Tea Trade

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

Lazy Tea Prep (with Video)

The art of tea blending is one that has always eluded me. I know of people that consider themselves experts in the field, but I often wondered how much skill it really took to create a blend. Playing with different herbs and teas wasn’t a new thing to me. I did it all the time at home to varying degrees of success and failure. The one I had yet to try to mimic was English Breakfast.

I read somewhere that there was no set recipe for English Breakfast. Typically, there was an Assam base, and other like-flavored burly black teas rounded it out. Sometimes they included low-altitude Ceylon or earthy Yunnan Dian Hong. But I found a snippet that mentioned a truly good blend was done with equal parts Assam and Keemun. Seemed easy enough.

At a par”tea” thrown by a friend of mine, I decided to demonstrate the ease of English Breakfast blending. I went up to the host and said, “Wanna see how easy blending is?”

He nodded slowly.

I took a helping of Keemun Gongfu and another of Rani estate Assam, put them in a bag together and shook it vigorously.

“There,” I said. “I just blended.”

My friend sniffed the contents of the bag. “That smells awful.”

I cocked an eyebrow, whiffed…and came up with little discernible aroma.

Perhaps I needed to rethink my approach. When I got home I looked through my stash of teas to see what would work for a second English try-out. I figured that both ingredients had to have a similar aromatic and visual profile. As luck would have it, I was in possession of a very tippy Keemun Mao Feng as well as some gold-tipped Assam from Glenburn’s Khongea estate. Both had a similar malty profile – albeit the Keemun was sweeter.

The results were…well…how about I just show you.

Now that I’ve been (understandably) exiled to my room, I can reflect upon it. The liquor brewed as I expected it would, very crimson-to-copper. The aroma had the subtlety of a bitter battering ram – very dry on the nostrils followed by something bordering on malt. To the taste, it was extremely tannic on the forefront but eventually settled nicely into a malty echo.

Verdict: If I’m in a pinch, it’s good to know I can shake up something drinkable. As to the art of blending itself…I’ll leave that to the professionals. The ingredients I used were of exceptional quality on their own, but I had little regard for how to portion them correctly. Clearly, I have a lot to learn.

Credits and Acknowledgements

Directed and Edited by:

Robert Norman (my brother). Without his help, I wouldn’t have been able to put together this little “tutorial” video. Sometimes living with a film grad is useful.

You can find more stuff by him HERE.

Our other collabs can be found HERE.

“Written” and “Starring”:

Me, of course. Honestly, other than coming up with the idea for this, writing a one-page script, and doing copious amounts of begging, my contributions were minor by comparison.

Special Guest Star:

Thanks to Robert “The Devotea” Godden for lending me his blender disapproval.

You can find his tea videos HERE.

You can find his blog HERE.

You can purchase his blends HERE.

Teas:

06-June Khongea Golden Tips Second Flush Assam TGFOP1 provided by KTeas.

My thoughts on it – by itself – can be found HERE.

Gift Keemun Hong Mao Feng provided by Vicony Teas

My thoughts HERE.

Tea Props:

Eight Cranes Perfect Steeper

Adagio UtiliTea

Wardrobe:

“Pot Head” shirt purchased at The Jasmine Pearl Tea Merchants

Pet Cameos:

Abacus St. Bernard

Georgia Poopybottom

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Sunday, January 1st, 2012 Steep Stories, Vids 2 Comments

I work for tea money.

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