pátek 28. září 2012

2009 Yong De Da Xue Shan

Shah has recommended this tea to me recently and I am glad he did (i.e., thanks Shah!) for two reasons - first, it made me discover finepuer and sampletea, second, it made me discover this particular tea.

Although I think that Yongde is a sort of darker brother to Mengku, dry leaves smell in such a way that I could hardly tell it is not Mengku. On the other hand, I'm quite miserable when it comes to telling things about tea based on the aroma of dry leaves.

And a detail... it looks like there are spider legs in the bottom left corner, does it not?

Wet leaves smell good, pleasant and very much "going together", nothing sticking out. There is a soft-ish mixture of wood barkk, leather, darker fruit (plums?) and a bit of incense. Here, I believe that the incense aroma is quite natural, it just appears in some teas.

The taste is quite alike to the aroma - the liquor is sweet, fruitish (ripe plums), woody-leathery and a hint of incense. This could sound like a light pleasant drink, but it is a bit "darker" - not in color (in that too) - rather in the dark/light side of Force. The taste is slightly muted (by the thickness of the liquor I guess), but not too badly.

The bitterness is low, but the small piece of bitterness does not transform too much (it's the kind of bitterness I associate with wild growing trees). On the other hand, astringency is quite high here. 

Although the taste is quite nice, the best in this tea comes, I believe, after the taste. The cooling feeling is quite good and lasts many steepings - it's like tiny crystalline spiders wove a cooling net all around the mouth cavity. Then, a pleasant and "friendly" energy embalms the mind. When I consciously awoke from the nice state of peace, I realized that the tiny bit of bitterness still does not transform, that the aftertaste is not particularly interesting and that the high astringency makes a slightly unpleasant feeling in mouth. But all these things are forgotten of one wants to "live" the tea, instead of mere analysis.

This tea is a bit different from what I usually drink, but it is not different enough for me not to enjoy it. I actually enjoyed it a lot. I like how the tea does not have significant weak spots (I guess that the high astringency should age away eventually) and it has certain components amply developed. It is a good contrast to the 2003 Bada which surprised me by its great taste and very nice feeling afterwards, while this tea had "only" nice taste, but performed great after the liquor is swallowed. 

The 500g cake costs $58, which is about $46 per 400g cake and that is a very good price for such a high quality tea. Good that it has not been made by anyone famous for I'm afraid it could be sold for a lot more money.

sobota 22. září 2012

2003 Bada Gao Shan Bowl

After a batch of samples from pu-erh.sk, let us slowly move over to finepuer (and sampletea), an establishment which looks very nice. Their sample prices (i.e., the ratio of sample price to the price of whole cake/tuocha) are excellent, compared to pretty much anyone else. For 10g, you won't pay much more than simply cost_of_the_cake*10/weight_of_the_cake. 

Is the quality of their tea good, however? Now, I can not say for sure yet, but based on several tastings and smelling of most of the samples, it seems that finepuer&sampletea will become a member of My favourite vendors club.

I received three of such flat boxes of samples, each containing 12 pieces:

Expecting ordinary sample bags, I was astonished by the supercute little boxes waiting inside:

Is the packaging practical too? I believe so. The paper boxes are sealed in plastic, then there is the box itself and the tea is in another thick plastic bag inside the box. 

When you look at the sampletea website, you will see how tippy this tea is. Indeed, my sample is similarly heavy on tips:

The dry leaves smell of meadow flowers and fruit, very pleasant.

Steeped leaves smell better - complex, the sweetness, well mixed with garden fruit. There is a particularly strong "aftersmell" of meadow honey. Now I feel that if the tea tastes similarly and feels good enough, it might be a real hit.

The liquor of the first steeping smells of ripe garden fruit, a bit of longan and a bit of camphor. The taste is pretty much great even in the first steeping. Honey and ripe garden ripe are in basically perfect harmony. Towards the end of the taste, sweet dry wood appears. However, even the dry wood is silky and pleasant.

Even though the liquor feels (and is) thick and sweet, the actual taste is very intense and pronounced.

The second steeping gives stronger taste, which is similar in character to the first steeping. When one oversteeps the tea, certain hongcha tones appear. I do not mind them, but I prefer to keep the liquor a bit lighter:

Luckily, the cooling and tingling feeling does come in the second steeping and stays with me for many more steepings to come.

