White Petal

Monday Morning Tea Errands

Mondays – for me – usually go something like this: (1) Get off work at 7AM. (2) Head home. (3) Crawl out of work uniform and smother into pajamas. (4) Crank the electric blanket on high and fire up the ol’ Netflix…until I fall asleep. Pretty routine for a night-worker to not want the word “productivity” encroaching on sleep. Yesterday (read: Monday) morning, however, I had to be up and about. And, oddly enough, I was glad of it. These were tea-related errands – my favorite kind – some I had been shirking for one reason or another, others that recently fell into my lap.

This is a breakdown of how that all turned out.

First Errand: Smith HQ

I received an e-mail a week prior from Mrs. Teamaker herself saying there was a package waiting for me at Smith’s. Curiosity baited, I said I would be in that following Monday. An impatient part of me wanted to go in a lot sooner, but I was still fighting the monkey flu from Hades. Waiting until I was more cogent and less – er – phlegmy seemed the better strategy.

Being the punctual not-so-little sprite that I am, I showed up right when the doors opened. My Smith trip this time was threefold. I needed a light-load of caffeine for further errands ahead; for which some White Petal was required. Second, I needed to pick up some chamomile. Sleep was a rare commodity these days, for some reason. Of all the teas in my arsenal, none were straight chamomile. Third, I had to pick up said surprise package.

Smith himself and Tea MC Tiff were on hand when I got there. Steve then lugged over a black back with the company logo on it. Not sure what I did to deserve it, but I manblushed and accepted. After that, I shot the breeze with the Tea MC for an hour over my pot o’ Petal before venturing on to the next task.

Second Errand: Paper Zone

I was in dire need of little plastic baggies in which to carry samples. As far as I knew, only one place clear on the other side of the river carried ‘em. The reason I needed ‘em was simple: Tea swaps. I needed something to ship the leaves in. Dollar Tree sandwich bags – my usual back-up – just screamed, “I’m a cheap-ass!” So close to the holidays, I wanted the delivery presentations to come to be more presentable.

As soon as I entered, a chipper-ish floor person greeted me. I fumbled and studdered my request, and the gal bee-lined to a small aisle near the back. Not only did they have the bags I was looking for, they had different sizes. And the best part? Buying a hundred of them didn’t break the bank. I was in and out in five minutes.

Paper Zone, if you were a girl…I’d marry you on the spot.

Third Errand: Stash Tea Store

Only one place on the Westside carried the next item on my list at a decent price. When I’m at work, I try to rely on loose leaf teas as much as possible. However, I don’t have the luxury of bringing all my brewing equipment with me. A gaiwan simply doesn’t work to well when you’re constantly moving about. As much as it would make some of you, fair tea-readers, cringe…I rely on do-it-yourself teabags. The Japanese foldy kind.

Shut up, they’re awesome.

I can easily store any tea I need for that day, brim a coffee cup with boiling water, and dunk that bad boy. Instant tea-happy. You go with what you can due to time constraints. The nearest place for me to get them is – and has always been – the Stash Tea Store. I’m so glad it’s in my neck o’ the woods.

Funny thing happened, though. As I was ready to check-out at the counter, I asked the aproned teller a question he wasn’t quite prepared for. Although, he initially said something to the contrary.

“I have a strange question,” I started.

“You’d be surprised what I hear,” he said with a smirk.

“Can I take a picture inside?”

“Nope,” he said curtly.

“Oh.”

“Vendors don’t approve of it,” the teller said flatly. “You can take a picture of that wall.”

He pointed at a colorful mural.

“Ah, that’s okay,” I declined.

“Why did you want to?” he asked me in return.

“I’m a blogger,” I replied.

“Uh…huh…” he nodded slowly.

I gave a polite nod and left – inwardly chuckling at the irony that I took a picture with Stash’s former owner in his own shop a mere two hours prior.

Fourth Errand: Post Office

Having acquired the sample bags I wanted, I returned home and began preparing packages. There were seven teas I needed to divvy up between two lovely lady bloggers that showered me with teaffectious awesomeness prior. Returning the favor in as bountiful a way as possible was mandatory. The new bags worked like a charm. Preparing the samples took no time at all. What worried me was the post office.

