of the Lazy Literatus

Tag: Darjeeling

Tea is Magic to a Darjeeling-Drenched Dresden Phile

This is the part of the entry – the introduction, no less – where the blogger is supposed to “apologize for not blogging in a while”. This is usually followed by an excuse of some sort – work, school, girlfriends, boyfriends, abductions, pets, zombie apocalypses, what-have-you. Well, I don’t have any excuse – at least, not a good one. I’ll blame it on one word: Magic.

As mentioned in my priory entry, I’m currently neck-deep in The Dresden Files. I’m on book…oh…eight? Cliff’s notes version: It’s about a wizard – Harry Dresden – who acts as a private eye in Chicago, and epic events happen around the man. It’s urban fantasy for the post-Harry Potter set. And damn awesome at that.

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The fourteen-(and counting)-book series also inspired a short-lived TV series. It was nowhere near as epic as the book series. Events and characters were changed to cater to a scaled-down TV show budget. And, hoo-boy, was it ever scaled down. There was one key difference between the books and show that I found interesting – a character trait that the show had over the written word.

In the books, Dresden was a coffee drinker; in the TV series, a tea drinker.

Dresden tea

There were a couple of episodes that focused rather heavily on the magical properties of plants, and they played an integral part of a potion in one episode. On a couple of occasions, he was also seen drinking from a Japanese cast-iron tea cup. No one drinks coffee out of cast-iron. Er, not that I know of.

This made me wonder – in a not-so-serious fashion – if there was something to this “tea-is-magic” stuff. I consider myself a bit of an amateur expert on the subject of tea and magic, but I hadn’t done an anecdotal (read: nonfictional) “study” on the subject. So, I decided to reflect on the last month or so using one common factor for this little meta-tea study: My last three encounters with Smith Teamaker teas.

What? It’s not a scientific theory unless it’s been proven three times, right? At least, I think that’s how it goes. Oh, right…on to the magic.

Fraud and First Flush

When I received the phone call, I was under a bed. At work.

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I won’t say what I do for work, or why I was under a bed, but I will say that it was an inopportune time to be answering the phone. The call was from a third-party fraud department that worked in tandem with my credit union.

The woman on the other end asked, “Did you make any purchases in Georgia or North Carolina?”

I said, “Um…no.”

“You’re still in Oregon, then?” she continued.

“Yes,” I answered. Slightly more annoyed.

“Well, your debit card was used in the following locations,” and then she went on to explain that said debit card was now frozen as a result. I had no access to funds until my credit union branch opened on Monday.

In the interim, whoever the mysterious fraud culprit was continued to rack up charges on my debit card, thus negating the claim that my account had been frozen. By Sunday of that weekend, I was penniless. That and a credit card payment that I’d made in advance was going to bounce.

Come Monday morning, I had a rather heated exchange with a bank rep about the situation. At first, she was un-empathetic to my penniless plight, but seeing me on the verge of a breakdown softened her Sikh heart. I filed the necessary incident report, noted the fraudulent charges, and signed on the dotted line. She agreed to contact me once everything was resolved, but warned it might take a day or two.

As catharsis, I journeyed to Northwest Portland to have a relieving pot of first flush Darjeeling from the Chamong estate at Smith Teamaker HQ. Claire – the tea bartender on duty – patiently listened to me rant about my banking woes. While I slowly sipped away at my two-person pot, I received a phone call from the bank rep. Everything was wrapped up in a tight little bow. All fraudulent charges were removed, and any overdraft fees were refunded.

Chamong

I called my credit card company to make sure that the payment from my credit union went through without a hitch. They confirmed there were no issues. I stared at my phone – shocked.

All crises were averted…in the time it took me to down a pot of tea. Coincidence?

Sakura and Sun Tea

I’ve already talked about how my brother introduced me to “sun tea” a couple of years ago. On further attempts, we used Smith Teamaker’s Exceptional Iced Tea blend to make more. I still had four huge-arse sachets of the stuff left, and we decided to give it another run on the first warm day of Spring. My brother put it by the cherry blossom tree in our backyard.

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Three hours later, it was ready. We went through half the jar in only two days. On one of those days, I downed at least two pints – right before I was to attend my usually Monday board game night at a friend’s house. The usual default for us is a game called Settlers of Catan.

Simply put, it’s The Game of Life meets Olde World economy. Wicked fun…and I suck at it. I, maybe, win one game in twenty. By the skin of my sheep. This time around, my avenues of settlement expansion were cut in half, leaving very little potential for growth or gameplay. That’s what I thought at first.

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Not only were the dice on my side, but by some stone-‘n-mortar miracle, I made a massive comeback. By the end of it, I earned the ten points needed to win the game naturally with no development cards or added sundries. I left that game night practically glowing and in tears. A board game victory should never be that poignant and powerful.

Yes, I blame the sun tea. That’s all I had to drink the entire day.

A Darjeeling Tea Tasting

While at work (yes, again with the work moments), I received an e-mail from Alex – Smith Teamaker’s tech-‘n-sales guru – about an upcoming Darjeeling tasting thingy. The next day. New 2013 first flushes had come in. The problem with my job, though, was that I had no clue what time I’d be done. I was a supervisor of a staff of six or seven, and our departure time was contingent upon their speed.

