pátek 30. března 2012

2008 Menghai Peacock of Bulang

Although several Menghai peacocks have met fellow bloggers, I could not find any evidence of meeting between them and the Bulang peacock. I thought it strange and since I wanted a Bulang cake as a study material, to watch the aging progression, I gave it a try. The tea is available at Yunnan Sourcing at a modest price of $21 per 400g, it has not risen much since it appeared it on the market.

The cake consists of a blend of various kinds of leaves and is rather heavily pressed. I enjoy a mix of leaves in a cake - it may not be as "clean" and pure as single mountain, single type of leaves teas, but it offers different kind of complexity which I enjoy.

So far, I found two distinct clusters of Bulang teas - one cluster is leathery, woody, often slightly smoky. The second one, my favourite kind of puerh, is not smoky, not much leathery, but heavily, densely sweet, sort of treacle-tasting. To my sadness, teas of the second cluster are not easily obtained. The Menghai Gu Cha is probably the closest thing to it. 

This tea falls into the first cluster, being slightly smoky (smoke from burning wood, rather than tobacco smoke) and green. Although some aging has obviously happened, the tea is still pretty green.

The taste was a pleasant surprise. I generally do not enjoy the first cluster of Bulang too much, my affections lie elsewhere. Nevertheless, in this case, I had to admit that this tea has something good about it. When one drinks so many fancy and premium teas, it is sometimes a pleasure to get back to more normal production. 

This tea tastes leathery and woody, with a bit of camphor and smoke. Thickness and sweetness are sufficient, but nothing to write home about. Not my cup of cake in general, but it works well here. I enjoy  how strong this tea is. From the 3rd brew on, it is bitter, but in a nondisturbing way (for me, at least, I can not imagine anyone not versed in puerh enjoying this tea). 

What I enjoyed the most was the feeling after swallowing the tea - it gave a rather intense cooling feeling (unexpected in a $21 cake) and good energy. I was finishing the tea session while coding my new denoising algorithm called ANKH (adaptive noise killing h-something, got to find something good starting with h)... When I concentrated for a while and then "woke up", I realized that my mouth was "fixated" by the tea (sort of difficult to describe). It may not sound too pleasant, but it was enjoyable in fact. 

Another positive thing was, that in the aftertaste of 3rd and 4th brew, I could find bits of the second Bulang cluster I know. Will this tea become at least slightly like these great second-cluster teas? Well, see you in the future, Marty.

neděle 25. března 2012

2010 YS Yi Bang

It was a beautiful spring afternoon today. When I pulled out the sample of Scott's Yi Bang from my sample bag, I did not know it would become even more beautiful. Looking it up in my notes from previous times, I see I noted "very interesting, taste once more when having more time". I had two hours available before digging into subsumption architecture of agents so I thought I'd spend them with this tea... and with our new orchid:

Dry leaves smelled quite tender, grassy and honey sweet (the interesting thing is that the honey did not appear in taste).

Wet leaves got me immediately - this is one of "while (true) do sniff();" teas. Lively fruitiness - almost like of certain good specimen of lucha (I've had one wonderful sample from Honza of Chawangshop, I think it is similar, if not the same as Yunnan Sourcing's Jade Pole - certainly looks the same). Except, of course, with more depth.

Now, incidentally, my speakers (or Johnny Cash in them) sing "the taste of love is sweet" - just when I wanted to write about the taste of this Yi  Bang. Well... it is sweet too. As opposed to certain Yi Wu cakes, it is much more than that. Its very fruity and fresh, playful. The fruitiness is really like that of Jade pole lucha, but this tea has more pronounced sugarcane sweetness, thickness and certain "puerh depth". And a bit of sweet grain taste, which I quite like. "This is a proper puerh" says my girlfriend and I can only agree. 

The taste lasts long, hui gan intense and the tea gives very good mouthfeel - although the mouth tickling comes later than usual, it does come. The tea numbed my mouth in a pleasant and relaxing way (so that touching anything with tongue feels funny, but keeping the tongue very acute to taste).

Around the 4th brew, bitterness did come, but it is also pleasant, nondisturbing (at least for me). Also, it transforms to long-term fruity taste. The bitterness lasted till the end of the tea session.

