Sunday, May 26, 2013

Written on a Napkin

Looking back at what seems like ages ago, I can remember a time when I read about child development in a book, where children, at a certain age, can only grasp the concept of the human face through basic geometric shapes.  Ovals and a triangle plus a rectangle comprise Mom, Dad, and every other important person in their life.  Eyesight is developed enough to render contrast.  Then, they turn into these little machines that eat, poop, and fall down a lot.  Then comes the first time they tell you they miss you, or that they love you, or when they begin to call you out on your bullshit, or come up with elaborate plans to try to outsmart you.  Every so often, they do something to remind you that they are, deep down, still that same sweet child just figuring out the world for the first time (just hopped up with more experience, more opinion, and more substance).  I went to lunch with Grace the other day, and upon returning to the table with our drinks, she had scratched this upon my napkin, and hid it under my sandwich so I wouldn't immediately see it.  She wanted to be sweet, but she also wanted to be cunning.  She wants to be tricky, and she wants me to recognize those qualities in her.  It's easy to landslide and miss such an important detail, with family, or with any facet of life. 

Life has been so full of stress lately that I'm happy to realize how important the small things are.  I'm working on some new material; some teas I haven't tasted before; experiences I haven't shared before.  


Sunday, January 8, 2012

Sometimes We Play Dirty

2005 Dehong Golden Melon
Gaiwan - Cranes
Infusion times - boil - 15s, 12s, 20s, 25s, 35s, 50s - boil - 1m30s, 2m0s, 2m0s, 3m0s, 4m0s, 5m0s

I have a confession to make; my mind goes overboard when it comes to visualization. I can't make a stark comparison between two things without thinking of a hundred different scenarios that could be related, and only settling down when I've either exhausted my own resources, confused my company, sidetracked myself to the point where I have forgotten where my rant began. I'll try to avoid that tonight, because this tea does a damn fine job of being swanky all on it's own. It's one of the tightest compressed touchas I've ever handled; my right hand still has indentations from the butt of the puer'dao.

I pulled it off the shelf tonight because I was underwhelmed the past two sessions. My taste buds didn't register the way I had hoped, and my senses only blended together like sidewalk chalk in a thunderstorm. I could smell it from three feet back. Thick, dense, iron-like smoke. Small leaf, choppy, with a few little twigs here and there. Not sure why, but I've always been fond of it, and tonight is no exception. The soup is a cloudy orange with a dash of pink, and the aroma reminds me of a barbequed candy cane. It's by no means special, but it's got an obvious effect on me. My mouth is tingling already, and after the third infusion, I remember that I have never been a fan of gentle tea. (If anyone remembers my bout with pu-pourri, you'll know exactly what I mean) I get excited when a tea has a punch to it, and much the way we are drawn to absurd storytelling, or shock cinema, this feels like a dirty joke that I can't help but share with friends, but would never dare tell to my Grandmother.

By the eighth infusion, it seems that the tight compression has finally opened up entirely. The leaves are actually pushing the lid upward. Unfortunately, the most fun came from the first five infusions, each one made my entire mouth tingle. I'll ride it out until the kettle is empty, but I think we are about cached here.

I was worried that I would find myself underwhelmed here, and after the first five cups, I'm back in that same boat. It isn't bad, and it's definitely bold, but it's just not that exciting. I have been spoiled by aged sheng, as I am winding down, I smell the empty gaiwan, pleasantly surprised. The thick smoke aroma is much less present; almost not at all. It's got body, and I am wondering if that can somehow translate into flavour. I've had many sessions where the tea catches a second wind. Three minutes on the clock and I will find out. That minty, camphor scent is heavily present, and now that most of the leaf has opened up, I am shocked to find that although I'm not really seeing whole leaf, the pieces of leaf are much larger than I had initially anticipated.

At the three minute mark, the soup has taken on the colour of rust, and is actually quite good. Mouth is dry, and there is something competing for my attention in the back of my throat. Most likely, it's just my palate adjusting itself as my brain challenges it to bring something to the table. As I pour the final cup, I'm happy to catch some of the aromas I haven't experienced in other teas of late. It almost feels like being in some sort of rehabilitation for my olfactory system, which is pleasing, but it makes me wonder how I let that atrophy to begin with.

