26 January, 2015

Ninjas Scaling Your Building

William of Bannacha is silent, but deadly.

In the popular vernacular, he is both "camouflaged chameleon", and, simultaenously, "ninjas scaling your building"*.  You won't ever see him coming.  And when you do, it's too late. 

*No time to grab your gun, they already got your wife and children / 
A hit was sent / from the President / to raid your residence /
'Cause you had secret evidence / and documents /
'Bout how they raped the continents

The greatest trick William of Bannacha ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist.

You might be enjoying your life, quiet like, all cosy.  "Everything nice, everything routine."  Then suddenly: blam, everything's changed, as an unmarked package from William of Bannacha drops through the letterbox.

It is the coming of the storm.  And Jingmai is its name.

Regular readers will know that I'm not the world's biggest fan of prissy, elegant, delicate teas that are all gentility and precision.  Jingmaishan teas, in my opinion, typically fall in this questionable category.  They are "accessible".  They're the kind of tea that you'd give to an acquaintance that you don't really like.

However, William of Bannacha, the aforementioned ninja scaling your building, has an angle.  He may or may not have married into the Jingmaishan family tree, and he may or may not have contacts. The kind of contacts whom you might expect to associate with a ninja scaling your building.  These contacts, perhaps unsurprisingly, know Jingmaishan pu'ercha the way your average Asian gangster clan knows white powder.

I think it's almost accurate to state that William of Bannacha, in between scaling your building, is the only person to have provided me with Jingmaishan tea that I can not just tolerate, but which I actually enjoy.  His 2014 line-up is more of the same.  Which is to say, that it is fine.

The first katana out of the saya from everyone's favourite building-scaling ninja is the 2014 "Jingmai Gushu".  The clue is in the name: it's from Jingmai, and it's gushu.  

Such is the extent of William of Bannacha's ninjutsu is that he even locates the origin of this tea down to the nearest square mile, specifically Dapingzhang tea garden, in Jingmaishan region.  In a world in which we are often told that pu'ercha comes from "Yunnan", such specificity is refreshing.

As is the pricing of this stuff.  William of Bannacha, upholding the honourable tradition of the bushido that governs his every action, prices his pu'ercha very (very) nicely.

This gushu version is fresh, sweet, and good.  It's like Jingmai gone to Heaven.  It has all the usual Jingmaishan nuttiness, and yet it still tastes nice.  The finish is enduring, like a ninja running for tens of miles after his latest assassination mission.  Where else can you get tea like this, these days?

Wasn't it Pliny the Elder who famously penned the phrase, translated into English, "Slice like a ninja, cut like a razor blade"?  Surely, Pliny was reflecting on pu'ercha imported directly from a mysterious Jingmaishan-based mafia outfit.

I find it difficult even to pronounce the name of this tea, pictured above and below, which is named "Manghong" gushu.  Coming in around the 60something Euro price-tag, William of Bannacha writes that Manghong character lies somewhere between the sweetness of Trad Jingmai and the bitterness of Mangjing (for which, see below).  The leaves in this sample, pictured above, are eensy weensy, and remind me of Jinjunmei and the like.

Some of William of Bannacha's cakes are "red" in processing, and this seems to be deliberate.  At the risk of meeting the business end of a casually-tossed shuriken*, I must confess that this variety of red processing is not really my thing.  I'm not very happy with tons of oxidation, unless I'm explicitly drinking hongcha.

*Given the rotational symmetry of a shuriken, we might reasonably conclude that every end of a shuriken is the business end.

Sadly, this Manghong cake is "red", and that makes it very difficult to determine whether or not I like it.

The 2014 "Mangjing", however, is green, the way every ninja's mamma used to make.

In the Mangjing, too, I find ultimately solace.  It is the Jingmaishan cake that it is OK to like.  It is bigger, badder, rougher, and tougher, and packs something of a (one-inch) punch.  Clean, fresh, silent, and deadly... when a ninja has finished scaling your proverbial building, you can rest assured that he reclines back at ninja HQ with a startlingly decent 2014 Mangjing.

You could probably dissolve the corpses of your victims in this stuff.  It's really rather tasty.

Flat Tyres, No Brakes

flat tyre, no brakes
sweating, red-faced fresher
hands me his prep

19 January, 2015


Some of my favourite music at school included (among death metal, progressive trance, and the opera of Lorenzo Da Ponte), albums made by East-Coast US groups from "The Projects".   If there is a common thread among these very different genres, it is that they can all be really, really good.

