Steep Stories

of the Lazy Literatus

Tag: The Jasmine Pearl Tea Merchants Page 1 of 2

Hugs, High-Fives, and Farmer Style Sencha

A couple of years ago—on a visit to the Jasmine Pearl Tea Merchants shop— I tried a Japanese tea (that wasn’t sencha) that just . . . blew me away.

yuzu

It was a black tea blended with yuzu rind. Yes, the Japanese orange.

When I described it to people, all I could muster was, “It’s like an Earl Grey that followed the Bushido code.” The astringency was balanced, there was a malty kick, and of course there was that effervescent blast of citrus at the top note. Never tried anything like it.

The Jasmine Pearl folks told me that it came from one particular farmer in Kawanehon-town in Shizuoka prefecture.

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A Crappy Christmas Cat Poem with a Cuppa Tea

T’was the day before Christmas Eve,

And all was quite spiffy.

I stayed in my PJs all day –

In neither a hurry nor jiffy.

 

I babysat two cats,

Made sure they were fed.

Never overstayed my welcome,

For they both wished me dead.

 

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Tea and Sugar – The Weird Way

NaNoTeaMo, Day 4: “Tea and Sugar – The Weird Way”

In 2013, I was a regular follower of UK-based Canton Tea Co.’s Tea Club blog. Two of their employees went on a sourcing trip to Yunnan province, China, and picked up something rather unique. I certainly hadn’t heard of it before, and I try to keep my ear to the ground regarding anything “weird”. The blog entry featured a Dian Hong (Yunnan black tea) that had been fired in red cane sugar.

can sugar black tea

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The Zen of Using Yuzu

According to the Almighty Wiki, yuzu is a citrus fruit native to East Asia, which may be a hybrid between sour mandarin oranges and Ichang papeda (whatever that is).

Yuzu

I first learned of its existence when “researching” Korean jarred teas. Sometimes, yuzu was used as an ingredient – along with honey – to create a jelly-like tisane. Since the odd li’l citrus fruit was frightfully aromatic, the flavor came through rather well.

A couple of years later, I ran into a tamaryokucha (read: curly sencha) that was blended with yuzu rind. Alas, I never had the money to buy it. But the idea of a yuzu-blended anything occupied a bit of synaptic real estate in my brain. I figured, if it was anything like an Earl Grey, I’d like it.

Fast-forward another year or so, the owners of one of my favorite tea haunts – The Jasmine Pearl Tea Merchants – paid a visit to Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan. A grower there passed along several of his wares for sale. I even featured three of his senchas in my first ever TeaCuplets entry.

However, his green teas weren’t the only thing he passed on.

The owners also brought back a black tea blend created by the grower – one blended with yuzu rind. Upon tasting it, they – and those that worked for them – exclaimed, “Oh yeah, we’re gonna need more of this!”

The story behind the blend goes as thus: On the tea farm owned by this Shizuokan grower, there is a solitary yuzu tree. It was planted by his ancestors several hundred years ago. Said grower used the fruit from that one tree, ground up the rind, then blended and scented a batch of kocha (Japanese black tea) with it. The results (apparently) were magic.

When I learned all of this, I had actually come into The Jasmine Pearl for my usual standby – their Earl Grey. When the teashop girl on duty told me about this, though, I immediately demanded a cup. A large cup.

yuzu big cup

 

I proceeded to nurse three servings of the stuff over the next two hours.

A week or so went by, and I couldn’t get the tea out of my head. It was like an Earl Grey…but for samurai. I could seriously see a bunch of swordsmen in kendo gear drinking this prior to sparring. It was very much a Zen Earl Grey.

Which made me wonder…

On a second visit to the Pearl, I asked for the Yuzu Black iced. It was a hot enough day, I could totally justify it.

iced yuzu

I expected some sort of flavor loss – less rind in the taster notes and such – but the exact opposite occurred. The citrus presence was even stronger than before. Even further cementing my earlier Earl Grey comparison.

Another week went by, and I sampled many other teas from many other sources. But thoughts of yuzu still danced in my tiny brain. I had just finished a 93-hour, two-week pay period, and I was exhausted. However, the results of that labor showed on the paycheck. I had a little bit of extra money in my jeans.

