Herb is a tea pet. What’s a tea pet, you might be asking? Well, it’s a long story, and—honestly—one I haven’t taken much interest in. Until now.
Tea blogger, professional cleaner of toilets, amateur people watcher.
A couple of months back, I did an Instagram Live tasting with this chap.
So Han Fan, purveyor of West China Tea.
I’ve “known” So Han for nearly six years. I put that in quotes because . . . we’ve never actually met in person. Our mutual tea-related hijinks only criss-crossed online. He first caught whiff of me as a tea blogger when I wrote extensively about my favorite puerh mountain – Nan Nuo Shan. He just so happened to work with a farming/processing genius from there named Li Shu Lin.
And since then, I’ve written extensively about his Nan Nuo farmer friend’s wares – even once in sonnet form. During our live talk, though, I got So Han to expound upon something of Mr. Lin’s that I hadn’t tried. That being his Yuán Shēng Tuó line of shou puerhs. Yuán Shēng Tuó literally translated to “Original Life Chunk”; a term coined by Li Shu Lin. It was a new form of small batch fermentation that sometimes allowed for the leaves to glom together into nuggets of ripe-y goodness.
One of the nerdy pursuits we in the tea community like to pay attention to is origin. Single origin teas are the bread-‘n-butter of tea geekery. However, outside of good ol’ Camellia sinensis, herbal infusions aren’t really given the same consideration. That is, unless the herb in question can’t be found outside of a certain region—like with, say, rooibos.
I mean, sure, there might be German chamomile stans versus Egyptian chamomile stans, but I haven’t run into any. Actually, come to think of it, there are “wars” about who produces better peppermint (Oregon or Washington), but those are slap-fests at best. Conversations about herbal terroir rarely happen. At least, not in the tea circles I orbit.
Well . . . then I started exploring Ivan Chai. And that led me to one particular lake, in one particular region of Russia, with one hell of a unique approach. Let’s just say my perspective was turned in on its figurative eyelid.
Trigger Warning: The following article discusses religion and race. So, consider yourself doubly warned.
In my Bible readings, there is one aspect I keep coming back to. In the Gospels, Jesus conveyed his teachings through the use parables. Short, fictional stories that often left the listener with more questions than answers. He gave his reason for doing so in Mark 4:10-11, when his disciples asked about them: “He told them, ‘The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables[…]”
These vignettes weren’t just moral lessons, they were the only way Jesus could convey Divine wisdom, and his role in greater world. Some even straddled the line between allegory and fable. Oftentimes, they possessed more than one meaning. Such is the case with the Parable of the Good Samaritan in the Gospel of Luke.
One of the (few) benefits of this whole quarantine/lockdown thing we’ve endured so far in 2020 has been the chance to get to know new people. Granted, not in real outdoor life, but in an online capacity. During this period, I had a video call/tea session with one Joe Stanek, co-purveyor of the company Aera Tea. (The “Aera” was an Olde World-y form of “Era”, which I thought was kinda cool.) They were unique for two reasons—two regional reasons. They sourced teas from both Nepal and Yunnan.
Nepal is one of my go-to regions, so that occupied the body of our tea-centric conversation. Joe offered to send me examples of their wares. I asked if they possessed more than one from a particular farmer. He confirmed that they did, and I giddily mentioned that was totally my wheelhouse.
He kindly passed on two whites from one of their growing partners.
At the beginning of May (of 2020), I received a box from Moychay . . .
A blogger friend saw the write-up I did on Ivan Chai a couple of months prior, and recommended I get in contact with this Russian-based vendor. Apparently, they had a whole slew of Ivan Chai products, highlighting the many different ways the hearty herb could be processed. I’d mentioned I wanted to try it in as many ways as possible, and it appeared that Moychay was the place in Russia to go.
The Rise of the Steam
The kettle boils! A tea geek, locked in his room during quarantine, casually watched an episode of some Star Wars cartoon, and—lo!—a tea pot appeared into view. At first, he thought it was a mere happenstance, and didn’t think that tea played a part in the lore.
He was wrong.
I’ve often expressed my ambivalence to the tea category that is puerh. Sometimes, though, a story about it demands my attention. And most of those times, the story isn’t even mine. Even stranger still? A few of those stories focus on the puerh itself, and the journey it went through.
This is one such story.
This is Dan.
Dan’s a pretty solid dude, and a darn good friend. Dan is also married to my matcha dealer.
Dan’s a lucky sonuva- . . .
I’m getting off-topic already, aren’t I?
Let’s start over.
Strange times we’re living in, huh?