Cha Xi Collective

Differences in Darjeeling

Today’s feature: “Differences in Darjeeling”, or “Try a First Flush”

Today I was drinking a cup of Darjeeling tea, from a bag as must be done at some point or other in one’s life, and thinking about the emphatic monogram, “The Champagne of Tea” that is printed on the package. I realized that much of the Western world is probably just as confused by that label as I once was.

I remember as a younger tea drinker, sipping a recently steeped mug of Darjeeling tea and…

View On WordPress

Qi and the moment

When inviting someone to tea, you are inviting them into your soul. you share a special moment that cannot be replicated. The tea transcends its existence as ONLY a beverage and becomes the oxygen of the experience. 

When tea has a powerful Qi, you are bound to the leaf, the liquor and to the person you share with.  

We started drinking the 2007 Yiwu Jing Long from Camellia Sinensis which awoken something in my and my dear friend Addie. We sipped cup after cup, not always talking about the tea itself but of culture and practice of gong fu cha and tea philosophy. As we reached the end of our first kettle of water, we shifted out attention to watching a movie. I have seen the film many times and hold it close to my heart. Addie had never seen the film and was eager to check it out. 

The Fountain by writer/director Darren Aronofsky, is a story that defies conventional categorization. For those who have never seen it, there are elements of sci fi, romantic drama, as well as period “quest” type aspects. The film can be polarizing, it either isn’t your cup of tea and you find it to be pseudo spiritual garbage or it changes your life profoundly. 

Basically, the story is about searching for the “cure” for death. The film has three parallel timelines woven together using match-cuts to marry the ideas over the course of 1000+ years.  During the film, we continued into our second kettle of water and approached 20 infusions through the 90 minute film. 

Our tea drinking started to mirror some of the story elements and ideas of The Fountain. We sip from a cup filled with liquid made from the leaves of an ancient tree, we were becoming part of the tree and the tree was becoming part of us. The emotion of the character trying to find the cure to his wife’s cancer in a compound from an ancient tree really sunk in. 

The more the film progressed, the deeper the tea reached our souls. The beautiful imagery and incredible score were perfect to go with our minimal Cha Xi. A Single candle provided ambient light to supplement the glow of the movie. 

 Addie and I continued to sip, engulfed with Cha Qi, as well as the film’s story. The film reached its climax, We found ourselves holding empty teacups intently, and massaging the clay in our hands. The liquid was gone from the cup but ever present in our body and mind. 

As the credits rolled, we shared another, final infusion. The candle flickered, the score calmly ending, we had a profound experience that words can hardly describe.  The film affected us to the core, moving us in ways that few pieces of art can. The tea only made the moment that much richer and deeper, and will resonate for quite a while. 

The quieter you become, the more you can hear - Ram Dass

I’m not one for spiritual devotion, but I do enjoy the meaning of quotes like this because you can apply it to anything, especially tea. Tea is a big part of my life and I appreciate the leaf but I do not bow to it. 

In my “manifesto" post I comment about additives. The "quiet" part of this quote refers to outside flavors not already present in the natural leaf. 

In the western world, we add salt, we add sugar we add many things that can boost the flavor but I think we overuse these things and forget what some food and drink actually tastes like. 

In the world of food and beverage, you have wine and cheese pairings, whisky tasting, coffee tasting, tea degustations. They all give you the opportunity to experience everything the leaf/bean/malt/cheese/grape has to offer.

You take clear your palate with some water, take a sip of the sample and your mouth can receive flavor with as much objectivity as your taste dictates. Many chefs would say salt is the biggest key to flavor in any style of cooking. They would also tell you that too much will destroy any other flavors present in the dish.

Think of this like a drug addiction or alcohol dependency. The more you over indulge, the more you need to reach the same high. If you are conservative in your consumption, the high or the drunkeness can be more intense and often more clear-headed.

