Saturday, December 31, 2005

Geraldo on Tianjian heicha from

[from an email to corax. posted by permission.]

I am sitting down to my first-ever Tianjian. Yes, my sample arrived today from Generation Tea, who say: “The storage of this tea hasn't changed in many centuries. The basket lets the tea breathe and age. Black tea, similar to Pu-erh, gets better over time. This tea is from about 2000 and has a few years under its belt. Try it, we think you will like it.” As a footnote, one might add that (in Chinese terms) pu'er is black tea: true black tea, or heicha. So too this Tianjian.

The dry state of the leaf presents an interesting aspect. The pieces are of all sizes. The colors range from deep black to medium brown to very dark green and even some yellow, with the predominant colors being dark brown and a greenish-black.

In the wet state, the leaves appear to be cut, and they are a fascinating dark green.

I placed 3.5 grams in my little 3-oz cebei, the vessel with the little fish painted in the glaze. I am using a matching tasting cup, very small. I rinsed the tea once and let it rest for abut four minutes. I used water at a roaring boil, infusing it first for 20 seconds and then for 10 seconds. I mixed both infusions through a strainer into a small glass pitcher.

The liquor is tawny, like cream sherry. It is very clear -- I see the little fishes swimming in the cup. Mike P.’s assessment in a recent e-mail is very good -- this is a very grassy true black tea -- like hay or straw dried in the field, but only in the most pleasant sense. It is not grassy in the sense of vegetal flavors and it is not Sencha-like. I am trying to decide whether this is like Shu pu’er, Liu An, or Liu Bao. It seems lighter in flavor than those. The taste is clean. There is none of that disturbing wet laundry taste that would indicate wet storage or forced aging.

The first two infusions mixed are, in a word, mellow. This is a tea that at first sip seems understated, but the aftertaste is actually stronger than the initial taste in the mouth during the swallowing. That’s a surprise.

As I parse the flavor, I also detect very faint mushroom flavors that feint and dodge on the palate.

I shall drink the third infusion by itself, and I will use the old man boil once again with an additional 15s added to the 20s of the second infusion.

[time passeth away]

This third infusion just might provide two tiny cups, so I will sip judiciously and see what I can discover. This is the antithesis of bull-drinking, a paradoxically careful wrong-fu.

The aroma seems to be more of cooked pu’er than Liu An or Liu Bao. Of the latter two, this Tianjian’s aroma may be more akin to Liu An’s. The third infusion is thicker in the mouth, almost oily, and the mushroom flavor is more pronounced. There is none of the horse blanket or horse sweat taste I sometimes encounter in cooked pu’er.

Despite the mouth-thickness and mushroom flavors, the tea still has a hay flavor that predominates. And further, the third infusion tastes drier.

Who can say whether I am drinking a good Tianjian or a bad one? It is a fish of a different stripe, and lacking criteria for comparison, I must judge it on its own merits.

I am searching for wood or camphor, the two flavors I like best and that I have encountered in fine, aged true black teas, pu’ers, and other post-fermented teas. I bought a little piece of old GYG from TeaSpring, and it had those flavors. A dear friend sent my elderly TeaMumsy a big sample of his grandfather’s 35yo Liu Bao -- a treasure tea strong in wood and camphor flavors. During my recent travels to Guangzhou, a tea master unlocked his chest of truly aged teas and shared with me his 100yo Liu An and 60yo Tael. Those too had the camphor and wood in abundance.

Well, the comparison is unfair. This Tianjian is but five years old, and I’ll be long dead and pushing up mature Osmanthus shrubs before the comparison becomes a fair one.

Adding fifteen seconds to the third infusion certainly did not make this tea too strong. For the fourth infusion, I’ll add twenty, totaling 55s.

[again, time passeth away, by a slightly larger increment]

This tea now is very much subdued. In fact, I can easily detect the nice flavor of our Cascade Mountain aquifer. Oddly, the hay and mushroom aroma hang in there, as well as the color, now the color of scotch and water.

