čtvrtek 23. ledna 2020

Menghai Dayi Year of the Rabbit (2011) and Snake (2013)

Menghai Dayi teas may not be all that exciting on average (not bad, just not overly exciting), but there is one part of the factory's offering that I find rather interesting - it's their "Zodiac" series. Not that I'd fall madly in love with all of these teas, but it's merely because of a certain preference for character/taste profile, rather then them being bad. I sampled the series ages ago via Sampletea, but full cakes were not offered at the time, so even though I liked some of the teas very much, I couldn't get more. Therefore, I was extremely pleased that the Kingteamall shop started selling these, and when the opportunity has arisen, I went for several cakes. Would they live to the sweet romantic memories of the samples?

Short version:
Yeah, pretty much.

Longer version:
First the Rabbit cake. I'd say this tea is an essence of rock solid and representative Menghai puerh. It may not have an unusual taste or character, but it does what it does extremely well. It's a very classical character of puerh, with a rich mixture of deep fruit, herbs, and wood. It is long-lasting, has good mouthfeel, and while it can be still quite harsh when oversteeped, it's very pleasant when treated well. I think also age-wise, the tea is in a good spot (and will be there for at least 5 years) - it's gone through the unpleasantries of overt youth, while it's not yet going into the aged phase (with which I understand some people lament the convergence of tastes towards earthy). This is a tea that's never disappointed me and I could drink any day.

Second, the Plissken Snake cake. Unlike the Rabbit, which is very classical, this one is going further from the typical taste. While the base is also robust puerhiness, it adds a lot of leathery/animal tones. I really like St Emilion wines (or rather used to, as I cannot drink red wine health-wise now) for this characteristics, and finding a tea with this type of taste developed so strongly was great. I think it's fairly unique to get so much of this in puerh, an it's very characteristic - when I tasted the cake, I could immediately link it to the sample I tasted some 5 years back. I could call this tea Duke for sure.

Given that both these cakes are around $100, and seeing for how much new teas sell, I think it's a great moment to grab some extra cakes of these teas (which I'd have done if I didn't have enough tea already). They are very good, well-stored, and stable. It has happened with some newer cakes that they were full of fireworks when young, but after a couple of years, they can go bland and/or unbalanced - there is always a risk.

středa 7. srpna 2019

More teas - 2003 Xiaguan Jia Ji, 2005 Menghai Gu Cha, 2007 Haiwan Purple Bud

The nice thing about digging up old boxes with teas is that you find stuff you forgot you had. Today, it's three more, sorted by how good I found them (descending).

Before getting to them - it's quite interesting to see how my teas age in the Czech Republic versus the UK. Not sure why, but the Czech-aged teas seem much happier, developing along what I'd call a "normal" path, whereas the UK is probably a bit to cold or something, but the teas aren't developing as much or as well. Anyway...

1) 2003 Xiaguan Jia Ji
This was quite a famous tuocha when I started drinking tea, it being imported to the Czech Republic by Longfeng as an example of an excellent factory tea. Which it is, basically. The particular one I have is, if I remember well, from Chawangshop which stocked it a bit later. It has aged really very well - the smoke is all gone, and all that's left is a seriously pleasant mix of overripe fruit and a bit of woodiness. It's rich, deep, and tasty. I wish I got more.

2) 2007 Haiwan Purple Bud
This tea fascinated me when I had it years ago by its powerful aroma of manure (a nice, clean one). It's still there, although very much refined - now it's more about a very thick puerhy taste with a bit of manure on top. It's super-rich and deep, dark tea - really yummy. It doesn't have as  much feeling around the taste, but that's allright. It was pretty cheap too. One of the better purple teas as it ages for sure.

3) 2005 Menghai Gu Cha (maybe a little dud)
I was fascinated by this tea when I was getting it (I got around 2 tongs too) - it was super-cheap, and pretty good, tasting of honey, which is something I've always appreciated a lot in tea. There was a bit of bitterness I that hoped would go away. Well, it hasn't. The honey is not as strong. Overall, the tea is not terrible, but not great. I found it interesting that the paper inside the cake says this was produced by Mr. He Shi Hua - didn't notice that previously!

neděle 30. června 2019

Digging up old boxes - Haiwan Pasha, Xiaguans, Chawangshop, and others

Hi again! As I was reading blogs of good old times I really like and that are still partly alive (e.g. MarshalN's, Hster's Teacloset, or MattCha; a pity that Half-Dipper seems to have gone dry) and reading some new ones (it's nice that tea blogs aren't dying out in the end), I thought I might drop a line in the unlikely case someone visits the blog again.

