Tuesday, October 5, 2010


This morning, I was fortunate enough to attend my daughter's dance class, and what a little lady she has become! It's incredible to me that in spite of how much I've seen her grow these past three years, physically, she's just a drop of water in a vast ocean. At some point, you can no longer experience it with eyes alone.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A Life Lesson (+ An Informal Symposium)

Hello friends,

It's been a while, I know. I've got a two-part entry for today. The first is a blog post that isn't about tea (sorry, money-squeeze right now). The second part, loosely related to the post, is hopefully to solicit some feedback. I'll lay out the scenario after the post. As always, thank you for reading, and I welcome your thoughts. ^__^

A couple of weeks back, I took my daughter to Parmenter's Cider Mill in Northville, Mi. It's been one of my favourite places to frequent during autumn, and on the way back, we spotted this little guy. I showed it to Grace and she said "Daddy, what kind of silly bug is that?!?!?" I told her it was a Praying Mantis.

It took me back to my childhood, when I used to try to look after every butterfly, baby bird, and other creepy crawly that I found on the sidewalk without a family. Something in my child brain told me that these little creatures needed looking after. One such summer, I found a mantis and of course, it needed a home within the empty fishbowl in my basement. Eventually, it became a pet, and the number of crickets that became helpless victims was absolutely mind boggling. I figured that the mantis just had a huge appetite, but as it turned out, the mantis was getting ready to carry out it's role in the cycle of life. That fall, it laid an egg case and shortly after, passed away during the night. The egg case housed anywhere from 100-400 mantids. Come spring, the eggs hatched, and we grew our own fruit flies to feed them. Eventually, I took them outside, opened the lid of the case and watched them disperse.

That was my first real lesson on just how different the nature of life and death is through the many species that inhabit this planet. The male often dies immediately during or after mating, and the female won't have any maternal role in the life of her children. Further, only 10% of the offspring will survive. It's an amazing process to see start to finish.

It's kind of a mindfuck. Let's back it up and build a new perspective on the world we presently live in. Say you only had a 10% chance of survival, and you made it. You spend your entire life looking for a partner (so far it's not too strange), and when you finally find a mate, you learn nothing about her. You don't talk much, but instead, just do the deed (still not terribly uncommon in the real world), copulate, and as your final duty for your children, you become a high-energy food source to ensure your kids get off to a good start. You never get a chance to meet your kids, and after you kick the bucket, your partner drops the kids off in an egg case and hightails it just in time to enjoy the last little bit of her own life. Eventually, your cannibalistic saplings race head to head in an attempt to survive long enough to do it all over again. Aside from the obvious part where you might get your dome chomped, the basics of life are all covered, and in a roundabout way, still can be related to the cycle of life and partnership as some people experience it, right down to the part where some parents never play a significant role in their children's lives.

So then, what makes it different? What puts us on a different level? It puzzles me; we have a nature to learn and grow, adapt to change, and be social. We build upon our previous generation by sharing our experiences and knowledge, and even though the primal behaviours don't change, we get to experience the cycle of living on a very different level than many of the other creatures we share our world with. We'd be fools to forget that. Take every single day, every experience with this in mind. Share your thoughts, even if you think they're stupid. You'll learn, you'll grow, you'll connect.

Sometimes I forget the inquisitive nature of children is just as important to their development and growth as keeping the freezer stocked with food and the fridge loaded with juice. Sometimes I forget to respond appropriately when Grace says "Look Dad, that dog is brown!" Some dogs are brown; all adults know that, but she's a child. When I find myself taking that information in, my response should be something to the effect of "Hell yeah! That is a brown dog! Let's talk about it!" As we get older, we all take on the role of educating and encouraging those around us.

and now, for the part where I will ask for some feedback

We live in a time where most, if not all of the people who read this blog have or know of someone who has felt the crunch of economic instability. It is, in and of itself, the primary reason I haven't been able to post on many of the teas I have been dying to taste. Money has been tighter, and I've already got enough to last me the next fifteen years. So, in lieu of my present life situation, the buying of and blogging about tea has taken a back seat. In the meantime, I've spent more time learning how to cook meals at home, doing more with less, and living an overall healthier existence.

