Archive for March, 2012

Soba Up, Buckwheat! You’ve Had too Much Oolong Beer!

Obviously, I’m still playing catch-up. This is a flashback to late-January. I assure you, though, it’s totally worth it. Well, if you like tea in your beer. Moving along…

Tea and beer are my two favorite beverages in the world. Yes, the entire world. Both are also extremely habitual and have a lot of history to them. As a result, becoming geekily obsessed with the minutiae surrounding either drink is an obvious conclusion. So, what happens when I learn that both have been - somehow/someway - combined?

Answer: Geek overload.

I have tried several examples where tea and alcohol have been combined. In some cases, it was merely scented teas - either smoked or aged in a barrel - but on the other end of the spectrum are the alcoholic drinks that use tea leaves as an ingredient. My favorites of those, to date, have been an Earl Grey/tangerine zest ale and a jasmine green tea mead. I had yet to run into a brewery that found a creative use for oolong, though.

In the Fall, a friend brought to my attention that Oakshire Brewing out of Eugene, OR. had done just that. Alas, I was a whole week behind the times. The stuff had long since been drunk dry. Fast-forward to January: The purveyor of J-Tea - the pivotal “J” himself - brought to my attention that it wasn’t all done yet. In fact, the beer in question had a second go-around left. Better still? It was a gin-barrel-aged, Belgian-style saison that was brewed with Taiwanese greener-style oolong as an ingredient. An oolong provided by “J”.

Josh Chamberlain brewing oolong in a keg!

Josh Chamberlain brewing oolong in a keg!

My brain exploded.

The tasting itself was being held at a cheese bar in Southeast Portland, and - as luck would have it - it was also one of my days off. Only one small snag, though. I was still sick from the second round of “Le Plague”. I didn’t care; this was worth leaving quarantine.

I was able to form a mini-posse with two other friends to make the trip. Matt Van Wyk - Oakshire’s brewmaster himself - was also on-hand to answer any questions about the brew itself. (And pick his brain, I did.) The name of it was completely awesome: Frederic’s Lost Arm. I couldn’t tell ya what it meant, though.

The brew itself? Needless to say, it was superb. The Oakshire folks know how to brew a damn good beer, and this was no exception. It was strong on the juniper note toward the front, followed by the sour Belgian-ish-ness in the middle. The aftertaste was both sweet and bitey. The only disadvantage was, there was no sign of oolong to be found. I guess all the cask-conditioning willowed away any punch the green Formosa could deliver. No surprise there. Taiwanese oolongs can be on the gentle side. However, if I tried - even through my clogged state - I could remember a bit of a honey-like texture to it.

Short answer: “Dayamn”.

*****

On a completely unrelated night that same week, I finally tore into a sample that was sent my way by fellow writer/blogger, Jo Johnson. She had seen mention of soba-cha on my “Tea WANT!” list and decided to impart some to me. I knew it wasn’t a rare tea to come by, but I was extremely grateful that she beat me to the punch.

For those who don’t know, “soba” simply means “buckwheat” in Japanese. I don’t know much about the grain other than the name being applied to idiots. That said, when I took a whiff of the stuff, I was greeted by a pungently nut-sweet aroma that could rival rooibos in its delivery.

Alas, the taste didn’t quite reflect the aroma’s sweetness, imparting a nutty brew that reminded me of rice, barley, and sweetened peanuts. While surprised with the change in profile, I still rather enjoyed it. The little granules held up to a boiled-water/five-minute brew-up with surprising sturdiness, and it was a far cry better than some rice-laden teas I’ve tried. (Yes, I’m talking to you genmaicha.)

Speaking of genmaicha…recently, I had an epiphany to one day try this blended with a kabusecha-style tamaryokucha (heavily-shaded, curly green tea from Kumomoto) and maybe a dash of Nishio-grown matcha. Maybe I’ll give it a try soon and record the results…but that’s a subject for another schizoid rambling.

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Monday, March 26th, 2012 Beverage Blog, Steep Stories 2 Comments

You Think You Know Yunnan?

Oh, hi.

You’re still here. Damn…have you been waiting long? Two months? Really?! Ummm…

Yeah, I had…uh…Carpal-depress-‘o-flu. It’s contagious. I’d stay back if I were you. Now where were we…January? Ah, yes.

To say it’s been a rough Winter is an understatement. I spent three weeks of it on my second bout with “Le Plague”. This put an even greater delay on my tea reviewing schedule – even well beyond the usual procrastination. One can’t really judge a drink when they can neither taste or smell. However, there were some strong contenders that braved the challenge.

Along with my usual morning matcha routine, I also attempted to drink copious amounts of white tea. I figured, if I couldn’t taste anything anyway, a good white tea won’t really matter. Most people can’t taste the stuff anyway unless they over-brew it. I can…but I’m “sensitive”.

There were three Yunnan white teas I had at my disposal. One was a rougher white known as Yue Guang Bai. Loosely translated, it means “Moonlight White”. The process for making it is slightly different than other white teas. Instead of being dried like other teas, it instead goes through a process (I’ve heard) that is similar to maocha (proto-pu-erh). It shows in the initial taste – rough, leafy and slightly earthy.

The second on hand was a favorite of mine – sun-dried buds from the Ya Bao (Arbor) varietal. The stuff reminded me of a Greek Mountain herbal infusion on smell and sip. As for the buds, they always looked very un-tea-like, but – man! – could they take a beating! I could boil the heck out of ‘em and still get three infusions-worth.

And speaking of boiling. Good ol’ Chuck – the husband half of The Jasmine Pearl Tea Merchants – corrected me on an assumption I held that only Fujian-produced Silver Needles were the best. He brought forth one that was produced in Yunnan, looked exactly like the Fuding/Fujian stuff, and smelled five times better. As in, the leaves actually had a smell. Citrus, as a matter of fact.

So what is an indecisive sick boy to do when he can barely taste anything through his congestion? How does he choose which white tea to go for? Answer: He doesn’t. He mixes the three together.

The result was…well…I couldn’t tell you exactly what it tasted like because I couldn’t really discern much past my clogged palate. What I can tell ya was that I did taste it? Quite a bit! That says something about the strength of these Yunnan whites. What’s even better? When I brewed ‘em up in a pot, I used boiling water. This doubled their taste output.

I only did a pot of all three once, and I’m not entirely sure why I didn’t try it again. Perhaps, now that my nasals are clear, I’ll revisit the unprofessional blend. As it stands, though, Yunnan whites are quite the powerhouse to the palate. Even a sickly one.

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Wednesday, March 21st, 2012 Steep Stories No Comments

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