Today’s post was submitted by guest blogger Mei Li // Photos by Neil Gorman
Salutations Lao Ren Cha Readers!
This is Mei speaking to y’all today, rather then your usual resident lao ren, Neil Gorman. A brief bit about me: I am 25, a comparatively niang ching ren, young person. I am currently in the last throes of working toward my MFA in Creative Writing, emphasis on Poetry, a woeful server at a local brewery, a hackneyed musician who abuses ears on piano and hand drum, a cockeyed painter and visual artist, specializing in desecrating mixed media relief pieces, and an all around jack of some select trades.
Today’s post has its roots in the ebb of a hectic week and the flow of a special tea on a cold Saturday morning. After a long and wild work week punctuated by manic poetry writing, my first thesis meeting with my adviser, and the general misery of living under the beating of the Chicago winter, I treated myself to a visit to The Tea Store, of which a Mr. Dan Robertson is the proprietor. Enchanted at the idea of Dan as a medicine man doling out tea based cures in the most elegant and esoteric of manners, I shyly asked Dan for a tea prescription to keep away the malady of writer’s block and to encourage a hearty buffeting of creative energies. Dan perked up instantly, and with absolute boldness, produced a tin of Lotus Heart for me to study and smell. Who am I to turn down the gift of creativity? No one at all. At the lofty price tag of eighteen dollars an ounce, I took home a shiny red bag full of Lotus Heart.
Lotus Heart is a Taiwanese Green Tea, handcrafted by Tea Master Zhou. It is composed mostly of young tea buds, with a smattering of hand twisted leaves. I brewed this tea gung fu style, in a large gai wan and used scent cups for the tasting. This experience featured four infusions of Lotus Heart tea after one washing.
170 degrees, 1.5 minutes
The scent of the Lotus Heart leaves in the gai wan was reminiscent of honeysuckle, made darker with a hint of musk, of something a bit older. After pouring and cupping, the balmy breeze of tea in scent cups gave way to the smell of rosy blossoms, punctuated by the excitement of spice. Upon tasting, I discovered a lovely mix of luxurious dolce notes and lightly medicinal herbs. Lotus Heart has zero astringency, is golden smooth and hinted of a future brothiness, resplendent with the salinity of sea water. As I submerged into the warmth of experiencing this virgin voyage into Lotus Heart, I felt a warm flood of congenial affection bloom in my chest, bringing up feelings of love and well being; an homage to the tea’s namesake.
160 degrees, 2.5 minutes
The second distillation of Lotus Heart produced leaves with a roasted scent, and the further punctuation of herbaceous qualities that pointed at an enticing future of cooking perfumes. The scent cups revealed a bold candied plum odor, nicely Oriental, a gentle incense. After sipping, the flavor of Lotus Heart was discovered to have mellowed a bit, resonating a grounded and shimmering earthiness. Meditating on this flavor produced the image of afternoon sunlight warming a twilight bound ground. Lotus Heart had a mystical way of returning my body, heart, and mind into a natural state, relaxed, not intoxicated. I experienced a harmonious cycling of all Earth rhythms, it was good in nature and brought on haiku feelings.
173 degrees, 4 minutes
This third experience of Lotus Heart satisfied the predictions of the steeping before it, releasing the hearty steam of beef noodle soup, green veggies and subtle clove dashes. This steeping was amazing, it fed and taught me with a maturation of fruit extracts into a deep maltiness of grains and golden roasted corn kernels. This gradual development released a depth to the tea, and a cavernous mouth feel that had enough mass to gain presence far after the sip of tea had been swallowed. Lotus Heart was now at its most magnificent, lordly and dazzling in a coat of warm cream. The luminosity of the tea now carried suggestions of astringency, but held no real dryness; which was exhilarating and mysterious at the same time. Contextually, Lotus Heart was now making it apparent that it was a maternally spirited tea, fully female in it’s floral perfume and monarchical strength.
180 degrees, 5 minutes
I have never been one with enough heart or patience to let a tea gently fade to its end, so this last infusion was made to release the remaining life in tea like fire, to not go gently into that good night, but to rage, rage against the dying of the light. This last sounding of Lotus Heart was the hottest and longest of it’s cycle. Despite the intensity of processing, Lotus Heart’s swan song was clean, leisurely and calm. Regal and ornate to the end, Lotus Heart surprised me with an oolong echo at its tail, complex and resonant.
With it’s peace and elegance, Lotus Heart held an important lesson. What I neglected to tell you, Dear Reader, is that Master Zhou is a renowned tea master, with large orbit of mythos surrounding him. At The Tea Shop, Dan had told Neil and I that Master Zhou is a viciously spiritual man, with powerful chi that he offers into every blend of tea he creates. Once, a woman who had merely walked by a ball of Master Zhou’s tea felt its pull, and was touched by this experience, without ever knowing anything about the tea or its maker. As one who is very easily taken by ritual, ceremony, and all things pantheistic and metaphysical; I expected intoxication, to be mesmerized and spellbound. The veracity and simple dignity of the tea humbled me, taught me that holiness is everything, and everything is just what it is. There is a profound honesty and integrity in the experience of Lotus Heart. So I am subdued, so I am taught.
As far as Lotus Heart as a creative catalyst, well, what do you think?