čtvrtek 31. května 2012

2010 Xi Zi Hao Bulang Xian Zhu

Right ho, the last of post-2008 Xi Zi Hao from the last batch of samples. 

I remove a chunk from a "tea circle" (the tea is pressed into a bamboo tube, thus gaining a circular shape). After the not that good experience with stamina of previous recent XZH, I went for a large chunk  - our weight told us that it is 10g. 10g of Bulang tea is like playing russian roulette with five  of six chambers full. 

The leaves are quite nice, but beautiful Xi Zi Hao leaves leave me cold as a frozen penguin.

The aroma of wet leaves is nice - when the leaves are hot, I'd describe it as woody, fleshy with a bit of flowers. When the leaves cool down, they smell more of fruit and flowers.

The liquor has a reasonable color and clarity.

The taste is quite similar to the 2008 Menghai Peacock of Bulang. This tea is a bit less smoky and more flowery. That is good. However, I feel it is sligthly inferior in the fruitiness - where there was a pleasant fresh fruitiness complementing the main taste in the Peacock, the taste of this Bulang is, at least at the beginning, dominated by sour fruitiness. I do not enjoy such a sour taste that much - it was present in the Peacock too, but in lesser amount. I'd have preferred if this tea was sweeter (I did not notice the sweetness noted on the Houde website - however, the description was, in other ways, matching my own experience). 

By the way, blood is dripping on the carpet, I lost the roulette, removing a portion of leaves in the third brew and reintroducing them back in the 7th brew. 

Beyond the taste itself, the tea is surprisingly thick and smooth (more than the Peacock). There is a pleasant bit of bitterness in the tea (so pleasant after the quite bland previous XZH pieces), transformation of which leads to a fine aftertaste (also sourish, but I don't mind that as much in the aftertaste).

Mouthfeel is rather quiet, I'd prefer more activity in a tea of this level.

I enjoyed this probably more than the two previous weak XZH pieces, despite this being cheaper. I feel this tea still has something to base its future aging on. Even though it was not entirely enjoyable, it is, at least, rather strong. 

Still, at almost $60 per 400g, a tea should be much more than fairly ordinary, "potentially not bad" Bulang. I even can not say that this tea is better than the three times cheaper Peacock of Bulang. This XZH Xiang Zhu is slightly better in some aspects (floweriness, thickness, smoothness, lack of smoke), where the Peacock is slightly better in another (less sour, more intense mouthfeel). Going slightly further than where the Peacock is, the 2007 Boyou Manlu Da Shan costs half of the Xiang Zhu and is, in my opinion, better in any aspect I can imagine.

Further reading: Half-Dipper

úterý 29. května 2012

2009 Xi Zi Hao Jin Xuan

After the barely satisfactory Lao Wu Shan, let us have a look at another recent Xi Zi Hao: The Banzhang/Yiwu brick. I myself often wondered how would the combination of Banzhang and Yiwu taste. I made some experiments, mixing Yiwu with Banzhang and got acceptable, but not really shining tea. 

This brick consists of large, long leaves, it is indeed rather gold:

The aroma of wet leaves heads towards Banzhang woodiness. It is more interesting than that, having something of Krishna-styled shop incense aroma. Deep sweetness is also present. The tea looks promising so far.

In the first brew, the taste is quite gentle, largely Yiwu with bits of Banzhang. Light grain tones are pleasant. Activity of the tea is not too powerful at this stage.

The second brew is still light, flowery, a bit of the incense aroma manifests itself in the taste too. Thickness is good. The activity is more notable than in the first brew, but the tea is still not too impressive overall.

To get something of the tea, I push it hard, keeping it in the pot for half a minute to get the third brew (where I usually steep the tea for 15 seconds). Expecting strong taste, I am surprised by nice, but ultimately light and distant fruitiness. The activity gets better, but not what I would not see earlier. Pleasant tannins finish the taste, quite enjoyable. When I give up waiting for hui gan, it comes at last. Long-term aftertaste is good, Banzhang-powered sweetness. 

The fourth brew (40s!) brings a more interesting taste of peaches, but after a short while, it withdraws back to Banzhang woodiness and then to nothing. The activity becomes weaker and it is even weaker in oncoming brews. The tea needs longer and longer steepings which could be expected in autumnal plantation tea, but most certainly not in a tea of this caliber.

