Trippin’ on Moonlight

Some weeks back, I got a message from my cousin. He made an outright demand for “ADVENTURE!” Yes, in all caps. At first, he had a hankering to go to the Oregon Coast, particularly a brewery (or two) we had stopped at before. I suggested something a little more approachable – an idea we’d discussed in passing, the Columbia Gorge. There was a brewery on the Washington side of the river we had yet to hit. He jumped on that idea like it was a trampoline.

Photo by Bruce Berrien

Before leaving for parts un-sober, we grabbed burritos for lunch and did a quick run to Starbucks. My cuz happened to be the customer of the month at this place. They even had his picture framed, knew him by name, and cracked barbs with him like he was Norm from Cheers. So, both he and the baristas kinda looked at me funny when I only asked for hot water rather than tea or coffee. Like a true pretentious douche, I brought my own tea leaves in a do-it-yourself baggy. Worse still, I was all shifty about it.

Once we hit the highway – and I’d timed the coffee cup steep at three minutes (yes, I do that) – I took a sip of the contents.  I’m not sure what happened, but I had a full-body euphoric reaction. It was like a lazy man’s outta body experience…’cept no one went anywhere.

My cousin looked over and said, “Jesus, man, you look like you had an orgasm.”

In a tea-ist – almost spiritual (and less messy) – sorta way, I did. The tea in question was a second flush Darjeeling that was sent to me by a Twitter friend in Darjeeling – one Benoy Thapa of Thunderbolt Tea. Who is he? Probably one of the nicest fellows I’ve ever e-met. That and the only motorcycle-riding, tea-field-diving, ponytail-donning, camera-weilding family man/tea vendor I’ve heard about. It was thanks to him that I was finally exposed to real Darjeeling tea in the first place – not just the dust found in teabags.

He sent me a peculiar tea from the Castleton tea estate. Said garden was named for a building in the neighboring city of Kurseong that looked like a castle. The fields were first planted in 1885 by a Brit named Dr. Charles Graham. At present, the estate is 70% British-owned and quite known for its Chinese varietals that produce a world-renowned second flush product.

The one I had in my possession – and the one that caused the full-bodied teagasm – was a different sort of offering. Unlike the other OPs produced, this was technically an oolong. I even asked my Thunderbolt contact what type it was and he confirmed it, saying that was the information he received from the current owner.

This was unlike any other second flush Darjeeling I’d encountered. Okay, I’ve said that on other occasions, but I really mean it this time! The leaves were the color of…um…forest? Yes, a veritable bouquet of colors you’d associate with that image – root brown, soil yellow, canopied tree green, and sun gold. I had a little trouble finding a comparison. Its anomalous aroma didn’t help, either. The scent brought feelings of fresh water streams, wild berries, lemons and honey. I know, this is sounding more metaphoric than olfactory; I’m sorry. This was difficult to pin down.

There weren’t any specific brewing instructions for this on the Thunderbolt site. Mr. Thapa – as mentioned above – said this was an oolong. Granted, during the trial sip, I went lowbrow with a coffee mug. This time, though, I figured the best way would be to give it a traditional oolong send-off. And I bought a new gaiwan for the occasion. (It’s a he, and his name is Guy-1.) I heated some water to just under a boil, and prepped four successive infusions – two at thirty seconds, two at forty – with 1 heaping teaspoon of leaves.

First infusion (thirty seconds): The liquor brewed light amber with a malty nose. (Very Indian.) The flavor possessed an herbaceous front that transitioned creamily to a vanilla-dipped grape crescendo before tapering off gently. A damn good start, if I do say so.

Second infusion (thirty seconds): The soup infused to a prime-gold color with an amber-ish periphery. It was lighter but also…shinier. As for taste, the initial sip was crisper than before, followed by a bolder middle profile kicking with lemon and apple. Very cider-like, except – y’know – without the fizz or mind-numbing parts.

Third infusion (forty seconds): Yep, still gold. However, the steam aroma changed its tune to something creamy and sweet – like actual vanilla was in there. That didn’t quite translate to taste, but it was still wonderful with a floral aspect appearing alongside the citrusy lean.

Fourth infusion (forty seconds): This was the lightest of the four infusions, but it was also the most obviously “oolong” of ‘em. The foretaste was still crisp, yet there was a rougher, mineral-like transition to the muscatel middle. I likened it to a Formosa Alishan.

Two more steeps followed the initial four, but I didn’t take notes on them. Needless to say, they were nifty. While it held up to a gongfu(-ish) approach quite well, I think the Western way gave it a one-time punch of perfection. Like a liquid rendition of a one-night stand. That isn’t to say the four short steeps weren’t awesome; they just weren’t dipped in awesome like the A-MURR-ican mega-steep.

As luck would have it, I had an opportunity through another vendor to try the first flush Moonlight. I liked it quite a bit, but it had nowhere near the nuance of the summertime cup that nearly road-tripped my tongue to tea-ish ecstasy. Without exaggeration or pontification, this was the best darned Darjeeling I have ever had. Worth a howl or two.

