Steep Stories

of the Lazy Literatus

Tag: Wild Tea Qi

Fujian Face-Off! Lapsang Souchong Vs. Jin Jun Mei

I think I’ve made my point rather clear that I love Lapsang Souchong. Many of my blogs here, or on my manlier Devotea-backed side-project – Beasts of Brewdom – have extolled its virtues (and lack of subtlety). Maybe it was the campfire taste, or the trail of forest-fire it left on my tongue in its wake. Whatever the reason, it appealed to a side of me that – while small – was wholly testosteronal. Imagine my dismay when, after reading a blog by the estimable Austin Hodge, I learned that the pinewood-smoked black tea . . . was an endangered species.

Well, not entirely true. Anyone can smoke tea leaves (no, not that way), but it can’t be considered true Lapsang Souchong unless it’s grown and processed on Mount Wuyi in Fujian province, China. Of even greater value is Lapsang from the original village that invented it – Tong Mu. However, in recent years, production at the original site has dwindled. The reason? A newer, more marketable upstart – Jin Jun Mei.

Lapsang Souchong itself doesn’t fetch a high price in bulk. While it has an interesting story, and an even more fascinating processing style, it is considered a low-grade tea. In most circles, smoking tea leaves is a method for hiding any flaws the potential brew might have. It’s much harder to judge the quality of a leaf that is heavily smoked. Hence the reason the price per yield is much lower.

Jin Jun Mei, while a newer cousin to Lapsang Souchong, utilizes higher grade leaves. They tend to be younger and gold-tipped (as the “Jin” in the name implies). One could even compare the processing style to that of a gold-tipped Yunnan Dian Hong. I vaguely remember trying Jin Jun Mei several years ago, but it barely made an impression on me. Since then, the price per pound has sky-rocketed, and traditional Lapsang Souchong took a back seat.

A young, upstart tea nudging out one of my personal favorites? Not on my damn watch! It was high-time I gave this little gold weasel the brew-beating it deserved. As luck would have it, the wonderful company, Wild Tea Qi, sent me two teas to do exactly that.

It was time for a good ol’-fashioned . . .

In the right corner was a Wild Lapsang Souchong. In the left corner: A Tong Mu-produced Jin Jun Mei.

The “wild” in the Lapsang Souchong meant that the leaves were plucked from plants that were left to grow without much cutting. It, however, was not from Tong Mu.

The wild leaves were surprisingly thin, small and twisty – typical for a tea of its type, but there was something missing. The smell of smoke! Okay, not entirely true, it was sorta there but faint. It made me think back to another Lapsang that was smoked over wet pinewood instead of dry. Very similar aroma – woody, slightly sweet and malty.

The Jin Jun Mei? What the hell?! Okay . . . I know for a fact that it’s considered part of the “Souchong” family, but I was under the impression that it wasn’t smoked over pinewood – wet or dry. Its close sibling, Yin Jun Mei was. Heck, I’ve had it. But this?!

I digress.

When I tore open the bag, I was expecting tippy, young leaves – typical of a “gold” tea – but the ones I got here were darker and difficult to describe. Sure, there were gold-tippy pieces in the thin, twisty mini-pile of dry leaves. But here’s the thing . . . the aroma. Damn it, the aroma! It was smokier than the Wild Lapsang! How was that f**king possible?!

Calming down.

This required some background review of each tea’s profile. Wild Tea Qi said nothing about their Wild Lapsang Souchong being smoked. In point of fact, all they said was that it was “dried” over pine, then lightly fried. No smokeage. By contrast, their Jin Jun Mei was smoked, which went against everything I knew about the tea. (Granted, which wasn’t much.)

It was like I was about to brew up in a bizarro universe. All I needed was a goatee. I approached both teas the same way – a teaspoon of leaves in 6oz. steeper cups, infused for three minutes.

Wild Lapsang Souchong . . .

It brewed to a dark cherry wood liquor color with an unusually sweet aroma. Seriously, it reminded me of a chocolate bar melted on firewood. Taste-wise, the introduction was bitter, but it mellowed out quickly to a weird, almost floral middle before ending on a note of leather and ash. Just what I would expect a Lapsang to do, only with less burning.

Jin Jun Mei . . .

Holy crap! I mean, seriously. What the hell did I just taste? No, I’m not dissing it; quite the opposite. The liquor brewed up the same as the Wild Lapsang, but the aroma was fruitier – berry-ish, even. Also like the Lapsang, the flavor profile began the same way. The initial sip was smoke, which immediately transitioned to . . . cherries and honey dipped in burnt chocolate.

The winner? Damn it. I really didn’t want to say this . . . Jin Jun Mei.

It hit all the right marks, threw me for a loop in all the right ways. I loved the Wild Lapsang, but I adored the Jun Mei just a little bit more. This was seriously not how I thought this brewing session would turn out.

