Archives for posts with tag: pu-er

The first time I heard of The Essence of Tea, I felt dismissive; why would I buy tea from China to be shipped to me in the USA via the UK? If I was going to order pu-er online—which is pretty necessary outside of Asia if you want anything of quality—why not just order directly from Asia, e.g. Yunnan Sourcing?

Since then, Essence moved its base of operations to Malaysia for humid aging potential and Panang curry, and I took the plunge on them and have experienced their consistently potent stock.

The 2005 Chang YuHao Yiwu, which I acquired during their Malaysian-storage sale, but is still the most expensive cake I’ve ever bought, is a perfect example of their ability to acquire whole-body-mind-altering pu-er. I tried a sample of this tea with a previous order and was blown away by its strength and depth, vowing to purchase it if it ever went on sale and became a little more affordable.

For a 10-year old (small-scale production?) humid-aged cake of premium Yiwu material, the compression is surprisingly hard. Also, the leaves are small, a bit coarse, and don’t seem particularly special in any way. But, pu-er is like the aikido of tea–cheating is allowed and encouraged, and appearances are deceiving. The energy and longetivity of this tea is simply incredible. With most pu-er, even those I mentally bookmark as “powerful,” 8-10 g is good for a super stimulating, 1-2 hour psychoactive session. With the Chang YuHao Yiwu, 5 g is enough to send me into deep orbit.

If TwoDogTea had made this cake, he should call it Ahmad’s Green, or maybe The Awakening, or Autumn Rain. To me, Ahmad Jamal is an endless source of inspiration, one of the most pivotal figures in jazz—and still working. Like his music, this tea starts out smooth with barely any hints of astringency, then sneaks up behind you, WHAM, and slams you into the mat like only a 5th+ dan can. Like the motifs that Ahmad weaves into his playing, the effervescent returning themes, doubling back again and again with slight variations, this tea creates a myriad of subtle but intense feelings and moods—fiery stomach-qi, a happy, calm sensation that all is right (in this scary world) in the universe, a true lucid tea-drunkenness (a phrase that I usually think is the epitome of annoying geek-talk but is actually true here), an occasional tingling in the extremities.

A friend of mine stopped in an Indian grocery store this morning after our aikido practice to buy a large quantity of black teabags. I half-jokingly told him I could give him some real tea if he wanted, guessing what the response was going to be.

“I don’t want to mess with all that.. [gong fu tea, etc.], I don’t have time for that.”

This is a valid complaint, but for those of us involved in high complexity art forms, (the person in question is a 3rd dan in two martial arts, a collector of ephemera, and a PhD engineer), good tea seems like (or should be) such an easy sell. Compared to the rigors one puts oneself through in studying an art or discipline intensively, the huge costs involved for many hobbies (martial arts, airplane flying), the enjoyment of quality tea still seems like a bargain to me. We all have to rest. Good tea restores and rejuvenates, allows space for contemplation, and for me, is so excellent and damningly pleasantness, the way it twists and warps a tired or tense self back into a stable and creative position, that it seems to make life worth living as much any experience.

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Today I spotted an article about a local wine seller of considerable reputation.
I’m hardly the first person to point out the parallels between the tea and wine world (though I think the former tends to be far more aware of making the connection to the latter than vice versa, especially as the latter has tended to be almost entirely Euro and Western-centric), but I thought there were some interesting words in here that are fairly applicable to the tea savant. Namely,

It amuses Lynch that, for instance, he has been pegged as a proponent of so-called natural wines. In his new epilogue, he suggests that such wines’ proponents “in their zeal leave their palates behind.”

“People don’t realize that I made it a point not to have a philosophy, but to first consider the wine in the glass,” he says. “To sit around, arguing it like religion, doesn’t interest me at all.”

and

He prefers to frame his work differently. Having fallen in love with European wine during his 1970s travels, he wondered why so many Americans who made similar journeys would return and wonder why the wines they swooned over abroad didn’t taste as good back home.

“A lot of my career,” he says, “has been figuring out why it doesn’t taste the same.”

Should ring a few bells for anyone who has thought about storage w/r/t to puer. Most pertinently, from a separate article I came across,

“So many people say, ‘I’d love to put some wines away to age, but I don’t have the money for those types of wines.’ You don’t need to be buying expensive wines to age!” He contends that there are plenty of very affordable wines (as in, under $20) that would absolutely benefit from aging.

 

 

While in Vancouver, we hopped on the Skytrain over to Richmond on a rainy Saturday and paid a visit to the legendary and apocryphal, The Best Tea House Company, the only North American, Non-HK branch of a store(s) based in Hong Kong (sadly, I was unaware of it when in HK, and not even particularly up on pu-er at that time, being still infatuated with Taiwanese oolongs, blast it–not that I had any money at the time to spend on anything good).

