úterý 30. října 2012

1980s Menghai 7532 "Yiwu spring buds" (and two new pots)

Although I do not buy a lot of pottery in general (almost none at all) and rather use what I have  already, the time has come for a new pot for cca 2000-2005 teas. I always had the issue whether I should put these into my young puerh teapot or my old puerh teapot and so I bought another one, just for this period. So far it seems rather good, it absorbs the aroma of tea a lot faster than my other teapots.

And then, we sometimes drank tamaryokucha with my girlfriend in the evening - however, as I gave up drinking japanese tea some six or seven years ago, I had only a porcelain gaiwan to brew it in. It sort of worked, but I did not have enough skill to prepare it entirely satisfactory. That's why we invited a visitor from Tokoname:

To the other matter of 1980s 7532 (from EoT). I do not have enough data to back it up, but I guess that 7532 is my least favourite of the 7532, 7542, 8582, although it probably should be the fanciest one. However, I find it difficult to pinpoint any really distinctive features in the 7532, while I can do that in the case of latter two. Still, I rather kept this 80s version for a special occasion. Yesterday I thought, what the heck, I survived IELTS exam (whether I scored enough points is another matter :)), that's special enough.

The leaves are quite nice, are they not? The cake seems to be pressed rather heavily too.

I used the stove for this tea. When one plans ahead, it is quite time-efficient and easy to set up:

Wet leaves smell very nice, although, in line with my previous 7532 observation, not that distinctive. There is a lot of dark nuts and spice. The agedness is entirely clean, without traces of the cake's original storage. An interesting hint of animality (the sort of you smell near elephants in a zoo). In the background, there are some scary tones of hemp and red fruit, the kind I associate with bad dry storage. Luckily, the taste is quite fine, the dryness is not too bad.

This is what the liquor looked like in the second steeping. It  was a lot darker in most of the session though:

Now, the taste... The tea started quite light - realizing its heavy pressing, I kept it for a longer time in the pot, but it was not enough. I guess that this tea needs a lot of time to get going. I guess that the steepings I liked the best were 7th or 8th. 

In the first steeping, there is a lot of light tastes together - light agedness, nuts, some chocolates, all very creamy. Some hemp and that weird red fruit is there, but luckily very muted.

The second steeping is still quite light, the nuttiness and creaminess bring back memories of some good shu from 90s. The issue which puzzled me was - where is the cooling/tingling feeling of aged tea? Well, it is more or less nowhere. Some is present, but it's very weak for such a tea (and it does not get fixed in further steepings). Even 7542s from late 90s/early 00s were far better in this aspect. Even run-of-the-mill aged loose tea works better. I wonder why this is.

Could the lack of mouthfeel be caused by the dry Taiwan storage? And also the "slow to start up feature"? Because the similarly aged Xiaguan 8653s (both storages) or Qing Bing, all from EoT were much more "in your face" right from the second steeping. Anyway, the good thing about this 7532 is that it actually gets going, it just needs a while.

In the 3rd-4th steeping, the sweetness grows, the red fruit and hemp disappear. However, I can not but notice that the long term aftertaste is a bit weak.

The tea gets better and better with every steeping. It becomes deeper, darker and sweeter. Still not as deep as the Xiaguans or the Qing Bing, but good nevertheless.

Despite certain shortcomings in the mouthfeel and aftertaste, it has very nice qi - one just feels good when drinking this. When I got rid of the "this tea could be better" feeling, I enjoyed it a lot. The very good stamina that teas of this age have is here too, I think that I poured about two liters over 6 grams of this tea. 

In the end, I did enjoy this tea. It does not have any negative features of wet storage (some people complained about it in some of EoT's teas), it is very clean and dry (perhaps even too much) and light, given the age. I'm not quite sure about the price though - this is an expensive tea and I do not think that it would bring me significantly more pleasure than, e.g., the bamboo-wrapped tuocha, if more at all. 

In the evening, I'll inspect the leaves more closely, trying to look for reasons of the not-that-satisfactory components this tea has.

sobota 27. října 2012

2007 LM'E/LBZ TF Banzhang bowl

Did I say how happy I am with Finepuer-Sampletea teas? I am actually, very much so. Not that everything would be oojah, but I think that the ratio of good teas to not that good teas (a matter of taste, I know) is probably the most favourable from tea shops I know. Of course, there are many stores worth going through and I do think that one should not stay fixed too much upon his "favourite" vendor - but if you have not tried F-S conglomerate yet and you're out of samples, it is a good one to try out.

