sobota 29. prosince 2012

2004 Yong Pin Hao Yi Wu Zheng Shan

Just a notice, YPH YWZS=Yong Pin Hao Yi Wu Zhen Shan;
Yong Pin Hao... I used to be keen on that brand. On the other hand, I was also keen on fantasy literature in general (after reading the good pieces). Sadly, in the age of 13-15, I learned that most fantasy books run according to the boring scheme "group of adventurers meets in a pub/are put together by unknowing force speaking in deep voice/... Then they go kill a dragon, an evil necromancer or some other poor fellow. They have sex with females on the way (mostly human) - if voluntary, it's normal fantasy, sometimes they rape and kill the female (or the other way around) (dark fantasy)". In other words, I found that starting with the best of the genre does not mean that the genre is good. I started with 2003 and 2001 YPH YWZSs which were among the finest teas I met back then; especially the 2001. Then I had about 5-10 2005-2009 YPH YWZSs which were all nice teas, distinctive to an extent, but not really interesting enough. I'd say "good for everyday drinking", but given how much samples I have to drink through, I do not do things like "everyday drink" very often.

I came to the conclusion that more recent YPH is not for me (though it's not like Mengyang Guoyan or 6FTM where I'm almost reluctant to pay even for small samples), but older ones may be very good (the 2003 tuo is not nearly as interesting as the YWZSs, I'm afraid, but not bad either). The question was - how good are 2004 YPHs going to be? 2004 Xiang Ming was not really an impressive tea in my opinion. And this 2004 YWZS is also closer to the more recent group of YPHs, I'm afraid. It's better, but not an excellent tea. Let's have a look at it:

When you take a chunk of this tea in your hand, two things become obvious - this tea is made of big leaves and it is lightly pressed. The good YPHs I had had a lot denser pressing.

The wet leaves do smell nice, of juicy forest fruit, maybe a bit livelier than most of the "dark forest fruit Yiwu". At the same time, there is a notable component of herbs (healing herbs I'd say). Also, there is a little of animality, leatheriness and very light earthy-aged tones.

The liquor is light, is it not? However, the tea does not taste like a new one to be sure. Maybe the light compression lends the ability to somehow age even in drier places.

The tea tastes good, but with a but. It starts with the fruity component (with a bit of sweet-sourness which, if it becomes sourness, could be bad). Then it takes an interesting turn into the herb component (with a bit of animality). This second wave of taste lasts very long and hui gan goes very strong along it. 

The but... the tea feels a bit "eroded/hollow" if you know what I mean. It is thick, it is sweet, but some vital "soul" is missing. I think that it is a semi-common feature of this lightly pressed cakes. This bug hampers the first part of the taste and so one enters the second wave (which is good) in a bit "hrmpf" mood.

The liquor does well outside taste; as I said, the hui gan is good and there is a good activity (on the palate and tip of tongue).

Overall, I think that this YPH is a nice tea. It is somewhat better than the newer YPHs, but I do not think it would be as good as the earlier stuff. 

And two random things I noticed when drinking the tea:

Does it seem to you as it does to me, that there is a spook at the front of the middle thing?

And then I thought, when looking into my cup:
If a hair fell
into my cup
pearl necklace

pondělí 24. prosince 2012

1998 Menghai Dayi Tuocha (MarshalN)

Have you seen Star Wars Holiday special? Well, unless you are perfectly fine with tearing yourselves apart with cat'o'nine tails and putting salt into the wounds, don't. I did not believe the critics that it could be THAT bad. It could. It is.

I needed to have some pick-me-up afterwards and thought I'd have the 98 Menghai Tuocha that MarshalN sent me. You may rembember me writing about the unpleasantly dry 98 A grade tuocha, well, this should be similar, to an extent (it is)

This tuo is, as the A grade 98 thing, quite young, although the aging process is certainly in progress. I did not perceive any dry storage unpleasantry in this MarshalN's version, however, it is still quite green. I must admit I'd have guessed it to be early 00s, rather than 98. I believe that the heavier pressing led to the relatively young feeling of this.

The wet leaves emit a pleasant aroma of aged camphor and ripe fruit. A very little amount of woody smoke can be found, but it's really subtle and does not appear in taste.

I thought the taste rather unimpressive when I had this for the first time, but came to appreciate it more as I had it more times. It is not as sweet as the aroma; it is woodier, but well in harmony: wood, camphor and some fruit. No aged nuttiness or earthiness. The tea seems (tastes) to be actually before entering the young-aged phase of its life.

The taste does not last  as long as it could, the tea is probably not thick enough for that. The aftertaste is a bit muffled by bitterness (if the tea is pushed a bit; if not, there is no real bitterness, but no significant aftertaste either). Also, the performance after swallowing seems muffled, I did not feel any larger activity or energy. But, rather similarly to the recently written about Xiaguan from 98, these aspects seem to be asleep, rather than absent.

Paradoxically, even though this tea is not exactly young, it still feels to me a lot about its taste (which is very nice, even though not really top-class-style). It is also good for my stomach - not many greener teas can say that.

I definitely enjoyed it more than the 98 A grade tuo from Finepuer/Sampletea which had some seriously negative aspects to my tastes. The MarshalN's tuo does not, I believe, despite being maybe a bit ordinary. But it takes the tastes in the 98 tuo, omits/dampens the unpleasant ones and develops the nicer ones. It seems to be at about the level of the recent 98 Xiaguan loose leaf - winning slightly in taste, losing slightly in areas outside taste.

The leaves are mostly smaller grade and fragmented. They are quite similar (in the way of color&size histogram) to the 98 A grade tuo:

Many thanks to MarshalN for this enjoyable tea! It was certainly a good experience to (not only) try it along the dry 98 A tuo.

pátek 21. prosince 2012

1998 Xiaguan Loose Leaf

This tea has rather recently appeared at Jingteashop's site, and was brought to the Czech republic by Longfeng. It is highly commendable that if one wants to buy the tea in small quantity, then the Longfeng price is almost as good as at Jingteashop (but you do not have to pay the shipping; you probably would not have to pay VAT for such a small parcel) - obviously, the profit will be made on buying larger amount of the tea - that's how reselling should be done, in my opinion. I may not like the exclusive pact between Longfeng and Jingteashop, but it works well in this particular case.

