Thursday, October 31, 2013

Pumpkin House, Tea House

Before J-TEA occupied this house on Friendly Street, it was the Pumpkin House, owned by Cindy and Ron Rutledge. The Pumpkin House was a kind of neighborhood gathering with a large following. The Rutledges would provide hundreds of pumpkins and the tools to carve them with, and ask the entire neighborhood over to their house for carving.
From their stories recounting the events from years past, they evidently had to carve a lot of the pumpkins themselves and it was always a push for them to get it done. Apparently, and I'm name dropping here, but Toshi from Toshi's Ramen was an integral part of the carving team.
The carvers, armed with knives and spoons, surrounded themselves with pumpkins and had to carve themselves out as if escaping from a scene in the Walking Dead, but pumpkin guts flying instead of brains.
The pumpkins needed scaffolding to hold their growing numbers and cars would come full of curious onlookers to see the impressive collection of jack 'o lanterns.

We tried for a bit to resurrect the pumpkin tradition, until a couple years ago when I had the chance to ask Cindy how they did it. Essentially, she said, it was a whole lot of work. Unfortunately I've already signed myself up for too much of that so I let that one go. But what we did do is offer some great Halloween themed teas and we will be serving them again this year. Mummy's Dust Puer, B+ Hibiscus for Vampires, and Ghost's Cry Wooooo-long. Rumour has it, we will have French style hot chocolate infused with tea rather than water...a Dia de los Muertos Chocolate Fest.  

Saturday, October 19, 2013

A party, a TEA party, a tea BEER party

From left to right: Top Earl, Eugene Breakfast, Chai, Charcoal Dawn, Hairy Monkey White Tea lined up for a tea beer pairing at Viking Braggot Company
Disclaimer: in no way does J-TEA condone drinking in excess. When drinking beer or tea, know when you've had enough.

We've got to hand it to our friends at 16 Tons for creating this unique and exciting event, the Tea Beer Fest. Kudos to 16 Tons founder and visionary, Mike Coplin.
I wonder if Mike knew that he'd soon be opening a cafe, or if it was just a prophetic move created as the 2011 first anniversary beer for the opening of 16 Tons tap house, the synergistic movement that came to be known as “Fredric's Lost Arm,” aka “The Lost Arm,” and known affectionately by me as “The Tea Beer,” a Belgian style Farmhouse Saison infused with Four Seasons Green Oolong tea from Ming Jian, Taiwan.
For those of you who were lucky enough to try "The Lost Arm,” a collaboration between 16 Tons, Oakshire, and J-TEA, I don't need to tell you that it was the ultimate tea infused beer. That stuff was great.

I like beer, so I was super excited to hear that Oakshire was doing the teabeer again... One of the best beers of all time, I think this one will go fast. I am looking forward to reuniting with this beer. It is like my long lost best friend and for that reason, I like the name “The Lost Arm.”

One of the reasons this teabeer is awesome is because they are using an awesome oolong tea. As many already know, using high quality ingredients improves the quality of your food. Oakshire decided on the Green Spring/Green Oolong tea, the same green tea that is featured in many of Eugene's best restaurants and cafés.

How did Mike put it? “When this beer came out, Josh lost his mind for about 24 hours.” And that was pretty much the truth of it. When it came out, I sipped on that beer for what seemed to be about 36 hours straight. The euphoric l-theanine/alcohol ethereal bliss went on and on, which ultimately in retrospect didn't feel healthy and that's what hangovers are for.

This event promises to be amazing. Great guests, caffeine, L-theanine, beer, food writers, bloggers, tea-heads, beer geeks, U of O professors, UO students and alumni, Oregonians and those from out of state, food scientists, drink enthusiasts, fans of punk music, members of the Monkey Wrench Gang. A party, a Tea Party of Epic Proportions.

So, if you are reading this, and if you can get a ticket to Eugene, Oregon, come to 16 Tons on Wednesday the 23rd from 5-10 PM to try out a combination of two worlds, the Tea Beer.  

Friday, September 27, 2013

Dong Ding

We climb through a patch of camphor laurel at early dawn. It grows chilly as we go; the tea pickers are out gathering the day's harvest. The cold bites at our fingers and toes. Ascending from the west we climb steep passes following the ravine of deer valley. Up and up we travel, inland and away from the sea to Lugu ("Deer Valley"), the special township saddling this mountainous region. The mineral rich soil here was once an ocean crust. Now we stand in the only landlocked county of Taiwan. Nantou County maintains its connection to the ocean through its soil. Dong Ding is a mountain within a range of mountains. Here, amid the consistently thick fog and spider-managed insect systems grows "Frozen Peak Tea."  

