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Steep Stories

of the Lazy Literatus

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.

Entheogenesis in Chicago

At the end of October, I did something completely out of character. I traveled to a city I’d never visited . . . for a tea festival. Stranger still? I flew out for said unknown (to me) city on Halloween. Nothing about this—my motivation, my ambition, what-have-you—added up.

The city? Chicago.

The event? The Chicago International Tea Festival.

Revisiting Castleton Moonlight

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

Again.

A Focus on Fellowship

A week ago, an article made the rounds in the greater tea community sphere. At the time it came out, it rubbed me the wrong way. So much so, I originally meant to pen a rant pointing out where it went wrong, and how the thesis was misguided. After thought and prayer (yes, both are useful), I removed my hands from the keyboard. However, I still cheekily “memed” about it, and shared it privately.

My reason for doing so—or so I expressed—was that artisan tea (or rather, specialty tea) wasn’t having a moment; it was about having a moment, and sharing that moment with others. Fellowship should’ve been the focus, not the subject which brought the fellowship together.

As per usual, though, in my attempt to make a point, I completely missed the point. Looking back at my trusty ol’ Bible showed me exactly how much I did so. I’ll explain.

My Birthday at a Tea Festival

Over a week ago, I attended Northwest Tea Festival.  Again.

It also happened to fall on my birthday.

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