I did two things: One, I purchased a U.S.-grown white tea I’d been eyeing. And two, I finally picked up a couple of ounces of the Yuzu Black for home use. Every few days or so, between my usual morning bouts of eso-“tea”-rica, I eye the bag.

Then I get to brewing.

homebrew

Earl Grey, I think you have a challenger, and he’s armed with a katana and a teacup.

tea master 2

The Golden “Tea”-cket – A Tandem Tea Tasting

Back in March, when I was visiting The Jasmine Pearl Tea Merchants, I ran across a particularly unusual tea. It was a small brick wrapped in gold foil, bearing an uncanny resemblance to a candy bar. I asked the teatender on duty at the time if I could sample it. She obliged and explained to me that it was a compressed black tea. After steeping for three minutes, she poured me a taster. I’ll be damned if it didn’t taste like the chocolate it resembled. Or at the very least like Yunnan Dian Hong dipped in chocolate.

I bought one.

Gold bar

Upon seeing the photograph, a tea colleague mentioned he recognized the tea. He directed me to a profile on Yunnan Sourcing’s US website. There they were under the heading of Feng Qing Mini Bricks. Well, that didn’t make any sense. I had tried loose Feng Qing before, and that li’l bar was a different sipping experience entirely.

In the ensuing months, I experimented with two more bars. Brewed in 8oz. of water, it was too strong; brewed in a 32oz. pot, it was too light. Infused for 16oz., treated to a Western-style three minute steep or so, it turned out just right – like unsweetened dark chocolate with a leathery Feng Qing kick.

A few months down the line, I thought it would be the perfect tea for my Tandem Tea Taster group. For those who are new to his blog, once every month I participate in a tandem tea tasting via Google+ Hangout. The idea is to try a tea in unison, chat about it, and then do simultaneous blogs on the experience. Thus far, we have done five. I lost count long ago. December was my month to contribute.

IMAG1357

I sent out five of the bars. One to Nicole “Tea For Me Please” Martin, one to Jo “A Gift of Tea/Scandalous Tea” Johnson, one to Rachel “IHeartTeas” Carter, one to Darlene “A Tea Lover’s Archive” Meyers-Perry, and a final one to Julia at Bingley’s Teas. Somewhere down the line, the Feng Qing brick was nicknamed “the Willy Wonka” bar by Darlene.

Wonka

Funny thing was I kinda felt like Wonka passing on a weird experiment and looking for approval. Throughout the planning and mailing process, I was nervous. Would the packages arrive? Would they all like the tea? Would my work schedule get in the way of the tasting? All these questions plagued me for weeks before the event.

Unfortunately, there was a wee bit of Charlie Bucket-ish disappointment. Somehow/someway, a USPS employee had stolen Darlene’s gold brick from the package. The envelope arrived sans golden ticket, and – alas – I didn’t have the money at the time to mail out another one. Jo came to the rescue by splitting her bar with Darlene for the event.

Photo by Darlene Meyers-Perry

Photo by Darlene Meyers-Perry

A week or so prior to tasting, I did some more playing around with one of the extra bricks I possessed. I hadn’t tried “gongfooling” around with it. The brick lasted for nine strong infusions – all more Feng Qing than chocolate. Still wonderful, but – boy! – was I hyper after that taste-test.

Dancing on the ceiling

An hour or two before the Hangout, I informed people to maybe use half the bar instead of all of it. Nicole went ahead and used the whole thing. Rachel (I believe) did as well. Darlene and Jo both did half. (Julia was sadly MIA for the tasting due to her son’s concert event.) Everybody’s results were different. While my gongfu approaches yielded some strong brews, Jo commented that hers were on the light side. Nicole echoed those thoughts as well. Rachel was busy multitasking between sipping and keeping her daughter – who also wanted to try it – at bay. And Darlene…

Well, she looked like this the entire time.

charlie

The general consensus was that the bricks did – indeed – have chocolaty notes as I originally purported. Conversations ranged from Bollywood movies, other different teas, our mutual reluctances to attend World Tea Expo 2014, and future blog rants. Rachel’s “bebeh” – Ethan ASOM!!! Carter – also made a cameo. He’s sorta becoming the Tandem Tea Tasting mascot. The evening was more low-key than tastings prior. My guess is that we were all tea-stoned rather than tea-drunk, but that’s merely conjecture.

gongfool

Nicole “tea”-sed us about January’s offering – a bunch of unique teas hailing from Nilgiri. One of them was a white tea. I just about jumped out of my seat. We parted ways at the two-hour mark. Still pretty lengthy considering the chillaxed gathering.

