Black Tea

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

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

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

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

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

Running for Kenyan Gold

This has unofficially become” Kenya Week” here at my lazy ol’ tea blog. It wasn’t intentional, but given that I have three Kenyan teas to notch off, it seemed only fitting that I theme a week around them. Today’s steep is a tea I actually received before the Purple Tea of Kenya. The purveyor of Phoenix Tea caught wind of my love for teas with the word “Gold” in them and (basically) said, “You ain’t tried nothin’ yet.”

Only…more eloquently, of course.

Royal Gold Safari was a “tribute tea” that was developed in honor of Professor Wangari Muta Maathi. She was the first African woman (an environmentalist) to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Also to her credit was being the first East or Central African woman to earn a doctorate.

Mooched from the Nobel Prize site

Mooched from the Nobel Prize site

This – like the Purble Tea I tried – was sourced from wholesaler, Royal Tea of Kenya. What I found funny was that it wasn’t listed among the available products on the RTK site. My only guess for this was that it was a rare tippy black tea only handed out for connoisseur-related consideration. Heck if I know. Not sure I’d call myself a connoisseur, but I know my gold teas…and this was one fine specimen.

On appearance, it looked like a Yunnan Jin Cha. The batch was mostly gold-tipped, curly leaves interspersed with the occasional brown-black pieces. The aroma wafting from the bag was peppery, sweet and caramel-like. On a blind whiff, I wouldn’t have been able to tell it apart from its distant Yunnan cousin. If there was one key difference in the fragrance, it was the berry-like lean – more like a greener oolong.

(Sidenote: I even had my brother/roommate smell it. His exact reply was, “It smells like Fruit Loops.” Well put.)

I couldn’t find any brewing instructions on the Phoenix Tea page or the RTK site. Best bet for Yunnan Golds was a three-minute steep in 195F-ish (almost boiled) water – 1 heaping teaspoon in 8oz. It was a little difficult to measure out just a teaspoon with how long these leaves were; the attempt came out looking more like a tablespoon. However, I thought it turned out right.

The liquor brewed to a…well…no other way to put it. It brewed GOLD! Bright, shiny, dazzling gold. It was a very light – and very bright – black tea. That same berry-sweet aroma remained with the liquid form, but not quite as strong. It was the flavor that was really surprising, though. The mouth feel was lighter than a Yunnan Gold – not as bold of a nectarine presence – but it possessed a floral introduction with a buttery after-effect. It was like drinking a Ceylon oolong…if Sri Lanka did that sort of thing. In fact, everything about this first infusion was very oolong-ish. I would even say close to a Dan Cong in character.

A second infusion at a full five minutes turned up an amber-colored brew with a stronger, honeyed-apple aroma. The taste was crisper, not quite as creamy, yet the same fruit-sweet savoriness remained. It took an uncontrolled brew-beating and still turned out wonderful – a telling trait of a burly black tea.

I’m not quite sure this surpasses the best Yunnan Golds I’ve tried. And, believe me, I’ve had a lot of those. But the experience this offers up is something quite unique. If this blog is proof of anything, it’s that I treasure unique teas. This is a fantastic tippy tribute tea if ever there was one.

To purchase Phoenix Tea Shop’s Royal Gold Safari, go HERE.

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Thursday, November 10th, 2011 Steep Stories No Comments

Iran So Far for…Tea

Some time ago, I made a necessary pit stop to The Jasmine Pearl, a teashop owned by a very nice couple in Northeast Portland. I had been in before, and they were one of the few places I could pick up Yunnan-grown “Golden Needles” at a decent price. It was the perfect black tea, the shop was perfectly close, and I was perfectly broke; it worked itself out.

