30 March, 2015

Chiptunes + Shoops

The Easter Vac.  It is a sacred time.  Not least because my college has, it being the end of term, wound down.  This means two things: (i) all the academics get to focus on sweet, delicious research; and (ii) I have the time to combat a Dark Breakfast every day, followed by a remedial diet of chiptunes + shoops (i.e., shupu) upon hitting my lab shortly thereafter.  

Bacon followed by shoops is the only way to fly, I have concluded.

Knackered 2003 Fenqing wrappers

As if picking up the psychic vibrations of the times, my homes from back home, Mr. TG, sent an e-mail to tempt me with some large doses of the aforementioned shoops + some shengpu.

As Oscar Wilde once said, "I can resist anything except temptation."

This is, in fact, a 2003 cake made by an outfit called Xiangzhuqing Tea Co.

TG (pronounced "TEEDJ") noted that this used to be available via the mighty bushido-laden Bannacha, but that it is now out of stock, and that I suck.  It seems that TEEDJ himself purchased his cake from Chawangshop, but, again, I cannot seem to find it listed there, and, again, I suck.

"Like, whatever", I thought to myself, in my native Valleygirl accent.  I busted out the sample from TEEDJ, which, pictured above, rather reminds me of my day job, in which we sometimes have to extract samples of tuberculosis DNA from the most antisocial of patient byproducts.  Say no more.  I count my blessings that I'm only exposed to the data, rather than the... original material.

Apart from looking like pestilent faecal matter, then, the 2003 Fengqing cake is allegedly "old tree".  Again, this causes my inner Valleygirl to start with the "whatevers", because why in the sweet bowels of Hades would you make shoops out of good laoshu leaves?  You wouldn't, of course.  If you think you're drinking "old tree" shoops, then the chances are quite reasonable that you're not, and that you're gullible, and that, like me, you suck just a little bit.

Edit: this isn't shupu, my notes are incorrect - it is shengpu, and the suction is all mine.

I've never brewed human excrement laden with infectious disease-carrying bacteria, but I suspect that this huangpian-infested, red-tinged leaf is not a million miles away from the charms that we might anticipate from such an experiment.

That is not to say that it's bad, far from it: what we have here is merely rather "rustic", let's say.  It is a Lincang cake, and it is smooth, and rather cooling.  I dig mightily on its sweet and mouth-watering satisfaction.  If it started out "red", which I suspect, then it has nonetheless managed to retain some its oomph, 12 years later.  The background is malted redness, and there is some Lincang grainlike sweetness in it - the impression is one of "decent minor-label artisan cake".  It is not the world's most complex tea, but it has much to recommend it, in its well-balanced way.  If inexpensive, it might be worth a look, although I cannot find its price due to the aforementioned negative pressure gradient that surrounds me.

Enough of the pussyfooting around: it's time drink dirty shoops.

The tiny wee picture above tells us that this is really rather dirty, in that sub-CNNP manner.  Thrills indeed!  This 200g brick will set you back a staggering twenty American bucks via Awazon.  It's cheap, it's nasty, it's just what I needed.

Let's do this.

Did you ever have a tea so rancid that all of the thick, greasy Chinese hair that was embedded in the leaves voluntarily got up and left, because it was too nasty even for thick, greasy Chinese hair to tolerate?  This brick is exactly like that.

Pictured below, we have some sort of... I'm going to say "webbing" embedded in the mixture.  Would you believe that it smells like rank heicha from Hunan?  You would?  Well, it does.  It has the scent of nasty tobacco, just like Hunan bricks of deadliness.  I'm just going to point out the epidemiological fact that this area of China has some pretty serious throat diseases - moreso than any other region.  I can hit you up with some project publications on that if you wish to see the data.

Now, I'm not suggesting that there is a causal link between drinking TEA THAT COMES FROM THE COLON OF SATAN and illness, but I'm going to leave the idea in the back of your mind.

The photograph below rather summarises my opinion of this tea.

