Friday, August 31, 2012

The Ceiling for the World's Best Newborn

I asked in my first reader survey how much you were willing to shell out for the "world's best young sheng".    The chart below shows a third of you are reasonably budget minded while the other third of you are the kind of high-rollers pu-erh vendors salivate over.  The arithmetic average is $115 while the average mean and mode were both on a clean Benjamin ($100).  A few respondents refused to answer not wanting to give vendors such useful market data. What you are theoretically willing to pay on a survey is quite different than actually peeling forth those dollars in real life. (Drats I should have asked what maximum amount people have already paid...)

Where am I on that curve?  My wallet being curiously unopinionated never bothers to thank me or curse me so I have to rely on comparative living costs to orient myself.  Even $200 for a 357g beeng computes to only $1.68 per session for me.  My mini-pots use 2-3g of tea for a session so 357g/3g = 119 sessions or $200/119=$1.68.   Less than two bucks for me theoretically should not be too much for the "world's best" since I drink $1.75 canned coconut waters rather casually on a weekly basis after my runs.  I'm a bit bummed that I've spent over $1000 on coconut water but it's way cheaper than a gym membership.  However I still balk at even parting with $100 on a new sheng.  But I have also yet to meet this mind-blowing "world's best" newborn despite my diligent attempts. 

Fungibility of money is one of the most mind boggling achievements of human civilization.  An hour of massage not covered by insurance is around $100 including tip in the bay area - legitimate therapeutic licensed massage that is.  I thought nothing of buying two tickets to Aida yesterday for $190 for 3 hours of unparalleled operatic pageantry at the Met- actually I was happy to find such reasonable tickets.  A $100 high end beeng can bring you over a hundred hours of drinking pleasure. Why do I and a fair amount of the respondents share this mental block of going over $100 on a young sheng?  I'll leave that for discussion tonight. Good night!

Reader Survey Results Part I

Results of the survey are still trickling in but I thought I would post some of the initial surprises.  Many thanks to those who took a few minutes to share in this experiment and those who haven't yet taken the survey are still welcome to do so as I'm still compiling data for Part II.

The first surprise- despite Hobbe's assertion that "97% of you are Western males married to Oriental women", it turns out more readers connection to Asia is a silk bathrobe with an Oriental theme.  (Of course many of you may have checked that box in jest and I'm not there to personally double check your closet. But I have a feeling...)  I've had 50 responders thus far and only 4 identified themselves as being part of the fairer sex.  So women and Asians are definitely the minority here.  

I personally lounge around in my sweet dragon robe when tea blogging.  The gold tassels really do get in the way while I type and is especially cumbersome to my gongfu brewing style.  However nothing else gets me to feel cha qi in a way this robe can.

The responders tend to be serious pu-erh drinkers as a healthy majority engaged in everyday pu drinking.   I think there are many different kinds of tea nerds but the hardcore pu-erh drinkers are the nerdiest of them all. 

But of course daily drinking does not have any correlation to immediate supply.  It's an anonymous survey but I'm curious as anyone to know who the investors are and what they have invested in.   (Feel free to tell us!) 

I'll post rest of the answers over the weekend.  The maximum amount a reader is willing to spend on a new beeng is all over the place from $20 to $300!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Who's Reading This Blog Anyway

When I dusted off the tea closet in May,  I just wanted to organize my thoughts around what I should do about my 7 year old pu-erh collection.  Then all of the sudden MarshalN put the flashlight on this blog and I was no longer able to hide in obscurity.  I had to start taking it seriously.  The stats tell me this blog has gotten 15,000 hits.   At least 80% of the traffic is from porn fishing spambots, but I have undeniable proof that human eyeballs are behind those numbers as well. Even though only a handful of you comment, the stats tell me I have lurkers in almost every corner of the world.

I hooked up Google Analytics when I started to get serious hits via MarshalN, the Half Dipper and many other blogrolls.  Thank you.  I try my hardest every night to produce something worth your while.   Monday's Magic-Butt Shaping Cushion has put a curse on me and my humor well is nigh dry tonight and so I have to rely on statistics for tonight's post.  The screenshot below is taken from Google Analytics indicating unique visits.

What surprises me most is how global pu-erh interest has become with an active readership in Eastern Europe.

Of course Google Analytics really doesn't tell me the kinds of things I would love to know about you- the reader- so I've constructed a survey below.  Feel free to take it as a public service only and the answers will be anonymously posted soon.  

Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey, the world's leading questionnaire tool.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Perils of Pickiness

Like most readers of tea blogs, I've spent a lifetime cultivating my palate.    I should be getting more discriminating but I'm purposely steering myself away from the inherent dangers of tea snobbery.   I want to know what prime stuff is but I don't want to have to need it.   Unlike chocolate where I won't consume any if quality bars are not around, I need tea daily.  In the last few years, I've been just forcing myself to quaff whatever is available even if it's the proverbial "slop of a drainage ditch".  But I'm pretty sure the "slop of a drainage ditch" in Lu Yu's time was definitely more disgusting than what counts as such now... although airplane teas can be downright demoralizing.

I hit a new low this month with Mothxx Parkxx's Tea on the flight to L.A.  I bleeped the name of this offending brand so none of their media representatives will find this obscure blog and blather on about how they create the highest quality tea from "field to cup".  Food service orange pekoe's are vile to begin with and the lukewarm airplane water highlights the worst features of such tea- flat, stale, and above all possessing a tired weak flavor that makes you feel sorry for the eternally lost potential of this tea.  To cheer myself up I made a full three course meal composed of  savory(salt and pepper)  and sweet chocolate bars and I just used the tea as a palate cleanser which worked well enough.  I actually had stowed many quality teas in my bag but doing a multi-rinse in the air while stuck in middle seat on a fifty minute flight is just a waste of good leaf to say nothing of frightening my poor seat companions.  (I have been told not in the kindest way that I own the most dangerous flying elbows endowed with perfect aim.  One time at a grocery store, I felt something soft and squishy.  I could not apologize and bow low enough to the poor woman and her left boob. )

There are many many situations in life where you can't drink your favored teas. And if all you have is easy access to terrible teas,  it's always best not to let it ruin your day.   A few years ago, I was enjoying dinner on a balmy night in Nubia with my lovely husband.  There were exactly two tea options on the menu-
  • tea 
  • tea with mint 
Because everyone dumps a quarter cup of sugar in their tea in Egypt, no one notices that almost all tea served is quite insipid with bags having been freely and recklessly exposed to air.  Tea time in Egypt as in the rest of the Middle East is not about the tea.  It's about sharing company and trying to contract type 2 diabetes.

