Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Anodyne on Assorted Golden Yunnan Tastings or The Illusion of the Questing Beast

Since Corax has mentioned some of these teas in his previous entry of January 9, 2007, I thought it was a good time to post some random tastings. I have often had folks write to me and say something like "I tasted a Yunnan (or Keemun, etc) once, and I didn't like it." Given the wide spectrum of flavors and aromas I've experienced, particularly with Yunnan teas, I always ponder which particular flavor profile someone has tasted and rejected. There are indeed more than a few from which to choose. For some of us, that quest to find a particular flavor and aroma profile is an on-going one. The object of each of our desires may indeed be a very different beast.

High Grade Yunnan Gold B-YG-2
New (December 06) order direct from vendor

This is not a tea that strikes my own preferences as "High Grade." In taste and aroma, it is a very typical (vin de table) Yunnan taste that includes rather too much of a smoky note and not much else filling in. It stands rather solo in flavors/aroma. Not complex. Not filling in with malt. Not filling in with maple. Or spice. Or cocoa. Or florals. It's not the "youthful" style that I had in August 2006 in the #CDO lot from this source. But neither is this the lovely rich Yunnan Gold High Grade I had from SRT in July 2006 which showed forth with some (Woodwosian) fruity-woody-Forest Honey sweetness. I even preferred the SRT March 2006 order of High Grade Yunnan to this one. Some palates might refer to this one as a bit leathery, but I find it more smoky than leathery. It's also much less savory than some Yunnans can be. I refer here to a flavor that goes beyond smoky to a hint of sweet wood-smoked ham rind or bacon. It is a range of flavor I found in the TeaSource Golden Downey Tip Yunnan and described on February 10, 2006. The SRT Yunnan is more just distinctly smoky as I find it. This isn't an undrinkable Yunnan by any means, but this falls short of what I expect in a Yunnan Gold labeled "High Grade" sold in this price range.

Yunnan Golden Buds
New (late December 2006) order direct from vendor

Again, what I received doesn't match what a fellow Yunnan lover had just previously described to me, so there must be a couple different teas from this source with this label or perhaps a lot change. The website refers to this tea as being known as "Jin Ya,” a top-grade Yunnan that is “picked in the early spring when the tea plants are budding with the year’s new growth.” The tea before me is another very common (vin de table) Yunnan experience. Like the one from Silk Road Teas, it focuses on smoky-slightly savory notes and earth with a hint of malt. It doesn't come forward with anything remotely Woodwosian. No molasses/Forest Honey sweetness, no fruity-wood, no spice, no cocoa, not even a maple emphasis , etc. The savory-smoky note carries a hint of sweet (as in smoked meat sweetness), but not the singular honeyed notes I've had in the Yunnan Golden Buds from this source in times past. I just don't find the "lingering notes of honey and spice" that are given in the tea's description. Not in this tea. These lingering honeyed notes have been there in times past though, and I have enjoyed them.

Both teas are drinkable but not compelling by any means. They do not show what this tea is truly capable of doing.

1059 PRIME CHINA BLACK TEA "GOLDEN MONKEY YUNNAN" Highland Golden Needle Superior Tippy Grade A
Sample received from a friend in December 2006

Corax has already filled in the particulars of this tea in his January 9, 2007 entry. I only had a small sample amount, so it's harder (for me) to get much of an olfactory hit from smelling the leaf, but it seemed to carry a light honeyed sweetness in the dry leaf against a deeper note. While brewing in the gaiwan, there was an initial scent that was quite delicate--a floral honeyed note that I associate with "youthful profile" in Yunnan teas. In the cup, it deepens out with some malty notes underpinning the more delicate honey-floral that sits atop the darkness. Reminds me of how one's eyes adjust to the dark, and then you suddenly see a pinprick of winter star against the night sky.

This is somewhat reminiscent of the Golden Bud A from I had many moons ago, October of 2005 to be more specific:

Just tasted their Yunnan Golden Bud A, which proves to be quite a different Yunnan experience than I've had to date. It has a very pronounced floral-fruity range to it with honeyed notes and very light earth. The floral lingers quite distinctly into the aftertaste. This is not the heavy mocha-rich and spicy type Yunnan experience, but it has a beauty all its own. While I have encountered some light floral notes in Yunnan before, I haven't encountered it at this level or with this fruity characteristic. This really leaves a lingering aftertaste. Website notes that this golden colored Yunnan tea is organically grown and is made up of the buds of the spring first crop.

