čtvrtek 3. srpna 2017

Non-puerh from White2Tea: Ice Green, Mi Lan, Turtle Dove

Hello again! After some time, I at least gained enough momentum to get some new samples, this time from White2tea. Before getting to the juicy puerh stuff (and there are several noteworthy teas indeed), let's have a quick post on the non-puerh teas. A sequel to Good, Bad, and the Ugly, this is, for me, OK, OK-ish, and Good...

The OK - 2017 Ice Green Fujian
This is a classical fujianese green tea, light and elegant. It's like walking in a botanic garden in a way, being surrounded by a mixture of flowery fragrances and tastes. There is a fair bit of hay in the aroma. It feels a bit anonymous to me in the spectrum of tastes - I had probably dozens similar teas already. That's not a problem though, I suppose. As I see it, the point of this tea is not to be novel, but to rather be a decent worker that is available soon after winter... not that UK weather noticed it's not winter anymore; it's very season-fluid. I'm writing this sitting in a reclining chair in the garden, that's true, but I'm wrapped in sheets and have an umbrella to prevent the nonstopping rain from reaching me.

I suppose I still prefer teas that have an extra element beyond the floral aspect, such as Mankouxiang, but ok... that's how I find this tea - ok.

The OKish - 2017 Mi Lan Dan Cong
When opening the box with teas, the usually huge bag of Mi Lan was among the first I've searched for - and couldn't find it! That's because this one comes from a small leaf varietal apparently... the leaves are small indeed:

Not sure if this is a Mi Lan or D.S., given the website description (unless duck bowels produce honey orchid, which would reconcile the discrepancy, of course, but based on the evidence collected alongside Thames where ducks are abundant and honey orchids rare, it's unlikely).

The dry leaves smell promising, still with a lot of dark chocolatey goodness from roasting. And after steeping?

I mean... it's not bad. But unfortunately, it's not nearly $0.5 per gram good for me, rather a half of that. It's an okay Dan Cong, but at this price level, in a Mi Lan, I'd like to see a strong honey line in the taste at this price level and it's rather faint here. The orchid taste is slightly muted with the rocky/woody/baked character coming from roasting, which will probably change in a couple of months. Hopefully, some of the roughness/astringency that is unfortunately present will go away as well, but I'm not sure how much. I find smoothness and lack of astringency, accompanied by fullness of body, to be probably the main feature for which one pays in expensive Dan Congs and I'd like to have more (wouldn't we all, I know). In the absolute terms though, this is still a decent Dan Cong tea, one that will make people happy in general, it's not like it's not tasty or pleasant.

Gongfu is not really the preferable way of brewing this tea in the end (see also http://www.marshaln.com/2017/07/gongfu-is-not-always-better/), as the ok-ish-ness of the tea just comes out too much and the relative roughness combined with not that powerful and complex character highlight what's lacking for me, rather than what's good. When the ratio of leaves-to-water is lowered and the tea is drunk e.g. as photographed above, it becomes quite good. While there is very little of honey taste still, the orchids become clearer and are pleasant indeed; one just has to balance the amount of leaves to not get a slightly sour brew. The potential for sourness that I've just also noticed to be mentioned by the Oolong owl is something you don't want in a tea for sure.

For those enjoying this genre, I also heartily recommend Teahabitat, a specialist in Dan Congs that offers the beast teas from there I've ever had.

The Good - 2017 Turtle Dove
Being a proton in the previous life, let's end on a positive note... This is a white tea, which usually excites me about as much as a single photon. However, George McFly would write this down - this is good stuff!

Not sure how to describe a typical white tea taste - probably hay (lots and lots), usually sweetness, and sometimes a bit of honey taste. This Turtle Dove has all of those in ample quantity and quality. On top of the hay, it offers a rich mixture of happy summer-flowery aromas and tastes, which makes the taste much more exciting than is common in a white tea. It really brings back happy memories of summer and is overall a really happy tea.

