Friday, March 09, 2007

Anodyne on Gift Grade Keemun Gongfu and Top Grade Keemun Gongfu from Jing Tea Shop

I am generally quite fond of Keemun and must have it as a staple tea. But there is always the search for the Keemun that is performing in a certain way. The Imperial Tea Court's Imperial Grade Keemun Mao Feng that I tried most recently was just flat out too smoky. Not smoky in an unpleasant way by any means, but I didn't find it filling in with the other softer more seductive elements I wish to find in a Keemun (and especially in one in that price range).

I know some of us perceive smoky in different ways, but a Keemun like this Gift Grade Keemun Gongfu strikes me more as that "used tobacco box" sweet-rich-dark scent. Not smoky, but sweet and deep in the way tobacco scent will residually fill any container in which it used to reside.

This complexity of aroma and the way it spreads out reminds me of that image I've used before for a particular Yunnan aroma that had complexity and depth. Picture a silky brown scarf being tossed in the air. It unfolds as it descends revealing an inner pattern of golden threads mixed in with the deep mocha color. I think of the mocha brown base/bass color as that unmistakable Keemun aroma that sometimes edges on what I personally register as residual tobacco box scent (not smoke). The golden threads are the fruity and very light floral and honeyed notes that waft in and out and lighten the mocha brown, giving it a sheen. The body of the tea (that silky scarf feel) is quite smooth and pleasing, and it does leave a lingering aftertaste.

Smells are very evocative, and I suppose it doesn't hurt that the Keemun aroma sometimes takes me back a considerable distance in time to young love—an image and tactile feel of silky dark brown hair and a coat that smelled residually of sweet tobacco. Keemun is said to be a tea that gains a pleasant winy character with aging, perhaps like young love gaining a certain depth over the years.

Instrumentally, a complex Keemun is always a cello for me--particularly making me think of the Bach Cello Suites (Anner Bylsma). Many moons ago I wrote that a particular Keemun Hao Ya A was like:

… the deep resonance of the Bach Cello Suites, but played by Anner Bylsma on a particular Stradivarius "Servais" violoncello. I have been told it's the antique version of our modern cello. I have both the Bylsma and a Rostropovich recording of these Suites, and you can hear such a difference in the antique instrument—more depth and resonance, less refined, less smooth than a cello of today...more mystery. That is also this tea. Without the element of "top soil”—the stuff of life, this tea would be more the modern cello—smoother, but less resonance and depth and mystery. This Keemun Hao Ya A is the Suites played on the "Servais."

Going cup-to-cup with the Gift Grade versus Top Grade Keemun Gongfu from Jing Tea Shop: the Top Grade is a nice Keemun, though the depth and complexity of the Gift Grade does shine through in aroma and most particularly in the cup itself. I don't have the musical background to fully articulate what I mean, but these two teas give me the strong sense of Beethoven's Symphony #7 in A Major, Op. 92 in the Allegretto as I have it here on the Immortal Beloved soundtrack (this selection is the London Symphony Orchestra with Sir Georg Solti). You have that powerful driving musical theme that begins with strings and then with each progressive repetition fills in with more strings and then other instruments added. The Top Grade tea is this theme before it is fully filled in by the rest of the orchestra. The Top Grade carries the musical theme, but the Gift Grade adds the complexity.

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