Monday, May 31, 2010

2008 Xiaguan Bao Yan Jin Cha

There's something about this tea that is very interesting to me.  Of all of the young sheng that I've tried, this one lacks that intense bitterness, astringency, and acidity that I often experience during my brewing sessions.
                                                                                  chop chop chop 

Viewing the dry leaf reveals a dark, leathery aroma with little to no "brightness".  Brightness for me describes the presence of sugary or floral aromas.  There is a tiny amount of mellowed smoke, not unlike the smell of a bonfire about 4 or 5 days after it has been extinguished.  

The leaves are also chopped.  When I was less experienced with pu-erh, I may have discredited this tea as being inferior due to it's chopped leaves.  Today,  I believe that a pu-erh can be good regardless of if the leaves were chopped or not.  

Five Grams, Cloud Method, 80/20 Chunk/Loose mix
5, 5, 7, 9, 12, 15, 22, 30, 30

The flavor theme of this tea was leathery, tobacco-like darkness.  The cloud method didn't work as well as I hoped it would, due to the intense compression of the four gram chunk that I had thrown into my gaiwan.  As a result, my first couple of brews were rather light coloured, rather than being a more robust yellow-orange.

The flavor in cups one through three were practically the same, with notes of dark leather and freshly cured tobacco.  The chunk had finally broken apart by the end of three, so cup four had an intensely thick mouthfeel with deep, rich leather and tobacco mixed in with a sugar plum-like sweetness and hints of mineral.  

Cups five through eight were simply a continuation of the flavors from the beginning, with the addition of a slight roughness on the tongue.  There was Qi, starting at cup seven - very calming and sleep inducing, which isn't good when you have to be somewhere for memorial day celebrations.
By cup eight, my pores were opening up.

Cup nine was the odd one out.  I had expected almost no flavor, given that cup eight was so weak.  By some miracle, however, the flavor was back.  Notes of mushroom and earth made themselves known - in fact, it was very similar to shupu. 

                                                                                       The Elusive Ninth Cup

Overall, this tea was very enjoyable, but I suspect that some special processing was carried out in order to achieve those dark, rich flavors.  I'm planning on ordering a few of these to see how they age.
Also, this is an excellent cold weather tea.  The qi is comforting and warming, and the rich flavors are quite pleasant.   

Saturday, May 29, 2010

2009 Fan Ji Early Spring Bing Dao

I tend to think that all things strive to have balance.  As our bodies change, various glands and organs work together to keep the body balanced - homeostasis, they call it.

When it comes to tea, balance is hard to measure.  It could be something that is understood only by each individual taster, given the wide ranges and intensities of flavor that we experience in each given tea.
Today's tea challenges my concept of balance.  My first round with this tea a few weeks ago revealed no aroma or flavor, so I simply put it aside.  Revisits revealed nothing as well, so for this tasting I've decided to bump the leaves up from five grams to six and a half grams.

4, 2, 4, 5, 4, 5, 5

Given the loose compression, I decided that a flash rinse would be fine.  The first four cups had an aroma- a first for me, but the bitterness became so overwhelming that I removed some leaves in both the second and third cups.

The thickness was impressive, but the bitterness was getting in the way of the leather and grain flavors that were emerging.  By the third cup, I felt very nauseous.  I let the water cool down and walked around a bit, which helped.

The fourth cup was the last one that had flavor, and all I could detect was a hint of mushroom with a powerhouse of bitterness.  The last three cups continued down the dreary road of flavorless, thin liquor with an abundance of bitterness.  I even added the leaves that I had taken out earlier in the session, but they didn't have much to give, either.

I seem to have had trouble with Mengku area teas before.  They seem to be extremely finicky brewers, as I have proven to myself in the past with this tea and other similar ones, like the Shuangjiang Mengku Wei Zui Yuan.
As previously stated, this tea challenged my concept of balance by showing no balance whatsoever.  It was either much too bitter or it had no flavor at all, even with minor changes in brewing parameters.  Perhaps a few of you will decide to grab a sample of this from Yunnan Sourcing and have better luck with it.  If you do, let me know what you did.

In the next few days, there will be more reviews, so stay tuned!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

2009 Yunnan Sourcing "Road to Yiwu" series Ding Jia Zhai

I received this as a free sample during my last order from Yunnan Sourcing. I was pleasantly surprised when I saw it, realizing that this was one of Scott's more expensive cakes.  Thanks, Scott!
                                                                       Some selected leaves from the sample.  

The website's description of this tea claims that is comes from 200-300 year old trees around Ding Jia Zhai, near Lao Man Sa.  From what I have seen in other "Old Tree" cakes, these leaves seem to be about the same in size.  I have no way of knowing the origin of these leaves other than through Scott, but we all know that we can trust him.  I'm taking his word for it.

The sample arrived mostly loose, and the only chunk that was in the bag was falling apart.  I did my best to use the cloud method - in this case, a four gram chunk of leaf and one gram of loose leaves.  The leaves were mostly large and had a gentle aroma: sweet, with a hint of leather and some kind of altered cinnamon aroma.

7, 5, 5, 7, 10, 12, 11, 20

Lighter notes of leather were the dominant theme during the first few cups.  The first cup took me by surprise with it's depth and complexity: Second flush Darjeeling like fruitiness with a smooth, thick liquor and bass notes of leather and various warm spices.

The third cup had changed direction somewhat.  The dark, leathery notes had faded away, revealing a crisp vegetal taste with acidic notes nipping at the sides of my tongue.  The mouthfeel had the same good thickness, and the aftertaste was a continuation of tropical fruits.

