Teaory and Heresy
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.
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)