31 March, 2014

Oxford Storage

There isn't such a thing, of course, but I fancy some (not all) of our cakes have benefited from a kind of storage that is neither dry nor wet, in the usual senses.  Our old friend, the 2006 Xingshunxiang, started off cheap-and-very-cheerful (75 RMB!), had a quiet year when I last tried it, in 2010, and is now, in 2014, rocking the free world.

You would be most welcome to join us at the original thread for this tea.

28 March, 2014

While We're Drinking Wulong

I'm not often in "wulong mode", but this week, I is.

Of all the wulong in all the world, Dayuling is probably my favourite.  I understand that its claims of being "the highest wulong in Taiwan" are dubious at best, as is the provenance of most of the little green balls that invariably get repackaged in company-branded packets.  I understand that I am not supposed to love its plutonium-style freshness.  I understand that it is woefully, woefully overpriced.  And yet, there I am, loving it all the same.

The above photograph already has UN inspectors knocking at my front door.  To say that this tea emits ionising radiation is to understate the sheer ferocity of these little green balls.

And yet, when were balls ever so lovely?  This is a monstrously expensive, monstrously enjoyable tea.

I believe, and I may be wrong here, that I have loved every example of Dayuling that I have encountered.  I remember it starting out with Teamasters sending me a frighteningly-priced sample, which renormalised all other wulong for me.  My scale changed, tangibly, after drinking that tea.  I then went on to Houde and (I may be misremembering here) Essence of Tea examples, and recall thinking that there really were the canine's reproductive apparatus.  That's a good thing, by the way, for people unfamiliar with English English.

Perhaps my words will not do it justice, then, rather like me trying to describe my feelings when I look at my favourite painting.  

(I refer to April Love by Arthur Hughes, hanging in the Tate - there are no photographs that adequately capture the sensation that it delivers to the eyes, when viewed in person.)

It is floral, it is honeysuckle-like, it is buttery, it has the spice of gingerbread, and yet it is, like every other Dayuling, unique.  It is like describing April Love as being a painting of a girl in a blue dress.  The facts of the description are true, but the spirit is absent.

In the mouth, it expands like a sponge in water.  Big.  Big!  And sweet.  And enduring.  And it has me forgetting the rules of sentence construction, but that's OK.

I feel as if this article is probably of little help, but it is what it is.  Perhaps you might benefit from trying this tea to form your own opinion.  Like seeing April Love in person, however, I cannot guarantee that it will mean as much to you as it does to me.  We shall see.

26 March, 2014

Tits and Blossom

I have found you -
end of Hilary term,
tits and blossom

24 March, 2014

Garden Drinking?

It seems that it was a long time ago since I last enjoyed wulong.  The images in this article...

have been cluttering up my Blogger's post queue...

for over a year...

and where the above image suggests that I was drinking something from Teamasters (where I hope Stephane is still doing his thing)...

and yet where I have absolutely no memory of the tea session.  It looked lovely, though, and seemingly took place during one of the few final days of summer in 2013, according to the time-stamps of the photographs.  I hope that I enjoyed the tea!

On discovering the blockage in my Blogger, I resolved (i) to clear it and (ii) to drink some more wulong.

I quickly headed for a generous sample bag provided by TeaVivre, an outfit that sends me samples from time to time, and where I have been surprised by the quality of one particularly humble pu'ercha cake to the extent that I actually ordered some for my own collection (as in, I parted with some actual money).  Their usual business appears to be the selling of wulongcha.

I tend to give wulong salesmen a wide berth; the tea is hard to trace (and is certainly harder than pu'ercha), and this obfuscation of its sources makes it costly.  The price can happily be ramped up, because it's impossible to check what you're drinking - there is no wrapper, for starters.  If I were feeling uncharitable, I would say that wulong is a more accessible tea than pu'ercha (certainly, I give it to my relatives, for example), and so as a "gift tea", it likewise tends to get marked up far beyond its value.   Perhaps, most of all, I feel as if I do not truly get wulong - I know a few things to look out for, but I don't know that I can tell grade AAAA from grade AAAAA, as it were.

At $50/100g, this is not a tea that you would acquire on a whim.  My diary seems to have, "The little green balls smell fantastically sweet - I can imagine oriental stomachs clenching in pain."

This is a decent wulong, but perhaps, to my ignorant palate, rather straightforward.  There is buttery, floral sweetness in the usual manner, but, after the second infusion (when the little green balls have unfurled), there is a long, honeysuckle sugariness.  I am transported to memories of late spring in our garden, by the scent alone.  "The pollenated warmth of this tea is enjoyable", I wrote, but the price is a problem for me.

19 March, 2014

Rosemary Flowers

rosemary flowers -
the last scent of winter
the first scent of spring

17 March, 2014

The End of Winter

My friends, I hope that this post finds you well.  Wherever you are in the world, it is probably warmer than here, but that gives me hope.  Today is the first day after the end of term, and with it comes a feeling that something significant has come to a close.

The start of the "vac" is always a special feeling, but this year seems moreso.  The winter, here, was long: it rained almost non-stop for two months (which is unusual even for England), the sky seemed constantly dark and low as a result, and our two youngs boys were almost perpetually suffering from minor colds.  Today, with the end of term, the sun has come out.  The flood waters are receding.  Where once was deep water, now there are blossoms - actual flowers - of all shapes and colours.  First, the daffodils, in the vanguard of spring, and now finally the cherry and apricot blossom.  It is as if Mother Nature has finally said, "OK, let's do this."

On days like today, you will, I hope, forgive me for defaulting to a low-risk, high-reward tea.  This is the 2003 Dayi "Badashan tuocha".  I like Badashan, I like tuocha, I like teas from 2003, and I like Dayi ("so sue me", as our colonial cousins might say).  The game is afoot.

