Tagtea

A Tea Blogger in Vendorland

Back in 2008, I started writing about tea. Not exactly professionally, but rather as a hobby. I started out as many a tea person with a ‘puter did. I wrote reviews. Originally, I contributed to a review site, and then I went on my own with Steep Stories in 2011. Around the same time, I figured, “Hey, I’m tea knowledgeable-ish enough, now. I should apply for a tea job!”

 

And I did so, figuring I would be a shoe-in.

I am job!

I was wrong.

 

The first two outfits I applied for didn’t even grant me the courtesy of a rejection letter. And those who knew who I was – either through my blog or through my visits – had a million reasons to not bring me on board. The most common rejection I heard was, “Well, you’re too talented a writer. This job is beneath you.”

 

For the record, I clean toilets for a living. Nothing is beneath me. Not even the piping.

 

I swallowed my pride, whimpered a little privately, but continued doing what I normally did. Writing about tea . . . and not getting paid for it. A year or so went by, and one of the companies I applied for posted a job inquiry again.

 

This time it was for a delivery driver – two days a week. At the time, I was mostly driving shuttles at my, then, job. Running boxes to clients all around Portland, and not saying a word? Surely, I was a shoe-in for that.

deilvery boy

NOPE . . . again.

 

The reason this time? “You’re too close of a friend to the teashop.”

 

Huh?

 

That was the first time I was ever friendzoned by a tea company. It felt weird.

 

A couple of more years went by. In that time, major things happened. Like, professional-type things! I was on various panels at tea festivals. I did guest-blogs for other vendors. I had written SEO copy for other companies – both tea-related and non-tea-related. Heck, I even helped curate a menu for a new tea bar.

 

One day this summer, I brought a charming lady friend of mine to one of my favorite tea shops. We met the owners, and a few of the other employees. They recognized her from a resume she had sent them. Then . . . proceeded to bend over backwards to try and hire her. What do you call it when a teashop interrupts your tea date? Being teablocked? Yeah, I was teablocked by a teashop. Super-awkward.

 

A couple of scant, heat-waved months after that, one of my other favorite places posted a job opening. And I matched every qualification, save one. Something to do with Photoshop. (I’m still at MS Paint levels, yo.) Before leaving on a trip, I submitted my resume.

 

I didn’t get a reply back for well over a week. The reason THIS time? “You’re such a talented writer, we wouldn’t feel comfortable making you push papers around.”

 

Refer back to my earlier statement about toilets. Add toilet paper to that. Nothing is beneath me!

 

nothing beneath me

 

Even now, after seven years as a tea writer and quasi-professional, I’m still on some sort of black list with tea companies. (Black tea list?) Sure, vendors love me writing about them, and adore getting my advice for free. But if I *LE GASP!* actually applied for a job with one of these fine brands, all of a sudden I’m looked upon as a pariah. Like I’ve stepped over some invisible threshold I shan’t cross.

 

What makes it further aggravating is that I know fellow tea blogger compatriots who have received job offers within the tea industry. Full-time ones. Lucrative, in some cases. Granted, some of these folks are more socially acceptable, charming, and Google Analytically popular than I am. But I’m still cut from the same tea-stained cloth as they are.

 

So, tea vendors . . .

 

I love you all. You know I do. There are no hard feelings – honest. I just want a straight answer for once.

 

What exactly is wrong with me? What do I need to do to be recognized? What do I need to become in order to be considered a serious candidate?

tea girl

Touché, tea industry . . . touché.

“The Souchong Strikes Back” – The Teabeer Trilogy, Book 2

For BOOK 1 of The Teabeer Trilogy, go HERE.

Not too long ago in a public house relatively nearby…

The Souchong Strikes Back logo

It began with an e-mail.

I’m not even sure how I got on their list, but The Green Dragon sent me an e-mail at the beginning of the month about some of their Fall events. Part of the image was about their upcoming Pumpkin Ale Fest.

F**k pumpkin, I thought.

Then my eyes scrolled down to the bottom half of the poster.

