Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Winter Frost Havukal Black - 2020 Pick

(Dear Readers, I hope you are are still holding up during these times. I read this morning one of the Boba Guys founder had to let 400 employees go and that he never cried so much in his life. I also read an ice skating rink was turned into a morgue. I feel numbly paralyzed reading the daily news and have relapsed to obsessing about tea. Continuing with old tea rituals is some measure of comfort. I hope you allow yourself some daily reprieve doing something that eases your burdens.)
Dried peach the perfect  accompaniment
Last year, out of the twenty odd teas from India, the Winter Frost Havukal Black struck me as the most intriguing. The tea body was light yet with an intense floral profile. I don't like oolongs that are too floral but this tea made my palate curious. This example of a high-grown Nilgiri winter flush lies somewhere in triangulation between oolongs and darjeeling muscatels but is distinctly it's own genre.

Given the mild climates of southern India doesn't vary as much, it's not clear whether or not winter flush is more of a marketing designation.  Even the teabox blog states:
"Observed almost exclusively in the Nilgiri mountains of southern India, these teas are harvested from December to January. In Nilgiri, the term winter flush is used interchangeably with autumn flush, since there is no distinct autumn and winter in the south Indian tropics."
I am a complete noob to the nilgiri winter flush genre and now will have to hunt around for more examples as I don't know how this tea compares to it's peers.  It doesn't matter in the current enjoyment of this tea but for curiosity and for future procurement. If you have a particular nilgiri or winterflush that you enjoy, please let me know.

When I saw the February 4, 2020 pick was available, I confidently ordered a 100g packet last week to compare with the 2019 pick along with more Glendale nilgiris. (I sighed about the 3 cups of stale bagged teas I drank at European museum cafes that cost more than the 100 grams of this compelling tea. Although one can theoretically order 100 grams of this tea for $4 direct from Havukal's site, the shipping came out to a prohibitive $67 dollars even though the site promised free shipping on all orders over 1000 rupees or $13.) 

Last year's pick had overwhelming orchid(?) aromatics with a long long lasting finish, but this year's pick is slightly more muted which makes me wonder if some aging time might be good for this tea. The 2020 pick is not without it's charms.  Although it's called a black, the tea genre is quite green and new greens are always bothersome to my system so I will put this 2020 pick away to revisit this winter. I regret not buying up more of the 2019 to drink now.

The lovely game I'm lucky to play this week is 'Ori, the Will of the Wisps', an absolute visual feast but a devilishly hard platformer that is punishing my poor stiff fingers.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Thoughts on Virus Prepping and Buying more Tea

Dear readers, I hope you are taking comfort in drinking good tea and finding ways to keep health and spirits up. The economy is in a bad way world over and many humans are facing hardships even if they manage to dodge illness. I guess the only thing we can try to have control over is our emotions and state of mind. And tea can be an alleviating brew suited to help us do such lifting.

The Bay Area has been ordered to shelter in place yesterday.  I'm exceedingly grateful my husband and I made it home last week in health and we are avoiding any close social interactions as is prudent for having been through the germ vat of airports. (Our exit from JFK was extremely easy and uncrowded last Thursday.)

Our fridge had been emptied out for our European journey so I had to make two emergency trips for the family provisions.  I normally do my procurement at Berkeley Bowl which would have been a nightmare due to it's vast footprint and massive inventory.  I had to forgo hopes of replenishing our boar/duck bacon and lamb neck supply to make do at a Trader Joe's.   I know TJ's limited inventory intimately and was too jet lagged to attempt anything else. Since I normally have a full box of lamb necks/elk/bison/deer/salmon in the freezer, we could get by for now with basic staples. By the way, lamb necks make excellent stews, a nourishing broth, and is economical to boot.

I queued up last Saturday morning before opening and everything was available at TJs without rationing.  When I returned yesterday for a second round right after San Francisco announced stay-in-place order, the shelves had been emptied out of essentials such as eggs and beans.   Unless you wanted a carton of egg whites or pre-boiled eggs, you were out of luck. I was trying to snag a few items for my neighbor and could fulfill only half her list.

Beans have never been so popular
Ironically while some of the shelves were bare, quinoa was abundantly available as was various gluten free products. I guess people prefer beans over quinoa during a zombie apocalypse. My highest priority items were
  • avocado oil, eggs 
  • almonds, almond butter, almond milk, pumpkin/ sunflower/chia seeds
  • celery, brassicas, granny smith apples, citrus 
  • pork products
We don't eat much grain except for popcorn but I loaded up on gluten free pasta products and all kind of high carb snackages I strategically avoid in normal times. If I did get sick, I'd probably crave spicy salty carby junk food.  I was so happy to see shishito peppers that I sprung for lamb chops to accompany them.  Mostly, I was so flustered, it was the only time my grocery cart was not organized by category.

