Steep Stories

of the Lazy Literatus

There Once Were Two Teas from Huiming

Sometimes, in my search for new teas to try, I get drawn in by mentions of particular producers.

Image owned by Camellia Sinensis.

This is Wei Zhong He. I first learned of him through my dealings with Kevin Gascoyne (Camellia Sinensis Tea House’s “Darjeeling guy”), and he particularly caught my attention for one reason. He experimented with using Darjeeling first flush production styles, and incorporated them into a Chinese hong cha (red/black tea) process. But there’s more to him than that.

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The Tea Balls of Manipur

Earlier this year, a fellow tea blogger sent me information on an Indian tea growing region I’d never heard of.

Image owned by Ketlee

A place filled with old(er) growth, semi-wild assamica forests, which bordered Assam to the East. The state: Manipur. I knew nothing about this Indian state, other than the fact that it bordered Myanmar. That and it was well within the zone with which the Indian strain of Camellia sinensis var. assamica (a variety and subspecies of tea tree) grew plentifully. For some reason, I shrugged at this. Mainly because of the “wild” claim. How wild could these trees be, anyway?

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Sheng Puerh-Style Teas from Vietnam

Over a year-and-a-half ago, I wrote an article discussing the nature of sheng cha.

It didn’t go over well.

I used a Vietnamese sheng puerh-style tea from Son La province as a part of my thesis, and it also helped spark further discussion about how prevalent the process was in Northern Vietnam. Short answer: not much.

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Alternate Tea Etiquette

Five days ago, a vendor friend posted this article on Facebook:

I didn’t read it, which is usually what not to do, but I’ve seen such tea topical articles before. The direction they were going in was nothing new. As such, I left the following curt reply in answer to the title of the article alone: “Any way you damn well please.”

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The Flow of Tea and Time

I should probably get around to talking about World Tea Expo 2019, huh?

To be truthful, my delay in doing so wasn’t related to my usual brand of procrastination, but rather some trauma. Stuff I’ve had difficulty processing and— unfortunately— it’s inextricably linked to my World Tea Expo jaunt this year. Some have advised that I should just talk about the Expo proper and leave out the trauma, but I felt that would be narratively disingenuous. Like it or not, it was a part of the experience.

That said, I found a way to record those events—the good and the bad—in a manner that’s thematically sound. With his permission, I borrowed a narrative device employed by my blogging compatriot, The Devotea. Several years ago, he wrote a brilliant blog called “Backwards”, and I’m lifting some outline inspiration from it.

Alright, on with the show.

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A Rare Tea Tasting with Kevin Gascoyne

As some of you have seen—via my social media—in June, I was at World Tea Expo.

For those who don’t follow me on those platforms . . . I don’t blame you. But that’s beside the point. In the middle of June, I trekked down to Las Vegas for my fifth World Tea Expo. (Oh wait, I already kinda said that.) I’ve . . . got a lot to say about that, but this missive isn’t about that, rather it’s about something else entirely.

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How My Brain Made Me Love Chinese Green Teas (Again)

Well, it’s spring again, and with it comes warmer weather. That’s how it is in the Pacific Northwest. I’m . . . not a fan. The reason? With warmer weather comes seasonal chronic migraines; a fun little diagnosis I received back in 2017. And it puts a heck of a damper on my routine tea drinking.

Every year is a little bit different. I have to spend a couple of months tinkering with my tea drinking rituals so as to avoid triggering a headache later in the evening. This year was particularly upsetting because everything seemed to be a trigger, even my yearly love affair with first flush Darjeelings.

So, it came as quite a surprise that I fared better when I switched over almost entirely . . . to green tea.

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A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the First Flushes

I don’t consider it spring until I’ve had a first flush Darjeeling in my mouth. This year, though, it took me a little longer to get to my “stash” of first flush Darjeelings. Most years, the family Lochan sends me a few to get the ol’ palate revved up for the year to come. And, as with most years, I dive right in. First flush Darjeelings are a special treat to this ol’ tea blogger. Unlike most “black teas”, Darjeeling first flushes aren’t fully oxidized. That’s why they maintain a very “green” palette, and a very floral palate.

Who can you blame for that?

Ja. That’s right.

First flush Darjeelings used to resemble second and autumnal flush Darjeelings; both in appearance and oxidation. However, since the biggest Western importer a few decades back was Germany, they had a sizable influence over how said tea was processed. They wanted to emphasize the natural aromatics of the region when the spring pluck occurred; when the sweet floweriness was the most pronounced. Enter: the greener, more aromatic first flush.

This year, I got a few of the usual suspects from the Lochans—Giddapahar, Rohini, Avongrove, etc. But there were a few in there that caught a second glace for another reason. I’d never heard of them.

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In Search of the Tea Tree God

Several months ago, I had a conversation with a fellow tea nerd about the origin of the tea tree. Y’know, small talk. During the dialogue, he uttered the following assertion that made my imagination boil over like an unrestrained kettle.

No one had found the “god” tea tree, yet. Meaning: the tree from which all varieties, subspecies, and cultivated varieties stemmed. Naturally, for a long-standing, amateur student of the leaf, the notion was one that I held near and dear. I just hadn’t heard it put so succinctly

Image mooched from Wikipedia.

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The White Teas of Araksa

The Araksa Tea Plantation is, by its own website’s declaration, one of the oldest in Chiang Mai province, Thailand. That’s not to say that it’s the oldest garden, or the oldest processor of teas. But by modern, Western-ish tea garden standards, that appears to be true.

Image owned by Araksa.

Araksa—which in Sanskrit means “Preserve”—was first plotted in 1939, utilizing assamica trees (by clone or seed) that grew plentifully in the area. Northern Thailand has a rich history of tea processing, dating back as far as the 1200s. Sheng puerh(-like) tea is the stock and trade for some of the Thai hill tribes in the area. But more established plantations were a rarity.

Like many such enterprises, though, this particular garden was abandoned, likely due to shifting economic whims. As a result, the garden went feral for several decades. It wasn’t until 2014, when the garden shifted to new owners, that tea production of a sort resumed. However, making tea alone wasn’t the sole emphasis.

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