Friday, June 23, 2006

Of Hongzarka and Shuzark: Cha Zui and the Secret Infusion

EDITOR'S NOTE: gentle reader, i confess i am at a loss for what to do with this submission. ordinarily CHA DAO posts are submitted only by one of our official contributors; this one, on the other hand, arrived quite literally over the transom, in hard copy, sealed in a mysterious manila envelope unsigned and indeed unstamped.

as the tale involves one of our own -- our esteemed and distinguished colleague 'chazui,' who [despite his eminent reputation in the world of tea] has yet [i note] to post an entry himself to CHA DAO -- i contacted him [or rather attempted to contact him] by email, to see if he could comment on the veracity of this narrative. very mysteriously, i have hitherto received no answer. coincidence? you must read on and decide for yourself.

***** ***** *****

While kayaking recently along a downtown Houston street, I spied, much to my surprise, an amber Chinese snuff bottle bobbing in the torrent. I floated up to it and retrieved it from the flood, and I saw that it was sealed with beeswax. I paddled back to my apartment with the snuff bottle in the pocket of my slicker. I almost forgot about it, but my spaniel took an uncanny interest in the hem of my coat, growling at the wet raingear and chewing on it. I then remembered the bottle, took it into my hand, sat down on my sofa, broke the seal, and discovered in the little bottle a very strange document written in a peculiar, spidery hand. It purports to recount the Zavarka adventures of someone styling himself “Cha Zui” as told by his student (?) Borcas. I present it here to Mr. Corax Cha Dao in hopes that he can shed some light on the odd incidents and tragic circumstances that this tale sets forth. I cannot vouch for the veracity of this story, and I can only repeat that I found it in a bottle carried in the currents of a flood.

*****

Cha Zui, subtle internet lurker and renowned TeaThinker, reads the tea forums on his Internet device (Cha Zui is a great internectual), and the ideas therein crowd into Cha Zui’s mind like happy and hairy simians scampering between the rows of the ripe oolong fields to pick those sweet, luscious oolong berries for which Oolongia has gained such well-earned and far-flung fame. Imagine, then, if you will, Cha Zui’s delight when he encountered the words of Jonathan Kandell, the honcho-fortissimo of the "tea-disc" Yahoo group, in messages numbered 12014 and 12015, said messages making specific reference to a recipe for tea extract called Zavarka, and replete with warnings regarding the sublimest narcotic effect (joy!) of tea extract on the human brain, an organ which Cha Zui can still, though just barely, lay claim to possessing on certain mundane occasions. One passage in particular caught Cha Zui’s attention:

"WARNING:
Never drink the zavarka undiluted. It has a strong narcotic effect,
causing intense heartbeat, hallucinations and restlessness. This
effect has been widely used by captives in Russian prisons and
forced labor camps, since tea has always been included into the
rations of the prisoners. The name of tea-based narcotics in the
Russian criminal slang is "chephyr". If you introduce Russian tea-
drinking into some non-Russian company, don't forget to label
the zavarka pot! Otherwise, ignorant people might drink its content,
and die of a heart attack as a consequence. You, in turn, may face
lawsuits or vendetta depending on the culture you live in."

Cha Zui, toes wriggling, read with growing rapture the means by which extract of tea can topple industrial giants, and stop hearts between a “lub” and its following “dup.” Cha Zui lives for this. His eyes dilated in anticipation. Specters haunted his peripheral vision, dancing and beckoning in seductive and prodromal waltzes. After reading through the messages several times, Cha Zui’s eyes lighted upon the recipe itself:

"I tried out a simplified form of the Russian zavarka method with some
assam, and the tea tasted really good!
You make the concentrate by mixing 2 1/2 t of tea with 1/2c water
(or 5t per cup). You let this sit about five minutes, like you would normally.
You mix 2T of this concentrate with a cup of water (8-10:1 ratio).
It may just be my imagination but the tea tastes fuller than the normal
one-step method. Not yet sure what happens if I use cooled concentrate."

