Thanks to Ms. J introduction, a tea friend from The Tea Gallery. David Oller (http://www.oller.net) and Rosanne Tartaro (sunrosearomatics.com) hosted a Kodo gathering this weekend. David was kind enough to bring over 1940's set of Aloewood samples, prepared and produced by a famous Master of Kodo. David then produced a perfect Ko from each of them. Heaven!
I have long been obsessed about pairing aroma to tea. The last time I smelled the waterless pot of the Qing Brick, there was a hint of aloewood in it. The fragrance is so noble and refined that it really opens up one’s mind. At the Kodo gathering, after sampling 5 different kinds of aloewood, David finally pulled out the best one. The molecule of the smoke coated my throat and the windpipe, and slowly developed out to the back of my tongue. Sweet and "Kim" the smoke turns to candy delicious. I can truly relate to a fine vintage pureh with that experience. But, what more is, I long for a cup of tea to pair with the moment....
I usually take at least 3 sessions to be convinced for one tea, then accept it as a "family member". Afterwards, I will pair it with a cigar. This "test" will certainly put it to a statics or if not, fail miserable.... So the question everyone is asking is "Why"?
Pairing fine cheese with choice wine brings out the hidden character of a bottle, which normally details one cannot detach. Some wine connoisseurs pair them with cigar, the smoke molecule that lingers inside the throat can add as a binding to the wine body. Spicy or woody, sweet or astringent, all these will be amplified by the smoke. If the British and the French have been doing this for more than 100 years, why can't we apply the same theory to tea with cigar?
With this question in mind, I enjoyed a beautifully aged 1998 Partagas D4 pairing with 1980's Silver Needle Golden lotus loose puerh. The Lotus flower aroma from the tea was enhanced by the creamy cedar of the smoke, then the spicy, crisp peppier from the body of the cigar was overlayered by the intense moist sweetness of the tea. Sweet and Sour Crispy fried pork loin, who would not appreciate?
During 2 weeks of babysitting a pot, what I was brewing in it was 16 grams of 88 green bing. Of course, I wouldn't have let each moment pass without having something special in it. The tea ended last night with detail tasting everyday for 2 weeks.... And new tasting began. I transfered 11 grams of the Qing Dynasty puerh in it and passed it on to Michael from tea gallery, the rightful owner of the pot. He will now refine brew it everyday, producing cold and hot pots of this rarest vintage puerh. Lets see if this session will break the record of 5 weeks of tasting.
She won my heart by her sacrifice. Everyone of them, shall win.... Even I don't know her name. She did whisper to us at this amazing night.
The group stayed after the session for dessert. My wife made green tea and coffee macaroons. Two aunties brought homemade mango ice-cream and angel food cake. What a feast! We chatted and reviewed about our experiences, and our hearts were filled with content and thanks. Even though I could not pull a date and name or even origin of this puerh at the end, she did pull this "tea Moment" together.
"We must do this more often!" Betty said, "I have so much more at home, which I do not know what they are...."
As Chinese business tradition, at the end of every year, merchants among merchants give each other some of their best goods of the year, as a 'Mutual Allies Gifts'. Fortunately, Betty's family has been receiving teas as gifts. My request to her: "Bring them over, I insist." One of the Uncle then suggested, "How much do you think this one is worth?" Ahhh... the Big Chinese Question sprung. If a 50's Red Label cost around 35000 per 370 gram, and a real 100 yrs old Song Ping Ho will fetch roughly round 75000, is it safe to say this might cost around 150 per gram? Their jaws dropped and started laughing.... "I like that," betty said "Here son, this is for your retirement! And I will keep the rest of the collection for mine."
If we really think a bout it, a 1982 Chateau Petrus roughly cost around 6000, which equals to 6 glasses. 1 pot of high priced tea might produce 60+ brews and cost 1650. That's cheaper than starbucks! So, there it is everyone... another gathering will soon come? We ended around 11ish. For me, the story of this tea has just begun.
