Steep Stories

of the Lazy Literatus

Author: lazyliteratus Page 2 of 39

Tea at the Temple Gates

On the odd occasion, I leave the house to hunt for tea. It’s a rare occurrence—much like a hermitic groundhog hailing the arrival of spring—but it’s been known to happen. Sometimes that urge falls upon me at night, on a Friday. And on one such night in the spring of 2018, I found myself at The Speakteasy Underground.

Purveyor of this nighttime tea gathering in Portland, Steve Odell—whom I’ve mentioned on this blog a few times—served up something particularly interesting.

It was a Mao Feng green tea hailing from Meng Ding Mountain in Sichuan province, China. Originally, I almost refused it. I wasn’t the biggest fan of Chinese greens, but with very little coaxing, I acquiesced. And it . . . was heavenly; equal parts creamy and sweetly vegetal. I hadn’t tried a pan-fried green quite like it.

Steve regaled the crowd with how he got the tea, and waxed wizardly about sourcing it from a bonafide tea temple.

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“Glass” Half Full

I’ve been studying the Bible a lot, lately.

Wait! Don’t turn away. I swear this isn’t proselytizing, and—yes—this still deals with tea. Plus a whole lot more. It may be a tad unwieldy to navigate this, here, narrative. But we’ll make it together. Okay? Okay. Moving on . . .

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The Invoices of Autumn

While most of the world above the equator is currently complaining about winter, my mind is still stuck in autumn.

At least, that is, from a tea perspective.

Of all the seasonal flushes in India, Sri Lanka, and Nepal, autumn is considered a dumping ground. It’s a chance for gardens to make up for any lost product movement from the summer, but it also allows for one last pluck, thus making the effort of pruning later less arduous. (Or so I’d guess.)

Unfortunately, many consider autumn flush teas to be inferior, uniform, or lackluster. I’ve gone on record before declaring that not to be case, and this is particularly evident in Darjeeling. In fact, a true character of a garden sometimes shows through with what’s offered in autumn. And I was given such an opportunity again by one such garden.

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A Long-Awaited Look at Latumoni

Throughout 2018, there was one name I could not escape.

Latumoni.

It was the name given to a village in Northeastern Assam, situated in the uppermost part of the Dibrugarh district. It was apparently so remote; it didn’t even show up as a physical location on Google Maps. (At least, not in English.) Stranger still, trying to find a definition to the name “Latumoni” proved equally as nebulous. This Wikipedia entry for a tree kept popping up.

After double-checking with someone, I learned that—indeed—the Assamese name for that tree was “Latumoni”. Abrus precatorius (the science-y name for it) used to grow plentifully in the region, and the red seed pods were often used in decorations. How it became the name of the village proper is anyone’s guess.

What’s this all have to do with tea? I’m getting to that.

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Tea Musings about 2018

2018 was a weird year. Yeah, I know I’ve said that about prior years, but I really mean it this time. At present, it’s midnight on New Year’s Eve, a “chill-hop” station is on repeat-play, and I’m waiting for this 2013 Myanmar shou cha to kick in.

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A Spring Cleaning of Summer Stories in the Fall

At the time of this writing, it’s been over a month since my last article . . . missive . . . er . . . whatever. Also, at the time of this writing, it’s Thanksgiving day. Due to a bout of illness that decided to show up the day before, I’m holed up in my room. In order to avoid being Patient Zero, I’ve opted to quarantine myself from the two Turkey Day invites I received; even the one taking place in my home. This entire first paragraph serves as a microcosm of how well this autumn has gone.

But I don’t want to focus on the bad, rather, I want to finally break my unintended blogging hiatus to highlight things I’m thankful for. They, also, just so happen to be stories I never got around to telling. So, this serves as a bit of kitchen sink catch-up as well.

Without further ado, let’s get to thankin’!

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The Tea Vlogger in “American Vandal”

On September 20th of this year, I received an intriguing text from a fellow tea-brother:

I’d never heard American Vandal, nor was I aware that it had two seasons. My Netflix-fu was neophyte status at best. If it didn’t have the word “Marvel” in front of it, or could be easily searched in the anime section, I probably didn’t know it existed. But the thought of a series even acknowledging tea vlogging? That tickled my curiosity gland.

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The Real Tea

In the late-aughts (meaning: 2000-2009), my tea journey paralleled another hobby.

YouTube.

Since I worked the graveyard shift for most of the first decade of this century, I devoured a lot of content on that once-brand new streaming site. Even up to the present, this quiet addiction still percolates. Sometimes, it even cross-pollinates with my tea addiction, such as with my own under-used YouTube channel.

But YouTube and tea never really came in direct contact with an even older hobby of mine: etymology.

No, not entomology. Etymology; the study of words. More specifically, it’s the study of the meaning behind certain words and phrases.

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The Smoked Darjeelings of Niroula’s Tea Farm

In November of 2012, I accidentally “created” a smoked Darjeeling.

I say “accidentally” and put arbitrary air-quotes over “created” because . . . that’s only kinda what happened. One fateful day, I put a sample of Risheehat first flush—enclosed in a do-it-yourself tea bag—into a tin of loose Lapsang Souchong. Totally not thinking of the consequences. A week or so later, I broke out the sample, brewed it up, and marveled at the light-but-lingering “campfire embers” taste.

That made me wonder if and when someone in Darjeeling proper would (or could) ever smoke a Darjeeling like that. Several years later, in the summer of 2016, I saw this. Tony Gebely from World of Tea posted a picture of a first flush Darjeeling . . . that had been smoked over oak.

Image owned by Tony Gebely.

My jaw dropped. Apparently, it hailed from an “estate” called Niroula.

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The Ruckus over Ruan Zhi

Ruan Zhi—or “soft stem”— is a particular cultivated variety (or cultivar) of tea plant originally hailing from China, before making its way to Taiwan, and then migrating further along to Thailand and Myanmar . . . I think?

I say “I think?” because, well, information is not all that clear about the cultivar’s origins. As a result, I’m going to have to approach this write-up in reverse. That being: focusing on teas that were made from said cultivar once it made its way to Thailand, and even as far away as Myanmar. After that . . . I’ll attempt to elaborate upon the soft-stemmed tea bush’s checkered past.

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