; Cwyn's Death By Tea: Bag Fun on the Bi-yo ;

Monday, May 4, 2015

Bag Fun on the Bi-yo

Spring blossoms in Wisconsin
I'm muddling along with my oolong situation. Call me Cwyn the Old Tea Bag. I just found a box of oolong tea bags in the cupboard I didn't know I had. This is a box of Bags from EnjoyingTea, a purveyor of super cheap in tea and teaware. I didn't actually buy these Bags, the website automatically gives out a free box of Bags if you buy a piece of tea ware. You can't put a note in saying "don't send Tea Bags please," I tried that and it doesn't work. A few years back they gave me a box of shou tea bags that ranked among the worst teas I've ever had, fishy old things. I emailed to complain and got a reply "Rinse 'em in cold water." Helped a little, should've thrown them out but you know me.

Cupboard find
Here we have Oolong tea bags this time, hopefully an improvement. The weather is mighty fine today, a warm and sunny day with the crab apple trees in full bloom. These are trees that bloom for maybe a whole week and then the rest of the year they dump leaves and mushy berries on your car. Waste of time and I don't know why people grow them. They also push up creepers relentlessly and dig in so deep you can't really remove the trees unless you want to pay a tree removal service at least $1000. I plant real trees in my yard that grow fruits and nuts you can actually eat. Or I plant things that annoy my neighbors, again a tree with a purpose. Anyway, with the trees in bloom, I decide to use my American tea ware which consists of a Mason Ball jar, channeling Hank Williams.

A light roasted oolong.
I western steep my Bags at 95 C in 200 ml for 5 minutes or so while thinking of Hank Williams' Jambalaya song which is one of the most annoying songs played at every wedding by every boy country band on the planet. The song really isn't about Jambalaya or crawfish pie or being gay-o. It's about a wapatoolie, which is a party drink of fruit, vodka and maybe some sugar syrup. When I was in high school, a wapatoolie was a party where everyone bought a bottle of some alcoholic beverage and all of it got dumped together into a big tub. And then you drink wapatoolie with a fruit jar like my Mason Jar right here.

My EnjoyingTea teabag gets a bit of color in five minutes, the bag contains maybe 2 grams of dark roasted oolong chips. It's not unpleasant, I get a little tongue action, but the tea is not very strong. Still, I can see myself drinking up this box of Bags. But now I can move on to another tea Bag, this time I have one from blogger Wilson of travellingteapot. Five minutes in the old fruit jar, I smell some humid storage and the session is suddenly looking up.

A Liu Bao bag from Singapore
Anyway, a wapatoolie is a nasty way to drink, and probably tea in a Mason Jar is no better, and certainly not a deserving homage to the centuries of care and cultivation China has put into tea. This here tea Bag is more cultivated and cultured on its own, my fruit jar is like Frederick's of Hollywood on silicone honkers, a violation against what nature required centuries to perfect. But then I wonder, is my fruit jar really a violation?

The humid storage tea Bag brews up a bit red and I must have forgot something because this isn't oolong. Checking the email from Wilson I see this is Liu Bao Bag. Imagine that. This tea Bag is rather good. I feel bad now I steeped it so long, I could have got two good steeps out of it had I gone for two minutes instead of five. I'm feeling a little buzzed and just like with alcohol I start wanting another glass. My second steep is very light, so this tea Bag will need to cold brew for a few hours. I only have one of these Liu Bao Bags so I'm gonna steep it and find another glass.

Black tea and shou flavored brew
My last tea Bag is from the former Origin Tea, by way of the guys at TeaDB.org. This is a really Old Bag but not as old as Cwyn. It's an oolong from around 1976. The first thing to worry about is whether the actual bag will hold up in hot water or it might be fragile enough to fall apart.

