of the Lazy Literatus

Tea Time in Real Life

Ever since I picked up tea as a hobby, there has been an inherent problem. No one else was really into it. My real life friends humored my off-kilter pursuit, and even came to me for recommendations, but – for the most part – it was a geek-ish lean that was entirely solitary. If it weren’t for social media outlets like Tea Trade or Twitter, my tea talk would’ve descended into monologues and murmurs. While connecting with friends of the leaf from far-flung locations had its appeal, the more tangible social connection was missing.

Photo by Jennifer Stewart

Photo by Jennifer Stewart

Enter an unassuming, mild-mannered guy named David Galli.

I had associated with him a bit on Twitter. Our palates for Chinese black teas were about the same. I hadn’t made the connection that he was a fellow Portlander until a couple of months into our tea talk. Around the same time, I also associated with a fledgling group-to-be called The Portland Tea Enthusiasts’ Alliance. Turns out that David was the founder/”Head Cheerleader” of the group. Yes, I know. I’m slow.

At around the same time, when I finally put two-and-two together, a promoter friend of mine also linked me to the Alliance and another tea enthusiast. Well, that settled it. I had to meet this self-proclaimed Head Cheerleader. A meeting of the steeps was already in the works, as David had contacted me about a greet-up and exchange of teas/thoughts. We agreed upon Smith Teamaker as our destination, since he’d never been. I was looking forward to going there with someone other than…er…myself.

We were treated like philosopher kings by the co-owner and Tea MC alike. Among the many wares we got to sample was a black tea blended with Douglas Fir tips. It tasted like concentrated Christmas. I so desperately wanted some. Unfortunately, it was only available through Eddie Bauer. Yes, the retail chain. The “Good Morning” blend – as she called it – also came paired with another tea; the packaging looked like a tea fancier’s happy meal. It was that awesome.

At the end of our sipping, the co-owner gave us a brief tour of the operation. Out of the two years I’d frequented there, I never wondered what their Wonka factory looked like. It was spectacular. They even had a break room with its own koi pond. It was the best kept secret in Portland, I thought. (Except that I outed it just now…oops.)

Duly sated and overly-caffeinated, David and I agreed on another meet-and-greet for an unspecified time in the future. The insecure side of me thought I had “regurgitated” my tea talk rather than conversed – like years of pent-up hobby-ing was brought to the forefront in one sitting. It was also oddly refreshing to encounter someone who had me stumped on tea trivia. Example: I hadn’t realized how uninformed I was about oolongs from Wuyi Shan. He had acquired more tea knowledge in a year than I had in three.

Roughly four days after that successful meet-up, plans were made for yet another. This time, it was to involve a slightly larger group – an informal gathering of like-minded folks interested in a fledgling tea group. The location? Smith Teamaker again. I had no argument with this.

I was the first to arrive. Traffic had actually been on my side on the trek there. The Tea MC (Tiffany) waved a “hello” and wondered how many others were destined to show. I honestly had no idea. My exact reply was, “Somewhere between three…and five?”

The second to show was Danyeke, a friend of the same promoter folks I mentioned earlier – a fellow writer and a female Lapsang Souchong drinker. David arrived soon after. A well-rounded Renaissance gent – Kevin – showed up some ten-to-twenty minutes later. Another kindly guy also made a brief appearance but ducked out to get back to work. Tea MC Tiff started us off with a unique taster flight. By unique, I mean it included two single estate Assams…and a PINOT NOIR BARREL-AGED BLACK TEA!

(Left to Right) Me, Danyeke, David, and Kevin

(Left to Right) Me, Danyeke, David, and Kevin

(Sidenote: Yes, it was as awesome as it sounds. Yes, there will be a review forthcoming.)

Our second dig-in was of Smith’s Yunnan Dian Hong, Brahmin’s Choice, a Darjeeling first flush (Marybong estate), and a Keemun Hao Ya B. All brewed to the peak of smoky perfection. These were also the first teas of my day…and technically, they were also breakfast.

We ended up staying at Smith’s for two hours – waxing poetic about tea, astrology, origin stories, fiction, nonfiction, and different countries. It was more well-rounded and camaraderie-filled than any tea outing I experienced up to that point. Rarely was there a moment of awkward pause. Again, the insecure part of me hoped I wasn’t too bombastic a blowhard in real life as I was often considered online. But rarely did I feel that way.

Tea is – by its very existence – a beverage of contemplation, but there is a social element to it as well. I hadn’t really experienced that. For once, I wasn’t the lone steeper in the room…and it was quite wonderful.


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  1. Awesome post and a mood well captured! I am flattered by your kind words, gratified that you (and, I think, we all) had such a great time, and totally excited for our next outing.

    If it wasn’t already clear, fellow Portland tea lovers, come along!

    (And, incidentally, you definitely have me stumped in certain of your own areas of expertise — I mean, talk about an international man of mister tea!)

    • O.K., that last bit was pretty close to inexcusable. But I stand by it!

      • I think there was equal parts stumpage. And, yes. the second outing can’t come soon enough. Time to invade the Jasmine Pearl en masse! I think you’re on to something excellent here, sir.

  2. I don’t know why I assumed you both had known each other for a long time. I *met* David through Michael J. Coffey and the Google+ Hangouts, and am glad to hear you’ve gotten together.

