03 July, 2017

Wuliang Clan

Gentle Reader, before we get down to our mutual camellia sinensis addiction, it would probably be helpful to give you the background to how I approached today's tea.  The one informs the other, and it would be giving you a partial assessment were I to attempt to separate the two.

Imagine, if you will bear with me, that you have been born and raised in a cold country.  Imagine childhoods spent playing in snow, long winter months of darkness, being wrapped up in heavy clothes for most of the year, and having a runny nose for about 75% of that time.  This is what it is like to be English.

You think the darkness is your ally; you merely adopted the dark.  
I was born in it, molded by it.  
I didn't see the light until I was already a man; 
by then, it was nothing but blinding!

-- Your average Englishman

Your entire life is predicated on the fact that (i) winter is dark, rainy, and cold; and (ii) summer is, at best, "quite nice".  A good summer of memory will hit the low-to-mid 20s, in degrees Celsius (i.e., in the 70s, degrees Fahrenheit).  You spend most of your life dressing in "proper" clothes (inc. cardigan), and you might slip into short sleeves for one or two months in the height of summer, to try and cope with those temperatures in the 20s (70s Fahrenheit).  Your entire childhood was spent playing sports on frosty ground, acclimatising yourself to being constantly cold.

There is very nearly no air conditioning in the entire country, because it would be unused for most of the year.  This fact alone causes tremendous amusement to people from overseas, but there really is very little use for it here.

Now, if you're still with me on this imaginary train of thought, I would like you to imagine what it would be like for temperatures to jump from being 21 degrees C (70 degrees F) on a Tuesday to 32 degrees C (90 degrees F) on the following Wednesday.

Imagine your cold constitution suddenly exposed to this heat - the hottest that it has ever been (since records began 200 years ago) in England at this time of year.

Now imagine yourself wearing a black woollen suit ("subfusc").

Now imagine yourself wearing a white bow tie, tightening around the neck.

And, finally, imagine yourself wearing heavy, scarlet, woollen robes that weigh 10% of your body-weight*.
*At your correspondent's rather lardy 75 kg.

All without air conditioning.

This is Encaenia 2017, and it is f***ing deadly for all concerned.

It is the university marking the end of the academic year, before we go our respective ways for the summer.  200 or so dons assemble in an old, pretty building designed by Sir Christopher Wren, and we sit there for an hour or so while awards are presented in classical Latin; the Professor of Poetry delivers a short homily; and the Public Orator does what seems to be 15 minutes or so of (academic-related) stand-up comedy.  Which typically corresponds to taking the p*** out of The Other Place.

Except this year, the temperature.  The temperature.

I'm amazed that there were no deaths.

This was the background to cracking open the proverbial cold one with the proverbial boys: the 2017 "Wuliang Wild" from Essence of Tea.

I very nearly don't need the kettle to heat the water today.  It is hot, like your mother.

On disrobing my sample, I am struck by what are very red leaves.  I am instantly reminded of the recently-described 2017 "Secret Forest Wild Really Secret Wild It's Actually Very Secret".  Both cakes are "red".  The Super-Secret cake comes from an undisclosed location; today's cake comes from Wuliangshan.

I invite you to check out the cake below where, even under these photographic conditions, you can see redness.  Of course, the leaves have the delicious scent of purple fruits.

As ever, this is exceedingly clean and sweet - it is definitely "sweet wild", as Mr. Essence writes, rather than "bitter wild".  (I was unaware of the distinction in descriptions of wild trees, but it makes some sense.)

Is the fruitiness from the "sweet wild" nature of the tree itself, or of the manner in which the leaves are treated?  My suspicion is that it might be latter (the leaves are red, after all), but this is speculation.

Mr. Essence shows a photograph of a huge tree, reproduced below, which the locals tend to avoid picking in favour of their tea-gardens.  We read that aforementioned locals were convinced to climb this extraordinary tree to obtain the leaves for this cake, making it a rather special production.

There is initial fruitiness in the soup, of course, which is not unlike the "Secret Forest Wild" (as linked earlier), but this is much more cooling - it is almost Bingdao in its chilliness.  At £76 / 400g, this Wuliang cake is also substantially less costly than the Secret Forest Wild.  £76 for a rare picking, with the usual clean panel of lab results, does seem like rather a bargain.

Given the roaring heat, it is charming (and greatly relieving) to drink this now.  This is precisely the tea that should be consumed after Encaenia in the heat.

