All posts by eachnee

From A to B and back again

Making things has never been easy, the end product never resembles the initial concept, and there are always problems to solve, though that process is really what makes any idea worth chasing. The constant glimmer of doubt and the “why do I suck so bad?” tries to keeps you from moving forward, plus one of the worst things Covid has done is tack on an extra layer of paralysis.

But so, having non-judgmental assistants is extremely important.

You make some good decisions, 

and you make some bad ones.

Several months ago we decided to design our own 1001plateaus cycling jerseys and our friends at Standing’s Butchery, Now Serving, The Cleaver Quarterly, Westside Table Tennis Academy, Circumference Books, and Michael Maltzan Architecture were happy to be a part of it. That was the easy part. We didn’t want blue (ever seen a blue cycling jersey?), we didn’t want a gradient/all-over look, and we wanted to keep it visible for cars and full of color. The wonderful people at Endura went out of their way to make sure the final colors were satisfactory (printing on fabric is something else!) and some Scottish seamstresses sewed it all up.

Starting out with a drawing is always good because if things don’t work out, you always have the drawing. Finagling the details can be a chore.

Consider designing a piece of civic infrastructure with this drawing:

Michael Maltzan’s “Ribbon of Light,” 2012, an early sketch for the 6th Street Viaduct. (Michael Maltzan Architecture)

Ten years and 588 million dollars later you get this gorgeous concrete bridge looping and spanning over the LA river, two freeways, and a maze of train tracks.

If you’re the architect of the bridge you get to ride across it, before the mayor cuts the yellow ribbon, before the cars, before the donuts, before the skaters, before the graffiti.

Well well well.

What a difference a year makes

If you own pu’er tea, being stuck in a pandemic for over a year has its benefits, unless you were so stuck that you drank your entire stash. Your tea is now one year older, wiser, and worth that much more. What’s even better is having the house termite tented during the pandemic, forcing you to get out of the house, where our humble room at the Sofitel was upgraded to the penthouse suite and we ordered club sandwiches from Norm’s via smoke signal.

I decided to remove the green coffees and teas from the property for safe storage, resulting in a much needed inventory check, in which I found only five little bags of mystery tea, and dug up a few treasures that had been silently aging and were now ready to shine, just in time for Linda and I to resume our epic tea tastings in person.

Linda’s new silver kettle!

We started with something super fresh, a green tea called taiping houkui which I have never had before. The leaves are gorgeous, they have the imprint of the mesh fabric that they were pressed and rolled against. It tasted like an herbal tea without the herb flavor, just delicious and super thick without a hint of harshness. I thought the viscosity of the water was due to the silver kettle, so we tried a lower grade taiping houkui which tasted surprisingly bland and gritty and flat.

Looks almost like a makeshift silkscreening set up

Next we drank a raw pu’er from a single tree that Linda had “discovered” during her own inventory taking process. We had loved this tea after trying it right after it had been picked, in 2018, so we were happy to assess its incredible three year old development.

Finally we got to my army green metal box squirreled away since 2007. It’s a commemorative pu’er made for the 80th anniversary of the People’s Liberation Army.

There’s one brick of ripe and one brick of raw. A friend of ours has an uncle who’s a general in the army and neither of them wanted it. With teas like this it’s impossible without brewing it to know whether the taste will live up to the quality of the packaging, but when you can smell the aroma from a few feet away and the taste is close to honey in consistency, complex and spicy and quite possibly the best ripe pu’er you have ever had, you can thank the PLA for something other than the warm jackets that certain hotels in the mountains of China offer you when they drag you up at sunrise to see the fog.

We ended up just brewing this tea for the rest of the afternoon, losing count after twenty or thirty steepings. That’s how it goes sometimes.

In another ten years this tea will taste like syrup.

Go biscuits

We officially registered our company in 1995 because we had just gotten stiffed on a job and had to take the poor dude to small claims court. The judge ordered the guy to pay half of what he owed us and told us to get real. The guy paid, and we signed up our new business on April Fool’s Day and called ourselves Biscuit Technologies.

We ended up (and still do) working with small artists, non-profits, huge ad agencies, media companies and sports organizations. We got lucky, as we had great timing with the rise of the internet, and many of our current clients have been with us since the beginning.

