Archive for May, 2012

Orange You Glad I Broke My Pekoe in Portugal?

I looked out the window today and thought to myself, I need a f**king vacation. Okay, everyone thinks that at one time or another, and I guess my long spat of unemployment last year was “kind of” a vacation. What I mean, though, is an actual break from it all in another place other than my house…in my room…at my computer. The Internet is not a vacation

Over the last couple of years, I have been “seeeecretly” planning my dream vacation. If I ever won the lottery, or came into some mysterious form of capital, or ended up at the beckon call of a pudgy-geek-loving sugarmomma…no one would see me for at least a year. Funny thing is (but not entirely unexpected), all my vacation stops would focus on tea, or more to the point, tea-growing regions.

My first stops would be the growers in the U.S., because – well – it’s A-MURR-ican tea gash-durrrnit! First, Skagit Valley for a jaunt to the Sakuma Bros. farm. It’s close-ish to my stomping grounds, and I tried their white tea and loved it. Second, Charleston, South Carolina, and a stop off at the Bigelow-owned tea plantation there. Then it’s across the pond to Cornwall, Great Britain for a tour of the Tregothnan estate. After that, my next phase was to hit the Rize region of Turkey before trekking to Georgia…but that notion has changed a tad.

Blame Portugal.

I first learned of the Gorreana Estate through my contributions to the review blog – It’s All About the Leaf. It’s my third (or fourth?) home for all things leaf-related. They received several offerings from the Azores-located estate – both bagged and loose. A new growing region?! SOLD! I put in a request for their loose-leaf green and loose orange pekoe. Alas, I was tied with another reviewer for the request. The site administrator – great guy – divvied up the spoils. I got the bagged OP and the loose green – a Hysson. The other got the pekoe. In short, both were wonderful.

Yet my palate and curiosity were not quite sated. I still had it in mind to one day track down the loose-leaf version of their flagship pekoe. By a stroke of luck, fate, or just plain randomness, I didn’t have to wait that long. The reason?

If there’s something unique I haven’t tried yet – be it food or drink – I have a tendency to whine about it. Not just vocally in real life, I also take to social media and let my lament be known. In my Twitter whining (Twhining?), Gorreana caught wind of my desire and offered to send me some. Not just their regular Orange Pekoe, but their Broken Leaf black tea as well. My glee was most apparent.

My thoughts were thus:

Orange Pekoe

First off, I can say that this was one beautiful looking tea – just on the dry presentation. The leaves were long, rolled, and ranging from tippy gold to dark brown. It looked like an autumn flush Darjeeling, only more even. That and it had the most wonderful aroma – both sweet, slightly malty, and earthy. I treated it like a normal OP and brewed 1 tsp. in 8oz. of boiled water, steeped for two-and-a-half minutes.

The liquor brewed to a light crimson color – a tad darker than most spring pekoes, but just right for summer. The aroma was sweet, honey-like, with a vague woodiness on the back-whiff. On taste, there’s not much to say other than, “Wow!” It was creamy on the forefront, sweet and vaguely citrusy in the middle, and it tapered off with earthiness like a Yunnan Dian Hong. A second steep was a bit more astringent than the first, but still well beyond drinkable – maintaining that sweet sensation throughout.

Broken Leaf

Color-wise, the dry leaves looked just like the OP – gold, beige, brown, crimson (?) – but they were…well…broken. The only long pieces in the fray were the stems. I didn’t mind one bit because the aromatic character had also changed. Instead of a likeness to an autumn flush Darjeeling, the cut leaves imparted a Ceylon-ish experience. I whiffed a bit of malt, flowers, and citrus. Very spry and sharp.

Regardless of the smaller cut of the leaves, the liquor brewed much lighter than the regular OP – more amber, less crimson. That and the aroma was all sweetness and citrus. The taste echoed the citrus comparison even further with a hint of grapefruit and mandarin on the forefront, followed by a floral top note reminiscent of lemon verbena. Flavor tapered off eventually with a hint of dryness. Still, it was a very summery cup and made me think “Viva Portugal” more so than the flagship OP.

