Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Irish Breakfast

I've been listening to the new U2 album (yeah, I still call them albums) and it has put me in a mind to have a nice cup of Irish Breakfast tea. And to fight poverty and hunger. Of course I don't have any Irish Breakfast-style tea on hand so I'm going to have to walk over to Teaism and buy a little baggy. I'm not sure they carry an Irish-style blend but since it would just be a couple Assams tossed together I'm sure I can make do with a couple different types of Assam and me doing the tossing. In fact, I might even make a little label for it on green paper with a Celtic rune or two just for authenticity. Teaism has a decidedly non-western theme so most likely that's what I'll have to do.

Buying a U2 album feels a little like watching the Superbowl or the Oscars - almost a required activity unless you lead a purely alternative lifestyle and have no link to the mainstream. I itemize the expense along with new David Bowie albums and tickets to see the Star Wars prequels. Amazingly enough there are four, maybe five good songs on there. That's saying a lot when you consider the accomplishments of other rockers at this point in their careers: The Rolling Stones' Dirty Work, Paul McCartney's every release since Band on the Run (OK, I actually think a lot of his solo stuff is pretty good but I recognize that it's not a commonly held view), and Cheap Trick's latest album (they have a latest album). That's not to say there aren't a lot of older rockers who have put out good things late in the game but other than Bob Dylan and Motorhead there are no bands besides U2 that I can think of that have consistently not sucked for this long. Maybe Neil Young but he established early on that at least two songs on every album will stink so he kind of lowered the bar for himself.

When I open my Tea Shop I'm going to offer an Irish Blend with celebrity backing. I figure Bono is a long shot but perhaps it's time for Larry Mullen Jr. to step into the spotlight. I've got him pegged as a tea advocate. I'm not sure the phone number I have for him is still current so I'll probably have to streak onto the stage at the Grammy Awards again so we can catch up and work out some sort of deal.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Keemun, Try It

I'm Still working my way through the nice bag of Keemun I received from the Perennial Tea Room in Seattle. This is another one of those great Chinese black teas that you can squeeze at least three infusions out of, and each one is great. You would think it would just get weaker with each infusion but instead the flavors mooglify a bit on each pass so that it tastes pretty much like the same thing only now there's a little backwards guitar part and a tambourine in the left channel that wasn't there before. I've heard Keemun described as having an indescribable taste which sounds like a challenge to me, so here goes: honey and tobacco. I mean that in a good way. Honey, can you pass the tobacco? They're all just dried up leaves that we extract drugs from, right? And thank god for that. I remember a time when me & my friends tried smoking everything we could find (including tea) thinking we might stumble upon a previously undiscovered hallucinogen. Come to think of it I also recall (vaguely) trying to make tea out of a bona fide hallucinogen at least once (note: does not work). Anyway, this here tea gives me a pleasing hand-rolled cig/oak-paneled library/honey & biscuits/winter morning waking up at your friend's house and not having to go anywhere feeling. Suggested listening: late period Hendrix or maybe some pre-longhair Who albums.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Tea and Aging

Just about every tea site I visit has a little section extolling the health benefits of tea. Since I plan to start selling tea one of these days I'm not about to discredit the hack medical advice that drives people to shell out their hard-earned cash for the good leaf but I must confess that tea is doing a poor job of slowing the aging process, for me at least. Despite three to four big cups a day I find that nowadays when I hike up my trousers I do it in the front. It's a subtle thing, no doubt, but there it is. I believe a young man will hike them from the sides or in some cases not at all.

By all rights I should be drinking the Loser's Blend today (Eagles 28, Redskins 6) but I can't shake this Darjeeling anymore (I've forgotten what I started fighting for). I'm really coming around to it. For best results I use a lot of leaves (add enough, then add more) and let it steep for exactly three minutes. This is a good choice for OCD tea-drinkers. I used to be that guy in the office kitchen making a complicated hot beverage, and now I'm that guy in the office kitchen making a complicated hot beverage with a stopwatch.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Shock Me!

This morning as I walked to the train I noticed that the genuine frost on the grass and fallen leaves looks exactly like the sugary "frost" on Frosted Flakes cereal. Ordinarily I would keep this kind of banal observation to myself but today I didn't.

It's no secret to anyone who knows me that I have a plan to open a tea shop in a couple years. It's going to be the non-doily variety, otherwise it might turn out to be a "tea shoppe." I won't shut up about it and unlike my usual half-assed schemes this one shows no sign of abating. Just the opposite, really, as I'm already working on some prototype blends to serve to all young, attractive, freely-spending people who will visit daily. Here's what I have so far:

The Loser's Blend: inspired by the crushing futility of rooting for the Washington Redskins every week, this bracing cup will be heavy on the Lapsang Souchong which imparts a deep red color, reminiscent of both shame and the team's jerseys, as well a smokiness which calls to mind tail-gating and better times.

Shock Me: I always wanted to create a blend in honor of Ace Frehley, and I think this one has a chance to become the first officially licensed Kiss (tm) hot beverage. The recipe is a secret.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Feeling Darjeeling

It's been a rough couple of days as all the machines around me are revolting. I consider it a sad state of affairs when the brightest spot of my week is the new Star Wars Original Trilogy Collection Stormtrooper action figure standing guard on my desk. Took a while to find the right pose but for a 3.5" piece of plastic he's looking pretty damn authoritative right now. I'm thinking of naming him Steve. (current brain activity readout: "We've searched the entire ship. No sign of the Death Star plans. Steve, round up the prisoners.") Of course this nostalgia purchase inspired me to go snooping around eBay to find out exactly how much money I lost when I let my mom take all my old Star Wars toys, Micronauts, classic comics, etc. to her school's fundraiser or the dump or wherever they went. Good Lord! These nerds are paying out! I guess I knew that already, but what I really want to know is what percentage of purchases on eBay are purely nostalgia-based? Are we all just buying things we've bought before?

