Category Archives: all the tea in China

So I was on a panel

Here’s me signing copies of The Illustrated Wok, an illustrated recipe book from the creators of The Cleaver Quarterly, along with cookbook author Diana Zheng, Chef Johnny Lee, and Cleaver managing editor Lilly Chow.

The awesome team at Now Serving LA were our gracious hosts serving up beef tendon noodles (from Johnny Lee) and intriguing questions.

Every recipe was assigned to a different illustrator. I was given a zongzi recipe handed down to Chef Danielle Chang by her grandmother (I’m thrilled that her grandmother’s recipe, like my grandmother’s, does not use peanuts).

For the book signing, I had an idea to sign my page with a chop, which actually already has my chop printed on it, but not wanting to be so meta I asked people what their favorite food was and “tried” to draw that.

Here are some snippets:

“Burmese food.”
“That’s a tough one for me.”
“OK. How about a salad.”

“Can you draw me a food pyramid?”
“Yes, but I’ll put butter and cheese on the bottom.”
“OK.”
“What else do you like?”
“I love this store.”
So I drew the window of Now Serving LA on the second level of the pyramid, and on the top I put a golden goblet.
“Oh good, that will be for my boba.”

“Anything not tech related.”
“How about spaghetti and meatballs?”

“Pig. Pig. Pig.”
“Unfortunately all animals I draw tend to look like my dog.”
“That’s fine, I’ll recognize it by the nose.”

“Shrimp… It’s OK if it looks like your dog.”

“Anything baked.”

“This is for my mother-in-law. Oh God. You need to give her a whole fish.”

I’m biased but there are many reasons this recipe book is so cool. Besides the recipes from chefs trying to push Chinese food into a more contemporary space. Besides the illustrations of fantastical eggplants and cherubic soup stirrers. Besides giving up the secret for achieving the best Hainan chicken texture. Besides completely avoiding cultural tourism and Chinese weirdness and potentially fetishistic iconography. It’s brilliant.

Here’s the California bear, looking like… you know who.

(panel photo: Diana Zheng)

Tea lab – relative teas

Linda and I are getting ready for another Tea Lab at the Huntington Gardens in November, so we figured we should drink some tea. We never really plan for what we brew at our tastings, we sort of start with lunch and go from there, fitting in the teas we want to offer in the upcoming workshop, getting distracted with ideas for interesting comparisons, and brewing away the day. Today’s tastings started with a little business and ended with a jar of mother-in-law tea, and us being convinced that whatever we drank today was going to be good. Some days are like that.

We started with a fall-picked Mengsung raw pu’er from our friend Xiao Cao. He had given us a sample of his spring-picked Mengsung, which was great, so great that by the time we drank it, it had sold out. Comparing spring to fall picking is a great way to understand the price difference between the two, or why some teas fail to mention the harvest season at all. Don’t even get me started on what summer-picked tea tastes like.

We decided to pass on the fall tea, and try to elbow our way to the front of line for next year’s spring tea.

Our first comparison was between two relatively inexpensive (and brand new) raw pu’ers that use different methods to bring the cost down. The first tea (Bana Tea’s Little Bing Dao) is made from old trees from the region adjacent to Bing Dao. Bing Dao has become a very famous region lately (ie. $$$$), but sunshine and soil tends to bleed so if you’re lucky some tea trees can score the benefits of a particular mountain without having to bear the price tag.

The second tea is Denong’s Mountain Oasis, made from trees on the young side (300 years, LOL) and not from a particular region.

The LBD was more floral, with a taste of rock sugar whereas the Mountain Oasis was rounder, with a smell of chocolate, less high notes. Nothing surprising here, just good stuff. (LBD on the right, MO on the left, below).

Next up, Brother/Sister teas from White2tea. These teas are made from the same source material (Nannuo), the only difference in taste is the person doing the processing. A perfect comparison to show how the taste of tea can be changed by small differences in personality. “The sister brick is material processed with a shorter kill green phase at a lower temperature, where as the brother brick is processed with a higher flame and fried for a longer time.” It’s not clear whether there were any differences in the kneading/rolling stage.

