The weather was piss-poor on Saturday. It wasn’t the kind of day where anyone would want to go anywhere. However, there was one event I absolutely could not miss out on – crappy weather or no. Tea friend, David Galli, was finally having the Grand Opening for his Portland Tea Enthusiasts’ Alliance sipping space. This might be the new hub of the Portland tea community, there was no way on Earth or Hades I was going to miss.
Sidenote: It surprises me that – even living in one of the rainiest states in the Union – Oregonians actually forget how to drive in it. I ran into no less than three accidents on the highway to PDX Tea HQ. One was a sideswiped hybrid that was literally blocking the entire exit…sideways. I had to squeeze my way around the dented hippie-mobile just to enter Southeast Portland. Okay, rant over.
I arrived rather early. Dave and co. were still setting up the space for the incoming crowd. It gave me ample time to look around at everything. PDX Tea HQ was shaping up to be an orthodox tea nerd’s paradise. People began arriving shortly after the official start-time. Some were familiar faces to me, but most were not.
That gave me quite a shock. Apparently, there is a Portland tea community of sorts, and I had been unaware of it. There were a whole slew of folks that new each other from different groups, classes, vendorships, workshops, and correspondences. The realization reminded me that I was living in a proverbial puerh cave of hermitism. There it was, the Portland tea community.
David was the perfect, casual host for the group. Weaving in and out of conversations and anecdotes with moderate finesse – like a tweed-vest-clad tea ninja or something. Whenever he had an announcement to make, he was able to grab attention without too much trouble. (Whereas I would’ve been shouting like a carnival barker.)
Among the first teas put up for palate perusal was a Yunnan white made from the “wild arbor” varietal. I had tried pu-erhs from that particular leaf, but never a white from it. Taste-wise, it was like a more feathery and grassy Dian Hong. The sucker lasted almost five infusions without losing strength.
The second on the docket was a green tea from the New Century Tea Gallery in Seattle. The family that owns it also operates their own tea garden in China. That alone was instantly fascinating. The tea itself reminded me quite a bit of a Mao Feng or a better-tasting Clouds & Mist green. High marks.
Thirdly, another green tea was brought out. This one I knew next to nothing about. Apparently, it was a green tea – simply dubbed “Zen Tea” – imparted to David by tea sommelier, Becky Lee. I wasn’t too familiar with its origins, but David did mention that it was grown and prepared in a monastery. Visions of Trappist monks filled my head. It was one of the more delectable green teas I’d ever tried – both sweet, floral, light and mildly fruity.
I mingled as best I could, but that was never my strong suit. Beyond talking blog-shop with a few folks here and there, I spent most of my time simply marveling at how connected these local tea drinkers were. It was quite a sight to behold, and David wove them all together like some sort of pu-erh-drunk puppet master. Unfortunately, I had to leave early.
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.
First, let me go on record by saying: “I am not against flavored tea!”
As a well-versed/rehearsed Earl Grey drinker, I can’t say I’m above a little dash of something extra. Some of the best teas I’ve tried have fallen under the “flavor”-ful moniker. Granted, I’m more prone to traditional(-ish?) approaches to scenting teas rather than the addition of gobs of extract. (And if it’s aged in an alcohol barrel, I’m all over that shit.) However, there is one recent abomination that I have to draw the line on.
I noticed the trend back in the fervor of my reviewing days. It seemed like something that would be a passing gimmick. The first I ever ran across was a strawberry-flavored matcha. It was…vaguely strawberry-ish, and even possessed strawberry seeds in the powder. Did I prefer it to regular matcha…oh heck, no. The second one I tried was a blueberry matcha, and it had no flavor at all.
But it got worse.
In the ensuing year, other flavors began cropping up. Caramel, banana, lavender, cheesecake (!!!), chocolate, vanilla derp-dee-derp and…maple syrup?! That was the final straw. Maple syrup-flavored anything is a gateway drug – one that leads to bacon. Yes, folks, you heard this prediction here first. We are a mere flavor agent away from having a baconmatcha!!!
Granted, to some of you, that doesn’t seem like a bad thing…but ask yourself this: Do you really want green tea with your bacon?
That is my limit. I can’t take it anymore. Matcha is a ceremonial beverage, one that induces a feeling of calm when it’s prepared. It doesn’t necessarily have to be prepared correctly – just to the drinker’s liking. As long as it is still matcha, then I have no qualm. But I’m putting my snobby foot down at flavoring the damn thing.
Tea leaves are universally known for being able to pick up flavor from either (a) the surrounding environment or (b) surrounding ingredients. Rose-scenting, jasmine-scenting, osthmanthus-scenting, masala-ladening – these are all very common and ancient practices. But have you heard someone say, “Do you know what this powdered green tea needs? Cheese. It needs cheese.” The closest thing we have to natural dairy tea is milk oolong, and it should bloody well stay that way!
I’m willing to give a pass on the existence of matcha blends, though. Case in point: Green tea powder blended with goji berry or acai. Those fruits can best be had in powdered form, anyway. Even better? Matcha blended with actual useful herbs like Gymnema sylvestre (the “sugar-destroyer” herb) or lemongrass. Those work! I’ve had ‘em.
In the end, I guess I just want one thing that’s left untouched. One thing that is still sacred and sucrose-less. If I have to, I’ll horde the good stuff to make sure that it remains pure. Because some powders are worth saving.