What have I learned? First, I enjoy Tianjian -- or at least this particular production. Second, I would characterize it as very mild, yet nevertheless elemental. I would also suggest that it is better than most Liu Ans I’ve tried, and I would also hasten to add that the very good cooked pu’ers, my current readily available favorites being SFTM tuo chas and the Menghai Star beeng chas, are better because they have bigger flavors. Further, I would suggest that it is a unique tea, different from other true black teas, and well worth drinking. I am grateful that Generation Tea has made this tea available and that I can add this to my dossier of tea experiences.

I am tempted to buy two more ounces of Tianjian, place it in a canister that allows a little breathing, and drop it into my Let’s-Give-It-Six-Years-And-See-What-Develops basket.

I chatted with friend in Asia with access to excellent information regarding pu’er and other compressed teas. When I brought up the subject of Tianjian, he provided me with the following information: “Tianjian is a product from Hu Nan region, using grade 1 fine black leaves, and compressed into large baskets for storing and aging. They are divided into Tian Jian, Gong Jian, and Shen Jian, with Tianjian being the best. It is produced using grade 1 leaves, meaning small leaves, and flush, and sieved for selection. ‘Gong Jian’ means Tribute tea, and it is second in line. Shen Jian uses larger leaves.”

Below are two images of Tianjian vintage 1953, which makes it older than me, but decades younger than corax. Corax, as we know, is older than dirt and deserving of our respect.

Geraldo on Generation Tea’s Tieguanyin

[from an email to corax. posted by permission.]

Here is what Generation Tea's ad for this tea says: “Tieguanyin -- This oolong of Fujian Province offers a balanced cup with a dark amber hue. This quality tea has a refreshing taste that lingers in the mouth. Gongfu style brewing with less water and more leaves will enhance this tea’s bouquet. Use 4 or 5 times Gongfu style or two to three times with standard teapot brewing. All oolongs help in any weight loss program and have been used for centuries.”

This oolong came as a surprise free sample with a recent purchase of cups and Tianjian. I know next to nothing about TGY, having little experience with it in its many versions, and so I shall not hesitate to pontificate from the innocent stance of the truly ignorant.

I note that Generation Tea offers several TGYs for sale to the public, and this iteration is the least expensive, but lucky beggars can’t be choosers. I am grateful for the gift, and eager to drink this sample of oolong. To continue with clichés, I shall give this gift-horse’s mouth a scrutinizing squint.

I am using one gram of tea to one ounce of water just off boiling in my Zylindro glass infusing mug. My infusions will be as follows: 1m, 45s, 1m, 1m15s, &c.

The fisted balls are fairly large -- and this usually is a good thing in the Taiwan oolongs with which I am more familiar. I rinsed the tea quickly in very hot water to wake it up.

In the first infusion, the leaves quickly expanded in their agony. (From whence come these tea terms?) The tea is not very lively yet (having been given only one agony thus far), but I expect big flavors in the second infusion. Today has been a day of Dancong, Tianjian, and Dong Ding. As happens so often during Christmas break, students from years ago are stopping by to say hello. I’ve been displaying my skills as a gaiwaneester to the admiring fans and showing off photos from my recent journey to Asia. In Guangzhou’s Fan Cun market I watched teashop employees carefully stemming huge piles of TGY. I learned that big bags and boxes of oolong -- some of them look to weigh a at least fifty pounds -- often come from the processor with large stems attached, and the Chinese shopkeepers or their family members patiently break the stems off of each little fist of tea. The price that the shopkeepers can charge then per weight unit rises commensurately.

Below are two pictures I took in the Fan Cun market, the first showing the stemming process, and the second depicting a typical Fan Cun Tea Market storefront with bags of loose tea (in this case, loose cooked pu’er) on the sidewalk.

It’s time now to infuse the TGY again. I expect the flavors to be much larger in this go-round.

(Your reviewer runs upstairs to his kitchen.)

The tea’s aroma in the second infusion is very pleasant, a powerful oolong bouquet I associate with orange juice and flowers. The liquor is tart and sweet. It has a nice sharpness. The flavor travels through the mouth, and the sides and back of my tongue carry the strong and good aftertaste. Hmmm -- I note that this tea is twelve bucks for a quarter pound, and for that price, this TGY seems like a great deal. I am also wondering if the Generation Tea oolongs costing twice as much are twice as good. I would hypothesize that they have more subtleties, nuances, dimensions, distinctions, flavor-tones, and spectra.

