12 March, 2008

Boiling Point

The water up here boils at 92 degrees Celsius (198 degrees Fahrenheit).

This is wreaking havoc with brewing tea. Our pu'er tastes mysteriously thin, our wulong tastes unusually subdued, our hongcha tastes unfortunately bland. However, the character of the water is fine indeed, being mountainous, and neither too mineral nor too "empty".

Since arrival, we have been experimenting with all manner of teas at breakfast. The water is provided at the table, so boiling is out of our control.

Each tea tastes uninteresting... except for Imen's various dancong. For some reason, they perform exceedingly well under such conditions, resulting in a satisfying brew that is fruity, soft, and flavoursome. Shengpu, shupu, other wulong, and hongcha are all failing.

In other tea-related news, we recently ventured into a local Big Sky speciality: the "old-time cabin" dinner [above]. Flickering oil-lamps and cosy conditions aside, a solid meal (steak, for a change!) was followed by... tea. Highly unexpected, and very welcome, it's something that I'd like to see catch on back at home... perhaps a heavily fermented shupu, or deeply roasted wulong, to ease the tummy into that post-prandial "rest and digest" zone.

By way of post-script, the guitar entertainer during the meal sang a famous old Montana song, in which the refrain has the lines "God made Montana for the wild men / for the pagan, the Sioux, and the Crow." It caused me to wonder what God's impression is these days; for all the posters and images of native American culture, you don't meet a lot of Sioux around town...


speakfreely said...

No, you don't see a lot of Native Americans in the US. Between infectious disease, forced displacements and massacres, the genocide was nearly complete. I noticed this absense most acutely after visiting New Zealand, where the Maori have a widespread living presence, struggling (and in many small ways succeeding) to re-invent their culture in the modern context. The lesson? Eat your enemies; they'll respect you for it later.

Hobbes said...

Dear Carla,

The odd bit is that (here, at least), the native culture is really celebrated.

For example, the hotel we're in is striving for a traditional feel - it looks like the Overlook Hotel from Kubrick's version of "The Shining", if you've seen it. On most walls hang skins, photographs, or other images of native culture.

Our guide into Yellowstone Park last week-end also went to great lengths describing the native American structures that remain around the area, including some "teepee" pole-structures.

I know England has plenty of shameful colonial escapades to its discredit, but I couldn't think of a parallel with what we're seeing here.

It makes it a little more surreal when you see that the only houses in this area now are holiday "lodges", owned by holiday-makers, starting at $1.5m - there are no lives being lived here, just zillions of temporary winter ski homes. The local residents that work here are forced to live quite far away, and drive in. In a way, much like the native Americans, even they have been displaced by the force of capitalism.

It's a funny ol' place, and no wonder that they say it's not really "part of the USA".



Thomas said...


I'm from Belgium, so I speak french and my English is not very good... but I am a tea-fanatic and like reading your Blog...

I noticed and experienced this inluence of altitude on tea-brewing during my holyday in swtitzerland: pu Er and oolongs are very plain but Green tea and darjeeling performs nicely there (but it was in July...). all the teas wich needs "low-boiling" température are very fine and tasty with these water from the peaks...
Do you think that the DAN CONG are also a kind of tea that needs a little "cooling" of the boiling water to express their complexity with harmony???


Hobbes said...

Dear Thomas,

Firstly, many thanks for your kind compliments, and thanks for reading.

Secondly, as Imen (@ Tea Obsession) would say, some dancong seems to make its mark at lower infusions temperatures, just as you say. Actually, I haven't tried brewing any greens here, as we're between seasons and haven't got any of the 2008s in yet - I wonder if they'd be just as good; you're probably right. I suspect that Switzerland would have exactly the same characteristics as Montana: high altitude, oh-so-soft water, and a good mineral balance.



Imen said...

Hi Hobbes and Thomas,

It as more to do with air pressure than the temperature. Lighter the air pressure, the fragrance can be open up and travel up and out wards. Under low pressure, the fragrance is trapped. In rainy days, DC doesn't perform as well as in airy days.

Hobbes said...

Dear Imen,

I'll give it a try next time it rains - it's a common occurrence here :)