To those that have been following the sporadic attempts to give this blog focus, you’ll know I’ve been experimenting with tea fiction. Sometimes with wondrous results…and other times with startling missteps. Train-wreck or not, I figured an exercise on how these yarns developed was worth exploration.
Up until the “Great Vanishing” of September, I had two more entries planned. The process of how they came to fruition was simple. I would first try a rare tea, I would photograph the finished brew, I would jot down taster notes (like from my review days), then I would weave a story around said notes. I only made it halfway through this process on the last five teas I tried. So, what I’m going to do for you – fair reader(s?) – is show those taster notes, and the fictional blurbs I’d come up with around them.
Acquisition: This was one of three samples I received from Mrs. Tea Trade herself, Jackie D. I think she caught wind of my whimpering whenever someone mentioned the Lochan-purveyed, Bihar-located tea estate. She kindly donated this tea and a couple of others for my perusal and odd use.
Taster Notes: The leaves were actually much smaller than I thought they’d be – what with a name like “Silver Needle”. I was expecting plump, down-furred, rolled leaves, but these actually looked like tiny needles. They were comparable to a Risheehat Silver Tip I tried three years ago. There wasn’t much aroma to the leaves, either – spry, somewhat grassy, and mildly lemon-like.
The liquor brewed to a pleasant yellow-green with an aroma of apples and lime. Taste-wise, they more than lived up to their Yinzhen-ish moniker, delivering on the promised melon notes with added dollops of citrus and muscatel grapes. The finish reminded me of a warm Reisling, minus the alcoholic headache.
Fictional Use: This would’ve been the first tea tried by “the other me” (The Lazy Literatus, made manifest as a fictional character), Zombie Robert Fortune, and Thed the Gnome while at a subterranean train station. Formerly Fortune then gets nervous when he sees a literal Grim Reaper sipping tea from the far corner. Soon after, a literal tea trolley pulls up…that is also an actual trolley.
Acquisition: The second of the three Lochan samples, this was a rare Bihar, India oolong that had me all sorts of excited.
Taster Notes: The visual presentation of the leaves was rife with uniqueness. It looked like an orange pekoe black on first impression but possessed silver-tipped leaves amidst the darker brown ones. The aroma alternated between spice, chocolate and olives. It smelled quite a bit like an oolong I tried from the Phoobsering estate last year.
I gongfu-ed the heck out of this, but didn’t pay attention to brewing times. The liquor alternated between varying shades of amber and bronze throughout the successive infusions. On flavor, it was a surprisingly malty oolong with nutty and fruity notes sprinkled in for good measure. Overall, though, it resembled a more nuanced Nilgiri oolong.
Fictional Use: Once the three companions boarded the tea trolley-that-was-an-actual-trolley, they would’ve been greeted and waited upon a British rabbit in a suit – named Peter. (The security officer of the trolley.) Then their tea needs would’ve been tended to by his spouse, Jackie Rabbit. (Yes, I know, bear with me here.) That is when my alter-ego would’ve encountered another Doke offering – an oolong. All three would’ve found it exquisite, but it would also draw the attention of the Grim Reaper further back in coach.
This would’ve sparked a chase throughout the trolley, with a scared Zombie Robert Fortune attempting to run for his life. Reason being, he thinks the Grim Reaper is after him for escaping “actual death” – given that zombies are considered a clerical error. The three of them are finally cornered by the Reaper, who stops short and looks at “my” teacup, and says…
“Is that Doke?”
Then a gust of wind would’ve knocked the Reaper back, thus allowing him to be restrained by a British sweater.
Tea #3: Taiwanese Sencha
Acquisition: I received this lovely sample from the kind couple that own The Jasmine Pearl Tea Merchants. It was a simple blending green tea from Taiwan, done using Japanese techniques.
Taster Notes: I never actually took formal taster notes of this when I tried it. I guess I was just distracted by its awesomeness. In short, it reminded me a lot of Chinese sencha (which I love) and other Formosa greens I’ve sampled. There wasn’t much grassiness to it or much of a vegetal profile. It was slightly fruity and damn strong. One could even boil the heck out of the leaves for a bolder brew.
Fictional Use: This would’ve been the tea The Lazy Literatus was sampling as they all interrogated a restrained Mr. Death. Turns out the Reaper was actually a temp by the name of Solomon Grundey – a character I borrowed from a Devotea story – and that he wasn’t after Zombie Fortune at all…but rather the Doke Oolong that they were all drinking.
It would’ve been also revealed that the “tea trolley” trolley was run by two air elementals – Milly and Mimsy.
Acquisition: Also picked up from the folks at Jasmine Pearl. I practically had to beg for this one. I mean, Nepalese white tea?! Who’s ever heard of that? I didn’t pick up just one, but two! Both were exquisite, but this one was really something special.
Taster Notes: The visual presentation wasn’t much to write home about. It looked like a typical orange pekoe with downy-fuzzed leaves strewn into the mix. Nothing about it immediately screamed “white tea”. However, the aroma was leafy and slightly zesty – very similar to Bai Mu Dan.
The liquor brewed to a pale yellow and bombarded the nostrils with a fruit-sweet aroma. The taste – oh my, the taste! There were many things I could compare it to – a Darjeeling white tea from the Arya estate, a 2nd flush black tea from Sikkim – but it was entirely on its own in excellence. The flavor alternated between grape and citrus with a dash of sugar. The finish was tart and sweet.
