úterý 22. dubna 2014

2006 Benshan

After a long time without tasting any new oolongs, two inteeresting teas of the genre arrived in a package from Chawangshop. Let us start with the younger one today:

You have surely seen many packages like this. They are a sort of lottery - sometimes, they contain great tea, sometimes not-so-great tea. I was curious to taste this particular tea as Benshan is not an area I'd associate with a great deal of character and/or ability to excite me.

The doubts are forgetten when the little package is opened though. The aroma is so sweet, honey-like, with dried plums. A part of it must have been in the original material, but certain balance and sort of sweetness is, in my opinion, to be found mostly in a slightly aged tea. The leaves are quite green (possibly more than the photograph suggests), but no trivial floralness is to be found there - it is a balanced, summer-like meadowy good aroma.

With a rinse, the beautiful spectrum is made only more beautiful and sweet.

The taste can not really hold the extraordinary fullness and sweetness of aroma, but it is still very good nevertheless. It is smooth and thick, but feels perhaps a little empty (this is a criticism of a very good tea overall, it is not like this tea is hollow as a trunk of a tree from King's quest). The taste character is similar as the aroma suggests - mostly honey with dried plums. It is quite pleasantly light in character - a very friendly tea indeed.

The taste lasts... oo ... long! It is also rather active for this genre too - no dull flowery soup at all.

It rather reminds me of aged Dong Ding tea - I had one or two of these which, on top of the lovely taste spectrum, had the full fullness a tea can offer, which is why I considered them better. But for a rather casual oolong drinker such as me, the taste difference is simply not worth it. This 2006 Benshan sells for $6 per 50g, which is basically a joke. For $8-10 per 50g, I'm used to decent oolongs, without major faults, but often lacking in aroma, being too bitter, etc. This tea is simply better than that - it is not an awesome oolong perhaps, but very good nevertheless. Yum!

The next post will have a look at a 1999 Tie Guan Yin, which offers quite a different experience.

sobota 12. dubna 2014

2013 Chawangpu Lao Yu (Bada)

It is interesting that just when I just about gave up on finding real bargains in the world of tea, one appeared after all. The Lao Yu cake is a small one (200g) and costs merely $14, however, it would be a pity to leave it unnoticed.

According to Honza the producer, this is basically a tea that Bulang people on Bada mountain make for themselves. As such, it does not have certain qualities that are desirable for immediate drinking, but on the other hand, it does not suffer from the flaws that some "drink now" puerhs unfortunately have.

The dry leaves are rather small actually and smell fruity and floral.

I still fail to understand why I like this tea so much, yet I obviously do. It is not like it's way different from any other young tea, but it does its job better than most; I guess I appreciate its honesty and cleanliness. I did not drink the "old style" puerh when it was young, but I would think it might be similar to this tea.

The taste is rich and good indeed - and it is a mixture of both Bada families I've encountered previously: On one hand, there is a good sweetness and fruitiness (peaches), young clay, along with "future honey" (dark sugary sweetness now, likely to become honey-like, in my opinion). On the other hand, there is also an element of the "other Bada" (piney needless and more citrusy fruit, especially pomelo). It is an interesting and, fortunately, not in the least conflicting. Along the "Bada part", I think there is a good "universal sheng" base which fills the "good mouthfeel" windows in taste, often left open by Bada teas...

Along the taste itself, the liquor is smooth, thick and pleasantly bitter and astringent - all is good (the bitterness is completely normal in a young tea and a) transforms well now, producing a pleasant aftertaste, b) should transform via aging).

The tea does not have aa "stoning" qi, but it always brought be the feeling of joy and positivity to me, which is an effect in itself.

The tea is delight to drink now and due to its rich and strong character, I suspect it should be a much better ager than most "1D" Badas which are quite good now, but tend to lack something in the longer run (they are still very good and tasty after 5-10 years, no doubt, but they are not a first league tea unfortunately).

