Wednesday, December 29, 2010

2006 Autumn Yi Wu Cha Wang

purchased from Hou De Asian Art & Fine Teas
Harvest and production: 2006 Autumn
Type: Raw (sheng) pu'erh cake
Manufacturer: Chen Guang-He Tang
Origin: from "Gua Feng Zhai", a very high and remote region in Yi Wu

It's been awhile, I know. The holidays have been keeping me busy. On the tea front I've been mostly revisiting the ones in my stock, settling in with a few favorites (the Denong Wild and the Purple Tip, both from Bana). But I've been venturing out again lately and acquiring some new teas, including this wonderful Yi Wu Cha Wang pu'erh from 2006 which had a couple of glowing reviews on the Hou De website.

And the verdict? Definitely a winner. A good purchase indeed. A very complex and nuanced tea. The cake itself is lovely, stone-compressed with big juicy leaves. I used my new pu'erh pick (thank you Linda Louie of Bana Teas!) to pry off a few grams (I'm liking this pick much better than the bone knife I was using previously, which always seemed to pulverize the leaves just as much as pry some off whole). You can see the pick and the knife next to each other below -

The best part of a good pu'erh for me is always that first whiff of aroma. This one showed top notes of plum (lots of plum!) with subtle malt undertones, all mixed around with that classic fragrant pu'erh smell. The liquor itself was a pale straw color with hints of apricot coloring, smooth and slippery on the tongue with a pleasantly subtle thickness. The taste also revealed overtones of plum, with delicate flavors and a distinctly dry quality. Not unpleasantly dry, but just *there*. Nice.

Perhaps the best and most surprising aspect of this tea came to me not while I was actively drinking it but while I was sitting for a bit between infusions. I suddenly noticed a sweetness filling my mouth and throat! Had I just not noticed it before? Or was this part of the unfolding of this particular tea? Perhaps it was a bit of both, but it made for a delightful surprise -- a great example of what they call "hui gan". Later, after several infusions, the sweetness grew into the most exquisite sense of warmth filling my throat and chest, even down to the lower regions of my torso. Very nice. I had just as much fun sitting and 'not' drinking this tea, feeling it move through my body, as I did smelling and tasting it. Definitely a full-body tea experience, infusing me with a sense of calm and balance and all-is-well-in-the-world. Lovely lovely tea :)

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

An Ji Bai Cha green tea

An Ji Bai Cha green tea, grade AAA
purchased from Jing Tea Shop
Type: baked green tea from first spring pick 2010
Origin: An Ji Hu Zhou city, Zhe Jiang province

I think I found another favorite and special green tea. The aroma of this green tea (which, according to Jing Tea Shop's write-up, is a baked green tea or "Hong Qing Lu Cha") is all big greens with an added smell I couldn't quite place. I'm tempted to call it a non-smokey smoke aroma, but there is no smoke in this tea. Maybe it's the aroma from being baked? I don't know, but it gives the smell of greens a somewhat hard edge. Not unpleasant, just different. I was surprised to pour it and find that the color of the liquor is nearly colorless. I thought maybe I just hadn't steeped it long enough, but infusion after infusion showed this same near-colorless liquid. It was about as close to the color of pale moonlight as I've seen. Jing Tea Shop describes it as "pale white green". I'd have to agree. But for the lack of color in the liquor, the taste is surprisingly good. Very sweet all around (not sweet like candy, but sweet as in how the flavor impacts). There's also a hint of sweet (not acidic) citrus, as well. Very nice. Another great thing about this tea is how the aftertaste goes on for such a long long time, again very sweet, leaving a distinctly fresh (almost tingly after the first infusions) feel way down into the throat. Whereas Long Jing green teas are all about rich beany greens, this one is all about sweet and fresh. A winner :)

Monday, September 13, 2010

2008 Menghai "Peacock of Mengsong"

Menghai "Peacock of Mengsong" raw pu'erh
(label inside says "Yunnan Chi Tse Beeng Cha")
purchased from Yunnan Sourcing
Vintage 2008
Type: raw pu'erh
Origin: Menghai Tea Factory, Peacock series cakes are single estate teas, this one from Mengsong Mountain

I purchased this cake after reading another online review of it and thankfully it doesn't disappoint. The aroma of the leaves is perfectly sweet and fresh. Definitely one of the better-smelling pu'erhs I've had. The taste is smooth and mellow. Very pleasant and easy to drink. A tad bit of bitterness in the aftertaste of the stronger infusions (infusions #3 and 4, mostly), especially as the tea cooled, but not overpowering and what you would expect from a good tea. I'm not complaining! Overall a very pleasant and drinkable tea. I'm glad I picked up a whole cake of this one.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Wuyi Shui Xian oolong