One of the side effects of my extended flirtation with East-Coast lyrics is that I have a detailed and nuanced, if biassed, understanding of life in New York State.  To my limited education, Americans are either (i) gangsters from Staten Island or (ii) musket-wielding revolutionaries from Concord, Massachusetts. 

My own childhood was spent in a dark, remote place in the middle of the English countryside, famous for a certain university and the likes of Isaac Newton. On recently receiving an invitation to return home, to the heart of darkness, I was reminded of the meeting of Obiwan and Darth Vader on the departure deck of the Death Star.

Gentle Reader, you surely know by now that I was the Sith Lord in this analogy.

Cf. this.

The Big Man himself prepared for his Death Star encounter by meditating in his Sith Chamber.  What they don't show in Empire Strikes Back is that, in the solitude of his Sith Chamber, Vader was actually listening to albums from the aforementioned East Coast affiliates.

My equivalent was to recline in the mechanised sanctuary of the teatable, my life-support helmet temporarily removed so that I could work on my Dark Side.  My prep involved meditating on the thesis (pictured above) produced by some poor nerfherder rookie, hoping to earn his stripes by locking his s-foils in attack formation.  I could almost smell the moisture farm.

Accompanying my Sith meditations was the 2005 BIG ZHONG from w2t, a tea vendor whom I inexplicably seem to know now only as "Dubs".  

(As in, "This came from Dubs.  Let me show you the web-page.")

While I sharpened my (obviously scarlet) lightsabre, ready to hit up the Death Star, I reflected on the humid darkness of the Big Zhong.  It smells like Tatooine, in case you were wondering.

It starts slow, like two users of the Force circling one another to estimate the depth of their adversary's affinity for that power that surrounds us and penetrates us; that binds the galaxy together.  There is malt and darkness (in the tea, not in the Force), but it is slow and reticent.  It a bedrock of naturally humid storage.

It is constant and sweet, but... it doesn't grab me.  Activity, warmth, a cooling sensation - but something is missing.  It reminds me of the hollow victories of the Dark Side itself: promising much, tempting one in with promises of ultimate power, and yet, somehow, absent any purpose or greater meaning.  Ultimately, it cannot last, and will eventually be overcome.

It is a sobering message for all practitioners of the Dark Side.

I return to my Sith Chamber.  Helmet up, Staten Island tunes playing on the stereo.  What went wrong with the Big Zhong?  I must meditate.

I crack open a bag of 1999 "Special Order" 8582.  It reminded me of the 1999 "Commissioned" 8582 from Teaclassico.  However, this version has a green, rather than a red, zhongcha character on its wrapper.  Twodog, the proprietor of the Dubs, noted that this cake has been stored in Guangzhou, which means humidity.

Even from the first infusion, in which the leaves (pictured above) have not separated, this tea is filled with character.  It begins with a red-orange colour, pictured below.  Woody sweetness, sitting in the throat, reminds me of warm feelings that Sith Lords do not usually experience.

Big, malty, dense, tingling - whereas the 1998 "Commissioned" 8582 from Teaclassico was all soft comfort, this is a harder, woodier tea with real bite.  It has an edge in the finish that causes the mouth to water.  Sith Lords don't get a lot of mouth-watering.  I was impressed.

Finally, to close this trilogy, and to end with the catharsis of the original Star Wars trilogy, I warmed up the tetsubin for a sample of 1998 "Hong Kong, Dry-Stored 7432".  The owner of the Dubs noted that this was not, in any quantifiable way, a bargain.  This is, in fact, a 1998 Liming cake.

Like Vader picking up the Emperor Palpatine in the conclusion of the Return of the Jedi, this tea brings even the darkened soul of the unredeemed out into the cleansing power of the Light Side.  Interestingly, there is almost no caffeine - instead, this tea is packed with comforting, energising, narcotics.

Seriously, this tea is drugs.

Tangy density, heavy and pleasant, the eternal comfort of the Light Side - this tea is so (so, so) far beyond my purchasing threshold that I can simply marvel at its potency.  So this is what Yoda had in mind.  Maybe he wasn't such a nutball, after all.

The confrontation back on the Death Star turned out to be, likewise, a thoroughly charming and friendly affair.  The nerfherder did good.  There may well be one more doctor in the world, before too long.

This Year's Apples

this year's apples
made from last year's apples
in the compost bin