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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.

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.

The “Heritage” of Assam

I’ve covered Assam before, and the many tea gardens that lie within the Indian state. To date, though, I don’t think I’ve focused on tea factories in the region. So, this post will be something a little bit different. But let’s start at the beginning.

World Tea Expo, 2014: it was my second such tradeshow. And the wholesale outfit that had the biggest booth there was Tealet.

Image owned by Tealet.

My first day on the tradeshow floor, I recall making multiple loop-arounds to their booth. On one such boomerang, they were serving up a  unique tea from Assam. A green tea that was smoked over oakwood.

Singpho Phalap

Back in 2015, I was reading one of Nicole “Tea For Me Please” Martin’s weekly roundups. In those, she lists off her five favorite tea blog articles of that week. I happened to be reading it that day to . . . see if I made the cut. (Yes, I’m narcissistic.) But I soon got distracted by one of the articles she linked to. It talked about a tribe of people in Assam, India I’d never heard of before— the Singpho.

Tea Tales and Mocktails

Two weeks back, I received an invite to go here:

smith-tea-hq-storefront

Okay, I go to both Smith Tea locations quite a bit on my own, but this was a special occasion. Like last year, this was their media-only holiday pre-release party. They were going to be showcasing their upcoming blends, partnerships, and limited edition holiday offerings.  And I was convinced I couldn’t go. Work and all that.

I was so convinced about my lack of attendance, I even shot off an e-mail to lead blender dude, Tony Tellin, to see if I could mooch some of pre-release batches for an article. Y’know . . . to pretend I was there. I’m good at pretending. None of that was necessary because I was magically able to convince my work to let me off early that day.

Montanan Breakfast Tea

NaNoTeaMo, Day 12: “Montanan Breakfast Tea”

This morning, I received a message from Gary Robson, o’ he of Red Lodge Books & Tea fame. I wasn’t quite awake, yet. My hands clumsily fumbled for my phone, and I accidentally activated Facebook’s calling function. No idea how it happened, but it led to a rather spirited conversation nonetheless.

Following that dialogue, I took that as a sign to brew up one of Gary’s signature wake-the-f**K-up blends. In my backlog box, there happened to be a tea he made called “Gary’s Kilty Pleasure”. I received it a couple of summer’s back on a trip to his tea bar in Montana.

Kilty bag

Tea Presence from Across the Pond

I think I mentioned a certain British girl I used to work with on this blog before. Okay, make that twice. Alright . . . technically, it was three times, if you count a guest blog for Lochan Tea. Point being, she was one of my favorite highlights of 2014. A person to pal around tea places with. Alas, in December of that year, she moved back to England. We agreed to keep in touch, but – as with most long-distance friendships – I assumed contact would grow scarce.

I was wrong.

While long-winded missives were a scarcity between the both of us, there was just enough contact to keep things current. It started off with messages back and forth, regaling the remains of the week. But then the penpal-ing took an interesting turn.

One morning – while arriving to work in my usual blurry-eyed, pre-caffeinated state – one of the supervisors said to me, “There’s a present for you on the desk.”

Odd, I thought. I didn’t do anything to deserve a gift.

Then my eyes met the gift itself.

Tregothnan

Colluding with a Kullad

Roughly a month ago, I received a package invoice in my business e-mail . . . and I wasn’t expecting one.

I get tea deliveries fairly frequently, but I clearly remember putting an unspoken moratorium on review samples. And I hadn’t bought anything. So, naturally, I was puzzled. The invoice was for no money, and a package was being sent my way from Joseph Wesley Tea. I had no problem with this development; JWT was awesomesauce incarnate. But I did want some clarification. So, I messaged to good ol’ Joe.

He confirmed that, indeed, a package was meant to be sent for me, and that it was a new item they were playing around with. A masala chai (spiced tea) kit, of sorts. It was a tin of JWT’s No. 2 Assam . . . and a traditional clay taster cup called a kullad. I’d never heard of it. The name sounded vaguely Klingon to me.

Image mooched from Joseph Wesley Tea's blog

Image mooched from Joseph Wesley Tea’s blog

The T Project Grand Opening

The T Project Grand Opening – Teashop Adventure Week

Several months ago, I stopped through Northeast Portland to stay a spell at Tea Bar. And it was . . . crowded. As a self-professed introvert, I don’t do well in crowds. If I’m with peers, I mind them less. But if alone, crowds feel suffocating. While I was happy that Tea Bar was doing well, the sheer volume beautiful twentysomethings enjoying their lattes was panic-inducing to my olden heart. My plan was to grab my usual Lapsang Latte and go.

Then, toward the back, I saw a familiar face – Mizuba Tea’s Lauren Purvis was conversing with someone. Someone I knew! I thought. And I bee-lined for them . . . totally not thinking that I was interrupting a professional conversation . . . which I was.

