Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Fun Times with Dong Ding Wulong

I’ve been thinking about our Traditional Dong Ding at the shop a lot recently, my own, personal bag of which I just finished. Twas a sad day... Getting to know this tea was a long process, but now it’s become one of my favorite go-to’s when I want to attend to a tea but don’t want too heavy an experience. It’s not fluffy, but it can roll.

The farmer doesn’t roast his tea, he leaves that to Mr Z in Taipei. And he’s also a character. See Shiuwen Tai’s blog for some stories Floating Leaves Tea: Dong Ding, Farmer, and Tea: Tasting Tea. He’s the kind of guy who is so focussed on health and organic, traditional foods and medicines that he shoves said subjects and consumables alike down your throat.

"Oh yeeeaaahhhh... Woah!"

His tea is a careful, friendly duel between man and nature, understated and crunchy. He processes his as an orthodox oolong, oxidising the leaves to the point that they are a foresty, marine colored green when dry, and the soup brews up a healthy ale-like copper. Over the course of the bag, the word ‘amphibian’ once came to mind. Another time I thought that was the silliest dingle dangle. Sometimes there’s an herbal, almost medicinal kind of smell to the wet leaves.

It brought me cycling through tea pots before I could understand it, sometimes coaxing out the tea’s very minerally, mouth-watering body with my coarse clay pot (a) which I use for roasted oolongs. Other times the tea produced an almost exotic fruit-like aroma (an aroma earnestly termed “dong-ding fruit”) when accompanied by a fine, high-fired pot (b).

(b) a high fired pot, this one is Japanese clay formed by a Taiwanese maker
(a) coarser clay pot which I tend to use for roasted, heavier teas

There’s a strong salivation effect that approaches dryness, but still tends to remain juicy throughout. What I really enjoy about the tea is the deep feeling that warms the entire throat and sets my nerves abuzz. This can sometimes spread all the way down to my belly, if I’m paying attention, which is plenty pleasurable. It gives a good body buzz, but I can still sleep soon after I drink it. I had some wonderful sessions on these hot summers nights in Washington in my usual Tie Guanyin pot.

I think there’s a lot of ‘traditional’ style oolongs out there that are uninspiring at best, the kind of tea you might drink at a Dim Sum place. I believe the baseline is higher for high mountain tea, so some people feel like they’ve never had a bad one. But finding a tasty traditionally oxidised tea from Taiwan is quite the treat, and I think may be considered more mellow and grounded than their lightly oxidized, modern counterparts. Both types of tea can be very rewarding depending on the season, land and (most importantly?) farmer’s skill, but I spend my time chasing after the former because I’m of the mellow camp.

By drinking a tea by the bag -- or by the cake for puer people -- a person and a tea can become well acquainted. This Farmer’s Dong Ding Wulong has warmed my belly in early spring, provided me with a cool sweat in the heat of our (admittedly oft-relenting) summer, and is currently buzzing up and down my body as the decay of autumn sets in around Seattle. She has contorted herself in my thermos over longer journeys, and contentedly performed with the prerequisite of my attention and patience on a few tea tables. She’s become an old familiar, and I’ll be sad to see her go. But the next season’s crop is growing right now, and tea goes on.

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