Tuesday, January 31, 2006

How Hath the Mighty Fallen? In Pursuit of Tea Royal Yunnan

How hath the mighty fallen? For well over a year now, I've had the luxury of knowing that the In Pursuit of Tea Royal Yunnan was going to be the clear winner for my own tastes, and I could rely on it being there if no other tippy Yunnan would suit me. I've posted a previous review of this tea under the title "A Yunnan Comparison and Farewell Salute to the Woodwose Yunnan". But that previous review was based on a very different tea experience than the new order received in January 2006.

All question of lots aside (as I've had conflicting input on this point), the tea has changed throughout the time I've been drinking it with different orders, but it's still been my Yunnan tea of preferred choice even through those changes. But what I ordered and received in January 2006 was quite disappointing, enough so that I have requested a return to vendor of the unopened quarter pound bags I had received. This was a tea I loved enough to be comfortable ordering in half and full pound amounts. Not any more. The aroma still has some of that maple sap sweet/earth/cocoa character that I think of as mocha. But most of what the aroma promises does not meander into the cup itself. It does not have the soft fruity-woody range of the IPOT Royal Yunnan I referred to as 'Woodwose.' This cup has almost no sweetness whatsoever, especially compared to previous orders. Besides being quite heavy in earth, the earth itself doesn't have that clean taste I think of as 'good earth.' Instead there is a metallic note connected to the earth, and the overall cup seems much more astringent than it has been in the past. I actually register this with some degree of digestive upset, which I've never experienced with the IPOT Royal Yunnan before. Sometimes a Yunnan can have a fresh note to it that is quite floral. I experienced this in a Golden Bud A Yunnan from http://www.pu-erhtea.com/. But this current order from IPOT has a hint of something young that seems more raw, and it doesn't cross over to the lovely floral notes I've had in some lighter golden Yunnan teas. It's something akin to a grainy note that isn't richly malty but rather metallic, and it lingers unpleasantly into the finish. I found myself just very much disliking the lingering aftertaste to this tea. It's not only 'not as good as' past orders but quite distinctly inferior and not currently worth the price for my own tastes.

Friday, January 27, 2006

'old tree teacher's lot' phoenix bird oolong [private reserve] from silkroadteas.com

item O-PBO-PR
harvest: 2005
brewed for these notes: 060121

another of the high-end fenghuang dancongs from silk road teas. michael plant has also recently reviewed this tea.

brewing vessel: gaiwan, paired with aroma and tasting cups
dry leaf: big, straight noodles of twisted leaves, extremely dark green with some silvery grey tones
infused leaf: not much unfurling going on in the gaiwan; predictably, the green of the leaf becomes a somewhat more vivid green upon moistening, but still quite dark.

brewing parameters: 1 g tea : 1 oz water. the infusion times were as follows: INF1: 20s; INF2: 5s; INF3: 40s; INF4: 90s; INF5: 3 min.

what struck me most about this tea was the dramatic way in which the aroma increased along with steeping time. on the first two infusions it was what i would call 'faint' -- not at all arresting. beginning with INF3 it began to make a more assertive statement. INF5 was like being in a warm flower bed.

perhaps less surprising was the gradually darkening color. INF1 was pale pale gold with only the slightest tint of green. INF5 was a hearty tawny gold but, again, with only a very slight greenish hue.

as for the taste: this is a tea i would drink primarily for the aftertaste, which is distinctly like peaches. it is also tenacious [lasting many minutes after the tea was consumed] and yet extraordinarily delicate. astringency is very low; only INF3 had any sharpness to it, and i attribute this to the sharp increase in brewing time. i'm inclined to tweak these parameters somewhat in future, so that INF2 is not quite so short and INF3, 4 and maybe 5 not so long.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Michael Plant on Wenshan Super Premium Looseleaf Puer, from Yunnan Sourcing LLC

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

Wenshan Super Premium Loose leaf Pu'erh

Harvest: 2005

195 degrees, 6 grams of dry tea, 5 ounces of water. Steeps after rinse in seconds: 10, 20, 30, 40, on up to 600. (Brewed in a gaiwan.)

Deep in the woods the clapboard house burned down, charred to a crisp in the dead of a cold winter’s night, snow on the ground and mist in the air. The scene smells of destruction, but for the most part it’s the clean smell of charcoal, not quite tarry, chastened by the snow.

Now you’ve got a good idea what to expect from this tea: A wood charcoal aroma, almost tarry, from the gaiwan lid and from the liquor, a bit of vegetal from the leaves. Taste is of a charred wood fruit. There is astringency. It’s balanced and consistent from steep to steep. Aftertaste clean, bright, open, expansive, fruit and astringency predominating and even recurring minutes later in the back of the throat, especially in later steeps. There is a touch of the bitter (sour?) here too, not to be confused with astringency, which it complements. I took the tea to eight steeps. It had lightened toward the end, although I petered out before it did.

Minor Issues, and recommendations:
The loose leaves are big and on long stems that soften in the water. Liquor color ranged from straw to deep yellow. Experiment around with parameters, but expect more finish and aftertaste in a pushed steep, one brewed longer and/or hotter. I let the temperature rise and fall within limits, and found this tea giving and easy.

