NaNoTeaMo, Day 26: “Obligatorily Weird Thanksgiving Tea Post”
I think it’s mandatory that if one is going to post a blog on Thanksgiving Day, they actually have to give thanks to something or someone. And, trust me, I will do just that. But not right this second. You see, I have a weird Camellia species to talk about first.
In 2013, I was a regular follower of UK-based Canton Tea Co.’s Tea Club blog. Two of their employees went on a sourcing trip to Yunnan province, China, and picked up something rather unique. I certainly hadn’t heard of it before, and I try to keep my ear to the ground regarding anything “weird”. The blog entry featured a Dian Hong (Yunnan black tea) that had been fired in red cane sugar.
Cheating at Tea-Totaling – The Tea-Totaler Trilogy, Part 1
In December of last year, I gave up drinking. The reason? A missing hubcap.
I hit a curb while driving a wee bit sauced. No idea where said hubcap went. My theory’s Narnia.
My poor car was the impetus for what (originally) began as a year-long dry-spell experiment. However, in the ensuing six months, life turned out . . . rather awesome. Not sure what happened, and I’m not sure I owe it to sobriety or something else. Life kinda kicked ass. That and having that extra money in my khaki pants was rather nice.
I will confess, though, that I have been cheating a bit. I’ll explain . . .
In November of last year, I did a DIY experiment – aging black tea in a bourbon barrel. I pulled the stuff out after week, declared it “almost” a success, and did it a second time for much longer. That one wasn’t as much of a success. However, my trials and errors caught the attention of this smiling mad scientist – one TJ Williams, one-half of The Tea Kings.
“I have a lab.” *evil cackle*
February of this year rolled around, and I looked at his company’s website and saw – in bold letters: “Cask Aged Dian Hong”. They had aged a bunch of Yunnan black tea leaves in a 1-liter micro-barrel for a period of time. Said micro-barrel had previously housed . . . Appleton Estates spiced rum.
I messaged him about it, “Spiced rum barrel-aged Dian Hong?! Whaaaaaaaaa?!”
He confirmed it, rather proudly. I mentioned in passing that I had done something similar with a bourbon micro-barrel. He responded with, “T’was my inspiration.”
This marks the third time one of my weird blogs had let to a vendor’s future experiments. Shortly after that dialogue, I received both the Cask Aged Dian Hong, and another one – a bourbon barrel-aged Tie Guan Yin. The latter had been aged in a micro-barrel for two weeks, the barrel once being home to Johnny Walker Red.
(Bloggers Note: No alcohol is imparted on tea leaves. Just the scent of what was in the barrel. I swear.)
The Tie Guan Yin Red Label leaves looked like many other mid-oxidized, ball-fisted oolongs of its type, but the smell was definitely altered by the bourbon barrel-ing. Along with the usual butter-flower aroma was a presence of peat on the after-whiff. Not strong, but definitely there; adding a dimension of delicious wrong-doing.
The Casked Dian Hong was a surprise and a half. The leaves were smaller-cut than the usual Yunnan black teas I ran into – leaf pieces ranging from brown to gold. What stood out, though, was the smell. Holy booze-gods, the moment I opened the can, straight rum pummeled my nostrils. Not as strong as the alcohol itself, but definitely as sweet and creamy. And that was only after a week of barrel-aging.
For the oolong, I went with a gongfu (or rather, gongfoolish) approach, but with the Dian Hong, I did the usual western-style brew. Both were brewed with boiling water. It was early morning, and I wanted to bleed whatever essence I could out of them.
After three successive infusions – at around thirty-to-forty-five seconds each – the barrel-aged Tie Guan Yin brewed light green with a subtle, herbal aroma.
No liquor note on the whiff to speak of. It wasn’t until I sipped each one that I witnessed the barrel contribution. Funnily enough, the oolong began with the subtle, liquor-scented note before transitioning to the usual Tie Guan Yin bells-‘n-whistles of butter and minerals.
As for the Casked Dian Hong . . .
Gaaaaaaaaahhhhhh! Before this, I’d only had one other rum barrel-aged tea. I don’t know what it is about rum, or even traces of rum, but the notes compliment well with tea’s natural, oxidized profile. Yunnan Dian Hongs tend to be on the earthier side anyway with trace sweetness layered throughout (in my experience). It seems only natural that those notes would play well with a malty, sweet, chewy . . . pirate-y rum.
To make a long description short(er), the rum and black tea paired perfectly here. The intro taste was like that of a liquor-filled chocolate, while the rest was like burnt oakwood-smoked ‘s’mores. Soooo much sweetness, sooooo much awesome. I could find something more sophisticated here, but I don’ wanna.