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Journal Entry: April 8, 2013

Ah Li! For a couple of days now, we've been checking the weather and there is a break in the rain that will prove we can buy some good tea. Tea isn't picked in the rain; it wouldn't pass inspection. So we are waiting for this break in the weather. The smart phone, with a great app, is showing a gap in the rain that should last two to three days.

Rounding the traffic circle, setting out for the mountains, some rays of sunshine broke through, and I realized, I was about to begin a vacation within the vacation. If ever there was a time to relax, it would be now. I stretched out in the passenger seat and started riffling through the glove box. I pulled out all of the CDs, three, and one looked like some music, so I put it on. My friend observed from the driver’s side, impressed with my new sense of comfort. I'd just gotten over the bad cold, and energy levels were still a bit low. We pulled over in Taizhong to look at a roadside sale of junk, mostly: incense holders, ugly tea gear, ugly carved buddhas. At this point, we still hadn't decided which way we were going, because from here we could either go to Dong Ding or Tai He. I've been to Lugu and Dong Ding several times, and Mt. Ah Li is safer for driving when there might be rain. We settled on Tai He, which is located in the interior of the Ah Li mountain range. But it was already late and we had to make haste if we were going to make our way up the mountain before the farmers go to bed. We turned to get into the mountains as fast as we can, and in our rush, we failed to eat dinner. We bought fruit at the outset, but it looked like dinner was not in our near future. I think it was at this point that I fell asleep.

Waking as we stop for gas, I realize that we have gained quite a bit of elevation. The air felt different, colder. “Food?” I ask, and the gas station attendant offers to make instant noodles. I politely decline. We come upon some buildings, twinkling in the inky night, and the wheels whine in a different tone as we cross the bridge to pull over to a parking lot. We cross the road just in time to see all of the food vendors closing up for the night.

Starving, we double back over the bridge to the first buildings we passed. We head inside, again to find that the food service is over. Finally, the bridge is crossed a third time, as we continue up the mountain. Several physical states were traversed to achieve the current mental state. This bridge we crossed three times to find a meal, yet none was found. Hungrily, we continue on in search of tea.

Journal Entry 4/8/13 Continued: Ah Li Oolong

Eventually, up in the mountains, we found some food and I bought a Mt. Ah Li post card at the 7-11. We were warmed by the meal, but chilled by the night when the restaurant owner learned that I sell tea in the States. He was excited and really wanted to sell me some tea. He made us some tea, and we were onto the farm. We tried his tea, because you never know what you might find, but we were on our way to the source. It was strange, because we could smell tea only for a bit. We drove with the windows down trying to smell the tea. Wafts of high mountain fog assaulted us as we rounded corners. I stuck my nose out the window trying to smell the tea .“We've had it. It doesn't smell like tea here. They aren't making tea.” That was a bad sign. It wasn't raining, but there was no tea smell. “If they were making tea here now, this whole place would smell like tea. No smell of tea means that the tea hasn't been picked yet, so even if it is picked tomorrow, it won't be ready until we are back home.”

So it really seemed like we might not have any luck. Dark, cold, steep, sharp—these are the backroad conditions. And I just wanted to smell the tea. But all that I could get was the damp, fluffy mountain air—that in its darkness, hid everything—even the smell.  

Tea! Mt. Ah Li - The Journey Continues

We were pushing it for sure. Early in the season, trying to catch an in-between-the-rain harvest, and on the heals of a drought that lasted most of the season. Off the beaten path, on the small mountain roads, and we are lost. As long as everyone has their cell phones, this isn't usually a big deal in Taiwan. We call the guy, a local tea maker, and he comes out to meet us. He is on a scooter and we follow behind him in the four door economy car. It turns out we were close. After following for just a short stretch we are turning down a steep paved driveway. When I see the tea processing center, a large building with a steel frame and corrugated steel walls, I jump to grab my bag. I wanted to document any and all tea making in progress for my own tea education. We are invited through a sliding door into a room that has a brew station with a few modest chairs and a small fish tank with one fish. This place was not fancy, but it was professional. We drink some high mountain green oolong tea and then are invited through another set of sliding doors into a huge tea processing room filled with tea. This was the indoor withering phase of oolong production. The entire room is filled with racks upon racks of tea in the withering stage of production. I am ecstatic. Filled with joy. I am so happy, I feel like I could spit.