I have no doubt that this tea has some time ahead of it before it does everything it set out to do, but pulling air over the soup causes it to bubble out a crisp freshness, and closes with a familiar young sheng after touch. With the compression, it's no wonder. It's naturally going to have that sort of layered taste for years to come, which eventually, could prove rather interesting. Overall, my level of engagement here went up and down and then back up again to an eventual point of neutrality. For the $11 I paid for it back in 08', it was an early shot in the dark, and the only pain I endured came in the form of red marks on my palm (which haven't faded, by the way) from trying to cut off enough leaf to brew up. I'm sure you could all think of ten other teas you would rather spend your money on, and I'm sure looking back in time, I might make another recommendation, but we all pay our tuition.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Encumbered and Remembered

SFTM Yi Wu Millenial Tea Tree
9 Grams
Rinse - 5 sec

After six years of drinking pu-erh, I have decided to revisit the tea that was my first love. It was the first tea I ever plunged a knife into. With water heated on a gas stove, we fumbled around and drank from a Japanese Kyusu. Six Famous Tea Mountains Yi Wu Millennial Tea Tree from 2006. I still have an unopened cake of this and I remember it with much fondness. It's like coming home to an old friend. Sadly, I haven't really done my part to make those phone calls and send out those postcards. I've got some growing up to do. I'll see what has been happening with this tea, and share with you (if you don't mind), a story.

1st infusion - 12 sec (slight sour bite right off the bat, more mellow than I remember. Not such a leafy aroma)

Whenever a child asks you to read them a story at night, you have two ways about it. You can read it to them in hopes that it will shut them up, close their eyes, and give you some peace and quiet. You can also let it become a sort of bridge to gap two minds, destined to lead to very different lives.

2nd infusion - 10 sec (aroma is much more robust. Embarrassed that I cannot place it with comparison. I must be getting old. Still has the slight taste of young pu-erh, but rolls over the tongue with ease. Trails off with a smack of sourness, just enough to make me close my eyes and shut everything out for a moment)

Now, where was I? Yes, bridges and different lives. Much of my world revolves around the bridges we build and burn. In this case, I look at building a bridge with my child whenever she asks me to read to her. Truth be told, she's perfectly capable of reading by herself, but sometimes she just wants me to do it. She'll curl up as close to me as she can get and just listen. I feel her eyes bouncing from word to word as she attempts to digest more than just what the words mean. She feels the story, and when that begins to happen, she becomes invested. That act, whether or not she remembers it ten years from now, will have a lasting impression on how close we are to become as people.

3rd infusion - 15 sec (the leaves have pulled the sleep out of their eyes and have bloomed up nicely in the gaiwan. Still having trouble identifying the aroma, but am reminded of the sensation of cinnamon subdued. It's teasing me, the way home made applesauce cuts through an entire house, even when you are cooking other food at the same time.)

What got me thinking about this tonight was a story we read called Zen Shorts. It is about a family of children who each come to befriend a panda bear whose umbrella ends up in their yard after a strong wind carries it away. Each of them has an encounter with the panda, and each time, he shares with them a story. One particular story had to do with the concept of letting go of the things we carry with us. We have, at any point, the means to leave things where they lie and move on. The story the panda shares is in regards to two monks who help a woman across a puddle; the older one picks her up and carries her. She doesn't thank him, and the younger one stews over it all day. The older monk says "I put her down hours ago, why haven't you?"

It got me thinking, of all the things I carry to bed with me, or the thoughts that jump into my head when I first wake, what am I missing out on? The simple joy of a sunrise, or of all the people I am affected by because I carry around what I'm sure they don't even know still exists. Think about that for a moment.

4th infusion - 40 sec (the leaves have stood up even more. Still can't place the aroma, don't care. It's tea. The mouth drying has begun. The mellow headed clarity has taken hold. I am wondering how much of it is the tea and how much belongs to the ritual.)

