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A Tea-tasting Episode

We recently experienced an amusing and interesting tea-tasting episode at our good friend’s teapot showroom. Four of us hunched together over an improvised tea set while surrounded by hundreds of unusual and different teapots. We were testing a pu-erh tea of ours (Pu-erh Tuocha “Camel Breath”) and telling Wei how much we liked it, when he produced an exotic and expensive pu-erh tea of his own for us to try. He said it was very costly — at least $1,000/lb. wholesale when one can find it — and wanted us to taste it before telling us anything more about it.

Wei produced a gray crackle-glaze container, uncorked it and spilled onto a sheet of paper the finest tea we had ever seen. It was a very unusual-looking tea, with extremely tiny leaves; each black leaf was no larger than the size of the period at the end of this sentence. Wei brought spring water to a full, rolling boil, chose two favorite teapots and a fine-mesh screen strainer, and set to making his tea. He carefully measured a generous amount of tea into one of the pots, followed by boiling water, and after a couple of minutes, strained a dark, coffee-colored liquor into the second teapot. He divided the liquid among us into small porcelain teacups, encouraging us to help ourselves. This we gladly did; it was a delightful, complex and earthy brew.

Wei then told us that this particular tea is made from the droppings of a pu-erh tea-eating insect. Each of those little “leaves” was pu-erh insect excrement — or “Poo-poo Pu-erh,” as he called it! In China it is known as 蟲屎茶 or “Insect Feces Tea.” He said the tea was purported to remove wrinkles, so he bought a couple of small bags to guarantee future availability.

When our other friends hear of this tea-tasting, all invariably are curious as to the tea’s taste. All we can say is that it was most excellent, thickly mellow and elemental — very smooth — just the treat for a jaded connoisseur’s discriminating palate!