Sunday, January 8, 2012

Sometimes We Play Dirty

2005 Dehong Golden Melon
Gaiwan - Cranes
Infusion times - boil - 15s, 12s, 20s, 25s, 35s, 50s - boil - 1m30s, 2m0s, 2m0s, 3m0s, 4m0s, 5m0s

I have a confession to make; my mind goes overboard when it comes to visualization. I can't make a stark comparison between two things without thinking of a hundred different scenarios that could be related, and only settling down when I've either exhausted my own resources, confused my company, sidetracked myself to the point where I have forgotten where my rant began. I'll try to avoid that tonight, because this tea does a damn fine job of being swanky all on it's own. It's one of the tightest compressed touchas I've ever handled; my right hand still has indentations from the butt of the puer'dao.

I pulled it off the shelf tonight because I was underwhelmed the past two sessions. My taste buds didn't register the way I had hoped, and my senses only blended together like sidewalk chalk in a thunderstorm. I could smell it from three feet back. Thick, dense, iron-like smoke. Small leaf, choppy, with a few little twigs here and there. Not sure why, but I've always been fond of it, and tonight is no exception. The soup is a cloudy orange with a dash of pink, and the aroma reminds me of a barbequed candy cane. It's by no means special, but it's got an obvious effect on me. My mouth is tingling already, and after the third infusion, I remember that I have never been a fan of gentle tea. (If anyone remembers my bout with pu-pourri, you'll know exactly what I mean) I get excited when a tea has a punch to it, and much the way we are drawn to absurd storytelling, or shock cinema, this feels like a dirty joke that I can't help but share with friends, but would never dare tell to my Grandmother.

By the eighth infusion, it seems that the tight compression has finally opened up entirely. The leaves are actually pushing the lid upward. Unfortunately, the most fun came from the first five infusions, each one made my entire mouth tingle. I'll ride it out until the kettle is empty, but I think we are about cached here.

I was worried that I would find myself underwhelmed here, and after the first five cups, I'm back in that same boat. It isn't bad, and it's definitely bold, but it's just not that exciting. I have been spoiled by aged sheng, as I am winding down, I smell the empty gaiwan, pleasantly surprised. The thick smoke aroma is much less present; almost not at all. It's got body, and I am wondering if that can somehow translate into flavour. I've had many sessions where the tea catches a second wind. Three minutes on the clock and I will find out. That minty, camphor scent is heavily present, and now that most of the leaf has opened up, I am shocked to find that although I'm not really seeing whole leaf, the pieces of leaf are much larger than I had initially anticipated.

At the three minute mark, the soup has taken on the colour of rust, and is actually quite good. Mouth is dry, and there is something competing for my attention in the back of my throat. Most likely, it's just my palate adjusting itself as my brain challenges it to bring something to the table. As I pour the final cup, I'm happy to catch some of the aromas I haven't experienced in other teas of late. It almost feels like being in some sort of rehabilitation for my olfactory system, which is pleasing, but it makes me wonder how I let that atrophy to begin with.

I have no doubt that this tea has some time ahead of it before it does everything it set out to do, but pulling air over the soup causes it to bubble out a crisp freshness, and closes with a familiar young sheng after touch. With the compression, it's no wonder. It's naturally going to have that sort of layered taste for years to come, which eventually, could prove rather interesting. Overall, my level of engagement here went up and down and then back up again to an eventual point of neutrality. For the $11 I paid for it back in 08', it was an early shot in the dark, and the only pain I endured came in the form of red marks on my palm (which haven't faded, by the way) from trying to cut off enough leaf to brew up. I'm sure you could all think of ten other teas you would rather spend your money on, and I'm sure looking back in time, I might make another recommendation, but we all pay our tuition.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Encumbered and Remembered

SFTM Yi Wu Millenial Tea Tree
9 Grams
Rinse - 5 sec

After six years of drinking pu-erh, I have decided to revisit the tea that was my first love. It was the first tea I ever plunged a knife into. With water heated on a gas stove, we fumbled around and drank from a Japanese Kyusu. Six Famous Tea Mountains Yi Wu Millennial Tea Tree from 2006. I still have an unopened cake of this and I remember it with much fondness. It's like coming home to an old friend. Sadly, I haven't really done my part to make those phone calls and send out those postcards. I've got some growing up to do. I'll see what has been happening with this tea, and share with you (if you don't mind), a story.

1st infusion - 12 sec (slight sour bite right off the bat, more mellow than I remember. Not such a leafy aroma)

Whenever a child asks you to read them a story at night, you have two ways about it. You can read it to them in hopes that it will shut them up, close their eyes, and give you some peace and quiet. You can also let it become a sort of bridge to gap two minds, destined to lead to very different lives.

