English Breakfast

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

The Revenge of Finbarr’s Persian Princess in 1910

This review is actually a sequel of sorts. To read its predecessor – for context – go HERE.

Don’t you hate it when you wake up in the morning and end up in another time period? So do I. As far as I know, it’s only happened once – today. I found myself awake at the ungodly hour of 7AM after hearing a loud gagging noise coming from my cat. That was usually the early warning sign of an impending (and rather messy) hairball.

After dealing with that little nuisance, I figured I might as well stay up and get some water boiling. It felt like an oolong morning, so – naturally – I went for the gaiwan. Pot and apparatus at the ready, I proceeded to plug the kettle in.

And…nothing happened. I pressed a button – still nothing. I gave the thing a good punch. And…

A flash of light transported me, my plastic tea kettle, my gaiwan, and my pajama’d self to somewhere straight out of a Jules Vernian nightmare.

A “geared” world at sunrise greeted me. Airships dotted the sky, hovering about almost aimlessly. The ground below them was rattled with structures of varying shades of copper and rust. My immediate attention, though, was directed at an Irishman pointing a revolver at me.

His beard wasn’t just red – it was magenta. His attire was so flamboyant that even a metrosexual leprechaun would’ve blushed. What topped off the dandy’s appearance was a crown perched ever-so-slightly to one side of his head. He flashed a welcoming grin as he cocked the brass-plated pistol.

“Welcome to 1910, Mr. Literatus,” the Irishman lilted.

“Looks more like the 1890s,” I replied, backing away slightly.

Something pointy prevented me from backstepping any further.

“Ah-ah-ah,” a feminine voice from behind me warned. “Stay put, my dear.”

I turned my head as I raised my hands in the air. The mysterious woman behind me was shrouded by purpble robes. A bejeweled dagger was the “pointy thing” that gave me pause.

“Perhaps some introductions are in order,” the Irishman said. “I am Finbarr. This is Persian Princess.”

“She doesn’t have a name?” I wondered aloud.

“None that you need to know,” the woman said, giving a light poke with the pointy.

“And Finbarr…you don’t mean the fairy king of the Daoine Sidhe, do you?” I asked.

“No, that’s my cousin,” the Irish dandy corrected. “Finn Bheara.”

“Confusing.”

“More than a little,” Finbarr shrugged.

“Wait a minute,” I said with rising frustration. “Finbarr…Persian Prin-…THE DEVOTEA SENT YOU!!!”

At that moment, a slightly transparent, disembodied head appeared out of thin air.

“What he said,” Finbarr agreed as the disembodied Devotea winked out of existence.

“Then why are you here? Why am I here!?” I demanded.

“Truth be told, we’re seeing if our namesake blends actually hold up,” Finbarr explained.

“We want to make sure he’s doing us justice,” the Persian woman practically purred.

“And who told you that kidnapping reviewers was the way to do it?” I asked again.

“Petersham, of course,” Finbarr said delightfully.

“Of course,” I repeated flatly, rolling my eyes.

A table with a tea set, three bags, brewing equipment and a tea kettle miraculously appeared amidst sparkles and smoke. It was an odd thing to say that this was becoming far too routine for me. I perused the different ounce bags. One was labeled “1910”, another “Finbarr’s Revenge”, and a purple bag read “Persian Princess” embroidered in gold trim.

I put down the gaiwan and plastic tea kettle I’d forgotten I was still holding. “Well…let’s get this over with.”

The first I went for was the English Breakfast variant – the 1910.

“It’s a blend of Ceylon, Indian teas, an-“

“I know what it is,” I interrupted.

The dry leaves were both burly with malt and fruit-sweet on the nose, giving the impression that the blend consisted of Assam, Keemun, and a low-altitude Dimbulla Ceylon. It’s a credit to the blender that the leaves all looked the same, creating the illusion of single origin orthodoxy.

