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of the Lazy Literatus

Tag: Hankook Tea

The “Tease” of World Tea Expo

The Road Trip Sextet, Part 3 – “The ‘Tease’ of World Tea Expo”

For Part 1, go HERE.

For Part 2, go HERE.

You know it’s been awhile since you’ve blogged when your mother says as much in a Facebook message. Earlier this week, my Mum sent me such a message: “So, is June 9th the last entry of Steep Stories?”

Obviously implying something morbid.

To prove that this is indeed not the end, let’s continue wear I left off.

As I mentioned in my last write-up, I went to World Tea Expo this year with a plan of attack. Since I was going to be limited on time, I double-checked the list of vendor booths I wanted to hit and beelined to those first. Basically, it was a “unique tea” hunt. And the way I kept track of what I tasted? Twitter, of course.

Twitter was handy for two reasons: (1) It helped me keep tabs on everything I tried and things to follow up on. (2) It provided a good outline for any future taster notes I wanted to put in blog form…such as now.

So, I present to you – in no particular order – a stream-of-consciousness, Twitter-fueled rundown of some of my tea-related highlights from World Tea Expo 2014.

bacolapsang

The second booth I went to was based upon a blog I read by Gary Robson. He had mentioned coming across a Bacon Lapsang blend. When I found him on the Expo floor (which wasn’t hard to do), he offered to guide me to it. The folks that put out the blend were from The Tovah Team – an outfit based out of Las Vegas, NV. Said blend was dubbed “Country Breakfast”…and I’ll be damned if it didn’t taste like a country breakfast. A darn good start to the festivities.

Ujeon

I would’ve been remiss in my du-teas, if I didn’t stop by the Hankook Tea booth at least once. Their Hwancha was a favorite of mine from a couple of years back. This year, they had their Ujeon available for sampling – a high-grade green tea from Korea that’d been on my “list” for a while.

Ujeon

 

It was perfect. Like, gyokuro perfect, only with that sejak bend and something more. I don’t really remember exact nuances beyond the initial “Mmmmmm” effect.

Chris Giddings (of Teaity fame) grabbed me as I was moseying by and outright insisted I stop by the Elmwood Inn booth. The reason? A bourbon-scented black tea, of course.

Bourbon Black Tea

While not barrel-aged, like some other teas I’ve tried, it was instead a black tea blend infused with the essence of pure Kentucky bourbon. The results were creamy, slightly peaty, and sweet. Definitely one I want to revisit sometime soon.

Although I didn’t have a quixotic Twitter update about the booth, I have to talk about Tealet.

Image mooched from Tealet's Facebook Page.

Image mooched from Tealet’s Facebook Page.

Theirs was by far, the best booth at Expo this year. It was also the largest. They shared their space with the International Tea Farms Alliance. The result was a mega-tea-booth of sorts, complete with tasting tables and an interview space. The highlight there?

Four words: Smoked. Assam. Green. Tea.

Smoked Assam Green

The Heritage Tea Estate in Assam, India had smoked a green tea over firewood, and the results were pure manly bliss. Smoke, grass, astringency, and epic-ness fumed from my little taster cup. I would say more about my Tealet experience, but that’s a whole ‘nother entry unto itself.

WulongMaocha

In my wanderings, I came across the Seven Cups booth. Regrettably, I didn’t run into Austin Hodge this year, but I did try some of their wares for the first time. The tea that really caught my eye was – as mentioned above – their Wuyi Rock Wulong Maocha.

Wuyi Maocha

It tasted like a Wuyi oolong, only rougher around the edges. I wouldn’t say incomplete because that would imply imperfection. I would say it was more in line with a sheng pu-erh right before fermentation.

CamSin99AliShan

Along the same lines, and somewhat nearby, was the Camellia Sinensis booth. My goal there was to finally pick up some Laotian pu-erh for sampling. Unfortunately, they hadn’t brought any for sale this year. However, they did have a bit of aged Ali Shan oolong for the tasting. That was…well…yeah…awe-inspiring.

