Monday, June 25, 2012

2001 Jasmine Liu An

2001 Jasmine Liu An
Here's a little something different.  Recently picked up some Liu Bao/Liu An samples from Red Circle Tea.  I started the morning with the 1994 Liu Bao they're currently offering.  It was a nice, comfortable tea with a satisfying creamy quality and a pleasant cooling/warming sensation deep in the chest.  I wouldn't call it an exciting tea, but it made for an enjoyable session nonetheless.  After sitting with this tea for awhile I decided to try another of the samples I picked up, the 2001 Jasmine Liu An.  Interesting, yes?  I had no idea what to expect.  Opened the packet to smell the dry leaves and was hit with about as intense an aroma of quality milk chocolate as I've ever experienced, even from an actual chocolate bar.  Definitely a nice introduction for a chocoholic like myself :)   Upon rinsing the leaves the aroma stayed just as intense, only deepening to something nearly identical to baking chocolate.  Dark and bittersweet, but oh so tempting.  Where's the jasmine, you ask?  It finally made an appearance rising with the steam from the tea soup, mixed with a fascinating assortment of fragrances -- medicinal herbs, roasted chestnuts, a bit of fig, a wisp of smoke.

This tea turned out to make for a fun, if different, tea session.  I was surprised to pour it and find it very light in color.  A real contrast to the shu-like Liu Bao I'd just finished.  The same contrast showed up in taste, as well.  The Liu An lacked the dark smooth creaminess of the Liu Bao and carried instead a surprising dark roasted oolong-like flavor.  In fact, with it's chocolatey roasted aromas and aftertastes it seemed to echo a few aged shui xians I've had.  A good cleanliness to this tea, as well.  It seems to have been nicely stored.

I think the most fun I had with this tea, though, was in enjoying the evaporative fragrances from the bottom of the cup.  There were so many different and interesting scents going on, many that I don't often find in the teas I drink.  While the jasmine was present it wasn't nearly as dominating as I feared it might be.  Age seems to have mellowed and broadened it somewhat, and as for the other interesting aromas and flavors I'm not sure if those were originating from the aged jasmine component or the liu an tea base.  Probably the mixture of the two, I'm guessing.  The spent leaves included a few whole leaves in the mix along with plenty of chop, as well as containing a smattering of small round yellow seeds.  They looked very much like the little round seeds I found once in an "orchid puer" tea sample I picked up a few years back from Red Blossom Tea, which turned out to be quite undrinkable, although I just learned that this tea is meant to be brewed in a larger teapot, Cantonese style, and not gongfu cha like I had prepared it (see comment below from Peter Luong of Red Blossom Tea).  This Jasmine Liu An was quite drinkable in comparison.  I quite enjoyed it, in fact.

All in all, a very different and surprisingly fun tea experience today.  I'm tempted to pick up some more of this Jasmine Liu An just to set it aside and see what continued aging does to it.

* * * * * * *
(Additional information)

So it seems that Red Circle Tea doesn't have a big following among certain tea drinkers, hm?  I don't like to put vendors in a bad light and usually just keep mum about teas and vendors I don't like, but we reap what we sow and this vendor certainly isn't alone in certain practices.  Claims such as "rare tea," "hard to find," "ancient tea," not to mention questionable prices, seem quite common among tea vendors.  Occasionally (rarely is probably the best word to use here) these are merited but often they are not.  It's definitely a buyer-beware market.  For most of us, it's necessary to educate ourselves by tasting lots of tea, including teas from vendors whom we know little about.  It's all part of the process.  No shame in tasting, testing and learning.  Never let anyone tell you otherwise!

I've since learned a bit more about this Liu An -- specifically, what those little "seeds" are.  Turns out they're not seeds, at all.  Neither are they related to jasmine.  They're the flowers of the Aglaia odorata plant, otherwise known as the Chinese Perfume Plant.  It's also sometimes referred to as the Peppery Orchid Tree, although it belongs to the Mahogany family (meliaceae) and not the orchid family (orchidaceae).  But this may explain why some teas that have these flowers in them are referred to as orchid teas, like the Aged Orchid tea I purchased some time ago from Red Blossom Tea (not Red Circle, although both 'red' and in the SF region), a tea which I didn't enjoy at all (most likely due to incorrect brewing, see comments below).  In fact, I had a hell of a time picking all the little flower balls out of the holes of the ball filter on the yixing I was using at the time.

Just as with this 2001 Jasmine Liu An tea, the Orchid Black tea from Red Blossom (which was listed among their puerh selections) was advertised as being extremely rare and a unique and special find, a claim which turns out to be more full of holes than that frustrating ball filter.  Apparently these teas are quite common and inexpensive in China, a point which MarshalN made and which others I've since talked to have confirmed.  Yet another good lesson in "buyer beware."

