Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Silk Road Tea Keemun and Tribute Tea Superior Keemun

Silk Road Teas (http://www.silkroadteas.com/)
tea rcvd 3/13/06

Superior Keemun
Tribute Tea (http://www.tributetea.com/)
tea was the last lot I rcvd, precise date unknown

Cup to cup this morning, we have here the aforementioned two Keemun teas. One is the affordable daily drinking Keemun of SRT and the other is TT Superior Keemun that costs $1.95 more per quarter pound. This current 3/13/06 SRT Keemun has moved back to the softer character I experienced in lots prior to the last one I commented on (see Lew Perrin's previous review of this tea 11-25-05), the one which seemed to have just a touch more astringency and woody-bitter cocoa than the current purchase now shows.

The main difference as I taste these two together is that the TT Superior Keemun has a much more leathery aroma than the SRT Keemun. The SRT Keemun shows a softer range--milk chocolate/toasty/honeyed in contrast to the TT Superior Keemun's sweet/leathery emphasis. It is odd in that until I compared these two, I hadn't called the TT one leathery at all! But today that latter characteristic sings forth.

Compared to the TeaGschwendner "Historical Anhui Keemun," I had found the TT Superior Keemun's aroma less "earth-bound" with some malty notes in the cup as well as a touch of honey and hint of floral. But this shows how relative comparisons can be since, against the softer SRT Keemun, the TT Superior Keemun suddenly reflects the leathery note that I hadn't even picked up on before. While SRT Keemun strikes me as milk chocolate in aroma, the cup still veers off toward cocoa. Either this new SRT purchase truly is softer than the previous quarter pound that I had, or I have simply tweaked the brewing in some way I am unaware of--again the SRT Keemun, as in times past, has the hint of something fruity-woody that I found appealing. TT Superior Keemun's leathery note translates as less soft in the cup comparatively, and this tea shows somewhat more astringency today than the SRT Keemun. But it is still not out of proportion for pleasurable drinking. These are two slightly different Keemun teas here in which flavors/aromas they present and in what garment--leather versus something a bit silky--they present them.

The SRT Keemun is still behaving quite well in its price range, enough so that the notion of a larger purchase tempts me. Though by now I should have learned my lesson about purchasing a pound of any tea based on a previous sampling.

Should have.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Geraldo: Notes toward a Definition of Excellence in Pu'er

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

Here (with all my biases, prejudices, and opinions) are thirteen preliminary expectations with which I approach a pu'er that pretends to greatness. This list will, among other things, shed some light on the reflections I offered in my preceding post of seven pu'er reviews.

*** *** ***

1. The tea in the cup should be bright and clear.

2. The initial flavor-burst in the first six or seven infusions should present a multiplicity of flavors with none covering the others. No monolithic flavor. These may include plum, citrus, earth, loam, leather, mushroom, forest leaves, spruce, caramelized sugar, cherry, marzipan, beet, flowers, and toasted grains, among others.

3. Each infusion as it cools should present different flavors, ranging from the first hot sip to the last cool sip: i.e., intra-steep evolution.

4. The flavors should be mysterious, beautiful, and alluring.

5. The aroma should match the flavor.

6. The steeps should present a clear evolution (i.e., inter-steep evolution) that surprises and delights.

7. The aroma should be sweet and mouth-watering.

8. The entire mouth should enjoy the experience of the pu'er.

9. In later infusions, the finish and aftertaste should predominate and declare themselves in almost inexpressible nuances and tones, what I refer to as sweet birch, aspen, cedar, and camphor.

10. There should be at least some sweetness in the flavor, at least in the final infusions.

11. The tea should continue through at least ten infusions, and the last infusion should be great.

12. The tea should not wrestle with the brewing process. It should not be too tricky or strange or difficult to brew.

13. The session (especially with a new sample) should be significant and exciting. It should catapult the taster's spirits.

Geraldo Reviews Seven Pu’ers from the Seventies and Eighties

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

More than a year ago, I passed through the half-century gate and realized I had less time for storing young pu’er to maturity and little space remaining to keep it. I don’t want to collect 2006 cakes and drink them when I’m sixty-five and they’re just fifteen years old. I decided, then, to spend my pu’er shekels on some older tea and learn, if I could, what my little pile of bricks, beeng chas, and tuo chas stored in the guest room might one day become. For more about what led me to this decision, and what has come of it since, see my essay “I Am Buying Aged Pu’er.”

I contacted website purveyors and ordered samples. They’ve been trickling in from Texas, Hong Kong, China, Malaysia, Singapore, and Taiwan. Some of the samples were not too exciting; some were utterly extraordinary, almost life-changing. With pen pals, I entered into a discussion of the definition and nature of truly good aged and semi-aged pu’er. I have drafted a set of principles (stealing from friends some ideas and metaphors) regarding what conduces to excellence in a pu'er tea. My list of principles is a perpetual work in progress. Readers will certainly disagree with much of I have to say, and in a year or a month, I will also. But for now, it captures many of my current attitudes. Taste is a matter of personal taste. As one correspondent succinctly writes, “Whatever pulls your trigger.” Nevertheless, when tea-ists share their description of flavors, I have a new template, a new armature, a new lens. I love reading the reviews others write. Others’ views help me immeasurably as I try to parse the flavors and aromas of pu’er. Further, reviews help me to understand brewing parameters, and the longer I pursue tea, the more I realize how important parameters are.

Below are seven reviews, a representative sample of my experiences. I have more reviews to write, but given the pressures of spring gardening, I thought now was the time to share what I’ve written thus far. More will follow. I hope those later reviews will include two sixties GYGs, some seventies 7542 samples, an 80s Liu An, and a late 80s shu tuo cha. The seven reviews here may be repetitive, and for this I apologize. What a strange, solitary act it is -- this staring at a monitor and into space, mouth full of tea, searching for words to express exactly that which eludes capture and description, that which is so strikingly and seductively ineffable.

Since the series of reviews is itself rather long, I will summarize my criteria for excellence in pu'er separately, in the next post.

*** *** ***

One more comment: In the reviews that follow, I assume at times the persona of one who knows what he’s talking about. In truth, I do not. But it’s hard to state opinions and be forever tentative in those statements.

*** *** ***

Eighties Hung Fuk from GrandTea.com

Type: Aged Green Beeng Cha Pu’er

Leaf Appearance: Dry Leaf: Gray-green-brown.. Wet leaf: Very deep brown.

Vessel: 3 ounce glazed cebei. Weight: 3.3g
Hydration rinse: 10 seconds, 3 minute rest. Infusion times: 15s, 10s, 15s, 20s, 25s, 30s, 50.

Liquor Appearance: The color of the liquor is tawny red like creamy sherry.