Traditional Wuyi Shui Xian oolong
purchased from Jing Tea Shop
Vintage 2008
Type: AnXi (rock) oolong

Finally! An oolong I LIKE! And what's not to like about something that smells like dark roasted chocolate?? yummmmmm... This Wuyi Shui Xian is a bit aged -- from 2008 -- and is called "traditional", I think, because it's very well-roasted. Many popular modern oolongs are not roasted as much as they used to be. Or at least that's what I read somewhere. The taste of this tea is just as scrumptious as the aroma, with overtones of chocolate and a long sweet aftertaste that leaves a pleasant cooling sensation in the throat long after you've had your last sip. I could drink this tea all day and be a very happy camper! My cat certainly sensed my contentment, as you can see here --

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Jing Gu Yang Ta raw pu'erh

Jing Gu Yang Ta pu'erh, purchased from Yunnan Sourcing
2010 first spring pick
Type: raw/green, grades unknown
Production notes: picked by the Yang Ta cooperative in Jing Gu county, Simao prefecture

This tea was a free sample included with another order I placed with Yunnan Sourcing. I love it when tea sellers send little free samples like this. Especially a place like Yunnan Sourcing who sell well over a thousand teas. It's impossible to pick which ones to try. What a delight to open this package and find a good-sized chunk from the edge of a compressed cake. I had no problem separating large whole leaves with just my fingers. The Denong Wild I like so much from Bana Tea Company is much harder compressed and has been giving me lots of practice with the pu'erh knife as I try to separate out the leaves without ending up with a pile of crumbs.

This particular tea (the Jing Gu Yang Ta pu'erh) is apparently from a strain of the tea plant called Camellia Taliensis (as opposed to the usual Camellia Sinensis), according to Yunnan Sourcing's write-up. So I was interested to find out how it might taste different from the teas I'm used to. The aroma of the wetted leaves first made me think of hay in a horse barn. None of that fruity-flowery scent you often get with Camellia Sinensis leaves. Throughout my tasting session I smelled the leaves often and it settled into a very pleasant sweet hay smell (the horse barn part of the scent only appeared in the first wetting).

The color of the liquor was a beautiful pale lemon yellow. I used very hot (near boiling) water and steeped only for 10 seconds or so. Longer steepings proved to be a little more bitter than I like. But the shorter steeping produced a smooth light brew whose taste I would describe as both grassy and almost sweet. The scent of the liquid was pleasant as well, giving off a light sweet bean and fresh hay smell. The aftertaste was long and lingering and very nice. I'm tempted to say there's a bit of qi with this tea, as well -- a very quieting type of qi. A little bit of a cooling sensation to the throat, too. Not a lot, but just subtle. And once the leaves were fully reconstituted they were impressively large and juicy in appearance. The word "meaty" comes to mind. Overall, an enjoyable and somewhat different pu'erh tea experience.

Monday, August 23, 2010

2009 Denong Wild Broad Leaf Species, Ripe Pu'erh

Denong Wild Broad Leaf Species, purchased from Bana Tea Company
2009 vintage, mixed harvest
Type: Ripe (fermented), mixed grades
Production area: Remote mountain region on the borders between Yunnan and Myanmar

From Bana's website:

Made from 100% rare wild ancient arbor trees, this tea is harvested by the Bulang tribe in a remote area in Yunnan, China. Denong Wild has a robust, nutty pecan flavor, with a sweet finish. A customer describes it as “ … an interesting tea; It will put you to sleep, if that’s what you want or clear the fog out of your head and make you very alert and aware of your surroundings with no jitteriness, if that’s what you’re after.” This tea is available in limited quantities in the U.S. and only through Bana Tea Company.

