; Cwyn's Death By Tea: Clay, and 2016 CYH Mahei ;

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Clay, and 2016 CYH Mahei

Our February this year is a confusing mix of warmer spring-type weather, think April, alternating back to winter. Best to ignore the weather now and fold myself into my puerh hobby. If you have a lot of puerh tea, free time spent in the company of your teas is time between worlds, somewhere between the places of home and work. I imagine our tea hobby is somewhat comparable to greenhouse gardening of orchids or roses when paying attention only to the plants and what they are saying to us. 

Slipping into the space of puerh tea is like raising a hooded cowl over my head, seeing neither sideways nor above, just a narrow focused meditation, the work of observation. I feel I am moving backwards in time, through my farming ancestors to the medieval times and even further in the human act of storing food in ceramics as I store my puerh in crockery. How much we have in common with all of humanity that has ever lived, observing our stored tea in the same fashion as herbs, vegetables and teas are through the centuries. We communicate faster than light now, my tea collection welcomes me back to earth from cyberspace. 

Lin's Ceramics Tea Ware
2016 CYH Mahei puerh tea in the cup
Last week I read an interesting article in  The New Yorker about ancient clay crockery (M. Bjornerud, 2017). You might have seen this article as it has appeared on a number of websites. Of course The New Yorker is not a scientific journal, but the ideas are interesting. Pieces of ancient crock jars are used in experiments to measure changes in the earth’s magnetic field. This field is what reflects back radiation from the sun and outer space. Apparently the magnetic field in the atmosphere varies from strong to weak, and we are currently in a weak cycle. When this happens, more Carbon 14 is available and shows up in clays which appear younger because of the extra carbon. But when the magnetic field is stronger, the clays appear older. Clay from ancient Judah bore tax stamps which allow for close dating even before the clay is analyzed. Clay pottery tells its story because the firing cycle of hot/cool locks in the iron oxide into a stable form.

Concentric incision on a jar handle
from Ramat Rahel, modern-day Israel
Photo courtesy Oded Lipschits
Reproduced in The New Yorker 13.2.2017
You may have seen this image as it appeared in most other articles on this topic, such as in the Daily Mail. I like this jar handle which reminds me of my clay teapots and redware crockery. In fact, somehow this handle evokes my Lin's clay boiler kettle in the photo above. I don’t know what effect, if any, variations in the magnetic field captured in clay might have on puerh tea, either stored tea or tea brewed in a clay teapot.

I wonder if pottery truly has a magnetic field and whether minerals in water interact with that field and have any effect on the flavor. Certainly my tea friends have explored mineral waters for brewing. Tea people think minerals in water add something to the flavor of the brew. But a potter has more hands-on insight into clays. I think of my potter friend Inge Nielsen who makes iron clay teapots that I like to hoard. I message her to ask if she saw any articles like the one above. and turns out she already has. “Like a tape recorder,” she says of the clay.

So with my hooded cowl I channel the buzzing magnetic field in my teapots. Good tea and bad does not get any worse, but I feel glad now for my crock storage. I wonder how my tea will taste someday when compared with a pumidor like the one I previously had, lined with plastic. Will my crock tea have a magnetic field that rocks the drinker off her feet? Maybe the field is linked to hoarding behavior. Perhaps my brain is affected by all this magnetism and I am inexorably drawn to buying more tea and clay tea ware. I am not right in the head to be sure. Now that I think of it, I really started hoarding after putting my tea in all these clay jars and crocks. I did not have big problem before. No, this cannot be, for I have plenty of hoarding friends with pumidors and nary a clay shard in the house. The tea is fully to blame.

Speaking of which, I just tried a bit of my sample of 2016 Chen Yuan Hao Mahei sent by a friend last month. This is a rather generous sample, so I still have half of it left after picking out 7g to drink. The leaves are long and pretty and not easy to carefully stuff into a taller teapot. I brewed my water in a Lin’s clay kettle to get an extra dose of earth's magnetism. Earth's magnetism will surely be linked to a longer life span and possibly greater sexual libido by some tea company very soon. 

Long Leaves are always a turn-on
Teapals is no such vendor and the 2016 CYH Mahei is still available for purchase by sample, cake and tong. The description states that the tea lacks any bitterness, and to get more qi one can “soak” the tea. This suggests that perhaps the tea dies out rather quickly. I did not rinse the tea, and am glad because the first fragrance is orchid-like and fruity, which dissipates quickly in subsequent steepings. The leaves look a bit oolonged on a few, with red edges, the description emphasizes the sun drying and lack of char, but I wonder if the chaqing was short to preserve the floral sweetness of these leaves. 

Amber first steeping.
The brew is pudding thick and sweet with not much astringency. I get a bit of qi along the back, and increased visual acuity but I drank on an empty stomach which magnifies tea effects. The flavor is all top note floral and fruity, with not much underneath. This is a grassy tea, and to be fair is still less than a year old. After the fifth steep the tea died out markedly in flavor. I “soaked” the tea as recommended and got some sweet/sour bitterness. The brew looks right with the golden color, but this seems like a prime loose leaf green at this stage and skews vegetal after the initial beautifully floral nose.

Some reddish leaves in the pile.
Again, reserving some thought that the tea is less than a year old and perhaps still needs to settle in, I worry about my ability to store this sort of tea. My conditions are on the drier side which could easily fade this tea or turn it sour. On the other hand, too much humidity will kill it. You can find lots of examples of Mahei Yiwu teas on the market, such as from Wymm Tea or puerh.sk of varying quality. This CYH is certainly a decent leaf, but at the outset I am missing some lower notes. The leaf might do better in a blended cake, giving the drinker something to enjoy now in the somewhat oolonged Mahei leaf, and then something else from a different leaf down the road that ages well, yet more darkly bitter when young. CYH has a history of offering Mahei in blends in the past. I need to try this again in another year perhaps. Certainly my storage will speak to me at that point. I will either have a sour brew on my hands or the tea will steep out longer than five steeps as it settles.

You can get a 75g sample of this tea for about $40, and a 357g cake is about $180, making this tea one of the less expensive options in Chen Yuan Hao. Looking at the other CYH teas from last year, the high end teas like the LBZ and Guafengzhai, and even the Mansong are long gone. The fan base for these productions will jump on the good stuff early, and they have the money to spend. This Mahei tea falls clearly in the middle drinker range and probably is not what the typical CYH buyer is after. But as an example of a nice fresh Yiwu, you can do a lot worse.

Early 2017 spring greens are already showing up on sites like Yunnan Sourcing. The season is right around the corner. This reminds me I need to tackle my sample stash, and soon before the samples dry out. I will try and post any interesting ones I find.

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