I blame the actual chocolate I paired with my tea.

Chocolate

And because of said tea, I didn’t get to bed until 5AM. All wily-haired and wired.

Willy Wonka bar, indeed.

Photo by Jo Johnson

Photo by Jo Johnson

For Nicole’s take, go HERE.

For Jo’s take, go HERE.

For Rachel’s take, go HERE.

For Darlene’s take, go HERE.

Who Pooped in the Microwave?!

Last week ended in a way no one could ever have suspected. I won’t say what I do for a job, but one of the tasks is checking microwaves. And someone had pooped in one. No, there was no log present, or a diaper…just dark matter, a rancid smell, and a feeling of “I-failed-at-life-choices”. Worse off, my head was in said microwave when I made this unfortunate discovery.

Do-Not-Microwave-Head

I mentioned this unique event on Facebook. Robert “The Devotea” Godden – ever-ready with a quip – mentioned that Gary Robson, author of the Who Pooped in the Park? children’s book series, should do one titled: Who Pooped in the Microwave?

Gary’s response was, “I don’t think that microwave could ever be cleaned adequately. I say ‘ick’, and that’s coming from someone who writes poop books for a living.”

That was only the tip of the shitty iceberg, though. On top of having my head stuck in a shitty microwave, I was missing the Northwest Tea Festival. I had arranged for the time off, my handlers had worked their schedules around my absence…but then my finances took a nosedive. As such, I had to opt out of attending.

As fate would have it, though, the day of the teafest, I had money to attend. How…fitting.

Butt!…I mean, BUT there’s a silver (not brown) lining. The tea fest kinda came to me.

Pu-erh and Pizza

That following Sunday, I received word that Jo Johnson was due in. I knew she was making a stop in Portland, but I wasn’t sure as to when. We agreed to meet up for tea in the evening. Since she was staying with local friends in the Alberta area, we settled on Townshend’s Tea for the meet-up.

In anticipation, I got their early and asked for their specialty menu. Because I’m…well…me. As luck would have it, they were in possession of some mandarin orange-aged shou pu-erh. I ordered a large pot of that and awaited her arrival.

Tea Folk Trilogy

I had expected to only see Jo, and maybe her friend’s Jim and Marilyn, but Darlene Meyers-Perry was also with them! A whole mess o’ tea people! Jo and I split the pu-erh pot and talked shop, then joined up with the other three for pizza. They related to me how the NWTF went, and I chimed in…in my own caffeinated sorta way.

A grand way to start the week.

A Tale of Two Canadians

I knew Pedro and Brian – owners of the O5 Tea Bar in Vancouver, BC – were stopping through Portland, but I didn’t know when, how or in what capacity. Turns out it was same weekend. I received a phone call from Pedro right before I met up with Jo at Townsend’s .

(Sidenote: For those who don’t know who I’m talking about, go HERE. I met them while tea-picking. I swear.)

Pedro and Brian were jaunting throughout the Northwest meeting with potential co-op clients. On top of owning O5, they also ran a wholesale tea business called Two Hills Tea. While not the rare stuff that O5 featured, their selection on the Two Hills website was still mighty impressive.

As we nursed beers at Imbrie Hall, they related to me some of their back road adventures in Asia.

Tea Folk Trilogy (2)

One of the things that is unique about this pair of gents is that they source directly from farmers as if they’re on a road trip, then they shop their wares in the States and Canada in pretty much the same way. Seriously, this is the stuff of movies.

They also related some unique teas they’ve tried, including a Bangladeshi “pu-erh” variant.

I must have this.

Gold Nuggets and GABA

My final visitors came in the form of the family Robson. Gary of Red Lodge Books and Tea was in town for a book convention and signing. He originally asked if I knew of any tea joints, and suggested we meet up at one. The closest I knew of to where he was staying was The Jasmine Pearl Tea Merchants. That Tuesday, I ferried him and his son there.

We went through…oh, hell…I forgot how many teas. Particular favorites for them were the GABA oolong and a Gold Nugget Pu-erh.

Tea Folk Trilogy-3

(You can read about Gary’s take on that HERE.)