There is really nothing unpleasant about this tea and there are many pleasant aspects. Above the very good taste performance, it feels good and has a great stamina (it lasted almost 2 litres of water while i generally use 1 and a bit). Definitely shows that not all autumnal cakes have to be mediocre and short-lived.

Big thanks to Scott for making such a lovely tea!

Further reading:

pátek 23. března 2012

1970s Tong Qing Hao

This is the oldest tea I've ever had. It is available from Essence of Tea - the place of reasonably expensive aged puerh (big thanks to Essence of Tea for offering such tea). The price of this Tong qing hao is not purse-killing, although not exactly nugatory either.

Dry leaves give a nice, clean, aged smell; they look positively rusty:

Though this tea is very nice and feels good, I could not help myself but to feel a little underwhelmed. The taste is, as described, woody and not much beside that. It is smooth, nicely aged and all that, but there is nothing what would surprise me in any way. The thickness is good, but again, not anything particularly unexpected. The cha qi noted on the website was certainly notable here, but then again, not overly powerful (maybe this is just me and affects other people more). The tea did not last as much as other aged teas from EoT I've tried so far... Actually, when looking back at the 1980s bamboo-wrapped tuocha, I can not find an area where I would like this Tong Qing Hao more... and it is almost two times as expensive (because of the age, I guess?)

Nevertheless, it was still a pleasant tea session we've had with the sample...

pondělí 19. března 2012

2004 Shi Kun Mu Menghai

Let us have a short look at another Shi Kun Mu cake available from Chawangshop today.

The pressing is medium, it is easy to break this tea apart.

Menghai... the home of universal sheng and of even worse things. I still remember my first meeting with "Menghai minituocha superior" - 5g minituos consisting of neutrino-sized leaf fragmens, tasting like burning tyres with a slight touch of sulphuric acid. With respect to recent experiments in CERN, it is debatable if they went to the trash bin at speed larger than light speed ...but it was pretty close anyway. Although my further experience with tea labelled as "Menghai" was better, it generally fell into the "remarkably unremarkable" category.

 The liquor has similar color to the Yibang cake, not too surprising, given the same degree of pressing and the same age (and probably storage conditions):

Now, the color of the liquor is one of few things these two Shi Kun Mu cakes have in common. As much as the Yibang was tender and subtle, this Menghai is a hardcore tea. After drinking it for the first time (using my usual 9-10 grams), I had a hard time falling asleep, which is mostly not a problem. The taste was so strong and bitter it was not always enjoyable. I find this tea better when less leaves is used, steeping them for a bit longer than usual.

It is what I would call an "universal Menghai champion". It is clearly similar to these countless ranks of universal Menghai cakes/bricks/tuos. Yet, it is more complex and more interesting (and more expensive) than these. It has a nice aroma and feeling of mid-agedness already. I'd describe the taste as mainly nutty, woody and mushroomy (and more pleasant than this sounds). No smokiness or cigarettte smell is present, for which I am grateful. It has a pleasant camphor aspect to it. Fruitiness appears in some brews. The liquor is thick, sufficiently sweet, coats the mouth nicely and gives a very good mouthfeel. The mouth tickling is clear and pleasant.

It is a high-quality tea, although the price is debatable (still better than some modern wannabe fancy productions). I enjoy specific character of another regions a bit more and this cake, although a champion, still rather resembles universal Menghai. Some people enjoy the balance in Menghai blends, but this one is almost too balanced for me.

Not that I would discourage anybody from trying a sample - it is a very nice tea, its problem is not the quality, but the price.

sobota 17. března 2012

2004 Shi Kun Mu Yi Bang

This afternoon-early evening, it was only me, a ladybird and a sample of Shi Kun Mu Yi Bang.

The cake is available at Chawangshop at a rather substantial cost of $85. I learned not to put too much faith in expensive cakes as I was often unnecessarily disappointed. 

