Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Hawaiian black tea from Treehouse Teas


Britt (or Brittnee) of Treehouse Teas

I recently met a local tea enthusiast and vendor, Britt, who owns Treehouse Teas here in Honolulu.  I'll go back to Bangkok soon to clear up some details there, but related to the last post here I'm in the middle of a transition to move to Honolulu.  My kids are in school here, so parts like that are already in place.

It was nice talking some about Hawaiian teas, and local tea culture, and tea themes in general.  We didn't visit for so long so this post isn't about much of that, more just a tea review.  So far, per my understanding, there isn't a lot of unified tea culture throughout Hawaii, beyond the producers on Hawaii, the Big Island.  Even there it's odd seeing inconsistent products coming up, as many tea and tisane blends as pure teas, and not much for unified local styles.  All the same, good tea is good tea, and I bought and reviewed this one version of it.

I've never tried any tea from Hawaii.  That's not true if one uses the broader definition of tea as including tisanes, since local "family" here has shared versions of herb blends, which I have reviewed here.  But this black tea is my first "real tea" from Hawaii.  It's exceptional, a good start.

There's a lot that I could add about how life goes here, since that "moving to Honolulu" post was only about the first week or two.  Not much has changed though.  We've pushed past the earlier round of only setting up an apartment, cell phones, and schooling onto sub-themes like limited job hunt, getting health insurance sorted out, and doing more with local events.  Seeing a local parade was nice, and helping with preparing a float for that, more just visiting with our local uncle who was involved, Al, was even nicer.

I suppose it feels more like home again here, more natural.  My kids are better grounded; that's always been more of a concern to me than how I take it all, or what I gain or lose for routine experiences along the way.  Of course the beach is amazing, and we just did a first local hike, the most classic version up to Manoa falls.  I suppose those things don't have much to do with it feeling like home, or truly integrating with local culture.

About Britt, she is so nice.  I mentioned losing a tea pick for stupidly packing it in a carry-on, and she gave me one, and a couple other teas.  It's great how real tea enthusiasts often love to share, even when selling teas requires careful planning and sales volume to turn into a productive business.

better specialty teas and other cool stuff

On to discuss this tea then, and I'll add more about how other scope goes visually, as a series of pictures at the end.  It's a black tea, identified as "2022 Spring Harvest "Bo Peep" black tea from Volcano, Hawaii."  That doesn't even include a producer, so I looked it up on the Treehouse Teas website:

Elevation: 3500’

Climate: Tropical

Cultivar: Yutaka Midori

Leaf Aroma: Dark Chocolate & Lokelani Rose

Wet Aroma: Rose, chocolate, raspberry

First Steeping: sweet chocolate and rose come through in the first sips.

The hands that make it:  Jim Chestnut & Edna Arakawa of Second Alarm Farm

That lists for $29 for 20 grams, which might sound like a bit much, until you factor in that supply and demand issues shift wholesale prices for Hawaiian teas into a relatively high range.  This is nothing like the case of US vendors selling Chinese teas along with a catchy story, bumping pricing from high at wholesale level, but still moderate, to a much less reasonable range, justified by the stories.  If the stories are true that's still a fair practice, but not all of them are, or are even meaningful.  

I'm in Hawaii now and for sure the local costs for everything are unusual, for land, labor, and any and all other inputs.  That cost doesn't sound bad.  I wouldn't regularly buy teas at or over $1 / gram but at least this one has the right kind of back-story as partial justification; on to whether or not experienced aspects keep up with that.


First infusion:  rich, complex, balanced; it's nice.  This will even unfold a bit more on the next infusion, surely.  Cocoa notes stand out, but there's a familiar savory sundried tomato range as well.  It's quite good tea.  I've drank a lot of exceptional black tea, so that's not unfamiliar, but this is in the better end of that range.  

Second infusion:  it did improve, deepening and adding complexity.  This won't be the typical 8 infusion cycle review because I backed way off the proportion, probably using 4 grams or so, versus a more typical 8.  After two more rounds it will probably already be fading, since I'm brewing this for 20 seconds or so, instead of the usual 10 or less.  

It's interesting how rich cocoa (cacao) flavor, along the line of dark chocolate, combines nicely with a savory range, and other scope.  It's towards floral range, the rest, maybe also including aromatic wood or spice tones.  There's a lot going on.