The waiter brought me a steaming cup of black tea and showed me how I can just dip the entire mint sprigs in the teacup holding the bottom stems.  I really did wish at that moment that I had never tried fresh mint tea in my entire life so I could enjoy the novelty of the experience.  I've cultivated more than nine different kinds of mint over the years (orange mint, chocolate mint, apple mint, curly spear mint, tangerine mint, peppermint, pineapple mint, Egyptian mint plus others I vaguely remember) and have determined chocolate mint is my favorite for tea.  Furthermore, I've done numerous tastings against various honey to deem black button sage honey to be the optimal sweetener for mint tea.  I smiled at the waiter and gushed, "Wow! Fresh mint tea!"  I didn't want him to think that I thought there was anything wrong with his mint sprigs because in Egypt there is only exactly one kind of mint.    The tea that night was predictably insipid and the mint uninspiring but I still had a lovely evening with my husband contemplating the ancient ruins of Abu Simbel.   Life is always happier if you resolve to be satisfied with what you end up getting.  I would not be surprised that bloggers who concentrate on the positive aspects of any tea may be the most happiest among us.

(The two pics are of my overgrown mint patch that I rip out from time to time depending on the flowering season. Many gardeners may know this but mint varieties once hybridized becomes quite boring and so growing separate types of mint requires strict segregation. )

Monday, August 27, 2012

Ebay Temptations

Some days the only thing one is capable of doing after a long hard day's work is mindless tea surfing on ebay. I used to do this back in the day when you could browse all pu selection in one breezy sitting but now the field is crowded with all manner of foreign pu-erh vendors- some of them verging on downright bizarre.  Without much effort, I found this 2000 Purple(bud) Shu Brick for a mere $20 which includes shipping from China.

Dare I buy pu-erh from a vendor who also specializes in breast enlargement creams, a Magic Butt-Shaping Cushion as well as dried wild black ants?  Despite such warning signs,  this vendor has a 100% satisfaction rating from 6160 transactions.
(Despite the natural temptation, I recommend readers not to click on this tea vendor's "Breast Enlargement" Category- at least not at work or in front of young children.  It boggles my mind that this vendor has sold 78 bottles of "Must Up" B.E. Cream but only 2 beengs of 1997 Commemorate the Return of Hong Kong Tea)

Even stranger still, this vendor also carries an "intellectually gifted" shu.  As the vendor boasts:
" It is made meticulously by traditional craft chosen in national grade intangible cultural heritage and special blending technology."
I feel bad for most of my shu which weren't endowed with such intellectual gifts.

Can such a vendor actually carry decent tea? Or is this yet another obvious sandpit in the world of internet pu-erh buying?  Dare I waste another perfectly good $20 bill out of sheer curiosity? If things go badly,  I dare not complain to a vendor who sells such novelties.  I think I should still start a coin driven fund to check out such vendors as a public service.

The censor who would not let me use a certain rude but perfect phrase involving nuns yesterday absolutely insisted today that I include this final item. As he said to me, "It's a jungle out there."

Sunday, August 26, 2012

First Hit - 1996 XG Butterfly Tuo

Finally we meet, the 1996 XG Butterfly Tuo from Life in a Teacup.  This tea has so bewitched Nick Herman that every time I see a comment by him,  I  half-expect an apparition of his beloved Butterfly.  He says, "it has sent deep, deep energy coursing into my veins which I still felt the next day. Incredible."

Who doesn't want to feel an extra-day extension of "incredible" energy.  You're definitely getting bonus  value there.  Ira brought this for us to try yesterday but I was too tea drunk on the 8582 so she generously left it for me.  When I open the pouch, I'm hit with a curious vegetal mineral nose more like seaweed or dried kale.  It no longer smells like sheng.

I brewed up all the loose leaves and fannings not in the photo as I wanted to save the rest for Ira.  The first brews were still trademark XiaGuan- drying, slightly smoky and astringent.  This sample of tea can proudly proclaim dry-aged storage despite ImmortaliTEA having received a extremely moldy version- the perils of buying aged puerh on-line.   My here example is as dry stored as they come and I was going to use a schoolboy's phrase involving nuns but the censor tells me such crude aphorisms won't do.  I first used my new three-walnut toy pot then moved to a yixing pot to see if it would improve things.   I realize I've gotten to the tenth brew but the magic is simply not happening for me so I postpone the later brews for the afternoon.

I've been thinking much about Ira's first real hit of pu-erh- a 60 year old aged sheng from a casual acquaintance.  She didn't know much about pu-erh then but she did not have to think much about whether or not the tea was good. The tea's greatness simply floored her.  How can one even ever hope to order something from the Internet to measure up to such a first introduction. Everything else must be quite ho-hum - it's a gift and a curse to be sure.  I'm pretty sure she will not be moved by this tea.
(The tea quilt in the photo was hand-made by Ira and adds an extra cozy touch to my tea session.)

Nick Herman has deemed this XG an "excellent tea".  Great for him that he could receive an extraordinary session from this tea but somehow I can't even manage a passably good session from this 300 year old arbor tea.   The tea barely holds my attention, my mind is on some Xiaguan auto-pilot conditioned from all the other XGs that dried my mouth in predictable patterns.  (Sorry sorry Nick. I just am not feeling this tea although it was the only tea I drank all day. Who's ever going to recommend tea to me again after this and Hengli Chang and the corked CGHT...)

I try to force my husband to taste some and I interrogate him Guantanamo style. The prisoner won't talk so I have resort to new gentler tactics.  When I first started drinking sheng, my first beeng was a smoky CNNP production and I loved it.  The beencha was so different from all the other polite greens-  senchas, bilochun, TGY, and their ilk I was drinking back then. Even whatever small amount of complexity the sheng had was enough to send my senses into appreciation.  Too bad I didn't save any of it because I'd love to know if it was any good after all.

When I return to the tea in the afternoon after a hike, I barely quaff two tiny cups and the astringency starts burning my insides. A seventeen year old tea still going this strong!  Tight Xiaguan's definitely benefit from some humid storage early in it's life because this tuo is too dry for me.  But I'm not going to give up on dry storage altogether based on this one data point just yet.  I luckily have a few more provided by Emmett of Cha and Kungfu blog.
Here is a behind the scenes look at where this blog is produced.  You can see my first photos of a tidy walnut tea pot set are altogether misleading as you can see a dozen tea paraphernalia cluttering the table.  My husband tore out the ceiling while I was in Dubai and India early this year and he put two skylights so I can enjoy tea and browse my maps in a sunnier setting.  

