; Cwyn's Death By Tea: Viaduct and Not a Chicken ;

Friday, November 21, 2014

Viaduct and Not a Chicken

Sometimes jokes are so old nobody gets the references anymore. You'd have to be a Marx Brothers fan to get my title here, AND a white2tea club member to know which tea I'm talking about. If you got both, you can stop reading right now and leave well satisfied for yourself that no explanation is necessary. The title here is a line from the old film "The Cocoanuts" (1929), the Marx Brothers' first feature film and one of their most famous vaudeville sequences of all time. The viaduct part is supposed to refer to resort property sales in the 1920's Florida land boom, and the sequence is an absurd number of English word puns crammed into five minutes of time. The end bit:

Groucho: Now here is a little peninsula, and over here is a viaduct leading over to the mainland.

Chico: Why a duck? (pun on immigrant pronunciation of vy for why)

Groucho: I’m fine, how are you? I said this is a viaduct leading over to the mainland.

Chico: All right, why a duck?

Groucho: I say that’s a viaduct.

Chico: All right, why a duck? Why a duck? Why not a chicken?

Groucho: Well, I don’t know why not a chicken. I’m a stranger here myself. I know that’s a viaduct. You try to cross over there on a chicken and you’ll find out why a duck. It's deep water, that's why a duck.

 Video link: http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4493024/the_cocoanuts_why_a_duck/

I'm asking "why a duck?" about the Duck Shit Dancong Oolong tea in the white2tea club box this month, but it turns out this tea has quite a history. Hojotea has a good article on the varieties of Phoenix oolong teas, and is a good source of buying this type of tea. the one we got in the club box is Phoenix Ya Shi Xiang 鳳凰烏崠 烏崠鴨屎香単叢. Supposedly the farmer didn't want anyone stealing the tea and hoped the scatological name would keep people away. But why a duck and not a chicken?

First of all, I can't believe I'm going online googling why a duck again. Earlier this year I became obsessed by Iron Chef Alex Guarnaschelli's childhood story of her food-obssessed parents hanging a cooked bird from their dining room chandelier for three days. I couldn't imagine what kind of recipe involves hanging up a cooked chicken or some such. I'm getting flashbacks of salmonella fears which caused me kitchen cleaning OCD back when my son was little, because of all the warnings on US television back then of salmonella on kitchen cutting boards and counters. So I had to know what kind of chicken recipe involves hanging up a cold carcass in the middle of the house. Took me months online to find out the recipe was, you guessed right, Peking Duck. It's, why, a duck! Not a chicken.
Oh Shit, this is all I got left...guess I mostly drank it all.
 All Phoenix oolong is not created equal. As with so many other tea leaves, we have a range in quality. The Duck Shit oolong comes from 350 year old+, mountain tea bushes grown above 1000 feet. Duck Shit is not terrace tea, and is known for complexity because of the growing conditions in the rocky mountain terrain. Duck Shit is not an easy grade to obtain, and is a higher priced tea accordingly. This is probably the reason why a duck and not a chicken, because Duck Shit Tea is not an ordinary Dancong oolong from ordinary tea bushes.

Hopefully you did not brew yours in the Yixing, because clays can kill a tea like this. Best keep it in the porcelain or glass gaiwan. I got a gaiwan full of luscious, huge leaves, and a good 8 steeps which is rather amazing for an oolong. Full of cherry fruit flavors on my tongue, my local reference taste in "stone fruits". I'm glad I chose to brew up only 6 grams to start and didn't binge in my usual tea drunk fashion on the entire 10 gram sample in one sitting, because the two sessions I'm getting here are precious indeed. But that leaves only 4 grams or so to photograph, cuz *hic* I drank it all.

A steaming pile.
But why a duck and not a chicken? It's deep water, so that's why a duck. Okay so duck in the tea name is at least partly explained by the rare grade and 350 year old trees. We haven't yet got to why TwoDog decided to open his new tea club with this tea. It's a good tea, but there is something naughty going on here. I haven't asked TwoDog, and I can't represent his true point of view and tell you for certain. But I am an old lady who tells stories about this area where we both hail from, about the culture, and stories might explain why I would think something naughty is going on.

When I was in 5th grade, I attended a three-room country school in northwestern Wisconsin. This school had actually been closed, but an overflow of students that particular year in my hometown led to busing students who were not studying a band instrument to an old school house located nine miles out of town. My father would not let me study oboe, nor any other band instrument because he wanted me to study piano instead. Not a bad choice, but it led to a year in a country school which infuriated my father who did everything he could to prevent me from being bussed out of town to no avail. You no take-a band, you no get-ta stay in town. It was a tough year for me in another way, my parents were going through an ugly divorce, not common then in my neck of the woods. But my teacher Miss Vallez was a new, young teacher just out of college and I liked her.

One day early in the school year, a boy brought a live muskrat to school in a garbage bag. He handed it to the teacher and it bit her on the hand. She was out of school for a couple of months and had no fewer than twelve rabies shots in the stomach. The muskrat ended up testing negative for rabies, but the test took a long time and she had to go through the shots anyway. To make things worse, the boy who brought the muskrat was from one of the four Polish families in town. And I was from one of the three others. Wisconsin Polish Americans have ways of embarrassing one another, the later pope just made it worse around here. And they aren't just rural situations, I read in the Madison paper of a Polish American guy who was caught by the cops outside a local grocery store with a pound of shaved ham in his pants he hadn't paid for. When asked about the ham in his pants, he said he couldn't remember how it got there. This is pretty much the same excuse that Muskrat Boy gave as to why he brought a real, live wild animal to school for Show-n-Tell. He got suspended for a couple of weeks I think.

