pondělí 27. srpna 2012

Not Impressed 2

Some not-that-interesting teas have accumulated here again, so let us give them a few lines:

2005 Changtai Ji Bing Jingmai (via Hster)
Jingmai is one of my most favourite regions and my experience with Changtai was very good so far. However, this Jingmai does not have nearly as much Jingmai character as I would like. It tastes more like a blend of Jingmai with universal Menghai. Nothing wrong about that, it is still gently pleasant of course, but it is nothing spectacular.

When brewed tester-style, much better mouthfeel appears (how come?) and I find it an enjoyable, gentle drink.

2009 Yunnan Sourcing Lao Man'E (YS, via Hster)
There is not much wrong with this tea really (except the Lao Man'E persistent bitterness which I do not like), I just don't see much good about it either. The taste is rather dry, bitter, with a pleasant bit of grain, but the sweetness often complementing it does not show up. 

The tea produces taste for many brews, but from a certain point, there is only bitterness left really. Better water could improve this I guess.

It looks nice, smells allright, but I'm afraid that it is too much Lao Man'E-ish for me to enjoy. Nevertheless, I like it better than, e.g., HLH's Lao Man'E/Banzhang. On the other hand, Tea Urchin's Four Peaks Lao Man'E brought me more enjoyment for less money.

2011 Tea Urchin's Mangzhi (Tea urchin, via Hobbes)
Although the tea has reasonable sweetness and is quite mouth watering, I just could not get by its soapiness. Hobbes did not mind it, I do, however. I feel like I was drinking the water from a washing machine.

Although I did not plan pushing the tea too hard on either occasion, it went dead more early anyway. When the tea was alive, there was good mouthfeel.

2012 Essence of Tea Qi Sheng Gu (EoT)
I wonder where this tea is going to go. First, I also thought it was not too interesting, but an interesting taste developed in the usual fresh sour-ish greeniness of young puerh - underripe apricots! Just a hint, maybe, but once I named it, I found it there consistently. However, I'm afraid that it is too much a part of the greeniness and so it may age away. Other than this, I felt like drinking a rather ordinary young puerh. Of course, ordinary good puerh, one does not expect small producers creating truly mainstream tea.

As a sidenote, the leaves looked very healthy compared to, e.g., 2012 EoT Bulang.

sobota 25. srpna 2012

2009 LF Blue Label

Today's cake is one "produced" by our local vendor, who, at the prehistoric time of 2009 (from a puerh point of view anyway) was  probably the best way to buy reasonably priced and reasonable high-quality puerh when one did not venture into buying from abroad. Some pink glasses may have been trampled upon since then, but that should not throw darkness at the good quality of Longfeng tea. To clarify the "produced" - it was produced by LF, if you produce tea by letting someone else (AFAIK, Scott of YS) arrange the sourcing of the leaves and the production process, paying for it, but not giving a single word of credit to the person anywhere.

But if we abstract from such problems, the 2009 and 2010 Longfeng productions were generally very good. I bought a tong and a cake as the Purple and Green labels were already sold out, when I got enough money - they were more attractive than the Blue label, I believe. The Red label of 2009 was shu and I did not care about it.

In retrospective, I was lucky. Even though I still enjoyed the pieces of Purple and Green I have had in sealed packages, when, with  teachums, I tasted the Green and Purple aging in whole pieces, I felt they were not as satisfactory as they looked when young. Still very nice teas for the price though. Nevertheless, I can not say I'd think that these two age too awesomely. However - the Blue label, which started quite nasty (Mangfei), gets better and better.

The wet leaves smell quite interesting, like a dark forest and citrus fruit (lemon/limette). The best thing about this is that the aroma of tobacco smoke that I always found in young Mangfei teas (not too much data though), is mostly gone.

Although I often rather agreed with Longfeng on the description of wulong taste, I do not always agree in the world of puerh. Longfeng has a tendency to put so many superlatives (good source of jokes, as these superlatives were often copy-pasted among teas)  that it vexes me. That is not the problem though - the issue is, that even quite hard and aggressive teas are labelled as fruity, floral and all that.