Monday, June 11, 2012

2012 QiShengGu from Essence of Tea

How exciting to finally receive my order of Essence of Tea's 2012 offerings!  I'm not one to purchase a lot of brand new, fresh-from-the-presses sheng, but when I know it's made with the kind of attention and care EoT puts toward their teas I'm happy to set aside another shelf in my storage.  Still, I'm determined to break out of my staunch preference for older puerh and so have been picking up a lot of samples of young sheng this year in an effort to learn more about what youth can bring to a tea session, to see if I can cultivate an appreciation for it.  It hasn't been easy learning for me.  Young sheng often seems to bother my stomach, leaving me with a tightness at my core all day that is honestly unpleasant.  But while the majority of young teas seem to carry this energy, every now and then I find one that sits well with me.  The 2012 QiShengGu is one of those.

When I sat down at the tea table this morning I was planning to bang through several of the new EoT samples.  This is a lot of what I've been doing lately with the large pile of new sheng samples I've been acquiring.  It's not that I don't prepare them carefully or pay attention to what they offer, but given that I don't particularly enjoy drinking these young puerhs I'm not in it to savor a tea for a long time.  Rather, I'm looking for first impressions.  I guess you could call it a "meet and greet" approach (speed dating?? haha!).  I'll prepare just enough infusions to get an initial sense of a tea, paying particular attention to how it's affecting my body.  If all goes well I'll sit longer with a tea to see what more it has to say (so to speak).  The unintentional, but very positive side effect of this approach is that it has effectively moved the whole "taste and smell" aspect of tea from front-and-center to something only peripheral -- enjoyable certainly, but not the dominantly defining characteristics of a tea.  Drinking the 2012 QiShengGu has been a great reward in this effort.  Though I had planned to sample several of the new EoT offerings, this one caught my attention immediately.  No need or desire to rush on to others.  The QiShengGu is very pleasant company, indeed  :)

As you can tell, this tea sat very well with me.  A real pleasure to drink.  The broth slipped through my mouth with ease and fullness, a pleasant light oiliness to it.  The aroma not too loud, but interesting and complex nonetheless, lasting throughout.  But the thing that got my attention most, even in the first few sips, was how this tea sank very deeply, opening the throat and filling the chest and torso with warmth.  But it was interesting in this respect.  'Warmth' is not really the best word to describe it.  It was more of a feeling, not just a sensation.  Yes, there was warmth, but there was also a deep calmness about it.  A silence, if you will.  Very, very nice.  It was enveloping and boundary-blurring in the way that some of my favorite aged shengs can do.  I can't help but wonder if this is the magic of gushu that one often hears about.  

But while this tea has that deep silent quality about it, I can also feel it's youth.  It has much activeness about it, and while it sits well with me I can still feel that ball of energy in my core that I've come to associate with young sheng.  There was a good deal of activity in the mouth and in taste as well, as the infusions increased in number.  In this way it was a real joy to drink.  At the end of my session I had this funny but utterly delightful combination of deep silence in my core and a wide joy-filled smile on my face.  

This will be a great tea to follow through it's development and maturation, I think.  I look forward to the next time I sit with it.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

NW tea destinations

My list of Northwest tea links keeps growing, so I decided to organize it a little better, separating it into three sections -- Seattle, Portland and BC Canada links.  While I do my best to keep current I'm sure there are tea houses, tea schools and tea sellers I'm missing.  Please don't hesitate to contact me if there are others I should add.  Also, I should tell you that I haven't visited or done business with all of the companies listed and so can't vouch for the quality of each.  Some sell great tea, some are just really cool tea houses to visit and hang out at, some are probably best classified as tea schools, and one I felt just deserved mentioning even though it's neither a tea seller or tea house (Tokara Japanese Confectionary in Seattle -- yum!).  I've also removed the few blogs I had listed previously since they're all included in the blog roll already.  There are also several high tea (British) tea houses in Seattle and Canada which I haven't included in the lists.  Maybe I should?

At the very bottom you'll see one very tiny list -- Northwest Tea Farms.  This is an exciting development in recent years.  Only time will tell what will come of these, but I find it enjoyable to watch how these take shape.  Sakuma Brothers (in the Skagit Valley of northern Washington) have been growing tea for well over 10 years now.  I visited their roadside farm stand a few years back and picked up some of their teas, but alas I somehow lost my purchases on the way home!  So I still haven't actually tried them.  Their tea bushes (or at least some of them) were growing just a short distance from their stand and I walked over to take a look when I was there.  Perhaps it was just the time of year, or maybe those weren't their best tea plants, but I can't say they looked to be in the best of health.  Still growing, and still green, but were sparsely-leaved and leggy.  Hopefully what I saw did not reflect the whole of their operation.  The Vancouver Island farm, Teafarm, is still in the process of nurturing their tea bushes to sufficient maturity to harvest.  They expect it will be another few years before they can start picking from the plants, but from what I've seen in photos their plants are looking very healthy and well-cared for.  I only hope that as their operation grows they begin experimenting with making pure Cowichan-grown green and oolong teas, and not simply use their leaves for making herb and fruit-infused blends.  But they've certainly got a lovely little oasis to tea (and pottery!) up there on the island.  Definitely high on my must-visit-soon list.