Saturday, December 31, 2005

Geraldo on Tianjian heicha from

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

I am sitting down to my first-ever Tianjian. Yes, my sample arrived today from Generation Tea, who say: “The storage of this tea hasn't changed in many centuries. The basket lets the tea breathe and age. Black tea, similar to Pu-erh, gets better over time. This tea is from about 2000 and has a few years under its belt. Try it, we think you will like it.” As a footnote, one might add that (in Chinese terms) pu'er is black tea: true black tea, or heicha. So too this Tianjian.

The dry state of the leaf presents an interesting aspect. The pieces are of all sizes. The colors range from deep black to medium brown to very dark green and even some yellow, with the predominant colors being dark brown and a greenish-black.

In the wet state, the leaves appear to be cut, and they are a fascinating dark green.

I placed 3.5 grams in my little 3-oz cebei, the vessel with the little fish painted in the glaze. I am using a matching tasting cup, very small. I rinsed the tea once and let it rest for abut four minutes. I used water at a roaring boil, infusing it first for 20 seconds and then for 10 seconds. I mixed both infusions through a strainer into a small glass pitcher.

The liquor is tawny, like cream sherry. It is very clear -- I see the little fishes swimming in the cup. Mike P.’s assessment in a recent e-mail is very good -- this is a very grassy true black tea -- like hay or straw dried in the field, but only in the most pleasant sense. It is not grassy in the sense of vegetal flavors and it is not Sencha-like. I am trying to decide whether this is like Shu pu’er, Liu An, or Liu Bao. It seems lighter in flavor than those. The taste is clean. There is none of that disturbing wet laundry taste that would indicate wet storage or forced aging.

The first two infusions mixed are, in a word, mellow. This is a tea that at first sip seems understated, but the aftertaste is actually stronger than the initial taste in the mouth during the swallowing. That’s a surprise.

As I parse the flavor, I also detect very faint mushroom flavors that feint and dodge on the palate.

I shall drink the third infusion by itself, and I will use the old man boil once again with an additional 15s added to the 20s of the second infusion.

[time passeth away]

This third infusion just might provide two tiny cups, so I will sip judiciously and see what I can discover. This is the antithesis of bull-drinking, a paradoxically careful wrong-fu.

The aroma seems to be more of cooked pu’er than Liu An or Liu Bao. Of the latter two, this Tianjian’s aroma may be more akin to Liu An’s. The third infusion is thicker in the mouth, almost oily, and the mushroom flavor is more pronounced. There is none of the horse blanket or horse sweat taste I sometimes encounter in cooked pu’er.

Despite the mouth-thickness and mushroom flavors, the tea still has a hay flavor that predominates. And further, the third infusion tastes drier.

Who can say whether I am drinking a good Tianjian or a bad one? It is a fish of a different stripe, and lacking criteria for comparison, I must judge it on its own merits.

I am searching for wood or camphor, the two flavors I like best and that I have encountered in fine, aged true black teas, pu’ers, and other post-fermented teas. I bought a little piece of old GYG from TeaSpring, and it had those flavors. A dear friend sent my elderly TeaMumsy a big sample of his grandfather’s 35yo Liu Bao -- a treasure tea strong in wood and camphor flavors. During my recent travels to Guangzhou, a tea master unlocked his chest of truly aged teas and shared with me his 100yo Liu An and 60yo Tael. Those too had the camphor and wood in abundance.

Well, the comparison is unfair. This Tianjian is but five years old, and I’ll be long dead and pushing up mature Osmanthus shrubs before the comparison becomes a fair one.

Adding fifteen seconds to the third infusion certainly did not make this tea too strong. For the fourth infusion, I’ll add twenty, totaling 55s.

[again, time passeth away, by a slightly larger increment]

This tea now is very much subdued. In fact, I can easily detect the nice flavor of our Cascade Mountain aquifer. Oddly, the hay and mushroom aroma hang in there, as well as the color, now the color of scotch and water.

