Steep Stories

Tschanara, Germany’s First Tea Garden

NOTE: While I usually don’t update this blog with tea-related articles, I had to since my main tea blog was having server issues. However, if it’s working by the time you come across this article, and you require a mobile friendly version, go HERE.

Growing tea in Germany . . . of all places . . .

Hintersee

Blame Wikipedia for putting that fantasy in my head. I remember reading up on tea customs in European countries, and there was a sub-section on East Frisia. It was one of the few regions in Germany that even had a tea culture to speak of.

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Thursday, August 25th, 2016 Steep Stories 7 Comments

Knights in White Sparks

Back in April, my mother and I went to see The Moody Blues.

For men well in their 70s, they put on a great show. And as expected, they ended their surprisingly long set with their most memorable song, “Knights in White Satin”. I still don’t understand it. Sure, I’ve read the lyrics, I assume it’s a love song, but I have no clue what knights or cloth have to do with it. Maybe it has something to do with the death of chivalry?

What’s this have to do with what you (fair reader) are about to digest? Probably nothing; probably everything. But it does – albeit awkwardly – transition to what happened a week later.

Mum and I decided to travel together to Southern California. We determined that the best way for us to get around was to split a rental car while we were down there. She would get it for the first few days to do whatever, and I would have it for my “the business trip” up to Long Beach.

The car we prepaid for was this:

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Wednesday, May 20th, 2015 Musings, Steep Stories 8 Comments

Why I Want(ed) to Live and Work in Japan

Several years ago, I tried to submit applications to different schools in Asian countries. My goal was to use my pathetic English degree to teach the language abroad. None of that panned out, but this was my favorite submission letter to a Japanese outfit. (No, these images were NOT included in the original query letter.)

My fascination with “the rising sun” began in the spring of 1983. An unassuming precocious child, I channel-surfed Saturday morning cartoons like a pro. Perhaps it was a short attention span, or a reflex, but nothing ever caught my eye. That is, until I ran across anime for the first time.

The channel surfing stopped.

Fast-forward a few years later – by this time, a 9th grader – and introduced to the likes of Akira, thus solidifying my genre preference for all time. But not only that, I had to learn more about the culture that spawned such a dynamic art form. The bookworm in me took over.

Like any teenage male, the first word in the search key was “ninja”. That led to “samurai”, followed closely by “daimyo”, and lastly to “Amaterasu.” Film directors such as Shintaro Katsu, Akira Kurosawa, Hayao Miyazaki and Takeshi Kitano breathed imagery into my textual inquiries. However, I was still distanced from experiencing the culture firsthand.tian xiao cheng

Then came college.

Most would assume a dorm boss to be a beleaguered, tired-looking post-grad student. Mine was the exact opposite – a bright-eyed, smiling, and downright hilarious guy by the name of Hiro. He and I grew to be fast friends and embarked on weekly sushi outings. (Usually impromptu, it being college and all.)

As with all things, though, college ended and we returned to our prospective homes. Too bad his was across an imposing ocean. I heard from him on and off over the years, his same statement being, “When’re you coming to Japan?”

To which, I would shrug and say, “When I have money.”

In passing years, I also developed a palate for refined green teas, gyokuro and matcha specifically. This further fueled my desire to one day cross overseas. I wanted to smell a fresh cup of loose leaf green tea from the source, not just from some secondhand distributor. A need for authenticity barraged me.

Aside from the need to experience a culture on its own soil, another desire needed to be sated; that being, putting use to my English degree. To put it mildly, it had been vestigial at best. No job I retained over the years was anywhere near related to my field of study. Granted, I wrote fiction on the side, but what good was that to anyone? I suppose I had a drive to teach.

Having tutored in the past, I can safely say it was rewarding. Seeing someone beam with delight once they finally understood material, well, there’s no greater high in the world. What’s the point finding joy if one doesn’t share joy.

I suppose that’s what brings me to [insert language school here]. The opportunity to live and learn away from the comfort of home is an alluring prospect to say the least. Traveling is in my blood, and so is teaching. It seems only natural that both be adhered too, and with a wonderful company, no less. I appreciate to opportunity for consideration.