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Tea for Two - 20yr 8582 vs Hengli Chang

Since last weekend, I've been scrubbing down the house for a special tea visitor.  I wanted to try the  traditionally stored aged sheng MarshalN sent with someone else who loves pu-erh.  Ira who I dubbed the most sensitive man I've ever corresponded with- turned out to be a lovely lady and a mother of grown children.  So I felt very comfortable inviting a complete stranger I met on the web into my home- something I have never done in my life.

It's always a bit nerve wracking meeting a virtual acquaintance in the sunlit world.  But the afternoon went by so pleasurably and so quickly, we talked and brewed for four hours.  I was so absorbed with Ira's company I totally forgot to take photos. The shot below is before Ira's arrival.

I had planned to try the 20yr 8582, 2003 7542, and some traditionally stored shu but we ended up with a smaller program.  We had the 20-yr 8582 brewed two different styles. I was sampling it in my new walnut teapot before Ira arrived.  She didn't get too much of the wet stored taste from the 8582.  Although I hadn't planned to, I brewed for her 1997 Hengli Chang to show her a sheng with an   unmistakable shicang flavor.  Hengli Chang's Bulang bitterness was much more assertive than I remembered- perhaps due to the fact we had the 20 yr 8582 first.

Ira brought out her gaiwans and she deftly flash infused the 8582 for us in the second full-sized tasting of this tea.  I'm not sure what either of us was expecting.  Mouth orgasm?  Ira talked about her first aged sheng experience which led her down this rabbit hole.  She was most casually served a ~60 year old aged sheng at an acquaintance's house.  The acquaintance's wife was no ordinary tea drinker and he insisted they try some of her tea.  Apparently the acquaintance could not find his wife's stash and so he had to use the spent leaves left over from his wife's morning brew.   Incredible, thick and powerful-  it hit her over the head with sheer amazing aged sheng magic one only reads about these days.  How can this tea compete I wonder.  Let's just say Ira was "unmoved" by both teas today, and she dinged the Hengli Chang for an "unpleasant" aftertaste. 

The highlight of this 8582 for me was when I distinctly tasted sweetness on the left roof of my mouth. This was an exciting first for me and I almost thought it was a trick of the mind.  I told my husband about it later and he didn't think it physically possible.  We both learn that the back roof of your mouth, called the soft palate, does indeed host a myriad of taste buds and minor salivary glands.  Actually some fish even have taste buds on their tail fins.  I wish I had some taste buds on the tip of my left pinky and I could just swirl my pinky around at tea tastings. 

I'm still on the fence about traditional storage.  I could tell this 8582 is superior to the Hengli Chang with it's complexity, clarity, and potency.  But I'm not sure this type of tea would be at the top of my fantasy tea list or tea fantasy list.  Well now that I've had aged oolong and they are so so easy on the mouth and the mind so to speak.   Tea is for me in a large part about pleasure, and while the taste of the 8572 is stimulating and interesting, I think I only need something like it only once in a while due to the trad-stored flavor. It's not something I voluntarily crave. (The photo above shows bubbling of the leaf- something I've only seen in aged sheng.)

Besides tea chat, it was also totally fun gossiping about various blogs and bloggers.  We discussed  the contrast between MarshalN vs. Hobbes.  MarshalN despite his liberal arts background is relentlessly rational in his approach.  Hobbes despite his engineering background is more prone to romanticism.  Ira is firmly on Team MarshalN it appears. The dragon and the tiger, both have their charms and flaws which are to be savored for another post.

Ira also brought me a bag of treasures- a shocking bounty of aged sheng, including the 1997 XG Butterfly Tuo and a Menghai 8972(ca 1990) among 4 others which will power this blog for months.  She also gifted me lovely teacup pads she had quilted and they will make a photo appearance soon. Truly she is my tea fairy.  I don't know what I ever did to deserve such generosity but I feel like the luckiest tea drinker in the Americas.

 (Actually my husband who had been completely disinterested in joining us today but after dinner  said he wanted me to brew the spent 8582.  It infused 6 more times still giving a surprisingly good show.  At first the only thing he would say is a tight-lipped, "I don't dislike it." But after a few rounds,  even without prodding said "This is good tea."  Dear readers- this is high praise.  Thanks MarshalN!  )

Friday, August 24, 2012

2006 Ye Sheng Gong Pin

Like most pu-erh collectors, I nurse a great many tea delusions- some I am too acutely aware of and others I have yet to notice.  One of my favorite and most enduring delusion is that most of the stuff I bought for cheap back in 2006 is actually something wonderful to drink (or will become something amazing given enough time).  The flame is kept alive by the few instances this delusion has proved reality. I have a wild tree brick I bought for cheaper than a cup of hot bagged tea at Starbucks and at that price, it's really fabulous.  

I bought the above "Ye Sheng Bao De Hong" from YS for ~$8.  Despite the fact that I got acutely sick drinking it back in 2006,  I'm hopeful that this beeng is still something to be treasured.  The wrapper proclaims Ye Sheng Gong Pin (野生贡品).  Ye sheng means totally wild unlike most of the tall tree and wild arbor labels which would indicate older plantation trees.  But the inside ticket also lathers on qiao mu for good measure.

The ever useful babelcarp tells me Gong Pin means "Tribute Goods, i.e. (good enough) for presentation to the Emperor."  Since the very last Emperor of China lived under very shabby conditions at the end of his life, one plausibly could take such liberties. However when I contemplate the sketch of the kneeling subjects before an emperor being served tea,  I  wonder what in this tea could have possibly merited an imperial association.  Is it a case of those grubby tiny Indian buffets called Bombay Palace which can serve amazing food?  (I truly hope the illustrator behind such economical line drawing hasn't given up on his or her art. )

If we break down the english clues  "yunnan sheng lu xi shi wan tong cha chang chu pin" we get,
  • Luxi Shi(潞西市)- is a city in Dehong is now called Mang City at the wild western edge of China near the Burmese Border.
  • Luxi Wan Tong Tea Factory - yet another little known factory that may or may not be in business. YS still sells their 2005 Golden Melon which someone has dubbed "flat ginger ale".
I dare not drink it today for I have a serious serious tea date coming up tomorrow spanning 3 decades. But before I even think about drinking this ye sheng bao, I'd love to know what the inner ticket says besides the usual trout about solving all ailments.  I'll appreciate any translation help!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Deficits and Surplusses

A colleague on Monday had casually remarked that he had "the best honey in the world" at home and further more, it was harvested by noted doomer economist Gary Shilling.  Of course my food gathering instincts went into overdrive- amazing honey and one of my favorite economists in one bundle!  The author of heart warming page turners such as Deflation: How to Survive & Thrive in the Coming Wave of Deflation, I followed his investment advice to good effect before the last depression in 2007.  I really should be checking out his new book on deleveraging but I'm way too busy fine-tuning my palate.