Over the years, what we do — designing things to be used on a computer (presentations, databases, websites, animations) has gotten blurred into the general world of “computer crap.” It’s not just one’s mom who expects you to keep track of her wireless password but lots of people think if you understand anything on a computer beyond selecting which social media channel to blast something to, then you must also be responsible for internal wiring, file access, slow speeds and hardware failures.

Where once the debate was over modifying our Flash animation of a roll of toilet paper dropping from the sky, cracking a concrete surface and disappearing—we programmed it so the toilet paper paused for a fraction of a second on the concrete before disappearing, but the client insisted physics didn’t apply and wanted us to remove that pause, we are now blamed for not setting up a backup on a WordPress site with a weak password which we had nothing to do with except handle the hosting.

One client we had built a database for had constant periods of the “dreaded coffee cup” image signifying low to shitty connectivity to their server or the internet. Some of their tasks involved duplicating quite a lot of records, so the dropped connections were causing all sorts of trouble. We asked the IT department if at least they could see which IP address was causing the bottleneck and they came back with the evidence that the owner’s son was playing video games during those coffee cup times. Due to circumstances beyond our control the client decided to scrap the entire project rather than tell the boss about his son.

Every once in awhile we get emails from people asking about oven technologies, or if we’re hiring bakers or cooks. 

Last week we were contacted by an old client, a large and profitable institution that had hired us in 2002 to create a database in MS Access. For 19 years they had never brought us back to perform any updates, maintenance work or modifications so we figured they went on to bigger and better things (from MS Access there’s only “up.”*) They wrote to complain that their old database, while still working just fine, for some reason crashes an awful lot thereby decreasing their productivity and affecting their workflow so they would like us to come in and fix it. (Never mind there’s a pandemic going on).

Way back in 2002 when this large and profitable institution was contemplating hiring us our contact had been concerned his superiors would not feel comfortable doing so because of our silly name. We told him maybe his superiors could look at the names of our current clients instead, which at the time was Cisco, Adobe, and BBDO.

It might be assumed from their email that even though they are a large and profitable institution they don’t have a large, dedicated IT department to handle crashing and other network related issues. Not true. What’s going on is a little sad, because the IT department says it’s an unsupported platform and wants nothing to do with it, but they are required to respond on a regular basis to restore the file after a crash (which apparently is often). This is not fun for anyone, but really has nothing to do with the design of database.

*MS Access is pretty mediocre for many reasons, but back in 2002 I remember being able to control an object’s visibility on a form using conditional parameters. This means you can hide or unhide things depending on a user’s answers to questions. This feature was not available in Filemaker, what some people consider a leading desktop database application, until 2013. That’s kind of amazing.

Every once in awhile we receive checks payable to bisquit or bisqui, and our bank always cashes them, thankfully. Since we’ve added a dba for our tea company called 1001 Plateaus no one expects either of those to be spelled correctly.

So, I made some things in 2020

Stuff I made basically fell into two categories:

1. Baking.

I restarted my sourdough starter, thanks to Seamus Blackley and the new Poilâne cookbook, perfected a puff pastry technique that takes only three hours, earned my bagel badge, and landed a cosmonaut on the surface of some dinner rolls.

I cooked almost all the meals we ate the entire year. Some of them were good, some of them were great, some of them were based on shapes.

During the great flour shortage, I managed to get flour from Central Milling, Roan Mills, and Hayden Flour Mills.
We did order take out a few times – here’s the spread from Kiriko, one of the best sushi places in LA, and thankfully, still open.

I was lucky to be able to recipe test for Nik Sharma’s new book, which was incredibly fun, including hunting down some of the ingredients. If you’ve ever marveled at why the same bottle of wine tastes different when you drink it with a great friend versus annoying neighbors, this book will help you understand some of the things you can actually control to enhance flavor. The book is also massively helpful for shortcutting recipes. Cooking this year was so often a compromise—no eggs, no bacon, no flour—and sometimes making do is an art.

2. Sewing

The year started with this:

Hedgehogs in medieval times rolled around in apples to gather them for their feasts.

and we ended up with masks, curtains, tote bags and bike bags made from Dyneema, my new favorite material, coming in at .5 oz per square yard and tough as steel. I also made produce bags out of it, and the checkers were always commenting on them at the grocery stores.

This tote bag was great for wrapping around my head when I forgot my mask.

2020 ended with latkes, and the publication of my poem in Diagram. Here’s to 2021.