Fictional Use: After disembarking from the Tea Trolley trolley, The Lazy Literatus, Thed the Gnome, Zombie Robert Fortune, and Grundey the Grim Reaper would’ve made their way to Nice, France. Their goal? A tearoom that caters only to immortals run by a guy named Tim.
Upon entering, Zombie Fortune’s original human color would’ve returned, and Grundey’s skeletal form would’ve grown skin. Tim greets them and explains that this is a refuge for immortals from all walks of life, then proceeds to sit them. The first tea offered would’ve been the rare Nepalese. After the initial sip, though, the tranquility of the establishment would’ve been interrupted by the arrival of the King and Queen of the Faery Folk – Oberon and Titania.
Tea #5: Guranse Estate White Crescent – Nepalese White Tea (2012 2nd Flush)
Acquisition: Same story as the other Nepalese white. Great but not perfect.
Taster Note: The leaves for this were rather lovely and looked quite similar to a Silver Needle white – save for their darker appearance. The aroma was also startling in its peppery presentation. I was reminded of a Huang Ya yellow tea on first whiff.
The liquor brewed up rather clear; only a smidge of pale yellow was detectable. The soup’s aroma echoed the dry leaf pepper lean but with a dash of muscatel. Taste-wise, it gave me a vague impression of Yunnan Gold black tea by way of a Darjeeling 1st flush – honey-like, fruit-filled, but with a hint of spice.
Fictional Use: Oberon and Titania would’ve arrived with much pomp and circumstance (and some wanton destruction). Their tea demands would’ve been a riddle: “We want white tea and/or green tea not of the normal East.” The request has Tim wracking his brain, but Grundey the Reaper answers the riddle by handing off the newer Nepalese white (the White Crescent) he was sampling. This appeases Oberon…but not Titania.
That’s when The Lazy Literatus realizes he still has some leaves from his Taiwanese sencha left. He (or rather, I?) passes it on to Grundey to brew up. It pleases Titania to an…almost embarrassingly orgasmic effect. The two faeries sit down and enjoy their teas peacefully. After the commotion dies down, The Lazy Literatus sees that one of the immortal patrons is Guan Yin – sipping from Liddy, the gaiwan he thought he lost.
Tim invites Grundey to stay on as an expert brewer. Thed and Robert Fortune also tell the Literatus that this is where they’ll be parting ways. Tim sadly informs the pajama’d writer that he cannot stay because he is neither magical nor immortal, but offers him a free ley-line teleportation home. After a sad farewell, the Literatus prepares to leave Tim’s ImmortaliTea Room. Not before Tim finally reveals that his name was actually Utnapishtim – the Babylonian Noah, and first immortal. He also offers him some sage advice – to apologize to a certain someone.
The Lazy Literatus finally approaches Guan Yin and says he’s sorry for writing the “adult” story about her and Robert Fortune. She accepts his apology, and tells him that’s all she ever expected of him, and returns the gaiwan. This allows him to successfully ley-line travel home.
After that particular arc had wrapped up, I’d also planned on relaying the adventure Liddy the Gaiwan would’ve had in nursery rhyme form. The story would’ve dealt with her forced journey into the Land of Leaves and her exploration of aged oolongs. I don’t know what I was smoking when I came up with that idea…seriously…
All said, I still haven’t abandoned tea fiction as a possible outlet. I mean, I still have a yarn about a cat-owned flying tearoom I want to write. But I will humbly acknowledge that I have a long way to go before I display it in the future. There are far better tea fiction stories out there. I can think of two right off the top of my head.
Some of The Devotea’s stories can be found on his blog HERE.
There’re also the fictional interviews put forth by The Purrfect Cup HERE.
In the meantime, I have some sci-fi to get back to. Un-tea-related. (-Ish?)
Previously on Steep Stories: Our fearless (or rather, fearful) protagonist was whisked away to an underground, dwarven tearoom in Darjeeling – one that was overrun with dancing snake-people. The crisis was averted by a well-placed Hindi movie musical number…oh, and splendid tea was had in the interim. Afterwards, the pajama’d thirtysomething, a gnome, and an undead botanist hastened their escape. And, now, the continuation…
“Well, this is awkward,” I said with feigned levity while sipping my green tea.
“You have a penchant for snark,” the once-living Robert Fortune grumbled.
The deceased-but-animated Scottish botanist had every reason to be ill-tempered. We were stuck in a rather large bird cage, guarded from all corners by birds. Worse, they were armed with what appeared to be glowing spears. I had no desire to discover what the “glowy-part” could do. On the bright side, though, the tea they served was good. Sipping it gave me time to think why all of the birds spoke Korean.
The only occupants of the cage were me, Zombie Fortune, and a rather disheveled, multi-tailed, yellow fox. Thed – our gnomish compatriot – was nowhere to be found. How we came to be caged by birds was the subject of debate. One moment we were escaping under Darjeeling – the next, we were greeted by pitch blackness, then…birds happened. When Fortune and I awoke, we were caged and served tea.
The bird-guard (?) that had handed us tea said only one word, “Teuksun.”
I assumed he meant the tea. The leaves were small by Chinese green tea standards, curlier than Japanese greens, and possessed a very different aroma than any green tea I’d come across. There was a sweetness and a smokiness to them that was strangely tantalizing. A bit of nuttiness also showed up in the after-whiff.
