Steep Stories

of the Lazy Literatus

Tag: O5 Tea

Who Pooped in the Microwave?!

Last week ended in a way no one could ever have suspected. I won’t say what I do for a job, but one of the tasks is checking microwaves. And someone had pooped in one. No, there was no log present, or a diaper…just dark matter, a rancid smell, and a feeling of “I-failed-at-life-choices”. Worse off, my head was in said microwave when I made this unfortunate discovery.

Do-Not-Microwave-Head

I mentioned this unique event on Facebook. Robert “The Devotea” Godden – ever-ready with a quip – mentioned that Gary Robson, author of the Who Pooped in the Park? children’s book series, should do one titled: Who Pooped in the Microwave?

Gary’s response was, “I don’t think that microwave could ever be cleaned adequately. I say ‘ick’, and that’s coming from someone who writes poop books for a living.”

That was only the tip of the shitty iceberg, though. On top of having my head stuck in a shitty microwave, I was missing the Northwest Tea Festival. I had arranged for the time off, my handlers had worked their schedules around my absence…but then my finances took a nosedive. As such, I had to opt out of attending.

As fate would have it, though, the day of the teafest, I had money to attend. How…fitting.

Butt!…I mean, BUT there’s a silver (not brown) lining. The tea fest kinda came to me.

Pu-erh and Pizza

That following Sunday, I received word that Jo Johnson was due in. I knew she was making a stop in Portland, but I wasn’t sure as to when. We agreed to meet up for tea in the evening. Since she was staying with local friends in the Alberta area, we settled on Townshend’s Tea for the meet-up.

In anticipation, I got their early and asked for their specialty menu. Because I’m…well…me. As luck would have it, they were in possession of some mandarin orange-aged shou pu-erh. I ordered a large pot of that and awaited her arrival.

Tea Folk Trilogy

I had expected to only see Jo, and maybe her friend’s Jim and Marilyn, but Darlene Meyers-Perry was also with them! A whole mess o’ tea people! Jo and I split the pu-erh pot and talked shop, then joined up with the other three for pizza. They related to me how the NWTF went, and I chimed in…in my own caffeinated sorta way.

A grand way to start the week.

A Tale of Two Canadians

I knew Pedro and Brian – owners of the O5 Tea Bar in Vancouver, BC – were stopping through Portland, but I didn’t know when, how or in what capacity. Turns out it was same weekend. I received a phone call from Pedro right before I met up with Jo at Townsend’s .

(Sidenote: For those who don’t know who I’m talking about, go HERE. I met them while tea-picking. I swear.)

Pedro and Brian were jaunting throughout the Northwest meeting with potential co-op clients. On top of owning O5, they also ran a wholesale tea business called Two Hills Tea. While not the rare stuff that O5 featured, their selection on the Two Hills website was still mighty impressive.

As we nursed beers at Imbrie Hall, they related to me some of their back road adventures in Asia.

Tea Folk Trilogy (2)

One of the things that is unique about this pair of gents is that they source directly from farmers as if they’re on a road trip, then they shop their wares in the States and Canada in pretty much the same way. Seriously, this is the stuff of movies.

They also related some unique teas they’ve tried, including a Bangladeshi “pu-erh” variant.

I must have this.

Gold Nuggets and GABA

My final visitors came in the form of the family Robson. Gary of Red Lodge Books and Tea was in town for a book convention and signing. He originally asked if I knew of any tea joints, and suggested we meet up at one. The closest I knew of to where he was staying was The Jasmine Pearl Tea Merchants. That Tuesday, I ferried him and his son there.

We went through…oh, hell…I forgot how many teas. Particular favorites for them were the GABA oolong and a Gold Nugget Pu-erh.

Tea Folk Trilogy-3

(You can read about Gary’s take on that HERE.)

Afterwards, we met up with his wife Kathy for sushi. It wasn’t in my budget to indulge expensively, so I settled on one eel roll and a dark Asahi. A Japanese beer that reminded me of a German dunkel – very odd.

A very pleasant outing. Now, it’s my turn to venture up their way to their teashop/bookstore. Can’t come soon enough.

Oh yes…I almost forgot. Gary left me with a parting gift. His latest in the Who Pooped…? series. Fitting, given the way my last week ended, but definitely welcome.

Tea Folk Trilogy-4

Conclusion

I only have one regret of this last week. Well…besides shattering my favorite tea mug, ripping my pants, spilling beer on myself (and later a computer), and  the aforementioned “micropoop”.