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Wednesday, September 25th, 2013 Steep Stories 4 Comments

Tea Pairing with Job Hunting

The idea for this entry was suggested by my mother, as great ideas often are. It never occurred to me to pair tea with job hunting until she posed the idea after reading my tea-fueled rant. This reflection has – in no way – any science to back it up, just anecdotal “evidence”. Trial and error, hypotheses, and conjectures also played a key role in the missive. Oh, and oolong. Lots and lots of oolong.

Let’s begin.

Getting Started

As an unemployed person, one of the most difficult tasks is literally getting out of bed. Let’s face it, joblessness is depressing. Why does someone want to get started when it feels like their world is ending? The key is a self-fueled kick in the pants.

I’ve personally found that having a morning routine helps to motivate one away from the comfort of a ‘lectric blanky. Getting your day going as if you already have a job puts you in the right frame of mind to look for one. Shaving helps, too (for either gender). And for the love of God, put pants on!

Possible Tea Pairing:

Caffeine is required – lots of it. You need something that’ll give you an extra oomph! My personal recommendation is Assam. Better yet? Assam with some Lapsang Souchong sprinkled in. Nothing says, “Wake the f**k up!” like a caffeinated kick o’ campfire.

Writing a Resume and Cover Letter

If you – fair reader – are anything like me, you hate writing about yourself in a clinical manner. The urge to self-deprecate is a strong one. Same with wanting to sell yourself short. Some have a magical grasp of inflating their accomplishments; I am not one of them. Plus, I’m not very good at summarizing my abilities and accolades (whatever they are) concisely.

The importance is to consult others that have some expertise in these areas – people who’ve either submitted several times, or have a surefire approach. I’ve learned that submitting a resume or cover letter blindly, without having someone looking it over, is like turning in an obituary.

However, you don’t want to be too wired while you’re doing it. I’ve found that these two exercises require a lot of patience, or rather “calm wakefulness”.

Possible Tea Pairing:

I’m taking a page right out of Lindsey Goodwin’s recommendations by saying the best tea for writing is oolong. Sure, it’s caffeinated. And – depending on the sourcing – it can be strong. Yet I feel it truly gives someone a time-released dose of wake-up-call. Enough to instill a sense of focus. I turn to a good oolong – gongfu-ishly-styled – when I’m in the middle of a writing project. And believe me…resumes are a project.

Pounding the Pavement

As much as I hate to admit it, networking is the lifeblood of the job search. Talking to people, keeping your ears open, going from shop-to-shop, doing informational interviews, and putting yourself out there are mandatory. Ever hear that phrase, “It’s who you know…”

I’ll be damned if it ain’t correct.

Possible Tea Pairing:

Anything aged. In my experienced, teas – whether they’re oolongs, pu-erhs, black teas, or whites – that have at least five years on ‘em are eerily soothing. Sometimes they might actually taste as old as they are, but one thing can’t be denied. They make your brain feel like it’s sitting on a park bench feeding pigeons. Even when you’re doing something as socially uncomfortable as talking to people.

Just resist the urge to yell, “Get off my lawn!”

Interview Hell

Congrats! You’ve made it to an actual interview. Someone has taken the time out of their busy schedule to interrogate you for thirty minutes to an hour. But you don’t want to come across as a complete tool. (Unless they’re looking for someone useful.)

There are tips and guides aplenty on how to prepare for an interview. I’ve personally found that dressing to the nines doesn’t hurt your prospects. Where I’ve tended to fail, though, is in the verbal delivery. You don’t want to talk too fast or sound too deliberate. That and you want to have answers to questions prepared – in your mind, anyway. (Note: Do not bring cue cards.)

Some unorthodox methods for confidence and relaxation I’ve heard are: (1) Doing push-ups before an interview. Sound – if odd – advice from my brother. (2) Giving yourself an affirmation speech in the mirror. I do this. (3) Talking to someone before you leave for the interview. I’ve found that parents help. (4) Having a theme song. Okay, I made that last one up. Still, that’d be pretty sweet.

