Monday, October 20, 2014

Revisiting Lao Cha Tou

Even amongst my gardening friends, I am considered a serious composter with 4 separate bins.  Every season, I hand sift the black gold for worms to put back to work and I am quite familiar with clumps that can form at the bottom of a compost pile.  I've manually busted up hundreds of such compost nuggets to spread in my vegetable patch.  So when I first read about lao cha tou- "old tea heads" from Corax on cha dao so long ago, I didn't jump on that wagon as I just didn't want to be reminded I was essentially relegated to drinking compost.

Although considered a waste product that's been up-marketed during the puerh boom, pu drinkers need not be so snobby about lao cha tou. Like every thing else in shu, there's delicious lao cha tou and atrocious disgusting lao cha tou(I'm looking at you 2009 CNNP LCT) and everything in between. The genre itself does not automatically discount quality.  But smaller cha tous are to be preferred over larger coarser tea heads.


 I tried my first lao cha tou two years ago on the recommendation of fellow shu drinker Jon Grebe who called them "silky".  I disastrously started with the 2009 CNNP Lao Cha Tou which was so disgusting, I've segregated the canister to the highest shelf in my kitchen.  Really I would never buy new CNNP except that it was convenient to include it with my order from a certain factory certified vendor (ahem..) that generally has tasteful cakes- I did not dream he could carry something so shockingly heinous. But to my consolation, it was only $6.50.

Lucky for me I kept looking and found the YS 2009 Cha Tou Sheng Yun brick - and it remains the only shu form(brick/beeng/tuo/melon) I have ever finished in my entire life.  This particular cha tou brick has a rich complex fermented fragrance that none of my other shu's have- the smell is more akin to wine than wodui and I regularly whip it out just to breath it in.  The brew is mellow sweet and lovely but not as incredible as it smells.  I've tried a few other specimens even the 2011 YS version but nothing stokes my fancy as the 2009 version pressed with nuggets fermented in 2007.     Scott claims you can brew his brick 25+ times and I've never taken him up on this challenge as I get shu-ed out after 12 brews.  To brew lao cha tou, Ira instructed me to soak them in cold water for 5+ minutes and it really helps loosen up the tight heads.

In puerh- one cannot be discouraged by traumatic experiences.  One also has to make the most of a shu demotion and I for one am happy to find something I look forward to drinking. 

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