Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Cup2Cup: Awoono’s “Early Nineties Loose Pu’er” & Red Blossom’s “Wild Leaf, Sheng Pu-erh 1993”


Since the big price jump in aged pu’er, my attention as a buyer has turned away from 70s and 80s sheng to 90s sheng. Lacking a winning lottery ticket, I find that acquiring aged pu’ers is no longer an option. The adolescent teas from the 90s will mature as I wait for my nascent beeng chas to take on some age. A little more than a month ago, I purchased Awoono’s Early Nineties Loose Pu’er after trying a sample. This is a pleasant tea, a nice change from the stronger, greener young pu’ers. I love young pu’er, but those who know me will also testify that I crave variety. The grand magic of pu’er resides in its changes over years and decades. Good pu’er from the nineties is rare; bad pu’er, common. Awoono’s Early Nineties Loose Pu’er, I decided, is by no means bad. I can afford it, and drinking it is a pleasure.

Davelcorp, a forum poster and discerning tea critic familiar to all of us, kindly sent me just this week a sample of Red Blossom’s Wild Leaf, Sheng Pu-erh 1993. It has some characteristics of age, and the tea does not come with ugly issues attached. I enjoy drinking it. I like it well enough to have ordered some for keeping around the house, and having ordered it, realized that it might be identical to Awoono’s product. Both are mao cha, indistinguishable in dry leaf and liquor color.

The blog "Ancient Tea Horse Road" has an excellent article on Red Blossom’s ’93 Wild Leaf Sheng. The author’s judgment of Red Blossom’s adolescent loose tea is somewhat harsher than my own; given its price and mission, I think it succeeds quite well.

Here is Red Blossom’s description:
Our 1993 Wild Leaf comes from the ancient tea trees that have grown for hundreds of years on the mountainous slopes of China's Yunnan province.

Harvested and crafted by the aboriginal people of Yunnan, the tea is a "sheng" or raw pu-erh -- aged naturally -- with time as the only catalyst transforming the tea from its nascent state as "mao cha" to its current rich mahogany color.

While we are unclear as to the source mountain for this tea, we do know that about seven years after harvest, the tea was acquired by a family friend and brought to Guangzhou to be stored at his tea house until we acquired it in 2006.

This natural aging creates a tea that is uncharacteristically light and sweet. Steeped longer, the tea becomes creamy, with a heavier, yet remarkably smooth body.
Awoono’s description of Early Nineties Loose Pu’er is shorter:
Origin: Menghai, Yunnan, China
Year: Early 90s
Net Weight: 30g
Type: Uncooked

This is one of best loose pu'er, outstanding quality and excellent richness tasting, it displays unique pleasing flavor. Highly recommended for drinking and collection.
My memory of both suggested they are the same, but I decided to put my memory to the test. My tasting notes follow.

Dry Leaf Appearance: Small, broken leaves, some stems. Red-gray. Light frost. The two pu’ers are identical in the dry leaf state.

Wet Leaf Appearance: Brown and black leaves.

Leaf Weight and Brewing Vessels: In two identical 1.5oz porcelain gaiwans, 1.6g of leaf.

Temperature and Steeping: Water just off boiling in early infusions, hard boil in later infusions. One fast rinse. 15s, 10s, 15s, 20s, 25s, 30s, 35s, 1m15s, 1m45s

Aroma: In the first infusions, the Awoono cha is somewhat spicier despite the identical appearance of the dry leaf.

Liquor: The color of Folgers coffee in the first infusions. In the fifth and sixth infusions, I notice that the Red Blossom cha is a shade darker.

Infusions: In this dimension, these two loose pu’ers fall short. They taste good, but they do not evolve as much as one might hope. Although there is some evolution of flavor and aroma in both, it is not pronounced. The Awoono cha changes more than does the Red Blossom cha. And yet I would not expect from these relatively inexpensive, adolescent mao chas the mystical changes I encounter in a great sheng beeng cha from the 70s.

