Steep Stories

of the Lazy Literatus

Tag: The Purrfect Cup

2012 Wrap-Up – It’s All in the Tea Delivery

happy new year 2012 from father time and the new year's baby from histeria

2012 can suck it.

Okay, perhaps I should elaborate. Since about – oh – 2008, I can’t say I’ve had a particularly “good” year, by any stretch. They’ve usually been a mish-mash of good and bad. The finest example of this was 2010, which was just…bipolar. 2012, however, was just all-around shite right out of the starting gate. So bad, in fact, that I took an (unintentional) hiatus from anything to do with writing for the better part of December. I had nothing positive to impart, and – frankly – didn’t feel like rehashing my dark mood.

As a result, for this entry, I’m going to focus on the (few but far between) positive moments of the last year. Over the summer – like I’ve said in prior entries – I decided to “retire” from tea reviewing. My heart (and time) weren’t into it anymore. I was also under the delusion of focusing on other projects. That didn’t quite pan out, but – honestly – was anyone really surprised?

One of the things I was looking forward to was finally whittling down my vast tea stores. Without an influx of new teas coming in, perhaps I could finally notch them off – one cup at a time. That didn’t quite pan out, either. Reason being? The kindness of strangers. I may have given up on tea reviewing…but it didn’t give up on me.

I would like to highlight and wax awesomely about some of these kind folks:

The Photo-Biker Tea Shaman

If – by the grace of Brahma – I ever make it to Darjeeling in my lifetime, the first person I’m looking up is Benoy Thapa of Thunderbolt Tea. Back in ’08, when I first started writing about tea, I received a random Facebook friend request from him. It took me to several months to do “the maths” to figure out that he was the headliner of Thunderbolt. The following year, he sent along a care-package of teas to review and a few other goodies.

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He is solely responsible for my complete 180° opinion change about Darjeeling teas. In 2012, he came through again with some exquisite teas from Turzum, Risheehat, and Castleton. I wrote about each and every one of them, and I still pull the packs out for reflection. Benoy is probably the nicest tea-guy I’ve ever met, and I hope one day to shake his hand. And buy all of his tea. All of it.

Tea MC Tiff

There was a time in the middle of the year when I made regular tea pit stops to my favorite brick-‘n-mortar stores. On Saturdays, I usually made runs to The Jasmine Pearl. On Mondays, I could be found at Smith Teamaker. For the latter, I usually went in the morning before the rush started.

Tiffany was often the host on duty, and gracefully put up with my esoteric tea-fueled diatribes for the two hours I was there. She also made a mean bowl of matcha. Aside from the bowl, I usually left the place about two pots in.

On one such outing, she informed me that she and her son were planning a trip to Japan. She asked if I knew of any tea gardens that were near Kyoto. I racked my brain for a bit while sipping, then it hit me. Obubu! (I love that name.)

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I gave her the info on how to contact the garden for a tour. The following week, she told me that her contact form hadn’t been approved yet, nor had she received a reply about it. I took to Twitter to contact their main sales-guy directly. He replied mere seconds later and sped up the process.

Tea MC Tiff ended up visiting the plantation and had a wonderful time. That and she brought back some teas (plural) from her trip. Chief among them, some Hawaiian green and sakura blossoms – the latter of which had been on my Tea WANT! list forever. It took me forever to try it, but I’m thankful for the opportunity.

It really is who ya know.

The Purrfect Cup

Courtney Powers (great spy name, by the way) is my girl-bro. I say that because I can’t think of any other gal that has had my back in 2012 like this sister-blogger. She encouraged me if/when I was ever down, she was the perfect NaNoWriMo cheerleader (which I never completed), and the best part…

She sent me some damn good tea.

Zhu-Rong-XL

Thanks to her, I was finally able to try some of the wares from Verdant Tea, a company that I’d been eyeing for several months. Their Zhu Rong and Laoshan series were topnotch. And I wouldn’t have been able to say that if it weren’t for her “purrfect powers”.

