With the advent of Advent, the pace and difficulties of Michaelmas term have come to a close.
It is now "Ninth Week", which is a brief moment of peace before the university grinds into a state of (in)action for dreaded "Tenth Week", in which we focus on the admissions process for next year's cohort of students. All four "dons" in my college spend the best part of one entire week dedicated to picking which nine students we will teach next year. It is a gruelling process for the candidates (mostly students from British and Chinese schools, in my subject) and for the academics. It must be hugely expensive for the university: as well as paying for each college's academics to spend one week per year on this exercise, there is an innumerable quantity of support staff, who are liaising with schools, checking application forms for plagiarism, arranging interview locations and times, and all mannner of other toil.
This means that I am treasuring Ninth Week while it lasts - it is the calm before the storm.
Many thanks to the proprietor of Essence of Tea for generously providing samples of the tea for today's session, which are cakes both created by a certain "Mr. Feng".
This range of cakes appears to be called "Qingchan", which, as you can see from the wrapper, may be translated as "pure Zen", as in the clear purity of water (which forms the root of the character Qing). I'm not in favour of using Zen in order to shift commercial goods, but I suspect that actual Roshi would take it with a wry smile.
Damo (Daruma, Bodhidharma) would probably just chop off your arms* - something casual like that.* Actual Zen story.
The "FD" is the oldest of the four cakes from "Mr. Feng" being sold, and is consequently the most expensive.
I like the cut of this tea's jib. The leaves, as pictured above and below, are medium-sized fragments, and they look healthy, as if they have been stored well. The product description indicates that the cake has spent time in Xishuangbanna, which is a good place to park tea.
Both of today's cakes come from the same region, which "Mr. Feng" describes as being the "border between Menghai and Lincang". This is odd, given that there is no such border - the (fairly enormous) diqu of Simao lies between Menghai and Lincang, as far as I recall. I imagine that this means the cake comes from northern Menghai county, perhaps near the Simao border - it has a little of both Menghai and Simao in it, to my imagine at least.
I like this cake. It is solid, sweet, and lasts well. The enduring impression is one of cleanliness and precision, as if well-made, from good leaves. There is a gently cooling finish in the throat. The texture seems pleasant enough, but I would probably disagree with the production description, which refers to it as being "thick". I found it to be a touch underpowered, in that it needs quite a large quantity of leaves and extended infusions to get the best out of it. Piling in more leaves than usual, and adding time to the infusion, results in a solid, pine-like, enduring sweetness that continues into a dozen or so infusions. I enjoyed its constancy.
I have, in my diary, "FD" as meaning "Fairly Decent".
Continuing our pillage of Zen as a brand name, we have the "XT" cake from 2008, with leaves that come from the same region as the "FD", according to the product description.
Immediately, this cake appeals to me. I enjoy the solid aroma of the dry leaves, which is complex, and has more than a single dimension to it.
As with the "FD", the "XT" has lovely leaves - fragmented, but furry and pleasurably dark.
I have a guilty secret: I actually enjoy cakes that have a nice flavour. I know in this rarified world of pu'ercha we are supposed to subsist entirely on descriptions of chaqi, but I am a humble man, and enjoy cakes that have a complex progression of flavours and aromas, and which evolve accordingly through the infusions. In addition to the almost-granary base of this border Menghai cake, it has a proper cooling sensation, far in advance of the "FD", which also numbs the tip of my tongue. It lasts well in the throat, and just seems to be more enjoyable to me in all aspects.
The "FD" is made from better leaves: it marches on it its consistent, sweet manner for ages. The "XT" seems to get a bit rough and green after a half-dozen or so infusions, but is all the more enjoyable (to me) for its rustic charms.
My diary has "XT" as meaning "Exceedingly Tempting".
Tempting, that is, until one considers the price, which is a decision that each of us must make in communion with one's own wallet. It is irrelevant to discuss my own decision, but I merely quote the prices for your convenience: the "FD" is £69, while the "XT" is £57.
Thanks again to Essence of Tea for a most excellent tea session, which certainly has me ready for the challenges of Tenth Week.