old tea, old man and bad old world

Here I sit again at my tea table for the last session with a precious sample William graciously sent to me some while ago. Seems it is from his private stash, as I can't find it in his shop: "2000 CNNP" is all to be found on the sample's label.
Which factory has made this tea? Where have the leaves been picked to make this bing? Unanswered questions which might be nagging me at some other time, just not today.

Photographed at the first session - now the leaves are all use up

Today is an autumn day, the year is getting old and so my craving for aged tea has increased. Perhaps I should replace "aged" with "mature", as I once had a sample of a Xiaguan Tuocha from 2000, which had hardly any trace of age, while Chris' Douji Yiwu from 2007 felt much more mature. What I go for in a mature tea are storage charactistics (as a child I dreamed of becoming an archaeologist - so the smell of antiques in a basement holds some charms for me), mellowness on the stomach and ... (insert drum roll) ... replaying emotions from my past. Just like going through childhood photographs to bring back the face of your best friend at school, a mature tea can let me live through emotions or rather moods of my childhood or youth. I'll spare you for the moment - but will return to this point later in this post.

So here's this vaguely anonymus 2000 CNNP in my cup, on my tongue and on my mind. What does it taste like? Gosh, I was afraid you might ask me that question. The easy answer is: aged. Once again I sit with a tea which is far too emotional to be described by an analytical approach. When I exchanged a few lines with William on the aged tea samples he sent me, he was amazed by my evaluation - with me holding this tea much dearer than the 2003 Fengqing that he prefers. This disagreement is not about taste - rather about the strength of feeling, impression (some people might like to use the term chaqi, which I often avoid out of respect to the depth of meaning). What we have agreed upon: both teas' merits are mostly to be found in the feeling they give us, much more than in terms of flavour or taste. Though William might be about half my age, his puer expertise shines like a stage limelight compared to my dim candle. So I wonder: am I too untrained to detect the Fengqing's true grandeur?

Perhaps. Or perhaps the CNNP is just better suited to my water, equipment and brewing preferences. But honestly I think it is about the chords different teas strike. When I drink this 2000 CNNP, something inside of me resonates ... memories of my final months at highschool. To be more specific: of the quiet days we sparsely found between studying, exams and excessive parties (yes, even I was young back in the Eighties). Times when I was on the bus, riding home for the weekend for about an hour, listening endlessly to this masterpiece by New Model Army:
This blend of pensive tranquility, deep longing and intense energy ... exactly my cup of tea. Just like the 2000 CNNP. Some people might ask for a tea a bit more harmonious or perfectly smooth at the edges. But I don't want Donovan, I need New Model Army! So it is 2000 CNNP for me please.

Being at an age which does not promise a longer stretch of years ahead than what has passed already, I find myself looking back quite often. Some people get all sentimental and grieve for their youth gone by. But to quote Justin Sullivan (the voice of New Model Army): "Speaking personally, I think the older you get - the better it gets. Honestly!"
So true! I might have lost hair on my head to get lard on my hips, but I have discovered Puer tea and have glimpsed enough to know there are so many different teas to be tasted in the coming decades. The party nights of beer mixed with vermouth are dead and gone, but I'll continue enjoying songs by New Model Army like  "Bad Old World".
A version not found on Youtube but on their live album "Fuck Texas, Sing For Us" includes the above quote by Justin Sullivan. As long as I can't direct you to a shop to buy the 2000 CNNP, I highly recommand to get that album.

 If you have tried this tea but feel reminded of the custard cake at your cousin's wedding - please, this once I'd ask you kindly to not write that in the comments. To me this tea is not sweet and creamy and I want it to stay this way ... but who am I to ask you. There is absolutely no objectivitea in tea.


Teaory and Heresy

Short version:

Today I am enjoying a sample of "Early Spring Jade Dew Mengku Puer Cake 2010" - pried from a 400g bing of Sheng bought from Dragon Tea House by the most generous Klaus, who sent this sample to me. Now I enjoy this tea in a very relaxed manner. It is full bodied, satisfying and totally uncomplicated. Not the dazzling beauty to blow you away, but a good buddy.


