Chen Lao Ban just came down from Kunming where he has a shop and we’re brewing a sample of autumn tea. He tells HM to move over and let him brew. “Your seat’s over there.” he says with an authoritative wryness.
He’s a big guy, but somehow manages to hunker over the chapan, focusing intensely on the brewing process.
How it started was this: someone had brought a bottle of water for us to try, and what was initially purely a test of the water evolved into a meditation on brewing parameters and equipment.
Different water, different pots, a gaiwan, different brewing styles, each time the result is different. We had, much earlier, dismissed the tea as being average, lacking in flavour (not surprising given the recent weather). Chen pronounces, with his usual style of scientifically peppered explanation, what precisley went wrong in the processing of this tea.
At times he seems to be something of a conjurer – but this description is misleading as it suggests a slight of hand which is inaccurate. There is no slight of hand.
If Chen Lao Ban is brewing a tea that he thinks is good or should be better, but has not shown it’s true colours, he will puzzle over how to adapt his brewing technique to get the best out of the tea.
He reminds me of a nature watcher perhaps, in the woods, hoping to see wildlife. He’s done his homework: he knows there are animals out there, he knows their habitat, he has a good idea about their habits, but it requires patience, skill, an understanding of the nature of the particular animal, and maybe a little cunning, to lure it out.
If one is not patient, one will see nothing. If one is patient, but not observant, one will also see nothing – keeping an open eye for any signs of movement is essential. Knowing where the animal may be, it’s temperament, and what skills to use to coax it out are essential, otherwise one will see nothing.
Of course, the precursor to this is knowing that you are in the right place to see something, in the right environment. If you misjudge the terrain, the search may well prove fruitless.
This is sheng Puer tea.