Saturday, June 28, 2008

You see puppies, but trust me, this is about tea

Since I work at an electronics retailer, and everyone knows that the only way to increase customer traffic is with gimmicks, we get a ton of promotional crap for new release DVD's. When a couple months go by, and we still have them left over, we usually junk them out and give them to our customers. Since I'm a customer when I'm not on the clock, I got these little guys at work for Grace. The other day while she was in the car having a meltdown, I handed her one of them and she started squealing really loud in a fit of frenzied joy.

That's the best way for me to describe how it feels to receive a package in the mail with tea in it. I always wonder what kinds of flavours await me. Whether it be smokey, minty, acidic, smooth, bitter, even skunky occasionally (for those "holy crap you need to taste this!" moments). I am finding that I am beginning to get better control over my brews. We all know how intimidating it can be making a cup for guests when you haven't figured out your style yet. Did I use too much leaf? Do I need to take some out? What kind of water? How warm should the water be?

I could go on for hours, but the point is this: I'm reaching a point where I don't really need to measure how much leaf I put in to the gaiwan. I don't actively think about the temperature of water anymore, and as soon as the water covers the leaves, my hands have started going into autopilot and pouring delicious cups. The whole process is finally finding it's way into muscle memory. I'm starting to find a bit more consistency in my pours. Looking back only three or four months ago, I clearly remember brewing the same tea a few nights in a row and getting startling differences in the colour of the liquor, the thickness of the syrup, the smoothness, right down to the cha'qi.

I'm starting to take hold of the belief that in able hands, most tea has some potential. It's just how a skilled musician can still make good sounding music on any instrument, even some that are slightly damaged. On the other end of the spectrum, you put a $3,000-$4,000 Taylor in the hands of a player who knows only the first three chords to Inna Gadda Davita, or the first bar of Classical Gas, it's still going to sound like a novice player, and you're sure to repel a crowd.

The last package I bought (the aforementioned tea fiasco I've been writing about in previous posts) contained a few samples and one of them was the 2006 Organic Pasha Mountain from Haiwan tea factory. I was talking to Teddy the other night, and we were laughing over some really skunky pu-erh he brought over. He mentioned that he tried the Pasha and liked it, but that it was very consistent start to finish. Bland was a word he used. I put that aside, like I always try to do when I have never sampled a tea before. Tonight, I pulled it out and brewed it up in my new yixing clay pot (which still needs a bit more weathering) and immediately found that it was smooth, clean, and definitely lacked bitterness. It didn't really have a whole ton of character from the first infusion, but was by no means bad. It's a delicious tea. One I would definitely share with guests, but not a tea for my more adventuresome taste buds of late. Each infusion packed plently of the same flavour, which I can admire. I chalked it up to this excerpt from string of text messages that went back and forth between Teddy and myself a few minutes ago:

Pasha mt. is the Snickers Bar of pu-erh. Not flashy, no surprises. Consistent delivery each infusion. I like it.

My next post is going to be about some of that skunky pu-erh that I've come to love on an occasional night of brewing here and there. Hopefully, anyone who reads this will be moved to speak up and share some of their tales of woe with me at that time. ^__^

Thursday, June 26, 2008

I fought the Post and the...oh wait, I won!

In early May, I decided that I was going to place a large order from Scott at Yunnan Sourcing. Two bricks of the 2008 Dehong Purple Varietal, a tong of the 2008 Menghai 7542(801), a yixing teapot, a mesh strainer...all things that should never have been an issue. I paid for my order, it was shipped to me. Everything was going just as planned until the USPS got their hands on my package. Somehow down the line, some brainiac decided to remove the waybill from my package. It made it out of China through customs, over a rather large ocean, into US customs, in the hands of the US Post Office, and eventually to my local hub. A little after five weeks had gone by, I receive a letter explaining that the package arrived without a customs declaration, no postage, and that I owed them $59.25 if I wanted to pick up my package. Because I thought it was a complete outrage, I called the post office immediately.

The next day, I spoke to Dennis, the postmaster at my local post office. He informed me that if I could provide a copy of the waybill then he would let me have my package. I immediately contacted Scott, who faxed it over, although the post office claims to have never gotten it. I asked Scott to scan and email it to me directly, which he was kind enough to do.

Upon receipt of the waybill, I thought I had this one in the bag. I went to Kinko's to print up a nice colour copy, and took it to the post office, only to be called a scam artist. The lady told me I should just refuse the package. I immediately spoke up saying "lady, this is a tong of spring harvest.....nevermind. You have no idea what I'm talking about." I asked to speak to the postmaster, and was refused; told he was in three interviews. She advised me to then just pay the $59.25 and get my package. I left, much less than satisfied, and more than determined to be a pain in their ass until I was able to recover my package.

I called and spoke to six different people on Saturday, and left multiple messages for the post master to call me back. He finally got back to me on Monday morning, and informed me that he wasn't even in the office on Friday when I went to talk to him. I emailed him the waybill, and a description of the contents of the box. I informed him that I would not be paying $59.25 for a package that shipping was already paid for, and showed him exactly how to read the way bill. I also informed him that if he was unable to help me, I wanted the name and phone number of his superior, as well as the postal investigator involved (since I was told the postal investigators had their hands on my box as well).

The very next day, I found an email the moment I arrived at work saying that he would be willing to turn over my package under a few conditions. He said he would be out of town and to speak the other supervisor that would be there. I would need to provide a copy of the bill (so I brought the one they called me a scammer over), a valid Drivers License or State ID (which they ended up never checking), and be willing to open the box at the post office for inspection; all of which I agreed to. the shipping was 216.3 RMB, and the weight was 4452 grams. After showing that to the supervisor, he simply said "How the hell am I supposed to convert this?"

