December 11, 2009

2009 Phoenix Mountain Dan Cong

It,s been a long time since I last had a really good Dan Cong. Back when Hou De had acquired their Dan Congs I had bought pretty much a lb. of each they had to offer and consequently got kinda burned out on em. Those were the first super fresh Dan Congs I had the opportunity to purchase and kinda over did it, but man those were good. I think I,m ready to pick up where I left off and this Phoenix Mountain I,m hoping will renew my interest.

Some people say the aroma of Dan Congs can be very ummm.......blunt and obnoxious. And there is a part of me that agrees, but there is also a part of me that appreciates those pungent aromas. Theres nothing light or dainty about Dan Cong Oolongs. There are also some who believe that Phoenix Mountain Dan Congs are made from a single tea tree, meaning that the one single trees harvest for that year is processed and sold as is and not blended with teas from other trees in the area. While the idea of that appeals to me, I think it,s doubtful that this is true. The only reason I even bring the subject up is because it was on my mind, I had recently read an article where Imen (Tea Habitat) and Roy (Imperial Tea Court) were going at it over this same issue. With Imen supporting the concept of single tree offerings and Roy saying that this is impossible due to the small qty. that a tree can produce in a season. It kinda bugs me to be agreeing with Roy but I cant help it, the single bush theory just doesn't make sense to me. I don't really care one way or the other, all I care about is whether or not I like the tea.
This tea I picked up at a local tea shop (Central Market) and the sales woman didn't seem to know anything about the tea other than it,s name and that it sells for $189.00 a lb. Judging by the appearance and smell of the dry leaf I could tell it is fresh and a good quality, the leaf is in good condition with not many broken leaves. The leafs color is rich and vibrant, not the dusty, muted colors of an older tea. It appears to be both lightly fermented and roasted. The leaf has a light honey and floral aroma with a cool and refreshing aspect. A tad of the citrus thing is also present. Five grams of leaf are harangued into the small zhuni and rinsed once with boiling water, add more water and with a 15 second infusion time I get a golden yellow brew with superb clarity. The tea turns the slightest bit orange when exposed to fresh air for a few seconds. What relief, I was glad to not see a brown tea pouring from the pot. With Dan Congs that's what you want, yellow tea , not brown. Brown could be a sign of lesser quality or older tea. The flavor reflects it,s aromas fairly well. This has got to be the most elegant Dan Cong Ive ever had, the flavors are very well balanced. Deliciously sweet and slightly syrupy. Pungent with the herbal, floral, barely noticeable citrus (orange) flavor and aroma and at the same time so cool and clean. Reminds me of eucalyptus. The flavor permeates immediately into every part of my mouth and nose. I can smell the tea quite strongly even before Ive swallowed. Sweet, cooling and floral. The second infusion is brutal, in a good way. More of the same but even heavier and almost overwhelming. This tea needs small cups and a leisurely approach, no gulping. I might just need to go back and get a couple more ounces of this tea, pretty good stuff.

It,s weird that Ive bought Dan Congs from all the "cool" online vendors and none of the teas Ive had from them can hold a candle to the one I bought here in town at a local store. Not that the vendors teas were poor quality or anything it,s just that this one is so much damned better. Ive never found Dan Congs to be really durable, they usually turn rather unpleasant in the latter infusions. But this tea keeps it going through the sixth or seventh infusion without turning too funky. In fact the latter cups are much sweeter and floral than the first few infusions. To me worn out Dan Congs are not a nice tea experience. A damned fine tea this one is, and it,s filling out my tea collection nicely. There is more to life than puerh you know!
Ive learned over the years through trial and error that coaxing the best from any Dan Cong requires that you pay attention to details. Of course the qty. of leaf used is important, the yixing in the picture above has a 125 ml. capacity, the qty. of leaf should be around 5-6 gms. Rinse the leaves very briefly and then commence brewing. Ive found boiling water works best for me. The first infusion is your guide for infusion times for the rest of the session. What I,m aiming for is full saturation without over steeping and bringing out the unwanted astringent, harsher flavors. I,m mainly judging infusion times by the color of the brew. Once the optimum strength has been established I am trying to get the same color in each successive infusion. I think that Dan Cong teas can be tricky to brew and it all boils down to timing for the most part. With a lot of other types of tea a few seconds doesn't make all that much difference. But with Dan Congs those few seconds can be the difference between a bland under extracted cup or an over extracted, astringent cup. This way of brewing Dan Cong is what Ive found to work best for me. There is no magic involved it,s just a matter of paying close attention to the teas color. If this helps anyone to get a better cup then great. If you disagree with me about any of this you don't really have to tell me about it.

