Gua Feng Zhai in a new space with a dose of David Bowie

It has been a little over two weeks on from my move, and I continue adjusting to the new space. As expected during this period of acclimation my tea sessions had fallen a little flat, when they happened at all. Moving was certainly a whole lot easier when I was younger before I had accumulated an inordinate amount of records and books. It seems our possessions have a way of sneaking up on us in the night, don’t they?

Today, I found myself more at peace with my new surroundings, even coupled with it being surprisingly hot here in Northern Massachusetts. While I normally tend to thrive in the heat, it did manage to throw me off a bit today. It felt downright nuclear on my patio during my preparation of the first steeping. It was barely noon. With that said, today still ended up being a good tea day.

If you’ll remember from my last post, I made note that the Gua Feng Zhai was my favorite wrapper from Tea Urchin’s Spring 2012 offerings. How wonderful then to discover that it was even lovelier to behold upon its arrival in the post.

In its obvious attempt to challenge my re-wrapping skills, the cake comes double wrapped. (Alas, my dear sweet cake, these are the once trained hands of a baker and chocolatier, so your challenge shall be met and conquered.)

Upon removal of the first layer, a pungent aromatic blast of a hearty young sheng revealed itself, possessed with just the right amount of sweetness to make my heart flutter. I actually believe my eyes may have also fluttered for a second à la Bugs as Valkyrie Brunhilde.

The leaves pulled apart nicely with just a bit of work from a well placed pick.

As the sip from the first prepared cup entered the mouth, it immediately sent a tingling sensation the length of the tongue to the top of the throat. It reminded of the effect of huā jiāo initially, minus the numbing. Upon consideration though, it seemed far more lively and effervescent, similar to a mouthful of Pop Rocks. And, oh, how this liveliness lasted throughout the session.

It eventually dipped into the throat, halfway down the length of the neck. And for a flash, it reached down a touch further. Even as the last few steeps rendered a pale broth tasting of delicate shades of floral sweetness, it persisted in the mouth, however faintly.

The broth quickly delivered an exceptional mouth feel which developed across the length of the prepared steeps. It evolved from full and penetrating, to coating and buttery. A thick sweetness pulsed out from beneath the tongue within the first few sips, and continued to swell. It was a pleasing compliment to the gentle ku which presented most strongly across the initial set of steeps, but lingered throughout the session.

Its rather expressive qi presented itself first within the head. It expanded from its center focal point into the brow and crown. At the height of its strength, it seemed to gently pulsate. Standing up quickly from a seated position left me feeling a little wobbly.

More interesting, however, was the latent ball of energy which sank into the middle of the chest around the seventh of eighth steeping. It sat poised just behind the sternum, where it seemed to slowly expand, threatening to make an outward expression of itself. A wee bit Alien-esque, I know. It does, however, properly explain the sensation. It was one of the more interesting sensations I have felt from a tea to date.

I took these leaves a good 12 or 13 steeps. It seemed to have a bit more to offer, however I felt thoroughly content with where it had taken me and decided to let the session end as my hands began to tremble slightly.

While I would agree with Eugene and Belle’s assertion that the Gao Shan Zhai is the pick of the litter out of the spring 2012 teas on offer –at least out of those that I have tried so far– this Gua Feng Zhai is certainly no slouch. I look forward to a few more sessions over the coming months, and then finding out where some time takes it leaves.

steeping listening: David Bowie: Young Americans

A 2012 spring Gao Shan Zhai, and a dash of wrapper appreciation

I haven’t had much quality time recently for taking tea due to an impending house move. Which as I recently commented to Bev of the wonderful Listening to Leaves, has made me just a wee bit cranky of recent.

Over the past weekend, however, I finally managed to steal some time for a session in between painting, packing, and donating. I decided on a bit of a sample from Tea Urchin’s Gao Shan Zhai spring 2012 cake acclimatizing for the past few weeks in a favorite earthenware jar. Amusingly enough, Gao Shan Zhai is the one cake that I hadn’t sampled from their autumn 2011 productions. So, unfortunately, I won’t be able to compare-and-contrast on this occasion.

The tea, however, in and of its self, was exceptional.

From the site: “This is our favorite Tea Urchin pressing from the first batch of early spring 2012 maocha. This Gao Shan Zhai puerh cake is pressed from un-pruned 300 year old trees and has amazing chaqi that is almost euphoric. Completely hand processed according to traditional methods and stone pressed in Yiwu.

The nose of the dry leaf reveals an exceptionally fresh, very green, and heady fragrance.

As the leaves awaken in the gaiwan the broth deepens to a limpid yellow, losing the smudge of pale grassy hues from the first two steeps.

The liquor is clean on the palate, accented by gentle floral notes. It is full in the mouth, coating the tongue. Where most teas I have had of recent presented a gradual arching into the sinus cavity, here its’ nature bolts straight through the hard palate.

This Gao Shan Zhai is incredibly vibrant, offering a well placed bitterness in the form of a prickling sensation along the length of the tongue. As the session progresses it moves to the back of the tongue. A mild astringent sensation reaches briefly into the throat and then dissipates. A gradually developing warmth replaces this slight drying, and spreads ever deeper.

The huigan is a significant aspect of this tea, dwarfed only by its dynamic qi. Wave upon wave of complex sweet notes rise from the throat with each exhalation, lingering at considerable length in the mouth.

The energy builds with measured pacing, rising out of the body with a suggestive sensation of pulling at the physical body. The shoulders and the upper back become warm and slightly damp, yet the core feels cool. Every pore is open and tingling, and physical awareness heightens. As the tea sinks further into the body, the middle of the back feels humid, yet remains dry.

Really, there is so much more to this tea than what I have detailed in the above notes. However, as time is rather limited, I chose to stay in the moment writing less than I would normally.

steeping listening: Dead Can Dance: Within The Realm Of A Dying Sun

I had planned to write a separate post drawing attention to a recent series of Tea Urchin’s wrappers that really struck a note with me. However, as I was finishing this post knowing the amount of packing and painting that the next two weeks hold in store for me, I thought it a good idea to tie it in to this post as the Gao Shan Zhai is one of my favorites. (And yes, I know the most important thing is the tea within the art.)

Eugene made note in an email that his inspiration for this series came from his sourcing travels in Yunnan. Happily, I have already found the inspiration for two wrappers from photographs in his posts. It has become a bit of a “Where’s Waldo?” game, which I am greatly enjoying.

My favorite wrapper of the series: Gua Feng Zhai by Tea Urchin

Yi Shan Mo by Tea Urchin

Man Zhuan by Tea Urchin

Gao Shan Zhai by Tea Urchin

Luo Shui Dong by Tea Urchin