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The Tea Squirrel interviews Geoffrey Norman

The Tea Squirrel interviews Geoffrey Norman

Meet my tea friend and fellow tea blogger Geoffrey Norman. His blog Steep Stories of the Lazy Literatus captivates with its riveting storytelling and irresistible sense of humor. Geoff is extremely knowledgeable about tea and always on an epic tea quest. Let's hear from the man himself a thing or two on his own tea journey.

Photo: Geoffrey Norman

Photo: Geoffrey Norman

Anna: How did you become a tea lover?

Geoffrey: That story is . . . inappropriate.

Anna: How inappropriate?

Geoffrey: Very. 

Anna: Alright. Moving on to the next question... What is your earliest memory as a tea lover?

Geoffrey: The first tea that made me think, “Huh, I could really get to like this stuff,” was a bagged Moroccan mint green. It was not “sophisticated” by any stretch, but I liked it. The flavor wasn’t, like, straight bitterness or grass . . . or both. 

Anna: This is a tough one, at least for me when I get asked. What is your favorite tea?

Geoffrey: All time favorite tea? Castleton Moonlight, second flush. No contest. It’s a Darjeeling oolong from the Castleton estate. There are many different variants of “Moonlight” that they dish out—varying lots and invoices—but they are all magical. First tried it in 2011, and I’ve had it every year since. Well, except this year. Huh, no wonder 2016 has sucked. I haven’t had my Moonlight, yet!

Anna: What is the one essential piece of tea ware or tea accessory you cannot do without?

Geoffrey: A gaiwan. Those Chinese lidded teacups are the most utilitarian brewing vessel ever invented. Once you learn to use one, it’s very difficult to find a teapot and/or cup of equal peerage. I use gaiwans for just about every tea—save for sencha and herbals. 

Anna: What is your favorite tea-related book?

Geoffrey: I’ve only ever finished two tea books all the way through—one paperback, the other an e-book. Both were written by the same man, and he’s a friend of mine. The Infusiast by Robert “The Devotea” Godden is the only tea book in print I’ve read from cover-to-cover. In one sitting, in one day, on a road trip to Wyoming. There are probably many other good tea books out there. But to date, I’ve only finished one—that one. So, until I finish another one, and it’s as good as Infusiast, that will hold the crown of favoritism. 

Anna: How did you start your tea blog?

Geoffrey: I first started reviewing teas for a website called Teaviews back in 2008. Shortly after, that same year, I created my first website, but it wasn’t teacentric. I didn’t launch Steep Stories of the Lazy Literatus until late-2011. So far, I’m still updating it regularly. Much to the neglect of my other, non-teacentric website. 

Anna: What are your plans for Steep Stories?

Geoffrey: Oooo, that’s a tough one. I don’t often think that far ahead. There really is no bloggery five-year-plan or anything. It sort of dictates its own future. I had no clue what the focus was when I first started it, and—to date—I’m surprised by what it’s become. Or that anyone knows what it is. I suppose the only “plan” I have at the moment is to eventually publish an e-book, but that is in the earliest stages of infancy. 

Anna: An e-book! How exciting! Keep us posted on that! What is the strangest tea-related thing you have ever seen or experienced?

Geoffrey: I’ve had several; narrowing them down would be rather tough. So, I’ll go with the first that springs to mind. One time, I had to review cooked puerh powder. Yeah, you read that right . . . puerh “matcha”. It tasted like dirt. It remains the only tea I ever spit out on first sip. 

Anna: That must have been terrible! You are based in Portland, one of my favorite cities in the Pacific Northwest. What are your favorite tea houses and tea shops in or around Portland?

Geoffrey: The two in Portland proper that I tennis-ball between are Smith Teamaker (Thurman location) and The Jasmine Pearl. The staff for both operations are very nice to me, and they’re always doing new and interesting things with tea. Juuuust outside of Portland, if I need a good afternoon tea experience, I can be found at Chariteas in Sandy, Ore. Best chicken salad sandwiches, ever! And if I’m feeling really ambitious, J-TEA in Eugene, Ore. is a place I like to hit. But I haven’t been there in quite some time. I should rectify that. 

Anna: And the million-dollar question. Do Americans love tea?

Geoffrey: Short answer: No, they don’t. Longer answer: Americans love the idea of tea, but in general, they have yet to truly appreciate it. I think that once people stop viewing it as a health beverage, we’ll see the outlook change. At the moment? No. Americans are in “like” with tea; not in love. 

Anna: What are the current tea trends in the US?

Geoffrey: One word: Matcha. Everyone is going ape-[BLEEP!] over matcha. Don’t get me wrong; I get it. I love matcha, too. But it’s being used for everything! Pretty soon, people will start expecting powdered green tea to achieve sentience and drive them to work. C’mon, folks, give matcha a break. 

Anna: I wouldn't say no if my matcha offered to drive me to work! (LOL) For our tea newbies out there, what would you recommend to somebody who is starting to discover tea?

Geoffrey: Move away from teabags as soon as you can. I stayed in the bagged realm for far too long, and I think it stunted my overall tea growth. It wasn’t until I had a Hunan Silver Needle white tea—loose, in a gaiwan—that I truly understood what tea was about. Tea is loud, epic and adventurous. And that potential can only be unlocked once you let the loose leaves unfurl. 

Anna: What is on your tea bucket-list?

Geoffrey: To actually travel to my favorite tea growing regions. Thus far, my tea journey has either (a) been in the comfort of home, or (b) in the comfortable bosom of the United States. Someday, before I die, I want to make to places like the Doke tea garden in Bihar, India . . . or Taiwan. Yes, all of it. 

Anna: Last but not least, what is your favorite tea quote?

Geoffrey: Paraphrased slightly: “The more I come to learn about tea; the less I know.” - James Norwood Pratt

Follow Geoffrey's blog Steep Stories here.

Hibiscus tea and quince holiday cocktail

Hibiscus tea and quince holiday cocktail

My tasting notes: Cha Wang Tai Ping Hou Kui

My tasting notes: Cha Wang Tai Ping Hou Kui