The aftertaste is long and quite complex and transforming - it's like dancing fireflies - so much fun to look (taste) at. It is complemented by nice hui gan.

With time, the fruitiness and honey taste gets weaker and the wood becomes stronger. That is why I thought, when around  4-6th steepings, that the tea is not really a top piece. Then I realize that it is simply the effect of perfect-ish first two steepings and that the tea is still lovely. Not as complex as great Yiwu or Bulang, but it is different and also very pleasant. When I realized its undoubted qualities again (and reading a haiku about whales singing in the morning), I thought:

Whales sing in Japan,
tea tray glitters here,
I am happy too.

What was very important to me was the good mouthfeel which lasted until the last steeping I have had. Not that many teas can do that. Also, when I smelled the wet leaves that I left in a container overnight, there was no smell at all - the tea has apparently captivated me enough so I squeezed every bit of taste out of it.

Hot tea
cools like a whale
that goes down.

The wet leaves are quite unbroken and in good shape, considering this is a 2003 tea:

I really liked this tea and I guess I will buy a bowl if it is available. For me, the tea does not have any real flaw, while its taste is a refreshing mix of already known tastes which works very well. I was afraid of its tippy nature slightly, but I do not think that the tips would behave impropertly. The extra fruitiness that they give to the tea does not overwhelm the rest, nor makes the tea weak overall. If I count correctly, this tea costs about $110 per 400g which is a sound price in my opinion.

I wonder whether all these recent "boring" pine&citrus Badas will age into such a tea as this one. If so, another thing is whether they would age so well here in CR too. I guess that I will never know - after all, there is little reason why they should. 

čtvrtek 20. září 2012

2012 Pu-erh.sk Mengsong

The last of pu-erh.sk 2012s...

Dry leaves:

A detail:

A detailed detail:

When one looks at the dry leaves of this Mengsong, it is obvious that it is much less tippy than the rest. That may be a sort of advantage as tip-heavy teas probably won't be as strong in the long run. On the other hand, I would not say that other pu-erh.sk are too tippy. Just more tippy than this one.

Wet leaves do not smell too terrific at the first glance, there is the kind of green aroma as when you have a really neglected old garden, with all sorts of flowers and weeds growing on top of each other and you cut it - and it gives this aroma. Another approximation one could say is "dark grassiness".
But - the aroma luckily does not stop there and gentle fruity tones and a good bit of animality (which is like leatheriness, but, well, more animal) appear, and since the moment they appear, the aroma is very pleasant.

In the first steeping, there is more presence and thickness than actual taste - some grass, fruit and a bit of chocolate is there. The mouthfeel is rather strong, cooling and particularly minty, not only it cools like a mint, but it also tastes of menthol.

In the second steeping, there is the presence and oily thickness too, but the taste is stronger, sugary-grassy, rather like a more normal good young puerh. The minty mouthefeel keeps going, slightly disturbed by light persisting bitterness. Good thing that astringency is low.

This is how the liquor looks. Are not  bonsai a good tea tray? I think that especially larger pines would work very well:

The third steeping is similar, but the fruitiness, altough still distant, gets more pronounced. Nevertheless, the whole tea is like if someone is talking to you behind a thick glass.

The whole experience with this tea is pleasant, but a bit too distant - I think that the big thickness does not do too well to the tea.

Actually, in the wake of the blending post, I found that this tea is way better when mixed with Pu-erh.sk 2012 Youle - both 1:1 and 2:1 mixes worked well. This way, the fruitiness of both teas combines into a wide and complex taste aspect and it is no longer overpowered by the embalming thickness.

Overall, this is a very nice tea - really thick, with reasonable taste and nothing which could disturb you. At $40 per 400g, you could do a lot worse in today's young sheng. I still think there are better teas around 2004-7 for this kind of money, but in premium young sheng, there are not many cakes for this sum.

úterý 18. září 2012

2012 Pu-erh.sk You Le

Now, the one I've been looking forward the most from the 2012 Pu-erh.sk bunch. I really like the You Le (or Jinuo shan) teas made by Jinuoshan TF (some of them, while not all very good, are available from YS and Chawangshop).

Dry leaves smell rather interesting, not just green 2012-iness, but fresh apricots too! Goodie.