The brother’s tea was darker (in color and taste) and slightly thicker, rounder (which surprised me, this difference, though I don’t know why), with a hint of honey. The sister’s was sweeter, brighter and just a little rougher around the edges. Fiesty sis.

Last time I was in Yunnan I didn’t get to do the killing green, but the guys let me put some sweat equity into the rolling.

Next we headed into the world of old pu’er, old as in from the 80s and 90s but also old enough to not know exactly what we were drinking.

This bag is from the 90s, and is sort of called half ripe half raw. Say what? I guess there are a few ways pu’er becomes this halfling. It’s possible back then the tea was only partially fermented, sort of. It’s also possible back then things were willy nilly and teas sort of mixed in with each other. Most likely, for this bag, it’s a raw tea that was stored in HK until the early 2000s, which means it was “wet stored,” a term nobody likes to say anymore, preferring the euphemism of “traditional stored” or “half ripe half raw,” or even “great for dimsum.” (Forget the fact the bag says a totally different tea).

This tea was actually really good, much more interesting than this “traditionally stored tea” from the 80s from Ying Kee, which was bland and watery in taste, super thin in viscosity. Makes it a no brainer which tea to keep around.

Finally we got to the mother-in-law tea! Lots of people tell me their parents have an old stash of tea and wonder whether it’s worth any money. Some of these people even show me photos of the tea, in the cabinet next to old mushrooms and dried jujubes, expecting me to give my opinion on the spot. They never want to actually taste the tea, they’re just waiting for the Chinese Tea Roadshow to come to their town.

But this mother-in-law tea was crazy good. It wasn’t earthy at all, tasted like wheat/rice soup, had a very sweet aftertaste, a rich grandmothery warming sensation you only get from old teas, and gan! Who knows what it was (possibly a Yunnan/Guangdong blend, based on other teas she had), but for sure we’re going to take it out of that glass jar and drink it… and drink it and drink it and drink it.

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Acid reflux that is good for you

For those interested, 1001 Plateaus and Bana Tea Company will be hosting a Tea Lab focusing on pu’er tea at the Huntington Gardens, on Saturday, September 9, 2017 at 9:00AM. We will talk about why pu’er is so unique, and why pu’er made from old trees has a lot of gan, the sweet, sometimes cooling sensation that is experienced in the mouth and throat (yup, like acid reflux) after an initial bitterness, and if you can’t taste the gan you shouldn’t be paying the money that is charged for old tree pu’er.

First, a head’s up. The brilliant Cleaver Quarterly will be publishing an essay I wrote on gan in the very near future so I won’t get into it now. It explains everything. Stay tuned!

As with any kind of tasting, one of the best ways to highlight a certain flavor/effect is to drink it side by side with something that lacks that flavor/effect. So in preparation for our Tea Lab we compared a tea with gan to a tea with no gan.

The crazy thing about gan is that if you drink some tea with a lot of gan, it will infect all the teas you drink afterwards. Best thing is to drink the no-gan first and then wait and see if anything happens. And wait and wait and wait.

After a few minutes of waiting you can probably assume there isn’t going to be a delayed reaction so it’s safe to try the second tea.

The no-gan tea was a 2004 terrace-grown raw tea (with a lot of tips rather than leaves) that had a lot of things going for it taste-wise: it was round, thick (being 13 years old), had a good dried jujube taste, almost like a strong white tea. But without the gan it became more like raisin-juice, which just shows that drinking pu’er is more about flavor and sensation put together, rather than flavor alone.

The tea with gan was a 2017 Mengseng made by our friend Xiao Cao. Here he is in his tea room in Yunnan with a tea table from Laos that took ten people to move.

The 2004 no-gan is the tea on the bottom (on the left in the second photo). The color of the leaves is lighter, due to all the tips, but the color of the brewed tea is darker because of its age.

