Tuo Cha gone awry


If you’ve ever visited a tea factory it will come as no surprise that there can be a lot of variation between bags, or batches of tea. In fact, if a tea farmer serves you tea, and you want to buy some of it, it’s best if you buy from that bag of tea they are holding in their hands. Don’t let them scurry it away into the back, and don’t believe them when they say, “there’s plenty more where that came from.”

Since tea is an organic product, there’s always the chance that over time it doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do. For Pu’er (and especially raw Pu’er), since it’s stored and aged, there’s years of opportunity for something to go wrong. In addition, Pu’er is sun-dried, which doesn’t quite halt all the oxidation, so over the years it’s still alive, slowly changing and reacting to its environment.

Recently we were able to compare a Menghai 1996 Tuo Cha that someone described as “something wrong, slightly moldy, or else my palette has gone completely off its rocker” with its respectable batch mate.

It was almost too easy. The compression of the “bad” tea was very loose. It crumbled when we went to break it apart. The odor was fine (no mold), and the wet leaves smelled slightly weaker than our sample, but the color of the rinse tells us this tuo cha ran with the wrong crowd.


The amber color that should be there for a raw Pu’er from 1996 was more of a watered down yellow. It was very clear, which is good, but the color was that of a younger tea. But even younger teas have some kind of flavor, and this tea had no flavor, just a sharp, bitter aftertaste. I am not throwing around the word “bitter” carelessly. I was actually surprised to taste real bitterness in the tea, as opposed to astringency, or a puckering sensation, or other subtle tastes similar to bitter but more complex. Bitter is actually an uncommon taste to have on its own. Sometimes it’s paired with sourness (grapefruit pith) or sweetness (licorice root) but pure bitterness for bitter’s sake is something very special indeed.


I doubt that the tea was improperly stored, or that anything could have been done to the tea over the years to save it. Sometimes you just lose one.


This drought


So I’ve never really liked grass. It stains your hands and your pants. It’s never as comfortable as it looks. It goes yellow and brown for no reason. A green, well-kept lawn is supposed to be a symbol of assimilation, class and suburban sameness, but a well-kept lawn which is mowed only up to the property line merely tells you something about what it means to have neighbors.
We tried to kill our lawn several months ago by not watering it. But apparently the type of grass that’s growing in our yard will turn green again as soon as it’s watered. So what does Los Angeles weather do in June during a drought? It rains.


After getting approved by the DWP Turf Removal Program the first thing we did was to officially kill the lawn and get paid for it. Very exciting.


Rock shopping came next. And rock shopping is super fun.
With help from our friend, the very rock-experienced Robin, we scouted out good rocks (Sidney Quartz) by doing quality butt testing, only to be told those rocks were sold.


So we turned our attention to the bacon rocks (Grand Canyon White Onyx), in search of the fatty layer that is a national treasure in China.


This particular bacon rock is from the Qing Dynasty (on display at the National Palace Museum in Taiwan) and when Chiang Kai Shek and the Nationalists fled China for Taiwan this rock (as well as a ton of other good stuff and lots of gold. LOTS) was probably in General Chiang’s back pocket. Which tells you one, how coveted these rocks are, and two, how something that great got off the mainland.

(I have seen this rock in person but have no memory of how large it is. Otherwise I’d be able to tell you something about the size of General Chiang’s back pocket.)


Of course the best bacon rocks are in the middle to bottom of the pile. The people at the store look at you real funny when you ask if you can have the one at the bottom. We compromised by buying all four of the rocks that were blocking the way above the one I really wanted.


Up next, getting the plants.

Inspections of the highest order/odor. Hi Desert Landscape in the shape of a parallelogram.

Let me tell you about what’s wrong with Vanessa Place

Calling Vanessa Place a racist is wrong because it’s not enough. It’s not getting at the root of the problem. She’s using race to call attention to herself, so calling her a racist must tickle her to no end.

She’s definitely a certain type of racist, but mostly she’s a grossly egotistical patronizer, yeah, and a bad artist. But she comes from a whole line of very well paid and respected patronizers, but because she’s not a guy she has to use the next thing down on the totem pole from gender, and that’s race.

At first I was simply baffled by all the backlash against her. Not baffled like I didn’t get it, or that I didn’t think the tweets were racist. They were simply appropriated quotes from a racist book. Not Vanessa Place’s voice. OK. Appropriation is sort of the flavor of the month. But then I realized that all these people going after her for racial insensitivity are falling into the trap she has set. If Vanessa Place didn’t have race to be patronizing about she’d find something else. But she knows that race will get everyone riled up and get her a ton of attention but the anger and the criticism is misdirected.