The following Saturday, I attended a green tea tasting at The Jasmine Pearl as part of their Tea Fest PDX program list.

IMAG1245

Among the usual standbys – like Long Jing and Mao Jian, which I adore – they also featured a houjicha from China! I had no idea I’d run into a unique tea at this thing, but I was pleasantly surprised by it. But I digress…

I missed another tea person by a mere two hours.

Michael J. Coffey and his partner were just in The Jasmine Pearl earlier that morning.

Well, poop.

A Korean Tea Coin and a Firepit

A Korean Tea Coin and a Firepit

A “steep story” by Geoffrey F. Norman

 

Dokk-cha (or “Tteok-cha, as I like to call it) is a type of pressed tea from Korea. If you’ve been following along in my latest exploits, you will recall I made mention of it in my Canadian-Burlington tea-picking adventure. Pedro Villalon of O5 Tea was kind enough to gift me with one of these coins. Learning what to do with it was going to be a challenge.

Dokk Cha

Image Owned by the Cha Dao Blog

I first learned of dokk-cha through the ever-resourceful Gongfu Girl blog. They’d had an experience with some of these tea coins at the Phoenix Tea shop and provided an anecdotal how-to on their preparation. In addition to that, she provided another article posted in Cha Dao (written by Steven Owyoung) about the history of dokk-cha. The word “dokk” is actually an onomonopia referring to both the compression technique used for the tea leaves involved…as well as the sound they make.

Many foodstuffs used to be duly…uh…dokk’d, besides tea leaves. Rice was a common one back in the hither and yon. The making of dokk-cha, unfortunately, fell out of favor during and after the Japanese occupation of South Korea – until recently. Monks, tea farmers, or anyone with a wacky idea have been reviving the age-old technique.

The process for making dokk-cha – unlike other compressed teas like pu-erh – is labor intensive but rather simple. Tea leaves are steamed in an earthenware pot, then taken out once softened. Then they’re given a beating via a mortar and pestle until they become a nice, green paste. Said mulch is then pressed (or dokk’d) into the shape of a coin, or whatever the presser wishes.

The ideal way of brewing a pressed tea coin is to lightly roast it over burning olive pit charcoal. Such specialty charcoal is hard to come by outside of Asia Major, but any ol’ charcoal could be substituted. The roasting takes fifteen minutes, or until the coin is pliable. After that, you place the coin in a pot of water over a stove (on a low simmer), and brew it for three-and-a-half hours.

I didn’t have olive pit charcoal. Or a charcoal stove of any sort. Nor did I have chopsticks, tongs, or whatever else to hold the coin in place. What I did have was a brother…

Who made his own firepit.

FIRE!

Close enough.

Unfortunately, he didn’t have any chopsticks to use as a pair of tongs. However, the substitute suggestion was far better – skewers! I asked him what the skewers were used for prior to fitting the coin on one.

His response was, “Uh…tofurky?”

I left that alone.

Over the course of fifteen minutes, I sat in a chair as my brother added whatever kindling he could to the pit. For a man about to get married, he had quite a bit of wood in the backyard to provide for said cause. Ever the do-it-yourselfer, my brother.

As I waved the coin over the flame, there were a couple of times where I didn’t watch what I was doing. Flame occasionally licked the coin itself. I’d heard that was supposed to be avoided. Once fifteen minutes had passed, I looked at the coin. Part of it was lightly smoking. Oops.

Roastin'

I took a whiff.

For lack of a better comparison, all I can say is that it smelled like a reefer madness. Roasty, yes. But very cannabis-like. I gave a nervous smile and motioned us over to the second phase – the simmering and long wait. Bro took out a pot, and put the stove on the lowest setting. I plopped the coin in and monitored the progress of the brew every forty-five minutes or so.

On a couple of occasions, I took the lid off the pot to get a good look-‘n-sniff. The water was darkening nicely – a very even, broth-like darkness. The aroma was…hard to describe. At one moment it reminded me of a roasted Dong Ding. On another, later whiff it resembled a Ti Kwan Yin. Very peculiar.

Almost ready

In the interim, my brother and his fiancée were entertaining guests. I tried to stay out of their way as my experiment manifested. They did, however, coax me out of hiding with a sweet potato veggie burger and gelato. I can never say “no” to gelato.

