Korean tea

My First Tea Fest

I hemmed and hawed for weeks about whether or not I would actually go to the Northwest Tea Festival this year. Thankfully, my poor impulse control got the better of me, and – boy! – am I glad it did. To miss this tea-binge-o’-thon would’ve been act of idiocy. I present to you – fine tea reader(s?) – my disorganized and picture heavy coverage of Day #1 of said festival o’ the leaf.

(NOTE: This coverage will not include the workshops that were offered because…er…I couldn’t afford them. Being poor sucks. The end.)

Getting There

Washington, I hate you.

Seattle, I hate you more.

Not only were their cops on every exit along the highway getting there, but once I made it to Seattle proper, the roads turned into some other dimension. I swear, it was like the roads in Seattle were designed by someone on barbiturates. Same could also be said for the Seattle Center, which was difficult to navigate through. If it weren’t for signs pointing to the event, I would never have found it.

The Tasting Booths

I guess I’ll get my one gripe out of the way early. The way they organized the private tasting this year was downright awful. Patrons were only allowed two tasting tickets per day. Keep in mind that the event was only for two days – total. Granted, they likely did this as a way to funnel taster traffic. The event was crowded. Still, there had to be a better way to handle it.

Luckily, most of the focused tastings were featuring teas I already knew about extensively. There were two that I felt I had to do, though.

The first tasting was a 2012 Ice Island Pu-erh hosted by Guitian (Becky) Li – a certified tea master. As she told the large group of fifteen, the leaves for this beengcha were picked from high elevation, ancient tea trees – some as old as five hundred years. Unfortunately, it wasn’t an aged version.

That said, the tea itself displayed differing characteristics per steep – starting off grassy and sweet for the first two, and transitioning to a more winy presence in the successive infusions. I could only imagine what this pu-erh would be like given five years to age. Guitian handled the crowd like a seasoned pro.

On an unrelated note, before the tasting even began, I disrupted the proceedings when I realized I’d lost my teacup in another room. I made a mad-dash from one booth to the next to retrieve it – pants almost falling down.

The second tasting I attended later in the day was put on by Brett Boynton, co-owner of the Phoenix Tea Shop in Burien, WA. I had wanted to meet this guy for months ever since we traded tea barbs over Twitter. That and he had a fantastic tea blog I checked in on regularly.

He was just as quirky and irreverent in person as he was online. And I truly thought the way he handled a crowd of newbie tasters was the stuff of legend. Keep your eye out, you will hear about the “Burien Tea Ceremony” someday. Hint: It involves jokes. Lots of jokes.

The teas he featured were ones I had tried from their shop before – Korean green teas. Jungjak and Daejak, respectively. But it was a treat to see him doing the prep work for them. Like his partner in tea-crime, Cinnabar Gongfu, he’s a character.

Vendors

The first vendors I explored – in true “comfort zone”-y fashion – were the ones run by people I already knew. First up, The Jasmine Pearl Tea Merchants. Yes, I know, I hang out at their Portland shop all the time. I happened by their booth on several rotations – perhaps too much. However, I tried to hang back because they were slammed with visitors the entire day.

My main reason for hovering, though, was the unveiling of two new blends which used A-MURR-ican-grown tea as a base. They struck a deal with the Sakuma Bros. to use their white tea and new (experimental) black tea for locally-sourced blends. Oddly enough, I preferred the black blend over the white blend; strange because I liked the white tea by itself better than the black. Both were well put together, though.

Right next to the JP folks was the Phoenix Tea House booth, and it was equally as crowded. However, I did manage to scissor my way through to mooch a bit of their Ali Shan and copious amounts of their hei cha (post-fermented tea). Particularly worthy of note was a hei cha that was blended and bricked with rose petals. It was strangely sweet on the front, which is a trait I never associated with hei cha – at all.

Cinnabar Gongfu noted that she was skeptical about them because they were pressed into heart-shapes. (The name for them was “Rose Hei Cha Hearts”, after all). I didn’t come back to buy one until later, but they had unfortunately run out of ‘em within the first couple of hours. Not surprising. However, I did settle on a bit of bricked hei cha…which I’m having right now as I write this.