To buy Thunderbolt Tea’s Castleton Moonlight (2011 2nd Flush) go HERE.

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Wednesday, September 14th, 2011 Steep Stories No Comments

Fixing Franchises

As a self-disrespecting geek, one thing above all things angers me to no end; that being the slow death of very good franchises. The most prominent example of this would be the Star Wars line. While most of us still have a soft (maybe, wet) spot for the original – and some lurking respect for the third prequel – we can all agree that George Lucas anally raped his own creation with an acid-lubed power drill. Being a writer, and/or someone involved in the filmic arts, some of us wince in even deeper agony.


One thought escapes us as we view the cinematic abortion through tear-stained spectacles, “I could’ve done better.”


While that may not be true in actuality, in our minds we believe a masterpiece could be crafted by our own hand.


I’m no different.


While I can’t think of any particular way to save the plummeting air-whale that is Star Wars, I do have suggestions for the creators of other ailing franchises, even those that have already concluded. I present to you three franchises I believe I could resuscitate given time, money, effort, and my own private harem.




The Matrix


It’s pretty clear to most of us that the Brothers Wachowski never intended The Matrix to be a trilogy. Or if they did, they compressed said trilogy into the first movie. The first installment is a testament to Campbellian hero-epic storytelling at its finest. Wrought with action, pathos, and philosophy, it stands as a near-perfect example of what the cyberpunk sub-genre could’ve offered if given room to breathe.


Unfortunately, they spawned two sequels that were pale crack-whores in comparison. Granted, the action scenes were good, there were some surprises, and seeing Agent Smith sneer again was indeed a treat. But they felt like useless appendages on an otherwise perfect form, like a penis on a parrot…or something.


I mean, the main character became a god. How do you follow that up?


Here’s how…


First off, Neo should no longer be the main character. He should be a peripheral one. Okay, that’s near impossible given the Power That Is Keanu, but from a storytelling angle, Neo’s role is finished. The more interesting aspect of the Matrix-verse wasn’t him anyway. It was the background characters. The little guys, the underdogs, the Tanks, the Trinities, the programs! Move the Minor Leaguers to the Majors!


The most fascinating new addition made to the Matrix sequels was the rogue element, the independent programs that escaped reboot; Merovingian, Persephone, the Twins, and all the others that the Oracle stated were the source of modern-day vampire myths et al. I believe as Harry Knowles (of Ain’t It Cool News fame) does, that this plot thread was under-utilized. Thankfully, I have a way it could’ve been.


Get this…


Humans weren’t happy with the machines, but – at the same time – nor were some machines!


Rogue programs, the Oracle, and others of their ilk were proof of this. If the odds seemed stacked against humankind, with Neo along or not, what else could be done? Der! Side with the rogue element! Sew the seeds of dissent from within! Machine Civil War!


Maybe it’s just me, but that would’ve been damn cool. Agents vs. vampires and werewolves. Merovingian lackeys going ape-shit on suits. Don’t tell me that wouldn’t have garnered a “Fuck yeah!” from the audience.


It would’ve put a new meaning to the term Matrix Revolutions.


Star Trek


Oh, what to say about this floundering beast. Nothing has captured the imagination of geeks worldwide more than the adventures of a two-prong-dish-spoon-shaped ship and its alien whore-hound of a captain. Kirk and Co. were the epitome of cool from the 1960s and on; killing off red-shirted underlings, fornicated with really foreign women, and shooting first before making inquiries. Pulp sci-fi at its best. Okay, sure, there were some “morals” and “messages” laced somewhere in the paper-machet planet backdrops, but who wants to hear about those anyway?


Nothing was wrong with it. Sure, it was cheap looking. Sometimes the acting was stilted, but it was fun to watch. The bread and butter of sci-fi – to me, anyway – is Fun.


Fast-forward to the 80s and 90s. Gene Roddenberry decided to give the ol’ bird a second lease on life – new crew, new captain, new cracker-jack adventures. As an audience, it took us three years to buy into the new wave of interstellar travelers, but we grew to like the second child. Something happened mid-stream, though.


Gene Roddenberry died.


The task of helming his original creation fell upon a mildly Satanic looking fellow by the name of Rick Berman. None of us suspected anything at first. It was like being married. We didn’t know our spouse was a raving psychopath in the beginning, but as the years went by they got more and more…contemptible.


There was a spin-off.


Then another.


Then another.


And so on…and so forth.


After awhile, the audience breathed an impatient sigh, followed by a collective, “We don’t love you anymore.”


Rick Berman may be gone from the franchise now, but his stale fart-stench still hangs in the air. The proposed reboot of the series, while in the hands of the mostly-competent J.J. “Lost” Abrams, still has the stink of sucktasticism. Hell, the new series will deal with time travel. Time travel! Like that hasn’t already been done!?! What could possibly alleviate this potential train-wreck?


My answer? Change the emphasis. 


Star Trek has always focused on one thing, humans in space. Humans being peace-mongers in space, more to the point. That doesn’t quite fly in this day and age. Maybe in the 60s, but it’s an outdated (and outmoded) brand of ideology now. The answer lies in the aliens. The other denizens that populate the Trek milieu. 


