Steep Stories

of the Lazy Literatus

Tag: Joy’s Teaspoon

Japanese Style Green Tea . . . From Australia

Australian Tea Week, Day 3: “Japanese Style Green Tea . . . From Australia”

I received the subject of today’s blog from this fingergun-toting, doughnut-destroying badass.

Naomi in her natural habitat . . . the gym.

This is Naomi Rosen; no, she’s not Australian. But she could certainly pass for one. She’s the purveyor of Joy’s Teaspoon. Aside from selling some really good teas, she could also probably take down a bear singlehandedly . . . and show more love in her left pinkie . . . while still restraining said bear. This last summer, she was gracious enough to let me crash for a few nights while attending World Tea Expo. On my last day with her, she decided to part ways with some of these lovelies.

Japanese style green tea. From Australia.

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Niu-Gu, FaceTubes, and Matcha Wrestling

A month ago, during a tea-‘n-matcha-fueled dinner pairing, a university educator asked me this:

“What do you do?”

“I’m just a tea blogger,” I replied.

She sort of tilted her head, confusedly—like a Saint Bernard.

saint bernard

Then asked, “Why?”

The follow-up question caught me off-guard. I was both hurt and offended by it. Not because she meant it as a slight (it wasn’t and she didn’t), but more because . . . I had no clue how to answer that question.

But I’m getting ahead of myself . . . let’s get back to that tea pairing I mentioned at the beginning.

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Tea-Fueled Las Vegas Tourism

I needed a vacation.

rough week

And I needed it as soon as possible.

That was probably why—when I planned it—I decided to leave for Las Vegas four days earlier than I really needed to. The original intent was to go down just for the days of World Tea Expo. Well, I decided to tack on a few additional vacation days to that. And Naomi “Joy’s Teaspoon” Rosen was to put me up (and put up with me) for those extra days.

What occurred could best (and simply) be described as “tea-fueled tourism”.

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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.

“What Happens at Expo…” – A Vegas Tea Party, Day 2

For Day 1, go HERE.

I’ll be honest, I was scared s**tless.

Expo Floor

World Tea Expo

Never in my life had I participated in something so…well…grand. The Las Vegas Convention Center was huge, and just peeking through the doors almost made me soil myself. It was like a Comic Con but for tea. I was so stunned by the sheer scale of it all that I nearly forgot to acquire my press pass.

Oh yes, that. I forgot to mention that. This was my first convention/expo/tradeshow/thingy as a member of the press. I picked it up at the World Tea Media press booth and just…stared at the thing.

Press Pass

For what felt like forever. Think Charlie when he found his golden ticket; that was me for a solid minute. Once I came to, I ventured onto the Expo proper, took it all in…

…and ran into people I knew from Portland.

Me, Chuck 'n Heather - The Jasmine Pearl Tea Merchants

Me, Chuck ‘n Heather – The Jasmine Pearl Tea Merchants

That immediately put me at ease. After that chance meet-up, I hit the Expo floor like a china shop-hungry rhino. My four-hour exploration of the vendor booths was a blur. However, amidst my frenzy, I can remember a few highlights. There were three booths specifically that I had to hit. Why? They were folks I corresponded with prior. And they were…

AdventureTea

I actually have an odd history with the co-owner of this outfit. We met at random in Portland prior to Expo. His start-up’s tea focus was the same as my blogging shtick – odd teas from odd growing regions, hence the “Adventure” in the title. Plus, they already earned my favor by being a seller of Greek Mountain tea, always a plus. I sampled everything they had on hand – including an exquisite Himalayan oolong.

Himalayan OolongThey also had the most distinctly original booth of all the participants at Expo, even going as far as to don safari attire. Way to commit, guys! My female compatriots also took to calling them the “hottie” booth…for whatever reason, I could only guess.

AdventureTea

Something about thermal underwear maybe? I dunno. Women are beyond me.

Ahem.

And speaking of Himalayan oolong.

Nepali Tea Traders

I’ve already written about this family-run outfit twice – once for a Nepalese oolong (with the word “Yeti” in the title), and once for a pu-erh. You heard right. I finally got to shake hands with Maggie Le Beau, the owner of the op who I corresponded with. And, of course, sampled some wonderful Himalayan black and white teas.

IMAG0855

Future write-ups are…uh…in the future.

