Steep Stories

of the Lazy Literatus

Tea, Tact and the Art of Blending Badly

This was originally going to be an entry on some crappy blends I concocted over the last month or so, but the focus has changed in light of some recent events. I won’t go into detail as to what those are, nor will I post links that illustrate the example. However, I will give a Cliff’s notes version:

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Some stuff was written, some stuff was responded to, and some other stuff was further elaborated upon. End result: Pitchforks and torches raised. And – and as far as I’m concerned – with good reason. The problem? Both sides of the fence aren’t directly talking to each other. A dialogue doesn’t appear to exist.

Am I going to give advice on how to properly handle such situations? Heck no. I don’t know a damn thing about diffusing conflicts or tact. But I do know a thing or two about humility and balance. (It’s a Libra thing.) As such, I’m going to compare said crappy blends to some socially awkward tact moments I’ve been involved in.

Tact

Insecurity and the Wild White Mountain

I love Greek Mountain tea. When I can find it in Greek or Mediterranean delis, it is a permanent staple in my tea shelf. What I’d always wanted to do, though, was blend it with something – anything, really. I found a likely candidate in the form of Ya Bao – tea buds from a Camellia varietal other than the tea plant. They were hearty and yielded a strong brew.

What occurred to me after trying them was how closely they resembled the bulbs of the Sideritis plant (i.e. the Greek Mountain shrub in question). With the help of David over at Portland Tea Enthusiasts’ Alliance, I was able to give the blending a go. I wanted it to be perfect.

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I mixed the herbs (half and half) in a bowl, then we brewed a strong batch of the stuff. The flavor came out slightly rough, lemony, hay-like, herbaceous, and floral. In short, I liked it. The measurements weren’t perfect, but overall, a good start. I kept asking David, repeatedly, if he liked it.

Later that week, I brewed up another pot to share with my brother. Same thing, I asked him repeatedly if he liked it. He said he did, but he wasn’t as ecstatic about it as I had hoped. This gave me pause.

Social Comparison

Over the summer, I tried to take on a new “blogging style” – emphasizing fiction over form. Most of the entries were well thought out, but they didn’t receive the fanfare I had hoped for. After all the planning I went through to make the change, I had expended more resounding positive feedback. In my disappointment, I heatedly tossed the style aside and returned to business as usual.

What I should have considered – once my passions had cleared – was that I didn’t give it enough time or room to evolve. In this way, it was like blending. The first try is rarely perfect; one has to tinker with the recipe. Had I fostered it better, it could’ve grown into something. Seeking out feedback prior to ousting the project would’ve helped, too.

Hindsight and all that.

Accidents, Smoke and Overreaction

On an underwhelming day in November, I reached for a canister that housed some Darjeeling I wanted to finish. Risheehat Vintage Spring – a delightful first flush from 2011. What I realized far too late was that the canister also housed some Lapsang Souchong. The poor li’l bag o’ Darjeeling smelled like campfire. For a split second, I lamented.

But I recovered rather quickly with a, Smoked Darjeeling?! AWESOME!

I brewed the sucker up. It tasted like muscatel and spice with a hint of smoke. Each serendipitous sip was exquisite. What did I do after? I emptied the Darjeeling into the canister, and placed the Lapsang Souchong in a filter bag. It was a ghetto version of what the Chinese did with jasmine flowers and green tea. Then I waited a week.

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One week turned into two because…well…I forgot about it. After the second week, I took the canister out and gave the contents a sniff. Smoke and wine. Holy wow! It was ready for another brew-up. The muscatel and spice were still there, but the smoky finish was even more pronounced. Not overpowering, however. The balance was near-perfect.

Social Comparison

Recently, I posted a link to the “novel” I had worked on in November. It was rough; I knew it was rough. That and I knew I was inviting criticism when I posted it. Only a few people chimed in, but those that did seemed to like where it was going. One, however, didn’t. I won’t mention names, but they found that it was rather pointless and lacking in emotion.

I was pissed.

To say I overreacted to the criticism would be an understatement. Only after a few weeks of fomenting can I truly say that I could’ve handled that better. The points the responder highlighted were good ones – if poorly presented. Had I given myself time to process the information like a professional, I would’ve seen that.

Just like with the smoked Darjeeling. At first, I thought the accidental smoking-scenting was a bad thing. Yet it led to one of my greatest sipping experiences. All because I gave myself pause.

Happy accidents.

Leonard’s Open Dialogue

I wasn’t expecting anything for Christmas, let alone tea. But right on Christmas Eve, a splendid little package was waiting for me from Canton Tea Co.’s  Tea Club. Instead of being a single origin tea, or a pre-made blend, it was an ounce of Assam and various smaller herbal packages. Licorice root, coconut flakes, cocoa nibs, cinnamon, orange peel, etc. It was a create-your-own-blend care packages.

Simply. Awesome. (Or “Assam”. Heh. Heh. Ahem…)

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to tinker with the blending kit until well after Christmas. The blend I had in mind was something that tasted like a chocolate orange – only…tea-ish. For the first try, I used a tablespoon of Assam, a teaspoon of orange, a teaspoon of cocoa nibs and a dash of cinnamon. All intended for a 16-ounce brew.