While conversing with the owners over a cup of GABA oolong, they made mention of a friend in Iran who was bringing back some Persian-grown tea. I thought they had said “pearls tea” at first. My ears burned when they corrected me.  My “Tea WANT!” list wasn’t entirely in dire need of new additions, but the idea of tea from a growing region I wasn’t familiar with peaked my interest. Up to that point, all I knew about Persian tea was the way they served it – steeped in enough sugar to make a Southern belle blush.


When I returned home, I immediately went to digging up information about Iran’s tea history. My occidental notions of a backward country in the middle of the desert surrounded by rugs and dervishes were “a tad” inaccurate. Iran actually had a rather rich tea history, thanks to its close proximity to China – one that pre-dated European interest by a good 200 years. The town of Lahijan in the north even had their own Robert Fortune-type character. The biggest irony was that he stole seedlings from the British in India…who – in turn – had originally stolen from the Chinese.

Cultivation in Gilan province began roughly around 1900, while the first modern tea factory was built some thirty-ish years later. To this day, Iran alone produces 60,000 tons of black tea a year. The biggest tragedy, though, is that the U.S. sees nary a leaf of it. If it isn’t readily apparent to you, fair reader, relations between the United States and Iran are piss-poor at best. Reasons for this are quite valid, and I won’t go into any of that here. This is a tea blog, not a political soapbox.

It’s not entirely impossible to acquire Iranian-grown tea as an American, but chances are one would have to turn to an international site. And strong though my tea itch was, international shipping charges did much to quell the urge. That, however, didn’t stop me from posting several whiny forum queries wondering where I could acquire some without having to pound at an embargo.

Enter TeaGeek.net. Yet again.

Again, Michael J. Coffey – that sleuth of the steep – chimed in with a proverbial, “I got what’choo NEED!” (Yes, I can even hear him pounding the pavement with a pimp cane while saying that.)

Available exclusively to TeaGeek members was a tea gained through mysterious methods dubbed “Treasure of Persia”.  He mentioned he’d received it in an unnamed plastic bag, and the route used to obtain it made some drug deals pale by comparison. That made this one-off sample all the more interesting.

The leaves for this were jet black, long, wide, and oozing with malt-scent. The aroma reminded me of chocolate covered berries mixed with dry smoke.  In appearance, they resembled another TeaGeek score – the old-woman-handmade Georgian tea I had. They even smelled alike. For a moment there, I wondered if a fast one had been pulled on us.  On close inspection, though, there were subtle differences. The cut of the Persian leaves were smaller, the rolling method seemed different, and the leaves weren’t as tippy as the Georgian. Strikingly similar, but still different beasts.

There weren’t any established brewing instructions for this, so I had to go with what I was familiar with. Like the Georgian, this looked strong enough to take a four-minute steep, but I wasn’t sure what leaf amount to use. I went balls-in with a tablespoon-worth steeped in 8oz of boiling water for the allotted four.

The result was an amber-ish liquor with a dry and smoky nose, not unlike Russian Caravan or a subtle Taiwanese Lapsang Souchong. They certainly had my attention with whiff alone. On taste, the impression shifted ever-so-awesomely to a sip with a nutty forefront. That was quickly followed up with a fruity segue to a malty middle. As far as the finish was concerned, it was all Cavendish smokiness that tapered off handsomely.

Do you know how this tea made me feel? Like I was sitting on a weather-worn rock bedazzled in jewels, silks, and gold-trimmed whatevers while Disney-esque Jasmine-like maidens fanned large feathers at me. Oh, and there was an elephant for shade because…well…all Persian fantasies require an elephant. This didn’t even need to be sweetened to death in the typical Persian tea style, but I’m sure the approach would work wonders. A very outstanding cup of U.S.-embargoed hotness.

For more information from the TeaGeek, go HERE.

The inspiration for the “punny” title of this blog can be found HERE. Don’t watch if you have no cheesy sense of humor.