Next we revisited one of my favorite teas, Young Jade from Denong, which I tasted in 2012 when it had just come out. It’s a blend made from old trees grown in three crazy famous regions – Jing Mai, Xi Gui, and Lao Ban Zhang, picked before the spring rain.

Back then it was a little tricky to brew, it easily went bitter if you used too much or brewed it longer than 5 seconds. I had given some of that tea to a friend who promptly brewed it incorrectly and told me he thought the tea wasn’t very good. So much for that friend. Now five years old the tea has a super sweet gan on top of the last remnants of its floral flavors. Five years is roughly the time the date and plum flavor start emerging so there’s a lot going on in this tea. I think because it’s a blend all the sensations happen at different times, or even on different levels of your mouth. There’s a slight puckery taste at the sides of your mouth, and a sweet, vaporous sensation that floats above your tongue like a cloud. My suspicion is that it’s the Jingmai doing that, levitating, since the next tea we tasted was the 2017 Jing Mai (Meng Ben area) also from Denong, so smooth and floral and crisp we stopped drinking tea altogether and switched to water. Those few grams of leaves next to the gaiwan is all we have (for now) of this tea, and when that last little bit is gone that paper towel will be worth rolling up and smoking.

Updated December, 2017 with link to the essay on gan.

Peaceful chickens and mockingbirds

So I know it’s been awhile. You might say that the election and its aftermath has subsumed all rational activity. Every day I wake up and take an extra long time to do the mundane crap, extra care for the same old same old, because when you consider the number of people in certain swing states who voted for third party candidates versus the number of votes Trump won over Clinton, or the news that the impending retail job market crash will be #(*&@@!x number of times worse then the coal worker’s crisis, even with the news that Pandas have been upgraded from Endangered to Vulnerable things just seem so awful.

Many years ago I wrote a story where the Aphex Twin was the president of the United States and he changed the name of “The White House” to “Rationality.” The fact that his chief strategist was Klaus Meine (from the Scorpions) made the story a little over the top.

It’s classic June gloom in Los Angeles, but the recent rains have given us poppies, fat blackberries, bees, and tons of weeds. Our gardener is very stressed out. He just wipes his brow and says “Everything keeps growing.”

We’ve planted tomatoes every year but this is the year the squirrels have decided they are good enough to steal. They (the squirrels) have suffered a little bit of a setback the last few weeks because a pair of mockingbirds have started hanging about the yard, another first for us. Usually we get a cooper hawk visiting every spring, which is a beautiful thing to see in the crepe myrtles, but these mockingbirds are assholes.

They attack Stevie the border collie, going for her eyes. They attack the squirrels (OK) and they attacked the cooper hawk (not OK).

They’ve woken up Bing Bing the cat, who for the past six months has done very little other than sleep and vomit, and now she’s climbing up on anything that gives her a front row seat of the mockingbirds beating up on Stevie.

For some reason MO is free to walk about and enjoy the sunshine, being the hippie, solar-addicted bird-lover she is. Or maybe it’s random, right? Like each dog walks out into the yard, and they don’t know what’s going to happen?

The last Trumpian I have spoken to since the night of the election was this guy that walked into the Thai restaurant where I was picking up dinner. He takes one look at the polls on the television (at that point bleak but not apocalyptic, yet), and tells me and the owner that he hadn’t voted yet, “but I’m gonna.” The owner says “White rice or brown rice?” and the guy says “Well, we all know what we’re going to get with one candidate. We know exactly what we’re going to get. With the other one, it’s different. It will be something new.”

It feels silly to end on such a low note, so I’ll put this out there:

Yingelishi is a genius and crazy language opera written by Jonathan Stalling that “works” in both Mandarin Chinese and English. The Chinese phrases read out loud mean different things depending on whether you’re asking the words to produce their meaning in English or in Chinese. For example, my name in English is Angie. An easy way for me to get Chinese people who don’t know English to pronounce my name is to have them call me “Peaceful Chicken,” because Peaceful Chicken in Chinese is pronounced “An Gee.”