Of the new tea vendors I knew nothing about, first on my sip-list was an outfit out of…er…someplace in Washington called Snow Lotus Fine Teas. It was owned and operated by Lavina Rao, and she was presiding over the tasting at their booth. The one I took notice of was their Yunnan black – dubbed Honey Orchid. It was a malty beast of a Dian Hong. Naturally, I loved it.

After visiting their website, they are officially an outfit I have to try more stuff from. A lot of their offerings fall into my quirky taste of unique. Their black and white tea selections are phenomenal.

Teahouse Kuan Yin is based in Seattle proper, and I have no clue why I hadn’t heard of them until now. Guess I’ve been under a rock or something. They had a unique tea for the tryin’, which they dubbed “Taiwanese Assam”. It was from the Assamica varietal and reminded me of…well…just that, but with a bit of a Ruby 18 characteristic for good measure. I almost bought some, but it was only available in 2-oz. bags. I was on a budget.

There were plenty of other great vendors that were represented – especially some big-named ones – but I only wanted to cover the unique“teas” here for good measure. You understand, right reader? Good.

Presentations

I had one goal in mind when attending this festival and that was to finally meet James Norwood Pratt – the proverbial rock star of the modern-day tea renaissance. Others have touted his books and personal appearances, but I had yet to experience them for myself. How could I truly be a tea nerd without picking that man’s brain.

His informal lecture was on the subject of “The Tea Renaissance” in the U.S. and the different factors that led to it. He also reflected upon the dour state of the American tea industry after World War II and lamented the existence of mass-produced, low-quality teabags. What I found particularly interesting was the light he shed on white tea popularity in the U.S.

I had not been aware that white tea experienced a boom in the late-90s thanks in no small part to…Britney Spears. You heard right. Apparently, she was a regular customer at Chado – a popular tearoom in L.A. Somehow, someway, it got out that her personal trainer recommended that she only drink white tea for the higher antioxidants. Teeny-boppers the world over demanded white tea en masse soon after. Naturally, that made me rethink my entire white tea obsession.

He closed off the presentation with a Q-and-A. The only question I could think of for him was one that was un-tea-related. I raised my hand.

I asked, “Is it possible to get a picture with you?”

Laughing, Pratt replied, “You’ll have to ask my wife.”

“I’m his wife,” came a voice behind me.

Well-played, Team Pratt. Well-played.

Right after Norwood Pratt’s presentation was an interesting seminar on pu-erh, presided over by Jeffrey McIntosh of McIntosh Tea. He is a pu-erh specialist that spent several years learning from different tea masters in China. One of the facts he elaborated on that I hadn’t known was the varietal of tea tree used for pu-erh teas. The large leaf Yunnan tea tree varietal was Assamica! Okay, that doesn’t mean anything to most people, but my mind was blown. I stayed long enough to try some Wild Arbor pu-erh but had to depart for a tasting soon after.

Which brings me to…

Meet-and-Greets

I’ll bring this winded entry to a close with an excuse to show off a bunch of pictures with blurbs. Why? Because I’m a dork. Deal with it.

As mentioned above, my primary goal for the NW Tea Fest was to get a photo with James Norwood Pratt. I ended up also walking away with his latest edition of The Ultimate Tea Lovers Treasury. Of course, I also got him to sign it, and – like a true fanboy – made a cheesy grin when the snapshot was taken. He was an absolute pleasure to meet. I want to be just like him when I grow up. (For the record, I’m 36.)

After meeting JNP, I finally had to meet Devan Shah, the purveyor of the Chado Tearoom. I’d heard his name bandied about in tea circles, but honestly hadn’t been familiar with Chado until this festival. I must say, I was impressed with some of his wares. That and he was kind enough to oblige a photo.

