Tea Like Leather
It’ll probably help to picture the voice of Sam Elliott narrating this as one reads further. I found that to be the quickest way to get through it. Of course, I picture Sam Elliott narrating everything I write. Because…well…he’s Sam F**king Elliott. Anyway, let’s begin.
The rain was falling pretty hard; the chill in the air could cut right through your pores. Traffic was a mean mistress – construction on the road, an even meaner spouse. The destination was near, but I was always a turn or two away. There’s a message there…somewhere.
I was meeting Dave and crew for our now-weekly round of brew. Such meet-ups were becoming a favorable addition to the grinding schedule I kept. This time we were notching off ol’ Foxfire Teas – a place I hadn’t been back to since…come to think of it, I don’t remember when. I recall it being a pleasant enough place, just difficult to get to. For some reason, it seemed worse now. Parking was a near disaster.
On the walk there, I saw an unusual site – a striking blonde woman in knee-high boots smoking a curved briar pipe. Whatever sour mood I had drifted away at that pleasant dichotomy. I almost wanted to ask her if she was puffing Cavendish but thought better against it.
When I finally found the right door, Dave was already there yacking it up with the owner. I came barreling in out of the cold, bitchin’ about the parking. Hardly the makings of a good re-introduction to a vendor. I said my “howdy”-s and bee-lined to the menu. First thing to catch my eye were the “Sun Dried Buds” in the pu-erh section. I asked the owner for a whiff, and he kindly obliged. Lemon and wilderness greeted my thankful nostrils.
Several sniffs and a cup of four-year-aged Chinese black later, Dave and I were introduced to something entirely different. The owner described it as a Yunnan black tea with a slightly different character called “Imperial Feng Qinch”. The taster notes on the menu compared it to leather. Dave was captivated while I shied from it in favor of a white. That said, I still stole a sip. Ten minutes later, I was driving home with a 1oz. bag of the stuff.
I didn’t brave the brew until a week later. The leaves were so thin and gold one would think they were prospecting for slivery veins in the Sierra Nevadas. The aroma was all pepper, prairie, and bootstraps. I don’t even wanna know how they managed so rustic a presentation. All that remained was to subject it to…my style o’ brewin’.
More often than not, if the leaves look delicate, I treat ‘em as such – like a lady. Having already experienced the bite on this missus, I knew it needed steadier grip. I opted for 1 heaping teaspoon in 8oz. of boiled water. And instead of my usual paltry three-minute infusion, I went with a full five. If she was as tough as thought she was, she could take it.
The soup brewed to the color of rusted copper, but with a glimmer of sunshine to it. Steam rising from the mouth invoked feelings of sun-parched earth, sagebrush, rawhide, and farm country. The taste was dry and smoky on intro and graciously followed that up much-touted leather. A curtsy of malt ended the whole show.
This was one deceptive beauty. Needle-like gold leaves did not make for a thin, gentle brew. This was made to wake you up with the morning dew – preferably after sleeping outdoors. I still have no idea what “Feng Qing” means, and I don’t feel I need to look it up. As far as I’m concerned, it’s like feng shui…
Only for men.