Would it age?  It might not be strong enough to age in chilly, damp England, where we need sheer potency to see us through.  This is a "sensations" cake, and is almost entirely absent any bitterness.

This is not to say that it is not full - the colour is a solid orange, and the texture is quite chunky.  It's a perfect cake for summer, and really energises my tired, fatherly frame.  There is a very positive effect on the constitution.  Somehow, even though it is not big ol' pugilistic pu'ercha, it makes the mouth water with its payload of mature-tree contents.

I am attempting to avoid likening tea this to the quality of lactation of the more senior age of lady, and will surely spare you the comparison for the sake of decency.  You get the idea.

As with the Secret Forest Wild, I will defer in favour of a more orthodox pu'ercha, but will always remember the manner in which this 2017 Wuliang Wild saved me from admission to the Intensive Care Unit, through cooling my constitution and chilling me back to the temperatures that nature intended.

Addendum: for the past week, it has returned to 18 degrees C (65 degrees F), and I am back in my cardigan.  This is "summer" as I have been bred to understand it.

28 June, 2017

Fructis Ventris Tui

...the figurative Tea-Womb of Mr. Essence, that is.

Let us indulge in a little exercise in tea obstetrics.  Let us part the tea-labia of Essence of Tea, and deliver the fine pu'ercha from within.  Thence, quivering and perhaps still covered in (figurative) amniotic fluids from the birthing process, we examine this fine, new-born cake.

This is the 2017 "Secret Forest Wild".

There is substantial and obvious fruit here.  Mr. Essence's tea-womb is fruity to the max.  Merely exposing the leaves to air causes the (Dancong-style?) scent of purple oxidation to assail the nostrils.

Some of the leaves are red, as one might expect.  "Elegant" appears twice in two sentences, on the product's web-page, and it is.  Elegant, that is.

The charming flavours gently blow away the sweet exertions of the morning, after getting my boys to school and pre-school.  In the warmth of summer, the cooling nature of this tea is obvious: cooling on the breath and of the body.  It is internal air-conditioning.

Coffee can be like a shot of adrenaline injected directly into the myocardium.  Coffee wakes me up, but it does leave me feeling as if I've just been brought round from a particularly ungallant overdose of opiods.  By comparison, this tea does it right: it gets the juices flowing, and cleanses the doors of perception, and yet it does so without giving your cardiologist something to complain about.  It is, for want of a better word, a tonic.

Now, for some trees...

I could quite happily walk up to those trees and chew on the leaves.  In fact, merely looking at the photograph causes me to move my jaws like a ruminant.

Mr. Essence writes that these are the same trees as were picked for a 2016 cake, but that the 2017 version has used bigger leaves, rather than focusing on buds.  This suits me just fine, as I never find "white" teas especially exciting, and prefer a bit of oomph. as the larger leaf might deliver.

Does it do so on this occasion?  This is a fine, fine tea.  It really is "elegant".  Given the grim near-30 temperatures of summer, the fruity drink-it-now appeal is immediately satisfying.  The price (£110/400g) is good, I think, for something (i) as clean as this (in terms of soup, and in the lack of cadmium) and (ii) as "wild" as this - its provenance is excellent.  I trust Mr. Essence to deliver the goods in these two categories, these days.

All that said, there is perhaps not enough tea for me.  I am forever in search of a violent, aggressive tea, and this petite little lady is, to my tastes, not quite there.  I cannot deny its quality, but my tastes run to the more chunky end of the spectrum, perhaps.  This might well age properly in a humid-and-hot climate, but a humid-and-chilly climate such as England requires something a little more rancid, a little more deadly, a little more elegant, I fear.

19 June, 2017

Going Out with an Yibang (2017, EoT)

Greetings, Heroes. How's 2017 treating all y'all?

Trump (hnng), Brexit (hnnnrghn), Theresa May (hhrrrnnnngghh) - everything is proceeding as I have foreseen.

*Sith lightning*

After all of the (really) bad news, I was super-thrilled to be in correspondence with Mr. Essence, who offered me a ray of light. And a mighty package.  Never one to shy from a mighty package, I was delighted to read of Mr. Essence's recent forays into hitting the pu'er farms.

Naturally, on prising open the aforementioned package, I went straight for The Goods which are, in this case, the 2017 YIBANG GUSHU.

