Funny little one, this.
I had a few coppers to spend, so I thought I’d throw them in the general direction of a web-shop that I’d never had dealings with before. I picked out a pair of likely candidates – a beeng of shou and some mao cha.
Everything seemed in order, and the purchase seemed to go through without any hitches, but instead of being welcomed back to the dealer’s site with some kind of “thank you for shopping with us” message, I was dumped onto a “your shopping cart is now empty” page. Huh?
I waited for some kind of confirmatory e-mail, but none came. Checking the bank, I found that the money was still sat in my account.
To cut a long story short, a day later nothing had changed, so I decided to look elsewhere for interesting leaves, which brought me to another new-to-me online place, In The Mood For Tea.
I came across In The Mood For Tea when they were mentioned in a post about Swedish tea culture by John B on his excellent blog, Tea In The Ancient World.
I browsed their pu-page, and then decided to take a punt based on a gut feeling, and ordered this ‘ere beeng.
A few days later it popped into our mailbox, snugly ensconced in a padded envelope.
In The Mood For Tea’s notes tell us that the raw material that went into this cake originated in Fengqing county, which lies in the Western part of Lincang prefecture in Yunnan province, close to the border with Baoshan prefecture.
The leaves were grown at an elevation of about 2000 metres, and the age of the trees is given as about 300 years. The leaves were harvested in March and April of 2017, and the plucking standard was a bud and three leaves.
No name was given for the manufacturer, but by doing a lookup on the Chinese QS number and the company logo I found out that the “Fengqing County Sanning Tea Industry” was responsible for the tea’s production.
The dry leaf had the classic sheng notes – dried mushrooms, leather, and wood, but on top of that I picked up two different kinds of sweetness, one floral, the other reminiscent of icing sugar.
The beeng was quite lightly pressed, and so it took little effort to get the tea pick in and free off the amount of leaf I needed for the session.
|Water Used:||Filtered tap water|
|Weight of dry leaf:||7 grams|
|Steeping vessel:||150 ml unglazed clay teapot|
|No. & duration:||a flash rinse, then infusions of 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 35, 40, 50, 60, 90, 120, 180, and 300 seconds for a total of 14 infusions|
Post rinse the wet leaves went full on rain forest steamy jungle, complete with the heady aromas of pungent hot house blooms.
In my tasting notes I described the first infusion as similar to distant thunder, an ominous warning of powerful things ahead. The soup tasted like a sheng straight out of central casting, but oh my, the body was already slick, and the Qi put the pedal to the metal right out of the gate. There was a smooth, non-spiky kind of bitterness, if that makes sense, and it felt as though it was sat off to one side with a knowing grin on its face that seemed to say “You’ll be seeing more of me later, bucko…“. I also picked up a blink and you’ll miss it hint of smoke.
The second round saw the Qi shove all in. The teacup became the literal centre of my universe, and it was hard to focus on anything else, even though I was almost hyper aware of everything going on around me. The bitterness was growing, but still relatively subtle, leaving a tickling sensation on the back of the throat. Radio Sheng came on the air, and for the rest of the day I found myself humming along to Dire Straits’ “Sultans Of Swing“.
“And Harry doesn’t mind if he doesn’t make the scene….”
By the third steeping the session had gone all wibbly wobbly giggly. There was nothing extraordinary going on in the cup taste wise – this was a standard-ish but nevertheless good quality sheng – but the session was being driven by the mouth and body feels.
The broth was deliciously buttery by this time, and the Qi was right up there with the very best of them. This was an early evening session, and I was glad that it was taking place in the long shadow of lunch. Imbibing this liquor on an empty stomach would be an interesting but potentially hazardous move. It didn’t exactly help that it was a very moreish beverage, and I had to fight hard against the temptation to guzzle machine gun rapid infusions. Thankfully I was able to find my neutral space, and slow things down.
The only real change in the soup occurred during the fourth infusion, when out of nowhere a sweet floral aftertaste appeared, and decided to hang around for the remainder of the session.
The back end of the session saw a weird mood shift. I was reminded of a conversation I once had, where a three-quarters inebriated acquaintance opined that as far as he was concerned there was something outrageous, ungodly, and plain sinister about a non-boozer such as myself merrily altering my state of consciousness with, well, tea. The thought that many of the good people passing by outside might find the pursuit of pu-bliss odd or even somehow shady made me suddenly feel like a character from an underground comic, or a figment of Hank Bukowski’s imagination. “In a dissolute age, cha-Qi is the final act of rebellion. Temperance 2.0“, I write in my notebook.
“It ain’t what they call Rock and Roll…”
The session grooves on, and just as the sun starts Hawaii Five-O-ing the horizon and I’m wondering whether or not the leaves have a fifteenth round in them, my wonderful womenfolk arrive home, complete with vegetable moussaka and Greek salad. Game over.
This beeng might have started out as a bit of a shot in the dark, but ended up being a bullseye.
I’m buying another. Nuff said.