The liquor was a very light green with a yellowish tinge, very similar in appearance to a Chinese green. However, the scent was nut-sweet, almost like sencha by way of green rooibos. A lingering vegetal underpinning was also present. That same vegetal feeling showed up on first sip but transitioned to a bouquet of sweetened grass, chestnuts and autumn air. While excellent, a second steep turned out better.
“This is interesting tea,” I said, trying to distract from my predicament. “Hints of vanilla and caramel with a vegetal underpinning.”
“You’re not going to drink it?” I asked – greedy hands at the ready.
“I’ve been drinking it for the last six months,” the yellow fox said.
The leaves for this looked just like the Teuksun – vibrant, forest-green, curly leaves. What was different was…well…everything else. The scent was less smoky and sweeter. There wasn’t as nutty a presence, either. Instead, it was just very pleasant to the nostrils. Not too strong; not too soft.
On the flavor front, the darker liquor that resulted imparted a way different profile than the Teuksun. The sweetness was doubled, and there wasn’t as strong of a vegetal note either. Grassy, yes. (It was green tea, after all.)
“Kinda silky and sweet,” I said with a swallow. “Comparable to some good spring Long Jings I’ve tried.”
“Agreed,” Fortune said perkily, awaking from his funk. “A sweet, white winy note.”
“You said this was ‘Gamnong’?” I asked. “As in, the rich part of Seoul, South Korea?”
The fox sighed. “No, that’s Gangnam. Common misconception, actually.”
Ah, I thought to myself. It sounded absurdly close to “Gangnam” – a place I had only become aware of thanks to a song. A catchy song, at that. “Gangnam Style” by Psy – the first Korean crossover hit of its kind. I had a feeling the fox knew of that as well, hence the misconception.
“I’m surprised you speak English,” Fortune said between happy sips.
“I’m surprised you’re both human,” the fox chortled.
“He is,” Fortune said, pointing a thumb at me. “I’m not…well…anymore.”
“Undead,” the fox pondered. “That’s rough.”
The botanist shrugged. “I’ve had time to adapt to it. I’m Robert Fortune, this living lad is The Lazy Literatus.”
“I have a name!” I snapped.
“No one cares,” Fortune returned.
“I’m Hwang,” the fox said. “The English sort call me Yellow. For obvious reasons.”
“Any idea where we are?” I asked
“A pocket realm known only to magically-imbued birds,” Hwang explained. “Awaiting judgment.”
“For?” Fortune pressed.
“Me? Thieving. You? No clue.”
“There was a gnome named Thed with us…” I began.
“He’s being sentenced right now,” the yellow fox added gravely. “By the Sparrow Prince himself.”
“Sparrow Prince?” I repeated. “Seriously?”
“Yes, what’s odd about that?” Hwang asked in return.
“Oh, nothing.” I chose to leave the South Park reference alone.
“Wait…did you say, Sparrow Prince?!” Fortune demanded.
“Indeed I did,” Hwang rolled his eyes. “So glad you’re paying attention.”
“Damn,” Fortune seethed. “They’re gonna kill him! We have to get out of here.”
“What do you know?” I queried.
“I know that Thed is dead if we don’t rescue him.”
“Why?” I yelled.
“Because the Sparrow Prince is convinced that Thed sold actual sparrow tongues to humans in Korea two thousand years ago,” Fortune said through a heaving sigh.
“That’s stupid,” I said with eyes narrowed.
“Sparrows are stupid,” Hwang interjected.
Fortune continued, “Korean green tea is also known as jaksul-cha, which translates to ‘sparrow’s tongue’. Thed was one of the first magical creatures to bring tea leaves to the land that is now known as Korea.”
Hwang went wide-eyed, “He’s that gnome?! The one that was in hiding from Guan Yin?”
The undead Scotsman nodded. “The very same. He was part of Queen Suro’s caravan that brought tea seeds from India to ancient Korea. He was in hiding from the bodhisattva.”
“He’s famous among the fox-folk,” Hwang said with glazed eyes. “One of the greatest thieves and tricksters to ever ride the ley-lines.”
“He never intended to be,” Fortune countered.
“I didn’t either,” the fox winked.
“So…” I clapped my hands. “How do we get out of here?”
“Leave that to me,” Hwang said as he clanked his cup against the cage bars. “Guard! More hot water!”
One of the birdmen mumbled a curse in Korean, but sauntered off to fetch a kettle. When he returned, Hwang grinned with eyes closed. He, then, removed some dark-colored leaves from behind one of his tails. Appearance-wise, it looked like any typical black tea one would find on the market. The pieces resembled a BOP – dark brown, small, and with some curly pieces thrown in. Their aroma was straight nuts. No, not as in crazy, but actual nuts – almonds, I’d reckon. Only a few oolongs have had that type of scent. Before I could ask, he explained.
“This is what I was caught for – stealing tea leaves from a Korean bird merchant. How could I not? They were called ‘Hwang Cha’. It had my name on it, literally. I was framed, I tell ya.” He detailed his claim to “innocence” further as he brewed up the leaves.
The leaves gave the water a yellow gold color – like the namesake suggested – with a pleasantly sweet and roastly aroma.
“Is this really the time for –“ Robert Fortune began.
“Just you wait,” the fox said, pouring the liquor into our cups.
On taste, there was an initial creaminess that transitioned to the expected nutty mouthfeel, and all the while there was this sweet underpinning to the palate. In character, it was a lot like another oxidized “yellow tea” I tried from the Goomtee estate in Darjeeling, yet much more refined. It is as complex as all the other Korean teas I’ve tried. A bit on the pricey side…but you honestly do get what you pay for.
