Thursday, July 13, 2006

Geraldo: Notes Toward the Achievement of Prolonged Pleasure (with Pu’er)

Recently I had the happy opportunity of visiting good tea friends in New York City. Several of us came from far-flung locations to drink tea and tour the city. We drank high-rated Shincha just twelve days after it was harvested, very old liu an, aged green teas, oolongs, young shengs, aged shu, and tea of nearly every stripe. Two of them, in my mind, were especially notable—aged shengs nearly a century old.

Our group met officially twice—once at a pre-party at a New York City teashop, and again the next day at the home of one of our New York hosts. On each of those two occasions, we drank the century pu’ers, and we enjoyed many, many infusions from them. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me to taste these rare treasures. After the second meeting, several of us met informally to tour the city, and our host had with him a portable tea set and a high-quality vacuum bottle. In the vacuum bottle, he had placed the so-called “spent leaves” of the aged shengs, and he had steeped them for eight hours or more in boiling water. We drank it on the Staten Island ferry as we cruised by the Statue of Liberty, and the tea was superb. We drank it again the next day after yet another eight-hour infusion, and again, it was fantastic.

I returned to my home in the Pacific Northwest determined to put to use what I had learned about overnight steeping of aged sheng pu’er. Generally I dip into my aged sheng collection about once a week, but in honor of my mother’s 80th birthday, last week we drank a different aged pu’er on four successive days: sublime liu bao received as a gift, Thirty Years Yun Lai (Clouds Arriving) #7542 from Sunsing, 70’s Grand Yellow Label from GrandTea, and 70’s #7532, also from GrandTea.

In each case, we used 4.5 grams of dry leaf, and we took, on the average, eighteen infusions from each. I decided to make a blend of three of these old pu’ers. I did not include the liu bao in the mix since it is different in nature, being a much darker, more fermented true black tea. I spread the so-called “spent leaves” of the other three aged pu’ers on dinner plates in my cupboard. They dried overnight.

I have a vacuum decanter that purportedly keeps beverages hot for twelve hours. It holds about thirty-four ounces (one liter). I placed the now-dried leaves of the three aged pu’ers in the pre-heated decanter and filled it with boiling water. Eight hours later, I tasted the results with my mom. The flavor and aroma were quite surprising; the tea was very lively and strong, almost too strong, but it was, nevertheless, delicious. From this experiment, Mom and I each were able to enjoy eight teacups of aged pu’er from leaves that in the past I would have discarded.

I dried the “spent leaves” yet again that night on dinner plates in the cupboard. The next day I repeated the vacuum pot brewing procedure. And again, after eight hours, when Mom and I tried the results, we were once more delighted with the outcome. The liquor was more subtle than the previous day’s, and the flavors were wonderfully nuanced with camphor, leaf mulch, and vanilla flavors.

In the next phase of this research, I shall make one change: I’ll use one-third less aged pu’er. The first batch of protracted-steeped pu’er was almost too strong. Instead of mixing the spent leaves from three sessions, I will employ the spent leaves from two.

Perhaps many readers of Cha Dao already were cognizant of this procedure for extracting everything possible from aged sheng. For me, however, it is an epiphany. Pu’er of this nature is not inexpensive, and I realized from early on that it is a marvelously generous beverage, but now I know a method by which I can prolong the pleasure obtained from every gram of this rare treasure that has captured such a central place in my imagination.

[[posted by corax at the request of Geraldo]]

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