Production notes are: Pchu-er harvested from 80-130 years old wild trees , hand processed by traditional, old ways, exclusively by the company Longfeng.cz, with kind support of international company of tea lovers ITM. 
... absolutely no mention about who did the work. Even in Czech, it is not clear whether it says that it was hand-produced by the LF company or what, but it does not capture reality in any way. 

Further description (original text is in italic, my notes in bold):
Harvest: Spring 2009, the first harvest of the year
Production: The December of 2009 (first production of the year), traditionally processed by hand, lightly pressed. The pressing is actually not too light, but nevermind.
Mao Cha: Unblended Mao Cha from older, semi-wild tea trees (See? It changed from wild to semi-wild - again - I don't care about this, but it's strange), 100% Mang Fei mountain range.  AFAIK, Mangfei is a mountain, not a range. 100% and unblended is kind of the same - I guess that both is written as it seems good, but I don't see why it should be taken as a positive.
Characteristics: Entirely unbroken leaves of the highest quality, with pleasant, heavier, fruity spicy aroma; the liquor has a very rich, full and entirely characteristic taste, with dominant tone of garden fruit, meadow and tropical flowers and spicy tones. Distinctive character of high quality pchu-erhs of Lin Cang area.
First, there is, in my opinion, nothing like a Lin Cang character - Mengku and Yongde are like night and day, both being in Lincang. You could talk me into believing that aroma description, but the taste? Does it sound like Mangfei? Nope.

The liquor is actually quite consistent with other Mangfei teas I have had, mostly from YS. This means a rather hard taste, quite tobacco-smoky when young. The good thing is that there are only remnants of the smoke (which was already mostly gone in 2010). Now, the taste is what I would call "hard green" - it used to be more brutal though and there are hints of citruses. The taste is not unpleasant, which is good. That is why one may  fully enjoy the genuinely excellent aftertaste, which is long, fresh, fruity (tropical fruit and berries) and purely enjoyable.

The tea has even good mouthfeel (although it diminishes slightly with further brews).

So, there is a tea with reasonable taste, very good aftertaste and a good mouthfeel - and its cost was a touch less than $20 per 200g minicake, which is yields rather reasonable $40 per 400g cake. However, it reasonable today, I'm not sure that it was too cheap in 2009, especially when it is from Mangfei. Still, the transport costs are nontrivial and the tea develops well, so I won't say that it was too expensive. Pity the bloodstained context of this cake...

čtvrtek 23. srpna 2012

2005 Changtai Peak of the cloud

In my rediscovery of the once-all-the-rage Changtai, I ventured into drinking this 2005 piece from the Chinese Teashop (tCT). The 2005 Jing pin from there was very enjoyable and although the Peak's dry leaves smelled a touch less attractive, I looked forward to tasting it too.

The leaves are good looking indeed, faithfully to the description on tCT. They emit a pleasant odor of lightly aged Yiwu (that camphorish "oomph") and honey with nuts. 

Wet leaves smell very complex and so much in harmony that I find it difficult to pick up single features. There is sweet wood, nuts, raisins and that bit of camphor. The list could end here and the tea would still sound good, but there is something extra, something like berries, that makes the aroma more complex and more fresh.

The liquor is a bit lighter than it seems from this too dark photo. It is lightly amber and pleasant to look and smell. The aroma is more luscious than in young Yiwu which, in my opinion, tends to smell quite similary to one another, or does not smell that all.

The taste is "appointing" (like non-disappointing), well together and intense enough. In most brews (the tea did not develop wildly), it was mid-heavy, rather thick (i.e., a bit less than most Yiwus of this age), the components of aroma are generally in the taste too. The honey sweetness is less pronounced than it could be, on the other hand, this tea may feel more balanced this way. There are the nuts and raisins - a most pleasant combination. 

The taste, although intense and balanced enough, does not quite reach the true peaks of "this is shockingly good" clouds. But very good, it is.

The aftertaste is also a positive feature here, departing from the nuts slowly and approaching the aftertaste of scotch whiskey (not Laphroaig :)), becoming light, fresh fruitiness after a minute or so.

The cooling and active mouthfeel is present which raises this tea even higher.