Hwang motioned us to come nearer to him. “Now, blow the steam at the guards,” he whispered. “I could’ve escaped this way at any time…but never had a reason ’til now.”
Fortune and I shrugged at each other but did as we were told. We each went to a corner of the cage, faced our cups to one of the spear-birds, and blew as hard as we could. A funny thing happened…and I do – literally – mean funny. When the tea steam came in contact with the guards, each one sniffed, shook their heads, and promptly collapsed into a feathered heap.
The fourth guard noticed his fallen comrades and seemed poised to signal for reinforcements. Hwang was faster, however, leaping clear across the cage – blowing steam right before he landed. The bird fainted in mid-caw!.
“I’m surprised they didn’t hear us plotting,” I said.
“They’re Korean,” Fortune reminded. “And birds are idiots.”
“And so am I,” I deprecated.
“No argument here,” Hwang stifled a chuckle.
We dashed as best we could to the only source of light in the oddly-tunneled, avian catacomb. Upon reaching the illuminated opening, we were greeted by a grand amphitheater. All the seats were packed with flocks of birds, gulls, jays, and every other assortment of feathered beasty. At the center of the “stage” was a diminutive man in a pointed, green hat. To either side of him, a bird yeoman, and confronting him were a sparrow with a crown and sword and a heinous looking beak of a bird in robes.
“Oh my God, he’s real,” I said, in reference to the South Park-like Sparrow Prince.
“Of course, he is,” Hwang responded. “Why wouldn’t he be?”
“Nevermind.” I had no time to explain a cartoon to a talking fox.
The Sparrow Prince was orating fiercely, outlining the charges against Thed in perfectly cadenced Korean. The robed buzzard-pelican-thing nodded at the accusations listed. I thought I heard the word “cannibalism” mentioned in conjunction with “jaksul”.
“So, what’s the plan?” Hwang asked.
“Leave this to me,” Robert Fortune said, clearing his throat. “My fellow avian citizens!”
The interruption was met with alarmed squawks and siren calls. Fortune did his darnedest to academically explain the linguistic misunderstanding made by the Sparrow Prince and his ilk. The lecture was welcomed with deaf ears and deafening screeches. Hwang was right; birds were idiots.
“He’s dying out there,” I cringed. “Well…more than usual.”
Hwang nodded in agreement. “Zombies are horrible at speeches. Soul of the voice is the first thing to go with undying. “
“I guess I’ll have to give it a g-“
“No!” the yellow fox waved me back. “As a human, you’d be mauled on sight. I’ve got this.”
The multi-tailed fox leapt into the air and landed right in front of the Sparrow Prince. The bird squawked something akin to gibberish. Hwang – in turn – held up a hand to the sparrow’s beak and said one thing. One thing that I had hoped he wouldn’t say.
“Oppan Gamnong Style!” the fox shouted. Electrosynth music blared to accompany his battle-cry.
Hwang had actually done it – took a well-known pop song (and Internet meme) and turned it into a tea pun. If I hadn’t been so embarrassed by it, I would’ve teared up at the ingenuity. The little trickster-fox trotted his way around the amphitheater, and the birds frenzied with him – enraptured by the retardedly addictive song. Fortune and I grabbed the chained gnome while the birds were distracted.
“Yet another adventure that ends in song, eh?” Thed commented dryly.
“Shut up,” Fortune said with exasperation. The poor zombie had been out of sorts this entire debacle. I guess being caged did that to the undead. Who knew?
As we made our way out of the bird tribunal, I looked back at the commotion. I briefly made eye contact with the fox – various chirping flyers swarmed around him. He smiled and winked before his form was enveloped by the fog of feathers.
I hesitated…then left.
Sacrifice by tea…and dance, was my final thought before leaving the “birdemic” behind.
Special thanks to Hankook Tea for providing the samples for this write-up. To purchase their wares, go HERE.
A week and a half ago, my brother/roommate (bro-mate?) and I decided to grab happy hour and a movie. It was our typical Tuesday outing. The theater in our neck of the woods sold cheap tickets on that day. Cheap food and good microbrews seemed a perfect pre-funk. Even if the movie was bad, the resulting fuzziness could lighten the suck factor.
Not this time, though. My brother had reign over our selection, since last week was my choice (the gods-awful Immortals). And what did he decide upon? Twilight: Breaking Dawn – Part 1. I was dumbfounded.
To be fair, I didn’t loathe the movies as most men do. Well, except the second one; that was pure alien shite. The first, however, was okay…if forgettable. The third – Eclipse - actually appealed to me on a visceral level. To its core, it was a war movie interspersed with crappy romantic moments. It also helped that it was directed by David Slade – an actual horror movie headliner.
This time around…ugh…
I could go on for pages on how awful the movie was. Even by Twilight standards, it was putrid. But that’s a subject for another blog. What I’m here to reflect on is what it did to me; that being, turn me into a blubbering manbitch.
After coming home, my brother and I got into an argument about housework. He commented that I didn’t take the garbage out correctly; I retaliated with something unintelligible. (To his credit, his argument was sound.) This went on for a good twenty minutes before ending in my passive-aggressive silence.
To escape the homebodied tension, I turned to the Internet. Unfortunately, I proceeded to get into a “dildo” fight over Twitter. Worse still? I was taking offense. To the Internet. I shut it off. What the hell was happening?