Satemwa

I was overjoyed to see a Malawi tea estate represented at the Expo. The name Satemwa had passed by my computer a few times, particularly their white teas. This year, though, I was hoping to taste one of their oolongs. Lo and behold, they were happy to oblige that simple request.

Satemwa

Their white teas were as good as I remembered. Their black teas: On par with others I’ve had from the region. The oolong? Man, I wanted to spend more time with that. Very nuanced flavor – almost like a midsummer Ti Guan Yin by way of a Taiwanese low-altitude oolong. Very interesting flavor.

They also had a pu-erh available for the smelling, but not enough to brew up. Looks like I’m going to be doing a highlight on that sometime soon…after some mandatory begging.

ModernTeaGirl

I had yacked with the folks behind Modern Tea Girl on Twitter for well over a year, even though I was nowhere near their target market. That said, when I learned that they were hosting a booth at Expo, I had to at least stop by and say, “Hi”. I wasn’t sure what they would be featuring – or if I could mention it – but those fears were assuaged when I saw their spread.

Modern Tea Girl

Matcha cake frosting…what more do I need to say?

It was fan-f**king-tastic. No nuance needed.

And finally…

YauponAsi

Of all the teas and herbs on display at Expo, this was the one I was most eager to try. After years of research and a few scant mentions, I was finally able to notch off this American-grown Yerba Mate cousin, thanks to Yaupon Asi.

Yaupon

 

Those that compare the taste to Yerba Mate don’t know what they’re talking about. Sure, there are similarities, but they end with the herbaceous forefront. Yaupon has more in common with another cousin – Guayusa. There’s a sweet underpinning throughout the taste that is just remarkably pleasant. I would say more, but I have an entire feature piece I want to do on this wonderful caffeinated herb.

And that about wraps up the notable tasting experiences this year. My swag bag of bounty was not as hefty as last year’s Expo, but I didn’t expect it to be. As I said, I was there with a specific goal in mind, and I more than met it. Yes, there were other wonderful teas I tried that weren’t mentioned above. Mostly because I plan to do something with each of them individually – TeaCuplets and whatnot. (Speaking of which, READ MY TEACUPLETS!!! Okay, done.)

When I returned home, I was also greeted by a box from TeaVivre. So, by proxy, I sort of included it with the WTE swag, just by sheer proximi-tea and timing.

10431876_147208755449651_2147087504_n

Next time…the epic beach house party.

For Part 4, go HERE.

A Teaity Chat Adventure

Let’s put things in perspective.

Last Tuesday, there was a Teaity-hosted Twitter chat, and it was amazing!

Teaity

I, however, wasn’t amazing in it. In fact, one could even say – albeit crudely/colloquially – that I was out of my f**king mind. Reasons being: Too much caffeine…and family.

I started off the day – a work day, mind you – at 6AM. Somehow, I had the bright idea to pre-funk with some Hankook Tea Gamnong Sejak “matcha” (read: Korean powdered green tea).

Hankook Gamnong Matcha

The stuff is amazingly tasty. Looks like a mid-grade matcha from Izu, Japan…but tastes like a high-grade Uji ceremonial. It froths up handsomely, has a velvety texture going down, and caffeinates you like an immortal battering ram. That would’ve been enough.

But then I brewed some Butiki Teas Taiwanese Wild Mountain black for the road trip to work. That…put me over the edge. I wasn’t just immortal; I was freaking celestial. Nothing could’ve penetrated my high.

Said work shift went by like an old-fashioned VCR on fast-forward. I was casually aware of time, but not affected by it. If problems arose, I handled it with all the aplomb of a pubescent spelling bee contestant. And best of all? No crash.

One would think that was enough caffeine for the day, right? Well…apparently my brain never got that memo. When riding high, better continue the party – right?

When I came home, I smelled the old Wild Mountain leaves. They still had life in ‘em. So, I brewed up a second infusion.

In the interim, my Mum was pacing and yelling at her phone. I asked what was bugging her. She had been on the phone with my niece, but the signal cut off. The 14-year-old had said she was walking home from school, but an hour had passed. Her school is a mere three streets away.

Forgetting about the tea, I grabbed Mum and we headed out to go look for the missing niece. Just as we were heading out of the apartment complex, we saw a teenage girl loping up the hill. It was the niece in question. After I told her to get in the car, she explained what had happened.