I do not feel any significant energy in this tea.

I am afraid, as in the case of Lao Wu Shan by the same producer, that if this tea was priced around $40; $50 at most, it might be considered worthwile. For the asked $145, it feels like a not that good joke I'm afraid. Taste-wise, there are more interesting teas for $25. Feeling-wise, there are similarly interesting teas below $50 (with energy that fits me better), which, on top, taste more interesting and last longer. 

It supports my previous thought that recent XZH tea is 2-3 times more expensive than it should. "For puerh lovers, it is not necessary to add anything more" - haha. It really is like with luxurious boutique leather handbags which women use to demonstrate how rich they (or their husbands) are, more than making good use of the actual quality (which is, as with these XZH teas, undeniably above-average, but hardly worth the price). I can imagine that if one is used to weaker plantation tea and then gets this, he may be convinced into thinking that this is a super uber powerhouse. If one tried some other old tree material, this tea seems rather clearly inferior (except the price, of course :)). I hope that the 2007 XZH samples will perform better.

I wonder where is the problem with these teas. Are the big leaves a problem? Is there an issue with Houston storage? I don't know...

sobota 26. května 2012

2010 Xi Zi Hao Lao Wu Shan

Although I have tried some Xizihao samples in the past, there was no system, they were far away from one another. Therefore I decided to try more of them - and that is why I bought samples from Hou De.

Upon opening the package with this tea, I thought "wow, this smells quite interesting". Then I opened another package and thought "gee, this smells almost the same, how come?" When the third tea smelled the same (and the rest too), I realized it's not the tea but the packaging. I remember people saying that it is difficult to find bags which don't have any smell of their own. 

The good thing is that the  tea itself is probably not damaged by the smell of the package (this Lao Wu Shan is not, at least).

I think the leaves are quite nice, being large, unbroken and furry.

The wet leaves give a good aroma, although hardly spectacular. I'd say it is a sort of very good universal sheng (US) - there is a base of US and promising aroma lingers above it.  Nice meadow honey is present in the "aftersmell". 

Will this Lao Wu Shan challenge and beat my current US-champion, the 2004 Shi Kun Mu? Challenge, probably. Beat? Let's see.

The liquor is nice, with a rather light aroma of mushrooms and flowers.

The taste starts quite light, becoming a bit denser in forthcoming brews. The taste is largely a universal sheng/Jinggu (the intersection of these two is highly nontrivial I think) too, but as in the aroma, some bad things about US are not present and some good things which usually are not in US are present here. The taste starts with a bias towards fruitiness, nice, light one (blueberries?). Then a rather powerful bitterness comes...and when it fades away, there is not hing for a while. Then the feeling of old trees comes, nice and proper...and then not much more  again. I found the lack of longer taste and more notable aftertaste a bit disappointing.

The tea is fairly consistent across brews, the bitterness becomes stronger and stronger, sadly. I hoped that it would become more interesting, that there would be something which would captivate me. My hopes were in vain. Actually, the tea does not last that long either, it runs out of steam around 7th brew - producing nicely yellow, yet tasteless water up to some 11th brew.

Thickness of the liquor is substandard among gushu teas I've tasted so far.

The wet leaves are nice, in good shape, without much processing faults (burned edges and all that).

Were this my first gushu, I'd be probably blown away by the mouthfeel. As it is not, I am not really impressed. For example, the 2004 Shi Kun Mu Menghai (who retains the title of US-champion) is cheaper and better (and six years older, meaning one knows better where it is heading). Staying in Jinggu, the 2003 Jinggu Bai Long Te Ji, though possibly not from as fancy material, has the advantage of 7 more years of age which gives it an edge over this XZH tea. The less-than-half price sharpens the edge considerably. 

I am not really sure that Jinggu is capable of producing tea worth the asked $95 per cake (unless it is at least 1kg cake). When one connects the current quality of this tea with the statement of MarshalN that Jinggu teas don't age too well (and I have no reason not to believe him, given his knowledge), I see no reason in asking so much money for this cake. 

This tea is most certainly not bad - it is rather good on the absolute scale. But I am afraid I am not willing to pay more than $40 for a "rather good" tea. Especially for a tea which balances between "gentle" and "weak".

