Saturday, May 13, 2017

Tea in the time of Trump

A friend recently commented to me how she’s noticed that her American friends have fallen largely silent on Facebook since the November election. I confess I’m one of them. The cacophony of panicked and desperate postings, interspersed with divisive rhetoric and delusional beliefs, is just too much. That’s not to say there isn’t good reason to be concerned, or to do your part to be involved, but I think most would agree that the past six months have left many of us bewildered, befuddled and shaking our heads in disbelief.

If there is any bit of silver lining to the circus that is the Trump presidency it is the call to rise above, to find clarity – not to retreat but to act from. There is a great need to put things in perspective, to seek balance and some bit of sanity amidst all the insanity that plays out on a daily basis in the news and on social media. Maybe this is why we see some tea bloggers coming out of retirement and resurrecting their sites? For myself, this is very much the case.

When looked at in the context of the shit show circus that is our current political climate, tea is a quietly potent act of resistance. Think about it. Most obviously, tea promotes good conversation and community, both of which are sorely needed today. But there’s more. A dedicated habit (a focused practice?) of gong fu style tea, where each infusion is paid attention to – the taste, the aroma, the feel in the body – is essentially the practice of mindfulness. When attention is placed in the experience of the here and now it gives the monkey mind some much-needed rest. And when the mind comes to rest on a regular basis, wonderful things happen. At the very least, it builds an inner ground of calmness and balance which colors all aspects of your life. It’s the clear antidote to the chaos and alarm that is blasted daily from social media and news sources. The more one can sit and “steep” in this kind of clarity, the more one can act from a place of wisdom and balance when actions are called for.

Vive la résistance! Vive la difference! Vive le thé!

This morning's act of 'tea resistance' landed a couple of truly amazing cakes to my table. It doesn't usually happen like this. Normally I'll pull some cakes from the cabinet or dig through the sample bags and end up with mostly 'okay' stuff. It's an educational thing for me at this point in my journey -- learning more about the nuances of tea, or about how a particular tea is aging. But today was one of those win-the-lottery kind of days. It started with the 2014 Du Quan sheng puerh from Essence of Tea.

Honestly, I don't like to drink really young puerh. Most of it wreaks havoc on my stomach, especially if I drink it day after day. But I have quite a lot of it (sigh) and find it interesting to follow the changes over time. This one is different. Right from the start, this tea shines as something out of the ordinary. It's only 3 years old, but nowhere is there any hint of that typical green hay aroma or stomach-eating roughness. The smell of the wet leaves after the first couple of rinses is deep and complex, coming off as surprisingly mature, a mixture of sweet fruit over a base of something more savory and meaty, even with a tiny bit of floral peeking around the edges here and there. The soup is silky thick in the mouth and the taste is full and well-rounded, with a soft and delightful spiciness at the top of the palate. In my notes I keep wanting to describe it as mature, but it has more to do with it's depth and full-bodied-ness than with the kind of maturity that comes with the passage of time (and I can't wait to see how this one evolves through the years). It's terrifically clean, too. I've had a lot of teas that I describe as clean, but this one is deliciously clean. Juicy clean.

But it doesn't end there. It just kept giving, scoring a 10 on all points. A deep full-body energy and a wonderful sweetness growing at the back of the mouth as the session continued, a fantastic sheng all around. That I happened to pick up a tong of this back when it was first introduced is one of those lucky strikes of my tea-buying days.

(regarding storage, I should probably clarify my last "all my teas are sealed" post. When it comes to whole tongs I keep them in their bamboo wrap, tucked away in the pumidor. Also, as I pull sealed cakes from the cabinet for tasting, I'll put them back in the pumidor without the sealed wrap until I accumulate enough of them to warrant pulling out the impulse sealer and sealing them all up again. I figure they benefit from the exposure to the warm humid environment for a time before getting sealed back up again. So far this seems to be working out very nicely.)

I finished my session today with a longtime favorite, the 1999 Da Du Gan sheng puerh. This is the cake that started it all for me. Not the start of my love for puerh, but the start of that 'puerh addicts anonymous' kind of addiction that leads to owning a truly ridiculous amount of tea. I picked this up from Hou De and still kick myself for not grabbing both of the last two that were for sale at that time.

This tea has plenty going for it, but most notable for me is how it seems to pull salivation into the mouth and sweat to the skin. I experienced this the first time I tasted it and it still happens to this day. The soup is syrupy thick and the tea carries plenty of qi, as well. The aroma after the first rinse is a strong perfumed camphor with sweet fruit underneath, and the vapors from the empty tea cup make me swoon, with big hits of vanilla mixed with a bit of floral. Lovely. I've dipped into this cake plenty of times through the years. The original paper wrapper, which was thin to begin with, has all but disintegrated, so now I keep it double-wrapped with a sturdier paper wrap holding it all together.


  1. Bev,

    That 2014 Du Quan sounds delicious. I always wonder how Bangwei cakes are going to age? I sometimes feel like they are made to drink now or 10 years max. There is something about them, like some demention of power or depth which I feel they lack for good long term aging. I feel like they are similar to Wu Liang cakes in this respect.

    I wonder what kind of system you use to seal your cakes? I used simple Saran Wrap or Glad Cling Wrap in the past. I completely wrapped over the Bambo tong or cardboard tong cases too which I think worked really well. I witnesses both with and without wrap over the bamboo.

    Love the natarative about savouring a special cake. This is one of the aspects which makes puerh drinking quite beautiful.


  2. Hm, I suppose it will make for an interesting journey then, to see how these cakes age? :) Makes me wonder if perhaps I should also be wrapping the tong as you suggest, with Saran Wrap over the top. Not a bad idea!

  3. Hi, just found your blog via TeaDB and really enjoy your posts! Particularly this last one. In a weird way, tea is such a mechanism for personal resistance with everything it represents in its respect and interdependence with the environment (obviously its a plant ha), history, and hospitality that is so antithetical to everything this "president" represents. Also it is so great for staying mindful and focusing on the here and now and not worrying all the time about what is happening politically, which can drive you crazy.