November 23, 2009

2008 Menghai "Da Jing Dian"

I blindly bought a couple of these cakes, having read nothing but positive things about them I felt it would be a fairly safe gamble. "Da Jing Dian" a.k.a. "Big Classic" made from grade three leaves, semi aged, sun dried maocha. I don't usually dabble in the Menghai special production cakes preferring to stick with the tried and true numbers (7542-7532) which are my favorites. The Da Jing Dian is a commemorative cake celebrating the "Dayi" brand as being recognised for some kinda national heritage award. They seem to like coming up with special occasion recipes.
Not any different from Xiaguan really, variations on a theme but Menghai has a much bigger repertoire to choose from. Maybe more creative with base ingredients they seem to come up with subtle yet distinct variations.

The dry leaf is rather pretty, green transitioning into brown. Plenty of whitish tea buds blended into the mix. The aroma wafting from the cake is enticing, judging from the smell alone I can tell there is much to be had here. A lot of depth with an underlying fruit like sweetness and woodsy aroma. The slightest touch of smokiness still remains. The cakes compression is the slightest bit tighter than the numbered cakes but still easy enough to deal with. This tea doesn't dawdle, it gets going pretty quickly. The first infusions flavor sits firmly in the woodsy and mushroomy genre, the flavor spreads and penetrates quickly. A good balance of sweet and bitter astringency. Nice full mouth feel yet the teas flavor also has a "brightness" about it, a crisp cleanliness that serves as the perfect counterpart to the sweetness and the full body. This is an interesting tea experience in that the lower palate is saturated with sweet and woodsy, a smidgen of fruit flavors yet the upper palate experiences the nutty, bright and clean, touch of floral flavors. The aftertaste is robust, thick and long lasting. Not much in the way of transitioning flavors with this tea it pretty much opens up and stays the same through out the session. It doesn't drop out on you but fades gradually and gracefully, I admire that in a tea. Honestly, you just cannot beat Menghai for quality and value. A high quality, well made product for not a lot of money. $15.50 per cake.

The teas color doesn't really show up well in the cup but in the sharing pot you can see it,s true color. A deep golden yellow. Brews up clear as a bell. Durability is very good, I think about 6-7 infusions before it starts to wane into sweet, grainy blandness. I know most people keep the pot going till the teas flavors are completely gone, I,m not one of those people. Once the teas flavors are exhausted and the body has gone I call it a day. A good tea, glad I grabbed a couple of these but two is enough. I,m sticking to my guns in that the 7542 is where it,s at with the Menghai teas. It,s got everything I love in a tea.
I haven't been very creative with my picture taking lately, no glamour shots, no back lighting, just tea. Maybe I,ll get back into taking glamour shots again but in a way it,s an unnecessary affectation. Beautiful as it is, that's not my reality. My tea table is the patio table in the back yard, that's where I usually enjoy my tea, watching the dogs play and the birds chirping and the squirrels teasing the dogs with their taunting (you cant catch me) game. This may sound strange but all the ruckus and shenanigans distract me while I,m drinking tea, being distracted helps me enjoy and evaluate a tea by "not thinking" about it. Just "experiencing" it. Sometimes it,s the furthest thing from my mind, and that,s when it,s sublime. Does that make sense?
note: Having had a few sessions with the Da Jing Dian I may have to eat my words and get a couple more of these cakes for storage.

November 13, 2009

2009 Guan Zi Zai "Ban Zhang" Wild Arbor

A big "Thanks" goes to Maitre for providing me with this sample. My curiosity was sparked when I saw this cake posted on Yunnan Sourcing,s site. Given my newly acquired obsession with Ban Zhang teas I was tempted to buy some but wanted to hold off on ordering to see if anyone else had tried this one yet. At $43.20 for a 500 gm. cake it,s a good value if the tea is decent. The wrapper is real perty as you can see. And if the wrappers pretty the tea must be good, right? Nope! not always. Sometimes them perty wrappers are the teas strongest selling point, there to draw you in. With this tea the wrapper is fitting, no deception going on here.