Sweetness is good, plenty of it to balance the rest, but it's not an overly sweet version of a mild and flavorful black tea.  It's intense in terms of flavor expression, only mild in relation to missing the astringency edge common to some black tea range.  The tea being whole leaf alone offsets most of that, but some astringency can still come through.  It has enough structure to give it nice feel, which relates to that edge of dryness that is a different, sharper, and stronger version of the same kind of feel range.

Third infusion:  other flavor range emerges, mostly some orange peel citrus.  Evolving away from the cocoa is a trade-off, but this has a nice balance.  There's an entire layer of non-distinct complexity that adds depth to the experience, but that is hard to describe as specific aspects.  Don Mei would just keep riffing on what that might be, varying interpretations.  A nice mineral aspect is a bit towards copper, but it includes plenty of stone range too, the "volcano" part.  There's an aromatic wood tone, towards incense spice.  Another part is rich in floral range aspects, but combined enough that just one doesn't stand out.  It probably extends to other aromatic range.

This reminds me of an experience I often have running here, something familiar from back when I went to UH Manoa, some years back.  As you walk around some trees will drop large quantities of figs, or seed pod fruit, seemingly similar to tamarind, causing a wonderful, rich scent.  I never do, but you could just lie there, huffing it to maximize the impact of that rich and deep scent.  While running around the park near our house, the one beside Waikiki, the zoo, and Diamondhead, those scents come and go quickly, but it's one more positive part of that experience, along with seeing the ocean, Diamondhead, large trees, and puffy and colorful clouds.  It is sort of a paradise, even in the city, which never really matches the "urban jungle" effect of elsewhere, even downtown, where homeless people ambling about and sometimes shouting offsets the background's ideal nature.

Fourth infusion:  this is brewing out already; 20+ second infusion rounds go through a tea's potential fast.  This is already a $5 round of teas, which isn't really so bad, when you compare that with a slightly pricier and vastly inferior Starbucks experience.  The depth hangs in there, the overall complexity, with good flavor intensity, just not like before.  The savory quality is still there, and the flavor range I described in the last round.  It's great how that citrus tone works well with the rest, filling it in.  I think this will be quite nice for one more stretched infusion, and from there it will thin out quite a bit.

a sunny, breezy, and slightly cramped tasting and work space

Fifth infusion:  this is fading, but brewing it strong did lead to one more intense round.  Parts have thinned out; how that tends to go.  The complexity of flavors is still there, one of the main interesting parts, and the rich feel, so it has plenty to offer, it's just not what it had been.

It's hard to bring across how good this is, how pleasant.  Related to that vague, emergent part of the interpretation it's really far up the scale.  It can be hard to separate "how good" in an objective sense from personal likes, even with experience in trying to.  To me this is quite pleasant and quite good tea though, and it doesn't give up much in pleasantness or quality level to teas from anywhere else.  It's novel and distinctive too, but that comes up related to teas from lots of different origin areas, just not in this exact form.

More on local themes here, moving to Honolulu

Back off the subject of tea, I'll keep this a light read by mostly telling the story through pictures.

one of the latest experiences was a jungle hike to a waterfall, just spectacular

there was a parade the day before yesterday too

watching that parade with one of two of Kalani's best friends

helping decorate that float the night before, with Al, our uncle (not by blood)

This float decoration theme justifies a bit of text.  Meeting Al, Mahina (his wife), and some of his family meant a lot to all of us, but a story from helping decorate the float captures how our experiences here go.  

Kalani helped most; she loves art and crafts, and was most assertive about asking how to help, and on the third day there she was excited to have her friend join to help too.  At one point the guy supervising mentioned that they were doing one step wrong, which I took to mean that they should step aside and let others more familiar with the process do that finer detail work instead.  He was quite busy, but he took a moment to clarify that's not what he meant, that they needed someone to look after them and make sure they were guided in what to do, but that they were definitely welcome to help if they wanted.  It would've been easy to say that they should step back and could do something else later instead, but including people who wanted to be included seemed important to him.  It was much appreciated.

And that's how things go here, over and over.  Unfamiliar steps and contexts require some adjustment on our part, and then friendly and helpful local people make processes that could be challenging work out easily, even though newcomers initiating problems must be a common theme.  There is an emphasis on helping others, which even gets applied to people you have no ties to, to some extent.

Kalani's school, near our house.  stopping there is part of my daily routine.

waves are nice, usually, with a walled area for younger kids here

shave ice!

