Steep Stories

of the Lazy Literatus

Category: Tea Features Page 1 of 24

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.

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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.

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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 until the status was revoked when it was revealed not Taiwanese in origin.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.

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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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Revisiting Castleton Moonlight

I think it’s high time I talk about the Castleton estate.

Again.

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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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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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