Not the crystal clear yellow soup we would hope for. Claity is good but the teas been "wulong'd" Theres something about the teas aroma that reminds me of Xiaguan,s teas. Maybe it,s just the smokiness of it. It looks more like a manufactured tea than handmade. Compression is medium tight. It appears to be made from less than first grade leaf. A hodge podge blend of small, medium and large leaf thats been bruised, tattered and torn with a few sticks thrown into the mix.

Dark shades of green with a few brown and red leaves to be found. The teas aroma has a lot of depth, woodsy, that much loved beany smell is there along with the slightest wisp of smokiness and a faint hint of a perfume like aroma. The flavor is fairly intense right off the bat. All the expected flavors, woodsy, beany, a little yam, tobacco and leather. A decent amount of bitterness as well as sweetness. The bitterness could get out of control without careful brewing parameters. The teas body is just a tad light, but it,s o.k. The teas richness fades a little sooner than what I would like leaving behind a wash of generic washed out sheng flavors. Grain, bitter and astringent.

All in all, not bad. It,s a good quality, well made tea. For me, I would rather spend a little extra and buy Yunnan Sourcing,s Lao Ban Zhang "Chun Qing" The flavors of the Chun Qing are more balanced and it has tons of depth and richness that continues to show up well into the 6th to 8th infusion. Thanks again for all the samples Maitre. Ive got yours on the way, you should get it soon.

November 9, 2009

Yunnan Sourcing Global Store

Scotts got a new site that I thought everyone should know about. Same great selection, Ive had a quick gander at it and the prices are 10% lower than his ebay prices and he now offers reward points which can be used towards your purchase. Go (here) to check it out. think he,s gonna make the leap and jump off of ebay? Much easier to use, automatically calculates shipping fees and now has discounted shipping rates for EMS.

November 7, 2009

2009 Menghai 7542-901

It,s time for stock piling. The 2009 Menghai numbers are making their way onto the market and you can get your favorites right (here) Ive never written about these teas before mainly because there is so much info about them out there already it,s safe to assume that everybody knows the deal with these cakes. They are the firmly established benchmark that all other sheng,s are compared to. There is really no better time to grab some than now. At $10.00 each your not going to find a tea in this price range that offers so much. In their youth I wouldn't consider any of them to be cream of the crop brilliant but always a consistently good cup a tea. I go to the Menghai numbers when I need to get back to square one. I kinda feel that after a while of drinking some of the more boutique teas I need to re-center myself and re-establish my framework of flavor profiles. For me the Menghai numbers are home base, everything else is sometimes amazing, more often mediocre and occasionally a waste of money. This blog would be incomplete if left without ever writing about the numbers.

So at the risk of redundancy I,ll supply my brief description of the 7542 tea. Rich and savory with that beany, slightly leathery, slight tobacco flavor and aroma. This years tea maybe a little more refined than the previous years teas. A slight floral aspect shows up in the cup, not quite as assertive as in the past. User friendly level of compression, not too tight or loose. Brews up yellow with a very slight amber tinge, but I tend to be heavy handed with the leaf quantity which has an affect on the brews color. Plenty of body, nice and sticky. I always have plans of saving these cakes for aging, Ha! what a laugh, they never last more than a year around here.
The Menghai numbers are excellent teas to hone your brewing skills with. Learning to coax the best from these cakes (7542,8582,7532) by varying your parameters you,ll be better equipped to tackle some of the more persnickety teas. Good old Menghai.

October 20, 2009

2000 Zhong Cha Tie Bing

It,s a beautiful day here in Austin so I thought I,d ride the Capitol Metro Rail to one of my favorite tea shops. Glad I did because I bought a couple ounces of a superb Chung Cha Tie Bing. This shop typically has half a dozen shengs to choose from ranging from teas you can find online and usually one or two that Ive never heard of before. Ive heard of Chung Cha brand before and if memory serves me it has a good reputation, lets see. The owner assured me that this is a very nice tea and that there is not that much more of it to be found (implying that it is rare, buy it, don't be a fool) so I did.
Now this tea is a perfect example of a well stored tea. The soup is a bright, clear, clean amber with a syrup like viscosity. I bought this from a local tea shop, the price of the whole cake is $175.00 To rich for me but a ounce or two is allowable on my budget. This is the first Chung Cha tea that Ive ever had. I don't recall ever even seeing Chung Cha for sale anywhere before. What a unique aroma wafts from the pot, woodsy and anise like spice is the first thing I notice. There is the very faintest of smokiness and camphor, so minimal that it,s really an after thought. The slightest bitterness quickly followed by a caramel like sweetness that completely coats my mouth and throat, even my teeth. What a unique flavor this tea has, something that is so subtle reminds me of licorice and anise. So rich that I can smell it long after the session is over. So many flavors and aromas. This is one of those teas that each time you drink it you notice some flavor that you didn't notice before. So much complexity in both the soup and the aroma.