Cha Zui, renowned tea extrapolator, considered that he had no Assam in his tea cavern, and cursed his vile luck. Then—guided by his luminous and ever-present Zen mastery—he found, in a dark crevice of his tea cavern, a rare clay canister fashioned by nubile and gymnastic virgins performing fantastic routines upon a spinning potter’s wheel. Cha Zui had gladly paid more than we shall ever know to see it fashioned. The resulting tea canister was fired in a Sedona vortex, and Cha Zui was only too happy to purchase it for the price of one more paltry mortgage on his oceanfront Maui condo. In this vessel reposed an exotic admixture, a veritable conflation, of Adagio’s Yunnan Gold and Jing Tea Shop’s Special Grade Dian Hong Gold. In the dark cavern, Cha Zui’s exhalations glowed, imbued with the light of his Zen mastery. “Yes!” shouted Cha Zui, “Yes!” And he raced up the stairs from the depths of the tea cavern, the stalagmites echoing and resounding as his sandaled feet slapped the teakwood risers of the stairs.
When he attained at last to the Hall of Tea Preparation, Cha Zui donned his favorite red silk smoking jacket, took a seat before the Scale for Weighing Only Hongcha, and portioned out precisely fourteen grams (no more and no less) of the fragrant blend.
“Borcas!” he shouted.
“Yes, master,” said I, for I myself am Borcas, devoted tea-servant to Cha Zui these past three decades.
“Borcas, run to the Chamber of Brewing Vessels and fetch from the Alcove of Porcelain Pots the big red one with the fascinating crenellations that I obtained most recently from The Purloined Pearl Teashop in that mysterious alley in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Hurry, Borcas.”
“Yes, Master,” I said, and ran to do his bidding. I brought him the pot, presenting it with a flourish, as such little gestures never fail to please him.
“Note, devoted Borcas,” he said, “how I am now adding eight ounces of boiling water to these fourteen grams of hongcha blend. I will steep it six minutes, and future generations of tea enthusiasts will intone my name with all the reverence and awe my intoned name deserves.”
“Yes, Master, future generations intoning your name, et cetera.”
“As you know, Borcas,” he went on, for he likes to pretend that I know things, “the general and common parameters call for one gram of Dian Hong per two ounces of brewing water. With that ratio, one can follow either the classical coraxian school, infusing twice for ninety seconds and once more for one-hundred and eighty seconds, or one can pursue the Petrovian path, infusing just once for three minutes. But I have extrapolated from Lord Kandell’s recipe for Hallucinatory (joy!) Zavarka and I will brew this esoteric admixture for eight full minutes and extract the rarest of all thearubigans, the very Forgotten Chord of tea intoxication. Are you following this, Borcas?”
“Yes, Master,” I said, for I like to let him think I follow things.
And so it came to pass that Cha Zui prepared the Dian Hong Zavarka (he called it “Hongzarka”) in the fashion he described, manipulating his vessels and tools with an elegance and grace that (had I a thousand tongues) I could not adequately describe, and so must leave to your imaginations. Suffice it merely to say that his skillful display moved me to tears.
When the Timer for Timing Only Hongcha chimed to tell us exactly eight minutes (no more and no less) had elapsed, Cha Zui poured two portions, one for himself and one for me, though I do not deserve the tea Cha Zui brews. Into his own chawan he decanted (rightfully) almost all of the extract; into mine, just two tablespoonsful. And then into my chawan he added five ounces of water (imported at great expense from Fiji!) heated to exactly to 195F and measured with his Fiji-water-dedicated thermometer. “Faithful Borcas,” he said, “you are not yet ready for the undiluted Hongzarka.”
We drank our Hongzarka then, he his pure extract and I my diluted version. To me it tasted in every way like excellent Dian Hong: malty, rich, and sweet, with a pungent fragrance of maple syrup. How the undiluted version tasted for Cha Zui I cannot presume to guess, but when he had finished his draught, he set his chawan down upon his tea table, sat back into his sumptuous nauga-hide chair (for which so many little naugas had given their lives), and whispered, “Any moment now, Borcas, any moment now.”
And indeed, Cha Zui was right, for but a moment had passed ere there erupted from his lips a thundering execration, followed just as quickly by high-pitched yelps and voiced bilabial fricatives. To my amazement, Cha Zui’s pupils dilated and contracted with a rapid, metronomic regularity, and his fingernails dug into the hides of naugas that upholstered his chair. “Yes!” he shouted, “Yes! Yes! Yes!” He fell into silence, but then a truly wondrous event occurred: Cha Zui levitated. He rose three feet into the air and hung there, slowing spinning counter-clockwise in the Hall of Tea Preparation.
After seven minutes of silent levitation, Cha Zui settled once again into his chair. A sheen of perspiration coated my master’s face. His breath came in rasping pants. He was able, after some minutes, to speak.
