I have a passion for tea. I visit a tea shop everywhere I travel and usually bring home a quarter pound of something delicious that I just couldn’t be without. Well that I could be without but where’s the fun in that? I have tea pots, cup and saucer collections, a gazillion tea strainers, and designated tea only to-go mugs. Coffee dare not touch them. My tea collection deserves an inventory and its own pantry. There is just that much tea in my house.
So, imagine my absolute delight that while we are on a walking food tour through the streets of San Francisco’s Chinatown, and our guide informs us that we will be stopping in for a tea tasting. I practically danced the whole way there. Nothing to me is more comforting than a cup of tea, fresh brewed, loose leaf, and peacefully enjoyed in a moment of happy silence. That is one of my happy places. I was very prepared to get my tea on.
I was not, however, prepared for the brisk and oh so matter of fact tea maker that greeted us at Vital Tealeaf. Just a warning but he comes on strong. Don’t take it personally.
The shop was a long bar with low chairs with a small cup set in front of each spot. Behind the bar there were heated water stations and various brewing vessels with tea leaves in differing stages of brew. The walls were lined with canisters of tea, trays, teapots, mugs, and strainers. I couldn’t wait to get in my seat. I was ready for our tea sage, dressed like some ancient Eastern philosopher (it was Chinatown after all), to emerge and guide us through the magical world of tea and wellness. I was not anticipating Kenny.
Kenny did not welcome us in with what I would call southern hospitality but immediately directed us to sit and started brewing a small pot of our first tea. He was brisk and moved quickly behind the counter, deftly measuring out a scoop of loose leaf and pouring hot water over the leaves before dumping the tea down the drain. What the heck right?
“How do you go buying something if you haven’t tried it first?” No arguing with that logic and the try before you buy approach is central to Vital Tealeaf. They encourage you to taste multiple teas before deciding on the right one.
“Unless it’s like that strawberry kiwi tea…then just buy it. You know what that tastes like. Also get out.” Kenny was direct. We laughed nervously. If you were the one who liked strawberry kiwi tea, you were 100% keeping it to yourself. He quickly brewed a pot of ginseng oolong tea, for our energy, he claimed.
“You buy tea for what you want it to do. Not flavor. Tea doesn’t taste good unless you have flavorings in it or put milk or sugar. You don’t put milk of sugar in tea here. All tea is grassy or bitter.” He poured out a small taste, which was lightly scented with ginseng and had a delicate earthy hint. It was light and warming on the tongue, just spiced enough to let you know ginseng was in there. Ginseng tea, he said gives you energy, not wakes you up.
“That’s caffeine. That wakes you up but doesn’t give you energy, and all tea has caffeine. Caffeine-free tea doesn’t exist. It is not a thing.” One or two of our group looked around, not wanting to be the one to voice that decaf tea was listed on labels. They can’t print that if it isn’t true right? It did seem like if you brought that up you might get kicked out or smacked with the wooden measuring spoon he waived about. In the whole time he was talking he already rinsed the pot, changed strainers, and was measuring out our second brew.
"Chamomile is not tea. It's flower blossom you put in hot water.
Its blossom water, not tea"
“You don’t talk about caffeine with coffee, why would you do it with tea? It’s all crazy Americans trying to sell things and putting labels where they don’t belong, mostly cause they don’t understand and don’t want to learn.” He paused to toss back the tin he’d just pulled a tablespoon of loose leaf from. I sipped my tea, mesmerized. I was waiting on bated breath for every bit of knowledge my new sage was putting out, and semi-terrified to offer any commentary. Like I mentioned, he was brandishing that measuring scoop with ferocious intent.
“Like you call it chai tea,” he said pouring hot water over the leaves before briskly dumping it out and filling it again. He called this first pour waking the leaves up. It was always supposed to be dumped. I had never seen tea brewed like that but was not going to question him.
“Which is dumb. Chai is the Indian word for tea,” he rolled his eyes, setting the pitcher of our next brew to steep.