I don’t know what to believe anymore.

Moonlight Tandemonium!

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

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

IMAG1089

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

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

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

Time passed…

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

I bought it on my last day.

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

You guessed it.

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

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

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

IMAG1091

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

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

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

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

monkey_and_typewriter

Yeah.

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

IMAG1092

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

The results were MAGIC HAY!!!

IMAG1097

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

You saucy minx, you.

For Nicole’s take, go HERE.

For Jo’s take, go HERE.

For Rachel’s take, go HERE.

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

Workshops, Bandsaws, and Keemun Against Humanity – A Vegas Tea Party, Conclusion

For Day 1, go HERE.

For Day 2, go HERE.

For Day 3, go HERE.

It was the last day of World Tea Expo…and I was already running late.

I know, big shocker. But this time it wasn’t entirely my fault. My co-pilot for the morning, Lady Earl Steeper was also running slightly lagged. Cut us some slack, it was 7AM.

On top of that – par for course – I ended up missing the turnoff for the Convention Center at least two times. Finally got it on the third go-around. (I think?) We made the mad-dash inside only to make it fifteen minutes late for the “Blogging for Your Business” workshop.

Tea Blogging In Your Business panel

Taken by Jo Johnson

Luckily, our truancy was only partially observed. By everyone.

The panel discussion was moderated by Michael “Tea Geek” Coffey, and the panel consisted of Linda “The Tea Stylist” Gaylard, Chris “Teaity/Tea-Guy” Giddings, Darlene Meyers-Perry, Naomi “Joy’s Teaspoon” Rosen, Jason Walker [Tea Review] and last (but never least), Robert “The Devotea” Godden. To my shock-‘n-awe, it was a very low-key panel. And by that, I mean, cups weren’t being flung across the room, teabags weren’t being torn asunder, and no fist-fights broke out over the pronunciation of “Ti Kwan Yin”. As a matter of fact – dare I say it? –  it was downright professional.

*****

I left the panel with a bit more information than I started with, and with…uh…

Absolutely no tea!

It was about 9:30AM at this point. The Expo floor wasn’t open yet, and there was no tea anywhere. I had no time that morning to grab a cuppa caffeine before dashing out the door. My lack of wakefulness was starting to show. There was a second panel on digital marketing I wanted to attend, but it took me a good ten minutes to find the damn room. Signs of a tea-deprived brain.

I finally made it to the “Digital Marketing Trends” workshop before its start-time. Tony “World of Tea” Gebely was the speaker on hand. Frankly, I didn’t know what I would take away from the workshop, only that I wanted to see Tea Pimp Tony in action.

Tea Pimp Tony

Tea Pimp Tony

Oddly enough, I came away with far more than I anticipated. Many of the tricks he suggested applied not only to vendors, but also to regular “brew-buzzard” bloggers such as myself. For instance, my analytics numbers have always been somewhere in – or around – the toilet. In one hour, Tony pointed out a few things I was doing wrong regarding overall social media exposure. I left somewhat e-enlightened.

By the time that workshop was finished…I really needed tea. The moment my caffeine gland groaned (yes, I have one; I’m sure of it), my phone vibrated. It was a tweet from Mountain Tea Co.

Mountain Tea Tweet

I made a mad-dash to the Expo floor. In less than three minutes, I arrived at the MTC booth – panting. Chicco Chou saw me, blinked twice, then gave greeting.

“I just got your tweet,” I wheezed. “I need oolong. Stat.”

He poured me a couple of cups of brandy oolong that they’d just brewed. I let the feeling of time-released energy permeate throughout my very being. Then, with a sigh of relief, and a bow of thanks, I dashed back off to the workshop rooms. (Seriously, I bowed.)

Chicco making Mountain Tea.

Chicco making Mountain Tea.

*****

The third and final workshop I attended was one near and dear to my heart – mainly for the speaker. Verna L. Hamilton was one my oldest “tea-tweeps”. We had a peculiar bond in that we shared the same birthday. Funny considering that we were like night and day (and, no, I’m not referring to skin color). Where I was a cynical, portly, and often neurotic little man; she was a tall, statuesque, vibrant, and sunny human being.

Verna

Seriously, she could lighten the room with a smile and a shake of her head. I’ve only known three women that had that effect on me. It’s by mere coincidence that they were all African American. Or maybe not, I dunno.

Her workshop also had the best name ever: “Steep Social Media Without Getting Bitter”. Wish I’d thought of it. She even had the lecture (if that’s the right word) organized according to blending and steeping. Seriously awesome.

To say she was the most engaging speaker I encountered at Expo would be an understatement.