I steeped the contents for four minutes and drafted my brother as a taste-testing guinea pig. Moment of truth: The blend looked lovely, but it smelled…off. I couldn’t quite place it. We both gave it a sip and winced a little.

My brother voiced my thoughts, “It tastes like tomato basil.”

Well, shite.

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The next day, I attempted a phase two. Instead of adhering to exact measurements, I used a hefty amount of Assam – sprinkling orange, cocoa nibs, and licorice root conservatively. The result was far better than the first attempt, but other than a citrus front and an astringently malty finish, it still didn’t taste like a chocolate orange. While not the intended result, I still gave it a pass. Even if it was still missing something.

I named the blend Leonard.

Social Comparison

Some years ago – early on in my reviewing days – I was called upon to review a very old sheng pu-erh. At the time, my pu-erh palate was not yet developed. Nor did I know what “gongfu” was. I brewed it Western-style…and tasted straight dirt. I hated it. I wrote about how much I hated it, sparing no hyperboles.

The vendor responded to the negative review – not angrily or defensively, merely with suggestions on how to brew it. That opened up a dialogue that is still in existence today. Said vendor and I still have a professional relationship of sorts. All because – cliché as it sounds – cooler heads prevailed.

I’m not idealistic enough to say that folks in the tea community at large will always get along. We are nowhere near that utopian. If people are involved, there will always be disagreements. Guaranteed. What can be avoided, however, is seething rhetoric. What we say can affect the outcome of a conflict, no matter how small. How one reacts to a situation dictates the future of that relationship .

As the venerable Bill and Ted once said, “Be excellent to each other…”

And tea party on, dudes.

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

lazyliteratus

Tea blogger, professional cleaner of toilets, amateur people watcher.

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20 Comments

  1. Margo Hutchinson

    It will all blow over and will it matter in ten years? no.
    And who knows where the insights may lead.

    Hang in there!

  2. I chuckled at your post. Bless you Geoff. You’re a lovely man. Whoever gets to blend with you for life some day is one lucky miss. As you said, “The first try (at blending) is rarely perfect; one has to tinker with the recipe…”
    Anyway, it was nice I knew a little something about all the points you made. When I read “Greek Mountain tea” I think of you and @lahikmajoe. He wrote some good stuff about that too. As to Ya Bao? Never heard of it. What does it taste like on its own?
    Smoked Darjeeling? I’m thrilled we got the big reveal. I’ve been wondering about it ever since I read your tweet.
    “Leondard”? Why does poor Leonard stand for failed orange chocolate tea? Perhaps a bully you sat next to once at school?
    Your vendor by the way, sounds like a very reasonable person indeed. I’m glad things are going well.
    Yes, things will blow over, but is it all hot air, or will the cold front linger? Who knows.

    • Glad ya liked it.

      Ya Bao is a Camellia species closely related to sinensis, but…not. It’s used in a wild pu-erh, and the buds are occasionally processed like a white tea. Phoenix Tea, Verdant Tea, Yunnan Sourcing, and Norbu Tea all sell it. It truly is the most unique white “tea” I’ve ever tried.

      Yep, smoked Darjeeling. Probably the only perfect blend I’ve come up with. Well, perfect for me, anyway.

      No, there was never a Leonard that has done me wrong. It just seemed like the right name. Leonard will get a Phase 3 at some point.

      As to the current situation, meh, I dunno…I think it’ll blow over quicker once someone actually comes forth and tries to establish a dialogue.

  3. Katrina

    Never doubt your gift for writing. You demonstrate it over and over. Great post. It takes a strong person to see the lessons when things go awry. It’s a good reminder to step back and consider things when the first wave of emotion subsides.

    • @Katrina/@TeaPages – I will confess I don’t often take my own advice. Working on that, though. One of my realistic resolutions.

      Unrelated note: You still willing to be my editor? ;-P

  4. From the heart as always.

  5. Dude! Excellent!
    I so enjoy your writing style, and your ability to be brutally honest about your experiences. I can relate on every level! Since I’ve been MIA for several weeks, I’ll have to look for that link to the novel you were working on. Our previous conversation on the subject piqued my curiosity!

    • The convo about the novel? I don’t remember discussing it in too much detail, but you can find what I have on it so far HERE. It has its moments. *heh*

  6. Disagreements/conflicts/fights/errors and good things are all important in our development. That is as long as the growth and repair outweighs the damage done.

    You seem to have had a fair amount of learning options.

  7. If I got it well, blending like writing should be given time (both to mature and to let the others think about it) and trying/being open/talking are the best teachers.

    I can’t say anything more on these topics.
    Even the “willingness to experiment and the need to put all your heart in what you do” are so obviously in you that I wouldn’t dare to elaborate more.

    A really nice post.

  8. “There is a tea for every palate
    So who am I to critique your chalice
    Whether bagged
    Or loose leaf brewed
    Just drink a cup
    It’s good for you”

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