The tea leaf as it oxidizes in the withering stage of processing

The racks upon racks of leaf, oxidizing in the temperature and humidity controlled environment
Everyone working in this tea factory wear matching uniforms of army camouflage clothing. Pants and jackets. It gets cold up here at night. These digs seem to be all the rage amongst tea processing teams. The tea processors' movements seem like a choreographed dance against the backdrop of tea drying in round racks, with the tea stacked level after level, well over head. This is Tai He First Stop. A huge AC, and I mean huge, like the kind that is used for an entire shopping mall, is built into the wall. The ceiling was a series of slat style vents that delivered the dry cool air that the leaves reportedly love. “Today's tea likes to feel the cool air, so we turn on the AC.” This is common practice nowadays, but I'm not sure about the origin or history of this use, other than I know I've seen it since at least 2004. The effect of AC on the leaf is more even oxidation throughout the entire leaf vs. segmented off to the edges.

The farmer, Mr. Jian, showing us the tea leaf

The tea leaf is transferred to the tumbler. The tumbler bruises the leaf, resulting in consistent and even oxidation.  

This part of the tumbler keeps track of how many rotations the tumble completes.  It also has a timer, and can be set for a specific amount of time.
We checked out the tea, but nothing was finished yet. It would be another day or so until the Tai He First Stop would be ready. Tai He First Stop reported that Ah Li Shan Golden Lily tea picking started 10 days ago, and the Mt. Ah Li Green Heart Oolong started today. We are in luck!

It is midnight by now. Luckily this guy knew a place where we could sleep. It was late and we were so road worn by this point that I don't really remember much, just that the rooms were large. The windows were huge as well, making up nearly an entire wall that overlooked the magnificent tea growing landscape. I think we meant to get up early, but after the late bed time, 8 AM was about the best we could do. After asking about breakfast we are shown to the kitchen, and then we ask about tea. The man said he had some, to which we asked Jin Xuan or oolong. Oolong, we have oolong, he replied. He showed us around the kitchen and left us to eat.  

This Mt. Ah Li First Stop Tea is available on our website here: Mt. Ah Li First Stop link.

Mt. Ah Li - Farm2

After sleeping and the ordeal of trying to find food the night before, we woke up hungry. But we also woke up late for breakfast on the farm. Still, we humbly asked for any type of breakfast service. Our host looked over his shoulder for a quick glance. He was showing a bit of reserve as if to say, “It might not be good enough for you.” Then, he kindly showed us to the kitchen after we demonstrated hunger in earnest. I knew that drinking loads of tea on an empty stomach would not do me any good.

Over breakfast of rice porridge known as “zhou” or “xi fan,” we discuss the plan for the day. The food was fresh, but cooled after sitting out and the chill was still strong in the early morning air. Who knows what time this food was originally prepared, but it was cold now. I wanted to eat a lot. Not only as a big fan of the breakfast, but also because tea was in the air. We had no formal plan for the day, so it was over breakfast that my friend said, “Listen, that tea from First Stop won’t be ready until well into the day, so let’s drink and see what kind of tea this guy has.”

With time to kill in the tea mountains, let the slurping begin! One bowl of zhou for the better and I am staggering down another set of stairs, into the out-of-doors, but only for a second. The sunlight feels good and the mountain air is light and calm. This courtyard leads to the main hall where the tea is brewed. From our room to the kitchen to the main hall…we went from one large room to another, all of which had ceilings at least forty feet high. Trophy plaques commending best regional tea adorned the walls. Most tea growers have such artifacts on display, but I'd never seen anything like this. Wall after wall, covered with the trophy plaques and it seemed as if they had kept building halls just to have more room for their growing award collection.
View of tea plants when entering into the main hall
As we entered the main hall, our host invited us to sit at the tea table. It was a modest table, clearly an understated and well loved tea station. The glass brew ware contrasted beautifully on the carved black stone brew plate. Glass is a confident choice as it is the material least prone to enhancing the tea flavor. Our host isn't interested in deception, rather as the glass would indicate, relying on transparency. Exciting! He invites us to sit in this informal setting, across from him and apologizes for having such simple brew ware. Then he proceeds to make us tea with no explanation of what type of tea he is making. It is assumed that he will be making us what he has harvested recently. The oolong is a green heart varietal and the oxidation is light. We drink the tea and after a while, and finally I am reminded. “Have you come to your senses yet? Are you buying this tea or not?” This sounds so much better in Chinese. I do come to my senses and say to myself, “I should buy this tea.” If you would like to buy this tea, it is available on our website here: Mt. Ah Li Tai He Sun link.