This tea sets a new standard for aged sheng for me, just goes to show that not all aged tea is murky and musty. This Chung Cha,s flavors and aromas are clean and somewhat medicinal and they retain there individuality very well. Each component is very distinct from each other. The dry leaf is large and mostly whole. Considering it,s a tie bing the leaf comes loose from the chunks with almost no effort, all I have to do is threaten it with the pu knife and they just fall apart. There are some rather large stems in the mix but who cares? Maybe the stems are contributing to the over all flavor, who knows? If this tea has had any wet storage it was so minimal that no damage was done, the teas clarity speaks for itself. What a gorgeous tea. This is one worth saving for special occasions or when you have the time to savor it.
P.S. Thanks Will. I had wondered if Zhong Cha or Chung Cha was the correct spelling.

October 10, 2009

2009 Yunnan Sourcing "Ai Lao Jue Se"

The last in a series of seven teas that Scott made this year. I was honestly postponing trying this tea because neither the look or the aroma of the dry leaf appeals to me very much, I can smell the tart, green traits that tell my stomach to get ready for a little turmoil. I wonder if in time these thin, sour teas become more sweet and have a fuller body or if I,m always going to need Imodium after drinking them? Anybody with more experience with these teas feel free to fill me in. Grown at 2200 meters these wild arbor trees average about 200 years of age. Handmade, stone pressed and low temp. baking to dry the finished cakes. Ai Lao Jue Se is a more affordable cousin of the Wu Liang Lan Xiang, I think the cakes are priced at $20.00 each. The dry leaf is a flat dull green with some brown and red, leaf size really varies, small baby leaves and big chunks. The aroma is tart and floral, maybe a slight citrus coming into play. The teas flavor reflects the aroma but with more astringency than either sweetness or bitterness, puckery, thin and tart. Brews a perfectly clear bright yellow cup with fairly good durability. I don't really want to go into a lengthy, in depth description of this tea because for one, there,s not that much to say about it and two, I,m just not that into it. I just felt like I had an obligation to finish up this series of teas. It,s worth the extra money to get the Wu Liang Lan Xiang, it,s a much better tea. Much fuller rounder flavors that are nicely balanced. Sorry Scott but you cant win em all.

September 27, 2009

2009 Yunnan Sourcing Yiwu Da Qiu Feng

This Yiwu Da Qiu Feng is much more to my liking than the Gua Feng Zhai. While the Gua Feng Zhai is an excellent tea it has some issues, but Ive already gone into that in a previous post. The Da Qiu Feng sells for about half the price of the Gua Feng Zhai so I was thinking this tea is going to be mediocre at best, but I rather like it. The dry leaf is quite brown, seeing how it was stone pressed last august this browning didn't happen after processing, it,s seen some oxidation prior to the pressing. But that,s alright with me, from what Ive seen it kinda helps to round out the flavors. No idea how that affects it,s aging potential. But anyways the dry leaf is fairly small, a little dried out and crunchy. There is depth in the aroma, smells rich and savory. No green or sour flavors in this one rather a tad beany and grassy. More sweet than bitter. Slight fruitiness in the cup, not so much in the aroma. While this tea brews a clear cup with a nice syrupy body, it also brews up dirty, meaning the strainer is full of little brown and black bits of charred leaf. This tea did get treated to low temperature baking in order to dry the cakes, traditionally the cakes are allowed to air dry. The Da Qiu Feng is gathered from 80 to 100 year old arbor trees that grow on the southern slopes of the mountain. I would think that more exposure to sunlight makes for faster growth and higher potential for bitterness and astringency. I find neither one of those to be an issue in the cup. I like this tea quite a bit. Durability is good. In some ways this tea reminds me of Xiaguans "Yun Mei" if you've tried that one. Should I buy some? At the price of $35.00 each, probably not. At the "secret handshake" price, maybe. I like this tea but there are plenty of other teas that fit into this same basic flavor profile, nothing all that unique here. If I was placing an order with Y.S. anyways I might get a cake or two but I wouldnt go out of my way for this tea.

