Sunday, October 30, 2005

guo jiang xiang phoenix bird oolong [private reserve] from

item # O-PBO-PR
harvest: 2005
parameters: 1 g : 1 oz
brewing vessel: cebei
date brewed for this review: 051029

dry leaf: long, not-overly-twisty leaves, dark brown, with prominent green veins. aroma, vegetal and very fresh.

brief rinse [20 sec], 1 minute rest.

INF1: 30 sec, 190F. aroma: a distinct but not overpowering floral scent, in the tuberose/plumeria range. color: medium gold. taste: very delicate oolong flavor overlaid with a floral [i mean specifically a floral, rather than a vegetal] taste that is again distinct but not overpowering, as some jasmine-flavored teas are. [that flavor is of course *added* to the processed tea by storing actual jasmine flowers in the leaves; this flavor is a function of the leaves’ being, after all, from a camellia plant. or could this be da hua-scented?] the aftertaste is tenacious but subtle.

INF2: 20 sec, 190F. the aroma seems a bit less prominent now, but that might just be my own acclimation to it at this point. taste: interestingly, the taste is just as round and full as INF1 -- if anything, more. preserving all the qualities of INF1, including the luxurious aftertaste. the infused leaves show some serration along the edge; their color is more uniformly green [not just in the veins].

INF3: 30 sec, 190F. wow, the aroma rushes up to meet me the moment i take the lid off the brewing vessel. the taste is inching a bit more toward the genuinely vegetal this time. aftertaste continues richly oolong-y with that brush of floral that one craves in these fenghuang oolongs. color: a bit paler gold; do i detect the faintest reddish hue to this now?

INF4: 35 sec, 190F. astonishing, the rhythms of these infusions. now the vegetal flavor steps back again and the floral comes more into play, both in the aroma and in the taste. still that same wafting aftertaste that lingers all across the palate and tongue. color is about like that of INF3.

INF5: 35 sec, 190F. aroma: delicately and almost purely floral. the taste however says ‘oolong’ even while that aspect of the flavor allows the floral to continue the dance. the color of the liquor remains steady. i have no doubt that this tea can be brewed for several more infusions without any loss of potency.

IN SUM: another aristocratic phoenix oolong from SRT. not as arresting, perhaps, as the mi lan xiang, but for that very reason perhaps more conducive to a quiet, un-dramatic drinking experience. i almost said ‘everyday,’ but such elite oolongs are by their very nature anything but everyday. the very brewing of them is [and should be] an event.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Anodyne on Drum Mountain Clouds and Mist Green/Silk Road Teas

Drum Mountain Clouds and Mist Green
Silk Road Teas
purchased Oct 2005

I haven't had Silk Road Tea's Drum Mountain Clouds and Mist green in a long time, and I am happy to reacquaint myself with this one. It's been so long that I'd almost lost my memory of this tea. Certainly, as I brewed it today, it strikes me as one of those 'nourishing' type green tea aromas--a rich savory/vegetal aroma with distinct sweetness that carries, with varying degrees of intensity, into the cup itself. It was always a green I viewed as easy (or, non-fiddly) to brew. The sweetness was always what I thought of as nectar-like.

...and today, with a second brewing, I am finding this more fully again. Less tea per water ratio (maybe) but definitely lower temperatures. My first trial run was nice, but it featured the more savory/vegetal aspects of the tea. The first few whiffs reminded me of the savory notes I find in Taiping Hou Kui that often mesh with the 'orchid' floral to varying degrees. Today, the savory notes of the Drum Mountain Clouds and Mist are coming more softly into the cup, and there is again that ethereal nectar sweetness that lingers into the aftertaste.

My first encounter with this tea may have been as far back as 1998 according to old notes:

Drum Mountain Clouds and Mist/"Meilan Chun"
Green Tea/Silk Road Teas

Like the white tea I posted about earlier (Drum Mountain White Cloud), this green from Silk Road Teas also comes from Drum Mountain in northern Fujian. The clouds and mist ("yun-wu") are supposedly a perfect environment for tea growing. The brochure notes that this tea is made from a "very slow growing, high quality varietal." It goes on to say that not too many farmers want to mess with it, due to low yield. The leaf is quite large, some up to 1 and 1/4 inches long. It is a darker green than the Drum Mountain White Cloud white tea, which has a more variegated green and appears to be fluffier with more downy white hairs.

Drum Mountain Clouds and Mist green has an intensely sweet aroma when you open the pouch, one of the most purely sweetly fragranced greens I've smelled lately. It the cup, it is just exquisite. So many greens are merely green or vegetal. The aroma of this green is more like the interior of a flower, and this carries over beautifully to the taste as well. If you recall chewing on a red clover or honeysuckle flower, that flower nectar sweetness is what lingers in the long aftertaste of this tea and in the aroma of the empty cup. The sweetness is what you imagine a hummingbird's breakfast to be...or a cocktail made from Titania's "honey-bags" stolen from the "humble-bees"...the aroma like Ariel's cowslip bedchamber.

These old notes below were from a pricier *Competition Grade* Drum Mt Clouds and Mist of years past via SRT, so the experience is not completely comparable, and yet certain aspects remain in the tea I have before me this chilly October day in 2005:

Drum Mountain Clouds and Mist Green, Competition Grade
April 2001

Again, the opening of the packet is a rush of fresh and full sweetness with underlying depth. You can just smell how rich the tea taste and aroma is going to be in the cup, just from the dry leaf. It fills in the spectrum from exotic tropical flower to nectar-like to spice, every bit of the naturally sweet aroma drifting voluptuously into the cup. As with the Competition Grade Dragonwell, you smell green, but not as a separate characteristic, it is so well enmeshed in those layers of aroma, one layer of which almost seems like baking bread, sweet roll, or even, perhaps, a scent of cake. I go back to nectar when I taste this tea. The way I think of nectar, it is a less intrusive sweetness than floral and pulls your attention to it more softly, the way a whisper in the ear catches your attention more quickly than a normal speaking voice. But like the right words whispered, the sweetness lingers. Of this one I had also written: The full mellow richness of this tea slowly unfolds, the way a warm band of sunshine falls on the back of your neck, gradually pulling you "up and out" of concentration, drawing your attention to the beauty of the day around you.

And Holly here and now with the current noncompetition grade Drum Mountain Clouds and Mist Green--that aforementioned visual still holds for me. This tea is 'whispery.' And I think it's still one of my favorite greens. Going back through old notes, it is nice to see that this tea is holding true to how I first encountered it.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

tie kuan yin 'monkey picked' from

tea: tie kuan yin 'monkey picked' no. 10
item #O-TKY-10
harvest: 2005
date brewed for these notes: 051019
proportions: 8 g leaf to 4 oz water
vessel: jenaer zylindro

in my brewing i did not use a yixing pot because i wanted to observe the agony of the leaves, the changes in physical aspect of the leaf, and the development of the color of the brewed liquor. but in terms of time and leaf/water proportions, i attempted to approach what one might do in traditional gongfu cha. indeed in such case one might have used still more leaf to less water.

the zylindro offers a very precise measuring tool -- in addition to the visual access it affords, it allows almost instantaneous separation of leaves from liquor. in fact the argument that might be made against it is that its results are *too* precise to be replicated in more ordinary day-to-day brewing [unless, of course, one uses one’s zylindro every day]. so my reader should bear in mind that unless your yixing pot has a very fast pour rate, you are not likely to reproduce these results exactly. [in fact the only other brewing vessel that pours this fast is likely to be a gaiwan.]