So, where do we start? We start with a rather cheap 98 tea ($0.3-0.5 per gram, depending on how much you buy), purportedly from Xiaguan (it's their style indeed). Some people have told me how incredibly good this tea is. Some told me that it's nice. I'm with the second group. I think that if you accept that this is basically a young tea (which Jingteashop says too), then it is enjoyable - just don't expect an aged tea.

The leaves are brown and quite lovely (with occasional pretty rusty-looking pieces). Although this tea is aging slowly, it does age after all.

The aroma of dry leaves is pleasant, like lightly aged camhor with a touch of smoke.

The aroma of rinsed leaves, cups and pitcher is sweet, spicy and very lovely. It is also quite intense, filling the whole room (even more than the Mankouxiang I have).

The liquor is very light for a 98 tea. My rule of thumb for puerh from 90s is - if you stick a thumb in a deep cup and can easily see the fingertip, the liquor is light and it points to dry storage.

The taste is actually nice too, although it does not feel that interesting to me as the aroma does. The smoke is only very light in the taste and it is pleasant, rather than not. It is a good, natural smoke, at moments resembling Lapsang Souchong-style of smoke (when I did it gongfu-style; the smoke is more ordinary in a tester). Light candy fruitiness is also present, along with some camphor (these three tastes are both present in some Xiaguans, namely 8563 or Happy Tuo). When I pushed the tea a bit, there was some of that "red fruitiness" which I'm generally afraid of because dry storage makes it taste very sour. However, in this tea, it is ok, it lends a nice, although gentle taste. When the tea is pushed a bit, the sharp sourness (as if you chew sorrel) can appear, but it is not a tea-ruiner as in some drier stored teas. 

Overall, it seems to me that the tea is a lighter one - it has several light taste components which work allright together, but there is nothing dominant, no obvious direction where the tea goes, maybe except "Xiaguan-style" indeed. When the tea is pushed, it is more definable, but then it suffers from the sourness.

Also, the taste does not last as long as I'd expect in a 98 tea (or, better said, it lasts long, but the amount of taste drops quite low quite quickly and then stays there for a longer time), not quite as thick as I would desire, but enjoyable anyway. At least there is a hint of pleasant long-term aftertaste which could work very well when the tea becomes more aged.

The tea offers a pleasant tingling which tends to last long. This tea seems to be at the right side of the blade of "this is too dry storage", i.e., it is dry, but not as dry as to ruin the tea. It is light, it is undeveloped, but it is still active.

Qi is, I'm afraid, in a slumber. The tea is not energy-less, but the energy is not released in me when I drink it. 

I enjoyed this tea, although not nearly as much as some other people. It may have a good potential for further storage (if, and that is a critical if, you have a place with reasonable humidity); for immediate drinking, I'd take something else. It is funny to remember how, some years ago, I first read The leaf (the article mentioned in the previous post) where Mr. Fisher (Wu De) says he'd take mildly wet stored over a dry stored one. I thought "why, my god?" Now, after I became a tea drinker (instead of part-time drinker, part-time listener-to-vendors), I wholeheartedly agree (unless we're speaking of 30-40 years old teas).
However, when this tea is compared to dry stored teas from finepuer, e.g., 95 or 2001 7542s, it suits me better than these (and they are quite expensive at Finepuer too). This 98 Xiaguan seems quite comparable (a bit better, I'd say) to these 2003 Xiaguan "Marks" available at sampletea (they are slightly cheaper).

There is a small controversy, when it comes to the Longfeng announcing that the tea has arrived to their stock:
"...(list of teas that arrived)  1998 Xia Guan Pu-erh... So far, I have tasted only the puerh and despite all the delays and problems - this is an astonishing tea."

Positively attuned teachums thought "Hey, this will be really awesome, got to try that".
I, on the other hand, thought...wait...he's seriously admitting that he first bought the tea and then tasted it and says how great it is? Is that how you go through hundres of teas and source only the best for your customers?

Now, Longfeng generally does have good tea as it buys from Jingteashop and Teamasters which both carry good stuff - so, if Longfeng says that some of their teas is good, it is likely that it is. But to an unknowing person, the order of "first buy, then describe" sounds prone to the "have-to-praise-to-sell" approach. And the 10times more superlatives used than it is reasonable (imho) just supports the hypothesis.

I fail to see an astonishing tea in this Xiaguan 98 (and I'd be surprised to, given its rather low price). Sadly, the more tea I drink, the less astonishing teas I find. More and more often it's "like" or "dislike", but "Wow!" teas are becoming scarce. In that post which was deleted from Longfeng facebook (along with me), I replied to those (including the owner) who complained that Hobbes did not praise the Dragon of Bulang high enough. I pointed out that Hobbes has drank so much tea that if he says that a tea is good, it means it will be probably great for those who did not drink nearly as much, because he has so much more experience.

Btw., a small note to my Czech readers who have enjoyed this tea greatly - consider buying some aged (be prepared for a lot more aged) tea from Essence of tea - the shipping is rather low, the package comes quite fast and it may give you a lot. Except I'm afraid, that after drinking a couple of their teas (it may take a while to get used to), you may not find this 98 Xiaguan as exciting.

Btw2. Now I've read on Longfeng site (in the review of Vse o caji pro cajomily) that:

  • čaje Pu erh nemají mít „zvláštní zemitou chuť a vůni“, ta je znakem špatné kvality a chyby ve zpracování či velmi vlhkého zrání
  • popis chutí archivních Pu erhů na straně 123 jednoznačně odpovída padělku či přinejlepším tzv. wet storage („mech, spadané podzimní listí a les po dešti“ - ???)

