Steep Stories

of the Lazy Literatus

Tag: Tea For Me Please Page 1 of 2

Attack of the Adorable Tea Vloggers

One of the biggest challenges to tea blogger productivity . . . is the Internet.

Yes, all of it.

While social media is the biggest time-suck—keeping me away from what little writery discipline I possess—YouTube is a close second. My addiction to that streaming site is as old as my tea habit. However, there weren’t many teacentric vloggers (video bloggers) on it.

Sure, some companies posted tutorials, but there were few (if any) tea nuts who posted their own appreciative content. For the longest time, that role was filled by Natasha “The [Martial] Artist Formerly Known as Snooty Tea Person” Nesic. (I’ve . . . written of my respect for her output at length.) Alas, she moved on to bigger and better things, and there was nothing to fill the Snooty-sized hole in the heart of YouTube.

Well, apparently, I hadn’t looked hard enough. Thanks to tea friend, Nicole “Tea For Me Please” Martin, my eyes were recently opened to a tea vlogger world I never knew existed. And the most surprising thing? They’re all . . . freakin’ adorable!

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A Tiny Bit of Canadian Oolong in a Tiny Gaiwan

In 2003, husband and wife team—Victor Vesely and Margit Nelleman—purchased an old cattle and horse farm near the small town of Westholme. It was located in the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. Their first inspiration was to create an “Artfarm”, where they could grow herbs and produce, as well as sell some of Margit’s handmade pottery wares. In 2010, after hosting various events and attending others, they decided on a new focus. They would turn their tiny corner of Vancouver Island into Canada’s first tea farm.

Image owned by Westholme Tea Farm

Image owned by Westholme Tea Farm

And I’ve been stalking monitoring their progress ever since.

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Green Coffee and Me

NaNoTeaMo, Day 7: “Green Coffee and Me”

This post is going to be a bit heretical, but please bear with me. Yes, this is still a tea blog. And, yes, this entry will still have something to do with tea. Even if the focus is on . . .

green coffee beans

Green coffee.

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Bug Bites, Tea Huts, and Sipping Wisdom

Early on in my tea writing “career”, there was one name that always popped up – Lindsey Goodwin. She was one of the tea writers on the scene, managed her own consultation website, and was the resident caffeine guru for About.com.

And at one point in time, she was also a Portlander. As one might imagine, that meant her name came up in regular, real-life conversation as well. “You haven’t met Lindsey?” “Oh, you really should talk to Lindsey!” Referencing her like she was a one-woman, all-knowing, tea drunk Grateful Dead concert.

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Eventually, I did reach out to Lindsey about three(-or-so) years ago to do an interview for my personal website. And then . . . I completely flaked on it. Partly out of complete shyness, and because . . . well . . . it’s me. However, by the time I mustered the gumption to touch bases again, she’d fallen completely off the tea grid.

There were whispers throughout the tea community that she was traveling around the world, doing research for a forthcoming book. Others said she was spotted in Taiwan, helping someone start up a teashop. There was no concrete evidence to corroborate any of these mythical claims. For all I knew, she found the one gateway to Narnia.

Then a funny thing happened.

In June of 2014, I received an e-mail from her wondering if I wanted a special delivery of Global Tea Hut’s magazine and tea. So, that was where she’d ended up! I knew next to nothing about the operation. The only bits of information I had were gleaned from fellow tea blogess – Nicole, Tea For Me Please – who described them as her “favorite tea hippie commune”.

Mi Xiang prep

Further digging turned up some fascinating information. Apparently, they were the “global” arm of an actual place in Miaoli, Taiwan called The Tea Sage Hut. And it was just as Nicole had described – a commune full of tea drinkers. That is probably over-simplifying their mission. Their primary goal was to spread knowledge and appreciation of “the Leaf” in an almost Taoist/Zen-ish way.

It was all beyond me.

What I could understand, though, was their global subscription service. That mission statement was simpler to define. And brilliant. As far as I knew, no one was putting out a monthly tea magazine that also included a thematically-linked tea with it. The June issue was centered around – not one, but two – teas of the same name; Mi Xiang, or “Honey Orchid”. One version was an oolong, and the other was a red (black) tea.

It was part of a sub-class of organic teas often jokingly referred to as “bug-bitten” teas. Due to a lack of pesticide use, tea plants were exposed to katydid onslaughts. As the little leafhoppers bit the leaves, a chemical change occurred to the leaf itself, resulting in a coating that imparted a honey-like taste. Eastern Beauty was the most common tea of this sub-category.