Our host's brew station

Monday, September 09, 2013

Like a Slug

Journal Entry: April 6, 2013
It was a fun day walking through the alleys of Tainan. I channeled the energy of several life forms. An eagle, aloft alone in the clouds; a snail, dragging snot over everything it comes across, with this damn cold I have; a tiger, catnapping lazily in the sun. I've got to entertain myself somehow while waiting for all other conditions to align. Biding time, conserving energy...waiting, waiting, waiting. Watching as things change, concerned both that they change too fast and that they are not changing fast enough, like watching leaves fall. Small fortunes change hands and mountains of tea travel over the ocean, eventually to be appreciated one sip at a time.

At a small temple that’s more than 300 years old, I stumble across a man with 11 fingers and my luck is changed.

Like a slug, pulling its line of slug juice over each surface it covers. The transformation from slug to bird happens with a flash. With instinct intact, the lone tea traveler looks for teachers, putting his faith in those he trusts. And through their eyes, he learns of himself. “Everything always works out for the best, though ultimately all roads lead to the same end.” He reminds himself of this and knows he is lucky. People help him, yet he manages to maintain a level of solitude, enjoying his experience as a recluse. And while he takes the world as it appears, he knows that there is more than he can see. The paths that unfold let him know this is true. His friends and teachers, alike, help him understand. Though it is nothing he can prove, his heart glows in the light of a feeling the energy of the universe. Love is a renewable resource that knows no limits.

Like a sleeping tiger, lazy in the sun, the hours pass by without a care. Soon everything will come. More sleep, and then another lazy afternoon. At some point, something will happen. It will happen very fast, as if with the blink of an eye. Full again, satiated, as blood lingers in the back of his throat. There is only this...blood, lust, affection, and lazy days spent in the sun. Tomorrow, another meal will come, as everything works out for the best.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Journal Entry: March 28, 2013: Restoration

An old friend has worked for nearly two years to restores his childhood home on a busy street in central Tainan. I toured the interior of the home on a previous trip, just after restoration began. The house has been unoccupied for nearly 40 years. We side-stepped around crumbling tiles and edged up narrow, dilapidated staircases connecting the four levels. Overall, it was a mess. But through the rubble, I caught glimpses of its former grandeur. Features such as high ceilings, original wooden beams, and the large central courtyard were hard to miss. Much has changed since my last tour. All of the details of craftsmanship seemed to pop out. From intricate retro modern window frames, a series of sliding front doors constructed of Taiwanese grown juniper, trim on the tile work and, around entry ways, windows, and mirrors. Restoring the building to its original form has become one of my friend’s primary ambitions. Replicating the detail and the craftsmanship has proven to be painstaking and slow and process.
During my travels, I observe that many small cities in Taiwan often showcase this type of preservation. When the Taiwanese encounter old features from a bygone era, they become heartsick and transported back to that earlier era. I gaze upon a painting, the shop owner explained, “This is of life in Tainan as it existed roughly 120 years ago.” She continued, “It was a time when everything was simpler, and people were good.” The word good she used for good was guai (first tone). If the words get drawn out a bit, it’s an example of onomatopoeia. This restorative energy has caught on here in Tainan. Here are some pictures of the home, as we tour it by night.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Journal Entry: March 28, 2013

Lessons from Li Lao Shi 
I met with Teacher Li and mentioned that I want to bring my son to Taiwan for part of his grade school education. “That's good!” he said. “That's what you have to do. You're almost 40. You have to bring him along with you, so he has a strong impression of what his father did.” Then he chimes in with his joking nature, “Teach him how to earn Chinese money.”

He is joking, but he knows it is no joke, and continues into one of his philosophy raps. Such is the way of Teacher Li. “How many PhD's are there in the world today?” he queries. “So you know that a PhD doesn't mean a crap. But in this new world that your son will live in, how will people achieve value? It’s important to be able to do something that brings value. Remember my nephew? The one who was a straight-A student and went to England to study? He hurt himself and had a hard time studying ever since. Now he is training to be a chef in a famous kitchen here in Taiwan. After you graduate from school, what do you have to do?”

I've heard this particular rap a few times. So this time, on cue, I tell him the answer, “Get a job.” He replies, “Yes, get a job, so why not get a job right off, get to your goal sooner, and save yourself a whole lot of trouble?”