All good things in moderation, right? Seems like a no-brainer but we often over indulge even though we know this. Why? I’ve noticed a few times I find myself eating when I’m not hungry and wonder why I did that. or sometimes the opposite, stop eating even though my stomach is not satisfied.

For me the reason is simple. My palate. If I start eating when I’m not hungry it’s almost always because I have a weird taste in my mouth and I want to change it. This is the body’s way of telling me to drink water. It will cleanse the palate of most unwanted residual flavor and not add to your dietary intake for the day, keeps you hydrated too! When I have a good flavor in my mouth, I will either stop eating to savor that final flavor or I will eat other things and save the food or drink that contains the desirable flavor til the end.

When I drink a good tea or a good scotch, the flavors in my mouth linger pleasantly to provide a lasting memory of the experience. These flavors can also play tricks on you and I often find other senses will trigger one of these taste memories. I will be eating a certain food or walking through town and I taste or smell something and I begin to salivate uncontrollably. Something has reminded my body of delicious puer I had once or the Scotch I tried the other night.

Sometimes I amaze people at how quickly or specifically I can identify certain flavors in a tea. “Your palate is ridiculous, I wish mine was that good” well, thank you but it’s not that hard to train yourself. If you want to start tasting food and drink better, drink more water and start to strip away some excess sugars and salt. please, keep eating whatever you like though, just tone it down. instead of adding chocolate syrup to your ice cream, just eat the ice cream and take note of what the ice cream tastes like by itself. This is not a diet but there you certainly benefit if that’s what you’re looking for.

Food from the earth is a treasure. We should respect it as it allows us to continue living. Plants not only provide us with food to eat, but also oxygen, which is kind of important to humans. The spinach you have in your garden (maybe not yet actually) grows a certain way with a certain flavor. Appreciate that flavor. The carrots and beets gather nutrients from the soil that make them special. Appreciate those differences.

When you start to strip things like tea down to their naturally qualities, you might be surprised at how expansive the flavors can be and you might understand just a little better why we drink tea this way. It might also make us connoisseur types seem not so stuffy anymore.    

Another quote with similar sentiment to bookend this post

“The ideas are louder when there are fewer of them.” 

― David C. Day 

Ten teas. Ten Mountains. Ten Days. 

Taking a few weeks off to reflect, I can look at this tasting more objectively. 

Over 2 weeks I tasted 10 teas from 10 different, famous puer producing mountains. The teas ranged from a 2013 all the way back to 1998. I tasted a few new mountains in Wuliang and Bada and revisited some old favorites in Yiwu and Nannuoshan.

Surprising for me was the number of shou puer with famous mountain sources. When I think of these places, sheng puer comes to mind first. Ailaoshan, Badashan and the Jingmaishan teas were all shou while the remaining 7 teas were sheng. This ratio is similar to what you will find at shops or online if not way more sheng from mountains. 

Until 1972, all puer was sheng. The factories of Kunming were the first to develop a recipe based off the techniques like those used to create Liu Bao Hei Cha. The villages producing puer in the mountains lacked to space (or the desire to change) to create shou puer. 

The space needed to pile ferment the shou puer caused an increase in production costs. Cheaper raw materials balanced this out.  

The sheng producers in the mountain villages continued to dry in the streets or on rooftops, and stone press each bing by standing on them like they have been doing for centuries. For this reason, there is far more sheng puer produced using raw materials from Yiwu, Jingmai, Nannuo, Bulang etc. 

This doesn’t mean that shou puer using the mountain sources are worse. It means they are using a high quality crop from old trees to produce a tea that will lose much of the nuance through process. Kind of like having a premium wine used in a spritzer. The spritzer will taste better but the original wine has lost its integrity. 

When you have young sheng and shou its like comparing chocolate and vanilla. As the teas aged it is more like dark chocolate and milk chocolate (sheng is the dark chocolate in case you were wondering).  The subtle yet complex flavors of sheng amplify of time. Shou puer tend to stay relatively close to the original flavor until much later in its life. When you compare a 20 year-old sheng and 20 year-old shou, the differences are much closer than the same teas would be in their youth. 

