Friday, November 30, 2012

Tea Thirst in Vegas

My eighth and final work conference for 2012 came to a tea thirsty close today.  The conference provided hot water was baby bath water warm so I did not want to waste the roasted oolongs which had come such a long way from Malaysia sent with care by Su.  My hotel "suite" had three televisions but nary a way to produce hot water so even the special tea I had packed as an antidote to conference attendance went untouched.

I ended up at an Asian mish-mashed themed club/bistro called Tao with a friend and his co-workers for a late night drink.  The giant billboards on the Venitian proclaimed "Tao- Spiritual Dining" and "Tao - Religious Nightlife".  In Vegas, even the poor Buddha has to peddle (a completely different philosophy to boot).  Tao's interior was filled with massive gold painted Buddhas of all forms. Giant portraits of random Asians adorned the walls including a sumo wrestler and a Chinese communist grandma with a Mao jacket and cap.  There's no point in being offended.  I asked for green tea. Our hostess who was dressed in the most embarrassingly short dress which needed constant pull downs did not even let me know that the Tao even had a special tea menu- a rarest of rare things in Vegas. She just brought me some genmaicha which came in a tetsubin kettle. This ho-hum tea would sadly be the best tea I'll have in Vegas.

Rather than sustain conversation in the loud beat of the Tao, I ended up sorting a giant stack of porn cards for one of the guys who was collecting them as requested by his girlfriend for pranking.  For those of you not learned in these matters, porn cards are business cards for escort services with lurid shots involving one or two girls. Walking on the infamous Vegas strip- you're forced to go through a gauntlet of solicitors trying to pass out such cards out to prospects- namely men.

I sorted the cards to apply some analysis and price seemed the most obvious sorting attribute.   Starting price was at $35 with 10 dollar increments but there is an unexpected price jump  between $99 and $150. I almost wanted to do a histogram. And from the advertising alone, you cannot tell the difference between the $35 service or a $150 service. Obviously the actual escort who shows up when called probably bear no resemblance to the "beauties" on the cards.  Of course there is the high end of the market over 4 figures which doesn't advertise through such grimy means.

One does not venture into Vegas to seek the authentic or true. If such blatant vulgarity of money and sex bothers you, well - Vegas will assault your sensibilities irrevocably.  Incidentally, I saw conference attendees wear their badge deep into the night and even when the conference was over.  I think they wanted to say "See, I'm not the kind of shallow immoral person who would actually vacation here,  I'm just a conference attendee".  I felt constant metaphysical discomfort.  I tried hard not to be beaten down by the crass materialism of Vegas and take it all in for the sake of cultural anthropology.  I could not leave fast enough.

Even the Las Vegas Airport is replete with ever blinking slot machines.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Tea On a Plane

After my last tea fiasco on Southwest Airlines, I casually tucked in a green tea bag that my employer provides in the lunch room. Although I normally drink my own loose leaf at work, I thought I might be grateful even to have this Tazo China Green Tips on the plane. The package assures me that it's "a light & lingering tea with a fine fresh flavor" bilingually  no less. I think the French is supposed to make the drinker feel even more refined and cultured to have chosen this tea.   How does  Tazo's claims hold up?  There definitely is an aftertaste of a light cigarette which could vouch for the "lingering" aspect of this tea.  This tea is definitely a notch better than Foojoy and up in the skies, I am grateful for even this much.

This week I'm in Las Vegas to attend the world's largest pole dancing conference.  With my lame left arm that I'm not supposed to bend and a tender left foot which needs rest, I almost canceled. When you have an injury - seeing others freely using their limbs triggers only bitter twinges of jealousy.  But where else to learn the latest back hook spin techniques? The industry is competitive and one needs to keep on top of such innovations.

I vastly miscalculated my hotel accommodations.  While I have a suite almost as large as my house, there is no tea making facility of any kind in the room. I almost bought a $20 coffee maker at Walgreens and surprisingly I read on a forum that's what a poster normally does when they stay here. Tut tut.  Las Vegas is NOT a town for serious tea drinkers I might add.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Hario Buono Electric Kettle

UPDATE 2/2013:This is the absolute worst electric kettle I've used. The burnt plastic taste in the water will NOT go away even after months of use. It makes all tea I brew taste terrible. After reading another Amazon review- it appears not to be an isolated problem.