By the way, I'd be interested in a comparative tasting to the 2011 version which hangs around in the Czech Republic - if you're from Prague (or willing to pay the post), I'll gladly give/send you a bit of this so you can compare it (and write about it). Of course, if you give me a sample of the 2011 version in exchange, I will be delighted, but it is certainly not necessary.

Further reading: Half Dipper

čtvrtek 24. května 2012

2010 YS Bang Ma

Four boxes of tea are on their way as I am running out of samples. Recent excavations of my tea drawers (no snakes in there) have yielded a small bag with a sample of Scott's Bang Ma.

Spring brings us fresh leaves and this tea feels  fresh too:

The dry leaves smell like usual light-fruity Mengku (this sort of tea often reminds me me of Burgundy wine, often with the same unpleasant stomach-feel). Not expecting much, I rinsed the leaves.

The liquor smells only very faintly, after mushrooms. Not that pleasant.

Contrary to other bloggers, I found the taste to be actually rather bitter (maybe i used more leaves), not as harmonic and rich as the aroma. The fruitiness starts a bit thin, but from the 3rd brew, it gets more and more like blackberries - I enjoy these brews very much! A bit of grain complements the fruit nicely. I enjoyed that this tea was, unlike some fruity Mengku, rather full (not as much as Yi Wu, but still good). The aftertaste is  quite rough, heavy on tannins (I like Matt's "chalky"). I found occasional rare hints of tobacco. Hints of honey appear in later brews. However, the peak of this tea is not that long, it gave me two or three wonderful brews, five or so nice brews and the rest was only "allright".

The mouthfeel after swallowing the tea is reasonable, pleasantly cooling. Marketa who is probably learning to become a grandmaster of empty cup aroma appreciation notes (and she is right) that the aroma of empty cup is quite intense and good. It is. I like these high bone porcelain cups as they are sort of hybrid between a cup and a wengxiangbei.

The leaves are large and muscular*, largely intact:
* "The british leaf is on the march" jumps to my mind, in a Spode-ish voice.

This tea is not really heavy on noblesse and smoothness, but it at least it is interesting. If the darker tastes stay there and get even deeper and more pronounced, this may be a real treat in future. I am actually tempted to buy more of this tea. Scott asks the paltry sum of $27 for a bing - a very nice price in my opinion.

There is one thing about Scott's cakes. At least in the short term (we have to wait for the long term), they get better. There are several of his pieces which I found not that lovely when too fresh - this tea felt distinctly hollower, for example; more stomach upsetting. Now, after a year, most of these problems are gone and Scott's teas have brought me many pleasant tea sessions. 

Further reading:

úterý 22. května 2012

1992 Xiaguan Raw(?) tuocha

I find this tea quite puzzling. It is difficult to tell what it actually is. I'll just tell how I got it, why and how the tasting went. I'll be glad for your opinions on this tea. 

Some people around spoke highly about '84 and '92 Xiaguan tuochas. These are not available from any vendor I usually buy from, but I found that the Canton tea company has exactly these two vintages. They did not have any samples of the '84, but they had the '92 and so I bought it.

Dry leaves first:

The first surprise - the leaves smell like teen shupu! Being afraid I've been ripped off, I cautiously steeped the tea...

The taste of the first two brews was quite shu too. I brewed Scott's Bu Lang Hui Run along (one of the best shu puerhs I've met by the way - I really like the way how Scott makes his shu - be it the cha tou or this bulang cake) to compare - similar indeed. The color of the liquor was a bit too light for shu, but then again, I don't know shu all that well.

From the second brew on, the caramel/cocoa shu taste stayed only at the beginning of the taste and gradually got shorter and shorter - being replaced by mid-aged taste of sour-ish overripe fruit and meadow flowers. The aftertaste of 2nd and 3rd brew was nice, aiming towards berries and plums. A bit of remaining sheng bitterness further suggests that this tea is not really a shu. At this stage, I seriously considered that this could be a blend of shu and sheng as the two parts of the taste (shu start and sheng end) were not really in harmony and together.

The activity of this tea on the tongue was fine in the 2nd and 3rd brew - not too strong, but long, at last.