The title of Jonathan’s opera, Yinglishi, means “Chanted Songs, Beautiful Poetry” in Chinese, but it also sounds like what he calls “an accented pronunciation of the word ‘English.'” All of this is part of a brilliant effort to teach English using the sounds of the student’s native language, rather than making them first learn romanized letters and their sounds before actually speaking English. I figure this is totally helpful in a large part of China where the English teacher doesn’t actually have great pronunciation, and the students (being nice, eager mockingbirds) simply repeat what they hear.

Tea lab and snorting catechins

tealab

For those interested, 1001plateaus and Bana Tea Company will be hosting a Tea Lab at the Huntington Gardens, on Saturday, November 5, 2015 at 9:00AM. We will be doing side by side tastings of several factors that can affect how a tea tastes.

Tea tasting is comparative, like running in a marathon. In a race, no matter how small or large the field, you can only win against the other people who have entered, much like how a tea can only be compared to what else is at the table. It’s fairly common to do a tea tasting comparing different types of teas or different price points, but what about brewing the same tea under different circumstances? Beyond the obvious ones like using a porcelain gaiwan versus a Yixing pot, or varying the temperature or type of water used to brew. What about the harvest season? How about if we introduce some vibration to the water molecules? Or compare the same tea which has been stored on different continents?

In preparation for our upcoming Tea Lab at the Huntington Gardens, we thought we would brew a few comparisons. But first, because we knew one of the tests would be a tea brewed with tap water, and we’d also have to drink a tea harvested in the summer, we treated ourselves to some *@@&#^#!! jasmine tea.

That’s right. Haters are going to hate. I hate jasmine tea also, but I mean the stuff that’s known around the world as “jasmine tea” – bitter and smelling like Jean Nate. Those tea leaves have never seen a jasmine flower in their life, their jasmine scent has been sprayed on, much like the machine that coats dog kibble with flavors.

jasminetea

jasminetea2

The real stuff is made by spreading fresh leaves on the ground in a thin layer and covering the leaves with jasmine flowers. The flowers only bloom for one night so in the morning the flowers must be picked out. (BTW – that pretty jasmine tea at the store which still has flower petals mixed in with the tea? The flowers are not adding any flavor to the tea, but they are adding weight. It’s the equivalent of the deli guy resting his thumb on the scale when he sells you bologna but tells you it’s prime rib. Not to knock bologna, but still.)

This process is repeated many many times until the tea has absorbed the scent. The jasmine we drank was made with small tea buds, whose fuzzy hairs absorbed more smell. Probably too small to roll into the usual pearl shape, which is good, since I have a bad connotation with that visual.

jasmine

jasmine-brewed

Sure it tasted flowery but in a subtle way, like you’ve already walked past the house with the flowers blooming in the front yard. There was no astringency at all, no resemblance to drinking something at a Chinese restaurant, and actually it didn’t taste like tea either, more like a precious juice.

On to our taste tests:

– Organic Wild Peony (ming qian) White tea from Fuding brewed with Crystal Geyser versus Los Angeles tap water.
This comparison is the crowd pleaser. You’re pretty certain one of these will taste better, but it’s plenty surprising how salty and gritty that tap water can be.

whitetea

– 2011 Treasures of the Five Mountains raw Pu’er. Stored in Hong Kong, vs. stored in Los Angeles. The larger puck is HK, the smaller is LA. There’s a pretty noticeable difference in color.

la_5mountians

hk_5mountians

This is one of those tastings where it gets personal. Sure the HK stored tea seems more aged, is generally darker in appearance and has more plum flavor. But the LA one is more floral, more complex, in a way, with hints of different flavors, probably due to the fact that Five Mountains is a blend. Aging a tea will flatten the differences out and since the LA tea is “younger” there are more differences to taste.

hk-la1

hk-la

We over-brewed these teas for fun to see what that would do, and the HK one showed it’s age. It was definitely less astringent, and more mellow than it’s twin other. Another great example of how a tea is brewed is just as important to how or where it’s stored, and since most of us don’t have a choice on where our tea is stored…

