Back in March, when I was visiting The Jasmine Pearl Tea Merchants, I ran across a particularly unusual tea. It was a small brick wrapped in gold foil, bearing an uncanny resemblance to a candy bar. I asked the teatender on duty at the time if I could sample it. She obliged and explained to me that it was a compressed black tea. After steeping for three minutes, she poured me a taster. I’ll be damned if it didn’t taste like the chocolate it resembled. Or at the very least like Yunnan Dian Hong dipped in chocolate.
I bought one.
Upon seeing the photograph, a tea colleague mentioned he recognized the tea. He directed me to a profile on Yunnan Sourcing’s US website. There they were under the heading of Feng Qing Mini Bricks. Well, that didn’t make any sense. I had tried loose Feng Qing before, and that li’l bar was a different sipping experience entirely.
In the ensuing months, I experimented with two more bars. Brewed in 8oz. of water, it was too strong; brewed in a 32oz. pot, it was too light. Infused for 16oz., treated to a Western-style three minute steep or so, it turned out just right – like unsweetened dark chocolate with a leathery Feng Qing kick.
A few months down the line, I thought it would be the perfect tea for my Tandem Tea Taster group. For those who are new to his blog, once every month I participate in a tandem tea tasting via Google+ Hangout. The idea is to try a tea in unison, chat about it, and then do simultaneous blogs on the experience. Thus far, we have done five. I lost count long ago. December was my month to contribute.
I sent out five of the bars. One to Nicole “Tea For Me Please” Martin, one to Jo “A Gift of Tea/Scandalous Tea” Johnson, one to Rachel “IHeartTeas” Carter, one to Darlene “A Tea Lover’s Archive” Meyers-Perry, and a final one to Julia at Bingley’s Teas. Somewhere down the line, the Feng Qing brick was nicknamed “the Willy Wonka” bar by Darlene.
Funny thing was I kinda felt like Wonka passing on a weird experiment and looking for approval. Throughout the planning and mailing process, I was nervous. Would the packages arrive? Would they all like the tea? Would my work schedule get in the way of the tasting? All these questions plagued me for weeks before the event.
Unfortunately, there was a wee bit of Charlie Bucket-ish disappointment. Somehow/someway, a USPS employee had stolen Darlene’s gold brick from the package. The envelope arrived sans golden ticket, and – alas – I didn’t have the money at the time to mail out another one. Jo came to the rescue by splitting her bar with Darlene for the event.
Photo by Darlene Meyers-Perry
A week or so prior to tasting, I did some more playing around with one of the extra bricks I possessed. I hadn’t tried “gongfooling” around with it. The brick lasted for nine strong infusions – all more Feng Qing than chocolate. Still wonderful, but – boy! – was I hyper after that taste-test.
An hour or two before the Hangout, I informed people to maybe use half the bar instead of all of it. Nicole went ahead and used the whole thing. Rachel (I believe) did as well. Darlene and Jo both did half. (Julia was sadly MIA for the tasting due to her son’s concert event.) Everybody’s results were different. While my gongfu approaches yielded some strong brews, Jo commented that hers were on the light side. Nicole echoed those thoughts as well. Rachel was busy multitasking between sipping and keeping her daughter – who also wanted to try it – at bay. And Darlene…
Well, she looked like this the entire time.
The general consensus was that the bricks did – indeed – have chocolaty notes as I originally purported. Conversations ranged from Bollywood movies, other different teas, our mutual reluctances to attend World Tea Expo 2014, and future blog rants. Rachel’s “bebeh” – Ethan ASOM!!! Carter – also made a cameo. He’s sorta becoming the Tandem Tea Tasting mascot. The evening was more low-key than tastings prior. My guess is that we were all tea-stoned rather than tea-drunk, but that’s merely conjecture.
Nicole “tea”-sed us about January’s offering – a bunch of unique teas hailing from Nilgiri. One of them was a white tea. I just about jumped out of my seat. We parted ways at the two-hour mark. Still pretty lengthy considering the chillaxed gathering.
I blame the actual chocolate I paired with my tea.
And because of said tea, I didn’t get to bed until 5AM. All wily-haired and wired.
Willy Wonka bar, indeed.
Photo by Jo Johnson
For Nicole’s take, go HERE.
For Jo’s take, go HERE.
For Rachel’s take, go HERE.
For Darlene’s take, go HERE.