Between the 3rd and 4th brew, the tea came to a break - the wet leaves ceased to smell shu/aged - only like a generic but allright mid-aged sheng.

The taste...not good since 4th brew on. It is not bad, not at all - it is ok. But it lasts only about a second and half. Then, a complete emptiness appears and steals all the taste. This is maybe a tea to help with "become full of emptiness" meditation. Other than that, it has no merits I am afraid. The mouthfeel is insignificant, I don't feel any deeper energy either. Like the tea was stale and bored of life.

The tea's wish to die soon is supported by its lack of stamina (honestly, I pushed it towards the terminal 7th brew only to see how far it goes, I can not speak of much enjoyment).

What is puzzling me is, that this tea is not a shu puerh - it starts as one, but it is not. But it can not be only a wet aging sheng (if so, it is very strangely aging) as it feels distinctly dry-stored green after the shu taste goes away. I think that this kind of dry storage is what most dry storage haters fight and I can see why. I've had only several very dry stored teas and they all had these sour overripe fruit tones and strange kind of bitterness as this one, bringing discomfort to body.

I was looking forward to the inspection of the leaves, expecting there would be some leaves black and some leaves green (supporting my shu/dry stored sheng mix hypothesis). Let's have a look and speak after that:

How the leaves looked after being taken out of the pot:

 There are obviously two kinds of leaves - one is rather green, the other is rather dark brown (the brown being probably more common in the mix):

The first (left) one after being rubbed:

The right one after being rubbed:

Not only there are different grades of leaves, but the quality of the leaves is quite different. It is like a part was dry stored sheng and the other part was wet stored or even shu (I think that the taste was really more like shu rather than wet sheng so I'd probably say that it is rather a lightly fermented shu, not being entirely black).

And one more thing:

I found these small black-ish things among the tea leaves. I can not say for sure, but I think it might be a shu powder - it would explain the shu taste which pretty much wore away from the taste since  the 3rd brew on, as well as why I havent found any typical shu leaves.

So, my uneducated guess would be a mixture of green, dry stored leaves, some wet stored or lightly fermented shu leaves and a bit of shu powder to give it more aged feeling.

It was an interesting experiment to drink this strange hybrid, but I can not say I'd find it  too enjoyable. Certainly not for the $1 per gram. I can not see how anyone could think highly of this tea - it's either a fake, or the person who sold it to local people is a 80th level hypnotizer. 

This tea could be probably saved from complete misery if moved to a wetter storage, but I doubt it would become much good anyway...

neděle 20. května 2012

2008 Xiaguan "Xizi" Tuo (Happy Tuo)

Even though many a word has been written about this little tuocha, I have been introduced to it a recently, a year ago, not knowing anything about its fame. A friend who likes Xiaguan (I do not in general) has given me mostly samples of XY brand (most of them were fine, but not much to my taste) and then there was the FT Happy tuo. It stood out between the dark-tobacco smoky stuff as different and pleasant. I was struck by its similarity to Xiaguan 2003 Jia Ji - I felt the Happy tuo to be closer to the 2003 Jia Ji than pre/post 2003 Jia Ji. Strange, I agree. It is also bears a degree of similarity to the mysterious (and extremely concentrated) 2008 Mengku of Chanteas.

Trying the Happy tuo recently, I felt it is going in the right direction and bought a bunch of them.  Although I respect the 2003 Jia Ji and therefore this tuo too, it is not really the kind of tea I'd have to drink on weekly basis. 

As I have tasted the 2009 Gold Ribbon few days ago, I thought I'd try another Xiaguan for a comparison. Photos first (colors are not perfect, it is actually more pinkish):

The medium amount of compression suggests that this is indeed not a common Xiaguan production.The leaves are still slightly smoky, but less than the year ago - that is why I decided to buy more of these tuos actually. The aroma is nice, gently smoky and longan-like (similar to what is commonly described as "candy", I think).

The aroma of wet leaves says "gee, I am really similar to the 2003 Jia Ji".

