Steep Stories

of the Lazy Literatus

Tag: tea estate (Page 1 of 2)

I “Heart” Doke

I “heart” the Doke tea estate.

Photo by Rajiv Lochan.

No, I’m not ashamed to use the word “heart” instead of “love”. Especially today. Okay, I winced a tiny bit at the grammatical incorrectness of it (and the cutesiness of it) . . . but the sentiment still stands. And, given when this blog is going up, the cutesy incorrectness is fitting.

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The Arakai Estate

Australian Tea Week! Day 1: “The Arakai Estate”

Australia.

The Land Down Under. Oz. Or whatever other people (including the locals) call it. Our southernmost Pacific neighbor is known for many things: weird and diverse wildlife, a wicked sense of humor, numerous flora and fauna that can kill you in a heartbeat, sometimes good beer . . . and . . . women. Oh my, the women!

one-day-rebel

One day, Rebel. One day.

Where was I? Oh yes . . .

One thing people might not know, however, is that parts of continent have taken up tea growing as a trade. They’ve tried their hand at it since the 1880s. Of course, because Australia is . . . well . . . Australia, sustainable plantings didn’t take hold successfully until around the 1960s. However, since then, many operations have emerged—Daintree, Madura, etc.

Which brings me to the Arakai estate—a garden in Bellthorpe, Queensland, Australia.

arakai

Image owned by the Arakai estate

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The White Forest Oolong Finish Line

NaNoTeaMo, Day 30: “The White Forest Oolong Finish Line”

Holy heck . . . I made it.

finish line

This is it, Day 30. The final post in my self-inflicted NaNoTeaMo challenge. No one put me up to it; I wasn’t trying to prove anything. The only reason I did it was to see if I had any ounce of writing discipline in me. Apparently, I do. And then some.

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Getting Tea Drunk on Giddapahar

NaNoTeaMo, Day 21: “Getting Tea Drunk on Giddapahar”

The Giddapahar tea estate rests near the center of the Kurseong Valley. The name translates to “Eagle’s Cliff”. While still considered high altitude in most respects, it represents one of the lower altitude gardens in that region. One of the most unique aspects of the estate is its size. Compared to many other Darjeeling ops, it’s rather small – 110 hectares total, 90% of which are covered in tea plants. Most of the bushes they use are small leaf Chinese cultivars.

Giddapahar

Luckily, the garden had a website for me to look all this up. How many tea estates actually have a website? Not many, I’ve found – unless they’re huge. Granted, the site needs a lot of work. It was apparently made in 2013, but looks like it was rendered in 2003. Plus, there’s weird New Age music playing in the background. It’s eerily soothing. Those nitpicks aside, though, “A” for effort.

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Darjeeling Fit for an Emperor

NaNoTeaMo, Day 16: “Darjeeling Tea Fit for an Emperor”

The Singbulli tea estate has a very old history, like a lot of such Darjeeling gardens. It was established in 1924 by British planters, and then was taken over in 2003 by Jayshree Tea and Industries. The garden resides near the town of Mirik, and teas from there are certified organic.

The name “Singbulli” means “home of the birds”, but when I first heard the name several years ago, I immediately pictured this.

singing bull

But let’s stay focused here.

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Montanan Breakfast Tea

NaNoTeaMo, Day 12: “Montanan Breakfast Tea”

This morning, I received a message from Gary Robson, o’ he of Red Lodge Books & Tea fame. I wasn’t quite awake, yet. My hands clumsily fumbled for my phone, and I accidentally activated Facebook’s calling function. No idea how it happened, but it led to a rather spirited conversation nonetheless.

Following that dialogue, I took that as a sign to brew up one of Gary’s signature wake-the-f**K-up blends. In my backlog box, there happened to be a tea he made called “Gary’s Kilty Pleasure”. I received it a couple of summer’s back on a trip to his tea bar in Montana.

Kilty bag

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What Makes a Moonlight Tea?

What makes a tea a “Moonlight” tea?