At the three-and-a-half-hour mark, I turned off the simmer, and – with my brother’s permission – poured the soup-like liquor into his French press. The liquor was very shou pu-erh-like in appearance, but the aroma reminded me of a very ancient Taiwanese oolong.

French press

The entire time, my brother kept the firepit stoked. We all gathered around it – them with their beers and juices, and me with my unusual tea. I sipped it gingerly. That aged oolong comparison? Even more accurate in the flavor. This tasted like a tea decades beyond its years – medicinal, kinda floral, mildly roasty, and with maybe a hint of fruit. Somewhere.

Cheers!

Did I do the process correctly? Did it taste like how it was supposed to? Heck if I know.

As my brother said, “It’s good…but not three-hours good.”

I flatly disagreed. I felt like a fisherman, and the flames of the firepit were my sea. And all I had for bait was a very unusual tea.

Gone fishin' in flames

Picking American Tea with Canadians

I kept putting off a trip to the Sakuma Bros. farm for many reasons. All of those excuses revolved around money, time and/or time for money. However, as a good li’l tea geek, I’d been doing myself a disservice by not going. After all, it was the only operating tea grower/seller in the Pacific Northwest. Well, the only one that’s been at it for a while, anyway.

_DSC0038

Photo by Ali Lambert

Even after meeting Richard Sakuma (the man behind the tea) at two different conventions, I still kept putting a trip further north off. That all changed in the last week of July. Reason: Canadians.

If you’ve never heard of the O5 Tea Bar in Vancouver, B.C., you probably should look ‘em up. Especially if you’re a frequenter of this blog. Their mission statement is akin to mine: To explore strange new teas. They first came to my attention via Twitter. The first thing I noticed was that they carried Korean oolong. The second thing I noticed was a wine cask-aged Nepalese black. I bought both. That tells you all you need to know about them.

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Pedro!
Photo by Ali Lambert

The outfit was the brainchild of Pedro Villalon and Brian Noble. Aside from owning and running the tea bar, which has been in business for a year now, they also visited the countries they sourced from. One such location was South Korea, and one of the weird teas they brought back was Tteok-cha. I’ll get back to that. Anywhoozle…

Pedro sent out a request on the O5 Tea Facebook page looking for volunteer tea-pickers. They were heading southward to a tea garden to pick some leaves for experimentation. Naturally, I zapped off an e-mail to Pedro, inquiring about the garden they were picking from. I only knew of two within spitting distance of Vancouver. Pedro replied with, “Burlington.”

My mind whirred. Sakuma!

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Richard Sakuma.
Photo by Ali Lambert

I told him I’d be happy to volunteer, and that I had a standing invitation to the Sakuma Tea area from Richard. Two birds; one stone. Pedro kindly put me on the list of tag-alongs. Friends James and Allison in Seattle were kind enough to agree to put me up for two days so I could make the long trek to Skagit Valley.

Around 9AM on July 24th, I arrived in the beautiful farm country that was the surrounding area of Burlington. So enamored was I by the entire trip, I’d forgotten two things: To eat, and to tea. I made a stop-thru to a McDonald’s, “caffeinated” with some of their overly-pungent sweet tea, and scarfed down to Egg McMuffins. After that, in true “me”-like fashion, I showed up to the tea garden behind the Sakuma Market Stand…twenty minutes late.

I made the acquaintance of Pedro and Brian, Richard Sakuma again, and the eclectic mix of “Canadians” that volunteered for the jaunt. I say that with very bold air-quotes. Of the cosmopolitan group, there was one Mexican (Pedro) – actually, make that two Mexicans, technically –  one San Diegan, one of Irish descent, an Englishman, and a Dutchswedezerlander…heck, I can’t remember. Point being: Yes, they were Vancouverites now, but they were a far-flung enough group that I didn’t feel too out of place in my…uh…’Merican-ness.

On the field, I’ll be honest, I was a lousy tea-picker. On top of having a mean case of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome – thanks to a hard shift at my “day job” prior to the trip – I was also often distracted with asking people questions. Pedro and Richard kindly obliged me and my constant brain-picking. The results of my labors speak for themselves.

_DSC0075

Photo by Ali Lambert

For comparison’s sake:

 

The bucket on the left was mine; the one on the right was someone else’s. Yeah. I have no talent for this.