Last night, I got into a rather heated debate with someone on energy efficiency and health care vs. education on healthier lifestyles. The point that we debated on the most was whether it is right for people to be irresponsible with their freedoms just because they have the bankroll. We discussed the fact that some restaurants are removing salt from their meals, teachers are educating children in schools about how to live healthier lifestyles, right down to reducing the impact on the environment by using CFL bulbs over incandescent bulbs and walking/biking instead of driving everywhere. The person I spoke with stood firmly on the idea that in a capitalistic society, if a person has the money to pay for it, they should be able to use as much energy as they want, eat whatever they choose, and let health insurance take care of the rest. That's what freedom is all about, right?

I totally agree that the option to have a choice is important, but I also believe that the misuse of a privilege, or wasteful use of resources, simply because you have the capital to afford it isn't an ethical way to live, and ultimately won't bode well as the nations move further into the global economy. I was informed that my thinking was naive and I was merely indoctrinated into believing what "the government" wanted me to believe. I'm hearing and reading so many contrasting points of view in the media that it's making my head spin.

So my question to you all is this:

If you live in a country where healthcare isn't afforded to you, or you pay for it out of pocket, what are your thoughts on the push for government reform and educating people to live healthier lifestyles? If you live in a country that has government programs around energy conservation and healthcare, what are some of your personal experiences with these kinds of programs?

Also, for anyone who has taken steps of their own to promote a lower-impact lifestyle, how do you go about educating friends and family members, and what kinds of push back do you get, if any at all?

I know it's long-winded, but these topics keep coming up in daily conversation, and most of us are already tech-savvy, involved in the global market, and definitely interested in the history and culture of the world around us. I don't want to repeat the same steps over and over just because that's what my country was founded upon. I want to be part of a positive change for my family and those around me, well-aware that without change, we stand to fall behind. I'm open to hearing both sides of this, so please educate me :-)

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Big Three

This picture was taken when she was merely a week old. She turns three tomorrow. Where has the time gone?

Happy Birthday, my dear child. I may not get to see you tomorrow, but I will see you soon.

Saturday, July 17, 2010


We were smashed with a wave of hot weather the past couple of weeks, so we've been spending the majority of our days around the pool. These days have been peaceful.

Sunday, June 27, 2010


"In meditation, go deep in the heart.
In dealing with others, be gentle and kind."
-Tao Te Ching #8

It's often easy to forget that at the times, I've been the lesser grounded individual. It's often easy to leave it behind me that there were others along the way who cleared the brush until I knew my bearing without the aid of a gentle road at my feet. I feel it in my toes now wherever I walk. I can see the shift of the wind and the groans of a tired man, so wrapped up in his work that thirty years later, in his time for repose, the memories of pulling bodies from blazes has worn on his tolerance. Even on his best days, screaming children, in all their innocence, can become a nuisance to him. I can see how men get wrapped up in dreams and forget to turn off the lights when they leave the room. All these things I understand fully well, but I often have to remind myself to have the consistent patience to approach them with kindness.

My recent return to written word came about with a post on Unknown Soldiers; tea without a name. The many unidentified samples that sit in my cupboard, waiting for their turn to dance with the kettle, gleaning enough information for me to get an idea of where they came from. Sometimes, it's just not enough to know for sure. The agony of the leaves unfurling piques my interest, as they eventually, with enough force push the lid of the teapot upward. During each pour, I carefully balance the pot atop the chahai so every last drop finds it's way to me. This process, one of the few I follow as carefully as I used to count down the seconds, is a reminder of patience. By not rushing, my next cup won't brew prematurely; there won't be unnecessary bitterness waiting for me at the bottom of the cup. The empty pot can now rest and the steam reminds the leaves during early infusions that it's time to wake up.

This Unknown Soldier, a gift from Brett @ Teacup in Seattle, came to me in a small brown bag, with a kindly written postcard. An oolong of sorts, but that's as much as I care to read into it tonight. I'm on my third straight session with it, which means I must be enjoying myself. The postcard, which, at the time, knew the history of this tea, disappeared somewhere during the move last September. So, I've got another mystery at my hands, but I'm beginning to enjoy this, in the way we often find ourselves spilling, to strangers, the stories we dare not share with our loved ones. Some years ago, on a trip to Paris, I met a girl at the airport. She and I spent the entire afternoon at a park near the hotel, watching children play and gutting ourselves out. Perfect strangers, but perfect for each other in that moment.