Her phone died…and she got lost in a cul de sac.

No, seriously.

How?!

After that li’l adventure, I saw mentions on Facebook and Twitter that Teaity’s Chat Party was happening.

Oh snap!  I thought. I forgot to RSVP.

I quickly shot a tweet to Naomi Rosen (Mrs. Joy’s Teaspoon) about how to do exactly that. She and Nicole “Tea For Me Please” Martin were co-hosting the chat session with Teaity’s founder – Chris Giddings. I knew next to nothing of how it was going down, save for the fact that it was happening.

I did the RSPV thing, looked on Google+ (thinking it was a Hangout or something), then did a proverbial “Derp!” upon realizing that it was a Twitter chat. People chimed in on it by using the hashtag “#TeaityChat” on Twitter.  Finally, I chimed in…still somewhat wired after tanking my over-brewed mug of Wild Mountain.

And it was like I stepped into Peter Griffin’s version of Bed Bath & Beyond.

TeaityChat

So many people. So many conversations happening all at once. At first, I joined in with a simple, “Ahoy!” But then I thought the best idea would be to answer one of the questions put out to the crowd.

teaity pants

Hey, I said it was my best idea…I didn’t say it was a good idea.

However, there was one problem. Here I was, in the middle of a tea chat, but I had no tea. For months, I’d been meaning to do a piece on Teaity and its “timer” function, and this was my excuse. The issue I was having, though, was finding a tea in my collection that was on the Teaity roster. Most of the stuff I had on-hand was downright esoteric.

All the while during the chat, I tore my collection apart looking for a brand and brew to join in with. About two-thirds the way through the multiple conversations, I found it. Teaity had AdventureTea’s Hawaiian Green listed. I brewed it up, using Teaity’s timer as a guide.

Teaity Timer

The results were even better than the trial-‘n-error brews I’d administered before. The flavor was like tropical fruit crossed with Hawaiian Mamaki leaf. Green, herbaceous, slightly citrusy, and nowhere-near-grassy. Probably the best green tea I’d had from Hawaii. (Although, granted, I’ve only had two others.)

Hawaiian Green Tea

If I wasn’t over-caffeinated by then, I certainly was now. I couldn’t even recall how many pints/pots of tea I was in at that point. All I knew was, it was almost 9PM…and I was nowhere near tired.

Then I saw them on my tea shelf.

Ants. Tons of ‘em. Going after the whole whoppin’ two flavored teas I had in my collection. They smelled like vanilla and chocolate, so – naturally – the critters bee(or ant)-lined to them. With how much caffeine I had in my system, I panicked. I tore all the teas off the bookshelf, and moved everything aside.

IMAG1554

Then I grabbed our one vacuum and combed the room with it. Unfortunately, the damn thing was clogged to the gills with dust and debris from the last major suck-up. I began to curse

Mum, sis, and niece each inquired as to what I was doing.

Phrases I…may have uttered.

“There’re ants everywhere.”

“I had to blow out the vacuum pipes with my mouth!

“I’m going to get herpes from this!”

Er…the last part was because I actually knew a guy who did get an STD from a vacuum. Long story, won’t go into it here.

After gutting and rearranging my room, I finally sat down – having expended all my excess energy. All that was left was a slight buzzing feeling in my brain. That and an odd sensation of feeling both hypochondriac…and accomplished. Very strange.

Moral of the story: There is such a thing as too much tea.

But, boy, it makes for an awesome story to tell.

Workshops, Bandsaws, and Keemun Against Humanity – A Vegas Tea Party, Conclusion

For Day 1, go HERE.

For Day 2, go HERE.

For Day 3, go HERE.

It was the last day of World Tea Expo…and I was already running late.

I know, big shocker. But this time it wasn’t entirely my fault. My co-pilot for the morning, Lady Earl Steeper was also running slightly lagged. Cut us some slack, it was 7AM.

On top of that – par for course – I ended up missing the turnoff for the Convention Center at least two times. Finally got it on the third go-around. (I think?) We made the mad-dash inside only to make it fifteen minutes late for the “Blogging for Your Business” workshop.