  • which translates as:
    a) Puerh tea should not have "special earthy taste and smell", which is a sign of bad quality and processing mistake or very wet storage
    b) The description of taste of aged puerh on page 123 is clearly of a fake or, at best, wet storage ("moss, fallen autumn leaves and forest after rain"-???).

    Excuse me? Qing bing or that dry stored 8653 from EoT are dry stored, yet both sporting the features mentioned aboved. All the teas from 70s and 80s I had did too. Except that 84 Xiaguan tuo, which, however, is not particularly great, nor aged much, in my opinion. 

    I.e. - I did the mistake of believing too much to what some people said, instead of drinking a lot of tea and making my own opinions. If I may suggest a thing, at least think of doing the same.

    středa 19. prosince 2012

    A couple of thoughts on mold

    Today, it won't be about a particular tea. Instead, let me ramble a while on matters of mold in tea.

    Lonfgeng episode
    A couple of weeks ago, I've been somewhat surprised by mr. Prachar of Longfeng, very self-assuredly, stating that potential buyers of some wetter cake with white coating, he was selling, do not have to worry as it is certainly no mold and that it is normal. I agree that it is nothing outside normality, but how come it is no mold? I checked the white coating under a microscope - and surprise, it was not little fairies dancing with white-light lanterns... it was mold. Well, I wrote to him about that and wrote a (entirely inoffensive post) on Longfeng Facebook - and had been banned from the LF FB in under five minutes. In the message, I was also saying we could at least try to respect each other (we had some disagreements in the past) - I did not get an answer up to now. And the original post was not corrected. Well, that was a disappointment.  

    Nevertheless - the point is - why try to cover the fact that a tea is moldy (if it is the white coating; green/yellow mold is bad indeed)? I do not know, nor care whether the Longfeng post about coating not being a mold was a deliberate lie or lack of knowledge. However, why to hide the fact that a tea has mold? In a wet stored tea of around 2000, it is probably not that uncommon. And, as I'll say in a couple of episodes below, almost all puerh has mold in it. And probably no mold in puerh may survive hot water used to brew puerh. A rinsing will certainly help there. One could say that the mold will cause bad taste in tea, but I do not find that really true. E.g. the recently written about 2004 SKM Manzhuan had flecks of mold on stems, that 90s Red Mark (and some others from thechineseteashop) had white bits in it too and there were certainly no taste issues. If a traditionally stored tea which acquires some mold is later let to air out in a drier environment, the white flecks will stay, but musty taste will not.

    Tuochatea episode
    Reading comments below
    I was surprised by Tuochatea's, who's certainly a seasoned puerh drinker, strong-willed comments against moldy tea (again, according to a taiwanese study I'll mention below, probably almost all puerh is moldy to an extent, before being rinsed by hot water). How is any mold poisonous and carcinogenic? What about penicilin, moldy cheese and even puerh? Hong Kong has quite a high average life expectancy with its white-coated tea (though it is questionable how large proportion of people in HK drink that). Or aspergillius crystatum. Or spores of mold which are almost everywhere where it is not completely dry weather and people breathe them.

    Art 1 of tea episode
    There is an article looking at amounts of bacteria and mold in puerh. All puerhs except one had mold content. And after meeting 80°C water, there was no mold anymore. So much for mold danger in tea...

    I took the table, picked up sheng from it and did some quick scatterplots here:
    Please excuse the crudenes and lack of aesthetics (plus the sample is small, but I can not do anything about it). If you really want, I can make a VIP 3D scatterplot with shining colors.

    Seems that there is no  obvious connection between age and mold, while it seems that higher moisture in tea leads to higher amount of mold (not too surprising, I guess).

    Nevertheless, the point is - there is mold in puerh. Deal with it.

    The rest
    I recommend the following article from The Leaf magazine
    - I think that it is a good reading and deals with dry/traditional storage matters, also with mold. I agree that the problem with mold some people may have could have been imparted by dry-storage-promoting vendors who can not store tea "propertly".
    When I started with tea, I enjoyed The Leaf as it was one of very few available resources on tea. Later, when I got more hooked up by tea's taste, it was too spiritual to me and most articles did not appeal to me. Now, as time goes on, I feel that many articles in there start to resonate well with me and more often, I understand certain points in there. 

    Otherwise, this is a good keyword search, containing some valuable articles on aging and partly mold:

    neděle 16. prosince 2012

    2004 Shi Kun Mu Manzhuan

    MarshalN has sent me, several very interesting teas along the lovely set of TGYs and this is one of them. I'm very grateful for all of them: first, the teas would be impossible for me to obtain otherwise. Second, it's a very good opportunity to "taste a fellow blogger" (especially one whose opinions I value so much). People have different preferences - some prefer dry storage, some prefer normal one. Some do not believe in aging of Jinggu, some of Yiwu. And I think that when one reads about a tea on someone else's blog, it's good to have a calibration (e.g., if someone who likes dry sour mummies recommends a tea, I know what not to buy). If I read about a tea which MarshalN has blogged before and drink it alongside, it will (hopefully) give me more insight into the rest of his posts.

    Now, this tea is available from Sunsing and it costs about $130. I believe it's priced fairly.

    Looks yummy, does it not? And smells too - light storage aroma and nuttiness.

    The tea had some issues in a tester so I decided to go for gongfu with stove today.

    The wet leaves smell sweet, lightly aged, somewhat like chocolate with nuts, maybe sweet barley. I could be easily talked into spiciness. In the first couple of steepings, there's a light storage aroma. Overall, the aroma is reasonably complex and "wide", surprisingly aged, given the age, but very clean. At times, some youthful aspects appear too, but are not really that noticeable, I'd say.

    The taste also starts a bit musty in the first 1-2 steepings, but not enough to make it unpleasant. It seems to me that Manzhuan has a tendency to acquire some aged tones earlier than other areas. There is plenty of nutty agedness, along with some sweet barley and chocolate.

