April 24, 2010

2009 Anxi High Fired TiKwan Yin

Ive started using Petr's Shiboridashi's  for brewing everything lately, why not? They brew all teas equally well, easy to use and clean up is a breeze. In my everyday tea brewing I don't often use those tiny little cups, don't want to be bothered with the constant re-filling. The Shiboridashi's matching cup makes it easy, one pot makes one cup, who would have of thought of that?

This Anxi Oolong is from The Mandarins Tea Room Toki offers three different Anxi tea's but this is the only roasted TiKwan Yin (his spelling, not mine) that he sells. Normally I,m not crazy about TGY, they are just too heavy and acidic, and that can really do a number on your stomach. But I couldn't help from trying this one as Toki's description made it sound enticing. Initially I had ordered the sample size but before I had even finished the first cup I was online ordering more. Your $45.00 will get you a very stylish 100 gm. bag.
The leaves look beautiful don't they? Sometimes you can just tell by looking at the leaves that it's a nice tea. The aroma from the pot is not subtle, a pungently rich roasted aroma fills the room. Mingled in with the roast is a clean and sweet smell of citrus. More specifically, grapefruit flower (if there is such a thing) Honestly, the tea's aroma is amazing. This Anxi is very different from any Ive had before, Very rich yet clean and vibrant at the same time, amazing!

The tea's flavors follow suit with it's aromas. Sweet, rich, roasted flavors with the sparkling cleanliness that the citrus and floral aspects provide. The first several infusions can be a little tart but in the later cups the tea's sweetness becomes more dominant. If you really enjoy high quality oolongs you shouldn't let this one pass by, it's worth every penny. Durability is good, maybe eight to ten infusions.

Now, a little story for you. I have an acquaintance, an elderly Chinese man named Tai Ling. From time to time I engage in a little small talk with Tai Ling, the weather, whats on sale at the market etc. Every once in a while I would see Tai Ling sipping coffee from a paper cup and I noticed that he winces with every sip. I asked why he drinks it if he doesn't like it, his response was that he doesn't like coffee but drinks it anyways because it keeps him warm. Being Chinese he of course prefers tea but can not afford it. So every once in a while I would give Tai Ling some tea, nothing special, just everyday teas. He is always appreciative of the gift and would later tell me that it was o.k. (not impressed), I started wondering, just what doe's it take to get a nod of approval from him? So, I gave Tai Ling 10 gms of this TGY and a few days later I,m out walking the dog's and I hear someone yelling my name from across the street, it was Tai Ling. He came running up to me with a big smile on his face. Ive never seen Tai Ling smile before, he normally is very sullen. He wanted to tell me how much he liked this tea, he said it was very good and in his opinion that this is a "first level" oolong. Actually, I had never even seen Tai Ling exhibiting anything that even approached happiness before, but he was a happy man that day. I was happy that I had brought a little joy into Tai Lings life. For me the sharing of tea is what tea is really about, it's not to be selfishly hoarded. Having said that though, this tea is rather expensive so I doubt that Tai Ling will be seeing much more of it.

April 12, 2010

1985 Menghai 8582

This is very exciting, Tim from "The Mandarins Tea" blog has opened an online tea shop of his own. Now, I knew as soon as I became aware of the tea shop that "The Mandarin's Tea Room" teas were going to be special. Superb tea's and tea wares offered up with such class and style. Here I will quote from the card attached to the packaging, " From fresh, seasonal varietals to sophisticated vintages of the past; we offer only the finest, handcrafted rarities that exemplify traditional tea cultivation and production" A chance for all of us to taste for ourselves what teas used to taste like before modern farming and processing became the standard. The packaging was well thought out, attached to each package is a removable strip that allows you to re-close the package between use, only a real tea head would think of such things. In addition, each package comes with a classy little card that states the contents and also gives recommended brewing parameters. I would recommend following Tim's suggestions, this tea brewed to perfection by doing so.

First of all I should start by saying that 1985 was the year that Menghai first introduced the 8582 recipe. The 8582 is made from larger, coarser leaves than any of the other numbered cakes that Menghai produces. Just look at the depth of color in the cup. In trying to describe this teas flavors and aromas I,m not sure where to start. It's so complex that it leaves me almost incapable of finding words to convey the tastes and sensations that this tea possesses. All the flavors you would expect are there, and in abundance. Woodsy, is an understatement. It's extremely woodsy but somehow it's not over the top or too much. Old and faded leathery scents and flavors. The slightest traces of camphor that have, over the years, transformed into a touch of mintiness. Such a gentle sweetness helps to mingle all the other flavors together. Tingly sensations on the lips and front of the mouth are found in the first several infusions, yet it is as smooth as silk.  But there is much more in the cup than these inadequate words can describe.

The above pic is taken on the first infusion, which following Tim's recommendations was ten seconds. Normally, for most puerh's, my first infusion time is around twenty seconds. You can tell by the teas color that it doesn't require normal infusion times. This tea is uber-durable, I stopped counting at around the fifteenth infusion, took a break of a few hours and came back to it, and there was plenty more to be had. The flavors already mentioned are a constant with this tea but with further infusions it's the underlying flavors that will surprise you. Sometimes I taste something slightly herbal in the cup and sometimes there is something that's a tad floral, not really a floral that is fresh but something more like a memory of something floral, think of your Grandmother and that's the kind of floral that I,m getting here. Sometimes there is something that's kinda bitter and citrus like in it's flavor. This tea is very satisfying, full rounded flavors that are buttery and rich. I actually feel like Ive had enough by the time Ive exhausted the leaf.

