29 March, 2008

Maturity

Dark skies. Howling winds. The kind of day to stay indoors.

Join us at the tea-table with fitting music from Agalloch ( )



The subject of this article is "maturity", which will come in three varieties.


1. Blog Maturity

Back in the day (Apologia Pro Vita Sua), I laid out my intentions for this humble site:
i) a repository of notes;
ii) a place to share comments with friends old and new; and
iii) a resource for like-minded teafolk (however inadequate it might be).
Tea-notes (i) we have in plentiful supply, allowing me to correlate the contents of my paper journals. Similarly, (ii) the site has been blessed with a wise and humourous readership (that's you), and many "real life" meetings and friendships have sprung out of it.

However, today was the first time (iii) that I have used the Half-Dipper as a resource for investigating the maturing of tea. As old notes prove to have a second round of value, maybe this indicates some level of blogly maturity.

While torrential rain threatened to penetrate the windows, we revisited the 2006 Xizihao "Banzhang" and compared its progress to the earlier notes. I have added the extra tasting notes to the original post as an addendum, so do please click on the above link if this interests you. In future, I will try to do the same as we revisit teas to check on their progress.




2. Tea Maturity

Today's experiment was particularly interesting, as our brewing configuration is almost identical to that which was used for the original notes. The kettle, teapot, water, and methodology all remain constant - but the tea has changed.

What was originally green and brusque has been "caught in the act" of changing: the green flavours are moving lower, and changing into a rich tobacco. This was previously almost entirely absent, with just some lighter "mushroom" tones. Regular readers will recall my shameless love of tobacco-flavoured tea, so this excites me.

The brutal astringency is rapidly vanishing - it was conspicuous in its absence, given my clear memory of its original potency. Also, the colour of the leaves is darker - much moreso than I would expect.

Perhaps the most surprising of all changes is that this tea has become much more complex. I originally noted its simplicity - it was green, bitter, with mushroom. Drinking today's tea caused Lei to say, "This has so much flavour - it's like a proper cheese." High praise indeed, if you know my dear wife's appreciation for cheese.

So how has this maturing occurred? I put it down to the climate. It is an oft-repeated axiom that if atmosphere is good for people, then it is good for tea. Recently travelling to a much drier climate allowed some clearer understanding of what we have in England.

While in Montana, I noted the extreme lack of humidity and that it could be poor for tea-storage. My hands and hair were dried and cracked. My skin actually felt more fragile - the slightest knock would tear my skin. Being a clumsy type, constantly banging my hands and legs against inanimate objects, I soon had an inordinate number of scrapes, bruises, and cuts sustained simply by rebounding off the furniture.

Returning home, my skin has returned to normal - the dry, rough patches have smoothed and become pink once again, the cuts have all healed, and my hair no longer feels like straw. I continue to bounce off inanimate objects, but the skin does not tear as it did when in the drier climate.

This must be beneficial for tea. I remember travelling back home along English roads, with Lei commenting on how wet the air seemed here. I don't take too many pains over the storage of our pu'er: it squats on shelving units in my study (and the aroma is fine to work in), so I conclude that it must be the atmosphere. I hadn't accounted for just how rapid the aging could be, though.




3. Tasting Maturity

Today's revisiting allows me to look back at the manner in which I assessed tea even a year ago, and it shows me the changes in myself.

I firmly believe that much of what we take to be "expertise" is simply the product of familiarity, in any sphere (not discounting any innate ability with which one might be blessed). While far from being an expert in tea, it is interesting to see that simple exposure to tea has matured my own clumsy perceptions of it.

Complexities in teas that I could not observe before have become apparent: chaqi is more obvious; the "effervescent" quality of some leaves on the lips and tongue is more evident; the composition of a tea becomes more clear.

In technique, I still brew "bad" brews. However, their number is decreasing - it seems to be better, more often. This isn't skill, or talent - just the sheer effect of time.

