Wednesday, April 27, 2011

2009 Xi-Zi-Hao "Jin Xuan (Golden Brick)" BanZhang/YiWu brick

This tea made a brief appearance in Hou De's stock recently before being bought out completely.  I was lucky to grab myself a bit of it, and the BanZhang/YiWu mix makes a nice addition to my little Xi-Zi-Hao stash.  The sample bag contains some big meaty chunks, all exhibiting a careful and beautiful compression of very long and ropey leaves.  None of that "pretty outside, ugly inside" at work here.  It's all quite beautifully done no matter where you look.  Clearly, the length of many of these leaves is due to some generous stem left on the pick, but whether that's just for show or an intentional inclusion for the flavor, I don't know.  I was able to easily pry off a good amount of whole leaves, although the length of several of them were problematic for my little gaiwan and I ended up breaking some in two so it could accommodate them.

I pulled out the aroma cup for this one.  The fragrance off the dry leaves was soft and muted so I was curious to know what might be hidden there.  What revealed was a wonderfully complex fragrance with lots of carmelized sugars, mixed with floral overtones initially, then not-quite-ripe stone fruit.  Still some greenness left in the scent from the young age of this brick but off to a good start, it seems.  The fragrance off the wet leaves in the gaiwan echo the greenness in the aroma cup but it's a much-mellowed green, soft and leaning gently toward sweet, with no astringent edges present.

Banzhang leaves are said to have a strong assertiveness to them so I went at this initially with a gentle touch, starting with a 5-second infusion and pouring softly down the edge of the cup.  To my surprise, the green aroma that was present with the rinse is now completely gone.  In fact, there is surprisingly little aroma off the leaves at all, save for a far-off promise of malt and an even father-away note of new leather.  The soup pours a deep amber color and looks to have some body to it.  Not much comes forward in terms of taste, no hit of "bitter," although some floral notes rise in the nose.  But this first cup really shines when it comes to mouthfeel, which is thick and silky, bringing considerable texture to the mouth.  Good penetration, too.  My whole mouth is tingling and buzzing.

I keep the second and third infusions gentle as well (7-seconds and 15-seconds), and again the aroma is reserved and sedate and the taste is unremarkable.  I find myself wondering if this is a flaw or just growing pains?  But the mouthfeel is luscious and the qi is penetrating and strong, with a mellow fullness.  It's as if this tea is holding everything back so as to play up it's movement and energy.  And then, as I'm preparing the fourth infusion, I notice a sweet but subtle taste of plums rising in the mouth.  Quite welcome :)

For the next few infusions I really push this tea to see what it's got.  It responds with more assertiveness in the fragrance showing a beautiful and unique perfume.  Vanilla notes come out clearly here and there, and strangely I keep wanting to name the aroma as "beach-like," although there is no fishiness to it.  It's just a clean beach-like water quality to it.  Not a particularly sweet scent but nicely perfumed and pleasant.  Interestingly, the taste stays indistinct but with a clearly savory leaning and a sparkling clean quality to it, helped along by the salivation being pulled from my mouth.  But still no bitterness despite the much longer infusion times.  The unique perfume returns on the breath and the strong qi seems to have mellowed and softened all the hard edges of my perspective.  I take my time with this tea, partly for the mellow qi it imparts and partly to savor the plummy sweetness that rises long after the sip.

I couldn't help but think back to the 2003 Ba Mai I had recently (which I just added photos of the cake and wrapper here).  Like the Ba Mai, this Xi-Zi-Hao seems unsettled but clearly headed in the right direction, although the Ba Mai is much stronger in terms of fragrance and flavor, making it a lot more fun to drink.  But for both of these pu-erhs I'm looking forward to sampling them again as they continue to age.  Both seem to hold some promise, but only time will tell.

Lots of big leaves in this one

Monday, April 11, 2011

2011 Da Fo Long Jing (Great Buddha Dragonwell)

How very long winter can be sometimes when you know spring is not far away...

