Not long after I started this blog I went to Beijing for a year of research for my doctoral dissertation. When I wasn’t in the archives or trying to do research, I was probably spending time thinking about, drinking, or buying tea. For the first half of the year I was there, I was obsessing over a slightly long saga of trying to get a tong of cakes from a shopkeeping girl in a shop that I chanced upon randomly. Long story short, she was, apparently, sort of side-dealing for the tea in question, and when I returned a week later, I was told that I couldn’t buy it anymore. I eventually got a cake, and after trying it out for weeks, finally bought a tong of it, seven cakes in all. It was the most trouble I went to in order to obtain some tea cakes. It was also the first real big purchase I ever did in terms of buying tea, and it was special, because this wasn’t (and isn’t) a tea you can just buy on the market. Because of that, this tong of tea has always occupied a somewhat special place in my tea collection.
I haven’t tried this tea at all since 2007, and the memory of it is hazy. I just remember it being very good – a nice throatiness, good qi, thick taste, nice fragrance. I checked on the tea a few times in the intervening years, but never tasted it. Recently, while talking to Tea Urchin about swapping some samples of teas, he must’ve gone through my entire archive and found this cake. I told him if it’s any good, I’ll send him some. Well, to find out if it’s any good, still, I need to try it, so here I am.
First of all, although lighting conditions are obviously different, this tea has darkened. The tips are now all a golden yellow, rather than white. The leaves are shiny and oily, and there are even more stems than I remember. That was one of the big question marks I had with this tea – there was a liberal amount of stems in the tea, almost abnormally high. I wondered how they’d age over time.
Using my trusty pot, I brewed some.
The result, I’m happy to report, is very satisfactory. The coolness at the throat is still very obvious – more than I remembered. The taste is still quite full and thick. The tea has obviously changed, and it’s hard to say it’s better or worse than before, but it is definitely different. It also lasts a long time – 3 kettles of water later, I was still getting something out of it, although it was merely sweet water by that point. All in all, I’m very happy with its progress, but I’m not going to drink it again, not any time soon. Back into the tong it goes, and maybe I’ll wait another five years before trying it again.
In the meantime, I wonder what happened to that girl who sold me the tea. She was training to work in one of these teahouses in Beijing, but I never heard from her since, and we sort of lost touch. I hope her family’s still making tea in Gaoshanzhai.