Finepuer says that this tea comes from Lao Man'E tea factory, however, Chawangshop has a Menghai tuocha, obviously from the same maker and it is supposed to be from a Menghai Banzhang company. Anyway, both these teas seem to be dirt cheap, this 2007 especially as it is supposed to be Banzhang material. I had the tendency to think "Banzhang for $22 per 400g, haha, good joke, I'd be surprised if it was even Lao Man'E material". Alarm bell was certainly ringing. Nevertheless, the tastings of this tea have shut the alarm bell down (or up? I love that Han->C3PO "shut him up or shut him down" joke from SW anyway). Let us have a look at this surprising tuocha.

The leaves look small in reality, but actually, they are rather large, just a bit broken. It definitely is not like today's fancy puerh which has almost only whole lush leaves. 

When I smelled the wet leaves, I thought "Wow, Gan En returns". Although the aroma is obviously not the same, the Banzhang character is obviously present. It is mainly a mixture of sweet granary (the sweetness becoming deeper with aging), a mixture of overripe "red" fruit and light ground after spring rain. Shah has recently written something like "stone fruit" which is another good way of looking at the aroma/taste. The mentioned components are joined by cedar. Given the price range, the aroma is surprisingly rich and good. Not given the price range, it is still rich and good.

The cup and playful bubbles show a degree of darkness which is not that usual in a 2007 tea today. I'd say the storage must have been perfect or nearly perfect. The tea is nicely developing, it has abandoned the entirely youthful features and is deep and welcoming now.

The taste is basically a good Banzhang - what I said about the aroma is there in the taste too.
The fruit is complex and changes slightly between steepings, rowanberries appear sometimes and complement the rest quite nicely. I myself would prefer a bit less of the fruitiness and a bit more of the light ground taste, but that's only a personal preference - the taste components are nicely balanced together.

When one talks about Banzhang, he usually mentions the bitterness. It is present here, but it quite depends on how you steep this tea. I prefer using less leaves and longer steepings, where the bitterness is low to none. When I did 7g in a 120 ml teapot, the bitterness was rather strong. It appears after a while and transforms quite reasonably. The transformation is slower than in 2005 Gan En or 2005 Finepuer, but much faster and better than any Lao Man'E I have had. Could this be Xinbanzhang material? Possibly...

There is a slightly strange pre-aftertaste finish to the tea, somewhat similar to certain red teas, maybe English breakfast? The other Banzhangs I have tasted had this  too, but in less extent. It is interesting anyway, although I could live easily without it.

The performance after swallowing is also very good, there is intense cooling feeling and overall good activity on the tongue. Not only strong, but long too. Lovely sweet scent remains in the cup.

First I thought that the tea did not have much of a longer aftertaste, but it does actually, but it does not happen immediately. There is an interesting pattern - the cooling feeling goes away, but then reappears, accompanied by youthful fruitiness. I thought of better word - I thought "constringent" could do it, but then I put "constringent fruit" to Google to see if at makes any sense. Well, I was surprised by the two first results (especially the second one). Well, see for yourselves. No, I don't think I'll say the fruit is constringent then.

I noticed a very pleasant qi. It concentrates me (I even noticed largely narrowed field of vision) and I feel a lot of movement in me when I drink this tea. This is further supported by the water from a tea stove.

Allow me to ramble away here - the  water is probably the best investment one can make when wanting a good cup of tea. Investing in water is, I believe, more efficient than investing into expensive good tea and way more efficient than investing into pottery. The stove water brings reasonable amount of warm qi to any tea I drink with it, not mentioning the countless taste aspects it improves. And it leads to even better results with teas that have qi "on their own". Anyway, this is nothing new, when one reads through The Leaf and Art of Tea, the references to water being boiled on real fire and the impact on qi are numerous.

Back to this Banzhang - I like it a lot. I often found myself thinking how I like the Banzhang character/taste, but not $200-like. Via this tuocha, I can have plenty of it for great money. At this cost (about $22 per 400g), I'm generally happy if a tea tastes good. But pair that with a higher-end features like the cooling/active feeling and good qi and you get the impression that this tea is a bargain. I asked Alan, the owner, how come the price is so low and he said that Banzhang (not Laobanzhang) material did not cost as crazy money as now back then and that he did not raise the price!

Has any of you had this? I guess the price is really deceiving into thinking "this is such an obvious fake that I won't try it"...

čtvrtek 25. října 2012

Me and young puerh

A lot of people do think over something, not realizing they have already decided. Then they have a sudden revelation - that leads to countless "I'm gay" confessions on Facebook, however, it is not my case.

The big confession is - I don't like young puerh (younger than three years).

I was genuinely looking forward to ordering samples of most of available 2012 puerh cakes, writing about it, comparing my notes to other bloggers and all that - I sort of missed that in 2010 and 2011. Then, in the middle of doing that, I thought "what the hell am I doing  here"? 