The picture (of the brewed tea) at the top of this post is on the tenth infusion, a testament to this tea's stamina. My kettle ran out of hot water long before this tea was done, that was a first for me, Ive never had a tea this durable before. I love the color of the dry leaf, it looks like a rusty, old antique. The dry leaf is thick and chunky and smells like old, dried out timber with a touch of old, dried out leather. Also a trace of something light and delicate is buried deep under the wood and leather, what that smell is I can't really say. It's familiar, but I can't put a name to it.

Amazing stuff! The Mandarins Tea Room is going to do very well. Expensive? Yes! The Mandarins Tea Room doesn't offer this tea as a whole cake, only loose leaves. Even if it were offered by the cake I,m not sure.....well, actually, positive, I could ever bring myself to spend that much money on a single cake, basically a dollar a gram. But the price of a small qty. doesn't hurt so bad. I always have in the back of my mind that I can just buy my own young cakes and forget about them for forever and they will turn out more or less the same as these cakes. But every once in a while I let a bit of reality slip in and have to admit that they will not age into something as sublime as this tea. But who knows.....they might turn out to be something equally good, just different. Maybe an aged teas flavor has as much to do with it's storage as the maocha it's made from.
Thanks Tim! Though this was my first time ordering I,m sure there will be many, many more orders in my future.

April 7, 2010

2009 Douji Red Dadou

The Douji brand of teas have been getting plenty of positive reviews lately, and as usual, I,m lagging a little behind everybody else when it comes to checking them out. It seems that the majority of people think of the Douji brand as being a step up in quality from Menghai brand. I hope that they are. It would be nice if there were a brand that fits neatly in between the Menghai teas and the boutique teas. Although some of the Douji cakes are a little pricey they haven't quite reached the price range of say a Hai Lang Hao, yet anyways. Well, I am about to find out just where the Douji's rank when it comes to my tastes in tea. The Red Dadou is made from a blend of Menghai and Lincang area tea's. (Not to be confused with the Menghai brand) The Red Dadou is Douji's highest grade of the recipe (blended) cakes.

Not even having opened the cake the first thing I notice is the higher quality paper wrapper, just a little touch of class. Also the wrapping of the cake itself is evidence that they have their own way of doing things.To me it's obvious that Douji wants to visually set itself apart from Menghai and Xiaguan. Look at the back of the cakes wrapper, very neatly folded pleats with a re-attachable sticker that clearly states what it is. In such contrast to Menghai's wadded up wrappers with the anti-fake label that turns out to be not so anti-fake after all.
Now, on to the tea. The cakes surface is very attractive. Whole, healthy looking leaf that has a splattering of silvery buds. This cake smells very fresh and green. The wood and tobacco smells are there but much more in the background when compared to a Menghai tea. Doesn't really have anything unique in it's aroma, nothing I haven't seen before but what I can say is that it's very balanced. Judging by the smell alone I,m not sure I could guess in what direction this teas flavor is going to lean.
The cakes compression is perfection. Tight enough that it has a solid and hefty feel to it yet loose enough that prying into the cake is effortless. The maocha is very easy to separate into a nice pile of unbroken leaves. Not the dried up, chopped mulch that you get with a Menghai tea. But I do realize that those chopped leaves is how they achieve consistency from one cake to the next. With cakes made from whole leaves there is variation from one cake to the next. Even from one side of the cake to the other you can find differences in the teas flavors.

The tea brews up a crystal clear yellow soup. The aroma from the sharing pot is leathery and woodsy with the tobacco in the background, but that could all change with further infusions. Sometimes these flavors and aromas shift roles throughout the session. Very slightly sweet with plenty of bitterness. It's not a heavy dull bitterness we have here but something very light and clean but there is plenty of it. The teas body is just a little on the thin side but maybe I need to bump up the quantity of leaf used. After further contemplation, I think I do need to use more leaf. I normally use 10 gms of leaf for the yixing I,m using today but next time I,ll increase it to 12 gms and see how it turns out. There are some of the beany flavors that I like, but not in sufficient quantity. To be honest I,m not really enjoying this teas flavors that much. Not that it's bad or anything it's just kinda flat and thin. Maybe it needs a couple years of age on it before it starts to put on a little weight. After all, Menghai's teas are made from maocha that already has a few years of age on it when it's being pressed. If the Douji's are being pressed from the current years harvest then that would explain the lack of character.

So, all in all, I,m impressed by the presentation and the quality of the leaf. The compression is perfect and it's durability is good. I,m just not exactly bowled over by the teas flavor. But I,m not dismissing it yet. I,ll have another go at it with more leaf and see if I don't like it any better. All the indicators are there for a tea that's going to age well. We will see! And by the way, I didn't get a picture of the spent leaf but it was rather nice, a very healthy shade of green with no oxidation to the leaf. This is a debatable issue in that the oxidised leaf may or may not (depending on what you choose to believe) age well. I have no way of knowing if this is correct or not but for those of you who believe that it affects the teas age ability you will be pleased to hear that the tea has not been "wulong,d"

Note: just as I suspected, gotta use extra leaf in order to bring the best out of this tea. The teas richness is much more noticeable and those sweet and beany flavors are more assertive. However, I do think that this tea needs some storage time to fill out a little as it,s still a tad thin. One aspect of this tea that I had not noticed before was a delicate floral, perfume like aroma in the cup. It's a very nice tea and I have high expectations for it in the coming years. I really hope that Douji doesn't turn out to be one of those "here today, gone tomorrow" company's.