A few months ago – as some of you have undoubtedly seen – I received samples from What-Cha. Many of them were from Russian tea estates in Krasnodar krai, specifically the Dagomys region near Sochi City. Yeah, the place where the Winter Olympics were held two years ago. I’ve written about Russian teas rather extensively in the last couple of years, but I had yet to do a profile on one specific garden.
What-Cha’s owner, Alistair Rea, sort of nudged me to sample a couple of black teas from the so-called “Solohaul Tea Estate”. As with any tea company or garden, there was very little information available online. And unless I somehow managed to become fluent in Russian (and the Cyrillic alphabet), that wasn’t about to change anytime, soon.
Alistair, however – in his usual, resourceful way – did find an article about the garden, complete with lovely pictures . . . one of which I mooched.
The only interest I’ve ever taken in food preparation is, well, how to eat it. That is where my exploration of the culinary arts begins and often ends. Beyond the making of an epic sammich (yes, sammich, not sandwich), my ability to cook, bake, and . . . just generally follow instructions of any kind falters.
What does one expect from a guy who screwed up Easy Mac? Twice. In one session.
I highlight all of this to illustrate that I am the most unqualified candidate for food-related events, such as the one I attended on Saturday.
Smith Teamaker had booked a cook book author for a demonstration at their HQ. The author in question was Annelies Zijderveld, and her new book was Steeped: Recipes Infused with Tea. As the title suggests, the focus was on how to use tea in a culinary capacity. (Y’know, besides just sprinkling kitchen-grade matcha on everything and calling it a tea recipe.)
Tea MC Tiff, Smith’s social media guru-ess, sent me an invitation to the demo a couple of months back. Initially, I had to decline because of my dodgy weekend work schedule. However, by some stroke of foodie fate, I ended up with the day off. I planned my day around the event accordingly, “hired” the lovely M. Tepper to photograph the proceedings, and the mission was a “go”.
I honestly didn’t know what to expect, having never attended a cooking demonstration before. A part of my mind was picturing Julia Child caked in green tea powder. That non sequitur image was dispelled upon entering Smith’s boardroom. Tiff expertly corralled us press folk, and took us to the back kitchen.
Annelies and her assistant-du-jour were aproned and bustling.
There were tea and foodstuffs everywhere. My tummy growled in both frustration and delight. I hadn’t eaten lunch, yet. Said stomach reminded me quite loudly. But back to the book . . .
Annelies’s inspiration for writing Steeped came during her time working for a tea company. Yes, she actually had tea industry experience. One day, while working on something menial, she grabbed a gyokuro leaf and started chewing on it. She liked the taste so much, she figured, why not a cook book?! Stranger inspirations have happened. I once plotted an epic space battle in the shower – sound effects and all.
Participants were first asked to indulge in a tea tasting.
Bowls of Long Jing, Roobios, Lord Bergamot, Keemun Hao Ya, Masala Chai, and ceremonial grade matcha lay in front of us. I was surprised at the last one. Usually, in regards to cooking, culinary grade matcha was utilized for recipes – mainly for bulk amount and cost effectiveness. I was a bit elated by this high-brow change.
Palates primed, Annelies then guided us through several ways to use the teas in various recipes. Many called for using a simple coffee grinder to pulverize loose tea leaves into a course (but not matcha fine) powder. Roobios was utilized in a butter recipe that was simply divine – with a capital diva! Long Jing was, quite surprisingly, put to good use as part of a furikake seasoning for popcorn. Keemun was paired with salt for a white bean walnut spread. Masala Chai was used for nifty li’l cupcake thingies. And good ol’ matcha was paired with coconut to form . . . something. (I forgot the name of it. Wasn’t a fan.)
But my favorite . . . oh dear lord . . . my favorite . . .
F**king Earl Grey yogurt!!!
Holy bergamot balls this was good. And the best part, the recipe was easy. Put simply, it was dunking Earl Grey (in a filter bag or sachet) in yogurt, repeatedly, for three days, and stirring. Even I couldn’t screw that up. The results were astounding. In plain yogurt, the bergamot notes were subtle and sweet, but still there.
The demo ended with an opportunity to purchase the book and mingle a bit with the authoress. By the end of the two-hour event, I was full and quite caffeinated. Lost track of my appetite. As a parting gift from Smith’s, we were each given a tea “starter kit” to try some of the recipes at home.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
At 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**kingbandsaw!
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:
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.
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.
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”
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…”
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.
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.)
The art of tea blending is one that has always eluded me. I know of people that consider themselves experts in the field, but I often wondered how much skill it really took to create a blend. Playing with different herbs and teas wasn’t a new thing to me. I did it all the time at home to varying degrees of success and failure. The one I had yet to try to mimic was English Breakfast.