The liquor brewed lighter than I expected – a full-bodied bronze rather than the usual English Breakfast copper. The color may have been because of a Yunnan sourcing for the Chinese black in the blend, rather than Keemun. The smell was exquisitely smoky, really not sure how that happened. This was an incredibly smooth morning cup – no bitterness, dryness or kickback.

“Deceptively smooth and quite invigorating,” I said with approval.

“Next is my namesake,” Finbarr gestured toward the second set-up.

I couldn’t tell what went in this, but my best guess was Assam and low-altitude Ceylon. The smell was straight, burly malt (like the 1910) with no other deviation. One would think they were having a straight-up Assam on whiff. I actually decided upon a full pot of it.

The liquor brewed bold copper with the same manly malty aroma as the dry leaves. On taste, though, it was oddly forgiving. Instead of punching the tongue with its chewy presence, it shook hands first, imparting a floral forefront before the introduction of the malty middle. Here, the Ceylon and Assam worked quite well together. And – boy! – did it wake me up.

“This stuff actually gives you the courtesy of a reach-around before punching you in the junk,” I commented.

“Rightly said!” Finbarr guffawed, patting me on the back – hard.

The Persian Princess gave a loud – and disgusted – sigh. Speaking of which, it was time for her blend. She didn’t bother speaking up about it, though.

The thing that really surprised me about this blend was how sweet it smelled. There was some requisite malt, but a woody and sweet underpinning crept up in the fragrance. I’m pretty sure the teas used were Assam and Yunnan, but – as with the other Devotea blends – one can never be too sure.

The resulting brew-up was an amber-colored liquor with a smooth, Ceylon-ish aroma – floral. On taste, the deceptive sweetness came back packaged with a strong, malty intro. Then it did the oddest thing by smoothing out completely – like an actual princess with a feigned, even-keel temperament. The best part? No bitterness to speak of and only mild astringency.

“Strong but not bitter,” I said briefly. “Like an actual princess should be.”

She still said nothing.

“Can I go now?”

Finbarr looked confused, “Go where?”

“Home? To 2012? My 2012.”

“Oh, lad,” Finbarr laughed, but there was mischievous shift in it. “This is your home now.”

“…What?”

“Aye, the trip’s one-way only.”

“…Why?”

“Revenge,” the Persian Princess finally spoke.

One would think a man whisked out of space and time would do something brave – like, say, fight off both of his assailants. Not the case, here. I took off running as fast as my slippered feet could carry me. Like a little bitch. I did make sure my beeline to…nowhere put me in contact with my trusty gaiwan and kettle, though.

Both of my kidnappers were in hot pursuit. Denizens of this steampunkish realm observed the spectacle with some amusement. I supposed they didn’t get many men in sleep attire – brandishing tea equipment – running down their streets. I ducked down an alleyway, hoping to lose the blend-named pair. As my luck would have it, though, it dead-ended at a bonfire surrounded by this realm’s version of the homeless.

“Nowhere to run now, eh laddy?” Finbarr said with a pant.

The Persian Princess glided in front of the Irishman, dagger drawn and eyes fixed. I did the only thing a man-bitch could do – I let out a full-bodied scream. In my ensuing panic, I lost my grip on the plastic kettle. It fell into the makeshift hobo fire. Then something…well…terribly inappropriate happened.

A blood curdling scream resonated from the flames. The discarded kettle fumed, smoked, melted and contorted into something hideous. The only comparison I could make was a demonic vagina.

It floated in the air, wailing loudly. Finbarr and Persian Princess halted their advance, but the vagrants around the fire fled in terror, providing me ample time to think.

That shouldn’t be possible, I thought. Unless…

“A dream!” I said out loud.

I looked down at my one remaining tea apparatus – my trusty gaiwan. If Leo had a spinning top as an anchor in Inception, then this lidded cup was mine. Turning around, I walked straight into the bonfire. I expected to feel warmth and…uh…”burning”. Instead, I was back in my kitchen – still pajama’d, still tired, but fully tea’d.

Epilogue

“Well, that could’ve gone better,” Finbarr said, scratching his head.