I love this tea. Definitely one of my most favorite pu'erhs. I've bought several bricks of it just to make sure I don't run out anytime soon (the brick size is quite small, only 100 grams). There's just nothing not to like about this tea. I've been making it for some time now in a gaiwan and it's fabulous. Lots of sweet nuts and pecans in both the aroma and taste. Not your typical pu'erh in that the floral and fruit notes are well hidden (or maybe perfectly combined?) in this great nutty characteristic. I love the qi in this tea, as well. It's very mellow and contributes to a clear sense of present awareness. No anxiousness at all, which is sometimes present in teas that possess a strong qi. I know when I drink this tea that my day will pervade with calm, even when my days are full of chaos. Love-love-love this tea :)

Recently I purchased my first yixing teapot. Actually, I bought two -- a really cheap one from Yunnan Sourcing (I think it was less than $30) and the one pictured below, from Jing Tea Shop (not so cheap, but I know it's well made and authentic). After spending some time getting the teapots initially seasoned from a few days soaking in tea water I made my first pot of tea this morning in the Jing pot. Of course, my first-ever yixing pot of tea had to be the Denong Wild from Bana. I knew that using the yixing pot would alter the flavor of the tea and I was interested to see how that worked. I definitely have a learning curve, though. I wasn't sure how much tea to use but remembered something somewhere about filling the pot roughly half full with tea leaves. That turned out to be way too much, so I had some pretty strong tea this morning. Thankfully, the Denong Wild is just as good this way, although I can't really speak yet to how the teapot altered the experience and flavor of the tea. From just this first experience I can say that the yixing pot seemed to soak up a lot of that great nuttiness of the Denong Wild, but in turn it really brought out the classic woody pu'erh aroma and taste. Something about that smell instantly transports me someplace back in time, a few hundred years ago to tea trading house in a port town in China. Don't ask me why I get this sense of transport, although thanks to Hollywood I've got these pictures in my mind of a darkly lit Chinese port town from those first scenes in the second Pirates of the Caribbean movie. Go figure..

UPDATE: June 21, 2011

Funny that this tea would be one of the first I had in that yixing pot.  I've been using that little teapot almost everyday now and the speckles of clay have darkened quite a bit.  I'm getting a ring of white mineral deposit around the lid now, too.  Not sure how to keep that from happening, short of wiping it completely dry after each pour.

 Today was a shu day, all Bana Tea Company selections.  Their ripe puerh selection is really top notch.  Started with the Zhang Xiang Loose Leaf from 1994.  Zhang Xiang apparently translates to "camphor scent", and this one definitely had that going on, along with that classic deep woodiness.  Dark and smooth.  A very pleasant tea to drink.  Next up was the 1998 Dahuazi Ripe.  Another great shu, with a deep and creamy vanilla cereal sweetness to it, like vanilla oatmeal.  Very long-lasting, smooth and clean.  With all this good shu going on I found myself wondering how my beloved 2009 Denong Wild brick was faring.  I drank a lot of it when I first bought it and loved its nutty pecan sweetness and calming qi.  I wondered what 10 months of sitting in my cupboard had done to it (if anything)?

Last summer I had broken apart one of these bricks and stored it in a bag.  I opened the bag and took in the smell, surprised to find the most incredibly delicious sweet red berry scent coming off the leaves.  This was something new.  There was just enough of the pried-off leaves to fill my yixing and I wondered if that intensely sweet berry scent would show up in the tea.  Did a 20-second rinse and took in the fragrance.  Wow!  Even more intensely berry and very sweet.  I tried to pin down the scent, but the best I could come up with was "blueberries except more red and less blue" (if that makes any sense).  I was eager to taste it.  Did a 6-second infusion -- again, intensely sweet berry aroma that stayed strong even as the leaves cooled.  To my delight, the flavor showed up full of berries, too.  In fact, it was so sweet it almost tasted like it'd been infused with real fruit.  Incredibly flavorful.  Infusion after infusion this tea just kept giving.  Even at the 10th infusion it's still offering a sweet perfume of ripe berry and a terrifically flavorful soup, not to mention that nicely grounding qi it still carries.  As the infusions increased in number the sweet nutty characteristic I had loved it for last summer began to rise again, although the berry sweetness remained intermingled, taking on a creamy quality after a time.  This is a tea I could drink all day long.  Very long-lasting, hugely aromatic and flavorful, nice grounding qi.  It keeps my interest for a very long time, with a fragrance that continues to deepen and evolve, and leaving a great taste in my mouth and warmth in my belly.  Still love this tea :) 

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Xiang Hua Tie Guan Yin AA+

purchased from Jing Tea Shop
Type: An Xi oolong from spring 2010 pick
Origin: Xiang Hua village, inner Anxi county, Fujian province