Tea Blogging In Your Business panel

Taken by Jo Johnson

Luckily, our truancy was only partially observed. By everyone.

The panel discussion was moderated by Michael “Tea Geek” Coffey, and the panel consisted of Linda “The Tea Stylist” Gaylard, Chris “Teaity/Tea-Guy” Giddings, Darlene Meyers-Perry, Naomi “Joy’s Teaspoon” Rosen, Jason Walker [Tea Review] and last (but never least), Robert “The Devotea” Godden. To my shock-‘n-awe, it was a very low-key panel. And by that, I mean, cups weren’t being flung across the room, teabags weren’t being torn asunder, and no fist-fights broke out over the pronunciation of “Ti Kwan Yin”. As a matter of fact – dare I say it? –  it was downright professional.

*****

I left the panel with a bit more information than I started with, and with…uh…

Absolutely no tea!

It was about 9:30AM at this point. The Expo floor wasn’t open yet, and there was no tea anywhere. I had no time that morning to grab a cuppa caffeine before dashing out the door. My lack of wakefulness was starting to show. There was a second panel on digital marketing I wanted to attend, but it took me a good ten minutes to find the damn room. Signs of a tea-deprived brain.

I finally made it to the “Digital Marketing Trends” workshop before its start-time. Tony “World of Tea” Gebely was the speaker on hand. Frankly, I didn’t know what I would take away from the workshop, only that I wanted to see Tea Pimp Tony in action.

Tea Pimp Tony

Tea Pimp Tony

Oddly enough, I came away with far more than I anticipated. Many of the tricks he suggested applied not only to vendors, but also to regular “brew-buzzard” bloggers such as myself. For instance, my analytics numbers have always been somewhere in – or around – the toilet. In one hour, Tony pointed out a few things I was doing wrong regarding overall social media exposure. I left somewhat e-enlightened.

By the time that workshop was finished…I really needed tea. The moment my caffeine gland groaned (yes, I have one; I’m sure of it), my phone vibrated. It was a tweet from Mountain Tea Co.

Mountain Tea Tweet

I made a mad-dash to the Expo floor. In less than three minutes, I arrived at the MTC booth – panting. Chicco Chou saw me, blinked twice, then gave greeting.

“I just got your tweet,” I wheezed. “I need oolong. Stat.”

He poured me a couple of cups of brandy oolong that they’d just brewed. I let the feeling of time-released energy permeate throughout my very being. Then, with a sigh of relief, and a bow of thanks, I dashed back off to the workshop rooms. (Seriously, I bowed.)

Chicco making Mountain Tea.

Chicco making Mountain Tea.

*****

The third and final workshop I attended was one near and dear to my heart – mainly for the speaker. Verna L. Hamilton was one my oldest “tea-tweeps”. We had a peculiar bond in that we shared the same birthday. Funny considering that we were like night and day (and, no, I’m not referring to skin color). Where I was a cynical, portly, and often neurotic little man; she was a tall, statuesque, vibrant, and sunny human being.

Verna

Seriously, she could lighten the room with a smile and a shake of her head. I’ve only known three women that had that effect on me. It’s by mere coincidence that they were all African American. Or maybe not, I dunno.

Her workshop also had the best name ever: “Steep Social Media Without Getting Bitter”. Wish I’d thought of it. She even had the lecture (if that’s the right word) organized according to blending and steeping. Seriously awesome.

To say she was the most engaging speaker I encountered at Expo would be an understatement.

Verna Presentation

*****

Aaaand for the third and final time, I hit the Expo floor. I’d seen all that I’d intended to see. This time ‘round, I was making my obligatory farewells to the more memorable booths. That and returning to some other vendors to make purchases. But before that…

I ran into Lady Joy’s Teaspoon and Lady Earl Steeper, who informed me that they’d just tried some Ugandan tea. While I’d stopped by the Care to Uganda/Igara Tea booth on my first Expo day, I had no idea they were serving tea as well. In seconds, I bee-lined to their booth and requested their BP-1. It looked like a typical CTC-grade tea, which had me hesitant, but then I took a sip…

Best. CTC tea. Ever.