úterý 18. března 2014

2002 Bulang

This tea is another from my current Chawangshop spree. I do really like Bulang tea with some age (similarly as I tend to dislike young Bulang tea) and so I was looking forward to this.

It comes from a small factory (I appreciate that even though the wrapping and all that is CNNP lookalike, it is not marketed as such), which can mean many things. Theoretically, "small factory" or "private production" brings artisanal qualities to mind, a lot of effort and attention to detail, etc. In practise & my experience, it often means poor storage, lack of expertise in processing, etc. Of course, there are reputable small-scale makers, I'm rather talking about no-name small factories. The good thing about these is that indeed, there are gems between their teas, that are a lot cheaper than they would be, were they from a well known maker - but these gems are rare and most teas from such factories are just bad. But if you have somebody to sort through these teas for you, well, that's nice (and I think that it is a good way how to add value to selling tea).

The leaves seem quite small to me, while not being terribly broken. They are still rather green (not that obvious from the photo) as well - the tea does not seem to have aged that much from their looks.
Rinsed leaves smell herbal and medicinal, with some honey, leather and general sweetness (not that much, though).

The color of liqor is light, but not too much so.

In mouth, the tea feels a bit dry (dry wood and leather, with medium bitterness and astringency) and not so thick, which is not great, but the other (dominant) tastes are pretty nice: a mixture of herbs and that good blend of honey and medicinality that sometimes occurs in Bulang tea. A small amount of aged earthiness is present as well and complements the rest nicely. While the amount of sweetness is decent, I'd like a bit more in a tea of this taste spectrum. Nevertheless, the taste is very well balanced, powerful, rich and I like it. It's a proper, "older school" sort of puerh, no superthick namby-pamby flowery puffiness.

The taste hangs around mouth for a good amount of time, though it does not bring a significant amount of buzz, nor qi.

This tea seems very interesting to me as it combines the "dry wood" Bulang (which I do not like too much) with the "medicinal and honey" Bulang (which, on the other hand, is one of my most favourite genres of puerh). I'm still not certain of the relation between these two families of Bulang teas - is it that the former transforms in the latter via aging (that would be nice!), or the difference can be spotted even when the teas are young? We'll see in a couple of years.

For drinking now, the tea is, in my opinion, too drily stored (which causes still notable bitterness, lack of qi and thickness, etc.) - on the other hand, the storage was not nearly too dry to kill the tea - it does age and develop, which is good. Especially fans of more dry stored tea might enjoy this tea a lot as it is pretty tasty and rich, for a tea stored that way.

When I started drinking this tea, it was available for $85, which was quite ok, in my opinion - teas with this taste spectrum are seldom cheap and this tea seems rather good. Currently, it costs $150, which is rather too much for me to consider purchase. I think that the price is still quite good compared to for what are some (much worse) dry stored teas of this age sold, but there are enough two-eyed kings for me to pursue elsewhere...

pondělí 3. března 2014

1997 CNNP Red Mark

I consider it fortunate that Chawangshop stocks more aged tea now than it used to - and this 97 Red mark is one of these (I think it's the most expensive puerh in the shop as well). 
Red mark seems to be a popular recipe and it is for a good reason - the reason being, that it is good (both raeson and tea). Also, while I've tasted quite a few 7542s (especially the pesty "private order" ones) which were way off their original recipe, the Red marks I've had belong to the same cluster - maybe not being so popular since some time, therefore less worth faking?

The leaves seem to be quite good to me - they are not really broken and are quite strong as well.

Rinsed leaves smell really well - very sweet and full, slightly earthy, spicy and honey-like. It is distinctly aged in a way (no young aromas at all), but at the same time, it is not one of those teas that get muddy via too wet storage - this is still a clean and vibrant tea.

The color of the liquor (one of lighter ones) gives away what is suggestted by the aroma already - the tea has seen some humidity, but just right.

