|Portrait of a Burmese Lady, by Urs Schweitzer|
"I am looking at the beautiful clean snow here in Milwaukee this morning drinking the second run of the Bulang Shan 2008 shou/ripe puerh and omg is it wonderful! You're spoiling me to real true fabulous tea! Thank you!!!!"
How many of you have had the shock of a family member using words like "Bulang Shan" for the first time? Then you know why I blinked and double checked that I wasn't reading email from a tea head instead of my sister. My family loves me, but previously she had written something like "I'm so proud of you for having a tea blog, and I tell everyone about it! It's wonderful! Could you send me the link for it?"
Sister emailed again later in the a.m., she clearly felt the effects of a nice ripe tea on her body.
"I'm too comfy inside with my warm feet (grin) to venture out today. I even put my bag of garbage in the garage vs outside in the can. Lazy!"
She has circulation problems and warm feet is no small thing to achieve. I can thank Crimson Lotus Tea for the 2008 Bulang Shan ripe making her happy today. I'm sitting here with my bad back and one of the reasons I'm still drinking white2tea's 2014 Manzhuan is because the qi from it hits that painful disc spot in my lower back and spreads relaxation around the area. So we have the first Criteria of Tea for Old People.
Criteria #1 Tea that makes me Feel Better.
We are in the age of the Old Man and the Shou, a pinch of ripe in a cup and adding more water and more leaves, sipping all day long. Keeping the body warm and comfortable. Tea must do this for old people, or else a plug of brandy might be the next solution. I used to add Jameson's Irish whiskey to my coffee in the a.m. on a bad day, but I haven't done that in at least 4 years. I've got shou for those days. Or a really good Oolong.
My sister and I have different needs. She struggles with the circulation in her legs and feet, and feels cold all the time. Her hands and feet turn blue. I am the opposite, too warm. House heating is awful, I wake up overheated every single time I sleep, even with -17C outside, I still have a window open and a fan in the window in my room. She is a perfect Shou Lady, I'm a Sheng Mamma. What will make her feel better won't work for me. I know I horde white2tea's 2005 Naka because that tea could get me through chemotherapy if need be. And I've got sheng to clean me out when I get backed up. Enema sheng, Miralax is for suckers. Every old person needs a stock of tea that will meet their old age needs, probably containing theanine in some amount.
My sister wrote more about her changing drinking habits.
"My stomach is way out of whack. If the tea helps that's a huge bonus. I had to quit coffee and do not even miss it which is odd and now am enjoying tea every day. I had your tea front and center in my cupboard and with the snow this morning and that tea I felt a joy and peace that was such a gift."
Sister gave up coffee and she has a Keurig too. But now I know what she needs, and will stop sending her K-cups and instead dig out the best of my shou puerh, aged oolong and roasted Jiri Mountain Korean tea to send. And maybe a cute tea pet.
So our taste now is about finding the tea that seems to help with whatever condition we find ourselves in. Even on a good day, most of us need a good hit of caffeine to start moving. A good tea can mean taking out the garbage versus not, getting through a day versus staying in bed. It's about getting in touch with our needs and matching the tea appropriately. I recommend at least one covered Yixing mug. I bought mine from EnjoyingTea.com, very inexpensive. This is good for the all-day shou brew and never needs washing, a boiling water rinse and a wipe suffices.
Criteria #2 Tea that makes me feel like I'm 30 again, preferably 25.
Now we have the reason for a good tea drunk. Old people need a few minutes to feel young again. My brain is probably still the 12 year old girl, it likes video games and thinks it can still climb trees, punch out the gang of boys I used to run with, and read 900 page books I can no longer see so well. But I can fool myself with a good e-book, an old Final Fantasy game, and a tea drunk. A good sencha never fails to give me that experience. That might not work for everyone, but it works for me.
My aunt Alvina is an example for me now. A Polish lady with a big bouffant hairdo and bathroom wallpaper of hot pink fake fur, she was the first person in Wisconsin to receive a full heart transplant. She wasn't supposed to eat any cholesterol whatsoever, but I remember her dropping the egg yolks into her cake batter. "Whoops," she'd say, "Oh well." She couldn't imagine trying to choke down a dry egg white cake, she wanted the old recipe she made from the time she was five years old. Now is the time to eat and drink to feel like we're young, old people food is for the nursing home. As for Alvina, the heart didn't get her in the end, it was the same disc problem I now have in my back, she got a blood clot after the back surgery. A sobering thought, and I drop the proverbial egg yolks in and drink the tea cake that makes me feel good, not the one I "should" have instead.
Criteria #3 Bucket List Teas.
Now's not the time to stock up on the latest plantation cake. I don't have 20 years to wait until something is aged enough to drink. I'm fooling myself if I think I should "invest" in cakes that will appreciate in value. Old people don't have that kind of time. Instead, I want teas that are unique in their experience, that I can enjoy right now. Whether that means a high quality new cake that can be enjoyed today or a highly aged tea that is on my wish list, Tea for Old People means drink what I want, buy what I want, and yes to hell with a budget. Pay the bills by all means, but I'm not putting off the teas I want to try. If for you that means going after that 1950s Red Mark at $500 a session, then DO IT. Don't wait.