In my rush, I mistakenly bought standard heirloom navel oranges instead of cara cara. I know. That sounds totally stupidly bougie but one of the benefits of being a Berkeley housewife is that one has the pleasure of browsing the acre of produce at Berkeley Bowl with dozens of citrus varieties. The Bowl's blood orange selection is top notch. Last month, I snagged in the budget produce shelf, a 3.5 pound bag of perfectly juicy Tarocco blood oranges for a dollar but this week I'm reduced to an overpriced bag of dry fibrous Moros.

 I have been fortunate to be habituated to a life of excessive plenty in the United States.  This was the only time in my life I had to queue up for going into a grocery store. Yesterday TJ was limiting the number of customers in the store so it was quite chill once you were allowed in even if third of the shelves were bare. I remember a colleague telling me about scarcity in Soviet controlled Uzbekistan and how toilet paper was so scarce that when someone would get some, they would proudly wear it around their neck as sort of a trophy. 

I have vague memories that the Korean military would issue these thin booklets of toilet paper, kind of a stiff waxy affair.  Civilians would use books and newspapers while country folk would resort to leaves. Running out of toilet paper probably is not the worst scenario if you have running water and soap. I am a long time TP hoarder for a different reason- inflation.  I buy 100+ rolls of it when it goes on sale on-line.  I'm sure a sociology grad student will do a full study on why TP puts people's hoarding instincts into overdrive. Every human has their particular hoarding tendency and of course tea is the anxiety inducing item in the tea closet.
Although I could be drinking a different puerh every day before summer hits and not put a dent in the supply, I decided to put in another order of India teas from teabox.  (Those other teas are not quite ready to drink or so I tell myself...) I had grown fond of a black tea from Mouling in Arunachal Pradesh, north east India.  The distinctive dusky floral profile I instantly liked more than the rather similar assams I'd been chugging.  I ordered a pound more assams to tide me over till summer. The straight forward maltiness of assams make it a better tea for mental comfort.

We will see what this month brings for the world. Stay healthy everybody.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Traveling in These Times

I returned a few days ago from a 10 day jaunt through Munich and Vienna where my lucky eyes laid on spectacular and wondrous examples of human ingenuity and creativity. The excellent Deutsches Museum is pure pleasure for anyone with a love of engineering and science. We were traveling with a friend who is writing a book on automata and she generously let us tag along on her meeting with the curator of clockmaking. He showed us his workshop as well as introducing us to artists from the diorama workshop- this behind the scenes tour was a cherry-on-top of an already super trip.

Fascinating power tools exhibit at Deutsches Museum
I could have happily spent all my time in this vast temple of current and past technologies as a day and a half was not time enough to appreciate the enormous collection of power engines and turbines, a bathysphere, tide predicting machine, Wright biplane, a floor of room sized ancient compute devices. I truly hope to return there again once the world normalizes. 

After a full day of gawking at the various treasures of Munich, I joyfully stuffed my face with delectable edibles of the porky variety.  Being fond of blood sausages, I was stoked to find Munich's Ratskeller served them in a traditional dish "Himmel und Erdem"-  Heaven and Earth. Actually my body sadly cannot eat butter any more so these pillowy mounds of buttery mashed potatoes tasted even more heavenly.  (OMG so tasty I almost cried.)
Himmel und Erdem
While I rejoiced at every meal with such hearty fare, my choices for imbibing were sorely crimped. I was served such insipid tea at most establishments that I gave up. Either the water was not hot enough, the water chemistry wasn't good for tea particularly in Munich, or the mesh teabags had been exposed to air constantly and hence gave a stale brew.  Non-dairy options at cafe's were not a thing in Europe so pretty much espresso was the only thing I could order. 

The day before our return flight, a European travel entry ban was announced and Vienna had started to close all her museums. In hindsight, we were exceedingly lucky to have reentered the States on Thursday before the airport chaos on Saturday. For the first 8 days of our journey, we barely noticed the impact of covid-19 except for the few odd tourists (mostly Asians) that wore face masks.  Actually the lack of large Asian tourist groups would have been the biggest difference.  Also the top of my hands became dry crusty tortoise elbows from excessive hand washing and hand sanitizing. The last few days of our trip, anxiety creeped in with a fierce desire to return home.   

The last Viennese museum we visited before country wide closures was the extensive Imperial Armory which was almost empty save for 2 other visitors.  These exemplars of centuries old metalwork puts to shame any gaming armor in craftsmanship and intricacy.