It was the holidays, and – as expected – traffic was a mess, thanks to last-minute shoppers. I half-expected the line at the local USPS to be equally as hellish. Indeed, when I got there, a line was clear to the door. A funny thing happened, though.

It actually moved. I barely had time to finish addressing the packages before I found my place in the cattle-call of people. For once, the post office was moving – dare I say it – efficiently. Maybe some Power That Be sensed that my caffeine reserves were fading. I was grumbling to myself, after all. Yet I was at the counter in fifteen-to-twenty minutes with nary a curse word parted from my lips.

I returned home accomplished, then went about my delayed post-graveyard shift routine. Jammies and ‘lectric blanky were primed, alarm was set, NyQuil was imbibed…and I was off to dreamland. If this had been any more whimsical a day, I would’ve counted teacups to sleep.

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Tuesday, December 20th, 2011 Steep Stories No Comments

White Petals and Whiskey Barrels

In the fall of ’09, I ventured to a relatively new special-“tea” outfit created by former Stash/Tazo front man, Steven Smith. The aptly named op was called Smith Teamaker, and I instantly fell in love with the place. Their bricks-and-mortar store was…an actual bricks-and-mortar building. The tasting room was atmospheric, welcoming, earthy, and cozy – reminding me of a wine-tasting room. I had every intention of returning.

And at one point, I did with family in tow. Then time somehow got the better of me. I neglected the one place I saw myself frequenting. Heck, I envisioned coming in at least once a week – a la Norm Peterson from Cheers – buying a pot and sipping a way the morning. The reality, though, was that it would be over a year before I ventured in again.

Sometime in the summer of ’10, I “LIKED” them on Facebook, so as to keep tabs on special events and goings-on. Their hours of operation usually clashed with my schedule – such as it was – but I stalked their statuses from the e-bushes like a tea-creeper. An imperative visit surfaced in the form of a new tea in early December.  One of their master blenders – Tony Tellin – had concocted a Whiskey Tea.

A bit of a digression: I’m not much of a hard liquor fan, but when it comes to that smoky, battery-acidic drink, my Irish roots come forth. I have a latent taste for the stuff. I blame Scotland and my first single malt from Edradour.

If I can’t handle or locate the actual stuff, there are passable substitutes in the form of oak-aged ales and liquors. The process is simple. After a batch of whiskey is made, the oak barrels used to ferment them still retain a bit of the scent and flavor. Put something else in it, and chances are a trace amount of that flavor will grab hold. Just look at bourbon-casked beers or barleywines.

Well, good ol’ Tony decided to try this out with tea. The process was similar to how jasmine green teas were created. Traditional scenting for green teas and/or blacks meant letting the tea age and rest for a couple of months with the added ingredients. That way, it took on the flavor before separating. Example: Rose Congou Keemun rested with rose petals, osmanthus oolongs rested with osmanthus petals, lotus greens rested with lotus petals, etc.

How Smith Teamaker got a hold of a Rogue whiskey barrel, I know not. But they did so after a batch of whiskey was made, and then added black tea leaves to the barrel and sat on it for a spell. Occasionally, they’d open it up – cup it – and see if it was ready. The idea was that some of the whiskey oak scent would be absorbed by the tea leaves.

It wasn’t like combining tea and liquors was a new thing, especially with whiskey. 52Teas had a Golden Yunnan Whiskey Sour (that I have yet to try), their offshoot – Man Teas – had a beer-flavored one, and Red Leaf Tea had a whole line of wine-flavored teas. What made Smith’s different was the process. No flavoring agents were added, just the scent from the barrel it was kept in.

I figured this was a good gift for three people – my dad (a “tea”-totaler), my stepdad (for novel-“tea” sake)…and myself. The only way to make the trek work was to go prior to a work shift. As convenience would have it, Smith’s teashop was located northwest of downtown. I was working downtown at a gallery. They opened a full two hours before I was due. The Thursday following the Whiskey Tea discovery, I rousted myself early for the quest.

I arrived right at their opening time. A kindly gent asked if I needed help with anything. I inquired about the Whiskey Tea. He apologized and said they were sold out. I “B’AWWWWW”-ed. But only on the inside. The man did bring forth a bag, however, of what they had left. My eyes glittered like an excited anime character. Gleefully, I asked if I could sample a pot, and he said, “Sure.”