Liquor Aroma: Aroma is not a predominant characteristic of this tea. There is a hint of fruit.

Flavor: Sweet, fruity flavor. Plum taste. Extremely pleasant tartness. The lingering aftertaste is very nice in this tea, and it remains in the mouth for several hours.

Infusions: The fourth and fifth infusions were the best. The seventh infusion was markedly weaker.

Overall: This tea did not appear as dark and aged in real life as it appears in the promotional image on the website. It is not as strong as I would like. Many people would like the mild flavor. It is a very pleasant tea, but it is not a truly exceptional aged pu’er like the 70s 7532 or the 70s Grand Yellow. Though I could well be mistaken, I would guess that it sprang to birth in the late eighties rather than in the early eighties. I hoped for more of the characteristics I most crave from an aged tea: flavors of wood and camphor and the inexpressible essence of aged pu’er in the aftertaste. This tea might benefit from further aging, but it is not particularly lively. Perhaps I lack the subtle perception to appreciate its nuances. If I were to brew it again, I would try using more tea in the gaiwan.

*** *** ***

Seventies Grand Yellow Label from GrandTea.com

Type: Aged Beeng Cha Pu’er, green-cooked mix, 70% - 20% according to purveyor. [Where is the other 10%?]

Leaf Appearance: Dry Leaf: Gray-brown and black. Wet leaf: Very deep red. Incredible expansion upon hydration.

Vessel: 3 ounce glazed cebei. Weight: 3.3g
Hydration rinse: 10 seconds, 3 minute rest. Infusion times: 15s, 10s, 15s, 20s, 25s, 30s, 40s, 55s, etc.

Liquor Appearance: The color of the liquor is that of weak coffee, deep red with brown tones.

Aroma: This might be the most striking characteristic of the tea, and it propels it to very great heights in my estimation. This tea has the most powerful camphor aroma I have encountered. People can appreciate the bouquet of this tea from across the room. The aroma verges on cedar or spruce.

Flavor: Very strong flavor, especially in the first four infusions. In the flavor is camphor, cocoa, nuts, earth, sweetness. The tea is creamy and has a big mouth feel. There is a powerful wood flavor to this tea. I expected the cooked part of the tea to speak louder on the tongue, but it was very subtle. The tea has been carefully stored.

Infusions: The fifth infusion became truly excellent. The first several infusions were almost too strong. I will consider using slightly less tea or (more probably) employing several flash-infusions (very short brews of five seconds or less). From the fifth infusion on, the balance of flavors was exceptional.

Overall: This is a wonderfully strong, lively, aromatic aged pu’er. It provides a plethora of flavors. This is a tea I look forward to drinking again. I was suspicious of a sheng-shu mix in an aged pu’er. This tea exceeded my expectations by light-years.

*** *** ***

Two Tasting Sessions of 70s Chun-Cha “Jian Tie” Simplified Font Iron Cake, Uncooked
From Hou De Fine Tea

Harvest Year: 70's
Production Year: 70's
Manufacturer: Xia Guan Factory

Part One. 3/17/06. 3.5 grams in 3oz glazed gaiwan. Short rinse in low-boiling water. Three-minute hydration rest. Dry leaf appearance: very dark green with some brown. Firmly compressed, but flake-able. Wet leaf appearance: green tending toward red and brown, leaves in pieces from being broken from the beeng cha. Infusion times: 15s, 10s, 15s, 20s, 25s, 30s, 35s, 40s, etc.

First infusion. Liquor color: mahogany-red and clear. Aroma: quite mild, primarily wood with some earth and a tiny bit of mint. First hot sip: sweet, clean. Some tartness. No unpleasant flavors. Looking forward to the next infusions.

Second infusion. Color is a little lighter. Aroma a little earthier. First hot sip -- naturally much stronger now. Strong tea -- does not taste less aged for the famous compression of Iron Cakes. Somewhat tarter; fruit coming to the fore now over wood tones. Very lively and satisfying. A tad bit too astringent. I expect that to settle in the fourth and fifth infusions. Camphor more apparent as it cools.

Third infusion. No color change from earlier infusions. Aroma seems stronger. Flavor is still very powerful. More flavor movement toward balance now between fruit and wood flavors, but there is a lemon or grapefruit flavor that’s rather surprising. Wide panoply of floral flavors and stronger tart aftertaste. As the liquor cools, the balance improves a little.

Fourth infusion. Fruit tartness and astringency somewhat abated. Wood flavor stronger now as in the first infusion. I tell myself, “Patience!” Allowing the tea to cool improves the flavor and softens the taste.

Fifth infusion. The wood aftertaste is much stronger, but a lemon or grapefruit flavor continues strong as well. This may be to some people’s liking, but I would prefer a mellower flavor in a pu’er from the Seventies.

Sixth infusion. The color is fading a little bit. The fine wood aroma continues. The tea seems perhaps a little less astringent. Were I to brew this again, I’d adjust the parameters and brew 3g rather than 3.5g in a 3oz gaiwan. That might ameliorate the lemon/grapefruit flavor. I might try shorter infusions too.

Seventh Infusion. In this infusion, the tea tastes noticeably sweeter. There is still a tart lemon astringency.

Eighth Infusion. The color is markedly lighter now -- like unto a double Scotch and water. The aroma (perhaps this pu’ers best attribute) is still very enticing. The sourness still covers up the wood flavors that the aroma promises but that the taste cannot deliver.

Ninth Infusion. The aftertaste is still quite tart rather than redolent of wood and cherry. The sweetness one expects at this stage in an aged pu’er tasting session is not apparent.

Conclusion. The first and ninth infusions tasted best in my mouth. As I mentioned above, there are probably very knowledgeable tea devotees who like the sour taste of lemon juice in aged pu’er. I have enough of this tea remaining to taste it again tomorrow. Tonight I gave the tea a very short bath -- just long enough to wet it. Tomorrow, I will let the tea bathe a full minute. Further, I will use a little less leaf and perhaps I will try shorter infusions. Perhaps those changes in the parameters will allow the promise of the aroma to come through in the flavor.

Part 2. 3/18/06. After a day of contemplation and consulting with my friend on the Strait of Malacca, I re-tried the Iron Beeng sample.

Generally with older pu’er I employ about 3.5 or 3.75g of tea in a 3oz vessel. Water just below boiling. I use a short rinse in boiling water and a 3m rest to hydrate. I brew with the following timed infusions: 15s, 10s, 15s, 20s, 25s, and so on, until I deem it necessary to make bigger jumps. I used this usual procedure with the Iron Beeng last night, and the result, as I mentioned, was a little too heavy on the grapefruit for my own personal taste. I was concerned that the aroma and flavor did not match. The Iron Beeng's aroma is fantastic.

