NaNoTeaMo, Day 20: “A Look at Lumbini Tea”
I’ve talked about World Tea Expo 2015 a lot the last few weeks, and that’s because . . . well . . . there was (and still is) a lot to talk about. Case in point: Lumbini Tea.
I did say it was paraphrased.
NaNoTeaMo, Day 20: “A Look at Lumbini Tea”
I’ve talked about World Tea Expo 2015 a lot the last few weeks, and that’s because . . . well . . . there was (and still is) a lot to talk about. Case in point: Lumbini Tea.
I did say it was paraphrased.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Earlier today, I finally clicked on my “2013: Year in Review” thingy on Facebook.
For those not on the accursed social media site – all two of you in Zambia – at the end of the year, your most frequented status updates are compiled logarithmically. The Top 20 are listed in order, giving the user a basic rundown of their highlights for that year.
If my Top 20 is to be believed, the only things I accomplished in 2013 are: (1) Drinking beer. (2) Watching Doctor Who. (3) Commenting on my brother’s wedding. (4) Posting a picture of myself from when I was a teenager.
Yes, I’m aware I looked like an extra from Saved by the Bell. It was the 90s, after all.
The thing I found unsettling, though, wasn’t the fact that I’d accomplished so very little over the last year as a human being. I was quite aware of that. Writing projects went unfinished. My station in life had not improved at all. (If anything, it got worse.) But there was one key factor that was missing; one thing that made the year – despite my lack of evolution – the best of my life.
Where the f**k was all the tea?!
Sure, my life hadn’t changed much, but as a tea writer, everything changed. I attended my first World Tea Expo. I went to – not one but two – tea gardens over the summer. I met just about every tea blogger in my social media circle in person, save for a precious few. I attended a teabeer fest. And – last but certainly not least – I met The Devotea. (He’d kill me if he didn’t at least get his own sentence.)
How had Facebook forgotten all of that?! And why weren’t they higher on the list? I know for a fact more than one tea status update was just as popular or frequented as…Doctor Friggin’ Who!!!
Then I promptly had a cup of tea and calmed down. I reflected on the year that was, and on the present. The last couple of months of 2013 were a might depressing. Financial woes were looming overhead. Job hours were being cut – again. And prospects for the future were…nonexistent at best.
Yet still, 2013 was the best year of my life. How could I express that in a few words? I know…
I would reflect upon the best tea I had all year – a new incarnation on an old favorite.
Thanks to Norbu Tea Company, I was able to get a hold of this last year’s Castleton estate second flush oolong dubbed “Moonlight”. The first time I ever had this tea was in 2011, and it just about made my brain melt. Same thing happened in 2012. (And that was a really s**ty year.) How about the 2013?
Luckily, I still had some of the 2012 from Thunderbolt Tea for comparison’s sake. The two like-named teas smelled like what I expected – awesomeness. Floral, zesty, muscatel, with an herbaceous finish. The 2013, however, had a nuttier profile. Both had a menagerie of colored leaves on display, ranging from browns, to greens, to downy-furred tips. The 2013, however, had more fur-tipped pieces.
The 2012 liquor brewed up darker bronze than the 2013. The taste was – well – pure, unadulterated heaven. All the sensations I got from the aroma and more. I could try to narrow it down, but I’m still fuzzy…and basking.
The 2013 possessed many of the traits as the 2012…but with one added caveat. There was a presence of chocolate-covered almonds in the flavor. In this regard, it lost most of its oolong-y comparison, but added a dimension that was definitely full-on orange pekoe.
How did they both measure up? It was like comparing two different interpretations of perfection. The latter year had a chocolate/malt/almond thing going that both added and changed the vote. The former was more fruity and floral. It was (and still is) a tough call. They evened out to identical palates upon further steepings. Yes, I said further steepings. Both lasted two more strong infusions before giving out – two Western-style infusions.
And I think that best sums up my opinion of 2013. In normal terms, it was just as “eh” as 2012, but nowhere near as tragic. I didn’t change much, but certain aspects were more transcendent. In short, it was more of the same, but my horizons were broadened. I committed more to my tea-ish leanings, and they rewarded me tenfold.
I guess this is the part where the writer offers a look at the year ahead – a hint of what’s in store. Resolutions, too, if ambitious. To tell you the truth, I have none…and I’ve made none. Well, not entirely the case. To borrow from a recent Devotea status update, my only resolution is to:
The rest will sort itself out.
As the best years of our lives often do.
For Day 1, go HERE.
I’ll be honest, I was scared s**tless.
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.
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.
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…
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.
They 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.
Something about thermal underwear maybe? I dunno. Women are beyond me.
And speaking of Himalayan oolong.
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.
Future write-ups are…uh…in the future.
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.
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.
The Taiwanese family were also incredibly gracious.
Great seeing you, Greg. Next time, don’t stay so hidden. Wear a tu-tu or something.
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…
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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:
(2) It was also established that Chris Giddings and I were the “Beavis & Butthead” of World Tea Expo.
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!!!”
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
My favorite exchanges:
The Devotea: “Oh, Geoff. I have a present for your Mum. Because I give her such a hard time on Facebook.”