Quick boiling water fine pouring*, from chest height around the rim and lower to the center, completed a full circle pour filled up the pot. A quick immediate pour out. And again a 2nd fine pouring sealed the teapot. A ritual I learned from a good friend. This initiated the long journey to find out her true character. I shared this quick rinse with my wife before we went to bed. Act II ended.
Tea moment only happens rarely in ones life time. It's not something you can force to have: 'By faith, Not by quest.' I am truly blessed, with more than a couple of these moments had occur in my short tea life. Asking one deeply inside his passion, and to be gentle and patient is the only way to walk on the path of tea, and of course, good friendship and sincerity will lead to faith. The essence of Vintage tea is the feeling of her aging path, the history, her birth place and her true spirit. All reviewed by the chi and effect she gives to ones body and mind. How she makes you feel. A love affair perhaps....
Sunday afternoon. The sleep was as calm and satisfying as one could ask. The cha chi opens up all the knots and relaxed / refreshed the mind. Beautiful day!
She had won, Victory!
Her story has passed on to 9 of us. Her love spreads, like every good teas that sacrificed themselves before.
My method of 'Detail Tasting' is simple: 'Patient and No Rush.' 1. Pour out tea from overnight or at least 12 hrs. steep. Tasting the steep slowly. (taste and aroma) 2**. Pour rolling boil water for a instant brew. Tasting the steep slowly. (cha chi) 3. Refine pour* and store in cool place without sunlight.
Some strange things happens within this 12 hrs. (Not for cooked puerh, green, yellow, light oolong and low grade tea.) The tea will only gives as much to saturate the amount of water inside the pot, but will not exhaust itself. The more strange thing is, the color and taste of the brew will be much lighter but filled with elements. 2** much darker color and fuller body, even though it is one second brew.
My wife and I were sitting on our opium bed, with toki as our carpet, of course. It is around 1ish. We poured out the 1st steep into her Korean gimhae teabowl, and started our tasting.
Her notes: Very clear color, golden reddish. Fragrance of flower, mineral, rock and early morning mist from mountain. Taste of floral, sweet, mountain water, smooth throat, clean and refreshing, gramma powder. Aftertaste of sweet tongue and back of tongue, soothing, relaxing, calm and sleepy.
His notes: Crystal clear reddish gold of Yellow Rosewood. Chan Hong aroma, dry pale pink rose, rock and citrus. Smooth slide down throat to stomach, sweet to the whole mouth with minty throat, mature talcum. Aftertaste of gramma face powder, relaxing, cooling from the chest up and refreshing, numbing to lips, clearing nasal. Cooling, relax and happy chi. Feels like after a massage.
Toki notes: boring parents...
Smelling the pot: Early high mountain mist in fall. Smell of morning dew on flower. Moisturizing the nose.
2**notes: Even on the one-second pour, the color is pale yellowish amber gold. Hot bowl of tea, but when slurp, the rush of a cooling chi travels thru the body. Very Calming, and refreshing like drinking cold mint tea (without the sugar!)
I lit my favorite smoke paring with the tea character. My choice was 2000 epicure No.2. Then sealed the pot with another refine pour for 24 hrs. brew. Listening to Turandot: Act III "Diecimile anni al nostro Imperatore":
Ma il mio mistero è chiuso in me; il nome mio nessun saprà! No, No! Sulla tua bocca lo dirò quando la luce splenderà!....
Kayagum Sanjo provided the background, light Neutral water started the tasting... "Please, lets do 2 water tasting first..." I continued "This will let us understand the difference between soft and hard water, so we can build the tea on top of it." Everyone was surprised by the lightness of stored water, comparing to fresh drawn poland spring and how it cleans our palatte.
It was 8:30pm.
A super clear Saturday night, 78°F with moonlit sky and summer breeze, humidity is around 70's also. The 11 grams of "precious" was dry and solid, no oily surface, like last year's foliage under a dry summer noon. I set up 9 clear glasses for the remaining steeps at the far reach, so we can see and taste the progression of the session.