Ugandan Tea

*****

Dark Tea LogAt 1:30PM that day, I arrived at the TeaSource booth for what was to be a momentous demonstration. The day prior, I marveled at a tea log they had on display. It was perhaps the largest – and most imposing – heicha (dark tea) log I’d ever seen. The thing was about two feet long, six inches across, and with quite a bit of girth. I felt wholly inadequate in its presence.

The big demonstration was to be the cutting of the tea log. I had no idea what this entailed; all I knew was that there was going to be a raffling off of pieces of said tea. When I got to the booth, I expected maybe ten or fifteen people. There were more like thirty. All crowded around to watch the display.

On the far side of the booth, I caught a glimpse of someone I recognized. AmazonV was watching the event from the periphery. Instead of compressing myself against total strangers, I thought it more prudent to be near someone I at least half-knew.

After some discussion, the show began. Bill Waddington – TeaSource’s founder – donned a pair of safety goggles (???)…and whipped out a saw. A f**king bandsaw!

BAMF!

BAMF!

They placed the tea log on its side, and carved into it like a downed tree. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything so manly in the tea world in my entire life. My Beasts of Brewdom compatriot – The Devotea – put it best when he said:

Petrol fumes mixed with aged tea aroma in the testosterone-drenched air, as without gloves or goggles, our hero sliced like there was no tomorrow.”

Alas, I didn’t get a piece of said tea log. People could only participate in the raffle if they had a business card to submit. I had no such thing. Mental note: Next WTE, make business cards. Badass ones.

*****

With that display of tea-machismo outta the way, it was time to make my last-minute Expo purchases. I had three in mind:

Hankook Tea’s Gamnong Matcha:

Oppa Gamnong Style!

Oppa Gamnong Style!

I tried it my first day at Expo and instantly fell in love with it. Never did I think I would try a Korean matcha and like it – let alone, love it. Or maybe I purchased it simply for the future tweet: “I’m having matcha – Gamnong Style.” Yeah, that was probably it.

Immaculate Leaf’s Aged Oolong:

Also tried this the first day. This aged oolong was a 20-or-so-old from the Chin Xin varietal (?). I can’t quite recall. Point being, it was roasty…but not too roasty. Zesty and downright Zen-inducing. For the price, it was a must-buy.

Wild Tea Qi Ancient Moonlight White Bud Bar Tea:

Probably the second most unique white tea I encountered at Expo. It was first brought to my attention several months back by Jo “A Gift of Tea” Johnson. I was a pricy little devil, and I’m almost positive it was merely compressed Yue Guang Bai. However, it had the best story of all the compressed teas I came across thus far (besides a Taiwanese white I loved).

*****

The last of my World Tea Expo floor farewells was probably my most poignant. Lord and Lady Devotea were wandering when I encountered them. I meant to impart a “pleasure-meeting-you-both” followed a handshake or five, but ended up leaving with a parting gift for my mother.

Tea blended by the Lady Devotea herself, aply titled, “Lady Devotea”.

Lady Devotea holding "Lady Devotea"

Lady Devotea holding “Lady Devotea”

Thankfully, they gave me permission to try it once I got home. Even though it was a gift intended for my mother. Hey, a son has to judge the quality of it first. That’s the excuse I’m sticking with.

(P.S. It was superb.)

The Convention Center doors closed soon after, and I was left with a feeling of…loss? Was that it? Such a weird emotion welled up within me. Never before had I been so in my element! Admitting that it was over was like admitting that, well, endings were a “thing”.

"All good things..."

“All good things…”

I only wish I had tracked down one particular tea – just one. The only one I couldn’t find was some Keemun Hao Ya A. Even the Chinese distributors didn’t have it – save one, and they weren’t letting go of any of it…short of a large wholesale order.

Later that night – after copious amounts of all-you-can-eat sushi – Lady Joy’s Teaspoon, Lady Earl Steeper, Teaity Chris and myself decided to keep the tea party going. We steeped pu-erhs, blacks, and various other things as we played yet another raucous game of Cards Against Humanity – as was becoming par for course.