Possible Tea Pairng:

Gotta go green or white here. I made the mistake of having a pint of Earl Grey before an interview. At a tearoom, no less. The result? I was a motormouth, talking a mile a minute. My posture was equally off-putting – hunched over, feet tamping nervously. In other words, the less caffeine, the better. If you want to split the difference – a heartily brewed Bai Mu Dan should do the trick.

Rinse and Repeat

Your day is done. You’ve talked to people, made the rounds, applied for new jobs, and now all you want to do is relax. A cup o’ something herbal will work wonders. Pat yourself on the back…because guess what?

You get to do the whole thing again tomorrow.

Acknowledgements

I’d like to thank my mother for this idea. Do me a favor and like her career advice page on Facebook – Careers/College Not By Chance – HERE. She is an invaluable resource.

Much obliged.

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Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012 Steep Stories No Comments

Tech Fails & Travails #2: Darjeeling & Housekeeping

Blogger’s note: This is a companion piece. To read it’s sibling for further understanding first, go HERE.

Sunday was to be the day.

The day that I would change out one computer to a newer one. That didn’t go quite as planned. Inevitably, I stuck with the old one to get work done. I had two blogs I wanted to write: one revolving around tea and job hunting, the other…a- about the complacency of the porn industry, put as a nursery rhyme. Yes, really.

However, the only writing I ended up finishing was a tea review for a fabulous Turzum estate Darjeeling put out by Thunderbolt Tea. Seriously, it was perfect. Put simply, it was like a Yunnan Jin Cha and a Taiwanese Ruby 18 made sweet-sweet love and produced a cocoa-flavored Indian offspring. (Er…I left that out of the actual review.) I had three pints of the stuff over the course of the day, and it remained strong throughout each steep – even in terms of caffeine.

After giving up on one attempt with the new computer set-up, I hooked up the old one long enough to attend a “meet-up” of sorts. TeaGeek.net (aka. Michael J. Coffey) was hosting a meet-up via Google+’s “Hangout” function to discuss Dan Cong oolongs. I wanted to attend since a blog of mine on the very subject posted the week prior.

My first attempt to connect via phone succeeded, but the sound was garbled. Whole chunks of speech from the various participants simply didn’t show up. To correct this, I also connected on my computer. However, this created an echo effect toward the other members in the Hangout. I tried to mute my phone, but the volume wouldn’t turn off all the way. To correct this little fluke, I logged off and tried to again. My phone registered the Hangout as having ended. That was simply not the case since my computer was still logged in! I gave it at least ten tried before finally giving up.

I was pissed. Tech fail after tech fail had me all red-faced and gritted teeth. I needed an outlet, something to act as meditation. But I couldn’t relax, the three pints of strong Darjeeling wouldn’t let me. Movement, something that required movement!

I know! I thought to myself. I’ll clean the f**king house. ALL of it!

I vacuumed the living room, emptied the dishwasher, dried and folded towels, took out the trash, swept around the litter box, and cleared off the kitchen counters. Once all that was done, I braved my room. My private man-space hadn’t been gutted and cleaned since…uh…The Before Time. Actually, in real terms, not since the mate de coca/flea plague incident of 2010. So, two years. Wow.

Through fits of curses and grunts – manly high-pitched grunts, mind you – I raised the bed, took out old boxes, washed the sheets/comforter, tossed old files, and removed old shoes. How so much stuff had accumulated in my ever-so-small space was beyond me. Over the course of three hours-to-four hours, I practically deloused the place. Hopped up on Darjeeling-fueled determination.

By the time I was finished, I looked at the clock. 7PM. I hadn’t even showered or changed out of my pajamas. That and I had to pick up my brother/roommate and his girlfriend from the airport. I did one last vacuum-run of the kitchen, checked on laundry, then rushed into the bathroom like a military cadet. I was out the door in fifteen minutes. At the airport in twenty. (It was usually a thirty-minute drive.)

All tasks completed, and bad mood abated, I returned to my comfy, pajama-clad self. The thought entered my head to make a Joy’s Teaspoon Lemon Zest latte. I whipped out my IKEA-made milk-frother, but promptly remembered that it had no batteries. I asked my brother for some AAs…and found they didn’t fit. I asked for AAAs. Those were too small. My brother gave it a try with the AAs – he fit ‘em in perfectly.