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.
To be continued…
I 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.
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!”
And 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.
To those that have been following the sporadic attempts to give this blog focus, you’ll know I’ve been experimenting with tea fiction. Sometimes with wondrous results…and other times with startling missteps. Train-wreck or not, I figured an exercise on how these yarns developed was worth exploration.
Up until the “Great Vanishing” of September, I had two more entries planned. The process of how they came to fruition was simple. I would first try a rare tea, I would photograph the finished brew, I would jot down taster notes (like from my review days), then I would weave a story around said notes. I only made it halfway through this process on the last five teas I tried. So, what I’m going to do for you – fair reader(s?) – is show those taster notes, and the fictional blurbs I’d come up with around them.
WARNING: The results are…weird.
Tea #1: Lochan Teas Doke Silver Needle
Acquisition: This was one of three samples I received from Mrs. Tea Trade herself, Jackie D. I think she caught wind of my whimpering whenever someone mentioned the Lochan-purveyed, Bihar-located tea estate. She kindly donated this tea and a couple of others for my perusal and odd use.
Taster Notes: The leaves were actually much smaller than I thought they’d be – what with a name like “Silver Needle”. I was expecting plump, down-furred, rolled leaves, but these actually looked like tiny needles. They were comparable to a Risheehat Silver Tip I tried three years ago. There wasn’t much aroma to the leaves, either – spry, somewhat grassy, and mildly lemon-like.
The liquor brewed to a pleasant yellow-green with an aroma of apples and lime. Taste-wise, they more than lived up to their Yinzhen-ish moniker, delivering on the promised melon notes with added dollops of citrus and muscatel grapes. The finish reminded me of a warm Reisling, minus the alcoholic headache.
Fictional Use: This would’ve been the first tea tried by “the other me” (The Lazy Literatus, made manifest as a fictional character), Zombie Robert Fortune, and Thed the Gnome while at a subterranean train station. Formerly Fortune then gets nervous when he sees a literal Grim Reaper sipping tea from the far corner. Soon after, a literal tea trolley pulls up…that is also an actual trolley.
Acquisition: The second of the three Lochan samples, this was a rare Bihar, India oolong that had me all sorts of excited.
Taster Notes: The visual presentation of the leaves was rife with uniqueness. It looked like an orange pekoe black on first impression but possessed silver-tipped leaves amidst the darker brown ones. The aroma alternated between spice, chocolate and olives. It smelled quite a bit like an oolong I tried from the Phoobsering estate last year.
I gongfu-ed the heck out of this, but didn’t pay attention to brewing times. The liquor alternated between varying shades of amber and bronze throughout the successive infusions. On flavor, it was a surprisingly malty oolong with nutty and fruity notes sprinkled in for good measure. Overall, though, it resembled a more nuanced Nilgiri oolong.
Fictional Use: Once the three companions boarded the tea trolley-that-was-an-actual-trolley, they would’ve been greeted and waited upon a British rabbit in a suit – named Peter. (The security officer of the trolley.) Then their tea needs would’ve been tended to by his spouse, Jackie Rabbit. (Yes, I know, bear with me here.) That is when my alter-ego would’ve encountered another Doke offering – an oolong. All three would’ve found it exquisite, but it would also draw the attention of the Grim Reaper further back in coach.
This would’ve sparked a chase throughout the trolley, with a scared Zombie Robert Fortune attempting to run for his life. Reason being, he thinks the Grim Reaper is after him for escaping “actual death” – given that zombies are considered a clerical error. The three of them are finally cornered by the Reaper, who stops short and looks at “my” teacup, and says…
“Is that Doke?”
Then a gust of wind would’ve knocked the Reaper back, thus allowing him to be restrained by a British sweater.
Tea #3: Taiwanese Sencha
Acquisition: I received this lovely sample from the kind couple that own The Jasmine Pearl Tea Merchants. It was a simple blending green tea from Taiwan, done using Japanese techniques.
Taster Notes: I never actually took formal taster notes of this when I tried it. I guess I was just distracted by its awesomeness. In short, it reminded me a lot of Chinese sencha (which I love) and other Formosa greens I’ve sampled. There wasn’t much grassiness to it or much of a vegetal profile. It was slightly fruity and damn strong. One could even boil the heck out of the leaves for a bolder brew.
Fictional Use: This would’ve been the tea The Lazy Literatus was sampling as they all interrogated a restrained Mr. Death. Turns out the Reaper was actually a temp by the name of Solomon Grundey – a character I borrowed from a Devotea story – and that he wasn’t after Zombie Fortune at all…but rather the Doke Oolong that they were all drinking.
It would’ve been also revealed that the “tea trolley” trolley was run by two air elementals – Milly and Mimsy.
Tea #4: Guranse Estate Soun Chandi – Nepalese White Tea (2012 2nd Flush)
Acquisition: Also picked up from the folks at Jasmine Pearl. I practically had to beg for this one. I mean, Nepalese white tea?! Who’s ever heard of that? I didn’t pick up just one, but two! Both were exquisite, but this one was really something special.