Most people are aware of yet another gloomy economist with a similar name- Robert Shiller of Irrational Exuberance fame.  Both share the same message- bubbles and financial imprudence leads to meltdowns and more terrible terrible things are still headed our economic way. I guess it's time to batten down the hatches with a solid supply of pu-erh.  Really, my beengs are the best performing asset category among my investments.  None of them have lost value, some of them have risen more than 1000% in value. My husband disputes my rosy view stating my opened beengs lack liquidity and I can only really trade it for yet more tea. Still- who doesn't feel a warm glow of collector's pride when the price keeps rising for a tea bought for much much cheaper..... unless you're trying to buy more.  

So how is Shilling's honey harvested from New Jersey? Normally I would NOT go for honey from the most polluted state in America with 116 Superfund sites.  In the U.S., a "Superfund site" denotes a piece of land so toxic that it needed government intervention. The U.S. Congress had to pass a law to identify and clean them up with a special mega billion trust fund and even Silicon Valley used to be riddled with Superfund sites created by the likes of intel, HP, and Raytheon.  The Northern Californian sites are cleaned up now but most of the toxic chip manufacturing was shipped overseas to Taiwan and China decades ago.

 I turned this occasion to try Shilling's honey into an official honey tasting at work today.   I brought in six of my best honeys.  I explained to my colleague that Shilling's mainland multi-floral could never never hope to compete with an island varietal in any taste test.  My tasting companions were too surprised by the effervescent champagne taste of the few blond and white honeys I brought that we didn't talk much about Shilling's honey.  But you can see Shilling's honey wins for best tagline to be found on a honey jar anywhere-
"While Federal Deficits Mount,  Our Bees' Honey Surplus Grows".  

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Call for Help on Two 7262s from the Nineties

The ever generous Ira sent me two mystery samples which were both from a 7262 recipe - a classic Menghai shu recipe. When I brewed up one of the samples last week expecting shu, I was surprised by an aged sheng taste. 

Ira says the 1990 version is a lightly fermented shu which has the familiar green neifei of Langhe. But how lightly fermented was this cake?  YS sells a 2003 Langhe which mentions the Langhe style of light fermentation employing  "less heat and shorter times". I definitely will give the 2003 sample a go out of sheer curiosity.  I'm all for light fermentation if this is the result.

 When I tasted Ira's younger 1999 7262 version, it's mostly sheng and in a blind test, I probably could not taste any shu in it. I could detect a slight wet storage like taste.  Ira found one pliable leaf that looked like shu.  Ira sent photos and we are asking the readers for any information on these two beengs.

In 2008, Ira bought two 7262's in a San Francisco Chinatown dried seafood/misc ingredients shop on Grant Street. Ira eventually swept away everything on their top shelf - 5 in total with only 3 beengs with known dates. The 1999 7262 had a sticker notating they were packaged in 2007 by an outfit called "cao xiang min (taste) cha (tea)" .     
That's the trouble with buying beengs from small stores who don't specialize in pu-erh. They rarely know too much about their wares and so it becomes kind of a crapshoot.  Oakland Chinatown has a few stores carrying beengs with the ubiquitous beat up CNNP zhongcha wrapper. Who knows what's lurking behind the wrapper and the store owners  often have no clue.

But in Ira's case, it worked out to a most happy ending because the 1990 is a lovely tea. (This is a total aside but I really like pictures of two beengs side by side for some reason...)

Monday, August 20, 2012

Incorrigible Bricks

Sometimes there is only one solution to an unbreakable brick.

My dear sweet husband saw I was trying to cram a DeHong brick into a basswood box.   In two shakes of a lamb's tail,  he solved my problem on his table saw.  Even though I am an endless source of humor for him with my tea antics,  he's all business when it's to do with organizing the teas.

Actually a very important guest is visiting this Saturday.  I started accumulating cardboard boxes on my desk again, and  I don't want them to secretly shake their head. 
These basswood boxes were from Michael's Arts and Craft Store and quite affordable- a much better deal than the cremains box.  Also you can get a 40% web coupon for a single item if you join their e-mailing list so I paid only $6 for the large box.  (You know who stood in line separately to take advantage of a second coupon...) You can see they carry a perfect shoe box for 250g shu bricks.  I'm not sure if the Chinese factory worker laboring for slave wages gluing these boxes envisioned that's how these boxes would be filled in America.

Actually the bottom box does not contain leaf. Yup you guessed it.

This is a six week supply.  I keep a dozen open tasting bars out on the kitchen counter and these are party-favors for guests.  No food loving guests dare leave my house without a few chocolate bars in their pocket.   I also give away bars to work friends who need to be cheered up and sometimes I have to spread the cheer all the way across both oceans to international offices as well.  I shudder to think how gloomy things will get if I stop supplies even for a month.   

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Aged Tung Ting Oolong

The hot date I alluded to in the last post was with an Aged Tung Ting from the professor's course materials on Agedness.  When I had first taken a whiff of the ripe fruity lusciousness underneath this roasted oolong amongst all the other aged pu-erh,  I planned to reserve it for the end once I got past all the traditionally stored samples.  This week I'm jumping ahead to have a session I know will be entirely pleasurable.

This course is my first exposure to aged oolong- a category of tea I would perhaps have never explored without the professor's help- he also included two aged baozhongs of contrasting characters.  I read that aged oolongs are roasted multiple times in it's lifetime to reduce moisture and the leaves but MarshalN promptly corrected me that the best aged oolongs are not roasted.  The photo above also has the thirty year old Baozhong on the right as a comparison.  (I chose Tung Ting over the alternate Dong Ding Oolong which sounds like it belongs in an Irish limerick.  Obligatory folklore tells of 12 tea plants from Wuyi mountains sent to Tung Ting Mountain of Taiwan during the Qing Dynasty.  )

Friday was the appointed day.   Waiting to meet a lovely tea is a pleasure of it's own. Except for a mindless dianhong in the morning, I only drank water all day.  I waited for the late afternoon until I was quite hungry to heighten my senses.  I brewed up a small amount just for myself.  After the opening sips of burnt caramel paired with dried apricots and plums, the tea brings forth a creaminess that is effervescent and light.  The mouth coating of this tea is incredibly silky and something to behold.  I'm utterly beguiled by the soft feminine expressiveness of each sip.  Tiny sparks of sweetness ping delicately underneath my tongue.