I guess it happened after I finished up the samples of pu-erh.sk. There were many very happy posts about them on other blogs and I did like the teas actually, but it was "like" as when you look over your shoulder on a good butt of a girl you don't know - it's pleasant for a while, but it's not deep or anything. Then I looked over my notes, even the unpublished ones and the only thing which tasted&felt really interesting to me from 2010+ (not counting things harvested earlier and pressed after 2010) was the Yunnan Sourcing's Yibang of 2010 and HLH's Yiwu Chawang. Maybe Longfeng's 2010 green and purple, maybe. 

Not that the 2010+ teas would be bad, not at all, but they don't resonate that deeply to me. And then there is the issue of price.

I guess that it used to be quite helpful to understand young puerh as it was cheaper than older puerh and one could tell what to buy and drink after ten years. But that's absolutely not the way it is now, almost on the contrary - young puerh is awfully expensive. 

Why should I drink young puerh then if not for the low price? 

Young fancy gushu puerh has often good qi, even though the taste is generally not as interesting. I was recently drinking some green teas and wulongs (after the gallons of puerh, almost any other non-heicha, non-yancha genre feels flatter and hollower than puerh, why?) and I clearly felt the difference between these "qi-quiet" teas and young puerh - but then I have a completely run of the mill 90s tea and feel much better than after the young pu.

The qi of young gushu teas is somehow not welcoming to me, too cold or aggressive. Maybe it's a matter of getting used to. It gets better with tea stove water which tames such teas down. And I find young Yiwu tea a lot more drinkable than these Bulangs, Mannuos, Badas and all that. Young Yiwu is generally ok with me, although I prefer it to have some years of age too. But older tea (if normally stored, pre-2003) is a lot warmer and kinder to me. Not only it does not do bad to my stomach (young pu does if I drink too much), but it feels much warmer, friendlier and "more welcoming" to me. 

Therefore, I won't drink young pu for its qi.

Then there is the matter of cooling and tingling feeling in mouth which young gushu teas do have and taidi generally do not. How about the older teas? Teas from 70s and 80s generally have a similar feeling, even though they probably are not from gushu. Even the 90s muddy pieces from thechineseteashop do have similar feeling (dry stored teas not always + their bitterness sometimes kills the good mouthfeel). In the beginning of 2nd millenium, some teas do have this cooling quality and some do not. But there are not many which would be really good tasting, yet without the good feeling in mouth (there are some, sure). 

I could drink young pu for its intense mouthfeel, but there is a lot of 2000+-3 teas and earlier that have good enough quality of similar sort. And lightly aged gushu (Shikunmu's come to my mind) are more awesome than good young gushu.

Then there is the matter of taste and complexity. I think that the young pu loses here big time to teas of 1995-2003: partly because of frequently high bitterness and astringency, partly because the taste components are not yet developed. The good  thing about young pu is that it is increasingly place-specific - that is good for analysis. On the other hand, I'm not convinced that it is equally good for drinking, and/or aging (neither is, e.g., master Shi Kun Mu).

Things get different when one gets into early 90s or time before that - the great variety of tastes that puerh may acquire in 10 or so years of aging starts to narrow down again, towards "aged" tastes. There are differences, clearly - the Qing Bing tastes a lot better than, e.g., 90s Keyixing brick. But the difference in taste hardly justifies the difference in price. The feeling is what matters there.

Thus, I won't drink young pu for its taste as I think it gets largely beaten by cca 10 years old teas and is not beaten by aged tea in taste, but is by its qi and overall feeling.

I'm afraid I fail to recognize any major positives of young pu... Maybe it's more consistent - aging puerh may get good and it may get wrong - young puerh is yet unchanged... That is an advantage as well as a disadvantage though. If you find a good slightly aged tea, it should not change that hugely - basically what you get is what you bought. But with young puerh, you buy something and it  may go horribly wrong - because of not that great material, bad storage or anything. So the element of uncertainity is present in young and in old tea.

I guess that this is the end of my confession... Rather depressive, is it not? My young pu posts usually receive the most hits so it is probably what people are interested in when they come here. I don't say I won't drink any young puerh - I will. But if I'm not that extatic about something, you may just run it through the "he's-not-the-young-pu-man" filter.