These particular Mi Xiangs were created by a gardener referred to as “Mr Xie”, located in Ming Jian, Nantou County, Taiwan. He was a third generation farmer. For him, the ideal picking time for bug-bitten tea leaves was between June and August.

Global Tea Hut covered his story in 2012 and revisited it in their June issue. His farming techniques matched their mission statement of promoting organic and sustainable tea growing practices. The fact that they featured two of his teas for comparison matched with my mission statement: Geeking out.

The difference between the two teas was obvious just from sight alone. The leaves for the “red” tea were . . . well . . . redder, at least in the stems. The leaves for the oolong were an alternating green and purple – like most mid-oxidized, ball-fisted oolongs. As for shape, both looked the same. The differences (beyond color) didn’t appear until I put my nose to the tin. The red version was noticeably sweeter and nuttier, whereas the oolong was more floral. Exactly what I thought the difference would be.

The Global Tea Hut magazine recommended simply brewing by the pot. Gongfu was suggested but not required. Given that this was a bug-bitten tea, I wanted to see what the nuances were. So, I opted for gongfu. (That and my teapot still smelled like Earl Grey from a prior brew-up.)

Mi Xiang Oolong

Three separate infusions – varying from thirty-to-forty seconds – resulted in light-green liquors and a honey-like aroma. Taste-wise, each one had a buttery introduction that transitioned quickly to straight sweetness, and ended on a white wine-like, Gewürztraminer-ish note. As expected, it was very similar to other bug-bitten oolongs I’d tried, if a little lighter on the body.

Mi Xiang Red

At the same brew times as the oolong, the red came out dark amber for each infusion. The aroma was nuttier, possibly even more mineral. On taste, the first infusion was a lot like the oolong version. But as I worked through the successive steeps, it got sweeter and deeper until I ended up tasting straight-up honey on the last.

If I were to pick a favorite…

I would have to go with the red. Taiwanese bug-bitten blacks are solid. They’re sweet, layered and popping with character. This one was no exception. It hit all the right marks on my palatial subjectivity. The oolong was great as well, but I was going through a bit of a black tea phase

Unfortunately, I wasn’t feeling any of the Tao-ish/Zen-ish stuff the magazine was talking about. That is, until I did a brew-up of the Mi Xiang red tea in a travel mug before work. I was stressed from additional responsibilities I’d taken on at my “day job”. That particular day promised to be extra difficult. By my third infusion . . . something amazing happened . . .

All of that stress just . . . washed away. Nothing mattered. Everything was finite, insignificant and trivial. That and I accomplished all of my tasks with some semblance of calm.

By sheer coincidence, around that third infusion, I received another e-mail from Lindsey Goodwin, explaining her remarkable, tea nomadic story. About how she ended up at the Tea Sage Hut, and her three-year stay there. She closed off the letter with, “Wishing wisdom with every sip.”

For a fleeting moment, I understood.

Greek Mountain and Growing Pains

Two things have been very consistent the last couple of weeks. I’ve written a lot about weird herbs lately, and I’ve been spending a lot of time at my parents’ house. I was starting to wonder if both were somehow – cosmically – connected. Proof showed itself on Saturday.

My sibling/roommate failed to tell me that our dryer was kaput. I had to learn of this morsel o’ knowledge while on the phone with my mother. Being the kind soul that she was, she offered up their dryer in case I had to do laundry. That was a given since I was one of those poor souls who worked a job that required a uniform. Weekly laundry travails were necessary.

Doing laundry at my parents’ house; I felt like a college student again.

Originally, though, my plan for the evening was to dip into a giant bushel of Greek Mountain “tea” I received from a new outfit called Klio Tea.

Heck with it, I thought. I’ll just brew it at my parents’. I packed a kettle, a cup, the Klio bag, and my clothes – all in a laundry basket – and off I went.

The good Nicole “Tea For Me Please” Martin had sent Klio Tea my way. My love for all things “Greek” and “Mountain” were common knowledge in the tea community. I first wrote about that fascinating herb back in 2010, and I’d extolled its virtues in one form or another ever since.

What was unique about Klio’s offering was the emphasis on orthodoxy. Sure, I’d had Greek Mountain before, but I honestly couldn’t tell you where it came from. This was the first outfit that was transparent about the origin and picking standards of the product they carried.