The taste is somewhat less similar, but the longan is still there. The taste is quite fine, rich, mellow, woody, balanced, with just a bit of smokiness (not the hard Xiaguan tobacco, rather like a gently smoked wood or a smoked cheese) and sweet tobacco. This is one of few smoky tastes that I do enjoy. Hints of overripe fruit appear, I hope (and believe) that they will become more pronounced in time. Sweetness is good, the aftertaste is nothing to write home about, but it is not disturbing at least. Overall, the features of taste point somewhere to Lincang, Mengku?

The mouthfeel of the first brew was rather weak and I was afraid that this would be another "tastes good, feels bland" factory tea, but further brews have proven me wrong - the mouthfeel actually develops very nicely and is surprisingly strong. The tea had a good degree of energy to it.

Many teas last longer - longevity is not a shining merit of this tea. It is not bad, to be sure, it is just lasts a bit shorter than the "premimum" production I've been drinking lately. 

Overall, I think that as long as your expectations stay on the ground, this tuo will indeed make you happy. It currently costs $5.50 at YS (the same as Gold Ribbon when it was in stock - the Happy tuo is much more to my taste though). A good, pleasant drink with a hopefully good future.

Further reading:

pátek 18. května 2012

Some thoughts on modern tea and its aging

Although I do enjoy occasional 14 hours long coding streaks from time to time, I have to admit that I am not a person who would enjoy studying  for exams 14 hours a day for too long. I have to switch between studying and doing other things - playing the pipes, trying to paint bamboo and writing about tea (and drinking it, of course). I hope you won't mind my occasional babblings about tea in general - it is one of few ways how I can relax a bit. Today, I'll redirect the stream of my thoughts to a blog post - I'd love to hear more people's opinions on the discussed matters.

Thinking about famous aged teas one reads about, I realized how little I know about their origins. Occasionally, I read that an acquaintance of an acquaintance has said that they were quite nasty, yet they are good now. Now, we have pure old and/or wild trees everywhere. Did these famous older teas come from such material? I somehow doubt it, given the large quantities being produced. Even though they were of no great material from today's perspective, they are strong and energetic now. These days, we get a lot of tasty "premium" young tea. How is this tea going to age though? Some vendors have answer right away - their teas will age into something wonderful. I'll leave them to their fairytales and say - how can we know? Are the premium teas of today supposed to get to the "aged" stage at all? 

It has been a great education to drink some aged tea, but their common factor was that the "original character" got somewhat lost (or I believe), at least from the perspective of taste. What is so good about the premium teas of today? Large part of their quality lies, in my opinion, in their enjoyable taste, which is admittedly backed by good mouthfeel and energy.

For me, the appreciation of young tea, "mid-age" (about 10 years) and aged teas are quite a different thing and I look for different features in such teas. Many premium teas are really nice when young, compared to the mainstream cakes. The best mid-age teas I've had came probably from a sort of premium material of that time (around 2001-2), yet they generally shone in taste mostly - their energy was not really that different from the energy of more normal mid-aged tea (I say "not that" - it was slightly better). I.e., I think that the energy/mouthfeel advantage of premium tea (which is obvious in young age) tends to become smaller in mid-age.

What is the situation like with truly aged tea? They have a great energy as they are. Will the premium aged teas have greater energy? When I tasted the aged teas from Essence of tea, there were differences in taste, however, was it because the tea was "premium" (from today's point of view) when young? I think that such a claim would be very daring to say the least. And, although the difference in taste was noticeable, it was not really principal. Will the advantages of young premium teas last even when the tea becomes aged? I do not know and I would love to hear relevant opinions!