After consulting Harold McGee on Food and Cooking, the creaminess can be most likely attributed to gamma-lactones and the caramel and fruit from other furanones.  Witapharma International Limited in China sells pure food flavoring which just these characteristics:

  • Furanone - fruity and caramel character
  • Chicory Furanone (Single Methyl Furanone) very distinctive fruity, roast bread, caramel and jam.
  • Fraision Methyl Ether - fresh fruit and burnt sugar
  • Fraision Ethyl Ether  - fruity or brandy like, soft caramel.  

Lactones are detectable at parts per billion. I'm curious to get my hands on a few sample bottles but my husband is weary I'm going to boost ho-hum teas with synthetic furanones and become a furanone junky.  Even a boring tea hosts hundreds of compounds to contribute to the aroma and flavor. A single synthetic compound probably will not turn a flavorless tea into a rich nuanced tea, but it could probably boost a mediocre one into something a little more interesting. (I can feel the cringing of traditionalists. No need to get your panties in a twist. I'm just stirring up the pot.)

Chemistry aside, the lush sensuality of this tea is so overwhelming, I probably could not drink this tea in public or at least not in front of other men.   Does the professor really drink such a tea?

Unlike the 20 year old fruity baozhong I enjoyed last week which revealed a slight underlying astringency of the leaf in the final brews, this Tung Ting is mellowed through and through.  I drank past a dozen brews, even though the color became increasingly lighter, the resulting brew still tasted of tea and continued to provide a lingering silkiness coating the entire mouth.  Even after brewing all night, the leaves would not give up their roll.

For a crusty old shu drinker like me, the experience of this tea disorients me entirely.  I want to wrap the rest of this tea in silk and hide it away in a secret drawer.  I don't want to get used to drinking such teas regularly. I probably couldn't tolerate shu if such fruity teas were regularly on my palate.

Aged pu-erh is considered an old man's tea.  Young sheng can be a force of masculinity and it tends to attract young male drinkers.  It's no coincidence the main hangout for pu-erh drinkers has moved onto a shaving forum.  I lurk there occasionally but even the testosterone is too much for the likes of me.  Who drinks lovely aged oolongs such as these?  (Well, who can get their grubby paws on such beauties...)

Many events conspired against my encounter with this tea.  I had planned a quiet session in my backyard only to be driven out-  there is no other tea mood killer than Berkeley backyard hippie chatter.  Thankfully they weren't smoking out and polluting the shared air with incense sticks.  I was chased back into the dining room only to have my husband start frying up onions and mushrooms for an early dinner as he had to rush to an art opening in the city.  I was finally forced into the bedroom in search of peace.  While contemplating the mouth-feel of this tea,  my husband tiptoed into the room to fetch his party clothes.  He put his finger to his lips and whispered- "Shhh. There's an intimate tea session going on here".  I am often the object of such ridicule but he's so dead on, I can do nothing but giggle with him. 

Friday, August 17, 2012

Pleasure of Trading Mystery Samples

For many of my friends and acquaintances, I'm a food fairy of sorts.  It's always a pleasure to be able to provide something they would not have had without my intervention and a double bonus if they really like it.  I gave out 70 boxes of Rabbitos Royale last year which remains my biggest hit to date but I like to keep my food surprises more targeted to specific palates.  But on the flip side because I've tried so many things, edible surprises are getting rarer and rarer for me.

But yesterday I was so pleasurably surprised at work that I am still smiling about it.  Recently I traded samples with the ever generous Ira who is my tea fairy.  On top of the CGHT and a Nannuo, Ira gave me four mystery samples which looked like shu and I took one to work yesterday not thinking much about it.

I was rushing about trying to get my brew in amongst the other coffee drinkers in our company's rather tight kitchen.  The leaves look dark but it doesn't look quite right. I only took a few leaves in case things don't turn out.  But the brew looks light- that's not shu I think to myself.  One sip and I know it's not shu or at least the kind I drink.  OMG I think to myself- it tastes much more like the aged sheng I've had except much much mellower.  I brew up the first few cups and run back to my desk. It has a beautifully comforting sweetness like maple syrup with a warm qi.  This is the back rub Israel is talking about. I do not need to send my Heng Li Chang to Berkeley Massage school as he suggests.  This tea already knows how.

The brew did not reveal any complexity or depth in my rather casual work brewing setup but it melted some bubbling tensions away. (I had to restrain myself from boring you with a rant on inadequate engineering designs.) There is a tiny tiny bit of wet storage which goes away. I pleasurably drank the rest of the tea which lasted 7 cups until it gave out. Probably with hotter water, I could have pushed it further.

Mystery Sample B was a 1990 CNNP 7262 shu that has been lightly fermented.  Ira also had included the answers for me in a sealed envelope hidden in the box. The Neifei says "Menghai Lang He Cha Chang".  I would appreciate any information regarding this shu. She also sent me a younger version for comparison.

I desperately want to try both examples today under more ideal conditions but I have a rather hot date with another tea I set a week ago.  I need to keep my palate clear.  Otherwise it's like showing up for a first time date already having kissed someone else. (Actually I have a raffish neighbor who does more than kissing before his dates.  His latest mishap involved a dead cell phone battery. Having missed some rather important texts, he brought two ladies back to his place only to find his current steady girlfriend waiting for him in his bed.  He is NOT a tea drinker I might add.)

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

What Is Great Tea Part I - Borrowed Answers

Every morning for the past few months,  as soon as my eyes open,  I whip out a tablet I've stashed  under my pillow and start catching up on what's gone on in the tea blogosphere while I've been asleep.  This morning my husband said to me, "Wow, did somebody buy a tea on-line, drink it and have an opinion?"  I giggled in agreement but I should have said breathlessly, "The sheng leader has been captured and is being held ransom by the Shanghai Triad!"

Every pu-erh drinker nourishes different motivations in pursuing this elusive tea.  Many of us are trying to build up collections and age sheng ourselves.  For me, my obsessiveness hinges on answering one of the most fundamental questions- "What is Great Tea?"  I know what pretty good tea is and how to get it. But a profoundly great tea, it eludes me still. 

My friend recently gifted me a copy of Robert Parker Jr.' s guide to wine.  For those who have never heard of Parker Jr., he is the most powerful wine critic in the known universe.  His controversial Parker Points system exerts such direct influence on market demand and hence the price of a wine that the circulated story is that two chateau owners have offered him the sexual favors of their daughters. (I think our own Hobbes- though he is a market mover of sorts- is not quite there yet. )

Independent consumer-oriented review of wine which has much in common with tea is also another endless topic  meriting it's own post.  To cut to the chase,  his sections on "What is Great Wine" provides a reasonable starting point for me to think about great tea as both ancient beverages share much in common.  I've cherry picked from his answers for our discussion.