What have I learned? First, I enjoy Tianjian -- or at least this particular production. Second, I would characterize it as very mild, yet nevertheless elemental. I would also suggest that it is better than most Liu Ans I’ve tried, and I would also hasten to add that the very good cooked pu’ers, my current readily available favorites being SFTM tuo chas and the Menghai Star beeng chas, are better because they have bigger flavors. Further, I would suggest that it is a unique tea, different from other true black teas, and well worth drinking. I am grateful that Generation Tea has made this tea available and that I can add this to my dossier of tea experiences.

I am tempted to buy two more ounces of Tianjian, place it in a canister that allows a little breathing, and drop it into my Let’s-Give-It-Six-Years-And-See-What-Develops basket.

I chatted with friend in Asia with access to excellent information regarding pu’er and other compressed teas. When I brought up the subject of Tianjian, he provided me with the following information: “Tianjian is a product from Hu Nan region, using grade 1 fine black leaves, and compressed into large baskets for storing and aging. They are divided into Tian Jian, Gong Jian, and Shen Jian, with Tianjian being the best. It is produced using grade 1 leaves, meaning small leaves, and flush, and sieved for selection. ‘Gong Jian’ means Tribute tea, and it is second in line. Shen Jian uses larger leaves.”

Below are two images of Tianjian vintage 1953, which makes it older than me, but decades younger than corax. Corax, as we know, is older than dirt and deserving of our respect.

Geraldo on Generation Tea’s Tieguanyin

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

Here is what Generation Tea's ad for this tea says: “Tieguanyin -- This oolong of Fujian Province offers a balanced cup with a dark amber hue. This quality tea has a refreshing taste that lingers in the mouth. Gongfu style brewing with less water and more leaves will enhance this tea’s bouquet. Use 4 or 5 times Gongfu style or two to three times with standard teapot brewing. All oolongs help in any weight loss program and have been used for centuries.”

This oolong came as a surprise free sample with a recent purchase of cups and Tianjian. I know next to nothing about TGY, having little experience with it in its many versions, and so I shall not hesitate to pontificate from the innocent stance of the truly ignorant.

I note that Generation Tea offers several TGYs for sale to the public, and this iteration is the least expensive, but lucky beggars can’t be choosers. I am grateful for the gift, and eager to drink this sample of oolong. To continue with clichés, I shall give this gift-horse’s mouth a scrutinizing squint.

I am using one gram of tea to one ounce of water just off boiling in my Zylindro glass infusing mug. My infusions will be as follows: 1m, 45s, 1m, 1m15s, &c.

The fisted balls are fairly large -- and this usually is a good thing in the Taiwan oolongs with which I am more familiar. I rinsed the tea quickly in very hot water to wake it up.

In the first infusion, the leaves quickly expanded in their agony. (From whence come these tea terms?) The tea is not very lively yet (having been given only one agony thus far), but I expect big flavors in the second infusion. Today has been a day of Dancong, Tianjian, and Dong Ding. As happens so often during Christmas break, students from years ago are stopping by to say hello. I’ve been displaying my skills as a gaiwaneester to the admiring fans and showing off photos from my recent journey to Asia. In Guangzhou’s Fan Cun market I watched teashop employees carefully stemming huge piles of TGY. I learned that big bags and boxes of oolong -- some of them look to weigh a at least fifty pounds -- often come from the processor with large stems attached, and the Chinese shopkeepers or their family members patiently break the stems off of each little fist of tea. The price that the shopkeepers can charge then per weight unit rises commensurately.

Below are two pictures I took in the Fan Cun market, the first showing the stemming process, and the second depicting a typical Fan Cun Tea Market storefront with bags of loose tea (in this case, loose cooked pu’er) on the sidewalk.

It’s time now to infuse the TGY again. I expect the flavors to be much larger in this go-round.

(Your reviewer runs upstairs to his kitchen.)