This one was a two-for. Chuck – The Jasmine Pearl’s co-owner – had informed me that Richard Sakuma (of Sakuma Bros.) was going to be on hand at their booth. I had wanted to meet him for over a year after having tried their Sun Dried White Tea. The man was humble and good-natured and put up with my many questions with wonderful patience. I absolutely needed a picture with him and JP’s Chuck.

It wouldn’t be a trip to Seattle unless I caught up with the city’s resident “Tea Geek” – Michael J. Coffey. Strangely enough, he spotted me before I noticed him. He was donned in a lab coat and a TeaGeek.net nametag. We traded barbs and posed in front of a tea plant because…well…tea plant!

On one of my many pass-throughs of the Phoenix Teahouse booth, I demanded a photo-op with the owners Brett and Cinnabar. Both bloggers have my dream job.

I also caught up with fellow Portland teapal, David Galli of Portland Tea Enthusiasts’ Alliance outdoors.

I finally met Chris Shaw of Contemporary Clay. His various teaware creations were on display at different teashops I’d frequented. Really genial guy.

And last, but certainly not least, I had shwarma for the first time. The Avengers are right; it tastes like EPIC. How could I not draw this to a close with shwarma?!

 

In short, a spectacular day of hyper-caffeination.

After I made my fond farewells to everyone at the fest, JP Chuck had said, “Don’t fall asleep at the wheel.”

“I WON’T!” I said…happily hopping out the door.

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Sunday, October 7th, 2012 Steep Stories No Comments

Solomon’s Purple White Seal of Approval

Whenever I go on impromptu tea quests, they’re usually solo. When they’re not, they’re usually my idea. This particular jaunt was not only not my idea but one triggered by a blog response. A week or so prior, I posted a bit of tea meta-fiction surrounding my tasting notes of Korean teas from Hankook. A fellow writer/editor friend – whom I’ll refer to as “K” – chimed in with a simple question.

“What are your thoughts on Korean seal tea?” she asked.

I stupidly replied with, “Are you referring to Solomon’s seal tea or…actual seal (lol)? The former is an actual Korean tisane, but I’ve never had it.”

Truth is, I actually had to look it up. Someone outside my usual tea circles had stumped me with a tisane I hadn’t heard of. Oddly enough, though, I was familiar with the Solomon’s seal plant. I learned of it when I did some cursory research on the “Seal of Solomon”, a symbol used often in anime for summoning demons.

In the biblical pseudographical text known as the Testament of Solomon, King Solomon (son of David) was given a ring by the archangel Michael. It was in the shape of a circumscribed hexagram and possessed the seal of God. The ring itself was known as the Seal of Solomon. The circled, six-pointed star has often been used in popular media as a demonic or magical summoning tool.

I have no clue how, but the name “Solomon’s seal” was also ascribed to a genus of plants called Polygonatum. The root of the P. sibiricum varietal – native to East Asia – was utilized in the herbal tisane, dubbed dungulle by Koreans. Many health properties are associated with the herb, but most are topical.

A week later, I met up with K and we journeyed to H Mart – a local Korean grocery store I mentioned in passing. I had only been there once or twice to pick up some Korean jarred “tea” for various experiments. Whether or not we would find the mysterious Solomon’s seal tisane was questionable.

We marveled at the various herbal infusions on hand in the tea aisle. Corn tea, peanut tea, pimple te-…Wait…pimple solution tea? There was actually a pimple-specific herbal infusion on display. Both of us had to snap a photo of the absurdity.

Not too long after that, K located her prey. It actually did exist – a 20ct. box of the stuff from some company called Dong Suh. I was so intrigued by it that I had to buy some for myself.

After that outing, I dropped K downtown so that I could notch off the second leg of my little tea quest. This was not on anyone’s suggestion, rather one made purely by accident. The day prior, I arrived downtown far too early for a wedding. I had three hours to kill, and decided to burn two of those at The TeaZone & Camellia Lounge.