This particular batch hailed from Mount Othrys (wherever that is), and was organically sourced and unprocessed. They simply picked it, cut the stocks if necessary and packed it. What I hadn’t known this entire time was that the herb was picked fresh; no oxidation was meant to occur. Most herbs were dried before packing so that they could decoct or infuse better with water.

The freshness showed.

Upon first opening the bag at my parent’s house, the kitchen was bombarded with a scent of Mediterranean wilderness. Equal parts honey lemon and mint plumed through the air. A long time had passed since I last prepped Greek Mountain “tea”. I was oddly nostalgic for the smell.

For brewing, Klio didn’t even bother trying to explain it on their site. It’s kinda hard to describe; I should know. Instead, they did something better, and offered up this instructional video:

Their guide was “close” to my approach, but I preferred it another way. Putting a handful of herb stocks in, and boiling it for ten minutes, then decanting. No additional infusing.

Either process resulted in a yellow-to-amber liquor . . . and a kitchen that smelled like a Greek hillside. It was just as wonderful a sensation as always. I even shared the results of my labors with my mother – who was getting over a cold. (Since that’s what the herb was known for.)

finished brew

Did I like it? Answer: Does a Greek philosopher ask too many questions? Of course I bloody well liked it! It was like lathering my body in the finest oils, taking a hot bath in flowers, and being waited upon by nubile maidens from a neighboring village. All the while being spoon-fed fresh lemons from a chained cherub.

But . . . that’s not an image I would ever share with my parents.

Oh, would you look at that . . . laundry’s done.

Playing with Purple Tea before a Tandem Taiwanese Tasting

So, the events herein are from a couple of weeks ago, but the work week from Hades prevented its etching onto this holiest blog-tomes. But…here it is now. Late. As expected. As always.

Big Brass Butiki-s, Round 2: “Playing with Purple Tea before a Tandem Taiwanese Tasting”

(How’s that for a long-arse title?)

March’s Tandem Tea Tasters Googly meet-up was scheduled for the last week in March. The tea in question was to be Butiki Teas’ Taiwanese Wild Mountain Black. A fabulous tea, if I do say so. Problem was, I already used up all of my sample…for this write-up.

Originally, my plan was to use my remaining Taiwanese Assam in substitution. Then a better idea hit me. Yes, I occasionally have those. Not often, but sometimes.

There were two other teas I had to notch off for write-up purposes, and I was getting off work early enough to do a proper…uh…”analysis”. The two in question were an oolong and green tea made from the Kenyan “Purple Tea” cultivar – TRFK 306/1.

I covered this manmade tea plant strain on two separate occasions. Butiki was actually the first company I approached about trying one. Thanks to them, I was one of the first “reviewers” to cover the unique plant. Several months later, I ran into a white version of the tea. It was only natural that it’d show up in other forms eventually. And – boy-howdy – did it.

The two Butiki was a steamed green tea variant and an oolong.

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The leaves for the Steamed Purple Green looked a lot like the regular orthodox Purple Tea of Kenya, except for the leaf-rolling caveat. Yes, the leaves were about the same size as the regular Purple, but they were more – well – leafy in appearance, instead of flaky. The aroma reminded me of something between a Kabusecha and a Long Jing. If it weren’t for the dark hue to the Purple, I wouldn’t have known what I was whiffing. It was sweet, slightly vegetal, and mildly mineral-like.

The Purple Sunset Oolong, on the other hand, looked like a roasted Chinese oolong in appearance. The leaves were long, dark, and twisty – a lot like a Dan Cong or a Da Hong Pao. The aroma the leaves gave off was sweet, mildly cocoa-like, and very subtle in its earthy lean.

Brewing instructions for both – per the Butiki page – were very similar. The oolong required 170F water; the other, 180F. The Steamed Green needed about a three-minute steep; same with the oolong. This was a cake-walk.

When finished, the Steamed Green’s liquor turned – dare I say it – dark purple. The steam wafting from the cup smelled like a sencha, but with a little more body. The Purple Sunset Oolong brewed darker with a more rust-red color, and an aroma that harkened back to Dan Cong brews of yore.

Purple Duel

Left: Green Tea. Right: Oolong Tea

Tastewise, the Steamed Green was vegetal and sweet with a creamy aftertaste. The Sunset Oolong possessed a malty introduction that transitioned to a tart middle, and ended with a roasty (almost Taiwanese-like) finish. Sipping between the two was like being sandwiched between two women. Whatever the outcome, my face was happy.