    It is nicely sweet and thick. The taste is not as intense as it could, I'd prefer it a bit more intense, but it is very nice and rich nevertheless.

    It's good to keep it in mouth for a while as the tingling gets stronger. When I quickly gulped a cup, it did not bring that much enjoyment from the point of mouthfeel. Hui gan is good and long, feels strong even in throat. There is a long term aftertaste. It is not yet as strong as in more aged tea, but the tea seems to be well on the way to it.

    The long term aftertaste was more pronounced in a tester, but I probably should have rinsed the tea more before putting it there as the mustiness was maybe a little strong for a tea of this quality. 

    The tea posesses light qi which (at least for me) worked very nicely with the whole tea session. This tea was not explosively tasty, nor surprising, but it just felt good. And "right", I might say. A lot of tea has some weird aspects - this one does not. To me, it feels clean and kind. Also, it did well to my stomach. 

    $130 is, in my opinion, a reasonable price for such a pleasant and all-around positive tea.

    Along with the SKM's 2004 Yibang and 2004 Menghai from Chawangshop, I'd put it probably after the Yibang, before the Menghai. 

    On the other hand, I had a bit of the 2004 Yibang after the session (to compare it to the Manzhuan) and thought it was a bit too dry. I asked Honza about it, he told me it comes from the same warehouse, but different altitude in there. It probably had less humidity than the piece I wrote about some time ago - as a result, the Yibang I have now is good, with potential, but needs more time to be as good as the one I had before. I think I'd rather have this Manzhuan for immediate drinking on most occasions.

    pátek 14. prosince 2012

    One-eyed genius and factory worker: 2003 Menghai Dayi Red Ribbon Jia Ji & 2003 Jiang Cheng Brick

    Both teas are available from finepuer/sampletea. Let's start with the less interesting one to have some gradation, shall we?

    2003 Jiang Cheng Brick - the worker
    This tea is, in my opinion, an example of a really common, unsurprising tea. It's like a "chum", someone you meet in a bus, have a nice talk for 15 minutes, then you leave and soon forget that you have met someone on that day.

    The wet leaves smell rather good than bad - although smoke sort of dominates in there, it's an agreeable smoke - like burning fallen leaves (not tea leaves, those smell horribly when burnt). Some pleasant animality is also present; the overall aroma is sweet.

    The taste is quite alike those 2003 Xiaguan Red Mark, Blue Mark, etc. These have a certain sort of smokiness (which is not entirely like modern Xiaguan smoke, although it may be the same sort, mellowed by aging) and something extra on top. Well, some of them do not, rather. This brick falls into the latter category - not offering a whole lot extra on top of that (admittedly rather nice) smoke.

    It performs all right, but is entirely unexciting. There is no tingling, no real qi, nothing. Tester steeping brings out some weird tones and some of that wild-tree bitterness.

    The leaves are bruised, torn and all that.

    Finepuer offers much more exciting teas at the equivalent of $72 per 400g. That's price level when one expects something extra, methinks.

    2003 Menghai Red Ribbon - the crippled genius
    Right, I'm exagerating, the tea is not really a genius, but it is an example of a tea which has many very good qualities, but then a couple of features which kill the experience. To continue with human examples, it's like if you meet this beautiful, intelligent girl, you talk, enjoy yourselves, you feel like soulmates... and then she pulls out a cigarette and lights it. Or she's a lesbian (nothing against them, but for purposes of mating, it's not an ideal).

    At first, I thought the tea would be downright bad, but its qualities appeared after a while.

    The wet leaves smell sweet (not entirely naturaly, it's a touch weird sweetness, a bit similar to that Guan Yun Gong), spicy, with some hemp string and certain sort of red fruitiness which suggests sourness of taste. After a couple of steepings, the aroma shifts to much more agreeable light honey and sweet granary (though not nearly as exciting as other teas possessing these features).

    The taste... 

    Bitterness and astringency are medium, the bitterness is not really that strong, but persistent and unpleasant (Man'E style). I find it difficult to describe the taste, because it changes a lot - some sweet wood, some red berries, some grain, some chemicality... In the tester, it all mingles together in a not really natural, nor really pleasant thing. 

    The main issue is the sourness though. The tea can be either steeped strong-ish, when it has some definable taste - but it is heavily sour then. Or it can be steeped weaker, but then it tastes like sweet water with some weird  aspects. The sourness is of the dry-storage varietal (the leaves do not see too green though), but I do not believe that this sort of sourness can be imparted to a tea only via aging - I think that certain sort of leaves has the potential to get sour if dry stored, but if you store another tea in the same way, it won't get nearly as sour. 

    Using less leaves and longer steeping times helps a bit with the sourness, but all the strange aspects of the tea get mixed up together anyway and it adds together to something not too pleasant.

    So far so bad...

    Let's get to the good stuff now, shan't we? 
    First, there is a rather clear feeling of old trees in mouth, that cooling/tingling (in general, some of these may be simply pesticides, but the difference is quite clear). There is a hint of calming qi, were not the taste as perplexing, it could feel quite strong I believe. This way, I'm too distracted by the taste to get calm.

    Also, the tea does possess very good long-term aftertaste. That lovely fresh plum tones you may be acquainted with from 7542s and that sort - it's here. I highly value that aspect, especially in aged tea. It's like an old and esteemed professor making "fresh" jokes, you see how he is still spiritually young and in perfect shape.

    So - this tea is rather awful taste-wise, but performs well on other important fronts. I wonder if more humid storage could fix the taste (or, at least, bring it to the earthy, inoffensive spectrum), for the tea could become quite excellent after that.

    I believe it costs something like $110 per 400g. There is a couple of very good teas below that and a whole lot of good tea. I'd rather pick these.

    středa 12. prosince 2012

    Back from Oxford, drinking 2004 Xinfu Yi Wu

    I have been silent for so long as I have been preparing for Oxford DPhil interviews and, of course, being there for real. The good news is that both me and my girlfriend are in! 