The realization hit me like a two-ton Avon delivery truck. That crapstain of a movie had vaginalized me. There was no other explanation for the whimpering pile o’ girl parts I was acting like. A cure was needed, something with a manly combination.
What is manly? I thought to myself. Something phallic? No, too gay. Something that implies “phallus”, that could work. What is shaped like a penis? Pickles! Wait, still gay. Okay…something that implies “pickles” that in-turn implies “phallus”…all for the sake of restoring manhood.
Image Owned by Norbu Tea
The answer was simple: Combat femification with something deemed feminine with a manly connotation. It was right in front of me the whole time. That same night, I reached for a bag of “pickle tea”.
To clarify, no, it was not literally tea made from pickles, rather tea leaves that had gone through a fermenting (read: pickling) process. I received a sample from Norbu Tea of a Japanese green tea that’d been on my “WANT!” list for awhile. Funny thing is, before they chimed in, I didn’t even know what the stuff was called. All I knew was that it was barrel-aged…and I wanted it for that very reason. Everything from a barrel was awesome – including monkeys.
The leaves for this stuff were huge, fanned out, lumpy, dark green, and possessed a kelpy aroma. In other words, everything a typical Japanese tea was not. There was even a vinegary aspect to the scent – not quite as offensively so as kombucha, though. Brewing instructions were also thankfully simple. This was a green tea that could take boiling water. Norbu recommended a pre-wash of ten seconds, like with a pu-erh to “open” the leaves, followed by a heaping teaspoon of leaves in a cup of fully-boiled water, infused for up to three minutes.
The result was a liquor that brewed almost completely clear save for a slight tint of yellow-green. Even the palest of white teas were darker by comparison. The aroma, however, betrayed its bold character. And its taste rounded out its odyssey of a profile. Unlike the usual vegetal, nutty, pan-fried-to-hell senchas I’ve had, this citrusy and tangy. I felt relaxed and revitalized, and a slight – er – tickle of pickle showed up on aftertaste.
This was the anti-sencha. Perfect catharsis for a movie outing that reminded me of bad sencha one finds in a conveyor belt sushi restaurant. Nutty and mulchy…like a chick flick that even women wouldn’t touch. I prepared this tea several other times until my testicular fortitude felt renewed. It took a week before I felt completely normal again, but the job was done.
I don’t apologize for being bad at machismo. I don’t regret being a male tea drinker. But I do regret subjecting myself to worst form of movie emasculation ever put to celluloid. As irony would have it, all it took was a tea to bring me out of it.
[This was the first tea blog I ever wrote. It was posted on Myspace in late '07. (Remember that site?) The entry garnered 30+ responses over a week and even spent some time ranked in the Top 20 "Romance & Relationships" section. I have yet to top it, but I have also never revealed it to my tea circle. Until now.]
I’ve been asked on multiple occasions what started my unsurpassed obsession with tea. My leanings are neither hippie or New Age-y, and I shy away from most holistic approaches. The reason for my reluctance in relating this story is simple. It’s downright embarrassing. However, even I must acknowledge that it is a tale that must be told, and – so – here it is.
The origin of my fascination with tea.
It all started with a quest, a very manly quest.
It began in the fall of 2004, my first year back in Oregon. College was a somewhat distant memory, separated by summer’s lack of whimsy. Already, the four-year sabbatical to the desert state of Nevada had taken refuge in the recesses of my mind. The last six months were akin to a purgatorial nightmare. I was now home, back in the bosom of the Northwest. Real life – or so it felt – had just begun. The academic reverie was over. I was 27.
Changes occurred rather rapidly. My parents had moved to California and offered their three-story behemoth as a rental to my sister, her husband, and myself. Within a month, I was saddled with two jobs. In late-October I even landed myself a girlfriend. Quite quick indeed.
About a month into the relationship, it had reached “that stage” – the to-do or not-to-do dilemma. My experience level was infantile at best. College had trained me for many things, but I’d shied away from Hook-Up 101. Or more to the point, I think I fell asleep in class. Maybe it was geek thing, I dunno. Eh, we’ll blame it on that for now.
Our dates up to that point were mostly informal outings, occasional Blockbuster nights, a party or two, nothing grand. It was time for that next step: Inviting her to my place.
I made the necessary preparations:
Breath mints? Check.
Change out single bed for the guest room’s queen-sized? Check.
(Trying to explain the furniture move to my mother/landlord was a difficult task.)
The night was upon me.
She arrived with a batch of Coupling episodes she received from Netflix. We sat on the couch, popped the DVDs in, and cuddled a bit. Cuddling led to kissing then to the notorious “heavy petting” teenagers are condemned for. She whispered The Question as she straddled me on the couch. I cocked an eyebrow in confusion. She reiterated. I nodded.
Upstairs, we went.
Everything proceeded according to plan; the undressing, the massaging, the Trek-like exploration of vitals. Things were moving along like clockwork, textbook even. I caressed where I thought I should caress, kissed (and/or licked) where I thought I should lick. 80s sex comedies had trained me well, or so I thought.
We were go for Phase Two! That whole “unity” thing. But there was a problem. Nothing happened. The knight was suited, but for some ungodly reason…he’d forgotten his bloody horse.
My heart sank.
The mainsail hadn’t hoisted. The soldier didn’t salute. The batter never left the cage. The car wouldn’t leave the garage. Oh, hell, you get the point.
The night was officially a botch.