Afterwards, we met up with his wife Kathy for sushi. It wasn’t in my budget to indulge expensively, so I settled on one eel roll and a dark Asahi. A Japanese beer that reminded me of a German dunkel – very odd.

A very pleasant outing. Now, it’s my turn to venture up their way to their teashop/bookstore. Can’t come soon enough.

Oh yes…I almost forgot. Gary left me with a parting gift. His latest in the Who Pooped…? series. Fitting, given the way my last week ended, but definitely welcome.

Tea Folk Trilogy-4

Conclusion

I only have one regret of this last week. Well…besides shattering my favorite tea mug, ripping my pants, spilling beer on myself (and later a computer), and  the aforementioned “micropoop”.

The following Saturday, I attended a green tea tasting at The Jasmine Pearl as part of their Tea Fest PDX program list.

IMAG1245

Among the usual standbys – like Long Jing and Mao Jian, which I adore – they also featured a houjicha from China! I had no idea I’d run into a unique tea at this thing, but I was pleasantly surprised by it. But I digress…

I missed another tea person by a mere two hours.

Michael J. Coffey and his partner were just in The Jasmine Pearl earlier that morning.

Well, poop.

Throwing in the Towel after a Tea Fight

A couple of weeks back there, I attended a different sort of tea meet-up. The Portland Tea Enthusiasts’ Alliance and The Jasmine Pearl Tea Merchants joined forces for a movie night. The movie in question? Tea Fight (or “Dou Cha”) – a Taiwanese/Japanese co-production centering almost entirely around tea, and the people who drank it. One of the Jasmine Pearlites described it as “tea porn”.

Sold.

The Jasmine Pearl were serving up hojicha and Mayucha sencha, while PDX Tea Dave brandished some Taiwanese oolongs. Fitting given the origin(s) of the movie. I was looking forward to it on a scholastic level; I’d never seen a movie that focused completely on tea. Well, except for a rather cool, teacentric episode of Sherlock. The writer part of me wanted to see how it was done so I could compare it to my own tea-fiction-y efforts. Another thought that ran through my head: When/where did Portland get so many hot tea chicks?! (It was ruining my concentration.)

Ahem…

The movie opened with an anime sequence – yes, an anime sequence! – explaining the backdrop. In the distant past, there were two rival tea clans – the Female Golden Tea Clan and the Male Golden Tea Clan. The Female clan brewed tea that instilled a sense of calm and peace, whereas the Male clan’s brew instilled passion and aggression. Due to a misunderstanding involving a Japanese tea merchant (surnamed Yagi), the Male Golden Tea Clan exterminated the Female.

In the ensuing kerfuffle, a little boy combined both the Male and Female liquors, drank them, and turned into a dragon. Realizing the wrong they’d done, the Male Golden Tea Clan scoured the remains of the Female clan’s village for any surviving tea bushes. There were none – save one. A single plant rescued by the Japanese merchant, Yagi.

And that’s just the first ten minutes of the movie.

The rest of it deals with the descendants of the two tea clans and the father/daughter heirs to the Yagi family. I won’t give anymore away than to say that the movie plays out like Karate Kid meets Romeo & Juliet by way of Sideways. The story is told in broad strokes – as it should be – and particular emphasis is placed on tea brewing. Albeit exaggerated.

From a tea geek’s perspective, I found some of the brewing techniques fascinating. The Male Golden Tea Clan pressed their tea into beengcha cakes, scraped leaves off, stone-ground them to a fine powder, and then whisked. The Female Golden Tea Clan…uh…did tea-fu. (No, seriously, it looked like they splashed water in the air, and went all Crouching Tiger with it. Quit epic.)

The Yagi family stone-ground their own matcha!!! I want my own stone-grinder! If I had one, I could finally realize my dream of making green rooibos matcha. And, wow, I’m getting way off topic.

In short, the movie was cheesy in all the right ways. It was the first media-ish piece I’d seen that captured the true grand scale that tea’s multi-millennial history encompasses. And it took me over a week to watch it. I’ll explain…

I actually had to leave the PDX Tea/Jasmine Pearl event early for…beer. Yes, beer subverted tea. A friend of mine made a homebrewed oatmeal IPA and was unveiling it for swigging. Couldn’t be passed up. However, I was able to at least take in over half of Tea Fight before leaving.