“When people order Chai tea, they literally order tea tea. That’s dumb.” Kenny was full of very strong opinions on tea. We quickly finished our first brew, not hard as the cups were scant an oz and a half at most. He had already grilled us about large tea mugs people used, which apparently weren’t for people who were actually serious about tea. I quietly put it on my to-do list to get rid of the over-sized mugs in my collection. I never seemed to be able to drink the tea before it cooled anyway. He poured out our second brew which was a jasmine green tea for relaxing. It had a heavenly aroma, heady with the scent of jasmine blossoms, and the base leaf was a delicate silver needle white which are the very young green tea leaves.
“Jasmine tea relaxes you and won’t keep you awake.” He finished pouring, “Or if it does, you call me and I’ll either send you back your money or send you a bottle of Jack Daniels. Then you sleep.” We laughed, and one of our party asked about chamomile tea. He rolled his eyes.
“No. Chamomile is not tea. Its flower blossom you put in hot water. It’s blossom water, not tea. Not everything you call tea is tea.” Empty strainer, new scoop, and a fresh splash of hot water.
“Don’t call that tea. We have rose blossom here, but unless its mixed with tea leaves which makes it a flavoring, it is not tea.” Again, dumped first splash, then fill up the pitcher.
“Who drinks tea?” As a two cup a morning, one in the afternoon, and one before bed, I felt confident that I fell into the “drinks tea often” category and raised my hand. Which was stupid. He asked me what kind of tea I drank. I believe the only points I scored for that question was mentioning that I drank different teas for different times and for different reasons. It felt like taking an exam I had barely prepared for. Give a vague, possibly right direction kind of answer and pray the teacher doesn’t make you explain further. I was definitely praying.
“Do you steep for a long time?”
I shrugged, “Usually what the tea demands, two or three minutes.” He shook his head again. Apparently, I know very little about tea.
“No you see this, we’ve been here what seven minutes? I’ve made two cups and working on the third. Tea doesn’t take long. The longer you steep, the more bitter. Maybe you like that. Maybe your tastes like the real bitter flavor, but you have to find that out yourself. I can’t do that for you.” I nodded and finished my jasmine tea.
“Do you use tea bags?” I shook my head. With his evaluating (possibly a little judgmental) gaze on me I wasn’t in a million years going to admit to having tea bags in my house. I also totally agreed that loose leaf gives a better flavor. Tea bags are just convenient.
“Good,” he said, “never use tea bags. When I sweep up the dust in the basement, I make tea bags and send it to people who ask for them.” He strained and poured our third tea. I seriously wasn’t sure he was kidding. It seemed likely. Gross but entirely likely.
“This is Pu’reh. Its roasted and fermented green tea and is good for your digestion. It tastes terrible, like grandma’s basement, but if you eat too much or have bad food, it will sort you right out.” The cup did smell of old books in a basement, something I remember from my childhood, but had he not said grandma’s basement, I might have just called it earthy. Being complimentary and all. It was dark rich in color, heavy on the palette, and definitely one that if left too long would have a ton of tannins.
Empty strainer, rinse, fresh scoop and splash hot water. This guy was a machine. Four cups brewed and I doubt we’d been there fifteen minutes.
“All tea is green tea. The leaves are all green. Pick young, okay white tea. Pick ripe, green tea. Pick and roast, black tea. Pick, roast, and ferment, pu’reh tea. All green. There’s so many varieties of green tea though, that gives us differences in flavor.” Set pitcher out to steep. “Still not good on taste, but its antioxidants and good for the body.”
He poured out our fourth tea, an Iron Goddess green tea which would help our body to detox. It was lightly grassy and had a slight minerality to it. Then he turned to the tins behind him and explained variety.
“This is one variety. This is the same variety roasted. This is a different variety. This is something different. Each has its own benefits from drinking. Some are hand-picked. Some are hand-rolled. Some are hand-roasted. See this one,” he pointed at a smallish red tin.
“It’s all three. You can take it home if you want. It’s a $1000 for a quarter pound. I trade your house.” He grinned, which prompted us all to laugh. I stared at the container, instantly wanting to taste what $1000 tea, that wasn’t supposed to taste good but would be good for me, was like. For that much it had better make me lose 10 pounds over night, sleep like a baby, and come with a winning lottery ticket.
Our guide mentioned we would be moving on shortly. He had been hovering in the corner after being banished from pacing behind our seats. Since he wasn’t tasting, according to Kenny, he could wait by the door. “Don’t bother me,” our sage had directed. Our tea wizard fluttered a hand at him dismissing, emptying the strainer for one last cup.