I do like this tea, as I did like the Jingpin. They both have good aroma, good taste, good aftertaste and good mouthfeel. Which of today's fancy $100 young teas can boast all of that? I can not remember any. They may become that, some of them, I guess. They may become better. However, how probable is that, given the great demand for good leaves? I guess that the correlation between great demand and overharvested trees (or entirely fake leaves) is a nontrivial one, thus it may be questionable, how strong with force will the young cakes be. Why to pay so much money for questionably good products when there are far cheaper teas that have "sat down" a bit and developed some actual complexity?

úterý 21. srpna 2012

Liquid gold: unknown 2003 Bulang

Although origins, processing, etc. of a tea are generally a thing one wants to know, there are some teas which make such features rather irrelevant. This is one of such teas.

What do I know about it? Not much indeed. I know that it is from Bulang and the year of production is 2003. The first is obvious when one tastes this tea, the second is probably the most likely guess one can make. Honza (of Chawangshop) and Michal (another teachum) bought this tea from a Haiwan man (I can't remember his position), as it was in his private stash and they thought it great.

I think it is great too. Such a sweet and pleasant tea, not lacking in complexity, is seldom found.

When I open the package, I think about, "dark honey" and bees:

Hster from teacloset could tell you about honey more than anyone I know. But even a humble consument of honey knows that there is ordinary honey and extraordinary one. And in the genre of honey-sweet Bulangs (and Yibangs too, actually), extraordinary tea is not that easy to find. 

I hope you will pardon the lack of photographic materials today as my SD card decided that she was too long on this planet and ascended to her forefathers.

First, the tea is strong - I had only about 3g left, yet I used about 0.7l of water throughout the session. Strenght alone is not enough, however.

The dry leaves smell of light agedness, sweet wood, a bit of honey and something young and good (probably some kind of fruit).

The taste is kind of too complex to describe wholly, so I'll "montecarlo" it - I'll describe the features that were important to me, without any particular structure: The sweetness and thickness is very good, just right, yet the main body of taste is very strong - there is beautiful sweet wood with honey, with a bit of fruitiness, all with a bit of starting aged taste. The mouthfeel could be better, but it is there. The aftertaste is a pleasant one and there is even the taste of fresh plums in the long-term aftertaste. 

Shortly said, if gods ran out of ambrosia, this would be a  suitable substitute. I remember how impressed I was when I tasted this tea for the first time and expectations are often a killer of experience. But not this time, it is just as great as it was before.

The tea is sort of similar to the 2003 Bulang Jingpin. The leaves are similarly sized and I guess that there is a possibility that it is actually the same tea. It does not matter much though. I do enjoy this 2003 Bulang even more than the Jingpin. This one is more concentrated in taste, a bit darker and I feel it is in better harmony with itself (and the 2003 Bulang Jingpin is already very harmonized).

I'll try to get at least a bit more of this tea so I can send it to other bloggers - this tea wants to be shared.

Righto, back to the visualization of brain's activity... Poor mice, not drinking puerh.

sobota 18. srpna 2012

Back from England and 2012 YS Gao Shan Zhai

After a wonderful time in Lake District, I'm back. What was it like in England? Simply great, everything went so smooth that it actually surprised me. I saw Peel island (Wild Cat's island) and the Old man of Coniston (Kanchenjunga), which were some of the dreams of my youth.

What is England like? Exceptionally english! The stone houses, sheep, green gardens and pastures - everything is like from an english movie. And, contrary to popular belief, the people were exceptionally nice. It may actually help, that when, e.g., an american comes to UK, the people may be relatively less friendly - but when he comes from the Czech Republic, the relative difference is highly positive. I did not realize it earlier, but the amount of hatred that 40+ years old low-mid intelligence people reserve for foreigners is quite peculiar. And another suprise was the low amount of backpackers - we found just one group of walkers whom we'd call backpackers... and they were another Czechs. The habit of carrying 20kg backpack with everything one needs from campsite to campsite is probably not too favoured by english people. "Carpacking" is how I'd call what they did there.

I missed tea though. When I came home, I picked out one pretty fast - and it was the 2012 Gao Shan Zhai from Yunnan Sourcing.

Gao Shan Zhai is one of my less favourite Yiwu villages, true, but the tea actually smells pretty nice.