 1. Pleases both the palate and the intellect

Pu-erh is a tea best appreciated with the entire body.  There are differing opinions on the role of taste in aged sheng.  Some people treat pu-erh as a qi conveyance vehicle.  However we are creatures not immune to pleasure.  We cannot deny that the fragrance, mouthfeel and flavor profile of a pu-erh impacts our regard for a particular tea.  

I've been drinking tea for decades and there is no other category of tea that puzzles my walnut so- much of it fueled by the lack of conclusive satisfying information.  I've written 50 essays in the last three months and I cannot imagine writing with such intensity about any other tea or food category. Even mildly good pu-erh stimulates my brain cells, triggers memories, reveries, and various fanciful flights of the imagination.  Even bad pu-erh gives pleasure to my brain cells. I think my "intellect" is too easily pleased so I cannot comment further.
2. Ability to improve with age
This would exclude almost all teas except pu-erh and certain kinds of oolong.  Can anyone here counter the oft repeated truism that a young tea cannot compete in complexity and depth with a great aged tea?

3. Ability to provide a singular personality
Banzhangs and Yiwus would not be so sought after without their recognizable individuality.

I think vintage years tend to matter less in pu-erh unless there were extenuating circumstances, i.e. a certain factory was having liquidity problems and had to buy lesser grade maocha.

4. Ability to hold your attention
While there are terrible teas which force your attention, I think this attribute must go in tandem with the above points.  But even moderately good pu-erh has a multi-dimensionality that can hold your full attention especially if you are going to blog about it.

Hmmm. It's clear that Robert Parker Jr. has not the full answer for tea nor wine I suspect although it was a decent starting point.

The picture on the left is what I consider one of the greatest treasures of humankind.  Hewn entirely out of solid rock, I drooled continuously when I laid my eyes on this wondrous edifice.  If I had to travel only once in my entire lifetime, it would be to Jordan.  But of course I am greedy so I traveled to Jordan via the Israel border twice in 2009, once alone after a business trip and then a second time with my dear husband.  I probably have the wrong impression that great tea should be so gobsmackingly astonishing that I cannot miss it.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

2012 YS Yiwu Purple Tea

Most mornings at work I don't have the luxury of a full brew. Because I'm always staying up in the wee hours with tea doings, I invariably wake up late and have to rush about. Today I came in late as usual but felt I needed to stop time and make myself a proper brew.  Since two people I have known have passed away this month, I feel keenly that more than ever, your life is always now.

I've been diligently squirreling away tea at work for years.  Since we are moving in two months to newer but smaller digs by the waterside,  I've been trying to clear out the accumulation of a decade a little each day.    The tidy photo of my tea station is quite misleading.  In reality, I have three separate shelves and two different desks filled with various jars of honey, chocolates, tea, beef jerky, nuts, dried fruit,  miscellaneous hardware, and unreported travel receipts- all mingling freely and quite smudged with honey. 

I recovered a sample bag of the 2012 Yunnan Sourcing Yi Wu Purple hiding behind various  dianhong. I had completely forgotten that I had even bought this tea as I don't register samples in my ipad inventory program. But there's nothing like a pack-ratter's joy in finding something you want at the right time.

The first sips reveal this to be a pretty and refined tea like other Yiwus.  The expected astringency is not too bad even on an empty stomach. Wow- only $23 for a 250g beeng I think to myself- tenth of the cost of the 2010 HLH Yiwu Chawang and maybe 75% as good.  The YS purple bud comes from 20-30 year old plantation trees unlike the ancient arbor of the Chawang.

However like most shengs, this one is not ideal for work as it is highly intolerant to overbrewing and I had to sadly pitch a cup or two.  But still I was feeling quite cheerful to squeeze in a casual tea session at work today.  The brewed leaves are quite plump and I definitely will thrown in a beeng or two in my next order once I feel confident purple tea can age.

I went for my usual Tuesday run during lunch and I was surprised I could still feel the sweetness on my tongue.  Then I injured my gluteus maximus trying to jump over a low cement wall at Jack London Square.  I saw stars,  I limped along in pain, then the huigan disappeared.  If the huigan had persisted, I would definitely have gotten me an entire tong.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Wet Storage Sensitivity

One of my favorite novels of all time is Patrick Susskind's Perfume- a brilliant tale of a psychopath born with a singular sense of smell.  Not satisfied with creating wildly successful botanical perfumes for smelly but wealthy Parisians, he ups the perfumier's craft a few notches by distilling the essence of virgins.  My college roommate who is currently finishing a postdoc on olfactory systems of drosophila tells me that at least in the fruit fly world, virgins do smell more "yummy".  Her current research involves heightened olfactory sensitivity for hungry flies.  Even for hungry humans, our sense of smell is more intense than when we are sated.  Perhaps for this reason, more fragrant tea sessions might be preferred before a meal than after.  But is a more receptive sense of smell better for enjoying wet-stored pu-erh?

I now have experience enough to support both sides.

This Saturday's tasting of two versions of the same 2005 Chen Guang He Tang Menghai Yieh Sheng  both stored under different conditions was a most instructive lesson.  I was lucky enough to receive samples of this Chen Zhi Tong production from both MarshalN and Ira. I initially thought MarshalN's sample was also traditionally stored due to white mold on a few stems but he tells me this is "natural storage" under humid conditions than tradtitional storage. His was admirably enjoyable and I could not detect anything of the wet-storage in the brew.  One whiff of Ira's sample told me his cake was quite mature.  I quadruple rinsed it, then had to throw out the first three brews and still I just could not keep this tea down.   MarshalN helpfully suggested that such cakes could be aired out in the wrapper for weeks to months so I will give the extra wet-stored cake another go in a month if only I can find a place to air out this cake.

Ira, perhaps one of the sweetest of men I've ever had the pleasure of correspondence, wrote me that night and said he couldn't smell very much on the original source beeng.  I tried to sniff the cake again the next morning and couldn't even manage to open the bag as I could smell the offending odour through the plastic bag.  So I asked my husband who graciously agreed to do a test.  To my complete surprise, he dove his nose into the bag inhaling vigorously, even took out a piece to do a contact sniff.  I was quite worried an errant tea leaf might get stuck up a nostril as such was the force of his snuffing.  My husband said he could barely smell anything. I got curious and sniffed the open bag at a six inch distance. The mildew smell was so overwhelming,  it triggered my gag reflex again (sorry dear reader for such details).

