Zhi Zheng -Bulang Peak Spring 2010-

Today’s tea: Zhi Zheng: Bulang Peak 2010 Raw Puerh (From the Zhi Zheng website: General Information: Pressed this year from early Spring 2010 pure, raw, ancient tree tea maocha from Bulang Shan. Hand picked, fried and rolled. Sun dried. Naturally post-fermented.)

Tea Urchin‘s blog post from September on “Making maocha with Zhi Zheng on Nannuo Mountain” led me to the Zhi Zheng site. I browsed the site periodically over the course of a few weeks before placing an order, as I seem to have developed an irrational fear of purchasing commitment in my later years. I finally decided on samples from two cakes from their aged collection, a Gedeng from 2003 and a Lao Zhuan also from 2003, and the Bulang Peak from 2010.

These samples, unfortunately, arrived with me at the beginning of my health issue mentioned back in the Gua Feng Zhai post. All but one ended up being stored on the tea shelves in their shipping packaging. I put the Bulang Peak, however, for some reason that I can now not recall, into a lovely earthenware tea jar I had purchased in Beijing from a woman with a beautiful little shop selling tea ware near Zhōnglóu. (She had some beautiful black pottery on display, including several teapots, that I was desperate to purchase… alas they were her own private collection.)

Upon removing the lid from the jar, the dry leaf inside gave off a sweetly vegetal aroma mingled with floral honey and some peppery spiciness. It was quite pleasing to the nose. When the leaves were placed in the warmed gaiwan the essences intensified and were accented with a flash of smokiness.

With the first addition of water to the leaves resting in the gaiwan post rinse, the newly forming broth was frothy and became significantly gelatinous. (Honestly, it had felt criminal to discard the flash rinse as it had appeared exceptionally clean and rich itself.) When decanted into the cha hai, tiny pearls glided across the surface before breaking on the edge or clustering into short-lived strings. The yielded liquor in the cup also exhibited notable clusters of foam, which remained static even as I moved the cup from side to side. The visibly substantial body of this tea remained consistent through 10 steeps before beginning to thin, leaving a thick glazing across the bottom of the cup.

The flavor of the tea was immediately rich with honey, fruit and floral notes which blossomed, morphed, and faded across the length of the session. A barely detectable trace of smoked hay lingered in the background with the initial few steepings. Notes were made that lily, grapefruit and persimmon were introduced to the palate at various stages. These were the easiest of the variations to define, but the profile extended well beyond. There was a particularly elusive character that came and went during later cups, which nagged at my mind even after I exhausted the leaves.

During the course of the first half-dozen steepings a high note of bitterness gently stimulated the tongue. While it was certainly no match for the power of last weeks Lao Man E, it did move through the hard palate and into the sinus cavity. Even when the dominant sweetness proceeded to intensify, a faint streak of bitterness remained and fluttered into the forehead well into the 8th and 9th steeps. A pleasant cooling sensation also developed within the first two cups, progressively flooding the full area from the upper mouth to the forehead.

This Bulang Peak concentrated the greatest sum of its dialogue to the front of the mouth and face until considerably late in the session when it slowly moved to the back of the tongue, eventually sinking into the throat. I had not before experienced this sort of reserved movement in a tea. I thought it was curious in nature. This ‘unusual’ characteristic may also account for its’ slow to develop hui gan. Once it had finally arrived it was quite giving and full, but it took some time before making its move. Its presence continued to linger throughout my mouth well into an hour after the last cup, as if to make up for its late appearance.

While mentally detailing the slightest nuances in a tea’s taste is enjoyable, part of me prefers to let some of that mystery remain in its shadows. I have found through time, and these blog postings, that I am considerably more preoccupied with detailing the distinctive, and at times elusive, nature of each tea. I take great pleasure in the experience of these expressions.

Compared to other recently experienced teas which flooded the mouth and throat quickly; this Bulang Peak seemed reticent by contrast, content to move at its own defiant pacing. Its qi unraveled slowly through a series of movements that in the end left my head feeling, to borrow a quote from Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine, like “fluff on the needle”.

steeping listening: Coil: Time Machines