Today I used 3g instead of 3.5g of dry tea. I used much cooler water for rinsing and brewing--about 170F to 175F.

After the rinse, I allowed the tea to rest for just a few moments rather than for three or four minutes. Into a large sharing pitcher, I mixed the first three infusions, the second two infusions, and then mixed the sixth and seventh infusions. This provided, so far, three pitchers of brewed tea. In this fashion, the growing strength of the grapefruit flavor after a long rest was ameliorated by the immediate subsequent rapid infusion. I hope that makes sense. :-)

The brewing times were as follows:
• First three infusions: 5s (sharing pitcher 1)
• Fourth & fifth infusions: 5s (sharing pitcher 2)
• Sixth infusion: 10s, Seventh infusion: 15s (sharing pitcher 3)

The result is much, much better to my mouth. I am drinking the mixed sixth and seventh infusions now, and the flavor matches the wonderful woody aroma. The tea is sweet and not sour. There is much more camphor in the taste. Based on this, I rate the tea much higher.

*** *** ***

80s Wood Mold Pekoe from GrandTea

Manufacture: Dai
Harvested: Early 80s
Producer: CNNP
Sheng Beeng Cha
Dry leaf appearance: lightly compressed grey leaves with some brown. Wet leaf appearance: bright red and some blood-black.
Vessel: 4.3g of leaf in 4oz beloved Yixing pot with Heart Sutra inscriptions
15s rinse, 20s rest.
Infusing temperature: Very low boil, light seethe, shrimp eyes.

1st Infusion, 15s. Color: liquor deep red, almost burgundy. Very clear. Aroma: Herbal notes and wood. First hot sip: Mellow tastes, little initial sweetness, some mushroom. The predominant flavor is hard to name. I think it is oak leaf and spring water. Very pleasant.

2nd Infusion, 10s. Deeper red, very intense, very clear. Almost like red wine. Aroma: Strong of deciduous forest and sandstone rocks after a rain. First hot sip: Intense wood and dry earth. This is truly exceptional. This pu’er is somehow both strong and mellow at the same time.

3rd Infusion, 15s. Taste is a matter of personal taste, but this is exceptionally fine pu’er. I have seldom encountered its peer. This pu’er aligns with all of my preferences. The initial herb (basil, tarragon and bay leaf?) and earth on the front of the sip, the aroma of forest, and long finish of wood and camphor -- they are present in the correct proportions. The tea, furthermore, is beautiful in the cup.

4th Infusion, 20s. No noticeable difference from previous infusion.

5th Infusion, 25s. Still excellent -- little change from the earlier infusion. Nothing in this pu’er is excessive or out of place. The lack of sweetness does not bother me in this tea -- the dry character adds to the refined overall experience of it. The tea, despite the lack of sweetness, is not bitter. The liquor is mouth-watering. It excites salivation, no mean feat in my mouth.

6th Infusion, 30s. Continues mouth-watering. Still brisk, but no sour notes. The liquor catches nicely in the back of my throat. The lingering aftertaste is very pleasant -- wood and a cooling effect.

[Ninety minutes pass between the 6th and the 7th Infusion]

7th Infusion, 35s. The flavor is developing and changing, so it is a delight to drink. The aftertaste is even better as the initial flavors become more subdued.

8th Infusion, 45s. The color has taken on a paler hue, akin to slightly dark ale. The aroma has a wonderful cedar forest aroma. The almost indescribable aftertaste is the main feature of the liquor now.

9th Infusion, 1m. Color: lighter. Sweet tones coming through on the front of the first hot sip. Mild and satisfying flavor. Flowery.

10th Infusion, 2m. Hard boil. Very sweet, delicate, multi-dimensional flavors. Fantastic contrast to the second infusion hours ago. The tea has taken me on an exceptional journey.

Conclusion: For an eighties pu’er, this rates a score of five on a scale of five. I am very impressed. This is a definite candidate for repurchasing. All that I look for in pu’er, this 80s Wood Mold Pekoe has. I can only imagine how this pu’er will strike me in ten years.

*** *** ***

80s Chung-Cha #7542 Xiao Huan Yin (Yellow Label) from Hou De Fine Teas

Harvest Year: 80s
Production Year: 80s
Manufacturer: Meng Hai Tea Factory
Type: Aged Green Cake
Leaf Grade: #7542 Recipe
Purchase Weight: 10g sample

4.3g leaf in 4oz Heart Sutra Yixing pot. Dry leaf appearance: Grey-green chunks in sample, tightly compacted. Wet leaf appearance: red to black, very much expanded. Very short rinse. 45s hydration rest. Water temperature: low boil.

1st and 2nd Infusions mixed. 15s & 10s. Dark amber. Clear. Aroma: Some fruit, mostly loam. First hot sips: Dry, leather, not sweet, some tartness. Some mushroom. Thick in the mouth. Cooler sips: brisk and crisp. Some flavor of toasted grains.

3rd Infusion, 15s. Color: A little lighter. Aroma: some wood, cedar. First hot sips: still quite brisk. Bitterness not unpleasant. No sweetness. Catch in throat. Still thick texture in mouth. Strong dry earth flavor. Cooler: wood aroma intensifies. Some sweetness as the pu’er liquor cools. The brisk flavor is noticeable on the soft palate in the back of the mouth.

4th Infusion, 20s. Color: no change. Aroma: no change. Bitterness persists. I have used perhaps too much tea in this test. I will re-try at later date with 3.8g rather than 4.3g. Still some small hint of wood. A little sweetness would improve the tea.

5th Infusion, 18s (reduced) to try to soften the flavors. Color: lighter. Aroma: excellent wood continues to rise in the sharing pitcher. First hot sips: Ah, it is a little less bitter in the front of the taste, but the bitterness persists in the finish. As it cools, there is *maybe* a little more sweetness, a little more wood, but it’s so faint that I should call it wishful thinking. In the aftertaste there is saltiness. That’s odd.

6th Infusion, 18s (again). Color: a shade or two lighter. Aroma: delectable wood continues. Somewhat improved. The tea is a little bit tangy now rather than far too bitter. The aftertaste is softer. Despite the pale color now and the aroma of wood, the liquor is still very brisk, in fact, still too brisk.

7th Infusion, 18s (yet again). No noticeable color shift. Aroma: unchanged. First hot sips: Not very different from above. Softer in the front, harsher in the finish.

8th Infusion, 18s (even yet again). In this infusion, there are more flavors. The earth is less stony. The desert sand gives way to some hints or suggestions of loam. This tea is a candidate for wrong-fu, a series of flash infusions. Still, there is almost no multiplicity/multidimensionality in the presentation. There is almost no evolution from one infusion to the next. The lingering aftertaste is not inviting. On the post-swallow nasal exhale, there is some hint of wood, but at this point, I’d like that quality to predominate.