Somewhere amidst our laying down of inappropriate cards and fitful guffaws, the suggestion was made to steep another black tea. Lady Earl Steeper whipped out a Keemun. And…

It just happened to be a sample of Keemun Hao Ya A. And it was glorious. I could not think of a better way to cap what was – sparing no hyberpole – the greatest week of my life.

Photo by Audrea Fink

Photo by Audrea Fink

Everybody Hwang Cha Tonight – Gamnong Style

Previously on Steep Stories: Our fearless (or rather, fearful) protagonist was whisked away to an underground, dwarven tearoom in Darjeeling – one that was overrun with dancing snake-people. The crisis was averted by a well-placed Hindi movie musical number…oh, and splendid tea was had in the interim. Afterwards, the pajama’d thirtysomething, a gnome, and an undead botanist hastened their escape. And, now, the continuation…

“Well, this is awkward,” I said with feigned levity while sipping my green tea.

“You have a penchant for snark,” the once-living Robert Fortune grumbled.

The deceased-but-animated Scottish botanist had every reason to be ill-tempered. We were stuck in a rather large bird cage, guarded from all corners by birds. Worse, they were armed with what appeared to be glowing spears. I had no desire to discover what the “glowy-part” could do. On the bright side, though, the tea they served was good. Sipping it gave me time to think why all of the birds spoke Korean.

The only occupants of the cage were me, Zombie Fortune, and a rather disheveled, multi-tailed, yellow fox. Thed – our gnomish compatriot – was nowhere to be found. How we came to be caged by birds was the subject of debate. One moment we were escaping under Darjeeling – the next, we were greeted by pitch blackness, then…birds happened. When Fortune and I awoke, we were caged and served tea.

The bird-guard (?) that had handed us tea said only one word, “Teuksun.”

I assumed he meant the tea. The leaves were small by Chinese green tea standards, curlier than Japanese greens, and possessed a very different aroma than any green tea I’d come across. There was a sweetness and a smokiness to them that was strangely tantalizing. A bit of nuttiness also showed up in the after-whiff.

The liquor was a very light green with a yellowish tinge, very similar in appearance to a Chinese green. However, the scent was nut-sweet, almost like sencha by way of green rooibos. A lingering vegetal underpinning was also present. That same vegetal feeling showed up on first sip but transitioned to a bouquet of sweetened grass, chestnuts and autumn air. While excellent, a second steep turned out better.

“This is interesting tea,” I said, trying to distract from my predicament. “Hints of vanilla and caramel with a vegetal underpinning.”

“It’s Korean tea,” Fortune stated flatly. “Of course it’s unique. “

“How do you know?” I asked.

“’Teuksun’ sounds like a Korean word,” Fortune answered, staring at nothing.

“I wonder what it means,” I said.

“It roughly translates to, ‘You’re annoying.’” Fortune offered with a half-smile.

“You’re an ass,” I said with a glare.

“Arse, lad,” the Scotsman corrected.

The disheveled, five-tailed fox to our left pushed his tea tray toward us.

“Here,” he said. “This one’s called ‘Gamnong’.”

“You’re not going to drink it?” I asked – greedy hands at the ready.

“I’ve been drinking it for the last six months,” the yellow fox said.

The leaves for this looked just like the Teuksun – vibrant, forest-green, curly leaves. What was different was…well…everything else. The scent was less smoky and sweeter. There wasn’t as nutty a presence, either. Instead, it was just very pleasant to the nostrils. Not too strong; not too soft.

On the flavor front, the darker liquor that resulted imparted a way different profile than the Teuksun. The sweetness was doubled, and there wasn’t as strong of a vegetal note either. Grassy, yes. (It was green tea, after all.)

“Kinda silky and sweet,” I said with a swallow. “Comparable to some good spring Long Jings I’ve tried.”

“Agreed,” Fortune said perkily, awaking from his funk. “A sweet, white winy note.”

“You said this was ‘Gamnong’?” I asked. “As in, the rich part of Seoul, South Korea?”

The fox sighed. “No, that’s Gangnam. Common misconception, actually.”

