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of the Lazy Literatus

Author: lazyliteratus Page 2 of 42

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

Why I Talk About Indian Teas . . . A Lot

There’s a question I always get from fellow tea heads, and it’s one that has increased in frequency over the last couple of years: “So, what’s the deal with Indian teas?” Or some permutation of that. I’m not sure when it happened, but I became known (peripherally) in a few tea circles as the “Indian tea guy”. Which is weird considering . . . I’m nowhere close to being Indian. I’ve never even been to the country.

However, one thing I’ve noticed over the last ten years, amidst my muscatel-fueled echo chamber, people gravitated more prominently to Taiwanese oolongs, Wuyi oolongs, or—more infamously—to puerh collectorship. And yet, while I flirted with all types of tea, I always returned to my Himalayan palatial home. What’s funny is, I’ve never fully addressed why.

But then something triggered me to finally to so. Or rather, some drink.

Caffeine and Crassicolumna

In late 2018, various media outlets were all a-buzz about a new (old) discovery.

An as-of-yet uncategorized decaffeinated tea plant in Fujian province, China. Some of the articles exaggerated the claim; others got some of the science wrong completely. Put succinctly: a long-forgotten cultivar had mutated. How does that happen?

Well, as most tea botany nerds know, cultivars are only classified as such if the genetic info is uniform. Meaning: cultivated varieties of certain tea plants could only be called as such if they’re grown from clones or grafts from other members of that cultivar. If grown from seed, the genetic profile of that tea tree changes.

Well, the decaf tree—dubbed Hong Ya Cha—was one such genetic variant. And I couldn’t stop talking about it. Why? Well, my relationship with caffeine was in flux, and I looked for any tea-adjacent alternatives I could find.

In a real-life conversation with other tea blog friends, I brought the subject up. (Mainly curious if anyone sold any teas made from Hong Ya Cha.) One of them mentioned Verdant Tea as a possible source. I went to digging.

Turns out what they had was a completely different thing, entirely. Oh, they possessed “teas” that were made from a supposedly decaffeinated plant. But it wasn’t from a mutated Camellia sinensis tree. No, theirs was from a cousinly species from Yunnan province, China. Camellia crassicolumna.

The Legend of Ivan Chai

A couple of years ago, I tried a unique herbal “tea” from Latvia.

It was called “Rosebay Willowherb”. The sample was sent to me by a now-defunct company, and what intrigued me most was the processing method. While the purple flowers of the plant were dried in the typical tisane manner, the leaves were almost fully oxidized—like a black tea.

“I Don’t Want the Game to End.”

Like many with nerdlinger tendencies, I was camped in front of my computer to catch this:

The first episode of Star Trek: Picard.

It was roughly 10PM on a Thursday, and I resisted for all of ten seconds before purchasing a subscription to CBS All Access. All for the sake of nostalgia. I even brewed up some Stash Double Bergamot Earl Grey for the occasion. Decaf. (It was late, and I’m too old for caffeine at night.)

Virginia’s First Tea Farm

When you’re a tea nerd like me, sometimes the best way to find new discoveries is just to camp out on social media and . . . lurk. Facebook is the perfect place for this totally-not-creepy behavior because of the myriad of tea groups out there. Even some specifically geared toward the practice of tea growing. A lot of my knowledge about tea growers in the United States came from such [totally normal!] lurking perusal. Such as this series of photos posted by a grower local to me, David Hathaway:

Image owned by David Hathaway.

Apparently, there was a tea farm in Virginia, and it completely escaped my notice.

Steeped in Selah

2019 was a very weird year for tea.

Or rather, a very weird year for how tea was covered in the press. And by “press”, I mean, mainstream media, not the usual tea or beverage-centric haunts that won’t hire me that cover tea. I’m talking about The New York Times and Thrillist, just to name the most prominent.

Sipping Mississippi

I waited way too long to tell this story. So long, in fact, others have already told it. Because of that, I have to approach this from another angle—a sipping angle.

Image owned by The Great Mississippi Tea Company.

The Great Mississippi Tea Company first popped up on my radar in the spring (or was it summer?) of 2012. Where? On this here Tea Trade network. A new user—Jason McDonald—announced he and his business partner (Timothy Gipson) had just broken ground on a new tea farm.

Autumnal Assam Experiments

Image owned by Tea Leaf Theory.

In January of 2019, I wrote about this garden.

Latumoni.

It was a 7-acre garden that bore the name of the small Assamese village it hugged against. Throughout 2018, their name was everywhere. Mainly because of their partner—and research station founder—Tea Leaf Theory. Through this operation’s efforts, and Latumoni’s care and hard work, the garden became a bit of a household name in some tea circles. If only for pushing the mission statement about the potential of small gardens in Assam.

Vietnamese Oolongs Made from Wild Assamica

Vietnam has an unfortunate reputation in tea circles.

Not entirely undeserved. Like countries such as Thailand, one of the ways they’ve tried to establish a tea growing/producing identity is by emulating the practices of others. Their greatest influences—naturally—are their neighbors. In this case, China and Taiwan.

From China, they aped the style of Yunnan shou puerh. They must’ve figured, “Well, we’ve provided old tree leaf material to them for decades, might as well do it ourselves.”

The Taiwanese influence, though, that’s a bit more puzzling. I’m not sure when they started importing Taiwanese cultivars, or when artisans took up their oolong trade, but such offerings grew in visibility around the time when tea blogging took off as a medium. Circa 2009-ish. Unlike with—say—Thailand or Myanmar, though, Vietnam’s  Taiwanese adjacent/inspired oolongs were just as good as the real deal. In one memorable case, a Vietnamese oolong even won a competition . . . until the status was revoked when it was revealed not Taiwanese in origin.

I’ve been covering Vietnamese teas for nearly a decade. I’ve tried many different teas that echoed many different styles; some great, some good, some . . .  Snow Shan green tea. It seems the tea producers of Vietnam have reached a plateau of sorts. Time for them to stop imitating and start innovating.

And I think I tried two such examples.

The Two Faces of Issaku

At the Portland Tea Festival in July (of this year, the time of this writing), Oolong Owl dragged me to a Japanese tea vendor booth. This was markedly weird for two reasons: one, the Owl rarely dragged—more like, prodded. Two: it was a Japanese tea vendor. I always assumed she was just a puerh stan. She never fails to surprise.

The man she introduced me to was Kei Nishida, purveyor of the Japanese Green Tea Company.

Me and Kei Nishida. Image owned by Japanese Green Tea Company.

The outfit was exemplary for two reasons: they only sold tea from one garden. The second? Their western presence was right in my backyard.

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