“We’ll try one of the flavored teas, so you know the difference.” He rolled his eyes, like we would ever fully appreciate the difference. In his mind, this was probably the tea we’d like best. He quickly steeped the final cup, telling us again about the teas we’ve already tasted, the benefits, and the deal he’d be offering.
“Today, you get $5 off whatever you buy. Unless its $5, then you pay $5 cause it’s not going to be free.” He poured the last tea in our tiny cups, a Lychee flavored black tea. “If you come back tomorrow, you pay double.” We laughed. As if it had been an option to walk out and not purchase anything. He still had the threatening scooper, and I was betting he moved as fast on the other side of the counter as he did when he brewed tea. We were definitely buying something. The Lychee tea had a tropical fruit fragrance, was delicate and lively. Not at all bracing and though I would never admit it to my new sage, was really delicious. I could easily envision drinking this in the morning, but I had already planned on buying tea accessories instead of having my tea choice judged. I could order online and be judged behind my back, which was definitely preferred here.
We made our selections. I purchased one of the daunting tea scoopers and the draining tea tray he kept dumping the first splash into. It had a little tray beneath the slots that could be emptied out later if something spilled on it, purposefully or accidentally. My mom purchased the jasmine and the Iron Goddess Green, which she totally promised to share with me. While the other members of our group checked out, I reviewed what I had learned.
1: All tea is green tea. Some young, some ripe, some roasted, some fermented, but all green.
2: You buy tea for what you want it to do, not the taste. Tea doesn’t taste good. It gives you benefits. Unless its flavored tea. Then it tastes good.
3: Tea doesn’t take long to steep. Longer you steep, more tannins and bitter you draw out.
4: Water for tea should be at 160-200 degrees F, depending on the tea. Boiling water will bring out more bitterness.
5: Tea bags are not an option. Don’t even think about it.
6: Same rule applies for milk and sugar.
7: Chamomile, peppermint, rose, lavender, and other blossom teas are not tea. Don’t call them that. There is no tea in there.
8: Decaf tea is a marketing ploy. All actual tea has caffeine. Don’t make me whack you with the scooper.
9: Try all tea before you buy. Unless its flavored tea, then just get it and don’t waste the tea shops time.
10: You know nothing about tea. Well before now you knew nothing about tea.
We thanked our tea sage for the lesson, vowed to never use tea bags, and swore we would never, ever, ever call blossom water a tea ever again. It was not tea.
He shooed us from the store, welcoming the next flock of unappreciative, unknowledgeable, and probably heathen tea bag steepers into his store. I kind of wanted to warn them, but encountering Kenny unaware seemed to be part of the education.
I am many things, but graceful is not one of them. If you've seen my Instagram feed lately, you may have noticed a daring fashion statement in the form of a blue-green and white shoulder sling. Luckily it was a short lived trend.
Last Wednesday evening, while returning home from the Florida Brewer's Conference, I had an incident. After a delayed flight and long wait on the tarmac, I was finally through the airport and on the way to the parking garage. It was 9 o'clock at night and I was eager to get home at last. Then I took a tumble. My suitcase wheel caught on a bit of weather stripping that though I was able to safely cross, my suitcase was not. I had enough momentum behind me that the sudden halt pulled me off my feet and I went down...hard. I landed on my left shoulder, face, and knee. It was not pretty and the concrete I landed on was very unforgiving. A passing family who saw me go down, ran to help me sit up, and helped me review my injuries while security and medics sprinted over. My face was scraped up, my knee banged up, though my jeans were thankfully not torn from the fall, and then I realized that I couldn't move my left arm. At all. Which as I'm sure you can guess was very distressing.
The medics came by, offered me an ambulance and an ice pack, and surmized that I probably dislocated my shoulder and hopefully didn't have a concussion. I did, after all, land on my face. I declined the ambulance, as I was still 30 minutes from home and called my mom & boyfriend to come rescue me. I called both, one because someone had to drive my car home, and two because my boyfriend didn't pick up the first time. He's really not the greatest on communication via phone. This was actually the second time he hasn't picked up in an emergency, so he's 2 for 2. He wonders why he's not my emergency contact.