The tea’s aroma in the second infusion is very pleasant, a powerful oolong bouquet I associate with orange juice and flowers. The liquor is tart and sweet. It has a nice sharpness. The flavor travels through the mouth, and the sides and back of my tongue carry the strong and good aftertaste. Hmmm -- I note that this tea is twelve bucks for a quarter pound, and for that price, this TGY seems like a great deal. I am also wondering if the Generation Tea oolongs costing twice as much are twice as good. I would hypothesize that they have more subtleties, nuances, dimensions, distinctions, flavor-tones, and spectra.

I am wondering how TGY differs from, say, Mao Zie or Li Shan. What strikes me most at this point is the floral aroma. The flavor is not as startling in the mouth as Li Shan can be, and it is less sweet than Mao Zie. It is a very tart tea. The aroma is exceptional -- both directly from the cup and as experienced during swallowing. The tea continues to communicate in the mouth after I swallow it.

Some reviewers refer to a metallic tang in TGY, and I am searching for it in this cup. With my limited experience in this tea, I am not sure I would recognize it.

Time now for a third infusion. It is a little more subdued, perhaps, than the second infusion, but not significantly, the aroma still redolent of flowers, the flavor still reminding me of citrus juice with perhaps pear nectar mixed into it. I expect that this tea will produce several more good brews for this evening’s session. I hope that an iron goddess of mercy will wear kid gloves as she whisks me off to the Land of Nod and astral travels, but I expect to be awake into the early hours, eyes wide, alert, and reading as a result of drinking all of this tea.

I note that the leaves in the wet state are medium-sized, despite the large fists in the dry state. For the most part, I see two leaves to a stem.

The fourth infusion is as tasty as the third. It is a good session-tea, a tea to enjoy, perhaps, while studying, correcting papers, or catching up on correspondence. I have not pursued TGY in more than a year, and this tea serves as an excellent re-introduction. I carried home so much tea from Asia, including various exotic oolongs garnered from shops and friends in China, Singapore, Malaysia, and Taiwan, that I will not run low on oolong for the coming year -- at least. But when that day does arrive, and I find myself shopping for an oolong, I will remember this tea and think of its pricier cousins. I am grateful to Generation Tea for this Tieguanyin. It does indeed have a “refreshing taste that lingers in the mouth.”

Monday, December 19, 2005

Geraldo on Dian Hongs Cup2Cup: Yunnan Gold from Adagio and from Silk Road Teas

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

To learn about tea I sometimes go on jags. If Japanese sencha is an undiscovered country, I am apt to buy small parcels from ten sources to learn a little of the breadth and scope of it. Recently I hunted down every tea I could find that traveled under the name of Makaibari Silver Tips, and I had parcels arriving from three different countries. From experiences like these I have learned that a dozen teas sharing the same name are not necessarily similar.

I took an interest recently in the fact that my friends Mike and corax like certain black teas -- what the Chinese call hong cha or "red tea," and particularly Dian Hong, or Yunnan red. Of Dian Hongs, the absolute finest is that made entirely of golden tips, and typically known as Tippy Yunnan, or Yunnan Gold.

On a tea forum, I asked posters to share their favorite sources and preferred parameters for brewing Gold Yunnan. Further, I begged, bought, and borrowed many samples from generous friends with whom I often rendezvous in a virtual Shambhala teahouse, The House of Three Dragons and One Crane. Over virtual dim sum and sticky rice balls, we talked Dian Hong and tried many brands. In the meantime, back in reality, several forum members responded to my inquiry. One knowledgeable person sang the praise of Dian Hong from a surprising source: Adagio Tea. I had not made a purchase from Adagio in five years, but emboldened by the recommendation, I ordered four ounces.

