Queued post, written June 4th 2014
Auggy sent me some of these Lahaha touchas. Three different kinds, although one of them is one she’s shared with me before. I think they’ll be used on Wednesdays primarily. It’s no use sharing them with Husband, as he’s very unpredictable with puerh. He’ll find it quite nice one day and then the next day find the exact same tea brewed in the exact same way unpalatable. The only exception being Nothing But Tea’s orange puerh, which he found consistently nommy. It’s a waste of time to continue to gamble with it, so I’ll just drink them on my own from now on.
I thought this time, since I’m starting fairly early in the day, I would try and do it properly in my gaiwan. Yes, I actually have one of those! I just never use it, because I can’t get the hang of it without spilling or burning my fingers. I’ve practised by filling it with tap water and tried handling it, but I don’t think my hands are screwed on correctly for that sort of thing. It’s a plain yellow china thing, quite simple and quite cheap. When I bought it there were other much prettier ones available but I went cheap because I wanted to see if it was something for me before I invested what I recall as being nearly twice the amount of money. Today, being unable to make it work, I’m glad I went cheap. Even cheap and plain yellow, though, it’s still an attractive piece and it lives on a display shelf. You can all keep all your fancy yixing. I find china a far prettier material. :)
Now, let me see. I decided to give it a shot again today. Hopefully I won’t get too frustrated by the spilling and burning of fingers, so I took it down and dusted it off. I’m completely unused to writing posts this way. I’ve always felt like it too easily becomes too annoyingly list-like and I don’t much enjoy reading lists myself. I’ll do my best to flesh it out a bit as I go, though.
10 sec: It smells salty and starchy, primarily. There isn’t much flavour to speak of. It’s mostly sort of mineral and with a bit of wood in it, but there’s a fairly strong aftertaste of uncooked rice. I suppose this is what most people would just discard, but there was nothing unpleasant in it, so I don’t see why. Just a bit thin.
10 sec: There’s a lot more going on here. It’s got a properly dark colour now. It still smells salty and starchy, but now it also smells rather mushroom-y and earthy. It’s not quite the farm animal note that I’ve mentioned earlier that I require(!) but it’s getting there. The flavour is still mineral and wood-y notes. I’m not actually getting any rice at all, save for a bit of uncooked rice in the aftertaste. Not nearly as much of that as before, though.
What is the ‘rice’ part of these puerhs, by the way? It seems to be a fairly common variant, the sweet rice or sticky rice. Is it something it does naturally or is is flavoured or is it because of something completely different? Explain.
12 sec: How do I know when it’s time to increase the time? It seems most people go 10/10/15/15 and then larger increments from there, but surely all teas are different and with different requirements? Surely you can’t really standardise this sort of thing? So how do I know? Or am I overthinking it too much? Does it really matter?
Uncertain of whether to do another at 10 seconds or go up to 15 seconds, I compromised at 12. :) I can’t believe I’m actually bargaining with myself. Oh well.
It smells quite salty at this point, but not so much starchy. The uncooked rice that I previously only really found in the aftertaste is there in the aroma now as well. It’s completely overwhelming the previously mentioned notes of mushrooms and earthiness. That’s strange. It feels a bit like having taken a step backwards. As though this steep and the previous has been swapped somehow. The flavour is stronger now and very different. It’s far more wood-y and leaves a wood-y reddish aftertaste. There’s a bit of salt in there as well, but the uncooked rice has gone from the aftertaste. It has a sharp stab of nearly bitterness as well, which is a little unpleasant. I’m not really enjoying this particular steep much.
This tea is beginning to strike me as rather disorganised… On the other hand, that gives me hope that the unpleasant note in this steep will miraculously disappear.
15 sec: The aroma is the same here. Salty and kind of uncooked rice. It does also have a touch of something that feels like it might be that unpleasant note from before. sigh. And yes, that’s still there in the flavour as well. It’s still unpleasantly sharp, perhaps even a bit tangy. There is now also a rice-y note to it. Not the uncooked one, but a more sort of a cooked rice note only not as starchy. Does that even make sense?
