Monday, June 25, 2007

June 2007 Pasadena Pu’er Tasting Event, Part IV: More about the Party

PART IV: More about the Party

I thought I’d delve a bit more into the details of the party, from my own point of view.

The guests were made up of individuals from different backgrounds, professions, ethnicities and age groups. There were authors, academics, bankers, students, IT professionals, movie and TV producers, teashop owners, tea business owners (IM-EX), service professionals, booksellers, winos, and at least one engineer (Guang), among others. All this made for interesting conversations at the table and after the party when everyone mingled to socialize. I am speculating, but I think the ages ranged between mid-twenties and late sixties. The ladies were certainly the younger-looking of the crowd. [insert winking emoticon here]

At the tasting table, camaraderie and friendship easily formed, as is wont at tea (and wine) gatherings. I introduced myself with my real name, although some of my table mates quickly realized who I am in the blogosphere, for better or for worse. Before I started with the first tea, I warned everyone that I would strife my best to not screw the teas up or break any tools during the session. I couldn't guarantee satisfaction. I’ve been known to be clumsy, especially when I’m in the hot seat.

A hot seat it was where I sat. Questions were peppered out shortly after I rinsed the 2006 Taiwan Expo Ji Nian Cha tea. The first question had to do with how many times the leaves can be re-steeped. Other questions forthcoming were about caffeine level of a young pu'er, on whether older pu'er has more caffeine, on ideal storage condition, on pu’er tea processing steps, on types of water, and on others that I can’t quite recall. Perhaps my traditional Chinese shirt was a tea-question magnet. Our table was a chatty and friendly one, and I thoroughly enjoyed my time brewing for everyone.

In retrospect, however, such talkativeness perhaps may have diminished our ability to concentrate on the nuances of the teas and also may have reduced our sensitivity to any physical reactions that could have resulted from drinking the potent liquor. Phenomena such as chaqi, for example, is better sensed when the mind is quiet and focused.

Understandably, the audience (and myself) were as thirsty for information as for the precious teas. And what better place and time to talk about it?! Those sitting at Chen Zhi-Tong’s and Aaron Fisher’s tables seemed to be more serene to the point of being meditative by my glancing observation.

At every interval before we moved on to the next tea, Chen Zhi Tong and Guang would explain to the audience the significance of the tea we were about to enjoy next. A summary of each tea’s background was also written on 4 pieces of bookmark-sized tabs (pictured – tab of the 2006 Taiwan Expo cake is not available, and tab of 70’s Zhong-cha Jian-tie beeng was not provided).

Since we were drinking some hardcore teas, food was an essential element in order to prevent any drunken brawls or irresponsible driving à la Paris Hilton. I jest. Seriously, however, an empty stomach is never meant for concentrated teas such as those we were about to savor. The resulting effect could have been unpleasant.

As such, savory sustenance was provided in abundance. They were catered by well-known Los Angeles area bakeries. From the famous Porto’s Bakery, a family-owned Cuban style establishment, were beef croquettes, pastel del carne (meat pies), guava & cheese strudels and apple strudels. Imen Shan of the Tea Habitat tearoom kindly sponsored apricot-almond shortbread bars, raspberry-chocolate shortbread bars, and a variety of other mini desserts. (as I have mentioned in Part I of my installment).

There were also the freshest fruits of the season: ripe Californian strawberries, black cherries, honeydews, melons, pineapples, grapes and kiwi fruits. As thirst quencher and palate refresher, still and sparkling water (Arrowhead and Perrier, respectively) were served. On top of each tasting table were unsalted almonds, cashews and black-and-white-sesame-seasoned crackers.

For decorative purposes, Guang and I selected high quality, celadon-colored linens to cover the tables with, which went very well with the oriental theme of the surroundings. Each table then was accented with fresh cut orchids in a curvy, modern looking glass vase. Four 20" x 30” posters (would have been six posters if FedEx delivered) were scattered across the courtyard at strategically-chosen spots. One poster announced the 5th International Puerh gathering. Another depicted the wrappers of legendary pu'er cakes of time past and the present. There was a Houde Fine Tea ad poster as well as a poster depicting different tea growing regions in Yunnan.

One short table with the five pu’er beengs of the day standing proudly on top was placed at the center of the staging area, right in front of fresh, colorful flowers. Another table was placed on the right-wing of the courtyard to display Wu Shing Publishing Co.’s various books, magazines and the pu’er cakes that Huang Chuan Fang specially blended for the Pasadena Pu’er Event (available for sale at Houde soon).

The teacups were chosen to be small, rather flat and with a wide rim on the top. They were obtained from Wing Hop Fung. All other essential tea utensils were brought over from Houston by Guang. Well, almost everything else. Apparently, Guang was forced to relinquish 2 tea trays and 2 kettles to alleviate his overweight luggage at the Houston airport. Fortunately, Imen came to the rescue and replaced these unexpected needs with her own store’s equipment.

Towards the end of the Event, one of the pleasant surprises of the day was seeing Jason Fasi (aka: bearsbearsbears, the moderator of the LJ Pu-erh Community and the author of the article “The Cart Before the Horse” in the 2nd volume of the Art of Tea magazine). I seemed to have not recognized him at first. Jason came by himself sans 25 lbs (from scuba diving in Vietnam, he said) and also sans 100 beengs of the pu’er cakes that he personally oversaw and produced while visiting Yunnan. He had arranged for Scott (of Yunnan Sourcing LLC) to send the cakes to the US, but none have been sent, Jason informed me with a perplexed tone of voice.

At 6pm, those who were in the courtyard were politely asked to leave the museum’s ground as it was closing its gate. Still, the few of us lingered for a bit longer outside the gate, unwilling to say our goodbyes. So we decided to continue our party at the Il Fornaio – an Italian restaurant in old town Pasadena – where the 12 of us, including Guang, Liang Chun Chih, Liang's wife, Chen Zhi-tong and most of the LA Tea Group members occupied a banquet room with one long table. We dined, we wined and we befriended.

To be continued…

[Posters provided by Wu Shing Publishing, and picture of the pu'er tea tabs provided by B. Loofbourrow]


MarshalN said...

Somebody posted a picture of that map on Sanzui. I looked at it... and have some serious problems with it. Phyll, do you know who wrote it?

The way it's done it's really misleading -- as if all teas from those areas are similar. We all know that Xishuangbanna itself has a wide variety of taste -- Yiwu tea tastes nothing like a Banzhang. Yet they are still both in Xishuangbanna. For a novice who knows very little about puerh (which this thing is probably aimed at) it really misleads more than anything else.

The way the prose is written is also somewhat confusing. I'm not sure, for example, how a tea broth can have layers of colour.

~ Phyll said...

Sorry, I have no clue who wrote it. I agree...the poster is too generalized to be a useful guide, even for beginners.

Unknown said...

Great summary! And no, you were not the only engineer there :)

I think I should also post something on my blog about this fantastic event. Took tonnes of tea leaf picts.