Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Cup2Cup: PurePuer Tea’s “1960s Liao Fu Green Loose Tea” & Hou De’s “70s Aged Liao Fu San Cha”


People who love pu’er often seek out other close relations to the pu’er family. Liu Bao, Liu An, Tianjian, Quianling Tael, Huazhuan, Heizhuan, and many other heichas exist for the hunter of pu’er-like teas. The classification of the many types is complex beyond my abilities to comprehend and is also a topic of hot debate among experts in tea taxonomy. I’ll leave the finer points of classification to them. My joys are more visceral. I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to taste incredibly old and delicious Liu An and Quianling Tael when I visited China. And a friend sent me some of his grandfather’s extraordinary aged Liu Bao. But other non-pu’er age-able teas have never been much to my liking until recently. Now there arrives on the scene a tea new to me, and it’s very much worth buying and drinking: Aged Liao Fu San Cha.

My first encounter was with PurePuer Tea’s expensive “1960s Liao Fu Green Loose Tea.” Here is their description:
Factory: Liao Fu
Harvest Year: 1960s
Type: Raw/Sheng
Harvest Area: Yunnan/North Vietnam border

This very rare green loose tea is in extremely limited supply. It has an earthy orchid/ginseng flavor and aroma. The color is a crystal clear, reddish amber. This tea, a product of dry storage, is smooth, from your mouth to your throat. In latter brews the taste becomes sweeter.
Soon after I purchased several grams, PurePuer sold out of it.

Next I encountered “70s Aged Liao Fu San Cha” at Hou De Fine Asian Art. Having enjoyed PurePuer’s product and become curious as to the difference between the 60s and 70s versions, I purchased some grams of the Hou De product. A link in the product description will take the resourceful websurfer to Guang Lee’s informative blog on the subject of Liao Fu. The article is too long to quote here in its entirety, but it is well worth reading.

My tasting notes are as follows:

Leaf Weight & Vessel Size: 1.6g of each in 1.5oz identical porcelain gaiwans.

Water temp: Just off boiling in the first four infusions, boiling in subsequent infusions.

Infusions: 15s, 10s, 15s, 20s, 25s, 30, 35s, 40s, 45s, 1m

Appearance Dry Leaf: Virtually identical -- small leaves, HD’s significantly more stems than PP’s. Stems removed for this tasting. General light coat of white frost -- both samples.

Appearance Wet Leaf: HD Liao Fu is mostly in pieces, with the black chopped appearance in keeping with humidity in storage. PP Liao Fu, in contrast, larger leaves, less black.

Liquor: Early steeps, the color of straight bourbon, fading normally in later infusions.

Aroma: Spicy, woody, earthy. Aroma much stronger from gaiwans than from cups. The PP smells noticeably spicier, less dank in the fifth and sixth infusions. In the seventh and eighth infusions, the difference becomes more pronounced.

Flavor: In the first steeps, no apparent difference. Slight but not unpleasant sour tang that I associate with humidity in storage. Pleasant thickness. Mouth watering. Both are camphory, minty, tasting of aged tea. In the fifth and sixth infusions, the PP becomes somewhat cleaner, woodier, spicier than the HD. The PP has a slight nutmeg quality. The difference -- if it really exists -- is very subtle. In the seventh and eighth infusions, the aged character of both becomes more pronounced -- the minty camphor more apparent. Oddly, the teas at room temperature are identical in flavor. The small difference is in the first hot sips. In the ninth and tenth infusions, the evolution continues -- the paradoxical standing back of some flavors, allowing others their chance to please the senses.

Concluding Remarks: These two aged san chas are not very different, but Pure Puer Tea’s 1960s Liao Fu Green Loose Tea might be the tiniest bit better. This is actually a bigger criticism of the 60s Liao Fu than of the 70s iteration. I would have thought a forty-year-old tea would exhibit a more distinct profile; instead, the contrast between it and the 70s is minute. The difference resides more in aroma and wet leaf appearance than in other dimensions of the tasting experience. But they are both excellent and exemplars of the top of their genre. I’ve tasted no other border teas or heichas that are even one-third as good as these. Of course, they are neither in the realm of 70s #7532 nor the best versions of ’88 Ching Bing. Yet their cost does not approach the rarefied and dizzying outlay of cash that one must hemorrhage forth to procure the better aged sheng beeng chas. Simply stated, the great aged shengs of Yunnan are better. But the charm and value of these san chas is in the suggestion of age and quality at a price that is not horrific. They offer many benefits of aged pu’er -- notably an evolving profile through many infusions. I can drink them without feeling that I am a profligate wastrel, and I can say to myself that I am drinking good aged tea.

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