one interesting aspect of this experience was the aroma of these infused leaves. one rinses tea-leaves -- briefly, briefly, and in not very much water -- in order to introduce them to the notion that they are about to get a hot bath. right after the rinse, the aroma of these leaves was beginning to emerge, but not nearly as fully or with as much complexity as after INF1. [this is by no means unique to this tea, but an instructive reminder that the whole tea-making and tea-drinking process is just that: a process.]

dry leaf: greyish-green, loosely-fisted leaves, little aroma

very brief rinse followed by 1 min rest

INF1: 30 sec, 190F. color: golden with a faint but unmistakable reddish tinge to it. aroma: not especially floral, but a clean and fresh oolong-y smell. taste: not sweet, not astringent; but fruity rather than vegetal. the aftertaste is both delicate and pervasive; a difficult balance to achieve. infused leaves: somewhat expanded after INF1; a bit ragged; one can now see that some stem is included.

INF2: 20 sec, 190F. color: similar to INF1, perhaps less reddish. aroma: the kind of ‘cool’ smell that brings a feeling of clarity to the head. again, clean and fresh. taste: a bit more astringency here, noticeable but still subtle. the aftertaste continues to curl over the soft palate long after the sip.

INF3: 30 sec, 190F. [the infused leaves have continued to unfurl -- at this point they go fully halfway up the column of the zylindro infuser. their aroma is less sweet now, more assertive.] color: more like that of INF1. aroma: round and pleasing, not as assertive as that of the infused leaves at this point. taste: less fruity than before; a bit vegetal at the beginning, but mellowing almost instantly. it’s above all the aftertaste of INF3 that one drinks for. it makes simply breathing in through mouth a pleasure.

INF4: 35 sec, 190F. color: more straight golden. still quite a rich color; at INF4 this tea shows no sign of attenuation. aroma and taste are about like those of INF3. again the aftertaste here is distinguished.

INF5: 40 sec, 190F. color: only now does the liquor begin to pale a bit. aroma is at this point slightly fainter. the taste [and aftertaste] are however still present, front and center, and very much in line with what INF3-4 had offered. my surmise is that this tea would provide another two infusions at least.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

mi lan xiang phoenix bird oolong [private reserve] from

harvest: 2005
item #: O-PBO-PR
parameters: 1 g : 1 oz
brewing vessel: gaiwan
date brewed for this review: 051026

dry leaf: fairly dark longish twisted leaves, some with green stripes; very little aroma

brief rinse [12 sec] – almost instantly, both infused leaves and liquor had a powerful scent of nectarines. so intense, in fact, that if it were sugary, i would assume the leaves had been soaked in actual nectarine juice. i confess i drank the rinse-water [color: pale dull gold, with a hint of red toward the circumference]. it was superb.

INF1: 15 sec, 190F. aroma: as before. color: a darker version of the rinse. taste: uncannily like a nectarine or peach that is not sugared. very little astringency. the aftertaste is a bit woody, in the most subtle way.

INF2: 15 sec, 190F. aroma: a bit more oolong-y than INF1, but the peach/nectarine presence is still front and center. color: about like INF1; a bit less rosy around the edges. taste: perhaps a bit thinner than INF1 or the rinse; as the brew cooled, it gained presence. on the whole, i would say that INF2 could have stood to be a couple of seconds longer. the infused leaves smell, more than ever, like peach nectar.]

INF3: 18 sec, 190F. aroma: as before, but a bit attenuated now. color: much more straight-up yellow now, like a filtered apple juice. taste: the woody note presents itself more distinctively [if not ‘assertively’] here. also, a bit more astringency along with the finish.

INF4: 25 sec, 190F. aroma: fainter still at this point. color: about like INF3. taste: not overly strong, but beginning to seem spent somehow. astringency has increased with this infusion. the aftertaste has the slightest hint of wet cardboard. i do think the tea could go to a fifth infusion, but its elegance may have peaked.

INF5: 40 sec, 190F. aroma: quite faint now, but still declaring its peachiness. color: still comparable to INF3 and 4. taste: much more delicious and interesting than INF4. this is instructive: i’m very glad i went the distance to a fifth infusion, rather than deciding that this tea was ‘over.’ the astringency has not waned, but it is also not stronger now; the peachiness continues unabated, and perhaps even renewed here. in the finish gets stronger and stronger. very little ongoing ‘oolong-y’ flavor to this remarkable oolong.

IN SUM: this is a tea of extraordinary distinction -- of genuine excellence. an aristocrat among oolongs, well deserving of its ‘private reserve’ status.

Anodyne on Keemun Mao Feng from In Pursuit of Tea (and a Grace Tea Winey Keemun aside)

And while on the subject of Keemun Mao Feng, I have also just made a small serving of the In Pursuit of Tea current Keemun Mao Feng offering. Again, it strikes me as lighter than KMF of times long past. It has the distinctive Keemun nose, with the chocolate notes against a honeyed sweetness which comes into the aroma as well as meanders into the cup itself. The earth is clean and light and well balanced out by the honey-cocoa. Gives a very light hint of that "used tobacco box" aroma I've referred to before--not smoke, but the scent of a box that used to hold tobacco but now is only retaining a soft and subtle residual aroma. (Our household used to sometimes have chocolate flavored tobacco--as well as other tobacco--kicking around, so I suppose that is why this comes to mind when I taste/smell Keemun tea). This KMF is without that green pungency of the current ITC Keemun Mao Feng that I find a bit off-putting. It doesn't quite have the same fresh wheaty notes of the SRT Hong Tao Mao Feng either, focusing more on honey-cocoa with, p'rhaps, a light malty taste. I note that the IPOT website refers to it as having "roasty notes hidden behind nutty character, with a sweet fruity finish." It's not a sweetness I reference personally to fruity but more to honey, I confess. Lingering aftertaste is subtle, but there, and may extend to that 'winy' character that some Keemun has.

Grace Rare Teas has their Winey Keemun, and it's been a staple tea of mine for years that I neglect and then go back to now and then. The Grace Tea Winey Keemun has a different range of Keemun aroma and flavor--softer, sweeter, more mellow, and without those strong and dominant cocoa notes. It has a softer range, and seems to swap drama for a sweeter, more mellow character. Aroma is not muted by any means (it's quite full), but it just reflects a very different Keemun style. The Winey Keemun is actually softer on the palate. If you compare it to a voice, the Grace Tea Keemun is a deep male voice but in whispering mode, while other Keemun will strike me as a male voice at normal vocal level, but the kind of voice that reverberates in a room like a cello. Again, these are two different Keemun moods for me, and I'd like to have them both around for alternate drinking.

Geraldo on Dehong Ye Sheng Xing Gu (Purple Leaf) Zhuancha

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

Dehong Ye Sheng Xing Gu (Purple Leaf)
Sheng zhuan brick, 2005 harvest
Factory: Dehong
Vendor: Yunnan Sourcing LLC

Dry State: The brick is dark. The face is prettier than the interior. The outer leaves are smaller than the inner leaves. most of the leaves are very dark green, and a few are brown-gold. The interior contains quite a few yellow stems. The brick is tightly compacted. I used a butter knife to split it lengthwise for inspection. I bisected that puppy on the transverse.

