Let's set the mood for this tea, shall we? To start, get this playing low and soft in the background (last night's Grammy winner for Best New Artist, and from nearby Portland). This is the song that kept playing through my head as I sipped on this tea that was just as cool, dark and sultry.
I didn't know what tea I was going to have today. Hadn't really given it much thought but as I was setting up for my session the doorbell rang with a package from The Essence of Tea. In it was tucked this sample of a 1998 Menghai "Shui Lan Yin" seemingly saying "pick me!" Talk about things falling into your lap. But in addition to the Spalding song above, another thing making the rounds in my head were a couple of quotes:
"A concept is a thought, and a thought is a word; a word is a sound, and a sound is a pulsation. What comes before the pulsation? Stillness. Therefore a concept is nothing but an objectifying of stillness. In reality all that appears is an expression of stillness." -- Jean Klein
"Constantly deconstructing, investigating keenly, not even the slightest substance can be found; And in the undivided moment of nondual perception we abide in the natural state of perfection." -- Longchenpa
Here we (I) go again, deconstructing and keenly investigating the experience of the tea I'm drinking. I'm aware of the barrier I'm placing to the pure experience by way of categorizing and articulating it all. And yet I feel as though it's a worthy practice toward the development of awareness. At least on some level. Perhaps someday I'll abandon the naming and deconstructing altogether. But not yet. For now, I'm trying (perhaps futilely) to strike a balance between simple open awareness (as close as I can come) and conditional discernment as I learn about tea.
The soup was deep dark brown with an orange hue and the aromas were equally dark -- leather, tobacco, unsweetened cocoa, dark cherry, molasses (not in that order, these are just the predominant descriptors in my notes). All through the session I found a dry, almost tannic mouthfeel, although there was no astringency present. The aftertaste reminded me of dark unsweetened cocoa, pleasantly bitter and drying with distant notes of smoke. This tea had me thinking of that '92 ripe puerh I had recently from Bana, with its dark chocolate notes and its deep melting richness. Although I wasn't moved to add any rice milk to this one (I think I just heard shah8 breathe a sigh of relief there) I did pull out some of my darkest chocolate for a little taste compare, some 85% Michel Cluizel "Grand Noir." Yes, similar in taste although the tea has a bit more fruit to it (comparatively) and of course more of that dark smokey tobacco tea taste, though both equally dry and dark. I was wishing I had some darker chocolate to compare. Something less sweet, in the 95% range. I bet the taste profiles would be even closer.
The qi was nice with this one, too. Then again, I never know how much of that is due to the tea and how much is due to the general mood I bring to the session or the influence of things like having listened to Spalding's song right before sitting down. But the whole experience with this tea was one of laid-back, all-is-well-with-the-world rightness. Very pleasant.
The spent leaves were nearly black and very strong to the touch. I didn't find much in the way of whole leaves but the feel of them had me thinking there must be some old tea tree material present.