The Road to Eugene Is Paved in Tea – Teashop Adventure Week
June was a shitty month.
Between two deaths in the family, a work-related back injury, and a two-week bout of influenza to cap things off, I think it’s safe to say it was the shittiest month I’ve had in nearly a decade. There were small bouts of cheer, however. And one of them came in the form of a text message.
Josh Chamberlain of J-TEA International sent me the following, “When can you come down to Eugene to try all of our iced teas?”
Eugene was about two hours away from Portland, but . . . Fuck it, I thought. I needed a distraction. What better diversion than a day trip. For tea. There were worse reasons. I made it there in record time, got to the store in roughly an hour and a half. Unheard of.
The storefront was just as I remembered it.
I didn’t remember there being as much shading, or as many places to site, but it was as welcoming as my last trip. If I ever considered bailing from Portland permanently (and believe me, I have), I would consider Eugene – if only for this one teashop.
The moment I stepped in, Josh came out and had his on-hand lackey – Andrew – start with the pouring. Their process for iced tea differed from other tea shops. They took the tea concentrate, filled a cocktail shaker with ice, and then . . . shook vigorously. The result a was bold tea with a thick, frothy head. And, depending on the recipe, compote was added. My first iced tea out of the starting gate was their Logan Black – Eugene Breakfast concentrate with loganberry compote. It looked like a beer.
Tasted like an iced tea, but with a burlier, fruitier taste. Like berries with a manly musk . . . and chest hair? No, that sounds weird. It was just so unbelievably refreshing. The heat wave and undue June stress just washed away.
And that was only one of six iced teas I tried.
By the end of the range I was already a-buzzin’. The Rhubarboolong concoction was probably my favorite, seconded by the Marion Black. Because . . . freakin’ marionberries!
Next, we moved on to some new teas that were coming out of their respective bourbon barrels. In the teashop proper, there were (I think?) four used bourbon barrels lined up against the wall. The two new additions to the drunken tea family were a bourbon barrel-aged Ceylon, and a greener, light-roast oolong hit with the same treatment.
The small cut of the Ceylon leaves really picked up the bourbon notes well. Almost too well. The leaf aroma was sweet and liquor-y. The same was definitely the case for the taste.
Just . . . “Whoah!”
The greener oolong had an interesting story to it. Apparently, when Josh and Co. got the barrel, it still had a little bit o’ bourbon left in it. (Wettest. Barrel. Ever?) Instead of clearing it out, Josh ordered his crew to dump the oolong in anyway. After a month or so of aging, he did a re-roast to dissipate the alcohol. It wasn’t the first time I’d heard of that process being used, but this was the first where a barrel was involved.
The results spoke for themselves. Oolongs were tough to age in barrels. They didn’t pick up on scents very easily, likely due to their rolling technique or the semi-oxidation. One either had to age them longer – three months or so – or do something more drastic. In this case, drastic worked. It picked up on the bourbon, but still maintained its buttery/oolong-y profile.
The final treat of the visit was a special one. Josh had two mini-tea gardens he’d been cultivating over the last couple of years. A few Russian cultivars toward the back of the shop, a Korean cultivar hedge at the front, and a few from his house. For shits and giggles, he decided – this year – prep a mini-batch of black tea from those various bushes.
Once he was done plucking, he subjected them to a drying process. However, because the amount was so small, he couldn’t use a conventional roaster or bamboo tray. He simply put his home stove on a low setting and waited for a set amount of time, then ding! Ready.
The result was something akin to a Wuyi cliff tea both in sight and character.
The liquor brewed light, but the aroma was straight roastiness. That was reflected in the taste as well. If I was coming at this blind, I would’ve thought I was imbibing a Da Hong Pao, except . . . yknow . . . good. (Sorry, not a fan of Da Hong Pao.) It was different from his other black tea efforts, no Taiwanese-ish sweetness. But it was still damn fine in its own right.
By 3PM, Josh said, “Well . . . I don’t think I have anything else to show ya.”
I looked at my phone and realized I’d just killed three hours having who-knows-how-many gallons of tea. With a wave, I bid my farewells and promised another visit in the not-so-distance future. June may have been a shitty month, but with teashop adventures like that one . . . I coped.
The road ahead is paved in tea, and I have my swimsuit donned.