I am wondering how TGY differs from, say, Mao Zie or Li Shan. What strikes me most at this point is the floral aroma. The flavor is not as startling in the mouth as Li Shan can be, and it is less sweet than Mao Zie. It is a very tart tea. The aroma is exceptional -- both directly from the cup and as experienced during swallowing. The tea continues to communicate in the mouth after I swallow it.

Some reviewers refer to a metallic tang in TGY, and I am searching for it in this cup. With my limited experience in this tea, I am not sure I would recognize it.

Time now for a third infusion. It is a little more subdued, perhaps, than the second infusion, but not significantly, the aroma still redolent of flowers, the flavor still reminding me of citrus juice with perhaps pear nectar mixed into it. I expect that this tea will produce several more good brews for this evening’s session. I hope that an iron goddess of mercy will wear kid gloves as she whisks me off to the Land of Nod and astral travels, but I expect to be awake into the early hours, eyes wide, alert, and reading as a result of drinking all of this tea.

I note that the leaves in the wet state are medium-sized, despite the large fists in the dry state. For the most part, I see two leaves to a stem.

The fourth infusion is as tasty as the third. It is a good session-tea, a tea to enjoy, perhaps, while studying, correcting papers, or catching up on correspondence. I have not pursued TGY in more than a year, and this tea serves as an excellent re-introduction. I carried home so much tea from Asia, including various exotic oolongs garnered from shops and friends in China, Singapore, Malaysia, and Taiwan, that I will not run low on oolong for the coming year -- at least. But when that day does arrive, and I find myself shopping for an oolong, I will remember this tea and think of its pricier cousins. I am grateful to Generation Tea for this Tieguanyin. It does indeed have a “refreshing taste that lingers in the mouth.”

Friday, December 30, 2005

Second opinion on Elabora King Bing

Geraldo has reviewed this one already. Having tasted this tea, I'm chiming in not because I think he's wrong about it but because I think our Pu'er sensibilities differ.

To me, this tea is a fine example of what I love in a young sheng Pu'er. Not the amazing complexity of an aged tea, nor the way a great old Pu'er will drink you under the table no matter how many steeps you give it (though this one did fine for seven.) But there's something gorgeous about some young ones, and for me, this one has it.

I brewed the Elabora - where did this name come from? - using normal wrongfu: water off-boil, 1g leaf/fluid ounce, quick rinse and then steeps of 20, 10, 20, 30, 60, 120, and 300 seconds.

From the first, my favorite thing about young shengs came out: a soft, sweet, musty aroma that always reminds me of cat fur. It was there, strongly, in the brewed leaf aroma, and it was there in the cup aroma, getting stronger and sweeter as the cup cooled and climaxing in the empty cup. The taste of the first steep was soft and musty, with the slightest hint of fruit, and it got richer and sweeter as the cup cooled.

In the second steep, the musty highway to my brain's pleasure center narrowed, but the tea gained some complexity. While still soft and musty, the aroma took on a bit of ash, though the empty cup spoke the way it did in the first steep. The taste, still soft, gained a bit of smoky bitterness.

The third steep brought just a hair more ash to the aroma. The flavor was no longer as soft and rich as before, though it maintained a good balance of sweet and bitter.

By the fourth steep, the must was starting to recede from the aroma, which took on some vegetality and a tiny bit of fruit. The taste, continuing to lose richness, added a bit of vague vegetality.

The remaining steeps were pretty much similar to the fourth, with a minor amount of astringency creeping in.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Cui Ya from Silk Road Teas, G-CY-1

This is a Chinese Green, organically grown.

DATE PURCHASED: Oct. 27, 2005

DATE BREWED FOR THESE NOTES: Between 11/2/2005 and 12/17/2005

DRY LEAF: Relatively thin and straight, olive green, with some variation in width and some broken leaf. Little aroma of dry leaf.

WET LEAF: Very green in color; slightly spicy aroma.