Taster Notes: The visual presentation wasn’t much to write home about. It looked like a typical orange pekoe with downy-fuzzed leaves strewn into the mix. Nothing about it immediately screamed “white tea”. However, the aroma was leafy and slightly zesty – very similar to Bai Mu Dan.
The liquor brewed to a pale yellow and bombarded the nostrils with a fruit-sweet aroma. The taste – oh my, the taste! There were many things I could compare it to – a Darjeeling white tea from the Arya estate, a 2nd flush black tea from Sikkim – but it was entirely on its own in excellence. The flavor alternated between grape and citrus with a dash of sugar. The finish was tart and sweet.
Fictional Use: After disembarking from the Tea Trolley trolley, The Lazy Literatus, Thed the Gnome, Zombie Robert Fortune, and Grundey the Grim Reaper would’ve made their way to Nice, France. Their goal? A tearoom that caters only to immortals run by a guy named Tim.
Upon entering, Zombie Fortune’s original human color would’ve returned, and Grundey’s skeletal form would’ve grown skin. Tim greets them and explains that this is a refuge for immortals from all walks of life, then proceeds to sit them. The first tea offered would’ve been the rare Nepalese. After the initial sip, though, the tranquility of the establishment would’ve been interrupted by the arrival of the King and Queen of the Faery Folk – Oberon and Titania.
Tea #5: Guranse Estate White Crescent – Nepalese White Tea (2012 2nd Flush)
Acquisition: Same story as the other Nepalese white. Great but not perfect.
Taster Note: The leaves for this were rather lovely and looked quite similar to a Silver Needle white – save for their darker appearance. The aroma was also startling in its peppery presentation. I was reminded of a Huang Ya yellow tea on first whiff.
The liquor brewed up rather clear; only a smidge of pale yellow was detectable. The soup’s aroma echoed the dry leaf pepper lean but with a dash of muscatel. Taste-wise, it gave me a vague impression of Yunnan Gold black tea by way of a Darjeeling 1st flush – honey-like, fruit-filled, but with a hint of spice.
Fictional Use: Oberon and Titania would’ve arrived with much pomp and circumstance (and some wanton destruction). Their tea demands would’ve been a riddle: “We want white tea and/or green tea not of the normal East.” The request has Tim wracking his brain, but Grundey the Reaper answers the riddle by handing off the newer Nepalese white (the White Crescent) he was sampling. This appeases Oberon…but not Titania.
That’s when The Lazy Literatus realizes he still has some leaves from his Taiwanese sencha left. He (or rather, I?) passes it on to Grundey to brew up. It pleases Titania to an…almost embarrassingly orgasmic effect. The two faeries sit down and enjoy their teas peacefully. After the commotion dies down, The Lazy Literatus sees that one of the immortal patrons is Guan Yin – sipping from Liddy, the gaiwan he thought he lost.
Tim invites Grundey to stay on as an expert brewer. Thed and Robert Fortune also tell the Literatus that this is where they’ll be parting ways. Tim sadly informs the pajama’d writer that he cannot stay because he is neither magical nor immortal, but offers him a free ley-line teleportation home. After a sad farewell, the Literatus prepares to leave Tim’s ImmortaliTea Room. Not before Tim finally reveals that his name was actually Utnapishtim – the Babylonian Noah, and first immortal. He also offers him some sage advice – to apologize to a certain someone.
The Lazy Literatus finally approaches Guan Yin and says he’s sorry for writing the “adult” story about her and Robert Fortune. She accepts his apology, and tells him that’s all she ever expected of him, and returns the gaiwan. This allows him to successfully ley-line travel home.
After that particular arc had wrapped up, I’d also planned on relaying the adventure Liddy the Gaiwan would’ve had in nursery rhyme form. The story would’ve dealt with her forced journey into the Land of Leaves and her exploration of aged oolongs. I don’t know what I was smoking when I came up with that idea…seriously…
All said, I still haven’t abandoned tea fiction as a possible outlet. I mean, I still have a yarn about a cat-owned flying tearoom I want to write. But I will humbly acknowledge that I have a long way to go before I display it in the future. There are far better tea fiction stories out there. I can think of two right off the top of my head.
Some of The Devotea’s stories can be found on his blog HERE.
There’re also the fictional interviews put forth by The Purrfect Cup HERE.
In the meantime, I have some sci-fi to get back to. Un-tea-related. (-Ish?)
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.
You can find more stuff by him HERE.
Our other collabs can be found HERE.
“Written” and “Starring”:
Me, of course. Honestly, other than coming up with the idea for this, writing a one-page script, and doing copious amounts of begging, my contributions were minor by comparison.
Special Guest Star:
Thanks to Robert “The Devotea” Godden for lending me his blender disapproval.
You can find his tea videos HERE.
You can find his blog HERE.
You can purchase his blends HERE.
06-June Khongea Golden Tips Second Flush Assam TGFOP1 provided by KTeas.
My thoughts on it – by itself – can be found HERE.
Gift Keemun Hong Mao Feng provided by Vicony Teas
My thoughts HERE.
“Pot Head” shirt purchased at The Jasmine Pearl Tea Merchants
Abacus St. Bernard