My original “plan” had been to simply sustain myself with a bagel and decaf Earl Grey, but my dumbass perused the menu further. The moment I opened that menu, I knew I was doomed. At the top of the “White Tea” section was something I’d heard mention of but never thought I’d see. Kenyan Purple Silver Needle – the white tea version of the “Purple” varietal I had tried so long ago.

Damn it, I thought to myself.

I tried to pry a sample of the stuff from the barista, but he politely refused. I even dropped my “blog” as an excuse. That didn’t work, either. (Truthfully, it never seems to work.)

The day after – once I dropped K off – I was only a block away from TeaZone. I had no other excuse to resist my poor impulse control. I picked up an ounce.

I brewed both that night. Results:

Kenyan Purple Silver Needle White Tea

The leaves looked very much like Bai Hao Yinzhen, only smaller. Unlike the Kenyan White Whisper, the rolled leaves were nowhere near as plump or downy-firred. In appearance, it resembled a Rwandan white I tried, only lighter in color. It also bore a striking resemblance to some Ceylon Silver Tips I’d come across. As for the aroma, it was herbaceous, fresh, mildly minty with shades of unsweetened pomegranate.

The liquor brewed to a vibrant yellow, which is the minimum expectation of a good white (in my opinion). The aroma was all melons and leafy herbs – nuanced but nowhere near vegetal. Taste-wise, it could go toe-to-toe with even the most high-profile of Ceylon whites. Premium Yinzhen would give it a run for its money, but it would at least put forth a strong case. It almost tied with White Whisper in subtle excellence.

Korean Solomon’s Seal

I had to rely upon a tea bag, so the contents of it weren’t going to be the most visually striking. They were fannings; I could tell. There was an aroma, however – a roasty, nutty scent that reminded me a lot of dandelion root and/or chicory.

The liquor brewed rusted amber, pretty typical of a hearty root-based tisane. What surprised me was how closely it mimicked the aroma of…Frosted Mini-Wheats(?!). Yes, even the inherent sweetness. It’s not every day that I drink a tisane at night that smells like a breakfast cereal. The flavor deviated only slightly from the olfactory comparison, imparting a sensation similar to barley and/or buckwheat. It flirted with genmai territory but thankfully withdrew, keeping well with the realm of “good”. In short, I approved.

It had been awhile since I was caught by surprise by someone else’s tea leanings. Good to know that I can be put off my guard like that. Proof that my snobby armor can still be dented rather easily.

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Monday, September 10th, 2012 Steep Stories 1 Comment

Everybody Hwang Cha Tonight – Gamnong Style

Previously on Steep Stories: Our fearless (or rather, fearful) protagonist was whisked away to an underground, dwarven tearoom in Darjeeling – one that was overrun with dancing snake-people. The crisis was averted by a well-placed Hindi movie musical number…oh, and splendid tea was had in the interim. Afterwards, the pajama’d thirtysomething, a gnome, and an undead botanist hastened their escape. And, now, the continuation…

“Well, this is awkward,” I said with feigned levity while sipping my green tea.

“You have a penchant for snark,” the once-living Robert Fortune grumbled.

The deceased-but-animated Scottish botanist had every reason to be ill-tempered. We were stuck in a rather large bird cage, guarded from all corners by birds. Worse, they were armed with what appeared to be glowing spears. I had no desire to discover what the “glowy-part” could do. On the bright side, though, the tea they served was good. Sipping it gave me time to think why all of the birds spoke Korean.

The only occupants of the cage were me, Zombie Fortune, and a rather disheveled, multi-tailed, yellow fox. Thed – our gnomish compatriot – was nowhere to be found. How we came to be caged by birds was the subject of debate. One moment we were escaping under Darjeeling – the next, we were greeted by pitch blackness, then…birds happened. When Fortune and I awoke, we were caged and served tea.

The bird-guard (?) that had handed us tea said only one word, “Teuksun.”

I assumed he meant the tea. The leaves were small by Chinese green tea standards, curlier than Japanese greens, and possessed a very different aroma than any green tea I’d come across. There was a sweetness and a smokiness to them that was strangely tantalizing. A bit of nuttiness also showed up in the after-whiff.

