Kendra Steiner Editions

October 26, 2019

Poetry Is Where You Find It, Even in Tea-Hype

Filed under: Uncategorized — kendrasteinereditions @ 3:34 pm

tea

As a poet, and as a lover of poetry and language, I enjoy finding rich and evocative uses of language, and I most enjoy finding them in unexpected places, much the way I enjoy finding some thrown-away cultural gem from years past at a junk store. I have had poet and writer friends over the years who double in advertising copy-writing or in greeting card message-writing (the late great poet Doug Draime wrote greeting card copy as a sideline) because it’s a way to put their literary skills to use and pay the rent. Another place I see poetic skills put in the service of commerce is in the world of wine writing, and that has expanded in recent years to the world of craft-beer and craft-distillery writing. So many writers in that vein use multiple sense impressions in their descriptive writing, use unexpected analogies, and know what buttons to push to get Pavlovian reactions among the specialized audiences for whom they write.

One area where I’ve encountered many a delicious phrase has been in the world of wine writing, and over the last 15 years many of the tropes from that field have found their way into writing about craft beer and craft spirits, worlds I am quite familiar with as we have many small wineries, breweries, and distilleries here in Texas, and Mary Anne and I have visited dozens of them and gotten to know the folks who run them, who are pretty much always excited to talk with anyone who cares.

Another place where the approach to wine writing has taken hold in recent years is the world of tea. While the two of us have a few espressos each morning at 5:45 to wake up and get ready for work, when I arrive at the workplace a little after 7:00, I make a pot of hot tea every morning, and if I’ve got a very long day, I re-use the leaves for a second pot in the early afternoon, and I sip on my tea all day. Also, anytime I am working on poetry myself, I am under the influence of strong tea—-I generally alternate between oolongs, Pu-erh, and various white teas. I tend to buy most of my tea direct from small growers/distributors in China, as I get can good quality specialized teas straight from the source at VERY low prices, and they wind up making more money themselves than if the tea went through five middlemen on the way to get to me…thus, we’re both happy. However, I am on the mailing list of many specialized tea distributors in North America who deal with Chinese growers, and reading their sale-list descriptions is often a very pleasurable and delicious experience, almost like tea-porn, one might say.

I got one such description in my in-box this morning, and I just had to share it with you, as it’s typical of what I often read from tea-sellers. It might not push YOUR buttons, but it does mine. In fact, it’s so over-the-top in some ways, you might get a laugh out of it…Mary Anne did when I read it to her.

One thing I’ve been seeing over the last five years in the advertising of tea importers is putting a human face and a family name of the growers of the tea, treating them as artisans, which of course they are–artisans of the highest order, to any devoted tea drinker. The American importers even show pictures of themselves in Chinese rural areas at high elevations, interacting with the local growers and their families (how I wish I could travel to those areas, and then write it off as a business expense!). I suppose this approach is an extension of the old “Juan Valdez” coffee advertisements of the 1950’s, where a fictional character was created to represent the coffee growing families from the nation of Colombia, since Colombian coffee has always been much-loved and enjoyed by millions of North Americans who need to get their day started with a solid and substantial cup of coffee. In fact, there have been a series of Colombian actors who played “Juan Valdez” in commercials over the decades….initially José Duval, who played the role until 1969, then Carlos Sánchez, who represented the character from 1969-2006, and most recently, by Carlos Castaneda, who presently plays the role. I did not previously know that Juan’s mule has a name, Conchita. There is also an international JUAN VALDEZ coffee brand, distributing the products of Colombian growers, and after reading about the Valdez persona and Colombian coffee this afternoon while writing this post, I bet I’ll buy a can of the Valdez brand coffee when my present stash of Community Coffee runs out.

Getting back to tea….some importers even go to the lengths of showing videos of families at work growing and harvesting the teas associated with their names, and one importer in particular whose products I’ve purchased a few times in the last two years, puts a message on the tea packaging “from the #### family,” reinforcing the directly-from-the-artisan-to-you message. So…with that backstory, here is the tea write-up promised above (edited somewhat to focus on the juicy parts)…


On a rainy autumn day, I am looking for a bit of distilled sunlight to cut through the grey – a touch of summer for my gaiwan.

