Ever hear the one about the young American wanderer who traveled Asia in search of meaning? Okay, that sounds like a lot of people. But this story has a twist. There was this guy who gallivanted about from place to place – from India to study with Yogis, to learning meditation further Eastward. The journey took the young man to Yiwu Mountain, Xishuangbanna, Yunnan province, China – the supposed birthplace of tea, and one of the main stops on the ancient “Tea Horse Road”.
He read somewhere that there was a man, who knew a little bit of English, that could teach him about pu-erh tea practices. However, he had difficulty finding the place. After several attempts of asking for directions, he found a local – around his age – drinking tea by himself. Following a brief conversation, the tea drinker pointed the American to the right path.
Once at the top of a hill, the American was greeted by a large dog, one that was not too fond of his presence. Dejected, he turned back around and encountered the tea drinker again. He led the American to his family farm, and both spent the better part of twelve hours drinking his autumn harvest.
And before the American knew it, years had passed.
The American in this tale was Nicholas Lozito; the tea drinker on the side of the road was the inheritor of the Bin family tea garden. And that years-long friendship led Nicholas to form Misty Peak Teas – a farm direct online sheng pu-erh distributor.
I first encountered Nicholas at the Tealet potluck back in August. Before making his acquaintance, I had read their profile on the Bin family, but I’d completely spaced that their distributor was located in Portland. Some childlike pleading at the party led me to acquire one of the family’s 2014 Rolled Pu-Erhs.
I fondly referred to them as “pu-erh balls”.
They were awesome. And, when brewed, they were out of this world.
For a pu-erh so young, there was a fruit note to the taste. Usually, that flavor profile didn’t set in until a few years of aging had passed. I needed more.
Nicholas had left a standing invite to have tea at his place. Although a month would pass before I could swing it, I finally took him up on that offer. On some random weekday, I sat with him at his awesome tea table!!!
And we drank.
He guided me through the Bin family offerings gradually. The family had been at the tea game for several generations. The youngest learned from his father, who in turn learned from his father…and so on and so forth. Tea trees on the Bin family farm were at least 500 years old.
We first starting with the 2013 harvest, then the 2012, and on through to the 2010. With each preceding year, the flavor deepened, matured, and took on characteristics of wine and sweet bread. They were already on par with the best Nan Nuo Mountain pu-erhs I coveted close to my man-breast. But the real treat was yet to come…
Good and caffeinated as I was, apparently we weren’t done yet. Before I could even blink, Nicholas brought out something very rare. It was a large (and very weighty) zhuan cha from 1998. Only two were known to exist, and the second sold at auction in Hong Kong for thousands of dollars. It smelled like date sugar. In all my years, I had never encountered straight tea leaves – compressed or not, aged or not – that smelled like straight sweetness.
Chiseling a chunk off, Nicholas brewed it up. The flavor matched the fragrance…and transcended it. The sensation went beyond flavor. One or two sips in, and I was on another plane. Plane of existence? 747? Hell if I know. All I remember is how it felt. There aren’t many teas that deliver that kind of experience. Scratch that…this was the first to do something this oddly profound.
And yet we still weren’t done.
The capper to the evening was tea leaves put in a pot of water. Difference was, this pot was only half full – a concentrate level – and it was set to a continuous boil.
Nicholas had asked me if I had done something like this, prepared a pu-erh concentrate almost-Russian-style and drank it. I meekly admitted that I hadn’t. Keep in mind, I was already well into tea drunk at this point; feeling the Universe and s**t.
By cup two of the rolling boil stuff, I wasn’t just feeling the Universe…I was downright groping it. There is tea drunk, and then there’s tea stoned. I felt like a Buddhist on a bender.
We parted ways after about two hours. It seriously felt like longer, but in the best possible way. As I drove home, I listened to Philosophy Talk on NPR. When I went to bed, I did so feeling one of the best buzzes of my life.
It was like I could feel my brain cells hugging each other. What’s weirder is that I woke up with that feeling. I went to work that morning the calmest I’d ever been. All that from a bunch of leaves given to an American wanderer, who talked to a tea drinker on the side of the road. And in turn, he offered it to a mouthy blogger.
The Universe is nifty.