27 April, 2015

Better Dead Than Red

Ave, Reader, full of tea,
blessed art thou among drinkers and blessed is the fruit of thy zishahu.

It has been one month to the very day, at the time of writing, that I have foisted my missives in your general direction, and I trust that this lunar cycle has been favourable to you and yours.  I have come to conclude lately that my tiny little world is so very tiny, and my mind likewise, that I have very little idea about life beyond my immediate Schwarzschild radius.  

This even goes for understanding that the weather is not the same the world over: as I sit here in Middle England, comfortably chilly, and wearing a cardigan, I am reminded of an academic visit to Paris last week.  The entire city was so very, very hot that I had to [sharp inhalation of breath] remove my cardigan.  Not even a waistcoat.  There was not a single necktie in the entire city.  And this was in May.  Baffling.  Happily, I was back in England within 24 hours for the purposes of seeing my little family, and so I was able to resume normality quite quickly.  However, the experience was traumatic.

I suspect that the root cause of the problem here is that I have trouble understanding that some people are not me.  That doesn't sit easily into my aforementioned tiny mind.  So, when I kick back and write about hongcha, I naturally assume that you are totally into hongcha in the same way.

Imagine my surprise when I tried some of these teas out on friends and colleagues only to discover that some of them did not like the tea.  Again, completely baffling.  This is hongcha, and it's good hongcha - what more is there to say?

You might have guessed from the (pagan druidic?) wrapper that this little cake is from Ee-Oh-Tee.  Check out those leaves, with the rusty tips.  There's your hongcha right there.

It seems to be made from Mengsongshan leaves, and Ee-Oh-Tee notes that it comes from the same leaves as the 2014 "Yuanwei".  Commercial confidence surrounds the exact location of the village, so that comparison might not be entirely helpful, but you get the general idea.  It's pu'ercha gone red.

I admire a tea-maker with both the Jones and co-Jones to use good pu'ercha leaves for the purposes of making either (i) shupu, or (ii) hongcha.  You are, essentially, guaranteeing yourself some chunky, meaty, beefiness.  Never has beefiness been in such strong demand as when you sit down with a pot of the ol' hongcha, because you don't sit down with a pot of the ol' hongcha expecting a prissy, fussy, delicate experience.  No, you expect to be slapped upside the head, and then insulted.  You expect a bit of a fight.  Hongcha is not supposed to go quietly into the night.

At a cost of 28 Britishunits for a mass of 200 S.I. grams, this is not too terrifying in its price.  I think that's appropriate for something like hongcha.  Isn't it interesting that if you just leave the tea as it is, and make a shengpu cake, then the result sells for £54/200g, but if you turn those same leaves into hongcha, then the price approximately halves?  Mystifying.  Cue enraged letters in the "comments" section.

This cake is as precise and clean as one would expect from Ee-oh-tee, and I like the fact that it has been tested for pesticides in a credible manner.  I like even more the results of that test, which suggest that it is clean.  This fact alone rather recommends it to my shelves, for some daily drinkage in the lab.

Like the puer'cha that it once was, this little hongcha lasts forever.  Importantly, its carnivore-pleasing strength seems undiminished when brewed with lesser water-quality, during the working day. 

Some months after drinking the above, I bounced into BIG TREE RED, which sounds like a Menghai special production but is, in fact, hongcha.  I think that outcome pleased me.

As pictured above, this hongcha comes from Dubs.  The web-site suggests that this is priced at $35 for "0.050 kg", and I wonder if there was a problem with the placement of the decimal point there.  Thirty-five bux for 500g would be in line with my expectation for good ol' hongcha, while the same price for just 50g would be in danger of raising an eyebrow.

I suppose that it is at this stage I would be pointed in the direction of the text that describes how the leaves come from 100-200 year-old trees and that they have been massaged by the inner thighs of pretty, nubile teavixens.

Those teavixens really drive up the price.

I like Lincang.  Lincang is rough, unapologetic, and great fun - and that's where these leaves originate.  I can't say that I've ever had Lincang hongcha before, and so I'm attentive as the kettle kicks into gear.

To say that I brewed this tea hard is something of an understatement.  I brewed this tea like nuclear fusion.  I brewed this tea like Odysseus on an Ithacan goat after a decade at sea.  Pile those leaves high, and pack that little pot to the brim.  The result is solid, sharp, and potently cooling.  It soon drops the pretence of being candy-sweet "hongcha" and gets down to the serious business of being red pu'ercha.  It cuts through your life like a hot knife through churned lipid solution.