We ended the day with some magical white powder called catechin. This is the phenol or flavonoid that is responsible for gan, that sweet or minty taste you get after drinking Pu’er teas with high mineral content (and eating bitter melon, ginseng, and a few other foods. More on gan coming very soon). What a better way to experience gan than to lick it off a wet finger?

catechin

The sensation was purer than when you get it through tea, more direct, no tea flavors diluting the experience, and the sweetness lasted a good fifteen minutes or so, especially noticeable when we drank some water. That water, good old plain water, tasted incredibly sweet I wanted to floss my teeth with it.

catechin-wrapper

mo-smello-tea

Pu’er tea harvest season taste test

For those interested, 1001plateaus and Bana Tea Company will be presenting a focused tea tasting on Pu’er at the Huntington Gardens, on Saturday, November 14, 2015 at 9:00AM.

Yiwu_harvest_tasting2

There’s been a backlash recently about the fuss and puffery used to describe flavor profiles, so in going “totally layman,” I’m going to stick with these three phrases: Great, pretty OK, and no good.

Tasting, of course is a relative thing. Given several teas/coffee/wines to choose from, the goal is to look for characteristics that stand out from the others: least acidic, most creamy, etc. but it only makes sense compared to what else is at the table. In addition, flavors are subjective, so it’s best to focus on characteristics that don’t rely on flavors. In terms of Pu’er, the look of the brewed leaves, bitterness on the finish, the presence of gan (a returning sweetness in the mouth), viscosity of the tea, and how it feels in the mouth and throat are indicators of quality whether or not the tea has dried-plum or orchid flavors.

It’s common knowledge that harvest season greatly affects the quality of tea, but I have not found anyone who has actually done a harvest season taste test. It’s quite a feat to get real Pu’er from Yi Wu in the first place, so we were super happy to get three pucks of 2015 raw Pu’er from San He Chun, picked from old trees in the spring, summer, and fall.

Yiwu_harvest_tasting

The color difference is interesting. From left to right is spring, summer, and fall. Since these teas are all from 2015, the spring is actually the oldest, and yet the lightest in color.

Tasting the three teas initially blind, it was obvious which one was spring. It was clean, complex, and very thick. Out of the remaining two, one of them was like drinking a brick, bitter, dull, and funky smelling. This turned out to be summer. Summer is the time of the monsoon, and when it’s raining, trees are focused on growing (trunk, branches), and the minerals absorbed by the roots go toward that end. During the rainy season the tree is not interested in producing leaves, and those that are produced are weak in mineral content (flavor).

The third one, fall, was OK. There is no better word. It was slightly bitter, had a little flavor, but didn’t make me want to dump the cup out.

After this first brewing we had some plain water, and since this is Yi Wu Pu’er from old trees, there was a lot of gan, resulting in sweet, fabulous water, and honestly I’m not sure whether the gan came from all three teas or just the spring. (Next tasting!)

Then we brewed the teas a second time, for a lot longer than we should have, just to draw out some (if any) of the bad qualities. I tasted fall first, and it tasted better, pretty OK. Then I tasted the spring. If the fall was somehow elevated for the second brewing the spring was equally lifted if not more. The second it hit my mouth I could tell the difference in viscosity, and then came the various flavors. Viscosity = mineral content.

Finally I tried the summer again, and, instead of just tasting slightly over-brewed, like the others, the long brew created a bitter fur bomb that stuck in the front of my mouth and on my tongue, like eating an unripe persimmon, or that thin papery skin that surrounds a walnut. A perfect example of unwanted astringency in tea, however.

Like the age of the trees and the terroir, harvest season has a considerable effect of the price of Pu’er. Generally, the price of the fall picking is 2/3 of the cost of spring, and summer is half, but considering those fakers out there, it’s potentially an easy thing for vendors to sell a fall or summer Pu’er for spring prices.

pups

There’s some “hint of wet dog on the nose” for the Scotch drinkers.