Sunday, September 11, 2022

Moving to Honolulu



I considered using a title about reverse culture shock or other sub-themes, but this is what's up, moving to Honolulu.  It's a staged move, because my kids will start school here now, and I'll work out the year, in part remotely, in part back in Bangkok.  If finding a suitable position doesn't work out maybe I'll roll back the whole plan, but I feel like this has to go through.

Given that context a lot of what I might write about would be struggle on multiple levels, how the last 10 days have went, what it's like to start up relocation and new schooling mostly from scratch.  Or concerns about employment, and whatever else is a work in progress, although that concern really stands out.  Getting specialized data center company quality assurance / ISO support work to transfer to another country is really problematic.  I'll talk about culture issues here instead; it's more interesting, and sounds less like someone going on about problems.  Then a little on what already worked out; that's not so bad.

For initial context my wife and I met here in grad school, and married here, within that two year window.  That first year was really rough for me, all the adjustments, and workload, working and going to school in an academic program that wasn't a great fit, but I loved it here the second year.

Hawaii is a really magical place.  In general I'm not on that page, describing mystical spiritual experiences, but in some places you just naturally feel it, like in Sedona, AZ, Canyonlands national park in Utah, or in Siem Reap, Cambodia temples.  Lots of Thai temples have a great energy.  Or maybe we just imagine such a thing, brought up by stories, and reinforced by running themes and aesthetics?  Here in Honolulu that feeling is muted a bit by crowds of people and the urban setting, but it's still there.  If you can get out just a little and tune it in the experience is really amazing.  I felt blessed to spend that time here, and in a sense it wasn't enough for my wife.

We're here for the kids to go to an American school, not on the mainland instead because she feels more comfortable here, and thought that they would too.  They've always had to deal with being mixed race and nationality in Bangkok, which isn't seen so negatively, but they are different, and here they fit in.  I'm quite sure that it's safer here, with less emphasis on political divides and seemingly artificial conflicts, which lead to real impact, so I'm also ok with that.  Just a bit anxious about getting the details to work out.

This focuses on what I see as changes here, since it's too much to really describe the continuum of Hawaiian local cultures, but I'll add a little on that theme range first.  On the one extreme more local and native people live out a completely different lifestyle and perspective; it's like the difference between the melting pot in US cities and more traditional rural cultures, before radical conservative biases made those place breeding grounds for bad ideas.  

A local family here more or less took in my wife, which is why our kids have Hawaiian names, and share a middle name, that family name.  I can't do justice to describing their perspective, beyond saying that anyone could meet them and love them, so it's nothing exotic or difficult to approach.  They're closer to Asian perspective than mainland American, which only made sense to me after years of living in Thailand.  At first I thought it was about rice preference, warm weather, and appearances, but it's not at all, it's about perspective toward family and social roles, valuing connections more, and even accepting limitations that come with accepting such roles.  They're less focused on themselves, more on where they fit in relation to others, including respect for a local natural environment.

it has been amazing to have local family here

I was in grad school in Honolulu, so I knew next to nothing about all that, about local culture.  A friend joked that we didn't really live in Hawaii, but that we could see it from our school, and it felt a little like that.  Even with frequent outings to the beach; in a sense we weren't really immersed in any local culture, even transplant or tourism oriented culture.

Changes in Honolulu local culture

So what changed here, since that grad school experience 15 years ago?  As superficial differences go there are more homeless people.  It means little to me, in relation to being frightened of them, because I never really feared them before.  It definitely throws off the idealistic appearance, seeing someone sleep on the ground everywhere you go, or very disheveled looking people using the bus beside you.  I feel sympathy for them instead of fear; what they go through I can't imagine.  But then in cycling through countless Youtube video channel themes I ended up watching a few dozen personal stories from homeless people in LA, so I guess I feel let in on ways that can come up, and sort of remain in effect.  

Drug addiction and mental health issues are the primary themes, in those particular videos, at least.  People start out partying or use drugs as a crutch to deal with trauma, or mental illness, and it keeps going downhill from there.  In a strange sense I don't blame them.  I was essentially addicted to weed at one point, before it became legal, and I get it how transition from a social and sustainable habit can lead to the exact opposite.  Luckily my addiction wasn't on the order of opioids and meth in terms of typical impact.