The result? My imaginary vacation has been detoured. After Tregothnan, I’m heading straight for the Azores. The real problem is whether or not I’d ever leave. I mean, it’s gorgeous, the tea is good, and…well…Turkey is really far. And I’m the sleepy sort. Which reminds me, it’s back to dreaming about my tea vacation again. Don’t wake me unless the house is on fire…or a Lotto girl is at the door.

To buy the Gorreana Estate Orange Pekoe, go HERE.

To buy the Gorreana Estate Broken Leaf, go HERE.

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Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012 Steep Stories No Comments

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.

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Monday, May 21st, 2012 Steep Stories No Comments

Lady Burgermount

I remember the first time I ever tried to pronounce the word “bergamot” in front of a bona fide tea professional. He instantly corrected me by saying, “It’s bergaMOT.” And here I was uttering the less pronounced, “bergamitt”. That’s the way it always looked to me.

The mitt-mispronunciation has since left my lexicon, but I find others having similar difficulty with it. Can’t say that I blame them; it’s a weird word. Why couldn’t they simply refer to it as Citrus bergamia like the bitter orange is ACTUALLY CALLED! Heck, “bergamia” even flows better than “bergamot”, which – to me – sounds like the name of an unleavened bread.

My absolute favorite butchering of bergamot, though, came from the one who brought me into this world. It was the second time we had ever ventured to Smith Teamaker, and it has since become our go-to mother/son tea spot. Tea was our ritual whenever she was in town.

Her “teafault” beverage was (and always will be) Earl Grey, and one particular variant has surpassed all others. Smith puts out a beverage dubbed “Lord Bergamot” – their take on the classic, bergamot oil-laden Earl Grey formula, only Smith-ized. The first time my mother ordered it, she said, “I’ll have the…Lord Ber-b-bergermont.”

Image from Everything Burger

Image from Everything Burger

After a few attempts, we settled on “Burgermount”.

Then I got to thinking…

Hey, why not Burgermount?!

It has a much better flow than “bergamot” ever will. It rolls off the tongue and has the added benefit of making one hungry. (Unless you’re vegetarian.) I almost want to start a petition to have that little bitter orange officially renamed. But I digress…

Mom, if you’re reading this. There is some Lord Burgermount on its way to you. Hope you appreciate it as always…and Happy Mums Day. May we have tea again soon.

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Sunday, May 13th, 2012 Steep Stories 2 Comments

You’ve Probably Never Heard of this Tea Before

One particular evening, a friend of mine and I were conversing over beers. (Isn’t that when the best conversations happen?) The topic of hipsterdom came up. Being residents of the greater Portland area, we were bombarded with them regularly. The “anti”-clique made P-Town one of its ironic bases of operations. Funny thing, though, no one who is a hipster actually thinks they are one.

Case in point, my friend actually said – paraphrased greatly, “You exhibit hipster traits.”

“I do not!” I remember whinily protesting. “I’m a geek through-and-through.”

“Yes, but you complain about the current brand of geeks.”

Egad, he was right.

Heck, there were some mornings when I woke up with my hair in a makeshift mockery of a faux-hawk. I slept in out-of-season holiday pajamas. The irony wasn’t completely lost on me. That trend toward…well…trend-avoidance carried over to other aspects of my life.

Topics of geek esoterica – anime, British sci-fi, comic book movies, video games, even Bollywood (???) – all of those bits of outer-subculture I cradled had become…mainstream. In the ensuing years, I had some semblance of an identity crisis. What were “old school” geeks supposed to latch onto if their badge/identity was compromised by normalcy?

Somehow, someway, my attentions gravitated to a beverage. Tea became my solace, my self-actualization, my subcultural haven. NO one in my greater circle was into that sorta thing. Obscurity: Achieved! But that wasn’t enough.

Eventually, I did run into like-minded tea drinkers in my online perusal – the extent of which were far more knowledgeable than I ever could be. As a result, I had to find a niche; some sort of tea-ish focus that set me apart. I would say I stumbled upon it by accident.