“His time will come,” the Persian Princess said, disrobing her covered head. A porcelain, Asian woman’s face turned toward the Irishman. “At least we know his weakness now.”

“You’re one stubborn woman, Ms. Guan Yin,” he remarked.

“Take the tea away from a man, then he is just a man,” she said to no one in particular. “Take the teacup from a man, then he is merely a boy…in hot water.”

The End (?)

To Purchase The Devotea’s Teas (1910, Finbarr’s Revenge, and Persian Princess):

In the U.S., go HERE.

In the U.K., go HERE.

In Australia, go HERE.

(No actual tea equipment was harmed in the making of this review.)

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Wednesday, June 20th, 2012 Prose, Steep Stories No Comments

Lazy Tea Prep (with Video)

The art of tea blending is one that has always eluded me. I know of people that consider themselves experts in the field, but I often wondered how much skill it really took to create a blend. Playing with different herbs and teas wasn’t a new thing to me. I did it all the time at home to varying degrees of success and failure. The one I had yet to try to mimic was English Breakfast.

I read somewhere that there was no set recipe for English Breakfast. Typically, there was an Assam base, and other like-flavored burly black teas rounded it out. Sometimes they included low-altitude Ceylon or earthy Yunnan Dian Hong. But I found a snippet that mentioned a truly good blend was done with equal parts Assam and Keemun. Seemed easy enough.

At a par”tea” thrown by a friend of mine, I decided to demonstrate the ease of English Breakfast blending. I went up to the host and said, “Wanna see how easy blending is?”

He nodded slowly.

I took a helping of Keemun Gongfu and another of Rani estate Assam, put them in a bag together and shook it vigorously.

“There,” I said. “I just blended.”

My friend sniffed the contents of the bag. “That smells awful.”

I cocked an eyebrow, whiffed…and came up with little discernible aroma.

Perhaps I needed to rethink my approach. When I got home I looked through my stash of teas to see what would work for a second English try-out. I figured that both ingredients had to have a similar aromatic and visual profile. As luck would have it, I was in possession of a very tippy Keemun Mao Feng as well as some gold-tipped Assam from Glenburn’s Khongea estate. Both had a similar malty profile – albeit the Keemun was sweeter.

The results were…well…how about I just show you.

Now that I’ve been (understandably) exiled to my room, I can reflect upon it. The liquor brewed as I expected it would, very crimson-to-copper. The aroma had the subtlety of a bitter battering ram – very dry on the nostrils followed by something bordering on malt. To the taste, it was extremely tannic on the forefront but eventually settled nicely into a malty echo.

Verdict: If I’m in a pinch, it’s good to know I can shake up something drinkable. As to the art of blending itself…I’ll leave that to the professionals. The ingredients I used were of exceptional quality on their own, but I had little regard for how to portion them correctly. Clearly, I have a lot to learn.

Credits and Acknowledgements

Directed and Edited by:

Robert Norman (my brother). Without his help, I wouldn’t have been able to put together this little “tutorial” video. Sometimes living with a film grad is useful.

You can find more stuff by him HERE.

Our other collabs can be found HERE.

“Written” and “Starring”:

Me, of course. Honestly, other than coming up with the idea for this, writing a one-page script, and doing copious amounts of begging, my contributions were minor by comparison.

Special Guest Star:

Thanks to Robert “The Devotea” Godden for lending me his blender disapproval.

You can find his tea videos HERE.

You can find his blog HERE.

You can purchase his blends HERE.

Teas:

06-June Khongea Golden Tips Second Flush Assam TGFOP1 provided by KTeas.

My thoughts on it – by itself – can be found HERE.

Gift Keemun Hong Mao Feng provided by Vicony Teas

My thoughts HERE.