So, on meditation and kindness, where does that leave us? I tend to think about a lot of things as they relate to my life as a father. Tonight, Grace had another bout with not wanting to sleep. I had to fix a scheduling mistake today created by someone else. After reminding them to take a look at it, instead of acting, they forgot about the conversation, and failed to take care of the issue. After an hour of my time spent making the necessary arrangements, my child had gotten bored and fallen asleep. I was hoping to keep her awake until bedtime, but by now, she was beyond waking, even with my best attempts. Three cheers for late naps. She woke up in a great mood, but I knew bedtime would be rough. After several failed attempts at putting her down, she began to cry, saying she didn't want to go to bed. All I could do was hold her and remind her that it's okay to cry; that it's okay to be frustrated and upset, and in the brutal honesty of a child's emotions, the only thing to do is deal with it in the here and the now. At her age, she isn't concerned with yesterdays or tomorrows; she's seeking comfort for what she feels right now. The act of laying next to her until she is carried off to sleep; the gentle words reminding her that it's going to be okay. Simple problems merit simple solutions and this doesn't just apply to dealing with children. From the day we're born, we learn that crying elicits a response from those who look after us. As we get older, we're all still crying, just in a more complex string of notes.

Brett, whatever this tea is, thank you. It just may keep me company until morning.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Ten Toes

Right now, ten small toes attached to two little legs are draped across my lap. My child, nearing three years of age, sleeps on the couch instead of her own bed. She sleeps soundly, regardless of the events of the day. The ups and downs that brought her to this point no longer matter and fatigue took hold hours ago. She cried from her own bed tonight, saying simply "Daddy, I want to sleep near you tonight." My tongue is tingling from the Lao Mansa I've been drinking for the past hour. I picked it up from Norbu earlier this year and am finally getting around to drinking it. It's young, but smooth. It reminds me a lot of the Six Famous Tea Mountains YiWu Millenial Tea Tree from 2006 when that was maybe a year old.

There is a slow kid across the hall from me, and like clockwork, I hear him going out for his midnight jog. He's picked up a couple of my habits and the woman who looks after him (presumably his grandmother) has thanked me a couple of times, saying she's happy to see him running instead of sitting inside all day. At first, he would run to the end of the complex and come back home. On movie nights, I started timing him with my phone, but decided it's more fun to time him by the number of cigarettes any one of my friends smokes between the time he leaves and the time he returns. A sort of silent tally I keep to myself. First it was one, then two, and now three, and who knows where it will stop, so long as we can keep the air filled with enough conversation to keep us on the porch.

Much of my life has been in reverse: Decent paying job before finishing college, child before marriage, tea in the evening and water in the morning. It makes me curious as to the way many of my friends sleep well into the afternoon and go to bed as the sun is coming up. Time is relative, and the sequence of events might not be the more important piece when compared to having had the experiences themselves. One thing I am well certain of; these late nights are my time, and without them, I begin to lose something vital.

'Consistency' is the word that comes to mind. Just the way I can be sure the kid across the hall will go for his run, headphones blaring as he runs past my picture window; just the way I can be sure someone will open my fridge looking for a beer; just the way I can be sure my child will fight sleep unless I've done my best to wear her out; just the way I need these nights to stabilize after the day. Every scenario comes with people looking to find something, whether it be a healthier lifestyle, an altered state of mind, not wanting to miss a moment of discovery, or the capacity to balance a sloped lifestyle.

Those same ten toes, now wiggling as my child dreams, will be the toes that will help her keep her balance. The smallest of essential things. Just as these nights are my tipping point, to remember that being flexible with others is okay, so long as it is reciprocal. Are those I'm making myself available for making themselves as easily available when I am in need of council? Are those I'm sacrificing my time for making an equal sacrifice of time? All of these things, just so I can sleep, express, and make decisions as easily as a child, without bias or ego.