I have done two separate tastings of this tea.

First Tasting

Parameters: 7.5g in 5oz glass gaiwan. Short rinse. Four-minute rest. Infusion times similar to those I found posted recently at RFDT. 25s, 15s, 30s, 38s, 48s, 1m, 1m30s, 2m, &c. Gently boiling water.

1st infusion. Excellent clarity as advertised. Quite dark for a first infusion. The liquor is golden and carries a nice perfume. Flowers? The first hot sip: wow! Today has been a five-tea day already, this pu’er being the sixth tea, but it immediately stands out as the best. The flavor of tea is strong, no discernible smoke, sweet and dry combined, reminds me a little of baling straw, the clean, grassy taste. No earthy flavor. I am accustomed to a little less leaf and shorter infusions, so this bolder taste on the first infusion is a fascinating change.

2nd infusion. The liquor’s color and hot aroma are unchanged from the first infusion. The first hot sip is still very brisk -- not surprising for a second infusion -- and heavy with flower aroma. The initial flavor on the tongue is still sweet and dry. This pu’er creates a warming sensation in the chest. The flavor remains in the mouth.

3rd infusion. This infusion is the best so far: the flavors are balancing and the brisk dry flavor is backing off a little, but the tea is still very bold. I feel this tea might age well. The strength of the tea might hold up well to the passage of time. There are relatively few buds, and I have heard that leaves age better than buds. Since there are fewer buds, I am a little surprised by the sweetness in the first two infusions. This is a power-tea, and I will try another session with shorter infusions, cooler water, and perhaps a little less tea in the gaiwan. I am amazed by the clean-ness of the taste -- almost like spring water.

4th infusion. The pu’er is even better now. The nice aroma continues. Much young pu’er does not have a strong aroma, especially an aroma that stays through several infusions. In this infusion there is a hint of mint, a cough-drop coolness that persists in the mouth after I swallow. It’s not camphor exactly, and it’s not a flavor -- more a sensation.

5th infusion. This young pu’er is distinct from others I have had. It lacks the spiciness and demure shyness. The flavor is commencing to fade a little -- but not much. The cooling after-sensation has intensified. I do not understand qi, and I do not use the word lightly, but this brick might be qi-laden. I will be very excited to try this in two years, five years, eight years, and on. The nice aroma continues.

6th infusion. The tea is mellower, calmer, smoother, less irate, less dominating. It’s growing friendlier. I am excited about brewing a new batch right away, and using less tea, cooler water, and shorter infusions. I am still fascinated by the mint cooling effect.

Second Tasting

Same tea, much shorter infusions, length to be determined in process. Same short rinse and long rest. Same five-ounce glass gaiwan. 6.5 grams rather than 7.5 grams of pu’er. Forty-second cool-down after boil. Ate some crackers. Rinsed my mouth with water.

1st infusion, 10s. Well, this is much milder. No surprise there. The tea is much more sedate, but the wild bouquet is absent. We will see what the second infusion brings in aroma. There are no different flavors. In some older teas, shorter infusions can reveal new flavors.

2nd infusion, 12s. I intended 10s, but fell asleep at the switch. I believe I am pu’er drunk. I should start seeing dinosaurs any moment now. They sometimes have interesting things to tell me. This infusion is darker than the first. The aroma from the first session is back. I am relieved -- I feared these parameters would not bring the aroma forth. Well, this infusion is sufficiently strong. Now there is a new flavor, a very faint smokiness that feints and then steps back, in no way unpleasant. Odd that the different parameters would reveal this; I would have imagined that bigger parameters would bring forth bigger smoke flavor. The fresh-bales-of-straw-flavor is there again too.

3rd infusion, 7s. Recently I tried a mixed shu-sheng mushroom-shaped pu’er sample from the eighties that presented very subtle and wonderful aged sheng flavors through very short infusions. I will see now what happens with this nascent green brick’s liquor after a rapid infusion. Wow! Still this tea is not too weak. The smoky pungency and mint-cooling effect are there, but somewhat softer-spoken. Less bitter, the tea is more mouth-watering. In the first session there was a drying effect. Now the purple brick causes salivation.

4th infusion, 5s. I tried a 100-tael tea that spoke with the same authority and loud voice. In fact, I wonder if the 100-tael came from the same factory. This infusion is very, very good, very much to my liking. I believe that pu’er has more variation than Darjeeling or lu cha. I would even go so far as to say that uncooked pu’er by itself presents a wider range of experience. This wider range is a chief source of my joy in the pu’er cha dao. Drinking tea, and pu’er in particular, brings me into the moment. The concentration that I place into the experience does not focus my mind as much as it sets it adrift to free-associate. In that regard, seriously tasting tea is akin to a writing a poem, in that both creating a poem and tasting pu’er bring us to the experience of the moment and the physical world. Both leave us open to the unexpected, and both allow full control to that part of the brain that seldom gets to drive the car. Seriously trying to describe tea, while odd in some ways (sitting alone, floating in space) is most likely good for my mental health.

5th infusion, 10s. The aroma is still present. This infusion is very much like the previous.

6th infusion, 30s. We shall test the tripling effect. The bouquet is still present and the color is still dark. A longer infusion does wake it up, but the taste is beginning to subside, and I am suffering from tasting-fatigue.

Overall Impressions

This is an excellent pu’er. However, I believe that most pu’er is excellent. These two very different sessions have taught me a great deal, and this is a good tea to explore strength and youth in sheng pu’er.

This tea also illustrates that one session is not enough, and that small samples might be inadequate. The fun of exploring tea resides at least in part in the discovery how one’s own taste can best match the tea’s taste.

Taste is a matter of taste. Some people (such as corax) are made of sterner stuff. They brew strong tea. corax sleeps on a bed of nails and eats chunks of basalt dipped in Tabasco sauce. The first session was an intense experience, but it did illustrate the power of tea. The second session, oddly enough, illustrated the same point.

Geraldo on Meng Hai sheng puer #7532 (1975)

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

Sheng puer, 1975 harvest
Factory: Meng Hai Factory; Item #7532
Vendor: TeaHub

Parameters: Two very rapid, short rinses. 2 minute rest. Did not pry apart the piece of pu’er. This on the recommendation of Seb and Jing [[of]] about a year ago regarding aged pu’er, under the assumption that leaving the pieces intact will allow more infusions. Will use about four ounces of water boiling, the first steep will be 5s, and the following five steeps will be instant steeps, i.e., water in and then tea out as soon as possible. Using a 5-oz glass gaiwan.

Dry leaf: black-gray and very dark green. Tightly compressed sample.

1st infusion. Liquor looks like Scotch whiskey. Clear and dark brown-red. Flavor notes: wood predominates. Pleasant forest. Taste is somewhat mild. Seems neither cooked nor wet-processed. I detect no wet-laundry aroma or flavor. No mold or mushroom. No leather. Very clean flavor for aged pu’er.

2nd infusion. Again, flash-infused. Liquor much darker. Almost weak restaurant-coffee colored, but still clear in the white cup. This is a joy to drink. The tea has a strong flavor with no bite. Mouth-watering. Stronger deciduous forest flavor, loam. More sweetness in this infusion. Some malt and molasses, but just barely. Big mouth feel: thickness remains in the mouth after swallowing. More aftertaste with this infusion.