Here are the infusions 1 to 9, using a 350ml pot for 11g tea. 2 ranges of boils, Poland Spring water stored 3 days:
fish eye water.* shrimp eye with 1 shot of cold water.**
Dry leaves in heated pot: Chinese medicine, dry plum, dry chili, sweet cherry wood aroma.
Instant Rinse sit 2 mins. water* Saved for last, we did not drink this yet, just to smell from a dry cup. Complex Woody, Chinese medicine, Chan Hong, sweet aged plum, nuts and full strong talcum.
I never understand what true tea masters refer to as "Aged" or "Chan Hong" aroma was, but now I do. A complex mix of fragrance, like walking into one of the Louvre Museum's smaller room and taking a deep breath, which it used to be the powder/changing room for the Royal. (of course this will get more weird than this : )
1 INFUS. 1 sec. water** Liquor color: Deep dark cognac / Crystal Clear / Glossy Intense Chinese medicine, Nutty, cherry woody, talcum and I am saying Lots of Granny Face Powder (the really expensive one too : ), on flavor and nose! dry mouth and thick, Chan Hong transforming to taste... I divided to 3 slurps. On the 1st slurp, the chi blinded most of the group. 2nd slurp, blur vision turns into selective focusing (comparing to photography). 3rd slurp, breaking sweat. Very active but not aggressive chi, strong palette, numbing lips and tongue. Spiritual!
2 INFUS. 1 sec. water** Liquor color: Dark cognac / Crystal Clear / Glossy Sweetness coated all mouth and throat, deep throat sensation. Clean morning mountain / Minerals / metallic / talcum. Still Chinese medicine and light camphor. Aftertaste is too complex to break-down, warming to the body, instant relaxation. Numbing to all the face muscle. Breaking sweat continuing from the back to the neck. Sweet spot occurs at the middle of the throat.
Everyone lost words for a moment, no one was talking except me, trying to lead the group towards what to feel for, and how we should react to the tea. I pause for a quick intermission for all to settle in. The kayagum high notes from the background toned to the cha chi, every time the random wabi note hits, our minds get clearer and multi-dimensional sensation to our space and being. In a meditation trend perhaps....
3 INFUS. 1 sec. water** Liquor color same till the 5th. Talcum! Old time grandma's cosmetic foundation! Chocolate, woody camphor with more minty background. Clean and clear, hint of mint finish (breaking down the camphor characteristic). Like drinking fresh mountain spring water. Numbing persisted. Complex and Nostalgic. Full (dense) and Alluring. Little aged citrus peel, aged sweet cherry plum.
4 INFUS. 1 sec. water** Powerful. Minerals / Talc, pronounced sweetness overall in mouth-feel and aftertaste. Thickness and Chinese medicine receding. Very alluring because it's mellowing all senses. Refreshing!
5 INFUS. 5 sec. water** Liquor color: Adding Golden Amber The tea is in the stage of changing, to a more lively and fragrant stage. My senses at slow and awakening, entering the stage of calm and peace. Numbing affected the body. Sweetness lingers from the stomach to the mouth, floral note starts taking over. Mucus forming from the back of my throat. No breaking sweat, but cooling.
Tranquil but alluring. Only my wife is taking down my notes. The happy group started talking....
6 INFUS. 5 sec. water** Liquor color: Golden dark Amber, Louis XIII, Clear and bright Fresh, fruits, hint of dry plum, floral and dry rose? Talcum turned rose perfume? Like sitting down at the Louvre's powder table at humid night. Much more fragrant. Medium oolong, plum bouquet and finish.
7 INFUS. 10 sec. water** Liquor color: Same as 6th till 9th. Sweet and floral, aged citrus, lost the plum. Sign of a dying oolong, dry peach....? Cooked peach! Clean talc cosmetic, without humidity! Moisturizing the throat, mucus forming. Still numbing. We tasted the 5th and 6th steeps from the glass, to review the introduction of the peach and rose characters.