But what about the tea? OK, the other bright spot in my week has been the Peet's Darjeeling Fancy I've been drinking. Darjeeling teas are a really big deal to tea people and though I have yet to fully embrace the craze I am really enjoying this cup. It produces a light, orange-y brew that must be carefully timed, lest thine cup be filled with horrible, bitter tea. I like that, the way it's either a really good cup of tea or a really bad cup of tea and it's up to you to to deliver the flavor, but then I love danger. There's no safety net when you're drinking Darjeeling. It's Xtreme tea.

Note: the side of the tin says,"...the exquisite bouquet of this tea seems to reach right out of the cup." Steve's got his blaster at the ready in case that happens.

Friday, November 05, 2004

Tea Conversion part I

My friend Erik has been bugging me lately for guidance. He is a coffee drinker and has decided it’s time to make the Switch to Tea. I used to drink a lot of coffee and at one point considered it a lifeline, so I know where he's coming from. I always liked the really strong, west coast style brews that make your eyeballs sweat but which also (for me) result in unpredictable performances in the fields of: digestion, nervous system disorders, VCR repair, and emotional stability. I once tried a whole year of decaf which produced even more interesting results, though I suspect sinister forces were also in play. Anyway, one morning at work about five years ago, just on a whim, I made a cup of tea. Pause for emphasis. I think I had what religious folks call a moment of clarity. However, the great thing about a conversion to tea, as opposed to other conversions, is that you don't have to give up any of the things you love like Satan, dancing or coveting. It's just a beverage. Tea drinkers can smoke cigarettes, go hunting, vote for any political party, even operate motor vehicles. In fact, I understand some newer models now come equipped with special cup holders.

But enough about me. My advice for Erik is as follows: go long. Head for the hard stuff. Take a walk down the street to Teaism in Washington, DC, and pick up a bag of their Yunnan Gold Tips Rare. Yunnan tea is great for coffee drinkers because it brews up dark & strong, has a full body, requires no milk (!), and is very forgiving if you use too much or let it brew too long. It's 100% straight-up, ass-kickin' tea. Any tea house worth its salt is going to have some Yunnan on the bill of fare and I've never met one I didn't like. I never see it in stores anymore but I thoroughly enjoyed the Yunnan from the Grace Rare Tea Company I tried a few years ago. Likewise, you just can't go wrong with Peet's Yunnan Fancy.

Don't forget you'll need some sort of tea-making apparatus. Tea balls are easy, and so are those little mesh strainers that you balance on the cup. They also make little U-roll-it tea bags which are kind of fun. It really doesn't matter what you buy - just start drinking tea. As your obsession develops you will have plenty of time to buy all sorts of gear.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Oolong Time

Rainy day, temperatures in the low 50s mandate a continuous drip of tea. Today's flavor is Fancy Formosa Silver Tip from the good people at the Tea Spot. I don't get out to Boulder much but I'm lucky to have people who love me who do, and how nice that they think to bring me great tea like this. The lines between reality and TV reality (not reality TV) have always been blurred for me so it's no sweat to imagine an older, slightly more dignified Mork stopping in for a cup of this stuff after an afternoon visit to the music store. As advertised, this oolong has a nice honey taste and call me crazy but it also smells a little like black currant. It's a nice pick for repeated infusions - just keeps on giving, cup after cup. Good thing my desk is so close to the bathroom.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

America is Sleepy

Needed a strong cup this morning after a short night of tossing and turning and murky dreams involving Dan Rather and Ohio. I really prefer the cheerleader dreams. Anyway, it turns out that America is just as polarized as we suspected we were. Thought I might gain a little perspective on the whole situation via a special blend of Peet's Ceylon Fancy and some Keemun Hao Ya from the Perennial Tea Room in Seattle. Added a couple drops of 2% milk and started to feel much better.

In other news.. I'm still recovering from this weekend's Pu-Ehr Beencha tea debacle. I've read a lot about Pu-Ehr teas lately, namely that they contain all kinds of crazy healthful goodness and are processed in a very mysterious way (note: trying to resist ancient Chinese secret reference) deep in the heart of a humid corner of China, but also that they are an aquired taste. That's putting it mildly. So I finally get my hands on a little baggy of this stuff from the Tea Spot in Boulder and eagerly brew up a big mug to get me through a long day of watching my football team lose. The little lump of tea I extract from the bag looks a whole lot like what I expect to be confiscating from my 3-year-old son in about 12 years. Smells a little like dirt. Off to a good start, I reckon. But wait, the brew tastes like water that's been used to boil potatoes or noodles. Now, I can't say when I've actually drunk water that's been left over in the pot after a good noodle boil but I know it tastes like that. Just like I'm sure I know what a real dead body smells like even though I've never smelled one. OK, the tea didn't taste like death but I must admit it tasted a lot like bad tea.

It took 32 ounces of beer, a falafel sandwich, a pint of stadium fries and at least 16 assorted fun-sized candy bars to wash the taste out of my mouth but the emotional scars remain. Until now I have loved every drop of tea I've had from the Tea Spot so I'm confident this is some high-grade Pu-Erh Beencha tea I'm disliking. That means the ball is in my court if I am to acquire this taste. Dammit, I'm gonna have to drink some more..