In anticipation, I called my boss’s boss to see if I could cut out early for the tasting. He said, “Yes.” And I kowtowed in extreme appreciation. Luckily, the need for his permission wasn’t necessary. The day of the tasting, I ended up getting out an hour early!  Truly, magic at work.

The tasting itself was hosted by both Alex and Blender Tony. The latter of whom described the importance and minutiae of Darjeeling teas from a vendor perspective in great detail. We tasted roughly ten teas from seven different estates. My favorites were from the Phoobsering estate – known for their kick-arse oolongs.

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As an added bonus, I got to take those home with me.

The remainder of my week was spent finishing the last few chapters of Dead Beat – arguably the best book in the Dresden series. I can see the pro arguments. I mean, Dresden rides a zombie T-rex into battle – how cool is that?!

What I found particularly odd, though, was that there was a heckuva lot more tea drinking in this book than in the prior installments. Very little mention of coffee. I’m not sure if the books took a page out of the TV series, but I smile a bit at the coincidence.

Bah, I think I’ve proven I don’t believe in coincidences.

As I sip my second pot of Darjeeling while writing this.

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Lowbrow, Low Expectations and Lowland Darjeeling

Several weeks ago – mere hours after posting a blog on “Tea Tact” – I learned of something disconcerting. A local blogging network had ousted me from, well, their entire network. I was never given an explanation as to why. Heck, I never even received notification. One day, while trying to post a comment on the group’s Facebook wall, I was greeted by an error message: “You are not a part of this group.

Dude. Harsh.

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I messaged the person that’d invited me to it but never got a reply. Several theories swarmed through my head. There was a case for me not being an active enough participant, but I’d only been a part of it for a month. Surely, there was a leeway period. Guess not. Perhaps I didn’t post frequently enough, or contribute comments to other blogs? There was a strong case for that, too. Eventually, I did the only tactful thing I knew at the time.

I took to Twitter.

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That didn’t even get their attention. Morose, I continued on with my week – brewing tea by the pint and going to work. The most notable of them was a particular Darjeeling that handled abuse and neglect quite well. Most mornings, I don’t have the time (or lucidity) to pay attention to exact measurements or steep times. I put the kettle on, boil water, put leaves in, and let it steep. Forever. Usually until after I’m out of the shower.

This particular morning’s Darjeeling was a low-altitude sort – one from the Rohini estate. The tea in question was a sample of their first flush clonal, generously donated by Happy Earth Tea. Rohini was one of the first Darjeelings that had a first flush out in 2012. They kicked the Darjeeling season off in February.

Someone informed me that, while lowland Darjeeling estates often yield crops earlier than highland ones, their quality is often sub-par. When I brewed the Rohini up normally, however, I didn’t find anything wrong with it. In fact, it was on par with some of the best I had that year. I even reflected upon it in story form.

How did it handle one of my post-shower, ten-minute, forever-steeps-o’-neglect? Perfectly. In fact, if anything, its character was even more pronounced. I’ve treated scores of Darjeelings to forever steeps, and none held up well. They often spinached, bittered or grew vegetal after minute six. Whether it was the heartier leaves, the lower altitude or unicorn magic, Rohini was a MANLY estate.

For weeks, I’d wanted to reflect on this phenomenon, but I didn’t have a proper platform in which to do so. I wanted to compare it to something, and draw the point back to the earlier blog group ousting. What I didn’t have was a proper bridge. Every blog needs a damn bridge – burned or otherwise. One was finally provided…by my cat.

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My Maine Coon mix rousted me from bed at the unholy hour of 4AM. I snatched her up by the “mommy”-scruff and rasped a sharp, “NO!” Then I tried to collapse back into the warm bosom of my ‘lectric blanky. It was too late. Thoughts swam in my skull. Finally, I gave up with a, F**k it, I guess I’ll write.

And there was my bridge.

Like a good lowland Darjeeling, even a lowbrow lad like me can exceed expectations when pushed. True potential can be squeezed at the oddest of times. Even friggin’ 4AM. I am a forever-steeped tea, sweating potential like a steaming kettle, and if other blog networks don’t see it…well…I raise my cup to ’em…

And a middle finger.

fuckin tea

 

UPDATE: So, it would appear that the culprit behind my blogger group ousting was none other than…

*Drum roll*

Friggin’ Facebook.

Technical difficulties with the platform caused the kerfuffle. The group had nothing to do with it. FB me was the one that threw me out.

Damn you, Zuckerberg!!!

*Shakes tiny teacupped fist*

A Dwarven Dance in Darjeeling

A month had passed since I came to the startling realization that I wasn’t going to review tea anymore. Days had passed when I realized I didn’t have a job anymore. Mere hours had crept by before I remembered that I wasn’t wearing any pants. Of course, I was still in bed when I pondered all of this.

Why I even had my alarm set was a force of habit – not out of any obligation. Last night was the first where I completely forgot to set it. A sure sign that I had given up on any semblance of a pattern. Unemployed, unmotivated, all I wanted to do was sleep. But something perched on my chest wasn’t going to let me…

“I said, ‘Ahem!’,” a squeaky voice chimed again.

I first thought the annoying, high-pitched hollering was my “smart” phone ringer. When I finally opened my eyes, I found…her. An off-white, slightly-worn, Chinese lidded teacup with a face, and she was staring angrily at me. I didn’t know gaiwans could get angry, nor that they possessed a face.

