds. What resulted was a white tea-ish, pale yellow liquor with a grapy/grassy nose. First sip tasted like a smoker Silver Needle.

Second infusion (thirty seconds): It was the same clear liquor but with a more of a juniper aroma. The taste was slightly smokier, and I could see what Bukiti meant about the presence of oak. Still very white tea-like, though. Was this really supposed to be a pu-erh?

Third infusion (thirty seconds): What the heck? The liquor was still clear, but the aroma…what a change! I detected hints of strawberry and vanilla. The flavor echoed this – fruit-filled, creamy and sweet. Trailing close behind was a peaty finish. Very strange.

Fourth infusion (forty seconds): As expected, no change in the color. However, the same could not be said for the aroma; it was like blueberry-scented white wine. Flavor, though? Okay, forget the blueberry. That damn strawberry cream spiel was still going strong. How was that happening with so clear a cup? I dunno…

I think this tea was trolling me.

Fifth infusion (forty seconds): Still zero change in color. The wet, spent leaves in the gaiwan smelled like boiled artichoke hearts. The liquor itself was now fully reminiscent of a strawberry-cream-flavored white tea. I should know, I’ve had ’em. Taste-wise, though, it possessed only a faint fruit presence, a nutty top note, and a wood-smoked leafy finish.

To conserve time while note-taking, I actually poured the remaining contents of each of the five infusions into one cup. Only when they were combined did they taste anything remotely like sheng pu-erh. Well, a pu-erh that’d been blended with whiskey-dipped peat moss.

I’d gone five rounds with this pu-erh, and it still had all its strength – taunting me with its deceptively clear liquid. I ran out of the time I allotted myself in reviewing it and decided upon an intermission. There was someplace I had to be. However…

When I returned, I intended to go all in with the same leaves – Texas Hold ‘Em-style – in one last cuppa cage match. This time I opted for a Western Assam approach; five-minute brew time, boiling water temp. That would surely kill it. If not, I was fresh out of ideas.

Sixth infusion (five minutes): FIGHT! The liquor was still clear-to-pale yellow. The aroma was almost straight leaf, only more prairie-like. It tasted like the lewd embrace between a lemon and a maple leaf. Not fair! Where was it getting its resilience?!

SEVENTH! infusion (lost track o’ time): Now it was showing signs of fading. The flavor had receded to something more akin to a Bai Mu Dan – nutty, lightly fruity, and somewhat earthy. I may have sipped its remaining life, but the leaves still looked up at me. Always taunting.

This was one tough sheng pu-erh. It even stood steadfast where most Assams would’ve waved a white [tea] flag. There was just no killing it. I had been owned, “pwned”, schooled, defeated, beaten and broken by a purple leaf. And the fight tasted fantastic.

To purchase Wild Purple Buds Pu-Erh from Butiki Teas, go HERE.

Addendum: The brewing instructions per the Butiki site says to use 1 level tablespoon, not teaspoon.

(For a definition of “pwned” – for ye n00bs – go HERE.)

Four-Eyed No-Horned Flightless Purple Tea Drinker

Tea is a major cash crop in Kenya. Some of that is owed to Lipton. Thanks to Big L – and others like it – the entire country could be looked upon as one big tea garden dotted with a few cities and wildlife preserves. Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but – truthfully – Kenya produces a lot of tea. Unfortunately, most of it shows up in cheap-o blends for mass consumption.

Lately, though, there’s been a push to highlight the single estate offerings Kenya provides. Almost as if the country collectively said, “Hey! Over here! There’s more to us than Lipton!” I can proudly say I’ve tried three or four – a Kenyan white matcha (bizarre but beautiful), a whole leaf black (meh), and an English Breakfast variant (tres yum). But the real stand out – at least in the last year or so – has been the development of a new leaf cultivar dubbed “Purple Tea”.