Recently, Grace brought me a book, given to her by a girl I dated for the greater part of a year, two years back. The inside of the jacket read "With Love, Jackie." She pulled it off of the shelf, and asked me "Dad, did this book come from my teacher Miss Jackie?" I replied by telling her that I once had a friend named Jackie, and I asked Grace if she remembered her at all. She shook her head no, clearly showing me that she was trying to pull together the very fibers of time, which still seem all too visible in my own mind. I both envied and pitied the moment and everyone involved, for a myriad of reasons. With Grace, I feel both for the same reason. Her age and the constant bombardment of information, coupled with the many experiences she has every day means that when she is older, she won't remember much of these past four years, and myself because suddenly, I felt very alone. I take pictures, I write her words, and I do everything I can to savour these moments, knowing full well that most of what I hold dear will be nothing more than stories I will tell long into old age. By this, I am heartbroken but awestruck. I pity the woman who gifted that book, because aside from the words on that page, she no longer exists in the mind of a child. That, to me, is the saddest way to go.

5th infusion - 1 minute (my senses are recovering. I've forgotten how to taste tea. To pair a sensation with a word that people are generally familiar with. It's as if I, too, have become a child again. Celery and cinnamon)

I was at a loss for the words today when I went to speak of this, and all I could do was put pen to paper. It's in my blood to write, and to chronicle my experiences. For no reason other than that eventually, I will be bone or ash. I read St. Exupéry, Murakami, Hemingway, and Kundera; finding myself pulled into their words and their worlds in ways that many people I speak to every day simply cannot. I've always kept one foot six miles off the ground, and because of that, I almost always lose myself in a good story. I read these authors and feel as if I understand fundamental qualities about them. What they value becomes apparent, and many of them are/were just trying to find their way. Much like the sight of a child, worlds apart from a man who spends half his week a bachelor, and half his week a father fumbling with a combination lock of sorts, finding just the right number of rotations to provide for both of us, the mental and emotional stability to raise her proper.

We take solace in those small bridges. We covet the paths that lead us home, and we choose a select few with with to share them. I've clearly forgotten what I once knew about these teas, but my hand is steady, and I am willing to listen.

6th infusion - Two minutes, thirty seconds and I am sure I will be hunting for something more than celery and cinnamon. I may well not find it, but what I have found are words to remedy a plague in my mind. A sorrow of sorts that someone once familiar became just that; someone once familiar. Words to remedy a sorrow that a tea once familiar also became just that.

There's always tomorrow.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Another year

At some point, I lost my voice with tea. I lost the ability to listen to the way every single cup spoke to me; carried me through the nights of learning how to carve out my identity and live on as a single father. It taught me that patience is often rewarded with discovery and enlightenment. At some point, I stopped making it an important part of my daily ritual. In the past year, I've moved twice, and found myself in rooms and beds unknown, laughing in the company of strangers more than the familiar faces. I've warmed up to drinking coffee, even shitty coffee, and neglected the cakes of pu-erh which have always been proudly displayed in my home. I had even lost the appreciation for the swirling accumulation of sediment in the bottom of the mug.

Today, however, it hit me; those experiences in which we seem to control the flow of time, they are often the most cathartic. The ceremony of tea, whether it be authentic and true to tradition, or simply routine that takes over as soon as the water begins to boil is important, and becomes a vital part of the experience. Like prepping dough for pizza, there are steps and ingredients that are not always tangible, such as the passage of time and the process for kneading out the bubbles. So, tonight, I spent a few minutes taking in the aroma pouring off the shelves in the tea closet. It felt like sifting through old love letters, each of them carrying a particular heft and bound to the fibrous strands tying the past to the present. I took in the aroma of the heated gaiwan filled with dry leaf, and made time to appreciate the bouquet of the flush. Just like those old letters, I often remember the contents without having to unwrap them. I am transported to the nights of confusion and conversation, fumbling around with a new partner, unsure of what to expect, but tonight, this feels like home. It's not a new set of freckles on an unfamiliar shoulder.

At least pu-erh doesn't mind being neglected.


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.