I gave up on technology for the night, settling in with a teabag of mint instead.

The animals were so scared, their eyes glowed in defense.

The animals were so scared, their eyes glowed in defense.

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Monday, October 22nd, 2012 Steep Stories No Comments

Late-Night Lattes and Gelato

© 2012 Affogato

Earlier in the week, I was invited to a couple’s house for dinner. I’d known said couple for several years. The wife is a zany interior decorator, and her husband is a homebrewer. Their son – the new arrival to their little nest – was the most expressive toe-head of a baby I’d ever seen. Cute as a button.

They succeeded in accomplishing an amazing feat that night – getting me to eat an entirely vegetarian meal. That and eating everything that was on my plate. If it hasn’t been made obvious, I’m the very antithesis of a vegetarian. Meat is delicious.

If someone said to me, “That will kill you someday.”

My response would be, “The sooner the better!” All the while gleefully OM-NOM-ing my way into happy oblivion.

Both had prepared a wondrous meal of cooked barley and kale salad. The only thing not a vegetable was the goat cheese, which was also fantastic. And something I hadn’t had before. But the day o’ firsts didn’t end there. Ooooh no.

Following a mediocre outing for beers (and rude waiters), the couple suggested we stop off at a gelato place for dessert. I’d never had it before. They described it as “ice cream made with egg and milk…and awesome!” (paraphrased slightly). Only time I’d ever heard of it was in Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World.

The location in question – known as Affogato – was within walking distance from their fair ‘burb in St. John’s, a very distant fringe of Portland. The gelato/espresso place had only been open for six weeks. Both of the owners were brothers, and – aside from the gelato that they made themselves – they also (as I was told) made/boiled/blended a mean masala chai.

Yes, it's a bad picture, but - trust me - it was delicious.

Crappy picture, I know. But delicious.

I had determined to only stick with the gelato. My cup was a hybrid of “Milk Chocolate Chunk” and regular chocolate. It was the stuff Care Bear Heaven was made of. I gleefully devoured it with very little poise or posture, making a mess the entire way. What I wasn’t expecting was how filling it would be.

@ 2012 Affogato

@ 2012 Affogato

While I was inhaling my dessert, I queried Simon (the co-owner) about their chai some more. He informed me that they did all the blending and brewing themselves – just like everything else in their shop. This made my ears perk. Then he informed me that they boiled the spices for multiple hours. I drilled him for ingredients. He told me their signature blend contained orange pekoe, ginger, cardamom, cloves, anise, nutmeg, peppercorns, honey, orange zest, cinnamon, coconut sugar, and…lastly…

Vanilla beans!

I ordered the chai latte.

To be honest, I’m not usually a masala chai sorta guy. When I do have it, I prefer the spices to be balanced with the milk, sweetness, and black tea base. It’s easy to make masala chai and the latte variant, but it’s also easy to mess it up. This was perfectly balanced. On the spice end, ginger definitely took point, but it was reined in by the vanilla presence. That and texturally it was fluffy but full-bodied. These brothers knew what they were doing.

I left with a tummy full of warming awesome.

Now, all I’ve gotta do is convince them to make a masala chai gelato.

*Cue evil laughter*

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Wednesday, October 17th, 2012 Steep Stories No Comments

F**k Flavored Matcha

First, let me go on record by saying: “I am not against flavored tea!”

As a well-versed/rehearsed Earl Grey drinker, I can’t say I’m above a little dash of something extra. Some of the best teas I’ve tried have fallen under the “flavor”-ful moniker. Granted, I’m more prone to traditional(-ish?) approaches to scenting teas rather than the addition of gobs of extract. (And if it’s aged in an alcohol barrel, I’m all over that shit.) However, there is one recent abomination that I have to draw the line on.

Flavored matcha.

I noticed the trend back in the fervor of my reviewing days. It seemed like something that would be a passing gimmick. The first I ever ran across was a strawberry-flavored matcha. It was…vaguely strawberry-ish, and even possessed strawberry seeds in the powder. Did I prefer it to regular matcha…oh heck, no. The second one I tried was a blueberry matcha, and it had no flavor at all.