I drove her home. She was silent, and I was sullen. She may have put the blame on herself, as women often do in that situation, yet I knew where it lay- squarely on my shoulders. Something was wrong with me, and I didn’t know what. Everything had been perfect! The timing was right! Lust was in the air! Pheromones had fireworked! I had to learn what went wrong.
To the Internet!
According to various sites, the causes for impotence were innumerable. There was performance anxiety, reactions to medications, high blood pressure, obesity, illness, mental health, physical impairments – the factors were endless. I was stumped. Mr. Happy-Pants worked well enough for me during solo training, why the hell had it caved under pressure during the actual mission? (Maybe it was my terminology? Er…no.)
Eventually, I ruled out the physical causes. I wasn’t that obese, blood pressure was normal, and – for the most part – all my limbs were working. Well, except the bloody key one. That left the mental.
Only methods used to combat sexual anxiety were rigorous therapy, hypnotherapy, or resorting to the infamous “blue pill”. I really didn’t want to do that. To admit that I was under 30, moderately healthy and in need of boner-meds made my stomach knot. That left one other viable alternative. One I hadn’t ever dreamed I’d explore. It was notoriously out of character for me. I looked to male enhancement products.
Everyone has seen these big bottle-jars with names like Mega-X-Tone or Testost-X-Treme…or anything that had a bold-faced “X” in the title. They are a ghastly sight. Just looking at them makes one think they’re buying into the biggest scam on the planet. Not to mention even the staunchest atheist would think he was making Baby Jesus cry.
I read the ingredients. Some were elements in nature I hadn’t even heard of; herbs such as yohimbe bark, ginkgo biloba, kava kava, and…wait…
What the hell did green tea have to do with male enhancement?!
Each of the products I looked (or winced) at had one ingredient in common. Aside from the weirder African-sounding herbs, they all had a generous helping of green tea extract. I was no stranger to tea. At one time or another I’d partaken of Earl Grey or chamomile. The black teas tasted like smoky burlap, and chamomile knocked my ass clean out. Green tea was unexplored territory, and here I was seeing it on the back of a cheesy “X” label.
This revelation needed some back-up. My cousin’s girlfriend (at the time) was somewhat well-versed in the ways of green tea. She’d touted it for as long as I’d e-known her. While she couldn’t confirm the virility claim, she could attest to its other health properties. These were not limited to: weight-loss, lowered blood pressure, lowered cholesterol, increased immunity, the elimination of free radicals in the body, and increased blood flow.
The last benefit caught my interest. I won’t go into the inner workings of the male anatomy. If you don’t know by now, then there’s no hope for you. The Cliff’s Notes version being, erections rely on healthy blood flow. Hurray!
I started drinking green tea. To my surprise, I actually liked it. Grassy aftertaste and all. It was quite refreshing. Unfortunately, I didn’t notice any immediate “changes”. What can I say? I’m the impatient sort. As such, I browsed the tea aisle to see what different types of green tea were out there. One stood out above all the others.
Honey Lemon Ginseng.
When researching the herbal extract info on the aforementioned “X” varietals, I ran across mentions of ginseng. Panax ginseng, to be precise, was often touted as a sexual tonic in Asian cultures. This was news to me, so I bought a box.
The first test-drive was a train-wreck. It tasted good. Damn good. Lemony-green-ish goodness. I had five cups of the stuff in a two-hour sitting. Moderation? Who needed it! What I should have read more closely was that this blend was caffeinated.
Anyone in the herbal know is aware that Panax ginseng, while beneficial in some areas, is also a stimulant. Not as earth-shattering as caffeine, but rather one that is slow-building. The box even highlighted that the blend was for giving someone an extra kick in the morning. And kick it did.
The first day I tried it, I was jittery and buzzing. I went and saw a movie to calm myself down, can’t recall what. I called my Dad, rambling a mile a minute about feeling weird.
He said, “Maybe you should lay off the ginseng.”
I knew he was right, but I was stubborn. A part of me thought maybe this was its way of working. None of the other green tea blends ever made me want to run through walls while singing a merry tune. I gave it a second chance.
Day Two came around. My girlfriend and I were set to have dinner at her parents’ house. For the first time ever. I was another four-ish cups of Honey Lemon in, all jitter-buzz-a-go-go. Why four? I dunno. I thought we were going to do stuff later and wanted to be aptly prepared.
I had three mini-panic attacks during dinner. No one noticed, thankfully, but my breathing was fast and labored. My eyes darted from corner to corner. Sounds were sharper. Smells irritated my nostrils. I existed in a tunnel version of my own head.
She drove me home after. I went through some sort of Lamaze-style panting to keep from freaking out. Nausea crept up in me. She asked if I wanted to come over. I said I wasn’t feeling well. It was the truth, but try explaining that to a girlfriend convinced you weren’t attracted to her.
In a huff, she dropped me off. I went to the kitchen and threw away the lemony-goodness box, never to touch the stuff again. Back to square one.
December rolled around, and I made another discovery. I entered the world of herbal supplementation. My first foray was multivitamins, but on a whim, I purchased a bottle of ginkgo biloba. In addition to its X-pantheon tonic-like qualities, I also read it was good for memory and mental alertness. The extract gave me abdominal cramps almost instantly upon taking it.
I read the label after the fact and discovered that – in some rare cases – ginkgo could cause “gastrointestinal discomfort and irritability”. That was the same month I discovered I was sensitive to a lot of things. Certain health foods made me queasy, I couldn’t hold my liquor, I reacted quickly (and sometimes adversely) to certain herbs, and caffeine booted me in the head and gut at the same time. Reading side-effect information on anything became second nature.
