Wednesday, March 30, 2016

White 2 Tea Unboxing

I never liked the phrase "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade." Of all the things you could do with lemons, that's what you choose? Lemons are so much more utilitarian than that. How about "When life gives you lemons, make limoncello. Also maybe some whiskey sours. And some lemon marmalade." Much like life, don't limit yourself to just one option.

However, when life gives you a White 2 Tea Odds and Ends Weekend sale, the ONLY option you have is "order lots of tea." I'd never actually ordered from White 2 Tea before because a) I'm poor and b) shipping is astronomical. But after yelling at Paul on Twitter for awhile (several months, really), he relented and sweetened the pot for me. He told me to "go for broke" and he'd take care of the shipping because he's a fantastic person. Or he's just tired of me haranguing him on Twitter so maybe jamming some puer in my mouth will stop me from pounding away at my keyboard like a gorilla with rabies. Either way, it worked and I decided to throw enough cheddar at him to keep him in grilled cheese sandwiches for a few weeks. And since unboxing posts are all the rage right now (I actually think I missed the popularity mark by about 3 years), I decided I'd document peeling away the swaddling from my tea baby.

I put in the order on February 29th (lucky) and it arrived March 16th. I expected this, honestly. I think Paul had to back-pack to the shipping office near his tea cave in China so I figured it'd take a bit to get here. Also, ordering a plant product packed into brick form from China means a healthy perusal by U.S. Customs. But after patiently waiting (something I am not particularly good at), my cardboard crucible of joy arrived.

Kinda beaten up:

To be fair, it's actually not bad considering it traveled 11,722 km / 7283.7131 miles (as the crow flies) to land at my doorstep. I was worried that the cakes might have been cracked so I hurried to pop it open. Luckily, my fears were unfounded because it was packed VERY well:

Look at it. It's not the Ark of the Covenant so your face is safe. Cracking open the box released a smell that I have trouble describing. It was, in part, the funk of pu er. But it was also something else. It was the smell of...well...China. A smell that lingers faintly in the background at the Asian grocery store I go to. The smell of a different world, one that I can't place. Earthy, slightly spicy, a bit pungent. So, naturally, I huffed the box for awhile because I am deranged.

After a few good snorts, I pulled out payload:

Next came the scissors and began to disassemble the pile.

I ordered two cakes and four samples. Since I ordered over $50 worth of stuff, I qualified for a free piece of tea-ware. Paul also threw in a few bits and bobs as well, which were much appreciated. We'll start with the samples. Each were 25g and individually sealed.

This is probably my favorite one and I haven't even tried it yet. 2015 Milk, Cream, And Alcohol (Raw). Milk And Alcohol is TECHNICALLY a song by Dr. Feelgood. This is true. However, "milk, cream, and alcohol" is actually a reference to the lyrics of John Lee Hooker's "Serves Me Right To Suffer". And I love John Lee Hooker. A lot.

2015 Little Walk (Raw). This will be the only time I actually go for a walk.

2015 Pretty Girls (Ripe). Every time I see this one all I can do is hum Pretty Women from Sweeney Todd.

2015 Brown Sugar (Ripe). "So smooth you'll say 'Shit, Damn, Motherfucker.' " Now, on to the cakes!

2006 Old Bear Fangcha (Raw). Recommended to me by a few people (one of which I have a feeling it's named after). A supposed smoky bruiser of a tea that will hold up to tobacco pairings and cocktail usage. Probably should have bought another.

2015 Old Reliable (Ripe). Pu er is expensive. Really expensive if you decide to delve into buying whole cakes or even, heaven forbid, full tongs. So finding a cheap, quality cake is like nuclear fusion: possible in theory but borderline non-existent in practice. So I went for a cake of the Old Reliable because it was cheap and I wanted a full cake. We'll see how it drinks and, after that, if I can resist buying a tong.

Now, the miscellany!

2015 Smooch (Raw). An adorable little "travel size" cake that Paul threw in for me. I love smooches. Also, I love Hugs. Those white chocolate Hershey Kisses? I love those things. Sorry, I had white chocolate while writing this and I'm still thinking about it.

A White2Tea branded pu er cake pick. Perfect for prying apart cakes, chipping ice, and murdering Morrie in a Cadillac Eldorado.

An absolutely delightful teacup. Which makes me think he's psychic because I have a gaiwan and a pitcher but no teacup to drink from. So this was pretty handy.

All in all, pretty good haul. I'd like to thank Paul at White2Tea for putting up with me for this long and for (potentially) putting up with me even further. I encourage you to order from him because he's cool. I don't know how his tea is but if it's anything like him, it's gonna be good.