I am reminded of the Japanese approach to learning various manual and spiritual arts through exceptionally large amounts of repetition (and think of Herrigel's Zen and the Art of Archery).




So, three maturities. Here's hoping for more of the same.

26 March, 2008

A Tea Conversion

Tea conversions come in the strangest places...

In most meetings that take place in my professional life (and, like many I'm sure, meetings seem to be taking up an ever-larger portion of my time), I can be found with a gongdaobei filled with tea and a little tasting cup. I consider this normal behaviour, particularly as it aids in keeping my attention on the meeting.

Recently, I was in a meeting with a chap who (in my limited sphere, at least) was Important. As the hours drew on, our eyes were getting a bit misty from staring at graphs for too long.

"Fancy a cuppa?"



"How about some of that special tea?"

Hmm. The tea to which Dr. Important is referring was the 1990s Tibetan Heicha, kindly donated by she-who-wishes-to-remain-nameless, MYSTERIELLA. She didn't enjoy it at all. I'm loathe to provide it to Dr. Important, lest I poison him.

"Are you sure? It's rather unusual."

"You bet."

Several gongdaobei later, it turns out that Dr. Important has developed a taste for this stuff. We spend the remainder of the meeting talking tea, where he grills me for web-sites, recommendations, details on types of tea, brewing tips.

We ran out of time to finish the actual work, but I consider it's in the name of a good cause.

So, thanks again, MYSTERIELLA!

---

Let's hear about your tea-conversions. Over to you.




(Also: further notes added to 2005 Yisheng "Yiwu Zhengshan" and 2006 6FTM "Yesheng Banzhang".)

24 March, 2008

2006 Xizihao "Nannuo": Maocha vs. Bing

I've been looking forward to writing this article for quite some time: courtesy of TA's generosity (plentiful thanks!), the same Xizihao leaves in maocha and bingcha form. This makes for a potentially informative experiment, as it allows any effect on the leaves to be compared.

Plus, they look really rather tasty.

I delayed writing this in order to have another two sessions with each tea, to ensure some representative notes.



The maocha is rich, dark, with a good proportion of tips. Xizihao make pretty teas, that much must be conceded.

They do look a touch fragmented...



...when compared with the fine examples in the bingcha (pictured below). Both have a satisfying aroma of tobacco - my favourite introduction to a leaf.



The scent in the wenxiangbei is striking, being a complex of Nannuo-style juniper on top and tobacco below. This is most noticeable in the bingcha - the maocha, while similar, is much lighter in the wenxiangbei.

This continues into the body of the tea, where the base flavour of the bingcha is that thick tobacco, with a sweet note of old honey over the top. The maocha differs little, but has a touch more acidity (which could be due to the fragmentation of the leaves), while seeming thinner in the body.

This is an enduring tea, and both bingcha and maocha leaves march out to the tenth infusion with no problem, retaining a chunky texture and interesting character throughout. That welcome acidity continues to provoke a challenging huigan.



The overall feeling is one of freshness, and I look forward to the juniper aroma in each new infusion.

Perhaps fated, here's one Xizihao that I'd be happy to buy - and it's no longer available for purchase, despite being only a 2007. C'est la vie.

Have a happy Eastertime - don't forget to celebrate the resurrection of Our Lord with several kilograms of dodgy chocolate eggs. It's a tradition handed down from apostolic times*.

*This may not be true.

22 March, 2008

Irreverence, or "1999 Menghai Big Green Tree"

"If you meet the Buddha, you must kill him."
Blasphemy? Not at all, for this is a famous saying in Zen. The irreverence of Zen is something to be cherished. Like most Zen koans [aphorisms/riddles], for all its apparent absurdity, this one has many practical truths within, layered like an irritating cocktail onion.

I'm only qualified to discuss its most superficial meaning and will leave deeper exposition to the venerable monks in my readership (!). For today, "If you meet the Buddha, you must kill him" I will take to refer to independent observation, uncoloured by the opinions of others.