Li Lao Shi is an amazing character and, as a fortune teller, he knows the other side of the story. He's just waiting to see how much of the story we can piece together to create a guide for achieving the best life possible. As a fortune teller, this must be one of Teacher Li's favorite subjects. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Precursor to the Taiwan Travelogue - Year of the Snake

Year of the Snake - 2013
March- April 2013

The following is an attempt to capture the experience of my most recent tea buying trip to Taiwan. I know that many of you haven't been to Taiwan. It’s a beautiful, vibrant island. Yet there remains a huge cultural gap that is not easy to navigate. People have different ways of knowing and doing, so there is a lot of room for disconnect. The tea table is a place where connection is established regardless of these cultural differences. At the tea table, we begin to understand each other, if for nothing else, to normalize our own experience. To tell a joke, to laugh, and to drink tea together; life doesn't get any better than this...

This is the result of one to two decades of work: learning, exploring, recording, meeting people, forming and maintaining relationships. This all takes time and much of it can't be rushed... at the risk of missing it.

So let us begin on a little adventure I'm going to call “gutting my memory.”

Entry into Taiwan

As I step off the plane, it’s approaching 6:00 am in Taipei, Taiwan. At this early hour, there is no need to hurry, so I buy a bus ticket headed south to Tainan, the old Southern capital. The bus trip requires two legs, with a transfer in Taizhong. Upon arriving in Taizhong, I decide to make the stop worthwhile by searching out a traditional breakfast and visiting tea friends. After the long trip filled with icky airplane food, I was starving. I can almost taste the steamed buns and fresh soy milk. I remember a great breakfast place next to a tea shop that I want to visit so I take a cab from the bus station, hot on the trail of steamed buns... and they did not disappoint. They were so good that I ate two servings, and walked around the corner to my friend’s teashop. As soon as I stepped in the shop, the room started to tremor. In the chaos I heard someone say, “Earthquake!” The shop owner started to chant some Buddhist scriptures as I felt the floor sway underneath us.  The walls swayed to and fro and the owner’s wife moved toward them to make sure that none of the expensive tea ware fell from the shelves. It was all over before it started, but what a welcome! I spent the morning selecting tea and tea ware and before long it was time for lunch. After lunch together, I continued my journey south. This earthquake was most severe in Nantou County. Well, this trip has already started out with a bang and I couldn't help but think that it promises to be a good one.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

I just found this in my journal.

This is a tea love story. Vast universes and ecosystems are experienced and discovered with each infusion. Each sip lingers, holding court in the bodies central channel, from the lower intestines to the throat and nose. It can be felt from the soles of one's toes to the neurons in the brain. We experience tea.

It doesn't say, but I wonder what kind of tea inspired this tea love poem.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Weight of Oolong

People often imagine me, as a tea vendor, drinking one amazing tea after another.  I do all right, but I am also often sipping from the leftover dust after bagging a few pounds of whole leaf tea.  It's best for J-TEA and if it is the dregs from high grade tea, then it's OK with me.  But once in a while, I come across a tea so alluring, that I cannot help but "test" some of the examples of fine tea, just to know what it really is.  

This Mu Zha Competition Winning Iron Goddess from the winter of 2012, we are calling Honorable Mu Zha, caught my eye in a recent tea packaging session.  Yes, I still package tea.  I find it relaxing.    

Since this tea is so beautiful, I had to share a few photos, in the process, brewing up some of said tea, and I guess I should taste it.

While packaging this tea, I was struck by its appearance.  The leaf roasted oh-so-dark and rolled up nice and tight, it looked more like a juniper berry than a tea leaf.  

After weighing 3.5 grams of these magical kernels and snapping a few photos, I got to business.  Hot, hot, hot.  Everything is preheated.  

This teapot, dedicated to iron goddess, holds about 6 or 7 ounces of water.  Tea steeps for four minutes, with water right off the boil. 

The results shown above: an amazing complex floral candy aroma that eventually sinks deep in the tissue where the nose connects to the face, deep into the root of the nasal cavities leaving a distinct tactile experience through nothing more than its aroma.  Starting with light smoke roast and ultimately ending with berry, after passing through a number of aromas, such as cherries, wood, sweet floral, etc. 
Really clear flavor, but extremely rich.  It almost tastes like that really good coffee that tastes like tea.  The range of flavors is broad.  Simply put, this tea is so good, I cannot believe how good it makes me feel.  
After brewing again, this time for five minutes, I am thoroughly impressed.  

The leaf, large teeth, full intact leaves, fairly consistent oxidation.

After the intensive brew conditions, there were still a portion of the leaves that were left only partially opened.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

The Unfortunate Art of Discernment

With the seeming blink of an eye, I've become an adult. At which point, I have to make a decision: Either I keep quiet or I do my best to inform people what I have learned at the risk of sounding like I know what I am talking about. This prospect does not thrill me, and I have avoided it to this point. Part of the story I have to tell is how to live your life. Or rather a version of “how to live.” I should point to my teachers. My teachers are many. Mostly because whoever teaches me is a teacher.