Norbu Tea

Greg (I can’t remember his last name) was a guy I’d been meaning to track down for a while. I’d reviewed several of his teas, and had spoken to him about meeting at Expo. One problem: His booth wasn’t even listed. Well, not entirely true. He was there in a sideline capacity, promoting the Taiwanese family of farmers that grew and processed his tea.

The Tsou-Vayiyana Alishan High Mountain Tea brand. So much easier to pronounce than Norbu. If I hadn’t taken to Twitter prior to searching, I wouldn’t have found it.

Greg Norbu

Sarcasm aside. It was truly a pleasure to finally meet him in person and to sample some truly wonderful Ali Shan teas. And the best part? The ones featured weren’t oolongs, but rather a black tea and white tea. Extremely rare. Truly a taste-tester’s wet dream.

IMAG0842

The Taiwanese family were also incredibly gracious.

Great seeing you, Greg. Next time, don’t stay so hidden. Wear a tu-tu or something.

The Charleston Tea Plantation

Mere moments after leaving the Tsou-Vayiyana booth, I saw it. In all its glory was the proto-form for American teas everywhere. A couple of years prior, I had the chance of sampling CTP’s American Classic and Governor’s Gray. Both were good. However, what they had on display trumped both of those by several spades. Their 2013 single estate first flush American Classic was available for tasting, and it…was…

IMAG0854

Sigh.

Have you ever wondered how angels taste? Or patriotism?

Something like that.

American tea. F**k yeah.

*****

In my frenzied wanderings, I received a text from Mrs. Joy’s Teaspoon herself. She mentioned that Thomas Shu was going to do an oolong baking demonstration in roughly a half-hour. I poked around a little bit to kill time, tasted some more teas, got lost in the reverie…until I realized I was running ten minutes late. Typical of me.

I cut into the giant Taiwanese tea booth, issued several kowtows and apologies, then took a seat. As a result of my less-than-inconspicuous entrance, Thomas Shu zeroed in on me. After showing us how the baking process worked, he guided us through comparing the baked and unbaked versions of an amber oolong.

Then he called me up to give my thoughts.

Me and Thomas Shu

Me and Thomas Shu

You know that feeling you used to get when your name was called while you were sleeping in class. The jolt I had was something like that. I got up nervously, took the microphone, and gave my thoughts. In the interim, Mrs. Joy’s Teaspoon snapped this still.

BAMF!

I sat back down, somewhat timidly. A woman across the table reassured me that I came across fine. I’m not sure exactly what I said in return, but I think it went something like this:

Cage match

She recoiled in horror.

Yep, still got it.

*****

While participating in the Shu-led oolong tasting, I caught a tall sight out of the corner of my eye. A tall man, actually, in a black cowboy hat – strolling by contently. He stuck out quite awesomely. So much so, that I immediately recognized him. T’was Gary of Red Lodge Tea/Tea With Gary fame – a vendor and fellow blogger. I immediately ducked out of the booth.

We had discussed bumping into each other on the Expo floor, but I never thought it’d actually happen. I grilled him about his Lapsang-Earl Grey blend, and he related the entire story. Perhaps someday, I’ll reveal it to you, if he’ll let me. But only if I have permission.

IMAG0906

Tall Montanan Is Tall

*****

Once I was done making an absolute arse of myself on the Expo floor, the evening brought about my main excuse for coming to Vegas in the first place – The Tea Bloggers Roundtable.

Image mooched from TeawithGary.com

Image mooched from TeawithGary.com

It was an informal panel, but I was just stoked to be one of the panelists. The main subject we covered was, well, blogging about tea. Our missteps, our advice, our anecdotes. I thought it turned out rather well, and the audience turnout was better than I’d hoped.

Two dynamics occurred:

(1)    It was established that Michael J. Coffey and Robert “The Devotea” Godden were the “Abbot & Costello” of World Tea Expo.

Tea Geek and The Devotea. Tickets available.

Tea Geek and The Devotea. Tickets available.

(2)    It was also established that Chris Giddings and I were the “Beavis & Butthead” of World Tea Expo.

Beavis & Butthead Do Tea

“Beavis & Butthead Do Tea” – Pic mooched from An Int’l Tea Moment

Such is life.

*****

Following the bloggers panel, The Devotea looked at me and said, “Are you going to the ITCC cupping?”