Of all the Dian Hongs I tried (Yunnan Gold from at least fifteen sources), Adagio's was best. It is spectacularly golden in color. It releases an intoxicating and pungent aroma in the dry leaf. It brews up thick and tasty and luscious, carrying that great Yunnan trademark flavor. And the happiest aspect? It’s inexpensive! Many sources provided excellent Dian Hongs, but Adagio’s is superior. And the other sources' Dian Hongs are sometimes so expensive that the imp who resides in my wallet and protects my meager cash supply whimpers and squeals as I press the “Add to Shopping Cart” button on my internet screen.

I have learned that price often predicts quality in tea, but not always, and especially not always in Dian Hong. For example, the most expensive, from Seattle’s Black Pearl Teashop, did not compare favorably to the less expensive and wonderful versions from Meru and Upton. Yunnan Sourcing LLC also provides excellent Dian Hong, but one must pay for the overseas shipping and hold one’s breath on SAL.

Recently I traveled to Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan, and The People’s Republic of China to meet my pen pals, burn under the tropical sun, and pursue my obsession with tea. I took along no tea from home, deciding that would be like carrying coals to Newcastle.

In exotic Malaysia, on the mysterious island of Penang, in the chaotic city of George, I came across a teashop that stocked a fascinating canister with many Chinese characters and these words in English: “Dian Hong.” I bought it. And in my hotels, after long days gulping gallons of Wuyi, Dancong, Tong Ting, Li Shan, Ali Shan, aged and young sheng and shu pu’er, and many other teas, I retreated to that Dian Hong for one last cup before passing out at night. In the mornings, prior to setting forth into the huge tea districts of gargantuan cities, I would turn to the Dian Hong from Malaysia for my first tea of the day. The canister held the perfect amount for my one-month sojourn. I nearly finished it by the end of my adventure in Asia, and came home with just enough to send a small sample to corax. He is quite elderly, you know, and I like to show him some respect.

When I returned to my home, I received in the mail four ounces of Silk Road Tea’s Yunnan Gold, High Grade (Item #B-YG-2). I doubted that it would stand up to my favorite (and far less expensive) Adagio's Gold Yunnan. My gustatory and olfactory memories are not as developed as I would like, so to compare them, I knew that I would have to drink both in one session.

My partner in this comparison was my octogenarian mother who lives next door. In her kitchen I prepared a batch of each purveyor’s Dian Hong -- employing vessels and procedures as identical as I could make them. I used twin glass brewing vessels, twin sharing pitchers, and four identical cups.

For this comparison, I employed classical Petro-vian hong cha brewing parameters, to wit: four grams of tea, seven ounces of water at a roaring boil, and three minutes of infusion.

In the dry state, as noted above, the Adagio is bright gold, with large leaves in twisted strands, very similar in appearance to cigarette tobacco. Also as noted, it is pungent, almost smoky. By comparison, Silk Road Tea's version is comprised half of green and half of yellow leaves. I presumed that this boded ill for the comparison. SRT’s Gold Yunnan’s aroma is less pungent, but it is winy and more complex.

In the cup, they are identical in color -- a deep, intoxicating brown. The aroma of the liquors followed suit, respectively, to the aroma of the dry leaves. They were both incredibly inviting.

I told Mumsy that one cup held an outstanding but inexpensive Gold Yunnan, the best I had found in my research. I told her that the other cup held an expensive Gold Yunnan from a highly reputed importer of world-class tea, a Gold Yunnan I had not tried. I asked her which of the two was the most expensive. She instantly identified Silk Road Tea’s Gold Yunnan. Mumsy said that it has more character, more flavors, and more strength. She said it has a better and longer aftertaste--as well as more authority. And Mumsy’s right. While both are truly excellent, Silk Road Tea’s is a better beverage.

For those wanting a remarkable Gold Yunnan at a very good price in comparison to many on the market, I would recommend Adagio’s. But for those willing to pay more for the actual top-drawer tea of this ilk, then Silk Road Tea’s Gold Yunnan is the best pick. Of the many I have tried, SRT’s is the best of the best.