Thank you Greg for the tea. The leaves are entirely spent, and now produce nothing more than sweet aroma and golden water. Dust off a bing, I feel an order coming on.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Paying Respect at a Funeral

In the pursuit of learning, every day something is acquired.
In the pursuit of Tao, every day something is dropped.
-Tao Te Ching #48

I start this post before I empty the gaiwan from last night, before I rinse the dried leaves from the strainer, and long before I've put the kettle on to boil. I started this post because I wanted to make sure I have mentally committed myself to the tea I will be drinking this evening; that I will choose to put myself into a position where, for the next hour, I will be uninterrupted to enjoy the product of another's hands. Too often, I find myself starting a brew, only to get a phone call or to be pulled away for an errand. After two infusions, the gaiwan gets tucked away and forgotten about. I even forgot about one of them for several days and came back to find mold. I often try to think about pu-erh as a living, breathing entity, because, for what it's worth, it really is.

My mindset on the handling of tea changed recently when I decided to see to a different means of disposing of spent leaf. Since then, not a leaf (aside from fannings lost rinsing a strainer) has found it's way to a plastic bag in my dumpster. I've been careful to lay out the spent leaf to dry it, and then, to give it back to the Earth. It makes me wonder how it is that I can be so careful with this, almost ceremonial task of ensuring these leaves end up under the open skies, yet I allow myself to be so easily distracted at a time when the tea still has something to say. How many times have you heard someone explain the way we learn to drink tea? How many times have you heard something about having a conversation with the tea? Even while listening, it often takes multiple sessions before you really understand how to get a particular tea to work for you. Sure, we all have our methodologies; favourite brewing vessels, water preferences, steaping times, and the like, but I've found that I enjoy tea more when I don't count out the infusions.


It takes away some of the magic, constantly being worried about timing this and grams that. To just know when to pour, to know when to pinch out a little leaf, or exactly what colour the soup should be to yield perfection to your tastebuds. I'd opt for the latter. The day my electronic scale started acting up, I can assure you I was more frustrated than when I found out someone had stolen my credit card number. At least with the credit card, I could call the bank, close the card, get a temp issued, and file an investigation. With the scale, I stood there, repeatedly pushing the one menacing, silver button. This multi-faceted button controls the power, the units of measurement, and even zeroes the tare weight! Yet, here I am, helpless to weigh my leaf, helpless to convert ounces to grams because the damned thing is trying to do too much. I believe the definition of insanity is something to the tune of repeating a process in hopes of a different result, and most of the time, it pegged me insane. Oh, but every once in a while, the button worked, and gave me hope that my tea would be perfectly measured every time.

That was a long time ago. I have since given up on such madness, and if anyone can come up with a creative way to destroy the confounded device, I'll happily record a video and post it here.

Regardless, the point is to do what works for you; to do what allows you to enjoy it the most. For me, I'd much rather take the cake, pry off the amount that feels like what I want to drink, and start there.

You can say you know a person two different ways. Anyone who has read the Little Prince will immediately know what I mean, but if you haven't, let me give you an example. You can say your friend makes $71,000 a year, lives in a three-story house with beautiful red bricks, and weighs 165lbs. You can even say they have studied at Harvard.

On the flip side, you can know the way your friend laughs and thinks, you can know know the colour of their hair and be reminded of them every time you see it in nature. You can share things that cannot be measured with charts, science, and reason (or madness...they're pretty much the same thing anyhow).

I am...at this point, maybe six, eight...ten (???) infusions into this tea, but as I get back up to refill the kettle, I always think. Tonight, this is what hits me:

When you spend your life in the company of an individual and the time comes that they should pass on, you can be honoured enough to speak on their life, or their character. I ask you now, how would you rather know them then?

The thing I have learned is the thing I will let go of.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Yunnan Sourcing Copycat

Around the community of tea enthusiasts, many, if not all of you have had the pleasure of doing business and getting to know Scott Wilson from Yunnan Sourcing. Just in case you haven't heard, I wanted to put this out for everyone to see. There is a company who has made almost a perfect clone of his shop with similar layout and products. They have even stolen images and verbatim descriptions of the teas and wares Scott has for sale. Having gotten to know a decent number of sellers over the past few years, I am well aware that there is a lot of hard work put in to keep it together. This is the kind of hard work that allows us to enjoy teas that, in many cases, aren't available to the Western World. I'm happy to say that I have reputable sources to purchase the teas I drink every day and share with my loved ones.