“I wasn’t invited,” I replied.

“I’m inviting you, let’s go.”

And off we went.

The moment I stepped through the doors, I saw a familiar face. He was an Indian man with a perma-smile on his face. The formal thing to do would’ve been to go up, introduce myself, and start a conversation. Um…that’s not what I did.

The moment I saw him, I shouted – practically at the top of my lungs, “RAJIV!!!

Me and Rajiv Lochan

Me and Rajiv Lochan

Par for course for my social skills.

You see, I’d wanted to meet the director of the Doke Tea  estate and Lochan Tea for well over two years.  And there he was, front and center. Luckily, he recognized me. Or else that would’ve been awkward.

*****

After all the “teavents” drew to a close, a group of us bloggers went out for dinner to a place called Firefly. It didn’t take me long before I started humming the theme song to a long-gone space-western TV show. Rachel “I Heart Teas” Carter told me to stop, citing that it made her sad. I did so…once I couldn’t remember the rest of the lyrics.

As we were all deciding what to eat, we heard the distinct sound of a smart phone camera over our heads.

Candid

Tea with Gary stood over us, phone in hand, and said, “What happens in Vegas stays on Facebook.” The reaction from us was pure guffaw. How did a six-foot-something Montanan sneak up on us like that?!

Answer: Ninja training.

Without exaggeration, this was the best day of my life. And the event wasn’t even half-done.

To be continued…

The Infusiast’s Book Launch and a Meeting of Beasts – A Vegas Tea Party, Day 1

Brace yourself, this is a three-parter. Maybe four. Depends on if I get the information all organized. Liking herding cats, it is. Kittens, actually. Hyper ones.

First and foremost, I need to get a few acknowledgements out of the way. Planning for this World Tea Expo trip has been nothing short of murder. Four fantastic folks made it as smooth as possible. My mother spotted for the plane ticket to Vegas as an early “birthristmas” present, and my dad helped put spending money in my pocket after a mutually beneficial business transaction. I’ve written about both occurrences.

The other two, I have not written about. Naomi Rosen (aka Joy’s Teaspoon) was gracious enough to put me up for the five days I was in Vegas. That kind gesture alone saved me hundreds. Second is Jo Johnson (A Gift of Tea), who acted as a mentor as I took it all in when I needed it. She kept me apprised of the expo goings-on so that I could maximize my experience. Both went completely out of their way for a schmo they’d never met in real life. Gratitude abound.

And now for a picture of the Rosens’ Basset Hound sitting on my feet.

Teej

With that out of the way, on with the show.

The Meeting of Beasts

I didn’t arrive on the day of World Tea Expo proper, but rather a couple of days before. My “official” reason was to help Joy’s Teaspoon out with the U.S. book launch of The Infusiast: Diatribes of the Devotea by Robert Godden. However, my ulterior motive was to finally meet the writer for the first time and trade barbs. Oh, and buy his book. Gotta show support and all that.

The wacky Aussie and I had e-known each other for over three years. We even (very occasionally) collaborated on a “manly tea” blog – The Beasts of Brewdom. This was to be the first meeting of the minds.

Lord and The Lady Devotea arrived – not by chariot, as one would expect – but by humble Vegas cab. The moment I saw the fedora’d, suit-clad Aussie, I said: “We don’t serve your kind here!” With a smile, of course. Dunno how well that joke translates Down Under.

And the Universe didn't explode.

And the Universe didn’t explode.

He immediately grasped me in a hug. Like we were old friends. And technically, we were.

The rest of the evening consisted of him regaling tales of teashop ownership and anecdotes from his book, while his captive (of their own free will) audience drank some of his blends – Lord Petersham and Rose Blush, respectively.

Said book launch and tea party provided another delight – chance meet-ups with The Tea Stylist’s Linda Gaylard, Teaity’s/Tea Guy’s Chris Giddings, and the aforementioned (and striking) Jo Johnson.

(Left to Right) Me, Chris Giddings, Jo Johnson, and Lady Devotea

(Left to Right) Me, Chris Giddings, Jo Johnson, and Lady Devotea

My favorite exchanges:

The Devotea: “Oh, Geoff. I have a present for your Mum. Because I give her such a hard time on Facebook.”

