The Haamonii Smooth Shochu & Tea Tasting was my first Meet-Up. It was a plunge into that gray area where the internet and the real world collide. As more of us carry around the internet in our pockets it is a gray area that diminishes but never really goes away (at least in my opinion). There are always concerns. There could always be complications. Just because you have names and pictures and e-mail addresses does not mean you really know those people out there. Sure they have an avatar of their cat in sunglasses drinking a cola on a beach in Santa Barbara. You laughed about it. You commented. The cat’s name is Pickles you found out. But what else is going on there? Cats do not really need sunglasses and they sure as hell do not like going to the beach. Can you ever be really prepared for the in real life treatment?
MeetUp.com was introduced to me via thisThe Talk of the Town piece in The New Yorker. If you are unfamiliar with the site it works much as the name implies. The goal is to “meet up” with people who share similar interests. Someone starts a club, people join the club, the club has events, those people attend those events. Just like with any other social cyberspacing there is a copious amount of electronic messaging and digital picture trading but what sets MeetUp apart is that the end goal is always some kind of real world interaction. Unlike the Pandora’s Box that is The Facebook and its time annihilating brethren, the point of MeetUp.com is always, at some point, to meet up.
Pre-event organization for the Shochu tasting consisted of an RSVP system that stressed the very limited amount of RSVPs. To show that there was no kidding around the very limited RSVPs filled up very shortly after the event was announced, a good month in advance. Were people really that interested in Shochu or were we assembling for a much darker purpose? Was this like a meeting where you show up early to demonstrate your enthusiasm or was it more like a party where you show up late to demonstrate your hip-and-with-it-ness? I did not know who to ask and the gridlock of the RSVP system seemed to rule out bringing a friend along. The last thing I wanted to do was commit a MeetUp faux pas.
I ended up arriving at the apartment high rise in Hell’s Kitchen about a half hour after the designated meet time. It seemed like a good compromise between punctual and absentee. Where I had expected a small apartment and a large crowd, I found quite the reverse to be true. About seven people or so hung around the Sochu table (pictured above) in a well kempt space quite possibly big enough to play basketball in. Some thirty stories below the Hudson chugged along, maintaining the necessary space between New York and New Jersey. The view was gorgeous and even wrapped around to include some of the surrounding neighborhood (including historically exciting New Yorker Hotel).
Canada, Australia, Maine, and Brooklyn were all represented in the crowd. We snacked. We chatted. We tried two different types of Sochu. Sometimes it came alone, sometimes with a combination of tea. I found the Shochu to be best when mixed. A particular standout was lemon flavored Shochu with ice cubes made of lapsang souchong. The smokiness of the lapsang glided nicely over the Shochu as the ice melted. Sanchang ice cubes in scotch were also recommended. I made a note to try it.
We talked more, sometimes about tea. Some people left, some new people arrived. Full RSVP capacity never seemed to be fully attained. We talked about places we had been. I made sure to tell people that I went to Iceland last year.
“It was beautiful,” I said. They nodded, having heard that Iceland is very beautiful. I told them about the truly excellent Russian Caravan blend I purchased there. We admired the view, watching the lights go on in New Jersey. Had anyone ever been to New Jersey?
“Just the airport,” someone said and some others nodded, most of them having only been to the airport. We drank more Shochu though some people came exclusively for the tea and, presumably, the conversation.
Afterwards I met up with some friends. One of them had been to a taco MeetUp recently.
“We ran around and got tacos” she said. “It was great.” I told her about the Sochu tasting, the tea people, the view of the Hudson.
“Free booze in a beautiful apartment? Who wouldn’t like that?” she said.