A really Old Bag from Origin Tea.
I'm fairly certain that wapatoolie is a southern word. I'm not sure that Wisconsin or the north will be the region to wield the words that describe our experience with aged tea because we're not a particularly colorful bunch in our speech. But I had a revelation last spring after attending a tea tasting hosted by Twodog. Now I've been drinking puerh since 2009 but I think most of the other people at the tasting were new to the beverage, and it showed on their faces. Twodog tried to help people relate to the qualities of more humid storage and he said, "It's like turning over the leaves in April when the ice and snow are still on the ground, melting." This statement hit the very core of my sensual memory, younger than I can even remember within myself, this smell of earth in the melting snow, dripping wet with a crust of ice on top, it has the mineral scent of humid stored puerh tea.

Treat me nicely, I'm old.
After connecting something so natural to me to a tea that is not my native beverage, I no longer tried to relate to the "official" terms of tea tasting, nor anything else we can consider traditional about aged tea aside from my own experience. I'm not discounting the importance of the cultural aspects of tea, and I'm about to risk falling into a stereotype of stupid Americans. I'm just saying I'm not going to use words that don't naturally roll off my tongue. Maybe if I'm 20 and plan to spend a semester abroad or go work overseas, I might find reason. But I'm old and at my age I'm not just acquiring experience but I'm trying to articulate what the experience is that I've already attained. However, this isn't really about me. My point here is that people are taking these teas today, brewing and tasting them in their own way, in their own language. And while I could certainly spend time working on all those great tasting terms, instead I can work on articulating my experience because overall my own culture is just beginning to do this with teas. I'm after what's authentic and visceral in my tea experience, not merely the intellectual. And we don't need to take on Zen or even buy all kinds of special equipment. I happen to have a fruit jar already.

Red is the color of aged oolong.
The Origin Tea bag brews up red. Nothing of the original roast left in the aroma. Few of us have the patience to wait out the full resting of a dark oolong to the point where the roast has integrated and faded. This is the point when the real flavor of the tea emerges. The flavor of this tea bag is like Wisconsin's cold weather variety of cherries. Cherries and stone fruits. Stunning. I don't think a tea bag nor an oolong gets much better than this delicate fruit flavor. I'll be cold brewing this also, right here in my fruit jar.

I've found plenty of folks on Instagram likewise brewing up Chinese tea in their own way, and finding local connections. Sometimes we are all steeping the same teas! Through a mutual admiration of photos, I discovered a blogger ysaurella_thevangeliste and hence meandered onto "her" blog. Here I find a tea head writing in French and brewing up every single tea, regardless of type, western-style either in a large Bonjour glass teapot or western-style in a sieved tetsubin. Other tea nerds elsewhere brew the same exact teas using a tiny gaiwan, or a Yixing teapot. Another person uses a stoneware tea pot from a thrift shop and decorates the tea table with little painted statues or pieces of patterned cloth. Very often my friends seem to brew up the same tea on the same day, without anyone consulting anybody else ahead of time. And no one person uses the same equipment and nobody brews the same as anyone else.

Wapatoolie is one of those American words, and you might have noticed I eschew terms like huigan and umami and terroir. I'm not a Tea Sommelier and nobody is gonna pay me for my tea knowledge, such as it is. I stick tea in my Midwest farm crocks, and use unplugged fridges that don't work. We sneak tea in through the porch window to hide it from the kids. We brew up the Naka in Starbucks travel mugs and store shou under the bed. Puerh samples go into Tupperware and Ziploc. Oolong finds its way into family reunions for the first time in the family history. The purists can try and keep the Objectivist Puerh universe intact, and the vendors complain how we westerners talk about tea more than we buy.

But they are missing the real picture that I'm seeing. We need to talk to find the words to describe puerh and oolong tea in American English. People are trying things, connecting to tea in ways that are meaningful to them, Relative to where they live. The vendor that will win out in the end is the one who has it in stock when the craze hits because the teen kids are drinking puerh now, and the real big day of tea is coming. You know what is going to happen eventually anyway in America once the Champagne gets dumped into the Wapatoolie. That's right. It goes into a Fruit Jar. Then a Hank Williams writes a song and soon enough everybody sings it at a wedding. Nowadays it's people like the hip hoppers who are giving us new words. And we like it. Amerika hasn't done its thang to the shang just yet, but it will.

Give us time, we're just getting started.

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