Yunnan tea can be very deeply rich and satisfying. I think this is the first time I've encountered it where it had this "perky" quality--a bright, fresh fruity-floral taste and scent that was not masked by earth. There is even something almost Darjeelingesque about this tea, which is not something I've ever felt about a Yunnan tea before. Very much enjoying tasting this one.

And back to the current cup of tea before me, the Golden Monkey Yunnan #1059: while it reminds me of the profile of the Golden Bud A of 2005, this tea hasn't the fruity range I noted in that tea, nor quite the remembered (if memory serves, and we all know that it may not entirely serve) pungent floral-honey hit of the Golden Bud A. This Golden Monkey Yunnan tea "speaks" primarily through the delicate floral-honey notes rather than the malty undertones. The cup, as it empties, is filling up with a sweet floral-honey scent, which is also what lingers into the aftertaste. Though it likely is not identical in taste, what it reminds me of is the Provence Lavender Honey I very much enjoy. And this is an interesting point to set against the darker molasses-like Forest Honey sweetness I found in those deeper Yunnan teas I referred to as Woodwosian. Both have honeyed notes, but the teas are completely different just as the dark Forest Honey is very different from the lighter but pungent Provence Lavender Honey.

I have learned to have some appreciation for the way these "youthful" Yunnan teas speak, though it is not the profile I most desire. I note that I even choose different drinking vessels for this type of Yunnan.

Yunnan Gold "Everyday Tea"Spring 2006
Sample received from a friend December 2006

The tea is mildly sweet with very light spicy notes as it cools slightly. It is not smoky or savory as some “everyday” Yunnans are wont to be, both in aroma and in the cup. It does not become overly astringent, quite pleasantly mild and mellow. Malt/earth in the cup and perhaps even a light cocoa note. Very pleasant and easy to drink if not a “wow” kind of golden Yunnan experience but seemed decent enough at the price point offered. I have ordered a bit more of this one to continue to drink and see if my impressions continue to be the same.

“Jin Si” Golden Tips Yunnan 2006 Premium
Sample received from friend December 2006

This tea is also what I think of as the “youthful” Yunnan profile. It has a very pronounced floral/honey note coming through, but is is a darker and spicier honeyed note than the Golden Monkey Yunnan #1059 above. There is malt and earth in the cup and less of the honey floral in taste than the GM Yunnan #1059 as I brewed it here this first time. Not as much of the honey-floral lingering into the aftertaste as in the GM Yunnan #1059. The empty cup shows a full spicy-honeyed note, less delicate than the lavender honey of the GM Yunnan. In spite of the deeper and less delicate honey-floral-spice, I just don’t find the honey in the taste itself as much as I do in the GM Yunnan. This isn’t quite the Forest Honey note either, but it is closer to that than the more delicate Lavender Honey note of the GM Yunnan. It’s more like one of the deeper/spicier wildflower or thistle honeys I’ve had maybe. Definitely darker than the lavender honey but not as molasses-like as the Forest Honey. Lovely full aroma in the empty cup.

Yunnan Jing Mao Hou Select
Sample received from a friend December 2006

This tea is referred to as “Golden Monkey Hair” according to the website. It can get quite astringent if you don’t hold the reins on brewing. Light sweetness in aroma and malty undertones. I am not sure how to define the sweetness as this is not the honey or maple sweet a Yunnan can sometimes have. Not floral really, unless a hint of that as it cools. It’s almost a sweetness I’d associate with grains. Not a Yunnan that excites me personally, though I do need to go back and try it again.

Golden Yunnan Organic
Sample received from a friend December 2006

This is a tea with some gold tip mixed in. Very muted sweet note after brewing. During steeping there was almost no aroma. Quite astringent. As it cools, some light spicy notes develop in aroma. Very little flavor coming through at all on this one. By now, granted, my palate is more than a bit jaded. But I am just not impressed in any way with this one. I'd rank it last in all the ones I've been sampling.