    What is Hobbesville like then? Short version - beautiful and awesome. It is full of lovely architecture and it feels very much "intelectually alive", despite being a smaller town. Everyone there, including weather, has been really kind to us. 

    And yes, I have met Hobbes too! You could hardly find a more prototypical englishman, in that english good-looking manner one knows from movies. Having a tea at Balliol college, we had a highly inspiring talk and drank some nice english-style hongcha. Hobbes is obviously a person of many capabilities and accents. Not only he is a wielder of a perfect english, he has the best grip of chinese I have ever seen in a non-chinese persion too. He even knew how my name is pronounced. Join that with his countless research successes and happy family life and you'll quickly come to the conclusion that he's one of those people tremendously gifted by fate. I hope that this will remain true for another thousand years.

    This is our college of choice. It is admittedly not as sexy as Balliol above, but it seems that its qualities are also plentiful.

    However, this is not a blog about my life (I hope), but it's about tea. Therefore, let's return to our round-robin. Chawangshop takes the turn now with its 2004 Xinfu.

    When I tasted it for the first time, I quickly thought "this is better than your ordinary 2002-2005 $30 teas from Chawangshop". Looking up the price ($95), I had my suspicions confirmed. This is indeed a higher end product.

    The leaves are reasonably dark. The tea has been rather dry stored, but in boundaries of reason. It is nowhere near green mummies from 90s. I.e., this is a "Kunming aged", rather than "Kunming stored" tea. It has been in a warehouse, maybe it had better aging conditions there than a lot of Kunming stored tea which turns out badly.

    The aroma of wet leaves is medium heavy, Yiwuesque, sweet, with a bit of honey and with fruity wood and apple powidl (powidl is a sort of plum stew, but an analogy can be created from apples too).

    The taste is also somewhere between light and heavy, the liquor is sweet and thick. It is closer to the nutty-honey family of Yiwu than to the dark forest fruit Yiwu, however, it is enriched by further taste components. There are tones of exotic wood and the apple powidl. The latter taste is quite pronounced in the aftertaste, when it very nicely mingles with mouthfeel of old trees.

    However, the taste is a touch lighter than I'd wish. Astringency is low, bitterness is virtually none. The aftertaste is nice, calm, soothing. There is a strong gushu mouthfeel in the first couple of steepings, but it dissipates as steepings proceed, therefore I'm inclined to believe that the tea is a blend of old trees and younger trees. An inspection of spent leaves sort of confirms this observation.

    In means of immediate enjoyment, I do not think I'd want to pay $95 for it (SKM Yibang of 2004 is cheaper and more to my taste). The tea is certainly lovely and without bigger faults, but it is not yet something really extra. However, I think that the reason is the slower aging process, the tea is still in its teenage and I believe that after some years of aging, it may become really very good. It just needs time to acquire more depth and darker aspects. In my opinion, it's a nice example of good dry storage - the tea keeps some aspects from its youth, while developing other features and further complexity. 

    I've heard that some people in the Czech Republic labelled me as an enemy of dry storage... my answer is - this tea is what I consider to be dry stored and I have no mind at all. I do not have the slightest issue with reasonable dry storage. I do, however, have an issue with vendors who store their tea in extremely dry conditions (because they do not have any other option) and make their buyers believe that it is the "proper dry storage".

    Overall, I'd say that this is a good tea and it may be worth the asked price, but it still yet has to unleash its undoubtable potential. For immediate drinking, I'd buy something else.

    pondělí 10. prosince 2012

    2001 Gu Puer 6FTM Bangwei

    At last I'm back  and with another of the 6FTM series. The post is going to be short as I'm still in midst of organizing things and besides that, the tea is not as terribly complex as to lead to a longer post anyway.

    It is quite in line with the rest of the set in means of color, looks and all that - nicely aged 2001 tea. 

    It does taste very nice. It's not unlike the recently tasted Banna Gu Yun, except, of course, more aged. Medicinality, wood and clay dominate the taste and they are accompanied by light taste of honey.

    Bitterness and astringency are still there, slightly annoying, but not nearly as the bitterness/sourness imparted to tea by overly dry storage so things could be worse.

    I'm slightly surprised by lack of nicer mouthfeel and/or qi. The tea does taste rather nice, but is otherwise quite quiet.

    Now, I thought I'd write about this tea long time ago. Then I did not, retasted it, thought I'd write, did not again, etc. Now I had to semi-force myself to write about it. I am not sure why, but the tea is probably too uninteresting to me to enjoy drinking/writing about it more. If I am to write about a tea, it has to be interesting in a way - one possibility of being interesting is when a tea is completely uninteresting (formally, it is a nonsense, of course, but I believe you follow me). However, this Bangwei is not bad, nor completely boring. It rather lies right between boring and interesting... 

    When I had it for the first time, I thought that a lot of people would enjoy this the most from the set of 6 cakes and I still think it is possible. But the tea and me are in a sort of antiharmony and it does not give me as much "internally" as other teas do. The taste is good, but overal performance is not great.

    In the k+3rd post (this being the kth), I'll have a look at the rest of the set. The teas may not be the world's best specimen, but they deserve a couple of lines too...

    pondělí 26. listopadu 2012

    1990s CNNP Guang Yun tribute cake

    After YS and Chawangshop, it's time for Finepuer/Sampletea again (Finepuer this time). I wondered what this Guang Yun is like, given the availability of 60s and 58 GYG at Essence of Tea. As far as I understand, Guang Yun Gong is not really a puerh so one can not expect it to be entirely puerhlike. 

    Which it is not. I remember quite well when I had it for the first time, out on a morning bike ride. It felt very strange, almost disgusting to me, too strange to enjoy. I think that I pinpointed the reason for that - this tea hates to be steeped for too short time. 

    When I steeped this too lightly, I got a peculiar, almost vulgar sweet woodiness, with something very strange which made the tea session not really pleasant. However, I think that this tea has something good about it when steeped for a bit longer than how I steep puerh.

