of the Lazy Literatus

Tag: Yunnan Sourcing

Dark Tea Déjà Vu

NaNoTeaMo, Day 5: “Dark Tea Déjà Vu”

It all started with a tweet . . . when I was drunk.

teabeer drunk

Not tea drunk, actual drunk.

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

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Defending a Discerning Palate

Source: Cute Overload. Submitter: Maureen K.

Source: Cute Overload. Submitter: Maureen K.

A few nights back, I had a dream where I was asked by a vendor in Darjeeling to review some of their products. The box that came in the mail was huge; there were at least fifty 100g bags in it, along with other various Indian-ish tea apparati. The first bag I took out was by some estate I’d never heard of. When I tore it open, a foul, earthy smell invaded my nostrils – like poorly cooked puerh only worse. On the inside, instead of leaves, I found beige furballs and brown clumps.

I was known to be an experimental drinker, but even this weirded me out. The ingredients listed on the package mentioned squirrel, venison, animal droppings, and molded leaves. With a shrug, I brewed it up…and tasted the worst muck that ever befell my tongue. Yes, even worse than overbrewed genmaicha or anything with copious amounts of lavender. I woke up after the first taste.

And that was my first tea nightmare ever.

What does that have to do with discerning palates? Probably nothing; possibly everything. What it did do was finally compel me to make a more legitimate response to a blog post by fellow “Beast of Brewdom”, Ken (aka. Lahikmajoe) – a collaboration with another Twitizen, Radhika/Levis517. The dilemma that was posed was how the social celebration of tea was lost the moment people ascribed pomp and circumstance to it, plus the cost therein – i.e. snobbery.

Source: Yunnan Sourcing

Source: Yunnan Sourcing

At first, I was completely on board with Radhika’s well-versed argument in the post. In developing a fancy-schmancy culture around something so simple as dead-‘n-dried leaves in hot water, some of the inclusivity is lost. I will fully admit that I sometimes take a ridiculous amount of pride in having a favorite pu-erh mountain. (It’s Nan Nuo Shan, by the way.) But does it really matter if there’s no one to share this joy with over a cup of Nan Nuo sheng?

You’re damn right, it does.

When I first started this nerdy persuit – and, yes, it is nerdy – I was mainly sticking to the teabag fringes with the likes of cheap Moroccan Mint or a blueberry-flavored white. Heck, when I worked nights, my beverage of choice was a bag o’ Stash Orange Spiced Black in a paper coffee cup, boiled to s**t, and mixed with sugar and French vanilla creamer. Why? Because it tasted like an orange creamsicle. Sophiscated? Not in the slightest.

As my tastes changed, so did my leanings. I started off hating pu-erh, then I had some of the aged stuff. Darjeeling was a name I met with derision, now I can’t resist its earthspice aroma. Oolongs used to tasted like roasted, metal feet but now impart a sense of peace I haven’t felt in any other beverage. Japanese green teas hinted at a world populated by spinach that spewed fire, now it embodies vegetal sweetness personified. And none of that would’ve happened had I not heightened my brow a bit.

A funny thing, though. As snooty as my tea tastes became, my approach hadn’t. I never considered myself better than the average teabagger at Starbucks. Nor did I cringe (too much) when someone mentioned their favorite tea flavor was “cheesecake”. Granted, I do wince a bit when my brother takes a Lipton over a Golden Bi Luo, but I don’t throw a huff about it. Much.

In short, yes, tea snobbery is alive and well. It is as drowned in ritual as any fancy ball…but it’s a party everyone is invited to. The tea folks I’ve met are like Quakers; they’ll extol the virtues of the leaf, welcome you to the fray, but they won’t force you to join, or turn a nose up at you if you don’t. None of the social importance is lost on us. We want to talk about tea with non-tea drinkers, preferably over a cup of tea. I mean, it’s a beverage that’s been around for millennia, how could we not geek out over it?

What I’m trying to say is, I would like what’s in my cup to taste good. I would like it to have a story to tell. And, lastly, I would like to tell it to someone. I think that’s what this little blog of mine (and every other tea blog) is about. So, come on in; I’ll warm the kettle. Pick a tea. A good tea.

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén