Jin Cha

Tech Fails & Travails #2: Darjeeling & Housekeeping

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

Sunday was to be the day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Monday, October 22nd, 2012 Steep Stories No Comments

Tea, Flutes, and Yellow-Hatted Hoffmans

The Lan Su Chinese Garden is one of those places in Portland that’s a must see, if only for its attention to detail and authenticity. The entire structure is comprised of the garden proper, several period-specific buildings, a Koi pond, and a two-story tearoom toward the back – all taking up an entire city block. It is an awesome sight to behold. And the whole thing was constructed by artisans from Portland’s sister city in China, Suzhou.

This summer, I had the opportunity to partake of the garden on three occasions. One was a simple outing to show it off to relatives. The second was a wedding steeped in kickassitude. And the last wa an invitation I received from my friend HappyJ to partake of tea and…flute music?

That wouldn’t necessarily be a reason I would usually go into Portland proper, but I figured, “Why not?” How often to I make trips out to see music? (Answer: Never.) The musician in this case was a flautist by the name of Gary Stroutsos – whose music is steeped in Native American tradition. He was already starting his set by the time we got there. What we weren’t expecting was how crowded it was going to be.

The space the garden had allocated to him couldn’t seat very many, but every chair on the interior was occupied. HappyJ and I had to settle for outdoor seating at first, which was fine. It gave us an opportunity to hear the music while at the same time taking in the sounds of waterfalls. On occasion, we would even comment on what we were seeing or hearing.

Any attempts to talk, however, were greeted with a puckered, “Shhhh!” from a man seated across from us. I have no other way of describing him, except to say that he looked like Dustin Hoffman (a la Rainman) in a yellow hat.

After he shushed us, though, he continued to carry on muted conversations with his wife. A meditative hypocrite, splendid. I could’ve sworn he was heckling us, too.

Luckily, he and his gaggle of New Age-y senior citizens left relatively early. That and the Garden volunteers added extra seating on the interior – allowing us to hear what Stroutsos had to say. It turned out that he was a very genial guy with a quick wit about him. If there’s one thing I appreciate in musicians, it’s a sense of humor. He even serenaded a baby. That’s just spectacular.

Once the flautist set was over, HappyJ and I retired to the tearoom. Without exaggeration, it is the nicest tearoom in Portland. Too bad it has one of the most longest names in existence. Could I think of a better one? No. “Tower of Cosmic Reflection” does fit it to a “tea”.

HappyJ sipped an old-growth sheng pu-erh, whereas I went with something I hadn’t tried before (as is my nature). They possessed a 2005 Yunnan Jin that’d been pressed into a beengcha cake. Yunnan Gold? Aged? Cake? Four of my favorite words. And it was exquisite to the taste – honey-like, peppery, and with a subtle winy note on the end.

We parted ways shortly after. I couldn’t think of a better way to spend a Sunday unless rare, casked ales was involved. I went home far too caffeinated – to the point of being called tea-drunk. Case in point:

I said this to my sister, “I need to tell you something.”

My sister looked up and said, “What?”

“I’m not your ‘holla-back’ girl,” I replied with a giggle.

I was cut off of tea for the rest of the night.

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Thursday, September 27th, 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

The Gold Debacle

Perhaps it is because I have a near-glandular reaction to all things shiny, or perhaps it’s something more visceral. Whatever the case may be, I love teas with the world “Gold” in them. It wasn’t something I was particular aiming for, but more of an epiphany I had over one particular type of tea.

I received a sample of Zen Tara Tea’s Golden Yunnan Special. Looking at it was like beholding beige-like brilliance…and like honey-lathered lightning had hit my tongue. At first, I thought it was possibly a fluke, but then I visited a teashop local to me – the Jasmine Pearl – and picked up some of their Golden Needles. The reaction was just about the same – honey-pepper-nectar-gasm. From that point on, I had a favorite black tea.

Naturally, I wondered if other teas with the word “Gold” were equally as perfect for my palate. The next on the list was the Fujian-grown Golden Monkey – often heralded as the black tea equivalent to Bai Hao Yinzhen (Silver Needle), a distinction I’d disagree with. While having a similar gold-like, tippy presence as the Yunnan variety, the leaves were smaller and curlier. However, they did impart a similar nectar-like flavor, if not as eye-glazing. Okay, second time was the charm; this was definitely not a fluke. Maybe it was an irregularity.