It is dark, it is thick, and it is very (very) dirty.  TEEDJ notes that it "responds well to filling the gaiwan with leaf", and so I went heavy with the quantity.  I was rewarded with a very strong, knock-out dose of surprisingly sharp shoops.  It is so very smooth and so very powderlike that I fall instantly in love.

My current lab tipple is WUZIDENGKE from Menghai, which is amazing.  I have tins and tins and tins of this stuff sitting in my lab, thanks to Dubs.  Given that its name means (approx.) "five sons pass Imperial exams", this makes it a fantastic gift for academic colleagues, all of whom seem to get muchos chortles out of the name.  However, so thick and nasty is the CNNP brick from Awazon, that I am considering changing gear from time to time.  

I'm just not sure my white blood cells are up to the job.



16 March, 2015

You Can't Choose Your Parents

There I was, whining extensively about a long-standing illness of some insignificant magnitude.  Then, during the middle of drinking the tea described below, my youngest son developed laboured breathing, and we whisked him (i) to the GP / family doctor, and subsequently (ii) onto the Emergency Department of our nearby hospital.  

The sight of my dear little chap connected up to nasal cannulae and pulse oximeters was heart-rending.  I stayed the night and the next day, handing over to my dear wife for the second night, before returning for my "shift" the night after.  The little fellow recovered from what was diagnosed as a grim chest infection that aggravated an atopic reaction inherited from his father (sorry, my son).  That's genetics for you.  I have always maintained that parents suck.

Happily, after two days, my Little Dragon was entirely recovered; the Children's Hospital kept him under observation for a further day-and-a-half due to "risk factors on the father's side" (sorry again), by which time he was (almost literally) bouncing off the walls and ready to be discharged.  Nothing can **** up a hospital ward like a recovered infant ready to go home.

I took this episode as a reminder to (i) be thankful for every day of good health, for both me and my family, and (ii) whine less in the presence of minor ailments that pale in comparison to a two-year-old dude fighting genetic disadvantages (sorry again).  You really cannot choose your parents.

Surely packages such as this must have difficulty getting through airport Customs

By the time I got home, having not slept for two days, the sight of unfinished tea from Teaclassico (thx, Neil) was welcome - but not as welcome as having everyone back at home once it was all over.

All hairy tea is good tea.

Drinking this 2005 CNNP "Nannuo Mountain Wild Raw" was, therefore, rather an emotional affair.  The cake was made as a special order, with all cakes bought from by just two dealers from the original instigating party.

Pictured above, no tea would be complete without thick, black Chinese hair embedded in the maocha.  It's what makes pu'ercha GREAT.  If you're not drinking some crusty tea-dude's body by-products along with your tea, then you're just not living.

For added bonus crustiness, the neifei had fragmented to the point at which it was embedded (along with the hair) in the surface of the cake, as shown above.  Again, if you're not drinking manky label-paper printed with probably-toxic Chinese inks then you're really not doing it right.

What doesn't kill us makes us stronger.  Unless it introduces comorbidities that you could without.

Gentle Reader, you already know that pu'ercha is the rancid, Satanic backend of the tea-world, and so I know you're OK with the introduction of manifold pathogens in your tea.  You knock this stuff back daily, so this is not news to you.

The cake itself is darned green, it must be said.  Its colour is actually green - the colour of gangrenous flesh.  I know, this just adds to the appeal.  You're insatiable.

After ten alleged years of storage, it has a heavy yellow-green colour and a soft, warming character.  There is strength aplenty, and its truly green nature makes me wonder if it has been stored in a dry environment; I would not have guessed it was from 2005, to be honest.

It is soft and fruity, and that's just fine when your little dude is recovering from time in hospital.  There is "spring meadow" character that reminds me of Nannuoshan teas gone by.  Apricots, dried fruits, a husky edge - it is CNNP, playing nicely.


