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 :)