To solve the problem of tepid water at work, my husband bought for me a Hario Buono kettle which arrived this week.  Hario Buono kettles are all the rage among drip coffee drinkers. It has a long gooseneck spout to prevent sputtering.  I know, I shouldn't be lapsing into writing an Amazon review  but the long spout really provides superior control to fill my tiny teapots. 

I brought out one of the roasted oolong Su sent me to have with a quick custard soft bun snack. I was surprised to find that even different electric kettles give a different flavor to the same tea.  I tasted more of a burnt flavor. Then I tasted the plain boiled water to check what was going on. Much to my horror the tea water tasted burnt and rubbery even though I had carefully swished the interior with detergent and ran the kettle five times. I had to get serious with detergent and a scrubby pad and elbow grease to get rid of any remnants of the steel casting.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Almost Tea on a Shark Boat

Certain humans will pay an immoderate sum of money to be put into an underwater steel cage to look at great white sharks in their natural habitat.  In the Bay Area- the stiff premium is $875 per person for the privilege of spending twenty minutes dunked in the frigid waters surrounding the Farallon Islands. Whilst people like me won't spend money that way (that's a lot of tea!), my husband and I found ourselves as volunteer galley slaves on a shark boat through a friend.

I had confidently packed the roasted oolong Su had sent me as my official shark boat tea but alas nothing was meant to be either for the tea or for the thrill seekers. The seas tossed our tiny boat about in 8 to 10 foot swells. I had to hold on with both hands for dear life while trying to keep my breakfast down. The idea of boiling water was simply out of the question. The crew decided to turn back as the risk of capsizing had become not impossible.  Even the crabbers did not take out their boats today even though the price of Dungeness crabs are at an all time high. When the crabbers refuse to make money- you know you're a fool to be in the water at all.

When we returned home, I just wanted deep warming tea.  I read Jakub's post on Lapsang Souchong and immediately wanted some. I had received Jakub's box of teas last week which included many interesting puerhs but no LS.  So I brought out the only Lapsang Souchong in the house-  novel looking pressed coins that Emmet sent me from Tea Habitat. This tea while composed of powdered tea holds it's shape during brewing.  With a smoky savoury flavor which is subtle for an LS with an underying sweetness,  this tea has restorative powers after a harrowing day at sea. I'm grateful to be drinking hot tea on stable ground.

I actually thought the icy waters would be therapeutic for my ailing arm and legs so I have to find another opportunity to get wet.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Waiting for Tea

One of my favorite novels is "Waiting" by Ha Jin. I love most his descriptions of the country food the protagonist's wife cooks for him-  pickled turnips, thrice cooked pork and rice porridge.  I must confess my favorite books have some sort of memorably delicious food passage within them, but I remember being quite jealous how Ha Jin's writing talents can handle the human condition so efficiently in such concise prose.  I went to see Ha Jin speak almost a decade ago. He was nothing like I expected- he was likably humble and volubly chatty in contrast to his pithy prose.  The Communist Era Ha Jin and the American immigrant Ha Jin might really be two separate men. I don't want to be a plot spoiler so I'll have to tuck   away my thoughts about "Waiting" for the moment.

For us puerh collectors, the game is all about waiting. Decades after decades. Selecting, second guessing and waiting and more waiting.  Our particular hobby goes straight against our culture of instant gratification. Some may not enjoy the waiting part but there are those of us that relish the waiting just as much as the consummation.   Even as a little girl, I liked saving the Halloween candy in the freezer so I could dole out Snickers bars to the entire family well into the new year.  The notion of waiting a lifetime for tea which seemed at first so novel to me seven years ago is now taking a different form more akin to Ha Jin's lovers.

After my No Buy Pact was over, I only got one bundle of tea which I am patiently waiting for. You are now curious. But you will have to wait with me until the actual bundle arrives.  I've decided definitely no more young sheng buying for me. I'll pick up a few aged cakes if the opportunity presents itself but I am no longer in any hurry at all.