My goal was to track down new and obscure teas from odd growing regions, and catalog them accordingly. That pursuit launched the (desperately-in-need-of-updating) “Tea WANT!” list. However, even that list wasn’t enough. I could barely keep up with all the new and exciting teas brought to my meta-hipstery focus.

And – in a clunky segue – I would like to highlight a couple examples:

I practically begged a fellow tea blogger for a sample of this. They were able to acquire this black tea through an offer put forth by the YaYa Teahouse in New Zealand. The Zealong folks – yes, the “oolong from MIDDLE-EARTH!” producers – were playing around with fully-oxidized teas now. It was new, it was obscure; it met my M.O.

The smell was chocolate. No other way to put it – chocolate and a residual woodiness. The leaves themselves looked like the shavings of a tree that had caught fire. Pure awesome. The taste, however, was surprisingly light compared to the burly aroma. The liquor brewed to a mid-amber color with a floral, Ceylon-ish nose. The taste was almost note-for-note a Taiwanese Ruby black, save for less mintiness. It was light with no tannic bite, and a hint of malt on the back.  A second infusion – which I did as a fluke – turned up really surprising results – with a citrus lean on the front and a crisp trail-off, more in line with a Dan Cong oolong.

I picked this up on my “Teattle” trip to the Phoenix Teahouse. It deserved a feature of its own due to its origin story. Koreans – like the Japanese – aren’t known for their black teas; they’re mainly associated with high-quality (and highly expensive) green teas. All produced in small batches. When I saw this single origin “Dan-Cha” black (sorry, “red”…and the reason for the above image) tea on their site, it was one I had to try. I ended up walking out with an ounce of the stuff.

The leaves for this didn’t differ at all from the usual, run-of-the-mill black tea fair. They were dark, they were twisty – carry on. The aroma, however, was unusual – evoking mint, nuts, a hint of caramel and some other unidentifiable feelings. It was really hard to pinpoint what it reminded me of; it was its own beast. The liquor brewed straight amber with an aroma that reminded me of pine needles on a Douglas Fir, for some reason. The taste was, well, incomparable. It was floral, sour, minty, sometimes sweet, never bitter, and it kept changing per sip. I have no basis for comparison. Wonderful, nonetheless.

So, here I sit, in my holiday pajamas – hard-pressed to think of a proper lesson learned from my quirky hobby. Oh wait…no…I do know. I’m not a hipster. Heck, there’s nothing hip about me. I drink tea, I write, I watch cheesy movies, and going outside requires too much effort most times. My desire to be obscure and my whining about being into something before the herd don’t stem from a need for self-identity.

I’m not a hipster. I’m just old.

Now get off my lawn.

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Tuesday, May 8th, 2012 Steep Stories No Comments

Guan Yins,Tigers and Lords, Oh My!

For context, READ THIS FIRST

For once, I thought I’d get a full night’s sleep. The work week had been murder, and for some odd reason, I couldn’t stay in bed for more than six hours. Well, this time I had an excuse. A loud roar jolted me from sleep. When I opened my eyes, standing in front of me was the Bodhisattva of Compassion herself – Guan Yin – standing atop a rubber ducky (???). And she looked pissed.

How did she get in my room? Wait…where was my room?! I was greeted by blackness all around me as I sat straight up. The only occupants in this void/nullspace were me (still in bed), the ducky-perched Chinese goddess, and a third shadowy figure.

“Are you the one they call the Lazy Clitoris?” the bodhisattva asked.

“That’s…Literatus,” I corrected her.  “Ma’am.”

“Silence!” she snapped.

“But you asked me to speak,” I reminded her.

She did not take my dry comment well, bringing a lightning bolt down within an inch of my bed. The smell of ozone wafted once the crackling ceased. I didn’t even know she had that ability.

“You have wronged me greatly,” Guan Yin said, lowering her duck.

“Is this about the story?”

“Of course, it is!” her voice boomed and echoed.

“But it was all true,” I replied.

“True or not, you have sullied my name,” she said. “And now, you must make reparations.”

“Why are you on a duck?” I had to ask.

“My dragon – Ao Bing – is…on vacation,” she replied, flustered.