Then I discovered a green tea online that had ginkgo and Panax ginseng in it! I read the label and ingredient information carefully. It was decaffeinated. I gleefully ordered a batch. It came in the mail about a week later. I poured myself a cup, nursed it gingerly, and waited for any adverse ginkgo-like stomach punches to occur. None did. It even helped in…uh…that area from what I observed.
Too bad it tasted like tree bark…and ass.
I tried to mix it with other teas to mask the flavor. Ginkgo has a distinctly tangy and leafy taste followed by a rough aftertaste, reminiscent of eucalyptus. It really is quite offensive to the tongue. The only other tea that would compliment it was a lemon-ish green tea blend that contained Siberian ginseng.
The potential horrors of Panax ginseng were firmly established, but I didn’t know much about its redheaded stepbrother, eleuthero (Siberian ginseng). I did some reading and learned that it had only mild stimulant effects, no sexual tonic properties, and mainly worked as a mental alertness enhancer, which was fine by me.
By the time I was ready to field-test the stuff, the relationship with my girlfriend had gone south. She was through waiting. This was a clear case of gender reversal. Instead of the girl being hesitant towards sex, it was me. I was the reluctant one. Part of this might have been due to our seven-year age gap or my continued anxiety, I dunno. We parted ways somewhat amicably.
Aside from a couple of dating stints here and there – one physical, others not-so-much, none long-term – sex had receded to non-issuedom. My tea habit hadn’t regressed, though. In fact, the addiction blossomed.
A love for green tea graduated into a love for white tea. A reverence for generic bagged teas grew into a quest for more esoteric blends. Eventually, I was ready for loose-leaf teas. I loved them. All of them. Black teas still hadn’t caught hold, but herbal blends, fruit fusions, and designer teas did. An amateur tea snob was born.
Work shifts without a cup of hotness seemed an irregularity. Tea became synonymous with, well, me. I would go to friends’ houses with a mug of some herbal concoction in hand. Often times, I would forget to take it with me. Proposed tea dates were my standard meet-and-greets with new women. While not a successful way to prove one’s self as more than a Friend Zone dweller, it did provide for a nice day out.
Knowing the locations of local teashops helped me broaden my leaf-like horizons. Beforehand, my knowledge of Portland and peripheral areas were limited to bars, clubs and tourist traps. The teashop quest allowed me to seek out odd-ended nooks and crannies of the surrounding area.
I also felt considerably better, rarely getting sick. And even if I did, the duration for the ailment was considerably shorter than usual. Colds were a rarity, flues were still commonplace but not as dreadful and bed-ridding, and stomach flues were cast aside after a day thanks to good ol’ Captain Chamomile. I was a proud herb-a-whore.
The ginkgo tea I took was the last vestige of my original purpose. Eventually, after further research, I learned that I was taking the medical equivalent to an Alzheimer’s patient’s dose per day. A normal healthy adult only needed, maybe, 120 mg of the stuff. The tea I drank contained over 600 mg. No wonder I felt surprisingly irritable. Like ginseng, ginkgo was also a stimulant. Sure, it helped in the one area I set out to improve, but in lieu of other health considerations, it had been rendered obsolete. By the end of 2005, I limited my intake to once a week, and eventually substituted it for it’s lesser ginseng-only cousin.
It wouldn’t gain favor again until February of 2006.
I won’t (i.e. can’t) go into detail as to the encounter, for I’m sworn to some amount of discretion regarding the finer points, but I will say that Ol’ Man Ginkgo came to the rescue. For a good three hours. Okay, yes, there were “union breaks”, but it didn’t take long to get back into the swing of things. The stuff really did work!
There was still the taste issue, however, even with the Siberian ginseng’d green tea’s citrus-y cover-up. Nothing could get rid of the tree-bark-ness of it, nor contribute to the virility issue. Er…not that anything really needed to top what was already included, but – hey – while your kicking ass, might as well jot a few names. Right?
The final breakthrough wouldn’t appear until February this year. Perusing a tea store – which was conveniently located in my stomping grounds, huzzah! – a fellow tea-nerd and I noticed a strange line of herbal blends. The cashier informed us that they were herbal fusions specifically designed to coincide with each of the bodies chakra points – all seven of them.
I bought the sample pack to try each one.
If you don’t know what chakra points are, well, I really don’t have time (or space) to go into the finer nuances of it. Just look up any yoga-related material on Google, or you can be extra nerdy and watch a couple of episodes of Avatar: The Last Airbender. Those will give you a basic rundown.
The one that grabbed my attention was for Chakra #2, the dragonfruit blend. The bag and box describe it as vital for “tantra and sexuality”. Contained in the blend was an herb known as damiana. Further inquiries revealed that the herb was often used as a sexual tonic for women in Latin America. Studies regarding its potency were still in its infancy, but apparently it also worked on men. Hoo-boy, did it! I found out the hard way at work…pun quite intended.
The taste was also pleasant – light citrus, faintly tangerine-like without the tartness. Very pleasant and very subtle. So, I tried it with the ginkgo tea. The bark-ass taste was gone. No aftertaste either. I no longer felt like I was tasting tree! Victory was achieved.
Which brings us to the present.
I have yet to try my newfound Sex Tea blend in a practical setting. Not quite sure where/how that’ll happen in the near-ish future. But when it does…