Over a week ago, I attended Northwest Tea Festival. Again.
It also happened to fall on my birthday.
Thoughts and commentary on all things tea.
I should probably get around to talking about World Tea Expo 2019, huh?
To be truthful, my delay in doing so wasn’t related to my usual brand of procrastination, but rather some trauma. Stuff I’ve had difficulty processing and— unfortunately— it’s inextricably linked to my World Tea Expo jaunt this year. Some have advised that I should just talk about the Expo proper and leave out the trauma, but I felt that would be narratively disingenuous. Like it or not, it was a part of the experience.
That said, I found a way to record those events—the good and the bad—in a manner that’s thematically sound. With his permission, I borrowed a narrative device employed by my blogging compatriot, The Devotea. Several years ago, he wrote a brilliant blog called “Backwards”, and I’m lifting some outline inspiration from it.
Alright, on with the show.
As some of you have seen—via my social media—in June, I was at World Tea Expo.
For those who don’t follow me on those platforms . . . I don’t blame you. But that’s beside the point. In the middle of June, I trekked down to Las Vegas for my fifth World Tea Expo. (Oh wait, I already kinda said that.) I’ve . . . got a lot to say about that, but this missive isn’t about that, rather it’s about something else entirely.
Several months ago, I had a conversation with a fellow tea nerd about the origin of the tea tree. Y’know, small talk. During the dialogue, he uttered the following assertion that made my imagination boil over like an unrestrained kettle.
No one had found the “god” tea tree, yet. Meaning: the tree from which all varieties, subspecies, and cultivated varieties stemmed. Naturally, for a long-standing, amateur student of the leaf, the notion was one that I held near and dear. I just hadn’t heard it put so succinctly
I have a good reason for not updating this here blog in awhile, honest. For the last week or so, I was on vacation. As indicated by this dorky tourist capture.
Short summary: I was on a cruise with a gaggle of family members. All part of a makeshift family gathering that reunited my dad with all of his siblings. By “all”, I mean—yes—there are quite a few of them. A few of us in the next generation just happened to be included in the package deal. This particular cruise line and destination route weren’t new to me; I’d done the Ensenada/Catalina run a little over ten years prior. I liked it then, and I liked it now.
What had changed in the intervening years, however, were my tea proclivities. I wasn’t nearly as snobby particular back then, as I am now. That, and prior to the trip, I was relying on California water for my brewing. For the first few days, I got around that in a very simple way.
I drank coffee.
Unlike with tea, coffee still tastes like coffee, no matter the water. And decaf coffee had about a little over a third more caffeine than the average cup of black tea. So, for my morning starters, I swigged the black swill. But that could only go on for so long.
After one day at sea, it became apparent that I couldn’t keep this up forever. As . . . “open” as I was to the darker drink, my palate demanded something far smoother. Luckily, I remembered to pack a tumbler and bag of Giddapahar estate Darjeeling.
(2017, second flush. Some of you know how significant that vintage is.)
Just a mere whiff of muscatel brought me back to my senses, and the sip was like forbidden divine nectar to a withdrawal-parched tongue. During breakfast buffets aboard the ship, it was easy to arrive with tumbler in tow. But that wasn’t always feasible later on in the day. After all, one of the tenets of touristing is having as little on your person as possible, save for necessities.
Tea wasn’t a necessity. Plus, when you have a bladder the size of an acorn, finding a bathroom immediately after hitting the gong fu sauce—especially in Mexico—was a challenge. Tumbler-brewed, loose leaf tea turned into a morning only thing. For the midday boost, an alternative was needed.
Enter the Arnold Palmer.
Instant iced teas on cruise ships are middling in taste, at best. Sure, you could sweeten it, but that turns into way too much sugar fast. Luckily for me, the buffet area on the boat had their iced tea dispenser right next to the lemonade. Half one, half the other, and I was set.
Although, when wandering the ship, it was really difficult to look sophisticated in the bars with a sippy cup.
On the third day—our only day without a port of call—one of my aunts pointed out something on the ship itinerary that I’d missed. Apparently, one of the dining areas had an afternoon tea service that day. Up until then, I had no plans for the day at sea; aside from roaming the ship like a drunk seagull. That changed in minutes.
When I mentioned my plans, another aunt and one of my cousins expressed interest in tagging along, which both surprised and delighted me. I had every intention of attending it on my own, but—as we all know—tea is better when shared. The pastries and sandwiches provided by the ship were fantastic; the display, simple but elegant.
The tea? Um . . . okay, I won’t mention the brand that the ship carried, and I actually respect the company in question. However, the line of teas available ranged from black blends to tisanes, but with a heavier emphasis on the herbals. As I recall, they only had two black teas to choose from, one of which was a cream Earl Grey.
And it tasted like candy-flavored soap.
I’m not sure if it was the ship water; it certainly wasn’t the brewing. I did my own damn brewing! At this stage in my relationship with the leaf, I think I know how I like my Earl Greys. Whatever the reason, the blend did not work. The only way I could make it palatable was loading it with sugar.
That aside, I had a great time. The entire cruise went great. I don’t travel much. In my old-ish age, I’ve come to realize, I only like traveling when I’m being corralled around like a herd animal—cruises included.
I’m not sure if this serves as a definitive “advice” article on how to cruise for tea. If you’re incredibly picky, the safest bet is to bring your own, and adhere to the travails of a travel tea set. I started off by doing that, but it became readily apparent I had to lighten up and loosen up.
Example: on the last morning before debarkation, I hastily double-tea-bagged with breakfast. And didn’t mind it. If you can relax a bit on your usual rules, just go with the flow, you’ll find other ways of making it work. After all, it’s a vacation.
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.
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 . . .
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.
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’!