What strikes me about this tea, is the very high thickness, combined with a super-pleasant sweetness and smoothness. Consequently, you don't get the thin-ish haywater that happens with some white teas, but a really rather complex and full-bodied tea.

Being almost impossible to oversteep, this is a really good fire-and-forget pleasure maker. And it is cheap on top - nothing to dislike here, really...

úterý 1. listopadu 2016

2015 Wu Yi Qi Zhong

Today comes another Wu Yi wulong from Chawangshop (for some reason, it's not really showing on Google, but it's there) - the Qi Zhong. I wondered what Qi Zhong ment, so I tried to put the characters 奇种 into Google translate. In Czech, it translates as "odd specie" (odd in the way of numbers). Riiight... In English, it's a singular specie, which makes a bit more sense. Anyway, there is no point to this story, just in case you're looking for it... I'll just add that translating the village from which the tea comes (水帘洞) translates as Water curtain hole. English being my second language, I parsed this wrongly and rather than to interpret it as {water curtain} hole, I initially  read it as water {curtain hole}, which I thought to be a bubble-filled hole in a curtain. Amusingly, similar difficulties in parsing creep in when I'm now hearing my mother language as well, so it seems I'm becoming an all-around language imbecile. 

Uh, such rambling happens when one writes a post after hours and hours of entirely debilitating manual annotation of signal traces (which I came up with myself, so there is nobody to blame). Indeed, one thing that helps to retain at least some composure is tea. With the onset of autumn upon us, I tend to enjoy warming tea (in case you don't know that, Oxford has two seasons; 9 months of autumn and 3 weeks of spring - it's really like in tropics where you get wet season and dry season, except it's not at all warm as in tropics and there is no dry season). And there is no warmer tea than one prepared with a tea stove!

The outside tea sessions I have are usually very simple with regards to equipment...

These are the last leaves I got out of the pouch with the Qi Zhong, so please don't consider them representative from the point of brokenness. However, they do show well that the tea is not as strongly roasted/oxidised as some other teas from Wu Yi:

Also the aroma of the dry leaves is not as fiery, smelling of caramel, fudge, and summer meadow flowers (and maybe dried fruit) - it's quite rich again, but not as "bassy" as the Rou Gui, putting more concentration on the floral taste.

And the water is boiling...

The taste surprised me with the strong focus on floral aspects. It is not only a mixture of sweet summer meadow flowers, but possibly the main component would be an orchid. It's a rather unusual mixture of taste of Taiwanese wulongs with a bit of Dan Cong (orchids) taste, riding on a muscular rocky/fiery base of Wu Yi. Somehow it works together really well and it's not awkward in the slightest - it's simply very rich and tasty. I really enjoy the heavier side compared to Taiwanese/Anxi wulongs, which can be a bit flat, if pleasant.

Now, I feel the description of a mixture of different aspects of wulongs from other areas could sound like an experience you cannot miss, which I don't think it's true - I find this tea interesting, very good, balanced, fun, etc., but still I'd probably pick the Rou Gui I wrote about last time on most occasions. Then again, I generally prefer a single aspect mastered to great depth rather than a balance on all the fronts - this Qi Zhong definitely scores high on the latter.

Overall, I do recommend this tea highly, but I do not think it one cannot live without it either.

pondělí 24. října 2016

2015 Handmade Rou Gui from Chawangshop

Hi again! Apologies for be silent for so long. I am genuinely fascinated by the fact I'm still getting a lot of reads even though I haven't written anything new in ages. I've even got quite a lot of notes on the teas I'm drinking written briefly, but the final bit of compulsion to post them was missing - maybe this will change, who knows.

Now, recovering after a draining stint of lab experiments, when real life is slowly coming back to me, I felt like sitting out in the garden with a cup of tea again, which is a positive change to the most common pattern, where I'd drink tea alongside work, book, or music, but not that often purely with tea.