Dry leaves are nice, just as one expects in a YS production:

The dry leaves smell of usual Gao Shan Zhai butter & sugarines (and what I imagine to be wok aroma), but the wet leaves are more complex and promising. There is a lot of going on in the aroma. When the leaves are very hot, just after rinsing, they smell of cinnamon.

The liquor has low, heavy aroma of butter and a touch of fruit.

The tea starts dense and very smooth. Maybe some could call it too smooth actually, almost muted. I rather enjoy it myself as it is so full. A big surprise is the tea's bitterness which comes after a couple of seconds - an aspirin one. Luckily for me and for the tea, the bitterness does transform in time and provides one of the longest and most consistent aftertastes I ever found in young tea.

The second brew is also sugary, somewhat mushroomy, with a bit of Yiwu fruitiness, quite pleasant and easy to enjoy. It is very thick indeed. The taste itself is good and well-defined - which is not what all people can do when producing tea from more than one source. I do admire Scott's blending ventures which generally end up well. What I really missed in this tea was stronger cooling mouthfeel - I could not find virtually any. 

The tea continues to march on in a satisfactory way for many more brews, but does not really surprise.

To not cloud my mind while drinking, I do not read prices in advance. When I read that the tea costs $75 per 250g cake, I felt somewhat disappointed. I can not say I would enjoy this tea more than cheaper Tea Urchin's cheaper and bigger 2011 GSZ. Still, these young teas are ridiculously priced when one considers how good mid-age tea he may buy for their price. I do not criticize Scott, nor Tea Urchin, nor anyone else: a) The prices of raw material are high, there is not much one can do about it, b) they can still sell their stuff. Were it not for b), I'd say "why to make new tea then? Why not just source older tea?". But with b, there is, I guess, no reason for not continuing inflating the bubble and it could temporarily hurt a vendor not to do so.

I guess that appreciation of this tea depends largely on one's appreciation of this tea's aftertaste as it is quite exceptional. I tend to enjoy strong mouthfeel more, where this tea loses points to some of its competitors. However, due to the interestingly persistent aftertaste, at least a sample is worth trying I think.

úterý 7. srpna 2012

Menghai 7542: 1996 and 1997

I was rather thrilled to see these two 7542s offered by the Chinese teashop - after all, one does not meet such teas everyday (I do not, at least). What I thought to be an interesting comparison turned out to a duel of storages - I'm afraid that the teas are so diffent that I could never distinguish it was the same blend. There is, of course,  the possibility of fake tea, but using Occam's razor, the difference here may be explained by differrent storage well enough.

All the mid-aged four 7542s I currently have. More about the 80's and 93 in future.

A piece from 1996.

And from 1997. 

Does the 1997 look more aged? It does and it actually is. The 1996 purportedly comes from taiwanese storage, the 1997's storage is unknown, but it seems rather normal.

As I'm drinking two teas in parallel (once only, I drank these serially on the other two tasting occasions), I'll just go through some steps and mention what I thought about both of these teas in that stages.

Wet leaves:
96: Dry rare wood (sandalwood?) and red berries - quite light and unusual.
97: A generic agedness, slight plumminess (in "main smell", not in the aftersmell, i.e., it should manifest in taste, but not necessarily in the fresh plums aftertaste).

Steepings were of the same length for both teas: 20/20/20/30/60/70, I used 3.5 grams in 100ml gaiwans.

The color of the liquor was more or less the same in the first brew, but the 1997 version was noticeably darker in further brews:

1st brew:
96: Molasse sweetness, slight weirdness coming from dry storage - it's like red berries, but there is something not really natural about it. It is not particularly in harmony, I think. But it is interesting. On the first tasting, with a teachum Michal, we agreed that once one decides he likes it, it's not bad. However, I can imagine that someone would not enjoy this style of tea. Actually, when I made it on the tasting I'm writing about right now, I found it almost nasty, compared to the mellow 97 version.

97: This gives a reasonable calm agedness. In a couple of first brews, the earthiness is almost like  clay which I do not enjoy really. The mouthfeel is more obvious than in 96. This holds true for the rest of the session and it suggests that the claim that dry stored tea is more intense in mouth does not have to be true (according to my experience, it is definitely not true when said this generally).