“Quick, Borcas!” he cried, “Run to the caverns and fetch the ‘98 cooked Meng Hai tuocha, the big one!”
“Yes, Master,” I said, and ran to do his bidding.
As fast as I could I descended into the Tea Caverns and located the cooked ‘98 Meng Hai tuocha, the big one, that Cha Zui keeps stored in a basket woven by a trained, blind African elephant, and I ran up the five hundred teakwood stairs, the tuocha safely ensconced in the folds of my student cassock. When I returned, Cha Zui had rinsed his prized crenellated porcelain pot, and fresh Fuji water was heating over the spirit lamp.
“And now, Borcas,” he said, “we shall create Shuzark.” By “we,” Cha Zui did not refer to Cha Zui and Borcas, but rather to his exalted self alone. Cha Zui often chooses self-reference in the plural first-person. “Hongzarka is fine, Borcas, and it took us almost to the place we wish to attain; but Shuzark, Borcas! Shuzark will rocket us into the realm of Gallocatechin dreams. Watch now, Borcas. Watch and learn.”
And I watched as Cha Zui brought forth the Scale For Cooked Puerh Only and measured precisely seventeen grams (no more and no less), having first diced the tuocha with Tai-ah, a saber forged by the legendary swordsmith Ouye. The royal blade sang as it bit into the Meng Hai cake.
“You know by now, Borcas,” Cha Zui said, because he likes to pretend that by now I know things, “that we commonly infuse one-point-two-five grams of shu puerh per ounce of boiling water, and the infusions normally commence at fifteen seconds and proceed through several subsequent infusions each five seconds longer than the previous until the diminishing strength of the liquor dictates somewhat longer infusions.”
“Yes, Master.”
“But to make Shuzark extract, we will brew seventeen grams of shu puerh in just five ounces of violently boiling Fiji water, and we will infuse it—ha!—for seven hours in the beautiful little Trudeau vacuum carafe that I obtained for one dollar at that charming garage sale in Huron, South Dakota.”
And so it came to pass, and once more I watched transfixed as Cha Zui performed his magic with his vessels and implements. Once more tears of reverence flowed down my cheeks. Cha Zui set the Timer for Timing Only Shu for seven hours, and we sat silently in the Hall of Tea Preparation, meditating on the zui of cha. Seven hours rushed by as though they were but minutes. When the timer rang, Cha Zui poured the Shuzark.
“We feel very good about this, Borcas,” he said. “We feel very good indeed. Because you are not yet ready, I will pour into your cup just one and one-half teaspoons of Shuzark extract. And because we are Cha Zui, we shall pour into our cup the remaining four and seven-eighths ounces.” And so he did as he said he would do, spilling not one drop on the sleeves of his red smoking jacket. Then into my chawan he added, significantly, six ounces of boiling Fiji water.
And we drank our Shuzark there in the Room of Tea Preparation. The arcane tea tomes in their rosewood bookcases quivered in anticipation, their pages rustling whispers one to another. We placed our bowls upon the tea table and considered the magnitude of what must surely happen next. To me, the diluted Shuzark tasted like excellent cooked puerh, sweet and clean and pure, but suggestive, nonetheless, of oak mulch and sorghum. How the undiluted extract tasted in Cha Zui’s mouth, I would not dare to speculate.
Cha Zui closed his eyes and tilted his head a little to the side, as if listening to a faint sound heard over a great distance. He said, “Can you hear them, Borcas? Can you hear them approaching?”
Then his eyes snapped open, but his eyeballs had revolved so that I saw only the bloody, ragged backs of his eyes, and Cha Zui saw only the wonders of his own cranial interior. He shouted, “Can you see them? They are so bright it hurts to look at them, and they caper and dance in such a bizarre jig!” By this time he had risen ten feet from his chair, and he began to spin counter clockwise again, faster and faster, until he became a spinning blur, and then a solid rod of Zen luminescence, and then the blinding segment of a line of white lightning, and then a bright point hovering over the tea table, and then—nothing, nothing at all.
This transpired eight hours ago, and I, devoted Borcas, have set down this account in my own hand. And I will seal it now with beeswax in the little amber jar which has rested so prominently on its own little podium beside the prized chasen of muskrat whiskers. In the Trudeau vacuum carafe, Shuzark steeps. In the crenellated pot, Hongzarka steeps. Before me are two chawans, empty, waiting, soon to be filled. Ready or not, Borcas will drink both extracts as fast as he can, and I (we!) will follow Cha Zui, and find him if I can, and bring him home again. Before I drink the extracts, I shall set the amber bottle afloat in the gulf—hoping that the names of Cha Zui and Borcas will continue in this plane, though we have both moved on to another.