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Tuesday, September 6th, 2011 Steep Stories No Comments

Strawberry Jazz for the Soul

Art by David Borzo

Art by David Borzo

After weeks of pondering tea pairings – food, movies, books, etc. – it was only a matter of time before I had to muse on…well…tea and music. While I can say I appreciate many different types of music, I don’t have an affinity for it. I listen to CDs (yes, those ancient things) in the car as background noise for calm in rush hour traffic. I make it a point to discover one new band a year, but I sometimes lapse on that. So, you can imagine that I was overly thankful that there was a vendor that did the music/tea pairing job for me.

The Tea and Jazz House is a relatively new operation out of Baltimore, MA. Their mission statement indicates that tea blends should be unorthodox – just as jazz was (and is). As their musically-inclined site informs, they are in the process of building a teahouse devoted to underground jazz. The first step in that journey was putting out some appropriately named blends for palate perusal.inflatable tunnels

I chose to sample their one black tea blend dubbed “The McCrea” – named for…um…

To tell you the truth, I had no idea who it was named after. The only “McCrea” name I could find that might’ve fit was John McCrea, the frontman of Cake. Not sure I would consider him jazz, though. If I were to make a suggestion to The Tea and Jazz House, it would be to provide an artist bio on their tea profiles. If only to further cite the inspiration for the blend. (That and “Pureh” is spelled wrong.)

Well, if they intended to make a blend that was inspired by John McCrea, this certainly did smell like cake. Small-cut black tea leaves were paired with mixed berries, strawberry pieces and rose petals. I couldn’t make out any of the fruit pieces in the blend, but the petals were front and center. It was also a relief to see that said petals were the pink kind. Those were best for blending, imparting a sweeter, more subtly floral rose profile than their redder kin.

Brewing instructions on the site linked to a YouTube video about brewing. That was, frankly, far more time than I was willing to devote to brewing, other than the process itself. I went with 1 tsp. in 8oz. of boiled water for a steep of four minutes. My mainstay was usually three minutes (I’m a wuss), but since this was a blend, I risked the extra minute. I prepped it and cued up a YouTube video for Cake’s “Short Skirt/Long Jacket” to pair with the tasting.

(Sidenote: The song choice was oddly fitting for this blend because I found myself – of late – being enamored by blondes in sundresses with Stevie Wonder fixations…and a fetish for strawberries. This smelled like strawberries, and the girl in question had a “mind like a diamond”.)

The liquor brewed to a tawny brown with a strong berry nose. I would even say it was a bit tart. On a blind sniff, I would’ve guessed this had a smidge of hibiscus in it. There was a bitter forefront on taste, which made me think there was a Keemun/Ceylon base. The middle was a fair balancing act between sweet, berry-richness, light astringency, and floral notes. On aftertaste, it left a lingering profile of, thankfully, strawberries.

How well did it pair with Cake? Well, to be truthful, I’m not a fan of Cake – like, at all. John McCrea’s vocals, to me, were often gratingly monotone. “Short Skirt/Long Jacket”, though, was oddly topical, playful, and catchy. That and I clearly remembered the opening riff as the introduction to the TV series Chuck. I don’t know why it took this long for me to make that connection…over tea, no less.

So, end result: Listening to Cake while drinking a berry-blended tea made me want to date a girl in a short skirt that smelled like strawberries and rose petals. Is that a success? I have no idea. But the tea was good; that’s a start.

Addendum: The vendor finally informed me that the blend was inspired by Carmen McCrea…not John McCrea. So, the Cake really is a lie.

Addendum Two: After this writing, musician bios were finally added. So, there’s also that to look forward to on the website.

To buy The McCrea, go HERE.

For more information on The Tea and Jazz House, go HERE.

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Thursday, August 11th, 2011 Steep Stories No Comments

Tea from Tremalking

If Thirtysomething-ish Me could encounter Junior-in-High-School Me, I would assume he’d take a copy of Wheel of Time: The Eye of the World with him to said time-paradoxical encounter. He would look the zit-faced, sixteen-year-old in the eye and say, “Don’t you dare start this series until 2012.”