Tea lab: the long slog of comparing two teas

In preparation for our upcoming workshop at the Huntington Gardens on October 20, Linda and I broke down several ways in which the differences between similar teas could be seen/smelled/experienced. As I have often said before, a great tea is only great in relation to the other teas at the table. Either of these teas on their own would have been extraordinary, where it gets interesting is comparing them side by side.

We were lucky to have two samples of extremely high quality Old Bush Water Sprite (Lao Cong Shui Xian) from Wuyi Mountain. Both of these sell for over $60/50 grams. Both of these name the tea master dude who made it, we’ll call them Mr. X and Mr. W. Old Bush Water Sprite is supposed to be picked from old bushes, and where these bushes are grown governs how much mineral content is absorbed into the roots and leaves. Wuyi Mountain is karstic and volcanic and has wonderfully porous rock that enables mist and dew to permeate easily. In some areas the cliffs suck up moisture from the river and excess water trickles down all day long onto happy tea bushes.

The leaves: On the left is Mr. X, on the right Mr. W.
Mr. X smelled slightly fruity, a little tangy like passionfruit, and Mr. W had more of a dark chocolate, roasted Cheerios smell, as if it were roasted for a longer length of time, even though it was actually lighter in color, with more variance across the leaves.

Mr. X

Mr. W

Sometimes the aromas change when you place dry leaves into a heated gaiwan. Sometimes darker, funky smells come out, and lighter, floral ones disappear. This wasn’t the case with these teas, both smelled incredibly rich and clean.

The color: Mr. X is darker, more amber red, compared to Mr. W’s golden brew. Both liquids are very clear, but the tea on the left (Mr. X) is slightly less so. Again, it’s interesting to note that although Mr. W smelled more roasted, the color of the tea is lighter, more orange than brown.

The first steep: Mr. X has a slight vanilla and ripe fruit flavor that happens right up front when you drink it, but there’s a rough edge afterwards, as if the flavor was somehow rushed, leaving a slight harshness behind on your tongue. It has an odd, thin flatness reminiscent of tea that’s been brewed with with tap water (we’re using Crystal Geyser).
Mr. W has wheat and honey notes which glide into your mouth slowly, the flavor is more noticeable after you swallow, which of course makes you want more. The tea is smoother and thicker compared to Mr. X, and becomes more viscous as it cools. There is a feeling that the gaps in between your teeth have been filled with some fancy lubricant.

The fourth steep: We lengthened the brewing time for the subsequent steepings, to see if that made any difference. Mr. X remained slightly edgy, until the fourth steep, when all of a sudden the slight roughness seemed to go away. Oddly enough the tea started to taste rounder than the previous steepings. Mr. W remained a smooth cool cucumber. It would have been interesting to continue brewing, to the tenth or twelfth steeping.

The cup: After five steepings we smelled the empty cups. The aroma from Mr. X was feint and barely perceptible. Mr. W smelled like flowers and honey, and this was still the case after leaving the cups alone for several minutes while we went on a tangent into Hunan Fu Zhuan, which quite literally is drinking tea with mold on it.

The yellow spots on the tea are spores from a fungus called Jin Hua that is cultivated in rice or wheat flour. The tea is inoculated with the fungus and gives it a very sweet taste. I’m not sure how tea is inoculated and why Jin Hua tea is associated with Mongolian Diet Tea but I’ll be sure to find out.

Tea Lab: the Best Tea House (China)

In 2001, my husband and I went to China to research tea and we saw a place on the map in Guangzhou called the Best Tea House (China) Co., LTD. We went in the front door, sat down with a woman named Rainbow, and stumbled out five days later. Some very old pu’er was drunk after hours one night, after the gals in the shop broke off a small piece of a mushroom/turdy looking thing in a very dark (and fragrant) storage room. We were all giggling so much only Rainbow had the steady hand to brew it. They claim it was from 1901 and I believe it. It looked older than dirt. The taste…honestly, does it even matter?

(photo altered to protect the innocent)

After we returned the the U.S. we sent Rainbow some money and she shipped over various teas, porcelain ware that never made it (no easy access to bubble wrap back then) and three-toed sloths made out of Yixing clay.