As to a favorite? Gotta go with the oolong, mainly for my oolong preference these last few months. The Steamed Green was damn good, but oolong is where my heart resides at the moment. I thought about doing a combined brew, but that didn’t feel right. These were artistically done on their own separate merits.

By the time I was done dousing myself in purple goodness, 6PM rolled around, and it was time for the Tandem Google Hangout. At first, there were only three of us total – Rachel of I Heart Teas and Jo of A Gift of Tea. Regulars Darlene and Nicole were indisposed – the latter of which was saddled with WORKING AT A TEASHOP!!!

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No jealousy here…none at all.

We three marveled and reflected on the Wild Mountain Black, but also discussed other things. The prevalent subject seemed to be the feeling of “chaaaaaange” surrounding the Spring season. I had made it clear I wasn’t a fan of Spring.

In the span of a few weeks, my finances had taken an even bigger nosedive than anticipated. My attempts to look for a second job were proving difficult. (Mainly, finding one that worked around my “full-time” job.) All that rigmarole curbed plans I originally had for World Tea Expo and a book I wanted to finish.

The only thing that was going according to plan was my li’l tea poetry Tumblr.

But that was just on my end.

Everyone else seemed to be going through some time of major upheaval. I won’t go into theirs or anyone else’s. Not my place. The overall feeling we were getting was that Spring was a time of rebirth, but something was preventing the process from taking shape – whether it was our own reluctance, or constant outside influence.

Throughout, the meet-up, my phone continued disconnecting me from Google+. I’m still awe-struck that a Google site has so much difficulty on a Google phone. Then a wonderful thing happened.

Rachel asked, “What’s your address?”

I rattled it off, then asked why.

“No reason,” she said cryptically.

Moments later, my Gmail pinged me. I opened the notification and just…gaped at the screen.

“Late Christmas present,” Rachel said.

Right before we were about to close the tasting off, Nicole (Tea for Me Please) chimed in from her teashop gig – Tea Drunk in NYC. And…the conversation continued for another hour or two. That’s how these tea things work. Time is relative. And we’re all relatives here. In a way.

Following that meet-up, I worked two six-day weeks – barely had enough time to sleep, let alone write. In the interim, though, two wonderful things happened:

(1)    Rachel’s late-Christmas present arrived. It was a new webcam. No more Google/phone trouble for me! We test-drove it a few days later. Over tea, of course.

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(2)    Jo passed along a note to check out Oprah’s magazine for the subsequent month and turn to page 136. And there was her photo…looking all regal with teacup in hand.

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As I write this, I’m mentally preparing for the next work day – hopped up on caked white tea. Yep, Spring-sewn change is in the air; transitions are inevitable. But at least I’m in good company.

No matter how far.

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.

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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.

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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.

A “Potential” Story

The last two weeks were a busy time. Yes, tea was included in the list of activities, but it wasn’t the central occurrence. Instead, the most common element in everything that happened can be summed up in one word: “Potential”. I’ll try to explain…

A Teaneer Tandem Tasting

At the start of January, I “attended” yet another Tandem Tea Tasting with the girls – Jo “A Gift of Tea/Scandalous Tea” Johnson, Nicole “Tea For Me Please” Martin, Darlene “The Tea Enthusiast’s Scrapbook”/”Tea Lover’s Archive” Meyers-Perry, and Rachel “I Heart Teas” Carter. This time, it was Nicole’s turn to provide the wares for discussion. These were teas I was particularly excited about.

In Nilgiri, India there’s a new organic tea outfit called Vijayalashmi Natural Tea Farms. So new are they, that they don’t even have a website up yet – just a Facebook page, at the moment. One of the fantastic things about this outfit – and their spokesman, Teaneer Suresh – is what they’re doing to change the face of Nilgiri teas in general. The region sometimes gets a bad rep for low quality, CTC-grade bulk teas. Rarely is it considered a region of orthodox exploration – save for a few estates like Tiger Hill.

What I found fascinating about Teaneer Teas was their emphasis on other tea types besides the old Nilgiri standby – black tea. Of the four Nicole sent to us, none of them were blacks or oolongs. One was a white, one was a yellow, and two were green. A bit on the impatient side, I dug into the white tea before the tandem tasting, and found that it hit all the right marks.

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The flavor was odd – like salted grapes – but the character was very White Peony-ish with a Nilgiri lean.