This morning, I was rather succesful at improving out two-photon microscope signal processing software, therefore I felt like rewarding myself with tasting this lovely looking cake. Listening to nice chinese music, looking at the ladybird on the bonsai and my clay dragon friend, it was a really rewarding and relaxing experience. One needs that in the middle of programming cockroach models, looking at neural reactions in mouse brain and usual studying for school. The darknes was falling slowly- when I started, the sun was shining; it is completely dark outside now. The tea changed along with the changing light. Speaking of light, it makes furry tea look stunning, which is the case of this piece. It's furry as a large spider:

It smells mellow and quiet, nutty, the liquor has a good, honest color. It is clear, but not sparkling.

The first two brews were, as with many Yi Wu/Yibang/Manzhuan teas, almost too much without taste - I have to learn how to prepare these first brews so that I enjoy them as much as the rest. Although the taste was still waiting to be released from the leaves, one could notice substantial thickness (even for the area) and good, cooling and mouth-watering mouthfeel.

When the taste comes, it is a good one, not unlike a typical of Yi Wu, above-average nuttiness, fruitiness becomes more pronounced with further brews. It also has a deep honey taste which I love. The taste lasts long and evolves nicely  (enjoyable bitterness is present if one desires it). As with many Yi Wu teas, changes in taste caused by aging are not that obvious as with teas from other regions (i.e., 2004 and 2010 Yi Wu taste rather similarly, but 2004 and 2010 Bulang will be quite different). Although the tea feels strong and complex, it is quiet and calm at the same time (which is the case with many gushu teas), the taste not being its main virtue. Yes, the taste is pleasant and harmonic, but I would not pay $85 only for it, were it not backed up by the mouthfeel. Speaking of mouthfeel, this tea has a very pleasant mouth-numbing feeling, which you can find in another Yibang cake - the 2010 Scott's production from Yunnan Sourcing. The taste spectrum is also rather similar, though the difference in age is clearly noticeable.

It is a really subtle tea - if drank in a hurry, one could fail to notice its qualities and how it is different from another Yi Wu taes. Taste-wise, it is similar to, for example, 2010 YS Purple Yi Wu, but the overal feeling is different and where YS Purple Yi Wu captivates me with nuances and complexities of its taste, this Yi Bang gives me a broader feeling of well-being and inner calm.

It sort of reminds me of this photo: http://www.michaelfreemanphoto.com/media/bc4f2c76-0911-11e0-9d45-d748771bcb7c-yibang - at first, one sees a greyish photo, but when looking closer, many hidden motives appear. The site is a good source of tea-related photos, worth looking if you don't know it already.

This is a good, pleasant tea, although I think that those not too well versed in puerh would get similar enjoyment from much cheaper and ordinary cakes. However, if one has several hours to spend with a tea and concentrate on it, this one may give a lovely tasting event.

čtvrtek 15. března 2012

2008 Mengku "Bulang" (Chanteas)

Marlon of Chanteas has kindly offered to send me a sample of this cake, at that time being Bulang costing $80. I gladly accepted his offer (why not, after all, if I am not pressed to write nicely about bad tea - which is certainly not this case). The tea may be bought at http://www.chanteas.com/products/2008-bulang-mountain-br-sheng-puer

Before I get to the tea itself - when I tasted it for the first time, I thought it quite unlike any Bulang I've had. It was much more a member of one Lincang taste cluster. My friend, Honza of Chawangshop has discovered that it is indeed from Lincang, Mengku, the tea also being available from Taobao for $8 (it may be a fake though, the tea is much better than that).  Anyway, the tea is now listed as Mengku and the price has been lowered to still premium, but "ok premium" $55.

To the tea itself - upon opening the packaging (good packaging, by the way), sweet, candy-like aroma has punched me in the nose and I felt somewhere between "wow" and "ugh". The leaves are very nice:

Wet leaves smell more or less the same as dry leaves, except, of course, deeper and darker.

The liquor smells similarly...and tastes similarly. First it felt weird to me as I haven't drank similar tea for a long time. But after spending some hours with it, we eventually became colleagues, if not friends. 

The color is nice, proper, unprocessed. That's how I like it. Now, back to the taste. It is heavily sweet, marzipan and vanilla-like, nicely fruity after a while. A bit of eucalyptus/camphor is present. Similar character, though not in this amount may be found in Xiaguan Happy Tuo. Czech readers might have met Longfeng Purple label of 2010 which, in my opinion, falls into the same/similar cluster in the way of taste (it has a different feeling though). Anyway, this tea is really inebriating, I see what Marlon means when writing that one could easily get tea drunk by this. The mouthfeel is very nice, the tea is thick and the mouth-tingling is clear and pleasant - definitely one of more powerful teas in this way.