“But why a duck?”

“A mutual interested party provided him,” she said, motioning for the shadowy figure to step forward.

A youthful man in dated formal attire approached in a carriage…pulled by two very imposing Bengal tigers. His attire was a mix-and-match of Victorian and Georgian influences, his cravat was flashy, and his top hat seemed to glow with its own aura. The man’s visage bore a striking resemblance to American actor, James Franco.

The Faux-Franco bowed in my direction, “Viscount Petersham, at your service.”

I cocked an eyebrow, “Petersham?”

“Yes?”

“Who is Peter, and why is he a sham?” I asked with a half-smile.

He simply looked at me for a moment, then spoke, “Oh! That was an attempt at humor. How precious.”

“And why are you here?” I asked of him again. “Wherever here is?”

“The lovely Bodhisattva and I have come to an arrangement,” the viscount explained. “One that involves you.”

“What for and why me?”

“My, you’re annoying quizzical,” Petersham sighed. “You wronged her and an associate of mine. She brought you to this ‘space between spaces’ where you will be subjected to a Trial by Tea.”

“Trial by-”

Tea!” Guan Yin finished for me. “If you pass, you live. If you fail…”

As if on cue, one of the Bengals roared. I gulped. No one wanted to die in their pajamas, especially not out-of-season Santa Claus pajamas.

“The idea, my good chap, is this,” the viscount said, dismounting from his grand tiger-chariot. “There are two teas in my repertoire that need testing. One was tailored specifically to me, the other – well – named for my feline friends over there.”

“So…what do I have to do?” I queried.

“Simply try them,” Petersham said with a grin.

“And if I don’t like them?”

“That won’t be possible.”

“Get on with it,” the goddess said impatiently.

“Yes, m’dear,” he said with a roll of the eyes.

He stretched out his hand. A platter, a teapot, a metallic kettle, two transparent 8-ounce teacups, and an hourglass perched above his hand.

“How did you-?” I started.

“I’m a dead man with two pet tigers,” Petersham stated flatly. “What can’t I do?”

“Fair point,” I nodded.

“Now, how do you take your tea, lad?” he asked.

Me? A lad? I look older than him! I said inwardly.

“1 teaspoon of leaves, boiling water, three-minute steep,” I replied.

“Only three minutes?!” Petersham looked aghast. “What are you, some kind of dandy?”

“You asked,” I shrugged – an odd question coming from a man with a lisp.

He sighed dramatically. “Very well.”

With a wave of a few fingers from his other hand, steam rose from the kettle – bubbling was heard from within. I wondered where the water had come from, but this was a magic void. Wondering was pointless. The kettle, then, poured the water itself into the pot. I guessed the leaves were already housed within. The hourglass flipped itself over independently and remained suspended in mid-air.

Three minutes passed by with awkward silence. Guan Yin had dismounted the rubber ducky and crouched down to pat the head of one of the tigers. It bellowed a loud purr in response. Petersham made unique use of a snuff box in the interim.

When the hourglass ran its last grain of sand, there was a loud chime. The tigers perked up in alarm. The source seemed to resound from all over. Petersham was unperturbed by it, gingerly waving a finger, and levitating the pot.

The liquor that poured into the clear cup was an even copper with a light gold ring on the periphery. It was a lovely looking beverage. I put cup to lips. On introduction, there was a bit of a citrus bite, followed by a slight tannic lean in the middle. Then it snapped at the top note with a presence of peppers, allspice, honey and Keemun sweetness. So many different flavors were at play – all vying for steeping supremacy.

“Damn,” I said with approval.

“Poetic, isn’t he?” Guan Yin said dryly.

The viscount, however, appeared overjoyed. “And, now, the Two Tigers blend.”

He repeated the same songless dance with a new set of “tea”-quipment. Water boiled, apparatuses flew about, and another clear cup was magically filled. The smell of the rising steam was strong on the nostrils.

The liquor had brewed only a slightly deeper copper than Petersham’s namesake blend with a very even and sweet aroma. Malt was also there but understated. Flavor-wise, it possessed a very crisp forefront, which transitioned to a strangely floral middle. It tapered off nicely without much lingering bitterness.

