26 January, 2015

Ninjas Scaling Your Building

William of Bannacha is silent, but deadly.

In the popular vernacular, he is both "camouflaged chameleon", and, simultaenously, "ninjas scaling your building"*.  You won't ever see him coming.  And when you do, it's too late. 

*No time to grab your gun, they already got your wife and children / 
A hit was sent / from the President / to raid your residence /
'Cause you had secret evidence / and documents /
'Bout how they raped the continents

The greatest trick William of Bannacha ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist.

You might be enjoying your life, quiet like, all cosy.  "Everything nice, everything routine."  Then suddenly: blam, everything's changed, as an unmarked package from William of Bannacha drops through the letterbox.

It is the coming of the storm.  And Jingmai is its name.

Regular readers will know that I'm not the world's biggest fan of prissy, elegant, delicate teas that are all gentility and precision.  Jingmaishan teas, in my opinion, typically fall in this questionable category.  They are "accessible".  They're the kind of tea that you'd give to an acquaintance that you don't really like.

However, William of Bannacha, the aforementioned ninja scaling your building, has an angle.  He may or may not have married into the Jingmaishan family tree, and he may or may not have contacts. The kind of contacts whom you might expect to associate with a ninja scaling your building.  These contacts, perhaps unsurprisingly, know Jingmaishan pu'ercha the way your average Asian gangster clan knows white powder.

I think it's almost accurate to state that William of Bannacha, in between scaling your building, is the only person to have provided me with Jingmaishan tea that I can not just tolerate, but which I actually enjoy.  His 2014 line-up is more of the same.  Which is to say, that it is fine.

The first katana out of the saya from everyone's favourite building-scaling ninja is the 2014 "Jingmai Gushu".  The clue is in the name: it's from Jingmai, and it's gushu.  

Such is the extent of William of Bannacha's ninjutsu is that he even locates the origin of this tea down to the nearest square mile, specifically Dapingzhang tea garden, in Jingmaishan region.  In a world in which we are often told that pu'ercha comes from "Yunnan", such specificity is refreshing.

As is the pricing of this stuff.  William of Bannacha, upholding the honourable tradition of the bushido that governs his every action, prices his pu'ercha very (very) nicely.

This gushu version is fresh, sweet, and good.  It's like Jingmai gone to Heaven.  It has all the usual Jingmaishan nuttiness, and yet it still tastes nice.  The finish is enduring, like a ninja running for tens of miles after his latest assassination mission.  Where else can you get tea like this, these days?

Wasn't it Pliny the Elder who famously penned the phrase, translated into English, "Slice like a ninja, cut like a razor blade"?  Surely, Pliny was reflecting on pu'ercha imported directly from a mysterious Jingmaishan-based mafia outfit.

I find it difficult even to pronounce the name of this tea, pictured above and below, which is named "Manghong" gushu.  Coming in around the 60something Euro price-tag, William of Bannacha writes that Manghong character lies somewhere between the sweetness of Trad Jingmai and the bitterness of Mangjing (for which, see below).  The leaves in this sample, pictured above, are eensy weensy, and remind me of Jinjunmei and the like.

Some of William of Bannacha's cakes are "red" in processing, and this seems to be deliberate.  At the risk of meeting the business end of a casually-tossed shuriken*, I must confess that this variety of red processing is not really my thing.  I'm not very happy with tons of oxidation, unless I'm explicitly drinking hongcha.

*Given the rotational symmetry of a shuriken, we might reasonably conclude that every end of a shuriken is the business end.

Sadly, this Manghong cake is "red", and that makes it very difficult to determine whether or not I like it.

The 2014 "Mangjing", however, is green, the way every ninja's mamma used to make.

In the Mangjing, too, I find ultimately solace.  It is the Jingmaishan cake that it is OK to like.  It is bigger, badder, rougher, and tougher, and packs something of a (one-inch) punch.  Clean, fresh, silent, and deadly... when a ninja has finished scaling your proverbial building, you can rest assured that he reclines back at ninja HQ with a startlingly decent 2014 Mangjing.

You could probably dissolve the corpses of your victims in this stuff.  It's really rather tasty.

Flat Tyres, No Brakes

flat tyre, no brakes
sweating, red-faced fresher
hands me his prep

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

12 January, 2015

Mo Shoops

When I was growing up, I was repeatedly advised (by school, relatives, strange cloaked Wotan-style wanderers slumped over a gnarled staff) to not become an academic, under any circumstances.  The careers of lawyer, architect, backing singer in a Japanese punk band - any of these is preferable to being an academic, went the Received Wisdom.

Being an academic, the chorus of guidance went, is a sure-fire way of (i) wearing cardigans before the age of forty; (ii) ending up in a state of penury; and (iii) smelling of mothballs and slightly suspicious ammonia-based fluids of a masculine persuasion.

