This morning as I was finishing a sample of Lao Man E from Tea Urchin, I made a peculiar mental note that I felt it was a ‘Diamanda Galas’. (I have recently been listening to an excess of opera lately courtesy of a nice collection of older edition boxed vinyl pressings I picked up at a shop for 2-3 dollars a piece back a year or two, so this might explain this peculiar note.) While some teas are Callas, Sutherland, or Berberian; Lao Man E is powerful, with the potential to be perceived as ferocious, quite like Galas.
Similar to my initial encounter with Galas’ work, I was completely unprepared for my first experience with this tea. Unlike other sheng pu full of youthful kuwei which I had previously enjoyed, this Lao Man E presented an assertiveness I could barely comprehend. I struggled to detect any nuances or complexities that session. I felt unable to discover any beauty. I had been truly overcome by this tea.
Galas’ The Divine Punishment had left me trembling in the wake of my first contact, and now, so had this Lao Man E.
I took some time away from the tea, just as I had with Galas’ recordings. I kept assuring myself that it had just not been my time to understand, or attempt to interpret, its intense nature. I kept it at the back of my mind, and the tea shelf, knowing that when I was ready I would return to it.
Without question this Lao Man E is a powerhouse, full and aggressive. I was knocked sideways before I could even consider walking away from the pot and cup.
I was ultimately helpless to resist it.
The tea’s bitterness provoked salivation without the slightest hesitation, and activated the wellspring beneath the tongue. My mouth tingled with energy.
It delivered a shock wave of qi straight to my head, sending my mind racing.
With each successive steep the flushing of my body expanded with increasing heat until my palms had dampened. My hands and feet gradually began to tingle.
The tea’s nature wrestled with any remaining resistance I could manage.
It reasoned with my palate, and explained itself with spirited complexity.
The profile exhibited fleeting notes of citrus and floral, possibly rose, maybe lily, or perhaps peony. Honestly, my buzzing mind struggled to make sense of the language of its flowers. I detected what might have been fig, or date, at one point. The bitterness slowly began to yield an increasingly rounded sweetness by the later steeps and suggested what I noted as candied almonds at various intervals. It gifted me with a graciously abundant hui gan.
In short, the tea made perfect sense to me at the end.
It made me a convert.
I am still feeling elements of this tea some time out from my last cup. Even transcribing my notes started out as a bit of a challenge.
I have to say that had it not been for the impassioned post on Tea Urchin’s blog expressing his love for Lao Man E, I might have not attempted to get to grips with this tea a second time. It is necessary to have your spirit occasionally rattled to its core. It reminds of the need to keep learning, as I continue to do so with each new tea, just as I had back in the mid-Eighties when confronted with another brazen entity, Ms. Galas.
steeping listening: Pierre Henry: Futuristie