Younger Me would probably respond with, “But that’s twenty years from now!”

(Sidenote: Younger me sucks at math.)

Thirtysomething-ish Me would say, ” I know.”

“Surely, the series will be done before then,” Younger Me might whine.

“Trust me, it won’t,” Older/Maybe-Wiser Me would reply. “And don’t call me Shirley.”

(Sidenote: Love of The Naked Gun transcends time.)

What was the point of this little past-versus-future hypothetical? To emphasize a series that has been with me throughout most of my adolescence and into the present day, and it shouldn’t have been! To date the series is thirteen books long spanning over two decades. The original author of the series is dead, and the reigns have since past to another. Regardless of how frustrating The Wheel of Time books were, they are clearly a part of my life. They were my Gen X Harry Potter…minus the Hufflepuffs.inflatable tents

In May of 2012 – barring any further delays or deaths – the series will finally draw to a close. I will either heave a sigh of relief or shake fists at the “fires of Heaven” in frustration. Either way, I will remember the good points – including a nifty little detail that I never caught on to before.

In the story (which I won’t get to here, at all), there is an island called Tremalking. The inhabitants of the island are called the Amayar, a bunch of sea-hippies that follow something similar to Taoism. Like the aborigines of Australia, they also believe the world they inhabit is in a dream-state. A little lesser known fact about these fantasy sea-hippies is that they grow their own tea.

From the "Wheel of Time" Wiki

From the "Wheel of Time" Wiki.

So renowned is this tea that health benefits associated with it include relief of minor food poisoning, relaxation, relief from cramping, and other detoxifying effects. It is known to be a gentle – if bitter – beverage with a soothing character. Mentions popped up here and there in the series, but I never glommed onto them until the most recent volumes. I have two theories as to why this might be:

(1)   I never noticed it in prior volumes because I had no interest in dead leaves steeped in hot water back then.

(2)   The author that took over after Robert Jordan’s death was a tea drinker.

The mentions of Tremalking Black, and character references (and reverence) of it, seemed more prevalent when the narrative duties changed hands. I found this so fascinating that I wondered if other authors juggled tea in so subtle but subliminal a manner. At times, I find books that have mentions of tea, and – not surprisingly – some of the information is false. An odd occurrence if done poorly in a fantasy novel.

I guess that’s the sign of truly masterful prose – when an author describes a drink so often, and in so vivid a detail, that you actually want to try some. My own fictional pursuits of late have been clunky at best in trying to convey a love of tea with such verve and still keep the story moving. In that, though, I have a long way to go.

In the meantime, I’ll pretend that my spring-grown Ceylon was cultivated by sea-hippies.

From the "Wheel of Time" Wiki

From the "Wheel of Time" Wiki.

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Wednesday, August 10th, 2011 Steep Stories No Comments

Smoked Lapsang Porter – A (Manly) Tea-Beer Experiment

Back in April, a few of us in the Tea Twitterverse bestowed the rank of “manliest tea” (oft-considered a contradiction) on Lapsang Souchong. We even postulated on effects said smoked tea had on the unwitting imbiber. The Chuck Norissian dialogue that ensued was also the source of inspiration for my first foray into “tea fiction” – The Legend of Lapsang. I won’t pretend it was a good story by any manly measure, but it got the point across.

Lapsang Souchong – in Fukienese, “smoky sub-variety” – is a black tea from Mount Wuyi, Fujian province, China. The region is mostly known for producing high-grade, high-altitude oolongs. The black tea is made from the “Bohea” leaf cultivar, but its true uniqueness comes from the way it’s processed during drying. There are several origin stories of how this technique came about; whichever one is true, the effect is the same. The tea leaves are placed on pinewood fires and smoked. The result is a tea with a smell of hickory and a taste of campfire. In short, a very MANLY taste…but enough of the Tea 101.

