With the arrival of the 2004 Peacock Village Shu, I feel that some sort of cycle has turned upon itself, and brought me back to the starting point of my love affair with pu’ers. When I first moved to China as literature and philosophy teacher at Qingdao University, and as a tea researcher, I knew almost nothing about the vast world of pu’er. For tea lovers, pu’er is truly the last frontier. When you have explored all the other teas out there, pu’er is waiting patiently to reveal its mysteries.
Qingdao has a tea district where all those most devoted to the culture would congregate. I used to go visit Wang Huiming to train in proper Fujianese tea ceremony. Every day I would pass a small shop filled to the ceilings with pu’er bricks, and a young tea-scout named Wang Yanxin. Finally I put aside an afternoon to visit Wang Yanxin and listen to her stories.
She got into the tea business when she was 20 years old, and started spending summers in Yunnan working with small growers, learning the pu’er trade, and tasting some of the finest bricks in the world. She is now 28 years old, and has quickly risen to become one of the most respected palates out there, and certainly the most formidable source for pu’er from small growers in the whole region. Most shops offer some decent quality brocks from Mengku, Haiwan or Xiaguan, but these big companies make it easy, grading their teas, printing catalogs, sending samples, etc. Wang Yanxin was determined to be different, and work with the small growers to bring something to market beyond what most in China had ever experienced. Despite having to go down to Yunnan every month or so to try new pressings, advise growers, etc, Wang continues to succeed.
So what does this have to do with the Peacock Village 2004? That first day I visited Wang Yanxin, I told her that I wanted to fall in love with pu’er. She told me that she would help if I was willing to visit twice a week until I understood. I readily agreed, and we started down the path of shu and sheng pu’er. She was patient, starting with the simplest bricks, teaching me to taste the major flavor profiles commonly found in pu’er. She showed me how pu’er steeps out in time, how it grows with age after being pressed.
Finally, I was beginning to understand. That was when she pulled out the first “Graduate Level” tea for me to try, the Peacock Village 2004 from Tian Di Ren Workshop. I fell in love instantly. Everything suddenly made sense. The lower quality bricks we started with all had a heaviness to them, a certain lingering feeling that was unpleasant. This brick was crisp, light and perfect. I was so excited to taste all the different flavors, and Wang was pleased to hear me describe them.
I may have had a lot of pu’er since the Peacock Village, but it has remained a favorite, representing one of the ideals that a shu pu’er can reach for. I made the call a few months ago to discontinue the Fuhai brick, feeling like it was almost what I was looking for, but falling just slightly short. I debated for weeks about what to replace it with that would be a step closer to my ideal, and finally remembered my beloved Peacock Village Shu.
Wang Yanxin actually tracked down 25 bricks for me! I am grateful to her for everything, and grateful to everyone for the chance to share this.