Taste: Because the teas are loose and the leaves relatively small/broken, the two teas quickly infuse even in the first infusion, so the flavors are strong in the first and second steeps. The Awoono cha is spicier and woodier in the first two infusions, but the Awoono has some danker flavors too. I notice this dankness in my nose when I swallow the tea. In the second and third infusions, the Awoono cha is somewhat sweeter and still somewhat dank -- suggesting a wetter storage or even a smallest hint of mold. The Red Blossom cha, while a tad bit more sour, also has a cleaner taste. Perhaps I’ve spent more words on this than the difference warrants. There’s no bold juxtaposition intended. But in the fifth and sixth infusions, the difference grows: the aged characteristics of age and spice are more clearly defined in the Awoono cha. The dankness in the earlier infusions has gone away. Later infusions offer nothing new -- just a gradual diminution of flavor.

Concluding Remarks: I think we would have a rough time locating better adolescent pu’er for less money. Granted, there are better adolescent pu’ers (for example, Hou De’s ’98 Yieh Sheng Ciao Mu), but those cost far, far more. As regards the storage of these teas, neither indicates the effects of a wet past. The spent leaves are certainly not misshapen or partially dissolved like those I’ve encountered in speed-aged pu’er, and the flavors and aromas of these two pu’ers do not have the unpleasant wet-laundry character that I associate with wet-stored pu’er. Given their similarities, these two teas might well have been, at one time, the same tea, and the differences now a result of recent storage. I prefer the Awoono cha a little more, but it is a little more expensive than the Red Blossom cha. If a cha2 you3 were to hand me a cup of one of these a week from now, I’d be hard pressed to identify the source with any degree of certainty. But I’d be happy to drink the tea.


Hobbes said...

Dear Geraldo,

Many thanks for the notes; I'm particularly interested in following up the Awoono pu'er to compare it to the Red Blossom '93. I encountered the latter also at the kind prompting of Davelcorp, who was kind enough to later buy some for me. I didn't realise that it was available via the Internet, so thanks also for the link!



Unknown said...

Hey, Hobbes--Thank you for the kind words. These are not grand or noble teas, but for their price bracket, they're well above the competition. Best, ~geraldo

Anonymous said...

Gerry, always a pleasure to read your notes. Thanks for these, and the other re: aged teas beyond the pu-erh family. Lovely.

Been meaning to write for some time but it has been an extraordinarily busy time.

I haven't had the Awoono loose pu-erh, but know the 1993 and 98 Red Blossom fairly well. But here's something: The RB 93 is the tea that made me announce/pronounce somewhere online that I actually enjoy the occasional wet-stored pu-erh. Which now has me slightly confused. I don't think you are outright saying that the Red Blossom is *not* wet-stored, only that it doesn't show some of the negative characteristics of many overly wet or speed aged pu teas ("neither indicates the effects of a wet past.")

The occasional light frost and sweet earthy smell of the dry leaves (also just the overall appearance of the leaves, which I need to figure out how to capture in words) had me certain that this was a well-stored but wet-stored puerh. What does well-stored but wet-stored mean? Don't know. A short period of wet storage? Or, perhaps, a steady level of higher-than-dry humidity that is still not deleterious over the longterm? Or something similar. Certainly: the opposite of overly wet-stored tea.

The burgundy-colored liquor and the sharper-than-usual spicy notes in early infusions (1 and 2) I interpreted as wet-storage. But after that effect was "washed away" the tea seemed to reveal itself and still had good qualities to it.

Well, anyway. Now I'm confused. Which is, I suppose, the default as I muddle my way through the world of tea...

Best - and happy new year to you.


Unknown said...

Thanks, Adrian--Great reply, and right on target as always. Both of the loose shengs are wet-stored, but not speed-aged by nefarious means. We see the results, I think, of humid environment. The leaves, as you note, have not been too badly eroded by over-hydration. They have not been composted into a state of amorphous lumpnitude. They do not smell or taste like wet laundry left too long in the machine.

I think we are seeing more pu'ers that spent some time in a humid environment and then were taken from that and placed in a dry environment.

The burgundy colors and sharper-than-usual flavors in the early steeps, as well as the less significant evolution of flavor through the session, do indeed indicate damp storage IMO.

Have fun friend, and write when you can. As ever,

Best to you,