During the tandem tasting, I put the Aristocrat Green Tea, Flow Green Tea and Yellow Tea back-to-back. The greens reminded me of one other Nilgiri green tea I’d tried – same kelpy taste and everything. The yellow was the real surprise. Never had I tasted a “yellow tea” outside of China that actually resembled a Huang Ya. Peppery, nutty, and vegetal only in a “cooked green beans” sorta way. This was my favorite of the four. The yellow also seemed to be the consensual favorite of the group – or from what I gathered.

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It was also (mostly) agreed upon that while Teaneer was off to a good start, they hadn’t quite reached greatness, yet. I could almost compare their upward progress to that of the Doke estate in 2012. They were still in their experimental phase, trying to find the approach that worked best. The teas were good, but I saw a greater potential. (See? There’s that word again.)

And speaking of potential…

After discussing the teas at length, we segued into a discussion about the tea community as a whole. Particularly about “bad eggs” in the social fray. There were some dissenting voices to one of Nicole’s posts about tea snobbery toward the end of 2013. I also had my disagreements with it, but only to one aspect – that of defending a discerning palate.

We agreed overall that while there were…unpleasant tea drinkers on the fringes of the community, they were given many chances to prove themselves. No one was automatically shut out of the discussion – no matter how blowhard – just because of one social infraction. Forgiveness and tolerance were prevalent in all the “corners” of the cuppa circle. All I had to do was point to the tea community’s tolerance of me. If they could put up with my antics, they could put up with anybody. That is…for a time.

We – no matter how splintered, jaded or clique-ish we got – saw potential in any tea drinker new or old. No one was exiled…except under circumstances of extreme douchebaggery. Even teabaggers were welcome. Hey, sometimes I’m one. Yeah, I admit it. What of it? Come at me, bro.

And speaking of anti-teabaggers…

An Infusiastic Trip

Last week, I was drafted by my Mum to help her road trip from Wyoming to Oregon. There were more job opportunities in the rainy state, and she wanted company for early winter trek. I burned three vacation days and agreed to fly out. (On her dime, of course.)

Being the neurotic sort, I liked to arrive at the airport early. If mobile Internet didn’t provide enough of a time-waster, I went with something old school – a good ol’ book. The only one I grabbed from home was Robert “The Devotea” Godden’s story collection, The Infusiast.

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I’d intended the book to last me the entire trip, thinking it would last through several spurts of reading. The moment I started the damn thing, I couldn’t put it down. By the time I arrived in Wyoming, I was at the epilogue. And I’m not that fast of a reader.

The book was potential realized – a humorous, touching and thought-provoking guide to all things tea. Sure, it only hit certain bullet points of interest to the author, but they were intriguing ones. And it was nice to see his humor and wit display on good ol’ fashioned paper. My favorite bits were the ones dealing with Orwell. Yes, that Orwell.

My least favorite? The tea/food recipes. Truth be told, I skipped them. I can’t cook; didn’t apply to me. Although, I would totally taste-test someone’s attempt at a tea pizza. Like, the entire pizza.

Steeping Lady Violet

The first thing I wanted to do the moment I arrived in Wyoming was sniff a certain tea. Darlene had sent my mother a bag of her new Tea Lovers Archive blend – Lady Violet – after I mentioned she was a Downton Abbey fan. During the tandem tasting, Darlene mentioned the blend was made of black tea, malva petals and violet flavoring. While I’m not much of a blend person (er, anymore), this one had me curious. What the heck does “violet” even smell like?

Apparently, it smells like blueberries, at least to my odd nose.

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I dug into it the next morning, and it tasted exactly like it smelled – a floral and berry-ish black tea. I steeped that sucker twice, and the flavor never let up. In fact, I think I preferred the second steeping to the first. More refined and witty, like Lady Violet herself. It was good to have a good tea with Mum again.

Three Generations

Throughout the two-day drive to Portland, my mother and I had many discussions. The focus was primarily on transition. I felt like a self-centered idiot having not realized she had been in a bit of a winter funk since the beginning December. Throughout all our phone conversations, she never let on that she’d been down at all. Either she was sparing me the worry, or she was glad to speak to someone else about their issues, I have no clue. Point being, I felt like I’d let her down by not inquiring about her.

But I made up for it on the car ride.

She was hoping that a brief stint in Oregon would reinvigorate her. I, for one, was glad to have her back. The woman was one of the few people who motivated me out of my lazier habits. We talked of future plans and hypotheses for two straight days. And it was glorious.