Take that tea vacation. How about the Jingmai Brilliant Resort and Tea Spa? On this vacation, you can attend tea ceremonies, traditional dances, and even trek up the mountain to pick your own tea and press your own cake! You can get a massage with tea. It beats rolling on your own tuos to break them up. Why not have someone else roll 'em for you? Or drown you in a golden tea shower? Just what you always dreamed of, I know it.
Actually my bucket list would be more along the lines of some of those backstreet tea shops that MarshalN writes about, the ones where they are roasting their own oolongs, or some such. Where the tea is hidden in the back someplace. I could easily see myself nodding at whatever is initially offered, but then scrunching up my face a little with a sigh, fanning myself with a tattered street map, looking like I'm wishing for something better, something more, something to get me excited enough to open that vintage purse and extract more than a hanky. Our Burmese lady above in Schweitzer's photo needed someplace to wear that hat, and mine's off to her. Mine's also off because I'd rather be sitting in a dusty old shop on a wood chair hoping for a decent bit of magic sludge in a mug. Tea shops are for ladies, back alley shops smelling of charcoal roast are bucket listers for an old tea drunk like me.
Using old age to our advantage, saying "I want to try this while I can" is what we must do. We don't have an Association of Retired Persons to advocate for tea drinkers, it's every man for himself. Or every woman, which might be an advantage if we have photos to show of Young Son with University Degree. Oh, and can I have some old tea?? Please? I need to sit down. In fact, I'm feeling a bit faint just now. It's probably my heart medication. Something to warm the belly so I can move along. My white hair is uncovered in these circumstances. Just the other day I found myself next to another old lady who said, "I won't ask you for help, but I really need somebody to pick up my cane." I set mine aside and managed to bend down painfully and get it for her. At least I was given the benefit of the doubt. In tea, I flout it shamelessly. This isn't the time to pretend I'm young. Those who continue to dye their hair are missing out, and I plan to fully horn in and get that tea that isn't offered to those who refuse to go gray.
Criteria #4 It isn't about the Money anymore.
Are we sitting on a stash of plantation cakes that are nowhere near ready to drink? Unless we are under 35, there is little to no guarantee we'll ever see that tea at its prime. Time to reallocate the priorities. Recipes become less important unless that recipe belongs to a 20 year old cake. Menghai? Better be 20 years or older. Xiaguan? Forget it, unless it's a ripe. Finding a raw Xiaguan older than 25 years is tough, and if one surfaces, then suck it up price-wise. I don't blink at $400 a cake these days, but then I don't have a college fund for the kids to save for. I'm not going to waste my time on hoping that $60 cake is gonna give me what I need, either in making me feel good, making me feel young, or in being a bucket list tea. I'm in la-la land if I still think it will. You know what? I'm looking for thick, engine oil puerh, brown and almost sticky. A little humidity doesn't seem so dank and nasty to me anymore, instead I feel warmth coming on when that brew goes dark and darker in the cup.
Then, we have quantity to consider. At my age, a cake is probably more reasonable than a tong. Will I really have the time to drink up a tong of tea? Or is it better to buy a cake that I know I can drink now, if for no better reason to move on to another cake? I now have an even better reason to spend the money on yes, expensive samples. I can drink up that sample and move on to some other tea experience instead of getting hung up trying to finish a tong.
Moving on to new tea experiences more quickly might be a new criteria of old age. Seeking out unique teas might be more enjoyable than stocking up on tongs for down the road, unless that tong is giving me Criteria #1, Tea that makes me feel Better. Or, perhaps instead of new experiences you're after a smallish stock of teas that are Old Standbys, reliable teas that give what we need. Perhaps we feel done trying new things and it's all about refining a collection of easy-to-reach-for drinkers. Maybe it's about packing that bag ahead of time for the hospital stay with the non-clogging Yixing, the shou mug and the gaiwan travel set along with stashes of those mainstays. Only the young can afford to travel hoping for tea bags at the destination. As for me, I never travel without my stash and hotpot. Whatever we need, money is not the issue, but what WORKS to keep us lively is the main consideration.
Tea vendors might be catering to younger drinkers, trying to bring new tea lifers into the fold. That seems to be a sound business strategy. But dedicated tea drinkers already buying tea are growing older, not younger, and it will be up to us to make vendors aware of our needs as more western drinkers hit the upper middle age. Vendors have no idea how many of us are out here, how big our wallets are, and what we are looking for. Unless we have some idea of what we need, and express ourselves, we can't expect vendors to know. I suggest that tea pimps showcase some unique tea experiences, one-time chances to try something. Or maybe highlight teas with bodily effects that are relaxing or soothing, or that improve circulation. We need tea ware that is easy to handle, easy to clean and won't break by dropping. We need kettles that aren't iron-heavy to lift, and won't burn the house down by overheating.
Like every other tea drinker, I'm still hoping for that one-time amazing tea, probably an old tea that I will only have a single chance to try. No matter my age, I'll never have everything crossed off my bucket list of tea. I might be changing teaware and ditching some cakes in favor of others, but that unique tea is still the spark that keeps me going.
Now, if I can just crawl my way to the stove and get that kettle...
Requiescat in Pace.