A few years later we found out Rainbow’s boss (I’ll call him Chevy, since he looked like a Chinese Chevy Chase) had kyped the name “Best Tea House” from Vesper Chan, who had been doing business in Hong Kong under the same name. Copycatting is often seen as a form of respect in China, and Mr. Chan never thought he’d be doing business on the mainland anyway so he didn’t think much of it. A few years ago Mr. Chan decided to open up business in China, and found out he couldn’t use the same business name as his HK shop. So, Chevy’s a little shady. Oh well.

Two of the teas Rainbow sent over have the Seven Sons wrapper, the name for pu’er teas made by the Menghai Tea Factory, overseen by the China National Native Produce and Animal By-products Import and Export Corporation (otherwise known as CNNP), the official government agency in charge of those exact things in its name, (including pu’er) since the seventies. As with anything that old, especially from China, there are many variations in the paper, the font size, the printing, and the tea. Our tea, in the thin wrapping paper that’s very close to crumbling, is in this book.

Most of the pucks she sent were from that year, 2002, but a few of them came with this note, saying that it’s fifteen years old (from 2002, which places it at 1987). I thought it tasted delicious back then but now after another fifteen years this tea is crazy.

The taste is of rice soup with a little bit of date, but there’s an incredible sweet aftertaste that’s so rich and warming if feels like your mouth has been lined with a fleecy sleeping bag.

Next up was the “four gentlemen” set from Denong. The four gentlemen are plum, orchid, chrysanthemum, and bamboo. Each of these are picked ming qian from leaves from a single famous mountain but you aren’t told which one.

The plum tasted like white sugar, the orchid smelled like rock sugar, which made me think it was from an area close to Yi Wu, the chrysanthemum was the thickest tasting with a hint of citrus, and the bamboo, was, in a funny way, manly. Woodsy without being woodsy, a lot of fiber notes, no florals.

We left the pu’er world by trying a stuffed yuzu from Korea. The packaging says Yuzu Citron Tea but according to my handy dandy citrus chart, yuzu and citron are not the same thing.

The flavor of the yuzu is lovely and sweet, and the color of the liquid was like sunshine, but we couldn’t discern any tea flavor. The tea was very broken up, and when I chewed on some unbrewed pieces, and chewed and chewed, after about a minute it started to taste like black tea.

Black Magnolia from the Great Mississippi Tea Company is the third tea grown in the U.S. that I have tried, and it’s always exciting to see the the outline of a state under Origin on the back of the package.

Only problem is that the back of the package also called this tea an oolong, and it had two different brewing instructions, one that said 4 teaspoons for 8 ounces of water, and one that said 2 teaspoons, with a different temperature recommendation. This was all so confusing it left us with an argument of whether the average tea drinker sees “teaspoons of tea” and uses a kitchen spoon or a measuring teaspoon. In either case, I couldn’t heap ANY tea into the measuring spoon because the leaves were too large and 4 kitchen spoons of tea came out to be over 6 grams which is way too much tea to be brewing with 8 ounces of water for five minutes (as one of the instructions said).

To cap off the afternoon we pulled out Denong’s 2008 Lao Ban Zhang (picked ming qian). It looked so innocuous, but one sniff of the leaves (chocolatey) and I started to salivate. I didn’t need to drink any tea. I think my body just remembered what it was supposed to do. Your mouth turns into the best sugary garden hose you’ve ever taken a drink from. The best part of LBZ is that flavor wise it’s pretty unremarkable. This leads to possibly a taste comparison for an upcoming workshop at the Huntington (note to anyone who has managed to read this far, our October workshop is sold out!): a pu’er that has OK flavor and no gan, versus a pu’er with a similar OK flavor but all gan. Now that’s going to be fun.

Tea lab – for sure, for sure

This week in the world of “Tea vs. coffee” debates I know for sure if some dude does a rookie move at the Velodrome and crashes into you, and you break your wrist, it’s far easier to make an espresso than to brew tea.

Obviously it’s easiest to just have someone brew tea for you, so head’s up on two upcoming tea tastings with 1001 Plateaus and Bana Tea Company at the Huntington Gardens.

– Saturday, September 15, 2018 at 9:00 AM – “Tea Tasting: The Basics.” We will discuss brewing methods, factors that can affect the overall quality of one’s cup, and storage, as we taste rare and high-end teas from the six major categories.

– Saturday, October 20, 2018 at 9:00 AM – “Tea Tasting: Subtlety, Complexity and Beyond.” a workshop that is focused solely on tasting: We will taste specific flavor profiles of the major types of tea and then examine the often wild variations within each category. (Tickets go on sale one month prior).