TEA-TO-WATER PROPORTIONS: I experimented with ratios from 1:2 to 1:1 [grams to fl oz]

BREWING VESSEL: Gaiwans of 4 and 5 oz. capacity

Most of my trials were brewed at 140 F, with 1:1 ratio of water to leaf, from around 1:15 minutes to 2:30 over two to three steeps. Trials at 1:2, as expected, yielded a still more ethereal brew.

The first steep presents a light, subtle, refined green-vegetal character. Sweet meadow grass, not too astringent. In at least one trial I noted a long finish. Lovely sweet/tart interplay. This is a delicate tea.

A second steep yields a fuller, rounder cup with a bright flavor profile; sweet grass remains but with the sensation of fresh-greenness diminished in some trials. The characteristic that remains throughout many trials (at temperatures up to 170F) is its satisfying, quenching, sweet/tart character. In one trial, I noticed a nuttier nuance. Astringency increases in later steeps.

A third steep yields much the same profile as the second, but lighter in flavor overall.

In some trials, I noted a buttery or creamy mouthfeel to this tea, and I can't explain that because the parameters were much the same. Perhaps it was my mood or tastebuds.

By mid-December (1-1/2 months after purchase) I notice that the flavors of this tea have diminished. This may be due, to some extent, to my storage (original package with air expressed) but I think it pays to take note of its delicacy and enjoy it while it is fresh -- which is the main point with delicate greens, to be sure.

COMMENTS: All told, I find this a lovely tea well worth experiencing.

Joe Kubera

Geraldo on Dian Hongs Cup2Cup: Yunnan Gold from Adagio and from Silk Road Teas

[from an email to corax. posted by permission.]

To learn about tea I sometimes go on jags. If Japanese sencha is an undiscovered country, I am apt to buy small parcels from ten sources to learn a little of the breadth and scope of it. Recently I hunted down every tea I could find that traveled under the name of Makaibari Silver Tips, and I had parcels arriving from three different countries. From experiences like these I have learned that a dozen teas sharing the same name are not necessarily similar.

I took an interest recently in the fact that my friends Mike and corax like certain black teas -- what the Chinese call hong cha or "red tea," and particularly Dian Hong, or Yunnan red. Of Dian Hongs, the absolute finest is that made entirely of golden tips, and typically known as Tippy Yunnan, or Yunnan Gold.

On a tea forum, I asked posters to share their favorite sources and preferred parameters for brewing Gold Yunnan. Further, I begged, bought, and borrowed many samples from generous friends with whom I often rendezvous in a virtual Shambhala teahouse, The House of Three Dragons and One Crane. Over virtual dim sum and sticky rice balls, we talked Dian Hong and tried many brands. In the meantime, back in reality, several forum members responded to my inquiry. One knowledgeable person sang the praise of Dian Hong from a surprising source: Adagio Tea. I had not made a purchase from Adagio in five years, but emboldened by the recommendation, I ordered four ounces.

Of all the Dian Hongs I tried (Yunnan Gold from at least fifteen sources), Adagio's was best. It is spectacularly golden in color. It releases an intoxicating and pungent aroma in the dry leaf. It brews up thick and tasty and luscious, carrying that great Yunnan trademark flavor. And the happiest aspect? It’s inexpensive! Many sources provided excellent Dian Hongs, but Adagio’s is superior. And the other sources' Dian Hongs are sometimes so expensive that the imp who resides in my wallet and protects my meager cash supply whimpers and squeals as I press the “Add to Shopping Cart” button on my internet screen.

I have learned that price often predicts quality in tea, but not always, and especially not always in Dian Hong. For example, the most expensive, from Seattle’s Black Pearl Teashop, did not compare favorably to the less expensive and wonderful versions from Meru and Upton. Yunnan Sourcing LLC also provides excellent Dian Hong, but one must pay for the overseas shipping and hold one’s breath on SAL.

Recently I traveled to Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan, and The People’s Republic of China to meet my pen pals, burn under the tropical sun, and pursue my obsession with tea. I took along no tea from home, deciding that would be like carrying coals to Newcastle.

