Header for Courtney’s weekly tea
An illustrated pink gaiwan filled with amber liquid
the weekly tea
Zi Hong Pao
from yunnan sourcing
weekly tea: purple da hong pao
This weekend, the corpse flower at Colorado State University up in Fort Collins was blooming. My sister lives up there, so after a brief consultation to make sure we were all present and interested, we went up to have a visit.
If you don’t know what a corpse flower is, it is a TRULY enormous flower (this one was about six feet tall) that emits a scent that smells like rotting flesh in order to convince insects that feed on carrion to pollinate it. There are not many of them left in the world, and they bloom every 3-5 years for somewhere between 12 and 36 hours. When they do bloom, they attract crowds who want to see rare enormous stinky flowers. I had heard about waits of four to five hours the last time a corpse flower bloomed at the Denver Botanic Gardens.
So how better to spend the time waiting in line than to have some tea? We got up early (getting up early is my super power), drove to Fort Collins, and got in line an hour before the building officially opened.
I brought tea and my trusty travel tea set-up. The tea in question was a purple da hong pao. Purple tea, for readers who have been here long enough, refers to a tea varietal that has mutated to provide some red notes in the leaves. So this is a rock oolong variation with a red tea.
The tea was good, although I have to say, it did not strike me as very rock-oolong-esque. It didn’t have the distinctive minerally taste that I associate with da hong pao, but it was a robust and interesting tea, and drinking it allowed us to pass time standing in line. We talked about hikes we had done and hikes we wanted to do; we drank tea and talked about the coming summer.
And we got lucky: we were in line early enough that (a) they opened the building about half an hour before officially scheduled, and (b) we were far up the line enough that once the line started moving, we were right in front of it about fifteen minutes after that. All told, it was a 45 minute wait, and with tea, that made it really about a 10 minute wait.
A selfie of me in front of the corpse flower: a long stamen, a brilliant reddish-purple interior, and a light green bulb.
This was my first corpse flower. Her name is Cosmo, and she did not smell as badly as some people had claimed. A mass spectrometer stood nearby, with a screen listing the volatile organic compounds that it could detect coming off the corpse flower. (My brother-in-law and sister had done work with the person who was doing the monitoring: such is the small campus community of people who work in aerosol detection, I guess?) According to the mass spec, the amount of cadaverine (the compound that smells like a cadaver) had peaked around midnight and was now not much more than a whiff. There was a hint of sulfur, and a smell that was almost lemony.
It was a nice outing.

Purple da hong pao is available from Yunnan Sourcing.
Someone asked me about my travel tea set up. I carry hot water in this Zojirushi flask. I got my travel tea set from Tangpin Tea, which has a wide assortment of travel sets that can fit almost any tea habit. 

Finding wonder in the world
One of the reasons I went to see the corpse flower is because I think this world is stranger, wider, and more wonderful than our daily lives would have us believe, and remembering that is helpful.
During this month, I saw the Northern Lights (very faintly) from my backyard in the light-polluted Denver metro area; I saw a moon that was huge and luminous. I smelled a flower that had a hint of rotting flesh to it and was taller than me; I hiked to the top of a mountain and looked down and saw an urban landscape which around three million people call home, spread out over a long plain, with white peaks to my back.
Sometimes I think about a recurring theme in science fiction: that there are alien species out there, but that they only make contact with species that pass a sufficient intelligence test.
I do not think that we are lacking as a species in capacity to understand the natural universe or drive. But I think that one of the things we have to figure out is how to stop repeating known patterns: how to stop our occasional slip into fascism, how to stop garnering up hate against different groups as an excuse for exclusion and violence. We keep doing this, and it’s awful.
For me, there are many reasons I look to nature for a sense of wonder, but a big one is this: the universe is a bright and beautiful place. Stardust and ultraviolet radiation, water and mist, mountains and fields—all of these things and so much more collectively create the conditions we find here, in strange and beautiful combinations.
And we, these strange creatures of stardust and sixty percent water have somehow learned to harness the power of lightning and the sun to talk to one another and tell our stories from across the world away… I keep hoping that we will learn, together, to wonder at the potential we all have and try our hardest to be a species with the emotional intelligence to love each other.
Maybe someday we will.

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Until next week!
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