Photo by the Tea Research of Kenya

Photo by the Tea Research of Kenya

The new clonal strain – dubbed TRFK 306/1 – was developed for its health properties as well as its potential resistance to pests. Its most noteworthy molecular component is a flavonoid called anthocyanin – the component directly responsible for giving the leaf its purplish hue. Anthocyanin was purported to be an antioxidant powerhouse (a topic still debated), but the actual food value was questionable. By itself, the flavonoid was considered odorless and flavorless.

Science-y talk aside, I was hooked on sipping the damn leaf six months ago. It was instantly added to my “Tea WANT!” list. Problem was no one carried it. Part of that was its recent introduction. Most tea vendors weren’t aware of it until the World Tea Expo this year. Some that I talked to that were intrigued by it chose not to pick it up. Of all the ones I encountered, there were only two: The Royal Tea of Kenya (the parent group providing it, a wholesaler) and Butiki Teas. I chose to go through the latter in acquiring it. Would it taste good? Hell, I’d be the judge of that.

The leaves – or rather, leaf fragments – had the appearance of black tea fannings. They weren’t quite CTC-cut small, but were definitely flirting with the granular grade. There wasn’t much of a purple sheen to them, not that I was expecting one. In fact, I found it odd that there was a sharp contrast between green and black, no in-betweens. I figured these would be fully oxidized when I got ‘em. As for scent, I was reminded of sweetened trail mix and Japanese (or Guatamalan)-grown black tea – floral, somewhat dry, and lightly sweet.

Brewing instructions called for a ½ teaspoon of leaves in 8oz. of 160F water infused for three-to-five minutes. That was as sencha-like an approach as I’d ever heard of. Those instructions came from the Royal Tea of Kenya page itself, but I was in the mood to experiment. Heck, Butiki’s site encouraged experiment. So, I decided to try three different infusions – one at the recommended 160F, one at 180F, and one at boiling. All at the three-minute mark, save for the last one where I’d do the full five.

First try (160F, three minutes): The liquor brewed up clear with a tinged droplet of green giving a slight impression of “tea”. The aroma had a roasted nutty impression, again supporting the sencha comparison. That was dispelled on taste when I was greeted with a grape front, a creamy-textured top note and a faintly vegetal finish. It had a lot in common with a Mao Jian.

Second try (180F, three minutes): The hotter temp yielded a pale, foggy amber brew reminiscent of steeped nettle leaf or guayusa. The aroma was sweet and almond-like with a trail of artichoke. As for the flavor, this was a tough one to discern. The front was fruit sweet and crescendoed on an even greater grape note than the prior attempt. Whereas the trail-off had none of the former’s vegetal lean; the nearest comparison I could find would be a Taiwanese (Formosa) oolong. Not surprising since this was an oolong-ish approach.

Last try (boiled to awesomeness, five minutes of EXTREME!): The liquor took on a bronze-ish lean for this last bit o’ crazy. Oddly enough, it was difficult to pinpoint an exact aroma, though. The only word that came to mind was, “TOAST!” But maybe that was because I was hungry. Butiki was right that the brew took on a bit more astringency with the more brazen temp, but I didn’t find it off-putting. The foretaste possessed a roasted fruit feeling on tongue-down, which transitioned in the weirdest of ways.

Usually, when I sense the…uh…”movement” of flavor from one note to the next, it’s a subtle feeling – not so, here. There was a faint echo of – and I know this sounds weird – cream-covered strawberries on interim, like I was riding a yogurtine go-cart from one taster note to the next. This alternated from roastiness…to “yogurt-cart”…to fruit…to “yogurt-cart” again …to finish. Unorthodox? Just a tad. But obviously my favorite of the three infusions.

In closing, I have no clue if this would make me run as fast as Kenyans – or even get me out of my chair – but what it did do was deliver on taste. At the end of the day, when all the health benefits and science-y technobabble’s been spouted, that’s all you need. Butiki’s founder also mentioned in passing that there existed a white tea version of this experimental leaf.

And I’ll be the first in line to guinea pig for it.

To purchase Butiki Teas Purple Tea of Kenya, go HERE.

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