She’s the white person telling everyone GWTW is a racist text. Well no duh, it was written in a racist period of our country, by a white woman living in the racist south. Do we need yet another white woman to tell us? Do we need an artist from Iceland highlighting the absence of a mosque in the historic center of Venice, Italy? Do we need another all-male panel discussing how women can make it in Silicon Valley? Do we need a nearly all-male Senate or Supreme Court writing legislation on women’s reproductive rights and who can control their bodies?

If other issues, say child labor, food stamps, or bone-shaped flea medication tablets were as hot as the issue of race, Vanessa Place would be telling women this, telling children that, telling animals this and that. That’s what patronizers do. So it’s not stopping the real problem if you allow her to bring the hammer of race down on everything.
Race gives her something to hide behind, something to shield her.
Calling her a racist allows other patronizers to slide by, to get ahead even, to feel justified in continuing to say “So let me tell you about how you feel being on your period, your situation of poverty, your sense of smell, etc.”

So why is getting all wrapped up in the race card so bad?
Because it allows people to bash on her while keeping their conscience clean. Everyone who signed the AWP petition, and everyone bashing Vanessa Place on social media can very proudly distance themselves from the race bit (hopefully). They can say they will never and never have and have never wanted to do something as grossly gross and profoundly awful as the RACIST Gone With the Wind tweets and accompanying image. They can be proud thumbs-uppers and wield their twitter stars and Instagram hearts all over the place. But if the crime Vanessa Place can be accused of is being patronizing under the guise of sheer egotism, from the position of white privilege, then are so many of these AWP petition signers still so innocent? And if you take the white part out, can they say they have never patronized from the point of gender, class or social privilege? Mansplainers? Hear me?



Duck breast in my jersey pocket


Last week while riding down Topanga Canyon I got my first flat as an adult. Technically it was my second flat, as the first one happened in my garage overnight, so let’s count this as my first puncture acquired in public.

The people I were riding with had already gone down the hill, because who wants to linger on Topanga Canyon? It’s quite possibly the dumbest downhill stretch in Los Angeles. The grade is between -3 to -8 and you have to pedal super hard to keep the headwind from blowing you into a complete standstill.


Of course the nail went into the back wheel but I was more worried about the CO2 cartridge failing than figuring out how to get the wheel back on. I had heard so many stories of cartridges failing, and I only had one, and I’d rather call Uber than ask anyone to ride all the way back up the f**king mountain with a little extra CO2.

Needless to say I successfully fixed my flat, and have been trying to figure out the best way to carry my beautiful little bicycle pump in addition to my one cartridge.

I can’t put the pump on my bike because my bike is so small there just isn’t any more room, and I’m not going to be one of those people who figure “someone’s bound to have a spare tire” (or have 5 bucks to buy me a coffee) so jersey pockets have been on my mind.


One of my jerseys has a third, tall pocket for a pump, but many jerseys for women only have two short pockets, although some brands provide us with little secret secret areas that are sewn in weird triangular shapes, and nothing normal, as in keys, tampons, credit cards, phone, can fit into them, but someone thinks we women like them.

What I do know is that a Muscovy duck breast is shaped perfectly to fit into a jersey pocket. Yesterday after a great up & down tour of Griffith Park, Elysian Park, and Echo Park, we stopped in at McCalls, who packed us up a bag of ice with our duck and away we went, ice water dripping down our back and leg.


Marinate this jersey-pocket sized piece of meat in soy sauce, sesame oil, and ginger, sear it with Sichuan peppercorns and salt, and then smoke it with lapsang souchong tea, rice, and brown sugar and I’ll do that ride any day of the week, even double-flatted.




My Google Important folder, and the authentication of Pu’er tea.



When you manage your email through Google, the system automatically creates default folders for you, and although most of them make sense (Sent Messages really do contain emails that I have sent), there is a truly confounding folder labeled Important, which is where some of my email goes, and ALL of the emails I delete.*

* Yes, I have my settings set correctly, my deleted mail is set to go to the Trash. But whatever.

A folder labeled “Important” is confusing because that’s not how I work, I can’t even begin to fathom the agony of deciding what’s important and what’s not, because importance is a matter of context. You can relegate something to be not important simply because you want to blow that person off, or you can say getting one’s buttocks and abs whipped into shape is of upmost importance.

Since Google’s Important folder seems to follow no apparent logic, the other day I got tired of it.** I deleted an email that had credit card info on it, and it somehow found its way to the Important folder so I seized the moment and deleted all the emails that were in there. Yes, all 19,000+ of them.

** Yes, I have recently found the setting where I can hide the Important folder, which just goes to show you its importance.

And suddenly a lot of my emails were gone. Not my Sent mail (they were in the Sent folder), and not the emails that I had filed to other folders, but the weird emails that were in the middle ground between save and delete, the ones I scroll past every single day and wish someone would just come and tell me what to do with them. And amongst this epic pile, only some, but not all of those emails were gone.