Why do you, dear readers like young puerh (if you do, of course) over aged one? A lot of blogs focuses on young puerh so there must be something about it.

pondělí 22. října 2012

2001 Golden melon tribute tea and tea stoves

First, let's start with the tea stoves as my thoughts are shorter there. I do appreciate a lot what a tea stove does to a tea. I've been asked on many an occasion where to buy such a set - however, it was sold out everywhere. It seems that Chawangshop has answered the deep desires of many tea lovers - http://www.chawangshop.com/index.php/tea-hardware/chaozhou-gongfutea-ware.html - a set costs about $40-$60 which is much less than what I paid for mine. Teahabitat restocked their sets recently, but they are quite expensive. So, the take home message is - those who asked me where to buy a set, there are some good and inexpensive options now.

Now, to the 2001 Golden melon tribute tea. Not much is known about its origins, Tien Yuen factory does not seem to be all the rage now. Yunnan Sourcing has a single cake from Tien Yuan factory, could be the same one.

I first took a small chunk in my travelling teapot along on my early morning biking trip through a zone of nature (Divoká Šárka) nearby. I got out at 6 in the morning, got to Šárka around 6:05...and found out that I forgot the bike lights, thus not being to able to continue as it was pitch black night. So I had to wait for the sun for about an hour - but due to this tea, it was a good hour actually. It was surprisingly warm weather and with such a warm tea (in character, not only in temperature), it was very enjoyable.

After a while I thought...
Sitting at a bench by the road,
a reflector throws light into a bend.
Friend or foe?

And later:
The first ray of sun falls
into the murmur of a water stream,
into the taste of tea.

The day after, I had a normal afternoon gongfu session with the tea.

Obligatory photos first:

My sample was broken into little chunks (similar in shape to shu lao cha tou) and did not smell that much. 

Given the low price (for a 2001 tea), I expected a woody, probably smoky aroma of wet leaves. I was very pleased with the reasonably complex and pleasant honey aroma with some wood and fruit. Nothing wrong about that!

The taste is highly pleasant too. I'll eat my hat if it isn't a Bulang tea - from that sweet, friendly family of Bulangs. Dark honey is present throughout the whole session. The main taste starts with some meadow flowers or very heated up forest (heated by summer sun, not by a wildfire). There is good fruitiness, not that simple to describe, I'd say it's mostly like an apricot yoghurt (interesting that the apricots there tend to taste differently from real ones). This honey-flowery-fruity taste is quilted by a sort of  fresh wood - that wood is responsible for pleasant transformation into fresh fruity (mostly plummy) aftertaste. Some bitterness is present, but I did not find it disturbing.

The storage was probably quite reasonable, maybe a bit on the dry side, but the tea seems to be highly improved by age, not damaged.

This all is very well... sounds like just my sort of tea. But something small is missing. I do not know what - the tea is sweet, there is a lot of tastes which work very well together... but something is not there. I enjoyed the tea a lot on every tasting, but I was never fully captivated and enthralled.
The small missing thing is is semi-fixed when I add some neutral Yiwu which helps to coat the oral cavity with the liquor and makes the taste more intense and "around" me. 

The cooling mouthfeel and qi are sufficient. I like a lot how the tea feels overall though, it's much calmer and warmer than young puerh... 

Although the tea is not a grand, superb tea when measured absolutely, a cost-conscious noob like me appreciates that a tea from 2001 costing about $44 per 400g is not only drinkable, but also very pleasant, kind and warm. If the price was doubled, it would be still fine by me I guess. Therefore... toBuyList.append('2001  Golden melon tribute'). 

pátek 19. října 2012

Two Keyixing bricks: 94 from Finepuer, 90s from thechineseteashop

The Keyxing brick from thechineseteashop has accompanied me on many a morning tea session.  No, it's not a particularly superb tea, but given its age, it is rather cheap ($60 per 235g brick) and I often treat myself with a few cups of cheap young-aged puerh in the morning. It's not the taste I seek, nor a great complexity, it's just that it makes me feel good and other kinds of tea do not. Complexity and good taste is what I want from my afternoon sessions. 

As a sample of the 94 Keyxing brick was quite cheap in Finepuer, I thought I'd try it too and do a comparison of these two bricks.

Generally, the bricks are quite similar, same sort of leaves, very similar color, very similar feeling when I drink it in the morning. They both lived a lot of their lives in HK (I can not imagine liking a HK stored tea three years ago). However, a 1:1 bowl comparison shows some differences (and, a bit surprisingly, both teas, especially the 94 brick, performed worse than in my tiny morning teapot).

Dry leaves, the 90s brick to the left, 94 brick to the right:

The 90s brick is a bit more dark brown, while the 94 is greyish.



The 94 brick has more of the white coating and occasional moldy fleck, but it's not too bad.