It seems to me that people who prefer this method often say that they enjoy the way the tea changes character gradually and that they get so many more details from it. I’ll give you the details, yes. Those are more clearly identifiable, but other than that… These first few rounds may sound like they were quite different, but really the changes were very subtle. I’m not really ‘getting it’ at this point. So I’ll press on.
15 sec: The aroma is still more or less the same. Salty, uncooked rice, but also a wee bit of mushroom now. The flavour has changed, though. The unpleasant note is gone or at least significantly diminished and there’s a strange sort of sweetness that has appeared. It’s just a little bit. Other than that it’s mostly wood-y notes but still with a bit of cooked rice in it.
20 sec: Having increased the steeping time, the colour is now much much paler and transparant! I was not expecting that, really. It still smells salty and rice-y, but the mushroom is in front now. Lots of mushroom aroma here. The comparatively pale colour seems to be an attempt to set me up for trap (Gosh! Gallopping kitty, coming through!) because it’s actually got a stronger, deeper flavour now. That unpleasant note seems to a thing of the past (hurray!) and the flavour is also fairly mushroom-y. There is still a good deal of sweetness, which shows up on the swallow and to a degree in the aftertaste, along with the rice-y note.
30 sec: It’s still quite pale compared to the first few gos. About the same colour as the previous steep. Is this normal? I would have thought it’d take longer before it started losing colour so significantly. It doesn’t smell as salty any longer, but still quite a bit like uncooked rice and again a bit of starch. The mushroom-y note has gone from the aroma again. Fickle, that one. It’s not there in the flavour either, but the bit of sweetness that was there before is much more prominent now and it’s present in the ‘whole sip’ if you get what I mean by that. I can taste it from the moment the tea enters my mouth and until I swallow. It’s fairly strong now, the sweetness. I can’t really identify it other than that. Something sweet. I don’t think it’s caramel-y or vanilla-y or honey-y or anything. If it is something it’s plain sugar, but even that doesn’t really seem accurate to me. Apart from that, there’s a bit of a wood-y note again, but the flavour seems a bit thin in general.
How many steeps was this? 7! Gosh! Perhaps the loss of colour is not so surprising after all. Because they were so short and I only get three mouthfuls each time, it feels like I’ve barely steeped it at all.
45 sec: Even paler now. Perhaps I’m increasing the time by too small bits? I’ve laid a plan, though, and I intend to follow it. The aroma is the same as the previous one, but there’s less of it. The flavour is quite thin as well, and all I’m really getting is a bit of lingering sweetness. Moving right along.
1 min: This one was quite similar to the 30 seconds steep. It was a bit stronger than the previous one both in flavour and aroma, but other than that, nothing new happened.
1 min 30 sec: Ow. Burnt my fingers. And here I was doing so well. The tea is even paler now. I wonder if it’s getting close to being used up. How many of these tiny steeps is it normal to get? The aroma is moderately strong again, with mushroom-y notes and a bit salty. A little bit of uncooked rice as well, but not super much. The flavour is pretty much just hot water, though. I’ll give it one more go and see if I can get anything. If not, I think this is where we call it quits.
2 min 30 sec: Yes, this is exactly the same as before. A little more starchy on the aftertaste, but that’s really all there is to it. I think we’re done here.
So, to sum up. Fairly sweet notes of rice both cooked and uncooked. Quite salty as well more or less all the time and occasional fickle notes of mushrooms that may or may not deign to show up.
At no point during this did I get anything resembling the strength of tea that I normally prefer. I always thought it was a bit on the thin side and would have liked to have fuller flavours. Perhaps it’s because I’m so used to a Western style brew. This method is rather too delicate and dainty for me, really. That said, I thought it was fairly succesful today. I didn’t spill too much and I only burnt my fingers on the last couple of steeps, most of which were really too thin to be worth drinking anyway.
I don’t know how to rate this. I’ll have to try a Western brew as well, I think. It definitely won’t be today, though. I’m very ready for something completely different.