With some excitement, I opened a sample of prized ‘Fu Cha’ tea. Fu Cha is a type of dark tea from the Hunan Province. It is NOT pu’erh (which comes from Yunnan Province). What makes this tea unique are the yellow spores that cover the surface of the tea cake (bing). These spots are a beneficial fungus, Eurotium Cristatus, which evolve through a ‘double fermentation’ process. The more spores, the higher the quality of the Fu Cha. There are many claims of health benefits: mostly to do with the unusually vital Mongolian peoples who remain in relatively good shape, despite eating pounds of meat a day. Of course it is their double fermented tea that is touted as the primary cause of this. Although, perhaps, it is more that they survive in a tundra landscape, while we sit in front of computers. I digress. Back to the tea.
Following instructions that I steep this tea as one would a ‘sheng’ or raw pu’erh, water was heated to 96-100degrees. The leaves were then rinsed briefly before the first steep.
While brewing, this tea takes on a hearty, earthy smell. However, the taste of the tea was underwhelming. There was none of the bitterness that often accompanies young raw pu’erh, but it lacked flavour. A “woody” note was about it.
Unfortunately, when we study tea we can often overthink. We expect the tea will reveal all its secrets in the first steep. And when this doesn’t happen, there is a feeling we have “missed something.” Fortunately, my supplier gently reminded me of the Zen approach to tea: that we shouldn’t expect anything. The tea will reveal itself when it is ready. And no two experiences are the same (ichigo ichie). I had to “empty my cup” of all preconceptions and expectations.
After days of foot shuffling and avoidance, I re-approached the Fu Cha with an “empty cup": heating the water, rinsing, and providing space for the tea (and myself). The result was a pleasant surprise: the woody note remained, but a real sweetness (fruits and molasses) came through. Lingering long in the mouth. It lasted a good seven or eight steeps, however, its deceptive gentleness was counteracted by a wallop of caffeine.
“If our cups are empty, the [tea] will fill them; if not, the [tea] will flow onto the floor and be lost.”