The site that is copycatting his is called Pueryunnan.com can be found here.

Many of us rely on people with reputable track records to ensure that the products we purchase are of quality, are well stored, and legit. It makes me question the foundation of a company who can't be bothered to take their own pictures and write up their own descriptions. If it's their product, why wouldn't they want to? The tea community deserves better than this. Thoughts?

Friday, May 21, 2010

Mornings with Unknown Soldiers

It's Friday morning and I'm finally starting to get used to the fact that this is no longer a time when I am working. I recently changed my work schedule to better fit the needs of a changing business and to spend more one-on-one time with my employees and what I'm finding is that this change also comes with other ancillary benefits too. I've now got three days during the week in which I have the option of catching a little extra sleep; windows open so the birds can keep the cat entertained. I've also got the option to wake up early so I can spend some time inside of my own head, while the chahai's smoke signal pushes past every inch of this screen, always reminding me that I've just poured a hot cup and it's begging to be consumed. Mystery samples taunt me; bags long since forgotten about hold teasures, like soldiers without a tag, wanting nothing more than a proper ceremony before being given back to the earth.

Grace sleeps in her own bed most nights, but right now, is curled up in mine. Perhaps the smells she associates with my hair and skin when I hold her and tell her everything will be okay carried her through the night. She's having a tough time right now because her mother is moving to a new home and for the first time, she's old enough to understand some of what that means. Her house is about to become a little quieter, and she's about to lose the companionship of another child close to her in age. They've been all over town looking at places, and from the way I've seen her pick up on my state of being, I'm sure Grace is just as frazzled as her mother right now. I put her in her time-out chair last night because she was kicking and hitting, and when I asked her if she understood why we can't hit people, she lost it; collapsing into my arms, she cried until she fell asleep. A mere child in size, but overrun with emotion and feeling enough for twenty-five adults. She's a faucet at full-stream. She's frustrated, and that's okay. Her mother and I have agreed to be very close these next couple weeks to ensure this transition is as smooth as possible for our child.

There is a woman who lives upstairs from me and she comes out and talks to me whenever I do laundry. Our children play together, and as we laugh at the way two young minds turn whatever they can find into magic wands capable of dog-whistling fantastic people into existence right before us that only children can see. I can pretend I see them too, but I think Grace knows I don't entirely see through the eyes of a child anymore. She knows the weathered look that hangs just below my pupils on days when I have to spend a couple of hours dealing with shoplifters who are so young, threatening to come back up to the store and shoot us down. The most recent two were having a conversation while detained about how pissed they were that they were going to have to go back to Wayne County Jail because they didn't like the food they would be fed while they were there. 18 and 20 years old and they know what's on the menu at local jails. My heart goes out to them and as much as I would love to give them my silver and send them down another path, I've yet to meet Jean Valjean. One of them even had a picture of a child on his phone, saying it was his own...that he had to steal to take care of her. He told a story about how scared he was of his girlfriend and losing his child, so he sits quietly while she beds other men right next door to him...all of it, lies. It hardens a person. I remind myself every time that when someone steals from the company that puts food on my table, they steal from my daughter's pockets; from her future. It wears on me.

My senses, dulled to the dissatisfaction of the same things in and out. Warmer weather is coming and I felt very alive just kicking around a soccer ball at the park on Wednesday. Two and a half hours in the sun, my arms no longer transparent from the long winter now behind us. I need more of that in my life, and less bottles littering my kitchen table come morning.

This tea is winding down and so is this post. I still haven't been able to identify it as anything other than shu, at least four years aged, stored dry. Decent cha-qi has me feeling clear, lifted, and optimistic that today will be bright, regardless of the looming clouds sitting just outside my window. The dryness in my throat; this unknown soldier has been good to me. Mellow and sweet, with a touch of tingly camphor, it sat patiently as my fingers re-acclimated themselves with a keyboard. I rather enjoy not always knowing what I'm drinking. This tea was a gift, from a friend as well as a gift from the earth. These leaves should be given back. They've spent enough time inside of a plastic bag. Perhaps I can find a garden in need of some compost.

