Bit of a weird one, this.
Now, this came as quite a surprise to be honest, as I could have sworn that I’d polished off that tea some time ago.
Hmmm, apparently not.
It then occurred to me that this would be a perfect opportunity to carry over last year’s sipdown challenge into the new year.
I popped the lump out of its bag, and had a closer look at it. This had obviously been the apex of the tuo, judging by the curve of its surface and how relatively thin a section it was.
First things first, how heavy was this nugget? It didn’t look particularly large – I guessed it would weigh in at around the 9 gram mark. The display on the scales showed 17 grams! What??!!
It was when I tried taking my tea pick to the clump that the penny dropped. It was as hard as stone! Re-reading my post about this tea reminded me that I’d found it a tough cookie back then, too.
It was a lot heavier than anticipated simply because there was so much tea pressed into such a smallish volume.
That compression did mean that it was going to be very difficult, not to mention potentially dangerous, to split the thing.
I didn’t want to start hacking away at it with a battery of hand tools in case I damaged the leaves, not to mention my pinkies.
In the end I decided to go with the whole amount as it was, drop it into the 300 ml unglazed clay pot I use exclusively for sheng, and give it very fast flash infusions.
Well, that was the general idea, anyway…
And so it was that a shade before 9 am. I gave the nugget a double rinse, and then left it in the pot to gently steam away for a short while whilst I got on with a few quick chores.
Ten minutes and a loaded dishwasher later I lifted the lid of the pot and gave the lump an investigatory prod. Still as hard as granite. Hmmm.
I decided to start off with a 20 second steeping, see what effect that had. The resulting soup was wonderful on all counts, but the structural integrity of the tea pebble had not been affected one bit.
I gave it another 20 second bath. The broth was still as good as the first round with the liquor remaining thick and tasty, but the tea clump still showed no signs of opening up.
The rest of the morning carried on in much the same way. I’d give the tea another 20 second-ish steeping, and then see how it was coming along by testing it with my tea pick.
Every now and then the soup would slip in quality a bit, and I’d increase the next round’s infusion time a little.
By the time lunch rolled around, I was up to infusion times somewhere near the 40 second mark, and finally a few stray leaves were separating off from the main mass.
After a short break for lunch I re-ignited the session, which burbled on as it had earlier until sometime around 3 pm, when it was time to go shopping.
Just over an hour later I was back at it, and the tea lump was starting to look as though it had a huge 70s style frizzy perm, but was still rock hard under the slightly more relaxed looking surface.
It was around 5.30 pm that the session entered a new phase. By this time infusions were up around the 1½ minute mark, and it looked as though I might finally be able to split the nugget open. No such luck. I was starting to get more than a little frustrated now, and was considering taking a hammer and nail to the damned thing, but didn’t out of concern for the pot.
This session was now beginning to remind me of the runaway tree that couldn’t be stopped in the Simpson’s episode Lisa The Tree Hugger! I had visions of this session still going strong in the post-apocalyptic rubble of Western civilisation.
Just after 7 pm I admitted defeat. By now steeping times were getting silly – 5 minutes plus, and the soup had lost a good deal of its former glory. Even though a lot of the leaves had left the nugget, it still had a heart of pure stone that refused to submit to the powers of heat and time.
After draining the pot I used my bamboo tea tongs and fished out the remains of the almost radioactive looking hot core.
It weighed 6 grams! I went after it with a fork and steak knife in the style of an unhinged psycho-killer in a 70s slasher flick.
After a short but therapeutic period of frenzied stabbing I finally triumphed, and it disintegrated once and for all.
I felt like Van Helsing when he dispatched Count Dracula, except that instead of a pile of unholy dust sat in an antique coffin I was faced with a mound of gently steaming leaf fragments on a blue plastic chopping board.
What a session that had been! Ten hours including breaks, and as for the number of rounds..? Think of a number, double it, maybe add a zero…who knows..?
The cumulative Qi hit caused by drinking that much of such a sheng packing a fairly serious wallop seemed to last the rest of the evening and into the next day, fading out sometime mid-morning.
When all is said and done although this was a fine send off for that tuo, next time I’m faced with a sipdown nugget heavier than 12 grams I’ll probably throw caution to the wind and take a hacksaw blade to it.