3rd infusion. Perhaps even a little darker. In the fourth infusion I will fill the gaiwan to the top. Flash-infusions with a gaiwan takes more dexterity than I possess! This pu’er is both strong and mellow in flavor—a rare combination. The wood flavor is very strong.

4th infusion. Liquor remains dark. Flavor remains strong, but improving (wow). The loam subsides a tiny bit. Saliva still flows. The aroma from the cup is not strong. The aftertaste is stronger in this steep. There is a very faint fruitiness to the flavor now, like grape.

5th infusion. The color might be just the littlest bit lighter. The flavor is indiscernible from that of the previous infusion: excellent.

6th infusion: As an experiment, I used shrimp eye boil (tiny bubbles rising from the bottom) rather than full boil. Retained flash-infusion. The color is somewhat lighter now. The wood nuances and sweetness persist. The aftertaste strengthens. Rather than take the reader through at least seven more infusions, I will skip to a summary and then add more notes later as events require.

Summary: TeaHub enjoys the reputation of supplying authentic aged pu’er, albeit at prices that would beggar a personal injury attorney. This tea is in all likelihood thirty years old. I am the farthest thing from an expert on aged pu’er. For my modest collection, I buy very young pu’er, hoping to survive to see it age at least a little. Now and then I buy a small sample of aged pu’er, or a generous friend will work a trade with me. Sometimes I receive it as a gift outright. All that being said, despite my inexpertness, I would place this aged pu’er among the top four aged pu’ers I’ve had the opportunity to drink. I would not say that this is my favorite, and I would also add that I have tasted one or two aged teas that I did not love in any way.

The strength of this tea surprised me. So did the clean flavor. I do not doubt that one could drink this tea all day, infusion following upon infusion. As a collector of young, green pu’er, I appreciate having the opportunity from time to time to taste the future of my own collection. When I’m eighty, I look forward to discovering that some of my own collection tastes this good. I owe a big debt of gratitude to a good friend for providing this sample. Thanks for reading all of this. ~geraldo

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Anodyne on Silk Road Teas Yunnan Gold and In Pursuit of Tea's Royal Yunnan

I've had many different orders of Silk Road Teas Yunnan Gold High Grade in the past, loving some of them and, a times, being slightly less enamored of others. I was pleased enough with my recent order which arrived this week. The aroma is a mesh of clean earth, spice, maple sap, and a fresh note that might have a slight floral emphasis. The maple sap note I speak of is like walking the trail at the nature center in the spring--you catch an emerging aroma of fresh earth mixed with the woodsmoke they use to boil the maple sap into syrup. So this aroma contains all of those elements, wafted in from long distance on a breeze. In the cup, the tea is bright with a clean earth. To me, that is akin to the aroma of a field, fresh-tilled with sun shining down upon it. It is not muddy on the palate as some Yunnan can be. The sweetness in the cup is integrated, not cloying.

Another day: Here we go with the Silk Road Tea Yunnan Gold against my current standard favorite In Pursuit of Tea's Royal Yunnan. Both have a lovely Yunnan aroma. The IPOT one registers slightly deeper as to the maple sweet character. But the SRT one has a freshness against the sweet that is rather appealing. Ah, and after the SRT one cools just slightly, the sweetness suddenly pulls forward more and seems to almost have a floral note connected to it. Interesting how this follows into the cup. The IPOT has a deeper sweet woody note against the maple sap/earth. The SRT one puts the possible (?) hint of floral freshness against the maple sap/earth. Gives them a slightly different emphasis. Both remind me of that maple sap note as it connects to the spring...the nature trail...the emerging earth...the faint hint of spicy smoke wafting in against the sap turning more sweetly into syrup as it boils down.

The sweet woody note in the IPOT Royal Yunnan is not unlike the sweet wood note that's in the Oriental Beauty (Floating Leaves) oolong I just left brewing, by accident, for the whole morning. It was a second infusion that steeped for a few hours after I forgot that I'd started a second infusion in the Carp and Dragon cebei. It has remained mellow and developed an almost chocolate note that is quite closely connected to the sweet woody taste. As I first experience it, that's not the taste I get in the IPOT Yunnan. But after swallowing the tea, the impression this woody taste leaves in the mouth is somewhat reminiscent of what I find in the IPOT Yunnan, only with a slightly different emphasis. This woody note is just not there in the SRT Yunnan which might drink with just a bit more spice instead. Or perhaps it's that they really do leave slightly different aftertastes--the sweet woody notes of the IPOT against the spicier floral (?) of the SRT. I think the latter is hanging on a bit longer as to aftertaste.

I'll have to give these some more trial runs, but this current SRT Yunnan Gold High Grade is walking rather more closely in the footsteps of the IPOT Royal Yunnan, albeit with slightly different style of shoes. Brewing was not specific as to grams, as I wasn't in a specific mood--but the basic brewing was two full tsp (both brewed in a cebei) for 3 minutes this time around.

Incidentally, the floral note (if that is, in fact, what I am catching) in the SRT one is very different than the floral note I found in a Yunnan Gold from TeaSpring. That latter tea had a floral note that was a bit like those 'fleshy' kind of funky scented orchids. But there was a Golden Bud A Yunnan from that had a very delicate fresh floral note. One of the freshest most floral scented Yunnan teas I've had I think. From older notes on that one:


Revisiting my purchased sample of Golden Bud A Yunnan, which I found so unlike other Yunnan experiences, yet so lovely in its own style. Still strikes me in the way I first reported on it. It's the 'freshest' smelling Yunnan with really no hint of 'good earth' in the dry leaf aroma; instead, it has a more dominant honeyed floral note that finds its way into the cup itself. Very smooth to drink. Doesn't carry the heavy overtones of 'earth' or 'smoke' or 'malt' that some Yunnan teas have. It doesn't have the 'thick' mocha-like quality I enjoy in Yunnan, but this one still entices me with that 'fresh' and bright quality, the 'honey and floral' notes that are really featured in the balance of this tea. Other Yunnans I've tried hint at floral, but usually have some level of 'earth' or 'smoke' or 'malt' or something that weighs down the floral-honey a bit. This one is really the brightest Yunnan experience I think I've had to date and the most honey-nectar of all. Behind the honey-floral, there is the lightest sense of 'good earth' (not metallic) that comes through, but it is barely a whisper in this tea. This has an elegance to it that makes other Yunnans (though beloved) seem more rustic in comparison.

For those who might wonder, I brewed it today with two very rounded teaspoons of leaf (rounded to the point of leaf falling off) which came out to about 2.6 and 2.7 grams of leaf each, brewed in a two-cup Chatsford for four minutes. Haven't tried this one with shorter multiple steeps.

And so, the Yunnan Quest...ho!

Monday, October 24, 2005

Anodyne on Hong Tao Mao Feng "Red Peach"

Hong Tao Mao Feng "Red Peach" Organic
Silk Road Teas
See more specifics about this tea in a previous review by corax

I had a brief acquaintance with this tea in a recent small sample from a fellow tea lover. I didn't get a chance to play around with it past an initial brewing, and it hadn't really grabbed me on the first trial run. In fact, I had forgotten I had even tasted it until I was reminded. My taste standard of excellence for a Keemun Mao Feng is now many moons in the past, a particular lot from Imperial Tea Court which had a unique 'chocolate and rose' character. But since this time (and these notes were from 1999), Keemun Mao Feng has seemed to change quite radically. It has become lighter, without the depth I seem to remember. But I keep hearing good things about this tea in a recent review here by corax and previously on another tea list from Michael and others, so I had ordered a quarter pound to further acquaint myself with it.