Before we get to the tea itself, let me show you a new cup/chawan I have - I find it absolutely lovely - it's a sort of parting gift from my main supervisor (made by his wife), when he left Oxford for a better place (that wasn't poetic, he's still alive, of course!). While I do miss his cheerful and super-stimulating presence, in times of Skype and e-mail, the DPhil studies are not really hampered... Netting me a +1 teacup. It's funny, I wouldn't have hoped for such a practical and pretty cup (as pretty as if I dreamed it out, honestly) - it may not be obvious from the photographs, but it's a really personal thing now - and the countless fractal-like details in it gave me hours of enjoyment already from watching alone.

Anyway, tea tea tea... I'm certainly not getting rusty in tea drinking (well, maybe I am, given the rusty patina that has a tendency to attach itself to everything tea touches). Aside from gallons of puerh, I had the pleasure to drink many teas from Darjeeling, via Vadham tea, recommended by Hster of teacloset. I particularly enjoyed Dharamsala Mann teas - premium, and the handmade more-premium version that is not available anymore. These teas combine the sharp fruitiness of first-flush Darjeeling, with strong grassiness (and a bit of marijuana aroma - I don't smoke anything, but I don't mind smelling it in streets, this reminded me of it), which I found extremely refreshing and stimulating. 

Anyway, the biggest discovery in the world of tea would be, for me, the range of 2015 Wuyi teas offered by Chawangshop. My issue with many Wuyi oolongs was that they were great, but expensive (Essence of tea), or underwhelming (pretty much all the other ones I've tried). Chawangshop's Wuyi selection seems to be great, but not as expensive ($8-25 per 50g or so...). Every single of those is worth discussing, but today, I'll focus at the 2015 Handmade Rou Gui.

The dry leaves smell so nice when you open the bag - it's a full, deep, sweet aroma, a mixture of dry fruits, without an excessive fire aroma (which is often a problem; mediocre materials seems to be often overbaked to cover up the underlying lacklusterity).

In mouth, this tea is one of those "hell yeah"-with-a-content-smile ones. It's very thick and making the whole body feel one is drinking it, giving a feeling of concentration around solar plexus (I swear I don't have a second job for those magazines writing about third eye, illuminati controlling our lives, etc.). In this aspect, I find the tea almost a "partner" in drinking. With normal tea, you just drink it, right? This one definitely responds and let's you have his opinion on the session too!

The strength of feeling makes the taste secondary to me, initially, but when it emergess, it's also totally there. It's definitely opulent, rich, and deep: sweet, tasting of dried fruit, cinnamon, and a bit of fire, but not much (and definitely not TOO much). After several seconds, a noble aftertaste arrives, bringing tastes like oak, malt, and "fiery rocks" (I totally had flashback of drinking Jura whisky there).

I find no flaw in this tea. It isn't the most unusual Wuyi oolong for sure, rather sticking to its core concepts, but still, it does what it does so well that I cannot but love it. It could last more steepings, I guess, but then that's just me being greedy I suppose.

See you all soon, I hope! By the way, I have a question for you as well - when I was briefly looking at blogs that used to be active "back in the good old times", it seems that most of them are similarly dead as mine was... is it really the case? Are there new great blogs sprouting, taking over the older ones? Let me know if there are some good ones, please.

pátek 20. listopadu 2015

2015 Bosch by TwoDog (white2tea)

First - I didn't expect that if I post something about tea again, that there would be people reading it again - seems I was wrong, so thanks for staying, dear readers! It's always difficult to see how many people actually care when most blog readers are fairly silent. I used to think that there would be lively discussions over teas at blogs, but it seems the drinkership is fairly fragmented and the shared experience might not be that large. Well, anyway, the more teas we drink/write about, the higher the likelihood of an interesting discussion, is it not?

Now, to the tea at hand (actually, "at a teapot" is more appropriate). Today's tea comes from TwoDog of White2tea and it is called simply "Bosch". I wonder why - when I hear Bosch, I think of the maker of vacuum cleaners. Anyone expecting such thing in a teapot would be sorely disappointed - this tea does not suck at all! Rather, I seem to have sucked the nicely sized sample out quicker than I'd like. Or maybe Bosch stands for the painter?