Frankly, it was a bit weird being in the Emergency Department where I do some of my research, and yet experiencing the place as a "customer", rather than being in my usual place, on the other side of the arrangement.  I must say that I prefer the latter, but am grateful for the rocking standard of care that the university hospital turns out - the UK National Health Service is universally supported by all British folk for a reason.  With national elections coming up, the various parties compete to demonstrate how they will protect it, and, after my trip with Xiaolong, I'm very glad that they do so.

Ganymede, Haumea

which is bigger
Ganymede, Haumea
or a blue whale?

09 March, 2015

It Came from Canadia

To quote many of Keanu Reeves' best on-screen moments of dialogue, "Woah".

It would not be accurate to say that Hilary term has been kicking my posterior.  Rather, the effect that term has had on me has been altogether something worse.  Some terms are fun, some terms are bustling, some terms are exciting - this term has been the academic equivalent of experiencing "enhanced interrogation techniques".

I have been ill with a nondescript, irritating, wet-blanket of a condition for a period of approximately two weeks, with no sign of improvement.  The body simply cannot heal itself if you spend your time running around all day, from 6.30 a.m. to 9 p.m., without breaks.  Every.  Single.  Day.

So, at the end of 6th week, I methunk "enough is enough", and decided to have a day off.  Meetings cancelled; lecture cancelled; supervisions cancelled; tutorials cancelled; dinner cancelled.  I just stayed in bed, perspiring quietly to myself for around 24 hours.

It worked wonderfully.


The next day, I was feeling as kosher as Christmas.

To celebrate, I busted out an attractive-looking parcel recently received as a generous gift from Jalam Teas.  In Canadia, even the postal stamps are pretty.

I don't know much about Jalam Teas, but I do know that they are run by Jeff Fuchs, and I recall making an unfair joke at the expense of his name in an article some months ago, which now eludes me.  I think that Mr. Fuchs (ahem) is a photographer - the parcel from his company came with a card alluding to that fact, and which was backed with a stylish picture of a Hani minority female.  The whole enterprise is "slick" in appearance, which is to say carefully professional.

Edit: "some months ago" is, it seems last year: "Nothing More to Laos"

Expecting a sample of something expensive, I was amazed to find a xiaobing inside, the price of which is actually extremely reasonable (something like $20 to "members" - but I think that "members" are posted a cake of this as part of a monthly arrangement).

Already, I am feeling good about Jalam - the prospect of decent-looking xiaobing being sold for a reasonable price immediately endears itself to my sense of fair play.

...and look good this xiaobing certainly does.  It has been made from Bangpen leaves (translated as "Bang Pun" in the non-pinyin text), which comes from the Bulangshan region, and where those leaves have been preserved very nicely indeed.  We have large, long leaves on offer, which have been loosely compressed into a tidy little 100g cake.

This cake has the clean, uncompromising bitterness that I have come to appreciate from the greater Bulang zone, and yet it is a summer harvest: these are notoriously "accessible" affairs - the kind of thing that you might give to someone so as not to offend them - and yet the result, here, is very welcome.  It consists of a pollenated, heavy summertime characteristic that works rather well, combined with the good ol' Bulang punishment.

Perhaps this is the stuff teaclubs are made of: shupu and easy-going shengpu, so as not to terrify the median tea-drinker.  However, the result is so nicely made, and so very interesting, that I am rather impressed for the "drink-it-now" capability that such a teaclub must surely provide.

If you're rushed for time, and are in the market for decent, "curated" samples, then Jalam seems (on the strength of this one cake, and its pricing) to be worth a second look.

Ironically, I'm a little too rushed for time to be a member of such a club, as my drinking occurs so randomly.  However, when recovering from rush-induced bugs, I found this Bangpen Xiaobing to be packed with summertime drink-it-now charm.  If you like summer teas, or pollenated teas, this might be worth a random sample.

Beijing raindrop
even you cannot wash away
the traveller's cold

02 March, 2015

Dark Breakfast

One of my favourite posts over at the Duke of N's boudoir occurred recently ("Breakfast Tea"), in which our erstwhile correspondent showed us his breakfast.  As I mulled over "aged mushroom broth" and other delicacies, I reflected on the fact that it is not by a man's works that we shall know him, but by his breakfast.

