Dateline: a small cottage on the Baltic sea – cliff in front, pine forest behind. Mid July.
I woke up early and thirsty, as per usual.
I also had a great idea in mind. Inspiration had once again struck whilst I had been sleeping, and the idea had hung around long enough for my fully awake conscious brain to grab hold of it.
My Nannou sheng pu-erh brick that was part of my on-holiday travelling stash (see a previous post for details) had acquired a fair old number of loose clumps, broken leaf fragments, and even a generous smattering of dust when I had chiselled leaf off during previous sessions.
My idea was to dump this un-gong-fu-able mixture into a large tea filter bag, and steep it Western style in a trusty Ikea 400ml Upphetta French press. Somewhat unorthodox, perhaps, but this technique, all being well, should give me a nice, relaxing, early morning cliff-top session watching the professional and amateur sailors alike.
My somewhat deranged Burmese cat had other ideas, however.
The minute I began to set up, he went into Berserker mode, eyes as wide as saucers, ears flat back on his head, and tail puffed up as thick as a baby’s arm. Soon he was pinging around like a brown, furry pinball on full tilt, ricocheting between rocks, trees and house.
Predictably one such bounce took him up the trunk of a tree and out onto a limb, where he suddenly snapped out of his bounce-trance state, looking baffled as to how he had come to be 25 foot up in the air.
He started mewling loudly and indignantly as I fetched the ladder. Mrs. Teaist was rudely pulled from REM sleep against her will and press-ganged into the role of ladder holder. To the accompaniment of ever louder and outraged mewling as well as a barrage of tired grumbling from the ladder holder I bravely went aloft and brought his Lordship safely down by the scruff of his neck.
Once Mrs. Teaist had returned to the Land of Nod and the cat had been confined to quarters for his own safety I went back to my tea. There was only one problem – my fuel bottle was missing. After 10 minutes of agitated stomping around the house and the surrounding forest and cliff I finally found it…
The foolish feline must have collided with it during his earlier rampage, knocking it 20 feet or so down the cliff where it had come to rest at the base of a tree. Grrr, etc. One unplanned rock scramble later and I was good to go.
The filter bag looked to contain about 8 or 9 grams of material, so I decided on an initial 90 seconds steeping. My half-litre Trangia kettle was filled with cold water, my ever faithful Trangia alcohol burner was fired up, and the water put on to boil.
Just over 10 minutes later I rinsed out the teaware with the freshly boiled water, dropped the bag into the press, and set my timer for a minute and a half.
The result was a surprisingly good cup of sheng Pu-erh. I sat on top of the cliff swigging it out of my favourite Ikea holiday mug, enjoying the early morning calm, broken every now and then by the mournful cries of the seagulls on Rödskär, an islet a kilometre and a half away out to sea.
Figuring that those clumps would still maybe have yet to open up completely and release their flavour, I heated up another Trangia full to a boil and re-dunked the filter bag, this time for 2 minutes. The result was much better than the first steeping, with a darker colour and fuller flavour and body.
A quick peek into the filter bag suggested that the clumps were now fully open, as the volume of material was now close to that of the filter bag itself. The dust seemed to have been washed away or trapped in the filter paper.
This gave me the idea of doing away with the bag completely, and steeping the broken leaf directly in the press itself, and then decanting into a secondary vessel when the infusion time was up.
So, the third round from the leaf fragments was a 3 minute steeping in the French press with boiling water, after which the tea soup was decanted into a pre-heated pot.
This third round was still quite drinkable, but it was also abundantly clear that these particular bits of leaf had come to the end of the line.
So, another curious, memorable session, and no mistake. Strange things happen at sea, or even beside it, especially when cats and tea are involved…