And I was humbled.

For the better part of November – as some of you know – I’d undertaken a NaNoWriMo project. For those not familiar, that’s where a writer tries to concoct 50K-word novel in a month. That’s right, a month. My initial goal was to cheat and repurpose old blogs into a book; I called it “CheatoWriMo”. Unfortunately, nine days into the project, I had an inconvenient epiphany – dictating that I start from scratch. The new idea was pure tea porn.

At first, I was engaged in the project, but the narrative was heading in a direction that I didn’t quite like. The entire affair was starting to make me feel uncomfortable, and I wasn’t quite sure why. Maybe it was the fact that it hit too close to home, or maybe it was just bad writing. I dunno. Then I saw Tea Fight…and I was ready to throw in the towel.

While it wasn’t a perfect movie by any stretch, it did what I was trying to do and did it better. What I had put to paper so far didn’t convey what I wanted it to. And Tea Fight did. Toward the tail end of the week, I announced that I was scrapping my little tea tale. I couldn’t even stand to look at the manuscript.

In the interim, fellow Tea Trader and NaNoWriMo participant – Courtney the Purrfect Cup – had reached the 50K mark. I was proud of her. She  and another compatriot – authoress Katrina Avila Munichiello – plus others in the NaNo group  urged me not abandon the project, but instead give it room to breathe. An answer would come, they stressed.

Yesterday, I finally finished watching Tea Fight, and came to a realization. I totally missed the point of the movie. Yes, there actually was a message it was trying to convey, and it was oddly relevant to my mid-writer’s crisis. One of the deus ex machina characters in the movie was the ancient tea scholar, Lu Yu. He appeared occasionally to motivate the characters forward. I won’t give away the movie’s ending, but the overall moral was (paraphrased slightly): “Your true fight is the one with yourself. Tea is innocent.”

All this time, the story made me uncomfortable because I was drawing upon more of myself than from stories prior. Actual life experiences were being used as a basis for the plot. I was blaming the material, but – in reality – it was me. The story wasn’t crap; I was crap for trying to quit. Only time would tell if it was a train wreck.

At the time of this writing, I was undertaking another challenge. The Canton Tea Co.’s Tea Club had sent me some Ali Shan and Li Shan (i.e. Taiwanese oolongs), and they were asking participants to choose a victor. This proved a difficult comparison, but in the end, Ali Shan won me over by a hair. However, the best results came from mixing the two. Unity superseded the tea fight. Right now, I’m swigging the mixture by the pot…

And listening to M.C. Hammer’s “2 Legit 2 Quit”.

To read what I have so far on said “tea porn”, go HERE.

Cheating at NaNoWriMo by the Numbers on an Anniversary

You – fair reader(s?) – may have noticed a very significant change on this blog. No, not the content. Look up. Awwww-yeah! That’s right; this blog finally has its own domain name. I announced it via the social mediasphere, but in case you’re new to this tea musing circus, that’s a big deal to me! And a lot of the thanks goes to the Tea Trade Powers That Be. (I wouldn’t have been able to figure out how to do it by myself, honestly.)

The reasons for finally domain-ing it up are twofold: (1) It’s a helluva lot easier to say, “My blog is ‘Steep Stories’”, than it is to list off a URL. (2) I’m about to start a book, and this is its online mouthpiece.

Some of you might know that November is the time of NaNoWriMo  – where a bunch of would-be writers try to kill themselves by producing 50,000 words in 28-or-so days. I tried it last year…but never started. This year, I was about to opt out, but I had a better idea. I was going to cheat. And it was all thanks to my mother.

Before the advent of NaNoWriMo, my mother had suggested I should compile my blogs as a book. Originally, I thought this was a stupid idea. Then I got to thinking, Wait, I have almost written a novel in blogs alone. And the idea was born.

No, I’m not going to simply compile all the blogs as is into a bundle and shove it on the market. The way they’re formatted currently is not conducive to that. What I am going to do is repurpose them – add nuances and anecdotes, flesh out the details, so-to-speak. That and I have the fictional Steep Stories to finish. The saga was left incomplete.

The idea is this: To transform the blogs, reviews and musings I’ve done on unique teas (and my stories with them) into a cohesive narrative. Then, when those have ended, they will segue into the fictional stories. In total, there “should” be about 60% new content to the endeavor. Be on the lookout for news on Steep Stories: Fact & Fantasy. Let CheatoWriMo commence!