Interesting sidenote: In future brewing sessions with both of these, the longer I steeped them for, the more pronounced the liquor note. It was like the scenting process was born to make love to tea tannins. Or something.
Many months later, I encountered TJ at World Tea Expo 2015. He passed along another rendition of their Cask Aged Dian Hong, but this time it’d aged in the barrel for two weeks rather than one. I decided to do a side-by-side tasting of both versions. The results? (Beyond this cheesy tea haiku.)
The longer-aged stuff tasted the same as the shorter, but with more of the spice and oak imparted due to the longer wait-time. I could drink it all day. Both of them. At the same time. Double-fisting.
If this is cheating at sobriety, then screw the rules.
Fengqing is a county located in Lincang Prefecture, Yunnan Province, China.
Source: Yunnan Adventure
The Almighty Wiki listed at least four different ethnic groups indigenous to the region, two of which I recognized as pu-erh producers. In the early 1940s, the Fengqing Tea Factory came into existence and was instrumental in the development of Dian Hong (Yunnan black tea) as we know it today.
To date, I’d only ever tried two black teas from Fengqing and no pu-erhs. Angel from Teavivre approached me a few months ago with an opportunity to sample – not one, but three – offerings from the county. A unique black tea and two pu-erhs, respectively. I jumped at the chance, and over the course of a week I took a veritable sipping journey to the region.
Looking at these li’l suckers was a trip. They were indeed as advertised – gold-tipped leaves that pressed into the shape of pearls. I’m not sure how many leaves made up one pearl, but by the looks of it, several. On aroma, they gave off a fragrance similar to any other gold-tipped Dian Hong, but with a more earthen, leathery edge. Similar to another Fengqing black I had years ago.
For brewing, I went with a scaled-down, gongfu approach. Three pearls to a 6oz. steeper cup of boiling water. First infusion was for thirty seconds, followed by further steeps with an added twenty seconds successively.
The first infusion – I’ll confess – was the rinse, which I should’ve dumped. But I never dump the rinse; seems like a waste of tea to me. So, I’m incorrectly considering it the first infusion. Anyway, the rinse was pale, but the second and third infusions brewed boldly dark crimson. The aroma on each steep was straight chocolate by way of a rawhide belt. On taste? Again, straight chocolate. No rawhide this time, but a bit of honey, some pepper, and a whole lotta “yum!” It was note-for-note like the pressed Fengqing gold bars I coveted months ago.
Pu-erhs from Arbor cultivars were among my favorites. This wasn’t the full cake, but rather chunks of it shaved off for easy sampling, which was fine. The pressed leaves looked like – well – wood that’d been shaved off the side of an “arbor” tree. Albeit far better smelling. This was an earthy pu-erh to the core – notes of earth and dust were prevalent. Commonplace in a ripe/cooked pu-erh, but I also detected an underlying sweetness.
For brewing, I stuck with a typical gongfoolish approach – several different steeps at varying degrees of time. Then hoped for the best. It was my way. Thirty seconds for the first, adding ten to the subsequent infusions.
The liquor for the first three infusions brewed dark crimson to blackest night (with a red tinge). The aroma from each possessed that same wood-sweet earthen sensation from the dry whiff. In fact, the same characteristics showed up in taste. Sure, it had all the trappings of a regular cooked pu-erh (minus the young fishiness), but there was that sweetness – just out of sight, but still making its presence known. Not strong but subtle; like being waved at by a pixie.
When I went to open this sucker up, I was greeted by (fittingly enough) a chunk of brick. I’d had teas from a zhuan cha (or “brick tea”) before, but this was the first chunk I had to play with at home. Like the Arbor Tree pu-erh, there was an earthy smell with a tinge of sweetness. No young pu-erh fishiness here, either. The smell was straight-up ancient.
For brewing, same ol’ same ol’, like with the other pu-erh. Gongfoolishly with a side of “tired”.
After pouring three successive infusions of the stuff, I noticed the liquor gradually darkened from deep crimson to brown-black. Typical of a shou (cooked) pu-erh, but the majesty for this one was in the aroma. As is common knowledge, I’m not much of a fan of cooked pu-erh unless it’s had about five years to age. Well, this had about nine, and it showed. Each infusion was earthy, slightly smoky, deep-bodied, practically chewy…and damn smooth! The mouthfeel was like an Italian red wine. Heck, on the last infusion I dared, I was having flashbacks of a good Barbera.