Conclusion: This pu’er disturbs me somewhat. It’s 7542, and I have a good-sized collection of 7542 cakes. I’m hoping that my own 7542 cakes will not present this monolithic character when they’re twenty years old. The aroma and flavor do not match, and the flavor has no sweetness or light. It has in it a disturbing suggestion of Lipton’s. I have tasted other 7542 cakes from the 80s and 70s that were less bitter and had more nuances and tones to offer, and I am at a loss to explain how beeng chas take off into their own worlds, going their own ways. After the 5th infusion, I carefully rinsed my mouth, thinking that the early infusions were prejudicing my palate. I have tasted perhaps ten pu’ers from the eighties, and this is not one of the better ones.

*** *** ***

Seventies 7532 from GrandTea.com

Type: Aged Green Beeng Cha Pu’er

Leaf Appearance: Dry Leaf: Gray-green. Wet leaf: Burgundy red.

Vessel: 3 ounce glazed cebei. Weight: 3.3g of dry leaf.
Hydration rinse: 10 seconds, 3 minute rest. Infusion times: 15s, 10s, 15s, 20s, 25s, 30s, 35s, 45s, 55s, 75s, 120s, 200s

Liquor Appearance: The color of a double scotch and water.

Liquor Aroma: The pu’er releases the bouquet of the Iowa countryside after a strong lightning storm.

Flavor: On our property was an old well set back in an aspen grove. It was capped by the sort of pump that had a very long handle for pumping the water up from the well. The well was drilled into the aquifer through the layers of sandstone and limestone. The water from this well could bring you to tears of joy. This tea carries much of that flavor: fantastic artesian water. Also there is wood, camphor, clean earth, sweetness (especially in the final infusions), and I believe some very dry Burgundy wine. The lingering aftertaste on the back and sides of the tongue was remarkable. This tea is not incredibly strong like Guang’s Sixties GYG or GrandTea’s Yellow Label, but it speaks a poetry that carries me away.

Infusions: The first four infusions were a little disappointing. With the fifth infusion, the tea underwent a miraculous and sudden transformation and the balance and interplay of the flavors created a delightful journey. As the tea very gradually lost strength, the aftertaste and sweetness increased.

Overall: This tea deserves tremendous praise. I believe it was very carefully stored. I love this tea. I love this tea.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

A Tale of Two Keemuns: Tribute Tea & TeaGschwendner

"China Historical Anhui Keemun" #2154 is a sample that I purchased from TeaGschwendner http://www.teagschwendner.com. It is one of their "Edmon's Collection" of teas. While steeping, the aroma suggests that it might be a more 'earth-bound' type Keemun. By this I mean that I am getting a rather dominant note of clean earth without the accompanying notes of honey/spice/orchid floral. It's not as smoky as some Keemun can be. Smoky notes in Keemun can be so aggressive that they smother the other flavor characteristics and take center stage. A bad Keemun for me equals smoke/earth and not much else going on. Particularly bad if the earth is not 'clean' but carries a raspy metallic 'ping' that is part taste, part sensation and perhaps related to the astringency factor.

This Keemun eases up on the earth once leaf is removed, and the earth moves a bit further off-stage. A mild sweetness shuffles forward. The cup itself is quite mild, not overly astringent or harsh, but yes, this Keemun wants to put earth rather forward just as the aroma suggests. That said, it's a 'good earth' taste, not muddy or metallic, and it's enjoyable enough at the proportion in which it presents itself. There is not much, if any, cocoa in taste. I do catch some cocoa in the aroma. If there is some cocoa in the cup, I find it in the very brief aftertaste, nestled closely to the earth. Is there a bit of malt going on here too maybe? I notice this more as the tea cools, as though the impression of earth shapeshifts a bit toward malty.

Given how very earthy it was when steeping, I wondered if it was going to be one of the harsh earthy-metallic Keemun teas. It's not. In spite of being earth-forward, it does maintain a rather mild profile.Vendor suggests a shorter steep than I used, but even at my longer steeping time the cup remains mellow. As it cools, the sweeter light honey notes do pull forward in the aroma with a touch more spice-floral and cocoa.

Even though this Keemun presents earth as a dominant characteristic, it still manages to stay rather refined, something many 'earth-bound' Keemuns do not do. In the cup, it shows less complexity of flavor than I've had in some Keemun teas. But for what it does do, the balance isn't bad really. Some part of me wants to say that it drinks a bit thin.

I am comparing the "Historical Anhui Keemun" cup to cup to the Superior Keemun from Tribute Tea (http://www.tributetea.com/), the latter of which I shall refer to as TT Keemun: The TT Keemun's aroma is less 'earth-bound' and has more spice, floral, and honey up front. The TT Keemun aroma is toastier and just more 'there' as I have made both teas today. Similarly, TT Keemun has less earth in taste. There is maybe a little malt going on as well, and it carries some of the honeyed notes into the finish and a hint of the floral. Both teas have cooled now to lukewarm, and the aroma of the "Historical Anhui Keemun" is not as pronounced as the TT Keemun. The latter has actually developed even more honey-toasty range that seems to have spread out as well as deepened. I find the TT Keemun a 'livelier' cup both as to taste and aroma, and the balance just suits me better.

Anxi Tieguanyin by thsu

Only one month left for the harvesting of the new spring Anxi Tieguanyin.

Just to recap and frantically "destroying" all my 05 spring and fall pick daily, hoping to remember and find new notes/adventures in them before they perish.

Acquired 3 grades of the spring 05 light Anxi Tieguanyin competition grade last May in Anxi, Fujian. Most of the top grade pricing are based on Min-nan tea judging association, national tieguanyin tea judging association and Fujin Province Anxi tea cultural and judging panel, as I was told....

One of the tea was generously given as a gift by tea master Huang from Quanzhou. This oolong tea costed over 1200 US per 375g and the competition winners could easily double or triple the price. Anxi Tieguanyin's pricing are climbing steadily like pureh every season. Each 6g pallet is vacuum sealed and carefully exam before packing for individual brewing.

The high grade tea are from individual farmers that harvest one bag per season. Each invoice weighing around 60-80 pounds in a nylon bag is usually purchase by the vendor off their farm and brought back to the vendor's shop for further processing and grading.

Other Tea vendors, judges and farmers will flock to a respectable shop to critique, evaluate and compete with one another every season. They will bring their special selections and do tasting thru out the day. It's quite an experience to see them judging continually 3 to 4 specimens at a time and giving the tea less then 10 mins to confirm its position. This festive activities could go on thru mid-night in the height of the harvesting seasons. With a lot of yelling, moment of silence, handshakes and disagreements and I did caught in one of these.