Young people look different; I suppose that always keeps happening.  As a late 80s kid I could completely relate to the 90s, and the 2000s didn't seem so different, maybe just some extra piercings and such here or there, or that hipster aesthetic theme.  Tattoos are really common now, but beyond such minor differences one thing stands out the most:  the trend for young women to have large butts.  It's one thing in a music video or Instagram post and another to see lots of young women walking around who are relatively disproportionate, in relation to primary body shape forms.  How do they do that?  Squats, surgery, I guess it doesn't matter.  That's Waikiki though; surely local Hawaiians aren't looking to Instagram to decide how to change their appearance, whether they're local in the sense of native, or of whatever mixed background instead.

Everything else seems kind of similar to how I remember it.  I changed, or rather my life context did, more than who I feel like I am internally.  I'm a father now, and that role and set of responsibilities defines what I'm doing, or need to do next, at any given time.  It can weigh on me, especially in higher stress times, like during this transition.  But I've raised my kids to try to take things lightly, to see the good in difficulty, and notice the potential fun in every set of circumstances, and especially to not take themselves too seriously.  Keo tries, but he has frequent melt-downs here.  He misses the cat; she really was the glue that held the parts of his world together.  Kalani is so strong and balanced that I'm worried about her bottling up parts of what she feels, but I think she just passes through challenges as if they're nothing much.  She doesn't overthink things, and stress about what might happen, waiting to directly face issues when they actually happen.  Then she acts.  I'll provide an example to clarify that.

I've been talking to my son about what difficulties he might face, and how transition will go, to not be too nervous, and worry if some people don't like him.  As a mixed-race Asian he should be fine, but he sounds like a mainland American, his accent, which is going to give some classmates pause.  Two aunts were also warning him about bullying, a subject we keep talking about.  In discussing that topic related to Kalani they came to the exact same conclusion I did independently about her:  she won't be bullied, because if anything she will be the bully.  Or rather the one stepping in when anyone is being treated unfairly, and setting things right.  She's so small but she has an inner power about her.  And a unique physicality; no kid her size should step up to challenge her, for their own sake.  At one point I was worried about her being a victim and taught her how to throw a punch, and later it seemed like maybe I shouldn't have, because she can really dig into the body practicing it on me.

They both know not to fight.  We were just joking that Keoni's intro to Hawaii might be getting a swirlie from his super-sized Hawaiian classmates, but I made sure to be clear that I think nothing like that will really come up.  Hawaiians are great, until you give them a unreasonable degree of reason to show you their darker side.  Misunderstandings could come up, from visiting an off-limits local beach or whatever, but even then they would shoo you rather than acting hastily.  One guy I knew here did get dropped by a giant islander at a party, who one-punched every white guy on his way out of a Big Island gathering, but that kind of thing is an exception.  In two years of living here I crossed paths with two local people who seemed to resent me being white; not so bad.  Both only strongly implied it; even that scope, disliking me related to race and cultural background, they were nice about.

So to me Honolulu and Hawaii is still great, I'm just overly caught up in my own conditions at this point.  That would happen anywhere, less than two weeks in.

Running has been nice to help establish continuity, but I've only done that twice so far.  Of course swimming in the ocean has went even better.  We just bought a second boogie board today; we'll check that out soon.

we swam out to that flag once, 230 yards or so out, but didn't see the turtles there yet

It helps most that the people I care for most moved here with me.  I think that's why Kalani feels so stable; in her eyes the background changed but the rest didn't.  The cats we left with a sitter are the exception, especially Myra; we all miss her dearly.

Maybe this tangent won't exactly integrate with the other themes, but one neighbor is cool here, so nice.  And a bit unconventional, but he wouldn't work as well as a person without some of that.  It was comforting experiencing meeting him early on across a few levels, as a good sign, an indication of local support, and starting into a sense of community.  I never really felt that in Thailand, the entire time.  I felt at-ease and in-place but the context couldn't have been clearer that I wasn't one of them, and never would be.  

About that friendly neighbor Kalani once commented "he has a good life," and I think that sums it up, and how perceptive she really is.  Who reads people, based on fragments of impressions, as an 8 year old?  She does.  And related to him a few words here and there really brought across how welcoming he is, and how his own life experience covers some cool scope.  He invited Kalani down to do some resin based painting; that was really what triggered that comment.