One's breakfast speaks volumes.  It is intimate, personal, and absolutely honest.  When the excrement hits the fan, which is the single meal of the day that you just have to get right?  When travelling?  When wanted by the government for crimes that you didn't commit, escaped as a soldier of fortune to the Los Angeles underground?  Of course, that meal is breakfast.

It is the ultimate insight into a man's soul.

I then went on to consider my own breakfast: I have a notion that I have come to call (in the privacy of my own head) by a unique name that sums it all up:


Now, some breakfasts are just breakfasts.  They are functional; they are getting us where we need to be.  Most breakfasts fit this description.  However, a DARK BREAKFAST is something else: a DARK BREAKFAST is a breakfast that is so powerful, so cosmically significant, that it warps the very fabric of the remainder of your day.  It sends ripples forwards and backwards in time, rearranging meetings, changing schedules, manipulating the very nature of reality itself.


The DARK BREAKFAST has no aged mushroom broth. It has no fresh green tea served in the local style. Rather, it is something darker, more fundamental, more cosmically terrifying. It changes minds, lives, souls.

The tea on offer here is not delicate; rather, the tea suitable for the DARK BREAKFAST is overbrewed, potent, and extremely evil. It has all the charm of antifreeze.

My college is particularly well-suited to the DARK BREAKFAST. Settings are placed four chairs apart, to give we, the humble supplicants of the DARK BREAKFAST, suitable room to spread out our liturgy / broadsheet newspapers / daemonic scrolls.

Quietly, the DARK BREAKFAST works its magic. Timetables subtly begin to rearrange; meetings begin to become more fluid concepts than their absolute presence in one's diary might otherwise suggest; priorities and deadlines themselves begin to shift. Truly, the DARK BREAKFAST is a rarified and incomprehensible ritual.

Happily, college also has a chapel to relieve one's soul of the burdens of the DARK BREAKFAST...

I invite you, Gentle Reader, to share with us your own morning ritual.  You never know, you may also be a partaker in a DARK BREAKFAST.

caught behind
the Chinese elders -
slow breakfast

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, as the Overlook Hotel likes to remind us. I set aside time at the week-end to park my rather tired carcass at the teatable, reaching for the velvet-lined container that contains ritual samples sent direct from that archpriest of darkness, w2t.

Like some other teas from Dubs, this is named after a (presumably classic) album from bygone years. My visiting mother appears to know "54-46 That's My Number", which is, according to Google, by Hoots and the Maytals, and which lends its name to this tea.

At $175/200g, this is not inexpensive - but that's fine.  If anything, it actually helps me to relax and drink the tea without being too concerned about whether or not I will be buying it.  We are so far beyond ambiguous purchase territory that we can just drink the tea.  I appreciate the freedom.

Behold the bold soldier: this is a big ol' "gushu" tea in the real style.  "Very nice; where does it come from, Brain?" I ask myself.

My closed fist (figuratively) slams into my own face as I check the Dubs web-page for this tea, to find that it comes from "hush-hush origins".  C'est la vie - another anonymous tea.

This tea is, in a very real sense, "guns of Navarone tearing up your battlezone".  Broad, smooth, punchy, fresh, zesty - and curiously familiar.  That familiarity lingers in my mind, tickling my sensitivities, reminding me of something forgotten, something beyond memory.

The risks associated with buying new tea are non-trivial.  Who knows how it'll end up?  I really appreciate the opportunity to try this sample, however hush-hush its origins (ahem), as it reminds me exactly why I like pu'ercha.  If you like straightforward, potent, sweet-straw broadness with hints of warm breadiness (Mengsong? is that you?), at least a sample of "54-46" could make you as happy as made made me.

It certainly cuts the karmic knot formed from that morning's DARK BREAKFAST, at the least...

Notes added to the 2005 Mengyang Guoyan "Laobanzhang" - this has come on very nicely in six years.