of the Lazy Literatus

Author: lazyliteratus Page 1 of 43

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

Vietnamese Green Teas from Ha Giang

A few years ago, I tried “Snow Shan” green tea from Vietnam . . .

And I hated it.

Okay, maybe “hate” is too strong of a word; “touchy” would be better. It was really difficult to brew. If I went out-of-bounds on the steeping parameters, the leaves imparted a bitter and astringent brew, not unlike a young Lao Mane’ sheng puerh. My guess was that because it took a longer fry to kill-green the leaves (especially old tree material), and also thanks to the more humid environs of Northern Vietnam, the all-handmade process led to some really touchy leaves.

So what is Snow Shan green tea? Well, it’s more purally known as “Thuyet Shan” (Snow High Mountain) green tea. And it’s exactly that, green tea made from tea trees high up in the mountains of Northern Vietnam. But there’s a really important distinction: Thuyet Shan is made from some of the oldest tea trees, from some of the oldest feral gardens in the world. Northern provinces like Yen Bai and Ha Giang are dotted with them.

I’ve mentioned trying teas made from these types of old trees many times. But other than the one time, I don’t think I tried another old tree green tea made from them. Mostly out of fear. But then, Hatvala posted something interesting.

Beengs and Purge

As some of you might remember, a couple of years ago, I co-hosted of a tea-themed podcast.

On the above episode, we had a guest—James of TeaDB—to discuss puerh storage. I contributed nothing to the episode, save for a couple of queries and quips here and there. James was star informant on the subject of storage. Toward the end of the ‘cast, the question was posed to me, “How do you feel about your puerh storage in a box?” (I had mentioned that was my “preferred” method.)

I replied with, “I still don’t care.”

Tea from Jersey. (Not THAT Jersey.)

Let’s talk about Jersey.

No, not that Jersey.

This Jersey.

The island of Jersey—better known locally and colloquially—as the Bailiwick of Jersey is one of the larger islands located in the English Channel. In fact, all such islands are considered “Channel Islands”, collectively. And, like the Bailiwick of Guersney, Jersey is considered a dependency of the British Crown.

While it has self-governing status, and yields to the Crown, it’s not considered part of the United Kingdom, the British Commonwealth, or the European Union. It occupies this sort of weird limbo status, much like some U.S. protectorates, only . . . not as hated by the parent “colonial”.

One thing that struck me as fascinating is that I should have known about this island. It was occupied by the Duchy of Normandy for over five hundred years! My ancestors hail from Normandy. We were the Vikings that were too lazy to continue onward to the British isles until we were kicked out of Igé.  It wasn’t until I learned that Jersey now produced tea that my attention veered to it.

The Nilgiris in Winter

I’ve written about the Nilgiris in Tamil Nadu a couple of times, now. But there’s one period of time I haven’t yet quite covered.

Image owned by Ketlee.

Mainly because . . . it’s not really a growing season, in the traditional sense. In fact, the issue of seasonal “flushes” in the Nigiris gets a little confusing, especially come winter. Main reason? Well . . . the Nilgiris really don’t have a winter. It’s South India; the weather can go from oppressively hot to almost-around-pleasant, or so I hear. This actually makes it an ideal sort of climate for the tea plant, particularly the common variety there—assamica.

Chai, Chai Again

Allow me to be the first to admit that I know very little about Masala Chai.

My expertise extents only as far as the etymological; as in, I know it’s a redundancy to call it “Chai Tea”. “Chai” literally translates to “Tea” from Hindi/Urdu—itself an iteration of the original Chinese word, Cha. Masala” literally translates to “spiced”. So, “Masala Chai” is literally “Spiced Tea”. That’s about as far as my knowledge extends, well, besides drinking it.

Memories of Mandal Gaon

Mandal Gaon is a village in the state of West Bengal, India—in the Darjeeling region. Like many villages in the area, the inhabitants are mostly of Gurkha descent; a Nepalese ethnic group brought over to India by the British to work the newly planted tea gardens. Since then, over the course of time, the towns they occupied also became hubs for individually owned gardens. While they rarely produced tea themselves—save for private consumption—they did provide fresh tea leaf for plantation factories.

Mandal Gaon had one such plot run by Mr. Moktan. Toward the end of the 20th century, as Indian tea planatation laws grew more lax, private growers “cropped” up. Moktan was one of them, changing out his potato and corn fields for tea garden space. Situated at an altitude of 5,500 feet, and with the benefit of Darjeeling weather, he planted close to 8,000 small leaf sinensis chinary.

Image owned by Tea Leaf Theory.

My Ass-Backwards Journey with An Ji Bai Cha

Over the course of years, I’ve had strange relationships with many teas. I’m kind of a steep-slut that way. But none have been as ass-backwards as my journey with An Ji Bai Cha.