“For the last time…” she started again with a miniature huff.

“I’m up! I’m up!” I said quickly. “What’s so damn urgent?”

“It’s been a month,” the gaiwan answered flatly.

“Since what?”

“Since you promised to go to Darjeeling,” she stated.

“I made no such promise, Liddy,” I said, cradling her in one hand while making my way to the kitchen.

That was her name – Liddy. I received her for a little over three weeks. She was given to me by an undead Scottish botanist for magical teleportation. The fact that I could say that with a straight face proved either: (a) I needed to get out more. Or (b) I got out too much.

“That doesn’t matter now,” she shook her head…er…lid…whatever. “You’re needed.”

“For?”

“No time to explain!”

And with that, the little, lidded cup glowed white. Before I knew it, the glow encapsulated my tired, thirtysomething, pajama-clad form. (Why did this always happen while I was in pajamas?!) In a flash, we were both no longer in my kitchen. Instead, what greeted us was a large room that resembled a cross between Bag End from The Lord of the Rings and a mole cave.

There were many tables and chairs – some carved with wood, others straight from stone – with many worn occupants. None of them were human. The majority of them were snakes, and they were singing and dancing – if such creatures could do that. And they were, with reckless abandon. The most prominent feature of the place? It reeked of years-old cheese.

“This…is not Darjeeling,” I observed with… obviousness.

“Technically, you’re under Darjeeling,” said a gruff voice behind me.

I turned to face – and stare down at – a brown-bearded dwarf dressed in merchant attire. He looked like every quintessential dwarf I’d ever seen in fantasy movies or brandished on book covers. If anything, though, he appeared more haggard than his fictional counterparts. And smellier. Even his dapper attire was dusty – at best.

“Welcome to The Smiling Subterranean,” the dwarf baritoned proudly. “The only underground tearoom in (or rather, under) Darjeeling.”

“It reeks in here,” Liddy said with a sneer.

The dwarf merely laughed nervously. “C-can I get you anything?”

“Darjeeling first flush,” I said – a little too excitedly. “Er…if you have some.”

“Of course!” the dwarf clapped his hands. “We have several to choose from. We also offer flights of three, if you can’t decide.”

Given my propensity for indecision-making, I said, “I’ll go with the latter.”

“Excellent choice!”

Before the dwarf could walk away in a scurry, I grabbed his shoulder.

“Hey, you wouldn’t, by any chance, know where I can find a zombie and a gnome, would you?” I winced at the ridiculousness of my question.

“Oh? Those two? Yes, they’re in the far left corner,” the dwarf said cheerfully. “They – like the rest of us – have been here for quite some time. I apologize for the odor. Many of us haven’t bathed in weeks.”

“That’s alright,” I reassured him. Frankly, I didn’t know dwarves did bathe.

I made my way to the back of the “tearoom”, all the while inhaling through my mouth. As I passed the many different tables, I made brief eye contact with the other denizens of this cavernous tasting room. Some looked like mole-men. Others were dwarves, gnomes, pygmies and gremlins of varying color. All of them wore wan or tired expressions – save for the snakes. The serpentine citizens cheerily sipped there beverages, all the while singing. Some outright danced in their chairs. Their song seemed familiar.

The two patrons I was looking for were, indeed, where the dwarf indicated. Thed – the ill-tempered Greek gnome – looked disheveled, his once-green hat was now a shade of light brown. Formerly Robert Fortune, the slightly-blue-skinned undead botanist – to the gnome’s right – looked even more zombified than usual. His dapper dinner jacket seemed drab.

“Took you long enough,” the gnome grumbled.

“Indeed,” Fortune agreed. “Was a month really necessary?”

“I never said I was going,” I defended.

“You gave us the impression you were,” the once-botanist countered.

“By the time I determined I wanted to, I thought you would’ve been long gone,” I explained.

“No,” Thed returned with a growl. “We’ve been here the whole time!

“Here, as in, Darjeeling?”

“Here, as in, under Darjeeling!” Formerly Fortune corrected me.

“What’s stopping you from leaving?” I questioned.

“Them,” Thed pointed in the direction of the snake-people.

“Nagas?” I wondered.

“No, worse,” said the gnome. “Nags.”

“The imbecilic cousins of Nagas,” Fortune explained.

“Aaaaah,” I said with mock-understanding. “That’s why this place stinks.”

“We’ve been here for a month,” Thed sighed.

“On top of that,” Fortune began through gritted teeth. “They keep singing the same. Bloody. Song. Over and over again!”

“Nonstop,” came the forced-cheery voice of a dwarf behind us.

He had several Ceylon-style pouring cups on a wooden tray. Each had green-ish leaves to the side. I could smell the spice and muscatel from my seat.

The dwarf set everything up as neatly as he could with slightly-shaky hands. “From left to right: The first is a clonal from the Rohini estate, the second is dubbed ‘Classic’ from Giddapahar, and the third is a ‘tippy’ offering from Barnesbeg. My name is Cisnarf. Ask for me if you need anything.” He looked at my other two compatriots. “Are you two…”

“We’re fine, thanks,” Thed replied curtly.

“I could re-steep your leaves, or…”

“I said we’re fine!” Thed banged the table.

The dwarf appeared taken aback by the emphatic display.

“Apologies,” Fortune spoke up. “We’re a little wound up.”