Once the tea leaf picking phase was done, it was on to Round 2 – making Tteok-cha (or dokk cha) coins. See? I told you I’d get back to that. One of the primary reasons Pedro-‘n-Brian came down to Sakuma was to make tea coins using Northwestern leaves for a truly North American batch. The process was deceptive in its simplicity.

First, they steamed the leaves. Then they took a mortar and pestle and ground the leaves into a paste. After that, the paste was rolled into a ball, put in a plastic film, and stamped flat with a coffee presser-thingy until it was in the shape of a coin. That was it. I was mostly-useless during this phase, so I stood aside and watched others make Tteok-cha magic.

Photo by Ali Lambert

Other leaves after steaming were put through a bit of rolling punishment, Taiwanese-style, for what was to be…

Round 3 was a “cooking” phase of sorts. I have no other way of interpreting it. Richard Sakuma kindly provided a wok to Team O5 for curing and drying the leaves. It was a simple matter of putting leaves in the wok, which was in-turn over a burner. Then they sorted and separated them as they tumbled.

As this was going, I swear the aroma that filled the air smelled like Ali Shan oolong. It was beyond exquisite. Once two baking phases were complete, the leaves were put on mesh sorting mats to dry. The entire tent smelled like the cliffside of a Taiwanese mountain. I would’ve eaten the leaves straight off the mesh if my impulse control were any poorer.

Photo by Ali Lambert

We called it quits once all the leaves were settled. Pedro and Brian told Richard they’d be back the next day to collect their wares. The rest of the volunteer party were northward bound. Me? I could’ve done this for weeks on end. I would’ve been horrible at it, but I would’ve loved every minute of it. Good company helps.

Final thoughts:

(1)    Burlington, or someplace like it, is where I want to die. In a rocking chair.

(2)    Canadians are as nice as the stereotypes will lead you to believe. Seriously, they put up with me for eight hours.

(3)    There’s nothing more fulfilling than picking your own tea.

Because…

‘Merica.

Oh, and ‘Nada, too.

Photo by Ali Lambert

In Memory of Ali Lambert.

High-Fives to O5 and a World Tea Expo Update

Late last week, I received a package in the mail. A tea delivery – my favorite kind.

o5 Tea

This was the last of my frivolous tea purchases for a while. The reason? I was in hunker-down mode for financial reasons. Before that declaration, I had made one last buy of some rare and unique offerings from a tea bar in Vancouver, B.C. called O5 Tea. There was no way I was missing out on a wine-casked Nepalese black from an estate I’d never heard of.

When this (and a few others) finally arrived, it was my intent to wait until a special occasion to cup it. Either that, or as a reward for a job well done on…something. Well, I didn’t hold out that long. A mere week after, I tore into it. And, boy, was I glad I did.

Justifying the cupping reward as payment for a hard work week endured, I brewed a pint of this sucker. It was nice to see other tea vendors answering my indirect call for more alcohol barrel-aged teas. So far, only Smith Teamaker had done it to any degree. Others had merely added alcohol flavoring. That was no fun. The joy was in the scenting of teas.

This wine-casked Ghorka estate autumn flush wasn’t as strong on the winy note as I was expecting, but part of that could’ve been due to the tea base used. A lot of Himalayan teas are naturally muscatel-ish to the palate. So, any wine-grapiness might be dulled by the flavor the leaves already impart. That said, I did pick up a bit of Cabernet Franc on the aftertaste. A second steep confirmed my suspicions.

ghorka

While I was in the middle of my second pint, I decided to give my Dad a call. I hadn’t spoken to him for well over two months. Neglectful in my sonly duties, I decided to rectify that. Amidst the conversation, I casually mentioned I had won an iPad from my work.

He said, “Y’know, you should give that to your dear ol’ Dad.”

“Fat chance,” I replied.

“Okay, I’ll buy it off of you.”

That triggered something.

I hadn’t even opened the iPad since I got it over a week ago. Truth be told, I wasn’t even sure I wanted it. The only use I had for it would’ve been as a word processor, but that would’ve required the additional purchase of a keyboard and stand.

Coupled with that was the fact that I was trying to save money for a trip to Vegas in June for World Tea Expo. I had no idea how I was going to pull that off, given the fact that I lived from paycheck to paycheck. My Dad’s offer changed all that. There was my ticket to Vegas.

So…

The wine-casked tea wasn’t the reward for a job well done, but it was the prologue to something wonderful. The Tea Fates are smiling on me. And I’m returning the gesture with cup (and eyebrow) raised.

Noel

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