I'm still drinking tea pretty much daily, but it's more drinking the stocks I've got rather than buying new stuff (although there are many seriously good or interesting new teas around too - TwoDog's Heart of the City is pretty unique and really very good; or We Go High is imho a thoroughly excellent tea).

Living away from original home chronically (six years now), I of course took a lot of tea with me to UK - but there are still boxes in Prague (imho better area for aging anyway), and revisiting these is generally a lot of fun. What do I see?

1) Pasha is a region really to my taste. The 2006 Haiwan Pashas are becoming even better than they were. I was surprised to re-taste 2011 Guan Zi Zai Pasha (which I wrote about as being harsh and needing time) - and it is actually pretty good now. It has mellowed, there is the characteristic Pasha mixture of tastes, and it's generally becoming quite a deep tea in its tastes. Nice.

2) Small-leaf teas from Jingmai and Yibang really become quite different to "normal" puerh with aging. I don't particularly enjoy the mid-aged character from these areas - but then again, it's just a matter of preference. If I don't bring my "puerh prior" into the drinking, it's generally quite nice, in some aspects similar to black teas. One exception was Shi Kun Mu Yibang (which I don't have, but still remember) - that aged really well (I think it may not have been the small-leaf varietal though). And I don't want to diss teas from these two areas - they are one of the nicest areas for young tea in my opinion, it's just the aging that I don't enjoy as much.

3) I'm not a big fan of how Mengku teas age. It's been always a distinctly third major region to me in preference, after Bulang and Yiwu (these two in no particular order). The teas that were nice when young-ish turned usually just ok (not that much warming with aging, rather developing more woody and spicy tastes). Teas that were nasty (wink wink, some Mangfei teas) also tend to turn out ok - but not even close to where Bulang or Yiwu teas go in my opinion.

4) Xiaguan Happy tuo is really good. I remember thinking back then it might be a bit similar to Xiaguan Jia Ji. It seems to me I wasn't horribly far off. On some days, I thoroughly enjoy this tea. For the price, it was a steal.

5) Jinggu teas that were meh are meh. The one tea from Jinggu that I thought really good (from Chawangshop, 2011) is very good. Then there was another good Jinggu from 2003 (Bai Long Te Ji), but I had just a bit of that and no full cake.

6) Teas that were mid-age when I got them are turning very nice, but not really yet the "classical aged" character. Getting a cake of the 1997 Menghai Red Mark when it had an aged character already was a really good idea - the tea is superb. Trying a lot of teas that were "aged" already (around 15+ years, usually in at least a bit humid environment), it's clear that there is a quality threshold that the cheaper aged teas simply couldn't pass - the raw material/blending expertise is obviously an important thing. (I know, captain Obvious). Even if I think Prague is not a bad place for aging tea (e.g., it doesn't suck the tea out to miserability), and Oxford is somewhat ok, I really wouldn't expect the teas stored there will age "classically" in the long run. Which may not be an issue for many - just saying that I wouldn't expect to buy lots of cheap young tea and hope it will turn into the beautiful aged earthy puerh which you can now get for $500 per cake.

7) Honza from Chawangshop knows what he's doing with his teas. Laoyu series is fun, and while even the 2014 version is still rough around the edges, they're very nice. 2013 He He is great - should have got a lot more. I don't think any single tea from there I've got in quantity is disappointing. Maybe the Laos Ban Komaen is not turning as warm in character as I have hoped... I also probably mis-stored the Bulang cake from aged maocha (left it on the sun) and it turned out flat and empty - but I think that really is not a fault of the tea itself.
- that said, this is not to single out the shop as the best one or the only good one. Teas from Yunnan Sourcing, White2Tea or TeaUrchin are still giving me much happiness too!! It's just I've got more full cakes/tongs of the private production from Chawangshop than from these.

8) Teas from the Wistaria teahouse were as when I bought them - dark, deep, mysterious, and full of energy. Drinking them is a bit like meeting an alien civilization. I wish I took them out earlier from the paper box in which they arrived though, as I think it imparted a little bit of cardboard taste. But they were not about taste to me anyway, so no big deal.

I may write again if succeed in finding time to order some teas from Kingteamall (Dayi Zodiac series sold online - yess!!). See you in the future!

P.S. By the way, in case you read this and are aware of good Waishan Xiaozhong (Lapsang Souchong) being sold, could you please let me know? I'm missing that a lot.

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