Wet leaves smell quite good and rich, heavily sweet (it is a good, textured sweetness) and with sort of heavy floweriness. A slightly disturbing glue-ish aroma is there, but it is not really annoying or anything. I guess it is just too much of the floweriness in one place.

The taste is much alike how I imagined these young Jinuoshan teas to be. The sweetness is still there, with good Youle fruitiniess (which I find somewhat similar in some aspect to Jingmai fruitiness; here, it is mostly like apricots), meadow flowers and a bit of young "spring flowers" (Lily of the Valley, or blooming acacia). These spring flowers are like a light kiss of Mao Xie or green TGY, but go well with the rest. I guess that they will be gone in a while anyway. The tea is reasonably bitter and astringent. It's better not to push it too much in my opinion.

An interesting mouth-drying feeling happens when one sips the tea.

Aftertaste is long and fruity, a nice piece of silky bitterness tends to stay on the palate, numbing it a bit. Although I have waited for significant cooling mouthfeel in vain, the after-taste performance as whole is good.

The taste is not too long, but I believe that this shortcoming should be repaired by certain period of aging. 

Around 4th steeping (the exact steeping when it happens is, of course, dependent on how you steep the tea...), the floweriness tends to go away, being replaced by more intense taste of apricots with rather strong sugariness and a some mushrooms (I guess that's what is left of the flowers in the tea). There is still a pronounced bitterness, but it dances away rather quickly and does not annoy one in any way.

It seems that the apricot taste tends to go away next, leaving us a generic mushroomy-sugary liquor which is entirely inoffensive, but not a heavy hitting superhero either.

I enjoyed this tea the most from the 2012 pu-erh.sk offerings I think. However, let me note that I do not think it is as much a matter of quality (the rest is of good quality too) as matter of style - I just like Youle and I tend to be much more picky when it comes to more "conventional" style of puerh. I think this tea is quite accessible - not all young Youles are (e.g., Guanzizai Youle).

Also, it is fun to taste this tea after I've had countless litres of  various Jinuoshan Youles. It's as if you have a good friend you have known for years and then you see photo of him when he was young (i.e., drinking this 2012 Youle), it's fun to try to interpolate when the said friend's nose started to grow, how his facial bones moved as he developed and all that. 

Now, this tea costs the equivalent of $56 for 400g which is a lot compared to Jinuoshan's Youles (and I do not think this tea would be better, it can not be, given its age, obviously), on the other hand, if you enjoy young puerh, consider giving this tea a try - it is cheaper than most young fancy puerhs and for me, it is more interesting than most of them.

Further reading:
Cha & Kung Fu
Tea dropping
The harmony of tea (in czech)

neděle 16. září 2012

Several thoughts on blending


I'm recovering from an illness which ment no tea. Today I could feel tastes at last and I do not feel too sick - which means tea time! Now I'm meeting Banna Gu Yun for the first time and it could have hardly left a better impression. But as I do not have any tea notes ready for publishing, this post will not be about a particular tea.

I wanted to write about my experiments with blending things for some time so why not now? I admit I'm an amateur blender, but some observations might be interesting to someone.

What were my blending experiments like? I took ten or so different cakes of different areas and tastes, tried to write a "taste vector" for each of them, started blending them in various ratios and made notes about the resulting things. 


Initial failures
My initial attempts were generally bad as I tried to combine teas which were too different. E.g., I combined sweet, full tea with little taste with a tea that was rather thin, but had a strong fruity taste (Mengku), expecting fuller sweeter, pleasant fruity tea. Nope. I got a rather boring thing with hints of good things happening, but the tea did not work overall.

Although it is a heretical statement, these thick, uninspiring teas with hints of interesting things going on reminded me strongly of the 2009-10 Xizihaos I have tasted (and the 2007 Dragon and Phoenix too, to an extent) by its character.

Anyway, there were positives about this phase too. I learned that too much of something in a tea may hinder good mouthfeel (well, Man'E style bitterness does for sure). For example, the Pa Sha 2006 when alone, has a really nice mouthfeel, but it is not really top notch because something blocks it. But add it to something with a bit of cooling mouthfeel of its own and it makes that bit a huge chunk of cooling feeling.

