Spring is here, or is it? The lilac trees in our garden are blossoming purple and white, and the scent of purple lilac is so intoxicating that it covers the night air into morning light. I never bother to find out the true bouquet of the white varietal because its purple cousin was always dominant until a couple of days ago.... Clean, balancing and alluring, the white has casted an unexplainable spell on my palate. The sudden interest in lilac bouquet was sparked by a tasting of 4 different Anxi light Tikwanyin which I am still in the process of learning.
If Wuyi yancha is Cabernet Sauvignon, and Puerh is the Merlot, then Tikwanyin might be the Chardonnay of tea. Specially with its character of dairy, vanilla, floral and buttery French cream. Like all fine wine, it's in the balance and structure rather than in your face. The aroma should be equally pronounced as of the body and aftertaste, nothing like a 30 sec. Walmart commercial which its message only last a mere seconds.
The weather dropped back to 38F tonight... most of the lilac trees are shocked by this dramatic change. I can feel the uneasiness of those wonderful Anxi TGY bushes atop Xiping mountain. Over a conversation with my Anxi TGY tea master earlier, she is still hard at work harvesting the older bushes, but forecast in a drop of production due to the frosting this year. "Second Winter in April", its not a welcoming sign she said. I can deeply understand her feeling. I told her my sudden enlightenment on the white lilac over the more simple perfumey purple. Her reply was over joy and I felt a good karma was sent thousands of miles thru her cell phone to the mountain top, an encouragement to continue her work.
I like the contemplative aspect of Anxi Tikwanyin.... I think it will be my ongoing challenge for a while.
Many teas come through the tea room every season, many of them only last for one session, and some are revisited over a period of days, months or even years. This harsh discrimating tasting process let only the choicest to be selected and pampered. A final Paring test will then conducted for concluding the result.
Most of these early candidates are found from my trips to the farmers or teamasters in China, not by random samples sent by vendors. Many times, in my experience, a newly acquainted master shows you their special selected. I will then test the 1st batch for a season and acquire the same tea on the next. Troubling to said, 1 out of 3, these 2nd acquisitions usually prove disappointment. Not only they are missing 30-50 % of its luster, farmers cheat by blending lesser grade to the batch. Sometimes, specially for high fired oolong, they over roast the lesser grade to become fillers. For me, being bold and asking them the right question after repetitively testing, and learning from the same good batch are the only ways to arm oneself. I always give them the benefits of the doubt, and a second chance... which prove to be more constructive.
This 1985 DaHongPao was acquired from a tea farm/factory owner in Fujian. I am very skeptical on anything labeled DaHongPao, because it's the most faked Wuyi Yancha in the market today. Even third generation of these tea can commend a hefty sum, leave alone the aged ones.... I remember the same owner showed me a tiny pewter box of the original mother tree DaHongPao from the 80s, which roughly costs US$3000 per gram on the current market.
Using 5 grams of tea in a 40 ml yixing, my third tasting of this tea begins:
Weather: Easter Sunday afternoon. Clear sky with 62 % humidity / 60sF. Water: Fresh Polandspring water / not aged. Method: Traditional Chao Zhou/ Hong Kong Kung-Fu style. Tea vessel: 80s yixing zisha teapot / late Ming dynasty's QingBai tea cup.
Steps: 1. Separate the larger/whole leaves from smaller broken leaves. Crush the broken leaves by hand. 2. Preheat all the vessels with rolling boiled water. Carefully place the broken leaves and line the bottom of the pot. 3. Follow by layering the whole leaves on top. 4. gently tap the body of the pot with the palm of your hand and with a tea-pick to settle the tea leaves, creating an even surface (the heavier whole leaves on top will act like a filter to settle the crushed powder). 5. Softly pour water (212F) from a low height around the rim of the opening, letting the water slide from the wall into the pot until overflow. 6. Slowly pour out the rinse without tipping the pot more than 90 degrees. Proceed to first brewing, steeping time 15 seconds.
Notes: Clear, bright and oily liquor, burnt amber copper color. Light Chinese medicine, with subtle lingering floral of orchid and aged pomelo peel. Calming and warming chaqi. Nothing aggressive nor intruding.... peaceful and zen for this Pre-Ming celebration.
End-notes: Still too early to decide if this could be a Mandarin's tea.
5 days later. Conclusion: After some intensive evaluations, this tea did not make it to the list. Unfortunately, the age of this 1985 Da Hong Pao is much younger than what I was told. At least 5 to 10 years younger.
1. Bring water to a boil until steady streams of large bubbles (Rope of Pearls). Pour water into the Tasting Cup. 2. Once water is fill to the top, pour water into the tasting bowl (Spoon is optional). 3. Now all units have been pre-heated. Place 5g of tea leaves into the heated cup (Yixing Red Tea was used). Smell and take notes on the heated leaves. 4. For the rinse; use fish-eye boiled water 195F. Pour a fine stream of water into one corner of the cup, letting the leaves get rolled and tumbled by the water. 5. Pour out the rinse from the cup immediately into bowl. 6. Make sure the air hole is on the top side to avoid spilling. 7. Drain until completely empty by dipping motion. 8. Take notes on the rinse color and discard rinse. For the first brew; pour 195F water in a fine stream aimed at one spot near the wall, until full. 9. Cover with lid and pour out after 30 seconds. Rest the cup onto the bowl. The knob on the lid and the bottom of the cup should sit nicely on the bowl. 10. After 15 seconds, empty cup completely by dipping motion. 11. Repeat above to 2nd brewing. You can either use a spoon for tasting or transfer liquor to serving cups. 12. After the brewing session, display the spent leaves for their visual appreciation.