    This looks like it was a lot of fun.

    • Since I seem incapable of getting the G+ Hangout function to work, I figured this was the better alternative. *heh* Wonderful time was had. Next stop: Germany!

  3. Danyeke Swanson

    What a lovely and evocative write-up of our first meetup, Geoff! I really appreciate it. I was so pleased to be there. I had a great time, and I look forward to the next gathering. Frankly, I was a little bit intimidated at first by your vast knowledge of tea; mine is quite moderate by comparison (although compared to my mother, I’m an expert!)

    I absolutely LOVE learning, though – especially learning of the sort that is driven by my love of tea – so it was a delight to hear from David that some educational events about tea may be in the works.

    As a longtime non-drinker of alcohol, I am completely clueless about wine and spirits, so I had nothing to contribute to that conversation. I warmed up to everyone quickly, though, so that helped me to relax. Thanks for your friendliness. Tea people are so diverse and interesting, don’t you think?

    I chuckled at hearing myself described as a “female Lapsang Souchong drinker,” as I honestly had no idea that there might be anything even remotely unusual about that. I’m a minority in the world of industrial music, too; it’s a genre that has more male fans than female. Defying gender stereotypes once again! Go me! 🙂

    My favourite tea of the day was definitely the Keemun Hao Ya B. Oh, and that black tea with Douglas Fir tips that you mentioned in your blog entry sounds so appealing that I might make a special trip to Eddie Bauer today just to get it! My favourite teas of all are smoky, earthy, robust black teas reminiscent of the forest. Have you tried the Douglas Fir tip tea from Juniper Ridge? I haven’t tried it yet, but it’s definitely on my short list.

    I love the way that tea brings people from all walks of life together and creates a sense of community. Looking forward to more “tea-geeking” with you and the gang!

  4. Rebekka

    Yay for good tea and good peeps! 🙂

  5. Nice, I envy your trips to Smith Teamaker. To me, it is the mecca of American tea. It seems so strange that you can just “stop by there” twice a week, that sort of thing is meant for reverential behavior.

    I find your loneliness with tea fascinating, perhaps in the same way that an Ubuntu-fan finds loneliness in world full of apples and windows. Loneliness results in the perspective that tea is a beverage of contemplation – but, more commonly, tea is very much a beverage of companionship.

    I shall have to travel to the left coast someday and join you at Smith’s, even if only to try the pinot noir barrel aged tea!

    • If it’s any consolation, I “know” what Ubuntu is. However, I don’t have any other exposure to it. Agreed that tea is a beverage of companionship, but it’s quite surprising how few in my neck of the woods actually drink it. Either that, or I haven’t been looking that hard.

      I love Smith’s. It’s my Cheers.

  6. David reached out and invited me to join as well. But … well … I don’t really share this often, but I’m agoraphobic. So, please know that I am there with you in spirit although I cannot be there in real life.

    • No worries. I totally understand. You’ve sent me some fabulous teas…so you’re definitely there in spirit. Or “spirits” as the case may be. 🙂

    • Hey @liberteas! It’s great to have you with us in spirit.

      As the partner of an introvert — introvert in the clinical sense, that is, being around other people drains her; being alone recharges her — I am very aware that not everyone can, or wants to, do the in-person social thing.

      I find tea to be great for solitude, for companionship, or for some high-tech combination of the two.

      Thanks for sharing, and for thinking of us!

  7. Margo

    Now, you are networking!! That is what it is all about. Who cares if it takes time…it is a process and you learn so much during the process. Now, you know how I do things…only in the job search realm….everything really!! People do make a living and monies about tea, also 😉

  8. Envious you have such a nice place to go and hang out at. As @Peter said, one day we’ll go and hang out with you guys. We had a nice “Tea Trade East” meet-up with @lahikmajoe and @xavier this summer, so maybe a Tea Trade West with you and @teachange next.
    I agree, that I don’t really have a lot of people to share my tea passion with, except I don’t notice it much because I live with my perfect tea companion. But friends in general don’t share my interest. I’m lucky if I get them to sip tea, but talking about an estate would either bore them, or stun them into silence. Amazing how lost for words people can be if you share how much you enjoyed Singalila, or how Jungpana is better than Margaret’s Hope. Yes, yes my friends, you might not agree, but that’s because you understand what the-tea-leaves I’m talking about.

    • Tea Trade West. I like the sound of that, actually. Yes, you guys should jaunt out here. David does the Master of Ceramic/Ceremonies thing quite well. And keeps us all conversing.

      On a sidenote, I don’t know if Jungpana is better than Margaret’s Hope. ;-P


      Yes please.

  9. I’m so impressed with those Portland folk that I’d be happy to be a guest speaker for nix. All they’d have to cover would be my airfares, my food and accommodation, the same for Lady Devotea, a horse-drawn carriage to the venue, a small painting commissioned to mark the occasion, a suitable band for the night, the TV cameras, wear and tea on my hat and a really nice cup of tea.
    I’ll go pack.

  10. @Peter : but I don’t feel alone in my humanity towards others, even if my house has no windows and my garden no apples. 😛

    I am glad you found tea people around your area.
    From time to time, I manage to find someone interested in tea but the technical conversations around it are less popular than those around wine.
    I still wonder why. 😛

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