The part that was probably the most distressing was after the medics looked me over, after the security officer gave me an incident report, and after the lovely family that came to my rescue left to get their daughter, I was left completely alone. The medics and security officer put me in a wheelchair by the door to the rental lot with just an icepack and a number to call if I needed help. Then left me to wait. By myself. I'm not a medical professional but I'm pretty sure you are not supposed to leave someone who fell and kinda landed on their face unsupervised. Just an observation.
We were in the ER till about 1:30am. I did dislocate my left shoulder in "a very unique way" and had to be put under to get it popped back in place. Best for all parties involved really because I tend to swear and quite possibly hit when wounded. I don't mean it, but it can totally happen. I made it home by 2 am and didn't sleep a wink. I don't usually sleep on my back, which was my only option, and my left arm was wrapped to my side like it was going to run away first chance it got, not that I would blame it.
Needless to say I wasn't able to write much in those first few days. I am not the fastest typer and one handed, I am a complete mess. However, I am on the mend and back to getting some posts out to you all. Luckily I'm right handed so my ability to cheers over the weekend was not inhibited.
There are moments in life that seem so surreal that you aren't really sure they are actually happening.
This was my past Thursday at the Cannabis Drinks Expo and after-expo event.
As you know from my previous post, I was one of the lucky exhibitors for the first global Cannabis Drinks Expo. If you read my previous post, you know that I had a number of questions. To summarize: I knew nothing about cannabis. So I was 100% ready to learn all I could about this new and growing category in beverage.
I arrived at the expo, not really knowing what to anticipate. Booth tables decked out in tie-dye? Grateful Dead posters? A snack table laden with munchies? Again, ya’ll forgive me if this is stereotypical. All I know about cannabis came from movies. I did decide to sport my favorite and only blue pineapple sundress, which seemed entirely appropriate, all things considered, and absolutely hysterical to me. Pineapple Express anyone?
When I breezed through the doors of the expo, I was met with a wide variety of folks. Business types in suits preparing for a presentation, sales professionals in their logoed polos, a few definitely within the tie-dye crowd, and a myriad of others that looked, well completely normal. It didn’t look anything unlike the many expos I’ve been to before. Except all the event posters had pot leaves on them.
Now before you ask, this was a non-sampling event. No THC products were allowed on the expo floor, and anyone sampling beverages had to use samples sans THC. A few were very disheartened to learn this.
For the majority of the event I was manning the booth. I did not get to attend the lectures much to my distress, not because it wasn’t possible, but more cause that’s how expos go. You get caught up talking to potential customers, lose track of time, and before you know it you’ve missed the discussion on Cannabis and mixed cocktails you had been meaning to attend. It happens. However, having the opportunity to chat with everyone at the expo did give me some answers to my questions.
The percent THC and how it impacts the drinker depends on a number of different factors. Tolerance, weight, if you’ve eaten etc. are all factors considered with how your body absorbs THC. It’s a lot like drinking alcohol. Some have a higher tolerance than others. Since I had never tried anything previously, the general advice was to take it slow, but that I would eventually feel the buzz much like you do when having alcohol. Furthermore, different strains of cannabis would have different effects. This information actually came from my Uber driver who was incredibly well informed. For example, the Indica strain (strain, leaf, brand?) usually brought on a more mellow experience and was more likely to be the kind to put you to sleep, while Sativa was a more energizing strain, more likely to give you some happy pep and probably not the best to take before bed.
As to all my questions on legal standings, it seems to be generally understood that what is on the books today is changing by tomorrow. Essentially the legal scope of this industry is by no means stable, so everyone is kind of just rolling with the punches. However, what I did hear is that how much THC or CBD in the product is managed by an allowed amount of mg per container. So container size does somehow dictate the percentage. Draft is still not an option yet mostly because on premise consumption isn’t allowed, but in San Francisco they have begun to allow consumption lounges where product can be purchased and consumed on site. So I wouldn’t consider having draft as an option an unlikely possibility in the near future. Though at the moment no one seems to have really attempted to dispense on draft, so there still is some testing to be done.
