Phoenix Tea Shop

You’ve Probably Never Heard of this Tea Before

One particular evening, a friend of mine and I were conversing over beers. (Isn’t that when the best conversations happen?) The topic of hipsterdom came up. Being residents of the greater Portland area, we were bombarded with them regularly. The “anti”-clique made P-Town one of its ironic bases of operations. Funny thing, though, no one who is a hipster actually thinks they are one.

Case in point, my friend actually said – paraphrased greatly, “You exhibit hipster traits.”

“I do not!” I remember whinily protesting. “I’m a geek through-and-through.”

“Yes, but you complain about the current brand of geeks.”

Egad, he was right.

Heck, there were some mornings when I woke up with my hair in a makeshift mockery of a faux-hawk. I slept in out-of-season holiday pajamas. The irony wasn’t completely lost on me. That trend toward…well…trend-avoidance carried over to other aspects of my life.

Topics of geek esoterica – anime, British sci-fi, comic book movies, video games, even Bollywood (???) – all of those bits of outer-subculture I cradled had become…mainstream. In the ensuing years, I had some semblance of an identity crisis. What were “old school” geeks supposed to latch onto if their badge/identity was compromised by normalcy?

Somehow, someway, my attentions gravitated to a beverage. Tea became my solace, my self-actualization, my subcultural haven. NO one in my greater circle was into that sorta thing. Obscurity: Achieved! But that wasn’t enough.

Eventually, I did run into like-minded tea drinkers in my online perusal – the extent of which were far more knowledgeable than I ever could be. As a result, I had to find a niche; some sort of tea-ish focus that set me apart. I would say I stumbled upon it by accident.

My goal was to track down new and obscure teas from odd growing regions, and catalog them accordingly. That pursuit launched the (desperately-in-need-of-updating) “Tea WANT!” list. However, even that list wasn’t enough. I could barely keep up with all the new and exciting teas brought to my meta-hipstery focus.

And – in a clunky segue – I would like to highlight a couple examples:

I practically begged a fellow tea blogger for a sample of this. They were able to acquire this black tea through an offer put forth by the YaYa Teahouse in New Zealand. The Zealong folks – yes, the “oolong from MIDDLE-EARTH!” producers – were playing around with fully-oxidized teas now. It was new, it was obscure; it met my M.O.

The smell was chocolate. No other way to put it – chocolate and a residual woodiness. The leaves themselves looked like the shavings of a tree that had caught fire. Pure awesome. The taste, however, was surprisingly light compared to the burly aroma. The liquor brewed to a mid-amber color with a floral, Ceylon-ish nose. The taste was almost note-for-note a Taiwanese Ruby black, save for less mintiness. It was light with no tannic bite, and a hint of malt on the back.  A second infusion – which I did as a fluke – turned up really surprising results – with a citrus lean on the front and a crisp trail-off, more in line with a Dan Cong oolong.

I picked this up on my “Teattle” trip to the Phoenix Teahouse. It deserved a feature of its own due to its origin story. Koreans – like the Japanese – aren’t known for their black teas; they’re mainly associated with high-quality (and highly expensive) green teas. All produced in small batches. When I saw this single origin “Dan-Cha” black (sorry, “red”…and the reason for the above image) tea on their site, it was one I had to try. I ended up walking out with an ounce of the stuff.

The leaves for this didn’t differ at all from the usual, run-of-the-mill black tea fair. They were dark, they were twisty – carry on. The aroma, however, was unusual – evoking mint, nuts, a hint of caramel and some other unidentifiable feelings. It was really hard to pinpoint what it reminded me of; it was its own beast. The liquor brewed straight amber with an aroma that reminded me of pine needles on a Douglas Fir, for some reason. The taste was, well, incomparable. It was floral, sour, minty, sometimes sweet, never bitter, and it kept changing per sip. I have no basis for comparison. Wonderful, nonetheless.

So, here I sit, in my holiday pajamas – hard-pressed to think of a proper lesson learned from my quirky hobby. Oh wait…no…I do know. I’m not a hipster. Heck, there’s nothing hip about me. I drink tea, I write, I watch cheesy movies, and going outside requires too much effort most times. My desire to be obscure and my whining about being into something before the herd don’t stem from a need for self-identity.

I’m not a hipster. I’m just old.

Now get off my lawn.

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Tuesday, May 8th, 2012 Steep Stories No Comments

Running for Kenyan Gold

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

Only…more eloquently, of course.

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

Mooched from the Nobel Prize site

Mooched from the Nobel Prize site

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Thursday, November 10th, 2011 Steep Stories No Comments

I work for tea money.

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