16 December, 2013

The Dao of Big Sessions

Some teas are built for big sessions: the kind of sessions in which you can really get entrenched, and dug in for the long haul.  These are the type of sessions where the tea-table becomes a fortification, ready to withstand all intruders.  This article concerns two teas which occupy diametrically opposed ends of the gamut of "big session" teas.

The first occupies a spot in my "long session" repertoire because it is so accessible, and so undemanding, while being quite decent.  The key aspect of relevance is that it soldiers on without breaking apart.  It is the 2012 Dehong "Yesheng Ziya" [wild purple-sprout], which is made by Yunnan Sourcing and is one of his oldest continuous recipes.  Back when Scott used to sell mainstream cakes (Dayi, etc.) as his main business, the purple-leaf Dehong was one of perhaps two or three teas that he produced himself.

Dehong is a "prefecture" (i.e., diqu or zizhizhou) that is a long way away from anywhere, even by the standards of Yunnan.  My mental map has Simao north of Xishuangbanna, and then Lincang north of Simao.  Tea becomes more rare as we go north to Lincang.  Beyond Lincang lies Baoshan.  Just to the west of Baoshan, we eventually reach Dehong.  It is miles away from everywhere.

The tea has a base of something that I call "granary sweetness", as in the sweetness of grain, which it has in common with teas from Lincang.  I have little experience of Baoshan teas, which lie between Dehong and Lincang, but suspect that the granary sweetness might be common to all three.  This gives the "ziya" purpleness a little extra complexity, and it is this husky, "dry" base that keeps things interesting.  Also, the tea is quite strong - unlike many "purple" teas, this is very easy to overbrew, which is to its credit: it has some real trousers.

The "Dehong Yesheng" tea has appeared previously on this humble site in the guise of a 2012 xiaobing made by Scott for Canton Tea.  Herein lies the difficulty, because the cake sells for approximately half the cost at Yunnan Sourcing as it does at Canton Tea.  The two companies have fairly dissimilar customers, and so this may work out well for everyone.  Irrespective of the merchant from which it comes, this tea is strong, quite interesting, and, most importantly for a big session, it lasts forever.  I managed to get a lot of writing done before this tea ran out of steam. 

At the other end of the gamut*, we have the 2003 Chenguanghetang "Yiwu Zhengshan Shipin". 

*If gamuts have ends - they are traditionally rather ovoid shapes, if we are considering printing gamuts.

Mr. Chen is a tea merchant who looks precisely like my mental image of the professional aggressive tea-salesman.  His teas are solid, nonetheless, and, while overpriced, can often be really quite good.  Certainly, that is the case with this 2003 cake.  Thanks to TA for this particular sample.

Chen's teas are often produced in the "Taiwanese" style, which means chopped to high heaven.  Thankfully, this one is more "fragmented" than "chopped", and this benefits the tea.  It is an autumnal cake, and therefore doesn't have the luxury of having excess strength to see it through its aging.  Were one to chop an autumnal cake, I suspect that the results would be sub-optimal, in that whatever energy it had would be aged away more rapidly due to the chopping (and therefore exposure of the leaf interior to oxidation / fermentation).

As with many autumnal teas that have some age, it is almost impossible to overbrew this tea.  I ended up with Zidu [purple-belly, my teapot] ab-so-lutely crammed with leaves, and it still stayed drinkable.  Indeed, one has to increase the quantity of leaves used with this tea so that it retains the desired strength.  The result is smooth, heavy, and sweet: the sweetness is loooong.  It is long in its sweetness.  While not particularly complex, it is as dense as the bowels of a star, and brews forever.  This may be a function of the large quantity of leaf used, but the result is a long, long session.

Compared with the husky, dry, simple-but-constant sweetness of the Dehong tea, this Yiwushan tea is extremely orthodox.  It tastes exactly as one would expect from a good producer when making teas from a canonical region of 'Banna.  I have no doubt that it is fairly expensive, and I long since gave up buying "CGHT" cakes, but the session with this sample was extraordinary in its duration.  I had to refill the ink in my pen twice, such was the time at the table.  Sometimes, you need a tea like this to see you through.


Tuo Cha Tea said...

Actually, the 2003 CGHT beeng was USD 58 when I bought it back in 2008. Those were the times, when a man could buy good tea in tongs without ruining his family!

Mighty Tea Monster said...

Been using the Dehong 野生茶 for brewing 红茶菌.. as it seems to not turn bitter and adds a nice fruity taste to the brew..

Hobbes said...

Dear Tuocha,

Those were the days... :)

Dear Teamonster,

I admire the experimental nature of your sessions!



Unknown said...

This might be of interest to you: http://psychanaut.wordpress.com/2013/12/16/chamberlain-on-japan/

Dragoran said...

For some reason, while I definitely enjoy it, the Dehong always leaves the back of my throat feeling raw and scratchy. I'm not sure why; I seem to recall the Essence of Tea purple tea did much the same. Is that typical of the genre?

Hobbes said...

Dear Nick,

How perfect: Asian-English from 1904 is a rarified taste. :)

Dear Dragoran,

Purple teas shouldn't necessarily hurt! Perhaps their youth is abrading your throat - one seldom encounters old purple tea, perhaps because of the manner in which it ages.



AZ said...

How do you manage to find time to do long sessions, as an academic? My longer sessions can go on for hours, and I find it difficult to multitask brewing and working.

Hobbes said...

Dear AZ,

This is a great question, possibly *the* great question. The tea I drink when I'm in my office is usually not the very best. I'm either brewing some low-maintenance tea in the background while working, or I'm brewing some tea for someone while we're having a meeting. Given that the majority of my time as an academic these days seems to be spent talking to people (supervision, project meetings, etc.), this can account for a lot of tea "sessions"!

However, the most meaningful, and perhaps the only "real", sessions are those that I have at home. This is becoming much more difficult, due to the demands of a 3-year-old son and a 1-year-old son, but it happens some week-ends. :)