Long version:

A little over one year ago I started my series of tea related ramblings by asking:
"Was ist Tee?" ("What is tea?" - at that time I couldn't imagine to reach readers outside Germany. During these 12 months I've learned more than half of my readers are from faraway places, so today's entry will be in English).

Well, I have tried to answer what tea is to me (or rather: what tea means to me). It is a deeply emotional experience. Sometimes the experience of a special fragrance or just tingling on my lips takes me back in time to childhood memories ... or I even feel a little like Indiana Jones, braving tangled jungles of sweet and bitter to unearth a hidden treasure at the bottom of my cup. The emotional aspect supports my thesis: there is no objectivity in tea.

Yet I use vocabulary like sheng, chaqi, kuwei, huigan and so on ... in the established manner of a (make-belief) scientist that wants to intimidate any layman, scaring of those who might ask questions which could prick the bubble of self importance. As all scientific rhubarb, these terms are based on axioms which have been widely recognized - else communication could not work, if no axioms where taken for granted. (Just imagine how difficult the tea bloggosphere would become, if 'sweet' was not considered a desirable attribute by our community).

But how valid are the foundations we have based our tea lore upon? Let me shake up things by a little heresy:
Yes, I do drink young Sheng just like a green tea from time to time! Grandpa style with hot water from a thermos well below boiling temperature!
Why can't I just follow orthodoxy to brew my Sheng every single time as Gongfucha?
Have I forsaken all hope of salvation?

Hardly so! I was reluctant to post this topic, as I just can't find the right source to quote on this - but according to my memory, the Chinese Tea Professor who established the system of green-white-yellow-blue-red-black tea categories (or at least gave this system its now widely accepted form) was active during the first half of the last century. Compared to the long history of Chinese tea culture, this might be considered a current trend ... how long will it last?

Let us try to go back in time to ages before the 6 Orthodox Colours were canonized. In the age of the Tea-Horse Road, tea from Yunnan was sent by caravans to Tibet and reached the Mongols. It is generally taken for granted (once again one of those axioms) that during these long caravan trecks green tea leaves have been transformed to fermented dark teas ('heicha' or black tea according to the 6 Colours), which is the Category into which Puer tea falls.  Looking at traditional tea preparation in Mongolia or Tibet, we find no evidence of these beverages having been consumed as Gongfucha. Turning our attention to the home of Puer tea, we find that the local people actually producing Puer tea for generations, follow yet another tradition of tea preparation, called Kao Cha.

So, Gongfucha has been a recent development in Puer tea preparation - just like the 6 Colour Categories. There was a time, when no one debated the merits or drawbacks of utilizing aroma cups ('wengxiangbei' to intimidate you once more with specific vocabulary) when brewing a tea from Mengku - just like there where days when a Gunpowder Tea was just that and a Long Jing Cha was just Dragon Well Tea and no one cared if they shared enough characteristics to be placed in the same category. Why should we follow something perceived as orthodoxy, if that tradition is merely a blink in the eye when compared to the long history of tea consumption?

Think about it.

And get back to setting up your Yixing tea pot and brew most of your Sheng as Gongfucha... if you like the idea of spending all your attention on the precious tea (like I do very often). Or measure of 12g of Sheng, infuse with 1 litre of water boiled and cooled to 90°C, wait for 2 minutes and then strain into another teapot. Or even roast the tea before grinding it to powder to be boiled with water and a pinch of salt. There is no wrong or right except for your enjoyment of the tea (and showing responsibility for the world we live in). All I would like you to do, is to question your tea preparation and all the assumptions from time to time.

Perhaps you might like to read what MarshalN has to say on really young Puer - thoughts along my line of heresy concerning the 6 Colous. Though I have to say that the final impuls for writing this post came from William (Monsieur Bannacha), who has truly transcended the categorization in colours to see the tea for what it really is: TEA!

To close this post with a question: can you imagine what this bunch of matches tries to express? (Hint: I can't help bragging)