In general, it is very powerful, lasts fiendishly many brews while being still strong.

I think this is a high quality tea, which is quite unusual (it is like an extract of a certain puerh taste) - actually, too unusual for me. Although I can see noticeable qualities in the tea, I'm probably too used to other regions right now to say I straightforwardly enjoyed it. Nevertheless, I'm very glad I've been offered this sample, it has been a very interesting meeting. I actually think that many people would enjoy this tea immensely.

The price...I am reluctant to believe that this would cost $8, the quality points much higher. I think that the asking price of $55 is not crazy.

As a sidenote, Marlon has added a nicely sized sample of his Tie Luo Han Wu Yi wulong. Not bad I have to say! In the way of price, it is somewhere between standard Wu Yi and the sample of Essence of Tea's I've had recently. This holds true in the area of quality too - it has a good energy and nice, complex taste.

Further reading:

úterý 13. března 2012

A short note on EoT's Bai Rui Xiang and energy of wulongs

Let me start elsewhere (elsetime is a better word) today - in history, to be exact. Many (i.e., 6-7) years ago, I used to drink roasted wulongs mostly. I'd say the ratio was 70% wulong, 20% sheng and 10% the rest - green, red and shu. Now it is 90% sheng, 9% wulong (as an "easy drink") and 1% is the rest. Why did this transition happen (it happened about four years ago)? The answer lies in the so often mentioned energy of tea and mouthfeel. Most commercially available wulongs lacks any interesting mouthfeel or energy, even though the taste may be very pleasant. I still sometimes drink them for their taste, when working or, in general, when I could not get deeper enjoyment of any tea. We used to drink darker wulongs with my girlfriend a lot, but I corrupted her already and she also says that she sort of lacks "something that puerh has and wulong does not".

This is not to put wulongs down - I also keep a good reserve for not-so-educated guests who tend to enjoy wulongs the most. But they often lack something (the wulongs, not the guests).

Luckily - often is not always. Wu Yi provides some wulongs with energy and mouthfeel (while I haven't had any from Anxi and very few from Taiwan and Dan Cong). One of counterexamples is the Wu Yi Bai Rui Xiang from Essence of tea. It is handmade (or declared as such). That still does not imply it will have a good energy, but it suggests it may have it.

It is a very pleasant tea, the taste is strong, long and full (many lower quality Wu Yi teas are sort of "hollow", compared to, e.g., roasted TGY from Anxi). It has some tones I've yet never met in Wu Yi tea, yet it is distinctly Wu Yi. It is vibrant on the tongue, gives the "tickling" feeling and it does have clear cha qi. "Heureka", I shouted in my head - at last. 

The tea is definitely not cheap and as I "quit" heavy drinking of wulongs, I feel I may not appreciate such quality enough, thus I don't plan buying more of it in near future. But I would like to express my gratitude to Essence of Tea here for generous providing of sample of this beautiful tea.

neděle 11. března 2012

1998 CNNP You Le

I've got a sample of this tea from Chawangshop, here. Better photos are to be found there - it was too dark for my camera now. 

It seems to be dry stored, but it is somewhat suspiciously inexpensive at $68.

Dry leaves are clean and they smell like some better CNNP cakes I've had - a bit of camphor, a bit of smoke, a bit of fruit. Agedness is present, but its amount points to a rather dry storage.

An image of the leaves: 

Wet leaves tell us whole another story (and a story much to my liking). They smell notably fruity - overripe fruit, as well as fresh fruit (peach, pear?). The aroma is rich, but still rather fresh. The smokiness is not present, camphor aroma is much less obvious than in the aroma of dry leaf. It is also pleasantly woody. Compared to most You le I've met so far, I'm missing honey. Still, this tea smells great!

The first brew was a bit misleading, being very light, fruity-granary taste. Very active in mouth - a feature, which sadly did not make it into further brews. The thickness is good.