I look forward to tasting these teas as they age, comparing them with other teas from the same region and hopefully visiting the areas some day.

Bada Mountain Fermented Puer

Another experience with @jalamteas: Bada Mountain Puer. Awesome and not what I was expecting.

I recently subscribed to Jalam Tea’s monthly deliveries, and since the current month’s bing was already sold out, I received a hoard of samples of previous puer selections. Last week I had a go at the Meng Song. Today I tried the 2012 Bada Mountain Fermented (it seems that Jalam refers to their Shou puer as “fermented” and their Sheng as “unfermented” or with no classifier).

Photo Mar 19, 4 56 37 PMFirst I love that…

View On WordPress

Gui Fei at Stone Leaf Tea House Yesterday was a beautiful lazy Saturday, and my wife had the brilliant suggestion to spend our afternoon drinking tea someplace we don’t get to nearly often enough: …

Yibang, Ailao, Jingmai, Wuliang, Mengsong, Bada. 

Wrapping up the Mountain tasting project is a whirlwind of flavors and cha qi. In my last post I went pretty in depth about one mountain. For this post I will be exploring some flavors of the other mountains I tasted but save the richer details about history and production for my conclusion in the next post.

2008 Spring Yibang Sheng

     This tea smelled like figs and pipe tobacco, the liquor was a light honey color consistently for around 14 infusions and became much lighter after that. The first couple of infusions had a tartness while the prominent flavor was that of dried apricot, still a young tea.

2002 Ailao Shou

     Soft bark, mushroom and red beans are the aromas after the first infusion. The color of the infusions reminded me of a cherry juice or birch beer. Something I haven’t come across in puer flavor before is many herb comparisons. In this tea I got a hint of oregano as well as a fresh banana bread and also a bit of topsoil. Not super rich despite the aroma and flavor descriptions, it would be interesting to see what a wetter storage would have done to the tea. 

2011 Autumn Jingmai Shou

    This is the second time I’ve tried this tea but the first I was really taking notes. The aroma coming from the rinsed wet leaves filled the air with a light oceanic/earthen/mushroom fragrance. Tasting the tea felt almost more like eating, the flavors were savory like poppy seed and marble bagels. The texture was smooth and after the breadyness subsided, you were left with a lingering sweetness that was quite pleasant. Even though the tea is surprisingly rich the Qi is a little chaotic for me, I’m sure this will change with age and the energy will shift into an invigorating but calming qi.    

2010 Wuliang Sheng

     This is along the Lancang river and the flavors certainly suggest that. The palate is dry and smooth and the initial taste is bamboo, cinnamon, and dark chocolate with chilis in it. There is a depth in this tea that is quite special and why I like teas from this mountain and along the river. I’ve had maybe one other puer from this mountain before but I have had a few other Wuliang Hong Cha that were also fantastic. For all you non-Xishuangbanna haters out there, don’t sleep on teas from other regions, they have great quality teas to offer too. 

2012 Spring Mengsong Sheng

     I’ve only ever had one Mengsong before and it was just a sample so I only had a brief moment with it that is now forgotten. I see teas from this mountain on various websites and they always seem to have the prettiest packaging and are in the elusive price range. This tea was strong but the energy was mellow enough that I could drink 10+ infusions without feeling like I had xray vision. The bing had many silver tips and also some nicely browned leaves suggesting the age of the trees is in the 150+ range. It will be nice to revisit this tea in a few months.

2013 Bada Shou

     Another quite famous mountain I have yet to experience before now! The tea smells more like a Liu Bao or a Tibetan market recipe than most other shou I’ve had. The tea produced 12+ infusions of a broth like consistency. Broth makes it sound savory but it is a little sweeter than that. There is a dry bread-like texture to the tea suggesting dryer storage (although it has only existed in this world for less than a year so any indications of age are yet to come.