American food experiences

I'll keep this part short, but a couple of unusual experiences stand out.  Living in Thailand has been great for access to inexpensive, healthy food; I've been living on fresh fruits and vegetables for 15 years.  Here those would be quite expensive, and preparation time could easily be a significant problem, at least for cooking the vegetables.  The US produces and sells a broad range of very inexpensive snack and desert items, and we've been living on many of those for nearly two weeks.  It started with Ben and Jerry's ice cream, pop tarts, and a tub of cookie dough, and Goldfish crackers, which we do have in Thailand.  

Even fast food is expensive in comparison with the low cost of these relatively empty calories, which come in delicious forms.  $60 for a fast food meal doesn't seem like much, for a family of 5, but in Thailand we never tended to spend the equivalent (2000 baht) on much healthier restaurant meals.  Cost of living works out like; it's normal.

It would be difficult and expensive to return to my Thai diet standard here.  On a tight budget I just couldn't.  The kids will have school meals, hopefully healthy versions, to fill part of that gap.  I'll have to be careful about retaining some balance, or I could change body weight over a period of months instead of years.  Keo must have put on a couple of pounds in the past week, although at his last health check for school it seemed that he hadn't yet.

School update:  Kalani's first day

Kalani went to school on Friday, in a local school so close you can see it from our balcony.  She said that all the kids were really friendly, and a couple of the girls are already her friends.  We met one the next day, when I'm editing this, part of a Japanese family that hasn't been here so long.  There is a Thai kid in her class but she's not talked to him yet; that'll come, but it won't be necessary for it to serve as a social tie, to compensate for organic connections not coming quickly.  I suppose that Japanese family could be our friends here too; that's how that went in the past, with one Japanese class-mate's parents one of the nicest people I knew in Bangkok.

It could be more challenging for Keo.  Being 13 is different; freshmen in high school have a lot of social issues to balance, without factoring in being a foreigner, or new to a local culture.  Or representing a less well-regarded outside culture, if they interpret him as a mainlander, which of course he's not, having only visited the continental US a few times.

A few more brutal errand days have brought it all that much closer to narrowed down to only getting a job yet to do.  We have wifi, re-activated an old credit union account, and I have an appointment to renew my license next week.  I'll meet a solitary online tea contact here towards the end of next week.

Given the transition and introspection themes I should be able to close this on a catchy life-lesson theme, right?  Not so much, but maybe a little.  It makes all the more sense to me why people don't do this sort of thing in the second half of their life, like we are doing.  Maybe as a retirement theme, but that's really something else.  We're shopping at thrift shops, weighing out where the dollars are going, even walking a good bit for transportation.  This post skipped a main sub-theme related to moving under absurd conditions, packing things people just wouldn't pack, taking two night-flights to keep that expense moderate while also scheduling it last minute, adjusting for when our apartment was available.  The first day we moved here we moved 20+ bags and boxes into an empty apartment to discuss lease terms; the landlord just kept saying "this isn't how this normally goes."  We sleep on the floor; we own less chairs than we have family members.

This isn't a sob story about what I suffer through, to be clear; in fact it's the opposite.  It's a challenge but also a privilege to struggle in this way.  And I don't regret that my kids have to endure it.  One of the main things that shapes and builds up children is providing them with challenges that they can overcome, and this is a huge set of those.  That's the life-lesson, I guess.  People would be crazy to take it to this extreme, but we aren't at the far practical limit yet.  I'm not doing this alone and unsupported; I owe my company, and one person in particular, a huge debt of gratitude for making this possible.  

I hope to look back on the fantastic things my kids accomplish and see this one crazy fork in the road as a big part of what enabled that.  Or if they go on to do very mundane things, and struggle themselves, that's fine, and I'll keep supporting them.  I'm just as Asian as I am a part of mainland American culture, and we don't write off family members so easily, or embrace our own independence and space by distancing ourselves from others.  Like they said in Lilo and Stitch, Ohana means family, and family means that no one gets left behind.  I hope that the magic here enables me to do amazing things myself, and I'll mention it if it works out like that, but probably will focus more on how my kids are doing, which also describes my life in general.

The story in pictures

a Thai uncle back in Bangkok passed on since we've been here; much love to him

family saw us off at the airport; that was a nice start

an insane amount of luggage

a rough two day set of flights, here in Tokyo

so nice, but a little rough edged still

Kalani's school

Keo's school, with some of Honolulu in the background

the errands take a toll

all of Honolulu has a nice look, not just the beaches or parks

at Keo's school