…And…

Jo: [to me] “You’re going to the tea and beer pairing…”

Me: “I dunno. It’s a hot commodity, plus I’m not sure I can afford it.”

Jo: “That wasn’t a question. You’re going. It’s already been arranged.”

Me: [pause followed by grin] “Okay, then.”

The book launch ended with as much fanfare as it had begun. Teaity Chris and I opted to do Joy’s Teaspoon a favor and pick up her cousin, Lady Earl Steeper. Thus completing our unintentional Vegas Tea Party quartet. Once that task was done, we retired to Chez Joy for a generous dose of a card game called…well…Cards Against Humanity. Think Apples to Apples, only sick and wrong.

We were up until 2AM.

And this was only Day 1.

IMAG0820

To be continued…

Flavored of the Week

cuppa fruitI love Sundays.

It’s usually my day off from the perpetual work grind, and – by some de facto decision – my DRINK TEA ALL DAY!…uh…day. By happenstance, it is also the day when Michael “Tea Geek” Coffey hosts his weekly Google+ Hangout dubbed “Tea Salon”. The hour-long online discussion is often the highlight of my week – the one time I can geek out on all things tea (and un-tea-related) with like-minded cuppa-folks. This Sunday in particular, we discussed Yunnan Dian Hong (black tea), and – as per usual – the conversation sidetracked often.

I mean, there’s only so much one can say about Yunnan black tea. It’s black tea. It’s from Yunnan. Next topic. But the counter-discussions toward the end were what fascinated me the most. The subject segued to supply-and-demand, and a tea vendor’s adaptability to the market. We all lamented and commented on the state of tea consumption in the United States. Consensus? There seems to be a growing emphasis on flavored tea concoctions rather than orthodox teas (i.e. single-source, unfettered offerings from specific regions/varietals).

The subject came up because there was an event – if it can be called that – known as the “Pu-erh Bubble” that occurred in the first decade of the 21st century. For a shining moment, people took a zealous interest in aged teas from Yunnan, and the regions they stemmed from. That splintered into interests in other orthodox teas as well, particularly oolongs from Taiwan and other parts of China.

Said pu-erh bubble, however, burst somehow in 2008, which I find ironic. Why? Because that was the time when I became a tea reviewer and started taking an interest in orthodox teas. One of the first companies I ever reviewed sourced the first Himalayan-grown black I ever had. They were also the company that introduced me to one of my favorite herbal infusions – Greek Mountain. As the years went by, though, their direction and philosophy changed. Slowly but surely, they placed more emphasis on their flavored blends.flavored cat

Let me iterate that I’m not against blends. Some of the best teas I’ve tried have been blends – some even flavored ones. I need not look any further than The Devotea’s Lord Petersham or Joy’s Teaspoon Lemon Zest (a rooibos monstrosity of awesomeness) as key examples. What I was irked by was the primary focus being placed on these. Orthodoxy was slowly taking a backseat with a lot of vendors.

I won’t name names, but one of my favorite local haunts in N.E. Portland – one I visited frequently – scaled down their oolong and pu-erh lines in favor of flavored blends. While I liked a majority of them, I was sorry to see some of those oolongs go the way of the dodo bird. Again, I reiterate, I love their blends, and I still visit for their awesome Earl Grey, but I loved their orthodox stuff more.

During the Tea Salon discussion, though, the ever-reliable (and folliclely blessed) Jo Johnson brought up an interesting point. I shall paraphrase what she said slightly, “So what if the U.S. market aims toward flavored teas?! That means more for us!”

derpAnd she nailed it.

We orthodox tea drinkers are a niche market; we are not what the average tea vendor aims for when seeking profit. However, there are those that do source their teas from single estates and specific regions. They’ve tailored their business plans to meet that need. Leaving the normal, flavored tea drinker to their generalist sellers.

To them, I say, “Have at it.”

The niche market isn’t going away, it’s just becoming more secular. We don’t want everyone drinking up all of our orthodox stores. That would cause a price hike, and I – for one – can’t afford a damn scaled-up Golden Needle or single estate Darjeeling. The less of a market there is for those, the more there is for me…and for a whole lot less.

So, to the undiscerning tea drinkers out there…drink up. Keeping consuming your Maple Cheesecake Derpdeederp. I salute you. Because of you, there will be more Sikkim Temi for me. My cup clanks (and gives thanks) to thee.

laughing tea snob

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