Ira's 2005 CGHT has a different wet-storage smell than the 1998 Heng Li Chang or the 2003 Sungsing Bada. Although I wasn't the biggest fan of the 1998 Heng Li Chang,  sniffing the brewed leaves were the most intriguing and pleasurable part of the session for me.  So this CGHT a case of wet storage or poor storage? I enjoyed for dinner tonight a most excellent apple-smoked salami from Olli. I love sniffing that porky musty smell and I never peel my salami's preferring to eat the moldy skin for extra flavor.   I normally love stinky foods cured by mold such as washed rind cheeses. So what is different about the second CGHT?
Then by pure chance a shape of an answer came to me. A friend and I wandered into a used bookstore in downtown Oakland during our lunch hour.  After five seconds of browsing their cartography section, I literally ran outside as the smell of mildew was so overpowering which reminded me of the CGHT session.  Of all the book lover's who were crowding the store, no one seemed to be holding their nose.

A hypersensitivity to mold I think may prevent enjoyment of the majority of wet-stored sheng available in the West.  I read that allergy sufferers and asthmatics can be more sensitive to mold than the general population so readers can write me to see if there is a correlation to appreciation of wet-stored sheng. But those hypersensitive need not lose hope on aged sheng which tend to be wet stored.  Well done wet storage as the samples MarshalN has provided prove to me that I need not be afraid of traditional storage. Good wet-storage can be quite pleasurable, but how do I go about procuring more of this kind of wet-storage?  TBD...

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Bumper Years and Droughts

My foray into pu-erh coincided with the most difficult period in my adult life.  Most days I thought my life could not continue on like this yet I would find that another day had passed. I slept very little in those days and I would surf the internet for pu-erh knowledge till the wee hours. And having exhausted all new tea updates, I would then search for the most unimaginably sad stories from the spirit crushing corners of the world- Liberia, Sudan, Eastern Congo, and the West Bank.

A great part of the teas in my collection are from those harsh years I would not repeat again.  Most days I think nothing of it when I drink from those vintage years but some days it triggers a cascade of sharp memories.  Drinking really bitter young sheng in those days was a lifeline of sorts.  And buying up impractical amounts of young sheng back then was an act of pure optimism- that I would survive past all the burdens.

Our olfactory system is intertwined to our limbic system and when a scent or taste can conjure a blissful memory,  it is like having a magic transporter to your own cheerful happy place. That's why I always have a large canister of bacon bits in my fridge. (Yes I am that guy that's emptying out the bacon tray at the supermarket salad bar. )

The tea which I reach for now when things hurt is not pu-erh but the malty and ever smooth Yunnan gold.  Prisoners on death row tend to request comfort foods like fried chicken as their last meal.  I probably won't want to drink pu-erh nearer to the end.  This morning I brewed up a pressed Feng Qing pure bud.   I'm ever mindful of the cyclical nature of the universe but I know how to take comfort in drinking the teas I love.  And that takes me much much further than the esoteric tea knowledge I'm trying hard to gain.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Tale of Two CGHTs

The joy of not having children or a pair of billy-goats that need your constant attention is being able to block serious time for tea.  Of course I may die lonely as many of my friends remind me but I may just adopt a pair of Nubian goats who can sometimes be even more loving than flesh and blood progeny.  And if they are not- I can enjoy fresh goat stew for which I have many good recipes.  (No offense to the brave parents out there who are sacrificing everything for the continuation of our species. )

Today I sampled two 2005 Chen Guang-He Tangs blended by that leading expert- Chen Zhi Tong.  I'm assuming he's still leading away although you don't see new CGHT cakes past 2009 but you see his articles going strong in the Art of Tea magazine. He tends to write more about market forces rather than the tea itself which makes me think there is more businessman in him than tea lover. Oh how I wish I can read more than 2 pages of  "Hidden Rules of Pu-erh" in AoT vol. 10.  He tends to bash big factories but he does bring out relevant points about how there is an oversupply of pu-erh in storage right now which exceeds what the end consumer can absorb.  I've been waiting for years to benefit from speculators dumping their hoard of tea but it hasn't happened yet.  When I heard Mr. Chen speak in Pasadena in 2007,  he impressively anesthetized both sides of my brain going on about creating sustainable market conditions so let's see how his actual tea compares.

The first CGHT is from MarshalN which he labeled only as "2005 CGHT".  You can see that the above chunk is quite sleek and a few leaves sport white mold.  MarshalN corrects me that this tea is not traditional storage but rather has undergone natural storage in a humid region, i.e. Taiwan.  Plot spoiler- when I see how plump and respectable the brewed leaves turn out,  I'm suitably impressed how tightly these leaves have been rolled.

The second sample from Ira is the 2005 CGHT Menghai Yieh Sheng - available at Hou De for $165.  MarshalN had suggested this very cake as a Birthday Beeng selection.  I assumed my two samples are two different blends based on leaf composition. The Yieh Sheng has a rather messy look. But MarshalN informs us that they are indeed the two same versions which now makes this tasting all about storage conditions.

Now I have to carefully choose which tea to start.  You definitely want to progress from light to heavy in a wet storage tasting but this may be tricky if you haven't had the teas before. I chose MarshalN's to go first since one sniff of Ira's Yieh Sheng points to more serious wet storage and the more plentiful white spots of mold confirms this assessment.

MarshalN's cake has a nice thick mouth feel and you can still taste and sniff a remnant sheng youthfulness in the leaves. You get good huigan in the second cup.  Really really tight rolling that we saw in the dry cake results in leaves that refuse to unfurl completely. This is a solid respectable cake and as I drink it, I'm strolling along a familiar path to sweetness. This sample provides a critical reference point for my own dry stored cakes. Berkeley aging will probably take twice as long to achieve where this cake is currently.

The HouDe version however is another story.  It has considerably more noticeable wet storage.  I rinsed it four times for good measure but even the subsequent three brews I pitched.  This wet storage taste is nothing like the muffled maple syrup of '97 Heng Li Chang or the '03 Sungsing Bada.  It has a lavender/cedar/mildew taste profile that I just cannot get used to. I try and try and I try but I have such a strong visceral reaction against this cake that I can't swallow much of it- my natural gag reflex does not permit me. This isn't granny powder but rather granny's closet. This cake supposedly blended with a wild Banzhang base may be beloved by others but it's moot to me since this is not a cake I can even swallow.  I will let the sample air out a bit and make another attempt in another month.

