Friday, March 03, 2006

Holy Yunnan Grail Quest Continued: Upton's Golden Temple Yunnan and Imperial Yunnan

Two from Upton's (
China Yunnan Imperial ZY86 (packed 2/27/06)
China Yunnan Golden Temple ZY93 (packed 2/27/06)

I was not fond of the ZY86 Yunnan Imperial that was ordered back in August 2005. But I decided to order a small sample amount of this tea again (and some others) to compare to the ZY93 Golden Temple Yunnan. Still not fond of ZY86, as it is giving me the same impression as it did in 8/05.

While steeping (and leaf is still present) in the two small cebei (what's the plural?), you can smell these are quite radically different Yunnan teas. As noted, the Golden Temple (which has the bolder leaf style) has a very sweet aroma against the light earth, a 'mellow' and 'soft' sort of presence. The Yunnan Imperial is much more rustic with smoky notes against the earth and only a hint of sweet.

Once the leaf is removed and both teas cool slightly, Yunnan Imperial does have a bit more sweetness pull forward, but the main impression is smoke/earth. It falls out precisely in the cup just as the aroma suggests. I have the same objection to this tea that I did when I tasted it back in August. It is higher in earth without those spicy notes I recall from times long past when this one was a favorite of mine. Smoke and earth take over any maple sap sweetness in taste. Just not interesting. This was one of the first teas that brought me to my love of Yunnan tea, so I go back to it periodically to see if that first romance can be recaptured. So far...not.

They really taste odd cup-to-cup since they have such different profiles. The sweetness in Golden Temple (which meanders between maple sap and a touch of lavender honey and sometimes even a bit floral) gains a sort of 'toasty' note as it cools a bit but none of the smoke and much more subdued earth. That more dominant smoke/earth that I find in Imperial Yunnan isn't present in the same way in Golden Temple. I marked the bottom of the cups as to which is which to have a tasting which began without preconceived notions. But these teas are quite easy to tell apart just by aroma, let alone taste.

As I get more familiar with Golden Temple, I begin to ponder what is missing in the actual cup. The aroma is full. The tea is soft and mellow. But there are definitely some notes missing in the chord. None of those spicy notes. None of the darker complexity that can be a bit oaky...or, as in the case of the once-loved IPOT Yunnan, even a bit woody-fruity. Right now I am still favoring the Silk Road Teas High Grade Yunnan Gold, but the Yunnan Quest is ongoing.

One feels rather like Goldilocks here who finds the Yunnan Imperial too smoky and earthy and rustic, but who also feels that the Golden Temple is perhaps a bit *too* soft without the layers of where, I wonder, is my Yunnan that is 'just right?' For some time, In Pursuit of Tea had it. But now we're going to have to venture deeper into the forest it seems....

"The Holy Grail!. . . What is it? The phantom of a cup that comes and goes?" "Nay, monk, what phantom?" answered Percivale. (Tennyson)

Quite obviously, Tennyson was having trouble finding himself a consistent cup of favorite tippy Yunnan as well. Ahem.


Tom said...

You're not the first person to recommend a good Yunnan to me, but I can't say that I've tried one yet. I'll be on the lookout for one now.

Any recommendations to try first?

anodyne said...

No, geraldo, I've not had the Yunnan you mentioned above, so I just don't have that one as a point of comparison. And thanks for your kind words.

Anonymous said...

Hi Anodyne
have you tried any of the Mariage Freres ones? I quite like their Yunnan d'Or.

anodyne said...

I think I do have old notes on a Yunnan D'Or actually. From 3/05: Yunnan d'or/Mariage Freres

Tasting this tea courtesy of another tea lover. Has that seductive Yunnan aroma I think of as mocha with spicy notes, definite earth notes as well, with the maple sweetness. Focuses with some distinct earth in the cup. Not the fruity-floral range that some do. Nice, if a touch more 'earth-bound' than some, though an aftertaste of something almost floral wafts in and out.

Again, at that point in time, I was reveling in the In Pursuit of Tea's Royal Yunnan, so everything went up against that as my personal yardstick. :-)

Unknown said...

Great post - I don't know if you catch up on these or not, but yunnans these days can't compare at all to the way they used to be. They used to have a strong black pepper spicyness to them. I don't know why it's been missing for so long, but I'm also searching for it as well. Cheers - Geoff