Overall the event was an excellent source of information, but the aspect of what impact taste would have on the beverage with the THC was better answered later that night. I was invited to an after-expo event held at one of those consumption lounges. So I went, bringing my family with me which already seemed like an unlikely start to the night. My mother was particularly excited to attend, which did not go along with my high school experience. Times must be a changing.
We arrived at the consumption lounge and dispensary called Moe Greens. There was a bouncer outside like a number of bars I’ve walked into before, a couple laughing hysterically clinging to a tree while their friends waited for them to calm down, and a man attempting to get on a bicycle with minimal success. Yep like several bars I’ve been to before. We walked through the door and were greeted by a sparkling entryway, decked out in gold, green, and wood walled seventies glory. A concierge checked each of us in. Behind that was the sales counter, well lit with all their flowers, edibles, topicals, and beverages displayed behind the counter and on an iPad. The cashiers were patiently waiting to guide you through the world of cannabis. It was nice. Not sure what I expected but it wasn’t this. We walked to the end and turned in our invitation and were promptly handed a THC infused nonalcoholic beer from the event sponsor, Two Roots. They were offering a lager, IPA, blonde, and wheat. We each chose a separate one so we could try all of their flavors. Then the host took us into the consumption lounge. This room smelled like what I expected.
As the cloud of smoke cleared, we could see there were people seated at tables and standing around socializing. Okay it wasn’t that smoky, but it was definitely in the air. On the tables there were caddies filled with grinders, lighters, pipes, and papers. There were also warning signs of what to do if you experienced a bad high, and when it would probably be a bad idea to partake. The host welcomed us in and then offered us a joint. It was totally acceptable for where we were but just seemed odd to me. Also none of us smoke, so we politely declined. This brings me to the first sip of the beverage. I had the blonde which was a touch hoppy for a blonde to my taste buds, but that may have been the THC talking. I tried a sip of the lager, which was definitely more malt forward than the blonde had been. Each beverage was only about 5% THC, but I nursed mine, very much aware that I was a newbie and not wanting anything on the warning cards to happen to me. After a few sips, my mouth was dried out, which is apparently a symptom of the THC consumption. Dry-mouth. The water cooler by the wall made all the more sense.
I felt like a fly on the wall, just observing as the couple at the table next to us packed and lit the pipe, blowing a big cloud of smoke above them. My dad and boyfriend had already finished their drinks and were happily people watching. My mother was the social butterfly that she has always been, talking to several people from the expo about CBD and THC. It seemed odd. Surreal in a way. Then in walked my boss and co-worker. I knew they were coming, industry event and all, but it still seemed like an odd place to meet your co-workers. They also had my customers with them, which made it seem all the more strange. They all grabbed their beer, and one of my customers snagged a joint. It’s legal where they come from which I guess made this nothing new. Then they all came into the consumption lounge and I introduced them to my family.
A lighter came out and they lit the joint and passed it around. My family didn’t join, as like I said, we don’t smoke. But others did. After a minute I took a look around and thought I must be high. This was too surreal of a moment for it to possibly be happening. I was standing in a cannabis dispensary, in a consumption lounge with smoke all around, and a joint being passed. Already highly unlikely and not where I ever thought I would be. I was also standing in this room with my family. My mother had been known for a rather staunch opinion on cannabis and her children when I was in high school, but there she was standing beside me. That didn’t seem right. My boss was standing opposite me, chatting with my family. Wait, I was here for work? My customers happily puffed on a joint at the table beside us. What on earth was going on?! This was not the happy awe but definitely in the court of dumfounded shock. I had to be high.
I must have had an odd look on my face because someone grinned at me and asked if I was feeling alright. I smiled and explained the surreal moment I was standing in.
“This is a first for me, and really weird. I don’t think I’m doing this whole cannabis thing right.” I said.
That got a chuckle from everyone. They agreed this was probably a strange first time. We left shortly after, none of us really wanting to push the limit with another beverage. I must admit I didn’t feel much different, apart from the symptom of dry-mouth. My boyfriend and dad seemed to be just fine as well, but they weren’t saying much so who could tell. My mother managed to get back to the hotel before she started laughing hysterically.
It tokes one to know, I guess.
Celebrating all that we raise, sip, guzzle, clink, drinks and most affectionately cheers with!