I enjoy how this Red Mark tastes very much - the sweetness is still there and so is the smoothness. Both these features are usual in an aged tea, but they are quite distinctly above-average here (given the age). The taste is a mixture of comforting warm peat, deep, warming sweetness and slightly spicy "heights". It slowly travels through the mouth, spreading peace and love around, gradually changing into vibrations, fresh-plum long-term aftertaste and then leaving for good (well, until next cup is taken). 

It is still quite active in mouth (with slight astringency left). As a good aged tea this is, it is comforting overall, making one feel "simply good and healthy". I'm not too keen on talking about "medidative states", but this tea does change my perception and when I let it, it brings me "elsewhere".

The stamina is good (and definitely above-average in this price range of cheap-ish aged tea) - 20-30 steepings over 2-3 days are easily doable.

At least for me, this is an excellent tea - for a good price ($168/cake), it rewards the drinker with a good, aged feeling and remarkably nice taste; a real pleasure. When it comes to buying this tea, the question is not "whether", but "how many cakes"...

pondělí 24. února 2014

2013 Chawangpu Hua Zhi Qiao

Let us be glad and rejoice - somebody finally made a cake of Jingmai leaves with tea blossoms. This type of tea has been previously done by Fu Cha Ju - a factory of many experiments (some of which them are good, the others being less good...). I enjoyed both the version of Jingmai with tea blossoms coming from 2005 and 1998. It is not the most mainstream type of puerh, nor the one that I would prefer above all others, but it has two big strengths: First, I enjoy this style of tea tremendously, from time to time. Second, it is an excellent "guest tea" for people coming to visit who are appreciative of tastes in general and are not puerh sages - it is much simpler to appreciate than "old-fashioned" puerh, especially of this age. At the same time, it is still distinctly a puerh tea - it's not really "scented" in a common way. The addition of tea blossoms is a rather subtle change to a tea.

(please pardon the bad light quality of photos, this is England...) 

Looking at the cake shows that the flowers are abundant (yet they do not  overpower leaves)

Rinsed leaves smell intensively fruity and sweet - just as I like it in Jingmai tea.

The taste is quite explosive as well - there is still some floralness of youth, but what seems to dominate is a mixture of fruits (garden fruit, pomelo,...), very fresh (and this freshness tends to degrade after 10 or so years into a certain hongcha-iness, which is why I prefer young-ish Jingmai) and quite delightful. There are starting hints of honey (probably bolstered by the blossoms) which make this tea very promising for next 5 or so years. Even though this tea can be brewed gently (being smooth and sweet), I actually slightly prefer to be less gentle to it, using more leaves than usual. Yes, it gets quite bitter, but in a pleasant, fresh-fruity way - as a bonus to the long and strong taste, the bitterness transform into longer-term aftertaste of sweet peaches - what's there not to like?

You could blame the tea for lack of aged depth, but that would be rather pointless in a young tea, wouldn't it.? It's like telling that a lovely young white wine is not a rich red wine (that said, I do prefer latter) (actually, this tea shares many features with nice white wine).

This tea is not the Tea if you go for significant buzz in mouth, nor a mind-stopping qi attack. It is a well made and very tasty tea which I enjoyed very much (and $30 per 400g is a good price for any decent tea these days, let alone for such a nice one). It is also a good argument why old trees may not be always the best thing to have - well cared for smaller and not-super-old trees such as this tea is made of often produce tea with a stronger and "more penetrating" taste. 

sobota 22. února 2014

2013 Chawangpu Gao Shan Liu Shui

This is the first tea by Chawangpu of the last year I tasted and I always enjoyed returning to it. It is a blend of Menghai leaves (2012 spring) and Mengku (2013 spring).

The aroma of rinsed leaves is sweet and intoxicatingly floral (magnolia and hyacinth mostly). It rather reminds me of Mengku teas from around Bingdao (that are often sold as Bingdaio), but there is a component of something else as well (I suspect the Menghai component), which gives it more body.