Some successes
I must admit that out of my many initial trials, as little as 10% came out better than sum of its parts in my opinion (and in many cases, the result was worse than the minimum of its parts). But with time, the hits were much more frequent than they used to be when I started. Why is it? I started combining teas that have something in common. And that is the most important thing I learned - only when I combined teas that were close in some aspect, the result worked.


I offer the following simple idea - too simple to be true, I know, but it is a reasonable approximation I hope. At least, it is consistent with my observations. It basically is - take taste vectors of teas and sum them up.

Our idealized tea, represented by a histogram, will have two important aspects to watch for - the aspects that are more intense than 100 (arbitrary units) form the main, intense taste. The aspects that are more intense than 50 help in complexity. The numbers 50 and 100 mean nothing, they were chosen to illustrate the general idea only.

a) very different teas blended
Let us have three teas:

What does the histogram mean? Y axis is the intensity, X axis means tastes - you may think of 5 as of honey, 7 as dark fruit, 9 sugary sweetness, 11 light fruitiness, 13 floweriness, 15 grasiness... it really does not matter what it is exactly. We may see that all three teas have reasonable intensity (4-5 bars), i.e., have components stronger than 100. They have 7 bars of complexity (i.e., a bar more intense than 50) and little in common.

Now we take a third of each and put it together to get a blend of size of the original teas... we get:

As you can see, there is no component that would provide any sort of "main taste", i.e., there is nothing of sufficient intensity. You can, I think, sort of meet this in the XZH Banzhang/Yiwu blend - areas which have very little in common - and the result is hardly impressive, nothing stands out. The feeling of complexity may be there, but the tea has no theme, no character.

b) similar teas blended
Now, let us consider another three teas:

These teas do have something in common (but they are not the same, of course).
Their blend:

This is obviously very different from the previous blend. The tea still has 5 bars of intense taste (and they are quite balanced, nothing stands out too much), but it has 9 bars of complexity, i.e., we just created an about 30% more complex tea than any of its single components! 

Self-criticism and mini-conclusion

You could object that teas are not as one-dimensional as I displayed them. I agree - the features do not have to be "together" as in my images (it was simple to generate this kind of data, that's all). But whether they sum up to something interesting or not does not depend on actual positions of a feature in a histogram.

Also, you could say that some components will not simply sum up, but that the interactions will be more complex. I definitely agree here. But I hope that the importance of these nontrivial influences is not large enough to make my hypothesis completely wrong. And, above that, as I have no way of describing these nontrivial influences, I can not work with them really.

Also, I have not covered the aspect of aging. On MarshalN's blog, I believe, there has recently been raised the question whether blended tea ages similarly to pure components aging separately and then being blended. I do not know anything about that and so I could not incorporate into my model either.

As a proof-of-concept, I can safely say that even with simple "adding histograms", I could get much better results than by random blending. I.e., the model has at least some predictive capabilities which is good. Thus, I think that it might be helpful to blend your own teas, considering their features, trying to combine what they have in common rather than to patch one tea by another completely different, which "fills" the desired hole in a taste histogram.

Also, what the model says and what is my experience too, it is not really worth it to combine too many teas. Ok, some big factories may have made multi-component blends, I offer an explanation in the next section.

Why blending?

Indeed, blended teas often have more complexity. Why are single mountain cakes made then? The nice explanation is that smaller, "boutique" vendors like western connoisseurs and want to give them "single-origin", pure, clean experience. 

I tend to be more pessimistic trying to explain the single-mountain phenomenon and I believe that it is simply money-driven (or it started as such). Let's go back in time and ask ourselves - why were teas blended? With the few factories and huge productions, it was pretty much impossible to make a huge heap of tea from a single mountain as the single mountain just did not have enough material to make the desired amount of cakes. The blending had  to be employed then. That is the explanation I mentioned above - if you need to have a huge amount of cakes, then you have to use a lot of areas to get the necessary amount of leaves. It may not make the result much more interesting than if you used 3 areas only, but the 3 areas would not give you enough material.

Smaller producers, e.g., western eshop owners doing their own productions, were in completely different situations than the past big factories. Not mentioning the lack of knowledge of blending, if you do not have enough money to buy a lot of materials, let's buy from several single mountains, do not blend it, and make the bug (not blended tea) a feature (single-origin tea). In some areas (whiskey), e.g., single malts are rated higher than blends, so the process of making it a feature is made easier. People get used to the single-origin tea and want more and more of it - happy seller.

