Today I reached a milestone of puerh decadence consuming the most tea in a 36 hour period ever. Yesterday's post documented my drinking truce with boychik2989, where I learned that two Puerh heads can seriously put away some tea, and need for photos will stop the insanity. Today continued the tea festivities starting with lunch at Saveur magazine offices. Here is the wine I didn't drink.
After all one doesn't want to ruin one's palate for an upcoming session. I know that a lot of you enjoy wine and other beverages and many puerh drinkers find parallels in the complex notes of single-malt whiskies with aged tea. I certainly don't disagree but I've mostly given up alcohol. This brings up that Munchies.vice.com article which turned into a topic on Reddit r/tea and has certainly got much attention online in the tea community. Both the Munchies article and the Reddit discussion came up today both at Saveur and later on at a session with In Pursuit of Tea. The Munchies article details a session held by TwoDog from white2tea when he served puerh tea at an event with Wine Sommeliers, in between six champagne wines and single malt scotches. One of the Wine people described the 2016 Treachery of Storytelling cake as "soapy artichoke water." This resulted in a discussion of expectations of flavor when drinking old arbor puerh and how wine or alcohol people expect a lot of up front mouth flavor and specifically spit not to experience the alcohol effect. By contrast, old arbor tea is entirely about swallowing and drinking with the body.
Today during the wine talk at Saveur, I kept thinking of the phrase "soapy artichoke water." Back in August I attended a tea tasting with TwoDog where Treachery was sessioned. I haven't written much about this session. Treachery was the third tea, following Mengsong tea club balls and the old arbor Mengsong 100g from the August club. The fourth tea was the 2002 Jiaji cake from white2tea. Then TwoDog asked the group to show hands to indicate which tea they liked the best. The majority chose the Jiaji. Now, I'm not sure whether the preference may simply have been about the more aged offering. The Jiaji is very tippy, and nicely aged with the old book flavor I like. But it's nowhere in the league of Treachery, which is a once in a lifetime tea as far as I'm concerned. When tasting with my body, the Treachery is a serious tea to sit with, not taste and spit. The body is the judge. But when the group preferred the Jiaji, I decided right then to stop blogging. I couldn't write about that session. I couldn't keep going as a blogger in that moment.
Obviously I haven't stopped writing. I confirmed with Saveur that the Wine Sommelier speaking today isn't the Soapy Artichoke Lady. I just watched the other bloggers. Many didn't try the wines mainly because they were served before lunch and the bloggers obviously did not want to consume the wine before getting some food going. But then the wines were removed from the tables before the meal because other wines were planned for the food. And I noted that the Sommelier had a spit glass and she spit her wine, and the bloggers did not have spit glasses. Some were disappointed to lose the wines before trying them but no one said anything. More than anything else I did not have a loss, because I wanted to save myself, my body, for the tea I planned to drink very soon.
I am fortunate that my friend Lew Perin of Babelcarp.org arranged a tea session at In Pursuit of Tea. Lew writes the best Twitter feed. If Tweets can be food, his are like petit fours, little treats for the tea drinker's day. Snippets of puerh obsessions. I managed to find my way to In Pursuit of Tea from the Saveur offices, skipping the desserts and afternoon talks. I have not heard of In Pursuit of Tea because apparently I live under a rock or am buried under a mound of tongs. But I looked up their site in advance. We began a round robin of musical puerh chairs, taking turns brewing the teas each of session participants brought. I of course had my 1998 Yiwu cake from white2tea. Lew brought some 1990s Hong Kong natural storage teas. In Pursuit of Tea provided first flush Darjeeling for starters, then a 2015 Jingmai and a 1990s Orange Mark with natural dry storage.
In Pursuit of Tea stores puerh in bamboo dim sum steamers.
We discussed the drinking with the body, and I cannot drink teas such as we had today without feeling my body. The entire experience is the body, and sitting together with other people sharing the same awareness. Each tea offers something unique. My Yiwu has that old book flavor I love. The Jingmai is a young tea with a floral flavor profile and excellent processing. Mr. Perin's Hong Kong storage teas contrasted the drier storage teas with sweetness, dark and sticky. The Orange Mark is a tour-de-force of a tea that I can only describe as the perfume of one's grandmother in her drawer of notions, like pieces of cloth stored in wood drawers with sachets. Thick, medicinal with that old lady powder, or my own grandmother's lingering scent of Adorn hairspray on her braids wound around her head.
Ten or more steeps on every tea, my body in a place between worlds. All sorts of things look interesting when tea drunk, such as the teaware and storage jars at In Pursuit of Tea.
No, puerh tea isn't merely about the body effects, but neither is the tea merely about flavor. It's all of it, the whole experience. The long legs sitting in the belly, the medicine in the throat, the florals on the tongue. The black pepper notes that require nine steeps merely to bring forth such a tang from the leaves. We agreed that no matter what tea a person prefers, our preferences are colored by our own experience, this is the starting point. I do believe that time and experience shapes one's preferences, such that I know what makes the Orange Mark special, but I also know what makes excellently aired Hong Kong storage so wonderful, and why a dry stored Yiwu is splendid, and a first flush Darjeeling is a prize to be savored in the early months after harvest. And I know why the Treachery of Storytelling is a very important tea, but that doesn't mean I am not enjoying a Jingmai too. Not every tea needs a decision or judgement of "would I buy this?" The session trumps the need for a conclusion, it is the session itself which matters.
Lew put me on a subway train to get back to Brooklyn for the next Blog awards event. I got out of the subway but I was too tea drunk to find my hotel. I wandered around and found a deli and then this Orthodox Church.
I completely missed seeing the cop car and saw it later in the photo. Whoops. Luckily no one has invented the puerh breathalyzer yet because I'd be in the can right now, except with my groceries and cane I can pass as a homeless bag lady stumbling around on a 24 oz beer buzz. I found a bench to sit on, and eventually the presence of mind to reorient myself with the sun's direction to find my hotel.
The Blog Awards ceremony featured fine gourmet hors d'ouvres and my favorite, traditionally air cured hard salami. I avoided the raw tuna and scallops. I didn't win my category, the sourdough blog won it. One of the Obsessive category bloggers told me, "I don't know why I'm listed in the Obsessives category, I'm just detail-oriented." Yup.
My tea started wearing off and the food resulted in a case of heartburn that I cured with a mint. One must be careful with food mixed together, some combinations just don't sit well. Just to be clear it wasn't the liters of tea, not at all.
In fact, I really needed more tea and asked Saveur's Digital Editor Max Falkowitz if he wanted to share a session of my Yiwu. He did. We went through fifteen plus rounds and he told me about a trip he is planning to Yunnan this weekend to document autumn tea with white2tea, so we have this to look forward to in the coming months. "I just want to continue to raise awareness about this type of tea," he said. Here are the steeped out leaves.
I'm incredibly grateful to all the people who made this trip possible for me, my sister, my son, my Steepster, Instagram and SlackChat pals, all the readers who contributed to the crowdfunding and t-shirts, and every one of you folks who read tea blogs and drink tea. They say blogging is a dying art. I'm grateful for the folks at Saveur for continuing to promote tea, the art of blogging, and for inviting an incontinent old tea lady to New York City to celebrate the best of food and drink. I still have part of tomorrow to enjoy the city before flying back to Wisconsin just in time for my annual physical. I'm working on the phrase "Doctor, I've been drinking a bit of tea..." We will see if I can get it out of my mouth this time.
Requiescat in Pace.