The liquor was a very light green with a yellowish tinge, very similar in appearance to a Chinese green. However, the scent was nut-sweet, almost like sencha by way of green rooibos. A lingering vegetal underpinning was also present. That same vegetal feeling showed up on first sip but transitioned to a bouquet of sweetened grass, chestnuts and autumn air. While excellent, a second steep turned out better.

“This is interesting tea,” I said, trying to distract from my predicament. “Hints of vanilla and caramel with a vegetal underpinning.”

“It’s Korean tea,” Fortune stated flatly. “Of course it’s unique. “

“How do you know?” I asked.

“’Teuksun’ sounds like a Korean word,” Fortune answered, staring at nothing.

“I wonder what it means,” I said.

“It roughly translates to, ‘You’re annoying.’” Fortune offered with a half-smile.

“You’re an ass,” I said with a glare.

“Arse, lad,” the Scotsman corrected.

The disheveled, five-tailed fox to our left pushed his tea tray toward us.

“Here,” he said. “This one’s called ‘Gamnong’.”

“You’re not going to drink it?” I asked – greedy hands at the ready.

“I’ve been drinking it for the last six months,” the yellow fox said.

The leaves for this looked just like the Teuksun – vibrant, forest-green, curly leaves. What was different was…well…everything else. The scent was less smoky and sweeter. There wasn’t as nutty a presence, either. Instead, it was just very pleasant to the nostrils. Not too strong; not too soft.

On the flavor front, the darker liquor that resulted imparted a way different profile than the Teuksun. The sweetness was doubled, and there wasn’t as strong of a vegetal note either. Grassy, yes. (It was green tea, after all.)

“Kinda silky and sweet,” I said with a swallow. “Comparable to some good spring Long Jings I’ve tried.”

“Agreed,” Fortune said perkily, awaking from his funk. “A sweet, white winy note.”

“You said this was ‘Gamnong’?” I asked. “As in, the rich part of Seoul, South Korea?”

The fox sighed. “No, that’s Gangnam. Common misconception, actually.”

Ah, I thought to myself. It sounded absurdly close to “Gangnam” – a place I had only become aware of thanks to a song. A catchy song, at that. “Gangnam Style” by Psy – the first Korean crossover hit of its kind. I had a feeling the fox knew of that as well, hence the misconception.

“I’m surprised you speak English,” Fortune said between happy sips.

“I’m surprised you’re both human,” the fox chortled.

“He is,” Fortune said, pointing a thumb at me. “I’m not…well…anymore.”

“Undead,” the fox pondered. “That’s rough.”

The botanist shrugged. “I’ve had time to adapt to it. I’m Robert Fortune, this living lad is The Lazy Literatus.”

“I have a name!” I snapped.

“No one cares,” Fortune returned.

“I’m Hwang,” the fox said. “The English sort call me Yellow. For obvious reasons.”

“Any idea where we are?” I asked

“A pocket realm known only to magically-imbued birds,” Hwang explained. “Awaiting judgment.”

“For?” Fortune pressed.

“Me? Thieving. You? No clue.”

“There was a gnome named Thed with us…” I began.

“He’s being sentenced right now,” the yellow fox added gravely. “By the Sparrow Prince himself.”

“Sparrow Prince?” I repeated. “Seriously?”

“Yes, what’s odd about that?” Hwang asked in return.

“Oh, nothing.” I chose to leave the South Park reference alone.

“Wait…did you say, Sparrow Prince?!” Fortune demanded.

“Indeed I did,” Hwang rolled his eyes. “So glad you’re paying attention.”

“Damn,” Fortune seethed. “They’re gonna kill him! We have to get out of here.”

“What do you know?” I queried.

“I know that Thed is dead if we don’t rescue him.”

Why?” I yelled.

“Because the Sparrow Prince is convinced that Thed sold actual sparrow tongues to humans in Korea two thousand years ago,” Fortune said through a heaving sigh.