I replied, "You're the post office...don't you have tools for that?" When he looked at me and said no, I busted out my cell phone and pulled up Google in order to do the conversions for him. Once everything matched up, he grabbed a pair of scissors, and I proceeded to cut my box open.

He was careful with the contents, thankfully. Scott was also careful in his wrapping of my pu-erh, so everything came through in tip top shape. Out came the tong. Out came the two bricks of Dehong. Out came my yixing clay pot and my strainer. Then, then unthinkable happened. Scott was kind enough to include some samples with my order. I watched as the man at the post office (who already hoped he was on the precipice of catching a terrorist) pulled out three bags of tea and began to sniff them with a very suspicious look on his face. He then asked me what they were, and I explained that many sellers will include samples of things they think you may enjoy. I then gave him a thorough background on pu-erh, explaining the way it is made and the way it ages, to which his reply was "You're too good for Lipton, huh?" I said "yes sir, I prefer not to drink dust and fannings." After a minute, he grabbed a roll of tape, closed my package back up, and said "Okay, you can take your package home," I breathed a deep sigh of relief, but inside felt like I had just been rode hard and nobody even offered me so much as a towel. I honestly have never felt more violated, or more like a criminal in my life.

Through this ordeal, I'm very grateful to Scott for coming through with the waybill. He even offered to go above and beyond that if necessary, but being as persistent as I am, I wanted to keep pushing and pushing to avoid either of us having to spend unnecessary money. It's just the right blend of manner, pestering, determination, and conviction.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Tea Fiasco Update

Well, here's the latest on my shipment from YSLLC that is in limbo. My post office basically called me a scam artist today. The way bill was separated from the shipment somewhere along the line. The postmaster told me that if I could provide a copy of the way bill then he would allow me to pick up the product. I contacted Scott, who provided me a copy of the way bill. After showing them the copy of the way bill, I was told that this was most likely made on a computer and that they see scams like this all the time. My post office sucks. Oh well, at least my sheng is in a moderately dry atmosphere and is always aging slowly. I hope I can get this resolved.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


To anyone who has never experienced it, there is nothing sweeter than the snap of a well-placed Go stone on a nice wooden board. I used to enjoy sipping a cup of tea and playing through professional games with the window open when I lived at the old place. I started playing again last year on a real board, but have played off and on over the past 4 years. To me, such a simple yet complex mindset is required to really enjoy the game. That's what I've always loved about it, but it wasn't until last year that I decided I wanted to stick with it for good. Since last year, I have moved forward 12 ranks, settling at the moment around 11kyu. I'm hoping that by this time next year I'll be closing in on shodan.

Playing Go has been especially helpful in relieving tension from every facet of my life, but my board has sat idle for a couple of weeks now. Nobody has come by to play until 3:00am. I honestly think it's because it's just been so humid lately. Most of me knows there are several other reasons as well. Tonight, it's very cool outside. There's a slight breeze coming up to my feet from beneath the floor boards of my porch. Everything outside of my body feels almost frozen in time. It makes me crave another warm cup of tea with a dear friend over the board.

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Marvels of Modern Mail

So about 5 weeks ago I placed a pretty large order for some tea to be shipped here from Kunming China. I was worried that something had happened to it. Today, I find out that it's here in Plymouth. However, instead of the package, I got a letter from the postmaster. It reads:

Dear Mr. Sumner,

Please see the attached photocopy of the top of a parcel we received in our office. The parcel has no postage or customs forms and the country of origin is unknown. Due to FAA regulations and heightened security this package is not deliverable as is.

Please contact me at the Plymouth Post Office at xxx-xxx-xxxx to let me know if you were expecting this package or not. If I do not hear from you in ten days I will assume you do not want the item and we will dispose of it via Postal regulations.

Thank you for your cooperation,
Dennis F. Wieczorek

Somehow, this package made it all the way from Kunming to little old Plymouth...and they want me to pay $59.25 if I want to pick it up. I already paid for shipping. How in the bloody hell does a package make it through the post, overseas, through customs twice, and to my rinky dink post office without a single form attached to it?!?!?!?!

How very frustrating.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

You Are Not My Rose

In St. Exupery's The Little Prince, we learn the tale of a man whose life is changed when he is convinced by grownups to give up a career as an artist to become an master of the skies. The story is the recount of a man whose plane crashes in the desert, only to meet a strange little man who never answers questions, yet never lets go of a question once he has asked it. As we come to find out, The Little Prince lives all alone on a very tiny planet, where he cares for a few of them being an exquisite rose that is one of a kind. To quote, he says:
"If someone loves a flower of which just one example exists among all the millions and millions of stars, that's enough to make him happy when he looks at the stars."
That said, I think the interactions we have with people can share that same quality. We can meet someone, and to us, they are the only one in all of the world. We can appreciate them, cherish them for touching our world, and we can know that no matter what happens, we have met up with someone and shared in an experience the likes of which no other human being will ever know. However, if we forget who we've become, or how to tell those people that they are special to us, it is possible to find that they are just like every other rose in the world. I've met a rose or two throughout my time. Each of them was lovely. Whether it be their beauty, their confidence, or their thorns (which are in fact more ferocious than a tiger's claws), they had something that forever made them special in my eyes. When you have to leave a part of your life behind, I think the most important thing is that we don't forget how to tell our rose from the rest of them. If we can do that, we'll always have a reason to smile.