I am here, Gentle Reader, to tell you that (i) I have always loved cardigans, and now somehow I have accidentally become temporarily cool, thanks to recent incarnations of Dr. Who* and a generation of British indie bands; (ii) while not exactly a license to print money, some branches of academia are apparently able to avoid destitution; and (iii) academics actually smell of old books, not urine, and old books smell like Gandalf.  What's Gandalf?  Gandalf's cool, that's what.

*Interestingly, my nickname among the undergraduates appears to be "Dr. Who".  The origin of this moniker is, I have discovered, due to my dress sense.  I was under the impression for the longest time that my nickname was actually "Dr. Hu", referring to my rule of iron discipline, like an Asian police state.

There are perks to being an academic, entirely apart from the ability to wear brightly-coloured cardigans, odd socks, and the occasional bow tie at dinner.  Some of these are intangible: they include, strangely, breakfasts served in the oak-clad darkness of ancient buildings that seem to benefit from the cathartic, healing scent of bacon and black pudding.  Others are more tangible: we have a post-doc from Malaysia who brings me back whopping great big stacks of tea from his homeland when he visits home.

The cake shown in the first half of this article is an awesome example of this generosity: a 2012 cake of shupu from an outfit named "Aomen Hualian".  The name refers to Macao ("Aomen"), and where "hualian" is a connection to (Mainland) China - a suffix often used in association with the various islands / provinces / independent nations [delete as appropriate] that exist around the coast of the PRC.

This cake is only the second that I have ever finished.

I am just going to let that fact sit there for a little while, and marvel in it.  I have only ever finished two cakes of pu'ercha.  The first was something from white2tea, and was, I think, another fantastic shupu.

This Aomen Hualian cake is probably not going to be too easy to find.  However, should you ever come across it, I emplore you to remember this article: buy this tea.  It is rocking, thick, brutal, strong, fat, calorific, and all-round-fine.  I had a period after Christmas this year in which I was encased in my office, working on a long EU grant proposal - this Aomen Hualian cake propped me up, slapped me in the face, and promptly punched me in a sensitive place that I really would have preferred not to have punched.  I can heartily recommend this cake.

Speaking of chugworthy shoopmasters, we now turn our attention to something from the Augean Stables of white2tea: no matter how much you think you've cleaned 'em out, they just keep on giving.

I am reasonably certain that through various channels, Gentle Reader, you will have probably heard the Gospel concerning this mighty little 1998 "white wrapper" tuocha.  Just in case you have recently arisen from a long hibernation beyond the grave, I here recount some brief notes to convince you that we have on our hands (yet another) good, random purchase from w2t.

I say "purchase", but, as you might conclude from the above, the tuocha in this article was received gratis and for nothing, by an unknown correspondent whom seems to know / be related to / be married to / be in indentured servitude to Paul, a.k.a. twodog2 of w2t.  As is often the case with some of the finest dealers of narcotics, the first hit is always free.

Then, the Jonesing begins.

And how, the Jonesing!  This is strong.  In fact, my diary appears to have "The tea is extraordinary."  It is thick, creamy, sweet, and obviously excellent.  This is a good tea to buy in quantity.  Amusingly, the tong of tuocha eventually come wrapped in some REALLY RUSTY wire, which is surely a good sign.  You can't buy risky fun like that.

Well, actually, you can - at about $55 / tube, which is a very fair price for brilliant shoops that might give you tetanus.  You just can't go wrong.

Addendum: it seems that I have already written about this tea!  I'm glad to see that I agree with myself.

The shupu fades after the 8th infusion, but is otherwise fantastic.  The creamy, well-rounded sweetness remains even after the body has faded.  It is a delightful tea, and a fine introduction to this week's haiga...

Cup of Cold Tea

cup of cold tea
returned to the teapot
after storytime

05 January, 2015

Dorje Ling, The Thunderbolt Place

Greetings, Mighty-Thighed Traveller from Beyond the Stars.

Your rippling torso is, no doubt, straining to contain the thousand pleasures (calories) that accompany celebrating the birth of the Holy Infant.  Surely, massive consumption of alcohol and rich foodstuffs is in the spirit of the season.  Somehow.

What better way in which we might collectively work off our accumulated requirements for penance than in the confessional of the teatable?  Brothers and sisters, let us pray.

We are gathered here today to celebrate the nuptials of this tea (interestingly packaged, very Indian) with my hongcha teapot.  If anyone knows any reason why this delicious-looking subcontinental filly should not be married to my charming old red pot, let them speak now or forever hold their peas.

"Wouldst thou wish to imbibe the produce of our labours?" quoth an e-mail from GOLDEN TIPS, apparently writing from their warm and comfortable position somewhere around the middle of the 18th century.  "Hellz yah", responded your humble correspondent.

And thenceforth, the two fabric-wrapped missives did subsequently wend their way from the Indies all the way to this sceptred isle.  Against the envy of less happier lands!

Fat stacks from India, pictured above, in their plural and munificent beauty.

