...and there went 2012!
At the time of writing, it is New Year's Day, and I am tucked up at the tea-table with a strange companion called "Lam Kie Yuen", as pictured below. The name of the cake comes from the teashop of the same name, which has a presence in Vancouver as well as Mainland China, and where it is sold as "Vintage Tribute Pu'er". (Be warned: the web-site of the shop takes a very long time to load.)
I'm afraid that I have absolutely no idea which generous soul sent this to me, but handwriting analysis (me squinting at the writing) suggests that it may be Peter of Pu-erh.sk. Whoever you were: thank you very much indeed, and apologies for neglecting to record your identity!
Drinking shengpu-shupu mixtures is very good practice for differentiating the two; I seem to have encountered such blends rather frequently of late, sometimes provided without telling me the contents as a cheeky challenge. Most often, it is the character in the mouth, and ultimately the appearance of the wet leaves, that makes this a little more easy. However, as pictured below, the dry leaves sometimes give hints: here, although perhaps obfuscated by my camera's colour balance, the leaves are two-tone, with some being nearly black, and some being husky chocolate-brown.
Happily, the aroma is humid, dank, and everything that the phrase "wet library" entails, with glorious effect. The initial scent in the wenxiangbei [aroma cup] indicates the presence of shupu, with its powdery rubber tang that sits in the nose. I mean that in a good way.
In the mouth, it becomes more obvious: the shupu is evident in the initial attack of the tea at the front of the mouth: the shupu powder-and-rubber is a highly volatile compound that seems to fill the mouth immediately. However, the presence of shengpu then becomes more clear as the tea moves to the throat: it has a really rather massive cooling sensation, which I have never encountered to any degree in shupu (even "gushu shupu", sacrilege though it is to compost/wodui one's gushu leaves). While there is huigan as such, the mixture of shupu with some real shengpu backbone is very pleasant.
Another indicator that this tea (which is a maocha, more or less) has some age is from the appearance in the cup: it has a separated-out meniscus (pictured below), a.k.a. a "golden ring", much like an older wine that has been allowed to age gently.
Whereas lesser leaves would call it a day and pack up quite quickly, this tea managed to go some two dozen infusions, while I caught up with writing my journal. The infusions lengthened significantly after the first dozen, but the cooling, sweet, bookish character continued to charm until the end.
Turning out the wet leaves, the two-tone mixture becomes more obvious, where we can see that the shupu component predominates, as shown below.
Lam Kie Yuen sells this for a very reasonable HK$150 / 150g, which is around US$16. For such a price, a little purchase would definitely be in order for some easy and straightforward, yet pleasant, drinking.
As we look back on 2012, such as the date requires, we often think about all of the blessings that have come and gone, and of those events that we would have liked to gone differently. 2012 was my "Dragon Year" (being a child of the year-of-the-dragon), and in it much has happened - most importantly, the arrival of the Little Dragon himself, Xiaolong, who continues to charm us with his easy-going manner and calm humour. Who knows what 2013 will bring - it is a year that could promise much, and suggests that it is probably time that I checked in with the Yijing, as is my habit.
For the Half-Dipper, it has been a good year, for which we must thank you, Gentle Reader. Visits have slowly been climbing since the start of this humble little site, with the 2011 average of approximately 400 views / day increasing to around 550 views / day in 2012. For such a strange web-site, I'm genuinely surprised (and very pleased) that there are quite so many readers of equally strange temperament to its author.
Equally bizarrely, the most popular article by far (with 1,200 views in one day) was a post in which I recommended a rather humble, but very enjoyable, box of minor-label cakes.
I wish you, Gentle Reader, the very best of wishes for 2013, and look forward to sharing tea with you in whichever format we can manage together.