Cisnarf nodded. “Trust me, we all are.”

He scurried off again toward the kitchen doors. I got a glimpse of five other dwarves in the back. All looked equally worn out. A month of tea imprisonment would do that do a man…or…um…non-man. Whatever.

I dipped into the Rohini offering first. The Rohini tea estate was actually one of the first to kick off Darjeeling’s first flush all the way back in late-February. It was considered a low-altitude estate – a designation usually met with derision among connoisseurs. I couldn’t really see why.

The leaves for this were large and beautiful, and the rolling style differed from some of her high-altitude cousins. There was some of the spice smell to the dry leaves, but most of the aroma was surprisingly fruity – not just grapy.

Brewed up, they yielded a pale yellow liquor with a sweet, fruity aroma. Such was also true with the taste. While the front was a bit harsh, the remaining mouthfeel was candied apples, grapes and a tickle of citrus.

“This tastes like a Darjeeling oolong rather than an OP,” I said aloud.

“OP?” Thed cocked an eyebrow. “Old Person?”

The zom-botanist literally facepalmed. “He means orange pekoe.”

“Those leaves aren’t orange,” the gnome responded.

“I’m not going to explain it to you again,” Fortune said with dejection.

I ignored them and turned my attention to the Giddapahar Classic.

Oh, Giddapahar. It’s been too long, I thought.

This was the first estate that convinced me that Darjeelings could be perfect with their second flush “Musk”. I also tried a bit of their China Classic and loved it with almost equal fervor. The dry leaves for the Classic were unlike any first flush I’d encountered – a strong, earthy and malty aroma wafted from the sample. The leaves were also uncharacteristically darker, looking more like an early Fall picking.

The liquor the leaves produced, though, was on par with other first flushes – yellow-to-amber – and the aroma was muscatel as all heck. Taste-wise, the forefront was a little vegetal, but it rose swiftly to spice-‘n-grape excellence. I couldn’t help but sigh with palate-related praise. The aftertaste finished on a nutty note, but that wasn’t unwelcome. Notes of white wine grapes lingered long after the sip.

I actually poured a second infusion and didn’t specify a brewing time or temp. What I got was an even better drink than the first!

“All chocolate, strawberries and bliss,” I exclaimed ‘gasmically.

“Are you quite done?” Thed asked with a hint of bite to his voice.

“Hold on.”

The Barnesbeg Tippy was the greenest of the three I encountered. The leaves were almost completely green save for a smattering of beige pieces in the mix – the “tippy” ones that were the drink’s namesake. As for scent, this felt like spring. The aroma was zesty, leafy, fresh and…well…young. As flushy as first flush can get. (Wait, that sounded wrong.)

The liquor brewed to a pale, almost “white tea” yellow. There was no other way to describe the aroma other than “creamy”. Very peculiar. On first sip, the first thing I detected was…vanilla? What the heck?! When did a Darjeeling ever have a vanilla?! How bizarre! The rest of the flavor sensation alternated between Long Jing-ish winy and greenery. This weird taste turntable continued well into the finish.

“Tastes like…vanilla?” I gave a puzzled look.

“That is peculiar,” Formerly Fortune pondered, sipping his own cup of tea.

“What are you two drinking?” I asked.

The botanist answered hastily, “This wonderful China Supreme from the Sungma estate.”

Thed mumbled something that sounded like, “Rushersher”.

“What?” I asked, cupping my ear.

“Risheehat!” the gnome yelled.

“And…how was it?”

The gnome started to sob.

Fortune interjected. “On our first day here, he said it reminded him of his childhood.”

“Is that a good thing?” I wondered.

“Oh yes, very,” Fortune nodded.

The gruff gnome cleared his throat and whiped his nose. “Can we get out of here now?”

“I just got here!” I blubbered, mid-sip.

“A month late!” Thed snapped back.

“Gentlemen, stop!” Fortune bellowed.

We did. Neither of us was used to hearing a zombie with mutton-chops shout.

“Thank you,” he breathed a sigh of relief. “Now then, Thed is right. We need to leave. I, for one, require a bath. A long one. Just because I am dead, doesn’t mean I want to smell like death.”

“What he said,” Thed agreed. “Except the whole ‘dead’ part.”

I finished the last of my Barnesbeg, gingerly set the cup down, and stood up.

“I… think I know a way,” I said reluctantly. “Get Cisnarf over here.”

The dwarf appeared before anyone could summon him. “You called?”

“Wow,” I said. “Er…yeah…does this place have a sound system of any sort?”

“An old one that runs on elemental aether, but it can tie into most frequencies,” Cisnarf offered.

“Can it tap into a smart phone?”

“As opposed to an unintelligent one?” Cisnarf asked – confused.

I groaned. “I mean, a computer. Can you link it to a computer?”

“Human ones? Oh, that’s easy!”

“Perfect,” I said with relief. “Prep your…uh…system. I’ll take care of the rest.” I motioned to the gnome and zombie. You two, follow my lead.”

While I was tasting the three first  flush Darjeelings, it had occurred to me what song the Nags were repeating over and over. It was “Kaho Naa Pyaar Na Hai” from the Indian movie of the same name.

If these snake-folk were anything like their less sentient kin, then all one had to do was charm them with a new song. Preferably from a better Bollywood movie; one that sounded like an ending. I had just the one.  All we needed was a dance to go along with it.