Another important part of the story is East meets West—specifically, Southern Taiwan and the Pacific Northwest. Here is an example. My life in Taiwan is divided into two distinct stages: before I knew how to live in Taiwan and after I knew how to live in Taiwan. People taught me how to live in Taiwan, mainly my teachers.

One of the most formative was Teacher Li. Teacher Li is still lives in Southern Taiwan today. He taught me how to take care of myself from a holistic Chinese medicine perspective. At that stage of my life, I was like a rubber band. I could go very far in another direction, trying things for several months before deciding if they were good for me or not. I changed my diet according to his suggestions, and this is really touching on how to live here. Knowing how to live is about knowing how to enjoy your life. Diet is so much a part of life’s enjoyment. I have met people who claim not to care about the food they eat. This is a problem. Teacher Li would say, “Give them the leftover dog food.” Ah, but you don't want leftover dog food? So there is some level of discernment. Good - that is the point.

How to Live” Tip of the Day: Constantly learn about food.  

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Spirit of Taiwan...

In a song by 張雨生 Zhang Yu Sheng (ZYS) called 我的未來不是夢。”My future is not a dream.”

因為我不在乎 別人怎麻說

I will attempt a translation:

Are you like me? Under the sun with your head hung low?
Sweating as you toil silently in your hard work.
Are you like me, often the recipient of indifference or a cold feelings, but refusing to give up on the life that you want for yourself?
Are you like me, busy the entire day pursuing...
Chasing after a gentle kindness, that you can't even comprehend.
Are you like me, having experienced great loss?
Time after time, hesitating at the busy intersections.

Because I don't mind what others say, I've never forgot myself.
The promise that I made to myself
To keep a grasp on love.
I know that my future is not a dream.
I earnestly live every minute of life.
I know that my future is not a dream.
My heart and my hopes create my action.

I've been familiar with ZYS for several years. He died in a car crash in 1997, but his music lives on. After my first stay in Taiwan, a dear friend suggested that I take some ZYS music home with me in order to improve my Chinese language skills. I wouldn't have predicted at that time - nearly 16 years ago - that I would still be moved by his words today.

Taiwan's Buddhist population is about 35%. As such, Taiwanese culture is heavily influenced by Buddhism. With lyrics like, “I earnestly live every minute of life” making their way into popular songs, we can see its influence.

Another very Taiwanese aspect of this song is the repetition of, “Are you like me?” with the common experience mentioned after it. It is an all-inclusive statement, unifying people by their common experience. The energy of “we are a group of brothers and sisters” is very Taiwanese.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

East and West: A Convergence of Cultures... in Eugene, Oregon

The Dalai Lama visits my home town; wow, the people of Eugene are lucky indeed! It was a great honor and privilege for Eugene to host the Dalai Lama as a guest and personally to hear his message. This would never have happened if it were not for the persistent work of key individuals who were able to convince him to visit Eugene. This visit was the culmination of a a ten-year effort, during which time he was less than excited about the prospect of visiting Eugene. Why not just visit a bigger city? Why not Portland? These were questions that the Dalai Lama himself was asking. Special teahouse sources have indicated that he would have never visited Eugene if it were not for the work of Lady Palmo, who not only had the ear of the Dalai Lama, but insisted that he visit Eugene. Let me tell you that many Eugenians are grateful for your efforts, Lady Palmo. Being born and raised in Eugene myself, I was very moved by the Dalai Lama's visit and I feel like his visit improved the energy of Eugene.

Though the costs associated with bringing the Dalai Lama to Eugene were exorbitant, the University decided in the beginning that the tickets for the event would be very reasonable. They made a portion of the tickets free to students, and offered the remaining tickets to the general public at $20 each. There was no VIP seating, no higher priced tickets for special seating and so on. This move was very democratic and very Eugene. The tickets went fast, selling out within an hour of their release. I was only able to get tickets through the generosity of a teahouse fan. The teabike was at the University of Oregon Street Faire on the afternoon of the event, but my trusty crew was able to cover long enough so that I could slip away to listen. Seeing him, I was filled with emotion. Somehow, just knowing that there are people like His Holiness is enough. As soon as he entered the room, waves of energy—as if a healing presence—filled the air.

