By virtue of the time-tunnelling effect of blogging, while I am writing this on an afternoon in late September, I suspect that my words will have travelled forward in time to be read by you, Gentle Reader, just after Boxing Day. Though it seems strange to me in September, it will undoubtedly seem quite normal in December, for me to extend to you the season's greetings. The season of Christmas (the time of reading), that is, not the season of mid-autumn (the time of writing). Time-travel was always complex.
While nowhere near the Christmas period, I have just finished a session with two samples sent kindly by Tea Urchin some time ago (perhaps in 2011?). This first cake is a "2002 Lincang", which is all that is known about it - Eugene's pretty web-site doesn't seem to mention it. It seems to have been a zhuancha [brick-tea], as pictured above. This is also apparently in the grade of the leaves, which have a homely "leftovers" feel to them. The scent is sweet, with some age.
"Straightforward and quite strong" is my summary of this Lincang cake. It has the red maltiness of a few years, but I would be very surprised if this were older than 6 or 7 years old - certainly, the supposed 11 years of aging are not apparent. Perhaps it was stored in a state of preservation. What we do have is a bold, uncomplicated sweetness that performs well and gets me ready for the "main act"...
...the eponymous "crab's feet", or pangxiejiao [aprrox. paang-shee-air-djow].
I have rather enjoyed cakes laced with pangxiejiao before. It is a vine that grows on the pu'ercha trees in the Jingmaishan region, and whose flavour seems to complement that of the pu'ercha leaves with which is is sometimes mixed. Imagine my surprise, then, when I opened the packet to reveal...
...pure pangxiejiao! This represents an excellent opportunity to come to know the character of this strange additive that is usually only present in small amounts. The leaves of this life-form are yellow and green, with a "wrinkled" level of detail that you might be able to discern from the photographs.
The scent of the dry leaves is particularly unique. I have encountered in only one location before today: the giraffe enclosure of the zoo. The leaves have that blend of hairy, rich, and definitely animal scents that occur only in giraffe enclosures.
The soup, as you can see below, is a watery yellow-green. I was wondering if this might make it rather tasteless, but the character is quite obviously not at all weak: it is creamy, thick, quite sweet, and tastes remarkably close to Jingmaishan's lanxiang [orchid scent], perhaps because of its growth in close proximity (well, crawling up the bark of the tree). It is tangy, cooling at the back of the throat, and enduring in a way that few teas can achieve. Quite surprising is its overall effect, and really rather nice, it has to be said.
You may not have received any pangxiejiao in your Christmas stocking this year, but I do recommend trying some should the opportunity arise. My opinion of pangxieojiao has entirely changed from "novelty" to "pleasant addition". Heaven knows how it ages, but the immediate character is rather fascinating.