This year Russia has been in the news quite a bit for various political activities (amusingly there’s even currently a “#FakeRussiaFacts” hashtag trending on Twitter), but of far greater interest to me in recent days for being the site of the last unearthed woolly mammoth known to have lived ~4,000 years ago (specifically, on Wrangel Island in North Western Siberia: the northern point of the Beringia land bridge between Asia and North America that was lost to the sea 11,000 years ago). Those of you who have followed this blog well know that human civilization had already begun in earnest at that point in history, including such notable achievements as the building of the Great Pyramids at Giza in 2580 BCE and the first cultivation of tea in 2737 BCE. Thus, believe it or not, humans were drinking the the ancestor of Pu-erh for 700 some years while woolly mammoths still roamed. This week study of these last woolly mammoths has solidified a heretofore unproven theory that once a species reaches a certain point in population decline, a myriad of genetic mutations occur being dubbed “genomic meltdown”. Genomic meltdown signals a point of no return from which a species can no longer move from endangered to threatened and is destined for extinction…
Several times on Parting Gifts, I have reviewed Imperial Tribute and Imperial Reserve teas. These are teas that were reserved only for the emperor and his retinue in pre-modern China. In 1391 CE, during the Ming, loose leaf was formalized as being the only acceptable form of tea for court tribute. Thanks to a great deal of trade negotiations in the 1990s, we’re now able to enjoy some of these ancient delicacies in the West. All that being said, Imperial Tribute actually isn’t the highest caliber of Pu-erh that exists. The ultimate, pinnacle, once-in-a-millennia rating of Pu-erh is given the title “Celestial Tribute” and acknowledged as being reserved only for the gods. As with Imperial Tribute however, in the modern period such traditions are of little import and Celestial Tribute teas are also available for Western import.
Ann Arbor is home to a recently unearthed woolly mammoth skeleton (from Chelsea!) soon to be on display at the soon to be renovated University of Michigan Museum of Natural History (one of my two very favorite places on Earth when i was child). Though the connection is tenuous at best, today, in honor of that last lonely Wrangel Island woolly mammoth and the scientific discovery it led to, I’m reviewing another extremely lonely relic, the one Celestial Tribute tea that’s available in the West (to the best of my knowledge).
It’s actually bit of a struggle to describe China Aged Pu-Erh Celestial Tribute as it sits alone atop a category of teas most people have never encountered anyway. Put mildly, Celestial Tribute is one of the very best teas I’ve ever encountered. In aroma, a rich caramel almond molasses with a hint of the traditional dirty, barky Pu-erh scent. In flavor it’s easily the most smooth and refined Pu-erh I’ve ever had. A luscious deep buttery malt and molasses gives way to a sweet pure maple syrup aftertaste. In texture, thick and smooth with none of the grit of a traditional Pu-erh. In liquor a golden Coca-cola sunset. It comes as no surprise that China Aged Pu-Erh Celestial Tribute is unmatched.
- Aroma – 96
- Taste – 95
- Texture – 94
- Spunk – 97
- Rarity – 98
- Availability – 95 (no longer available as a sample, still available at $17.40/125g o.0;;)
- Appearance – 96
- Organic/Fair trade – 93
Mean score – 95.5 Rounds to a 96. Easily beating out Goldfish’s Shai Qing Beencha 2003 as Best in its Class Pu-erh. Simply divine.
Apologies for the quality of these images. I’m using a loaner computer today as I’m between laptops. I’ll edit them when i have access to Photoshop tomorrow.
I can’t very well sneak my camera into the museum, so here’s a photo of some of the architecture of the original Alexander G. Ruthven Museums Building, named for the former University Museums Director and University President (for however much longer it stands).