The taste of this tea is predominantly sugary and floral (hyacinth-like - in the "good phase" of its life). It really fits the coming spring - it is fresh indeed, without unpleasant generic greenness which is an annoying aspect of some of the recently made teas. Another positive is how long-lasting this tea is - first, the taste lingers in mouth for a long time, second, it can be squeezed for quite many steepings.

There is no denying that this tea is bitter. There are two buts here: a) The bitterness is rather decent and stays in mouth (with certain types of bitterness, I feel the bitterness feeling spreading through body and aggravating the stomach - this tea is nothing like that); b) it transforms well into a really nice aftertaste. Also, the whole process of enjoying this tea is boosted by pleasant "old tree" tingling. I especially enjoy that this tea, even though very young, does not feel cold and causing discomfort in the body.

The leaves forming the tea are in good shape, thick and firm.

Overall, I think that this is a good tea, strong, with potential for the future, while being quite nice for drinking even now. It perhaps lacks something of a "X factor" for me, but that may very well change in the future. I'd say that the price of $56 per 400g is pretty good given today's usual pricing of tea.

sobota 15. února 2014

2008 Spring Mangfei Zi Shan Yu Yun & 2012 Lantingchun Yongde Ming Feng

When I had the pleasure of Chawangshop's owner's visit back in Prague, I made a scornful remark on some tea in the way "it's quite bad, probably from Yongde". Honza smiled wisely and said that he'd send me some good, if still cheap tea from there - and so he did, among many other things. I resisted the urge to leap at all the goodies in the big tea box and since I'm still recovering  from an illness, I thought my tastebuds could do well enough with a not-so-super tea. I had three sessions with the leaves over two days, so I'm sort of "full of Yongde" now... Anyway, before getting to actual tea, let me show you two of four new cups that will call this place home:

I dreamed of these for some time - and yes, they are as good as I thought they might be - a very fine and lovely porcelain, a joy to use. They keep heat and aroma well - since I'm not a collector of teaware, cups and pots are more tools than anything else for me - and these cups seem to work very well.

2008 Mangfei
You can think that somebody was a little crazy when packing up samples...
The amount of time that must have been spent writing all the labels to the samples I bought is frankly terrifying... Or maybe not, when you're used to it - but as my own handwriting resembles a drunkard's nightmare, I have a great deal of admiration for people who can write nicely.

The leaves seem quite large to me and are covered in fur. They smell of dry wood mostly.

Rinsed leaves smell very nicely, sweet and fruity (ripe strawberries), with wood and leather. It slightly reminds me of the good 2009 Yongde from Finepuer.

The liquor is surprisingly thick and smooth - not bad at all! It manages to produce a taste as well - strawberries, dry wood and "laundry". Unfortunately, the tea seems to lack in middle taste spectrum (but so did most other Yongde teas I had), but it manages to get to the aftertaste phase with grace and strength. It finishes with very pleasant and strong vibrations on the tongue - that was probably the most pleasant feature I found in the tea.

Overall, it feels good, deep and pleasant. It costs mere $22, which is similar to the other Mangfeis I had (and rather loathed), but it is a much nicer tea. Not great, but it convinces me that Mangfei is not only a supplier of world's deepest torture chambers.

2012 Lantingchun Yongde Ming Feng
Lantingchun factory supplied me with two teas previously - a not too impressive one from 2000 and a not impressive, but decent enough from 2003.

The rinsed leaves smell cold-flowery. Fortunately, no cold ashtray, which in my opinion plagues many Mangfei-like teas.

The liquor smells more classically metallic and harder. The taste is not so hard though, which is good. It resembles mountains, with mist, cold forest (pines), and the mixture of flowers that grow at the forest floor. While I do enjoy such things for hiking, I find it to be a bit too cold and harsh for tea - I prefer warming teas, which these "northern" areas seldom supply.

Again, I did not dislike this tea, but I did not particularly enjoy it either.

Both teas, however, might be interesting for those who enjoy Lincang tea...