Tonight, in The House of Three Dragons and One Crane, I sat with one of my cronies and described the Malaysian Dian Hong as we chewed dried orange peels, nibbled tea eggs, and spooned up our pu'er gelatin. He told me that in the physical world he lives not far from the Malaysian Peninsula, and that he'll call the Penang shop on the phone and persuade the shopkeeper to send me another canister or two. If that works out, then I'll put Mumsy's discriminating abilities to the test once more and share with you the result of my next Cup2Cup comparison.

Geraldo on Yu Lan Xiang [Phoenix Bird Oolong, Private Reserve] from Silk Road Teas

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

Lot YLXG2 [Private Reserve]. Note: this tea is spelled ‘Ye Lan Xiang’ in the SRT catalogue.

Tasted December 17, 2005

6 grams in glazed 6oz cebei
Quick rinse, two-minute rest

Water: roaring boil, then cool 40 seconds
Infusion lengths: 30s, 20s, 30s, 35s (à la coraxian dancong parameters)

Dry leaf: Leaves a little less twisted than normal dancong? A little shorter? Colors ranging from dark green to grey-black. More green, indicating less baking or processing than in dancongs to which I am accustomed.

1st Infusion: Strong, pleasant perfume aroma. Nice appearance in celadon-colored cup. Brisk, not-unpleasant bitterness. Aroma very strong, but flavor a little weak. Hoping for more spice in the second brew.

2nd Infusion: Strong bouquet of fresh flowers. Much stronger flavor in this infusion -- very pleasant. Lacks the sweet spiciness of, say, a well-baked Mi Lan. The finish is long and tart. Quite nice. Fruitiness: citrus. Easy to drink.

3rd Infusion: Quite similar in flavor to the second infusion -- perhaps a little subdued and more complex, presenting more dimensions. The experience of consuming this tea is intense, in large part due to the excellent aroma.

4th Infusion: Aroma fading. Tartness fading. Sweetness persisting. A significant retreat from the strong stance of the 2nd and 3rd infusions. Ah!: As the cup cools, the distancing tartness gives way to more spiciness. The tea is still pleasantly strong in a cooler state.

Comments: First, if you were to lecture your class on the definition of dancong newbies, you would place a likeness of my face on the overhead screen. I have everything to learn about this style of tea. Second, that being said, my tastes run to the darker dancongs and wuyis. The darker varieties have brighter flavors that make me sit up with sudden delight. They taste like Christmas -- apple pie, pecan pie, spiced hot cider. The greener iterations seem, well, green. Finally, my sample of this tea was a small part of a group-buy. Much time and several divvying-ups interposed betwixt the original purchase from SRT and my having access to this specimen. Possibly, a fresher sample might have contained tones, dimensions, nuances, spiciness, complexities, and strengths that this sample lacked. I’d like to give it a go again someday when I could receive it direct from SRT rather than be the third or fourth in a distribution chain. Finally, I have encountered many parameters for brewing dancongs: here on CHA DAO, on tea purveyors’ websites, and on discussion forums. I tried this tea yesterday with much longer infusions (1m, 20s, 1m, 1m10s), and it was too bitter. I have just enough of the sample left to try a series somewhere in the middle.

Friday, December 16, 2005

A Yunnan Comparison and Farewell Salute to the "Woodwose Yunnan"

I have finally had a chance to sit down and compare the Silk Road Teas High Grade Yunnan Gold (B-YG-2) with the In Pursuit of Tea's Royal Yunnan. For the past year, the IPOT Yunnan is the one I've been favoring--it changed slightly over time, but I was still not finding one I liked better. When I got the SRT High Grade Yunnan Gold, I found one that at least seemed in the ballpark of the IPOT Royal Yunnan that I am finishing up, and which I dated as a 7/05 the time, I got 3/4 pound which came in three different quarter pound bags.