Apologies for the fact that only smaller leaves and fannings are shown below - the main chunk I've got was, of course, proper big fat puerh leaves. Unfortunately, the light, in combination with my work schedule, didn't permit me to take better pictures of the chunk before I drank it.

When it's nice and sunny, but 5°C only, you appreciate the tea is actually a hot drink.

And this is how the colour is in the 1st and 3rd steepings respectively:

I find it really interesting how the White2tea website says that the tea has light flavor and fragrance - maybe it has developed a lot from when the description was pressed. Light flavo[u]r? Anything but now.

Especially when using a reasonable amount of leaves, I found the tea bursting with flavours. It has a very rich, solid base of honey and sweet barley (remarkable in such a young tea - and it's not an over-accelerated processing), which are fairly obvious even when little amount of leaves is used. When more leaves are present, we get strong fruitiness (peaches, ripe grapes) and a sort of nice fragrant woodiness. Also, the tea makes you feel its bitterness, which can be really brutal and citrusy (very much Man'E type). The taste tends to hold very, very long in the mouth and keeps its main components; it's not transforming wildly (which is good, given how great it tastes). I feel that in initial steepings, the tea feels more Menghai and later, it gets more Yiwu-like, with the dark, dense dark green floweriness.

Irrespectively on whether this one is steeped light or heavier, it's got a very powerful mouthfeel - it numbs the tongue and leaves the whole oral cavity buzzing - fantastic and very clear (I'd recommend this as a tea that consistently shows such features for those who want to experience them).

The force is strong with this one... you do feel that it's not just an ordinary drink. I found it energising and helping me to focus and calm down. It's that feeling when the countless thoughts swirling around your head go down and hide in the soil and you're left with a single thing to concentrate on. I find it extremely interesting how different teas have "energy", but how it can be very different - from the one as Bosch has, via completely stoning and mind-numbing, to activating and sensation-sharpening ones (and the observations were made using different initial conditions, I think there indeed is an influence of the teas themselves, not just the feeling I have when I start drinking).

I felt the tea was similar to Xizihao's Golden Brick in several aspects, it will be interesting to observe them over time.

Overall, all the sessions I had with this tea were simply supercalifragilisticexpialidocius - I heartily recommend this to each and every one. It might not be the cheapest tea ever ($119 per 200g or $16 per 25g), but I think it was definitely worth it and I was more than fully satisfied. It's fantastic, really.

Cwyn has written about this tea recently too, I recommend the article! http://deathbytea.blogspot.co.uk/2015/08/2015-bosch-white2tea.html

čtvrtek 12. listopadu 2015

2015 Dark Forest from Tea Urchin

Hello again, dear readers. I've got some good green stuff from Tea Urchin and TwoDog recently, so let's have a look at some of them, shall we?

Today's tea is the Dark Forest from Tea Urchin, a small production from a small region in Yiwu, near Wangong.

Before the actual tea, thank you, Tea Urchin, for the lovely wood-fired cup you've sent me!

It's actually a really nice cup, especially for roasted oolongs. Surprisingly, it seem to work well with young puerh too - I thought porcelain would be better, but the difference did not seem to be a major one to me when I did a side-to-side comparison.

Now, the tea:

We can draw two main conclusions here. First, the tea is as furry as a cat in winter - nice. Second, there is sometimes sun in Oxford. Especially the latter might come as a surprise to some, but it's true.

The first impression that struck me when drinking the Dark Forest was that it's fairly mature-feeling, given it's a 2015. You don't get that "fresh off the press" aroma/sourness from it, rather, it's clear it's nice and high-qualityYiwu right from the start.

The taste is indeed a lot like Dark Forest, I though this especially when brewing it competition-style. There is ample "dark green Yiwu" - the usual mixture of floral tastes, with an interesting component of apricots, which isn't that frequent in Yiwu teas. The most characteristic property of the taste would be the deep, powerful sweetness. Combined with the present astringency, I feel a bit as if somebody lined my mouth with super-fine sandpaper, where the crystals are of cane sugar.