Linda and I planned to get together and figure out what to do for our “Tea basics” tasting but didn’t quite get there. It was hot, it’s been hot, and the Thai place offered us free mango and sticky rice to go with our three other dishes, so we ate all our sticky rice and didn’t worry about the basics.

We started with three raw teas from Mengsong.

We tried two spring teas, a 2018 spring made from 100 year old trees from Vesper Chan, another 2018 spring made from old trees by our friend Xiao Cao, and Xiao Cao’s 2017 fall harvest, same farm. Xiao Cao’s spring tea is named after Hunter, Linda’s new grandson so you don’t have to finish reading this in order to know which tasted the best out of the three.

Xiao Cao’s Mengsong Fall tasted quieter, softer than his spring tea but with the same smoothness and detail, like slightly muting the tone of a color photograph. Both of Xiao Cao’s teas were thicker than the tea made from 100 year old trees, a great way to understand how 100 years is a spring chicken as far as pu’er trees go.

I get a lot of comments as to how tea is confusing: how some wild tea trees used to be farmed many years ago, or how “wild” depends on which animal has or has not pooped on its roots, or how does something like the half-raw/half-ripe get explained.

One tip I’ll always stand by is you should always brew tea using spring water from the same area that the tea was grown in. At least it makes agricultural sense even if it’s not practical. Maybe the next best thing is to use the local spring water to ferment your ripe pu’er, which is what makes Vesper Chan’s 2018 Enchantment of Ancient Trees so amazing. At first it tasted like a crazy candy bar because of the gan from the earlier teas, which caused more confusion for a minute.

It had a strong raw cocoa bean taste, and no deep earthy tones, which tends to be one-dimensional and boring in most ripe teas. It was also super thick and bold, and didn’t taste like a new tea. Because, just to add to the confusion, this tea is a 2018, but it was made in 2015. What was it doing for three years? Hanging out in a controlled environment.

We compared this young tea with the enormo-brick (a hefty one-pounder) from 2010 called Chang-An which was probably made by the same person (Vesper Chan’s ripe pu’er dude).

It had a similar cocoa bean flavor, no earthiness, and hint of something tangy like dried currant. Eight years (plus/minus three) has given it a lot more flavor and richness so we encouraged the Enchantment of Ancient Trees to do some additional hanging out. Note: no way you can break off a piece of that brick with one hand.

Separated with my phone at the border of my mind

My friend Jeni Dodd, who used to be a lawyer, teamed up with Jason McDonald, another legalese–>tea leaves person, and headed down to New Mexico this week to help the NM Immigrant Law Center with reviewing, digesting, and writing briefs for the detained immigrants at the border. This is a complicted and nutballs situation, and as positive as one can be in theory I’m sure visiting the Cibola County Correctional Center in Grants and hearing the stories of the separated families and kids sucked.

They have a gofundme set up, but being from New Mexico I wanted to try and arrange for a catered lunch to be sent to the entire staff at the Center. I asked my dear old friend Michelle, from high school, who runs a catering business making her own pastas and amazing Italian food, if she could swing something at the last minute. I texted Jeni to give me the total head count.

Then, the screen on my old iPhone lifted off. The battery had swelled up like a giant zit, rays of lights could be seen shooting out the sides of the phone, but until then it was hobbling along just fine. I took the phone to my pals at UbreakIfix, who were in the middle of dealing with a crazy lady from Miami speaking in rapid fire Spanish. The UbreakIfix guy kept typing into the computer and shaking his head and pointing to the back of the lady’s phone. Her child kept complaining that the password to the free wifi wasn’t working. The woman kept insisting on something, and finally the guy turned the computer to face her/me and I saw that he was showing her a map of Miami, proving there were lots (tons!) of places for phone repair. She was incredulous but finally grabbed her son and left.

The guys replaced my battery, but as soon as I left the store my phone began restarting every few minutes. They wanted to run additional tests and put in yet another battery so I had to leave my phone for an hour. ONE HOUR!

Things I noticed without a phone:
– I had no idea what time it was so I didn’t know when the hour was up.
– Everyone is on their phones
– Going shopping for shirts and sucking down a root beer float takes half an hour, even though the lady who scooped the ice cream confessed she tends to put way too much ice cream in the cup.
– Worrying about missing messages is super intense when it’s 100 degrees out.

