Header for Courtney’s weekly tea
An illustrated purple gaiwan filled with amber liquid
the weekly tea
2003 Yiwu
from white2tea
weekly tea: 2003 Yiwu
When I was frantically packing to leave for my parents’ house at 1 AM (there was no reason for it to be this late, except I had put it off, and then did it just before I went to bed, and then remembered in the middle of the night that I hadn’t packed about seventeen separate things, one of which was tea), I grabbed whatever tea was on the top layer of the giant tea mound in the kitchen and took it. This included this tea, 7 grams of ann aged raw pu-erh from the March White2tea tea club.
This was said to be a very good twenty-something-year aged pu-erh—not an extraordinary one; those sell at Sothebys for five or sometimes six figures. But very good. I’ve never had one of those. This one, I was told, came in a 357 g cake, which sold for north of $800. (With 7 grams in a steep, that’s about 50 sittings of tea each for $15.6—in other words, pretty pricey on the tea spectrum).
Perhaps I should have thought before brewing this at my parents’ house—I don’t have my fancy water heater or my thermopop or any of the other things I would do to perfect the brewing of tea. But I’m glad I did. On an afternoon when my dad was resting, my mom had fallen asleep, and I’d done work for the day (I can’t keep up with my normal schedule, but I’m trying to just do..something, daily, to keep my head in the game), I sat down and let myself brew as many steeps as I could before someone needed me.
This tea did just fine with boiling water and my traveling tea set. It is an exceptionally good tea. The flavor started mellow, and with each of the first three steeps, it grew stronger, darker, and more spicy. This also helped make that connection in my brain between raw pu-erh, which ferments naturally over time, and ripe pu-erh, which is wet-piled to simulate a long fermentation. I could definitely understand what ripe pu-erh is going for: there’s an almost earthiness to aged tea, something sweet and woody at the same time, something that reminds me of that first whiff of scent of forest floor.
But where those flavors are overpowering in ripe pu-erh, sometimes to the point of being one-note, in raw pu-erh, they are one of many, creating something that feels more like a whole forest rather than the forest floor.
Sometimes I think of tea, taken gong fu style, as something like a tasting menu. It starts delicate; it grows more robust, and then it slowly fades into something that almost tastes like nostalgia for the tea that just was.
I had this at my parents’ house. This newsletter was scheduled to send before I left Seattle. Hopefully, by the time you read this, I will be home (or close to home).

2003 Yiwu came from white2tea's monthly tea club. I asked if the tea was up for purchase on their website for this newsletter, and was told that while they had a few extra cakes, they'd decided not to put them on the website, but would hold them for inquiries. If you really want to pay $800+ for a cake of tea, contact them.

Random, maybe funny, story…
So my parents told me a really funny story this last week. To be fair, the story is not that funny; it’s actually the kind of thing that at the time, made my mother extremely angry. The funny part is the difference between my memory and theirs.
Here’s my recollection of what happened. When I was in fourth grade, I won our grade school spelling bee. The runner-up, a sixth grader whose name I still remember (how, when I can’t remember the names of people I actually know and talk to!), cried because she lost. And the teacher who was running the spelling bee, who also happened to be the teacher of the runner-up, scolded me.
It wasn’t fair for me to win, she told me, because I was in fourth grade, and therefore had more chances to win in grade school. Ms. Runner Up was in sixth grade, and should have won. I was being selfish.
I found this assertion baffling. I didn’t want to be selfish. But inherently only one person could win a spelling bee. If fourth graders were not supposed to win, why were they allowed to participate? And if I was supposed to somehow intuit this bizarre and here-to-for unmentioned rule magically, how was I supposed to have guessed that Ms. Runner Up would misspell “forehead”? (I still remember that this is the word that she spelled out on.)
Even if I was the kind of person to purposefully misspell a word out of selfless abnegation (and dear reader, I am not; I have five older siblings and if I just gave up everything for older grades I would never get anything), I would have waited until we were getting harder words than “forehead” out of respect for the deserving sixth graders.
Here are two things I remember about the aftermath. First, my fourth grade teacher gave me a stuffed Easter chick to celebrate my win, which was honestly pretty awesome. I loved stuffed animals! I held onto that stuffed chick through college.
Second, afterward, at the district spelling bee (where I spelled out somewhere in the middle—I didn’t actually try to learn spelling words, boring, I just knew a lot because I read incessantly), the runner up (who also had to be there in case I didn’t show) came up to me when I arrived and said “I’m so glad you’re here! I was scared something would happen to you and I’d have to go up, and I didn’t want to!”
I remember thinking, “Really! She didn’t even want to go to the district spelling bee? What was all that fuss about?”
That is my memory of the fourth grade spelling bee: this weird lady was kind of irrational, but I used good sense and realized she was being ridiculous and was proven right. Plus, I got a stuffed animal. A good time was had by all.
Anyway, this last week, my mom brought up the time that my grade school held an entire assembly and refused to give me a trophy, and I had no idea what she was talking about.
Here’s the part that dropped happily from my memory. The teacher who ran the spelling bee was still mad at me, so they had a whole assembly to honor the spelling bee winners and gave certificates to people who came in up to a certain point. Then they called up the kids who came in #2 and #3 and gave them trophies. But they didn’t call me up (or maybe, they called me up and didn’t give me a trophy, I don’t remember this supposed assembly at all). The teacher in charge told me that they “ran out” and so I couldn’t have one.
My older sister (still in the same school) reported on the assembly to my mom; I told her about them running out. My mom was furious. But she didn’t do anything, because I didn’t care.
You see, I believed the teacher when she said they ran out. It’s an obvious lie! I can see that now! But I was just like, oh well, they ran out, I guess that happens, probably for the best because who wants a metallic-colored uncomfortably shaped piece of plastic to take up extra room? (I am still like this: why have a commemorative plaque about a thing when you can just remember that you did it?)
They had a whole assembly to make me feel bad and selfish and I had no idea they were trying to insult me! I was completely impervious to it! It had so little effect on me that I forgot about it almost instantly!
This is hilarious to me (now), because I remember the moment when I realized that people were lying because they wanted to hurt me: that happened in the sixth grade, when a handful of girls who I thought were my friends lied to me and hurt my feelings on purpose. It then proceeded to happen again, uh, a lot, yay for middle school, let's never do that again? I probably spent a dozen years figuring out how to tell when people were lying as a protective measure, and now I think I’m pretty good at it. But in fourth grade? I was totally clueless.
The other funny part: I now recognize that what Ms. Runner Up said to me at the district spelling bee about not wanting to go up? That was probably also a lie, and she was trying to be nice because the adults in the room hadn't been very adult. At the time I just took what she said extremely literally.
This story is a perfect complement to a well-aged tea: here's something that might have been a little more bitter if I'd really experienced it when it was young. Now that it's aged enough, it's delightful. I'm glad it got saved for now.
I love this story in part because the heroine of the book I'm writing feels a lot like my younger self: sometimes tactless, usually kind, and genuinely baffled by a lot of things that people regularly do. I love her so much and I'm having a wonderful time writing her. When I heard this, I remembered what I used to be like and thought…ah, that's why it's so easy to write Lily. She has something of me in her.

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Until next week!
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