The SRT and IPOT Yunnan do have a similar range in aroma with that maple sap sweet note. Just a bit more of a sweet-woody note to the IPOT one compared to a hint of floral in the SRT one, the latter of which comes across with the floral-sap-earth combination. There is just something I define as 'sweet-woody' (which sometimes shapeshifts into being a bit fruity) in the IPOT one that isn't quite replicated in the SRT one, though I find the latter very drinkable with just a slightly different emphasis.

The SRT has, I think, slightly more earth in the cup itself, although at an acceptable balance for me. The IPOT tea one backs away a bit more from the earth. I am not quite sure if the earth is just less dominant or if the sweet-woody taste provides a contrast that takes the emphasis away from the earth. And I further ponder if that characteristic, which seems unique to the IPOT Yunnan. is inherent in the leaf or the result of processing?

Certainly this one from SRT is closer to the IPOT one than any I've tried. But I am not entirely convinced that's not because the lot from IPOT has gradually changed over time though.

There was a certain grand period with this particular IPOT Royal Yunnan. And I had posted some notes that described the difference between this tea and a subsequent purchase from this source. Both were good, but in spite of the fact the vendor said they were 'the same,' I did not experience them as the 'same,' by any means.

March 24, 2005 The Verdict: IPOT Yunnan Old Lot (purchased pre-March 2005) versus New Lot (March 05 purchase)

In the dry leaf, new lot (nl) has less of what I experience as that deep sweet-woody note. It fills out a similar chord but just with one of the bass notes not quite there. Just smells a touch 'lighter' to me. After brewing (and in the cup), that's what I notice, too. Quite similar profile but nl doesn't have that really 'ripe' scent that is connected to the woody note in the old lot (ol). Or, if the nl has it, it's considerably muted.

On to tasting:

Tasting now. Falls out just as the nose told me. The nl is overall a slightly lighter interpretation of the ol with different emphasis. The ol tastes quite a bit more rustic in a cup-to-cup comparison, a dark sort of into-the-deep-forest woody note against earth, which is rather what made it so seductively aromatic to me. The nl has this aspect much more muted, which allows it to be a touch more refined in comparison, less rustic, less elemental. The nl, sipped in comparison, has less of the dark wood character, which allows a bit more of the floral and honey-maple sweet to come through against the earth. It doesn't have what I interpreted to myself as a sort of overly-ripe-fruity note the ol had, which is what I found very unique about the ol-- that and the ol's 'woody' character I don't usually associate with Yunnan. The sweetness of the ol was connected to this--it's why I once said it reminded me of how a bear must experience honey, direct from the tree, with bits of bark still clinging to it. And it reminded me most of the Forest Honey I once had, that had a deep dark taste I associated with molasses more than honey and just a hint of bitter against the sweet.

I think some folks might well think the nl is better in the way it comes across a bit less elemental/rustic. It might actually have a better balance without the deep rustic edge of the ol. The nl lets the floral-maple sap note take more center stage. I like that very much, and it's probably more in keeping with the Yunnan experience. The lack of the odd elemental edge makes the nl a touch smoother. I shall, however, find myself missing the elemental/rustic note that was so unique to the ol, that odd mix of sweet-woody-overly-ripe-fruity character it had. You can easily tell which cup is which on these, blind tasting/smelling, just by sniffing. Tasting is even more obvious. Empty cups tell the same story. Empty cup of ol exudes that sweet-woody note. Empty cup of nl has a maple sap or honeyed sweet scent.

Think of the old lot as a woodwose ( He was visible for a while, but has gone back to the deepest/darkest part of the forest where he will not be seen again for some time. He was gruff in speaking and manner and his garments were stained with earth. Rather than tending bees, he took his honey direct from the tree. And he carried the deep forest secrets back with him from whence he came. The new folks (new lot) dwelling at the forest's edge are more well-mannered in behavior and speech. They excel at tending flowers in the good earth and sunshine and bee-keeping. But they do not know the deeper secrets of the forest or venture further in.