I was no choreographer, and my two left feet were evidence of my lack of rhythm. But there was a “meta”- Bollywood movie called Bride & Prejudice that gave some sound advice for European-ish appreciators of Indian musicals. One simply had to pretend they were screwing in a lightbulb and petting a dog at exactly the same time. I had no idea if this would work on snake-men, but it was worth a shot.

After removing my Android phone from my pajama pocket, I cued up my playlist. From the kitchen door, Cisnarf gave me a thumbs up. I tapped the Bluetooth setting, and prayed to Vishnu that it had a tenuous connection to…magic(?). There was a loud thumb throughout the cave-like tearoom. A connection was made.

I hit play.

Yeh Fizayein” from the movie Main Hoon Na resounded through The Smiling Subterranean. The Nags froze in mid-song-‘n-dance and took notice of the tune. There was a bit of commotional hissing between the varied factions, but – in no time at all – all succumbed to the scaly sway of the beat.

“Time to dance, gentlemen,” I said. “Toward the exit.”

Off our motley trio went toward the front door of the tearoom. All the Nags fell into step behind us – all Pied Piper-like. I stopped at the large, wooden door, opened it and continued to “dance” beside it. The gnome and botanist went to the other side and copied my motions. Truth be told, they kept better rhythm than I.

When the last Nag had left, I pushed the door shut behind them. I signaled Cisnarf to cut the signal. There was some emphatic hissing from the other side of the entrance, followed by some hasty knocking. Eventually, that died down. Silence met the cavern.

The tired tea-folk within stood up and cheered. Robert Fortune bowed; I nodded to the mini-crowd awkwardly. Thed hid behind us.

Cisnarf came up to us and shook each of our hands. “How can I ever repay you?!”

“Do you have a backdoor?” Thed asked brusquely.

“Through the kitchen.”

“Splendid,” the gnome finished. “See ya.”

As we went to make our hasty egress, I felt around in my pockets. Something felt off; I couldn’t put my finger on what. It didn’t occur to me until we were well away from The Smiling Subterranean. I cursed openly and colorfully.

“What’s with you?” Thed asked.

“The gaiwan,” I said shakily. “Liddy…”

“What about her? How is she?” Fortune grilled.

My face was pale. “She’s gone.”

 

Epilogue

Trailing behind the dejected group of Nags, a Chinese woman in purple robes held the off-white gaiwan to her face.

“Oh great, it’s you,” Liddy spat with disgust.

“Come now, that’s no way to treat your maker,” the woman said with a purr.

“Whatever you’re planning, Guan Yin, you won’t get away with it,” the gaiwan growled.

The bodhisattva practically cackled, “I love it when cups turn to clichés!”

Her laughter echoed throughout the tunnels, chilling even the snake-folk.

Acknowledgments:

Special thanks to Happy Earth Tea for providing the Darjeeling samples for this write-up. It was much appreciated. To check out their shop, go HERE.

Guan Yins, Tigers and Lords, Oh My!

For context, READ THIS FIRST.

For once, I thought I’d get a full night’s sleep. The work week had been murder, and for some odd reason, I couldn’t stay in bed for more than six hours. Well, this time I had an excuse. A loud roar jolted me from sleep. When I opened my eyes, standing in front of me was the Bodhisattva of Compassion herself – Guan Yin – standing atop a rubber ducky (???). And she looked pissed.

How did she get in my room? Wait…where was my room?! I was greeted by blackness all around me as I sat straight up. The only occupants in this void/nullspace were me (still in bed), the ducky-perched Chinese goddess, and a third shadowy figure.

“Are you the one they call the Lazy Clitoris?” the bodhisattva asked.

“That’s…Literatus,” I corrected her. “Ma’am.”

“Silence!” she snapped.

“But you asked me to speak,” I reminded her.

She did not take my dry comment well, bringing a lightning bolt down within an inch of my bed. The smell of ozone wafted once the crackling ceased. I didn’t even know she had that ability.

“You have wronged me greatly,” Guan Yin said, lowering her duck.

“Is this about the story?”

“Of course, it is!” her voice boomed and echoed.

“But it was all true,” I replied.

“True or not, you have sullied my name,” she said. “And now, you must make reparations.”

“Why are you on a duck?” I had to ask.

“My dragon – Ao Bing – is…on vacation,” she replied, flustered.

“But why a duck?”

“A mutual interested party provided him,” she said, motioning for the shadowy figure to step forward.

A youthful man in dated formal attire approached in a carriage…pulled by two very imposing Bengal tigers. His attire was a mix-and-match of Victorian and Georgian influences, his cravat was flashy, and his top hat seemed to glow with its own aura. The man’s visage bore a striking resemblance to American actor, James Franco.

The Faux-Franco bowed in my direction, “Viscount Petersham, at your service.”

I cocked an eyebrow, “Petersham?”

“Yes?”

“Who is Peter, and why is he a sham?” I asked with a half-smile.

He simply looked at me for a moment, then spoke, “Oh! That was an attempt at humor. How precious.”

“And why are you here?” I asked of him again. “Wherever here is?”

“The lovely Bodhisattva and I have come to an arrangement,” the viscount explained. “One that involves you.”

“What for and why me?”