The answer is Klingons.


Specifically, not Klingons in space. Let’s look at this fictional race for a moment. What are they? Well, the best way to describe them to a Lay person would be…um…


German-spouting Mongols with Scottish dispositions.


Yeah, that about covers it.


The most interesting aspect of these bumpy-headed barbarians wasn’t their prowess with pistols, or their harrowing starship helming, rather their swords! We didn’t care much about their society, or honor-based rules, as much they instilled a reaction of “Dude! They have swords!” Geeks and sword fetishism go way back. If you don’t believe me, go to a Ren Fair. Seriously.


So, we’ve established that Klingons – from a geek perspective – are cool. Bar none. Swords are also, by proxy, cool. Spaceships, yeah, those are cool too, but not entirely necessary. The solution is obvious.


Medieval Klingons!


This is an aspect of the Trek mythos that hasn’t been fully explored. The legends of Klingon lore have been alluded to time and again, but we’ve never seen flashes of a sword-and-sorcery, blood-drenched, Conan-esque landscape. I want that!


Here’s how I would do it, and – yes – for you shoot-em-up sci-fi nuts there’d even be spaceships. One thousand years prior to the current Trek timeline, it was mentioned that the fledgling (and still planet-bound) Klingon Empire was invaded by an alien nemesis called the Hur’q (Klingon word meaning “Outsider”). It was also mentioned that the Klingons “killed their gods over a thousand years ago.” What if the Hur’q were their gods? And what if the Klingons rebelled against this alien occupying force?


There you have it. Instant movie! Happy geeks! Aaand it wouldn’t disrupt the continuity (or lack thereof) of the current installations.




This portion of the entry will be short because there really isn’t much to explain about this franchise. The plot is about as deep as used diaphragm. Here’s the basic rundown:


There are a bunch of dudes (and dudettes) that live forever. The only way they can be killed is if their heads are cut off. If an everlasting dude cuts off the head of another everlasting dude, then the cutter-dude has a Giant Electric Orgasm!


I’m…not…joking. That’s the plot.


You basically have a bunch of hack-happy immortal fuckers crossing the globe trying to poke holes in each other. Small confession? If cutting off some dude’s head could give me a Giant Electric Orgasm…I might be tempted to. Alright, alright, that’s not fair. It isn’t really a Giant Electric Orgasm. They call it a “quickening”, and it’s the life essence and experience of the immortal killed. Wait…that sounds exactly like a Giant Electric Orgasm! I take that back.


Wow, I totally digressed.


For the record, the first Highlander was a decent movie. Not earth-shattering but decent. For some ungodly reason, it spawned four sequels, two television series’, a cartoon show, and an anime. The question is…how?!? The story ended with the first movie! The Scottish guy (played by a French guy) killed the last immortal. He was it. He won the Giga-Uber-Giant Electric Orgasm. Wheeee! Go Scotty-Frenchy dude!


So, why did it spawn so many butt-babies?


Blame the French.


For some reason, the French thought it was a dandy concept, then some retarded monkey thought it an even dandier idea to resuscitate the comatose prostitute for another party. However, instead of logically retelling the story, he decided to pick up where the first movie left off. Forgetting the fact that the first movie finitely wrapped up the entire story! The sequel featured aliens! YAY! The McGuffin of all McGuffins!


As you can tell, that didn’t go over so well.


But wait! It gets better! They made a third movie that disregarded the second! All the while airing a television series that didn’t follow the sequels at all! The only aspect of canon that any of these mutants could agree on was that the first movie was their jumping point. Finally, the television series finally put itself to rest…only to be reanimated again as a fourth cinematic installment that – in true fuck-up fashion – disregarded all previous sequels, yet considered the television series as true canon.


Then there was the cartoon, the anime, the fifth (and bloody final) movie…yadda…yadda…yadda.


It’s a mess.


How could one possibly repair this monstrosity?

Honestly, I don’t think there’s much to repair. As mentioned prior, the first movie was “fair” at best. Damn enjoyable, but not a masterpiece by any stretch. The one rule o’ thumb that all the installments shared was that the first movie was The Grail. This would have to change to even consider continuing this bloated beast.


Start fresh.


One thing the installments tried to do at one point or another was draw upon actual historical (or mythical) events and bring them into the story’s fold. They warped it badly, but they were on the right track. The answer lies with mythology. Think on it a second, then hear me out.


All mythical traditions speak of people that live forever. The Chinese had the Taoist Immortals, Sumerians had Utnapishtim, Christianity had the Wandering Jew and the Centurion. How about, instead of inventing new immortals, deal with ones that have already been documented! They are far more fascinating than some blank-eyed Scotsman (played by a French guy) following a Spaniard (played by a Scotsman)!


And get rid of the Giant Electric Orgasm.


Unless you seriously mean to turn it into a porn, just don’t use it.


Hrm…no wonder the Frenchies liked it so much.


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Sunday, November 30th, 2008 Musings 2 Comments

I work for tea money.


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