Tea Geek

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

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

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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