Did I freak out? Nah, I just got a little sad. OK, a lot sad. If a company creates an Important folder for you, when you delete it, shit should really hit the fan. But nothing important was missing. I couldn’t remember anything that I was going to miss having around. Invites to events, notice of stores having sales, or links to dumb articles were resent by whoever, re-spawned into my Inbox like sea monkeys. All those 19,000+ emails were stupid. Email is stupid.


The other day someone from a fancy ass hotel in Beverly Hills called up a friend of mine, looking for an expert on Pu’er tea.

Apparently the cleaning lady at the hotel tossed out a very special guest’s stash of Pu’er tea, which, to any normal person, does look like a clod of dirt.

The guest either threw such a fit, or was so special that the hotel was considering replacing the tea, or at least finding out whether it was something they wanted to do.
My friend asked whether they knew what kind of Pu’er it was, and they told her that the guest said the tea was from the 1920’s, and sent some photos. The guest had quite a few tea cakes from this era, and the wrapping on them looked old and dirty.

A little history here: aged Pu’er is one of the most sought after teas and certainly the most faked. An authentic Pu’er tea from the 1920’s is most likely a fake or impossible to replace, and probably wouldn’t have buddies from the same period. Authenticating Pu’er is hard but understanding that the history of tea and the history of China go hand in hand is the first place to start.




– Before 1949 (invasion by Japan, Chinese civil war) the Pu’er producers were family owned, and used no wrapping.
– After 1949, with the establishment of the Communist party, state ownership took over with 4 major Pu’er companies, each with specific brands on their wrappers.
– After 1970, an agricultural entity takes control and starts production of Pu’er under the name of Seven Sons. At this time there is a proliferation of private label teacakes, a lot of family farms and suddenly everyone has a different wrapper and a different name and a different recipe, leading to a lot of confusion.
—End of history lesson—

Here’s the funny part.
The photos that were sent from the hotel guest were of tea wrapped in none other than the Seven Sons label, which started circa 1970. A 1970’s Pu’er is nothing to sneeze at, but unless you taste the tea, you don’t know what year it’s from, as Seven Sons Pu’er is still manufactured today.

So, 1920’s Pu’er tea my foot, or my ass, or my Google Important folder.

Here’s a commemorative Pu’er from the People’s Liberation Army on its 80th anniversary. This one is real. It’s from 2008. The friend who gave it to us had a relative who was a general.


Salute to all things annoying

My mom is neither young or on Facebook (nor does she read my blog) but lately it feels like she has taken on the most annoying Facebook posting habits.

You know the ones I’m talking about. They’re the status posts where the person says “Oh my God I’m so depressed about what happened,” and after a million comments of “r u ok?” and “praying 4 u” and “did something happen?” and after a couple days, the person finally writes and says “I can’t really say.”

Or how about the person who says “I need obedience for my dog. Whaddoido?” and the Facebook limit on allowable number of comments is reached with all sorts of advice ranging from asinine to extremely well thought out and helpful and the person NEVER replies?

Or how about the person who asks for things to do in some grand city like San Francisco and people suggest all sorts of places to eat and hike and bike and visit, taking into consideration the person’s food preferences and hobbies and interests, and create itineraries that include coffee breaks and ethnic joints and interesting architecture, and then two weeks go by and the person writes back and says “Nah, didn’t want to go there after all. Ended up going somewhere else.”

It’s like that, only on the phone. I swear. Sure the calls are interspersed with tidbits like “How come my heater starts working again as soon as I reset the circuit breaker?” (she didn’t like my suggestion to call the HVAC guy), how far Federer got in the Australian Open (only the third round), and questions like “You already took the dog agility class, why are you still taking lessons?” but she wants to buy a new computer, she wants to go on a trip, she wants to fire her real estate agent, that’s the picture.

But it’s only January and the sun is shining and instead of ranting, I’m going to lie down and embrace it.


I salute the annoying Facebook posts… all of them, with PIG CANDY!


Fight back with bacon baked with brown sugar, rosemary, maple syrup and mustard.

Take that!

Here’s what the pups think about no more agility, and morsels of pig candy.



Doing, meaning, and things that look like other things

A client said to me the other day: “Just because I ask for something, doesn’t mean I want you to do it.”


Now, I’ve already got a client that never means to ask me to do something.
It goes like this (he calls it a conversation):

“I wonder if there is an app that does X.”
“I wonder if you googled “app for X” whether you’d find something that did what I need.”
“Seems like there’d be a bunch of apps that did X?”
“I couldn’t possibly be the only one. Very useful, this X.”
“Just keep wondering whether there isn’t something out there, already built, free. I really do wonder.”

But not meaning to ask me to do something is different than asking me to do something without meaning to ask me to do something.

Maybe my response should have been to ask her what she meant by “do.”


Yet another client’s problems inspired this drawing, in which case I know what to do, but am confused as to what it means.