Like it’s hyperbolic and somewhat funny name, it’s safe to say that The Best Tea House is probably the best tea shop I’ve been to outside of Asia, and echoes the great ones in China and Taiwan, in which knowledgable proprietors with decades into the business combine with excellent products. We were the only non-Chinese in the store. The head of this branch, Michael Fung, only opened up to me and allowed me to start tasting once it was clear that I was serious about tea (probably being able to speak some Chinese and reference my time abroad in China and Taiwan didn’t hurt, either). Amazingly, there is not a single yelp review for this place. Yes, this is the current state of tea outside of Asia; still so behind the times compared to how it is at the source, people here don’t even recognize the real thing when they see it or even know it’s there. There is much work to be done.

As more and more “guests,” arrived at the tasting table, English, Cantonese, and Mandarin were all spoken, and I felt as if I was back in Taiwan or China. I probed Mr. Fung’s mind for information and experience. Among other interesting tidbits, he told me some members of his family/company (the two are often separable when it comes to Chinese businesses) are currently pressing white tea cakes in Fujian,
“Just to see how it will turn out,” he wryly told me.
Exactly the sort of thing I like to hear.

Upon seeing a lone bing on the shelves imprinted with “Cloud’s Tea Collection,” I asked him about the famous tea blogger.

“That’s the only one we have, he gave it to us–he was a student at our store,” Mr. Fung plainly stated.
“Here, or in Hong Kong?” asked Chris.
“In Hong Kong. He is known for always walking around with a camera hanging from his neck, he would take pictures of everything!”
We laughed.
“And what about the cakes that he’s produced? What do you think of them?”
Mr. Fung slowly took a sip of his tea.
“A little better than average.”

I asked him about storage: Is it too dry in California, in his opinion, to store pu-erh well, compared to a more wet environment like British Columbia?
“I think by the coast in California is good, because you have the water, so there will always be some moisture in the air. You don’t need to do anything special..the best storage is just natural,” he emphasized.

At the end of it, tea drunk as we all were, (“If you drink too many teas at once, you will become lost, and forget where you are!”), he handed me his business card.
“Please come back when you are here and call me if you have any questions.”

Fond memories. And now I am making many more new fond ones with the bings I purchased.

First, the 2006 Mengku Da Xue Shan. I can find absolutely no information about this particular cake on the internet, nor is it even listed in The Best Tea House’s online store; searching for “2006 Mengku Da Xue Shan” in either English or the Chinese equivalent will only pull up images of a much lower priced, apparently much more common (and I assume, comparatively humdrum) cake, available at Yunnan Sourcing, among other vendors. This is most definitely, NOT that cake. No, this is a wonderful, magical cake, that retails for $170 Canadian and is well worth it.

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It smells of camphor and pear, and has a full body that permeates the whole mouth and down to the stomach, only mildly bitter, a bit sweet. Deep orange color. After my first session at home, I wrote, “I feel calm, happy, energetic, lingering taste.”
I found myself simply smiling out the window with every sip, at nothing and everything in particular. Are plants not miraculous?

The initial taste is almost reminiscent of good dancong or gaoshan cha, before becoming ever deeper, and sweeter and rounder as time goes on. Even after 10+ infusions there is still a powerful depth to the taste. When brewed longer than ideally, it doesn’t get unpleasantly bitter, just thicker, and slightly astringent.
Despite being the highest price bing I’ve ever bought, I’d say it was entirely worth it, and one of the best purchases I’ve made. This is a wonderful tea.

Then, the oddly named, 2007 五餅二魚 “5 Cake 2 Fish,” from Lincang material, made by The Best Tea House Co. itself, and a steal at $96 Canadian.

This unique tea is presented and recommended by Mr. Vesper Chan, Puer Quality Specialist

reads the text wrapping around the bottom of the wrapper. The quaint British-inflected Chingrish prose definitely transports me to Hong Kong, as does the taste:

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Bittersweet, alternately bitter and sweet-甘 “gan,” as Mr. Fung pointed out.
“For a long time I was searching for the right English words to describe this taste, bitter, and sweet. Then someone told me it is just ‘bittersweet,'” he chuckled.

It stays in the mouth for long time, and I can feel undulating waves of taste moving through me. A sweet scent comes from the cup, and strong warmth/qi enters the body like passing through a gate, entering and dispersing. At one point in sampling at the store, a lively member of the tasting table started removing multiple layers of clothing and wiping his bald head with a cloth, “very warm!” he said, and I also removed a sweater. Calm high.

I’ll be enjoying these two for a long time to come and looking forward to my next visit back to Vancouver and that special tea shop with the silly yet well-deserved name, The Best Tea House Company.