Verna Presentation

*****

Aaaand for the third and final time, I hit the Expo floor. I’d seen all that I’d intended to see. This time ‘round, I was making my obligatory farewells to the more memorable booths. That and returning to some other vendors to make purchases. But before that…

I ran into Lady Joy’s Teaspoon and Lady Earl Steeper, who informed me that they’d just tried some Ugandan tea. While I’d stopped by the Care to Uganda/Igara Tea booth on my first Expo day, I had no idea they were serving tea as well. In seconds, I bee-lined to their booth and requested their BP-1. It looked like a typical CTC-grade tea, which had me hesitant, but then I took a sip…

Best. CTC tea. Ever.

Ugandan Tea

*****

Dark Tea LogAt 1:30PM that day, I arrived at the TeaSource booth for what was to be a momentous demonstration. The day prior, I marveled at a tea log they had on display. It was perhaps the largest – and most imposing – heicha (dark tea) log I’d ever seen. The thing was about two feet long, six inches across, and with quite a bit of girth. I felt wholly inadequate in its presence.

The big demonstration was to be the cutting of the tea log. I had no idea what this entailed; all I knew was that there was going to be a raffling off of pieces of said tea. When I got to the booth, I expected maybe ten or fifteen people. There were more like thirty. All crowded around to watch the display.

On the far side of the booth, I caught a glimpse of someone I recognized. AmazonV was watching the event from the periphery. Instead of compressing myself against total strangers, I thought it more prudent to be near someone I at least half-knew.

After some discussion, the show began. Bill Waddington – TeaSource’s founder – donned a pair of safety goggles (???)…and whipped out a saw. A f**king bandsaw!

BAMF!

BAMF!

They placed the tea log on its side, and carved into it like a downed tree. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything so manly in the tea world in my entire life. My Beasts of Brewdom compatriot – The Devotea – put it best when he said:

Petrol fumes mixed with aged tea aroma in the testosterone-drenched air, as without gloves or goggles, our hero sliced like there was no tomorrow.”

Alas, I didn’t get a piece of said tea log. People could only participate in the raffle if they had a business card to submit. I had no such thing. Mental note: Next WTE, make business cards. Badass ones.

*****

With that display of tea-machismo outta the way, it was time to make my last-minute Expo purchases. I had three in mind:

Hankook Tea’s Gamnong Matcha:

Oppa Gamnong Style!

Oppa Gamnong Style!

I tried it my first day at Expo and instantly fell in love with it. Never did I think I would try a Korean matcha and like it – let alone, love it. Or maybe I purchased it simply for the future tweet: “I’m having matcha – Gamnong Style.” Yeah, that was probably it.

Immaculate Leaf’s Aged Oolong:

Also tried this the first day. This aged oolong was a 20-or-so-old from the Chin Xin varietal (?). I can’t quite recall. Point being, it was roasty…but not too roasty. Zesty and downright Zen-inducing. For the price, it was a must-buy.

Wild Tea Qi Ancient Moonlight White Bud Bar Tea:

Probably the second most unique white tea I encountered at Expo. It was first brought to my attention several months back by Jo “A Gift of Tea” Johnson. I was a pricy little devil, and I’m almost positive it was merely compressed Yue Guang Bai. However, it had the best story of all the compressed teas I came across thus far (besides a Taiwanese white I loved).

*****

The last of my World Tea Expo floor farewells was probably my most poignant. Lord and Lady Devotea were wandering when I encountered them. I meant to impart a “pleasure-meeting-you-both” followed a handshake or five, but ended up leaving with a parting gift for my mother.

Tea blended by the Lady Devotea herself, aply titled, “Lady Devotea”.

Lady Devotea holding "Lady Devotea"

Lady Devotea holding “Lady Devotea”

Thankfully, they gave me permission to try it once I got home. Even though it was a gift intended for my mother. Hey, a son has to judge the quality of it first. That’s the excuse I’m sticking with.

(P.S. It was superb.)

The Convention Center doors closed soon after, and I was left with a feeling of…loss? Was that it? Such a weird emotion welled up within me. Never before had I been so in my element! Admitting that it was over was like admitting that, well, endings were a “thing”.

"All good things..."

“All good things…”

I only wish I had tracked down one particular tea – just one. The only one I couldn’t find was some Keemun Hao Ya A. Even the Chinese distributors didn’t have it – save one, and they weren’t letting go of any of it…short of a large wholesale order.

Later that night – after copious amounts of all-you-can-eat sushi – Lady Joy’s Teaspoon, Lady Earl Steeper, Teaity Chris and myself decided to keep the tea party going. We steeped pu-erhs, blacks, and various other things as we played yet another raucous game of Cards Against Humanity – as was becoming par for course.

Somewhere amidst our laying down of inappropriate cards and fitful guffaws, the suggestion was made to steep another black tea. Lady Earl Steeper whipped out a Keemun. And…

It just happened to be a sample of Keemun Hao Ya A. And it was glorious. I could not think of a better way to cap what was – sparing no hyberpole – the greatest week of my life.

Photo by Audrea Fink

Photo by Audrea Fink

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