; Cwyn's Death By Tea: The Fungus Amongus ;

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Fungus Amongus

Right away all you Smart Tea Drinkers know what I'm talking about here. Yep, it's fungus cake time. Now I've eschewed Heicha thus far in the interests of my time and money. I just don't feel I have the time or the money to spend on certain grades of tea. When life gets shorter, the bucket list of teas to be consumed tends to weigh in far more on premium experiences rather than wasted on lower grades of tea. But something medicinal about heicha caught my attention recently.

I read someplace about the "golden flower" fungus having a property that reduces heat in the body, specifically around the heart. I do have heart disease, which is controlled by medications, but a ticking time bomb nevertheless. My odds aren't great, assuming none of the existing plagues manage to take me out (and I am worried about that too). Another issue is menopause and the heat it generates, waking me in the middle of the night. Long story short, I could do with a bit less heat any way I can get it. And I can deal with drinking a not-so-swell tea for the sake of a little health benefit. In the world of herbal tisanes and Chinese medicine, I've drunk far worse tasting stuff to be sure.

My first purchase of Liu Bao is this Three Cranes Guangxi 250g brick I found on Ebay. As it happens, I have $17-and-change built up in free Ebay Bucks to spend, so might as well pick up some scratch as any tea drunk would do when given free money.
2011 Three Cranes Liu Bao
As of now, I don't have any particular reason for choosing Guangxi over Hunan or Shaanxi, except for shallow reasons based on no experience with heicha. Yet I have a few very nice shallow reasons. For one, I have Ebay Bucks to spend and my choices of heicha are fairly limited on Ebay. Two, I could easily choose Shaanxi because the Planet Shaanxi is the site of a decisive video game battle between the Turians and Humans in the Mass Effect universe. I'm definitely in love with a Turian named Garrus Vakarian. This is as shallow a reason, or as good a reason, to choose any heicha.
Wanna play Insanity with me??      photo credit
After all, this isn't high-end Yiwu we're talking about. This is sticks and scraps black tea. What's to debate about sticks and chop? Is one compost pile better medicine than another? If so, then please send expensive samples free of charge immediately and perhaps I'll change my mind.

The Ebay 2011 Guangxi brick (of summer 2010 material) catches my attention after sorting through the 2008 and 2009 bricks on Chawangshop. Seems like these things sell out of various years and I don't see another brick quite like this Ebay cake anywhere, unless I want eschew the Ebay Bucks to pay more for shipping someplace else. Another advantage is that this brick has been in Florida for a couple of years, so am hoping for at least some moisture in the cake. I haggle with the seller for a week over the offer price, paying less than you see on the sticker, and it is mine.
My hopes for moisture in the cake get dashed immediately. The words "iron compression" are an understatement. This thing is tough and dry. I could use it to break a few windows. And it smells like...nothing. Where did they keep this cake, in a freezer? How can it possibly get so dry in Florida of all places? The poor thing will need serious crock storage with additional moisture to loosen up. And I am aware that full golden flowers can take 5 years or more to completely develop. The cake appears to have dusty evidence of humidity at one point and possibly spores.

No way am I going to take a puerh pick to this cake in its current condition. In my younger days, I once gouged my finger real good trying to use a nail scissors to pry up some offensively girlish bows stapled onto a perfectly good pair of leather pumps, resulting in about ten stitches and a scar I still have to this day. Using a Dremel tool instead, I cut 2 mm depth guidelines which allow me to break off pieces by hand. But I break two ceramic cutting wheels just making those lines on the cake. You can see the mess I'm making in the process.
My cutting gives me some neat squares to send out to friends, and the brick now fits nicely in this vintage ceramic dish, augmented with a terra cotta shard soaked in water for moisture.
circa 1950s bird pipe dish, Hoenig of California #102
 I let the squares rest in a separate crock with a pouch button overnight. Got them out today, about 24 hours later, to mail off two. Holy Moly!! One night in the crock storage and golden flowers already, and the cake now smells like something! Check out the tiny flowers:
One night of crock storage and pouch button
The mess on the cutting board, about 7 grams of loose tea, sat out all night in the presentation cup and didn't develop flowers. Might as well drink that up. 125 ml water in the gaiwan, one rinse.
First steep the tea gives up a lot of its essence right away, deep color more brown than red. A bit of bitterness and black tea flavor along with a bit of the shou funk. Second steep just about as dark, this time I can taste the stems, a kind of woody paper flavor, but very smooth and slightly sweet. Third steep I'm increasing the time to a minute. I get minerals in my mouth, very full, like a salt flavor when licking my lips. Also a bit more pondy, reminds me of the smell of tree branches that have gone soft in the lake after sitting through the winter under ice. Not necessarily like wet storage though, just more like shou. The strainer catches all but the littlest bit of powder and the tea is clear and clean now.
First steeping
The tea starts to lighten at 5 steeps, I add a couple of minutes to brew times. Now I'm getting an interesting mushroom flavor and less of the woody pond. Not sure it's the "betel nut" flavor. Brewing a chunk would be a longer steeping experience, the loose tea here really gave itself on those first three steeps, around ten steeps nothing remains. Flavor-wise, initially I might go thicker and reduce the amount of water or increase the amount of tea leaf. Doesn't seem very bitter or strong, and too watery won't taste like much. Next time I'll add another gram or two.

This stuff is surprisingly GOOD. Got the qi sensation in the middle of my upper back. The flavor isn't so much about yum yum, though I do like minerally, salty tea, it's more about satisfying what a tea jones really is. How I crave this deep satisfaction, not just relaxation, but something in tea satisfies a hunger and thirst at the same time. My body needs whatever it is in aged tea, a physical aspect, like eating all my spinach or a chili cheese hot dog. A feeling like from balsamic vinegar on beef, or soy sauce on sauteed vegetables, melted cheese on toast, freshly roasted warm nuts, turkey with bread stuffing and sage, onions cooked with fish. It's not about the immediate flavors as about deep flavor and the body experience from certain types of food. I've read before that oral physical satisfactions behind food or smoking or drinking are about a deep yearning for love, about filling an essential emptiness. This Liu Bao, like many other teas I've had, is really bringing it even though I'm only experiencing a dry mess of leaves and sticks, not the fully developed cake as it should be.

As for cooling the body, and reducing heart heat, well, I don't know about that. I'm not feeling cooled at the moment. Maybe I need to give the tea a chance to work over time. Or maybe I need a nap. Waking up from a nap will be a nice little test, as I usually wake up overly warm. Hopefully I can grow out the flowers more in the tea cake and really develop that mushroomy flavor. Will try to remember to update this post with more photos later on. That's assuming I don't drink this cake up quick, which I just might.

Requiescat in Pace.

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