In the Kalama Sutra (I love squid), Buddha himself is said to have told his followers to accept only that which they can verify by personal practice and experience. Not the voices of teachers, authorities, or authors - just personal verification.

Spending a morning (and over two litres of good water) with the 1999 Menghai "Big Green Tree", I spent some time thinking about "killing the Buddha".



Spring is with us. You can almost track the seasons by the photographs of the colourful displays that my wife so kindly arranges for our tea-table. That said, it's snowing outside, and the nearby Angel-and-Greyhound meadow is currently underwater from another flood...

Every article I have read on the subject of the 1999 Menghai "Big Green Tree" ["Da Lu Shu"] praises it in the highest: a landmark in tea-storage, a seminal classic, a benchmark.

On examining the leaves of this prestigious cake, based on reputation alone, I anticipated the distant sound of celestial harps. Choirs of seraphim. The fabled impromptu xylophonic stylings of St. Michael the archangel.



No harps yet. Dark leaves, large but fragmented, with a gentle sweetness. No halo, no lotus flowers blooming in its footsteps.

As can be seen in the flowery photograph above (and below), this brews a solid orange soup, which has a particularly splendid vibrancy in the mouth, and an equally robust huigan, brought about by some well-balanced acidity.



Ready for $400 (?!) worth of fireworks, I was surprised (based on its reputation) to find that this was comparable to many other far less expensive teas. Certainly, it is well-stored, but in its friendly sandalwood-and-camphor flavours there isn't much of an extraordinary nature.

By the sixth infusion, it had polarised into generic sweetness vs. robust huigan. By the fifteen infusion, it was peach-coloured sweet water (but well done for getting that far, I must say).

Definitely no harps.




This is an excellent tea with which to "kill the Buddha". History, yes. Landmark in the tradition of processing, maybe. Awesome tea: that's less obvious.

It is easy to be swayed by tea-writers. We're a passionate bunch, and, occasionally, give the entirely misleading impression that we know what we're talking about.

In everything, least of all tea, don't accept anything without personal verification - this article included. As Brad Warner says in the excellent Hardcore Zen, "question everything, including yourself".

Start with the 1999 Menghai "Big Green Tree".

(This was the "classic" blue/black-labelled version of Dalushu, for all you Dalushu fans out there.)

18 March, 2008

The Joys of Home

How much more Chinese can you get?

Reading Hong Lou Meng, listening to guzheng music (from SE, many thanks), sitting at the gongfucha table, while your laowai [foreigner] husband brews you pu'er...

It's great to be back.


I wrote recently about the wastage that I noticed in a trip to the USA, and was reminded of it when receiving a parcel from a London shop. Just to show that England has more than its fair share of waste, allow me to illustrate...

(It's from Penhaligon's, for those so inclined.)


Step 0: Payment

This shop offers one delivery option, which is for a courier to be instantly dispatched with your order. No postage, no alternative: a man will turn up with your order within an afternoon. This is absurd.


Step 1: Courier Bag



Step 2: Cardboard Box



Steps 3 and 4: Eggshell Padding and Tissue Wrapping



Step 5: Fancy Blue Box
MarshalN: seen that before anywhere?



Step 6: Wooden Bowl
Getting close...



Step 7: And Finally...
All that for a soap...



The soap with the original container, for scale...


That's baffling. At least it wasn't wrapped in baby seal.

(In Penhaligon's defence, both product and delivery were entirely at their expense. After an original bowl had a slight scratch in its tiny lid, which I mentioned to them hoping for a replacement lid, they immediately couriered out an entirely new product. Good customer service... but immense profligacy.*)


*I really should use that word more often.

17 March, 2008

At Home with 2005 Mengyang Guoyan "Lao Banzhang"

Crossing timezones eastwards can be shattering. We arrived back at home feeling physically exhausted from jet lag, carrying a ski-bag entirely destroyed by United Airlines, and frustratingly having left my favourite C&B brush behind in Montana.