In exotic Malaysia, on the mysterious island of Penang, in the chaotic city of George, I came across a teashop that stocked a fascinating canister with many Chinese characters and these words in English: “Dian Hong.” I bought it. And in my hotels, after long days gulping gallons of Wuyi, Dancong, Tong Ting, Li Shan, Ali Shan, aged and young sheng and shu pu’er, and many other teas, I retreated to that Dian Hong for one last cup before passing out at night. In the mornings, prior to setting forth into the huge tea districts of gargantuan cities, I would turn to the Dian Hong from Malaysia for my first tea of the day. The canister held the perfect amount for my one-month sojourn. I nearly finished it by the end of my adventure in Asia, and came home with just enough to send a small sample to corax. He is quite elderly, you know, and I like to show him some respect.

When I returned to my home, I received in the mail four ounces of Silk Road Tea’s Yunnan Gold, High Grade (Item #B-YG-2). I doubted that it would stand up to my favorite (and far less expensive) Adagio's Gold Yunnan. My gustatory and olfactory memories are not as developed as I would like, so to compare them, I knew that I would have to drink both in one session.

My partner in this comparison was my octogenarian mother who lives next door. In her kitchen I prepared a batch of each purveyor’s Dian Hong -- employing vessels and procedures as identical as I could make them. I used twin glass brewing vessels, twin sharing pitchers, and four identical cups.

For this comparison, I employed classical Petro-vian hong cha brewing parameters, to wit: four grams of tea, seven ounces of water at a roaring boil, and three minutes of infusion.

In the dry state, as noted above, the Adagio is bright gold, with large leaves in twisted strands, very similar in appearance to cigarette tobacco. Also as noted, it is pungent, almost smoky. By comparison, Silk Road Tea's version is comprised half of green and half of yellow leaves. I presumed that this boded ill for the comparison. SRT’s Gold Yunnan’s aroma is less pungent, but it is winy and more complex.

In the cup, they are identical in color -- a deep, intoxicating brown. The aroma of the liquors followed suit, respectively, to the aroma of the dry leaves. They were both incredibly inviting.

I told Mumsy that one cup held an outstanding but inexpensive Gold Yunnan, the best I had found in my research. I told her that the other cup held an expensive Gold Yunnan from a highly reputed importer of world-class tea, a Gold Yunnan I had not tried. I asked her which of the two was the most expensive. She instantly identified Silk Road Tea’s Gold Yunnan. Mumsy said that it has more character, more flavors, and more strength. She said it has a better and longer aftertaste--as well as more authority. And Mumsy’s right. While both are truly excellent, Silk Road Tea’s is a better beverage.

For those wanting a remarkable Gold Yunnan at a very good price in comparison to many on the market, I would recommend Adagio’s. But for those willing to pay more for the actual top-drawer tea of this ilk, then Silk Road Tea’s Gold Yunnan is the best pick. Of the many I have tried, SRT’s is the best of the best.

Tonight, in The House of Three Dragons and One Crane, I sat with one of my cronies and described the Malaysian Dian Hong as we chewed dried orange peels, nibbled tea eggs, and spooned up our pu'er gelatin. He told me that in the physical world he lives not far from the Malaysian Peninsula, and that he'll call the Penang shop on the phone and persuade the shopkeeper to send me another canister or two. If that works out, then I'll put Mumsy's discriminating abilities to the test once more and share with you the result of my next Cup2Cup comparison.

Geraldo on Yu Lan Xiang [Phoenix Bird Oolong, Private Reserve] from Silk Road Teas

[from an email to corax. posted by permission.]

Lot YLXG2 [Private Reserve]. Note: this tea is spelled ‘Ye Lan Xiang’ in the SRT catalogue.

Tasted December 17, 2005

6 grams in glazed 6oz cebei
Quick rinse, two-minute rest

Water: roaring boil, then cool 40 seconds
Infusion lengths: 30s, 20s, 30s, 35s (à la coraxian dancong parameters)

Dry leaf: Leaves a little less twisted than normal dancong? A little shorter? Colors ranging from dark green to grey-black. More green, indicating less baking or processing than in dancongs to which I am accustomed.

1st Infusion: Strong, pleasant perfume aroma. Nice appearance in celadon-colored cup. Brisk, not-unpleasant bitterness. Aroma very strong, but flavor a little weak. Hoping for more spice in the second brew.