Now, I know what you’re thinking, fair reader(s?), “Don’t you need to have a popular blog for this to work out?”

My answer: “I write about f**king tea.”

It’s an issue I’ve struggled with since the summer, trying to find an audience for this tea blog; fashioning it to receive some attention. I’ll be truthful, the sheer lack of numbers was disconcerting. Especially when I compared the analytics of my own site to this. Measures were taken to ensure some success. Plus, I also learned that my website analytics weren’t as good as I initially thought. Even after four years, I was not properly trying to build an audience. Then it hit me.

“F**k it, I’ll do what I want.”

I put measures in place to start building traffic, but I was not going to make that the end-all goal. Tea is a drink. Most people don’t want to read about a drink unless it gets them drunk – save for we shining few. And for the moment, I like it that way. Tea is what I know; tea is what I’ll show. I also vowed that I would no longer duplicate “Steep Stories” on my main website anymore. The tea tales needed their own permanent home, and that – I will happily say – is Tea Trade. Wouldn’t have it any other way.

Oh yeah…since this is a tea blog, I should probably talk about tea on it. Um…ah! Got it!

On Saturday, my brother and I made it a point to jaunt over to The Jasmine Pearl Tea Merchants for a tea pick-up. My mission: Earl Grey. I had absolutely no Earl in the house anywhere. This was disconcerting to me. I remembered that The Jasmine Pearl carried one that I liked; on several occasions, I’d stopped off to have it iced. My brother – on the other hand – needed to replenish his stores of Golden Needles. (That fact alone brings a tear to my old eye.)

Prior to making the tea trip, I learned that Saturday was also their eighth anniversary. Well, now we had to go. When we arrived, the place was packed with people. The owners – Chuck and Heather – were weaving through tastings and anecdotes like acrobats. For the occasion, they also had some goodies on hand – matcha cheesecake, chai cake, Lapsang Souchong popcorn.

Hold the phone!

Lapsang. Souchong. Popcorn!

It was the most beautiful thing my eyes had ever seen. The taste was equally mangasmic – smoky, buttery, slightly sweet, and – well – manly! I cried tears of machismic joy. On the inside. Never on the outside.

Oh yes, there was also plenty of tea that was had. Two new blends were put on display – Haiku (White Peony-base) and French Breakfast (Assam-base). I actually preferred the latter; maybe it was my French ancestry – I dunno. We bid fond farewells with tea wares in hand with promises of future visits.

As I write this, I’m currently nursing a 32oz. pot o’ Earl like a Picardian boss. Have I started CheatoWriMo yet? Er…no. This has been the one day of relaxation I’ve had in over a week. New jobs (plural!) were delivered to me on a platter. And mandatory celebrations sprang up from those. Okay, the latter bit wasn’t exactly work – just distracting. All said, changes are afoot…and I’m all hands on deck.

Blending Tea and Fiction

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.

Tea #2: Lochan Teas Doke “Rolling Thunder” Oolong

 

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.

Conclusion:

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?)

 

A Taste of Taiwan and a Teattle Trip

Let’s talk about networking…or rather how much I hate doing it.

Around this time last year, I was among the many underemployed folks out there. My mother – a former career counselor – always stressed that making contacts helps in the process. I knew she was right; she’s almost always right. That didn’t stop me from stubbornly clinging to my hermitism.

I ended up finding more gainful employment (if you can call it that) in June of that year. Networking really had nothing to do with it, but had I stuck it out a little longer…who knows? One area where it seems to be crucial, however, is with my “other” job. Yeah, that whole tea thing.

Not to toot my own horn (man, that sounds wrong), but I had online tea networking down to an art. Juggling three social networks, three blogs, and a cat aren’t easy feats. And for some reason, my opinion seemed to matter to some people. What was odd, though, was how I fell out of the loop from January to – well – now.

No fault of the tea community, mind you, more a matter of stuff going on in my own head – introversion and depression at their most crippling. For a while, I was starting to believe I was “tea’d out”. I even thought of curbing the whole review thing entirely. It took real-life networking contacts to make me see the error of my ways.