But it got worse.

In the ensuing year, other flavors began cropping up. Caramel, banana, lavender, cheesecake (!!!), chocolate, vanilla derp-dee-derp and…maple syrup?! That was the final straw. Maple syrup-flavored anything is a gateway drug – one that leads to bacon. Yes, folks, you heard this prediction here first. We are a mere flavor agent away from having a bacon matcha!!!

Granted, to some of you, that doesn’t seem like a bad thing…but ask yourself this: Do you really want green tea with your bacon?

That is my limit. I can’t take it anymore. Matcha is a ceremonial beverage, one that induces a feeling of calm when it’s prepared. It doesn’t necessarily have to be prepared correctly – just to the drinker’s liking. As long as it is still matcha, then I have no qualm. But I’m putting my snobby foot down at flavoring the damn thing.

Tea leaves are universally known for being able to pick up flavor from either (a) the surrounding environment or (b) surrounding ingredients. Rose-scenting, jasmine-scenting, osthmanthus-scenting, masala-ladening – these are all very common and ancient practices. But have you heard someone say, “Do you know what this powdered green tea needs? Cheese. It needs cheese.” The closest thing we have to natural dairy tea is milk oolong, and it should bloody well stay that way!

I’m willing to give a pass on the existence of matcha blends, though. Case in point: Green tea powder blended with goji berry or acai. Those fruits can best be had in powdered form, anyway. Even better? Matcha blended with actual useful herbs like Gymnema sylvestre (the “sugar-destroyer” herb) or lemongrass. Those work! I’ve had ‘em.

In the end, I guess I just want one thing that’s left untouched. One thing that is still sacred and sucrose-less. If I have to, I’ll horde the good stuff to make sure that it remains pure. Because some powders are worth saving.

Fuck flavored matcha.

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Monday, October 15th, 2012 Steep Stories 1 Comment

Blending Bob

Blending and I have an interesting history. As in, I should probably not being doing it. Not sure why or how, but I have a tendency to get all “mad scientist”-y when in contact with botanicals. I want to create chimeras with goggles donned. As an illustrated example, refer back to this video.

Yesterday (Friday, Oct. 12th respectively), I was given an opportunity to create my own blend at the Lan Su Chinese Garden. October is, apparently, Tea Month, and the Garden was hosting several Essence of Tea workshops/presentations/happy-fun-times sponsored by the Tao of Tea. The one that interested me was – of course – the blending exercise.

Tao of Tea had several herbs, dried fruit, and flowers on display. Garden patrons and passersby were given an opportunity to pick and choose what could go into their own custom blend. Two Tao employees were also on-hand to answer any questions onlookers might have.

Of the tea bases one could use – there was a Lincan Mao Feng and a Yunnan Tippy South Cloud. I wished there was more to choose from. But given that this was supposed to be an informal exercise, I had no complaints.

For my first blending attempt, I selected the Tippy South Cloud as the base. As for herbs and botanicals, I went with dried orange peel, osthmanthus, and spearmint. At least, I thought it was spearmint. I was informed that the label had been wrong, and that it was actually peppermint. This…was going to be interesting.

I decided to name it Bob.

On a second attempt, I used the Mao Feng, Chinese dates, licorice and goji berries. It looked absolutely wrong. (I’m still too frightened to try it.) After hovering around the display for about forty-five minutes, I finally headed home. I meant to brew up Bob as soon as I got back, but I waited a day.

The Yunnan black, citrus elements and peppermint gave Bob a very pleasant dry aroma. Even those I showed it to agreed. When time finally came to brew Bob up, though, I was at a loss on how long to do it for. In the end, I settled on a four-minute steep in boiling water.

Bob brewed up to a nice mahogany liquor with a pungently minty-malt aroma. Citrus was completely understated. On taste, Bob was a bit bitter on the front and possessed a peppermint-dominated middle. The taper-off was oddly chocolate-like in a Junior Mint fashion. Not sure if that was due to the citrus or just my odd tongue. I’m sure spearmint would’ve worked better than peppermint, at least as a compliment to the orange peel. Oh well…

In closing, Bob (while beautiful) needs work, but the experience was worth the attempt. It certainly didn’t dissuade me from wanting to try it again…and again…and again. Now, all I need is a lab coat and some goggles. Definitely goggles.

