A truly unique experience.
On a busy Summer’s night in Hackney, with the usual London characters out in full swing preparing for a busy night out on the town. 10-15 of us sat gathered in a circle in A-side B-side Gallery, listening intently to Olivier’s tales of his time spent in Lincang, which seemed like a whole other world at the time. He told us of the tea we would be trying that evening, some “suan cha” (sour tea), a rare tea to be found in China which is now strictly reserved for the rich or for special occasions like a wedding, but one that Olivier eventually found in the privacy of a family in Bulang. Once processed, the pu-erh leaves are put in bamboo and stored underground to ferment and after 6 months, they are dug out and left to air. The tea we tried was from his trip in 2011, so roughly 7 years old to-date.
After Olivier set the scene with his memories of this special place and its people, we then slowly lay down, closed our eyes and were gently transported to the ancient forests of Yunnan via sound, aroma and taste. Kat gently began playing the gongs slowly and gradually easing us into a calm and relaxed realm, with our breath starting to align with the rhythm of each gong. Olivier had recorded a soundscape of his travels which was playing in the background, a build-up of various sound layers of the local Blang people chattering and laughing with one another, singing local songs, which accompanied the gongs and felt like we were transported to the ancient forests of Yunnan. Getting deeper and deeper into a relaxed state, being carried by the varying degrees of intensity from each gong it felt like being on the verge of a deep sleep and semi-consciousness, it was then that we started to smell the roasted tea leaves.
The rattling of the dry tea leaves brought us peacefully back into the room with the smokey and sweet notes awaking us gently from our slumber. Once the first bowl was infused and passed around, the aroma of the wet leaves immediately transported me that moment just after a tropical downpour, when the rain stops and there is quiet stillness with that smell of heavy wet vegetation as the heat rises. It was the right time of evening too, when the sun was going down outside with this heavy, slow and tranquil Summer energy coming over us all inside this space.
I found the tea uniquely sweet and slightly sour at the same time with a Korean Kimchi pickled vegetable type taste from the first few bowls accompanied by a roasted note from the charcoal used to roast the leaves coming through which just added even more to the experience of feeling like we were at the place of origin, now in taste as well as sound and aroma. We enjoyed a 3rd bowl which was more smooth tasting of sweet apricots and honey notes, but we had around 8 bowls or more in total. By the end, I felt so at peace in my body and in our special spiritual 'zoo' space (people outside were gathering and taking pictures of us like we were objects of curiosity) not even the bass from the pub next door disturbed our peace or our minds. We were heavy and content, happily connected over tea, sound and space.