Sadly the tests pointed to a motherboard issue, and even putting the old battery back in, cantilevered screen aside, caused the phone to continually restart. Bleh.

At least I was able, back home on my computer, to finalize everything, and sure enough lasagna, garlic bread, ceasar salad, lemon ricotta cake, and ice cold drinks were delivered today.

Hooray for old friends, hooray for the internet!

Tea lab – Heatwave

What happens when you schedule a tea tasting on the day the temperature climbs to 117? You start out with a plan, two wild raw pu’ers and some dim sum take out, and end up meandering into GABA oolong, charcoal roasted Tieguanyin, and green tea from Santa Barbara.

Dim sum dishes usually come in threes, so tea tasting in threes (Linda and I were joined by our friend J.D.) is perfect, as it ensures no one feels bad for eating that extra egg tart.

First on our list was two wild teas from Hojo. If you don’t know Hojo, be prepared for incredible teas laced with intense agricultural knowledge. We tasted his 2018 wild raw pu’er from Da Xue Shan, which smells fruity and sweet, and looks nothing like a traditional puck of pu’er.

Hojo thinks the flavor of wild tea tends to be milder because it’s grown in a lot of shade. To bump up the flavor he lets these leaves wither overnight before pan-frying, which oxidizes the tea slightly, and produces awesome color variations.

His definition of “wild” tea is pretty severe, if there are trees growing near paths where cattle may pass by and take a poop, they don’t count as wild, due to the fertilization, which he says will diminish the long-lasting aftertaste of real wild tea. He doesn’t say whether the same applies to wild animals cruising by, but this tea tastes green and fresh, has absolutely no bitterness, with a sugary aftertaste that’s lasting as long as this heat wave.

We drank it with a 2005 wild pu’er (exact origin and animal poop percentage of fertilization unknown, it somehow ended up in our hands) that tasted smooth and brown, full of burnt caramel and marshmallow.

Next we tried Hojo’s wild white tea from Da Xue Shan, made from the same leaves as the pu’er. And yes, it’s really this vivid in person.

This tea was withered for several days but instead of piling the leaves on top of each other like many Fujian white tea producers, Hojo gives his white tea a lot of space. The taste is thick, and lemony, like a sour apple. From what I can gather, Hojo prefers teas on the fruitier side in terms of flavor, so it’s fun to think about someone’s specific personality as you taste their teas.

On that note, J.D. brought some 2003 silver bud white pu’er (I know, the labeling is confusing) also from Da Xue Shan but from David Hoffman’s Phoenix collection. You can’t talk about personality without bringing up David Hoffman, one of the most eccentric and famous of the old guards of tea that are slowing dying off. He’s got a fun shop (and rumored to have a pu’er cave) in Marin County, and the last time I visited he let me sit and brew all afternoon. Supposedly I’ve been promised a tour of his home the next time I visit, before the pesky building inspectors force him to tear it down.

Also dying a slow death is the technique of charcoal roasting Tieguanyin. Our friend Max is writing an article on it (URL to come when it’s published) and we were able to get some Drunken Imperial Concubine from Master Chan. His roaster dude is 70 years old and when he’s gone that will be that. The leaves are roasted for about 22 hours in total, but not continuously, as the roaster (especially if you’re 70) needs to sleep. To keep the pit hot, the ashes of a parasol tree (梧桐樹) are spread over the coals. You can taste a little ashiness in the tea, on top of the roasted coconut and buttery flavors, quite different from the greener, lightly-roasted and more popular tieguanyins.

We got tired of lamenting old tea techniques so we moved on to something high tech and trendy: GABA Taiwanese oolong from Te Company. GABA stands for Gamma-Aminobutyric acid, and supposedly it’s responsible for reducing neuronal excitability, or lowering your blood pressure, or mellowing you out. You can, of course buy GABA as a supplement. The process of GABA tea was invented by the Japanese in the 80’s, where trees are shaded a few weeks before harvest (like gyokuro) in order to produce an excess of glutamic acid, which the leaves already have quite a bit of. When the tea is oxidizing, the oxygen is replaced by nitrogen (technically it’s nitrogized?), which converts the glutamic acid to GABA. This is all fine and dandy, only there’s evidence that taking GABA orally doesn’t increase GABA levels in your brain, because the substance is not able to pass the blood-brain barrier in order to enter your central nervous system.
Though the taste is a little un-tea like, more like a sweet potato leaf tisane, it’s fun to believe in blood-brain barrier penetration, when it’s 117 degrees out anything that promises to reduce your stress level is going to do exactly what it claims to do.

