Foxfire Teas

You Think You Know Yunnan?

Oh, hi.

You’re still here. Damn…have you been waiting long? Two months? Really?! Ummm…

Yeah, I had…uh…Carpal-depress-‘o-flu. It’s contagious. I’d stay back if I were you. Now where were we…January? Ah, yes.

To say it’s been a rough Winter is an understatement. I spent three weeks of it on my second bout with “Le Plague”. This put an even greater delay on my tea reviewing schedule – even well beyond the usual procrastination. One can’t really judge a drink when they can neither taste or smell. However, there were some strong contenders that braved the challenge.

Along with my usual morning matcha routine, I also attempted to drink copious amounts of white tea. I figured, if I couldn’t taste anything anyway, a good white tea won’t really matter. Most people can’t taste the stuff anyway unless they over-brew it. I can…but I’m “sensitive”.

There were three Yunnan white teas I had at my disposal. One was a rougher white known as Yue Guang Bai. Loosely translated, it means “Moonlight White”. The process for making it is slightly different than other white teas. Instead of being dried like other teas, it instead goes through a process (I’ve heard) that is similar to maocha (proto-pu-erh). It shows in the initial taste – rough, leafy and slightly earthy.

The second on hand was a favorite of mine – sun-dried buds from the Ya Bao (Arbor) varietal. The stuff reminded me of a Greek Mountain herbal infusion on smell and sip. As for the buds, they always looked very un-tea-like, but – man! – could they take a beating! I could boil the heck out of ‘em and still get three infusions-worth.

And speaking of boiling. Good ol’ Chuck – the husband half of The Jasmine Pearl Tea Merchants – corrected me on an assumption I held that only Fujian-produced Silver Needles were the best. He brought forth one that was produced in Yunnan, looked exactly like the Fuding/Fujian stuff, and smelled five times better. As in, the leaves actually had a smell. Citrus, as a matter of fact.

So what is an indecisive sick boy to do when he can barely taste anything through his congestion? How does he choose which white tea to go for? Answer: He doesn’t. He mixes the three together.

The result was…well…I couldn’t tell you exactly what it tasted like because I couldn’t really discern much past my clogged palate. What I can tell ya was that I did taste it? Quite a bit! That says something about the strength of these Yunnan whites. What’s even better? When I brewed ‘em up in a pot, I used boiling water. This doubled their taste output.

I only did a pot of all three once, and I’m not entirely sure why I didn’t try it again. Perhaps, now that my nasals are clear, I’ll revisit the unprofessional blend. As it stands, though, Yunnan whites are quite the powerhouse to the palate. Even a sickly one.

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Wednesday, March 21st, 2012 Steep Stories No Comments

Tea Like Leather

It’ll probably help to picture the voice of Sam Elliott narrating this as one reads further. I found that to be the quickest way to get through it. Of course, I picture Sam Elliott narrating everything I write. Because…well…he’s Sam F**king Elliott. Anyway, let’s begin.

The rain was falling pretty hard; the chill in the air could cut right through your pores. Traffic was a mean mistress – construction on the road, an even meaner spouse. The destination was near, but I was always a turn or two away. There’s a message there…somewhere.

I was meeting Dave and crew for our now-weekly round of brew. Such meet-ups were becoming a favorable addition to the grinding schedule I kept. This time we were notching off ol’ Foxfire Teas – a place I hadn’t been back to since…come to think of it, I don’t remember when. I recall it being a pleasant enough place, just difficult to get to. For some reason, it seemed worse now. Parking was a near disaster.

On the walk there, I saw an unusual site – a striking blonde woman in knee-high boots smoking a curved briar pipe. Whatever sour mood I had drifted away at that pleasant dichotomy. I almost wanted to ask her if she was puffing Cavendish but thought better against it.

When I finally found the right door, Dave was already there yacking it up with the owner. I came barreling in out of the cold, bitchin’ about the parking. Hardly the makings of a good re-introduction to a vendor. I said my “howdy”-s and bee-lined to the menu. First thing to catch my eye were the “Sun Dried Buds” in the pu-erh section. I asked the owner for a whiff, and he kindly obliged. Lemon and wilderness greeted my thankful nostrils.

Several sniffs and a cup of four-year-aged Chinese black later, Dave and I were introduced to something entirely different. The owner described it as a Yunnan black tea with a slightly different character called “Imperial Feng Qinch”. The taster notes on the menu compared it to leather. Dave was captivated while I shied from it in favor of a white. That said, I still stole a sip. Ten minutes later, I was driving home with a 1oz. bag of the stuff.

I didn’t brave the brew until a week later. The leaves were so thin and gold one would think they were prospecting for slivery veins in the Sierra Nevadas. The aroma was all pepper, prairie, and bootstraps. I don’t even wanna know how they managed so rustic a presentation. All that remained was to subject it to…my style o’ brewin’.

More often than not, if the leaves look delicate, I treat ‘em as such – like a lady. Having already experienced the bite on this missus, I knew it needed steadier grip. I opted for 1 heaping teaspoon in 8oz. of boiled water. And instead of my usual paltry three-minute infusion, I went with a full five. If she was as tough as thought she was, she could take it.

The soup brewed to the color of rusted copper, but with a glimmer of sunshine to it. Steam rising from the mouth invoked feelings of sun-parched earth, sagebrush, rawhide, and farm country. The taste was dry and smoky on intro and graciously followed that up much-touted leather. A curtsy of malt ended the whole show.

This was one deceptive beauty. Needle-like gold leaves did not make for a thin, gentle brew. This was made to wake you up with the morning dew – preferably after sleeping outdoors. I still have no idea what “Feng Qing” means, and I don’t feel I need to look it up. As far as I’m concerned, it’s like feng shui…

Only for men.

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Monday, November 21st, 2011 Steep Stories No Comments

I work for tea money.

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