I do not want to sound like I'm against single-origin teas, not at all - it's fun to talk about Guafengzhai taste, how it is very different from Gaoshanzhai, you have that Banzhang transforming and Man'e non-transforming bitternesses and all that - it is fun. But with blends, you may really get those 9 bars of complexity, while you have only 7 bars with the single-origin cakes...

středa 12. září 2012

Some more of Petřínka and 2012 Pu-erh.sk Man Nuo

Let us start with some more photos of Petřínka spring. I go there in mornings on my bike. It is usually quite early, which means less people, less cars on the road and overall pleasant experience (once one gets over getting up).

And when one turns around, it looks like this: 

Just about five minutes of walking, a lovely garden where I like to drink tea in the morning. Given my glass, I can not take a reasonable, more wide-angle picture. I'll take the wide-angle camera with me sometime and will show the entire garden.

This is my pocket teapot - a handy one, 1 pot = 1 cup, so there is no need for pitcher. The pot and cup are filled with the 2012 Pu-erh.sk Man Nuo. 

I like to sit there in the morning, reading my favourite haiku collection - Chrám plný květů [A temple full of flowers]. I like it because it is low on "western" explanation and they generally make good sense (e.g., explaining cultural traditions to which a haiku refers). The issue with some zen-oriented translations/works is bad attempts at prosaic and "reasonable" explanation by the translator or someone close to him, so that your run-of-the-mill Johnny the woodcutter knows all about "that zen teaching".  Similarly awful effort is making such books for local philosophers. For example, I was glad when I found Mumonkan in one of our bookshops at last. Upon opening it, I was horrified by rather weird explanations and off comments of some chap, which pretty much spoiled the book. The average length of word was 10 or so, all some isms, something like: "the (european) philosopher XYimides said B, while YZ said A, capturing the ethereal essence of paradigm of the entity called zenbuddhism, which contrasts with fugilitarism of anti-militaristic scientopatophysicist DE"... It is funny how some people have to make simple things difficult so that they can explain them to others.

Nevertheless, the morning tea session was without any such unpleasantries. The combination of fresh air, good tea, birds singing, bees humming and good haiku, is most uplifting.

Here is a (pseudo)haiku of my own which occured to me that morning:

What a beautiful garden this is, with no one inside,
I enter.
A nice garden, think the people coming by.

I could go on for hours on the beauty and cleanliness of Haiku... 

However (lucky for you), this is a blog about tea, not about haiku. Back to the Mannuo and the afternoon, more analytic, session:

The dry leaves smell like fine young Bulang leaves - no smoke here, so far so good.

And another pointless detail:

The wet leaves bring happiness - smelling like good, sweet Bulang, rather dark, promisingly promising.

The taste is very solid too. It starts like a rather ordinary good Bulang, but without sourness, without smoke or any other unpleasantries which sometimes happen to young Bulang.

The liquor smells sugary, nothing unusual here (given that this is young premium tea - young Bulangs can smell pretty awful at times).

The 1st steepping is light on taste, nicely sweet, but woody, without anything overly interesting. The strong mouthfeel is very promising though.

The liquor is a bit more orange than one is used to in this young tea, but then again, why not? Leaves are in a good shape.

From the 2nd steeeping on, good taste of garden fruit starts complementing the sweet woodiness, creating a good harmony. The bitterness is strong, of course, but not disturbing and it does transform well (into light fresh aftertaste). I like it more than the Bada aftertaste, part of which did never really transform. The mouthfeel of this Mannuo is very nice (stronger than in Bada) and lasts long, accompanied by good hui gan.

Around the 6th brew or so, the garden fruit starts disappearing, leaving grassy-woody sweet water. Fine, yet a bit ordinary.

The tea is a mixture of various grades of leaves (btw. would be someone so kind and enlighten me on how to determine a grade? Is it dependent on varietal? Or is it just a conversion table of size x to y = grade z?):

What I do appreciate about this tea indeed is its high thickness and sweetness, while the taste is clear and strong. Even the bitterness does not kill the taste. The components of this tea play well along one another. I'm curious to taste the 2011 version to see the difference.