Drink this tea and conquer the world.  Teavixens and all.

French Windmills

French windmills
always remind me of
English windmills

20 April, 2015

Simulated Anneiling

Hoho, a pun to do with numerical optimisation.  Is there anything funnier than numerical optimisation?  If so, I don't think I've encountered it.

Today's article is about, you guessed it, tea from NEIL.  I.e., tea from Teaclassico.  Thx, Neil.  I have written extensively about "TC" before, and how Neil, simulated or otherwise, has a unique talent for separating me from the contents of my wallet.

At the time of writing, we have just had a partial lunar eclipse.  Being able to see two celestial bodies moving past one another, actually moving while one watches, is quite something.  Naturally, it has a strange effect on the psyche, and there have been outbreaks of lycanthropy, but otherwise we're all fine.

After shaving my palms, I settle down with some "1990s Fu Lu Gong".  I couldn't find this for sale on the Teaclassico web-site, but I am not a clever man and may have missed it.

Most striking is the loose compression, which is clearly "hand compressed".  I think it really means that someone put a large stone on the leaves and then, usually, stood on it, so perhaps it should be "foot compressed".  Such things don't impress me, ever since I was in a restaurant that claimed their salad included "hand-torn lettuce".  My brains have been in a liquefied state ever since, so I am no longer about to judge the hand/foot compression of a tea and its virtues thereupon.

As ever with older teas, I pack my little teapot to the brim, based on the principle that it is almost impossible to overbrew these old fellows.  The result is unexpected: there is absolutely no aroma, and the soup (while richly-coloured, as pictured above) really has very little flavour.

I know, I know: people who hope for flavour from their tea are such newbs.  We should be content with the feeling of the all-consuming CHAQI that surrounds us and penetrates us and which binds the galaxy together.  Hoping for some character to enjoy in the mouth immediately marks us out as a dilettante.

Nonetheless, this is thin and watery tea.  It ramps up (just a little) in the second infusion, to give the scent of heavy plums (the fruits, not the genitals).  Happily, it begins to smell just like an English country garden in summertime.  It is almost the precise simulacrum of my grandmother's old farmhouse garden, in fact, and this immediately makes me happy.  That said, there is not much going on in the flavour, still, nor anything in the throat.  It is cooling on the breath, and active on the lips and tongue, and is, perhaps, therefore more of a "sensations" tea. 

The night (morning) is young, and so I ditch the Fu Lu Gong and head into 1999 YIWU OLD TREE territory.

I miss those days, when every cake was YIWUZHENGSHANLAOSHUCHAWANG, but they are gone forever.  We can revisit them, though, with tea sessions such as this.

Once again, due to my innate dimness, I fail to find this tea on the Teaclassico web-site.  Once again I hope you will, Gentle Reader, take pity on us miserable offenders and point out my inevitable mistake.

The photograph above makes me thirsty, again, and I have just consumed nine pints of tea.  Such is the power of good leaves.  We can see large fragments - these have a sweet scent that already trumps that of the Fu Lu Gong.

The smooth, woody stability of this tea reminds me of brewing up an old table.  The colour, pictured above, is as satisfying in its heaviness as is the (for want of a better word) CHAQI.  While the mystical forces of the cosmos surge through my body, leaving my shakras and dantian trembling, I conclude that this sweet, sharp little tea is most welcome on a cold morning in March.  It is simple, it is a touch thin, but its woody sweetness just keeps on giving.

Young Boy's Sweets

young boy's sweets
rolling towards the back seats
ready for take-off

13 April, 2015

In Search of the Olde School

Gentle Reader, this article is all about taking it back to the old school.  This is because I am an old fool.  Furthermore, and in a very real sense, it is so cool.

Brothers and sisters, we are gathered here today in the sight of this package of copious samplage so that we might bear witness to the 2011 7542.

Let us drink.

Thanks be to Pu-erh.sk.

Yay, unto the mighty packets did come your humble correspondent, and verily did he chortle with great mirth and a slapping of thighs when his eyes did look upon a whopping variety of samples.  Like a man gathering wheat from the field in the time of harvest did he casually finger his way through the ark of tasty delights, only to come across something that didst confound his sight.

Verily I say unto thee, nothing good shall of CNNP after, let's say, 2005ish.  Thusly there was a great wailing and gnashing of teeth as the 7542 revealed itself unto your humble correspondent.

Like the man that doth tear away his clothes only to be baptised in the river Jordan, so this CNNP cake was denuded of its raiments.

