Good news! The drought has ended. On Friday I took a bus down to Tacoma and bought a bunch of tea from Mad Hat Tea, which used to be my favorite tea shop. The local socialist group met there and it was full of cranky old men, including the proprietor Tobin, a proto-spiritual man who coaches rugby and who is more than happy to explain his quest for the divine to you.
But lately it’s been taken over by the young sort of pretentious artists are constantly trying to out-profound one another. A few of them I really am delighted by, but for the most part they are more concerned with being known as regulars at Mad Hat Tea than drinking fine tea or even using tea as a means to propel interesting conversation. I like the staff and that’s about it, these days.
The reason I went down to Mad Hat was because of this piece of work, which is being used for Wuyi rock teas. But so help me, I cannot find any to buy here in Seattle. You could throw a rock and hit a shop selling Taiwanese oblongs but god forbid I want something from the mainland. So if anyone knows where to buy rock tea in Seattle they should tell me, because it was not a pleasant bus ride.
I saved the teas for Saturday and brought my main tea tasting companion over. We made pancakes and got to work. He took pictures on the iPad, to his chagrin, and I brewed tea and ate pancakes, which made it a great day for me.
The first tea wasn’t from Mad Hat but I like it. He brought it to me from Montana. It’s a tie guan yin scented with magnolia and it is the easiest, prettiest smelling tea I have. There is nothing I can do to make it taste bad, unless I hit it with boiling water after four or five steeps, which makes it taste peppery for some reason? And to be honest I think that was the water in Tacoma, which sometimes came out brown oh mother of god.
The second tea was Wuyi Shuixian, and went as expected. It is all kinds of roasted, and in its peak it takes on an amber color. It tastes grassy enough but also has substantial mouthfeel. Who can say no? Delicious stuff, and the teapot is a great shape for it, not to mention the fact that it holds heat quite well.
The third tea was a Da Hong Pao, definitely not authentic, and really disappointing. The first steep was a ghost of what it could have been, sweet and woodsy and full. I used to brew bad tea and think it was my fault. More correctly, it was definitely my fault. This mindset is one I picked up from horseback riding lessons, where it is always the rider’s fault when something goes wrong, but I’m starting to get good enough with tea that I recognize now that sometimes you get a bad batch. I know this Da Hong Pao wasn’t going to be perfect, I mean, it was only eight bucks for fifty grams, and we all know the real Da Hong Pao is getting drunk up by Nixon’s descendants. But there’s so much faux Da Hong Pao out there that really, I don’t think it’s a stretch to expect good tea. It went about four or five steeps, all weak. I got it out this morning to practice more but I just don’t know about this, you guys.
The last tea was Bailin gongfu, the only black tea I love love love! We were tired and weirdly caffeine shaken at this point so we brewed it in what I like to think of “stacked” gongfu, wherein many ten second steeps take place, with half the tea being decanted at a time in a larger vessel (such as my gargantuan cha hai). The result is a full pot of tea, but with a little more complexity and interest that a straight, four-minute, large vessel brew. It’s stronger and smoother and can be done with any tea but comes off the best in black teas and in white teas.