I read somewhere that there was no set recipe for English Breakfast. Typically, there was an Assam base, and other like-flavored burly black teas rounded it out. Sometimes they included low-altitude Ceylon or earthy Yunnan Dian Hong. But I found a snippet that mentioned a truly good blend was done with equal parts Assam and Keemun. Seemed easy enough.
At a par”tea” thrown by a friend of mine, I decided to demonstrate the ease of English Breakfast blending. I went up to the host and said, “Wanna see how easy blending is?”
He nodded slowly.
I took a helping of Keemun Gongfu and another of Rani estate Assam, put them in a bag together and shook it vigorously.
“There,” I said. “I just blended.”
My friend sniffed the contents of the bag. “That smells awful.”
I cocked an eyebrow, whiffed…and came up with little discernible aroma.
Perhaps I needed to rethink my approach. When I got home I looked through my stash of teas to see what would work for a second English try-out. I figured that both ingredients had to have a similar aromatic and visual profile. As luck would have it, I was in possession of a very tippy Keemun Mao Feng as well as some gold-tipped Assam from Glenburn’s Khongea estate. Both had a similar malty profile – albeit the Keemun was sweeter.
The results were…well…how about I just show you.
Now that I’ve been (understandably) exiled to my room, I can reflect upon it. The liquor brewed as I expected it would, very crimson-to-copper. The aroma had the subtlety of a bitter battering ram – very dry on the nostrils followed by something bordering on malt. To the taste, it was extremely tannic on the forefront but eventually settled nicely into a malty echo.
Verdict: If I’m in a pinch, it’s good to know I can shake up something drinkable. As to the art of blending itself…I’ll leave that to the professionals. The ingredients I used were of exceptional quality on their own, but I had little regard for how to portion them correctly. Clearly, I have a lot to learn.
Credits and Acknowledgements
Directed and Edited by:
Robert Norman (my brother). Without his help, I wouldn’t have been able to put together this little “tutorial” video. Sometimes living with a film grad is useful.
My mother is an idea gal – always has been. The part that’s most frustrating – especially for me, the eldest of her brood – is that she is right 90% of the time. I think she missed her calling as the head of a newspaper, the magnate of an advertising agency or the moderator for a think tank. Her braingems should be bottled and sold on the black market for six figures. I say this because…well…she’s the reason this entry exists.
One phrase from her, just one phrase: “You should do movie reviews with tea.”
At first I scoffed at the idea, but then I tossed it around in my head (over a cup of tea). I thought back to the last few summer movies I’d seen, mulled over my opinions but also what teas I felt like drinking after them. Surprisingly, finding matches didn’t take that long.
Here are my thoughts:
I was not excited for this movie at all when I first saw the trailer. It resembled Flash Gordon by way of Iron Man – cheesy but visceral. The choice for director also made my brow furrow. What did Kenneth Branagh know about directing a comic book movie?! Granted, he could easily pull off “EPIC!” if he had, too…but a Space Viking movie? Secondly, it was Thor. I don’t know anyone that cares about the wing-helmeted thunder god.
What gave me some measure of hope was the writer who penned the script. I was already a fan of J. Michael Straczynski from his five-year magnum opus, Babylon 5. He also had extensive experience as a comic book writer. If anyone could make the foundation translate to cinema, he could. And, boy, did he.
The combination of tongue-in-cheek, fish-outta-water, and Shakespearean posturing made this one of the most entertaining trips to the multiplex in some time. Marvel really knows how to dial up the “FUN” factor for an intro to summer. In hindsight, nothing much appeared to happen, but I look back on it fondly.
Tea Match: “Golden-Tipped Assam”
Assams tend to be thick, malty teas usually used as the base for wake-up breakfast blends. Tippier Assams – I’ve found – possess a honey-like texture to them, similar to a Golden Yunnan. That smooth sweetness along with the burly malt bite are a good compliment to a movie featuring a golden-haired, muscle-bound god with a ridiculously large hammer.
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
The first Pirates of the Caribbean did the impossible; it was a well-crafted and witty movie inspired by a theme-park ride and single-handedly brought back the swashbuckler. To that, I say, “Bravo.” Unfortunately, that movie had siblings. Snot-nosed, whiny, fat, bloated siblings. The two follow-ups were a complete and utter mess. They were well executed, special effects were top-notch, but the story (or what passed for one) was pure seagull splatter. I was not looking forward to a fourth outing.
On a whim, I caught a late showing of On Stranger Tides and found myself…not hating it. Oh, it was still as drivel-ish as her two predecessors, it looked cheaper than it was, and making Cap’n Jack Sparrow a protagonist was a horrible idea, but it at least tried to match the medium scale and old-school feel of the first one. I won’t see it again, but it didn’t leave a poor taste in my mouth.