Of the many waitings I treasure - I love waiting for winter.  At the first arrival of Hachiya persimmons, I excitedly stash them about the house.  I'm just like an animal prowling, poking and prodding them until they ripen. The days are much much shorter and darker now and one needs remembrances of the summer to cheer up a meal.  A few years ago, my neighbor Larry borrowed my pickling book.  Now he generously shares pickles made from vegetables he grew himself and he puts a "start eating by" date but the wait is often very short.  Our lives are many cycles of waiting so there's nothing else for it but to to enjoy the wait.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Tea Rut

When tea bloggers stop blogging actively, one doesn't always know the reasons why the signal has gone quiet.  Although lack of free time and energy is often at the root-  I've been struck with an unexpected curse.  Mostly due to the duress I've been under recently, my tastebuds have lost a certain sensitivity.  Nuance I used to enjoy not only in tea but all foods has been flickering  for the last two weeks. I find I'm forced to salt my food more than ever before. 

What's a girl to do when those taste receptors are not getting stimulated like they used to. I had various plans to remedy this grievous condition like eating gruel and drinking CTC bagged tea for a month.  I remember reading of a traveler who shared some instant flavored rice in a remote village in Papua New Guinea-  one of the villagers actually got up abruptly and left the hut. The traveler was worried she had somehow offended him culturally  but it turned out he made himself scarce because he had tears in his eyes. Apparently her rice was the most delicious thing he's consumed in his life.  I've never actually cried because something tasted so wonderful but I want to!  Deprivation surely must be the shortest path to taste recovery.

Reduction in taste is known as hypogeusia and can commonly be the side effect of medication or even zinc deficiency and frighteningly is yet another benefit of old age.  As we gray and crumble,  the cells in our taste buds don't regenerate as quickly and so a reduced density inevitably correlates to a declining sensitivity to flavor.  Don't shudder.  If it's going to happen to all of us to a certain degree as we age, it's best to prepare yourself.   I still have many decades to go.  I guess if you drink puerh just for qi- hypogeusia is no barrier.  I should take advantage of this hopefully temporary loss of sensitivity and drink some gross shu tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Election Tea

Whew. That was a close one! The horror of being represented by the likes of Romney and his doubly dubious sidekick has safely passed.      I'm cheered up when there is some proof that more money can't always buy power.  Politics is still a dirty business for both sides in the U.S. but truly atrocious things have happened when Republicans have their way.

This morning as I was running out of the house to go to the voting booth, I noticed that my husband had his mug of coffee so I ran back inside to grab my own mug of tea to keep me company in the voting line.  As I was rushing about- the only to-go tea I had out on the counter was unfortunately the Mighty Leaves Tea Conference Oolong good for exactly just one brew.  We vote in a church basement and there's plenty of round tables where you scribble out your vote. I actually never thought of having tea while voting but now I'll have to pre-plan it next year.   There's a lot to vote on as a Californian. I was concentrating so hard that I actually don't remember anything except the welcome novelty of drinking tea while voting. 

And yes that mug is a hard-hitting Fisticup adding knuckle action to any drinking experience.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Assymetric Tea Trade

A box of tea arrived yesterday from the doyenne of aged puerh - the ever gracious and generous Su of Malaysia.  Gushu Chen Yuen Hao's, 70's Tuo, 1998 7532.  It's all a bit dizzying.   Can I really just return to buying teas on the internet after this? My two-month No Buy Pact is successfully completed and I'm almost cured.  Almost.  Don't you want to know what's in my e-shopping baskets!

Su also thoughtfully sent me roasted oolongs labeled as "Conference Tea" as well as empty tea bags for filling. Although she also labeled a Tielohan as a "Conference Tea", I think not!  I'm gonna save this TLH for a special day this month when I need a lift.

I brewed up one of the paper bag roasted oolongs yesterday as drinking the other teas seemed too luxurious to do all by myself.  I'm enjoying the same oolong right now which has rested overnight.  Second day brew definitely is mellower with a vanilla profile.  Roasted oolongs definitely are an easy companion.  

Although aged oolong is what makes me lick my chops these days (and I'm happily waiting for some),   I think if I drank aged oolongs regularly, I may be vaulted into a pickiness which is hard to climb out of.   Pu-erh is a commitment of decades and in a lifetime,  our tastes can shift and pivot multiple times.  I think I may tuck in with oolongs for the winter and perhaps return to sheng in the spring.

What did I send in trade?  In my humble collection, what is there to send to someone who has such ready access to interesting aged teas? Nay- I chose to send something which I was supremely confident of their deliciousness and quality that was not readily available in Malasia.  Artisanal chocolates have yet to infiltrate most of Asia or the world for that matter so I was keen to have Su taste something of the complexity and depth of cacao.  I've reached another level in tea trade- I don't have to trade tea at all!