The SororiTea Sister

The funny thing about this fellow tea reviewer – alias, LiberTeas – is that she’s practically a neighbor. I’ve never met her – probably never will – but some of the best teas I tried this year stemmed from her. Steepster’s to blame. I saw an update on that tea social media site regarding a Darjeeling white I’d never tried from my favorite estate – Giddapahar.

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I left only one comment on the actual SororiTea Sisters review. I think it said, “WANT!”

A couple of months later, I received a package from her with that Darjeeling white, and a few others she thought I’d enjoy. Prior to that, we had made a few tea swaps, and almost always, they had been unsolicited. She’s just that nice. I still have quite a few of those samples to pound through, too.

The Powers That Be

Along with insanely good blogging tools and advice, the Davenport duo that run this here site have also shown great tea patronage. This year, Jackie imparted some offerings from the Doke estate – the one managed by the Lochan family. One was an oolong; one was a white. Both were exquisite.

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I had plans to include them in an epic story, but that never came to pass – alas. But I’m still grateful to have had the opportunity to sip them. Copiously.

Big Brass Butiki-s

As I’ve mentioned before, Stacy Lim – the purveyor of Butiki Teas – is on my palate wavelength. She has a flare for the unusual, a leaning I can relate to and respect. She sent me an e-mail some months ago wondering if I’d ever heard of Japanese pu-erh. I rattled off some things I had tried, yet she said those weren’t what she was thinking of.

organic japanese puerh

Before I could apologize for not being more useful…she offered some up for sampling. A month or two later – barring hurricane delays – I received an ample package containing a sample of the aforementioned pu-erh and a few others. Of the nine, I’ve unfortunately only made it to two. With tea patronage like this, delays are inevitable. I couldn’t thank her enough.

“The Hero of Canton”

Back in the spring, I was “commissioned” by Canton Tea Co. for a guest blog on a couple of new Dan Congs they were putting on the market. Unfortunately, being well…uh…me, I didn’t finish the guest blog until that summer. I received an e-mail back from their sales lead stating that they had other plans for the blog. They were about ready to launch a new weekly tea club, and they wanted me to be a VIP.

What this meant exactly, I had no clue. I thought it consisted of a couple of samples as payment for the guest blog, and that was it. Boy, was I wrong.

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It’s been twelve (or so?) weeks since the official Canton Tea Club launch, and I’m still a member. I get new and unique teas once per week. They have yet to call upon me to do another write-up, but the teas keep a-comin’. I’m starting to wonder if it’s a clerical error, or if they’re seriously just that cool. For now, I’ll go with the latter and not question it.

I “heart” them dearly. And, seriously, their tea club is a game changer. You – fair reader(s?) – should check it out.

The Great Wizard Zendalf

Also in the spring, I received a DM over Twitter from Zen Tara requesting to send me some Darjeeling to review. This was prior to my “retirement”, so I naturally said, “Hell yeah!”

Time went by, though, and I never saw a package. I didn’t press them on it because – well – that’d be douche-y. What would I have said, “Hey, where’s mah free tea?!”

Uh…no.

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I let it slide, and forgot about it over the passage of time. Literally a week before Christmas, I received a rather large box in the mail. Five teas were contained in said box with a letter from “The Great Wizard Zendalf”. It told an epic story of how this delivery came to be, and instantly earned my approval of awesomeness. Among the teas in the package was a note-perfect golden-tipped Assam from the Khongea estate that I’ll be reflecting on at a later juncture. Still, what a way to make an entrance, Zen Tara. You know me too well.

Clouds and Mist

This wouldn’t be a true gratitude blog if I didn’t mention tea authoress, Jo Johnson. On top of being one of my biggest cheerleaders from the get-go, she also mentioned that I’m in the forward of her upcoming book. That alone caused more warm-fuzzies than any other moment this year.

A couple of weeks back I received a Christmas card and a sample packet of tea. It was a Cloud & Mist green, a type I’m not usually a fan of. However, I brewed it up anyway.

Not sure if it was the tea, my gratitude, or a bunch of other factors…but it was the best green I’d tried.

And I think that pretty much sums the good things from this year.

2012 can suck it

But I will still sip it.

Leaves of tea

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.

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?)

 

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