Later, I had the opportunity to ask one of my Chinese friends if they were able to attend the lecture given by the Dalai Lama. “No way,” he responded. He went on to inform me that at one U.S. university, the Dalai Lama came to speak and many students from China went to listen. As a result, China nullified any degrees earned from the university. In the eyes of China, all of the credits were void. “Since he came here, we are all very scared.” Who knew Chinese nationals have so much to lose as a result of a visit from Tibet's exiled religious leader. Yet another interesting perspective revealed at the teahouse.  

Plan, Hope, and Visualize

What happened in the teahouse today?
We are in the process of consolidating our inventory in anticipation for the upcoming shipment from Taiwan. Organization is a constant aspect of our work at J-TEA.

Last week we had a great time at the University of Oregon Street Faire. We were very busy Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. Many students were happy to try our iced tea selections, as the bike is mostly an iced tea affair. The weather couldn't have been more cooperative. When selling iced tea, hot weather is an essential component.

As many of you may know, my first child will be born any day now. Today a friend came into the shop and asked if I am ready for the future, referring the upcoming birth of my child. To which I responded, “How can one be ready for the future?”

His response, “You can plan; you can hope; you can visualize.”

There you have it: Plan, hope, and visualize. This is my lesson for the day.   

Friday, April 19, 2013

J-Tea: The Story Behind Our Name

People often ask, “What does the ‘J’ stand for in J-Tea?" In fact, it doesn't stand for anything. It’s simply our name. In the process of conceiving a name for the tea company, we created lists and lists of possible names. Yet, none stood out. During this time, my grandmother was visiting from Chicago and I asked her opinion. She is a poet and for long as I can remember, she has recited a poem at Thanksgiving that includes all of the family members and something special about them. I remember thinking that she might just have the answer to the name quandary. Upon asking, she cocked her head, tilted and looked slightly upward, much like I've seen a terrier do when you ask it if it wants to go outside. "J-TEA," she said. My grandmother, in all of her wisdom, had spoken. The name had a nice ring to it and the rest is history.

People often think that the “J” in J-Tea signifies my name, Josh. It’s true that I am the “J” behind J-TEA, but J-TEA is an entity of its own, with its own name. On a side note, people who don't know my name often call me Jay. At first I thought it was funny, but now I just go with it. Sure, you can call me Jay. In fact, call me whatever you like; just don't call me late for drinking tea.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

2013 Tea Sealing: Year of the Snake

Art by Dave Snider

We are excited to be able to offer this fantastic event once again. This year, we will do things a bit differently. Do you have some old tea sitting around or a clay lidded jar that you wish to use for sealing? Feel free to bring it to J-TEA for this tea sealing event. We can also recommend specific teas from the shop for sealing. We are curating a collection of storage vessels from local potters along with an assortment of tins and other tea storage vessels. A common practice for this type of event is to ask others in attendance to sign the seal. In this way, we collectively witness the creation of the tea time capsules.

This year tea sealing will be an ongoing activity. We have created a notebook in which we can record the creation of tea time capsules throughout the year. Want to mark a special occasion by sealing some tea? We can help you out. Tea sealing can signify the birth of child, the beginning of marriage, a birthday, or any other meaningful occasion. Eventually, when you open the tea and enjoy its flavor, you will be able to appreciate and taste all of the changes.

As tea ages, it changes. Different teas will change in different ways. Some tea is harsh and as it ages, it mellows. Some teas have a subtle underlying characteristics that will rise to the surface as it ages. Flavors that might have been extremely subtle are made clear and present in aged version. Some teas change to earthy medicinal flavors sometimes fungal rich and soothing. We have examples of aged tea for sale in the shop and people are welcome to try a cup. Typically, aged tea tends to be more expensive, and by aging your own tea, you are planning ahead. That is a great thing to do, especially this year. Year of the Snake is a planning year.

Dave Snider

This Sunday (February 10) we will offer tea pairings of the un-aged version accompanied with its aged counterpart to celebrate Chinese New Year. Taste for yourself the changes that occur as tea ages. Join us from 12-2 pm for the tea sealing event. We will seal tea and hope that many people will attend so that we can invite them back to try the tea 20 years in the future.

Friday, February 01, 2013

Tea Smoked Wings a la Party!