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Upon returning, we also learned that my sister/roommate had a hard week at work, and that my niece had passed all of her classes by the skin of her teeth. Sis had realized that there were limits to even what she could accomplish and realized her potential as a proper delegator. Whereas my niece realized that she was indeed smarter than what her earlier grades indicated.

That Sunday, we relaxed in front of the television – three generations of people in transition – and partook of a double-helping of Downton Abbey  and Sherlock. So much potential in one room, all in pajamas. And me, slippers donned, raising a tea-laden Chewbacca chalice in celebration.

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Moonlight Tandemonium!

It all seems to come back to World Tea Expo, doesn’t it? Well, here’s another one. But let’s start from the beginning before the beginning – i.e. pre-Expo.

Several months ago, the follicly-blessed Jo Johnson talked about a tea from a company called Wild Tea Qi. I’d never heard of them, or their wares, but a scant glance at their website made my geek vein pulsate. The particular tea Jo pointed at was a white tea that’d been pressed somewhat like a zhuan cha, only more reminiscent of a candy bar. That is, several tiny squares segmented and attached at the hip like a Snickers. Win-win, right there.

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It was dubbed, “Ancient Moonlight White Bud Bar”. Just by the title alone, I don’t need to even go into why I wanted it. Ancient tea trees: Check. White tea: Check. It had the word “bar” in it: Check. The only parts that had me worried were the name “Moonlight” and the price tag.

Yunnan whites and I have a rather interesting history. The first Silver Needle I could boil the s**t out of was from Yunnan – assamica leaves, no less. Some non-sinensis var. sinensis leaves also made for a pretty mean white tea variant. There was one white tea I was hit-or-miss with, though. The Chinese-y name for it was Yue Guang Bai, and of all the white teas I ever tried…it was like hay. Sometimes good hay, sometimes bad hay, but always hay. The name loosely translated to “Moonlight White”.

From what I read on the Wild Tea Qi profile, this was similar to that white, only from much older trees. And more artisanal; if that means anything. All said, though, I passed it up because of the price, and I didn’t feel like playing the “blogger card” to acquire it.

Time passed…

Then World Tea Expo happened. Wild Tea Qi had a booth, and I frequented it on my…second day? Heck, I can’t remember. It’s all a tea-drunken blur. Point being, I tried some of their aged wares, and noticed they had the Ancient Moonlight White Bud Bar on sale. I let that sink in for a day before I firmly lost out to my (lack-of) impulse control.

I bought it on my last day.

For a couple of months it stayed in the bag of new, yet-to-be-drunk teas that I had backlogged. In the interim, I moved, I wrote, I worked…and I completely forgot about it. Then the plucky-‘n-preggered Rachel Carter chimed in on The-Plus-That-Is-Google with a suggestion for our next “Tandem Tea Tasting”.

You guessed it.

At first, I didn’t commit to the tasting. My work schedule over the Summer (thus far) had been unpredictable at best. I couldn’t firmly agree to the 6PM Pacific e-meet-up time. However, when the day-of came, I was off by 5. I mad-dashed it out the door. Got home in forty-five minutes, and got to brewin’ shortly after.

Directions on the website said to use water between 180F-200F. I went the lazy route, boiled the water, and let it stand for a couple of minutes. The true challenge was chiseling a chunk off the tea bar itself. Luckily, I’d purchased a pu-erh ice-pick-pokey-thingy at Phoenix Teashop some weeks back.

Now, one would think the best way to go about cutting this up would be to merely cut one of the square pieces off. But ooooooh no. I had to stab at it like some sort of impatient monkey. Or 1990s Sharon Stone.

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Proverbial mess made, I took my tablespoon of leaves, put ‘em in a Ceylon steeper cup, and brewed them “wrongfu”-style for thirty seconds…-ish.

The liquor was pale yellow like a white tea should be, and it tasted like Yue Guang Bai. The “good hay” kind. Not much in the way of nuance, though. Before the start of the tandem tasting, I was already two mini-steeps in. Rachel was the first one there, Jo followed suit, Nicole “Tea For Me Please” Martin logged in next, followed by Darlene Meyers-Perry.

And that’s when my phone decided to crap out.

During the entire chat, I was limited to texting my notes and odd idioms. The results were…um…

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Yeah.