Tea Props:

Eight Cranes Perfect Steeper

Adagio UtiliTea

Wardrobe:

“Pot Head” shirt purchased at The Jasmine Pearl Tea Merchants

Pet Cameos:

Abacus St. Bernard

Georgia Poopybottom

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Sunday, January 1st, 2012 Steep Stories, Vids 2 Comments

“Thé”-ater: Tea Time at the Movies

My mother is an idea gal – always has been. The part that’s most frustrating – especially for me, the eldest of her brood – is that she is right 90% of the time. I think she missed her calling as the head of a newspaper, the magnate of an advertising agency or the moderator for a think tank. Her braingems should be bottled and sold on the black market for six figures. I say this because…well…she’s the reason this entry exists.

One phrase from her, just one phrase: “You should do movie reviews with tea.”

At first I scoffed at the idea, but then I tossed it around in my head (over a cup of tea). I thought back to the last few summer movies I’d seen, mulled over my opinions but also what teas I felt like drinking after them. Surprisingly, finding matches didn’t take that long.

Here are my thoughts:

Thor

I was not excited for this movie at all when I first saw the trailer. It resembled Flash Gordon by way of Iron Man – cheesy but visceral. The choice for director also made my brow furrow. What did Kenneth Branagh know about directing a comic book movie?! Granted, he could easily pull off “EPIC!” if he had, too…but a Space Viking movie? Secondly, it was Thor. I don’t know anyone that cares about the wing-helmeted thunder god.

What gave me some measure of hope was the writer who penned the script. I was already a fan of J. Michael Straczynski from his five-year magnum opus, Babylon 5. He also had extensive experience as a comic book writer. If anyone could make the foundation translate to cinema, he could. And, boy, did he.

The combination of tongue-in-cheek, fish-outta-water, and Shakespearean posturing made this one of the most entertaining trips to the multiplex in some time. Marvel really knows how to dial up the “FUN” factor for an intro to summer. In hindsight, nothing much appeared to happen, but I look back on it fondly.

Tea Match: “Golden-Tipped Assam”

Assams tend to be thick, malty teas usually used as the base for wake-up breakfast blends. Tippier Assams – I’ve found – possess a honey-like texture to them, similar to a Golden Yunnan. That smooth sweetness along with the burly malt bite are a good compliment to a movie featuring a golden-haired, muscle-bound god with a ridiculously large hammer.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

The first Pirates of the Caribbean did the impossible; it was a well-crafted and witty movie inspired by a theme-park ride and single-handedly brought back the swashbuckler. To that, I say, “Bravo.” Unfortunately, that movie had siblings. Snot-nosed, whiny, fat, bloated siblings. The two follow-ups were a complete and utter mess. They were well executed, special effects were top-notch, but the story (or what passed for one) was pure seagull splatter. I was not looking forward to a fourth outing.

On a whim, I caught a late showing of On Stranger Tides and found myself…not hating it. Oh, it was still as drivel-ish as her two predecessors, it looked cheaper than it was, and making Cap’n Jack Sparrow a protagonist was a horrible idea, but it at least tried to match the medium scale and old-school feel of the first one. I won’t see it again, but it didn’t leave a poor taste in my mouth.

Tea Match: “Kombucha”

No, I don’t mean the bacterially-cultured “mushroom tea”. Kombu is the Japanese word for “kelp or seaweed”. I personally haven’t had it, but I’ve eaten the key ingredient. Kelp has a very sweetly vegetal, salty profile, and I assume the same could be said for its infused namesake. Unfortunately, it shares the name with another “tea” that utilizes steeped bacteria…and tastes like iced vinegar. Seeing a fourth Pirates movie was exactly like that name/flavor confusion – a well-meaning but unfortunately-named oddity.

Kung Fu Panda 2

The first Kung Fu Panda was lightning in a f**king bottle. It succeeded with what it set out to do – tell a story of a kung fu fanboy given the opportunity to be martial arts legend. That premise alone is every chop-socky geek’s wet dream. The fact that it also stayed true to the trappings of the martial arts genre helped it to transcend its Dreamworks label. Thankfully, it was also successful with mainstream audiences. (It starred a panda; this was a given.)

