What better teachers than those at Norbu Tea! While they have been one of my willing mentors in my exploration of smoky teas and Russian Caravan-inspired blends, they have also encouraged my attention toward other teas with a similar gravitas. In today's case, I decided to explore their 2009 Lao Cha Tou Shu Pu-erh.
While I've enjoyed Pu-erh in the past, I didn't really know what I was drinking, so I really got a kick out of the complete education Norbu Tea provided on their website. Here is a snippet of what they share:
While it is recommended for most teas to be disposed of after a year, Pu-erh is similar to a fine wine that can improve with age. In the case of this particular "nugget," it was fermented in 2006 and given 3 years to mellow in its flavor.
About Lao Cha Tou:Lao Cha Tou translates loosely as 'Old Tea Nugget.' Cha Tou are small nuggets of clumped-together tea leaves that are formed as a result of the heat and pressure that is generated by the piles of tea when they are undergoing fermentation. At the end of the 40-60 day fermentation process the newly fermented tea is sorted into grades based on size using impressive wind tunnel sorting machines. The nuggets are found toward the bottom of the pile usually after sorting, and are just a small portion of a batch of ripened Pu'er. Usually, because of this small percentage of production, many tea factories will store their Cha Tou for a few years until they accumulate enough material for a full pressing composed of a blend of several years nuggets.
Another thing I leared about Pu-Erh in other reading is that it is actually begins as a green tea grown in the Yunnan Province of China. It is the fermentation process that causes it to have a more reddish-brown liquor when steeped. Whereas I had thought it was considered to be a black tea, it is actually its own classification of tea.
As I steeped one of these precious and prized tea nuggets, I noticed the very earthy, almost compost-y, smell. Not unpleasant, but it is an active scent, not passive. The liquor is a very reddish dark brown that is nearly opaque. I love teas that have that substantial look about them. Once steeped, I sense a hint of that "fermenty" quality that I read about. Again, it is not at all unpleasant, but it does make me think of rustic scenes and settings. Sitting and looking out into the woods, or overlooking a mountain lake. I suddenly think that sauteed mushrooms would go well with dinner tonight.
The first sip. Full, robust, grounded with a lilt of sweetness. There's a grittiness about it that makes it feel hearty yet somehow still clean. It coats your entire mouth without leaving an bitter aftertaste. and you can't stop at one cup. I steeped cup after cup, with the flavor never losing its integrity. The Norbu team claims steeping 15 times or more. I believe it.
I wonder if perhaps this would be the reviving cup of tea Drew might want after her startling discovery of Rimma Chen.
Somehow she managed to gain control of her shaking limbs and make her way back to the dining room. She stood at the door, looking around helplessly. Suddenly, Dave Armstrong was before her, his face showing concern.
“Drew? You look like you’ve seen a ghost. Are you ok?”
She shook her head. “Rimma. She’s in the bathroom. I – I think she’s dead.”
Seeing she was not joking, Dave looked around the room, beckoned Anatoli and one of the bodyguards. Drew led them to the door of the bathroom but refused to go in. She heard the muted uproar from the men, and then saw Anatoli rush out to the telephone, yelling sharp orders into it. Dave came out minutes later and escorted Drew to an office lounge, offering her some water.
She laughed half-heartedly and said she suddenly felt so British because all she wanted was a reviving cup of tea. He sent a curious secretary for the tea, who had followed the group down the hall but had been barred from the scene.
Natasha and Vica rushed in moments later, Vica handing her the cup of tea. Natasha exchanged hushed, sharp words with her father as a medical team entered the bathroom.
“You are alright, Mees Belmond?” Vica asked quietly. “Dreadful shock to find a body! I bring you something else?”
As she said this, their attention was drawn by the bathroom door opening once more. Rimma Chen was wheeled out, shielded by medical personnel who appeared to be working on her as they moved. Vica craned her neck to get a look at the victim. Anatoli strode over to Drew, knelt in front of her and took her free hand.
“Mees Belmond. My dear. Please put mind at ease. Rimma Chen ees being cared for. What fortune that you discovered her.”
Drew stared at him and blinked. “She’s not dead?”
“There, there my dear,” he said gently, patting her hand. “Thanks to you, all is well.”
He told her to take as much time as she needed, and Natasha and Vica hovered until Drew assured them she would be just fine, especially knowing Rimma Chen was going to be alright. Dave offered to sit with her awhile longer, so Natasha assured her that she would return to the party and look after their guests.
In the silence after everyone had left, Drew stared at the floor and Dave stared at her.
“You alright?” he asked finally.
Drew sighed and straightened up, beginning to feel embarrassed at her show of weakness, and now, apparent over-reaction.
“I’m sorry. Yes. I’m just fine. Sorry I over-reacted. I should have done something intelligent like check her pulse or see if she was breathing before I put everyone in a panic.”
“I was actually impressed with how you handled everything. You were able to get help quickly and without any of your guests knowing anything was wrong.” He smiled and squeezed her hand.
“Well, you know something is wrong. You are one of the guests.”
“Yes, but I had a meeting scheduled with Rimma Chen at the close of this event. I would have known sooner or later.”
Drew looked at him hard for a second. She wondered when he would be able to meet with Rimma Chen now.
“Sorry. Nothing.” She started to stand up but he stopped her.
“Nope. Something’s bugging you. Out with it.”
She sat back down and then straightened her posture.
“It’s just that… Well, I don’t know. I’ve never seen a dead body before, except at a couple of funerals. But I really thought… “
“You really believed she was dead.”
She nodded and stood up, determined to shake off the bad feeling. “I’m very glad to know I was wrong.”
Dave stood up slowly, then gave her a side squeeze. “Yes, that’s a relief, isn’t it? Now, what do you think? Ready to join the others?”