September 26, 2009

Yunnan Sourcing Tasting ( Epsilon ) = Ban Zhang

Epsilon was the tea that saved the day for me, I was beginning to think that none of these teas are really wowing me, some are interesting and fun but nothing to write home about. Epsilon stands head and shoulders above the rest, as far as my tastes are concerned. The dry leaf is a multitude of autumnal colors, greens, browns, rusty reds and an abundance of grey / blue buds. There,s lots of depth in the cakes aroma, earthy and beany with rich notes of tobacco and leather. Perfect compression makes for such effortless coaxing of these long beautiful leaves from the cake. Ah, I love that crispy sound. Nine grams of leaf are scooped into the yixing, a quick rinse and a steam bath in the drained yixing makes for perfectly primed leaf. From the first pot the flavor palate has been established. Sitting on top of a foundation of malted grain and rich leather and tobacco is a delicious blend of long beans and chestnut. The sweetness and bitterness are in perfect harmony and in sinc with each other. On about the fourth infusion the flavors have opened up nicely and I see that the tea is so full and rich that I start to back peddle and slightly shorten the infusion times. It makes for a great session when you find a tea that you have to hold back, it,s usually the other way around. I find that this tea doesn't really need pushing until sometime around the eighth pot. Brews a rich yellow cup with just a tinge of amber starting to show. Clarity is good but not great, cant have everything I guess. Easily ten to fifteen pots before it calls it a day. The Ban Zhang is one of the more expensive cakes but it,s money well spent. This tasting turned out to be a lot of fun and educational. It,s interesting to read other peoples take on these teas. All of the teas in this tasting are excellent quality and each has there own individuality. Again thanks goes to Hobbes and Scott for making this tasting happen. It,s fun for all of us to be on the same page and drinking the same tea and discussing them. Hope we can do this again sometime but until then everybody enjoy your tea and support your tea vendors, without them where would we be?
P.S. Ive no idea if the cake in the top pic is right side up or not.

Yunnan Sourcing Tasting (Delta) Wu Liang Lan Xiang

The Wu Liang is a pleasant, light hearted little number. The leaf is multi colored, greens, browns and reds. Not the big, chunky leaf of some of the other teas in this tasting but rather small and a little more deilicate. That delicacy reflects in the soup as well. The aroma wafting from the Yixing is rather gentle, green and tart, florals and light leather scents. The first infusions flavors carry along the same lines as the aroma, bitterness is there but restrained and balanced. Mid way through the session the flavor of toasted grain slyly makes it,s appearance. Kinda sneaks in the back door. Brews a beautiful yellow cup with good clarity. The Wu Liang is a reliable tea, never dropping out or shifting gears, it stays consistent from cup to cup. The floral aspects along with the fresh, green, tangy flavors stay for the ride as well. The gentle sweetness helps to balance all the flavors and aromas and makes for an enjoyable cup of tea. Not brilliant mind you but nice enough that I bought a couple of these cakes, by the way, they are very affordable. I,m hoping that with a little age on them they might develop some body and depth, we'll see.
Note: In the several months since the tasting this tea has gained more body and depth. The flavors are richer and much more complexity than when these cakes were fresh. Begining to lose some of the tart, green flavors that intitially was a fairly dominant in the cup.

September 22, 2009

Yunnan Sourcing Tasting (Gamma) = Bu Lang

Gamma,s got some big crunchy brown leaves. Obviously Gamma has gone through some fermentation at some stage of it,s processing. Not what your looking for when it comes to something with shelf life, but who knows how this tea could develop. Brews up orangey brown. Full round mouth feel with no bitterness what so ever. Gamma,s flavor reminds me of malted grain and dates. I kept thinking while drinking it that it reminds me of shu, minus the funky aspects. Gamma is a pretty mindless, drink now tea. Doesn't really give you much to think about but it is tasty.
Note: since the tasting event I had bought a couple of these cakes and have realized that this tea needs extra leaf and longer infusions than what I normally use. By uping the leaf / steeping time the tea takes on a more complex character. This tea has a rich date and grain aroma and there is a slight bitterness in the cup. Still not a very complex tea but there is more in the cup than originally thought.