2014 Arya "Ruby"

Reader, there is much written about the throbbing undercarriage of tea that is pu'ercha, not some little of it upon these threadbare pages.  However, as those among you serving a particularly long sentence for violent crimes against humanity will know, Gentle Reader, much of my Actual Life is spent sucking down hongcha.

In all its myriad forms, from "ENGLISH BREAKFAST" (i.e., the tea equivalent of 100% proof potato vodka, feel the healing power of the capslock) through to "Lapsang", hongcha maintains a firm and constant nippletwist on my affections.

It is a common enough trait among my kind.  We are conceived in hongcha.  We float in it from the womb.  It is the amniotic fluid.  It is the silver sea.  It is the waters at their priest-like task, washing away guilt and purpose and responsibility.

2014 Arya "Ruby"

When I hit up the local taverna on my travels; when I am slumped facedown in my gruel at some overpriced St. Pancras venue; when I am sat quietly weeping into my scones at Cream Tea in some country cottage or slick city-hotel alike; my bibendi prima is The Hongcha.

If they have it, I will wrap my consonants around the word of power, DORJELING, while Anglicising it (and therefore anaesthetising it) into something that sounds a little like "Darjeeling".

2014 Castleton "Moonlight" (leftmost), 2014 Arya "Ruby" (rightmost)

I drink a lot of very mediocre DORJELING, Gentle Reader, and I am not afraid to admit it.  From time to time (read: when my homes from Chennai buy some for me), I tantalise my hongcha pot with Nilgiri.  This one time, in band camp, I drank Ceylon.

Strangely enough, though my father's family is from Kenya (like Obama!  Have we seen Hobbes' birth certificate?!), I only had my first Kenya single-estate tea last month, after getting a helpful new research programme funded over there.  The tea was OK.

2014 Castleton "Moonlight"

Imagine, then, the rapturous trance into which I slipped when the entire contents of this article were revealed unto me, like some warm, orange, sweet-smelling Apocalypse.

2014 Okayti "Silver Needles" (leftmost), 2014 Giddapah "Muscatel" (rightmost)

I actually enjoyed these teas between November and December of last year (2014).  The dudes over at GOLDEN TIPS keep sending me e-mails, slapping my figurative backside, and asking WHENOHWHENAREYOUGOINGTOWRITEABOUTOURGDTEAS.  Trying to get me to do anything (at all) is difficult; if you slap my figurative backside, Gentle Reader, I might add that you are not expediting the situation.  You are, if anything, causing me to pause and reflect upon the figurative stinging sensation in the posterior homoerectus.  And you do not want me reflecting upon the posterior homoerectus, rest assured.

Nothing good ever came of such reflections.

2014 Okayti "Silver Needles"

So, then, the teas.  Suffice to say that some of these teas are, like the cherry pie of Agent Dale Cooper in the 1990s, damned fine.

Names like CASTLETON and MARGARET'S HOPE are, to me, a little like reciting the names of the Thundercats, or the Masters of the Universe.  That is, they are words that are burned into my consciousness - they are concepts that are part of my hindbrain, the primitive id.  The package was like a "greatest hits" of Darjeeling.  It got my toes tapping.

Other names are previously unknown to me, but not, it seems, to Google.  Names such as ARYA and OKAYTI.  Names such as GIDDAPAH, which rather sounds like the start of James Brown's "Sex Machine".

However, all of these teas, without exception, were doubleplus good.  My favourites, perhaps expectedly, were the second-flush DJs.  Unlike pu'ercha, second-flush DJ is not lower-quality than the first-flush.  As Michael Caine would say, not a lot of people know that.  The first flush is nambypamby ladyboy tea (a little like the lace and frills of girly Jingmai), while the second flush brings the proverbial motherblanking ruckus in B minor (a little like the rusty juggernaut of nasty Bulang).  Needless to say, I like my battery acid, and so I loves me a pot of heavily overbrewed second-flush DJ.

Classics of the genre, such as Castleton "Moonlight", continued to thrill.  It was a little like Biluochun, actually, in that modern DJ way.  It pads the mouth with cotton wool.   Drinking the previously-unknown Arya "Ruby" was like listening to "Shame On A N*****" for the very first time.  That is some serious shi'itake.  ("BLAOW, HOW YOU LIKE ME NOW")

Plus, the caffeine from these DJs is like the aforementioned nasty Bulang: it slams into the consciousness like a the oft-lyricised vehicular homicide.  It will wake you up.

Other highlights of this assassin's backpack full of weaponry included the surprisingly hardcore "Avaata Supreme Nilgiri", which was a well-calibrated sniper rifle, in the Chinese lucha style.  I had no idea that my aforementioned homes in Chennai were drinking what tastes for all the world like real Chinese green, yet somehow given a badboy Tamil twist.

So then, to draw my conclusions, if you like your hongcha, then you will probably like GOLDEN TIPS.  Just let your mouse pointer wander - pretty much the only thing I didn't love was the Okayti "Silver Tips" and that's simply because I don't dig on white tea.

No-one really likes white tea, anyway, as everyone knows.