This is the first use of the "2017" tag!  I had to type it out explicitly.  Exciting times...

The deluxe editions in the 2017 line-up of cakes from the Ol' Essence seem to be wrapped in Japanese-style headbands.  They convey the feeling of human male perspiration as I check out the image, which is surely a positive association when one is about to drink a tea.  Tie-dyed, like your mother's hippy trousers from the 1970s.  I dig it, man.

On breaking open my sample, I am overwhelmed by the beauty of this cake.

It's been a long time since a sample aroused so much arousal in my arousal-prone zones.  It is, at the time of writing, pushing 30 degrees Celsius here in England, which is the hottest it has ever been for this day in June.  Like Trump, I believe that global warming is a Chinese conspiracy.  I also believe that Theresa May is a credible politician, with a commanding wit and impressive ability to handle complex situations.  I also believe that the Earth is flat, like a pu'erbing.

Even before this little number slams into the palate, the scent slams you upside the head, in a disrespectful gesture of defiance.  There are so many volatile organic compounds in this sample that I begin to wonder if it has not been engineered by an elite corps of scientists, who have been kept in virtual captivity in a research lab, on an inhospitable planet, led by a hard-nosed R&D type.  Its power is truly enormous.

I am supposed to be somewhere, crammed into a small walnut-clad room, dressed in Elizabethan academic dress, in 30-degree temperatures, along with 50 of my peers (Governing Body), perspiring heavily.  However, all that can wait.  Right now, I am having a hot and tempestuous love affair with a sample of pu'ercha, and her name is 2017 YIBANG GUSHU.  She is a demanding mistress.

This is the cleanest, most pristine cake I have had in quite some time.  Mr. Essence goes out of his way to ensure minimal cadmium deposits make it into his teas, and that the bare minimum of radioactive waste seeps into the leaves.  This is admirable, and is a sentiment that I can totally get behind.  I read the .pdf results of his lab tests the way that other men view pornography.  It's almost lustful.

There are so many false claims in the world of pu'ercha that a table of lab results reminds me of the misrepresentations that are so common in tea.

Grain - there is so much grain here.  Grain, like greed, is good.

Yibang always maxes out my grain-sensors, with its sweetness and, when done right, just that tempting lilt of the wok remaining in the background.  It stops time.  It chills the roof of the mouth.  It brews, and it brews, and it brews - the sheer density of VOCs just never gives up.  It far surpasses the hour of time that I have set aside for it, and begins to eat into the rest of my day.

It is almost impossible not to buy this cake.  I look at the price, which is 300 Big Ones.  Back in the day, as a student, I would have not been able to get over the pricetag.  Through the passing of time and fate, I am a little more inured to such things... but it still seems as if it wouldn't be quite right to take the plunge.  I came so very close...

A thing is beautiful because it is transitory.  Both the Buddha and Darth Sideous taught us this.  I look into the remainder of the box of samples, attempting to convince myself that there will be other pleasures within, and that I was doing The Right Thing not to buy a cake of the 2017 Yibang Gushu.

All the while, as I attempt this self-justification, my conscience pesters me...

Day Two

This is the second day running with the 2017 YIBANG GUSHU.  As I commence primary ignition, I am struck by the enormity of them there huigans, as they begin to emerge.

This is a very friendly cake.  It is not a beast, waiting to strip away the lining from the inside of the mouth, but, instead, a complex and enjoyable reminder of how potent a leaf can be if it's grown nicely.

Monsignor Essence writes that this is from "ancient trees" (naturally) of "the small leaf varietal" from Mangong village in Yibang.  (I particularly enjoy browsing photographs of the trees!)

The leaves are small, 'tis true.  While the leaves in some cakes seem empty, easily-depleted, and over-farmed, this cake strikes me as being diametrically opposite.  They are crammed full of contents, and I like the result very much - it's friendliness is a great virtue, and it is an immediately drinkable treat.

Over the past few months, I've been drinking from my collection, and in a stochastic, scatter-gun manner.  I'll delve into a stack that looks untouched and see if I can find something that I don't recognise (which is getting easier as the years pass).  Not every cake in my collection is actual gushu (heh), and the contrast with the EoT Yibang Gushu is marked and obvious: the former can be quite aggressive, certainly in terms of caffeine, while the latter just seem to go down more easily.  It isn't at all aggressive - which is not to say that it is weak.  It's just friendly.

Sometimes, friendly is good.