2st brew:
96: There is a very slight agedness but only at the beginning. The taste is gentle, sweet, slightly sour-ish with a bit of sandalwood in the aftertaste.

97: Full, surprisingly aged, given it's just a 1997's tea (no shicang present!) and plummy in taste. It tastes really pretty good, especially given the relative youth. It feels nice on the tongue and performs long and well on the tongue. Now, it is distinctly heavier and more robust than the 1996 version, although hardly as specific and unusual.

3rd brew:
96: Camphor appears, red berries tend to hide, therefore we get a slight agedness with slight  influence of sandalwood and camphor. Note that everything is "slight: - there is no clear dominant aspect of the taste. It is too light to me. One could say "just prolong the steeping" - but if I did that, the sourness and bitterness would overpower the rest of the tea. At this stage of brewing, this tea is "keep me light or leave me be."

97: Well balanced and good. In the aftertaste, fresh plums I like so much make a guest appearance. However, I must say that this fresh plumminess is more pronounced in the grotesquely stored 98 from puershop. Or in the 90s Red Mark from thechineseteashop. 

4th brew:
96: Still inoffensive and light. The red berries make a comeback and the sweetness is stronger than in the previous brew.

97: Similar to the last brew, nothing really new. The storage was rather good I think - the tea may lack some depth of older teas, but it is clean, yet it feels aged and balanced.

5th brew:
96: As the bitterness is not a threat anymore in this stage of the session, the longer steeping helps. The tea is still light, but quite intense (like the Burgundy lemonad...err...wine) - red berries go together with the slight sourness. It's not a taste for me, but I would say it is a feature rather than a bug.

97: Also very nice, heavy, complex and nice. A touch shallow, maybe, but it feels natural.

6th brew:
96 - Reasonable again - strange, unusual, but only because something is not an usually aged tea, I won't shout it's rubbish. But I'm not used to this dry stored tea. The sweetness is interesting here (and to an extent in other brews too) - sometimes it feels slightly burnt - one has to decide whether he feels it more like a sweetness or more like a burntness (strange, I agree).

97 - It follows the way sketched in the previous brews but gets cleaner and cleaner - in the first 2 or 3 brews, there was the weird clay taste and some sort of cloudiness. From the 5th brew or so, it gets close to a really good tea.

The leaves of 1997:

And 1996:

The teas next to each other:

Leaves overnight:
96: Really strange, sour, smelling of disinfection
97: Clean, good.

Overall, I was not impressed by any of these two teas, but the 97 was a good, clean, normal "somewhat aged" tea, at least. The 96 was too strange for my tastes. It is not bad I guess, just more dry than I'd enjoy. And I'm afraid that it might be beyond redemption by a period of more normal storage.

What I did not really like was the lack of more pronounced mouthfeel in both of these (the 97 was a bit better) and the lack of stronger fresh plums in the aftertaste - the 97 had it sometimes, but not as strong as I'd enjoy.

For example, the 90's Red Mark is notably better in both of this aspects, which, when combined with the huge price difference, makes it obvious that I won't be needing these 7542s anytime soon.

neděle 5. srpna 2012

2001 Cheng Guang He Tang Meng Sa

This is the second of the pair of older CGHT samples from Hou De. And it is a highway to hell for my future purchases from Houde. Let's have a look why.

The thing is - it's really very hard to distinguish it from the 99 Dragon and horse (D&H). Surprise? Yes, at least for me. This tea is slightly more bitter and there is not really any of the dark fruitiness which appeared in the D&H. The Meng Sa is also less complex, not having some of the very nice features of the D&H.

I wondered how is this possible. I looked at the leaves:
Leaves before rubbing:

And after rubbing - one leaf stayed firm, the other one crumbled miserably. This suggests that it is not that simple with the "wetness test" of aged puerh (rubbing leaves and checking if they break).

And the two rubbed leaves in more detail:

The leaves are different from the D&H, although the color is similar.

I kept thinking about the strange taste... and then a thought sprang up in my mind; I quickly went to the bag in which I received the samples (paper on the outuside, some metal on the inside)... And the smell of the bag that I cursed earlier already smelled very much like the unusual tastes in this tea. The dry wood and hemp string especially - no wonder the D&H felt strange, for a Yiwu.