Smelling from the lit of a Gaiwan usually is the quickest way for these experts to reject or carry-on the tasting. Worthy selections will then taste/brew for 3 times, and if the selections are very competitive, it may goes on for 5 or 7 rounds.

Tea experts in these region are looking for the "Yin Wan" characteristic from this tea.

The "Yin" in this tea from my humble knowledge refers to the calming sound, tranquility and elegance of the Guanyin "Goddess of Mercy". Observing the sound of the world and to have a moment of peace is the key to this tea. This senses are a combination of opening up the smell, taste and the finishes. Not to be fragrance to overpowering, too sweet and fruity to overwhelm ones taste bud nor without finishes to keep you in the peaceful state of mind.

It took me a long while to understand and become an epicurean on this tea. People oven compare Anxi oolong to Taiwanese cousin. Yes, they are both call Min-nan tea and the good Taiwanese Oolong tea can trace their roots back to Anxi (Fujin) 170 years ago. But the processing method and result are apples vs oranges. Most Taiwanese High Mountain Oolong consist of 2 leaves, a bud and a stem rolled into a ball. Anxi Tieguanyin consist only one leave which rolled into a ball. The de-stemming process and the breaking down of the edges of the leaves gives the tea a very different finish and character.

This Anxi Tieguanyin I am writing about is from Xiping where the original oolong tree were found (above pic.). A May 3rd harvest, 700m. 5-8% Fermentation. No roasting.

I am using a blanc-de-chine 4oz gaiwan / 6g tea for the brewing.

Dry Leaves:
2 tone green, dark and light lime. Tightly rolled and still have a sheen gloss to it (10 months old). Heavy. Clearly individual leaf w/o steam. Floral/fruit and clean.

Wet Leaves:
1.5 inch. Broken edges around. Some have slight Red hue edges. Sweet, honey nectar, peaches, clean floral bouquet.

liquor color:
clear, pale squash yellow with a glowing hint of light olive green. (dense)

Brewing steps:
Instant rinse (fish eye) 195F sit covered 15s

INF1: 15s
More aroma then taste. Light floral, sweet peaches, honey and hint of nectar all seems to be covered by a silky blanket.
All these layer of complexity are hiding in the liquor, yet not showing the full complexity.

INF2: 35s,
An explosion of flavor and aroma of sweeties/flower/honey/fruit. Carry on by the finish from the INF1, my senses alerted and lifted to a higher awareness. The peach fragrance and taste are the most pronounce, follow by honey, floral nectar of different layers.

INF3: 50s,
Combining with first and second aftertaste, the layers of intensity build-up. Besides such intensity of the previous finishes, there is a refreshing and calming sensation from the stomach thru my throat and mouth into my mind. No sharpness or bitterness/tartness to these brews at all, even the tea is light ferm. The tasting are balance with no greenness and astringency comparing to a good Li Shan. The mild-floral aftertaste penetrated into all my senses and resided.

New Water (crab eye) almost 195F

INF4: 20s
The mild-floral aroma is taken over by the taste. A transformation of honey to nectar, the mouth feel intensify and thicken. I guess from my knowledge, the floral bouquet will be identify as Chinese orchid (a grass spices)? I also remembered there was these waist height white flowering tree planted in the farm as divider. The flower have a intense clean fragrance to it and are in full blossom in May, but can not remember the name....

INF5: 30s
All the character of aroma and taste married into one in this brew. I did stretched the limit on the 4th brew by increasing the water temp.

The color changed towards yellowish, the hint of green disappeared. However, the liquor wasn't bitter-up by so. I feel really calm and tranquil by now, not bored by it; instead am enjoying the waves of taste and aroma from the previous aftertaste coming from my stomach.

INF6: 50s
I am enjoying the state of mind this tea is giving me, perhaps is over but the sensation of this tea lingers. No intense sweeties of a high mountain Taiwanese aftertaste created by the astringency of stems (which I usually anticipate for) nor the highly floral bouquet which cover my mouth for 15mins. Almost like a great well kept 50s hong yin, elegant and well-balance without loudness and screaming for attention.

I guess I can brew this in a different way, dividing it up into more layers and try to identify and breaking it down with lower temp and shorter steeping? But I rather enjoy it my way and keeping it romantic, hopefully people who have more experience on this can share their methods and bring me to a high stage.

I had the pleasure to share this tea with a tea friend from Texas last summer, when I first brought them back. And quite a shame of never have the motivation to write down any notes, until now....

If anyone do not mind this last year tea for a tasting or "destroying" them, I would gladly share them with.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

"Compressed Dianhong" from Yunnan Sourcing LLC

The fellow tea drinker who shared a sample referred to this as a "compressed dianhong," and it is also from Yunnan Sourcing LLC. It is worlds apart from the other golden Yunnan I sampled from this source. The other Yunnan I am referring to was the newer lot that had the maple sap note in aroma and a lighter floral-honeyed character in the cup. This compressed Yunnan may be the tea Geraldo was asking if I'd tried?

This compressed Yunnan moves in the opposite direction from the other Yunnan Sourcing LLC Yunnan that I sampled. This tea is distinctly sweet in aroma but in a savory-smoky way. It drinks with a very nice clarity though, which surprised me given the more rustic aroma. Quite mellow actually (if you don't overdo leaf amount I was warned). There is something in the taste of this tea that I mentally 'know' but can't put my finger on immediately. Perhaps it's an earthy bean sprout-y or bamboo-like taste? Because yes, there's an earthy/ashy note to the tea but very clean somehow. Bean sprouts? what is it? maybe it is ash. Of all the Yunnan teas I've sampled that have the smoky-savory thing going on, this has to be one of my favorites. That smoky-savory aftertaste really does linger as does that 'other' flavor note. I always hesitate to use meat references about teas as they must sound unpalatable to vegetarians or to those with religious scruples in this regard. But the sweet-savory-smoky note of this tea does, I confess, remind me just a tad of a hickory smoked bacon. If you are vegetarian or etc., please pretend I did not say that!

Have others tried this one? What is that other flavor note I am trying to pinpoint? ash? beansprouts? bamboo? none of the above?