I definitely do not dismiss premium teas, I just wonder if the attitude "this tea is premium due to x,y,z premium features, store it for 20 years, it will become a marvel" won't lead to disappointment of buyers. I, similarly definitely, do not want to sound as I think it is not important what material are we going to age - it is crucial, obviously - some "strength" is necessary and nasty young tea will probably became acceptable aged tea at most. I am simply not as sure as some people, that positive features of young tea will become positive features of aged tea. What do you think?
To draw a (possibly not too clever) parallel, let me sketch four different schematic people:
a) A handsome boy from rich family - had everything he wanted, did rather well in school, had many girls in his teenage years, everyone liked him as he was "fun to be with" (i.e., paying for others). In his 30s, he had a successful bussiness, fuelled by money of his parents. Then, a financial crisis came and he came bankrupt... as he had no money, everyone has left him, he could not do anything too well as he was used to being liked and not used to do that much actually. Died of drug overdose.
b) An ugly, physically not too able intelligent  kid. Was laughed at by other kids in school, girls did not like him much as he was "the nerd" and "no fun" (did not enjoy throwing up on friends on alco-parties). However, he did well in school and when he got older, he worked himself up to a respected position, found a good and caring wife and lived a happy, inspired life.
c) An ordinary person - did "allright" in school, came from family of shopkeepers. After leaving high school, he took over the family shop. He eventually married a wife, had four kids and lived an unremarkable, but rather happy life.
d) A child of alcoholic musician father and a woman selling flowers. Was aggressive since childhood, which gave him a certain position between schoolmates, but when intelligence was needed (e.g., in high school), he failed wherever he set foot. Instead of school, he went to pubs with a company of like-minded fellows. He spent his life as an occasional cheap work-force, spending his money on booze and smoking. Married a worn-out prostitute so that he did not have to pay her anymore. She eventually caught HIV and infected her husband. They both died angry, cursing the world.

Many more people could be sketched, however, I hope that my point is clear at this stage... However, as it could be easily misunderstood, I would like to stress out the difference between "will happen" and "may happen".

The second matter of aging, not really related to the first matter is - how is it with the puerh's redness? The high inquisitor, revered Hobbesius has stated his opinion when burning reddened heretics on numerous occasions. I met some reddish tea which was fine, on the other hand, some (Guanzizai mostly) which had a nasty tint in taste - I found that that nastiness was shared by most nasty reddish teas I met. 

Of course, some producers may oxidize their leaves on purpose, "making it more appealing" (to masochists?). However, as I have been given to understand, it is mostly simply a processing problem, not necessarily made on purpose. I have read in various sources that such an oxidation may commonly happen when a tea harvesting person stuffs his "tea bag" too much and the leaves at the bottom are pressed too much and start oxidizing. Or when a tea is shaken too much on its journey to the processing place, the leaves may break and start oxidizing too.

This leads me to a question - how "reddened" were the famous teas of earlier times? The  production was probably massive and I am not sure if much care was paid to the leaves not starting to oxidate early. When we drink the nice aged teas, are they not what we now call "reddened" tea?

What do you think, dear readers?

úterý 15. května 2012

2009 Xiaguan Golden ribbon tuocha

A friend has recently asked me on my opinion on Xiaguan's Gold ribbon tuocha. Remembering I had one, but was not too impressed, I said that... I was not really impressed by it. Still, I thought it over and could not remember the taste and feeling. That's why I came back to it...

Only a small chunk and the ribbon itself are left - I must have given a part of the tuocha to someone, I can not imagine myself drinking so much of young Xiaguan product. The degree of compression is, as you might expect, high. If I ever start a hard rock band (I doubt it), it will be called "the Xiaguan press" - rock hard playing hard rock. 

Approaching the tea with zero expectations, I was actually rather pleasantly surprised by the aroma of wet leaves - not nasty, a lot of wood smoke and dark grassiness, some fruitish sourness; although it probably does not sound too pleasant, I found it all right at the time of tasting.

The taste is not bad either. The smokiness is not too noticeable, the tea  is quite grassy (very light color too), woody, with a bit juniper and citrus fruit (grapefruit); hints of wood smoke remain in the aftertaste. Some sugarcane sweetness is present. It is overall rather similar to some Bada teas I've tasted recently. It brings back the memories of early Lincang teas I've had (this tuocha is mostly of Lincang material) - when I started with puerh, I sampled teas from Lincang that were smoky, hard and generally not-too pleasant. For some time, I held the opinion that Lincang is not for me. In time, however, I found that very gentle and enjoyable tea is to be found in Lincang too.

Although the mouth-tingling feeling was not too noticeable in several first brews, it developed nicely after a while and surprised me pleasantly.

Although this tea was a pleasant surprise, it was mostly due to my extremely low expectations. I do not think this is a bad tea and it may age into something quite enjoyable... however, at the same price level, you may have, e.g., some of Scott's blends, some of which are roughly similar to this tuocha, except being better in pretty much everything... 