If you folks haven’t made David Galli – oh, he, of PDXTea.org fame – a contact, you really should. This is a guy who doesn’t have networking down to an art; he actually has it down to a friggin’ science. And I’m forever in his debt for somehow keeping me in the IRL tea loop. Examples:

In late January, I received an e-mail from Chuck – the co-owner of The Jasmine Pearl Tea Merchants – to my “company” account informing me of new teas they got in. A whole flight of Taiwanese offerings awaited my palate perusal. It was Mr. Galli who had passed word to Chuck on how to contact me.

We made a jaunt out to the JP shop the following week and sampled some wonderful Formosan flavors. Particular standouts for me were an aged charcoal-roasted Dong Ding (review pending on It’s All About the Leaf), a GABA green tea (yes, such a thing exists!), and a Ruby black. Chuck also kindly passed along some heicha my way, something that’d been on my “List” for awhile. Before I left the shop, I had quite the bounty.

I also made a follow-up jaunt the next week when a much-touted organic Formosa green was in stock. To put it shortly, I picked up an ounce instantly. That and it’s become my go-to green tea on a work day – mainly for its ability to stand up to boiling water. And none of this would’ve been close to possible if I didn’t have an expert networker in my social arsenal.

Less than a month after that, I had a thought to finally make my way to Seattle. A fellow tea blogger had opened a new shop in Burien – a Seattle suburb town – and they were one of the few places that carried Korean teas. By luck or fate, I had landed a Thursday off, allowing me ample opportunity to make a day trip of it. A co-pilot seemed necessary as well, and I invited PDXTea Dave along. He proceeded to take the trip to another level.

Dave was kind enough to do the driving for the trek, and I covered the gas. We arrived in Burien less than three hours later. The Phoenix Teahouse was just as advertised on their Facebook page – a cozy shop right in the heart of downtown. Cinnabar Gong Fu was on hand to tea us to death. I must say, I was expecting her to be a lot more serious. It turned out she was just as silly as the rest of us. We blew through three exquisite Korean green teas – all with a “-jak” suffix, which I still have no translation for – and all possessed an exquisitely sweet and nutty profile with a wonderfully wildernessy finish.

My favorite of the bunch, however, wasn’t a green tea at all. Somehow, someway, Phoenix had acquired a Korean black (or red) tea dubbed “Dan-Cha“. I have no idea who Dan is, but his tea is wonderful. I ended up grabbing an ounce of it to go. (A full write-up just on that tea is forthcoming.)

Before we knew it, four hours had breezed by. Dave and I, in the midst of our sipping, even got a glimpse of some of Burien’s local color. The quaint town makes Northern Exposure look like a documentary. Cinnabar handled the traffic like a laid-back pro.

We ended up finally leaving as they were closing. That’s right. We closed down a tea bar. We’re hardcore like that. Before leaving, I made it a point to try some strongly-brewed Ceylon from a samovar they had in the shop. (You heard right, they have a f**king samovar!) Did I like it? Oh my, yes. Problem? I had to use the restroom immediately after. A career zavarka drinker, I will never be.

Originally, I intended The Phoenix Teahouse to be our only stop, but David had made more arrangements. The super-networker had connected with Michael J. Coffey – Seattle’s resident tea tome – and we added a second tearoom, The Floating Leaves, to our trek.

The Floating Leaves was an archival-looking tearoom on the fringes of downtown Seattle run by Shiuwen Tai. The first thing that caught my eye about the space was the grand table in the right-hand corner of the shop on entry. Shiuwen sat at one end – like a presiding tea judge – with various drinkers seated around it – sipping away with merriment.

As we got acquainted with the owner, I came to another realization. She was silly as well. What was it about tea that induced silliness?! First Cinnabar, now Shiuwen. Was no one in “Teattle” serious about their beverage occupation? No, I’m not complaining. Far from it.

After parting ways from the Leaves – and leaving with yet more oolong than I knew what to do with – we ended up making one last stop at a gigantic burrito place. I practically had to roll out of the joint when we were done. And that was only after ingesting the SMALL one.

Dave and I finally made it back to Portland about 11PM that night. Only a mere three hours past our originally-intended 8PM ETA. Was there nary a regret? Nay.

And that’s why it pays to have a real networker in your circle of friends – tea or otherwise. They remind you of other avenues of exploration that may not have occurred to you. I have a bevy of beverages as evidence.

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