Royal Yunnan
January 2006 order direct from vendor

I went back to the IPOT Royal Yunnan that I ordered in January 2006 which was so radically different from the Royal Yunnan I’d been drinking copious amounts of in 2005 (the one I called “Woodwose”). I wanted to see how it compared with the Yunnan teas I’ve been sampling again lately. This tea, in 2005, had the full dark and rich fruity-woody range—that sweetness of Forest Honey with a molasses tang. Later lots of this tea were less so, but still had a full bright maple sweetness. This 1/06 purchase changed quite radically. One year later it still is as I remember it. The fruity woody sweetness is no part of this tea. The maple scent is much more subdued with light spicy notes, and the cup is a rather unexciting malty-earthy. The richness has just been drained out of it somehow. It’s just very bland compared to what this tea was doing in 2005. I have not tried this tea again except once (maybe back in March) again in 2006, so I don’t have a current frame of reference as to what the tea is doing. But this is not remotely going to cause The Yunnan Dance of Joy. Not even a skip. I am not even getting out of the chair. “Cellaring” the tea did not seem to change it for the better in any way I can detect.

Yunnan Gold Tip
Sample direct from vendor January 2007

This a mild and mellow type Yunnan with a light sweet aroma that hints of floral and light spice, a characteristic that meanders lightly into the cup itself. Not high in earth or malt in the cup itself, though there’s a hint of the malt and cocoa with the light floral. It’s a rather restrained Yunnan, not doing anything negative but neither is it filling out in those mocha rich depths. It is definitely not a candidate for Woodwosian status, as it does not have that fruity-woody-Forest Honey character. It does not have the intense honey-floral sweetness that some of the Yunnans with “youthful” profile exhibit either, though the floral notes are there, and that’s rather how this tea wants to “speak.” It does not cross over to the smoky/savory notes that some Yunnan will show. It just doesn’t excite me.

Yunnan Special Grade
Sample direct from vendor January 2007

Yunnan Special Grade has a very similar profile to the Yunnan Gold Tip. The empty cup of Yunnan Special Grade has a full honey-toasty scent that is not as distinct in the brew itself. The Yunnan Gold Tip didn’t show as much aroma in the empty cup. There’s a touch more of the sweet-floral in Yunnan Gold Tip in the taste itself compared to the Yunnan Special Grade, though they have similar aroma profiles. This Yunnan Special Grade shows a touch more malt in lieu of the floral emphasis of the Yunnan Gold Tip as I brewed them today this first time.

Neither tea excites me personally because I tend to crave a different balance of flavors and aromas than these teas show. I had to use a certain cup to really catch the full aroma on both of these teas. I note that some teas tend to present their aromas more aggressively and easily, others less so. I have a certain tall footed cup which starts out more narrow but opens toward the top with a wider fluted mouth, and for some reason, this cup/mug will coax the aroma out of some teas better than other cups. My normal drinking cup also has a wider fluted mouth but the overall cup is shorter and wider, and that somehow does not work as well for certain teas.

Without using that cup, my impression was that the Yunnan Special Grade had the deeper aroma compared to the Yunnan Gold Tip. When I made the latter tea again in this particular cup, I realized that the aroma had bloomed more in this cup, and that the two teas were not as different in their aroma as I first thought. In this case, the cup mattered.

In all of these tastings, none of the teas warrant, for me personally, The Yunnan Dance of Joy. I was a much happier drinker of golden Yunnans in 2005 than I was in 2006, with the brief exception of that July 2006 Silk Road Teas High Grade Yunnan Gold and the one single order (never-to-be-repeated) from Tribute Tea. The knight, sorely tried, (and by now a bit jumpy from caffeine overload) begins to wonder if the Questing Beast is but an illusion. One source notes the Questing Beast of Arthurian legend "lived to be hunted, and when she was not being pursued, she lost vitality and wasted away." The beast is a bit more benign in the T.H. White version and considerably darker in others. That loss of vitality would describe more than a few of the golden Yunnan teas I've tasted in 2006. I do have some appreciation for the "youthful" Yunnans which emphasize the floral and honey notes, particularly if they can meander into the taste of the cup itself and linger into the aftertaste. But they are still not the profile I prefer as much as I can appreciate what they are doing.

Still questing for that particular Yunnan flavor and aroma profile. And if the attention I have paid to the Questing Beast should account for anything, the vitality of said beast should be improving rather than declining.

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