Cups four through eight changed quickly.  Mushrooms were the dominant flavor through these cups, but the low-note and high-note (dark and bright flavor characteristics) were different for each cup.  Cup four was brighter, with a citrus fruit high-note and a cereal grain like low note.  Somehow, there was still smoothness and thickness in the liquor despite the citrus fruits.  The ku had begun to kick in, but it was extremely short lived.

By cup five, I could feel the Qi - warming, "glowy", and relaxed.  It didn't last very long, for some reason.  From cup five through eight, the flavors faded, but still continued to change.  Flavors ranged from cereal grains and fruit to a cheap-candy sweetness.  The aftertaste at times had hints of leather, which was a nice surprise.  

Overall, this was rather good tea.  Excessive bitterness wasn't a problem, and the complex and changing flavors kept it interesting.  The qi present was short lived, but still enjoyable.  I figure that six more months of aging the sample might add a little more qi.  Despite all of the good qualities, the 44 dollar price tag is a little high for me.

These leaves were big - some of the biggest i've come across so far.  Not many leaf buds, which could explain why the sweetness wasn't too prominent.  There were also plenty of broken leaves swimming in the cha xi, but they too were from larger leaves.  

Give it a try, you might like it.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The 2006 A-Gu-Zhai Wild Arbor of Bulang

After realizing my interest in shengpu was growing ever greater, I decided to grab a sample of this, along with many others.  What caught my eye here was the plain white wrapper with the handwritten characters, along with the larger leaves and the fact that it wasn't from a major label.

                                  Sketchy photography is brought to you by yours truly.

This tea comes from the town of A-Gu-Zhai in the Bulang mountains.  The description on Yunnan sourcing doesn't say if these leaves are really from wild arbor trees, but a sentence claims that "Wild arbor trees between 200-400 years old are numerous."  For the sake of honesty and all things good, I'm not even going to assume anything about that sentence.  I don't want to lead anyone astray, since I don't even know if these are plantation leaves or what.  Either way, the dry leaf looks great right from the bag - big, well defined, and aromatic.


Given the light compression, I gave these leaves a five-second rinse.  The following first infusion came out complex and rich, with notes of dark leather, grain, spice, and a pleasant "creamy" sweetness.  The mouthfeel was thick - much more so than I expected for the first infusion.  The huigan was the icing on the cake, so to speak.  It was rich, carrying the previous flavors from the cup to my throat, where they lasted for entire minutes.

Each cup changed drastically, keeping only one or two characteristics through each subsequent brew.  The only theme that lasted all the way through was the rich mushroom flavor that sat on the front of my palate before fading away to sweetness.  The leathery notes stuck around for the first three cups, accompanied by an intense thickness in the liquor and a huigan enhancing ku.

The fourth infusion was the bridge between the first and last three cups.  It was literally a mix of what was left over in the early infusions and a sign of what was to come.  A roughness appeared with a light floral aspect, but the mouthfeel was still thick - just thick enough.

Cups five through seven dug deep into the leaf, revealing some very interesting flavors.  The mouthfeel was starting to thin somewhat, but I wasn't too concerned about that.  The common theme here was herbal - something similar to cinnamon basil, maybe even the juice from young italian parsley leaves.  By the seventh cup, the flavors had faded into a menghai like mushrooms and sweetness, leaving the pleasant herbal notes behind.

As far as Qi is concerned, this tea had it.  I was feeling it by the second cup, leaving me with a sleepy, warm feeling almost all over.  I fell asleep rather promptly, which is rare for me.

If you're feeling like trying something that is a step or two above the Menghai offerings, give this a try.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

2008 Menghai Dayi "Classic"

I purchased a bing of this after reading Hobbes' blog on it.  Menghai is obviously well known - it's easy to find, and quite affordable when young.  Yunnan Sourcing describes this bing being made from "semi-aged sun-dried yunnan tea".

I've tasted this tea quite a few times in the past, and found it quite good.  Recently, this tea has taken on a rough aspect.  It is plantation tea, after all.  I found the compression to be slightly tighter than some of the other Menghai bings that I've tasted.  It wasn't too much of a problem, but it did result in more broken leaves.


The first and second infusions carried on as I remembered them - mostly notes of leather and sweetness with a pleasant amount of ku.  The brewing on the third infusion was a mistake on my part.  Given that the ku had not become overwhelming on the previous brew, I decided that an extra second would be fine.  I was wrong.  The ku was now the dominant flavor, followed by an incredibly rough mouthfeel.

Every cup after that was pretty rough.  I took fifteen minute breaks between them to try and find any huigan, the only one popping up at the third infusion - Sweet, with acidity that tended towards spice, such as nutmeg and anise.  The fifth through eighth infusions faded slowly.  The ku did as well, thankfully.  "Mushroom and sweetness - typical menghai"  I noted.

For some teas, I use Cloud's method - about 75-80% chunk to 20-25% loose.  This tends to work well with stronger teas that have a lot of ku, but not with the mellow stuff.  Previous notes on this tea told me that it was mellow in comparison to some of the younger (2009) material.  Given that information, I brewed this stuff all loose.  That was most likely my first mistake.  The water temperature was rather low as well, from about 180-190 degrees - I really wanted to avoid excessive bitterness.

Overall, it was a mediocre experience.  The roughness present greatly detracted from the tea, but there was some flavor underneath it.  The thickness of the liquor never became anything special, either.  All the leaves in the gaiwan were broken - no surprises there!  In the meantime, I will give this guy another shot and place an addendum towards the end.  Thanks for reading!