September 19, 2009

Yunnan Sourcing Tasting ( Beta ) = You Le

Taking a whiff from Betas sample makes quite an impression. Very sharp, pungently green and tart with some florals. Electric yellow crystalline clarity pours from the pot. Herbal, citrus aromas waft from the cup, a delicate sweetness that is persistent enough to cut through the tang. While Beta does have depth it,s not woodsy, tobacco flavors that I usually associate with providing that depth. More of a green, herbal, light tobacco depth. Betas light syrup like body is the perfect match for it,s flavors. Green apple acidity and floral, meadowy aspects show up midway through the session and yet none of the initial flavors have faded, Beta goes the distance, but when it does start to fade it does so gracefully and gradually. Beta would make for an exellent afternoon sheng but not a "go-to" tea when Ive got the craves.

September 16, 2009

Yunnan Sourcing Tasting Notes ( Alpha ) = Yiwu

Alpha was a bit of a problem for me. Using my usual brewing methods with Alpha resulted in severely compromised durability. After four infusions Alpha was done. But what I tasted I initially liked. Slightly bitter and astringent with a flavor of under ripe pears and nuts, I keep thinking cashews.There was a very mild sweetness that balanced very well with the other flavors. Also a slightly grassy, sour taste that was also in the aroma of the dry leaf. Just fruity acidity and nutty. Nice enough. Brews a crystal clear yellow cup with the slightest tinge of apricot. Over all a nice tea but the durability needed to be addressed. So increasing the qty. of leaf and keeping the infusion times very short solved that but what resulted was a cup that was bitingly bitter and astringent. Not the clean crisp bitterness that we normally admire in a sheng. This was intense. A bitterness that really hunkered down and stayed a while, heavy penetrating chalky astringent bitterness. Alpha had some really good aspects but that aftertaste makes for an unpleasant session. I really wanted to like Alpha, but I just couldn't. So, seeing how Alpha was the first tea in the tasting and my just flat out not liking it very much, it kinda set the tone for disappointment for me on some kind of subconscious level. And I think I started to focus on the teas faults, very unfair, you can find fault in any tea if you look hard enough. Had I more experience with Alpha maybe this issue could have been resolved but the sample had been consumed. So all I,m left with is a memory of creepy, creepy bitterness.

Alpha = Yiwu

September 13, 2009

2009 Yunnan Sourcing Tea Tasting


I,m sure some of you are familiar with this tea tasting. Orchestrated by Hobbes (Half Dipper) with tea samples provided by Scott of (Yunnan Sourcing) This tea tasting was comprised of five 2009 spring flush puerhs. The five teas are exclusive to Yunnan Sourcing. All five single origin, varietal teas. Stone pressed and about as handmade as you can get. All of them visual works of art. A testament to what skilled people who care about quality and tradition can do. Thanks to Scott and Hobbes for making this tasting possible. Very generous samples were supplied, enough for several sessions with each tea. The teas are as follows, You Le, Bu Lang, Wu Liang, Ban Zhang and Yiwu. These teas were sent "incognito" we have no idea what tea is what. It,s up to our wits and tastes to figure it out.

The "incognito " names given to the teas are, Alpha, Beta, Delta, Gamma and Epsilon.
Having sampled all of the teas, some of them a couple of times Ive realized that this isn't easy. Although I never thought it would be. It forces you to question yourself, do I really know what a You Le tastes like? As if there are no variations in You Le teas. For me this tasting is not so much a game of "name that tea" more of an opportunity to learn how much I don't know. I,m not going to go into detailed tasting notes here, they will be posted on Half Dippers blog. But for me there was only one tea that stood head and shoulders above the rest, Epsilon. Superlative in every aspect. The only sheng Ive ever had that made me want to have back to back sessions. The above photos are the Epsilon.
Again, Thanks to Hobbes and Scott for providing great tea and an even greater experience.

September 8, 2009

Sorry We Missed You a.k.a. Catch Me If You Can

There is nothing I hate more than coming home from work to find one of these on my door. I know what I,m in for, a big freaking hassle. I hate the U.S.P.S. This package I,m sure is from Scott at Yunnan Sourcing, tea samples. O.K. for starters they are supposed to DELIVER your stuff. The post man didn't even ring the bell, I was home this morning, I would know. So finding this note later in the day I head off to the post office. I stand in line only to be told that the post man has the package with him. So, he will attempt to deliver it again tomorrow. Well, tomorrow I,ll be at work. That,s their final attempt. So I,m going to have to go back to the post office again on Friday and I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if there is another problem. This is exactly why I will not order anything from outside the U.S. The parcels always require a signature and the post man makes a very feeble attempt at doing his job. I swear it,s like they do this intentionally. A barely audible knock at the door (if that) and then a mad dash to their truck and let the games begin. Jeez, what we go through for tea. But I,m sure once I drink some of these I,ll forget all about the mailman and how much I hate him.