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Saturday, October 13th, 2012 Steep Stories No Comments

Meeting a Tea Moment

Sometimes – just sometimes – Twitter is steeped in awesome. A fellow tea blogger – Jen of An International Tea Moment – reached out to the Twit-o’-Sphere to see if there were any decent tearooms in Portland. Another fellow tea blogger – Nicole of Tea For Me Please – directed her to me. Because…apparently, I’m the go-to guy for Portland tea-binging. I passed along some suggestions and inquired about what was bringing her to my corner of the ‘burb. Tea Moment Jen replied that she was in town on a business trip and had a smidge of time to track down some good tea.

Naturally, I calmly and professionally suggested we should meet up.

She obliged, and we traded contact info to see if it was in the cards. We agreed that Tea Chai Te was a good enough place for a hypothetical meet-and-greet. I hadn’t been there in well over a year.

The next day, while awaiting the possible tea-chime, I started my “morning” with a Nilgiri green and cereal. It was far stronger than I anticipated, leaving me practically bouncing off the walls. (Er…in my mind.) Roughly around noon, Tea Moment Jen texted informing me that she was on her way from the airport to Tea Chai Te. I took off like a bat outta hell, outright ignoring certain traffic laws.

Tea Chai Te is a curious little tearoom situated in Portland’s Pearl District – right off of NW 23rd, or “Trendy”-Third as the locals call it. It’s urban to the core, small, but oozes adorability. Early on in my tea exploration, I was a frequenter of the place. Somehow, though, my visits became fewer and far between. Probably because I had tea dates there that didn’t go so well.

I arrived in roughly fifteen-ish minutes – record time for such a trek – and found Tea Moment Jen sitting in a corner with soup and teapot. I scissored my way past a couple of hipsters and clumsily introduced myself. She did likewise with far better poise. I excused myself for a moment to order a pint of something dark.

First question out of her mouth (like any good tea geek) was, “What did you order?”

“The Zhen Qu Gold Buds,” I replied.

Her eyes widened. “That’s what I ordered!”

Badass, I thought.

How was Tea Moment Jen in person? Just as elegant and eloquent as her blog indicates her to be. We discussed everything under the sun from favorite teas, Russia, how we got into tea, to how awesome Jo Johnson is, to tea vendors we liked. The conversation ran the entire tea-ish gamut. I was talking a mile a minute like a hyper-caffeinated motormouth.

After about an hour, though, we had to part ways. I left feeling accomplished, enlightened, and…bouncy. (Damn you, Zhen Qu!) While brief, the outing was beautiful and badassery-incarnate. Another blogger friend notched off the “tea-in-real-life” list.

Kindly ignore my obvious bed-hair.

Kindly ignore my obvious bed-hair.

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Wednesday, October 10th, 2012 Steep Stories No Comments

My First Tea Fest

I hemmed and hawed for weeks about whether or not I would actually go to the Northwest Tea Festival this year. Thankfully, my poor impulse control got the better of me, and – boy! – am I glad it did. To miss this tea-binge-o’-thon would’ve been act of idiocy. I present to you – fine tea reader(s?) – my disorganized and picture heavy coverage of Day #1 of said festival o’ the leaf.

(NOTE: This coverage will not include the workshops that were offered because…er…I couldn’t afford them. Being poor sucks. The end.)

Getting There

Washington, I hate you.

Seattle, I hate you more.

Not only were their cops on every exit along the highway getting there, but once I made it to Seattle proper, the roads turned into some other dimension. I swear, it was like the roads in Seattle were designed by someone on barbiturates. Same could also be said for the Seattle Center, which was difficult to navigate through. If it weren’t for signs pointing to the event, I would never have found it.

The Tasting Booths

I guess I’ll get my one gripe out of the way early. The way they organized the private tasting this year was downright awful. Patrons were only allowed two tasting tickets per day. Keep in mind that the event was only for two days – total. Granted, they likely did this as a way to funnel taster traffic. The event was crowded. Still, there had to be a better way to handle it.