2290

Barrel. Aged. Lapsang. Souchong. Porter.

No five words in the English (or Chinese) dictionary could’ve been strung together so poetically. For those not in the know – or don’t read this blog much – Lapsang Souchong is a pinewood-smoked black tea from China. It tastes like hickory and campfire. Many legends exist about how it came to be. I even wrote one. No, it’s not true.

For years, I’d wondered what a Lapsang beer would taste like. I even tried to convince brewer friends of mine to take up the challenge. Most were frightened by the prospect of including a heavily-smoked tea into a beer of any kind. Especially without having an established recipe to go on.

I had experimented with Lapsang Souchong concentrate and a smoked porter once…with less than amiable results. But now Rogue – arguably one of Oregon’s brewery titans – had taken up the challenge. Or more specifically, the Man Behind the Beard – John Maier, their brewmaster.

john-with-big-barrel-crop-web

Rogue’s Big Ass Barrel series (as far as I know) were beers aged in 1,500-gallon, custom-made Oregon white oak barrels for 60 days. I remember reading somewhere they had two of them – named Chuck and Kate – but I can’t seem to find anything online to corroborate this. Maybe I dreamt it; I dunno.

Point being, some awesome beers were coming out of these – aptly named – big ass barrels. I had the pleasure of trying a strong ale in that series during my impromptu teabeer jaunt to The Green Dragon. It was on said jaunt that I inquired about when the Lapsang porter would be ready. Green Dragon’s bartenders weren’t exactly sure, but told me to give a call to Rogue’s NW Flanders location for further info. I gave ‘em a call the moment I got off work.

The conversation went like this…

Me: “When will you have the Lapsang Souchong porter available in bottles?

Bartender: “I’m not sure when they’ll start bottling it.”

Me: [le sigh] “Any idea when it will be on tap?”

Bartender: “It’s already on tap.”

I was on the road minutes later.

The moment I got in, slightly panting, I went up to the bar and said, “Lapsang Souchong porter, please?”

The bartender looked at me and replied with, “Were you the one I just talked to?”

I nodded, still wheezing.

They poured the black monstrosity into a fitting chalice.

1382394501704

I cradled it for a moment as if it were the Holy Grail itself, then I gave it a sniff. Wood, malt, chocolate and smoke met my nostrils. The first sip was akin to being transported to another place in time. Campfires, Norse mead halls, and Mongolian caravans danced and warred on my tongue. Flavors as strong and gentle as any warrior attacked my palate with grace and a grimace.

It was the greatest beer I’d ever had…and I’ve tried a lot of beers.

ratatouille8

While I was sipping it, I informed my friend NinjaSpecs about its awesomeness. We planned an outing for the following day. Yes, I went back. It was that good. As I was waiting for him to arrive, I ordered it. There was a new bartender manning the taps.

I asked for it.

He looked at me, “Are you sure? Have you had it before?”

“Positive,” I said flatly. “I love Lapsang.”

“Those who know what it is, love it,” the ‘tender explained. “Those who don’t…really don’t.”

A couple of out-of town-businessmen confirmed this by expressing their disapproval.

Pussies, I thought.

NinjaSpecs arrived a half-hour later, ordered one, and stated in a matter-of-fact tone, “I wish I’d brought another pair of pants.”

My work here was done.

For now.

Concluded in Book 3.

Pakistani woman cooks her husband in a pot

Found an article in the paper and this seemed like the ideal place to share it. As a cautionary tale, I assure you.

In order to hide the murder, a Pakistani woman dismembered and then cooked her husband’s body parts in order to hide the evidence. He’d allegedly been making advances on her 17-year-old daughter (from another marriage) and when she’d had enough, she killed him.

How?

Well, she drugged his tea of course. What else?

So, what’re we to learn from this? Firstly, do not try to have relations with your step-daughter(s). Unless you’re Woody Allen and she was adopted, anyway. Then it’s ok. Sort of. Actually, it’s not really ok, but Mia Farrow didn’t have the right tea for drugging and then dismembering him.