You are what you smell

missing-teeth

Last year the porcelain bridge I’ve worn in my mouth since high school gave out, so I’ve been spending a lot of time at the dentist lately, preparing for some new teeth. As it turns out, I’ve also been spending a lot of time with my dentist.

teeth_impression

He’s the guy that got us into roasting our own coffee beans, so in return we told him about Sean Thackrey wines. Now his new obsession is a gadget called the Coravin, which allows you to “access” a bottle of wine without removing the cork. A needle is inserted into the bottle (“cork strike”) and argon gas is pumped in and the wine comes out. When you pull the needle out, the cork reseals itself, and since argon is an inert gas, the wine will not be oxidized.

coravin_demo

All this is theory, so Coravin’s founder, Greg Lambrecht, who’s more like a cool inventor than a sales person, invited a group of wine professionals plus my dentist, who invited me (we’re “fans” I suppose) to a blind tasting (plus a steak lunch at Morton’s). Classy!

coravin_tasting

We were early, so I got to chat with Greg about the company who produces his argon canisters (same company that provides Starbucks with helium. Go whippets!) and what he’s working on next: screw top wine bottles and champagne. He explained that when you force a gas and a liquid out the same hole you get flat champagne. But he’s very close to figuring out a solution. For those wines that use plastic corks he told me the secret was to always place the needle in the same hole (HA!), store the bottle standing up and it will keep for a month (argon is denser than air), or use *** to seal the hole in the cork. He actually made me promise not to divulge what *** was.

coravin_bottles

The tasting consisted of 5 glasses of white and 5 glasses of red (of the same wine). Some of the glasses were filled with bottles that were accessed exactly a year ago, and the others were filled with bottles opened that day. We were told not to look at our neighbor’s notes and not to speak. Some thirty people handling ten wine glasses each is actually a loud affair. Then there was a little bit of hubbub regarding how, exactly, we were all supposed to share the spitting buckets. This was soon addressed, and we got to tasting.

Both of the wines that were served were natural, which meant some variation from bottle to bottle was to be expected. Though last year’s wine may taste a little different, the point is that it’s not something anyone would be embarrassed to serve. The Coravin works incredibly well.

Apparently the percentage of people that can taste the difference is 5%, and apparently I fall within that 5%. I’ve got “Smell-o-vision.” I picked the whites correctly and got all the reds except for one. Bastard! I suppose I’ve had a lot of practice. I live with a dog that can vapor wake and I’ve spent a lot of hours tasting tea. Wine is harder than tea. Your palette gets very tired. I did spit most of the wine out, but I felt I had to drink a little from each glass. By the time I got to the reds, I was ready for lunch. Lunch was a three-course affair with some rare wines thrown in for fun, but it wasn’t lunchtime yet.

I went around the room smelling things. I smelled the leatherette sleeve for the wine bottle that comes with the system. It’s supposed to keep you safe if the bottle you are accessing is one of the 1-in-50,000 bottles that break when the needle goes in. I smelled the paper doowahs that went around the base of each glass to assign it a number. I smelled someone’s bad breath, which my dentist later confirmed was the sign of “perio.” I smelled the soap from the bathroom on the ladies that walked by. This was way too much fun for an event that was free.

I asked Greg how one was supposed to get the wine from a very old bottle, and he gave a demonstration of how to get at the bottle sideways while keeping the sediment untouched. He added that when the bottle gets low, like around 5 ounces, you should do yourself a favor and just pull the cork out and drink the damn thing. Now that’s some no-nonsense advice.

stevie-yellow-flowers

MO-smell-toy

coravin_table

Tuo Cha gone awry

1996_menghai

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.

1996_tuo-cha_compare

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.

1996_tuo-cha_compare_cups

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.

lostpaw

Duck breast in my jersey pocket

flat-tire-note

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.

agoura

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.

closed-PCH

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.

duck-in-jersey

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.

salting-duck-breast

tea-smoked-duck-smoker

tea-smoked-duck

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

important-folder

dog_trash

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.

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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.

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– 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.

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