All in all, this is a fine, "propertly" done tea - good taste (for a young tea), good mouthfeel, good strength. Whether you want to spend $80+ for 400g of good tea, that is up to you. In this genre, I would much rather buy 2006 Haiwan Pa Sha Ancient Arbor or 2007 Boyou Manlu, both way cheaper. I think the former to be better overall, the latter being slightly more tasty and slightly weaker feeling in mouth, also a bit thinner than the Mannuo. Still, I'd prefer to drink the 2007 Manlu over this young Mannuo. Of course, you might say "But wait, in five years, the Mannuo will be a gem". Of course, it is possible (and it is possible that it will not be a gem too). However, when it is 5, the Pasha/Manlu will be about 10 years old, being pretty much on another level. Maybe in 20-30 years, the advantage of the 5 years will go away and  this Mannuo will prove itself to be a great value. Maybe...

To finish up with a positive note, for a change - I am glad that pu-erh.sk can do a "world-class" young puerh. My issue is with  prices vs. quality of young tea in general, not with pu-erh.sk. 

pondělí 10. září 2012

2012 Pu-erh.sk Bada

I do not know why I omitted puerh.sk from my "sample raids" for so long. Maybe the belief that people from around here can not get a decent material on their own.

From what I have tasted so far from pu-erh.sk, the Slovakia has beaten the Czech Republic by a mile (if I do not count Chawangshop, which is not really a czech shop). Where local (czech) puerh people concentrate on making money, Peter of pu-erh.sk has obviously concentrated on making tea. Although the price rides on the same tsunami as the prices of other premium cakes (maybe a bit lower), the quality does so too and that is good.

To the first of the batch - Pu-erh.sk's Ba Da:

The leaves do smell actually and they smell rather good - there is an expected grassy Bada base, but a Mengku-ish fruitiness is there too - the less expected, the more welcome.

The wet leaves smell well, wide and thick. The base consists of usual Bada's conipher and citrus, the rest is fruity pleasantness. If I sniff it a lot, there is a bit of unwelcome laundry aroma, but it is really weak and does not appear anywhere else, so let us not care about it.

The brew (photos of which have gone missing most mysteriously - 'twas a good yellow brew) gives a solid, buttery aroma. 

The first brew (btw., dear english speakers, is "brew" a good way of saying it? Isn't "steeping" better? Thanks!) has more presence than actual taste, with an okay mouthfeel, without much aftertaste.

The second brew is more distinct and more Bada, with the usual pine and citrus combination. The sourness which appeared in some other Bada teas was substituted for sweetness, which is a commendable change. The interesting lighter Mengku-style fruitiness is present there too, which elevates this tea, for me, a bit higher than the other Bada teas I have tasted. A short while after sipping, a massive bitterness appears and then slowly goes away, which leads to a fun effect - as the bitterness goes away and vibrant mouthfeel appears, it seems that the bitterness itself made the mouth vibrate. However, it is not the case, of course.

3rd and 4th brews are alike - good, sweet, rather pleasant, but it does not have anything to gain my heart, There is a good aftertaste, which, after some time, develops an almost orchid character.

Slightly disturbed by the bitterness, I tried to use my yixing teapot instead of pitcher and it helped a bit, the tea was mellower after that.

With time, the fruitiness, taste in general and interesting mouthfeel tend to go away, leaving a buttery+sugary liquor behind. Not bad, it is a good way of tea death, but not that interesting either.

For me, left more or less cold by Bada charms, this tea does not have that much to offer. It is definitely well produced, robust, strong, with good base of tastes and all that, but there are no taste components I hold in high esteem in puerh. I.e., this is a good, tasty tea, but not my style.

Further reading: Half-Dipper

středa 5. září 2012

Prague Petřiny AA Tap water superior king traditional vs Prague Petřínka AAA FTGFOP certified organic water

Some people told me they thought it a pity that my blog does not deal with local issues and that it should be written in czech entirely. With the second, I disagree as most readers come her from afar and it is a good feeling to be in contact with the world. The first issue - right ho, here is an entirely local affair (of little interest to other readers, I am afraid, unless you plan to come to Prague sometime - a visit I heartily recommend though). Today, it is a duel of two waters you can get in Prague for free.

Let us introduce the gladiators:
Prague 6 tap water: Generally a good enough water. I did not think too much of it, but after finding out that wherever I was, the tap water was worse, I do like it now.

