I landed in Beijing, checked into my hotel on Zhichunlu, and then called PM (a.k.a. twodog2), proprietor of white2tea. Within twenty minutes, I was zooming through the (now entirely enormous) Beijing metro. I visit Beijing about once per year, and each time that I visit more subway lines have been created. When I first went to the city, almost a decade ago, there were just two simple lines (one straight line, one circular!), whereas now there are zillions. Most of the maps available on the internet are comically out-of-date, such is the rate of tunneling.
What this means is that you can get almost anywhere within 45 minutes, and you can avoid sitting in the heavy road traffic. Additionally, there is 100% mobile signal strength throughout the subway, meaning that you can even get some work done. I chose to spend the time writing haiku, and so was busily scribbling into my diary while standing up, swaying around with the movements of the train, much to the amusement of the locals.
Within the hour, I was greeted at Guomao station by the blond maniac himself. He looks almost exactly like Calvin; the photograph below is a very good likeness.
We headed to a nearby friend's teahouse, which was a very pretty little venue. Pictured below, another visiting friend of PM's, from Taiwan, was just returned from a tea-producing expedition (I think). My Mandarin is approximately 1% as good as PM's, who has been immersed in Beijing for several years.
PM stepped up to the teatable and began the brewing...
It must be something to do with the variety of people that one finds in teahouses, but this is the third time that I have visited such a place where there is a Zen monk sitting at the table. When I arrived, the monk came out of a little door which I assumed led to a small temple or meditation room. I later found out that I was almost correct, and that the door led to the loo. Spiritual insights abound in both locations.
It was a long session, and I had not eaten since the early-morning meal on the aeroplane, such was my haste to get to the tea-session! This means that the subsequent four or so hours of drinking tea left me entirely ravenous, but I figured that this would be a good way to burn off some of my massive fat reserves before the Chinese lunches and dinners kicked in.
We started off with a 2002 Bulangshan, which I think is perhaps the cake pictured above. Along with a 2005 Nakashan cake, PM had been generous in bringing some very good leaves with him.
Shown above, a 1995 Songpin (correct me if I'm wrong), allegedly from Yiwushan. This was a Big Tea, and noticeably Yiwu-area, although a debate about precise regions then followed between PM and our Taiwanese colleague. I think I'm right in calling him "Mr. Zhang".
18 years after its production, the 1995 cake tasted heavily of wildflowers - often a surprise to me, when I assume that floral characteristics dissipate with age. Its constancy was a great pleasure, even after serious brewing.
Mr. Zhang then reclaimed his rightful seat at the tea-table. Being rather English about it, I'm not particularly keen on calling tea-people "Master", but suspect that Mr. Zhang might go by that title in some circles.
(The very amusing owner of the tea-shop is shown above, wearing a red scarf and the 1920s spectacles.)
Hallelujah - his first tea was a really decent zhengshan xiaozhong from Tongmuguan (if I understood him correctly), and which reminded me of both Essence of Tea's version and Vicony's version from that canonical area for "lapsang". I must have seemed impressed, because Mr. Zhang kindly packed me up a big bag of it.
We rolled through a Taiwanese qingxiang wulong, shown above, and followed it up with a nongxiang (yancha?) version that PM may already be selling via his web-store.
While PM stepped outside to Talk Business with Mr. Zhang, I got down to the serious business of drinking more wulong and eating snacks, my eleven-hour appetite threatening to cause me to eat my own leg.
At around 7 p.m., we said our goodbyes, and went our separate ways, bellies filled with great teas and heads filled with good conversation. It was an excellent start to a busy week, and a very great pleasure to meet PM.