The second brew was much richer. Ripe fruit dominates the beginning, moving into sweet wood in later stages. Little green acidity is present at the end of the taste, promoting salivation. A bit of dry harshness from youth is present, but not too much. Even though the taste is very rich and the liquor is thick, the taste could last longer. Hui gan is a bit weaker than I'd wish, but decent enough. Long-term taste (5 minutes) reminds me of treacle. The interesting thing is that the empty cup smells of You Le I know, but the taste is generally different. I believe that it is You Le mixed with material from other regions...

From the third brew onwards, "older" tones are becoming more notable - earthiness and agedness, very pleasant. The pronounced mouthfeel of the first brew is not really present, which is a pity, the tea is active, but I enjoy even more activity. The taste and general feeling is still very good though. With further brews, woodiness becomes more dominant than the fruitiness. However, hui gan becomes more pronounced, I'm glad for that. 

It is interesting how this tea is "mid-aged" - some aged notes are obviously present, but younger tones are still present too - and these two rivers flow in harmony, making this tea interesting and enjoyable.

Although the main taste is not as long as with some other teas (this cake is still "only" $68 though), the long-term taste is long indeed, even after an hour, I still feel fruitiness.

Wet leaves are of surprisingly high quality, considering this is a CNNP cake.

The cake has been dry stored, but I'd say it was a good dry storage - it has not became harsh, weak, thin or anything like that. It develops slower, but it retains some interesting notes in return. At $68, it is not expensive at all. and I quite enjoyed drinking it. 

You may find more notes and photos here:
Tea dropping (ER's notes)

neděle 4. března 2012

1980s bamboo-wrapped tuocha

Let us have a look at another of cheaper aged pieces from Essence of tea:

Things appear, then disappear. Sadly, my grandfather, the son of cossack ataman, has disappeared recently from this world. May he happily continue living in any afterlife that comes... 

Also, the famed and loved bookstore "At unicorn's" (U jednorožce) has disappeared, only to be replaced by another awful trinklet tourist shop:

Good for us that certain things last until we make them disappear. For example this tuocha from Essence of tea! I started with the cheaper pieces of the sample pack I bought to watch the progression (after all, one has to tune himself to more aged tea, it could be a waste to do the tune-up on Snow mark...).

Dry leaves emit a sweet, woody, clean aroma (smells like a nice storage indeed). They are  brown already: 
The compression level is heavy - breaking the sample apart proved to be a nontrivial task. The chinese tool for breaking apart Xiaguan tuochas has been brought to Europe by dr. Guillotin (and, as many other things, completely misused) - but that was centuries ago. Now, they are not for sale, so we have to use hands, puerh knives, hammers and all that. hands sufficed in this case, but it was a difficult fight.

I think I may have used about 5 grams, thus gaining a not-so-dark liquor:

When smelling wet leaves in the teapot, I was thinking of early autumn forest, wet leaves laying on the ground, washed by warm, clean, rain. The cleanliness of the aroma is notable - although I would use similar words to describe clean agedness and wet-stored agedness, the latter does not have that "clean" part. The aroma of this tuocha felt very natural to me. 

In mouth, this tea is a very pleasant explosive. It coats the mouth, fills it with sweet aged taste and promotes salivation. The "tongue-tickling" is very noticeable and pleasant. The taste is very long and, as the aroma is, very clean, well-defined, though not sharp or narrow. It tastes good and feels great. 

After having 10 brews of it, I thought "Hmm, the 97 Bu lang lasted more, but still a good amount of intense taste this was". Then I inspected the leaves in the pot to part with them and found out that the sample piece has not split up at all! I took it out, took it apart (it was almost easy now) and put it back...and had another happy 10 brews before leaving it (it could give even more, but I couldn't drink anymore). I don't think I've met a tuocha as densely compressed as this one.

In general, I was very happy about this tea - good, long, sweet. I dare say I enjoyed it more than the 97 Bu Lang - of course, it is more aged and more expensive, but still, the price may not always reflect person-specific qualities.

To finish up with more not-tea-related photos from my walk in Prague, I present...communist children (as labelled by my girlfriend). I don't know from which time it comes, but it is definitely an interesting decoration.