It’s a question I’ve asked myself several times over the last six years, and the one answer I’ve always returned to is, “I don’t care as long as it tastes good. “ But perhaps that was foolhardy. I originally assumed that when the name “Moonlight” was applied to a tea – particularly those from China – it was just for the namesake. Yunnan province’s Moonlight is called so because . . . well . . . that is the name. “Yue Guang Bai” translates to “Moonlight White”. Sure, it was also considered a style of white tea, but one that was only regionally specific. Because of this, I also thought that the same was true for Darjeeling.

I can name at least seven Darjeeling teas that have “moon” in their names. Glenburn Moonshine, Arya Moonbeam, Thurbo Moonlight, and – my favorite – Castleton Moonlight, to name just a few. Then a tea luminary I admired, Rajiv Lochan, blew my mind when he gave me this little tidbit of information. Moonlight wasn’t just a name for these Darjeeling teas; it was also a technique!

mind blown

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A Castleton Comparison

While this has easily been the worst summer of my life, there was an anniversary of sorts. One I had completely forgotten about until I received an e-mail from Vivek Lochan of Lochan Tea. It read: “In continuing with tradition, a sample of the 2015 Castelton Moonlight has been sent to you yesterday by courier.”

Whoah! I thought. Just a few days prior, I’d wondered how I was going to acquire some of that tea this year. For those that don’t know, Castleton Moonlight, second flush, is my absolute favorite tea. Of all time. I first fell in love with it in 2011. And I’ve made it a point to get a hold of it every year since. It’s an oolong from the Darjeeling tea estate dubbed Castleton. I did a full write-up on my history with that tea for the Lochans, which can be found HERE.

If I did get a hold of it, that would mark my fifth anniversary with said tea.

They were curious how this year’s stacked up against last year’s offering. And, truth be told, I was morbidly curious as well. Teas and tea types tend to growing season to growing season. Influences like weather, processing, and quality of the terroir all play a part, and all factors are never completely consistent year-to-year. From what I heard, Darjeeling second flush teas had a late start this year due to weather conditions.

I received the package a week later, and immediately tore into it. Keep in mind, this was at 6PM. Well beyond my usual “black tea” hour.

Moonlight loose

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Blending Tea and Fiction

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.

WARNING: The results are…weird.

Tea #1: Lochan Teas Doke Silver Needle

 

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.

Tea #2: Lochan Teas Doke “Rolling Thunder” Oolong

 

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.

Tea #4: Guranse Estate Soun Chandi – Nepalese White Tea (2012 2nd Flush)

 

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.

Conclusion:

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?)

 

A Dwarven Dance in Darjeeling

A month had passed since I came to the startling realization that I wasn’t going to review tea anymore. Days had passed when I realized I didn’t have a job anymore. Mere hours had crept by before I remembered that I wasn’t wearing any pants. Of course, I was still in bed when I pondered all of this.

Why I even had my alarm set was a force of habit – not out of any obligation. Last night was the first where I completely forgot to set it. A sure sign that I had given up on any semblance of a pattern. Unemployed, unmotivated, all I wanted to do was sleep. But something perched on my chest wasn’t going to let me…

“I said, ‘Ahem!’,” a squeaky voice chimed again.

I first thought the annoying, high-pitched hollering was my “smart” phone ringer. When I finally opened my eyes, I found…her. An off-white, slightly-worn, Chinese lidded teacup with a face, and she was staring angrily at me. I didn’t know gaiwans could get angry, nor that they possessed a face.

“For the last time…” she started again with a miniature huff.

“I’m up! I’m up!” I said quickly. “What’s so damn urgent?”

“It’s been a month,” the gaiwan answered flatly.

“Since what?”

“Since you promised to go to Darjeeling,” she stated.

“I made no such promise, Liddy,” I said, cradling her in one hand while making my way to the kitchen.

That was her name – Liddy. I received her for a little over three weeks. She was given to me by an undead Scottish botanist for magical teleportation. The fact that I could say that with a straight face proved either: (a) I needed to get out more. Or (b) I got out too much.

“That doesn’t matter now,” she shook her head…er…lid…whatever. “You’re needed.”

“For?”

“No time to explain!”

And with that, the little, lidded cup glowed white. Before I knew it, the glow encapsulated my tired, thirtysomething, pajama-clad form. (Why did this always happen while I was in pajamas?!) In a flash, we were both no longer in my kitchen. Instead, what greeted us was a large room that resembled a cross between Bag End from The Lord of the Rings and a mole cave.