Luckily, most of the focused tastings were featuring teas I already knew about extensively. There were two that I felt I had to do, though.

The first tasting was a 2012 Ice Island Pu-erh hosted by Guitian (Becky) Li – a certified tea master. As she told the large group of fifteen, the leaves for this beengcha were picked from high elevation, ancient tea trees – some as old as five hundred years. Unfortunately, it wasn’t an aged version.

That said, the tea itself displayed differing characteristics per steep – starting off grassy and sweet for the first two, and transitioning to a more winy presence in the successive infusions. I could only imagine what this pu-erh would be like given five years to age. Guitian handled the crowd like a seasoned pro.

On an unrelated note, before the tasting even began, I disrupted the proceedings when I realized I’d lost my teacup in another room. I made a mad-dash from one booth to the next to retrieve it – pants almost falling down.

The second tasting I attended later in the day was put on by Brett Boynton, co-owner of the Phoenix Tea Shop in Burien, WA. I had wanted to meet this guy for months ever since we traded tea barbs over Twitter. That and he had a fantastic tea blog I checked in on regularly.

He was just as quirky and irreverent in person as he was online. And I truly thought the way he handled a crowd of newbie tasters was the stuff of legend. Keep your eye out, you will hear about the “Burien Tea Ceremony” someday. Hint: It involves jokes. Lots of jokes.

The teas he featured were ones I had tried from their shop before – Korean green teas. Jungjak and Daejak, respectively. But it was a treat to see him doing the prep work for them. Like his partner in tea-crime, Cinnabar Gongfu, he’s a character.

Vendors

The first vendors I explored – in true “comfort zone”-y fashion – were the ones run by people I already knew. First up, The Jasmine Pearl Tea Merchants. Yes, I know, I hang out at their Portland shop all the time. I happened by their booth on several rotations – perhaps too much. However, I tried to hang back because they were slammed with visitors the entire day.

My main reason for hovering, though, was the unveiling of two new blends which used A-MURR-ican-grown tea as a base. They struck a deal with the Sakuma Bros. to use their white tea and new (experimental) black tea for locally-sourced blends. Oddly enough, I preferred the black blend over the white blend; strange because I liked the white tea by itself better than the black. Both were well put together, though.

Right next to the JP folks was the Phoenix Tea House booth, and it was equally as crowded. However, I did manage to scissor my way through to mooch a bit of their Ali Shan and copious amounts of their hei cha (post-fermented tea). Particularly worthy of note was a hei cha that was blended and bricked with rose petals. It was strangely sweet on the front, which is a trait I never associated with hei cha – at all.

Cinnabar Gongfu noted that she was skeptical about them because they were pressed into heart-shapes. (The name for them was “Rose Hei Cha Hearts”, after all). I didn’t come back to buy one until later, but they had unfortunately run out of ‘em within the first couple of hours. Not surprising. However, I did settle on a bit of bricked hei cha…which I’m having right now as I write this.

Of the new tea vendors I knew nothing about, first on my sip-list was an outfit out of…er…someplace in Washington called Snow Lotus Fine Teas. It was owned and operated by Lavina Rao, and she was presiding over the tasting at their booth. The one I took notice of was their Yunnan black – dubbed Honey Orchid. It was a malty beast of a Dian Hong. Naturally, I loved it.

After visiting their website, they are officially an outfit I have to try more stuff from. A lot of their offerings fall into my quirky taste of unique. Their black and white tea selections are phenomenal.

Teahouse Kuan Yin is based in Seattle proper, and I have no clue why I hadn’t heard of them until now. Guess I’ve been under a rock or something. They had a unique tea for the tryin’, which they dubbed “Taiwanese Assam”. It was from the Assamica varietal and reminded me of…well…just that, but with a bit of a Ruby 18 characteristic for good measure. I almost bought some, but it was only available in 2-oz. bags. I was on a budget.

There were plenty of other great vendors that were represented – especially some big-named ones – but I only wanted to cover the unique“teas” here for good measure. You understand, right reader? Good.