While being fairly astringent, the tea is not very bitter. Slight sourness is to be found in the later phase of the aftertaste, but it's not off-putting.

The taste and aftertaste casually transform into coolness and buzz - it's cool indeed!

I thought the Dark Forest to be a fairly calming tea when you're inclined to be calmed; gaiwaning it along work did not give it enough justice, it's not like some teas that just take your attention no matter what. On the other hand, sitting in a sofa, listening to soothing sound of violoncello, warm amp valves being the only light in the room, I enjoyed Dark Forest immensely. Or, taking it outside, watching small bugs moving around in the grass and sipping DF, its close-to-nature character harmonised with the experience perfectly too.

I consider this to be a very fine tea, both in the quality being refined, as well as somewhat gentle and requiring attention to be fully appreciated. It's not a "I've got to get this" tea, as it's not cheap, but it is very, very good.

čtvrtek 20. srpna 2015

2011 Ba Xian, 2001 Private order 7542, 2015 Chawangpu Hekai, 2015 Chawangpu Laoyu, 2015 Chawangpu Mengsong, 2005/15 Chawangpu Bulang \endofline

Hello all, my tea friends. The times of long musings about one tea are gone (it happens in my head only and it's too internally connected to be easy enough to write down), but that does not prevent me from sharing what I drink and what's my overall opinion.

All of today's teas come from Chawangshop.

First, let's start with an oolong - 2011 Ba Xian
With Dan Cong, my knowledge does not extend far beyond Mi Lan and too-green-for-me-to-like Dan Congs, so I was curious to try the Ba Xian. And I am not disappointed - the pouch with it is almost gone now, unfortunately. It is a really thick tea with good rocky character, not unlike Wuyi teas. It's less fragrant/orchid/lychee than good Mi Lans, but it's perhaps more compact and rounded, a great mixture of rock, fire, peaches and lychee. The fire feeling seems surprising after four years since the making, but there it is.

When oversteeped, it packs a fairly brutal bitterness and astringency - but what is crucial, it is free of these when done right (unlike low-grade Dan Congs that seem to be invariably somewhat harsh). I loved this Ba Xian - it's thick, luxurious and ballsy.

2001 Private order 7542
I'm sipping this again and it brought me to writing this post actually, as I just wanted to share how lovely this tea is. Dry storage done right it is (China + Malaysia storage), at the same time, it's not sour or thin, so it should not offend any non-extremist in the ways of storage. I might not have the best experience with "private orders from affiliated factories", but this is a pleasant exception.

What I find most striking is the great feeling of presence and camphory cooling in mouth, that I haven't felt for a long time - it's indeed very powerful and good. Also, the tea is deeply calming (sort of stoning to be honest) and feels rich and complex, with all sorts of tastes from various woods, longan, camphor, slight aged earthiness, ending in a strong and clear huigan. It is actually a lot like "classical" 7542, except (heresy altert) even nicer in some aspects.

It is very smooth, sweet and warm. A good tea. $200 was a lot years back, but not anymore - it's a really good price.

2015 Chawangpu Hekai
"Hekai", when pronounced in Czech means "they pant" or "they moan". My stomach sure did moan a bit after this one - it's brutal. Old school, bitter, strong, unforgiving - but clean, smoke-free and fairly sweet as well. This is like when you sip a bit of en primeur Bordeaux, astringency curls up your face and when the spasms subside, you say "aye, plenty of potential in this one".

2015 Chawangpu Laoyu
This is a great Bada recipe, made for three consecutive years. It is strong, cheap and very good. When fresh, the Laoyus tend to be slightly smoky, but this goes away after a couple of months and you're rewarded with "proper puerh" - not a mellow thing for a namby-pamby esoterist, but a well-transforming strong clean tea - with all three vintages of Laoyu, I felt that the tea is harder than I usually like perhaps, but I always liked them a lot, without necessarily being able to tell why exactly.