Imagine, then, the true delight of returning to a peaceful home, and a grinning college porter who handed me the following, saying "More tea?"


Nada, you're a star - thank you so much for the "welcome home" box. We wish you the very best of travels, which I recall were kicking off today with a hop to the "Fragrant Port", Hong Kong... (Do follow Nada's voyage around the Orient at a Felicific Life.)

Aside from the eponymous tea of this article, into which we dived straight away, Nada was kind enough to include a beautiful plate (pictured below) - though we used it for tea today (as you will see), we have found it a permanent home resting under the feet of our Buddha figurine - a fitting spot, given its history.



So, then, the Mengyang Guoyan cake from autumn 2005, made from 100% "Lao Banzhang" leaves - traditionally, the really brutal variety of pu'er. I always remember Phyll Sheng's description: "Like being hit by a truck."



We have a chunky bing before us, with a comely selection of whole leaves making a great first impression. Plenty of tips, plenty of bigger "basis flavour" leaves, some stems (for those so inclined).



Biting into the cake (yum), we find that the compression is good enough to hold it together, but loose enough to allow the pretty leaves to be separated with little effort and no breakage (and so hopefully avoiding excess Banzhang bitterness). Cue Nada's lovely plate...



The leaves are particularly sweet, without much lower aroma. I am often struck by just how much of the character of a tea one can anticipate from examination of the dry leaves, and this tea is a textbook example...



...because the soup is a chunky yellow, and dominated by sweetness, without a heavy "bass" component. It is high, sweet, pleasantly mushroom-like, and this corresponds conveniently with the characteristics of the dry leaves.



The texture is decent, while a slight effervescence on lips and tongue is evidence of good leaf quality.

I find myself concentrating on the physical sensations delivered by a tea these days, and that effervescent, energetic quality in good leaves is becoming more obvious to me the more pu'er I drink. It often coincides with decent chaqi (mysticism alert, run for the lifeboats).

Some tea authors refer to this as "yun", translating it as "sensation", but I am told that this is not an accurate translation of the character which otherwise refers to the ephemeral "charm" of a thing (where a common example refers to the "yun" of a mature, pleasant lady - an imparted quality through association, rather than a physical sensation). I will leave this to the sinologists to debate, and quietly step aside...

Considering the leaves...



...they are delicious indeed, corresponding well with the assumptions gleaned from the dry leaves. This bing has good quality leaves running throughout its interior, and is thankfully not merely dressed in a thin veneer of prettiness. They are hand-picked, well-handled, and rather erotically appealing, wouldn't you agree?

I must confess that I really love nearly all teas. Teas which are gifts from good friends already leave me well-disposed before even tasting them. Happily, though, the 2005 Mengyang Guoyan is a pleasure to drink - sweet and acidic, becoming more mellow out past the tenth infusion (though it is not aggressive by any means). It has some green grassiness to it, but it is a young tea after all.

Thanks again to Nada for his great generosity.

Before we close the photo-book on Montana, here's another favourite of mine... I think this represents a cultural misunderstanding, because in the UK, "corned beef" is a grotty sandwich meat akin to Spam. With that in mind, you can appreciate the traffic-stopping excellence of the following roadside advertisement...





Addendum

This cake (wrapper stamped "Teji" in red) was apparently made for a Kunming dealer, and was not sold as a Mengyang Guoyan production, perhaps explaining its unusual quality for a factory that doesn't usually impress me.



Addendum
22 March, 2009

This cake is very high, and particularly sweet, but a little empty underneath. This is emphasised by the switch from our stainless-steel induction kettle to the iron of a tetsubin. I was concerned that the body of this tea had diminished, but was encouraged to read from my description that I originally noted a lack of "bass" components.

It is smooth and pleasant, and I'm happy to have acquired another two cakes since.




