Monday, 7 February 2011

Xiaguan Elegant Frisbee 2008

I'm back into the groove of drinking pu erh again. Today's bing has something of a toy like attraction to it, I say that because holding this cake after the chubby, flakey Ding Xing has really intrigued me. The iron compression so typical of Xiaguan has rendered the leaves into a tea frisbee! It's hard and well defined, it's edges are cutting and sharp. I have no doubt that if I were to venture down to the park today I could let loose and this baby would fly.

Fearing that my cha dao would be repelled by the tight weave of the tiny leaves I plunged into it and found that a 15 gram lump easily came off, (in a Homer style) mmm tobacco. Calculating one third I plopped it into my pot admiring the silver tips as it went in. One quick rinse and off we go.

I have had some quite aromatic teas in the last week or so so I was expecting some more fireworks out of my fragrance cup but there wasn't a whole lot going on first up. The smell reminded me of something from my childhood, hot orange cordial. The second infusion woke up the Benson and Hedges in this tea and it suddenly become very, very tobacco. It's orange hue soup was a little more rough and ready than I was expecting but led itself into a very interesting huigan that gripped my tongue.

I pushed the brewing a little further, a little brave considering how brutish the tea was. The outcome was an even heavier tobacco kick with more perfume, a quick cooling sensation on the lips and a much stronger huigan. I'm quite amused by the gripping feeling on my tongue. It doesn't last forever though, I'm not sure of how many infusions I made but my 1.5 litre bottle of Evian is nearly done.

How would such a tea age? I am most curious. I was given possible sneak preview of how my belolved but rather scary Nada Bulang would turn out by sampling Nada's Heng Li Chang Bu Lang. I know very little about Xiaguan teas and I would love to know of a sample that would give me a heads up on how Father Time would treat this tea.

A very worthwhile tea that is full of character in it's form and also in it's soup. I mean, isn't pu erh just great? It's an almost endless journey of discovery.

** It is at this point that I realise that I have already, in fact, blogged this tea in sample form. It turns out that I didn't really care for it much first time around. Perhaps my ability to appreciate tea has grown over the last year or so, or perhaps I just had an off session. I am certainly enjoying my life a lot more now than then and that could have a huge impact on how much I bond with my tea **

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Old Notorious Ding Xing

Along comes a tea once in a while that causes a bit of a stir. It's not because of it's excellence, everyone agreed that it's pretty good for the price, but it is because it has some controversy and is also pretty cheap. The controversy over this cake is it's age and that it comes from a slightly shady seller, not as shady as the geezer that sells little bags of herbs openly in public on Camden Town bridge but someone still of questionable repute. Cheap to boot too as you could score these for puppies for about £20 I believe on Taobao and much kudos to Hobbes for giving us advice on how to purchase them, even more kudos for updating his blog on this cake's availability at Pu Erh Shop. So off to Pu Erh Shop I went and picked up a couple. I'm not as bigger collector as some so I tend to buy one for keeps and one to drink.

The wrapping has been eaten somewhat by bugs or what have you, one of my cakes much more than the other so I chose the most tarnished cake (chubby little bugger) for my drinking cake. I inspected it for frosting and there was just the slightest hint and with a swish of my knife the leaf happily crumbled off. Being about ten years old is a funny old age for pu erh, past it's teenage years the leaf has some signs of maturity but you can appreciate how it must of looked when it was new. I popped about 5 grams into a gaiwan for brewing and gave it a rinse and was immediately greeted by those pleasant woody aromas.

This tea is very nice, I must say that I like it a lot. It's very smooth in the mouth and after an abortive attempt where the flavour rose no further than my throat, it has given me an extremely rewarding huigan full of peach. The cha qi is also very noticeable, uplifting to the eyes and forehead early on and then settling to warm my middle jiao followed by warmth creeping to my upper jiao. How rewarding this session is!

My collection is made up of teas mainly between the 2007 to 2010 range and although I occasionally pick up small quantities of old tea I didn't have any cakes younger than 2006. Given it's availability and price I heartily recommend picking up some of this tea before it goes.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Tea in Abu Dhabi

I am lucky enough to have a 'day job' that gives me the opportunity to travel the world and also earn a reasonable living. I was delighted to discover then that Wasps rugby union team had moved a game from their industrial estate bound ground in High Wycombe to Abu Dhabi, more so that it gave me a chance to escape the sub zero temperatures. I'm no sun lizard, my skin is rather opaque but my joints are getting creakier by the year and the sun is a marvellous tonic.

Our hotel and ground was at the very luxurious Palace Hotel, every inch an effort to demonstrate just how much money the sheiks have at their disposal but in reality a soulless monstrosity built by the hands of down trodden Indian and Pakistani workers. I have a real gripe with what you see behind the scenes in places like Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

Tucked away in one corner of the beach (resplendent with it's imported sand) was an opportunity to sample something missing from the rest of the complex, some culture! Even more surprising was that it was entirely free, not a room number request in sight. In an open sided tent sat a local man who spoke little english.

"Come! Come!" he said as he waved, "Sit, rest."

He surrounded himself with various pots, some tongs and a supply of charcoal and it was his job to brew tea and coffee whilst people waited to ride camels.

"Tea? Coffee?" was the cue for my face to light up and a few moments later I was the proud owner of a glass of tea. I no longer felt compelled to mooch about the hotel grounds and I grabbed my opportunity to sit back and read a translation with commentaries of the Nan-Ching (nan jing for those pin yin minded people) by the thorough sinologist Paul Unschuld.

The brew was exactly how I wouldn't prepare tea, sweeter than a sherbet fountain but despite this I enjoyed it immensely, vive la difference! My new friend seemed very insistent that I had some coffee too which was also unusual. It came in a cup not much bigger than my chinese tea cups and had a heavy flavour of mint through it.

A place must be a good place if you have no idea how long you spent there. I read my book (or as much of it as I could absorb, which isn't a lot when it comes to Unschuld) and drank several cups of tea and coffee. Along came an offering of a few dates and I found out through sign language that the man had a real interest in camel racing. Sign language doesn't take you very far and he went back to fanning his coals and brewing more tea.

I walked away feeling very content with the experience, it was genuine and enriching, a saving grace for the hotel that up to that point had little to offer anything beyond skin deep. I went back there again the next morning and saw my friend who greeted me with the same words and I watched him light his fire and prepare his drinks. Work intervened and I was drawn back into the hotel's grasp.

Drinking tea is becoming more about the moment of the tea as opposed to the tea itself, that is the true gift it brings me.