I had returned to Vienna with the hopes of showing my husband the fabulous room of meteors at the Natural History Museum. I don't know why I get so excited looking at hunks of extraterrestrial rock but I do.  During my first visit, Europe was suffering a historic heat wave and the NHM, lacking any air conditioning, turned into a sauna of sorts. With my parents wilting in such heat, we had less than hour before we simply had to abort for gelato breaks. As we had saved the best for the last day this trip which was start of museum closures, we had to go home without having laid eyes inside Das Wiener Naturhistorische Museum. Still I have no regrets and feel extremely grateful we were able to see so much and returned in good health without any hassle in the airports.

Everyone I wish for your health in mind and body.  

Saturday, February 08, 2020

Easier Paths to Imbibing Pleasure Than Aged Sheng

For my husband's birthday, I nicked off a few chips off my airport/turnpike municipal fund earnings to treat him to the peaty end of scotches. Even with each bottle being had for so much less than a quality newborn beeng and a fraction of aged beengs, I hate to say these scotches beat the pants off any aged sheng I have including LBZs. You are hit over the head with the obvious depth, complexity, deliciousness, golden mouthfeel in 3 seconds or less.  (My beengs feel sad...)

Aged sheng not scotch in the glass
These peaty scotches from Islay and Skye all have their unique charms and the Ardbeg Uigeadail was the most memorable for me as you can taste the glowing embers of a large stone fireplace deep in the recesses of a dark mysterious castle.  All these esp. the Talisker takes you straight to Skellige. (Solly, Witcher refrence.)

But the key is that you don't have to think much at all unlike a sheng tasting, these examples of intense liquid gold goes straight to your pleasure centers. Journey of a puerh lover has many struggles and I've fallen off the path many a times.

I work hard, many late nights to install boob physics and bikini armor for this Skryim video. Please enjoy.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Extra Dry 06 Menghai San Ji Pu

When I visited my parents over the holidays, I was confronted with the box of various puerh samples I had left for them to drink in 2014. Unsurprisingly, none of it was consumed so I flew it back across the country. The desert like conditions of my parent's Virginian heated home in winter is epic, I've gotten a nose bleed from the dry air.  Needless to say, I got an unintended 5-year experiment of XXX extreme dry storage for shu.

In this motley collection was one of my favorite Menghai ripes- the 2006 San Ji Pu, a special batch produced with mostly grade 3 leaves. Alarmingly, the texture of the extra dry beeng pieces are different than the one stored in Berkeley.  It's got a disturbing hollow crunchiness like layers of dry husk. It barely smells. I should condition it in a ceramic jar but I'm curious how it tastes now.

The tea brews up tasty enough with that unmistakable Menghai quality you can trust. I guess it's harder to kill shu with just aridity. Unlike the silky feminine charms of the Golden Needle White Lotus, the San Ji Pu after the initial brews develops  a more stately profile like mahogany. The lovely lingering licorice finish of the 5th brew makes me immediately want to procure another cake.  I know Scott still sells it so I run to the website.  I actually growled.  To use a Hobbesian phrase, it's now sporting an eye-watering price tag of $95.

Bagging pretty satisfying shu for $16 a kilo makes you forever an unsufferable shu cheapass.  Considering I still have 10 kilos of pretty good shu crammed in the tea closet and my rate of consumption being less than 1/4 pound per year,  I'd have to be pathological to want to order more shu at a premium.  (I hope my husband appreciates this reformed sensible turn to purchase maturity.)    Actually if I had a choice between overpaying for aged sheng vs shu, I would go for sheng every time. I've enjoyed plenty of above-average aged shu, but have yet to encounter aged shu which makes me close my eyes in rapture or have the tea linger on the palate hours after a tea session in a way that aged sheng can. No surprise for a refugee in shulandia, I'm here until I can start drinking my aged shengs.

I got my original San Ji Pu from YS in early 2007 for $28 during the '07 run up.  Considering HLH Lao Banzhang was $40 in 2006, $28 was a stinging crazy price for shu.  This was one of my last puerh orders for many many years.   Do the elevated prices of even my ripes make me  behave differently as a shu drinker?

I also had brought back a 2009 Menghai Dayi 99 Square still unopened. I was going to just let my husband take it to work as the chocolate bar form of individual squares would be convenient for him to brew.  Out of curiosity I looked it up and was shocked, just shocked to find it selling for $380HKD or USD$49. It mentions being a lucky collectible for numerology reasons.   I got it for $6.50 from China Cha Dao but now I'm definitely going to store it away.  As my husband grumbled, "What, I'm not worth it." I gamely insist we must enjoy it Sept 9, 4719(2022 in the Chinese calendar) to obtain heightened numerology benefits.
Was going to let husband take this little guy to work for casual convenient drinking...

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