And, taking out the sample of the 2003 Bulang, there is a strong element of the bag  too - but it is not as surprising in Bulang, so I just thought it was  a feature.

I don't think that all the smells come from the miserable bags - there is a slight aroma of cardboard when one looks for it. Maybe there was some bad storage in Houde storehouse already?

I do not care that much where the strangeness appears - the point is, that even though I repacked the received teas from the smelly bags to normal silver tea bags shortly after they arrived, the aroma of bags was slightly noticeable in the young teas and very clear in the older teas. Given the rather astronomic Houde prices, I'd expect the packaging to be all right. It is not that difficult I think.

As a result, I do not really know how these old Cheng Guang He Tangs taste on their own. However, I don't think they could be awesome if a mild aroma of packages overcomes their nature;

pátek 3. srpna 2012

1999 Cheng Guang He Tang Yiwu Dragon and Horse

The first of "big" Cheng Guang He Tangs arrives. The sample of CGHT's 99 Dragon and horse & 2001 Mansa is still available from Houde (it's hidden - you won't find it in sample section, it's to be found in CGHT part of the shop). I thought that the price was still rather reasonable and gave it a go.

The wet leaves give an interesting, complex aroma of Yiwu wood  - woody taste/aroma is not that common in Yiwu I think, but the honey&nuts Yiwu sometimes lose their soul and become more woody when, e.g., stored in too dry environment. The aroma is not only woody though, there are pleasant overtones known from higher-class alcoholic drinks (brandy, whiskey).

The tea starts quite fishy, but two rinses instead of one fix that quite well. It is a small deficiency, nothing groundbreaking.

The main taste is amber in feeling as in color. Considering this is a Yiwu tea, there is a lot of wood - not a bad wood though. And some hemp too. It gradually becomes more nutty with further brews. The main body of the taste - the wood/nuts is rather good, but a) Feels somewhat hollow - one is used to fuller performance from Yiwu, b) Goes away too fast - the taste is not really persistent in mouth.

If one deals with the not-that-awesome main taste, he may found that there is a lot of subtle complexities in the tea. Occasional very original and pleasant tastes (oak keg taste, dried plums - these appear rather often,...) jump out of the cup and then disappear again. It was a lot of fun to concentrate on these small tastes which lend a greater overall complexity to the tea.

Drinking this tea felt like riding a train through vast savannas - although the sight of grass, occasional trees and small hills is pleasant, it is not really that fun thing to do for too long. But sometimes, you catch, for a moment, a sight of a lion hunting a zebra - or a group of tribal people going somewhere, etc., which makes the experience worthwhile.

The tea is not especially strong in the way of aftertaste sadly. Also, it does not feel that intense at the beginning - this gets better with further brews though.

The first photo is of a rather normal Yiwu leaf.

The second leaf is very different, being small and with very small serration - it's like if it was a different varietal (similar to what grows in Jingmai). Can someone shed more light on this? I thought that Yiwu leaves were generally like on the first image.

Due to the "enjoyable bits" in taste, this tea was an enjoyable colleague for several afternoons (Do you too have the odd tendency to convert Heroes 3 words - few, several, lots, throng,... - to numbers right away?). It is not great though, I'm afraid, missing too much in the way of main taste - that is actually what most people will be interested in. It's like if the tea was already a bit tired.

Maybe it just is not that a great blend, leading to the tiredness. 
I have been experimenting a lot with blending tea recently - not maocha, true, but still, even mixing pressed cakes gives one an idea - and found many difficulties. There are some natural conclusions coming from the experience, but I did not realize these before the actual attempts at blending. The interesting part is that most of the blends end in the Xizihao style - the feeling is often good, but the taste is not (there is even the similarity to the Xizihaos "nothingness" of taste - the only result I'm able to achieve with considerable consistency) - I do have an explanation ready and may write about it sometime.

The point is - blending is a terribly hard  thing to do - to make a drinkable blend is difficult - and to make a "after10yearsdrinkable" blend is probably difficult^2 (difficult>1, of course).

Further reading: Half-Dipper