My fitness app showed me what I did:


Which meant I had done what this diagram asked me to do:


Maybe my response should have been “just because I do something doesn’t mean it means anything.”






On my knees. An open letter to Santa Fe.


O Santa Fe.
you can build adobe yoga rooms
paint your ceiling beams brown

you can move firewood via burro
scratch the chins of the howling coyotes
and dangle chiles in every doorway

go ahead and dip Indian bread in mugs
of broth where “mild” is the new “hot”

i’ll even let you redefine the Frito Pie
or put vibram soles on moccasins
call every blue stone by the same name
and allow Amazon’s elite guests to geocache in the Plaza

but DO NOT—seriously—DO NOT FUCK with the panda bear.


Pooh Sticks on bikes


Pooh sticks is a game you play on a bridge over running water. Not like poo on a bridge:


but Pooh on a bridge.


No backpacking trip I’ve ever been on is complete without a rousing game; bottles of Peppermint Schnapps were won and lost all over the Weminuche Wilderness. We used to drop our sticks and then run across to the other side of the road with full backpacks on, but nothing is quite the same as trying to run this way with cycling shoes on.



Here in Trinity Alps the stick selection is awesome, and the river is punishing.
But the water is so clear even from far away the winner is obvious.



Along the river we found the house where Pooh lives.


The only access is a rickety wooden foot bridge that spans the river, and to move your shit back and forth there’s a wire cable telpher that reaches all the way to the road. We were walking up and down the side of the road trying to get a good photo of the house, and some locals drove by with the look on their faces that they knew exactly what we were trying to do.


Which is: Move in! Move in! The price of Pooh’s cabin is high so the dogs will have to rough it for awhile.


But we’re moving in as soon as we can test out that foot bridge, and maybe after we kick out some squatters. Meanwhile back at the cabin we’re staying at we are trying out a new bear bag technique. We haven’t seen any bears yet, just some wild turkeys, a roving pack of wild rottweilers and a dog named Toby whose owner screams, “Don’t worry he won’t bite. Toby NO! Toby NO!” as Toby gives the bicycles chase. Never can be too careful.


Thomas Pynchon asks us “You guys want to share a joint?”


Last week we packed up dogs and bikes and headed to Trinity Alps. Apparently Trinity Alps is where you want to go in the off season for total isolation. Hello no one, can I ride in the middle of the road now?


Living in Los Angeles it’s pretty darn easy to forget what no-one-around feels like. Your head goes through all the usual stuff: Are my dentals records current? What does bear poop look like again? What do all these people do without cell reception? Does the Audi make us look like Obama supporters? And yes, what if I just collapse here and die, and no one finds me until the spring. Guess that’d be OK.



The leaves are turning yellow with the occasional brilliance of red. Lots of moss climbing over weeping spruces, foxtail pines, sugar pines, dogwood maples, and black oaks.

Riding up a one lane road that wound its way into the mountains we came across black-tailed deer and no cars. Zero. The roads were smooth as silk, and the trees were pumping out as much oxygen as we needed. We didn’t have to worry about potholes and polluted air but we did get chased by dogs near a sign that said “please drive slow, pets live here.”

At a boat put-in on the Trinity River we took a break, dipping only fingers into the cold and grumbly water.


It’s salmon season, and upriver from us were two fishermen, casting from the water with bare legs. As we got ready to leave, a truck stopped next to us and a man dressed in beige camouflage rolled down the window. “Do those guys seem sketchy?” he asked.

We told him we didn’t think so, they were just fishing.

He pointed to a flat area a little further up the river. “What goes on over there?”

We shrugged, and told him it seemed like it was just a parking area, even though there were no cars. But, we said, the weird thing about this whole place is that all we’ve ever seen since we arrived are boat hitches. Not a single boat. Weird huh?

He opened his door and braced it with his foot. “You guys want to share a joint?”

We declined.

He licked his rolling paper and said those guys were probably marijuana growers disguised as fishermen. He was a writer, and that meant they would probably be good fodder for him. He lit his joint.

He said he liked to dress as a hunter because that way everyone gave him “maximum respect,” and then he said something incomprehensible about when the fire came through the area a few years ago and the cops came and one in eight of them weren’t real cops, just dressed as them. “Or scrubs,” he added. “Camo or scrubs will do it.”

Then he hit on a grand idea and said we should ride our bikes dressed not all brightly pink and yellow but as hunters in camo, and instead of having the bike pump attached to our frames to carry a shotgun. David said that would be perfect, so if he fell on the bike he could also shoot himself in the foot. Our friend, whom we decided had to be Thomas Pynchon, said that wouldn’t be a big deal, since the people here shoot themselves up all the time.

Mr. P asked us if we were from the bay area, and we said, no, southern California. His face puckered into a state of maximum confusion. We told him we didn’t bike all that way, and he seemed relieved.