Sunday, May 16, 2010


Well, to give you all a brief catch up on what I've been upto, this video pretty much sums it up:

There is a little person living in my house now, and she's asked me to play Go with her. She's got opinions and rationalized thought. She knows how to get my attention, she knows to comfort me when I'm upset, and she has become my best friend. Further, she will be running the board before I know it if I don't keep up. For tonight, an 06 V93 and catching up with my sister, who resides 2,100 miles away from me. Simple days, and simple nights. All is well; just prioritizing my role as father. A real post to come this week.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Best of '09 Part 4/4 (#5 - #1)

I completely forgot to post this entry, so I apologize. Without further a due, the semi-dramatic conclusion to this Best of '09 listy list.

#5 - Beirut - March of the Zapotec

I came into this group a little later than I probably should have, as this was the first album I really got to listen to. Zack Condon started this up as a small project and later expanded into a band. He has a hauntingly beautiful voice that fits well with the eastern folk indie rock blend of music. You'll never hear another band like this, so if you haven't heard it before, you'd be wise to look him up.

#4 - Islands - Vapours

Islands has been one of those bands that can do no wrong in my book. I've been a huge fan of everything they've been a part of, from the Arcade Fire to the Unicorns and Human Highway. It's catchy, dancy, and a crisp album all around. With the return of Jamie Thompson, Nick Thorburn put together an entirely new lineup of players for the album. Wonderful stuff.

#3 - Cymbals Eat Guitars - Why There Are Mountains

This album was a sleeper for me. I had it for several months before I really gave it a listen. When I first picked it up, I was in the process of work transitions, getting ready to move, and mending a life that never really felt 100% legit. On the surface, there is some nice pianowork, as well as sweeping distorted guitars creating a sonic wall that drives and lulls at the same time. When life finally slowed down, I was smacked in the face by an even deeper realization of this album. It never really makes me feel comfortable because of the way it changes. A very spirited youth pulling the strings makes it move from start to finish seamlessly, as the heavy distortion and riled vocals taper off into Indiana, which is a beautiful pop song. It was the first time I really stopped to give this band a deeper look. I'm going to kick myself in the face if I don't get a chance to see them perform live sometime, I just know it.

#2 - Mew - No More Stories are Told Today, I'm Sorry, They Washed Away

Anyone who knows me should not be surprised by this. Danish indiepop rock is on the list of things I want every year for Christmas. Some years back, I was floored by And the Glass Handed Kites, and then by Frengers, and once again by this. These guys have always had a very unique sound, blending melodies, harmonies, and rhythms together almost effortlessly on the surface. When it's all said, the guitar work is tight and technical, the drums are wild, often pulling us in and out of odd-meter, and Jonas' vocals are spot on. When I first listened to them, I seriously thought his voice was processed. Palace Players gives us a taste of how a song can be in total disarray and pop us a quick on to the jaw saying "just kidding" as they take seemingly senseless noise and lock it up to show us we had the entire picture all along; a driving dance rock anthem. We just weren't looking at it the way we should. Silas the Magic Car is probably my favourite album on the track, but I almost always listen start to finish. Again, highly recommended album.

#1 - The Antlers - Hospice

By far this is the album that hit me the hardest this year. I found it by accident because I had In the Attic of the Universe and remembered liking it. When I first got a chance to hear it, I wasn't at all prepared for what I was about to embark on. Proof that a crushingly beautiful piece of work doesn't need to be riddled with witty lyrics, the Antlers put together an album that would have been too much for lesser bands. It takes us through a reminiscent tale of a love lost through the eyes of someone now standing without a hand to hold. Perhaps it's the fact that I've been around several people directly affected by cancer that amplifies my experience, but I don't think that is even the slightest excuse to discredit this album's authenticity. Meet someone and fall in love, only to ride out their last days with them. There is such a rich array of the very rawest of human energy here that I almost don't want to know if this was written about a personal experience or not. As it ends, it shows us the reality of coping with loss. The feeling of falling into your bed as you snap out of a dream to find the one you love most ripped out from under you. Everyone knows that body jolt. To wake up and realize it's not a brand new thing; it tugs at you every day until you muster up the strength to move on and live again. Not a gentle subject, but they make no effort to apologize for it. It's so perfectly executed that you can't help but to give it your attention. It goes from spacey, ambient, to driving and even uplifting, right back to the lowest of lows. I seriously meant every word of it when I said that lesser bands would crumble under the pressure of juggling so much at one time. Bravo!

