of the Lazy Literatus

Tag: whiskey

Tea Tales and Mocktails

Two weeks back, I received an invite to go here:


Okay, I go to both Smith Tea locations quite a bit on my own, but this was a special occasion. Like last year, this was their media-only holiday pre-release party. They were going to be showcasing their upcoming blends, partnerships, and limited edition holiday offerings.  And I was convinced I couldn’t go. Work and all that.

I was so convinced about my lack of attendance, I even shot off an e-mail to lead blender dude, Tony Tellin, to see if I could mooch some of pre-release batches for an article. Y’know . . . to pretend I was there. I’m good at pretending. None of that was necessary because I was magically able to convince my work to let me off early that day.

Whiskey Smoked Tea

Whiskey Smoked Tea – The Tea-Totaler Trilogy, Part 3

This is a parable about poor impulse control. I was having a conversation with Mizuba Tea’s Lauren Purvis about experiments regarding matcha, smoke and wine. She asked me if I’d seen a recent article posted by The Japanese Tea Sommelier. I’d heard of this blogger before, but hadn’t had a chance to visit his site, yet. Tea For Me Please had featured him on her blog once. The blogger himself was a certified tea sommelier – originally hailing from France, now living in Japan – that both wrote about Japanese teas and helped source them for the company, Thes du Japon.


Florent Weugue – The Japanese Tea Sommelier

I gave the blog a looksy upon her suggestion. The article she had pointed out was about a Japanese black tea (kocha) that’d been smoked over chips of whiskey barrel oak. I read every description of it with rapt attention. Black tea . . . from Japan . . . smoked over whiskey oak. What was this magical stuff, and why didn’t I have it?!

Mere minutes after reading it, I bought it. Then messaged Lauren and blamed her for “making” me do it. The package arrived a couple of weeks later.

The leaves looked like brown chips and flakes shaved off spent firewood, and smelled kind of like it, too. However, instead of just possessing the scent of hickory and campfire – like Lapsangs of yesterbrew – this had new elements to it. I was a whiskey drinker at one time, and I know peat moss when I smell it. And it was there – subtle, but there. There was also a tremendously woody bend to the aroma, much like an oak-smoked oolong I tried from Assam.

loose leaves

Instructions said to brew this for only one minute with boiled water to start, and then progress upward with further infusions. I did exactly that. Japanese teas – green or otherwise – were known to be touchy.

At only a minute, the liquor brewed bright red, but I was surprised at how light it still was – like an under-brewed Keemun, in appearance. The aroma was anything but light, imparting an oak-smoked tendril of awesome up my nostrils like a manly handshake. It was like my nose was wearing its own smoking jacket in the private room of a whiskey bar, wearing a monocle.


Further infusions with added time also deepened in flavor. Drinking it was like upping a workout regimen, adding more weights or an extra incline. Each sip was like a power squat. I think my mouth now has muscles. The smokiest was the final Western-style infusion. Any subtlety this had pretty much vanished after two minutes; straight ashen pipe tobacco. A very well-deserved addition to the smoked tea pantheon.

To the point where I’m now spreading the gospel of this process to other tea makers I know – to see if their impulse control is as poor as mine.



That concludes this little series on teetotaling with tea. So far, it’s been six months since “going dry” from actual alcohol. And, as you (fair reader) can clearly see . . . with teas like these, who needs missing hubcaps and dead brain cells.

I’m totally okay to drive.

Carried Away by Whiskey Tea

I was one of those kids that tuned out in English class. Several years later, I received my degree in English. That pretty much tells you all you need to know about me in two sentences. I never read a single book assigned in any literature class I was in. I relied on Cliff’s Notes, movies, and summaries on the Internet for any minutiae about the material. Anything to keep me from reading the actual book.

English class

Reason being? I was a slow reader. It took me over a week to get through one 300-page book. When the average book assignment turnaround was – oh – two days? That didn’t leave me a lot of time to catch up. That is, unless I wanted to devote whole days to digesting the books in bulk. I didn’t have that kind of time; I was too busy being a college student (i.e. partying).