Hrm…that should be a new taster note – earthwine. Yes, perfect! I vote this one as the poster child.
I’d be hard-pressed (heh, get it?) to find a favorite out of the three. All I will say is that they occupied the same pantheon of “Awesome!” in their respective categories. The cooked pu-erhs were miles ahead of others I’ve tried, and those black pearls…man…I want to pair that with chocolate ice cream someday. In short, all three roads led to the same destination…
This review is actually a sequel of sorts. To read its predecessor – for context – go HERE.
Don’t you hate it when you wake up in the morning and end up in another time period? So do I. As far as I know, it’s only happened once – today. I found myself awake at the ungodly hour of 7AM after hearing a loud gagging noise coming from my cat. That was usually the early warning sign of an impending (and rather messy) hairball.
After dealing with that little nuisance, I figured I might as well stay up and get some water boiling. It felt like an oolong morning, so – naturally – I went for the gaiwan. Pot and apparatus at the ready, I proceeded to plug the kettle in.
And…nothing happened. I pressed a button – still nothing. I gave the thing a good punch. And…
A flash of light transported me, my plastic tea kettle, my gaiwan, and my pajama’d self to somewhere straight out of a Jules Vernian nightmare.
A “geared” world at sunrise greeted me. Airships dotted the sky, hovering about almost aimlessly. The ground below them was rattled with structures of varying shades of copper and rust. My immediate attention, though, was directed at an Irishman pointing a revolver at me.
His beard wasn’t just red – it was magenta. His attire was so flamboyant that even a metrosexual leprechaun would’ve blushed. What topped off the dandy’s appearance was a crown perched ever-so-slightly to one side of his head. He flashed a welcoming grin as he cocked the brass-plated pistol.
“Welcome to 1910, Mr. Literatus,” the Irishman lilted.
“Looks more like the 1890s,” I replied, backing away slightly.
Something pointy prevented me from backstepping any further.
“Ah-ah-ah,” a feminine voice from behind me warned. “Stay put, my dear.”
I turned my head as I raised my hands in the air. The mysterious woman behind me was shrouded by purpble robes. A bejeweled dagger was the “pointy thing” that gave me pause.
“Perhaps some introductions are in order,” the Irishman said. “I am Finbarr. This is Persian Princess.”
“She doesn’t have a name?” I wondered aloud.
“None that you need to know,” the woman said, giving a light poke with the pointy.
“And Finbarr…you don’t mean the fairy king of the Daoine Sidhe, do you?” I asked.
“No, that’s my cousin,” the Irish dandy corrected. “Finn Bheara.”
“More than a little,” Finbarr shrugged.
“Wait a minute,” I said with rising frustration. “Finbarr…Persian Prin-…THE DEVOTEA SENT YOU!!!”
At that moment, a slightly transparent, disembodied head appeared out of thin air.
“What he said,” Finbarr agreed as the disembodied Devotea winked out of existence.
“Then why are you here? Why am I here!?” I demanded.
“Truth be told, we’re seeing if our namesake blends actually hold up,” Finbarr explained.
“We want to make sure he’s doing us justice,” the Persian woman practically purred.
“And who told you that kidnapping reviewers was the way to do it?” I asked again.
“Petersham, of course,” Finbarr said delightfully.
“Of course,” I repeated flatly, rolling my eyes.
A table with a tea set, three bags, brewing equipment and a tea kettle miraculously appeared amidst sparkles and smoke. It was an odd thing to say that this was becoming far too routine for me. I perused the different ounce bags. One was labeled “1910”, another “Finbarr’s Revenge”, and a purple bag read “Persian Princess” embroidered in gold trim.
I put down the gaiwan and plastic tea kettle I’d forgotten I was still holding. “Well…let’s get this over with.”
The first I went for was the English Breakfast variant – the 1910.
“It’s a blend of Ceylon, Indian teas, an-“
“I know what it is,” I interrupted.
The dry leaves were both burly with malt and fruit-sweet on the nose, giving the impression that the blend consisted of Assam, Keemun, and a low-altitude Dimbulla Ceylon. It’s a credit to the blender that the leaves all looked the same, creating the illusion of single origin orthodoxy.
The liquor brewed lighter than I expected – a full-bodied bronze rather than the usual English Breakfast copper. The color may have been because of a Yunnan sourcing for the Chinese black in the blend, rather than Keemun. The smell was exquisitely smoky, really not sure how that happened. This was an incredibly smooth morning cup – no bitterness, dryness or kickback.