Much thanks to Gingko at Life in a Teacup, I happily placed my pre-order for one of the first Long Jings of the year, this one from Xinchang county of Zhejiang province.  mmmm that first aroma!  This Long Jing is full of sweet beans and nuttiness and the heady aroma of fresh baked bread.  I think I died and went to heaven for a few seconds there, and all the while this classic song was playing in my head --

Friday, April 8, 2011

2003 Ba Mai

Today's tea, a sample from Bana Tea Company -- the 2003 Ba Mai (sheng) -- is a good example of how one should never approach a tea with certain expectations.  As I wrote yesterday, it's been a few weeks since I've had anything pressed in the last 15 or so years.  The 2004 6FTM, with it's big sweet hay aromas, brought me to this Ba Mai (only one year older) with expectations of the same.  Silly me.

Although it rarely tells me anything about the taste and fragrance to come I do like to take a sniff of the dry leaves in these sample bags.  The Ba Mai smelled of vanilla hay which only strengthened my foolish idea that, "I pretty much know what this one's going to taste like" (at least I have a knack for providing myself with some humorous entertainment during these tea sessions).   I gave this one a long rinse as the leaves seemed to be reluctant to open very quickly.  I probably could have gone two rinses as my first infusion of 5-seconds didn't yield much in terms of taste.  But the story at this point was all in the fragrance, which started initially with big ripe fruit, sweet and full, and just the faintest hint of hay around the edges (which very well could have been my mind playing tricks on me, expecting more green hay from this tea).

A second infusion of 7-seconds (I was being careful with this one as I had sampled it some time ago and found it quite bitter, probably due to overly aggressive brewing).  The ripe fruit aroma has pulled way back and an interesting dance between sweet and savory begins that continues through the next several infusions.  It kept me guessing for some time -- will this turn into a predominance of sweet notes, or savory?  I'm not sure the tea even knew the answer.  From one infusion to the next it would bounce back and forth.  For this second infusion, anyway, the sweet notes became more caramelized sugars, mixed with a savory beany note.  Sounds odd, I know.  And yes, it was.  But it kept me guessing and alert (never a bad thing).  Taste-wise there was a very pleasant bitterness in the mouth and a savory quality to the flavor.  Most notably, a wonderfully soft sweetness filled my mouth soon after the sip, lingering for a very long time.

Third infusion, 9-seconds: a decidedly fruit-n-vegetable aroma, back to whiffs of ripe fruit this time mixed with a rich bean fragrance.  The taste is clean and savory but the mouth feel is thin and watery.  Still, that pleasant bitterness remains, bringing up some nice salivation now in my mouth.  Once again a long and lingering sweetness fills my mouth long after the sip.

Fourth infusion, 13-seconds (my apologies for this blow-by-blow, but this tea was so full of interesting developments I'm not sure how else to report it): the sweet notes in the aroma switch to dark caramel and sugars now and I wonder if this might be a glimpse of what the future holds for this tea.  A dark, not-too-sweet sweetness.  The hui gan penetrates more deeply now and my breath begins returning a perfumed coolness.  I'm noticing some good qi with this one, too.  Again, it's quite penetrating and brings forth some perspiration through my body along with a gentle mellowness.  And then there's that looooonnnnggggg lingering sweetness after the sip. Yummmm...

Fifth infusion, 23-seconds: The aroma is all vegetables now.  Mushrooms make an appearance with the beans, along with a sort of "vegetable sweetness."  If you've ever sauteed vegetables (especially mushrooms) for a very long time until their natural sugars begin to caramelize, *this* is what the sweetness is like.  Rich and savory.  The color of the tea liquor, which started out a pale golden, is now dark yellow with an orange hue.  The qi continues to deepen, bringing more perspiration to my skin.  And then that fantastic lingering sweetness.  Love that.