“That’s stupid,” I said with eyes narrowed.

“Sparrows are stupid,” Hwang interjected.

Fortune continued, “Korean green tea is also known as jaksul-cha, which translates to ‘sparrow’s tongue’. Thed was one of the first magical creatures to bring tea leaves to the land that is now known as Korea.”

Hwang went wide-eyed, “He’s that gnome?! The one that was in hiding from Guan Yin?”

The undead Scotsman nodded. “The very same. He was part of Queen Suro’s caravan that brought tea seeds from India to ancient Korea. He was in hiding from the bodhisattva.”

“He’s famous among the fox-folk,” Hwang said with glazed eyes. “One of the greatest thieves and tricksters to ever ride the ley-lines.”

“He never intended to be,” Fortune countered.

“I didn’t either,” the fox winked.

“So…” I clapped my hands. “How do we get out of here?”

“Leave that to me,” Hwang said as he clanked his cup against the cage bars. “Guard! More hot water!”

One of the birdmen mumbled a curse in Korean, but sauntered off to fetch a kettle. When he returned, Hwang grinned with eyes closed. He, then, removed some dark-colored leaves from behind one of his tails. Appearance-wise, it looked like any typical black tea one would find on the market. The pieces resembled a BOP – dark brown, small, and with some curly pieces thrown in. Their aroma was straight nuts. No, not as in crazy, but actual nuts – almonds, I’d reckon. Only a few oolongs have had that type of scent. Before I could ask, he explained.

“This is what I was caught for – stealing tea leaves from a Korean bird merchant. How could I not? They were called Hwang Cha’. It had my name on it, literally. I was framed, I tell ya.” He detailed his claim to “innocence” further as he brewed up the leaves.

The leaves gave the water a yellow gold color – like the namesake suggested – with a pleasantly sweet and roastly aroma.

“Is this really the time for –“ Robert Fortune began.

“Just you wait,” the fox said, pouring the liquor into our cups.

On taste, there was an initial creaminess that transitioned to the expected nutty mouthfeel, and all the while there was this sweet underpinning to the palate. In character, it was a lot like another oxidized “yellow tea” I tried from the Goomtee estate in Darjeeling, yet much more refined. It is as complex as all the other Korean teas I’ve tried. A bit on the pricey side…but you honestly do get what you pay for.

Hwang motioned us to come nearer to him. “Now, blow the steam at the guards,” he whispered. “I could’ve escaped this way at any time…but never had a reason ’til now.”

Fortune and I shrugged at each other but did as we were told. We each went to a corner of the cage, faced our cups to one of the spear-birds, and blew as hard as we could. A funny thing happened…and I do – literally – mean funny. When the tea steam came in contact with the guards, each one sniffed, shook their heads, and promptly collapsed into a feathered heap.

The fourth guard noticed his fallen comrades and seemed poised to signal for reinforcements. Hwang was faster, however, leaping clear across the cage – blowing steam right before he landed. The bird fainted in mid-caw!.

“I’m surprised they didn’t hear us plotting,” I said.

“They’re Korean,” Fortune reminded. “And birds are idiots.”

“And so am I,” I deprecated.

“No argument here,” Hwang stifled a chuckle.

We dashed as best we could to the only source of light in the oddly-tunneled, avian catacomb. Upon reaching the illuminated opening, we were greeted by a grand amphitheater. All the seats were packed with flocks of birds, gulls, jays, and every other assortment of feathered beasty. At the center of the “stage” was a diminutive man in a pointed, green hat. To either side of him, a bird yeoman, and confronting him were a sparrow with a crown and sword and a heinous looking beak of a bird in robes.

“Oh my God, he’s real,” I said, in reference to the South Park-like Sparrow Prince.

“Of course, he is,” Hwang responded. “Why wouldn’t he be?”

“Nevermind.” I had no time to explain a cartoon to a talking fox.

The Sparrow Prince was orating fiercely, outlining the charges against Thed in perfectly cadenced Korean. The robed buzzard-pelican-thing nodded at the accusations listed. I thought I heard the word “cannibalism” mentioned in conjunction with “jaksul”.