Monday, March 13, 2006

Yunnan Sourcing LLC Yunnan and Blending Yunnan Teas

Over the weekend, I experimented briefly with a blend of two golden Yunnan teas I have on hand. The one Yunnan is from Yunnan Sourcing LLC (description below) and has a lighter profile. It's not the thick type Yunnan experience and has a more youthful character, which brings a very honey-maple note into the tea as well as a floral note into the finish. I find that I smell maple but mostly taste honey in this tea. I ended up blending this tea with the TeaSource "Golden Downey Tip" Yunnan which, depending on how I brew it, can have more or less of that savory note. The TeaSource Yunnan provided more of the bass to the blend, adding in the deeper and more rustic flavors--earth/cocoa/savory/maple sap-woodsmoke. The lighter Yunnan Sourcing LLC Yunnan added a further dimension to the blend with the sweeter honeyed presence and the floral. They worked well together. The only negative was that by blending as I did this time (equal parts one to the other), the delicate floral finish of the Yunnan Sourcing LLC was lost under the more savory notes of the TeaSource Yunnan. I'll have to experiment a bit with proportion next time. But overall, we quite liked what these two teas did together in a blend. And I am enjoying drinking them solo, too--they are very different gold Yunnan sipping experiences.

Notes on TeaSource "Golden Downey Tip" Yunnan:

Today it has a more toned down (possibly due to less leaf?) earth-cocoa-sweet aroma...and yes, there it is--a mild savory note as it's cooled a bit. Perhaps it's merely a different level of what I sometimes experience as maple sap being boiled into syrup at the nature center, and the way the air carries that sweet scent mixed with smoke from wood being burned to boil the sap into syrup. But the first time I brewed this tea (perhaps more aggressively as in a minute longer and with more leaf), there was a more dominant savory note.

Yunnan Sourcing LLC golden Yunnan:

A fellow tea drinker shared a golden Yunnan from Yunnan Sourcing LLC which, I think, only has a presence on eBay. Bag was labeled by the sender 060119. That's all I know about this one to date. If anyone else has info or has tried this tea, do jump in and post more specifics. I have not ordered from this source myself.

What I notice first as the tea steeps is the very distinct maple sap aroma. This is just way less earthy in aroma and taste. No leather or smoke. It has a fresh and youthful character and only mild earth in the cup. The finish trails off with notes that are very distinctly floral. It reminds me of the Golden Bud A from http://www.pu-erhtea.com/ which was even more distinctly honey-floral than this one, at least as I remember Golden Bud A.

This Yunnan is the total opposite end of the spectrum from golden Yunnan teas that have pronounced earth/smoke/leather/savory notes. It is, again, a softer Yunnan experience with emphasis on floral in the finish, which is a nice change from heavier earth-malt notes. A more refined type Yunnan experience rather than rugged or rustic. It is lighter and less thickly complex than some. This tea initially surprised me given the fresh more youthful profile. But it's nice to have a golden Yunnan now and then that doesn't have such heavy earth or malt notes in the cup so that the fresh floral-honey/maple character can sing through. Again, this is not as deep/complex as the "Woodwose Yunnan" that I was favoring, once-upon-a-time, from In Pursuit of Tea with its darker fruity-woody Yunnan character. This tea has a totally different emphasis and balance. I especially like the aroma. The cup itself has been a bit thin as I've made it a couple times, but more leaf may remedy that to some degree the next time 'round. This tea allows a lot of sweetness to meander into the cup itself, a nice part of this tea's profile. As the tea cools, the floral-honey sweetness really pulls forward in the aroma. The Fragrant Leaf once had a gold Yunnan that was quite up front with the aroma notes of honey as I recall.

While I really like the sweet floral-honey/maple profile of this tea, the other member of the household wasn't as sold on it. It just drinks more lightly than what he prefers in a gold Yunnan, and the aroma/taste profile being so fresh and youthful and floral-honeyed just doesn't make up for that, at least for his tastes. As I noted many moons ago about Golden Bud A, I am intrigued enough by honey-floral emphasis that I can definitely find a place for this in my Yunnan drinking. This is so totally opposite the very leathery "Dian Bong" [sic] Yunnan that I posted on earlier.

I also have a sample of the Yunnan Sourcing LLC's Golden Yunnan which is marked 'old batch,' so I assume this is from a previous lot of this tea (again shared by a fellow tea drinker). I am brewing them up cup to cup and can already smell a difference in the two lots of tea as they steep. Newest lot is sweet/earth/floral/cocoa. Old lot is more leathery in scent and less sweet. That's also where they fall out in aroma once leaf is removed. Old lot is quite leathery, more akin to the TeaGschwendner's "Dian Bong" [sic] Yunnan in aroma profile.

The old lot of the Yunnan Sourcing LLC golden Yunnan is earth/leather with just a hint of sweetness. Their newest lot (or whatever lot was just shared with me) is floral/honey/earth. Very different aroma profiles. And I'll warrant they are going to taste different, too. Old lot is more rugged and rustic with that leathery/earth thing coming more aggressively into the cup. Newest lot that I have is much, much, much softer. Floral/honey sweet/non-aggressive earth, with the floral note meandering quite distinctly into the finish of the tea. These two teas are very, very different Yunnan experiences. One I would buy (newest) and one I would not. Problem being, when one orders, how do you know what type of Yunnan experience you are getting? We need these kinds of tasting notes/clarifications from vendors about what their Yunnans are currently 'doing.' These are entirely different Yunnan teas. Neither of these teas are like the older ("Woodwose") Royal Yunnan from In Pursuit of Tea, btw, that tea that a few of us were favoring for some time.

We've missed going to the local nature center and seeing the sap run for a couple years now. Saturday gave us an unusually balmy day for March in our neck of the woods, as we can just as easily still have snow. So we took advantage of that and went over to the local nature center where the sugar maple trees are just now being tapped. They have a sugaring house at one end of a trail where you can see and, more importantly, smell the sap being boiled down into syrup. As you walk away from the shed, the combined aromas of sweet syrup, woodsmoke, and emerging earth just holler 'tippy Yunnan' as you are leaving the area!

In his poem entitled "Morning," former Poet Laureate Billy Collins admits to "buzzing around the house on espresso." I think I've succumbed to "buzzing around the house on assorted Yunnan samples." Not as poetic perhaps. :-)

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Imperial Tea Court's Imperial Gold Yunnan and Upton's Yunnan Golden Temple Comparison

Imperial Gold Yunnan
purchase date of this 1/4 pound forgotten

China Yunnan Golden Temple (ZY93)
(10 gram sample amount packed on 2/20/06)

While steeping, there is a common thread runs through both these teas, and it is that sweet note of milk chocolate. The Imperial Gold carries the 'snappier' aroma though, with a fresh scent rather related to floral, but also a brisk oaky kind of depth. The Imperial Gold carries this into the cup as well with a hint of malt on the palate.

The Golden Temple has a sweet mocha/chocolate aroma, but the flavor isn't as complex or as 'snappy' (it doesn't 'zing' as I have observed in other notes, comparing the Golden Temple from Upton's to Silk Road Teas Yunnan Gold High Grade).