There were many tables and chairs – some carved with wood, others straight from stone – with many worn occupants. None of them were human. The majority of them were snakes, and they were singing and dancing – if such creatures could do that. And they were, with reckless abandon. The most prominent feature of the place? It reeked of years-old cheese.

“This…is not Darjeeling,” I observed with… obviousness.

“Technically, you’re under Darjeeling,” said a gruff voice behind me.

I turned to face – and stare down at – a brown-bearded dwarf dressed in merchant attire. He looked like every quintessential dwarf I’d ever seen in fantasy movies or brandished on book covers. If anything, though, he appeared more haggard than his fictional counterparts. And smellier. Even his dapper attire was dusty – at best.

“Welcome to The Smiling Subterranean,” the dwarf baritoned proudly. “The only underground tearoom in (or rather, under) Darjeeling.”

“It reeks in here,” Liddy said with a sneer.

The dwarf merely laughed nervously. “C-can I get you anything?”

“Darjeeling first flush,” I said – a little too excitedly. “Er…if you have some.”

“Of course!” the dwarf clapped his hands. “We have several to choose from. We also offer flights of three, if you can’t decide.”

Given my propensity for indecision-making, I said, “I’ll go with the latter.”

“Excellent choice!”

Before the dwarf could walk away in a scurry, I grabbed his shoulder.

“Hey, you wouldn’t, by any chance, know where I can find a zombie and a gnome, would you?” I winced at the ridiculousness of my question.

“Oh? Those two? Yes, they’re in the far left corner,” the dwarf said cheerfully. “They – like the rest of us – have been here for quite some time. I apologize for the odor. Many of us haven’t bathed in weeks.”

“That’s alright,” I reassured him. Frankly, I didn’t know dwarves did bathe.

I made my way to the back of the “tearoom”, all the while inhaling through my mouth. As I passed the many different tables, I made brief eye contact with the other denizens of this cavernous tasting room. Some looked like mole-men. Others were dwarves, gnomes, pygmies and gremlins of varying color. All of them wore wan or tired expressions – save for the snakes. The serpentine citizens cheerily sipped there beverages, all the while singing. Some outright danced in their chairs. Their song seemed familiar.

The two patrons I was looking for were, indeed, where the dwarf indicated. Thed – the ill-tempered Greek gnome – looked disheveled, his once-green hat was now a shade of light brown. Formerly Robert Fortune, the slightly-blue-skinned undead botanist – to the gnome’s right – looked even more zombified than usual. His dapper dinner jacket seemed drab.

“Took you long enough,” the gnome grumbled.

“Indeed,” Fortune agreed. “Was a month really necessary?”

“I never said I was going,” I defended.

“You gave us the impression you were,” the once-botanist countered.

“By the time I determined I wanted to, I thought you would’ve been long gone,” I explained.

“No,” Thed returned with a growl. “We’ve been here the whole time!

“Here, as in, Darjeeling?”

“Here, as in, under Darjeeling!” Formerly Fortune corrected me.

“What’s stopping you from leaving?” I questioned.

“Them,” Thed pointed in the direction of the snake-people.

“Nagas?” I wondered.

“No, worse,” said the gnome. “Nags.”

“The imbecilic cousins of Nagas,” Fortune explained.

“Aaaaah,” I said with mock-understanding. “That’s why this place stinks.”

“We’ve been here for a month,” Thed sighed.

“On top of that,” Fortune began through gritted teeth. “They keep singing the same. Bloody. Song. Over and over again!”

“Nonstop,” came the forced-cheery voice of a dwarf behind us.

He had several Ceylon-style pouring cups on a wooden tray. Each had green-ish leaves to the side. I could smell the spice and muscatel from my seat.

The dwarf set everything up as neatly as he could with slightly-shaky hands. “From left to right: The first is a clonal from the Rohini estate, the second is dubbed ‘Classic’ from Giddapahar, and the third is a ‘tippy’ offering from Barnesbeg. My name is Cisnarf. Ask for me if you need anything.” He looked at my other two compatriots. “Are you two…”

“We’re fine, thanks,” Thed replied curtly.

“I could re-steep your leaves, or…”

“I said we’re fine!” Thed banged the table.

