Hello, Friday! I have a love-hate relationship with this day, on the one hand I usually have the whole day to myself because Ben works an awful 11+ hour shift, so it has become officially ‘my’ day, of course the hate part also comes from working that shift because it takes a toll….ICE CREAM TRUCK!!!! Sorry, as I was typing that an ice cream truck drove by, and I am still such a kid at heart that I get really excited by it, though I have not bought anything from one in years, last time I tried to they wanted $3 for a lousy snow-cone, yeah not happening. Anyway, I hate how pooped poor Ben is after his shift. Usually I prepare a favorite tea for him when he gets home, a giant mug or large teapot, depending on exactly how rough the day was.
Ok, grab yourself a snack or better yet, some tea, because this introduction is going to be a bit of a long one, it is time to finally look at some Hunan Gold…en Flowers! Yes, I am looking at that Eurotium cristatum encrusted Hei Cha from Hunan that was once trundled across the Tea Horse Road to Tibet in very large baskets. Oh, where to begin, let us start with the golden elephant in the room, the Eurotium cristatum, the golden flowers that give this tea its name. First off, trying to research this fungus is a nightmare, there is not a ton of information on this fungus out there, sure I can find a few reports here and there (including one neat one on finding a new species of Eurotium and Aspergillus in Chinese soil, and yest it was Eurotium cistatum) and there were LOADS of websites about EC extract and the tea itself, and all the supposed health claims related to it. This tea has a tendency to really squick people out, turns out we are kinda hard-wired to not want to consume things that have things growing on them, oh sure yogurt and other fermented foods are fine because we cannot see the growing things, but it gets super weird when you can see that it is still very much so alive. Not to mention that looking into this fungus will pull up a lot of bad info on the Eurotium genus, but basing the ‘badness’ of one fungus on the reputation of the whole genus is not always the best thing, I mean look at the Amanitas for example, a lot of them are rather toxic (including the very deadly Amanita virosa) but Amanita caesarea is a well loved edible mushroom, fungi are just funky like that, and don’t get me started on the Tomato/Nightshade thing! I could go on…and on…on this subject, but that would be bonkers, so next a bit on Hei Cha! Hei Cha means Dark Tea, it is the official term for fermented teas, including Puerhs, Liu Bao, and a ton of other teas that have a microbial party going on in their leaves.
So, finally on to the specific tea of the day, 2008 Fu Zhuan Tea Brick from PuerhShop, as soon as I opened my sample package (thank you to fellow Tea Drinker’s member, Michael for this tea adventure!) I had a blast admiring the tea, being a fungophile, the Golden Flowers are really quite beautiful, I had to show them off to anyone who would listen to me rant on the beauty of the fungal bloom, of course the sad thing was when this first arrived I had that stupid cold, so I could not try them (I mean I could have, but I would not have tasted them) so into a foil bag the tea went for safe keeping. It was a long, hard, wait, and not just because colds suck, but because this tea has been on my ‘to try’ list for AGES, because I am obsessed with fungi and this is a colony of the stuff. The aroma of the tea is incredibly woody, not so much a forest floor woody, but a steaming pile of mulch woody. There are also notes of leather and a touch of sweet pine loam. It is such an intensely woody smelling tea, the mulch notes remind me of a mix of oak wood and tanbark (which a quick look-up just informed me is oak, specifically oak used in tanning from all those tannins!) and I have mixed feelings on it, it reminds me of helping my grandparents with mulching their garden, good memories, not the best smell.
So, I brewed this in my gaiwan, doing my usual thing I do for a dark tea, specifically in the vein of a Shou Puerh, meaning I did a rinse (doubled up this time) and really short steeps. That first attempt was not so good, so I looked up instructions and altered my method a bit to only one rinse and a long first steep with very short later steeps. The aroma of the soggy (and not so golden anymore) leaves is so woody! Like a pile of stems and mulch, oak heavy with a bit of pine loam. There is also a bit of a camphorous almost effervescent quality to the leaves, even though it is super woody it smells pretty good. The liquid is a pile of wood, like lying face first in freshly rained on oak mulch with a pinch of leather on the finish.
I am going to just lay it all on the table, I do not like this tea, at all. I am not sure if there is something wrong with the tea (having never had it before, though I do have a different sample of a Fu Zhuan to try now sitting on my desk, convenient timing on that one) or if I just do not like it, so I cannot judge it on quality. Doing a little research on Fu Zhuan, it is said that the taste will connect you to the element of Earth in Chinese Medicine, personally I think I got kicked in the face by an angry Ent trying to impart lots of the element of Wood. It tastes like drinking mulch water (yes, I do know EXACTLY what that tastes like) mixed with leather and that same odd taste you get from chewing on the collar of your cotton shirt (and yes I know what that tastes like too, I was a chewer once upon a time) there is a touch of sweetness at the finish that reminds me of pine loam, that part I liked, but the woody and almost cardboard like aftertaste killed it for me.
I did a second steep, because you never know, maybe it will be really tasty! I have a Puerh that the first three steeps have to be tossed because they taste like the Asian market I bought it from, but oh man, the steeps later are amazing, so I am going to try some more. This steep is better, but I still don’t like it, which I admit is really weird. You all know that I love teas that are woody, and often say that is one of my favorite aspects of Shou, but something about this specific woodiness just does not taste at all right. I confess that I legit sad and cried into my tea, I tried a couple more steeps and did not like them either, I was so excited to try this tea and not liking it just hurt. I guess I can love every tea I try, no matter how badly I want to.