What I have enjoyed in the Imperial Gold is the way the aromas unfold. I have likened this to is a mocha brown silk scarf (**see below) with golden threads in the pattern being tossed down on a bed. As the silk unfolds and the light catches it, you begin to see more of the color variations. Now that this tea has cooled a bit, the spicy/honey notes emerge that sometimes strike me as being like honey. Other times the sweetness seems more like maple sap being boiled down for syrup, that sweet sap/toasty aroma we've encountered at the local nature center when they are sugaring. The tea has cooled down even more, and the aroma gets deeper and more complex as it cools. The Golden Temple Yunnan sweetens and deepens a bit as it cools, but it does not develop the layers (those golden threads) that the Imperial Gold Yunnan does. The Golden Temple doesn't have as many of those 'golden threads' to catch the light.

The Imperial Gold is very mellow, but in a different way than the Golden Temple. As I noted in my comparison of Golden Temple to Silk Road Teas High Grade Yunnan Gold, the very mellow and 'soft' character of the Golden Temple is the primary focus in the cup itself. It is a very 'soft' Yunnan, and there just isn't the 'zing' of other characteristics that come into play, for example, with the Imperial Gold Yunnan. There is a pungency at the end of the mellow character that slightly lifts the finish of the Golden Temple. But the Imperial Gold is lifted, not just by a level of pungency, but by some flavor notes as well, which are possibly related to the overall complexity of the liquor. The ITC Imperial Gold is the pricier tea, so one would expect it to perform at a more complex level than a less expensive tea. I find it not a bad idea to periodically recheck these points and compare teas that are not in the same price category.

That said, I did decide to order some more of the Golden Temple to acquaint myself a bit further with this one. This is not the Holy Grail Yunnan by any means, but the aroma is nice. The 'soft' quality strikes me as sometimes a positive and other times a negative, the latter when I compare it to other Yunnans and realize what is lost by the softer character. But for those who want to avoid any hint of smoke or savory notes, the Golden Temple does seem to fill that bill.

There is a world of difference in some of these Yunnan Gold teas--from flat out smoky to slightly savory to clean earth to muddy earthy to metallic earthy to freshly floral to maple sap being boiled to make syrup to dark forest honey to light floral (lavender) honey. The floral note ranges from ‘fleshy’ orchid to lightly/sweetly floral. There are those Yunnan golds that are malty, and some a bit cedary. And then there is the one that combines the woody-fruity character with some of the other positive notes. The spice can range from just not there to peppery to even slightly clove-like in taste. The key is finding the one with the characteristics you enjoy, but even further, in the right balance, and that can be the trickier part. **Notes from 8/05 on the Imperial Gold Yunnan: Though I know not everyone has been quite as 'wow'd' by this one for the price, it still remains one that entrances me. The aroma from the cup this morning has so many layers. It's rather like dropping a mocha brown colored silk scarf (with subtle patterns threaded through in gold) on the bed and watching it fold in upon itself, then picking it up again and watching the folds smooth out and reveal the full design. Malt, floral, spice, hint of maple, earth, cedar. Some of those aromatic notes reveal themselves in the cup itself today, some more in the aftertaste, and some are more aromatic than taste.

Monday, March 06, 2006

China Yunnan Golden "Dian Bong" [sic] from TeaGschwendner

China Yunnan Golden "Dian Bong" (#2208) Source: TeaGschwendner
Tea received: March 4, 2006

Incidentally, I find I have notes on past Yunnan "Dian Hong" experiences from other vendors, but no "Dian Bong"? Is "Dian Bong" an alternate spelling? A vendor typo? "Dian Bong" is on the website and on the sample packet of tea sent to me via vendor. Lew? I note your translator doth not recognize the term bong and directs me to the more familiar hong? And yes, I am purposely foregoing all bong jokes. :-) Those so inclined may fill them in as they wish.

Leathery (a term which a fellow tea drinker first introduced in his notes on this tea) is definitely a part of the aroma profile of the Golden "Dian Bong" China Yunnan. Especially while steeping, leather and earth dominate. This is an aroma I'd (initially at least) separate from smoky. But neither is this exactly the savory note I talked about in the TeaSource "Golden Downey Tip Yunnan." In this "Dian Bong," the main aromatic (with leaf still in cebei) is very leathery.
Once the leaf is removed, the "Dian Bong" does tone down a bit, the leathery notes mixing with a sweet edge that I associate with maple sap. The cup is quite distinctly earthy. And yes, that note of leather surely does meander into the cup itself. Not much sweetness at all. The earth and leather dominate. Spicy notes do not seem part of this particular Yunnan. I am going to have to definitely taste this one against the TeaSource Yunnan that I called savory to see if maybe leathery is more what I meant by savory. As the tea cools, I could almost imagine the leathery note is shapeshifting toward smoky. That's one thing I find interesting--the way the leathery notes are at one level when steeping with leaf still in the cebei and how they tone down a touch once leaf is removed, and how they change even further as the tea cools, allowing the sweetness (in aroma) to meander forward and blend with the earth/leather.

I've had hints of this leathery note in other Yunnan teas, but not nearly as dominantly as in this tea, at least not in recent memory. And, quite possibly, I've called these notes smoky to myself at times or savory, too. This is a much more rugged golden Yunnan than the Upton's Golden Temple Yunnan (that was packed 2/27/06). That Golden Temple is the one I referred to as soft, and the taste and aroma profile of both teas is very different. Interestingly enough, the vendor describes the "Dian Bong" Yunnan as having a "gently-spiced, balanced and soft cup," but that's not how I personally experience this tea in relation to other golden Yunnan teas. Soft is the last word I'd call this Yunnan.

Neither of these are my own personal Holy Grail Yunnan Gold, I confess, but that means very little except to my personal taste preference. I like leathery notes in a red wine. I find them interesting in this tea, if a bit startling at first. But the overall balance I am looking for in my own personal Holy Grail Yunnan is different from what this one offers. That does not mean that I won't enjoy drinking it. For me, this is an 'alternate' Yunnan style to experience, even while the search continues for that balance that meets with my own personal preferences.

I have also here a slightly cooling cup of Imperial Tea Court's Imperial Gold Yunnan, without the intense leathery note of the "Dian Bong." The Imperial Gold isn't as rugged in profile, but neither is it as soft as the Golden Temple. The aroma of the ITC Yunnan always strikes me as having a fresh quality to it--then it fills in with those milk chocolate notes, hints of floral, either honey or maple sap, depending on which lot or even at what cool-down point I sniff the tea. The cup still tends to say malt/earth to me in this one, and sometimes I get that hint of something cedary as well.