*****

I must admit that the Narration of the Amber Snuff Bottle made me intensely curious. I doubled the Hongzarka recipe as Borcas sets it forth, and I drank it—but not in its undiluted state. In a wild experiment, I steeped thirteen-point-five grams of Dian Hong in seven ounces of boiling water for ten minutes. I used but two teaspoons of extracted Hongzarka in six ounces of very hot water to prepare a diluted beverage. I also prepared the Shuzark, and I drank that diluted too.
The tea prepared from diluted Dian Hong extract does indeed taste just as Borcas describes, rich and full of flavor. Likewise, the tea prepared from the shu extract is also excellent, and both can be prepared in sufficient volume to provide easy-to-make tea while one travels or is at work. There is, however, a point of diminishing returns: at some point the volume of leaf climbs and the volume of water declines until there is not sufficient liquid in the brewing vessel to pour out into the sharing pitcher.
As for the effect of the extract consumed in its pure form, and of the ultimate fate of Cha Zui and Borcas, I am not ready to guess, nor am I reckless enough to consider following them on that path. Instead, I shall forward the narrative along with this letter to Corax Cha Dao, a scholarly fellow who manages the CHA DAO website; he will know how best to investigate the strange events described therein. No doubt Cha Zui and Borcas are dead, their molecules torn asunder by their sudden and violent translation to the other side of the veil.


***** ***** *****

doubtless, gentle reader, you can see the source of my confusion and quandary. chazui is by all accounts a formidable personage, and well capable of looking after himself, but one begins to get a bit worried when tales like these are told. still, i for one cannot subscribe to this anonymous writer's supposition that he and borcas are no more. in any case, you may rest assured that i will pass along word of their whereabouts as soon as i have it.

meanwhile, on a much more commonplace note: has anyone else tried to brew zavarkas of china teas [hong cha or other]? i am interested to know whether it is as delicious as these notes seem to hint -- particularly as dian hong is of the assamica breed.

-- regards to all, corax

4 comments:

Lew Perin said...

That warning about drinking undiluted zavarka is identical to a passage in the wonderful Russian Tea HOWTO. For the warning, go here, but the whole thing is worth reading.

Nick said...

wow! I even don't know, what to say :)

I am Russian and since I met with the Chinese style of brewing, Russian methods seemed poor and uninteresting to me. But I see here... Is all the post a joke or You really find "zavarka" a good method?

Anyway, I liked reading the blog and the approach of all the participants. :)

corax said...

> I am Russian and since I met
> with the Chinese style of
> brewing, Russian methods
> seemed poor and uninteresting
> to me. But I see here... Is all the post
> a joke or You really find "zavarka" a
> good method?

nick, i waited to see if chazui himself [or his amanuensis borcas] would respond to your question, but they seem as elusive as ever. based on what i know of them, they do indeed enjoy the zavarka method. i myself have tried it since reading this odd narrative, and it does work very well with a golden dian hong.

that said, i agree with you that chinese brewing methods are remarkably good. should be; they've had plenty of time [and tea] to perfect them.

> Anyway, I liked reading the blog and
> the approach of all the participants. :)

i am so glad to hear that! i am very proud of CHA DAO and our wonderful team of contributors.

Sergey said...

This needs a film adaptation.