Because of this, I can fully imagine some kid bringing Duck Shit tea to school because he thinks it's funny and it's really the true name! A teacher not knowing any better would think he's being naughty and send him to the office. The secretary would call his mother who would be angry, not because her kid brought Duck Shit tea to school, but because she had to leave work and pick him up.

It's irreverent. It's the answer to why a muskrat, and not a puppy. Every other kid is going to bring a puppy. Like they are supposed to. It's why we have Duck Shit tea in a brand new, high-end tea club box, instead of Emperor's Tribute Tai Ping Hou Koi. This is Wisconsin, not Paris. In Wisconsin, we can adopt city culture, new countries, go to the opera, and collect Rap CD's but guess what, the Chicken Polka dance will forever trail you not far behind, you can run from it but you can't hide. In Wisconsin, it's a CHICKEN and not a DUCK unless you go to China and drink tea. It's why the tea descriptions are spare and factual, why the pricing is honest, and why a tea is represented as only for what it is and nothing more fancy, but the wrapper will have some humor. This is a place where we're all so serious and obedient, and all anybody wants to do is mess with the expectations and get away with it. Or even better: mess with the expectations and come out beyond reproach.

This Duck Shit tea is beyond reproach, it's fantastic. And it's naughty.

Requiescat in Pace.


Just an aside to the school story, because when things can possibly get stranger in Wisconsin, they will.

I met my 5th grade teacher from that country school nearly 10 years later after the muskrat. At the time, early 1980s, I was a young nun assigned to a Catholic elementary school during my teacher training. One day at the school, a man with schizophrenia off his meds, inspired by the Prophet Elijah, came to the school after morning Mass with a shotgun and killed the priest, the deacon, the janitor and shot up the sacristy. The lunch ladies hid in the lockers. We barred the school until the man shot himself, and I'll never forget the sound of hundreds of kids wailing that day.

School psychologists were hired to be on-site at the school afterward to deal with the trauma. Kids were finding bullet casings in the parking lot for weeks. Saw the school psychologists one day in the teachers' lounge. And there was, you guessed it, my 5th grade teacher.

"Are you Miss Vallez?"

She jumped up and grabbed my arm.

"Who are you? I know where you're from, because I got married and only taught for two years under my maiden name." She was Mrs. Allen now.

I told her who I was.

"You know, I became a school psychologist because of you. You wrote an essay in my first year of teaching about your parents divorce as the saddest day in your life. I didn't know how to help you. So I went back to school for my master's degree two years later."

True story of meeting up with Miss Vallez, err, Mrs. Allen, after a school shooting. Also true: years later my name became Mrs. Allen too. For a time.

Like I said, if life can get stranger, or more naughty, it's Wisconsin's unique definition of entropy that it will. And when it does you'll be in the wrong place at precisely the right time. It's deep shit here, that's why a duck.


  1. how do you know the age/elevation of the bushes? did Twodog tell you?

    1. I took the approximation from the hojo article cited above. I'm sure TwoDog's tea would much much older, two thousand year old trees maybe? Ya think? :P

    2. You can't approximate the age of the tea trees based on the age of someone else's tea trees. It's like saying that a Yiwu is from 300+yr old Gua Feng Zhai trees because someone else sells tea from those GFZ trees. Duck Shit is a cultivar for Dancong, so there is variety in the market.

      Paul's Dancong is meant to be daily drinking stuff. Hojo specializes in top-notch Dancong (not unlike Tea Habitat) and prices it accordingly. It's not THE Duck Shit, but it's A Duck Shit.

    3. Duck shit is, first of all, taken from a rare varietal. The name of this tea also is a classification and grade based on fragrance and old tree origin. I haven't tried both teas from hojo and this one, so I am not in a position to say. I was being facetious about the 2000 year old part. I am glad to hear you are a club member also.

  2. I liked liked the duck sh1t tea too, but then I am always amazed at the range of flavours that can be found in dancong oolongs. Although it is very good I doubt if the sample is from trees that old or precious, but Twodog may tell us. In the meantime YS does a similar tasting duck sh1t tea too. I like the anti- theft theory, but I suspect the name may a ploy dreamed up by a marketing guru: who could resist trying a tea with a name like that at least once.
    Talking goodfellas and the white2tea club, remember Groucho's thoughts on clubs?:-)

    1. Of course I do :) "I wouldn't want to belong to a club that would have me as a member." Woody Allen references this line more than once in his work. I'm a person who brought "Horse Feathers" with me to the hospital when I went into labor.

    2. Now I'm wondering why you didn't title this blog 'Duck Soup' :)

    3. *hic* I definitely just had some duck soup! Maybe you can answer the question for me, why a duck and not a chicken? Duck Soup was actually the first Marx Bros. film I ever saw, by catching the last half of the film on TV and I didn't know for a bit who they were, and I tried telling people about the film to try and find out. Then a documentary on public television aired called "The Marx Brothers in a Nutshell," a minute into it and I knew it was then. I pushed Record on the VCR and taped that documentary. I noticed recently it has been added to Netflix. Anyway, I played the VCR tape for my dad, saying "this is what I was talking about." He enjoyed that tape so much he played it for everyone who came to the house for like 4 years. People had to sit through it whenever they came over. On that documentary I first saw that scene from their Broadway show "I'll Say She Is" (1926). This bit is on YouTube, how I wish we had more of that show!

    4. Why duck and not a chicken? Sounds like a Zen koan. I think I'll just smile as though I know and move on.
      The Marx brothers were in a wonderful line of comics who made the pompous yet powerful look ridiculous. From them, through Spike and the goons and on to Python and the Life of Brian. Thanks Groucho!

  3. Yeah I needed an excuse to post a Marx Brothers video and spend the evening watching several others. Seen all of it dozens of times but it never gets old.