The woman Lauren was speaking with was Teri Gelber, a soon-to-be teashop owner.

Image mooched from tprojectshop.com

Image mooched from tprojectshop.com

A Saturday Evening with Friday Afternoon

It was a Saturday, as the title suggests. Saturday, March 21, to be precise. It was a really shitty Saturday, in other words.

The work shift was going frustratingly poorly. My student loan sharks announced they were tripling my monthly payment. And finally . . . a panic attack was looming. Not sure how that got there.

Amidst the chaos, I received a text from Misty Peak Teas’ Nick, informing me that there was a package waiting for me at Tea Bar. I kind of knew what it was, but it gave me something to look forward to. After the work shift, I made the trip out to NE Portland, sat myself at the bar like a regular, and ordered a Lapsang latte. My usual.

The barista handed off said Misty Peak mystery package. It was a giant bag of sheng pu-erh. That created an instant “happy”.

Misty Peak Teas

As I was about to nurse my latte, mood improved, I received a Facebook message. It was from someone I rarely heard from, a dude from my gaming circles. For those who haven’t figured it out, yet, I’m a bit of a geek. Occasionally, I’m easily roped into roleplaying and board game events. However, I’m what you would call a “casual”, at best. But I digress . . .

Said dude chimed in with, “Friday Afternoon Tea wants to meet you personally. She is at Gamestorm.”

My first thought was, “What’s a Gamestorm?”

He informed me that there was a gaming convention happening in Vancouver, WA. I knew of Friday Afternoon. I reviewed several of their teas when I still contributed to Teaviews. I remembered being particularly fond of their Snow Day blend.

I said to my gaming pal, “I can be there in twenty.”

It was the truth, I was in N.E. Portland, a mere skip across the river to Vancouver. He was a bit surprised at my impromptu decision, and so was I. But why not?! Up until now, my day had been shite. A little adventure wouldn’t hurt. (Much.) So, off I went to a gaming convention, to meet a tea blender op I’d never seen before.

When I got there, said friend met me at the front and directed me back to the vendor room. Toward the back was a woman with multicolored hair, decked out various pieces of geek flare (including Pac-Man earrings), chatting with other patrons. She was like a cross between Tank Girl, Kate Winslet a la Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and Pinki-Pie.

Pinkie Pie

In a word, “Adorkable”.

She was the patroness of Friday Afternoon Tea, and her actual name . . . was Friday. I was not expecting that, at all. Apparently, sci-fi conventions, gaming events and other geek ephemera were her bread-and-butter; the demographic she catered to. That and her blends reflected this. She had blends themed after Harry Potter, Firefly, Battlestar Galactica, and so on.

We got along fine.

I arrived just as she was closing up her booth for the day. She easily suckered me into buying a blend dubbed, “Setting Things on Fire” – one of her “Cylons for Breakfast” line of teas. It was a fusion of cooked pu-erh, Ceylon, and Assam – with a little bit of Lapsang Souchong sprinkled in for good measure. It smelled divine, had a kickass name . . . sold, to the gentleman with poor impulse control.

Friday Afternoon

We talked about various things under the geek umbrella, as we walked her daughter – dubbed TeaGirl – to the video gaming room. Before I knew it, two hours had passed. Not quite sure how that happened. She and her young ‘un called it a night, and I (somehow) got roped into a LAN game of Artemis with various other friends of mine at the con.

Before she left, though, she said, “You do know we’re best friends now, right?”

I was too befuddled to answer eloquently.

The next day, I broke in a mug of Setting Things on Fire. (That sentence sounded far less silly in my head.)

Setting Things on Fire, Loose

This was an incredibly even blend. What I mean by that is, all the elements fused well together. They all seemed as if they belonged together. The smaller cut Ceylon and Assam leaf pieces worked well with the more spindly pu-erh strands. The color palette ranged from tippy beige to chocolate brown. Nothing seemed out of place.

That even-ness carried over in the scent – strong contributions of malt, earth, smoke and . . . something fruity that I couldn’t quite place. Maybe I mistook the floral bend of the Ceylon for fruit. Stranger things have happened.

For brewing, I went with a typical black tea approach – 1 tablespoon of leaves for a 12oz. cup, steeped for four minutes in boiling water. Usually, I do three, but for something called “Setting Things on Fire”, I thought an extra minute would be fine.

Setting Things on Fire Brewed

The liquor brewed cedar brown with an alternating burly and sweet aroma. Crimson lined the edge of the soup, while it transitioned into a pool of dark brown. As even a transition in color as I would expect from such a blend. What shocked me was the taste. Contrary to the burly bits in the blend, this was a deceptively smooth operator, starting off with a floral front, ushering in a hint of malt, segueing (or even Segwaying) in a dash of smoke, and ending with a sensation of napping on a forest floor. Very deceptive . . . like a Cylon.

The weekend went from shit to shine.

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