“Deceptively smooth and quite invigorating,” I said with approval.
“Next is my namesake,” Finbarr gestured toward the second set-up.
I couldn’t tell what went in this, but my best guess was Assam and low-altitude Ceylon. The smell was straight, burly malt (like the 1910) with no other deviation. One would think they were having a straight-up Assam on whiff. I actually decided upon a full pot of it.
The liquor brewed bold copper with the same manly malty aroma as the dry leaves. On taste, though, it was oddly forgiving. Instead of punching the tongue with its chewy presence, it shook hands first, imparting a floral forefront before the introduction of the malty middle. Here, the Ceylon and Assam worked quite well together. And – boy! – did it wake me up.
“This stuff actually gives you the courtesy of a reach-around before punching you in the junk,” I commented.
“Rightly said!” Finbarr guffawed, patting me on the back – hard.
The Persian Princess gave a loud – and disgusted – sigh. Speaking of which, it was time for her blend. She didn’t bother speaking up about it, though.
The thing that really surprised me about this blend was how sweet it smelled. There was some requisite malt, but a woody and sweet underpinning crept up in the fragrance. I’m pretty sure the teas used were Assam and Yunnan, but – as with the other Devotea blends – one can never be too sure.
The resulting brew-up was an amber-colored liquor with a smooth, Ceylon-ish aroma – floral. On taste, the deceptive sweetness came back packaged with a strong, malty intro. Then it did the oddest thing by smoothing out completely – like an actual princess with a feigned, even-keel temperament. The best part? No bitterness to speak of and only mild astringency.
“Strong but not bitter,” I said briefly. “Like an actual princess should be.”
She still said nothing.
“Can I go now?”
Finbarr looked confused, “Go where?”
“Home? To 2012? My 2012.”
“Oh, lad,” Finbarr laughed, but there was mischievous shift in it. “This is your home now.”
“Aye, the trip’s one-way only.”
“Revenge,” the Persian Princess finally spoke.
One would think a man whisked out of space and time would do something brave – like, say, fight off both of his assailants. Not the case, here. I took off running as fast as my slippered feet could carry me. Like a little bitch. I did make sure my beeline to…nowhere put me in contact with my trusty gaiwan and kettle, though.
Both of my kidnappers were in hot pursuit. Denizens of this steampunkish realm observed the spectacle with some amusement. I supposed they didn’t get many men in sleep attire – brandishing tea equipment – running down their streets. I ducked down an alleyway, hoping to lose the blend-named pair. As my luck would have it, though, it dead-ended at a bonfire surrounded by this realm’s version of the homeless.
“Nowhere to run now, eh laddy?” Finbarr said with a pant.
The Persian Princess glided in front of the Irishman, dagger drawn and eyes fixed. I did the only thing a man-bitch could do – I let out a full-bodied scream. In my ensuing panic, I lost my grip on the plastic kettle. It fell into the makeshift hobo fire. Then something…well…terribly inappropriate happened.
A blood curdling scream resonated from the flames. The discarded kettle fumed, smoked, melted and contorted into something hideous. The only comparison I could make was a demonic vagina.
It floated in the air, wailing loudly. Finbarr and Persian Princess halted their advance, but the vagrants around the fire fled in terror, providing me ample time to think.
That shouldn’t be possible, I thought. Unless…
“A dream!” I said out loud.
I looked down at my one remaining tea apparatus – my trusty gaiwan. If Leo had a spinning top as an anchor in Inception, then this lidded cup was mine. Turning around, I walked straight into the bonfire. I expected to feel warmth and…uh…”burning”. Instead, I was back in my kitchen – still pajama’d, still tired, but fully tea’d.
“Well, that could’ve gone better,” Finbarr said, scratching his head.
“His time will come,” the Persian Princess said, disrobing her covered head. A porcelain, Asian woman’s face turned toward the Irishman. “At least we know his weakness now.”
“You’re one stubborn woman, Ms. Guan Yin,” he remarked.
“Take the tea away from a man, then he is just a man,” she said to no one in particular. “Take the teacup from a man, then he is merely a boy…in hot water.”
The End (?)
To Purchase The Devotea’s Teas (1910, Finbarr’s Revenge, and Persian Princess):
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.
“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?”
“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.”
“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.
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.)
Perhaps it is because I have a near-glandular reaction to all things shiny, or perhaps it’s something more visceral. Whatever the case may be, I love teas with the world “Gold” in them. It wasn’t something I was particular aiming for, but more of an epiphany I had over one particular type of tea.