Addendum
August, 2009

This has the "teji" [TER-GEE, special grade] stamp on the front in red, marking it as the special pressing for the Kunming collector. Iv'e recently found this for sale on Taobao, and am revisiting it in order to be ready for comparison with new candidates.

The tips are already turning a rusty orange colour, and it comes out as well as I remembered: thick, sweet, straw-like, with a great tanginess in the finish that reminds me it still has a grip on its youth. It has a coarse, lighter woodiness, rather than the heavy oak of old age. With any luck, this will result in another tong being found, if the Taobao tea is similar.

15 March, 2008

Small Town USA

Ave.

We've left Big Sky, with all of its "How are YOU today, sir?", its opulent Yellowstone Club environs, and its theme park-esque detachment from all things real...


...for something a little more my style, dare I say a little more "real", and certainly a little less blatantly ostentatious. Welcome to Small Town USA, Montana. Do please humour me by clicking on the tiny sliver of photograph below, as the full-size image is one of my personal favourites.



Small Town USA is proper nitty-gritty life as it is led in the south of Montana by several thousands of people, and is something I'm coming to enjoy.

You begin to feel more like a person here, and less like a credit card.

If that wasn't enough, I've managed to find some outstanding beer in the local market. One of these is actually a real minority beer shipped from my home county in England (Suffolk), and is cheaper than I could ever hope to find it back home (in the vanishingly small number of pubs that serve it)...


I've not yet started wearing baseball caps, but I am beginning to put pauses into my conversations. More news from Small Town USA as it happens...

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...

10 March, 2008

An Englishman in New York (Montana)

I promised myself on arrival in the USA that I wouldn't write this article, primarily because it's not much to do with tea. However, a surprising number of e-mails have been asking the same question, so let's see what happens.

If you're from the USA and easily offended, or passionately patriotic, please look away now. Consider yourself warned...



Regular victims readers of the Half-Dipper will recall that I write my articles in pen-and-paper format, then transcribe some of the tea-related work into these shabby HTML pages. Over a gaiwan of 2007 autumnal Xizihao (pictured above), I penned the following "first impressions" of the USA, from the perspective of an English newcomer. For those of you that asked for them, I hope these observations amuse. For those more easily offended, note that this was written light-heartedly and should be taken as such. Caveat emptor.

To give you the context in which my observations took place, it is true that the ski resort in which we find ourselves is highly unrepresentative of "normal USA life". However, we've met people from almost every American state (including Alaska) while here. Also, we're here for a conference which has attracted over 700 academics and industrialists from all over the USA. So, while Big Sky is atypical, I think that the slice of professionals and holidaymakers we've encountered have given us a good taste of American life as it is lived across the USA.

Here's a tacky conference freebie - can you see Yunnan?


As a prelude, let me state for the record that I am fully aware of the shortcomings of England and the English. However, let us now turn our attention towards those first impressions of the USA...

Before we get too far in, I should also state that if you're a cowboy, raising cattle or sheep...


or if you're a trapper, driving teams of dogs in front of your toboggan...


...then this article is not about you. You can behave however you wish, as I think you've earned the right to do so through the sheer ruggedness and awesomeneity of your occupation. Go in peace.

This article is really aimed at the urban section of US society, as I have observed it passing through Big Sky and the cities we stopped in (Washington, Denver, Bozeman) on the way. City people. Academics, industrialists, commercialists, businessmen.

The first thing that strikes me about American life occurs...


At the Dinner Table

The average level of table manners I've seen here roughly equates to those of a misbehaving European five-year-old. I have seen the following in everyone from directors of MIT laboratories to the business leads of multinational corporations. From the "family guy" enjoying the resort with his children (bless 'em) to the table of professionals, trying to land new projects and job opportunities with one another. Whether the situation is formal or relaxed, it raises eyebrows every time from me - it's a huge gaping chasm of a cultural difference.