“A strong morning cup, for sure, but one polite enough to call you a cab afterwards,” I said.

The viscount looked puzzled. “I don’t quite follow.”

“It’s a sex reference,” Guan Yin growled, arms akimbo. “He does that.”

Again, Petersham was un-phased. “Splendid! You passed!”

“All I did was like the teas,” I said.

“That’s all that was needed,” Petersham said, clasping my shoulders. “You live to drink another day.”

With that, the youthful – and possibly immortal – lord retook the reigns of his tiger mounts, bid a gloved farewell with a “toodleloo ” of his left fingers, and rode off into the darkness. The cups of tea and brewing equipment, however, remained suspended in place – hovering. All that remained were me, the tea, an ill-tempered goddess, and a rubber ducky.

“Okay…” I started. “I passed. Guess that means I get to go now?”

“No,” she said.

“No?” I gulped – voice a little higher.

“You get to live, yes,” Guan Yin agreed. “But I get to determine the ‘where’.”

I said nothing, but my gaze narrowed.

“Here in the void,” she said with arms outstretched. “This suits you perfectly.”

“So, it’s like that, then,” I said, taking the cup with the Petersham blend.

“It’s like that,” she repeated.

I also grabbed the cup of the Two Tigers blend. “You’ve never read my work, have you?”

“You work?” she chuckled.

“I’ll take that as a ‘no’.”

I held out both transparent cups so she could clearly see them. At first, she appeared puzzled…but then her eyes widened. I bore a toothy grin as I poured the contents of one cup into the other.

“NO!” she screamed.

“You forget, Bodhisattva,” I began. “When I blend, I don’t think of the consequences. And when I drink…”

One of the cups began to glow. The copper liquid bubbled and churned from other. Out of thin air, a third cup appeared. No, not a cup. A mug. I moved the three together. The shape looked…oddly (but appropriately) phallic.

“This. Is. MY CUPPA!!!” I bellowed, taking a swig.

Both blends combined tasted like all the things that men are made off – earth and smoke with an astringent stubbornness that couldn’t be quelled. I relished in the power. This was true tiger’s blood.

Cracks and fissures of glowing light pierced the pocket void-realm. The “ceiling”/sky/whatever flaked and crumbled. Shadows retreated and the intruding rays of luminescence penetrated ever-inward. Guan Yin screamed as her handiwork unraveled in mere moments. Without a means to retaliate, she retreated to the solace of the rubber ducky and made a hasty retreat.

As the last of the shadows receded, I found myself back in my haphazard room. All was in shambles, but it was the mess I had made – not the goddess. My bed was as I left it. Yet I still held the combined, phallic-looking tri-teacup.

“This isn’t over, Clitoris,” boomed a disembodied woman’s voice. “Those blends were his, and he still owns you until you finish.”

“His? He who? Finish what?” I asked the ceiling.

There was no response, only the echoes of tittering laughter.

“That’s LiterATus!” I corrected…to no one in particular.

What had she meant by being owned? Who was I indebted to? Who owned and/or made those blends? Not Petersham, he said they were commissioned. Then whom?

The realization hit me when I looked down at my computer.

The rubber ducky? Petersham? I inhaled sharply. HIM?!

I was in someone’s debt, someone for whom I owed a writing project. So long as it went incomplete, he owned my soul. Without further thought, I fired up the computer and went to writing. Shivering all the while, imagining his eyes (and ducky) were looming over me.

Acknowledgements:

Thanks are owed to Jackie, one of the co-pilots of Tea Trade, for passing the two Devotea blends my way.

Thanks, also, to The Devotea himself – Robert Godden – for making them. They were superb. (As if there was ever a doubt. One of these days, I’ll have to pick his brain for the recipes.)

You can buy the Lord Petersham blend HERE.

You can buy the Two Tigers blend HERE.

And, lastly, thanks to Jason Norman (my cousin) for helping me out with some last-minute Photoshopping. Much obliged.

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Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012 Prose, Steep Stories No Comments

I work for tea money.

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