The dwarf appeared taken aback by the emphatic display.

“Apologies,” Fortune spoke up. “We’re a little wound up.”

Cisnarf nodded. “Trust me, we all are.”

He scurried off again toward the kitchen doors. I got a glimpse of five other dwarves in the back. All looked equally worn out. A month of tea imprisonment would do that do a man…or…um…non-man. Whatever.

I dipped into the Rohini offering first. The Rohini tea estate was actually one of the first to kick off Darjeeling’s first flush all the way back in late-February. It was considered a low-altitude estate – a designation usually met with derision among connoisseurs. I couldn’t really see why.

The leaves for this were large and beautiful, and the rolling style differed from some of her high-altitude cousins. There was some of the spice smell to the dry leaves, but most of the aroma was surprisingly fruity – not just grapy.

Brewed up, they yielded a pale yellow liquor with a sweet, fruity aroma. Such was also true with the taste. While the front was a bit harsh, the remaining mouthfeel was candied apples, grapes and a tickle of citrus.

“This tastes like a Darjeeling oolong rather than an OP,” I said aloud.

“OP?” Thed cocked an eyebrow. “Old Person?”

The zom-botanist literally facepalmed. “He means orange pekoe.”

“Those leaves aren’t orange,” the gnome responded.

“I’m not going to explain it to you again,” Fortune said with dejection.

I ignored them and turned my attention to the Giddapahar Classic.

Oh, Giddapahar. It’s been too long, I thought.

This was the first estate that convinced me that Darjeelings could be perfect with their second flush “Musk”. I also tried a bit of their China Classic and loved it with almost equal fervor. The dry leaves for the Classic were unlike any first flush I’d encountered – a strong, earthy and malty aroma wafted from the sample. The leaves were also uncharacteristically darker, looking more like an early Fall picking.

The liquor the leaves produced, though, was on par with other first flushes – yellow-to-amber – and the aroma was muscatel as all heck. Taste-wise, the forefront was a little vegetal, but it rose swiftly to spice-‘n-grape excellence. I couldn’t help but sigh with palate-related praise. The aftertaste finished on a nutty note, but that wasn’t unwelcome. Notes of white wine grapes lingered long after the sip.

I actually poured a second infusion and didn’t specify a brewing time or temp. What I got was an even better drink than the first!

“All chocolate, strawberries and bliss,” I exclaimed ‘gasmically.

“Are you quite done?” Thed asked with a hint of bite to his voice.

“Hold on.”

The Barnesbeg Tippy was the greenest of the three I encountered. The leaves were almost completely green save for a smattering of beige pieces in the mix – the “tippy” ones that were the drink’s namesake. As for scent, this felt like spring. The aroma was zesty, leafy, fresh and…well…young. As flushy as first flush can get. (Wait, that sounded wrong.)

The liquor brewed to a pale, almost “white tea” yellow. There was no other way to describe the aroma other than “creamy”. Very peculiar. On first sip, the first thing I detected was…vanilla? What the heck?! When did a Darjeeling ever have a vanilla?! How bizarre! The rest of the flavor sensation alternated between Long Jing-ish winy and greenery. This weird taste turntable continued well into the finish.

“Tastes like…vanilla?” I gave a puzzled look.

“That is peculiar,” Formerly Fortune pondered, sipping his own cup of tea.

“What are you two drinking?” I asked.

The botanist answered hastily, “This wonderful China Supreme from the Sungma estate.”

Thed mumbled something that sounded like, “Rushersher”.

“What?” I asked, cupping my ear.

“Risheehat!” the gnome yelled.

“And…how was it?”

The gnome started to sob.

Fortune interjected. “On our first day here, he said it reminded him of his childhood.”

“Is that a good thing?” I wondered.

“Oh yes, very,” Fortune nodded.

The gruff gnome cleared his throat and whiped his nose. “Can we get out of here now?”

“I just got here!” I blubbered, mid-sip.

“A month late!” Thed snapped back.

“Gentlemen, stop!” Fortune bellowed.

We did. Neither of us was used to hearing a zombie with mutton-chops shout.

“Thank you,” he breathed a sigh of relief. “Now then, Thed is right. We need to leave. I, for one, require a bath. A long one. Just because I am dead, doesn’t mean I want to smell like death.”