Turned out the guy that was helping me was the blender of the tea in question. This led to a series of questions regarding the process (by me), scribbles in my notepad, and random pictures of the tea in its potted habitat.  Tony took all my tea geekery in stride and good humor.

The part that had me most excited about the tea – besides its novel scenting process – was that Tony revealed that a Nuwara Eliya Ceylon black tea base was used; my absolute favorite growing region in Sri Lanka. I don’t know what it was about that region, perhaps the altitude, but they produced some of the best – most floral – black teas I’ve ever had. I have Smith to blame for my fascination with Ceylons from there. Even while walking up to the teashop, I was secretly hoping the foundation was a Nuwara Eliya.

Happily, I can report that the whiskey-infused tea lived up to my rather vivid imagination. The liquor brewed a bold amber with a woody/winy aroma. The flavor was smoky on the forefront, but not forest-fiery like Lapsang or Russian Caravan.  The middle betrayed its Sri Lankan high-altitude roots with a floral lean – light and feathery with little astringency. It was the aftertaste where the whiskey-scenting was most prominent. The woodiness came through with a wine-whisky tang that wasn’t too bitey but still readily apparent. Tony described it as “toasty”; I would agree.

After he left me to nurse my sumptuous pot, Steve Smith himself popped in. He remembered me from my first visit, and my esoteric series of questions from that time (for which I apologized). I think he remembered that I was also squirrel-like in my attention span, for he directed me to a new product line I hadn’t been aware of – ready-to-drink Smith blends, three total.

The ready-to-drink teas were unique to Smith Teamaker because of the process used to make them – a technique they dubbed “fruitsmithing”. I loved the term. Layman short version: Fruit pieces were cut up and steeped in cold water, creating a juice-like base. Hot tea was then infused with the mix and cold-brewed again. Afterwards, cane sugar, lemon juice, apple juice and natural flavors were added. At least, that’s how I understood it.

One key fact I came away with – and the point Smith wanted to hit home – was that no citric acid was used in the brewing. I was no expert on the subject, but I had never heard of an iced tea NOT having citric acid for storage purposes.

These were my impressions:

No. 15 Honeybush – This was a rooibos/honeybush blend infused with raspberries.  I already adored the nut-sweet one-two punch that rooibos and honeybush delivered when blended together.  Efforts to ice it myself proved worthwhile as well. But I had never paired it with fruit before. They succeeded for the most part in yielding what they intended. It tasted as the moniker sounded, honey-like with a berry-ish lean. If I had any complaint, it was that I expected stronger. Other than that, good but just shy of great.

No. 6 Black Cap – Smith mentioned that whenever there was a taste-test, this came out the clear favorite on average. I can see why. It’s a strong blend, and I don’t mean that in a bad way. Smith’s Kandy blend (a Ceylon base *glee!*) has been paired with Oregon blackberries for this one. And – lemme tell ya – it shows. Unlike the Honeybush, this one screams BERRY! Lightly sweetened as it is, it could pass for fruit punch but without the fructose guilt. Quite outstanding but not as good as…

No. 71 White Petal – I’ve sung praises about this one for well over a week now. A full review is pending on Teaviews as I write this. Since I’m kinda lazy, I’ll simply reiterate my Steepster notes on it: “I sampled this and immediately picked up a bottle. That’s how much I loved it. I finally cracked it open while at work. I’ve had pear-flavored white teas before, but never paired with apples. The flavor lived up to my wildest imagination…and that’s pretty vivid. Pear dominated the foretaste, while apple and mildly-astringent Bai Mu Dan dominated the middle. The aftertaste was toasty, almost Riesling-like. This is an iced tea I’d pour into a wine glass to ‘fit in’ at a party full of sommeliers. Looks the same and almost tastes the same. Simply awesome.”

Heftily caffeinated and mostly-sated, I finally parted ways with the shop and strolled to work – happy with having sampled some wonderful wares. I returned a week later when a new batch of the whiskey blend came in. I hope the two father figures find it to their liking. I certainly did. Now…I just need to find a new excuse to “Norm” it to Smith’s again for another hot cuppa-somethin’.

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Thursday, December 23rd, 2010 Steep Stories No Comments

I work for tea money.

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