2nd Infusion: Strong bouquet of fresh flowers. Much stronger flavor in this infusion -- very pleasant. Lacks the sweet spiciness of, say, a well-baked Mi Lan. The finish is long and tart. Quite nice. Fruitiness: citrus. Easy to drink.

3rd Infusion: Quite similar in flavor to the second infusion -- perhaps a little subdued and more complex, presenting more dimensions. The experience of consuming this tea is intense, in large part due to the excellent aroma.

4th Infusion: Aroma fading. Tartness fading. Sweetness persisting. A significant retreat from the strong stance of the 2nd and 3rd infusions. Ah!: As the cup cools, the distancing tartness gives way to more spiciness. The tea is still pleasantly strong in a cooler state.

Comments: First, if you were to lecture your class on the definition of dancong newbies, you would place a likeness of my face on the overhead screen. I have everything to learn about this style of tea. Second, that being said, my tastes run to the darker dancongs and wuyis. The darker varieties have brighter flavors that make me sit up with sudden delight. They taste like Christmas -- apple pie, pecan pie, spiced hot cider. The greener iterations seem, well, green. Finally, my sample of this tea was a small part of a group-buy. Much time and several divvying-ups interposed betwixt the original purchase from SRT and my having access to this specimen. Possibly, a fresher sample might have contained tones, dimensions, nuances, spiciness, complexities, and strengths that this sample lacked. I’d like to give it a go again someday when I could receive it direct from SRT rather than be the third or fourth in a distribution chain. Finally, I have encountered many parameters for brewing dancongs: here on CHA DAO, on tea purveyors’ websites, and on discussion forums. I tried this tea yesterday with much longer infusions (1m, 20s, 1m, 1m10s), and it was too bitter. I have just enough of the sample left to try a series somewhere in the middle.

Friday, December 16, 2005

A Yunnan Comparison and Farewell Salute to the "Woodwose Yunnan"

I have finally had a chance to sit down and compare the Silk Road Teas High Grade Yunnan Gold (B-YG-2) with the In Pursuit of Tea's Royal Yunnan. For the past year, the IPOT Yunnan is the one I've been favoring--it changed slightly over time, but I was still not finding one I liked better. When I got the SRT High Grade Yunnan Gold, I found one that at least seemed in the ballpark of the IPOT Royal Yunnan that I am finishing up, and which I dated as a 7/05 the time, I got 3/4 pound which came in three different quarter pound bags.

The SRT and IPOT Yunnan do have a similar range in aroma with that maple sap sweet note. Just a bit more of a sweet-woody note to the IPOT one compared to a hint of floral in the SRT one, the latter of which comes across with the floral-sap-earth combination. There is just something I define as 'sweet-woody' (which sometimes shapeshifts into being a bit fruity) in the IPOT one that isn't quite replicated in the SRT one, though I find the latter very drinkable with just a slightly different emphasis.

The SRT has, I think, slightly more earth in the cup itself, although at an acceptable balance for me. The IPOT tea one backs away a bit more from the earth. I am not quite sure if the earth is just less dominant or if the sweet-woody taste provides a contrast that takes the emphasis away from the earth. And I further ponder if that characteristic, which seems unique to the IPOT Yunnan. is inherent in the leaf or the result of processing?

Certainly this one from SRT is closer to the IPOT one than any I've tried. But I am not entirely convinced that's not because the lot from IPOT has gradually changed over time though.

There was a certain grand period with this particular IPOT Royal Yunnan. And I had posted some notes that described the difference between this tea and a subsequent purchase from this source. Both were good, but in spite of the fact the vendor said they were 'the same,' I did not experience them as the 'same,' by any means.

March 24, 2005 The Verdict: IPOT Yunnan Old Lot (purchased pre-March 2005) versus New Lot (March 05 purchase)

In the dry leaf, new lot (nl) has less of what I experience as that deep sweet-woody note. It fills out a similar chord but just with one of the bass notes not quite there. Just smells a touch 'lighter' to me. After brewing (and in the cup), that's what I notice, too. Quite similar profile but nl doesn't have that really 'ripe' scent that is connected to the woody note in the old lot (ol). Or, if the nl has it, it's considerably muted.