I am still not impressed by the tuocha, but in my memory, I relabel it to "fine". It  would do as an everyday drink, if I drank such a young puerh every day...

neděle 13. května 2012

How I bought aged tea from Essence of tea

Few months ago, I made two similarly priced orders. The difference is that one contained about 5kg of tea, while the other one only 100g. Yes, you have guessed it, the smaller one came from Essence of tea. After drinking a lot of young puerh and a lottish of older puerh (8-10 years), while trying only very few aged pieces, I thought that the time has come. 

I wrote about most of the teas I tried here (not writing only about Menghai 93 7542, of which I still keep a second dose as I'll try 7542 from 96 soon and I want to try them soon after each other), but it gave me much more than sum of these teas and that is why I write the whole experience here.

Before I placed the order, based only on few previously tasted samples, I felt that dry stored sheng, wet stored sheng and shu are quite similar in taste. After trying two or three samples from EoT, I still could not feel the difference too clearly. However, after the circa 15 tastings of aged tea, I feel that the difference is large and I do not understand how I could not feel the difference it earlier. 

Although I feel I have learned a lot this way, it's just a beginning (however, aged tea is not only rather expensive, but also simply difficult to obtain, so the journey will be long). As our great professor of computability theory often mentions, things are different depending on the desired granularity of your view. If one tries 10-20 young puerhs, it may give him some insight into young puerh (e.g., so that he tells apart sheng from shu and wulongs). However, he still won't be able to tell where a tea does come from. If he drinks 10-20 puerhs from Yiwu, there is a good chance that he will be, in future, able to tell if a tea does come from Yiwu or not. If we choose even finer granularity, it won't be too helpful if one wants to tell apart different villages from each other. 
Thus, although I enjoyed the samples from EoT and I learned a lot, there is an awfully long way to go anyway.

The second implication of the thought on trying teas is that there exists a minimum amount of tea from which one learns something at a given level of granularity. Some people say that instead of buying and tasting a lot of inferior teas, it is better to buy one aged piece and concentrate on it. I am not sure I entirely agree. If I bought only one aged tea or only a few samples, I do not think it would give me much. In retrospective, I feel it was a good idea to buy samples of more teas and amounts sufficient at least for two tastings (except the 3+ pounds per gram pieces where I bought only for one tasting).

Not only that the tastings of aged tea gave me at least a bit of insight into aged puerh, it actually gave me some insight into mid-aged and younger puerh. Now I can better say how a mid-aged tea ages and where it may go in future, I better feel hints of aged tones in mid-aged tea (to make things clear, I use mid-aged here as +- 10 years of age).

So, was everything oojah-cum-spiff with the order from EoT? Yes, pretty much so! One could say that the teas are expensive, but 
a) they could be much more expensive if Nada chose to pursue the "I am so big boss boutique" attitude. Some people in his place would probably use that they are one of very few vendors selling aged tea, saying that every of their pieces is a total rarity, undistinguishable from the red/blue mark; everything has got a great storage; recommended by 9/10 of 120 years old tea masters; is extremely rich, blahblahblahblah,.... I really admire that Nada keeps his website decent, informative and modest.  
b) It gave me a lot of knowledge and feelings so I always felt content. And, as Matt Molloy and Sean Keane would probably agree, contentment is wealth.

So, big thanks to Essence of tea, I'm looking forward to my next order!

pátek 11. května 2012

1989 '88 Qing Bing

As the AAMAS conference was "wonderfully" scheduled right into our exam time, I have to study for exams already, which, together with preparing new topics for my students, means less time for tea. However, I wanted to try this tea for some time and wanted to try it before the exams (if I die when attempting to pass the Applications of neural networks, I will at least die as a happy man).

When I bought some gold medalist Mi Lan Dan Cong from Teahabitat three or four years ago, I thought that tea does not get more expensive than that. Actually, it does. Alas, I can not use my favourite self-justifying parallel to the cost of wine, as with the Qing Bing, we are on the level of a rather good wine (at least for me). 

As I had a free afternoon, I decided to go for water from tea stove:

Some  images of dry leaves:

The leaves feel dry, having aged and plummy aroma.

Wet leaves smell beautifully. Their aroma is rich, thick and sweet ("challengingly sweet" I think, although I am afraid it does not make much sense), but very clean and fresh (among aged teas). It is so pure and clean that I feel that smelling the wet leaves cleanses my head. 