Ah, I thought to myself. It sounded absurdly close to “Gangnam” – a place I had only become aware of thanks to a song. A catchy song, at that. “Gangnam Style” by Psy – the first Korean crossover hit of its kind. I had a feeling the fox knew of that as well, hence the misconception.

“I’m surprised you speak English,” Fortune said between happy sips.

“I’m surprised you’re both human,” the fox chortled.

“He is,” Fortune said, pointing a thumb at me. “I’m not…well…anymore.”

“Undead,” the fox pondered. “That’s rough.”

The botanist shrugged. “I’ve had time to adapt to it. I’m Robert Fortune, this living lad is The Lazy Literatus.”

“I have a name!” I snapped.

“No one cares,” Fortune returned.

“I’m Hwang,” the fox said. “The English sort call me Yellow. For obvious reasons.”

“Any idea where we are?” I asked

“A pocket realm known only to magically-imbued birds,” Hwang explained. “Awaiting judgment.”

“For?” Fortune pressed.

“Me? Thieving. You? No clue.”

“There was a gnome named Thed with us…” I began.

“He’s being sentenced right now,” the yellow fox added gravely. “By the Sparrow Prince himself.”

“Sparrow Prince?” I repeated. “Seriously?”

“Yes, what’s odd about that?” Hwang asked in return.

“Oh, nothing.” I chose to leave the South Park reference alone.

“Wait…did you say, Sparrow Prince?!” Fortune demanded.

“Indeed I did,” Hwang rolled his eyes. “So glad you’re paying attention.”

“Damn,” Fortune seethed. “They’re gonna kill him! We have to get out of here.”

“What do you know?” I queried.

“I know that Thed is dead if we don’t rescue him.”

Why?” I yelled.

“Because the Sparrow Prince is convinced that Thed sold actual sparrow tongues to humans in Korea two thousand years ago,” Fortune said through a heaving sigh.

“That’s stupid,” I said with eyes narrowed.

“Sparrows are stupid,” Hwang interjected.

Fortune continued, “Korean green tea is also known as jaksul-cha, which translates to ‘sparrow’s tongue’. Thed was one of the first magical creatures to bring tea leaves to the land that is now known as Korea.”

Hwang went wide-eyed, “He’s that gnome?! The one that was in hiding from Guan Yin?”

The undead Scotsman nodded. “The very same. He was part of Queen Suro’s caravan that brought tea seeds from India to ancient Korea. He was in hiding from the bodhisattva.”

“He’s famous among the fox-folk,” Hwang said with glazed eyes. “One of the greatest thieves and tricksters to ever ride the ley-lines.”

“He never intended to be,” Fortune countered.

“I didn’t either,” the fox winked.

“So…” I clapped my hands. “How do we get out of here?”

“Leave that to me,” Hwang said as he clanked his cup against the cage bars. “Guard! More hot water!”

One of the birdmen mumbled a curse in Korean, but sauntered off to fetch a kettle. When he returned, Hwang grinned with eyes closed. He, then, removed some dark-colored leaves from behind one of his tails. Appearance-wise, it looked like any typical black tea one would find on the market. The pieces resembled a BOP – dark brown, small, and with some curly pieces thrown in. Their aroma was straight nuts. No, not as in crazy, but actual nuts – almonds, I’d reckon. Only a few oolongs have had that type of scent. Before I could ask, he explained.

“This is what I was caught for – stealing tea leaves from a Korean bird merchant. How could I not? They were called Hwang Cha’. It had my name on it, literally. I was framed, I tell ya.” He detailed his claim to “innocence” further as he brewed up the leaves.

The leaves gave the water a yellow gold color – like the namesake suggested – with a pleasantly sweet and roastly aroma.

“Is this really the time for –“ Robert Fortune began.

“Just you wait,” the fox said, pouring the liquor into our cups.

On taste, there was an initial creaminess that transitioned to the expected nutty mouthfeel, and all the while there was this sweet underpinning to the palate. In character, it was a lot like another oxidized “yellow tea” I tried from the Goomtee estate in Darjeeling, yet much more refined. It is as complex as all the other Korean teas I’ve tried. A bit on the pricey side…but you honestly do get what you pay for.