Cup to Cup: Golden "Dian Bong" Yunnan with TeaSource "Golden Downey Tip" Yunnan (#2301 from http://www.teasource.com/)

When they are both steeping, the "Dian Bong" really has that different aroma profile I'll never be able to call anything but leathery now, that's for sure. Today, the TS Yunnan strikes me as a touch less savory than when I first brewed it and shared some comments previously--maybe because in comparison to the leathery tea, the TS Yunnan has a sweeter/cocoa/earth character that seems less rugged compared to the leathery/earth notes of the "Dian Bong." I am sniffing the cups side-by-side here as they brew. I would still not call the TS aroma leathery at all, but it is also less savory than when I first brewed it. Today it has a more toned down (possibly due to less leaf?) earth-cocoa-sweet aroma. And yes, there it is--a mild savory note as it's cooled a bit. Perhaps the savory is merely a different level of what I sometimes experience as maple-sap-being-boiled-into-syrup at the nature center and the way the air carries both this sweet scent (but from a distance far off) with hint smoke from the wood being burned to boil the sap into syrup. Fresh earth also comes into the picture if we walk when the snow has been melting, and that is also in keeping with the Yunnan experience.

This time I catch some malt in the cup itself of the "Dian Bong," against the earth/leather. There is very little sweetness in either of these as to taste, though it's very there in aroma of both at different levels. Again, it seems that the leather note in the "Dian Bong" shapeshifts toward smoky, only after the tea cools to a certain degree. As this tea cools, what I like is the way the sweetness comes up and surrounds the more rugged aromatics. I like these aromatics in juxtaposition to each other. I catch some notes of leather as to flavor, but I keep also wanting to translate something as a touch smoky in addition to that, too. Perhaps they are just the same characteristic, but they certainly do seem to strike me differently while 1) the tea brews with leaf intact, 2) just after leaf is removed and tea is quite hot, and 3) as the tea cools slightly to more dramatically. As it moves along that scale, the leather shapeshifts a touch toward smoky. Indeed, when both cups are totally cooled, they are more alike than when hot.

This more leathery Yunnan is a very different Yunnan experience than the ones that carry more sweetness in a lightly floral sort of way that sometimes reminds me of just a hint of lavender honey. I am thinking of that Golden Bud A, which was the most distinctly freshly honey-floral golden Yunnan I've ever experienced (http://www.pu-erhtea.com/). And none of these gold Yunnans are like the "Woodwose Yunnan" I talked about once upon a time and a long time ago from In Pursuit of Tea, which had the sweet-woody-fruity note going up against the more familiar Yunnan characteristics.

And so...I do want to continue to 'live with' this tea a bit, at least as long as my purchased sample amount holds out. It's a tea that takes some mental adjustment for me, I think, before I fully make up my mind. Incidentally, this tea was one of the Gschwendner's teas labeled "The Edmon's Collection" which are their higher-end teas that may not be available in large amounts or for lengthy amounts of time, and so the list of these teas will change more quickly. These teas are packaged in very snappy pinstripe black and gold bags with resealable gold twisties and have the Edmon's label with some description of the tea on the back with brewing suggestion in grams to liters. Alternately, you can use an enclosed "Teelamass" plastic scoop device that comes with the order. I haven't checked, but it seems like it's comparable to a tsp. amount. The steeping suggestion includes how many of these scoops to use and whether rounded or not, etc. Their price list of teas comes enclosed as a very nice looking book which is 'subject to change' according to the back page, so I am not sure how updated it really is. Based on my purchase of two sample amounts of the Edmon's Yunnan and Keemun, I was also sent a sample, gratis, of a Mokalbari Assam with an enclosed note that indicated this choice was based on my other two choices.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Holy Yunnan Grail Quest Continued: Upton's Golden Temple Yunnan and Imperial Yunnan

Two from Upton's (http://www.uptontea.com/):
China Yunnan Imperial ZY86 (packed 2/27/06)
China Yunnan Golden Temple ZY93 (packed 2/27/06)

I was not fond of the ZY86 Yunnan Imperial that was ordered back in August 2005. But I decided to order a small sample amount of this tea again (and some others) to compare to the ZY93 Golden Temple Yunnan. Still not fond of ZY86, as it is giving me the same impression as it did in 8/05.

While steeping (and leaf is still present) in the two small cebei (what's the plural?), you can smell these are quite radically different Yunnan teas. As noted, the Golden Temple (which has the bolder leaf style) has a very sweet aroma against the light earth, a 'mellow' and 'soft' sort of presence. The Yunnan Imperial is much more rustic with smoky notes against the earth and only a hint of sweet.

Once the leaf is removed and both teas cool slightly, Yunnan Imperial does have a bit more sweetness pull forward, but the main impression is smoke/earth. It falls out precisely in the cup just as the aroma suggests. I have the same objection to this tea that I did when I tasted it back in August. It is higher in earth without those spicy notes I recall from times long past when this one was a favorite of mine. Smoke and earth take over any maple sap sweetness in taste. Just not interesting. This was one of the first teas that brought me to my love of Yunnan tea, so I go back to it periodically to see if that first romance can be recaptured. So far...not.

They really taste odd cup-to-cup since they have such different profiles. The sweetness in Golden Temple (which meanders between maple sap and a touch of lavender honey and sometimes even a bit floral) gains a sort of 'toasty' note as it cools a bit but none of the smoke and much more subdued earth. That more dominant smoke/earth that I find in Imperial Yunnan isn't present in the same way in Golden Temple. I marked the bottom of the cups as to which is which to have a tasting which began without preconceived notions. But these teas are quite easy to tell apart just by aroma, let alone taste.

As I get more familiar with Golden Temple, I begin to ponder what is missing in the actual cup. The aroma is full. The tea is soft and mellow. But there are definitely some notes missing in the chord. None of those spicy notes. None of the darker complexity that can be a bit oaky...or, as in the case of the once-loved IPOT Yunnan, even a bit woody-fruity. Right now I am still favoring the Silk Road Teas High Grade Yunnan Gold, but the Yunnan Quest is ongoing.

One feels rather like Goldilocks here who finds the Yunnan Imperial too smoky and earthy and rustic, but who also feels that the Golden Temple is perhaps a bit *too* soft without the layers of complexity...so where, I wonder, is my Yunnan that is 'just right?' For some time, In Pursuit of Tea had it. But now we're going to have to venture deeper into the forest it seems....

"The Holy Grail!. . . What is it? The phantom of a cup that comes and goes?" "Nay, monk, what phantom?" answered Percivale. (Tennyson)

Quite obviously, Tennyson was having trouble finding himself a consistent cup of favorite tippy Yunnan as well. Ahem.