“My, you’re annoying quizzical,” Petersham sighed. “You wronged her and an associate of mine. She brought you to this ‘space between spaces’ where you will be subjected to a Trial by Tea.”

“Trial by-”

Tea!” Guan Yin finished for me. “If you pass, you live. If you fail…”

As if on cue, one of the Bengals roared. I gulped. No one wanted to die in their pajamas, especially not out-of-season Santa Claus pajamas.

“The idea, my good chap, is this,” the viscount said, dismounting from his grand tiger-chariot. “There are two teas in my repertoire that need testing. One was tailored specifically to me, the other – well – named for my feline friends over there.”

“So…what do I have to do?” I queried.

“Simply try them,” Petersham said with a grin.

“And if I don’t like them?”

“That won’t be possible.”

“Get on with it,” the goddess said impatiently.

“Yes, m’dear,” he said with a roll of the eyes.

He stretched out his hand. A platter, a teapot, a metallic kettle, two transparent 8-ounce teacups, and an hourglass perched above his hand.

“How did you-?” I started.

“I’m a dead man with two pet tigers,” Petersham stated flatly. “What can’t I do?”

“Fair point,” I nodded.

“Now, how do you take your tea, lad?” he asked.

Me? A lad? I look older than him! I said inwardly.

“1 teaspoon of leaves, boiling water, three-minute steep,” I replied.

“Only three minutes?!” Petersham looked aghast. “What are you, some kind of dandy?”

“You asked,” I shrugged – an odd question coming from a man with a lisp.

He sighed dramatically. “Very well.”

With a wave of a few fingers from his other hand, steam rose from the kettle – bubbling was heard from within. I wondered where the water had come from, but this was a magic void. Wondering was pointless. The kettle, then, poured the water itself into the pot. I guessed the leaves were already housed within. The hourglass flipped itself over independently and remained suspended in mid-air.

Three minutes passed by with awkward silence. Guan Yin had dismounted the rubber ducky and crouched down to pat the head of one of the tigers. It bellowed a loud purr in response. Petersham made unique use of a snuff box in the interim.

When the hourglass ran its last grain of sand, there was a loud chime. The tigers perked up in alarm. The source seemed to resound from all over. Petersham was unperturbed by it, gingerly waving a finger, and levitating the pot.

The liquor that poured into the clear cup was an even copper with a light gold ring on the periphery. It was a lovely looking beverage. I put cup to lips. On introduction, there was a bit of a citrus bite, followed by a slight tannic lean in the middle. Then it snapped at the top note with a presence of peppers, allspice, honey and Keemun sweetness. So many different flavors were at play – all vying for steeping supremacy.

“Damn,” I said with approval.

“Poetic, isn’t he?” Guan Yin said dryly.

The viscount, however, appeared overjoyed. “And, now, the Two Tigers blend.”

He repeated the same songless dance with a new set of “tea”-quipment. Water boiled, apparatuses flew about, and another clear cup was magically filled. The smell of the rising steam was strong on the nostrils.

The liquor had brewed only a slightly deeper copper than Petersham’s namesake blend with a very even and sweet aroma. Malt was also there but understated. Flavor-wise, it possessed a very crisp forefront, which transitioned to a strangely floral middle. It tapered off nicely without much lingering bitterness.

“A strong morning cup, for sure, but one polite enough to call you a cab afterwards,” I said.

The viscount looked puzzled. “I don’t quite follow.”

“It’s a sex reference,” Guan Yin growled, arms akimbo. “He does that.”

Again, Petersham was un-phased. “Splendid! You passed!”

“All I did was like the teas,” I said.

“That’s all that was needed,” Petersham said, clasping my shoulders. “You live to drink another day.”

With that, the youthful – and possibly immortal – lord retook the reigns of his tiger mounts, bid a gloved farewell with a “toodleloo ” of his left fingers, and rode off into the darkness. The cups of tea and brewing equipment, however, remained suspended in place – hovering. All that remained were me, the tea, an ill-tempered goddess, and a rubber ducky.

“Okay…” I started. “I passed. Guess that means I get to go now?”

“No,” she said.

“No?” I gulped – voice a little higher.

“You get to live, yes,” Guan Yin agreed. “But I get to determine the ‘where’.”

I said nothing, but my gaze narrowed.

“Here in the void,” she said with arms outstretched. “This suits you perfectly.”

“So, it’s like that, then,” I said, taking the cup with the Petersham blend.

“It’s like that,” she repeated.

I also grabbed the cup of the Two Tigers blend. “You’ve never read my work, have you?”

“You work?” she chuckled.

“I’ll take that as a ‘no’.”

I held out both transparent cups so she could clearly see them. At first, she appeared puzzled…but then her eyes widened. I bore a toothy grin as I poured the contents of one cup into the other.

“NO!” she screamed.

“You forget, Bodhisattva,” I began. “When I blend, I don’t think of the consequences. And when I drink…”

One of the cups began to glow. The copper liquid bubbled and churned from other. Out of thin air, a third cup appeared. No, not a cup. A mug. I moved the three together. The shape looked…oddly (but appropriately) phallic.

“This. Is. MY CUPPA!!!” I bellowed, taking a swig.

Both blends combined tasted like all the things that men are made off – earth and smoke with an astringent stubbornness that couldn’t be quelled. I relished in the power. This was true tiger’s blood.