2nd infusion - 10 sec (aroma is much more robust. Embarrassed that I cannot place it with comparison. I must be getting old. Still has the slight taste of young pu-erh, but rolls over the tongue with ease. Trails off with a smack of sourness, just enough to make me close my eyes and shut everything out for a moment)

Now, where was I? Yes, bridges and different lives. Much of my world revolves around the bridges we build and burn. In this case, I look at building a bridge with my child whenever she asks me to read to her. Truth be told, she's perfectly capable of reading by herself, but sometimes she just wants me to do it. She'll curl up as close to me as she can get and just listen. I feel her eyes bouncing from word to word as she attempts to digest more than just what the words mean. She feels the story, and when that begins to happen, she becomes invested. That act, whether or not she remembers it ten years from now, will have a lasting impression on how close we are to become as people.

3rd infusion - 15 sec (the leaves have pulled the sleep out of their eyes and have bloomed up nicely in the gaiwan. Still having trouble identifying the aroma, but am reminded of the sensation of cinnamon subdued. It's teasing me, the way home made applesauce cuts through an entire house, even when you are cooking other food at the same time.)

What got me thinking about this tonight was a story we read called Zen Shorts. It is about a family of children who each come to befriend a panda bear whose umbrella ends up in their yard after a strong wind carries it away. Each of them has an encounter with the panda, and each time, he shares with them a story. One particular story had to do with the concept of letting go of the things we carry with us. We have, at any point, the means to leave things where they lie and move on. The story the panda shares is in regards to two monks who help a woman across a puddle; the older one picks her up and carries her. She doesn't thank him, and the younger one stews over it all day. The older monk says "I put her down hours ago, why haven't you?"

It got me thinking, of all the things I carry to bed with me, or the thoughts that jump into my head when I first wake, what am I missing out on? The simple joy of a sunrise, or of all the people I am affected by because I carry around what I'm sure they don't even know still exists. Think about that for a moment.

4th infusion - 40 sec (the leaves have stood up even more. Still can't place the aroma, don't care. It's tea. The mouth drying has begun. The mellow headed clarity has taken hold. I am wondering how much of it is the tea and how much belongs to the ritual.)

Recently, Grace brought me a book, given to her by a girl I dated for the greater part of a year, two years back. The inside of the jacket read "With Love, Jackie." She pulled it off of the shelf, and asked me "Dad, did this book come from my teacher Miss Jackie?" I replied by telling her that I once had a friend named Jackie, and I asked Grace if she remembered her at all. She shook her head no, clearly showing me that she was trying to pull together the very fibers of time, which still seem all too visible in my own mind. I both envied and pitied the moment and everyone involved, for a myriad of reasons. With Grace, I feel both for the same reason. Her age and the constant bombardment of information, coupled with the many experiences she has every day means that when she is older, she won't remember much of these past four years, and myself because suddenly, I felt very alone. I take pictures, I write her words, and I do everything I can to savour these moments, knowing full well that most of what I hold dear will be nothing more than stories I will tell long into old age. By this, I am heartbroken but awestruck. I pity the woman who gifted that book, because aside from the words on that page, she no longer exists in the mind of a child. That, to me, is the saddest way to go.

5th infusion - 1 minute (my senses are recovering. I've forgotten how to taste tea. To pair a sensation with a word that people are generally familiar with. It's as if I, too, have become a child again. Celery and cinnamon)

I was at a loss for the words today when I went to speak of this, and all I could do was put pen to paper. It's in my blood to write, and to chronicle my experiences. For no reason other than that eventually, I will be bone or ash. I read St. Exupéry, Murakami, Hemingway, and Kundera; finding myself pulled into their words and their worlds in ways that many people I speak to every day simply cannot. I've always kept one foot six miles off the ground, and because of that, I almost always lose myself in a good story. I read these authors and feel as if I understand fundamental qualities about them. What they value becomes apparent, and many of them are/were just trying to find their way. Much like the sight of a child, worlds apart from a man who spends half his week a bachelor, and half his week a father fumbling with a combination lock of sorts, finding just the right number of rotations to provide for both of us, the mental and emotional stability to raise her proper.

We take solace in those small bridges. We covet the paths that lead us home, and we choose a select few with with to share them. I've clearly forgotten what I once knew about these teas, but my hand is steady, and I am willing to listen.

6th infusion - Two minutes, thirty seconds and I am sure I will be hunting for something more than celery and cinnamon. I may well not find it, but what I have found are words to remedy a plague in my mind. A sorrow of sorts that someone once familiar became just that; someone once familiar. Words to remedy a sorrow that a tea once familiar also became just that.

There's always tomorrow.