For the remaining infusions the aroma deepened more and more into rich sauteed mushrooms.  The qi and the hui gan with this tea were terrific.  The only thing I wished it had more of was a more substantial mouth feel and I wondered if this, too, might be something that could potentially develop as a tea ages?  Might also be worth experimenting with various tea cups, water and kettles (nods to Mattcha here :).

Thursday, April 7, 2011

2004 6FTM Limited YiWu Zheng Shan Wild Arbor

6FTM is short for Six Famous Tea Mountain, the manufacturer of this particular tea selection.  I picked up a sample of this one from Hou De last year and it's been sitting ever since with the ever-growing pile of sample bags accumulating in my house.  For the last several weeks I've been acquainting myself with The Essence of Tea's aged pu-erh stock and really loving all of it.  How fortunate we tea drinkers are to have vendors like that who so carefully choose such wonderful offerings.  I've been soaking in many of EoT's older selections, but today felt like a day for something a little younger.  Hence, this 2004 selection :)

Often when a tea has been sitting sealed in a sample bag for some time, it offers a concentrated gift of fragrance when opened, and this 6FTM was particularly yummy with endless notes of soft chocolate.  I was reminded of a few traditionally roasted and aged WuYi Shui Xian oolongs I've had, making me wonder if this pu-erh had seen a bit of roasting itself.  After a brief rinse and then a first 5-second infusion I was surprised to find the chocolately roasted scent had disappeared, replaced with a particularly strong aroma of sweet hay, with just some brief hints of malt and caramel filling in around the edges and meadow-like florals rising upon cooling.  The scent of sweet hay is a familiar one with younger shengs, but this one was notably strong and rich.  

The taste was soft and smooth with just a ghost of the bite and astringency it probably once had (which might have been more pronounced had I steeped it a little longer).  A soft buttery sensation spread over my tongue and filled my mouth.  Soft, smooth, almost oily but in the most pleasant of ways.  Truly one of the most beautiful mouth-feels I've ever experienced with a tea.  By the end of the first cup a sensation of coolness had moved down into my throat. 

Second infusion, 8-seconds.  The fragrance out of the gaiwan gives flashes of plum initially before settling down into sweet flower-strewn hay.  The soup is pouring a clear gamboge.  A gentle bitterness in the taste makes itself known but only to coax a bit of salivation in the mouth, lending an almost juicy quality to the flavor.  The hui gan begins to develop, filling my sinus and throat with a cool scented airiness. 

The remaining infusion times went something like this -- 10s, 17s, 20s, 30s, and then I stopped counting.  The fragrance off the leaves remained close to the sweet flowery hay theme, but by the 4th infusion it developed a perfume all it's own.  I love it when a pu-erh does this.  No one distinct note comes forth to announce itself, and while it's clear that the fragrance has grown from the usual notes I find myself at a loss for words other than "not floral", "not fruit", "not hay."  And yet it includes all of those and has produced something uniquely it's own.  I think of EoT's 2001 Jin Chang Hao Yiwu, arguably one of my most favorite teas which also has this characteristic of a unique perfume that's all it's own.  

As the tea session lengthened the buttery mouth feel settled into clean, fresh and sweet.  This tea offered much in the way of subtle activity and flavor in the mouth and movement through head, throat and chest, all combining to make it a most enjoyable experience.  Eventually a floral quality began to rise on the breath, which was wonderful.  The heady perfume of the 4th and 5th infusions soon gave way to a scent that is best described as a fresh rain in the countryside and I finished out the session with the feeling that my head and neck were filled with a sweet-scented cool spring breeze.  A wonderfully evocative tea (can you tell?).    :) 

Digging through the spent leaves I found, amongst the "chop", plenty of whole small young leaves, most with thick strong spines.  Of the whole leaves (none of which were much longer than an inch or inch-and-a-half), many had a reddish tinge to them and I was reminded of that chocolatey aroma I first smelled, wondering if this might be a clue to the origin of it.