A sequel was inevitable, and Dreamworks was hit-or-miss with animated follow-ups. I hoped they’d learned their lesson from the last three Shrek movies. In my opinion, they succeeded. KP2 continues where its predecessor left off and explores its protagonist’s background – one that is steeped in prophecy and folklore. I even got a little man-teary towards the end, a good sign.

Tea Match: “Keemun Hao Ya B (with cream and sugar)”

Keemun is a Chinese black (or “red”) tea with an interesting flavor profile. It is almost as malty as an Assam, but also possesses shades of sweetness and smokiness. If done right, it brews to a bold crimson and – when sipped slowly – imparts its nuances gradually. Hoa Ya is a grade known for its silver tippy buds and delicate delivery. The “B” sub-variety tends to be a tad more rough around the edges – as is Kung Fu Panda 2 in comparison to its predecessor. But it takes cream and sugar well, making it more palatable for the kiddies.

X-Men: First Class

Like the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, X-Men suffered from a severe case of Sh**ty-Sequelitis. Well, third time’s a charm, according to the Powers That Be. However, to justify the existence of yet another prequel after the disastrous Wolverine movie, some major liberties had to be taken. In a brilliant move, they adopted a typical comic book motif to do this. They ret-conned and pretended the last two X-movies never existed.

For the most part, the maneuver paid off. While none of the secondary ensemble characters do much in the movie other than look badass or attractive, the dynamic between a young, brash Charles Xavier and a hot-headed (but suave) Erik Lensherr – soon-to-be Professor X and Magneto, respectively – is surprisingly well-crafted. There are plot-holes abound, special effects misfires, and some dreadful acting from a certain blonde that makes Keanu look nuanced. All said, it holds up well. Time will tell if it’s as memorable as the first two.

Tea Match: “English Breakfast (with a blended Keemun/Assam base)”

There is no set recipe for English Breakfast; the only adherence that must be made is to its strength. The blend should zing! you awake in a matter of sips. Tasting good is optional. I’ve heard some schools of thought state that Keemun is the preferred foundation, while others say Assam. What is agreed upon is that it must have an ensemble of ingredients that jolt the drinker upright. EB does this, and so does the new X.

Super 8

MOAR LENSFLARE!!!”…seems to be the battle-cry of writer-director-producer-mindf**ker, J.J. Abrams. I’m not sure when this cinematographic calling card began, but it was most apparent in his reboot of the Star Trek franchise. In Super 8, he tones the flare down a bit but keeps just enough to give the movie a retro feel – as was his intention. This pays homage to the Steven Spielberg sci-fi flicks he grew up with and it shows.

All the ingredients are there: Unseen monster from space? Check. Comedy relief in the form of a high-voiced fat kid? Check. Shadowy military conspiracy? Check. Coming of age romance? Check. Mix and serve. If it had one major flaw – and it’s a doozie – it’s that the movie has no real identity. The strongest parts were the Spielbergian/kiddie character scenes. Everything else seemed “meh” by comparison. This could’ve been a true 80s sci-fi send-up if it weren’t so schizophrenic.

Tea Match: “Matcha-Iri Genmaicha”

I love matcha (Japanese powdered tea), but I loathe genmaicha (Japanese “poor man’s” tea…blended with rice). Put the two together, and you have something that I begrudgingly enjoy. The nuttiness of the rice is downplayed by the kelp-like sweetness of the matcha. The blend is even better if the green tea base is a higher-grade sencha rather than crude banchatian xiao cheng. This is as conflicted a blend as the elements of Super 8 are. Parts work, parts don’t. The experience is watchable/drinkable, pretty to look at, but – in the end – forgettable.

To conclude, I had way too much fun doing this. My mother’s brain wins again. The summer’s still young, and I can’t wait to ponder what brews up well with other blockbusters. I wonder if I could sneak a teapot into the theater. Hrm. Probably a subject for another blog.

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Wednesday, June 15th, 2011 Steep Stories No Comments

I work for tea money.

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