Over the course of that hour, the girls made it to steep three-to-five. I was on steep – oh – fourteen before the event closed off. The final verdict was – if I can put it inappropriately – that the Ancient Moonlight White Bud Bar was like an expensive date that wouldn’t put out until the third-to-fifth outing.

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Not being one to Friend Zone this tea just yet, I gave it another go the following day, while writing tandem blogs about Earl Grey. This time, though, I brewed it Western-style, and lightened the water temp to that of a standard white tea – roughly 175F.

The results were MAGIC HAY!!!

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Really good, like on-par-with-any-Chinese-white-tea good. It held up for a whoppin’ three steeps that way, too. Yielding strong brew after strong brew. Well done, Moonlight.

You saucy minx, you.

For Nicole’s take, go HERE.

For Jo’s take, go HERE.

For Rachel’s take, go HERE.

(I’ll be updating the other tandemer articles as their written.)

Golden Fleece Feast Fest, A Taste of Eugene, and Tea from Neighbors

I might sound like a broken record here, but the last couple of weeks or so have been insane. Moments of import at casa de chaos are innumerable and frustrating…and totally not worth reflecting upon. Instead, I want to pay homage to the good things – the tea trifecta, if you will – that have happened in recent weeks. Starting with…

Ducktales FTW!

Golden Fleece Feast Fest

Nearly a month ago, I lamented via the social mediasphere – like I always do – about everyone’s acquisition of Verdant Tea’s Golden Fleece. I remember everyone extolling its virtues from on high. Envy set in like a car crash. I love Yunnan blacks; I love Yunnan golds more. Unfortunately, it was never in my budget to acquire some – either back then or now.

Ever the tealanthropist, Rachel Carter of IHeartTeas offered to send me a sample of this year’s batch. A couple of others were also including in the gifting. Not sure if I was the first to suggest it, or if someone else whispered in my ear, but the idea to do a “tandem blog” gained favor. I.e. Everyone trying the tea at the same time – discussing it over a chat medium first – then simultaneously posting blogs about their experiences.

Naturally, I agreed to it (or patted myself on the back for the idea, whichever), forgetting one simple thing. I suck at keeping to a deadline, unless I’m being paid for it. Tandem blogging was probably the most antithetical idea I could’ve agreed to or suggested. It didn’t help that I was in the midst of some home-related SNAFUs at the time.

Google+’s Hangout feature was our chosen get-together medium. Participants included: The aforementioned Fleece-gifter, Rachel, Nicole Martin of Tea For Me Please, Jo Johnson of A Gift of Tea, Jackie D (aka. Mrs. Tea Trade), and Darlene Meyers-Perry of The Tea Lover’s Archive. I was the only guy there…and it showed. A joke by me involving the “b-word” in reference to my cat was met with shocked gasps. Sometimes, I should adjust my social filter to “Female”.

That said, it was an extremely animated evening gathering. I was duly caffeinated by the end of it, and equally energized by all the tea talk. As you can tell by the glibness of this post so far, I don’t get to do that very often. Tea gatherings, for me, are like a nerd-geyser going off.

Oh yeah! The tea itself…

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The leaves looked like a Yunnan Jin Cha (or “Gold Bud”) through and through. What was different about these buds, though, were the furs. Yes, these leaf buds still had downy furs present – like a good Yinzhen does. I’ve had many a Yunnan gold, but this was the gold..-iest. (I know, not a word.) Taste-wise, it was smooth, silky, honey-like, and a tad malty on the finish. It lacked some of the peppery lean others of its ilk possess, but that was hardly missed. It was, in a word, perfect. As was the gathering.

Thanks again, Rachel, for the sample and conversation. I’ll do better on the tandeming next time. Er, maybe.

To read Nicole’s take, go HERE.

To read Jo’s take, go HERE.

To read Rachel’s take, go HERE.

To purchase Verdant Tea’s Golden Fleece, go HERE.

A Taste of Eugene

Remember a year or so ago how I wrote about trying a gin barrel-aged oolong beer? You don’t? Well, go HERE, then get back to me. Done? Good. Well, what if I told you that beer had a f**king sequel?!

I found out (again) from Josh Chamberlain of J-TEA that Oakshire Brewing came out with yet another rendition of the Frederic’s Lost Arm. This new one was from the same batch, but instead of a gin barrel, the Oakshire boys aged it for two years in a Pinot Noir barrel – thus dubbing it Frederic C. Noir. Unfortunately, none of the rare bottles were going to make it to Portland.