Certainly the Hong Tao Mao Feng is not remotely in the ballpark of the Keemun Mao Feng love of times past. And that comparison point inevitably crops up in my mind when I taste any Mao Feng Keemun (see notes from 1999 below). I am not sure it should even be placed in that comparison point any more, as KMF seems to have an entirely different 'profile' to me than it used to have. That said: I experience this Hong Tao as a very *fresh* tasting Keemun...youthful in profile...a mix of very subtle floral notes mixed with a fresh grain (wheat?) type taste. Not the heavy malty notes of Imperial Tea Court's Imperial Keemun Hao Ya, for example. This does not really have the full characteristic I think of as 'used tobacco box,' that faint hint of tobacco that clings to a box that used to hold tobacco, as opposed to sticking your nose deeply down into a humidor. This is actually closer in balance profile to Silk Road Tea's Golden Monkey (though of course not comparable in Keemun-ness), which I am also experiencing as 'lighter' than in times past, as well, though still finding a pleasing enough balance between the taste/aroma elements. The Hong Tao has those notes I think of as 'chocolate' in tone, but more like those dark choc bars with a high percentage of cocoa. There is a light sweetness at the end of the cocoa, a mix of something that is only very subtly honeyed and perhaps even a hint of the floral. It actually reminds me more of the Silk Road Tea Golden Monkey than it does, for instance, the Imperial Tea Court Imperial Keemun Hao Ya, though of course the Hong Tao has that unique Keemun flavor that is unique and not precisely repeated in Golden Monkey.

ITC's Keemun Mao Feng from 1999, a balance I've not found in a long time now in KMF from this source or others:

"My order from Imperial Tea Court arrived today, and I had the exquisite pleasure of opening 8 ounces of Keemun Mao Feng and inhaling...those wonderful cocoa overtones wafted out of the bag along with what almost seemed like a rose scent. Having been without this tea for a while, I splurged and brewed up a four cup pot to share between three of us. Next to Imperial Tea Court's Imperial Gold Yunnan (another favorite), this particular tea has one of the deepest, richest aromas I've encountered. It's like sinking into a bed of velvet. The same floral hints of rose waft up....wonderful rich dried cocoa overtones and hints of spice. This isn't cocoa powder like the Hershey's version, but more like a richer Droste's cocoa powder. Not a 'woody' overtone at all in this smooth and mellow cup. (Pick your favorite Italian tenor singing 'Nessun dorma' and you might come close to the exquisite smoothness of this cup). A sweetness like nectar lingers on the palate after you swallow. The aroma in the empty cup actually 'blooms' as it sits around, gaining deep cocoa and spice overtones as the cup cools down. As I brewed it tonight (and hope to be able to duplicate!), it was perfection. " 2/18/99

ITC's current Keemun Mao Feng is not *remotely* like the tea I experienced in 1999. Somewhat like the Hong Tao Mao Feng from SRT, the ITC Keemun Mao Feng has a 'greener' edge to it. While it maintains that Keemun-esque aroma and flavor, it has a very different taste and aroma profile than the KMF 'of old.' Of course, that has prompted me to query 'why' many times. Are these 'lighter' Keemun Mao Feng teas being *purposely* produced? or is this simply a change in KMF over the years due to environmental factors?

This morning I have the Hong Tao Mao Feng against the Keemun Mao Feng from Imperial Tea Court as well as a Keemun Mao Feng I had from Harney and Sons. Of the three, the Harney has the 'darkest' aroma, made up of those notes of cocoa/spice/honey-maple sweet/even some level of smoke. Both the Hong Tao and the ITC Keemun Mao Feng have the 'greener' edge in aroma. In the Hong Tao, it seems more 'fresh' than 'green,' a combination of floral with the light cocoa and an almost wheat-y scent. The ITC KMF comes across as 'green' with an edge of pungency, and this does come into the cup as well. It is floral against a rather aggressive 'green' edge that, as I brewed it today, seems rather distracting. I might be able to mitigate this a bit by tweaking the brewing, but that 'green' pungent edge does seem part and parcel of this particular lot of tea. I am not overly fond of it. The Hong Tao has the more successful 'freshness,' with a smoother and more subtle balance. The floral, wheat, and cocoa all come into the taste, leaving a light sweetness that almost seems more connected to the floral than the usual 'honey' notes I find in KMF.

As corax notes in a previous review here, "this tea is what i would call 'elegant' rather than 'hearty.' the afghan hound rather than the st bernard." While it is assuredly not the KMF experience of old (and I confess I continue to wonder where that has gone?), this tea does have a delicacy of balance that is pleasing. I prefer it head over heels to the current ITC Keemun Mao Feng with that quite aggressive 'green' edge.

For those who favor greens and oolongs, I can see how this lighter but complex and 'fresh' tasting Hong Tao Keemun Mao Feng might well be more pleasing than a heartier 'darker' style. Even with my old KMF standard well entrenched in my imagination, I can appreciate the subtle and delicate qualities of this cup. It would be a tea I drink in a different 'mood' than the usual Keemun/Yunnan mood. The latter is a mood I associate with the richness and resonance of the cello (thinking of the Bach Suites for solo cello). The Hong Tao fits elsewhere...and I haven't quite placed it.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

'red peach' organic keemun from

hong tao mao feng keemun

type: hong cha
place of origin: anhui province, china
vendor: silk road teas [item #B-KMF-O; the ‘O’ suffix signifies ‘certified organic’]
date processed: 2005
date brewed for these notes: 051017
leaf-to-water proportions: 1g to 1 oz
brewing vessel: cebei
dry leaf: coal-dark, medium length for keemun leaf; fresh aroma, not malty
infused leaf: unfurled somewhat but not dramatically; color lightened to chestnut

first, i should say that, of keemuns, i prefer hao ya to mao feng. i mention the fact because it might well have predisposed me to be perhaps the less impressed by the tea under review.

on the contrary, this is a keemun to keep on the shelf alongside one’s prized hao ya. it’s more thin in the mouth than what one would find in a hao ya, but has nonetheless definitely got enough myrcenal to produce that distinctively ‘keemun’ flavor. the aftertaste is not as tenacious as some other keemuns. astringency is low.

INF1: 90 sec, 195F. at the beginning of the sip one gets a cooling overtone that is almost minty [i eschew the word ‘camphor’ because i'm not sure whether or when that would apply]. not especially ‘malty’ in profile; this tea is what i would call ‘elegant’ rather than ‘hearty.’ the afghan hound rather than the st bernard.

INF2: 90 sec, 195F. still not what i would term ‘malty,’ but the notes one associates with ‘chocolatey’ in a keemun begin to emerge here.

INF3: 2 min, 195F. there is still enough ‘there’ there to make this a drinkable and in fact enjoyable cup, but one wonders how a fourth infusion would do. beginning with INF3 one notices a taste [again in the ‘chocolatey’ range] that might induce one to mistake this for a fujian hong cha, like ‘golden needles,’ rather than a keemun. again, notably low astringency. somehow -- is it just the cumulative effect of drinking several infusions in succession? – the aftertaste seems to be more lingering now.