Petřínka spring water: Although there are many springs in Prague, most of them are polluted. The Petřínka spring on the Petřín hill, where the mirror maze and a lookout tower are to be found is supposed to be healthy though (even aphrodisiacal). Petřiny where I live, although kind of eponymous, bears little connection to Petřín hill and Petřínka spring I think.

(the photo linked from http://www.estudanky.cz/200-studanka-petrinka)

Not knowing how good will the spring water be, I took a bike, a barrel, and rode there. It is in the slope of Petřín hill, near the Nebozízek restaurant. The hill offers some very nice walks, especially in the morning when people are few and birds many.

In the afternoon, I had a look at the water. Is the extra effort to get the spring water worth it?

1st test:
The first test tea - 2010 YS Purple Yi Wu again, as it is rather sensitive to water.

The difference is not as large as when I compared local tap water with Evian. Using Petřínka water, I got a bit smoother, thicker drink, without the tiny chemical taste of the tap water. However, I do not think the difference is overly significant. In the tap/Evian experiment, even a non-tea drinker would see the difference. In this 1st test, the difference is small and subtle.

2st test:
The second test tea is 2006 Haiwan Pasha. The Purple Yi Wu may be sensitive to water, but this Haiwan Pasha still leads by a mile. Back where I used to live, in a different part of Prague, I was positively dashed by a sample of the Pasha and quickly bought two tongs. Later, when I moved, it ceased to be consistently good. Using the tea stove, I got more or less very good result every time, but the complexity and pleasantness, it was not there anymore really, not mentioning the sessions with tap water. I tried many a water, but it was not the same anymore. Good feeling, good taste, to a degree, but some pleasant aspects  were missing.

And yes, you may have guessed it already - the Petřínka water brings everything back and adds something on top (it may be the two years of aging too). Therefore, it is an aphrodisiac to a degree indeed - I am in love with Pasha again!

Right from the start, one could see the water is a hit. Where the tap water gave me a hard-ish aroma of wet leaves, dry wood and all that (not bad, definitely, the leaves are very good I think, it is just not so lovely at the first smell), the spring water made a surprisingly complex, sweet-fruity-woody mix with some honey on top. Is it even possible that water changes tea so much? The taste reflects the aroma well - it is soft (as much as Pasha can be), very complex (so many tastes swirling around, in a pleasantly dazzling way), tasting for a long time, with a lovely light aftertaste and good mouthfeel.  

I'll try some other "too hard to enjoy" teas in near future and will let you know in case of any interesting results. Until then, try the water for yourselves, it is worth it!

neděle 2. září 2012

2011 YS Nan Po Zhai

echo "Thanks for this sample" | Hobbes.

The teapot awaits...

This tea comes from Nan Po Zhai in Mengku, Lincang. The only other pure Nan Po Zhai cake I know is its 2012 counterpart. Actually, when I was thinking over my criticism of crazy new puerh not bringing much new, but costing much more than it used to, I realized that there is a good thing about it (from a tea student's point of view) - the fancy teas are not called "Green puerh", nor "Lincang Puerh", but now, we are often speaking of single villages - and I do like to know how different villages taste. Still, I guess I prefer blended things and I do not much care about what exactly is it composed of, but it is enjoyable to zoom closer and taste different villages too.

The dry leaves are healthy and furry, smelling lightly floral. 

The wet leaves do not smell all that great to me, very green and floral. Liquor is similar, the aroma is sort of like Mao Xie or of a green TGY. 

Nevertheless, all these aromas and all that are just an appetizer for the real drinking. And the tea does well there. 

The first brew is not particularly great, "just another young sheng", I am thinking. The floralness is still rather strong, it is like a lily of valley or acacia - that "young spring" aroma. Rather lovely, but I tend to enjoy different aspects in puerh. Also, a bit of "young sourness" is present. Mouthfeel is good, although not really cooling that much, it is active and present.

The second brew becomes darker and heavier...

And from the third brew, things are good. The basic characteristic is "Mengku fruitiness", but as the village is more specific than just "Mengku", the description will be too. The floral aspect is still there, but does mix well with the light fruitiness. I may prefer dark Yiwu fruitiness in general, but this kind of fruitiness is also good and more refreshing. I think it is like papaya the most. 

I feel happy and relaxed, like on a beach in late afternoon, where waves are murmuring with the fresh, salty wind - and I have nothing to do, except wanting to finish the juice in my hand. Day critters prepare to go to sleep and night critters are just waking up, preparing for a night carnival. Peace...