The Great Gatsby showed up at least twice in my college “career”. The material didn’t interest me in the slightest. In summary: Blank-slate narrator has totally hetero fascination with his larger-than-life rich neighbor, who in turn has an interest in blank-slate’s second cousin. Grandeur, posturing and tragedy ensue. I’m not big on tragedies, and – aside from Hermann Hesse – I had no interest in non-sci-fi books pre-dating…uh…me.

When I learned that the flashy Australian director, Baz Lurhmann, was doing a version starring Leonardo DiCaprio as the title character, I took notice. Baz makes shiny movies, and I like shiny things. Moulin Rouge – to me – is still a wonderful, if flawed, musical masterpiece. His take on Gatsby seemed equally as glitzy. Granted both that and Moulin Rouge were tragedies at their core, but they were so on an epic scale. Almost Shakespearean in their gravitas. That I can get behind.


Early reviews poured in claiming that – while true to the source material – it was a flashy spectacle with very little heart. That didn’t dissuade me any. I saw it with friends this last Tuesday, and…

I dug the heck out of it. Sure, it was just as much a spectacle as was claimed. Granted, it probably had the emotional sincerity of a toaster oven. But, from what little I remember about the source material, so was the damn book. The story was supposed to be about the empty lives of the 1920s elite – all personified by a man (Gatsby) pretending to be something he was not. His motivations may have been pure of heart – “Wuv, twue wuv!” – but the role he chose to embody eventually consumed him. In that way, I found the whole affair – to coin a hipster adage – “meta”.

An odd thing happened, though.

I found myself relating way too closely to the narrator – Nick Carraway. His role in the book was mainly that of a cypher, a means for the audience to observe the events as they unfold. He has very little motivation himself. Even his surname states as much. Carraway…carried away, get it?  Tobey Maguire nailed this role, and succeeded in giving the blank-slate some much-needed (if pathetic) characterization. The focus of his attentions is on that of the eccentric Jay Gatsby and his struggles of the heart.


Like Carraway, I too am poorer than most of my friends, and oftentimes am swept away on adventures with their patronage. Some of my tastes may be sophisticated, but in the end my budget is too modest to experience them outright. If I had a “Gatsby” to emulate, it would be – not a person – but a thing. And that’s where tea comes in. Yes, this does (somehow) come back to tea.

Several months ago, I read an article about barrel-aged teas. Smith Teamaker’s Méthode Noir was front and center, but another company was also mentioned – Rare Tea Cellar. I’d never heard of this outfit before, but they had an entire product line devoted to barrel-aged teas. Including one I never thought I’d ever see mention of, a whiskey barrel-aged Lapsang Souchong. I’d mused on how wonderful that combination would be. Pine smoke and peat moss just seemed like a match made in heaven.


Rare Tea Cellar’s Barrel Aged Forbidden Forest Lapsang Souchong was aged for six-to-nine months in a Willet rye barrel. I’d had many a fancy-schmancy whiskey, but I’d yet to try rye whiskey. Funny, considering how many rye whiskey barrel-aged beers I’d consumed. The problem was the price tag. A quarter pound was $40. Not the worst I’d seen for a rare type of tea…but well out of my budget.

That’s when I decided to play the tea blogger card. I don’t always feel comfortable doing so, but time and tea wait for no writer. I contacted RTC expressing an interest in doing a feature on the Forbidden Forest, weaving it into one of my usual quixotic narratives. They happily obliged the request. I received samples a few days later.

RTC samples

When I received it, the first thing I wanted to do was smell the bag. It’d been a long time since I beheld the hickory and campfire scent of Lapsang Souchong. I was like an addict in a fit of withdrawal. It was a very Carraway-esque reaction. I tore it open and whiffed smoke…and something else. The smoky aspect was there, but nowhere near as pronounced. Another aroma rounded out the olfactory sensation – peat moss mixed with…bread? The medium-cut, brown leaves had given me a mystery. A wondrous one.

The first time I brewed it up, I did 2 tsps. in a 16oz. glass of boiled water for three minutes – my usual start for any black tea. That…actually proved to be a little too light. While it had somewhat of a desired effect, it was lacking something. The second time around – a few weeks later, a mere day before seeing Gatsby – I went for a full five minutes. Let’s just say…

It brewed up brown-‘n-copper with a smoky/woody lean on the scent. As for taste, holy hell! It was all gentle Lapsang burn on the front, peat and smoke on the top note, and rye on the slide toward the finish. That and there seemed to be an oddly sweet underpinning throughout – maple-ish, even. This was the perfect sophisticated man tea.