Dried leaves show small loosely-rolled balls with strong floral aroma even in the dried state. Once wet the aroma is initially eggy, then with fruit and floral. Sweet sugar aroma as the leaves cool. Later aromas reveal less egg and more fruit. Mouthfeel is clean and full, filling all the way to the back of the throat. Taste is mostly florals with only a little egg in the first infusions. Initially this oolong is big and heady filling you with flowery fruity aroma, but as the steepings increase it settles down to a mellow and pleasant experience. I love how those tiny little dry-leaf balls unfurl to such thick succulent leaves --

I keep trying to be an oolong lover, and while I'm sure this oolong is high quality I just don't get the satisfying experiences I have with good vegetal greens or complex qi-filled pu'erhs. Most oolongs I've had seem to be all about the fragrance, which I often find overwhelming. But I'm still trying. I recently had a slightly aged and well-oxidized Wuyi Shui Xian oolong that really made an impression on me. I think that points the way for me with oolongs -- dark, aged and well-roasted. I have some on order now and am looking forward to trying them.

Weng Jia Shan Long Jing AAA

Purchased from Jing Tea Shop, July 2010
Type: green tea, first pick 2010 (April 2nd from aged trees)
Origin: Weng Jia Shan, Xi Hu, Zhe Jiang province (small production)

mmmm.. one of my most favorite fragrances in the world is the smell of Long Jing tea leaves after the first wetting. I needed this today after yesterday's Gong Ting pu'erh. This particular Long Jing is very green-bean-sweet and nutty, with a full and silky mouthfeel. No bitterness, just pure Long Jing nutty sweetness. This is the tea that turned me into a real tea lover. I went through a batch earlier this year that I purchased from New Century Tea Gallery. This one is nuttier and the leaves (I like to taste and eat the leaves of good green tea after a few steepings) are just as sweet and nut-filled as the aroma. Hardly any bitterness at all (the New Century one had more bitterness in the taste of the leaves). This batch of Long Jing from Jing Tea Shop will be well-savored, for sure.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Gong Ting Pu-er, New Century Tea Gallery

Gong Ting Pu-er, purchased from New Century Tea Gallery
loose leaf pu-er
no information on age or origin of production

Quite a change of pace after the more delicate Bana pu'erhs I've been trying. I've read that Gong Ting pu'erh is a very strong brew and that certainly holds true with this one. It'd be interesting to try some others to compare this one to.

This is a loose leaf pu'erh. The first pu'erh I ever bought or tasted, in fact. It was purchased from the New Century Tea Gallery in Seattle a few months ago when I didn't know to ask about the age or production details. I've brewed this several times now and no matter how short I infuse the leaves it inevitably makes an extremely dark brew. A very dark brown color, nearly black. So dark, in fact, that it hardly allows light through when I hold it up to the window in one of my double-walled glass cups.

The first aroma of the wet leaves is the strongest I've ever smelled from a pu'erh. I'm tempted to say that the first whiff is overwhelming musty, though I know that's not a good thing. I'm afraid I don't have enough experience with pu'erhs to know for sure if I'm smelling mustiness and old clothes, or if it's just what really super dark pu'erh smells like. But whatever that first big musty-like smell is, it goes away after a couple of infusions. Still, the aroma remains dark and earthy, infusion after infusion. My notes are full of words like strong coffee, tobacco, smoke, charcoal, woodsy, humus, cigarettes. After several infusions the aroma settled into what could best be described as very well-decomposed rich warm wet dark wood. Very slightly resinous, too.

And the taste? Just what you'd expect from the smell. It's like drinking liquid earth. Not dusty clay earth, but humus-y fertile black earth, with smoke and charcoal. Very smooth, though. Not bitter at all. Occasionally slightly resinous in flavor. The taste of later infusions could be described as earthy malty tobacco. Occasionally I'd get overtones of prune. And it doesn't give up quickly at all. The strength of this tea stays a long time though many infusions.

Denong Pu-erh Brick, Bana Tea Company

Denong Pu-erh Brick, purchased from Bana Tea Company
2006 vintage, autumn harvest
Type: Ripe (fermented) pu-erh, Grades 4-6
Production area: Menghai, Yunnan province

Dried leaves are well-compressed. Once wetted the aroma smells of chestnuts, earth and toasty wood. Color of liquor is a rosy sienna at first infusion but darkens to a beautiful deep mahogany afterward. Mouthfeel is slightly thick. Taste is smooth with no bitterness or dryness. Sweet and soft on the tongue with a mildly sweet aftertaste. This tea has a very mild qi with a relaxing effect felt through the whole body. Not particularly long-lasting, this tea seemed to give it all on the 2nd and 3rd infusions (even pouring streams of dark thick color from the gaiwan on the 2nd infusion), and quickly diminishing after that.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Huang Shan Mao Feng AAA

Purchased from Jing Tea Shop
Harvest early spring 2010
Origin: Huang Shan mountain, He Xian, Anhui province
Small production obtained directly from local farmer

Beautiful leaves with lots of white hairs. A perfectly delicate and delicious green tea. I was sent a 7 gram sample of this tea with another order but only brewed half of this amount thinking I would try to get two sessions out of it. I wish I had brewed the whole 7 grams to get the full flavor. Lesson learned.