Hwang motioned us to come nearer to him. “Now, blow the steam at the guards,” he whispered. “I could’ve escaped this way at any time…but never had a reason ’til now.”

Fortune and I shrugged at each other but did as we were told. We each went to a corner of the cage, faced our cups to one of the spear-birds, and blew as hard as we could. A funny thing happened…and I do – literally – mean funny. When the tea steam came in contact with the guards, each one sniffed, shook their heads, and promptly collapsed into a feathered heap.

The fourth guard noticed his fallen comrades and seemed poised to signal for reinforcements. Hwang was faster, however, leaping clear across the cage – blowing steam right before he landed. The bird fainted in mid-caw!.

“I’m surprised they didn’t hear us plotting,” I said.

“They’re Korean,” Fortune reminded. “And birds are idiots.”

“And so am I,” I deprecated.

“No argument here,” Hwang stifled a chuckle.

We dashed as best we could to the only source of light in the oddly-tunneled, avian catacomb. Upon reaching the illuminated opening, we were greeted by a grand amphitheater. All the seats were packed with flocks of birds, gulls, jays, and every other assortment of feathered beasty. At the center of the “stage” was a diminutive man in a pointed, green hat. To either side of him, a bird yeoman, and confronting him were a sparrow with a crown and sword and a heinous looking beak of a bird in robes.

“Oh my God, he’s real,” I said, in reference to the South Park-like Sparrow Prince.

“Of course, he is,” Hwang responded. “Why wouldn’t he be?”

“Nevermind.” I had no time to explain a cartoon to a talking fox.

The Sparrow Prince was orating fiercely, outlining the charges against Thed in perfectly cadenced Korean. The robed buzzard-pelican-thing nodded at the accusations listed. I thought I heard the word “cannibalism” mentioned in conjunction with “jaksul”.

“So, what’s the plan?” Hwang asked.

“Leave this to me,” Robert Fortune said, clearing his throat. “My fellow avian citizens!”

The interruption was met with alarmed squawks and siren calls. Fortune did his darnedest to academically explain the linguistic misunderstanding made by the Sparrow Prince and his ilk. The lecture was welcomed with deaf ears and deafening screeches. Hwang was right; birds were idiots.

“He’s dying out there,” I cringed. “Well…more than usual.”

Hwang nodded in agreement. “Zombies are horrible at speeches. Soul of the voice is the first thing to go with undying. “

“I guess I’ll have to give it a g-“

“No!” the yellow fox waved me back. “As a human, you’d be mauled on sight. I’ve got this.”

“But ho-“

“Just watch,” Hwang interrupted again, donning sunglasses.

“Oh no,” I said.

“Oh yes,” he said back, bearing a toothy grin.

The multi-tailed fox leapt into the air and landed right in front of the Sparrow Prince. The bird squawked something akin to gibberish. Hwang – in turn – held up a hand to the sparrow’s beak and said one thing. One thing that I had hoped he wouldn’t say.

“Oppan Gamnong Style!” the fox shouted. Electrosynth music blared to accompany his battle-cry.

Hwang had actually done it – took a well-known pop song (and Internet meme) and turned it into a tea pun. If I hadn’t been so embarrassed by it, I would’ve teared up at the ingenuity. The little trickster-fox trotted his way around the amphitheater, and the birds frenzied with him – enraptured by the retardedly addictive song. Fortune and I grabbed the chained gnome while the birds were distracted.

“Yet another adventure that ends in song, eh?” Thed commented dryly.

“Shut up,” Fortune said with exasperation. The poor zombie had been out of sorts this entire debacle. I guess being caged did that to the undead. Who knew?

As we made our way out of the bird tribunal, I looked back at the commotion. I briefly made eye contact with the fox – various chirping flyers swarmed around him. He smiled and winked before his form was enveloped by the fog of feathers.

I hesitated…then left.

Sacrifice by tea…and dance, was my final thought before leaving the “birdemic” behind.

Acknowledgments:

Special thanks to Hankook Tea for providing the samples for this write-up. To purchase their wares, go HERE.

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