Forbidden Pint

I was Carraway, and this tea was my Gatsby. Grandiose, sophisticated, and full o’ smoke. Unlike Gatsby, this was truth in a cup. And my poor-arse self was consuming it like a gentleman. Also, like Carraway, my first instinct was to write about it. I may be poor, humbled often, and lacking ambition…but that doesn’t mean my cup isn’t worth a thousand words.

carried away

(No, seriously, I just past the thousand word mark. Awesome.)

To buy Rare Tea Cellar’s Barrel Aged Forbidden Forest, go HERE.

Hark! I Herald Booze Blends

I’ve noticed a particular trend lately – one that I fully encourage and support. Nay, I salute it! Tea and alcohol, while completely opposite beverages on the Sin-o-Meter, pair exceptionally well. Whether it be tea-infused alcohol or alcohol-scented tea, the combination of both bring an added dimension of badass that I fully back. The high-points for me in this new blend-trend have been recorded for posterity on this here site…and waxed non-poetically over the Twitterverse.

Of all the combinations, I ran into a yerba maté variant only once – that being an India Pale Ale brewed with yerba maté leaves. Well, someone finally went the opposite route and used yerba maté as a base for scenting. I had associated with Caleb Brown – purveyor of Handmade Tea – over Twitter for a few months but had never tried any of his wares. His tea business model was a unique one – offering subscriptions to his one-blend-a-month formula. It was a similar approach employed by 52Teas but with more of a personal touch.

Caleb does all the blending himself, and includes the blending ingredients in separate tins for perusal. In addition to that, he sends a personally-stamped letter (for authenticity, I guess?), and films an accompanying video about the tea. That’s a lot of effort for one blend, which is probably why he only does one a month.

December’s offering – dubbed “Hark!” for the impending holiday season – was a yerba maté medley comprised of Vietnamese cinnamon and whole leaf peppermint. The real grab, though (and the reason he contacted me), was what he did with the maté base. He hand-smoked it over whiskey oak chips.

So. Much. Awesome.

Upon opening the tin, the first thing I noted was how strong the peppermint aroma was. That didn’t come as a surprise, but I was worried about it dominating the other elements. There was a smoky presence to the scent as well, which showed in the introduction and after-whiff. Cinnamon was…well…it was understated, and that was fine by me.

The logo-stamped letter came with brewing instructions for the blend, something I greatly appreciated. The recommended approach was the use of up-to-212F water and an infusion time of five minutes. That was about right, given the strong herbals at play here. I measured out a teaspoon and used one 8oz. cup at the time recommended.

The liquor brewed a foggy gold with a boldly minty cloud wafting from the cup. So much for the peppermint being understated. On taste, the first thing to hit me was the feeling of peat smoke – an excellent start. That was followed up by a middle entirely monopolized by the mint. Nothing else had a chance to shine through. However, once that faded a bit, the smokiness returned with a fervor lined with a spicy-sweetness imparted by the cinnamon. Said sweetness had remained as an undercurrent until the right reveal. A very Keemun-like aftertaste; no complaint here.

For s**ts and giggles, I brewed up the whiskey-smoked yerba maté sample by itself. I would’ve been just as happy drinking that as with the fully-blended Hark!. The best part was that it didn’t taste like yerba maté, which – in my opinion – has the flavor of splinters. All that said, this was a festively naughty blend with just the right amount cool cleanliness (thanks to the mint). Like a gentleman’s club lined with holiday décor.

But it does beg the question I want to pose to the “teanut” gallery. What is the consensus regarding the marriage of tea and alcohol? What tea-totalers out there would drink something that’s flavored or scented with beer, wine or liquor? Would an alcohol connoisseur drink something with tea as the added ingredient? And, by proxy, would they drink tea with that same profile?

I straddle the fence of both sides like a village idiot – elixir in hand.

To subscribe to Handmade Tea, go HERE.

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