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Friday, March 27, 2015

Untanned Yak Butt 1994 Ya'an Kang Zhuan

1994 Brick Heicha
Brick heicha is tea for the brave, or the crazy, of which I'm definitely one, and crazier than usual. What was I thinking when I ordered nearly a half kilo brick of 1994 Sichuan Ya'an Kang Zhuan from Chawangshop?? Someplace on my bucket list I can now cross off the "to-do" experience of tea stored in untanned yak hide. Apparently I thought I needed to try this. Maybe I'm just naughty and contrary, reacting somehow to all the lovely tea websites and blogs which feature serene, meditation quality photos of tea leaves and heavenly gong fu, where even the tea cups seem to be levitating on a sea of spiritual ether. Something in me wants a slap of reality. Perhaps it is the former nun in me who knows the tendency of people to romanticize monastic life, when I know darn good and well that the monks in Lhasa, Tibet aren't drinking tea from levitating cups. They aren't even drinking the lovely things I get from places like white2tea or Yunnan Sourcing. In fact, they are drinking tea hauled up the mountain in untanned yak hide.

Here we have a brick tea meant for Tibetan consumption and thank god places like Chawangshop exist to allow people in the west to purchase the real nasty stuff. This brick is sold for $55, and interestingly enough Chawangshop also has a 1993 brick of what appears to be the same tea, but sold for twice the price at $108, apparently because it tastes better than the 1994 brick I bought. I have a feeling I know why, because my 1994 brick heicha has the real yak butt flavor. Just so you know what you're getting if you end up perusing the Heicha side of the Chawangshop catalog. This tea was made by the Yingjing Tea Factory in Ya'an City, Sichuan Province, and represents the Sichuan heicha tradition. The 1994 brick that I have also has the book article in the listing about how this tea is packaged up in such a way that three gams per side on that yak yields a balanced load. The fun bit is how the craftsmen sew up these bricks into untanned, soaked yak hides which then harden up around the tea to protect it from all sorts of weather on the way up to Tibet.

Looks like what I raked up last fall in the yard, but these leaves have Tibetan neipaio
This tea is meant to be boiled down to a rather thick syrup which can be left to cool, and then reheated as needed with yak butter and salt, and finally churned together into a froth. I debated with myself whether I should boil the tea, and then decided instead that boiling rinses might suffice and I'll just gong fu for the first time. The brick looks looser than it is, in fact the tea is quite compressed and my plans to break up the entire thing for storage changed quickly to just chipping off some to jar up for drinking in the short term. I had trouble even getting a sharp knife into this brick after taking off some of the loose tea around the exterior. I tossed the yellow paper and instead wrapped the remaining brick up in an old beeng wrapper.

The leaves are on the thin and papery side, the edges of the brick remind me of Wisconsin tree leaves that have sat on the sidewalk against the house all winter long. When you try and brush them away, they are stuck together in a flat pancake. I didn't weigh out my tea because my scale tends to be a bit inaccurate when I am trying to weigh lighter leaf teas such as this one, and such as Tai Ping Hou Kou, the scale just isn't sensitive enough to detect when I've added more. And the flat "chunks" I chipped off were too wide for my presentation dish and I need that dish when I weigh tea.

Brewed the tea in Yixing. I did four rinses, because I can definitely smell the funk here, what must be something like untanned leather, hence the yak butt. After the fourth rinse, most of the smell seemed to be gone. Poured myself a cup, which to my surprise tasted like...well...heicha. That black-tea-plus-shou flavor I've had in other heicha. This one had a spicy start and then, RAISINS. Yum, gave my leg a slap in glee. Tastes like mincemeat with a side of lard, or that cup of coffee after gutting a deer. I didn't just say that. I know the Buddhist vegans are falling over in a faint by now, certainly the ones in Madison who threw tomatoes at me when I wore vintage mink coats. Yet I wonder just how much fun the cuisine on that fantasy Lhasa retreat now appeals to those still dreaming of that type of vacation. Yessiree, how 'bout that boiled barley dough rolled up in a cuppa this untanned yak butt brick?? Heheheh.

A lovely cup from one unattractive brick. Yum.
I happened to have a can of evaporated whole milk open in the fridge which I use for coffee and decided to try that in my second cup of this heicha. However, by gong fu brewing this tea I didn't have a strong enough brew to handle the flavor of the whole milk, and it overwhelmed the delicate flavors of raisins and mincemeat I was getting out of the cup. I would need to really boil up a large amount of this tea down to a super concentrate before adding any milk fat products if I expect to taste anything of the tea.

Overall the tea is incredibly warming and yang. Three cups of this and I was sweating and had to remove my sweatshirt down to a t-shirt. But I am a cold weather person already, this tea is a good choice for cold weather like the Himalayas and Wisconsin. People here start wearing shorts and t-shirts outside when the temp crosses over 0 degrees C. Anyway, I only needed about 3 cups of this heicha to get overly warm. It still tasted of that "side of leather" after 5 cups, and started to thin out after 7 cups and believe me I didn't need any more at that point. I've noticed with other heicha that the first four cups or so are the best. Then again, I did four rinses and all those rinses wash away some of the tea at the start.

Use a vessel much bigger than the dry tea so it can expand.
Now I have the problem of storing the brick for further drinking. Luckily I have a couple of vintage Belgian jars, in the short term I can keep some loose tea without needing a skill saw. Maybe I can get Chawangshop to send me some untanned yak leather with my next order.

Vintage Belgian jars.
For $55 I think I got a deal in the 1994, the one year older $108 1993 brick would have to be damned stunning for me to pay twice over, but this rural gal is not gonna pay that much for heicha. I'd rather have a better beeng for $108. However, I do like my heicha because it is soothing for Old Ladies on Medication like myself, and $55 for about a half kilo with a little yak flavor suits me fine. Will definitely be drinking this up.

Requiescat in Pace.


  1. Nice to know that Yak Butt kicks butt! The things you do in the interests of a tea blog!

    1. Actually I bought the tea because I figured I'd like it. ;)

  2. A sample of this is on its way to me... This will be interesting.