On a random perusal, I ran across a product dubbed a “Golden Assam”. Perhaps it was a Photoshop trick, but the merchandise photo made it look just as shiny as a Yunnan Gold (or Jin Cha). A fellow tea colleague – Michael J. Coffey, ever the steep scientist – urged me to reel in my expectations. According to one of his Assamese contacts (yes, the man has contacts), gold tips are often added for visual flare but have no effect on taste. Much like cornflowers being added to some inferior Earl Greys.

A random tea outing with a gold-haired friend confirmed my “findings”. Their gold-tipped Assam did indeed have some honey texture to go along with the requisite malt. I even ordered another pot of Yunnan Gold just for taste comparison. While the latter was better, the Assam did hold its own.

Some doubts did enter my mind about the “gold standard” when I revisited gold-tipped Assams in the form of a Khongea estate offering. It was really good – malty, hearty, slightly smoky, all those manly adjectives. But it didn’t possess that ‘gasmic “oomph” of the prior golds. Maybe Coffey had a point.

The conversation was revisited, this time with Assam-lover, Ken Macbeth, in tow. It even inspired this write-up from Ken regarding the price one pays for the appearance of a loose leaf batch. MJC even reiterated that while there is likely a flavor I’m subjective to in Yunnan Golds – or to the “golding” process in general – that doesn’t make it universally better. At the time of the conversation, I refused to believe it.

Then I taste-tested two teas from Canton Tea Co. One was a black tea from Fujian (my favorite Chinese province) called Bai Lin Gong Fu. It looked and smelled like a black tea – like a Dian Hong (regular Yunnan black) only tippier. The taste, though…wow. It made me tip my head back in Homer-esque reverie, tongue splayed.

A few months later, I received another sample from Canton for their Superior Bai Lin Gong Fu. I wondered how the heck they could top the regular kind, but – apparently – what made it superior was the appearance. The entire batch was GOOOOooooooOOOOoooold! However…I noted in my review of it, that – while I did love it – I preferred the regular Bai Lin. The honey-nectar presence was there, but it simply didn’t top the silky magnificence of its darker kin.

Superior vs. Inferior (?)

My journey came practically full circle with a revisit to The Jasmine Pearl. The owners – Chuck and Heather – were a very patient couple in dealing with me. They had mentioned in passing that a new shipment was coming in for some Golden Needles, straight from Yunnan, and that it was even better than their last one. Perfect timing since I ran out of my stores of their last batch. They urged me to be patient, though. Deliveries from China were known to be slow.

That didn’t stop me from calling them repeatedly.

Me: “Is it there yet?”

Them: “No.”

Geoff: “How ‘bout now?”

Them: “No.”

Me: [pause] “Now?”

Them: “No.”

Me: “Are we there yet?”

Them: “What?”

Me: “What?”

(Okay, I made that last part up.)

A month ago, I stopped in to childishly ask one more time. Rays of heaven parted when they confirmed with an emphatic “Yes!” that it, indeed, had arrived. There was a problem, though. This was nowhere near as gold-tippy as the last batch. It smelled wonderful – like tiramisu, chocolate, and forest – but the peppery aspect was all but gone. I bought it anyway and did a side-by-side comparison with another Golden Needle I had on hand.

Gold Vs. (Mostly) Gold

Gold vs. (Mostly) Gold

Yep, definitely darker.

Then came the taste-test.

Oh wow.

Oh my…wow…

Oh wowie-wowie-wow-wow.

I rated the last Golden Needles they had a ten out of ten. This was an eleven. It was then that I begrudgingly admitted that there was something to the processing. Here it was, a darker Golden Yunnan, and I liked it better than any of its shinier kin. Fine, I’ll admit it now. The “golding” process doesn’t necessary make it better, but there is still something to it in terms of Chinese black teas. I’m standing by my Yunnan Goldies, even the ones that are rougher around the edges.

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Tuesday, October 18th, 2011 Steep Stories 1 Comment

I work for tea money.

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