of the Lazy Literatus

Tardy to a Tea Tasting

Friends and acquaintances can attest to my complete and utter inability to arrive at anything on time. And it’s not for any lack of trying. For some reason, I’m always within fifteen or twenty minutes past due. The only exception to this is movies; for some reason I’m always early to those. I usually shrug this phenomenon off. After all, it’s usually beyond my control. But when tea is involved…


Road Rage

I got off work early, 2PM on the dot, mad-dashed it home, and…promptly took a nap after some Internet perusal. There was a Darjeeling/Assam second flush tea tasting I meant to attend at Smith Teamaker at 5PM, and I figured I had ample time to rest my eyes. I set the alarm for 4PM…and hit the snooze button twice. After some obligatory eye-blinkage, I took off from the complex at 4:10-ish. With rush hour, I figured I could make it there in forty minutes.

And I was horribly mistaken.

HWY 26-East was a friggin’ parking lot. Before I could think of alternate routes, it was too late. I was locked in. Smith’s wasn’t that difficult drive even in the worst of traffic situations. No clue what the situation was today. In the span of a half-hour, I (maybe!) moved two exits. Within that time frame, I encountered all the “bad” that Portland had to offer. Obama bumper stickers, “Proud OPB Member” bumper stickers, Subarus, Priuses, and douchebags on mopeds.

On several occasions, I yelled at every car within eyeshot. Not that I’m calm like a Zen master or anything; quite the opposite. But aside from the usual congestion, I found no logical reason why everything was at a standstill – save for an apocalypse.

An hour passed, and I broke down and gave Smith Teamaker a call. At this point, I made it to the zoo exit. If I was going to make any progress, my only solution was to cut through downtown and weave my way there via city streets. Oddly enough, that technique seemed to work. That and constantly yelling, “BLEEP-ing GO, you BLEEP-ing douche-BLEEPs!” Or something like that.

I made it at 5:20PM. Par for course for me. Beyond my control…but typical.

Tony and Alex – the hosts for the tasting – poked a little fun at my truant expense. I deserved it. Luckily, they’d only just started cupping the second flush Darjeelings when I got there. Of the estates represented, the Tumsong offerings were my favorites. Those and the Chamong estate wares seemed to embody the muscatel characteristics associated with the region.


While discussing the different things a tea taster looks for before buying, Tony mentioned that many vendors were generally unimpressed with the quality of this year’s second flushes. Nothing seemed to really pop out. I could kinda see that. However, I still believed the first flushes this year – of the ones I tried – were up to par.

Next, we moved on to the Assams. When Alex finished pouring the flights, malt wafted through the air like a manly apparition. Ruby red liquors awaited tasting.


Perhaps I’m a little bit of an Assam layman, but I had difficulty determining which was which, and which was better. Of the – oh – twelve or so, the first one, an Orangajuli estate offering stood out for it’s almost-Keemun-like notes. To me, anyway. The others were malty, a bit on the light side…and that’s about it. I liked ‘em, all of e’m, but nuances eluded me.

As a final treat – after I inquired about gold-tipped garnish in some Assams – Tony brandished a very tippy sample bag from an estate called Tonganagoan – part of the Chamong group. Yes, the Darjeeling owners. That was the most nuanced Assam of the bunch. I said it may have been because of the gold tips, but Tony whispered that it was because of the growth time – early May. I stand corrected.

I left wired and ready to return to traffic. On the entire ride home, I danced in the car…and talked to myself. Too much Assam? Too much Darjeeling? No such thing.



Himalayan Gold and The Final “Frontier”


Picking American Tea with Canadians


  1. I had to look up OPB. Oregon Public Broadcasting. I visited their site. They are featuring the Dandy Warhols. I wonder how you dance to that in your car, ever after multiple Assams.

  2. I would never so much as thumb a beat to the Dandy Warhols.

  3. Margo Hutchinson

    Anything after 3:30 pm go Barnes…to avoid such situations. Drinking some tea may have been better than a nap?

    Enjoy! I do not think you are usually late.

  4. Alex Zorach

    I find that I have a limited ability to discern nuances of teas in a tasting setup like that one here. I think part of it is my limited memory: even if I’m perceiving the differences, it’s hard to remember them.

    But also, I find that my impression of a tea changes over time, and I often end up being able to notice and appreciate finer details of a tea only after sampling it multiple times, under different brewing conditions.

    Many teas I only end up liking once I figure out how I like to brew them…the ratio of leaf to water and steeping times are the biggest factors for black teas, but occasionally I do encounter a black tea I like steeping with cooler water.

    Sometimes, a quality that initially struck me as an “off” aroma ends up developing into something I really appreciate. This has often been true of oolongs that have a peculiar skunky quality to them, but I’ve also experienced it with black teas.

    I wonder how many truly outstanding teas slip through the cracks because of the standardized ways of sampling things, that are typically used as a method of selection when people visit tea estates or regions of production. Like, if a tea is really a good tea, but performs poorly in whatever way it is brewed or prepared for the tasting, it could fall by the wayside. Presumably, farmers know how the tea is going to be tasted and produce it to do well at the tastings…but even then…just when I think of my experiences of sampling teas sold by various retailers, I settle on brewing most of them in different ways, so I am skeptical of what these sorts of tastings can lead us to conclude.

    • You bring up an interesting point. I actually stopped doing “traditional” reviews for this very reason – my palate has changed over time. Something I despised years ago could’ve gained appeal nowadays.

      That rule has applied to almost everything…except genmaicha.

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