Presentations

I had one goal in mind when attending this festival and that was to finally meet James Norwood Pratt – the proverbial rock star of the modern-day tea renaissance. Others have touted his books and personal appearances, but I had yet to experience them for myself. How could I truly be a tea nerd without picking that man’s brain.

His informal lecture was on the subject of “The Tea Renaissance” in the U.S. and the different factors that led to it. He also reflected upon the dour state of the American tea industry after World War II and lamented the existence of mass-produced, low-quality teabags. What I found particularly interesting was the light he shed on white tea popularity in the U.S.

I had not been aware that white tea experienced a boom in the late-90s thanks in no small part to…Britney Spears. You heard right. Apparently, she was a regular customer at Chado – a popular tearoom in L.A. Somehow, someway, it got out that her personal trainer recommended that she only drink white tea for the higher antioxidants. Teeny-boppers the world over demanded white tea en masse soon after. Naturally, that made me rethink my entire white tea obsession.

He closed off the presentation with a Q-and-A. The only question I could think of for him was one that was un-tea-related. I raised my hand.

I asked, “Is it possible to get a picture with you?”

Laughing, Pratt replied, “You’ll have to ask my wife.”

“I’m his wife,” came a voice behind me.

Well-played, Team Pratt. Well-played.

Right after Norwood Pratt’s presentation was an interesting seminar on pu-erh, presided over by Jeffrey McIntosh of McIntosh Tea. He is a pu-erh specialist that spent several years learning from different tea masters in China. One of the facts he elaborated on that I hadn’t known was the varietal of tea tree used for pu-erh teas. The large leaf Yunnan tea tree varietal was Assamica! Okay, that doesn’t mean anything to most people, but my mind was blown. I stayed long enough to try some Wild Arbor pu-erh but had to depart for a tasting soon after.

Which brings me to…

Meet-and-Greets

I’ll bring this winded entry to a close with an excuse to show off a bunch of pictures with blurbs. Why? Because I’m a dork. Deal with it.

As mentioned above, my primary goal for the NW Tea Fest was to get a photo with James Norwood Pratt. I ended up also walking away with his latest edition of The Ultimate Tea Lovers Treasury. Of course, I also got him to sign it, and – like a true fanboy – made a cheesy grin when the snapshot was taken. He was an absolute pleasure to meet. I want to be just like him when I grow up. (For the record, I’m 36.)

After meeting JNP, I finally had to meet Devan Shah, the purveyor of the Chado Tearoom. I’d heard his name bandied about in tea circles, but honestly hadn’t been familiar with Chado until this festival. I must say, I was impressed with some of his wares. That and he was kind enough to oblige a photo.

This one was a two-for. Chuck – The Jasmine Pearl’s co-owner – had informed me that Richard Sakuma (of Sakuma Bros.) was going to be on hand at their booth. I had wanted to meet him for over a year after having tried their Sun Dried White Tea. The man was humble and good-natured and put up with my many questions with wonderful patience. I absolutely needed a picture with him and JP’s Chuck.

It wouldn’t be a trip to Seattle unless I caught up with the city’s resident “Tea Geek” – Michael J. Coffey. Strangely enough, he spotted me before I noticed him. He was donned in a lab coat and a TeaGeek.net nametag. We traded barbs and posed in front of a tea plant because…well…tea plant!

On one of my many pass-throughs of the Phoenix Teahouse booth, I demanded a photo-op with the owners Brett and Cinnabar. Both bloggers have my dream job.

I also caught up with fellow Portland teapal, David Galli of Portland Tea Enthusiasts’ Alliance outdoors.

I finally met Chris Shaw of Contemporary Clay. His various teaware creations were on display at different teashops I’d frequented. Really genial guy.

And last, but certainly not least, I had shwarma for the first time. The Avengers are right; it tastes like EPIC. How could I not draw this to a close with shwarma?!

 

In short, a spectacular day of hyper-caffeination.

After I made my fond farewells to everyone at the fest, JP Chuck had said, “Don’t fall asleep at the wheel.”

“I WON’T!” I said…happily hopping out the door.

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Sunday, October 7th, 2012 Steep Stories No Comments

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