On to tasting:

Tasting now. Falls out just as the nose told me. The nl is overall a slightly lighter interpretation of the ol with different emphasis. The ol tastes quite a bit more rustic in a cup-to-cup comparison, a dark sort of into-the-deep-forest woody note against earth, which is rather what made it so seductively aromatic to me. The nl has this aspect much more muted, which allows it to be a touch more refined in comparison, less rustic, less elemental. The nl, sipped in comparison, has less of the dark wood character, which allows a bit more of the floral and honey-maple sweet to come through against the earth. It doesn't have what I interpreted to myself as a sort of overly-ripe-fruity note the ol had, which is what I found very unique about the ol-- that and the ol's 'woody' character I don't usually associate with Yunnan. The sweetness of the ol was connected to this--it's why I once said it reminded me of how a bear must experience honey, direct from the tree, with bits of bark still clinging to it. And it reminded me most of the Forest Honey I once had, that had a deep dark taste I associated with molasses more than honey and just a hint of bitter against the sweet.

I think some folks might well think the nl is better in the way it comes across a bit less elemental/rustic. It might actually have a better balance without the deep rustic edge of the ol. The nl lets the floral-maple sap note take more center stage. I like that very much, and it's probably more in keeping with the Yunnan experience. The lack of the odd elemental edge makes the nl a touch smoother. I shall, however, find myself missing the elemental/rustic note that was so unique to the ol, that odd mix of sweet-woody-overly-ripe-fruity character it had. You can easily tell which cup is which on these, blind tasting/smelling, just by sniffing. Tasting is even more obvious. Empty cups tell the same story. Empty cup of ol exudes that sweet-woody note. Empty cup of nl has a maple sap or honeyed sweet scent.

Think of the old lot as a woodwose ( He was visible for a while, but has gone back to the deepest/darkest part of the forest where he will not be seen again for some time. He was gruff in speaking and manner and his garments were stained with earth. Rather than tending bees, he took his honey direct from the tree. And he carried the deep forest secrets back with him from whence he came. The new folks (new lot) dwelling at the forest's edge are more well-mannered in behavior and speech. They excel at tending flowers in the good earth and sunshine and bee-keeping. But they do not know the deeper secrets of the forest or venture further in.

And then, a later comparison (without knowing which was which until I had contemplated both and made up my mind) of the In Pursuit of Tea Yunnan ordered 7/05 and then again just recently 9/05:

Very comparable range of flavor and aroma in these two cups. Where I found the main difference was back in 3/05 when I reordered this tea. The lot prior to *that* order was the one I referred to as the woodwose Yunnan, the one that had a more elemental and rustic quality to it, an "odd mix of sweet-woody-overly-ripe-fruity character." Since then, I have continued to enjoy the IPOT Royal Yunnan, but it's never exhibited exactly the same spectrum of flavor/aroma as the "woodwose" one.

But it hasn't changed much, it would seem, between 7/05 and now. Neither of these teas duplicated that odd sweet-woody/fruity note that was in the "woodwose Yunnan" (just my own definitive term here) of times now past.

I might venture to say that the teas from 7/05 and 9/05 even seem a tad less maple-y and more honeyed than the one I ordered in 3/05. But my notes from 3/05 don't exactly uphold that memory as I wrote: "sipped in comparison, the 3/05 has less of the dark wood character [of the previous "woodwose" one], which allows a bit more of the floral and honey-maple sweet to come through against the earth."And so, we may have three variations or perhaps only two. Or none, if 'tis all in my imagination. But I still remember the distinct character of the "woodwose" which I've not found duplicated in subsequent orders.

And of course, yes, does any of it matter?
Only if you remember that pre-3/05 "woodwose" character I suppose. :-)

The Yunnan quest continues.

"High hopes--high deeds--we hope but while we may." Oscar Fay Adams "The Return from the Quest"

And in December 2005, the stellar lot is beginning to fade a bit from my mind, making subsequent lots more acceptable. But it is--to me--an interesting study in the subtle variations in a tea over time. I suspect that the SRT Yunnan Gold High Grade is comparing more favorably to the current IPOT Royal Yunnan partly because that latter tea is no longer comparable to what I thought of as the "woodwose" lot. But certainly the IPOT Yunnan hints at this particular characteristic more than the current SRT one does.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Silk Road Teas Green Mist (G-GMT-1)

I don't know what the Chinese name for this tea is, but Holy Mountain, which obviously gets it from Silk Road, say it's from Anhui.