INF4: 3 min, 195F. okay, i went for it. all the characteristics of INF3 are still present here, though in attenuated form. the liquor is much paler now -- the color essentially of a light cognac -- but even now this brew surpasses more mundane teas.

IN SUM: i do think that this is at most a four-infusion tea. and for those who are not amused by such focused attention to their drinking, a one- or two-infusion tea. one does remark here the ‘dying rose’ sweetness that some associate with keemuns. overall, a delicate and distinguished tea that will not cloy.

Hello! Nice to see all of you here! & Thanks to jk for the kind invitation!

Here is a picture of the YiWu wild tree bricks from Yichang brand, not sure if it is any good, just got them last week at a local teashop. I was deciding if I should buy them (after a heavy splurge recently on a set of tea) when a Taiwanese vendor walked in and swept all of them off the shelves.

I decided then I should get it, even if it is not good, at least I'm not giving the loud ill-mannered taiwanese the satisfaction of taking them all. Haha! More later...

Monday, October 17, 2005

In Search of Tea Excellence

Our Cha Dao, tea road, can be a road from one tea to another, each with a different personality, some that become friends, some we quickly forget. Tasting many different teas can teach us what flavors we prefer, what memories we try to awaken. It can be very personal and completely subjective. I recently drank an old, most probably cooked puer that smelled like my dear grandfather's basement. It has the power to awaken great childhood memories and for this reason I say that I like this pu er. For 99.99% of the people unable to connect this smell with their personal memories, this tea will be just another cooked, unexciting pu erh.

But tea also has an objective good/bad dimension. Then travelling the road of tea means this search for what is best, the holy graal of drinks. One that everyone can judge by himself, with his senses. So, what is a great tea anyway? Let me try to summarize the characteristics a tea should have to fall in this category, according to my own experience, guided by Teaparker, my tea master.

First, let's start by what it should not have: bitterness, acidity, unpleasant flavors, unpleasant feelings in your mouth and throat.

Now, what should a top tea taste like? Like a top wine, a great tea must have a long and fascinating finish. Wine tasters will ask you to count how many seconds you still feel the smell of the wine after you swallowed it. A great tea will continue to work its magic long after it's down your throat. The mouth is salivating, your skin is sweating and your mind is crystal clear. A well balanced cha chi, not one that gives you a headache, of course.

After describing the end, how should the beginning taste like? Like water. Like fresh, sweet water just slipping down.

That's the reason they are called 'fine' and not 'strong' teas. It's not a matter of overpowering your senses with rich smells. It's the satisfaction felt by a thirsty person quenching his thirst with a very pure water that later unfolds a wide range of very delicate flavors and a lasting, pleasant impression in his body.

If you find it too abstract, then read the testimony in the post just below. "Sweet and an excellent aftertaste". This could be a good summary! Mount Taishan is in front of you, as they say in China, will you walk passed it?

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Geraldo on a Yi Wu Wild Puerh Qizi Beengcha

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

Yi Wu Wild Puerh Qizi Beengcha [sheng 2003; Factory: undeclared.] 5 grams in the sample package. Dry leaf: green range. Largish leaf. 5-oz glass gaiwan. Water: just off boiling. One quick rinse. 3 min rest. 15s, 10s, 35s, 2 mins

1st infusion: Liquor typical color range for YiWu of this vintage: yellow-orange. This first infusion is very sweet! Very little flavor to remark. Very mild aroma.

2nd infusion: Predominant flavor is still sugar. Little pu’er character. No fruit, no spice. High range, but no tang and no pungency. I should have used far less water for these five grams of tea—maybe as little a 2.5 ounces.

3rd infusion: Hotter water, much longer steeping. I cannot make it strong. There are many people who would like this tea since it has a very clean taste, but I have developed a liking for pu’er that has authority and lively flavor. I am accustomed to pu’er that carries some strength through the parameters as outlined above. Perhaps I should have brewed it differently. I knock. Nobody answers.

4th infusion: Steeped much, much longer. There is more fruit, more tag, more authority now. Small samples are very difficult to judge, maddeningly so. I would love to re-visit this pu’er and change my parameters completely. This tea does have an excellent aftertaste, almost like a very good green tea.

OVERVIEW: Tasting these teas from Stephane and Danny has been a great experience for me, and I am extremely grateful, greatly grateful! The experience reaffirms that taste is a matter of taste, and the experience is in the taster. I can never say that one tea is great and another tea is bad. I believe teas have missions, and I try to think of what a tea is trying to accomplish. Also, my tastes develop over time from all of the pu’er I’ve had, and my criteria of evaluation grow from that experience. As an example, I do not care for opera, but I cannot say it is bad, for that would make me look foolish. I can say that opera is not to my taste. Further, my ability to taste changes day by day. Finally, I have much to learn. That, of course, is the best part of the equation.

Geraldo on Jiang Cheng Yunnan Wild Puer Brick [1990]

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

I am sitting down now to the first infusions of Stephane's Jiang Cheng Yunnan Wild Puer Brick [sheng 1990], 7 grams in the sample baggie. I used 5g of tea per 5 ozs of water in a small glass gaiwan. Gently boiling mountain water. One quick rinse, five minutes of rest. The leaves are dark and fairly large. The liquor is the color of weak coffee. The smell is earthy but pleasant. The infusion is 15s. The flavor is sweet. The taste is akin to mixed cooked/uncooked I have tried.

The second infusion (15s) is darker (of course). It has a lively flavor. In the swallowing-exhale--through-the-nose and the slurp, the tea contains a characteristic flavor that I use to identify pu'er, the trade-mark or signature of pu'er. This tea seems carefully aged. If the sample’s label did not stipulate raw pu’er, I would swear I was tasting cooked pu’er. This is just like many cooked pu’ers that I have tasted. I will, however, abide by the sample’s label description.

I would, of course, like to know the factory so that the tea could educate my mind as well as add to my experience and pu'er repertoire. There is still a small sweetness and there is the nice wood flavor (I always think birch) that I associate with pu-er of middle age.

Third infusion, 25s. The liquor is even darker! The tea is very smooth and very clean tasting. There is little in it to criticize. I would only suggest that there might not be enough flavors. There could, perhaps, be more dimension to the tea to make is more engrossing. On the excellence scale, I would rate it very high. On the fascination scale, I would not rate it quite so high. What it has is of sufficient strenght, but it might have more flavors.

Fourth infusion, 33s. This is the best infusion thus far. There are more dimensions of flavor now. I can detect a cooling of the mouth that sometimes I think of as camphor. I am still reminded of aged cooked/uncooked mixed pu'er, but this is not a bad thing. This tea lacks only one thing: a certain lively tang. The liquor's color continues very dark. At the parameters I'm using, I suspect I can drink this tea all day. With some pu'er of this type, as the initial flavors subside somewhat, the lingering aftertaste grows ever stronger. By that characteristic I often judge whether a tea is really, really good. I shall be interested to know whether this tea has that growing aftertaste.

Fifth infusion, 52s. The color is much lighter now. The tea still remains very pleasant tasting, but it is not as strong in the pu'er qualities, somehow. Hard for me to put my finger right on this issue. For the fifth infusion, it does taste very sweet and it still retains a good mouth-feel, a nice thickness.