Cracks and fissures of glowing light pierced the pocket void-realm. The “ceiling”/sky/whatever flaked and crumbled. Shadows retreated and the intruding rays of luminescence penetrated ever-inward. Guan Yin screamed as her handiwork unraveled in mere moments. Without a means to retaliate, she retreated to the solace of the rubber ducky and made a hasty retreat.

As the last of the shadows receded, I found myself back in my haphazard room. All was in shambles, but it was the mess I had made – not the goddess. My bed was as I left it. Yet I still held the combined, phallic-looking tri-teacup.

“This isn’t over, Clitoris,” boomed a disembodied woman’s voice. “Those blends were his, and he still owns you until you finish.”

“His? He who? Finish what?” I asked the ceiling.

There was no response, only the echoes of tittering laughter.

“That’s LiterATus!” I corrected…to no one in particular.

What had she meant by being owned? Who was I indebted to? Who owned and/or made those blends? Not Petersham, he said they were commissioned. Then whom?

The realization hit me when I looked down at my computer.

The rubber ducky? Petersham? I inhaled sharply. HIM?!

I was in someone’s debt, someone for whom I owed a writing project. So long as it went incomplete, he owned my soul. Without further thought, I fired up the computer and went to writing. Shivering all the while, imagining his eyes (and ducky) were looming over me.

Acknowledgements:

Thanks are owed to Jackie, one of the co-pilots of Tea Trade, for passing the two Devotea blends my way.

Thanks, also, to The Devotea himself – Robert Godden – for making them. They were superb. (As if there was ever a doubt. One of these days, I’ll have to pick his brain for the recipes.)

You can buy the Lord Petersham blend HERE.

You can buy the Two Tigers blend HERE.

And, lastly, thanks to Jason Norman (my cousin) for helping me out with some last-minute Photoshopping. Much obliged.

Trippin’ on Moonlight

Some weeks back, I got a message from my cousin. He made an outright demand for “ADVENTURE!” Yes, in all caps. At first, he had a hankering to go to the Oregon Coast, particularly a brewery (or two) we had stopped at before. I suggested something a little more approachable – an idea we’d discussed in passing, the Columbia Gorge. There was a brewery on the Washington side of the river we had yet to hit. He jumped on that idea like it was a trampoline.

Photo by Bruce Berrien

Before leaving for parts un-sober, we grabbed burritos for lunch and did a quick run to Starbucks. My cuz happened to be the customer of the month at this place. They even had his picture framed, knew him by name, and cracked barbs with him like he was Norm from Cheers. So, both he and the baristas kinda looked at me funny when I only asked for hot water rather than tea or coffee. Like a true pretentious douche, I brought my own tea leaves in a do-it-yourself baggy. Worse still, I was all shifty about it.

Once we hit the highway – and I’d timed the coffee cup steep at three minutes (yes, I do that) – I took a sip of the contents. I’m not sure what happened, but I had a full-body euphoric reaction. It was like a lazy man’s outta body experience…’cept no one went anywhere.

My cousin looked over and said, “Jesus, man, you look like you had an orgasm.”

In a tea-ist – almost spiritual (and less messy) – sorta way, I did. The tea in question was a second flush Darjeeling that was sent to me by a Twitter friend in Darjeeling – one Benoy Thapa of Thunderbolt Tea. Who is he? Probably one of the nicest fellows I’ve ever e-met. That and the only motorcycle-riding, tea-field-diving, ponytail-donning, camera-weilding family man/tea vendor I’ve heard about. It was thanks to him that I was finally exposed to real Darjeeling tea in the first place – not just the dust found in teabags.

He sent me a peculiar tea from the Castleton tea estate. Said garden was named for a building in the neighboring city of Kurseong that looked like a castle. The fields were first planted in 1885 by a Brit named Dr. Charles Graham. At present, the estate is 70% British-owned and quite known for its Chinese varietals that produce a world-renowned second flush product.

The one I had in my possession – and the one that caused the full-bodied teagasm – was a different sort of offering. Unlike the other OPs produced, this was technically an oolong. I even asked my Thunderbolt contact what type it was and he confirmed it, saying that was the information he received from the current owner.

This was unlike any other second flush Darjeeling I’d encountered. Okay, I’ve said that on other occasions, but I really mean it this time! The leaves were the color of…um…forest? Yes, a veritable bouquet of colors you’d associate with that image – root brown, soil yellow, canopied tree green, and sun gold. I had a little trouble finding a comparison. Its anomalous aroma didn’t help, either. The scent brought feelings of fresh water streams, wild berries, lemons and honey. I know, this is sounding more metaphoric than olfactory; I’m sorry. This was difficult to pin down.

There weren’t any specific brewing instructions for this on the Thunderbolt site. Mr. Thapa – as mentioned above – said this was an oolong. Granted, during the trial sip, I went lowbrow with a coffee mug. This time, though, I figured the best way would be to give it a traditional oolong send-off. And I bought a new gaiwan for the occasion. (It’s a he, and his name is Guy-1.) I heated some water to just under a boil, and prepped four successive infusions – two at thirty seconds, two at forty – with 1 heaping teaspoon of leaves.

First infusion (thirty seconds): The liquor brewed light amber with a malty nose. (Very Indian.) The flavor possessed an herbaceous front that transitioned creamily to a vanilla-dipped grape crescendo before tapering off gently. A damn good start, if I do say so.