Looking around the restaurants, dining halls, and functions, I have seen committed virtually every mealtime sin that school and family have worked out of me during my formative years. I can imagine my grandmother eating with an American and turning purple with quiet rage. "Manners maketh the man", she always likes to quote. I suspect even my mild-mannered gran would have assaulted most Americans with their own unused cutlery by the end of the meal.


Let's start at the top:

1. Cutlery

Notice that a fork (or number thereof) has been positioned to the left of the dining area, while a knife (or knives) has been positioned to the right. This is an immediate clue as to their usage. Though manners insist on a certain grip on each implement (do NOT hold them like a pencil, or like a dagger!), I won't yet get that far as it is clear that most Americans I have watched eat are uncomfortable with the notion that the fork goes in the left, the knife goes in the right. (If you're a lefty, you may switch hands.)

I watched with mild tachycardia this morning as a respectably-dressed woman picked up the knife and fork correctly, then started to chop her food up into small cubes. The entire plateful. She then dropped the knife, moved the fork into the right hand, and started shovelling the small cubes into her mouth as if she were stoking coal into a steam engine.


If you are five months of age, you can cut your food into chunks. If you plan to eat the entire meal with chopsticks (my wife is reading this), you can hope for your food to already be cut into chunks for you. If you are a professional leader of business, talking important talk with your peers over the dinner table, and attempting to land multi-million pound contracts with your dining partner, you may not cut your food into chunks, nor may you shovel.

Try and convey the impression that your life doesn't depend on downing your meal within five minutes. What we're aiming for, as a pleasant side-effect of eating small pieces of food spaced comfortably apart, is the ability to maintain polite conversation without the need to swallow a volleyball-sized mass of unchewed food.

It goes without saying that you never, ever open your mouth or speak with food in there... but most of the folk I have dined with seem intent on showing me their undigested food. Again, my gran would probably be reaching for the sharpened butterknife with an eye to attacking you right about now.


2. Taking Food

In Europe, it is a grievous social faux pas to waste food, which is considered to be a sign of immense vulgarity (and will often be labelled "nouveau riche"). If you are advantaged, to not waste food is important in that ultimate goal of showing that you do not take your advantages for granted, and that you appreciate them. Check out the behaviour of HRH Liz II ("The Queen") for plentiful examples. Wastage is "gauche".


(I think Ronald looks a little like the hippo, don't you?)

In every food situation I have observed here in the US, the wastage of food is extreme. From a European viewpoint, it is literally incredible. Just because something is "free" doesn't mean that you should take a mountain of it. I see children taking six doughnuts for breakfast, nibbling one, discarding the rest, and then listening to their parents make a light-hearted comment about it. I see a famous academic taking three steaks at a conference buffet, eating one, and leaving the rest for the bin.

A piste-side restaurant served a plate of nachos that was over 3lbs in weight (approximately the volume of four human stomachs). The recipient ate one third of the pile, and ditched the rest. Then, another similar-sized plate landed on a young man's table next to us...

For Europeans, this enters the realms of actual revulsion. Curb that consumption!


3. Selecting Food

I love American optimism in all situations, but particularly when choosing which foods to eat: I wish that I too could eat without regard for the physical consequences. I see steaks wrapped in bacon, then covered in butter; I see cuts of meat served as single portions so large that they could feed a small family of tigers; I see beverages filled with modified corn starch and sweetening agents. It looks like a wonderland, where the food we select will have no observable effect on our bodies... but that's not quite the case.

Back at school, the "fat kid" in most classes used to be the one singled out and humiliated. It's not pleasant behaviour in children, and obviously needs to be halted if it's encountered, but it was almost ubiquitous. Children love to ridicule the flaws in others - perhaps it's an evolutionary thing. However, its commonplace presence alone indicated that the "fat kid" used to be unusual.

It used to be unusual to be overweight.