The HouDe leaves are considerably darker and thinner but similarly did not want to unfurl. I carefully pried open a few leaves.  The HouDe brews expectedly darker and has completely lost it's sheng youth. This is the most mature 2005 I've tasted.  These two same cakes stored under varying conditions cannot be more different.

I'm extremely grateful to Ira for saving me $165(multiple Korean-style bows to Ira here).  This is one of the deep pitfalls of expensive aged sheng which has been traditionally stored and is highly recommended by others.  It's one thing if you thought a cake was over-hyped and over-priced but it's another thing altogether if  you can't even bring yourself to drink it.  Emmett mentioned that he could not keep down a highly regarded 2000 Jing Tea brick.  I guess Emmett and I are both in the "highly sensitive to wet storage" group. There may be others out there but you don't read a lot of gag reflex trigger reports on some of these wet-stored sheng. I actually hesitated a bit before writing such an unsavory report and thought maybe I should do another tasting next week. 

The important lesson for me today is twofold.  One- the well regarded traditionally stored sheng available to the Western drinker via internet vendors that other people seem to enjoy is not for me. So I'm really better off not buying any aged sheng on the internet especially from vendors known to carry really wet stored stuff.  But point two is that happily, there are traditional storage examples that I actually enjoy.  I think I might have given up on wet stored cakes altogether had it not been for MarshalN's box of traditionally stored samples. So a deep bow of gratitude goes out to MarshalN.

I have five more samples to go through but my mind is whirling with all sorts of possibilities why I can't enjoy something that other tea heads do.  

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Tea Correspondence Course in Agedness

Day before I left for L.A. I received my class materials for a correspondence course in Intermediate Aged Pu-erh that I am taking from a Hong Kong professor.  Exciting!

 Then in my absence, another box arrived to further my tea studies. The second box includes the recommended 2005 Chen Guang He Tang as well as three mystery samples for fun.  Really- I want to quit my day job and taste tea all day.  But since my tea and other habits take a rather plump wallet to sustain,  I only took an extra vacation day today.

For each person embarking on a discovery of pu-erh,  you can wander a lot in the forest without ascending enough ground to see the peaks and valleys of the land.  One often stumbles on poor examples and you can also get pleasantly mired in the thicket of mediocre teas.   My big thrust for this year is to determine whether or not to pursue aged sheng.  With high-end young shengs going well over a hundred dollars, one could just enjoy some aged stuff with that kind of cash.

The first fork in the road you come to with aged sheng is traditional storage.  (I'll just put a link on Aaron Fisher's article here instead of regurgitating the basics.) I've had a handful of traditionally stored teas thus far and my immediate personal reaction has  been somewhere between gag reflex and nose wrinkling. Since I love other musty moldy flavors in salumi and cheese,  I'm puzzled.   Before I rule out such stored teas altogether, I want to make sure I've had the chance to taste good examples of it's type.
The "fuzzy taste" of  Hengli Chang was a bit much for me- like early jazz recorded on wax cylinders where the static is so overwhelming, one cannot properly enjoy the music.  Is the wet-stored taste more of an artifact to be tolerated to get to the tea underneath or is it something integral to the taste of vintage sheng? Aaron Fisher suggests the former, that one doesn't drink aged sheng for the flavor but for the qi.   Proper humidity and heat is essential in keeping the qi alive as dryness can kill a cake. So what's a little moldy taste on the way to experiencing great qi.  However if you happen to enjoy that moldy wet-stored taste, more power to you since you can't avoid it if you have any interest in vintage sheng.

Our tastes and preferences are strongly shaped by cultural context.   Men who declare a preference  for "high meat" probably wouldn't do so if it wasn't considered macho by other men.  I've unintentionally swallowed high meat and it's gross. I definitely would not wait for the body to ripen and fall off a the head of a hung pheasant before cooking my bird.  In the world of Western pu-erh drinking where we don't have much of a history or context at all, we are in theory freer to make up our own minds on what we truly prefer.  But even if we are left to our own devices we tend to rely on peer reports to guide our opinions. That's why blind tastings are so useful.

I tried five teas today.  I didn't want to report on them until I've had them at least three times under different conditions.  I think I have to change my drinking protocol as having too many teas at once,  I can't differentiate a tea's impact on the body.  I'm just jittery all over and now must go running to shake it all off.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Tea Thoughts in Transit

(I'm still in L.A. and have only time to post something tapped out on the plane days before. I apologize in advance if my Koringlish is starting to show.)

Yesterday morning, I briefly glanced at the spent leaves of the Dehong High Plateau and I was unexpectedly transported to Act 1 of Rigoletto.  The day before when drinking this tea, I was taken aback by a discrepancy which I noted as a "Neanderthal with a high pretty voice".  But the leaves told me it was a duet all along with youngish greener leaves providing the high notes among the dark gnarled leaves of cooked shu.

Rigoletto is a hunchback court jester in a Verdi opera - a bitter dark character with one source of light in his life - a sweet but bodacious daughter Gilda whom he tries to hide away especially from a womanizing Duke. The scene where Rigoletto returns home singing about his woes(hates his job) but is overtaken by the sweet voice of his daughter so matches the progression of the Dehong brews that I can only shake my head.  Pu-erh has spread it's tendrils deep and wide through the various crevices of my memory banks.

(Warning to all Father's out there with daughters- trying to control your daughter's love life almost always comes to a bad bad end. Verdi who is so fond of dying heroines has the lovely Gilda sing her last aria dying of stab wounds in a body bag.  I'm sorry if you think I've spoiled the plot but really, Verdi plots are so predictable that once you see Rigoletto contract a killer for the Duke, you feel for Gilda. )

This brick is instructive for how far one can stretch a blend.   I have one other shu which explicitly blends differently fermented leaves together('07 World in a Pot Ripe Pu-erh Tea Cake) and it's more of a muddied mess.  But this Dehong is done to such dramatic effect that even I am surprised that this humble pu-erh is match enough for Italian opera which pits the most ridiculous plot against some of the most sublime music a human voices can make.

This tea was highly interesting but not sublime and I look forward to a second exposure.  Dehong is at the wild western edge of China but do the leaves have an extra frontier flavor? The less fermented younger leaves must age faster than regular sheng being so inundated with the live cultures from the shu and it's this younger shu which provides the intrigue in the tea.  I should strip a boring sheng and store it bare next to a shu to see if something good can happen.

A tea like this de Hong - I'm not interested in drinking it regularly.  Too much drama is bad for one's emotional constitution especially for a semi-rational Korean like me who can easily revert to my Romulan roots on a dime. (Sorry, sorry, how did that Trekkie reference sneak in. I am NOT a trekkie and I swear here and now never to do a scifi mash up.)