Moonlight White Pu'erh, Bana Tea Company

Moonlight White Pu'erh, purchased from Bana Tea Company
2007 vintage from last spring harvest
Raw pu'erh, Grade 1
Production area: Xishuangbanna Prefecture, Yunnan Province

Beautiful dried leaves with a mixture of pale yellow green and black, showing the slight oxidation present. The write-up on Bana Tea's website reads:

"This tea is produced using a special technique wherein the leaves are dried at night, allowing a slight amount of oxidation. The result is a peach-yellow colored tea that exudes a mellow nectarine flavor. The aroma permeates the room as the tea is brewed and the taste is very pleasing, particularly in the morning or afternoon."

True to the description, the aroma has a strong clear nectarine scent. Below the nectarine fragrance there is malt and some subtle floral. The color of the liquor started with pale yellow in the earliest infusions deepening to a rosy-orange by the 8th infusion, pictured here --

Like the aroma, the taste started with a light sweet fruit across the tongue. With subsequent infusions the fruit would linger off with echoes of coffee and eventually woods. The aroma of the leaves stayed predominantly nectarine but by later infusions started to reveal some sweet caramel.

My cat decided I was paying too much attention to my tea session so she inserted herself onto my lap and did some reading on the internet :)

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Purple Tip Pu'erh, Bana Tea Company

Purple Tip Pu'erh, purchased from Bana Tea Company
2008 vintage from early spring harvest
Raw pu'erh, Grade 1
Production area: Lincang, Yunnan Province

Another superb tea from Bana Tea Company, this Purple Tip pu'erh doesn't disappoint. The write-up from Bana's website reads:

"A rare botanical specimen, purple tips can be found only in 20 percent of the wild tea trees. The leaves of this Purple Tip cake were plucked from trees over 500 years old. Made with a bud and two leaves, this tea has a deep malty flavor with a strong lingering aftertaste that is comforting, yet invigorating. Although this is a young cake, it possesses the character and the “qi” of an older cake."

The dried leaves clearly show their high grade. Long full leaves, carefully twisted and folded from the compression of the cake. Upon wetting the aroma of the leaves is just as beautiful as their appearance. Truly one of the most beautifully fragrant pu'erhs I've ever had. I'm a bit at a loss for words to describe it except for the word "perfumed". As I prepared one infusion after another the aroma was ever-changing but always pleasant. Balanced with florals and fruits, malt and mint, every time I picked up the gaiwan to appreciate the fragrance it rewarded me with something new each time, but always predominant with a beautifully pleasing perfume.

The liquor smelled just as wonderful as the leaves and showed the color of golden flax. The initial mouth-feel was silky and full but not so full to be described as thick. There was a delicate dryness to the taste. Very nice. A long and lingering aftertaste that was warm and cooling spread down into the throat and chest. The flavors were delicate and subtle and hard to pin down to any one dominant flavor, but overall very satisfying. I wouldn't describe it as "fruity" or "floral" or "malty", but like the fragrance of the leaves the flavor proved to be complex and ever-changing and ultimately pleasing.

This tea also possesses an interesting qi that I would describe as gentle and quieting and yet invigorating at the same time. In fact, the invigorating aspect of the qi gave a sort of quickening to my heart center as though I were feeling anxious. But it was purely a physical sensation and did not affect the mental sensation of quietness and calm that I got from this tea. A strange paradox, but there it was.

After the leaves had been wetted many times I went sifting through to see what was there. I found plenty of full whole leaves and even many intact "one bud with two leaves". The taste of the wet leaves (I ate a few) still had a lot of that fresh green tea flavor. I lost count of how many infusions I made with this tea. It must have been nearly ten, but the flavor and fragrance were still going strong and never diminished, still showing much complexity and offering much pleasure. I'm so glad I purchased a cake of this pu'erh. A great addition to my collection.