19 January, 2015


Some of my favourite music at school included (among death metal, progressive trance, and the opera of Lorenzo Da Ponte), albums made by East-Coast US groups from "The Projects".   If there is a common thread among these very different genres, it is that they can all be really, really good.

One of the side effects of my extended flirtation with East-Coast lyrics is that I have a detailed and nuanced, if biassed, understanding of life in New York State.  To my limited education, Americans are either (i) gangsters from Staten Island or (ii) musket-wielding revolutionaries from Concord, Massachusetts. 

My own childhood was spent in a dark, remote place in the middle of the English countryside, famous for a certain university and the likes of Isaac Newton. On recently receiving an invitation to return home, to the heart of darkness, I was reminded of the meeting of Obiwan and Darth Vader on the departure deck of the Death Star.

Gentle Reader, you surely know by now that I was the Sith Lord in this analogy.

Cf. this.

The Big Man himself prepared for his Death Star encounter by meditating in his Sith Chamber.  What they don't show in Empire Strikes Back is that, in the solitude of his Sith Chamber, Vader was actually listening to albums from the aforementioned East Coast affiliates.

My equivalent was to recline in the mechanised sanctuary of the teatable, my life-support helmet temporarily removed so that I could work on my Dark Side.  My prep involved meditating on the thesis (pictured above) produced by some poor nerfherder rookie, hoping to earn his stripes by locking his s-foils in attack formation.  I could almost smell the moisture farm.

Accompanying my Sith meditations was the 2005 BIG ZHONG from w2t, a tea vendor whom I inexplicably seem to know now only as "Dubs".  

(As in, "This came from Dubs.  Let me show you the web-page.")

While I sharpened my (obviously scarlet) lightsabre, ready to hit up the Death Star, I reflected on the humid darkness of the Big Zhong.  It smells like Tatooine, in case you were wondering.

It starts slow, like two users of the Force circling one another to estimate the depth of their adversary's affinity for that power that surrounds us and penetrates us; that binds the galaxy together.  There is malt and darkness (in the tea, not in the Force), but it is slow and reticent.  It a bedrock of naturally humid storage.

It is constant and sweet, but... it doesn't grab me.  Activity, warmth, a cooling sensation - but something is missing.  It reminds me of the hollow victories of the Dark Side itself: promising much, tempting one in with promises of ultimate power, and yet, somehow, absent any purpose or greater meaning.  Ultimately, it cannot last, and will eventually be overcome.

It is a sobering message for all practitioners of the Dark Side.

I return to my Sith Chamber.  Helmet up, Staten Island tunes playing on the stereo.  What went wrong with the Big Zhong?  I must meditate.

I crack open a bag of 1999 "Special Order" 8582.  It reminded me of the 1999 "Commissioned" 8582 from Teaclassico.  However, this version has a green, rather than a red, zhongcha character on its wrapper.  Twodog, the proprietor of the Dubs, noted that this cake has been stored in Guangzhou, which means humidity.

Even from the first infusion, in which the leaves (pictured above) have not separated, this tea is filled with character.  It begins with a red-orange colour, pictured below.  Woody sweetness, sitting in the throat, reminds me of warm feelings that Sith Lords do not usually experience.

Big, malty, dense, tingling - whereas the 1998 "Commissioned" 8582 from Teaclassico was all soft comfort, this is a harder, woodier tea with real bite.  It has an edge in the finish that causes the mouth to water.  Sith Lords don't get a lot of mouth-watering.  I was impressed.

Finally, to close this trilogy, and to end with the catharsis of the original Star Wars trilogy, I warmed up the tetsubin for a sample of 1998 "Hong Kong, Dry-Stored 7432".  The owner of the Dubs noted that this was not, in any quantifiable way, a bargain.  This is, in fact, a 1998 Liming cake.

Like Vader picking up the Emperor Palpatine in the conclusion of the Return of the Jedi, this tea brings even the darkened soul of the unredeemed out into the cleansing power of the Light Side.  Interestingly, there is almost no caffeine - instead, this tea is packed with comforting, energising, narcotics.

Seriously, this tea is drugs.

Tangy density, heavy and pleasant, the eternal comfort of the Light Side - this tea is so (so, so) far beyond my purchasing threshold that I can simply marvel at its potency.  So this is what Yoda had in mind.  Maybe he wasn't such a nutball, after all.

The confrontation back on the Death Star turned out to be, likewise, a thoroughly charming and friendly affair.  The nerfherder did good.  There may well be one more doctor in the world, before too long.

This Year's Apples

this year's apples
made from last year's apples
in the compost bin


AutomaticJack said...

The scarlet lighsaber is the Sith equivalent of a teacher's red pen. You've got some correcting to do...

Hobbes said...

When I take out my contact lenses at the end of the day, I tell my children, "Let me look upon you... with my... own eyes..." [Darth helmet raised]

Hobbes said...

The haiku is the state of our garden. We enjoy picking apples from the trees, of course, but the circularity of the process struck me as I took out a huge pile of apple-peeling, last year, to put them in the compost bin. The compost then, after a year or so, goes under the apple tree, to help the next season of fruit to grow. There's something "Soylent Green" (or "The Matrix") about feeding the next generation on the decomposed remains of the old generation.

The image that makes the haiga makes me smile: it is a sketch that my wife (then girlfriend) and I put together about a decade ago. (Ten years, this year! How time flies...) The sketch is of how we imagined our home: courtyard, various rooms decided, roof-top garden.

That was before our dreams met the reality of the housing situation in our home city, which is (according to recently-published research) "the most unaffordable place to live in England". I don't think that's a particularly complementary accolade. Needless to say, our house, in which we have made our home and are raising two boys, does not look as pictured. Raising the next generation using the nutrients of the old generation...

Perhaps one day.



Nick Herman said...

Staten Island nowadays, in my mind, is a place probably akin to one of those generic $10 pu-er cakes you see shrink-wrapped in plastic in any Chinese pharmaceutical cum grocery store that all sell 99% the same stuff. A friend of mine lived there for awhile; she said it was really dull and difficult to get around.

Hobbes said...

How the mighty have fallen - I imagined a romantic landscape akin to the pictures painted by my favourite albums!



Rui said...

Fantastic tea blog, thank you very much.

Having been guided to it from Gwyn's own blog i have now spent reading your articles to as far back as the brginning of September 2014 while sipping pu'erh tea. Thank goodness my wife is out this morning so that I could indulge in tea related matters.

In various posts TG is mentioned. Does TG also have a blog? His tea knowledge seems to be excellent.

Please, please keep up with your posts.