...and that's it, my twenty favourite albums of 2009. Now I can close the door on '09 and focus on the new year (two months in might I add). Hopefully some of you will enjoy this list, and please please please share with me the songs and stories that got you through the year. I'm all ears. :-)

It's winter time and we've got almost a foot of snow on the ground. I have to fight to rip off the covers and get moving in the morning. Sounds like the perfect time to start drinking tea again. :-)

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Best of '09 Part 3/4 (#10 - #6)

I took a few days off to enjoy the New Year, drink some of the new teas I've acquired, spend time with friends and family, get ready for school, and visit my new nephew. Tonight brings the third installment of the top albums that somehow dragged me through 2009.

#10 - Faunts - Feel.Love.Thinking.Of

This is Faunts' second album, but the first one to make it into my hands. Originally a Canadian trio, they took on a fourth member for this band and the result is a very lucid, dreamlike album that is equally dancey and spacey at the same time. Driving beats, sweeping chords, and wispy vocals are layered together beautifully.

#9 - Harlem Shakes - Technicolor Health

Any way you slice it, this album is flat out fun. Slightly off-key vocal that feel somewhat spoken, great use of layered harmonies, drums, horns, musicboxes, dirty synthesizers, and chord progressions that make any pop artist jealous.

#8 - Throw Me the Statue - Creaturesque

This is starting to become the year of over-the-top poppy indie rock. This album is anything I could have hoped for as a follow-up album. Not a bad tune on this album, and it hasn't left the deck in my car for two weeks. It's more put together than Moonbeams, and even if they continue down the path of production, I think I'll still be a fan. The biggest gripe I have heard from others is that it's such a clean sounding album...I can't wrap my head around docking a band for wanting to produce a clean record. Regardless, there are so many catchy songs on here that I can't help but love it. Noises is probably my favourite track from the album. Other favourites are Hi-fi Goon, which sounds like something that would have fit nicely onto the FLCL soundtrack and Pistols, a more mellow track that rides along the beat of latin perc and an array of floor toms.

#7 - Minus the Bear - Acoustics

A very different side of Minus came out with this EP, and instantly I was in love all over again. Another one of those groups that are so highly talented, yet never really met the acclaim they deserved. Anyone who is already familiar with their work will be immediately intrigued; anyone who isn't is missing out. The most remarkable thing about this collection of tracks (all older, except one new track titled "Guns and Ammo") is how well they translate to a more stripped down version of themselves. Nothing feels forced or awkward. There aren't any gaps or anything that feels missing. I'd really love to hear more of their catalogue translated this way, but for now this more than satisfies.

#6 - Frightened Rabbit - Swim Until You Can't See Land

I've always been a huge fan of this band. The two tracks on this EP were such a regular part of my 09 listening that I couldn't help but include them on this list. Lyrically sharp, but more laid back than usual, this album makes me wonder what lies in waiting for the full length 2010 release. Still riddled with stormy lyrics, it sounds like they're more than ready for a change, and clearly have the balls to let us know it's coming.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

On Shu

When you are at one with the Tao,
The Tao welcomes you.
When you are at one with Virtue,
The Virtue is always there.
When you are at one with loss,
The loss is experienced willingly.