“So, what’s the plan?” Hwang asked.

“Leave this to me,” Robert Fortune said, clearing his throat. “My fellow avian citizens!”

The interruption was met with alarmed squawks and siren calls. Fortune did his darnedest to academically explain the linguistic misunderstanding made by the Sparrow Prince and his ilk. The lecture was welcomed with deaf ears and deafening screeches. Hwang was right; birds were idiots.

“He’s dying out there,” I cringed. “Well…more than usual.”

Hwang nodded in agreement. “Zombies are horrible at speeches. Soul of the voice is the first thing to go with undying. “

“I guess I’ll have to give it a g-“

“No!” the yellow fox waved me back. “As a human, you’d be mauled on sight. I’ve got this.”

“But ho-“

“Just watch,” Hwang interrupted again, donning sunglasses.

“Oh no,” I said.

“Oh yes,” he said back, bearing a toothy grin.

The multi-tailed fox leapt into the air and landed right in front of the Sparrow Prince. The bird squawked something akin to gibberish. Hwang – in turn – held up a hand to the sparrow’s beak and said one thing. One thing that I had hoped he wouldn’t say.

“Oppan Gamnong Style!” the fox shouted. Electrosynth music blared to accompany his battle-cry.

Hwang had actually done it – took a well-known pop song (and Internet meme) and turned it into a tea pun. If I hadn’t been so embarrassed by it, I would’ve teared up at the ingenuity. The little trickster-fox trotted his way around the amphitheater, and the birds frenzied with him – enraptured by the retardedly addictive song. Fortune and I grabbed the chained gnome while the birds were distracted.

“Yet another adventure that ends in song, eh?” Thed commented dryly.

“Shut up,” Fortune said with exasperation. The poor zombie had been out of sorts this entire debacle. I guess being caged did that to the undead. Who knew?

As we made our way out of the bird tribunal, I looked back at the commotion. I briefly made eye contact with the fox – various chirping flyers swarmed around him. He smiled and winked before his form was enveloped by the fog of feathers.

I hesitated…then left.

Sacrifice by tea…and dance, was my final thought before leaving the “birdemic” behind.

Acknowledgments:

Special thanks to Hankook Tea for providing the samples for this write-up. To purchase their wares, go HERE.

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Wednesday, September 5th, 2012 Steep Stories No Comments

A Taste of Taiwan and a Teattle Trip

Let’s talk about networking…or rather how much I hate doing it.

Around this time last year, I was among the many underemployed folks out there. My mother – a former career counselor – always stressed that making contacts helps in the process. I knew she was right; she’s almost always right. That didn’t stop me from stubbornly clinging to my hermitism.

I ended up finding more gainful employment (if you can call it that) in June of that year. Networking really had nothing to do with it, but had I stuck it out a little longer…who knows? One area where it seems to be crucial, however, is with my “other” job. Yeah, that whole tea thing.

Not to toot my own horn (man, that sounds wrong), but I had online tea networking down to an art. Juggling three social networks, three blogs, and a cat aren’t easy feats. And for some reason, my opinion seemed to matter to some people. What was odd, though, was how I fell out of the loop from January to – well – now.

No fault of the tea community, mind you, more a matter of stuff going on in my own head – introversion and depression at their most crippling. For a while, I was starting to believe I was “tea’d out”. I even thought of curbing the whole review thing entirely. It took real-life networking contacts to make me see the error of my ways.

If you folks haven’t made David Galli – oh, he, of PDXTea.org fame – a contact, you really should. This is a guy who doesn’t have networking down to an art; he actually has it down to a friggin’ science. And I’m forever in his debt for somehow keeping me in the IRL tea loop. Examples:

In late January, I received an e-mail from Chuck – the co-owner of The Jasmine Pearl Tea Merchants – to my “company” account informing me of new teas they got in. A whole flight of Taiwanese offerings awaited my palate perusal. It was Mr. Galli who had passed word to Chuck on how to contact me.

