Saturday, May 23, 2015

Twenty Dollar Tong

I've been progressively decluttering the house this month in an attempt to bring material order to my chaotic life. I've disposed of three boxes of books and now turn my attention to pruning the tea closet(yet again). I can win some battles but I concede I am losing the war. It's clear I need a radically different approach.

I've been researching the various schools of minimalism and organization. The most offbeat novel approach I tried was the konmari method named after Japanese tidiness guru Marie Kondo. She advises putting all the items of a single type you own in one giant pile on the floor, touching them one by one and getting rid of anything that does not "spark joy".  If the item in question does not do it for you, you are supposed to thank the object and respectfully send it on it's way. Arigato gozaimasu '06 Haiwan LTZ (with deep bows).

You can only imagine how it all went down. Being a tactile creature, holding and touching the furry leaves of unworthy cakes made me want to hold on to them even more- I can't turn away these lost puppies.  I'm not holding on to these mediocre decade old cakes because I'm deluding myself that they are going to get that much better with age. I keep them because the role of tea in my life fluctuates. I used to treat sheng mostly as a special session tea.  But now that these budget beengs have reached or gone past the decade mark finally becoming a tad more drinkable,  I want to down such sheng with my dried seaweed and squid snacks.  I'm totally holding onto my lifetime supply of casual consumption sheng. 

Old time readers might recognize my 2005 Liuda Cha Shan sampler tong brought back by a friend doing her Beijing Fulbright back in 2006. She bought it for 180 yuan or about ~$24(back then) from an official 6 FTM Tea Company store in Meliandao. She chuckled quite amused that tea could be so "dirt cheap".  Anyone who's ever bought a bag of sterilized potting soil knows that dirt is not necessarily cheap but this tong is still disturbingly cheap. But I add that this really was the price back in the day and no one bothered to fake low end things like these.

Not all cakes in this tong are valued equally- the Yiwu, Banzhang and the Spring Tips(first flush Menghai plantation) are probably $5 and the others less than $2 a piece.  The Banzhang is Xin Banzhang with random Bulang mixed in.  Each cake proudly proclaims to be 野生  yěshēng/wild or forest tea but so does more than half the big factory cakes in my collection.   I used to harbor terrible mixed feelings about this tong because I didn't send my friend a thick wad of cash for something better.  But now I'm even grateful she didn't get me the '06 FTM or a tong of Haiwan LTZ.

 I originally held onto this tong to act as a reference set despite misgivings.  This "Spirit of the Six Famous Mountain Yinji" series as an acknowledged low-end plantation blend provides a useful benchmark against other boutique cakes touting single mountain wild tree origin. I've only cracked open the Yiwu for such a study.  This Yiwu is pretty decent for what it is- it tastes like Yiwu. I brewed it up today and I like it more each time. The huigan is blatantly obvious- there's something gratifying about a beeng that doesn't pussyfoot around.  Despite missing the beguiling delicacy of higher end Yiwus, it's tasty enough that I'm glad this tong survived multiple tea purges.  

We have two sides to cheap and cheerful factory cakes like these. MarshalN completely disses 6 FTMs as worthless crap to be avoided.  Don't even try to fob off such cakes to your friends. Hobbes however being more mindful of procuring our puerh on the internet has a more generous attitude towards the Six Machine as he calls them.  The common people including me need decent budget options.  I'd say don't go out of your way to fill up on such 6FTM now as you won't find rock bottom prices anymore but don't throw it out or feel bad if they are sleeping on your shelves.

After the konmari decluttering exercise, I did not get rid of much tea.  However I'm no longer conflicted about holding onto my decent low-grade factory productions.  I'm going to have the luxury of enjoying mediocre aged sheng alongside all manner of stinky provisions.  I plan on eating a lot of dried squid with peanuts so this twenty dollar tong may not last the next decade.

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