I am very glad to have tasted this tea, and I am grateful to Stephane for having sent it.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Geraldo on SFTM Nan Nuo Centuries-Old Wild Tree Puer

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

Nan Nuo Bai Nian Gu Shu Beengcha (Nan Nuo Centuries-Old Wild Tree, sheng 2005). Production limited to 2000 kg. Factory: Six Famous Tea Mountain. Vendor: Yunnan Sourcing LLC.

This tea looks very much like the Jing Mai. It ranges dry from bright green to white. The liquor is a little browner, a little less green. The aroma is more noticeable. Fruit. The flavor is far less bitter or astringent. It is not sweet. It does not carry the oomph of the [[Menghai Ancient Wild Tree sheng]] #7742, nor is it as weak as the [[Dadugang]] King Biscuit. This tea tastes very good. Of my newly acquired samples, it’s my favorite next to the #7742. It has both bass notes and high notes, i.e., fruit tartness without sourness or bitterness on the bottom, and spicy flavor on the top end. The nice, somewhat smoky aroma is very pleasant. SFTM manufactured this to taste good now; the question is this: Will it age? I am a fan of SFTM. I have witnessed many heated discussions regarding the value of this company’s cakes for the long-term. Some, such as the Fo Hai, are so top-laden that they barely last five years. They are virtually compressed cakes of white tea. Of the Nan Nuos I've tasted, this one is the best for me.

When I rinsed this pu’er, it turned bright green! Also, some bubbles formed at the top during the infusions. As the tea cools, more flavors emerge. I brewed it a little cooler. As the mouth adjusts to the tea, the tea improves. You know, honestly, I have to consume a lot of tea in a sitting to get a feel for it.

I can’t say one tea is better than another, and I can’t say which tea will be best in 5, 10, 15, or 20 years, but I can say that I like these raw nascent cakes in this order, top down: Menghai #7742, SFTM Nan Nuo Bai Nian &c., Jing Mai Ancient Wild Tree, and Dadugang King Biscuit. I will re-visit the latter, brewing stronger infusions, infusing stronger brews.

Geraldo on Jing Mai Mountain Ancient Wild Tree Puer

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

Jing Mai Mountain Ancient Wild Tree Puer [sheng 2005]. Mini-beengcha. Dry leaf: ranging from bright green to white with a few dark leaves. On the rinse, a tiny touch of smoke. 10g, 8 oz, well below boiling. 15s, 10s, 15, 20s. Much lighter in the cup than King Biscuit. On the hot sip, faster, livelier taste. Greener flavor. Not sour, but vegetal, like unto a sencha. Nicely authoritative. Does not taste like spice cake. Tastes like rather astringent tea. To my nose, this morning, very little aroma.

Oddly, more aroma when the tea cools. Green smell. The tea is clean, brisk, and rather strong. It will be better when it ages. Its strength resides in its strength. Aged, it will still have authority (wildly amateurish supposition). Its immediate challenge: this is a little brisk, a little astringent, and it is not as multi-dimensional as one might hope. Little if any smoke in the flavor. Clean, sharp aftertaste.

Geraldo on Wild Elephant Xishuangbanna Silver Tip & Wild Tree Blend

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

Wild Elephant Xishuangbanna Silver Tip & Wild Tree Blend Beengcha [sheng puer, 2005]. Vendor: Yunnan Tea Import & Export.

This tea is very good. 9g of tea and 9 oz of water, brewed at 190F. Dry leaf: large, thin, dark green leaves and many silver buds. The buds create a wonderful sweetness, and I would suggest buying it to drink, but not to age, since I am told that cakes with a preponderance of buds do not age well. This is a sweet, hot lemonade tea. It is strong and fun to consume. There is no smoke, no cigar, nothing untoward.

This tea is difficult to talk about. It is very simple, and not as multi-dimensional as the bud-laden teas from SFTM. The pu’er character, the signature of pu’er, is not as strong in this tea. This has the qualities of a mild green or white tea, and SFTMs have that but have the pu’er pungency in abundance too.

Geraldo on Silver Bud Tribute Cake [Puer beengcha]

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

Silver Bud Tribute Cake [sheng puer, 2003]. Small beengcha. Factory: Six Famous Tea Mountain.

9.5g of pu’er per 7.5-8.0 oz. infusing water in graduated Pyrex gaiwan with pouring spout and handle. 5 minutes' rest after very quick rinsing. Infusions of 10s, 8s, 15s, 20s. Brewed at 190F.

The leaves are small and many are broken. They are brown, yellow, green and white. After infusing, they are all pale green.

Aroma: Very light. Strong tea flavor. Not sweet, not sour. Brisk. Brown/orange in color. The tea might be infused too strong, but it tastes very good, and has more oomph, more authority, than the usual SFTM cake. This tea is light in the high notes (spice, sweet) and heavy in the low notes (tang, brisk, astringency).

As the mouth acclimates to the tea and the tea cools, the flavors soften considerably. This pu’er has a big mouth-feel: smooth and satiny, almost gooey. With cooler temperature, a very pleasing smokiness evolves. It is just a nuance.

Every day I learn to let the tea cool down. This tea is very good when it cools. In the future I shall remember to brew it a little lighter to search for different nuances. It does not have the physical makeup that the name brought to mind. I expected to find the Fo Hai (“Yinzhen Cake”) bud-predominant mix, but this one is more leafy and would age very well (wild conjecture!). It is 2yo now, and lacks the sweet spice that some "drink-now" SFTM cakes carry.

The cooling tea does have some fruitiness (just a hint of apples?). I believe it also has what some call a cigar-flavor, but I’m not certain of that. Later infusions have a tiny hint of mint. The tea carries a flavor I often associate with Meng Hai cakes, but it’s not quite as sweet. My similitude is this: The pu’er reminds me of a burgundy wine, dry and strong.

Anodyne on Amber Oolong, Kali Cha, Aged Oolong, and First Grade Blue Pencils

Tasting an organic Amber Oolong from The Fragrant Leaf, a sample shared by a friend, not direct from the source. This is an oolong from Fujian province, China and is described as a "toasty dark-style oolong tea from the Wuyi Mountains." It does have that deep roasty type aroma and flavor. When water first hits the leaf in the initial rinse you catch that fruity note against the sweet woody character. That latter note is what I refer to as the sweet damp pencil thing.** It's not intended as a negative comment, in spite of how it may sound to the contrary.

There is a kind of dried raisin and/or dried apricot/peaches fruit aroma to it with the sweetness (a bit like honey, but I am thinking more of how sugar takes on an aroma as it heats in a cast iron skillet) and sweet wood. Along with the latter there's that mineral-rocky note in the flavor that creeps into the finish. The visual picture an oolong like this brings to mind is always a very elemental one, p'rhaps those stones half-carved into human shape that suggest an only semi-completed metamorphosis. In some ways, the mineral-rocky note against the other characteristics in the cup reminds me of sun-warmed slate. As it cools slightly, the dried fruity aroma pulls forward with more sweetness.

**this reference goes back to a childhood memory of chewing on the end of the big blue First Grade pencils we had. Subtract lead and the blue paint and just remember the soft damp sweet character of the gnawed wood. :-)

Btw, the sweet wood damp pencil aroma/taste is also what I find in the Kali Cha Darjeeling Oolong that Cindy W. posted about here, and I am finding it also here today in the Imperial Tea Court's Aged Oolong.