We made a jaunt out to the JP shop the following week and sampled some wonderful Formosan flavors. Particular standouts for me were an aged charcoal-roasted Dong Ding (review pending on It’s All About the Leaf), a GABA green tea (yes, such a thing exists!), and a Ruby black. Chuck also kindly passed along some heicha my way, something that’d been on my “List” for awhile. Before I left the shop, I had quite the bounty.

I also made a follow-up jaunt the next week when a much-touted organic Formosa green was in stock. To put it shortly, I picked up an ounce instantly. That and it’s become my go-to green tea on a work day – mainly for its ability to stand up to boiling water. And none of this would’ve been close to possible if I didn’t have an expert networker in my social arsenal.

Less than a month after that, I had a thought to finally make my way to Seattle. A fellow tea blogger had opened a new shop in Burien – a Seattle suburb town – and they were one of the few places that carried Korean teas. By luck or fate, I had landed a Thursday off, allowing me ample opportunity to make a day trip of it. A co-pilot seemed necessary as well, and I invited PDXTea Dave along. He proceeded to take the trip to another level.

Dave was kind enough to do the driving for the trek, and I covered the gas. We arrived in Burien less than three hours later. The Phoenix Teahouse was just as advertised on their Facebook page – a cozy shop right in the heart of downtown. Cinnabar Gong Fu was on hand to tea us to death. I must say, I was expecting her to be a lot more serious. It turned out she was just as silly as the rest of us. We blew through three exquisite Korean green teas – all with a “-jak” suffix, which I still have no translation for – and all possessed an exquisitely sweet and nutty profile with a wonderfully wildernessy finish.

My favorite of the bunch, however, wasn’t a green tea at all. Somehow, someway, Phoenix had acquired a Korean black (or red) tea dubbed “Dan-Cha“. I have no idea who Dan is, but his tea is wonderful. I ended up grabbing an ounce of it to go. (A full write-up just on that tea is forthcoming.)

Before we knew it, four hours had breezed by. Dave and I, in the midst of our sipping, even got a glimpse of some of Burien’s local color. The quaint town makes Northern Exposure look like a documentary. Cinnabar handled the traffic like a laid-back pro.

We ended up finally leaving as they were closing. That’s right. We closed down a tea bar. We’re hardcore like that. Before leaving, I made it a point to try some strongly-brewed Ceylon from a samovar they had in the shop. (You heard right, they have a f**king samovar!) Did I like it? Oh my, yes. Problem? I had to use the restroom immediately after. A career zavarka drinker, I will never be.

Originally, I intended The Phoenix Teahouse to be our only stop, but David had made more arrangements. The super-networker had connected with Michael J. Coffey – Seattle’s resident tea tome – and we added a second tearoom, The Floating Leaves, to our trek.

The Floating Leaves was an archival-looking tearoom on the fringes of downtown Seattle run by Shiuwen Tai. The first thing that caught my eye about the space was the grand table in the right-hand corner of the shop on entry. Shiuwen sat at one end – like a presiding tea judge – with various drinkers seated around it – sipping away with merriment.

As we got acquainted with the owner, I came to another realization. She was silly as well. What was it about tea that induced silliness?! First Cinnabar, now Shiuwen. Was no one in “Teattle” serious about their beverage occupation? No, I’m not complaining. Far from it.

After parting ways from the Leaves – and leaving with yet more oolong than I knew what to do with – we ended up making one last stop at a gigantic burrito place. I practically had to roll out of the joint when we were done. And that was only after ingesting the SMALL one.

Dave and I finally made it back to Portland about 11PM that night. Only a mere three hours past our originally-intended 8PM ETA. Was there nary a regret? Nay.

And that’s why it pays to have a real networker in your circle of friends – tea or otherwise. They remind you of other avenues of exploration that may not have occurred to you. I have a bevy of beverages as evidence.

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Thursday, April 26th, 2012 Steep Stories No Comments

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