Part III: Party time!
On the 16th of June, to say that my morning was hectic would be a gross understatement. I was fortunate that none of my arteries burst. The day started early enough to make sure that the posters were re-printed and the freshest berries, fruits and orchids were obtained. The big items were easy to handle. The small details, on the other hand, were murderous.
I am glad that my lovely wife was able to help put things in perspective by slinging jokes that made me laugh about whole thing. She endured some of my frustrations. If it wasn’t for her wit…
After fetching the 2 hired helpers from a nearby Chinese restaurant (I had made the arrangements with the boss of the establishment weeks before), we arrived at the P.A.M. at around 12:20pm. We were late. The Museum was already bustling with workers placing the tables, chairs and umbrellas in the courtyard. Guang and the Wu Shing team were setting up the tea utensils. I immediately instructed the 2 helpers to set the food tables up, while I dealt with the vendors and the overall set up of the entire courtyard.
One of the first guests that I recognized by face was Sean Chen (SJSChen). And then I saw Mary and Bob Heiss, the authors of The Story of Tea. Guests started to trickle in at about 12:45pm, but we were quite far from being ready to entertain. The courtyard were filled with guests at 1pm, the time that the party was scheduled to start. It was not until 1:30pm, I think, that Guang welcomed everyone and provided the outline for the day.
We couldn’t ask for a better Southern Californian weather. The sky was perfectly cyan and the star we call the sun was bright and high. White puffs were scattered about, humidity was low and the temperature hovered around mid to high 70’s Fahrenheit. It is our typical pre-summer day (summer officially starts on June 21st here in the US), which is a great blessing in itself.
The attendees found their designated tables by about 1:45pm and Mr. Chen Zhi-Tong commenced his introductory speech in Mandarin. Guang translated. Although my command of the Mandarin language is sub par, I understood Chen’s speech quite clearly. Guang’s translation, however, often omitted the nuances and the depth of Chen’s message. The translation was in line with what was said by Chen, more or less, but one would find Chen to be a good orator if one understood Mandarin.
Honestly, though, I hardly paid any attention to the speech. I utilized the time to phase myself out temporarily and to get some food in my stomach before overdosing myself with tea. I didn’t remember if I even had a glass of water or not since I woke up that morning.
After the speech, I returned to the table and primed the tools and serving vessels for our first tea. It was an honor to have been seated at the same table with the following individuals:
- Beatrice Hohenegger (author of The Liquid Jade)
- Suzanne Mantell
- Carnie Tran
- Sina Caroll
- Charles [?] (Wing Hop Fung)
- Lan Ong (Wing Hop Fung)
- Heji Kim (Hster) & Christopher Taggart
- My wife and my brother-in-law
2 days prior to the Event, Guang contacted me with another unexpected request. I was to find 2 people with intermediate tea brewing skills to lead 2 of the 5 tasting tables. Guang, Aaron and Chen were in charge of 3 tables. I did not volunteer myself since I thought, as one of the producers of the Event, I should be available to attend to anything immediately. So I suggested to Guang that Jason Fasi and Danica Radovanov be the 2 people he could count on. Unfortunately, Jason was not yet reachable, and so I agreed to brew.
The first tea we brewed was the 2006 Taipei Expo Ji Nian Cha, and then we progressively moved to older teas. The apex of the tasting event was to be the sampling of the 1950’s Hong Yin.
The 2006 Taipei Expo Ji Nian Cha was a very good tasting young tea as an opener. It’s complex and very lively on the nose and in the mouth, bordering on being fruity, floral and green at the same time. The balance of every nuance was extraordinary and the mouthfeel was pleasantly substantial. According to the 2nd issue of The Art of Tea, this tea was blended by Huang Chuan Fang from 150 maocha provided (and then pressed) by Chang Tai.
[Side note: this particular blend by Huang Chuan Fang for the 2006 Taipei Expo Ji Nian Cha is also used by Chan Kam Pong for “his own” Clouds pu’er cake. Multiple reliable sources confirmed that they are the same exact tea with 2 different wrappers. Personally, I don’t think Cham Kam Pong has ever truly produced his own tea, unlike our very own Tim Hsu, Jason Fasi and Lewis Perin have]
Then we moved on to the 1999 Green Big Tree (simply outstanding! 5 stars), 1980’s Xue Yin 7532 (not memorable to me), 1970’s Zhong Cha Jian Tie (Xiaguan) “Simplified Character” (the participants at the table agreed to skip this tea due to time constraint), 1960’s Ba-zhong Huang Yin (Phenomenal! 5 stars if not more), and the 1950’s Hong Yin.
For the 50's Hong Yin, I think I may have failed miserably in getting the essence out of the leaves. Most everyone seated at other tables who I talked to after seemed to have enjoyed the Hong Yin tremendously. Those seated with me and myself, on the other hand, did not particularly find anything impressive with this tea. I am still not quite sure why! Did I use hot enough water? I brewed the tea in my own smaller Yixing pot that is quite appropriately sized for the quantity of leaves provided. My infusion parameter was quite standard, starting with about 20s for the first brew and then gradually longer thereafter. The tea was underwhelming and monolithic in taste and texture, though very smooth and rather sweet.
[Side Note: at home, however, with the leftover leaves still residing in my pot, I re-brewed the 50’s Hong Yin. This time, I pushed the infusion time for as long as 2 to 5 minutes. The resulting liquor was quite amazing. It’s thick, sweet and refined. Personally, however, it was still not as impressionable as the 60’s Ba-zhong Huangyin]
The party started and ended later than expected. At 5:30pm, we were hinted by Gabriella Karsch to wrap the event up as the museum was about to close in half an hour time. Many lingered around to socialize and seemed not eager to leave the positive aura of the day. It was a marvelous day by any account, though I personally was quite relieved that it was over without any hickup. By the smile and the congratulatory wishes that Guang and I received, it seemed we managed to pull the party off quite decently after all.
To be continued...