Drinking the 2013 one fairly often, I feel it ages really well (unlike the easygoing branch of Bada teas that ages towards something also pleasant, but not really a classical puerh I'd say), it's really sweet and starts to develop slight earthy taste; yum.

2015 Chawangpu Mengsong
Super-hyper-sweet. Actually, this one is so sweet that it feels almost unnatural. It's undoubtedly an interesting tea (and too young to be judged), but even though I enjoyed the sessions with it, it did not captivate me.

2005/2015 Chawangpu Bulang
You probably know the story of loose-aged teas, being pressed in recent years and sold quite cheap. My experience was that they're mostly hollow and no good - the omnipresent feeling of underwhelming when drinking them made me ignore them despite the low price and sometimes nice aspects of taste.

This one is different - it's not hollow, actually, it's a really nice semi-aged Bulang. It might not blow you through the roof with happiness, but it's really rather good. It's sweet, rich, earthy, with some honey in the taste. At $32/200g, I think you get more than you pay for.

I hope to write again soon, I need to get some more tea though!

středa 1. dubna 2015

Reggae tea: 2004 Dehong brick

Heavy, dark, soothing, and stimulating - things that reggae/dub I like shares with this tea. And this isn't just a high-pitched run-of-the-mill voice singing about Jah. It's more like Prince Far I - deep, raspy and rolling forward so that there's no stopping to it... or Congo Natty if we go for recent records.

When you open a bag of this 2004 brick (available for puny $40 per 500g at Chawangshop), you might think that a wizard has teleported your nose into a subterrean cave where you're enclosed by the aroma of earth and water dripping from the ceiling. In other words, the aroma is pretty damp and earthy. I did not have the best of experience with similarly smelling teas from Teaclassico, which not only smelled like clay, but also tasted like that with the added bonus of the fine-sand feeling in mouth that I imagine you might get when chewing clay - it was not a normal level of astringency to be sure.

Here, things get better after (possibly dual) rinse - we're left with a tea that is a real pleasure to drink now. It's properly aging example of originally a no doubt very strong tea. At this really low price, I'd expect a lot of flaws - wateriness, smokines, too strong dampness, or sourness... but no, these things just don't happen. It is instead healthily earthy/woody and fairly sweet, with swift and strong huigan. If you go too generous on leaves (the compression is quite tight so it's easy to do), you'll be reminded that even 11 years old teas that were aged in appropriately humid environment actually can be bitter. Fortunately, if you get a bit lighter on leaves, the tea just becomes more balanced and sweet, without getting weak. Also, the underlying bitterness would have me believe that there is more aging goodness to this tea.

The strength also manifests in the number of steepings that is way above average - 15-20 steepings are absolutely doable (with ca. 7-8g per ca. 150ml teapot) and tasty.

I don't get as much whole-body comforting feeling from this as when I drink nice teas from 90s, but I think that is something that often comes with more age. This is also not to say that this tea is not comforting - it is, exceedingly so! It's just that some teas can go much further.

In aged tea, one pays something for the original material and something for the storage; this is not only the rent for a storehouse, but also the risk of things going wrong. And things can go wrong very easily - too much dryness, too much wetness, unfortunate choice of material, processing problem, etc. - all these things can run an aging tea straight to hell. A good aging process is worth its weight in gold...uh...processes probably don't have weight... Well, you know what I mean. This tea is really cheap - $40 per 500g is not going to get much goodness in the way of young teas now. And imagine the cost of storage and risks of 11 years... no, I really don't think that teas like this one are likely to be available in near future. And what's better - this tea is not just cheap, really. With some teas, I feel that they're probably good for the price, but despite being really cheap, they're not good enough to be fully enjoyable, and I think you don't want to drink teas that are not pleasing you, right? This tea pleases me 100% - I like it independently on the price; when you take the price into account, I can't feel like this is a tea-treasure-seeker's heaven.