Second infusion (thirty seconds): The soup infused to a prime-gold color with an amber-ish periphery. It was lighter but also…shinier. As for taste, the initial sip was crisper than before, followed by a bolder middle profile kicking with lemon and apple. Very cider-like, except – y’know – without the fizz or mind-numbing parts.

Third infusion (forty seconds): Yep, still gold. However, the steam aroma changed its tune to something creamy and sweet – like actual vanilla was in there. That didn’t quite translate to taste, but it was still wonderful with a floral aspect appearing alongside the citrusy lean.

Fourth infusion (forty seconds): This was the lightest of the four infusions, but it was also the most obviously “oolong” of ‘em. The foretaste was still crisp, yet there was a rougher, mineral-like transition to the muscatel middle. I likened it to a Formosa Alishan.

Two more steeps followed the initial four, but I didn’t take notes on them. Needless to say, they were nifty. While it held up to a gongfu(-ish) approach quite well, I think the Western way gave it a one-time punch of perfection. Like a liquid rendition of a one-night stand. That isn’t to say the four short steeps weren’t awesome; they just weren’t dipped in awesome like the A-MURR-ican mega-steep.

As luck would have it, I had an opportunity through another vendor to try the first flush Moonlight. I liked it quite a bit, but it had nowhere near the nuance of the summertime cup that nearly road-tripped my tongue to tea-ish ecstasy. Without exaggeration or pontification, this was the best darned Darjeeling I have ever had. Worth a howl or two.

To buy Thunderbolt Tea’s Castleton Moonlight (2011 2nd Flush) go HERE.

Smells Like Pure Nirvana

In Buddhist thought, nirvana is defined as “freedom from suffering”. That doesn’t just mean pain, but rather freedom from the game of life (or “samsara”). It also signifies freedom from the endless cycle of death and rebirth – the ultimate goal for attaining spiritual oneness with all things. The word was also the name of an overrated grunge band from the early 90s that somehow became the voice of “my generation”. Their music symbolized freedom of a different sort.

While nirvana no longer holds the same connotation thanks to that rock-‘n-roll inception, it does still hold significance. Being a thirtysomething with a dubious lot in life, I try to find peace wherever I can get it, preferably not in a harmful and addictive way. Well…one out of two ain’t bad. Oolong may be good for me, but it’s also really addictive. Funny, since I started off hating oolongs.

Ever since learning to brew the semi-oxidized teas in a gaiwan, they’ve become habit forming. Oh, I still prefer my matchas, white teas, and Yunnan golds over ‘em, but I could drink oolongs all day. All. Day. White teas are like Cavendish pipe tobacco. Oolongs are menthol cigarettes.

Thus far my favorites have all come from the isle of Taiwan (or Formosa to the old school sort). Some Chinese ones have proven themselves worthy of multiple sips, but they don’t hold a candle to a high-altitude Bai Hao or Alishan. That said, there was one region that I hadn’t tried oolongs from, even though I’d heard scant mentions of them – Darjeeling. A random message from East Pacific Tea Co. changed all that.

In appearance, their Pure Nirvana bore a striking resemblance to just about every Darjeeling first and second flush OP I’ve ever seen. The color palette ran the gamut from tippy gold to roasted, dark brown. If I was looking at this blind, I would’ve guessed it was an Indian black tea or a Formosa oolong. The aroma was also inviting with its clean, grape-spice profile – almost like a white tea but deeper.

Brewing instructions recommended a steep of three-to-five minutes in 195F water. I agreed with the temperature but not the prep. If it was an oolong, there was only one way I could do it. You guessed it, in a gaiwan. I used 1 heaping teaspoon of leaves , did four successive steeps – first two for thirty seconds, the last for forty – and jotted down my opinions of each. I hoped there were shifts in flavor between them like its Chinese counterparts.

First infusion (thirty seconds): “Holy whoah!” was my first reaction to the scent of this pale, amber-colored infusion. That grape lean I detected on a dry whiff had doubled after brewing. It smelled like a first flush Darjeeling with a muscatel lean. Taste reflected that as well. The only major difference was the roasty finish, reminiscent of other oolongs.

Second infusion (thirty seconds): The liquor was darker this time, taking on a copperish-gold palette. The aroma was deeper on the spice with a slightly nutty trail-off. This echoed as well in the taste with a tamale-esque forefront, followed by a fruity body and a faint astringency on the aftertaste.

Third infusion (forty seconds): Straight amber infusion this time ‘round with a more balanced spice-grape aroma. One nostril note didn’t dominate over the other. The flavor was also more even, if a little more subdued. Heavier fruit taste on the finish, though, and almost no dryness/bitterness.

Fourth infusion (forty seconds): While more bitter than the other three steeps, this was perhaps my favorite. Everything just seemed louder and lovelier from the scent to the flavor. There was also an earthier tone to it, which truly made it an oolong in my eyes.

Pure Nirvana kept its strength for at least three infusions later, never letting up on its muscatel profile for a moment. After a rather long work week, it was truly a pleasure to experience this wonderful oolong. I stayed at home in my pajamas, sipping the day away like some fat, thirtysomething Buddha. And I was happier for it.

For more information on East Pacific Tea Company, go HERE.

To buy Pure Nirvana, go HERE.

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