It's around 10pm. We are all in a very relaxed state-of-mind, making jokes and talking about old times. One gentleman in particular, who has been drinking puerh in Hong Kong since the early 50's, talks about his experiences.... "I think the tea (pu) has changed around the 70's... I don't usually have a negative reaction from the tea before that. But something changed after 1970's." He continued "Before... the puerh is like what I am drinking now, without understanding the CHA CHI, of course, I was only a teenager.... I drank pureh at a dim sum restaurant every morning with the family before going to school, and It felt great!" So I asked where the restaurant is. "Dragon gate, most of the time...."
From what I understand, before the invention of "Cooked" puerh in the 70's, most of the "Label" tea eg: Red, Blue, Yellow, Green Labels were commissioned by Hong Kong vendors. Most of which are for Dim Sum restaurants like Dragon Gate. But after the 70's, most of Hong Kong Chinese restaurants were serving cooked pu instead. "Of Course they are good, Uncle! You were drinking aged Raw bing before that! Who would complain about getting any allergic reaction from a Red Label!!"
We each took a cup of warm water for the 2nd intermission. And passes around the tea pot to see the leaves. "The leaves have not even unfurled. We are not even in it's drama yet...." I added.
Personally, I think it is difficult to have a big group for detail tasting, a smaller group tends to be more focused, and really lie back and feel the effects of tea a little more. A great thing about having a larger group is, we get more feedback, how the chi affects each body and mind. Perhaps the best part is the moment we all share in one space, all fused by a single 11 grams of leaves. A true tea moment, or life moment, the stories, the wisdoms and the laughters..... "First moment when buddha reached enlightenment, he started laughing... then he asked for a cup of tea." I continued.
8 INFUS. 20 sec. water* Dry Lotus seeds, Orchid and Rose Talc. Clean, minty finishes. The Chan Hong is coming back big time! The tea is at the beginning of its first stage. We then taste the first 3 steeps to remind us how far this tea had brought us. The chi had changed on the first 2 steeps and re-awaken us again.
9 INFUS. 30 sec. water** with a Hot water poured over the pot for an extra 20 sec. steep Enjoying its first stage... mellow, calm and breaking sweat again. Awaken. Chan Hong cosmetic talc, minty refreshing... it is around 10:30.
The session ended with the Rinse, and Turandot act II at the background. No more Kayagum Sanjo. Way too sleepy for that... to be continued....
Coincidence or just faith playing out in an interesting sequel? After more than 3 months of learning water quality and a life long of being patient with brewing tea. An interesting learning experience unfold last night. One of my mother's dear friends stopped by yesterday, accompanying a group of entourage, who all have exquisite taste in wine and culinary skills. Brought over a tea which is unknown to them in what tea varietal it is.
The brief history of this tea is from her husband's prestigious family. Uncle Conran is in his early 60s, and this was a gift from his grandmother. His family was originated from Quangdong, nine rivers province. This puerh brick had been handed down to his generations as a "guidance" to the house. In total weight of 600 gram, highly compressed and solid as a rock.
I had heard of many stories about generations-old tea before, the sudden appearance of lost storage and it fetches for astronomical price. Most of them are unfortunately stunt from tea vendors or tea masters who have no idea what they're talking about.... I was quite surprised in this cast.
Close examination reveals looser layers of tea leaves on the surface, but well compacted interior. The whole brick carries a grey blue hue, with a brown grayish core. It was not stored in a good condition at first impression. The last time consumed was about 15 yrs ago, as mentioned by auntie Betty: "It is so hard, so we used a hammer and a saw to saw off a corner..." The mark of the cut had aged in a redish brown tone with clay like quality.
We had 9 people, so I decided to use 11 grams to satisfy our curiosity. I brought over my qing dynasty puerh pot (350 ml) to match the date of this tea. It took me more than 15 mins to ply out 2 whole layers and half dust mix.