Although taste may not be the most important aspect of aged tea, I found this tea to have an excellent taste actually. It is, similarly to the color of the liquor, exceptionally clean and non-powdery (I do not like powdery feeling in tea too much). Although there is the distinct "aged" taste with wood (a sweet one, like a wood dipped in caramel), there is more - plums, vanilla, some sort of dark fruitiness and when the tea left my mouth, I felt something similar to nice whisky taste. There is a bit of bitter bite to the end of the taste, but nothing unpleasant. Actually, it transforms quite nicely into what I would describe as fresh plums - one is used to older plums/treacle in tea, but I have never met the taste of fresh plums... A most pleasant encounter I have to say! It contributes to overall rather fresh and nice feeling of the tea.

When I swallow the tea, it feels like hundred small spiders run around my mouth, weaving a silky web which stays and fixates the oral cavity for quite some time. The aftertaste (with a bit of fresh plums) stays for a long time.

The tea has beatiful, clean energy. First, it calmed me and then made my chest and head vibrate. It was an excellent opportunity to think and to have a walk through the world as a part of it (it's like when one stands in the wind and then becomes part of the wind - flying with it to unexplored places). I really do not care much if the tea is narcotic or there really is world's energy flowing through everything and I can spot it when drinking some teas, but the feeling is so refreshing and pleasant that I want to experience it again, be it a reality or "behind-reality".

I think it is quite obvious by now that I enjoyed this tea a lot. I did - the tea is clean, rich, feels great in mouth and has a very nice energy. The experience with this tea has cleaned my body and mind and I feel rested as after long sleep. Purrrfect. I liked it even more than the 1980s 8653 Xiaguan (dry stored).

Even the wet leaves are nice (compared to other aged teas I've had), they don't break when rubbed:

Further reading: Cloud
                             Half Dipper

středa 9. května 2012

2007 CNNP Hunan Shouzhu Fuzhuan

Honza of Chawangshop kindly gave me a sample of this tea, but I have been neglecting it for a long time, thinking that anything starting with "2007 CNNP" may not be of any good. Yesterday though, I felt like having a bit of something normal, I saw a sample of this tea and thought I would try it then. Upon opening the package...

It is not nanolemons on the tea, it is really moldy. What is it? A bug? A murderous attempt on my person? An experiment of mad scientist? I pondered these possibilities, but then I remembered reading that some heicha is produced with "golden flowers" fungus (Aspergillius Cristatus). Thinking this might be it, I looked it up on Chawangshop website - in the section of Hunan Heicha. Upon reading more about Hunan heicha, especially Fu bricks, I learned that the golden flowers are not only a feature, but a desirable one too. Some links to sources about Hunan heicha are at the bottom of this page.

Even though it is a "dark tea", I would discourage shu haters from stopping reading here - it is not like shu at all (and much more to my taste). 

Reading that it is a dark tea, similar to dark puerh and seeing the mold, I expected that the tea would be seriously awful. All the more pleasant surprise was the aroma of wet leaves - not wet at all! It was like dried apricots with cinnamon. 

Thinking I was hallucinating, I collected sufficient internal power and tasted the tea... and enjoyed it! The strong tones of dried apricots and cinnamon are still present, complemented by grain (barley), walnuts maybe a bit of dried apples. It is very good. Different from puerh , maybe a bit closer to wulongs in character, but not too close either - a new experience. 

The liquor is rich, thick and feels surprisingly nice in the mouth, being vibrant - it is not as intense as in old tree puerh, on the other hand, it is notably more active than most wulongs. The aftertaste is pleasant. The tea is not as complicated as more complex puerh, but even if being on the simpler side of tea, it is full and good. Its stamina is also good.

I enjoyed the tea in yesterday warm weather, but I feel it would be truly a perfect tea for winter.

The wet leaves are large-ish and not too broken (especially given the low price), bits of fungi still present on them. They break when rubbed, as shu leaves or wet-stored sheng leaves. The price $6.90 per 100g is very low. It reminds us that even puerh used to be cheap, but then the big bubble came and puerh is not that cheap these days. I am afraid that as heicha is growing increasingly popular, it may suffer the same fate in the years to come.

Further reading: