Category Archives: Russia

TEA Part III – Cameron Highlands or “We have found the source.”

The Nepalese syndicate has given up chase, the hotel in Cameron now has water, I have found the perfect Teapot, now to get to the source … Confused? Read the beginning here: Back in the USSR.

The mountainous region of Malaysia holds a cool spot called Cameron Highlands. This place is the primary TEA region and vegetable producer for the country. On the way to the mountains i pass a few waterfalls, tourist spots selling baskets, backpackers, and an occasional new friend.

Established in the late 1800’s as a hill station and retreat for the English at the time, it has become a popular destination for a weekend holiday and backpackers around the world.

There are three main plantations in Cameron Highlands, Cameron Valley, Sungai Palas Tea Plantation, and Boh Plantaion.

Cameron Valley

Tea shrubs creep up to the back door, every inch of land is cultivated.

Waves of deep green two-foot tall shrubs carpet the hills in rows and poke-a-dots. Cool breezes follow the terrain and thoughts get lost in the patterns as you try to follow migrant workers in the far distant trails.

Sungai Palas Tea Plantation

You have to close your rear view mirrors to navigate the one-lane roads through the plantations. A tea plant or tree can produce marketable tealeaves for about 100 years.

Early 1900 English Tudor buildings dot the landscape. I have drank so much tea i have to head to the hotel. On the way I come across this beautiful guest house, built in 1934 as a boarding school for the English expatriate children.

Bala Chalet

There are accommodations for every lifestyle. My room was a modest $60 US. This room below you can get for $5, literally this is a place you can sleep in for the night.

And the Twin Pines, a famous backpacker hotel, you can get for $20 a night, others run in the hundreds of dollars.

You don’t’ leave Cameron Highlands without some fruit and vegetables.

I am just about tea’d out. Over the past month I have tried at least 25 different teas. Did I find the Best Tea in the World? Next, day two and the largest plantation in Cameron Highlands.

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Tea – Part II – It’s not safe here…

Continued from the previous post here: Or back in the USSR. We escaped the Nepal-ese syndicate and made our way out of Russia, needless to say, Paul and I cannot go back to Nepal or Tibet.

Paul returned to the US and now runs a Tea Spa in his spare time. Fast forward and I happen to find myself in the country, within three hours ride, just over the mountains of the place the old man mentioned Cameron Highlands, Malaysia. So! The quest continues to find The Best Tea in the World!

But first I needed to do some research before I ventured into the hills of Malaysia so I enlist my good friend Lee Eng to take me to China Town in Kuala Lumpur and sample some teas. Like my friend Ivan, Lee Eng is Chinese and when you are in China Town you best know your way around and speak the language. Lee Eng says we need to stay away from the tourist places.

We walk North of Jalan Petaling and Lee Eng pays her respects in this little Chinese temple.

We walk deeper into the streets of China Town and down this alley, then the next and bump into this guy.

“We need to get back to the main street.” Lee Eng tells me. “It’s not safe here.”

We pass the man and he stares at us for a second then stops. “Hey Boss, boss! You want girl? You want DVD?”

“Keep walking.” Lee Eng says.

The man starts to follow us. “You want lady friend?”

I point to Lee Eng’s head. “Got one.” And we keep walking.

“Maybe you want Rolex, good price, cheap.” The man is persistent.

“Bu yao, xie xie!” Lee Eng yells out. No thank you. “Zou kai!” Go away!

“Maybe you want tea pot?” The man smiles and tilts his head.

“Teapot?” I asked as I pull Lee Eng to a stop. My best friend collects teapots I thought. I needed a souvenir to take back to the states.

“We need to go. People are looking out their windows.” Lee Eng says.

“Just ask him where a tea shops are.” I looked up and sure enough a few people on the second story were watching the scene below.

Lee Eng goes and talks to the man, he points and points again. “Ok, this way.” Lee Eng pulls at me quickly and we are off.

We finally find the teashops and they are many …

The Chinese ritual of enjoying tea is not as laborious as the Japanese tea ceremony but it is still a ritual manifested by the Chinese Monks during the Tang Dynasty (1200 AD) focusing on the philosophical concepts of quiet, enjoyment, and truth, this belief and ritual holds true today.

Similar to the barista’s in Starbucks the local teashops have a Tea Master who has trained for years in the art of serving and brewing tea.  Although I compare these Tea Masters to Starbucks barista’s you will find the former more educated, politer, and humble.

Then we find this Tea Master, a bit surprised at my picture taking but she loosened up. Notice the little teapot with the label. It’s 50 years old, made in YiXing China where the best clay is found. I bought it and it’s going to NC to my friend.

YiXing (pronounced ee-shing) teapots are well known in Asia for their superior quality and delicate style but unheard of in the United States. This will change I’m sure of after 10’s of thousands of people read this blog.

We tried many wonderful teas and talked to many experts on tea and I still know so little it is pitiful. Never the less I owe a debt of gratitude to Lee Eng. Next week I’m off to the Cameron Highlands tea country still in quest of The Best Tea in the World!

Tea – Part I, Or Back in the USSR

Continued from the previous post here: “Tea reminds me of the days of running hashish through the mountains of Tibet. No, just kidding, never did that, but my love of tea started with a tea pot I bought for my best friend Donna, so bear with me while we take a trip to find the best tea in the world.