Water from a Republic Period water pot, storaged for 3 days using Poland Spring. This water will provide a perfect neutral foundation for the brew... act of 3, to be continue....
Nannou 2004 private edition, commissioned by Master Chan from The Best Tea House Hong Kong.
This is a classic example of an experienced tea master craftsmanship. Every steps of the way, from picking the trees, to harvesting, overseeing the processing and pressing. Mr. Chan had complete control of what he wants and what he expects it to be.
Nannou is the most fragrant and feminine of all Yunnan puerh (in my opinion). Pleases the senses with a delicate palate and carries one to a calm and scholastic journey.
This 2004 spring buds harvest holds some characteristics of a fine vintage should have:
1. Talcum 2. Orchid 3. Sweet dry plum
Hint of hay / camphor and mild sweetness aroma on rinsed leave. Smoothing but "blurt", offering multi-dimensional aroma, without heaviness in the first session. Layers upon layers in progressive quality, hint of Metallic and Talcum (granny face power) occurs in the 3rd brew on, numbing to the lips. Then it hits you with the orchid fragrant and aged plum's sweet after-taste that coats the throat. Usually, only fine harvest has Talcum characteristic, but not until 10-15 yrs of aging, like the 80's 8582. That is why this bing surprised me.
I prefer and collect commissioned bings. The extra thickness (almost doubled a reg.) provides more energy / chi to the aging process and it also gives extra cushion for micro-climate maturing. One could relate to fine vintage habanos, most comes in 50 / 100 cabinet, rather then 10 or 25s box.
With all these text book characters, giving another 5 yrs to age in a refine 70% humidity environment, could be an interesting experiment.
A spring of one single tea, could blossom to a distant friendship. The love of tea once again connect me with a like-minded mandarin, thousands miles away.
This "Guan-Xi"="...measure which reflects the depth of feeling within an interpersonal relationship..." paid-off! A generous and rare Oriental Beauty from Stephane, and brewed by a good friend from the Tea Gallery. Perhaps I could also reflect this moment of joy with Matt, whom just reviewed this tea at: http://mattchasblog.blogspot.com/2008/08/2007-perfect-oriental-beauty.html
This "Perfect OB" is more flamboyant in character. A Perking Opera if I may: Bright, Colorful and Sharp (but not rough). I requested Michael not to push it at all, instead, just to enjoy what it slowly provides... until the 7th brews. Good memory remain.
Thank you again Stephane, for another wonderful Taiwanese gem.
Finally, the quest for good water in the City is over. Over the past 3 weeks, I was lucky enough to taste water with Michael from TTG. The process was a "Summit Climb," challenging but rewarding. From the previous post, we did experienced differences in water quality change using 3 sources of water and storing it in an old water barrel. The 3 sources are: Poland Spring, Brita water filter and finest NYC tap water.
Just to drink straight from the source, the winner is Brita. Sweet, alive and light, with refreshing aftertaste. Then tap water: Still fresh and sweet, but with added organic body and metallic finish. Finally, Poland Spring: Heavier and still, a bit out of life, "Sterilized" in another word.
How about in the Ming dynasty barrel? Result is night and day. We tested the above 3 categories in a day to a week storage.
Brita - 1 day - double the lightness of the body, sweeten with a cleaner and more refreshing after sense to throat. Feels like the water I had in the tea mountain in Korea. 1 week - an organic smell has developed, a bit like fresh pond water, still very light and sweet. But not lighter.
Tap- 1 day - Metallic finishes replaced with lighter and clean sensation. Feels like really drinking "Water" in its original stage. Goes down to stomach without drying the mouth or throat.
1 week - did not dare to try....
Poland Spring - 1 day - Almost as good as Brita. But still, the lifelessness of the quality still persists. 2 days - Best! A lively quality, clean, clear and refreshing (minty sensation). Clear the throat, no drying and washes all the way down to whatever!
It is quite a interesting study of what an old vessel can change the texture of water..... and now we can finally have some tea.