Steep Stories

of the Lazy Literatus

Author: lazyliteratus Page 2 of 39

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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Going to Gopaldhara by way of Boulder, Colorado

Gopaldhara is a tea estate in the Mirik Valley in the Darjeeling district of the Indian state West Bengal. Like many such tea estates in the region, it began its life in the late 19th century. Plotted and planted by a bunch o’ Brits.

Image owned by Gopaldhara.

It derives its name from the original owner of the land, prior to tea planting—someone named “Gopal”—and the existence of natural streams that wound along the landscape; colloquially known in the old Lepcha language as “dharas”. Hence the name, Gopaldhara.

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Sheng Puerh from a Secret Wild Tea Garden

Glen and Lamu of Crimson Lotus Tea are one of my favorite husband-‘n-wife puerh hunter duos.

Up until 2016, I only knew of them, and the good reputation they’d garnered over five years as trustworthy sellers of Yunnan’s favorite export. However, over the last couple of years, I developed a bit of a quixotic, after-hours correspondence with the Glen half of the team. During the spring and early summer months—while they were on one of their annual sourcing trips—I’d occasionally hear from him (or vice-versa) . . . at 2AM.

In one such conversation, he casually mentioned they’d been invited to tour an old growth tea forest few Westerners had ever seen. He immediately had my attention; the words “secret tea garden” scrawled into my brain. A week-or-so-ish after that conversation, they posted this video on their YouTube channel.

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A Tie Guan Yin Flight from Taiwan

Tie Guan Yin is one of the most interesting takes on oolong ever developed. Despite its ancient-sounding name—invoking the Bodhisattva of Compassion, Guan Yin— the “Iron Goddess of Mercy” only dates back to the 19th century. Hailing from Anxi county, in Fujian province, China, this complicated style of oolong originally began its life as a medium-roast, “strip leaf”-shaped incarnation; similar to Wuyi Mountain yanchas, or Phoenix Mountain Dan Congs—only nowhere near as dark. That changed around the turn of the 20th century when the processing techniques grew even more labyrinthine.

Image mooched from Wikipedia.

Contrary to popular belief, though, Tie Guan Yin didn’t start out as a processing style of oolong. Rather, the style was inspired by a slow-growing, low-yielding cultivar of the same name.

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