Steeping both leaves for about five minutes in total, I sniff the cups after two minutes already:
90s aroma: rich, dark wood, some nuts and a bit of chocolate, camphor

94 aroma: lighter, more "grey", like lighter wood, more creamy

Both cups smell quite similar. And after five minutes:

The color of both liquors is quite similar, the right (94) brick has sort of caught up on darkness of wood. Still, there is a difference in the woodiness - I finally took out my small collection of woods, so now I can say that the 90s' woodiness is a mixture of cedar and padouk (padauk), while the 94's woodiness is more like zingana with a touch of a carp (a fish, not wood :)).

The taste comes next:
90s: Aromatic mixture of dark exotic woods (the cedar is pretty dominant there I guess), very light smokiness (the cedar sort), slightly nutty, with some treacle. The aftertaste is nice, plummy, with some camphor.

94: Somewhat lighter way of agedness, also woody, more nutty and chocolatey than the 90s brick. So far so slightly better than the 90s brick. However, what I do not like that much is the taste of carp which is more pronounced in the taste than in the aroma. Nevertheless, the carp does manifest itself so much in a mini-gongfu I do in the mornings. The aftertaste has more woodiness than the 90s brick, but is similar in structure.

Both teas have significant activity in mouth, but I was somewhat unpleasantly surprised by sharpness of the feeling in the 90s brick - it was never like that when I brewed the tea in a mini-gongfu way. Both teas work rather well, but I preferred the not-so-sharp feeling of the 94. 

Second steeping (another 5 or so minutes) to test the stamina of these teas shows similar color and similar (low) degree of drinkability:

Overall, I think the teas are rather similar, the 90s brick being more a mixture of woods, the 94 a  mixture of some wood, nuts and chocolate (and the unfortunate carp). For my morning sessions, both bricks are well suited - not too complicated, but nicely young-aged, "warming the insides" and both leaving me feeling good. If I had to choose from these two, I think I'd pick the 90s brick from thechineseteashop as I feel it has a bit more depth and no carp (but as I said, the carp is not really strong in a mini-gongfu). However, I'd pick the 90s Red Mark from thechineseteashop over both of these really, it's cheaper and better...

středa 17. října 2012

1995 CNNP 7542 Camphor tea

Yet another of Finepuer's 7542s... It is not Dayi this time. I wonder - should this 7542 CNNP be similar to Dayi 7542s? Because it is not that similar...

Although it is not overly obvious from the photo, the leaves are still brown-greenish (greener even than the dry stored 2001 7542), suprisingly so, given this should be from 1995.

Although the dry leaves leave almost no aroma, the wet leaves smell quite strong and good - there is a mixture of camphor (quite strong), longan and some smokiness (like when people burn autumnal fallen leaves in their countryside gardens). It all goes very well together and although I'm slightly worried of the smoke in there, I approach the cup with lively anticipation.

Very light, is it not? I think that it is actually too light for a 95 tea (the 2001 7542 I wrote about recently was too dry to my taste and it was darker). More about that later though.

The taste is very interesting, it's a mixture of the smoke, longan and camphor, but it is mingled in an excellent harmony. I generally dislike smoky tea, but it works here. This tastes like how imagine Xiaguan Happy Tuo to taste in five years. I really like how this tea works together.

It feels slightly dry in mouth and there is some light acidity in the first few steepings, also the astringency is not exactly low (nothing too bad either). Despite all these things, the positive things prevail, at least for me.

As steepings go, the astringency slowly fades away and by about 4-5th steeping, the tea is quite mellow. Even some floweriness appears. However, the rich background fades away too - this tea should not boast with its stamina.

The liquor feels good in mouth, it is thick and complex. Very shortly after it enters mouth, it starts cooling it intensely. It's not really that gushu cooling and tingling sensation. This is more on the surface, but it is very strong too. I felt good qi.

It brings back a lot of memories - especially the smokiness does. When drinking this, I mind-wander around the village where our family had a country house (such a smokiness was often to be smelled in the village), where my great-grandparents lived and where we used to meet with my uncles and aunts. It was such a happy period - I guess that it's why I like this "nostalgic" tea. It's like this tune/song: http://www.4shared.com/music/OCzzeFRm/mmd1.html - at least for me, this tea sort of fits the mood.

Is it 7542esque? Not too much, methinks. Although there are some connections especially to the 2004 version, I feel that this is closer to some of the 2003 Xiaguans from Sampletea. Overall, this reminds me of Xiaguan production, except it is much more ellegant. The other 7542s I tasted had some different components of taste and did have that characteristic long-term aftertaste. This Camphor 7542 is woody, rather than the "fresh plums" of 7542.