    The leaves do not look really like puerh from 90s either, they are darker and "more red" (please excuse the crappy photo, it gets dark quite soon and I do not yet have a good flash). The liquor also looks a bit different, it's deep burgundy red.

    The wet leaves smelled like the weird aspect of this tea before they fell apart in the pot. I think that similar weirdness can be obtained if you take a chunk of shu puerh and leave it for a year on open air (indoors) - this happened to me once accidentally and the result was quite unpleasant, similarly to the aspect of this tea. The good thing is, that once the pot is full of soaked leaves, the aroma takes a turn towards dried plums, a pleasant, deep aroma which conquers the weirdness. It is not really that much puerh-like, but it feels aged and good. It has something in common with young-aged pu though - as young-aged tibetian bricks or Liuan do.

    The taste reflects the aroma fairly well. Before the chunk fell apart, there was the strange sweet wood again, along with that "aired out shu" aspect. Also, the second half of taste was quite shu-like - along with the aspects I dislike about shu. However, since the 3rd steeping, when the tea went "full power" the taste of dried plums (quite strong and concrete) pretty much dominated the whole taste and made the drinking pleasant. "On the third hand", the full power lasted only a couple of steepings and after that, the tea settled into something inoffensive, decidedly dark and sweet, but without anything particularly lovely.

    The taste holds reasonably well in mouth, the liquor is quite thick. I was not impressed by the aftertaste (there is not much to be impressed about, frankly) - there is also a some bitterness and some astringency (especially when I did the lighter steeping). On the other hand, I liked the good mouthfeel and throatfeel. It was not really cooling, but there certainly was an activity in mouth. Another positive is that it comforts my stomach.

    I believe that this tea is kind of controversial, probably because of it's special processing. I have no problem excusing a certain degree of controversy in cheap 90s heicha, but from as expensive cake as this one, I'd expect more (well, less actually, in the compartment of negatives/strange aspects). Still, I'm glad that after the unpleasant first encounter, me and this tea found a way to each other and I learned to like some of its aspects and drinking it made me happy. On the other hand, there is still a good deal of strangeness which scares me. 

    čtvrtek 22. listopadu 2012

    2012 Mingshan TH Mangzhi Huan Shan

    This is a very interesting tea. When I tasted it for the first time, it felt to me like a blend of Yibang and Xikong - it is not, but Mangzhi is very close to these two so the similarity is quite natural (even though it is closer to Xikong, it feels more similar to Yibangs I had than Xikongs I had). This is a white label cake, pressed for Mingshan teahouse. 

    The issue with small productions/unknown producers is that they are plentiful and of very varied quality. What I appreciate about Chawangshop is that Honza takes the time and filters a huge amount of these. Of course, some are good only for someone (e.g., Mengma 2002 or Menghai Gu Cha 2005 tend to be loved or hated in general), but I'm quite sure that some of their offerings are all-around good. This little cake seems to be an example. It's from a region that is not that well known, but it is near Yibang which is quite famous. Yet it costs only $12.5 per 200g. What is it like then? The short version is - like today's fancy $50-$100 cakes, but much cheaper (tasted it along YS Yibang and Xikong, it's not only cost-conscious noob talk). 

    The long version...

    The leaves smell distinctly like young puerh, but it isn't just that green aroma of young Bulang/Mengsong/Nannuo - this Mangzhi has much better fruity depth to it.

    The wet leaves smell positively great. The aroma is sweet, embracing, quite lovely, a lot like YS Yibang. It's a mixture of fruitiness, floralness, without the annoying greeniness which a lot of 2012 teas posesses. An interesting and unusual component is spice, mostly clove which makes this tea different from any Yibang or Xikong I know.

    When the liquor (ordinarily yellow) enters the mouth, it immediately coats it in super-thick gushu sugariness with light fruitiness (Yibang style). This slowly transforms towards slight "chewing-gum-ness" I know from Xikong. This quickly transforms into fruitiness again - I'd say it's closest to pineapple. In later steepings, the progression is not as dramatic, it sort of blends all these components together.

    The taste diminishes very slowly, it changes into flowery-fruity aftertaste (quite correlated to the aroma of dry leaves), the whole process being accompanied by good cooling of older trees. Fast huigan follows shorly after. An interesting feature is warm sweetness which stays in throat for a while after swallowing.

    There is pretty much no bitterness; some astringency is present, but nothing too bad. It certainly does not get in the way of pleasantness.

    Some of the leaves look like from older trees (no wonder, it's quite obvious from the taste), a part seems more ordinary. However, the overall performance of the tea does not diminish with further steepings, it's not like some "gushu" cakes which feel remotely gushu in the first three steepings and then you get harsh plantation.

    As I said at the beginning, I think that this tea is quite comparable to other fancy cakes of that area, while being much cheaper. I won't say it's a super-bargain in general because I think that being a lot cheaper than today's fancy cakes can mean that it's simply reasonably priced. For what it gives, I'd gladly pay $20 per that 200g. However, comparable teas cost $40-$60 per 200g, being a lot more expensive. Thus - if you like young Yibang/Xikong and are willing to pay the money, have a look at this one.

    pondělí 19. listopadu 2012

    2001 Gu Puer 6FTM Nannuo

    I previously wrote rather favourably of the 2001 Gu Puer Banzhang - another of the 6FTM serie (which is kind of funny as 6FTM is obviously something different for Gu Puer company than for the rest of the world). In the meantime, I tried Yibang (and wished it was better) and Yiwu (which was quite good in my opinion). My overall impression of the set so far is, that it is mid-quality material with excellent storage, resulting in a very nice tea probably worth the price.

    Also, inbetween the Yibang and Yiwu, I tried this Nannuo for the first time. I tend to dislike Nannuo when young and I wondered how it would be after 11 years of aging.