This tea was kindly given to me at the end of a lecture, believe it or not.  Hilary term is always a bit pressed for time, but this particular Hilary term was perhaps moreso: a close colleague just left for the USA, to be with his wife and child, and so my commitments have immediately changed as a result.  It has been a fun term, filled with opportunity and bright new people, but it has also been quite demanding.  Perhaps that makes this 2003 Dayi tuocha even more well-timed.

You can imagine the scent of the dry leaves, I bet.  Each one of us, to a greater or lesser extent, has "Dayi memories" that we can recall on demand.  They may be pleasant memories, or not so pleasant, but such is the ubiquity of Yunnan's oldest brand (approximately) that the Menghai Tea Factory has its own little place in each of our repertoires.  Suffice to say that these leaves are precisely as you might expect.  For me, that is A Good Thing.

Again reassurringly, the blend contains very few tips and is almost entirely made from dark Dayi mulch.  I have, this morning, just finished cooking my family a week-end breakfast, and the scent of fried eggs mixes surprisingly well with the rambunctious potency of Dayi.  My hot-plate, during the warm-up for this session, broke down, but not even a broken hot-plate can stop me today.  I grab a spare from the kitchen, and continue.

This is red and spicy, in exactly the right way.  As with many Dayi products of a certain age, as I remember noting before, it has a certain "fishy" character, for want of a better adjective.  This isn't at all bad - it is merely a description.  There is also, as ever, plenty of sharp sweetness.  It is not especially complex, but we do not turn to Dayi for complexity.  Instead, we require stability, a super-strong base of concrete kuwei [good bitterness], and that welcoming, cooling warmth that aged Dayi can sometimes achieve.  It is not noticeably "Badashan", but I am not one to quibble.

This is a fine and timely session, and I am grateful for JT for the sample.

I look forward to a warm spring, and look to sharing some tea with each of you, Gentle Readers, in our own distant, but connected, manner.

12 March, 2014

Humanities Dons

Humanities Dons
working hard in the SCR
on their third coffees

07 March, 2014

A Punch in the Netherdimensions

Did you ever try a tea that made you wish you could go back in time and regain the time spent at the tea-table by avoiding the tea in question?  I give you the 2011 Chawangpu "Baoshan Yesheng".

To say that this tea "sucks" would be to discredit things that actually suck.  This tea is so far deep beyond suction that new adjectives must be constructed, in bespoke manner.  We need a word artisan to hand-craft a new adjective that suitably describes this tea.  In the absence of such finesse, we will opt for the temporary placeholder phrase: "totally sucks".

There was a Jet Li (I think) film, once, in which the main character (a monk, predictably enough) expounded on teas: he said that every tea is magnificent, even the most humble tea.  Every tea was worthy of respect, because the grandeur of its creation and its presence, here and now, is beyond the faculty of language to describe - indeed it is beyond the self to comprehend the true nature of the tea in the cup.  Every tea is not just a tea, but an inexpressible example of Buddhanature, brewed at the current instant, which tastes unlike all other teas because it is part of that instant.

However, I'm fairly confident that, if Jet Li's character tried this Chawangpu Baoshan Yesheng, he would said, "Oh man, that really sucks.  Like, totally."

Baoshan is a place far away.  Even in Yunnan, which is far away in the general sense, Baoshan is far removed from pretty much everywhere.  It is beyond Simao, beyond Lincang, and has borders with Dehong.   It is so unimaginably remote that it is next to Xiaguan country.

Baoshan probably has some amazing teas.  Tucked away in its remote location, there are probably unspeakably ancient arboreal grandfather trees, quietly producing ninjitsu pu'ercha on a regular basis.  The tea is probably famous among the locals, allowing them to reach unimaginable life-spans, and imparting to them the deep secrets of the primeval forests of which the trees are the last living creature capable of remembering.  It is, perhaps almost literally, the fruit of the Gods, the holy grail, the remaining link of mankind to an aeon now long past.

Not, however, this tea.  It really, totally sucks.

Thanks to Jakub for the session.

05 March, 2014

Godzilla Rising

Godzilla rising -
my little dragon stands
for the first time

03 March, 2014

Autumnal Stability

Week-ends are a thing of beauty: each seems to feel like a little holiday, lately.  What better way to open the two-day break than with a new Yiwu from Pu-erh.sk?  With thanks to Peter for the sample, we explore a "guhua" tea from the general Yiwushan area.

Little seems to be known about this tea; it is generic Yiwu in name, but looks rather attractive.  I could not find the tea for sale at Peter's web-site, even though it is mentioned in some marketing text at the top of the page, but I see that the 2012 Autumnal Yiwu (which I rather enjoyed) sells for 48 euro per 250g.

This cake, it must be said, is not quite up to the level of the tea that I had before.  This is a "workhorse" - a stable, reliable, unchanging Yiwu cake that ploughs a furrow of dark sweetness without bothering the more poetical adjectives that we might otherwise be tempted to consider.  Perhaps it is best in its initial scent - the wenxiangbei is buttery, sweet, and very heavy.  By comparison, the tea is merely "decent".  This is not a bad thing, of course, and I had a most enjoyable session, but there are (very) many Yiwushan cakes that have qualities similar to those on offer today.

Perhaps surprisingly, this cake eventually wheedles its way into my affections, by remaining unchanging and strong for some fifteen or so infusions.  This is a virtue in an autumnal tea, which are not known for their strength and constancy.  It reminds me that I am looking forward to trying the new 2014 season from Pu-erh.sk, which, as regular readers may reasonably conclude, has become one of my favourite suppliers over the past year or so.