If you ladies want to discuss the right tea for drugging your horndog of a man, you’ll have to start your own lady tea blog. We’re not going to cook our own proverbial goose. Not here anyway.

Back to the moral of this story. If you gents are, for whatever reason, participating in clandestine activities with members of your family that may or may not be related to you by blood, just don’t drink any tea you’re offered. To stay on the safe side.

You’ve been warned.

Tea Like Leather

It’ll probably help to picture the voice of Sam Elliott narrating this as one reads further. I found that to be the quickest way to get through it. Of course, I picture Sam Elliott narrating everything I write. Because…well…he’s Sam F**king Elliott. Anyway, let’s begin.

The rain was falling pretty hard; the chill in the air could cut right through your pores. Traffic was a mean mistress – construction on the road, an even meaner spouse. The destination was near, but I was always a turn or two away. There’s a message there…somewhere.

I was meeting Dave and crew for our now-weekly round of brew. Such meet-ups were becoming a favorable addition to the grinding schedule I kept. This time we were notching off ol’ Foxfire Teas – a place I hadn’t been back to since…come to think of it, I don’t remember when. I recall it being a pleasant enough place, just difficult to get to. For some reason, it seemed worse now. Parking was a near disaster.

On the walk there, I saw an unusual site – a striking blonde woman in knee-high boots smoking a curved briar pipe. Whatever sour mood I had drifted away at that pleasant dichotomy. I almost wanted to ask her if she was puffing Cavendish but thought better against it.

When I finally found the right door, Dave was already there yacking it up with the owner. I came barreling in out of the cold, bitchin’ about the parking. Hardly the makings of a good re-introduction to a vendor. I said my “howdy”-s and bee-lined to the menu. First thing to catch my eye were the “Sun Dried Buds” in the pu-erh section. I asked the owner for a whiff, and he kindly obliged. Lemon and wilderness greeted my thankful nostrils.

Several sniffs and a cup of four-year-aged Chinese black later, Dave and I were introduced to something entirely different. The owner described it as a Yunnan black tea with a slightly different character called “Imperial Feng Qinch”. The taster notes on the menu compared it to leather. Dave was captivated while I shied from it in favor of a white. That said, I still stole a sip. Ten minutes later, I was driving home with a 1oz. bag of the stuff.

I didn’t brave the brew until a week later. The leaves were so thin and gold one would think they were prospecting for slivery veins in the Sierra Nevadas. The aroma was all pepper, prairie, and bootstraps. I don’t even wanna know how they managed so rustic a presentation. All that remained was to subject it to…my style o’ brewin’.

More often than not, if the leaves look delicate, I treat ‘em as such – like a lady. Having already experienced the bite on this missus, I knew it needed steadier grip. I opted for 1 heaping teaspoon in 8oz. of boiled water. And instead of my usual paltry three-minute infusion, I went with a full five. If she was as tough as thought she was, she could take it.

The soup brewed to the color of rusted copper, but with a glimmer of sunshine to it. Steam rising from the mouth invoked feelings of sun-parched earth, sagebrush, rawhide, and farm country. The taste was dry and smoky on intro and graciously followed that up much-touted leather. A curtsy of malt ended the whole show.

This was one deceptive beauty. Needle-like gold leaves did not make for a thin, gentle brew. This was made to wake you up with the morning dew – preferably after sleeping outdoors. I still have no idea what “Feng Qing” means, and I don’t feel I need to look it up. As far as I’m concerned, it’s like feng shui…

Only for men.

Auntie Madge

NOTE: My Forthcoming book has 7 or possibly 8 pieces of tea-flavoured fiction included. Here’s one in draft form. Your comments are welcome.

I hefted the Britannia teapot to chest height. It seemed lighter than when I last lifted it, but then I was twelve back then.

It seems strange that all of Auntie Madge’s stuff went to Kate. Kate, whom I never really knew – I was moving out as a young man when she moved in as a sobbing pale infant, about six years after Mr Penton from New South Wales was Auntie Madge’s Gentleman Sipping Companion.