The first tea that comes to mind today is the Wu Family’s from 2019 Wild Bai Mudan white tea, a self-assured jaunt through a field of clovers with all the cozy undertones I need to keep this steeping all afternoon.

Mr. Wu’s family has been growing Da Bai varietal white tea on their remote mountain plot for generations, but until recently, most of the bushes were left untended, allowed to grow wild and propagate new wild tea from seed over many years. With the sudden resurgence of interest in white tea, Mr. Wu is taking a leadership role in his village with conservation to make sure the wild groves stay wild and don’t get cleared for higher yield plantings with less nuance.

Mr. Wu also comes back to the village with a degree in engineering, which he has applied to build his own drying bed and fans to keep heat down and get the fastest dry time possible to lock in all the natural flavor of the wild tea without cooking it or letting it oxidize.

The biodiversity of his family’s plot, full of bamboo stands, wild flowers and herbs, the age and resilience of the wild tea bushes, along with Mr. Wu’s technical mastery come together for complex, deep and rich tea.

OK, time for some sunlight in a glass.

I am brewing with a porcelain gaiwan and drinking with a porcelain cup to get the biggest aromatics possible. Also, since this tea is so bud-heavy and texture focus, I am skipping a strainer for a thicker brew. Mr. Wu likes brewing with off boiling spring water around 85 degrees celsius.

First, I’ve just got to remark on how beautiful this tea looks. The generous proportion of silvery, downy buds and bright green young leaves makes for a gorgeous gawain.

The aroma alone is enough to keep me going – as soon as the water hits the buds, there is a wafting intense vanilla and amaretto cream that somehow maintains a thick, deep texture, even as a smell.

The first sips are delightfully cryptic, like sunlight condensed into a soft cloud, like a warm field of clovers whipped into a meringue. The texture is somehow silky soft while still keeping a decidedly sparkling minerality and buddy crispness. It is the sort of texture that you’d be chasing for years putting away $100+ bottles of Burgundy for a decade or two on the off-chance that they got to this level of nuance, but here it is, fresh and pure – the expression of wild terroir and precise craft.

Over many steepings, this tea really feels like the most honest and unhindered expression of the natural fresh flavor of this da bai white tea, the taste and texture you’d expect to get if you picked a bud right off the bush and tasted it.

If you’re looking for a bright, fresh celebration of texture, this is a must-try tea.

With tiny yields, a meticulously long finishing process, and untended, difficult to harvest plants, Mr. Wu needs to get a higher price for this special tea, but as a tasting journal exclusive, I’d love to make it a bit more accessible for anyone curious about true wild da bai white tea.

Here’s a coupon for 15% off this fantastic tea, good through Tuesday the 29th.


 

Sorry, no coupon! I’m not selling anything here. However, this write-up reminds me of the hundreds of promotional blurbs I wrote for various KSE albums and chapbooks between 2006 and 2018, which are available for reading on this website, if you’ve ever got insomnia. For each album by a Lisa Cameron or an Alfred 23 Harth or a Massimo Magee or a Tom Crean, or each poetry chapbook by a John Sweet or a Michael Layne Heath or a Luis Cuauhtémoc Berriozabal, I would try my best to bait the hook for the experimental music-lover or the contemporary poetry-fan with my version of the tea-porn quoted above. I still try to do that with the write-ups on my own poetry books, although with those I am the position of being both Juan Valdez AND the Colombian Coffee Growers Association.

It’s going to be a long night tonight….as the days get shorter and the weather gets colder here in Central-South Texas. Why not have a leisurely cup of white tea tonight as the evening chill starts to seep into you…you can imagine that you’re resting on a hillside on some tea farm in a high altitude area of north central China, nested among a sea of Camellia Sinensis plants, their young and tender leaves surrounding you as far as the eye can see. I can’t imagine what that would smell like, but I wish I could be there in-person to find out….

In case you are not familiar with white tea, here is a brief definition from Teatulia: White tea is known to be one of the most delicate tea varieties because it is so minimally processed. White tea is harvested before the tea plant’s leaves open fully, when the young buds are still covered by fine white hairs, hence the name “white” tea.
These buds and unfurled leaves from the newest growth on the tea plant are handpicked and then quickly and meticulously dried, so the leaves are not allowed to oxidize as long as leaves plucked for green or black tea production. This minimal processing and low oxidation results in some of the most delicate and freshest tea available.

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