Part 2, next day. O.K. so knowing that if I don't get to the post office early I,m going to have to wait in line for forever. Turns out I,m the first one in line, cool. 8:30 A.M. the magic metal door opens and I cant believe it, I,m the first one here. Keep in mind there is nobody else there yet but I can hear them filing in behind me. So I ignore the designated path that weaves it,s way to the desk and go straight to the man. I hear a voice yelling from across the room "Sir! you have to follow the line" What? So I turn around walk around the table to wind up where I started from. This is ridiculous I said, what purpose did it serve to make me walk around that table? Turns out by not following the path they don't have you on camera and that,s an issue for them. So that I understand, but at the time I as well as the people in line behind me laughed quite audibly at the demand for me to run around the desk just to wind up where I started from. Comical really! Like I said before, the things we go through for tea. I feel like I just played musical chairs to get this package. This tea had better be good.

September 4, 2009

Grand Opening of jas-etea,

Congratulations Steve! jas-etea . Opening day is imminent. A superlative selection of puerh tea,s and tea wares. Ive been buying tea,s from Steve for a while now and have always received excellent products and service. jas-etea has a large selection ranging from the puerh staples that we should all have in our collection. Menghai, Xiaguan, Haiwan. As well as some harder to find handmade premium puerhs that are a treat for the puerh enthusiast. Xi Zhi Hao, Mengku, Hai Lang Hao, Yong Pin Hao, just to name a few. Oolongs, Chinese Green Tea,s, Yixing, Gaiwans, Cups, you name it. And of course you can purchase sample size packets to try before you buy. Scheduled to be open in the coming week. We westerners have been needing a source of good quality, fairly priced tea and it,s been a long time coming. Again, congratulations and thanks Steve.

August 25, 2009

2008 Yong Pin Hao " YiWu Wild Arbor"

I just received a pair of these handmade cakes yesterday from jas-etea. I was wanting something a little different from what Ive been drinking lately.(and this is) Never having even so much as sampled this tea before I knew I was taking a risk but I had read some pretty good things about them and felt it was a fairly safe gamble. Everything about these cakes spells "attention to detail" even down to the paper wrapper, it feels like silk. The Yong Pin Hao gang who are all about using old school, traditional methods have even gone the extent of setting up an on site pu-hut so they can process the maocha in the same area that it was harvested in. Avoiding the lengthy transit time and the potential for oxidation of the leaf. Made entirely from 2008 spring, first flush maocha gathered from wild arbor trees that range from 100-200 years old. The maocha was dried in small batches by hand using woks. And the finished cakes were air dried naturally, instead of low temperature baking which I guess is common practice.

The level of compression is pure perfection, loose enough so as to make prying very easy yet tight enough to hold together and not fall apart with time. The cakes are made from large, whole leaves that are a thing of beauty. The aroma emitting from the cakes is very mild, fresh and clean. Nothing heavy or overly rustic. This tea needs a heavy hand to realize it,s potential, ten gms of leaf is the quantity determined through trial and error. I go for the typical infusion times starting at 8-10 seconds and progressing and that approach works out fine for me. Brews a golden yellow cup with a tinge of orange starting to show up. The durability is good, 8-10 infusions. This tea doesn't really smack of YiWu,s typical flavor profile but there are some similarities to be found, if you look hard enough. At a price of $30.00 for a 400 gm beeng I wasn't really expecting anything too spot on.

