Sunday, June 17, 2007

2007 Appreciation of Pu-erh Masterpieces

The entire event was deliciously nerdy in a way you would only expect from an esoteric pleasure like pu-erh. For me, it was surprisingly not the tea which dominated but the live impressions from the various personalities of the pu-erh community. I was impressed by Guang's ebullience, graciousness, and his unmistakable good nature. Jason strutted in stylishly late like a rock star with his gayer-than-thou jeans; he kicked the lady from Samovar Tea to another table. He looked fantastic having slimmed down 25 pounds.

Guang had pre-assigned everyone to tables of 8-10 each, the brewers being: Chen Zhi Tong, Guang, Aaron Fisher, Andrew Huarto, and a mystery lady.

Our table included Andrew(Phyll), his lovely wife and brother-in-law, couple from Wing Hop Fung, Beatrice Hohenegger(the author of Liquid Jade), sinabean and her partner, me and my hub. Although secretly I would have loved to be at Mr. Chen's table - really who wouldn't want to sit with the master, I was quite happy to be at phyll's table, or to be at any table at all. Phyll told us he had been invited the night before with Guang's posse to taste a 1930's cake. I look forward to that blog entry.

Roy Fong had been invited as I saw his name tag at the table but he did not make a show. The party goers were not all strictly hard core teaheads but had a fair mix of willing spouses and beginners.

I have to apologize for the paucity of my notes and pictures. I am unused to drinking pu-erh in such intensified party settings; I've only drunk pu-erh in quiet rooms at a snail pace. Paradoxically, Guang would run around each table sheepdogging us to keep apace with each tasting. Sadly, our table never got a chance to fully appreciate any one cake, let alone experience the delayed lingering aftertaste.

2006 Taipei Tea Culture Expo Memorial Cake

It's a good smooth young sheng but everyone really wants to get onto the best so we don't fiddle faddle too much. I feel the cooling camphor even in the first brew and the cha qi goes straight to my head. The second brew makes me dizzy in the way that the HLH Banzhang makes me dizzy so I hold back to save my self for the later cakes. When we inspect the leaves, I am surprised to see mostly small(~3/4 inch) leaves. Plantation?

90’s: Blue-Black Label Green Big Tree
Definite crowd pleaser. Unmistakable strength and mouthfeel. Yes we can definitely say cha qi! Honeyed sweetness and smoky hints through out. For a guy with large hands, Phyll is doing a wonderful nimble job with the gongfu presentation.

80’s: Xue Yin 7532

Tasted surprisingly greener and younger than the Big Tree and a bit drying. Phyll is not impressed. The third infusion flattened out a bit. I cannot detect its reputed "special orchid aroma". We never finish enough brews to coax out it's true talent. But we also had a lot of fannings in this batch.

70’s: Zhong Cha Jian-Tie “Simplified Character
Skipped as we were quite behind in the schedule. We made a group decision not to be rushed for the last two cakes. sinabean split half with phyll so we could try it in San Fran or Berkeley at our leisure.

60’s: Ba Zhong Huang Yin
Phyll whips out his trusty yixing reserved for aged sheng. I was secretly thinking it was criminal to brew these aged beauties on the official porcelain tea pots so I was grateful Phyll had exercised such foresight. Carnie's keen eyesight detects a few bud fuzzy tips on the Ba Zhong. The first Ba Zhong brew is when I truly feel we are tasting aged pu-erh. The mushroom medicinal overtones are clearly noticeable from the initial brew. However it's not the mouth orgy that I was expecting and after six brews, we must go onto the much anticipated 50's Hun Yin or tailgate. Only today I realize that the monk and the potter who had served Chris and me unending rounds of pu-erh in Jejudo so many years ago were serving us a very high quality aged brew indeed.

50’s: Hun Yin (Red Label)

Our noses cannot detect anything much when we sniff the leaves. I see at Aaron's table that he is using his silver teapot for this last masterpiece. BBB said the taste was very clean and you could notice this effect right away. Phyll told us he does not prefer the silver teapot as the taste felt a bit harsh to him.

Our author of Jade Liquid is more impressed by the pricetag than anything else. I almost wish we had tasted the teas blind.

1st brew: Very smooth and bright but thin. No wow feel.
2nd brew: Understated. I would say weak if we weren't dealing with such a rare specimen.
3rd brew: Nobody is impressed yet and we are a bit puzzled. The tea still has to reveal itself to us.
4th brew: We detect something barely metallic.
6th brew: There is glimmer of somthing changing. Puerhus interruptus. Guang rouses everyone to come up front and take a group photo. We have to sadly bring everything to an end when we were just starting. The first few brews had a thin body, a brown hue and, could not be called a tea broth. I am slightly deflated but am happy to have had any opportunity to get together at such an event.

As my husband said while we drove away, he had Hun Yin blue balls. I would have loved to keep on going till the leaves gave way, maybe 16 brews? Maybe even taste a few of the teas side by side. Next year I will have to come more prepared...

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