Now, the wet leaves: 

Does this seem surprisingly green to you? It does to me. I don't know, it may be just some special storage (or the green leaves may be huang pin), but this tea feels/tastes/looks to me like a dry stored 2000-2003 thing. There is no dry storage weirdness (and it was in pretty much every dry stored 10+ years old tea I tasted), yet it is greener than other dry stored teas of similar age (even younger actually). Also, when I left the leaves to rest overnight, there was no sign of that aged aroma - which did manifest in the other dry stored teas at least a bit.

I don't care that much anyway - if this tea is very dry stored, it was a fine very dry storage and I don't mind it. If not, I enjoyed it anyway. Even though the tea costs certainly more than I would pay, I enjoyed it a lot, such a harmonized mixture of tastes is seldom found. Combined with the strong cooling feeling, this tea performed well. 

pondělí 15. října 2012

2001 and 2004 Menghai 7542

One does hear a lot how the big factory cakes are overpriced because of their investment value. In some cases, it true. Nevertheless, they still offer increased reliability and are often very good. 7542 is one of the recipes I like and so I wondered how 2001 and 2004 would be. The 2001 is a not-that-cheap tea (I guess it's something like $270), while the 2004 is priced quite allright ($75). One hears a lot how the quality of Menghai production went down from 2004 onward so I hoped I'd taste the "good 2001" and then see how down went the "bad 2004". 

A good intention, maybe, but entirely thwarted (a lovely word, is it not?) by storage conditions of these teas.

2001 7542:

This tea needs a while to get to get going. The first steepings are not that pleasant as the taste is a bit thin and a having that sharp acidity of too dry storage. It makes me feel like:

Lukily, the dry storage taste sort of goes away around 5th or so steeping and the tea is ok since that. Still, it is not as full as I'd like it. The taste in the first steepings stays at the bottom of the mouth only - tongue and a bit around - I do not feel my whole oral cavity coated in taste as I like it. 

The actual taste is fine, woody with a bit of darker fruit, a bit of camphor and a bit of honey (which is most notable in the aroma of the wet cup). Once the dry storage sourness/acidity goes away, there is a bit of pleasant agedness, but it is only light. 

Activity on the tongue is fine, but not spectacular and qi is light and "tired". The rather high bitterness and moderate astringency do not help to make this tea more accessible either. The long-term aftertaste is good though, that's what I like about 7542s the best I think and it is here.

In my opinion, this tea was really damaged (reversibly) by its dry storage. However a) Alan of Finepuer told me that such a storage is much sought after there (why?!), which leads to much higher price than of the 2004 version, b) this 2001 version is now stored in the same condition as the 2004 version and so, after few years, it might actually get pretty good.

2004 7542

Since the first steeping, it is obvious that things will be different and better here (for me, at least). This version of 7542 takes what was good in the 2001 version, builds on it and throws the bad features away. The storage was more normal (Alan of Finepuer says 60-80% of relative humidity which is what I consider to be a safe range for aging).

The aroma and taste are both stronger and without any hint of dry sourness. This version is obviously similar sort of material as the 2001 (not surprising, given that both are 7542s, I know), but is much fuller (whole mouth coated), sweeter, fruitier (the fruitiest 7542 I have yet met) - in the pleasant dark-fruity way, spicy (in a positive way) and the whole feeling is very good. It is complex in taste and aroma, it actually feels quite luxurious, yet strong. And the aftertaste works better than in the 2001 too.

The activity on the tongue is quite good, especially given that this is a factory production (actually, given that, the mouthfeel is excellent) and lasts over many steepings. Also, I was surprised by frankly lovely qi of this tea. When we first drank it with my friend Michal here, he said it made him shake - I felt similar - calmed down by the tea, yet shaking and "feeling myself" a lot. 

Also, both bitterness and astringency are a lot lower than in the 2001.

Although the liquors are very similar in color, one can see that the 2004 version (to the left) has a bit greener leaves than the 2001 version (to the right):

After being left overnight, the 2004 smells dominantly fruity; the 2001 smells pleasantly of agedness. Had that agedness been present in the taste in a more pronounced way, things could have been much better with the 2001. This way, I clearly prefer the (almost 4 times  cheaper) 2004 version.

My quest for "badness in 2004 7542" was in vain then as I could hardly feel anything bad in the tea. I guess I need to wait for worse batch coming from that year.

pátek 12. října 2012

2005 Lao Ban Zhang from Finepuer

It may not be totally obvious, but I really do enjoy programming, especially for my master thesis. However, it tends to get rather tiresome if one does too much of it. Thus, when I reached a mini-milestone (succesfully interconnecting Matlab and C), I thought I needed a bit of fresh air and my mind cleaned. What's a better mind cleaner than a Laobanzhang?