The tea has good sweetness, combined with a good deal of pleasant bitterness; some people might have an issue with it I guess. As it transforms well and complements the fruitiness, I do not mind it. I may even enjoy it, it gives a bit of a kick to the experience. The sourness  of young sheng is long gone (it was not too notable in the 2nd brew already and completely gone in the 3rd one).

The mouthfeel is still very nice. Due to the bitterness, it is not as pronounced as it would be in smoother tea, but it is there and I like it. The aftertaste of this tea is light, floral-fruity and comes from the transformation of the bitterness, rather than from the main taste.

Although the brews no. 3-6 are very satisfactory, the tea does get a bit worse after that. The bitterness starts to overwhelm the peaceful components of taste and the tea gets unnecessarily aggressive. This may be, to an extent, regulated by the drinking temperature. When the tea is hot, there is not much beside the bitterness. When I let it cool down a bit, the taste from previous brews gets stronger and fights the bitterness valiantly. The problem is that the "Mengku hollowness" appears; I can not snatch too much of such tea from scratch. Let's put a whole batch into hatch to cratch, lock the latch and get in touch, without a grudge... Ummm. no, I'd be a terrible tea rapper. Simply said, too much of such (not again...) tea does not do me too well and that is why I do not drink that much Mengku teas. It's like I have an issue with Burgundy wine which does me unwell in a very similar way. 

Although I did not think much of this tea when I started my first tasting, it quickly became "a very enjoyable tea" and in further tasting sessions, I did not mind the worse start of this tea at all. If you know that things are going to get good, it is not that difficult to overcome a bit of hardship (the first two brews are not that bad, it is just that the rest is better).

The wet leaves show two distinct grades of leaves used:

I'd like to taste this tea after a year to see where the less satisfactory brews (1,2,7+) go.

At the current price of $70, the tea lies a bit above what is my maximum for a young tea (and my Mengku limits will be even lower), but I do not think it crazy. Yes, the tea does have its shortcomings, it does give me only 4 very good brews, but I simply feel that I like it and that is it.

sobota 1. září 2012

Experimenting with water

After reading MarshalN's articles on the importance of water, I felt the urge to try something like that too. Of course, one does know that different waters give different brews, but how different exactly?

Experiment 1: Tap water vs. Evian water (I could not get any better), both boiled in an electric kettle. I used Purple Yi Wu 2010 as a test-tea as the tea is very sensitive to water used.

I took two bowls from the same serie, but about the same amount of tea to both, steeped the tea and waited. The difference was clear in less than a minute.

Tap water is on the left.

1 minute:

3 minutes: 

In detail, tap water


First, I observed the aroma. The difference was huge - the Evian smelled like nice, darker young Yiwu, sweet, full, with some fruit and nuts. The tap water smelled hollow, dry and not that good.

Looking at the bowls, one may immediately see that the tap water yields a lighter brew. What you may not see at the 0th sight, but it should be seen at the first sight, the Evian bowl is much more cloudy - it is not that I was out of focus. Peculiar, is it not?

The taste was very different too. Despite the poor aroma of the tap water bowl, both bowls tasted very nice, but very different. 
The tap water bowl tastes good, full, fruity (it is that dark fruit style Yiwu). If I try, I guess I do taste a bit of chemical stuff in there (not chlorine, it is some other disinfection. It is not too bad though, I like how the bowl tastes.
The Evian bowl tastes also good, also full, but it is much more like the "honey and nuts" Yiwu style. It is much more nutty and much less fruity than the tap water. 

So, although one would naturally expect some difference when using different water, the takehome message here is that the tea can be diametrally different even using "normal" waters. This was boiled in an electric kettle, none of the waters had significant  flaws or superpowers.

Experiment 2:
Boiling tea is also an issue. It is well known that brewing water in a clay kettle on real fire is great. Tetsubin on a heating plate is also good. Some people boil water in a pot on a gas burner. How does it affect the water? Today, I pitted tap water boiled in an electric kettle (metal everywhere) against tap water boiled in a pot. 

...There will be no photos as there was no significant difference in the color, aroma or taste. 

The importance of material is vast though. Plastic kettles are, unles propertly cleaned, not much good in my opinion.