“What he said,” Thed agreed. “Except the whole ‘dead’ part.”

I finished the last of my Barnesbeg, gingerly set the cup down, and stood up.

“I… think I know a way,” I said reluctantly. “Get Cisnarf over here.”

The dwarf appeared before anyone could summon him. “You called?”

“Wow,” I said. “Er…yeah…does this place have a sound system of any sort?”

“An old one that runs on elemental aether, but it can tie into most frequencies,” Cisnarf offered.

“Can it tap into a smart phone?”

“As opposed to an unintelligent one?” Cisnarf asked – confused.

I groaned. “I mean, a computer. Can you link it to a computer?”

“Human ones? Oh, that’s easy!”

“Perfect,” I said with relief. “Prep your…uh…system. I’ll take care of the rest.” I motioned to the gnome and zombie. You two, follow my lead.”

While I was tasting the three first  flush Darjeelings, it had occurred to me what song the Nags were repeating over and over. It was “Kaho Naa Pyaar Na Hai” from the Indian movie of the same name.

If these snake-folk were anything like their less sentient kin, then all one had to do was charm them with a new song. Preferably from a better Bollywood movie; one that sounded like an ending. I had just the one.  All we needed was a dance to go along with it.

I was no choreographer, and my two left feet were evidence of my lack of rhythm. But there was a “meta”- Bollywood movie called Bride & Prejudice that gave some sound advice for European-ish appreciators of Indian musicals. One simply had to pretend they were screwing in a lightbulb and petting a dog at exactly the same time. I had no idea if this would work on snake-men, but it was worth a shot.

After removing my Android phone from my pajama pocket, I cued up my playlist. From the kitchen door, Cisnarf gave me a thumbs up. I tapped the Bluetooth setting, and prayed to Vishnu that it had a tenuous connection to…magic(?). There was a loud thumb throughout the cave-like tearoom. A connection was made.

I hit play.

Yeh Fizayein” from the movie Main Hoon Na resounded through The Smiling Subterranean. The Nags froze in mid-song-‘n-dance and took notice of the tune. There was a bit of commotional hissing between the varied factions, but – in no time at all – all succumbed to the scaly sway of the beat.

“Time to dance, gentlemen,” I said. “Toward the exit.”

Off our motley trio went toward the front door of the tearoom. All the Nags fell into step behind us – all Pied Piper-like. I stopped at the large, wooden door, opened it and continued to “dance” beside it. The gnome and botanist went to the other side and copied my motions. Truth be told, they kept better rhythm than I.

When the last Nag had left, I pushed the door shut behind them. I signaled Cisnarf to cut the signal. There was some emphatic hissing from the other side of the entrance, followed by some hasty knocking. Eventually, that died down. Silence met the cavern.

The tired tea-folk within stood up and cheered. Robert Fortune bowed; I nodded to the mini-crowd awkwardly. Thed hid behind us.

Cisnarf came up to us and shook each of our hands. “How can I ever repay you?!”

“Do you have a backdoor?” Thed asked brusquely.

“Through the kitchen.”

“Splendid,” the gnome finished. “See ya.”

As we went to make our hasty egress, I felt around in my pockets. Something felt off; I couldn’t put my finger on what. It didn’t occur to me until we were well away from The Smiling Subterranean. I cursed openly and colorfully.

“What’s with you?” Thed asked.

“The gaiwan,” I said shakily. “Liddy…”

“What about her? How is she?” Fortune grilled.

My face was pale. “She’s gone.”

 

Epilogue

Trailing behind the dejected group of Nags, a Chinese woman in purple robes held the off-white gaiwan to her face.

“Oh great, it’s you,” Liddy spat with disgust.

“Come now, that’s no way to treat your maker,” the woman said with a purr.

“Whatever you’re planning, Guan Yin, you won’t get away with it,” the gaiwan growled.

The bodhisattva practically cackled, “I love it when cups turn to clichés!”

Her laughter echoed throughout the tunnels, chilling even the snake-folk.

Acknowledgments:

Special thanks to Happy Earth Tea for providing the Darjeeling samples for this write-up. It was much appreciated. To check out their shop, go HERE.

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