19 March, 2011

Special Single-Mountain Maocha

I've just come back from Dublin, a place about which I've written previously.  I've always wanted to visit Boston, Massachusetts in order to live out my Poe- and Lovecraft-based childhood dreams; similarly, going to the Irish capital feels like walking through Joyce's Ulysses.

You can even climb to the top of the Martello Tower in Sandycove, which is now, fittingly, a museum to the city's favourite literary son.


I was there for reasons much less exalted: my cousin's Stag Week-end.  I have no idea if this concept translates into your local culture, gentle Reader, but it is approximately a men's-only week-end holiday to celebrate the impending marriage / lifetime sentence of the "Stag".

The theme was Star Wars.  So, fifteen of us trailed the various, dubious establishments of Temple Bar in full costume over a period of two days and nights.  The Stag was dressed as Leia (gold bikini: cold in early Irish spring), the Best Man was Jabba the Hutt (approx. 50% scale, involving a long tail), and your humble correspondent was perhaps the most undeservedly overlooked of the Star Wars pantheon, the Stormtrooper.

Who can forget such classic, emotive, moving lines as "Close the blast doors, close the blast doors", and "These aren't the droids we're looking for."

TK-421, do you copy?

The nice thing about a Stag Week-end in Dublin is that ordering drinks is straightforward.  "Fifteen pints of Guinness, please."  Its beauty is its simplicity.

How fitting, then, that this article concerns a beverage provided by another of the Emerald Isle's offspring, the proprietor of Essence of Tea.

2008 Mahei Gushu Xiacha

Long-time readers may remember that my usual advice for those interested in learning to discern the various mountains' terroirs is merely to drink a lot.  (A list of old ramblings on this and other subjects may be found here.)  

The conscious process just clutters things up and tends to get in the way, and I am a firm believer that it's not something that one can really hurry.  True learning is intuitive, and requires repetition.  This is just as true for the student learning how to perform high-dimensional integration of a probability distribution in polar coordinates as it is for the tea-drinker learning how to brew properly, or how to discern the various mountains.  Repetition, repetition, repetition.

2008 Mahei Gushu Xiacha

Unsupervised repetition can take longer than having a good guide, however.  This is, presumably, why universities still exist - we can, theoretically at least, provide instruction on how to reach one's goal a little faster by helping the learner along the way to their goal.  Ultimately, a good teacher is nothing more than a guide, pointing the way.  This is equally true for a professor, a Zen master, or the chap who's helping you with your tennis serve.

One cannot cure an illness just by reading medical textbooks.  There is no kensho in reading sutras.  You cannot recognise the character of single-mountain pu'ercha by reading articles about tea.

Therefore, we must seek out good tea.  A great way to do this is to drink everything you can find.  Drink it all.  Drink the mainstream plantation "chawang", drink the samples of $220 Hailanghao, drink samples of all of those fine single-mountain cakes produced by the various tea merchants.  Drink it all, and remain awake while you're doing so.  There's nothing more to it than that.

2008 Mahei Gushu Xiacha

I've learned the most from good samples.  This 2008 Mahei, so kindly provided by Nada from Essence of Tea, is a charming example of xiacha [sh'eeah cha, summer tea] from the Mahei region, and is entirely old-tree.

This is unarguable, as its character is so noticeably different from everything else out there.  Laoshu is usually obvious when present; the difficulty arises when it has been blended to various degrees with plantation leaves, as is typical.  This tends to hide the laoshu characteristics, in one way or another.

Thus, to try actual laoshu is to try something fairly rare, and to give you an insight into the good and not-so-good components of the various blends that we encounter.

2008 Mahei Gushu Xiacha

I tend to write as much for my own benefit as for yours, gentle Reader, and so for the purposes of reminding myself: this tea was hyper-clean, and exceptionally menthol-like in its character.  It has a purity of kuwei of which one finds hints in other teas.

There is not a flavour of any particular magnitude - what exists is buttery, sweet, and gentle.  This dwells behind the sheet activity that affects the entire mouth: vibrant, cooling, thick, and viscous.  It lingers forever, and fills the veins with brightness.

Such teas also lead me to appreciate the almost lost art of blending.  One can imagine that the characteristics of a laoshu could be well-matched with a broad base of richer, deeper effects as found in other regions.  While I do love a good single-mountain cake, if I could encourage our heroic merchants to experiment with the odd blend, perhaps good things might result.  The risks are higher, but there is an entire genre of pu'ercha waiting to be explored.

In the meantime, I'll take all such single-mountains samples that I can find with gratitude, and encourage you, as ever, merely to drink more tea.


Wojciech Bońkowski said...

Is this tea commercially available from EoT? It's not on their website and I remember correctly, has never been.

Also, I'm curious to know your opinion on ageing maocha. There seems to be conflicting views on that.

Hobbes said...

Dear Wojciech,

This maocha predates Essence of Tea! The charming 2008 Nadacha "Cha Chan Yi Wei" [tea, Zen - one taste] cakes arrived soon after he returned.

Aging maocha isn't easy. Much of the aged maocha that I have requires particularly careful storage - it is, effectively, very, very loosely compressed pu'ercha, and so it tends to lose its flavour as a result. I keep my old maocha sealed up quite tightly in cardboard tubes that used to hold whisky bottles. This is great, because you get to have a good reason to buy whisky.



Wojciech Bońkowski said...

Interesting.... no cardboard taste?
But agree about the usefulness of whisky tubes. I use them to carry my wine tasting glass.

toki said...

Such a Wonderful post and pointers: 'True learning is intuitive, and requires repetition.'

Especially true in our new world of Google University. Thank You Hobbes ~ Toki

Petr Novák said...

Wonderful post -thank you Hobbes.

I was still waiting for such advise -Drink more tea!.
We have something similar in "pottery" field - The secrecy of throwing lies in repetition.


Anonymous said...

May I ask if you've tried the two Hai Lang Hao blends ("As you like" and "Hui Wei") sold buy Yunnan Sourcing and, if so, how do you find them? (there is at least no tasting notes what I can see)

I find them to be quite good, especially considering their price. If you are looking for some good blends to try, that's my first recommendation.

I also like the more pricy douji blends (the "jin dou" especially), not that they are very much alike to the Hai Lang Hao blends, I should say.


Hobbes said...

Thanks, all.

Dear Johan,

I have tried neither of those two Hailanghao cakes, although a sample box did arrive last week from Yunnan Sourcing. I shall look through it to see if I have either to try. Thanks for the recommendation.

I don't think I have ever tried Jindou, despite having consumed a great deal of Douji tea in my time! I shall try to find some.



P.s. I think the Hailanghao "As You Like" cake was a missed (or perhaps bungled!) opportunity to name a cake after a Shakespearean play.

Anonymous said...

Jerry at China Cha Dao offers the douji "jin dou" at a very reasonable price. Miniature bricks as well.

I don't remember the HLH pulling me towards any shakespearean references, sadly.
Young puerh is often too overwhelming an experience, I find, to risk it on such literary subtleties. Sterne springs to mind for some reason and might be better suited.
Not that I generally like mixing pleasure with pleasure.

Hobbes said...

Dear Johan,

Thanks for the suggestion - China Chadao has a good range of Douji, because Jerry runs a Douji-branded shop. Hence, his prices are very reasonable. I'll grab a little brick to see what it's like - thanks again.

As far as the Shakespeare, I refer the honourable gentleman here.