General Impressions:
This is a tasty and pretty tea, a surprising combination of tastes and aromas, not cigar-like, not smokey beyond clean charcoal. It’s a tea for right now, as loose leaf Pu’erhs are poor candidates for aging. I’m impressed. I’m very impressed.

Michael Plant on Old Tree Teacher's Lot Phoenix Bird Oolong, from silkroadteas.com

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

Item: O-PBO-PR
(A Feng Huang Dan Cong)

Off boil, 11 grams of dry tea, 5 ounces of water. Steeps in seconds: instant, instant, 5, 10, 10, 10, 20, 20, 30, 30, 60, 60, 60, 120, 120. (OK, add 20% to account for the pour time.)
(Brewed in a fully stuffed YiXing pot seasoned to Feng Huang Dan Congs.)

Aroma: Soft fruit and round, more fruit from the emptied cup, consistent throughout steeps.

Taste: Green flint, lightly fruited, especially in later steeps. At around the seventh steep, a pronounced increase in finish and aftertaste, a sweet fruit on the roof of the mouth and the top of the tongue, complex, dry and flinty by turns. At around the tenth steep, less complex, but still producing that soft round aroma.

Minor Issues , and Recommendations:
The wet leaves are deep jade green , strong, big, with a reddish edge caused by manufacture, and a heavy central vein. A more lightly oxidized Feng Huang (Phoenix Bird) Dan Cong (Single Bush) Oolong from Guang Dong Province, it allows longer steeps than the more heavily oxidized versions. Stuff the pot full of leaf. That means placing dry leaf, tapping the side of the pot to cause the leaf to settle, and then putting in still more leaf. Use water off the boil, but adjust the time for each steep up or down according to the taste of the previous.

General Impressions:
A physically beautiful tea, complex in taste, friendly in aroma, and pleasing through at least fifteen steeps. Gorgeous. I love this tea, pure and simple.

Michael Plant on Tongyu Mountain Green, from silkroadteas.com

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

Lot: G-TMG-5

+/- 165 degrees, 5 grams of dry tea, 10 ounces of water. Steep around a minute, second steep less. (Brewed in a gaiwan.)

A refreshing tea with just a touch of Gyokuro butter, astringency and sweetness, and a hint of bitterness behind it; aroma, a wee vegetal and meadowy. It’s clean and fresh and consistent throughout, but admits of two steeps maximum, the first the better. Astringency comes up as the cup cools. I like astringent, you might not. In any event, it’s gentle.

Minor Issues, and Recommendations:
Leaves are variable in size and form, and small throughout. Liquor color is yellow-green, with emphasis on the yellow. Try a third steep if generic green is OK with you, as it usually is with me. This tea is inexpensive, and gives more than its money’s worth.

General Impressions:
I’m on board with Tongyu Mountain Green. It’s my everyday green of choice. It reveals a sophistication beyond its price.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

dong fang hong phoenix bird oolong [private reserve] from silkroadteas.com

vendor: silkroadteas.com
harvest: 2005
item #: O-PBO-PR; lot DFHT5
parameters: 1 g : 1 oz
brewing vessel: cebei
date brewed for this review: 060101

dry leaf: dark green twisted leaves, some of them quite long.

brief rinse [20 sec] followed by 40-sec rest.

INF1: 28 sec, 190F. aroma: vaguely floral. color: medium gold with just the slightest tint of green. taste: delicate oolong flavor but not ostentatiously floral like some dancongs. a tenacious finish that is rendered the more pleasurable by its subtlety. the aroma continues up the nose in a pervasive and comprehensive way; this is in some ways the most distinctive aspect of this subtle tea. there is a mild but noticeable astringency.

INF2: 20 sec, 190F. aroma: this infusion, interestingly, veers away from the vegetal/floral and toward the toasty. color: deeper gold than INF1, and less of a greenish hue. taste: follows the aroma straightforwardly. often the toasty oolongs are what one might describe as 'milder' in a certain sense -- perhaps less assertive than the more floral ones. when that is the case, in general it simply invites greedier drinking, and this tea is no exception. but 'bull-drinking' of such a noble tea would obscure the fact that even a modest mouthful of the liquor escorts you to fenghuang shan. the astringency is attenuated now.

INF3: 25 sec, 190F. aroma: still toasty without a pronounced vegetal note. color: again a medium gold, which [also again] allows the green hue to show. taste: much like INF2, except that the astringency reasserts itself here.

INF4: 30 sec, 190F. aroma and color: as for INF3. taste: a tiny bit of bitterness here. was the infusion too long, or is this just the home stretch?

INF5: 40 sec, 190F. aroma: as for INF3/4. color: a deeper gold/green than INF3/4. taste: i brewed this infusion no longer than INF4, lest i incur more bitterness, but that was not a problem here. this was the toastiest infusion yet, with very little astringency.

IN SUM: i have used the word 'subtle.' one of the less dramatic dancongs on offer from SRT, but no less appreciable because of that. a quiet tea, perhaps, for quiet moods. certainly a dancong that combines great delicacy with tenacity. i surmise it could withstand at least two more infusions without expending its virtue.