Older notes here on the ITC Aged Oolong as I first experienced it:

The dry leaf actually smelled a bit earthy to me, but maybe that's just the toasty quality. The initial rinse brought forth a very toasty/roasted scent with perhaps a slight sweetness of dried fruit, rather perhaps like dried apricots or peaches. Steeping, I still find that earthy scent that seems close to the roasted scent and yet not quite the same thing. As it steeps a bit longer, that sweet dried fruit scent pulls forward a bit more. And then that First Grade Damp Pencil Smell I associate with Hojicha. Post steeping, that impression follows. It's quite smooth (and yes, quite dark in the cup). It has a sweet fullness of aroma. The roasted/earth notes against woody are appealing to me. But what I find intriguing about this tea is that the sweetness truly comes more into the aftertaste, where you catch a hint of honey/peaches. I don't find this in the tea itself really, but it's there in the lingering aftertaste. This tea is quite interesting because it goes through so many shapeshifting transformations.

For daily drinking, these kinds of oolongs end up being, p'rhaps, too 'rich' for me, at least at this stage of the game. That was my problem with the Kali Cha Darjeeling, I think, though I found it better in my second tasting, notes below:

2nd trial run on brewing Kali Cha, The Tao of Tea Darjeeling Oolong:

...brewed today with a less concentrated equation. With less tea but longer steeping, I got a better balance going here today that is a bit less aggressive than my initial brewing. Still that very ripe fruit with what the source (The Tao of Tea) calls 'cocoa.' That 'cocoa,' to me, veers off into the sweet woodshaving kind of note (but it's not dominating the cup today as much as it was in my initial brewing). Very mellow indeed, sweet with a sort of burnt sugar kind of sweet wood sweetness. Going really well with our second mooncake, which seems kind of sweet nutty/bean-y, though I am told it is lotus seed paste, only they have used some level of peanut oil in the making. It definitely comes through.

In my first brewing, the roasted notes were coming very aggressively into the cup and hollering for attention. Today, they are very distinctly there, but seem in a better overall balance to the other characteristics. I am still more interpreting sweet wood shavings in lieu of cocoa, though I can also find my way to that interpretation if try. It's still not what really comes to my mind though. Some part of this tea reminds me of Hojicha.

Diverse teas. The common denominator? First Grade Blue Pencils.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Anodyne on Royal Yunnan, Brewed at Two Temperatures

Pursuant to my previous discussion of using cooler water temperatures for China black teas (or alternately, red teas), I decided to try the same experiment with the In Pursuit of Tea's Royal Yunnan that I've been drinking lately as my favorite golden Yunnan. Both cups had the same tea/water/time, but I brewed one at about 184-185F and the other the way I usually do, with water just taken to the boil.

For starters, the one with water just to the boil has a deeper and more pronounced aroma. The aroma of the cup with the cooler water isn't as full, remains sweet but less spicy and with less bass notes. The water to the boil cup has the earth coming into the cup itself, a hint of that toasty/grain type, and a subtle honey'd sweetness. The cup brewed well under the boil just isn't as flavorful.

With *this* tea, and for my tastes, there's just no way the cooler brewing made this a "livelier" cup of tea. The flavors and aromas are well muted in comparison to the cup of tea made with water brought just to the boil. I think the flavor of the cup is where the biggest discrepancy is. With the tea brewed with the water only taken up to 185F, it's as though there are notes missing from the chord. The differences are not subtle ones, since I can easily figure out which cup is which by tasting. Even just sniffing the two cups lets me guess which one is which.

This brings up what I always thought was an interesting point. Many moons ago, I played around with green tea and the idea of brewing in water that was only brought up to a certain temperature versus water that was brought to a boil and then cooled back to the desired temperature. Though I didn't explore it enough to feel it was definitive, there always were, I thought, at least subtle differences in the cups of tea, and I tended to favor the cups that were first brought to a boil and then cooled back. They also seemed to show more flavor and aroma comparatively. And of course that sets me to wondering if this would apply here, too.

Will probably continue to play around with brewing temperatures. But with this particular tea anyway, that *lower (185F) end* of The Tao of Tea's recommended brewing temperature for China black (red) teas of 180-200F was not, as they suggest "sufficient to bring [forth] the rich character of the leaf." That's probably why they gave a rather broad recommended range.

And though I have no scientific explanation, I never like this tea brewed by the cup as well as I do even in a two or four cup pot.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Anodyne on Emperor's Gold Yunnan

I tasted tonight a sample of The Tao of Tea's Emperor's Gold, one of the golden tipped Yunnan teas. This is a sample shared by a friend, not direct from the source. I note that Tao of Tea recommends lower brewing temperatures (180-200F) for their China black teas such as Emperor's Gold, instructing that the cooler water lets a more "lively" versus a "flat" cup emerge. I've brewed it both ways to compare. Water at just boiling as well as a cup that was only taken to 185F (not boiled, then cooled back to that temperature), both steeped same amount of time (four minutes).

With water to boiling, the aroma of the tea is that mocha aroma I come to expect in Yunnan. Definite earth in the cup itself. A bit flat. They describe it as "sweet, slightly roasted, full bodied flavor similar to apricots." Nothing in this brewing I'd relate to apricots. But we are also operating with very different water here than would be used at the source.

In the other cup with water to only 185F, I did get a mix of chocolate and what might be apricot aroma as it steeped, leaf still in the cup. Once leaf is removed, that impression doesn't stay with me (and it may only be power of suggestion anyway). It's lightly sweet and has a subtle chocolate note with hint of spice. Cup still has quite a bit of earth and something that reminds me of grain/malt, perhaps not as flat as I perceived it in the brewing with hotter water. Earth is distinct in this brewing but not as heavy as it was in the cup with water to boiling. The cooler brewing seems to keep the cup cleaner with the earth less muddy on the palate.

I confess that brewing it either way doesn't have me doing that Yunnan Dance of Joy. The aroma of the tea brewed in the cooler water seems to fan out better. Instead of a solid hit of mocha, I get a more layered aroma. Body isn't as thick with the cooler water, aroma is more layered, cup is cleaner, which perhaps relates to what The Tao of Tea speaks to as the cooler water making a more "lively" cup.

Does anyone else brew as low as 180 to 185F for their China black teas?

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Geraldo on Elabora King Tea Biscuit Beengcha, 2003

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

Elabora King Tea Biscuit Beengcha [sheng puer, 2003], Dadugang Factory.

The cake has a striking appearance: woven, lightly compacted. There are two types of leaves: one long, narrow, and dark; the other rounder, spade-shaped, much lighter, coming to a point. The cake has the typical Dadugang spicy aroma. Hint of smoke from the wet leaves. The leaves are not serrated.

The dark leaves quickly turn lighter during infusion.

First cup. Hot sips. Clean bouquet. No smoke. Not so strong as last night’s [[Meng Hai Ancient Wild Tree sheng]] #7742. Ah, as it cools, sweetness comes to the fore. Very easy to drink. Searching for identifiable flavors or the opportunity to cast a similitude. I used 10g per 8 oz of infusing water. Next time I shall make it stronger. This is not a manly pu’er-cha. #7742 is a tough act to follow. The finish of this King Biscuit is dry. But it is demure. A demure king indeed!

Finale: Figured it out: Insufficient bass notes in the King Biscuit.