The teas aroma is fresh and green. Again, nothing heavy but actually a fairly light, clean, woodsy, faintly tobaccoish, slightly floral tea. Just the right amount of sweetness, given the delicacy of this tea I was worried that it was going to be too sweet. But it,s not, it,s nicely balanced. At the risk of sounding cliche, there is an aspect of fresh spring meadow in both the flavor and aroma. The tea has just the slightest bitterness that quickly transforms into sweetness. This is a pretty easy going tea. Almost refreshing in it,s clean, crisp flavor profile. This isn't a sheng that,s going to kick you in the head. It just doesn't have it in it. Very low key but with lots of class and style. Not to be confused with a tea that,s thin or weak but rather a sheng that,s light and delicate, there,s a difference. With proper brewing parameters this sheng does have a nice viscosity. For my tastes it,s not one to start the day with but fine for an afternoon session when your not up for something too intense.
I cant imagine how this tea will age, I cant see it turning into anything other than what it is now, maybe a more concentrated version of it,s present self. It will obviously loose the fresh, crisp and clean aspects it now has. I also don't see the potential for any real body to develop over time, it,s always going to be a light to medium bodied tea. I guess what I,m trying to say is that I just don't see this tea as having the required traits for long term storage, it,s going to peek fairly young then peter out. I can see this tea reaching it,s potential in about four to five years. But I could be wrong (it,s happened before)
This pu-purchase gave me yet another example of the scope of flavor profiles or styles of tea to be had that I hadn't experienced before. All in all, The Yong Pin Hao boys definately know what their doing. A beautifully made tea that in every aspect shows that they cared about it. A very nice couple of cakes Ive added to my collection, I,ll enjoy dipping into from time to time. But two of these is enough. I guess I like getting kicked in the head, repeatedly.
P.S. Something that I didnt notice during my initial sessions with this tea was that there is the faintest of cooling sensation in the brew, almost mint like. Drinking this tea now I dont know how I didnt notice this before, as it,s there plain as day.


August 21, 2009

Xiaguan Green Tuocha

Wow! Ive been on such a Xiaguan spree lately and loving every sip, until this one. The 100 gm. Green box tuocha. I bought a couple of these from a Chinese shop, at $3.99 each. Never having had these tuo,s before and knowing that they are bottom of the rung sheng, my expectations were meagre. Visual inspection sounds no alarms, nor the lack of aroma from the tuo. Looks to be an everyday, nothing special tea. The tea leaves appear to be o.k. Compression is normal. I brew some up and....nothing. Literally no flavor aside from generic green bog water. It,s not a case of me being spoiled by the good stuff it,s just this tea has virtually no flavor. Thin, weak and insipid. I immediately rushed to the pot to wash this tea out and made myself some proper sheng. I wonder, could they be counterfeit? How does one tell? When an Xiaguan tea has no flavor there is something amiss. At least they didn't cost much. I would be interested to try this tea from another source for comparison and then I think I could solve the puzzle of the flavor that,s gone missing.

August 8, 2009

Nepal Kuwapani Estate SFTGFOP1CL/SP

Every once in a while I get a wild hair up my butt and buy something a little out of the ordinary. Ive never had a Nepalese tea before and thought I,d give it a try. I don't usually spend too much money on these excursions and I,m not expecting too much in return. But this tea surpassed my meager expectations by leaps and bounds. This stuff is good, really good! At just under $10.00 for 100 gms it,s an affordable tea that I,d be hard pressed to find anything anywhere close to the unique qualities this tea has to offer. I ordered this from Uptons two days ago and it was delivered today, now that's fast service. The dry leaf is a multicolored mix of browns, reds and greens with plenty of silver buds. The aroma of the dry leaf is pungent with muscatel and an unusual rustic earthiness. The aroma from the brewed tea comes out swinging. There are so many smells to be savored here. The muscatel aroma is neck in neck with the smell of fresh peaches and apricots. The rich aroma of honey is also there as well as a sparkling clean citrus smell. You know the smell of a freshly opened jar of wildflower honey? I,m not referring to the obvious sweet smell but the smell that lays just underneath that, the smell of the terroir that the bee,s toiled in. That,s the rustic, earthy sweet smell that this tea has. Brews a crystal clear brew of the most beautiful orange, amber color you've ever seen. The teas flavor follows suit with it,s fragrance. A fairly complex cup with a medium body. I could just sit and smell this stuff all day, almost worth the price for the smell alone. I think teas from Nepal are generally considered a Darjeeling wanna be. If this Kuwapani Estate tea is a typical Nepal offering then Darjeeling,s got nothing on them. While Nepalese teas share some of Darjeeling,s characteristics they bring a few of their own to the cup that in my opinion makes for a much more complex cup than any Darjeeling can muster. This is definitely a buy more of this situation here. As far as brewing parameters go I approached this tea like a Darjeeling. About two tsp. per eight oz. of boiling water with a three minute infusion time. I tried this tea using a gong fu approach but it doesn't work, the flavors are washed out after the initial steeping.