J.D. had with him some Lu An from 1999 (also from David Hoffman) and we thought it would be interesting to try it along side some Lu An Gua Pian, which I’ve never tasted. Lu An is the name of the area, and Gua Pian means melon/pumpkin seed, which the wet leaves definitely smell like, along with nori, and salt. There’s no pumpkin seed taste in the tea, which may mean that the tea isn’t very good, or that it’s supposed to just look like pumpkin seeds. The aged Lu An, however, had some good pumpkin seed flavor, but was a little harsh around the edges.
Lu An Gua Pian is the most complicated green tea to make. Instead of the bud set, the second leaf grown on the branch is plucked, along with a little piece of twig to make sure the leaf doesn’t tear, removed later by hand. After firing over different pans that are set to different temperatures, and a special shaping technique that involves a broom, the tea undergoes a set of one-minute on/off intervals over a charcoal fire (like VO2 max training).

We ended the day with tea from trees grown in Santa Barbara. I don’t know anything about this tea, but the farmers sell their blueberries at the farmer’s market and I’m happy to try any tea made in the US. Their website says they have 300 tea trees, from which they make white tea, but the sticker on the package says it’s green tea. That’s good because when we brewed it, it sure looked and tasted like a white tea.

Heatwave tidbit: Lu An Gua Pian tea was used during the Ming dynasty to prevent sunstroke. No reason it won’t have the same benefits today. Alternatively, you can always cool down with a chicken soup popsicle.

Tea lab – new and better teas

For those interested, 1001 Plateaus and Bana Tea Company will be hosting a Tea Presentation and Tasting at the Huntington Gardens, on Saturday, May 12, 2018 at 9:00AM. We will have a presentation on the history of Chinese tea and taste something like nine different teas. Why so many teas? Because we can.

Also, it’s spring and that means we’ll have fresh green teas on tap and there’s nothing like drinking the stuff straight off the plane. Unless the trade war throws a wrench in our direction. We’ve heard that exporting goods and shipping logistics have been mired in more silliness than usual. (I remember several years ago trying to ship a small piece of furniture home from China and having to buy bubble wrap at the post office one square at a time. There are a lot of hand signals used in China but I have yet to find the one that means “keep it coming.”)

Apparently the post office in China opened up all of our bags of tea for “inspection” and our contact had to follow the workers around bag by bag to reseal. We can only hope he got to all the bags. It’s just like when I dropped an enormous jug of maple syrup on the kitchen floor and as I tried to mop it up I realized my dog, well trained enough not to lick it but not careful enough to avoid stepping in it, was following me around.

A few years ago we ordered a batch of pressed Big Red Robe tea from our friend Mr. Wang. The tea was inexpensive, as it was made from broken leaves of Authentic tea (only the tea picked from bushes grown in the Wuyi National Scenic Area can be called Authentic) and the guy who pressed it (not Mr. Wang) thought it would be interesting to add some yellow leaves, which are older leaves with good flavor but are not valuable because of their looks. We ran out of these bricks so we ordered a new batch but asked our guy to skip the yellow leaves. (See the difference between the two, obviously the darker one is the new tea)

Not sure what happened but this tea is so unbelievably good it’s not clear what’s going on. I’m pretty sure I like it better than the Jade Buddha Oolong, which is a lot more costly. (The new bricks are $20/18 bricks (8.5g), and you can brew several rounds with half a brick).
This is the MOST VISCOUS tea I have ever had. I’ll just leave it at that.

Next we tried our newest tea (after three weeks mired in customs), our 2017 Mengsong, with a drawing of mine on the label, and after many years of spelling Mengsong incorrectly we finally got it right just before going to print. This is a classic autumn tea. It’s quiet, moody and delicious.

We wrapped up the tasting by trying the “second red” pu’er stuffed mandarin. It’s called second red because the fruit has been on the tree longer than the green mandarin, but not as long as the big red mandarin. The flavor has lost some of the green mandarin’s limey tangy flavor but hasn’t taken on the more medicinal “eau de grandma” of the big red.