This is an enjoyable green, but an unusual one for a Chinese green, as it has a lot of the character of a sencha. There's a fresh, grassy quality to it; it's almost like shincha.

This tea works with a pretty wide range of temperatures: from 140F to 170F at least. No matter what the temperature, the cup aroma and, especially, the brewed leaf aroma of early steeps will come out fresh, sweet and meadowy. You can depend on the first steep for a taste that's sweet and a rich, soupy mouth feel; cooler temperatures bring out the grassy side of the tea, and hotter temperatures lend brightness.

In the second steep, this tea loses some of the luxurious mouth feel, but its flavor gains complexity. At cooler temperatures, the grassyness becomes balanced with a slightly
fruity quality plus a manageable slight bitterness, though the aroma falls off. Hotter, the aroma loses sweetness but gains a minty sharpness; the taste is fairly sweet, a bit nutty but still bright, devoid of any grass at all, getting sweeter and developing a fairly long finish as the cup cools.

In the third steep, with cool temperatures I couldn't get anything beyond generic drinkability. At 170F, the aroma was somewhat sweet but with less bloom; the taste was still satisyingly sweet, with a minty onset but getting a little vegetal in a peapod way as I held the liquor in my mouth.

At 170F, I could still get a vegetal sweetness in both aroma and taste from this tea.

The brewing parameters I recommend are: one gram leaf per two ounces water at 170F; steep times of 60, 30, 60, and 120 seconds.

One last thing: As sometimes happens with the new, extra-shiny bags Silk Road now uses, the bag was useless once opened. The first time I opened it, the plastic inner bag pulled away from the foil outer bag in such a way that it couldn't be resealed.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Warren Peltier on gongfu hong cha

[from an email to corax. posted by permission.]

There is a Chinese tradition of gongfu hong cha, but you can't really call it longstanding. I mean, hong cha wasn't invented or well-established until maybe the mid-1700s -- historical records are not that clear. But by the 1800s hong cha production was well established. By the 1800s there appeared many types of tea that are classified as gong fu hong cha. They are:

Qimen gongfu
Dianhong gongfu
Ninghong gongfu
Yihong gongfu
Chuanhong gongfu
Minhong gongfu
Huhong gongfu
Yuehong gongfu

There are also others that could be added to this list.

Qimen, Dian, Ning, Yi, Chuan, Min, Hu, Yue - these all refer to the place in China where the tea is made. But it's pretty generic. For instance, Min is an alternative name for Fujian. Yue is an alternative name for Zhejiang, etc.

Gongfu hong cha has 2 varieties: small leaf and big leaf. So, if you were to prepare this kind of tea gongfu style, then, you should choose a yixing teapot that is suitable for the type of leaf. Choose a bigger pot, with a wider opening for the big leaf variety. Choose a smaller pot with a smaller opening for the smaller leaf variety.

The gongfu hong cha can be prepared gongfu style, and many people do. But it is called gongfu hong cha, precisely because of the skill in making the tea. So maybe in English you would call it "skillfully produced red tea". So you actually have to make that distinction too. There is the hong cha that is skilfully made, then, there is hong cha that is skilfully prepared. So there is gong fu hong cha, and gong fu hong cha. I know, it’s weird, but that’s the way it is.

To prepare hong cha gongfu style, it’s basically the same method as with oolong tea. One thing you have to know about gongfu tea -- it originated in Guangdong, Fujian and Taiwan. So it’s the tea custom of those places. But of course, later, it spread to other parts of China. But still, it’s not as common in many parts of China. In different areas of China, there are different tea drinking customs. And actually, gongfu tea ceremony itself is not that old. It first originated in the Qing dynasty -- which is relatively recent -- say 1800s.

Among other red tea varieties, there is also xiao zhong hong cha, what is referred in English as pouchong. Then, there is also the broken leaf variety used for tea bags, etc.