    I wanted to enjoy the almost-last session with stove water - this is how the charcoal looks when being lit up:

    And this is the leaves of the Nannuo (flashed, they are actually darker brown):

    Smelling and drinking this tea is most illuminating - of all the teas from the set I've tried up to now, this has the most of "classical agedness". A pessimist could turn it the other way and say that it has no distinctive features as other areas do.

    Most younger Nannuos I drank were hard, often heavy on tobacco smoke and generally not quite pleasant. Some 2011 and 12 made from fancy material were reasonable though. No tobacco or anything similarly nasty is in this 2001 Gu Puer one.

    When smelling the wet leaves, one gets dark exotic wood and wet forest (not only purely clean - after rain, it's as if there is some transformation of humus (i.e., rotting)). And a most peculiar aroma in a tea of this age (and in puerh in general) - marigold. 

    The taste is mostly composed of tones related to young agedness and it is quite full. There is certain minerality that I'm not sure I enjyo too much, but it's not that notable and it goes away soon. I'd describe the taste as a combination of mixed forest floor and roots (the aroma when you dig up a tree with roots - the aroma is here). It's overall quite deep and sweet, while keeping a good degree of cleanliness.

    What I did not enjoy that much was a rather high astringency - very "smooth", it's like a very fine sandpaper in mouth. It may not sound like a huge deal, but when it is stronger, it feels quite weird. Could it be pesticides? I do not know.

    The leaves seem to be a wild mixture of young and older trees, which is reflected in mouth too - some steepings give a good cooling feeling, some are weaker. The tea does quite well in that aspect overall.

    I like this tea (loved it for the first time, expecting nastiness and getting a good drink) - it feels the most like "standard aged" tea from the set and was there no astringency going in the way of peaceful taste progress, it would be a pure delight to drink. Nevertheless, when one minds the steeping procedure, the astringency can be reduced to a very reasonable degree and the tea is quite pleasant then.

    I think that this Nannuo, as the rest of the set, fits into the "too young to drink now" box to me, this one especially, but it is quite good as it is already.

    pátek 16. listopadu 2012

    2012 Waishan Xiaozhong (Lapsang Souchong)

    There was a big certainity back at home, when I lived with my parents - there was always plenty of black tea (Ceylon, Kenya, Assam,...). When one became thirsty, there was a big teapot filled with black tea and when it was finished, the person who drank the last cup automatically refilled the pot. This way, I became acquainted with a lot of black tea and I liked it a lot. However, there was a single can of something beastly, a weird, smoky substance I really loathed and ran away screaming when my father prepared it for himself - it was Lapsang Souchong. 

    Since then, I came to know real Lapsang Souchong with all its delicacy - it's actually my most favourite red tea by far. There is a huge difference between "real" LS and "commercial grade" (i.e., fake weirdness) - the former is subtly reinforced by good smokiness, while the latter is brutally dominate by a rather nasty smokiness. Obviously, the difference is huge.

    It's not that easy to get a reasonable LS on "common" internet. I know of three sources - Thechineseteashop (whose LS was quite lovely, although lacking in some areas), Chawangshop (that's the one I'm writing about now) and Jingteashop (I hope to get some of that later).

    The last tasting of this was a welcome opportunity for cleaning the dust off my bamboo porcelain set. I used to use the set a lot, but do not anymore:

    The tea itself has quite small leaves (even though it's Wu Yi, its leaves are way smaller than, e.g., Da Hong Bao), brown-whiteish:

    When I sip the tea for the first time, tears of happiness appear in my eyes (almost) - this is the Lapsang Souchong I know and appreciate.

    First, there is the intense taste of dried fruit - apricots mostly, and lychee. In the first half of the main taste, it is nicely complemented by a taste which I'd describe as "coconut milk" - it is not that common outside LS, but I have met it in a couple of different red teas too. In the second half of the taste, a gentle, rich smoke appears and improves the soothing, warm taste even further, with further cocoa tones.

    The "overall character" is quite similar to the LS from Thechineseteashop, but I remember distinctly how I missed more sweetness and fullness of body of the Thechineseteashop one. This LS by Chawangshop does not suffer from the problem - sweetness (dark sugar) and fullness are amply present.

    Also, this tea brings something extra: orchid taste and lychee taste occasionally appear and bring further complexity to the drinking experience.

    Another positive, which I found common to most of the Wuyi teas I tried, is a certain manifestation of their fiery essence. After swallowing, a feeling of "fire" appears in mouth. I know it probably does not sound pleasant, but I do like it. It's rather similar to tingling that some puerh brings.

    I think that this is, for now,  my LS no.1. Compared to the one from Thechineseteashop LS, I'd say it's strictly better and costs a third of their price. It's quite cheap at $8 per 100g. 

    středa 14. listopadu 2012

    2001 Qian Nian Gu Cha by He Shi Hua

    The tasting token goes back to Finepuer with this one. Being from Jingmai and being from 2001, it goes along well with the Gu Puer set of single-area teas from 2001. 

    I often asked myself "how is this great fresh, juicy Jingmai going to age"? Of course, I know a few vendors who will assure you that they will age great. Due to "expertise" of such people, I'd advise a truck of salt ready for taking their advice. Actually, I think that this He Shi Hua's tea, along with some older Jingmais from YS I have tasted but not yet written about, suggest that Jingmai lovers should be wary of what will happen to their teas in 10 years.

    I'm not saying that these older Jingmais are bad, but all of them aged in a way that could be unpleasant for some. I think that while many other regions are unpleasant when young and get good with age, Jingmai is quite pleasant when young and while it is still pleasant as it ages, it becomes quite differently pleasant.

    There are some white flecks but given the rather dry storage of the cake, I'd attribute them to neifei.

    Rinsed leaves smell quite good, slightly nutty, with a good deal of blackberry jam (not pure, it's as if some red berries were added in there).

    There is certain "minerality" in the first few steepings, but it goes away quickly. The taste is rather full, fruity - the taste is of forest fruit, mostly blackberries. It's funny how easy is to draw the line to young Jingmai's taste, even though the taste has advanced significantly via aging.