Photo from Stuart Phillips of Red Wagon Creamery

When Katie asked Party Cart to create a tea-infused recipe for the article in Take Root Magazine, Tiffany immediately thought of wings. "Wings, wings, wings," she kept repeating. I was under the impression that the recipe would include chicken wings in some form, and it did. But through the process described below, Mark and Tiffany unleashed the chicken wing cannon. They transformed the evolutionarily impressive wing of a chicken into a dish that produced a symphony of mouthfeel and flavor. At once, it was crispy, caramelized, brittle, and juicy. This multi-day recipe delivers layer upon layer of gastronomic rewards. In fact, I had the thought that the wings tasted too good to be street legal. Yet, they were served on Friendly Street, in the great tradition of street food across the world.
Party Cart is preparing to open a restaurant in downtown Eugene. Currently, they are offering meals for delivery or pick up Tuesday-Friday as well as catering services. Visit their Facebook page to learn more (viewable even without a Facebook account):
Chicken Wing Confit with Lapsang Souchong Tea Sauce
Recipe by Tiffany Norton and Mark Kosmicki of Party Cart

For the Confit:
3 pounds chicken wings, cut into 3 pieces, tips reserved for sauce
24 grams sea salt
4 cloves
8 each: peppercorns, fennel seeds, szechuan peppercorns, all smashed
1 star anise, smashed
½ inch cinnamon stick, smashed
2 teaspoons lapsang souchong
3 pounds lard, or enough to cover wings

For the Tea Sauce:
4 cups strong tea (3 tablespoons lapsang souchong, 4 cups water, steeped 10 minutes)
Wing tips
¾ cup honey
½ cup tamari
½ cup apple cider vinegar
Pinch each: fennel seeds, szechuan peppercorns
1 star anise
½ dried thai chili
1 tablespoon minced pickled ginger
2 tablespoon sliced garlic

To Finish:
Pinch lapsang souchong
2 teaspoons chopped celery leaf
½ cup tea sauce

To make the confit:
Combine wings (minus tips) salt and all spices for the confit in a 1 gallon ziploc bag and seal. Squish around to equally distribute salt and spices. Refridgerate for 1 day minimum and 2 days if possible.

Rinse salt and spices off of wings and pat dry. Place in an oven-safe pot. Melt the lard in a separate pot. Pour lard over the chicken wings making sure to cover them completely. Bring to a simmer and drop them down into a 190 degree oven. Cook for 6 hours. Cool completely in the fat. The wings can be finished up to about a week later at this point.

To make the sauce:
Combine all ingredients for the sauce and simmer for 1 hour. Using a spider, scoop out all chunks, including the wing tips, and discard. Turn the heat up to high and reduce the sauce to a near syrup consistency.

To finish:
Melt fat and wings in a 200 degree oven or on low heat on the stovetop. Remove wings. Heat a cast iron pan to high with a small amount of confit fat. Brown wings on all sides making sure the skin is crisp. Toss them in a bowl with a pinch of tea, celery leaf, and ½ cup of tea sauce, or to taste...PARTY.

Note: Lapsang souchong is available at J-Tea or in the bulk sections of Sundance and The Kiva.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Observations of Twitter: Misadventures in Social Media

I’ve found that dislike for Twitter is a often matter of misinformation, which can lead to misadventures. Often, people simply don't understand what it is or how to use it. Read on for my suggestions to find maximal Twitter enjoyment.

The Basics: Start with this formula and see if it fills your need for information.

  1. Choose 10 to 10,000 people who you admire or who fascinate you to follow.
  2. Follow 10 to 100 local news sources, 5 to 50 national, and 3 to 30 international.

Take it to the Next Level: Get inspired.

  1. Check out who the people and groups you follow are following, paying special attention to those are retweeted. Add a few of these people to your list. The reason for this really gets at the heart of the matter, and no one is an exception: Everyone needs inspiration. Did you ever wonder where the people and groups that inspire you draw their inspiration from? 

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Welcome to Oregon: Wine, Truffles...and Tea? - By Katie Lewis

Excerpt from Take Root magazine (Winter 2013). Read the full version here:

Just north of the Salem tea plot, the red clay hills of Dundee produce elegant, earthy Pinot noirs. Could tea prove to be another latent agricultural phenomenon in Oregon like wine or, more recently, truffles? Similar to wine, tea reflects its terrior, is somewhat temperamental, and requires intensive processing prior to consumption. It’s no easy task and the economic viability of tea has yet to be proven in Oregon. The majority of the world’s tea grows in China, Taiwan, Japan, India, and Sri Lanka, where it’s supported by thousands of years of culture and knowledge on tea cultivation, processing, and consumption. While it’s certainly possible to cultivate tea in the Northwest, as evidenced by the efforts of Minto Island and Sakuma Brothers, the region lacks tea harvesting and processing equipment and knowledge. At present, this appears to be the major challenge for the endeavor.

Rob Miller holds some fresh picked leaves on his experimental tea plot

Curing the leaves at J-TEA

The finished product...