Thursday, March 17, 2016

Cornell and Diehl Small Batch: Straight Up English - March 17th, 2016

Life, lately, has been quiet. Contemplative, even. One would think that accompanying a time of reflection and solitude, a pipe would be clenched between teeth, slowly wisping smoke upwards as a smudge-bundle for the brain.

Truth is, I haven't smoked a pipe in years.

It's not that I haven't wanted to. I have. I spend INORDINATE amounts of time researching pipe tobacco blends, following new releases, building wish-lists. But...I haven't. I've been smoking cigarettes like a fool. A life of hasty kips out the door for a gasper before retreating to the warmth. It is a habit of a frantic mind, a mind frazzled by stress and excessive bodily wear-and-tear. Enjoying a pipe requires time and, frankly, a relatively serene mind. Many people say that the time they spend smoking a pipe is akin to meditation. I find my zen in video games and Youtube clips of people eating MREs. So pipes...pipes have fallen by the wayside.

However...the call of research and development has brought me back to the briar. A few weeks ago, Adam at Smoking Pipes sent me a message on Twitter. Not unheard of; we chat all the time. But in this message he had a favor to ask: try out a new pipe tobacco soon to be released. This piqued my interest. What was being released? I hadn't heard of anything from Laudisi Enterprises. So I inquired. He told me that Cornell and Diehl was coming out with a new line of limited-run tobaccos called Small Batch. He told me that the first release was to be an English blend, titled simply "Straight Up English."

I LOVE English blends.

I accepted (hence me writing this). He even sweetened the deal with a few other samples that I'll get to in a bit. But more important than the samples was this burgeoning feeling that it was time to pick up the pipe once more. Once again take up the art of fumigation meditation. A week later, a package arrived with the samples.

So...what IS Straight Up English? Well, this is the infographic that Adam sent over.

It gives a rough idea of what's going on in the tin. I asked for further clarification and he linked me to this quote on Pipes Magazine Forum.
"To tell true, the Virginia's interplay with the Latakia is the focus, but the White burley offered texture and underlying strength. The blend's single largest component is actually Bright Virginia from our supply of really special Canadian crop from 2013. The color, aroma and uniquely zesty sweetness of this stuff is just lovely to work with. But what this Bright has going for it in terms of character and sweetness, it lacks in the Nicotine department. And in my opinion, a lot of English or Balkan or Latakia blends tend to leave me wanting more strength. Thus, the small addition of White Burley helped to soften the Brights, and up the "Umph" a bit, though without focusing in any overt way, on the flavor of the Burley. Think adding flour to gravy vs. baking bread."

I have to admit, I've never finished smoking an English blend and then said to myself "I wish that had more nicotine" but that's just me. If I want nicotine I'll go for rope or just have a cigarette. But rounding the Virginia with Burley seems interesting. Personally, I like the contrast of the citrus from the Virginia and the clout of Latakia (like a hot-smoked lemon) but I'll give it a go.

The latakia makes it levitate.

Sample arrived as above and caused my desk to smell like a fall burn-barrel at a citrus orchard. Opening it up and pouring a bit out to inspect it revealed:

I'd pin it as a "rough and ready" ribbon cut. It's almost like a combo of ribbon and ready rubbed but that might just be me being out of the whole pipe tobacco game for so long. Loading it into my Missouri Meerschaum Country Gentleman presents no problems. It's a bit chunky but it's easy enough to pack and the perfect humidity.

In terms of flavor, well, the latakia is the first thing that hits the palate. It gives color and personality to the blend with its smokey flavor that fades to an almost black pepper spice. The core of the blend is the Virginias. Less of the citrus flavor I associate with Bright Virginia but more of an almost woody, cedary flavor. And at the very end is the Burley, giving a subtle nuttiness and almost creaminess.

This blend is a simple but well-crafted oak table. The latakia is the stain of the wood, providing the pop and color to the wood underneath. The Virginias are the solid oak planks, providing richness and backbone. And the Burley is there to sand the table smooth and reveal the grain. It's not fancy, far from it. It focuses more on complementing the Virginias than the marriage between the Latakia and Virginias that other blends do. It's not an after-dinner English, it's very much an all-day English. It can be smoked from your first cup of tea in the morning to the post-dinner brandy at night. That being said, I found it to be a bit light for my tastes. I like an English with a bit more clout. It has enough to it to make it an all-day smoker but not enough to make you pay attention. Even though I'm making it out like that's a bad thing, it's not. It's a solid smoke. Perfect for lighting and then staring off into the distance.

Perfect for thinking.