I took all the necessary stuff and went to a park near where I live. While walking around, waiting for the tea stove to heat up, I saw this:

I must admit that these firebugs made the bark look like burning charcol indeed!

Anyway, I slowly prepared the teapot (on a natural tea tray) and the leaves:

And after an hour of waiting (it was exceptionally windy day; the wind cooled the kettle more than usual), there was the second steeping:

It's difficult to write about the taste of this tea as it seems so dependent on used water. Both tea stove water and tap water lead to a very nice results, but the difference is quite large. So I'll try to mention what I tasted in the tea and then tell which water brings out what.

The taste is a healthy mixture of sweet granary, garden fruit, both ripe and overripe, light woodiness (birch is the closest I guess), some camphor and a bit of honey. The overal feeling is quite thick, with darker sweetness. When I used the water from the tea stove, I furthermore obtained a good deal of light ground after spring rain (or dwarven bamboo sprinkled with water). When looking for it, I rather see it even in the tap-water steeped version, but it is hidden among other tastes.

With the stove water, the tea felt a lot lighter and younger (yet still thick and complex) - the garden fruit was rather light and young, there was not so much of darker sweetness, it was rather young and not-so-developed-yet. The camphor was much less pronouncced too. I guess I prefer the stove water because of the dwarven bamboo taste which I like so much. The tea was rather like a younger brother of 2005 Gan En Banzhang, a  lot of tastes was shared between it and this one. On the other hand, the tap water gave a more aged, darker feeling tea which is also enjoyable. I think that that facet of the tea heads towards the Bulang style I like the most; choosing from well known teas, it is probably best represented by the 2003 Bulang Jing Pin from Houde.

What the tea has independently on the used water was reasonable bitterness (it can get heavy if the tea is oversteeped) and light, not too disturbing astringency. Also, the long term aftertaste is frankly excellent, being fresh-fruity and slightly nutty (more fruity with stove water, more nutty with tap water). After swallowing, the mouth is covered in tingling blanket which lasts very long and is very pleasant. Along it, the long-term aftertaste develops and mind is numbed by qi. 

On all tastings however, I felt that this tea could use a few more years of aging. Do not get me wrong - it is very good already (I guess it's the second best Banzhang I have met), but I think one can see the trend where it will develop and improve.

When it is going to appear in the store, It will cost $7 per 10g which is not a meager sum. Given how much Laobanzhang costs now, it is not that bad though (I will not buy a significant amount, but in the LBZ realm, the price is fairly fair). This is, if you are a Laobanzhang [wo]man - I guess that most people I know are highly resistant to LBZ charms and would not pay nearly as much. I, however, do enjoy a good LBZ a lot (though not the most of all teas) and so I'm really glad I could try this one.

středa 10. října 2012

2011 Taochaju Yi Wu Gu Yun (and its comparation to YS 2010 Purple Yi Wu)

This is another Taochaju piece of TwoDog (whose brother you may visit in the Galaxy News Radio building). 

It comes from Yiwu, an area that I quite like for its pleasantness and many faces. This one smells like a typical Yiwu, when I open the pouch.

The wet leaves smell densely sweet, somewhat nutty, with a bit of dark fruitiness and a hint of honey. It generally smells very nice, but already at this moment, I thought "hey, it is almost like YS Purple Yiwu, just a touch less interesting".

The taste could seem a bit boring from the beginning, but using the "trick" from Purple Yi Wu (having initial steepings longer than with other teas) makes even initial steepings good. I guess this is what Hobbes means when saying it takes a while to get started.

It tastes quite nice, a good, generic Yiwu. However, even the taste is kind of similar to the Purple Yiwu. As I drank more than a cake of the Purple Yi Wu, I can prepare it rather better than this Taochaju Yi Wu, but I guess that it is simply a result of more experience with brewing the Purple Yiwu. I think these teas are really quite alike.

The taste is wide, thick, sweet, somewhat nutty and with dark forest fruit (blackberries). In some steepings, there are less blackberries and more lychee (indeed, I have not found it in Yiwu yet, this is the first time, but it is not that strong). 

The cooling/tingling is medium strong in the second steeping (nice in there, even goes into the back of the throat) and light or non-present in the rest. 

This calls for a 1:1 comparison I thought. The Taochaju Yiwu is on the left, the YS Purple Yiwu on the right (the Taochaju leaves were stacked a bit higher, the amount was the same however, according to the scale):

After three minutes:

The leaves are similarly sized, but the Taochaju leaves seem to be in a slightly better shape, but it may be simply a result of lighter pressing.

There is an actual difference in color, although I am not sure how obvious it is from the photo. The Taochaju is more yellow-orange, while the Purple Yiwu is yellow-green.