That’s always what they were called, these men who called on Auntie Madge. Maybe once or twice a year, an unfamiliar car might turn up, an Austin, or one of those new Holdens. A man in a suit and hat would knock at the door, and for a few years after I turned about eleven years old, it was my job to usher them into the sitting room, where china would be laid out.

“Auntie Madge will be just a moment” I would say. “May I take your jacket, hat and teapot, Sir?”.

I still remember the look on Mr Penton’s face. Over the years, I’ve settled on ‘bemusement’. I took his hat and charcoal pinstriped jacket, and then struggled to add the heavy Britannia teapot to my load. I was only around twelve, according to everyone’s best guess.

As always, I hung the jacket and hat, and then took the teapot to the kitchen.

Cook would be boiling the water and adding the still-warm shortbread fingers to a cream-coloured Alfred Meekins plate.

The first pot – the spotted china one – would be ready to take out. I’d gather the tray, and when I arrived back in the sitting room, Auntie Madge would be there. “Jasper”, she’d say, “What have we here?”

“Mah Jongg, Auntie Madge”, I’d recite. “From a fresh box.”

I’d lay the tray down, and Auntie Madge would always produce the same look, as though she’d just had an idea.

“Jasper, please join us, so you can tell Mr Penton about our little place here”.

“Thank you, Auntie Madge”.

They always asked a few questions, and during the exchange, Auntie Madge and the Gentleman Sipping Companion would exchange little smiles. The Gentlemen Sitting Companions always seemed to have an air of anticipated excitement.

Then it would be time for me to fetch boiling water and the pot that the Gentleman Sipping Companion has bought as a gift.

As I left on this occasion, I heard Mr Penton murmur “Remarkable, Mrs Lawson. His manners are astounding, and so well spoken. As good as I’d expect from a white boy, and better than some.”

When I got back, Auntie Madge had the usual small canister out.

“Do try this, Mr Penton. It’s my specially-blended Almond Earl Grey”.

It was always at this point that Cook would round all of us up – be it six or sixteen of us in residence at that time – for a walk to the lake. No-one left out, no excuses. It was called the “Necessary Constitutional”, and it happened at odd times, but always when a Gentleman Sipping Companion was in residence.

We would arrive back hours later with the plates and cups washed and put away, the car gone and Auntie Madge retired to her bedroom with one of her headaches.

So now, I put down the silver pot, and move to fondle a rose coloured china one. And so on – twenty-nine pots in total.

It’s over forty years since Auntie Madge died. Cook tried to flee with the money, the police got involved. Bluey Thompson from the local garage was convicted of selling at least a dozen stolen cars – the cops knew there were more, but settled for a dozen. All sixty-five of us who had ever lived at the Grace of God Home for Unfortunate Children proclaimed our innocence and lack of knowledge of these terrible crimes. Like the local public, we believed that the orphanage was wholly supported by donations. Of course, accounting standards didn’t really exist back then.

I can hold my hand to my heart and say that I did not actually know what was going on. And it was half a century ago.

But of course, I knew something was wrong. I must have.

I left the Grace of God Home for Unfortunate Children at eighteen years old with a scholarship to The University of Melbourne; a bible; some good tea; a bank book with twenty pounds showing in it, a few well-worn and lovingly repaired garments and a charcoal pinstripe suit.

Within a week of arriving in my accommodation in Melbourne, I’d departed. Catching a bus to The Alice, moving back to the tribal existence that Auntie Madge had tried so hard to save me from. I was not to emerge until a few years later, in the mid-Sixties, when I came back to the city to help in the fight for my people to get the right to vote.

Even though it is over fifty years ago, I still remember the moment that I walked from my student accommodation, with just my small wooden tea canister and my second best set of clothes. I left behind in my room in Melbourne my books, my money and my suit.

A suit that I had discovered had a label sewn into the inside of one of the pockets.

A label that said “Arthur Penton”.

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