We start our tea journey, once upon a time, in Russia where my good friend Paul and i ventured some time ago after being chased out of Tibet on some trumped up charges. Being the world-renowned international man of mystery that he is, Paul found us refuge in Russia from the Nepal-ese syndicate who was in hot pursuit, something to do with the tea bags we purchased on the street in Kathmandu.

We take up quarters in Moscow with his then friend-girl, Ms. M. We arrive at the train station in Red Square. There are still signs of the old USSR in the station and around Moscow but offending messages have been removed.

Paul in Red Square

We make haste and find ourselves in the middle of Ms. M’s small kitchen with her friend Sergei making Russian pork dumplings. Reputed to be associated with the Russian mafia Sergei welcomes us with open arms and explains that we should help, we immediately all pitch in.

Now there are two staples to a Russian meal that are always on the table. Beets in some form such as Borshch (pic below), or in a salad, or stewed, creamed, pickled, mashed, damn I got sick of beets. Ukrainian in origin Borshch consists of BEETS, tomatoes, beef stock, wine, onion, and thats about it. Very good on those cold Russian nights.

The second staple is Vodka, good Russian Vodka, smooth good Vodka, good Vodka, good. I had a hard time keeping up with Sergei on the Vodka front.

Russian superstition: Never, ever, place an empty Vodka bottle back on the dinner table once the last drop has been poured, bad luck. Found that out the hard way.

Everyone drinks Vodka even the women and the Russians only add ice.

I ask about the tea in Russia and everyone went on about the history, tea houses in the area, and Sergei laughs and brings out a hearty brew suitable for staining hardwood floors accompanied with a lemon slice. The tea was strong, very strong, and very good.

Sergei slaps me on the back “If you want best tea, go see Ms. M’s uncle in St. Petersburg, the Bookmaker.” I glance over at Ms. M and she nods.

The Bookmaker hmmm, So the quest begins …

Russian’s love their tea. BLACK tea made up of Oolong, Keemun, and Darjeeling is Russia’s tea of choice. Once so rare only the Tsars could afford it.

The night ends and Ms. M prepares Paul’s bath. According to Ms. M, a tea bath has medicinal properties. Till this day I haven’t asked what went on that night back in Moscow, i may never know. But that next morning Paul’s skin looked fresher, a little darker, a little tea wrinkled maybe, but he had a skip in his step and a smile on his face you couldn’t remove even if he was hit with a baseball bat.

As we were having our morning Tea, footsteps could be heard running up the stairs. Ms. M peers out the window. “It’s the Nepal-ese! Hurry, I’ll stall them!”

We skedaddled out the back window. There was very little time to find the Bookmaker, Ms. M’s uncle. Paul and I made it to the station and hopped the next train out of Moscow.

We settled in for the night. Accommodations were fair, not bad, a table folds up and beds fold down. Tea is served, another strong black tea.

We make it to St. Petersburg.

home of the Winter Palace where Romanov Emperors ruled for two hundred years, the Hermitage Museum, Isaacs Cathedral, and the Church of our Savior on Spilled Blood

Now to find the Bookmakers house.

Leftover from the communist state supported housing projects we find the Bookmaker, second story, third window.

A product of Perestroika, Ms. M’s uncle sits with us and his daughter and tells of a life the way it use to be before the fall of Russia, a Russia that was bitter, harsh, and cruel.

Today is a different story and Ms. M’s uncle now has his own book repair business and is doing well. Of course he served us Black Tea.

We follow the uncle into a back room, the smell of old paper and parchment permeates the air.

Ms. M’s uncle pulls down book after ancient book and manuscripts showing us his skill and techniques.

The aging man pulls down one last book written in latin by Christian Monks traveling through South East Asia over 100 years ago. With his ink stained hand he points to the inscription and the location of where the best tea in the world can be found ….

Suddenly a knock comes to the the front door and the uncles daughter shouts out. “Father! There are some Nepal-ese men here to see you.”

The uncle’s face goes white and he drops the ancient book to the floor as he turns in a panic to leave the room.

“Quickly tell us what it says!” I begged.

This was the last time i saw the Bookmaker as he turned towards us and whispered ….

“Cameron Highlands, Malaysia.”

Tea reminds me of the days of running hashish through the mountains of Tibet.

TEA Sucks! Being an American, I don’t drink tea, I never liked it, and it reminded me of a pompous British ritual only to be enjoyed with a crumpet. (What the hell is a crumpet anyway?) The stuff is bland, no caffeine kick, sipping and slurping with a pinky in the air, it’s an abomination! And Lipton!  Monopolizing the US and squeezing out competitors while peddling their bland mix of crap!

And Southern tea! Conspiracy created by the sugar industry I tell ya!                                Ok, ok, calm is in order here. Calm …

Well I have to confess Tea does not suck. The leaf of the Camellia sinensis plant has built nations, crumbled monarchies, and brings pleasure to millions of people around the world, be it 4pm in the afternoon or 24/7, tea is timeless. My outlook on tea has changed so much I even look forward to a cup in the afternoon everyday.

And a cup we have …

South East Asia has some of the best tea in the world. There are at least six different types of tea: white, yellow, green, oolong, black, and the most expensive is the post-fermented teas, more on that one in a minute.

Tea reminds me of the days of running hashish through the mountains of Tibet. No, just kidding, never did that, won’t admit to it, forget i said that, but my love of tea started with this little antique tea pot months ago when I bought it for my best friend Donna who collects tea pots. I hope to finish the tea post in three, so bare with me as we follow this teapot and a few examples of some wonderful teas and a visit to the tea country in Malaysia.