I did long steepings with this for the first time, yesterday.
I freely admit that at this point I am extremely spoiled by my semi-gongfu double gaiwan style of steeping most tea most of the time. Working from home, and so having access to the kettle, all the hardware, towels, etc. means I can make great cups of tea all day every day.
So, on those occasions I make larger batches and do longer steepings, I have to remind myself that of course the results aren’t going to be as dramatic.
The balance in this tea just amazes me. Whether steeped long or short, the roasted notes one expects in da hong pao are always playing this complex game of tag with the more lady orchid type notes.
I was pleased to discover that while a Western steep doesn’t sparkle the way a gongfu steep does, the result is still a well balanced, excellent cup of extremely refreshing oolong tea.
I have my tea tins in a line in the cabinet and the same variety is in the same spot in “the line up” all the time. This allows me to find tea when not yet awake. :-)
The problem is that if I make a substitution, it is easy to forget.
In the wake of my purchase of Golden Fleece I have been a bit tapped out on Yunnan golden. I need to forget before I can order another dian hong and enjoy it.
Meanwhile, this order of pre-chingming da hong pao is in the tea tin that usually has Yunnan gold in it, and I’ve been avoiding it because I forgot what was in it (the label is on top instead of on the front, which I now know to fix next time I fill it). So, this tea has languished.
I started an argument the last time I said this, but I’m going to say it again anyway. :-)
I really want to enjoy this tea with high quality dim sum. People forget, I think, that “dim sum” is the food, but when you invite people to eat that food, you don’t invite them to “dim sum” you invite them to yum cha — drink tea. The food is an excuse to linger over pots of tea without having to get fussy with gongfu.
There is something about these “in between” oolongs that makes me turn to food thinking that the pairings will help differentiate the various aspects of the tea. Pork fat to bring out the sweetness. Red bean bun to bring out the toasted notes. Shu mai bring out the brothy mouthfeel. Steamed bean curd skin wrapped around savory vegetables brings out the floral notes.
OK… now I have to make plans to yum cha…
Used up the last of this leaf last night, and doing some last steepings this morning.
The past three weeks have been “Hatch season” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hatch_chile) here in Houston and it has been a powerful reminder to me about how much our society has lost about not only living seasonally, but also in celebrating those seasons. I blogged about this earlier this week.
And so it is bitter sweet to drink the last of a pre-chingming. Sure, next year I could get more (for all I know, I could order more of this year’s right now), but next year’s leaf is not this year’s leaf. It will not be exactly the same.
But, I think there is a certain joy which can be found in embracing what is present for what it is, and letting the unknown of tomorrow not only wait its turn, but then be embraced for what it is and not as a “replacement” for what has passed on into history.
The 2012 pre-chingming da hong pao was a genuine milestone for me in terms of understanding tea. It may not even be a great tea, I have no idea. But not every great tea teaches you something. And not every tea that teaches has to be a great tea.
I will miss this tea. But if nothing else, it has taught me not to miss tea.
I finally put my finger on what this tea reminds me of.
Lady Orchid (Lan Gui Ren).
That ginseng coating sweetness, and the floral hints with the roasted oolong beneath it.
This is far more subtle, of course, since it is the natural flavor of the tea itself, but that’s what it is like.
Considering lady orchid is something I more or less never drink, I feel rather chuffed that I was able to make that connection. It only took, what, four tastings? ;-)