Small in leaf is the 7542, like the tiny firstborn shoots of the grain after the sowing.  Mighty rancid is its aroma, reminding the gathered throng that CNNP knows how to make 7542.  And lo, he meant rancid in a good way, and there was much delighting for he knew that it was good.

Before the days of Dayi, there was CNNP, and it was in the time of CNNP that they cooked up mighty 7542s.  Many were their tongs, and they did age quite nicely.  This is before the age of the cheapening, when Dayi did start making silly "Animal Year" cakes to which all did roll their eyes in abandon and mockery.  But still the CNNP did keep making its 7542.

So many shelves of the brotherhood were thus filled with 7542s that they began to wonder if modern CNNP could still take it back to the old school.  With great curiosity, they did sniff at the tea and realised that it was a little bit like 7542 as the scriptures foretold.  They did quaff, and conclude that throatiness and rough sweetness were to be had in good quantity.  And there was much rejoicing.

And LO, the CNNP spaketh unto them and they realised that the tea was indeed cooling.  Verily, it was a bit rough, but for just two sheckles (32 Euro) what does it profit a man to raise his voice in protest?

And so they were sated, and while greatly pleased with the price and the rough-yet-decent sweetness, they decided to keep their purses closed.  For there were many such fish in the sea, and many grapes on the vineyard, and many tongs at rock-bottom prices available at the right vendors.

So it was written, and so it shall be.

Temple Goldfish

temple goldfish watch
two travellers by the lake
using their smartphones

06 April, 2015

Neil Before Your Maker

Say what you want about drug pushers, they know how to get the job done.  I strongly suspect that NEIL of Teaclassico used to push narcotics / finance revolutions in his past, because he really knows how to get me to buy tea.

I feel unsafe around him.

If this isn't a Taobao image then I'm a monkey's uncle.

Let's open the batting with a "1990s" (aren't they all?) Phoenix tuocha.  (It is from the Dalian Lanjian outfit.)

As you can surmise from the spooky blue glow in the above photograph, this sesh kicked off in the thin hours before dawn, when the children are dormant and the voices in my head are at their most muted.

It's a tuocha, yes indeed.  You're looking at the tight little lumps of rock-hard leaves and concluding the same.  The weird thing about this session was that it occurred the morning after a rather heavy night - the heaviest in my college calendar, in fact.  They say that booze disrupts sleep, so maybe that's it.  Either way, this tea has some serious healing to perform.

It is sharp and dark, with a "black" character to its flavour that might be due to its storage.  In common with my approach to all older teas, I used tons of leaves, because it's almost impossible to overbrew old tea.

Bad move.  Tuocha still retain much of their potency, thanks to that arrested development induced by the compression, and I was made to pay the price for my hubris.  Tail between my legs, suitably humbled, I took some leaves out of the pot and got things back under control.  The result is a pleasingly sharp (sharp!) woody sweetness, much as you might expect from an older tuocha.

The scent of this tea, curiously enough, is one of its better features: it makes me feel relaxed.  It is the scent of Good Times.  Does that make any sense at all?

It must be said that I didn't buy this tea; at $139, it's still just a tuocha, after all - even for all its lovely scent.

The same cannot be said of the next cake, which is, I have concluded, probably two parts cocaine to every three parts maocha.

This is the 1998 CNNP "Zhencang" Hongyin [red label], which, if you value your bank balance, you would be well advised NOT TO TRY UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES.  I mean this.  The addiction will take hold of you after just one session, and, as happened with me, you will be both terribly grateful and yet simultaneously terrified (and quite a bit poorer).

You can't see the cocaine in the above image, but rest assured: it is there.  Waiting.  Your neuroreceptors are buzzing at the prospect, I can tell.  This tea knows that, and sits there, rubbing its hands and cackling to itself, like Donald Pleasence sitting in a turny, black SPECTRE chair.

Be afraid.

Is the above image beginning to impart the reason for the fear?  This cake is thick, and sweet, and decidedly deadly.  It smells humid to say the least.  Perhaps, if you do not like humid tea, then that will be your salvation, and will allow you to resist this cake.  Perhaps.

The fragmented small leaves are only the slightest bit grey.  This tea tastes not just wet, but soaking.  It really is humid.  Mineral in its core, sweet and carrying a long throatiness, it grips every part (every part) of the flesh with tingling sensations.  The breath is like ice.

My diary has "the aftertaste is purest library".  Hide your $279, because this is a mammoth of a tea.

Slow Malbec

slow Malbec
the taste of the steak
before it arrives