I commute by bicycle, often leaving before dawn, and taking fire roads over the spine of the Santa Monica range before descending down to the ocean. Over the weekend a fire erupted on the hill-side just above Mandeville Canyon, consuming all the dead brush as it climbed up to Kenter/Canyonback. The fire crews were still mopping up this morning, but they ignored me as I pedaled past their staging area and over the blackened soil, still smoldering in places, smoke languidly rising to join the marine layer. Earlier, this same fog had pushed the hawks down out of the sky, one red-tail passing just 10 feet overhead before alighting on its prey immediately across the road as I climbed Mulholland Dr.
I mention these things in passing (as well as a Memorial Day weekend suffused with smoked brisket, Alasdair Fraser/Natalie Haas, and Laphroaig) as they all served to prime me for this tea:
Prepared in my Jian Shui gaiwan, and served in my porcelain tea cup via my glass cha hai. Filtered Santa Monica municipal water just off the boil throughout.
The dry leaves are pure pine smoke, but faint mineral and stone fruit aromas emerge from the wet leaves (possibly taking on some qualities from the un-glazed clay?).
Mahogany liquor; beach bonfire aromatics are more subtle than anticipated; delicately smoky flavor profile with a sweet vaguely spicy core suggesting sarsaparilla; not too drying in the finish, and free of any acrid notes, char, or heavy phenolics. Hints of peat, wood, and fruit in the periphery. Smooth and almost creamy. A well crafted hong cha, the smoke serves to elevate the best elements of the leaves rather than hide their short-comings.
A fairly brief session, forcefully punctuating the workday morning – 8 infusions ranging from 20 seconds to 2 minutes, though I would use more leaf next time if I wanted to push beyond 5 or 6 infusions.