    The liquor is one of lighter, given the age of this tea. At least for my self, I would prefer 2001 teas to be at least as this dark. 
    Returning to the taste - the taste starts with heavily transformed Jingmai fruitiness and then evolves into... something like hongcha - at least certain sorts. Now I drink tanzanian black tea from a mug I recalled to be similar and there are definitely significant similarities. Another tea which is partly similar in the 2nd half of main taste is good English breakfast. It is this aspect of this tea (and the 2003 Jingmais I have tasted) that could be repulsive to some. I do not mind it - If I drink red/black tea different from Lapsang Souchong, I drink it for precisely this aspect - but it is not as expected in puerh. Also I would not attribute it to "hongchaization" or anything fiendish - first, it was in all the older Jingmais I have tasted, second, one does see how it may evolve naturally from taste of young Jingmai.

    There is still a good deal of bitterness, but being the Jingmai-style, it's pleasant in a way. It also leads to good aftertaste which is more similar to young Jingmai than the main taste (which is obviously related, but quite different. 

    The positive after-taste performance is heavily boosted by good old tree cooling feeling (it seems that for once, the "gu cha" claim was true).

    As the steepings go, the fruitiness changes to woodiness (slowly) and light honey aspect do appear - quite a satisfactory development. Also, I believe that the honey quality may be emphasized by future aging.

    Overall, the tea was a bit light and "dry" to my tastes - I prefer the heaviness of the Gu puer set from YS, on the other hand, this Jingmai is quite a clean tea with good taste development. To me, such "reasonably dry stored" teas are like if you listen to complex music with boosted high band - it's good for analysis of the music as you can hear the details, various techniques employed by the musicians and all that, while enjoyment is still possible. However, if I want to listen to music for pure pleasure, I prefer more balanced setting. 

    Nevertheless, I do not want to sound negative - I enjoyed this tea a lot, partly for its educational value, but the larger part is formed by its interesting taste and very good mouthfeel.

    The leaves are a mixture of medium and large - it is not true that Jingmai tea would have to be from small leaves:

    Also, looking at the leaves, their thickness and the thickness of leaf-stalk, it supports the hypothesis of gu cha proposed by the mouthfeel.

    The take-home message for me is - buy Jingmai for drinking, but not for more serious aging.

    neděle 11. listopadu 2012

    2001 Gu Puer: SFTM - Banzhang

    I believe that many people saw the $490 price tag at Yunnan Sourcing where the set of six cakes from Gu Puer tea company is available and thought "that's a lot money for puerh". However, if one considers that the price means some $82 per cake, the price may not be all that bad if the teas are good. I have spent more time only with this Banzhang so far, but if the rest is of similar quality, I'd say the price is sound. Of course, the problem with such sets is that if you like two of six cakes, the price suddenly becomes a lot less sound.

    Obviously, the value of the cakes is not only their immediate quality, but also they show how certain areas may age when alone (or inter-area blends, of course). Although I think that these "single area" 2001 teas will be far from today's even more single-area teas, they may be a good guide to aging nevertheless.

    The leaves are of most agreeable light brown color, yet without traces of wetness - this did not age in a too dry environment, it seems.

    The wet leaves sport a light woody smokiness, a bit of animality, some clay with a bit of BZ fruit. However, the mixture of fruit and clay/stone, where the fruit tends to dominate in younger BZ, is dominated by the clay/stone here. After a few steepings, the smokiness tends to join the wood, resulting in a cedar aroma with its innately smoky woody aroma.

    This is how I like 2001 tea looking. Just for a reference, this tea went through drier storage than the 2001 Jinchanghao from EoT, there is no trace of shicang in this Banzhang. I wonder where this tea has aged as I'd try to look for more tea from there.

    Cedarwood is quite strongly present in the taste, which I do not enjoy terrifically, but it is not bad really. Another notable component is the "stone fruit" commonly found in Banzhang, however, it is much more stone than fruit. There is not that much fruitiness left really, it probably aged away and left its place to subtler clay tones. However, any earthiness starts rather light in this tea.

    The sweetness and thickness are good and in-line with the rest, it's not like with some teas where you get nothing but big fat sweetness.

    When I used short-ish steepings, I got no bitterness, nor astringency, however, using longer steepings, quite powerful bitterness appeared and it tends to go away reasonably quickly. 

    This tea is multi-faceted - with short steepings, it is mostly woody, with some clay and only starts to feel a bit aged. With longer steepings, the tea becomes a lot darker overall (not only in color, but mostly in character) and develops some serious aged tones and that aged nuttiness, which I enjoy a lot. But it comes at the cost of weaker "Banzhangness".

    It has a good aftertaste, paired with mid-strong, long tingling which makes the whole drinking experience better. Although the cooling does get a bit weaker as steepings go on, even in the 10th steeping, it is fairly reasonable.

    The tea is an interesting mixture of strength and relative short-livedness. The taste and overall feeling is quite strong, but after five steepings, the taste gets less complex and interesting and after I finish 9th steeping (i.e., 1 litre of water), I do not feel the urge to add more. Not that a litre would be bad, but teas of this age often give more. I once tried to make shorter steepings to make more of them, but I do not think that it lead to a better session, on the contrary.

    In general, I liked the tea for the good mouthfeel and the partial Banzhangness (which was very fun to observe and compare to the vector of 2010, 2007 and 2005 Banzhangs I have tasted), while I could live without the cedar woodiness&smoke, but it's nothing I could not deal with. Also, I liked the aging of this tea, I think that teas of this age&aging give good insight into how young puerh transforms into young-aged puerh.
    Although the tea is good in many aspects, it is not particularly "friendly" or "kindly embracing" - it is like cats I'd say - strong, fun to be with, but it has its mind and it won't slavishly listen to you and warm you up whenever you want.

    The leaves are strong (thick, do not break upon rubbing), they look like a mixture of older and younger trees.