I received a sample of Zen Tara Tea’s Golden Yunnan Special. Looking at it was like beholding beige-like brilliance…and like honey-lathered lightning had hit my tongue. At first, I thought it was possibly a fluke, but then I visited a teashop local to me – the Jasmine Pearl – and picked up some of their Golden Needles. The reaction was just about the same – honey-pepper-nectar-gasm. From that point on, I had a favorite black tea.
Naturally, I wondered if other teas with the word “Gold” were equally as perfect for my palate. The next on the list was the Fujian-grown Golden Monkey – often heralded as the black tea equivalent to Bai Hao Yinzhen (Silver Needle), a distinction I’d disagree with. While having a similar gold-like, tippy presence as the Yunnan variety, the leaves were smaller and curlier. However, they did impart a similar nectar-like flavor, if not as eye-glazing. Okay, second time was the charm; this was definitely not a fluke. Maybe it was an irregularity.
On a random perusal, I ran across a product dubbed a “Golden Assam”. Perhaps it was a Photoshop trick, but the merchandise photo made it look just as shiny as a Yunnan Gold (or Jin Cha). A fellow tea colleague – Michael J. Coffey, ever the steep scientist – urged me to reel in my expectations. According to one of his Assamese contacts (yes, the man has contacts), gold tips are often added for visual flare but have no effect on taste. Much like cornflowers being added to some inferior Earl Greys.
A random tea outing with a gold-haired friend confirmed my “findings”. Their gold-tipped Assam did indeed have some honey texture to go along with the requisite malt. I even ordered another pot of Yunnan Gold just for taste comparison. While the latter was better, the Assam did hold its own.
Some doubts did enter my mind about the “gold standard” when I revisited gold-tipped Assams in the form of a Khongea estate offering. It was really good – malty, hearty, slightly smoky, all those manly adjectives. But it didn’t possess that ‘gasmic “oomph” of the prior golds. Maybe Coffey had a point.
The conversation was revisited, this time with Assam-lover, Ken Macbeth, in tow. It even inspired this write-up from Ken regarding the price one pays for the appearance of a loose leaf batch. MJC even reiterated that while there is likely a flavor I’m subjective to in Yunnan Golds – or to the “golding” process in general – that doesn’t make it universally better. At the time of the conversation, I refused to believe it.
Then I taste-tested two teas from Canton Tea Co. One was a black tea from Fujian (my favorite Chinese province) called Bai Lin Gong Fu. It looked and smelled like a black tea – like a Dian Hong (regular Yunnan black) only tippier. The taste, though…wow. It made me tip my head back in Homer-esque reverie, tongue splayed.
A few months later, I received another sample from Canton for their Superior Bai Lin Gong Fu. I wondered how the heck they could top the regular kind, but – apparently – what made it superior was the appearance. The entire batch was GOOOOooooooOOOOoooold! However…I noted in my review of it, that – while I did love it – I preferred the regular Bai Lin. The honey-nectar presence was there, but it simply didn’t top the silky magnificence of its darker kin.
Superior vs. Inferior (?)
My journey came practically full circle with a revisit to The Jasmine Pearl. The owners – Chuck and Heather – were a very patient couple in dealing with me. They had mentioned in passing that a new shipment was coming in for some Golden Needles, straight from Yunnan, and that it was even better than their last one. Perfect timing since I ran out of my stores of their last batch. They urged me to be patient, though. Deliveries from China were known to be slow.
That didn’t stop me from calling them repeatedly.
Me: “Is it there yet?”
Geoff: “How ‘bout now?”
Me: [pause] “Now?”
Me: “Are we there yet?”
(Okay, I made that last part up.)
A month ago, I stopped in to childishly ask one more time. Rays of heaven parted when they confirmed with an emphatic “Yes!” that it, indeed, had arrived. There was a problem, though. This was nowhere near as gold-tippy as the last batch. It smelled wonderful – like tiramisu, chocolate, and forest – but the peppery aspect was all but gone. I bought it anyway and did a side-by-side comparison with another Golden Needle I had on hand.
Gold vs. (Mostly) Gold
Yep, definitely darker.
Then came the taste-test.
I rated the last Golden Needles they had a ten out of ten. This was an eleven. It was then that I begrudgingly admitted that there was something to the processing. Here it was, a darker Golden Yunnan, and I liked it better than any of its shinier kin. Fine, I’ll admit it now. The “golding” process doesn’t necessary make it better, but there is still something to it in terms of Chinese black teas. I’m standing by my Yunnan Goldies, even the ones that are rougher around the edges.