One thing has always bothered me about the tea world. Sheng Pu-er is supposed to be GOOD? Every time I’ve ever tasted it, it’s been totally DISGUSTING.
Today, I got pissed at myself for staying away from the Sheng, not doing battle with its ugly mystery just because it “tasted gross.” When have I shied away from a challenge?
Heck, people won’t realize that I’m a Cool Tea Manly Man unless I can choke down the stuff like a champ, right? So here goes!
I’ll be using my trademark Gongfu-for-Johnny set: an improvised gaiwan made from a Northwest Tea Festival cup and the lid from a broken travel gaiwan; and another NWTF cup to pour the steamy results into. I’m sitting on the floor, with a copy of this week’s Stranger underneath to catch the inevitable spilling. If all of this doesn’t bring out the magic of this tea, nothing will.
The tea is this tuocha, something cheap, not very old and sporting that acrid scent on the dry leaf that whispers “Beware, beware, I’m a young sheng pu’er!”
Not wanting to damage the blade of my precious pink Leatherman, I try to break off a chunk by hand… to no avail. Luckily the tea has already been broken into, and there is a pile of dusty leaves in the bottom of the box–just enough for a smashing brew in my NWTF cup.
I start with what I hope will be the ultimate palate-cleanser: jarring the leaves awake with boiling water for a 1.57 second rinse, which I drink in a single breathless gulp.
Whoah–this is GOOD! Those supposedly “cool tea cats” don’t know what they’re missing, throwing away the rinse.
But that sweet, pleasantly green seaweed-compost flavor and mouthfeel isn’t what I wanted from this experience. Where is the testosterone and toughness? Where’s the challenge in describing something terrible as “the best thing ever”?
I’m disturbed now, and realize that if I want the toughest, manliest tea in the world, I need to slow down and brew this dusty magic ad absurdam. So: boiling water and a leisurely steep while I clean newsprint off of my fingers and wipe up the excess spillage (good thing I don’t actually READ The Stranger, this one’s pretty messed up by now).
This brew, and the next few brews, are more like what I expect: hot, treacherous and bitter. By the 5th infusion, I hope to approximate a kuding level mouthfeel and stomach upset, but sadly even with my mad brewing skills this goal is outside my reach.
Now the sheng pu’er experience has done the truly impossible: made me even more of a man. Satisfied, proud and slightly sickened, I knock the spent leaves onto The Stranger, crumple it up and toss it out in the general direction of the garden, leaving the cups and spent leaves in the corner to rot until my next Gongfu adventure.
Best of all, I never have to drink this stuff again.