I decided to take a sick-day and have been drinking Hong Yun Shu all morning. I bought a tong of these mini iron cakes almost a year ago and haven't regretted it at all. People seem to talk down on shu-pu, but it has earned itself a very prominent place in my heart. Actually, it is often times more drinkable than young sheng, even though I'm very much out in the open about my love for the ridiculous bite of a sheng that hasn't mellowed yet. The thing I love most about shu is it's very pronounced earthiness and how it makes no effort to cover that up. Camping, woods, wet earth, cellar floor, musty basement…call it what you will, but not much in this world warms my heart the way a piping hot cup of shu does. It courses it's way to the back of my mouth and wakes up every taste bud along the way. The cha'qi hits and a subtle sweetness sits at the front of my mouth, while the back of my throat dries and the soup tingles all the way down until it warms my stomach.

When I first blogged about this particular tea, I remember writing that it instantly took me back to a time when I was camping in the mountains during a rock climbing / white water rafting excursion. We would come back to camp in the evenings, cook dinner, drink around the fire, and share laughs from the day. One night in particular, it rained and my tent was flooded. I ended up sleeping in the CR-V (oh I loathed that thing...fortunately it wasn't mine). The following morning, I remember hanging up all of my things to dry them out, and somehow being totally okay with the fact that so much of what I brought along with me was ruined. I was the first one awake that morning and drank green tea out of a large rounded mug that was, ten minutes prior, home to milk and cereal. I thought about how happy I was that the rain had stopped, and remembered that nothing lasts forever; not rain, not life, nothing. A lot has changed since then, but there are some events that, simple as they may seem, un-shape us. They let us carry on as we are, unaffected by the influences of the outside world.

Shu takes me to a moment in time where there is nothing but the here and the now. It reminds me that all will be well. It's not demanding, it's not overly expensive, and in most cases waits patiently to be drank. No matter what sits in store, it will pass. It drops me off to a place where I can think clearly, slow myself down and let go.

Sometimes I need reminders that
one gets from life exactly what one seeks.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Norbu 2009 First Pluck Alishan

Lately, days have been long and nights have been longer. Life comes and life goes. In the past week, I've welcomed two lives and said goodbye to two lives. Nature always has a way of balancing itself out.

The softest thing in the universe
Overcomes the hardest thing in the universe.
That without substance can enter where there is no room.

Several months ago, Brett at Teacup in Seattle turned me onto Alishan, and ever since then, I have drank what little bit I've had in my collection sparingly. Always a pleasure to drink, I often saved it for nights when I knew I would be in good company. In Taiwan, this is a highly sought after tea, often demanded far beyond the quantity of production. Floral aroma, buttery light roasted oolong has been my go-to on the quiet nights, especially those nights Grace spends with her mother. I recently acquired some of a 2009 First Pluck Alishan from Greg at Norbu Tea, and have been drinking it pretty much nonstop ever since.

Tight rolled leaves unfurl to the length of two sipping cups side by side

As for the tea itself, it is fairly fragrant. A floral aroma with rich green leaves that begin to lift the lid from the teapot as they unfurl. The leaf integrity just won't quit! Big beautiful greens create an almost hypnotic neon yellow soup that anyone familiar with high mountain oolongs can't help but fall in love with.

The fragrance doesn't carry much over into the flavour, but has some presence. Instead, what comes through the most is a slightly sweet, thick buttery cup that fills the mouth and slowly works it's way towards the back of the palate. After a couple of infusions, this tea takes on a slightly sour aftertaste, which is my my favourite part of drinking this. It's not your typical candy sour bite either. The buttery nature of the tea makes it a very unique sour (almost like a sour cheese) that rounds out the tea very nicely. It hangs around in the back of my throat, and the overall experience is warming my whole body. Definitely something worth sharing in the company of friends, this (like most oolongs) is very accessible to people who haven't had a lot of exposure to different teas. It's simple enough to appeal to those who don't drink tea often, yet complex enough to keep those of us who do entertained.

After an hour with this, it finally starts to wind down. This is definitely something worth sharing with friends. The lid to the teapot is pushed up several millimeters now and reminds me of the way my father used to loosen his belt and stretch out after a good hearty meal. It's no wonder this tea is so sought after. The first harvest is, to the best of my knowledge, gone by now, but second flush is still available and I just purchased 100g of that. I'm sure this tea will have slightly varying characteristics in comparison to the second flush due to seasonal and weather changes. I will post my notes on those as soon as I get a chance to try it out.