Gaiwan challenged, I am conditioned to flinch whenever I think of one. Scalded fingers in hotel rooms, on hiking trails, and even in my own kitchen have made me wary. I love the idea of the gaiwan: tea at its most elemental. Forget the steeping basket, spoon, or lowly tea bag: the gaiwan allows tea to be what Shen Nong experienced some 4700 years ago: hot water and tea leaves, married for a short while and separated at the perfect point in the relationship. This liaison can be repeated innumerable times if you happen to be so lucky as to come into possession of some Puerh, usually a fermented tea which is formed into cakes and aged for weeks, months or years before it is consumed.
In November of 2013, I was gifted with some raw, green, unfermented Puerh. In return, I promised that I would review the experience on this blog. The memories of scalded fingers made me procrastinate. My love-hate experience with green tea made me procrastinate. The fact that my most memorable experience with Puerh found me tea drunk on Belmont Street in southeast Portland – made me procrastinate. The fact that the cake of Puerh is a beautiful little structure in its untouched state – made me procrastinate. The fact that I will not review a tea if it isn’t positive . . . made me procrastinate.
The fact that my tea knowledge and grasp of the terminology is at the pre-primer level kept nagging me as I let the days and weeks slip away. Aged for a year when I received it, I figured the tea just gets better, right?
Although the beautiful cake of Puerh will never be whole again, it was worth the wait. Jalam Teas’ Zhang Lang is a very positive experience! The paradigms: For the first go: water heated to 195 degrees; 15 second rinse followed by a 15 second steep. Each succeeding steep was increased by 10 seconds. The first was a bit grassy, but a tiny bit metallic. Not unpleasant – more like a promise. The second left a lingering whiff of dried flowers. Through the next three or four steeps, the metal backed off and the flowers sprung forward. Each cup was followed by a more satisfying cup – sweetness lingering on the back of the palate – through the steeps until the sixth or seventh. Mind you, we are up to two minutes here, but I am dancing with impatience as I wait. Grassy, minerally, flowery – it was a fully enjoyable tea experience. A most pleasant surprise. Although I am certain this tea could handle 15 steeps, revealing a new personality trait at each step, I stopped before reaching that tea-drunk state.
Please visit Jalam Teas, where you will not only find a wonderland of teas, but also the stories behind them, meet the people who labor behind your loving sip, and a remarkable tea-of-the-month club unlike any other offered.
No burned fingers this time!
Images courtesy of the contributor.