Tea Match: “Kombucha”
No, I don’t mean the bacterially-cultured “mushroom tea”. Kombu is the Japanese word for “kelp or seaweed”. I personally haven’t had it, but I’ve eaten the key ingredient. Kelp has a very sweetly vegetal, salty profile, and I assume the same could be said for its infused namesake. Unfortunately, it shares the name with another “tea” that utilizes steeped bacteria…and tastes like iced vinegar. Seeing a fourth Pirates movie was exactly like that name/flavor confusion – a well-meaning but unfortunately-named oddity.
Kung Fu Panda 2
The first Kung Fu Panda was lightning in a f**king bottle. It succeeded with what it set out to do – tell a story of a kung fu fanboy given the opportunity to be martial arts legend. That premise alone is every chop-socky geek’s wet dream. The fact that it also stayed true to the trappings of the martial arts genre helped it to transcend its Dreamworks label. Thankfully, it was also successful with mainstream audiences. (It starred a panda; this was a given.)
A sequel was inevitable, and Dreamworks was hit-or-miss with animated follow-ups. I hoped they’d learned their lesson from the last three Shrek movies. In my opinion, they succeeded. KP2 continues where its predecessor left off and explores its protagonist’s background – one that is steeped in prophecy and folklore. I even got a little man-teary towards the end, a good sign.
Tea Match: “Keemun Hao Ya B (with cream and sugar)”
Keemun is a Chinese black (or “red”) tea with an interesting flavor profile. It is almost as malty as an Assam, but also possesses shades of sweetness and smokiness. If done right, it brews to a bold crimson and – when sipped slowly – imparts its nuances gradually. Hoa Ya is a grade known for its silver tippy buds and delicate delivery. The “B” sub-variety tends to be a tad more rough around the edges – as is Kung Fu Panda 2 in comparison to its predecessor.But it takes cream and sugar well, making it more palatable for the kiddies.
X-Men: First Class
Like the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, X-Men suffered from a severe case of Sh**ty-Sequelitis. Well, third time’s a charm, according to the Powers That Be. However, to justify the existence of yet another prequel after the disastrous Wolverine movie, some major liberties had to be taken. In a brilliant move, they adopted a typical comic book motif to do this. They ret-conned and pretended the last two X-movies never existed.
For the most part, the maneuver paid off. While none of the secondary ensemble characters do much in the movie other than look badass or attractive, the dynamic between a young, brash Charles Xavier and a hot-headed (but suave) Erik Lensherr – soon-to-be Professor X and Magneto, respectively – is surprisingly well-crafted. There are plot-holes abound, special effects misfires, and some dreadful acting from a certain blonde that makes Keanu look nuanced. All said, it holds up well. Time will tell if it’s as memorable as the first two.
Tea Match: “English Breakfast (with a blended Keemun/Assam base)”
There is no set recipe for English Breakfast; the only adherence that must be made is to its strength. The blend should zing! you awake in a matter of sips. Tasting good is optional. I’ve heard some schools of thought state that Keemun is the preferred foundation, while others say Assam. What is agreed upon is that it must have an ensemble of ingredients that jolt the drinker upright. EB does this, and so does the new X.
“MOAR LENSFLARE!!!”…seems to be the battle-cry of writer-director-producer-mindf**ker, J.J. Abrams. I’m not sure when this cinematographic calling card began, but it was most apparent in his reboot of the Star Trek franchise. In Super 8, he tones the flare down a bit but keeps just enough to give the movie a retro feel – as was his intention. This pays homage to the Steven Spielberg sci-fi flicks he grew up with and it shows.
All the ingredients are there: Unseen monster from space? Check. Comedy relief in the form of a high-voiced fat kid? Check.Shadowy military conspiracy? Check. Coming of age romance? Check. Mix and serve. If it had one major flaw – and it’s a doozie – it’s that the movie has no real identity. The strongest parts were the Spielbergian/kiddie character scenes. Everything else seemed “meh” by comparison. This could’ve been a true 80s sci-fi send-up if it weren’t so schizophrenic.
Tea Match: “Matcha-Iri Genmaicha”
I love matcha (Japanese powdered tea), but I loathe genmaicha (Japanese “poor man’s” tea…blended with rice).Put the two together, and you have something that I begrudgingly enjoy. The nuttiness of the rice is downplayed by the kelp-like sweetness of the matcha. The blend is even better if the green tea base is a higher-grade sencha rather than crude bancha. This is as conflicted a blend as the elements of Super 8 are. Parts work, parts don’t. The experience is watchable/drinkable, pretty to look at, but – in the end – forgettable.
To conclude, I had way too much fun doing this. My mother’s brain wins again. The summer’s still young, and I can’t wait to ponder what brews up well with other blockbusters. I wonder if I could sneak a teapot into the theater. Hrm. Probably a subject for another blog.