And then, a later comparison (without knowing which was which until I had contemplated both and made up my mind) of the In Pursuit of Tea Yunnan ordered 7/05 and then again just recently 9/05:

Very comparable range of flavor and aroma in these two cups. Where I found the main difference was back in 3/05 when I reordered this tea. The lot prior to *that* order was the one I referred to as the woodwose Yunnan, the one that had a more elemental and rustic quality to it, an "odd mix of sweet-woody-overly-ripe-fruity character." Since then, I have continued to enjoy the IPOT Royal Yunnan, but it's never exhibited exactly the same spectrum of flavor/aroma as the "woodwose" one.

But it hasn't changed much, it would seem, between 7/05 and now. Neither of these teas duplicated that odd sweet-woody/fruity note that was in the "woodwose Yunnan" (just my own definitive term here) of times now past.

I might venture to say that the teas from 7/05 and 9/05 even seem a tad less maple-y and more honeyed than the one I ordered in 3/05. But my notes from 3/05 don't exactly uphold that memory as I wrote: "sipped in comparison, the 3/05 has less of the dark wood character [of the previous "woodwose" one], which allows a bit more of the floral and honey-maple sweet to come through against the earth."And so, we may have three variations or perhaps only two. Or none, if 'tis all in my imagination. But I still remember the distinct character of the "woodwose" which I've not found duplicated in subsequent orders.

And of course, yes, does any of it matter?
Only if you remember that pre-3/05 "woodwose" character I suppose. :-)

The Yunnan quest continues.

"High hopes--high deeds--we hope but while we may." Oscar Fay Adams "The Return from the Quest"

And in December 2005, the stellar lot is beginning to fade a bit from my mind, making subsequent lots more acceptable. But it is--to me--an interesting study in the subtle variations in a tea over time. I suspect that the SRT Yunnan Gold High Grade is comparing more favorably to the current IPOT Royal Yunnan partly because that latter tea is no longer comparable to what I thought of as the "woodwose" lot. But certainly the IPOT Yunnan hints at this particular characteristic more than the current SRT one does.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Warren Peltier on gongfu hong cha

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

There is a Chinese tradition of gongfu hong cha, but you can't really call it longstanding. I mean, hong cha wasn't invented or well-established until maybe the mid-1700s -- historical records are not that clear. But by the 1800s hong cha production was well established. By the 1800s there appeared many types of tea that are classified as gong fu hong cha. They are:

Qimen gongfu
Dianhong gongfu
Ninghong gongfu
Yihong gongfu
Chuanhong gongfu
Minhong gongfu
Huhong gongfu
Yuehong gongfu

There are also others that could be added to this list.

Qimen, Dian, Ning, Yi, Chuan, Min, Hu, Yue - these all refer to the place in China where the tea is made. But it's pretty generic. For instance, Min is an alternative name for Fujian. Yue is an alternative name for Zhejiang, etc.

Gongfu hong cha has 2 varieties: small leaf and big leaf. So, if you were to prepare this kind of tea gongfu style, then, you should choose a yixing teapot that is suitable for the type of leaf. Choose a bigger pot, with a wider opening for the big leaf variety. Choose a smaller pot with a smaller opening for the smaller leaf variety.

The gongfu hong cha can be prepared gongfu style, and many people do. But it is called gongfu hong cha, precisely because of the skill in making the tea. So maybe in English you would call it "skillfully produced red tea". So you actually have to make that distinction too. There is the hong cha that is skilfully made, then, there is hong cha that is skilfully prepared. So there is gong fu hong cha, and gong fu hong cha. I know, it’s weird, but that’s the way it is.

To prepare hong cha gongfu style, it’s basically the same method as with oolong tea. One thing you have to know about gongfu tea -- it originated in Guangdong, Fujian and Taiwan. So it’s the tea custom of those places. But of course, later, it spread to other parts of China. But still, it’s not as common in many parts of China. In different areas of China, there are different tea drinking customs. And actually, gongfu tea ceremony itself is not that old. It first originated in the Qing dynasty -- which is relatively recent -- say 1800s.