Image owned by Seven Cups

A Year of Weird and Wonderful White Teas

Toward the end of any year, content creators, influencers, media pundits (social or otherwise) are encouraged to create look-backs or listicles of the year-that-was. Throughout my long and industrious “career” as a tea blogger, I’ve made such reflections in the past. Usually commenting on how weird the year was, or how wonderful some aspect of it turned out. 2020, though . . . ?

Yeah, I don’t wanna.

It was a terrible, terrible, TERRIBLE year by all objective measures. I won’t even go into detail as to why, I don’t have to, most of you reading this have felt the “Terrible” in your own lives. While I got away from feeling most of the brunt of 2020, my mental state did not. To the point where I took an unintended hiatus from writing anything for close to three months.

The result of that was a rather unwieldy backlog of tea stories I had yet to tell. Some I may not even get to, come to think of it. So, to close the year out (almost a month after it ended), I thought I’d egress—not with a story—but with a theme. For you see, over the course of the year, something(s) weird and wonderful did chance by me. White teas, quite a few weird and wonderful white teas.

Gifts of the Doke River

In July, a very 2020 thing happened.

I shattered a gaiwan lid. Even “funnier”? This was the second such gaiwan lid I’d shattered this year. My luck with even the most basic teaware was middling at best. Like any “softboi”, I posted this guy-winey gaiwan lament online. First person to comment on this tragedy was Rajiv Lochan.

He basically said, “I have a gaiwan for you, just send me your address.”

Surprised, I tried to dissuade him. Anyone who knows Rajiv can tell you . . . there’s no dissuading him once he gets an idea in his head. Especially a generous one. On top of that, he also wanted to throw in some tea surprises. From Doke Tea, of course, the garden he owned and that his progeny operated in Bihar, India.

Photo by Rajiv Lochan.

Not one to argue, I gave my mailing address again. A couple of weeks after “The Shattering”, a package arrived. In it were three teas, and the brand-spankin’ new gaiwan.

First tea I used to break it in? Doke Black Fusion. Second Flush, 2020. As he had hoped.

This year’s version was very chocolaty. More so than it ever had been before. I wondered about this to him, and he gave a coy reply about “more water” that year. Whatever that meant.

In later days, I dug through the other teas he included. One was another Doke Black Fusion version he really wanted me to get to.

In 2014, Rajiv took some black tea they made, and stuck it in an earthenware pot. Just to see what would happen. Six years later, he took some out … and sent it to me.

I remember the 2014 batch quite well; very honey-nut-spice-y. Man, it REALLY changed over the years. Some of the young profile was there, but it got really earthy. Like a Dian Hong, but still sweet. Not stale at all. That and it made me feel very relaxed.

I’m never relaxed.

And I certainly didn’t appear that way for the next few months. No clue why, but my anxiety for most of the last summer/early autumn was in overdrive. Nothing in particular was triggering it, at least  as far as I could discern. A tea friend in Canada—Phil Holmans— in particular took it to heart. So much so that I received a package from him a week or so later, via his Halifax-based tea operation—World Tea House.

Among the teas included were my favorite Assam, a few Darjeelings I favored, yellow tea from the Great Mississippi Tea Company, and—as if by sheer serendipity—more Doke garden teas. Not that I was in any shortage of them. Still . . . ?

Again, at Rajiv’s  urgings, I dipped into a tea he recommended. This time, the Diamond Green. As I’ve confessed on this blog before, their green tea was rarely one I liked. He said this year’s was much different. Again, he said, it was because of the water.

It was damn near perfect. Probably the best iteration, yet. I don’t ever recall it tasting as sweet as it did in my cup that day.

However, the biggest surprise was the Doke Rolling Thunder “oolong” from this year. The Lochans changed up the recipe several times over the years. Most of the time, it just resembled any other Assam; malty and nutty. This year was markedly different.

Not sure how or why, but it tasted like a Darjeeling. Keep in mind, it’s made from assamica leaf, so that shouldn’t have been possible. But there it was, muscatel notes on a semi-oxidized assamica tea. Yet again . . . Rajiv credited the water.

Photo by Rajiv Lochan

I looked again at the note that World Tea House Phil had included with the tea gift.

Throughout 2020, whether with merit or none, we’ve all gone through some mental anguish. Some more than others. In terms of tragedies, I’ve experienced very little throughout this trying/travailing year, but even I experienced bouts of mental and emotional exhaustion at the constant upheaval. One of the few centering activities I held on to was tea. That and talking to tea people

And, to date, I haven’t found a more caring circle of friends. No matter what corner of the world they hail from.

Must be something in the water.

Photo by Rajiv Lochan

Green Tea from Bhutan

Did you know they grow tea in Bhutan?

Well, until a few months ago, neither did I.

Image owned by Camellia Sinensis

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