I was inspired by a post made by the “teaviants” over at The Tea Blag to do an experiment with Lapsang Souchong and alcohol – my fifth of this sort. I had fused tea concentrates with beer on a few occasions and even wrote about two of the most successful attempts. I’m not sure what brought about this brainfart, but it was high-time to do another. For this round, I meant to combine a smoked porter with the infamous smoked tea.

Finding the beer I needed didn’t take long thanks to the Almighty Google. Stone Brewing was an op out of my old haunt of San Diego, CA. I never visited their actual HQ, but their products were quite known to me – particularly the delicious Arrogant Bastard ale. Among their wares was a Smoked Porter, and they described it as, “dark, smooth and complex, with rich chocolate and coffee flavors balanced by a subtle smokiness.” Sounded like a perfect match for what I had in mind.

I brewed the concentrate like I always did for tea-beers and/or iced tea – 2 tsp. worth of leaves in 8oz of water, Russian zavarka-style. The porter was kept on ice until the tea had about five minutes of steep under its leather-scented belt. It didn’t quite darken as much as I thought it would; Lapsang Souchong usually took on the color of crimson and “quantum singularity”. One could see their soul practically disappear into the brew. I wondered if it’d be strong enough to handle the porter.

Lastly, I whipped out a pint glass and poured the Stone Smoked Porter into half of it. When the tea was done fermenting its death brew, I plopped my ailing/aging Teavana steeper cup above the pint glass to drain. (Sidenote: That very steeper committed seppuku a week later.) Alchemy commenced as the contents collided. The void-black liquor didn’t water down or dissipate at all on splashdown. It was like staring into an alcoholic abyss.

To my surprise, the mixture didn’t bubble up on contact like with other tea-beer fusions. The porter’s foamy head remained as thick and even as it had before the tea inclusion. The concoction did threaten to envelop the spoon I used to stir the drink o’ damnation. I felt like an apothecary over a cauldron in some long-winded sci-fantasy novel.

Now, to taste…

The first thing I noticed when I put lips to glass was how lukewarm it was. Tea-beer experiences of past attempts yielded a brew with an average temperature of 150F-160F. That was one of the best parts of the combination, a warm beer that was still foamy and nowhere-near-flat. While this certainly wasn’t flat, it was maybe room temperature at best. Not exactly a bad thing. Dark beers were great at room temperature.

Secondly, the palette and palate; it was as black as night. I expected the porter to dominate the tea addition by a fair margin. Holy Hell, was I ever wrong! The mahogany, robust chocolaty notes of the porter were present only – and I do mean, only – on the initial sip. The rest – from top note to finish – tasted like charcoal, brimstone aftermath, death-by-Armageddon, post-war campfire, and nuclear fallout…with a floral finish.

I cocked an eyebrow, then the other. I think I twitched a little. My throat felt cold “burning”. The sensation trailed down to my stomach. Gurgling could be heard and felt. Some semblance of unrest was a-brewing deep within my abdomen. I pictured smoke-billowing hellhounds wreaking havoc on my intestines. I asked myself, Do I need to take a dump?

Before answering the questionable call of the wild, I coaxed my brother into trying the hellish hybrid. He sipped, he pursed his lips, and he pondered. Then he froze.

“It tastes like…ash,” he said flatly.

And after that second opinion, I entertained the “number two” that demanded my immediate attention. Once that was done, I came to the conclusion that this was perhaps too much manliness for one drink to possess. Either that or my sensibilities were far too delicate to handle the sheer potency of so firestormy a fusion. From a connoisseur’s critical tongue, it tasted awful. From a testosteronal standpoint, it was a necessary trial by fire.

I will say this. After finishing the last of the pint, I did feel like I could wrestle a bear. Unfortunately, one was not present. There was, however, a Saint Bernard puppy nearby. Close enough.

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Saturday, May 28th, 2011 Beverage Blog, Steep Stories No Comments

I work for tea money.

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