Certainly in the UK, as people begin to eat poorer foods and take less responsibility for their bodies, it's not unusual to be overweight any more. (Amusingly, in the "classroom" of European nations, the "skinny kids" of France and Italy now ridicule the "fat kid" which is England.)

Entering the US feels as if the situation is further exacerbated here. To see someone "normal" in weight, looking around a dining hall filled with hundreds of people, or a conference dinner filled with delegates, is really rather unusual.


It doesn't take a genius to realise that eating more calories than the body requires leads to the accumulation of fat. Portions in the US are about double or triple European sizes, and so I suspect that this culturally-instituted factor makes it harder to fight chubbiness, as an American. If your school serves you grossly large portions of food, as do your restaurants, your friends, and perhaps even your parents, it surely must be difficult to take only the food you require.

Europeans simply eat less. There's a great book out there (pictured above) which makes exactly this point. It's important to realise, given that a lot of us live sedentary lives, stuck in front of computers.

Europeans are wholly unpleasant in many other areas, but I think we're generally less fat. Particularly those darned French (pictured below, ignoring the fact that Maria Callas is Greek).


OK, that's it for now. I was about to get onto dress sense and conversations, but I don't think there's enough ink left in my computer.

07 March, 2008

Opus 95, From the New World

As a newcomer to the USA, I'm beginning to form opinions on US citizens in their natural environment. This isn't really the best place to discuss my conclusions, but there are some that pertain to tea...


Like the British, it seems that Americans don't know much about tea.

The Twinings and PG Tips teabags with which we are inflicted in restaurants at home are here replaced by "Bigelow" (male gigelo?) and Tazo (Starbucks?) varieties, and they are much the same in their blandness. One kindly young waitress offered us cream to put in our tea, while another sweet soul accidentally (I trust) topped up our breakfast teapot with coffee - this wouldn't have been so bad, but I was trying to brew some of the 2007 autumnal Xizihao in it.

I don't like writing about teabags, so we shall draw a veil over this distressing scene.

---

Now, you're thousands of miles away from your scuttle, but you need a good shave. What do you do? With the aid of a few rudimentary kitchen utensils and a source of boiling water, I give you the Impromptu Hobbes Scuttle, Mk I:


In other news, God bless the soul that invented the outdoor jacuzzi and swimming pool. I'm beginning to understand why the USA didn't sign the Kyoto Protocol:


It's about as sustainable as burning baby seals as a lightsource, but it certainly does feel good.

04 March, 2008

Now is the Winter of Our Discontent

Montana is seriously cold.


Despite all of our ski gear, we're still getting chilly. From a tea-drinking perspective, there is a slightly different issue: it's also very, very dry here.

Even though we get about 12 inches of snow per day here, the rock-bottom humidity makes for cracked hands and dry faces. The retired marine drill-sergeant that we met on the aeroplane specifically recommended that we use hand cream regularly whilst in Montana. When a senior marine recommends something like hand cream, you know the situation is serious.

This must make storing tea particularly tricky. I never leave home without packing my trusty badger-hair brush, yet it's so dry here that the bristles fan out like a cheerleader's pom-pom:


One solution to this problem is hinted at by the presence of two very large white devices tucked away in one of the cupboards in our hotel apartment. A search using Google Images indicates that these are humidifiers:


Plug them into the electrical supply, fill them with several litres of water, and a steady mist of water vapour is released into the atmosphere, to counteract the extreme lack of humidity. Though perhaps (along with air conditioning) one of the least environmentally-friendly atmospheric adjusters that one could obtain, it certainly does the trick. I think any long-terms plans involving Montana (and thus involving moving some pu'er over here) would require a more permanent, less energy-demanding solution to the humidity problem.



Following the previous Half-Dipper tradition of attempting to get weiqi/Go pieces into as many photographs as possible, here's our current best substitute (above). Conveniently, they're made large enough so that one can play with even the most dry, cracked hands...

(As ever, clicking on a photograph will display the complete version.)