After a week of himming-and-hawing, I asked the kind folks at 16 Tons if they still had any left available. They said, “Yes.” A split second later I said, “Hold one for me, I’m coming down.” Keep in mind, this shop was in Eugene…which is a two-hour drive from Portland. I decided to devote one of my day’s off to the road trip.

I haven’t tried the beer yet, so that’ll be a subject for another post. What I will share here is my major (and enlightening pit stop) before picking it up. I decided to pre-funk at the very tea shop that provided the oolong for said beer in the first place. I had heard great things about J-TEA, and I’d associated with the owner via Twitter on a few occasions. My first aged oolong ever was acquired there – an aged Dong Fei Mei Ren (Oriental Beauty/Bai Hao) oolong. Loved that stuff.

Never heard of the place? Well, it’s the shop in Oregon for the aged oolong crowd. Josh’s selection is probably the most extensive I’ve come across. My main reason for going – other than picking at Josh’s brain – was to sample some 20-year-aged Baozhongs.

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Josh was kind of to preside over a taste comparison between a 1984 and 1989 Baozhong offering. Both were exquisitely herbaceous and strangely calming. I’m sure that “calm wakefulness” crap that tea folks talk about stems from trying aged oolongs. I didn’t feel too wired, just…aware. Of the two, the ’84 was a clear favorite; there was something deeper at play in that cup. Not sure how to properly explain it, something just clicked with me.

The second treat he dished out was one I had inquired about several months prior. For a Black Friday event, Josh had processed some leaves he picked from Minto Island Growers into a black tea. For those not familiar with MIG, they’re an outfit with a section of garden devoted to tea varietals in Oregon. Yes, you heard right. Tea plants in Oregon! And lucky for me, there was still some of J-TEA’s black experiment left.

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What can I say, it was darn near perfect, and note-for-note like a Taiwanese Ruby 18. The cuppa was chewy and chocolaty with an odd floral sensation in the top note. I instantly wanted more. Since there wasn’t a lot to go around, J let me keep the leaves to re-steep. Which I did. Four times. Those suckers were resilient.

I made a purchase of some ’09 Li Shan black, and settled my bill for the tea tasters o’ awesomeness. Before I left for the beer leg of my journey, we went on a dialogue tangent about barrel-aged teas. Right as I was about to leave, Josh mentioned in passing, “I acquired a bourbon barrel from Kentucky.”

Damn it. The man knows my weakness.

To check out J-TEA’s selection of aged oolongs, go HERE.

For their selection of black teas, go HERE.

It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

The first weekend of every month starts with an event in our neighborhood simply known as “Beer Night”. I know, clever. Each month has a theme. Some notable ones from the past months were “Weird Beers”, “Foreign Beers”, “Wheat Beers”, and so on. This month, it was “Beer Cocktails”…and I had no idea what I was going to contribute. Initially, I was going to offer up my tea-beer experiment, but the weather was too hot to justify it. As a result, I decided to skip out on it.

Both my neighbor Tim and my brother talked me out of it, and – truthfully – it didn’t take a lot of arm-twisting. It’s beer. Good beer. And good people. I would eventually give in.

Neighbor Tim and his wife, Katie, had just returned from Ethiopia to meet twins they were adopting. Before they left, I texted Tim as an afterthought, “If you can, pick up some Ethiopian-grown tea!” I knew the stuff existed after a conversation with Cinnabar Gong Fu of Phoenix Tea from a couple of years back. While not officially on the “Tea WANT!” list, it was a contender.

Well, when I got to the barbeque with my brother, Tim’s wife came up to me and said they had picked up nearly a kilo of Ethiopian tea. I was shocked by the amount she signified…until she told me how cheap it was. At the end of the gathering, Tim gifted me with 100 grams of it.

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And I tried it the next morning.

It’s not a complex tea by any stretch. If anything, because of the thin (practically fannings) cut of the leaves, the liquor had a lot in common with cheap Rize-grown Turkish black tea or like products from Guatemala or Bolivia. However, it wasn’t as astringent as the South American stuff, or as sweet as the Turkish, but very reminiscent of Australian Daintree.

The best part? It iced well. My god, did it ice well.

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What? I’m an American. We do that here.

In closing, I suppose I can sum up that the best and simplest things in life fall back to good tea and good people. Well, for those of us that like tea. And people. Jury’s still out on the “people” part, but so far, I’ve had pretty good luck.

leprechaun tea

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