Among other red tea varieties, there is also xiao zhong hong cha, what is referred in English as pouchong. Then, there is also the broken leaf variety used for tea bags, etc.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Tea excellence and gongfu cha skills

The other day, Teaparker, my tea master, told us how he traveled with a friend to China to buy tea. They met a tea merchant and Teaparker helped him identify a good tea, thanks to his nose and experience. To be 100% sure, they did what you always do when buying a bigger quantity: they also brewed a pot (or gaiwan) with a small sample of the tea. But instead of letting the merchant do this, the friend asked Teaparker to brew the tea. He brewed it perfectly. The tea was indeed delicious. The merchant himself had no idea his tea could taste so good! This had an uninteded consequence, though: the merchant refused to grant any discount on the price of the tea (which is very unusual when you buy in bulk), because Teaparker's gongfu had revealed to him the true quality of the leaves. The friend was almost angry with Teaparker and told him: "Next time, brew the tea (bad) so that I can buy it cheaper!"

This example shows the importance of proper brewing to enjoy good tea. So, I may have been too impatient in my impulse of sharing 2 excellent teas with a few of you. It seems not all of you have tasted and enjoyed them as such. Without proper knowledge and pratice of gongfu cha, you may have brewed these 2 teas like the merchant and not realize how good they are. That's why I have written a series of 6 gongfu lessons in my blog. They are the first 6 links on this page.

I hope you'll find them useful and wish you a nice journey on the Cha Dao!

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Anodyne on Imperial Gold Yunnan

I have a small pot of tea before me, brewed from the dangerously dwindling small canister of Imperial Tea Court's Imperial Gold Yunnan. The aroma from the cup this morning has so many layers. It's rather like dropping a mocha brown colored silk scarf (with subtle patterns threaded through in gold) on the bed and watching it fold in upon itself, then picking it up again and watching the folds smooth out and reveal the full design. Malt, floral, spice, hint of maple, earth, cedar. Some of those aromatic notes reveal themselves in the cup itself today, some more in the aftertaste, and some are more aromatic than taste. The dry leaf aroma today struck me as being very akin to Swiss milk chocolate. It is a perfectly luxurious tea for this snowy morning in November in which the room is permeated by the aroma of sweet potato biscuits baking. They are perfect when eaten warm from the oven, slathered with butter and a drizzle of oak honey. The honey has a smooth molasses note but not the pungent bark-like 'tang' of chestnut honey. The combination of honey, sweet potato biscuit, and this Imperial Gold Yunnan is a rather voluptuous combination of aroma, taste, texture.

from 3/05: I am reminded of why Imperial Tea Court's Imperial Yunnan Gold so often climbs to the top of the Yunnan heap. Two of us are sharing a pot this morning and, even amidst distractions, this tea manages to get your attention. Not by talking too loudly or being flamboyant. This is the soft-spoken person you still manage to hear clear across the room because what they are talking about carries such weight or because what they are speaking seems so close to poetry.

This tea is refined. It is very much what I think of as a 'package deal' type tea, in that it is beautiful in the dry leaf (such tiny leaf buds) all the way through--appearance, taste, aroma, body. This morning it is showing those beautiful soft mocha-like aromatics. Hints of milk chocolate (which is why it snuggled up so well to that Swiss Milk Chocolate we tried with it a few nights ago). Then a shapeshifting hint of spice and floral. And then finally the spicy note decides to mingle with the sweet honeyed aromatics. This tea's aroma has layers to explore. The cup is malty with some light sweetness.

We had a nip (or two) of French lavender honey spread on an English muffin, and that honey's flavor seemed quite a close cousin to the honey-spice-floral aromatics in the tea at one point. As the tea cools, that kinship is even more pronounced. The honey notes in the tea move from being associated with the honey to the floral, and bingo--lavender honey!

The tea isn't inexpensive, but unlike many pricey Yunnan teas, you can *smell* and *taste* why this one actually might warrant a higher price.

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.