The aroma is quite similar. Actually, to verify the similarity, me and my girlfriend ran a blind test -  we tried to memorize the aromas of those two teas, then generated a pseudorandom vector of Left/Right and presented the cups to the other one who had to guess which one it is (of course, not knowing the part of the pseudorandom vector). We scored a 60% success, which is what I would call a "mildly educated randomness". 

When we moved to the taste, there was a difference, although hardly a huge one. The thickness, sweetness, mouthfeel and all that are very much alike, but there is the element of lychee in the Taochaju that is not present in the Purple Yiwu. I'd say that the nutty element was slightly more pronounced in the Purple Yiwu, taking the place of lychee.

Even the size of leaves seems  to be more or less the same:

Yet another indicator - wet leaves after being left overnight - confirms the striking similarity of those teas.

This was a fun session and comparation. However, I'm afraid that the price of $58 ($65 for 400g) is a bit too high for the Taochaju in my opinion. First, it is a lot for a tea without significant old tree/wild mouthfeel or any larger activity in body after it goes down the throat. Second, it is almost three times more than for what I bought the Purple Yiwu in 2010 ($24 for 400g). Ok, it is already sold out, but there still is the 2011 version which is quite a similar experience.

Further reading: Half-Dipper

pondělí 8. října 2012

2011 Taochaju Banna Gu Yun

There was a nice sky recently, me and an oak outside enjoyed it along a cup of this quite nice tea...

As Hobbes has started writing about white2tea.com a few days ago, I think TwoDog does not need much more introduction. To add something to what is already said, I like the phenomenon of tea lovers and bloggers selling tea. When you read someone's posts on tea, you know what his tastes are, how he perceives tea and all that.

Also, I'm glad that white2tea seems not to cope with the "let's run for the most expensive young sheng" race - there are plenty of runners already.

Now, to this Banna Gu Yun, a blend of Lao Man'E and Mengsong:

As you can see, the dry leaves are a mixture of various sorts of leaves. They smell lightly of honey and herbs - when I opened the pouch for the first time, I thought "wow, I haven't met this yet".

The wet leaves smell similarly, yet much more intensely, of course. It's one of teas I enjoy to smell for a long time.

The liquor has a rather unusual color, darker yellow. I think that teas with this degree of lightness/darkness tend to be more orange in general. Together with the taste, I'm not really convinced that this is a 2011 tea - I'd rather guess a blend of 2006-2009 or something like that.

Now, the taste - very nice! I think it is probably the best feature of this tea. It is very sweet - it is actually honey sweet, but the honey taste is, at the beginning, overlayed by other tastes, but after a while, the honey can be tasted too. Then, there is a strong taste of herbal medicine, which I haven't yet found in a tea in this quantity (I wonder if it has something to do with Lao Man'E - for Tea Urchin's Four peaks had it in some amount too and HLH Lao Man'E too, but it was much less pronounced there). But I do enjoy the medicinality a lot - the whole tea feels like a soothing healing potion. 

When I used more leaves, there was a taste of ripe garden fruit and some wood, which complemented the rest nicely. However, a bit more bitterness came up too.

Speaking of bitterness - it is all right. Although the leaves are supposed to partly come from Lao Man'E, the nasty bitterness that does not go away is not present and I'm glad to  say that bitterness and astringency are light and really just fine. If the bitterness is too high for you, just use less leaves and steep them longer.

Things go a bit down after the taste vanishes - the aftertaste is a normal one; there is some activity on the tongue, but it goes away after several steepings. And the qi is only light, nothing that would shake the world around.

However, the lack of mouthfeel is easily fixed by the addition of 20-25% of 2006 Haiwan Pa Sha which improves the overall experience a lot.

This tea is a really pleasant for drinking and sniffing, although its other qualities are not as pronounced. Not knowing the price first, I thought it would be an excellent $30 cake, for which I would pay up to $40. Well, it does cost $39, which is not far off and is quite a reasonable price, especially given how much does new puerh cost. I guess I'll buy one.

Further reading: Half-Dipper

pátek 5. října 2012

1998 Menghai Da Yi A grade tuocha

Another piece from finepuer. 1990s Dayi tea is generally not cheap (true here) and I wonder what it would be like. Assured by finepuer´s "absolutely wonderful", I included it among other samples I bought.

I wonder if it is the same as the tuocha that Hobbes describes here, I guess it is possible, though the storage may be quite different.

The leaves look a bit lighter than I expected from a 1998 tea, but that is probably the dry storage.

The degree of compression is rather high and as a result, the degree of aroma of dry leaves is rather low.

Wet leaves do smell and they smell fairly nice, there's a rather uncommon mahagony woodiness. There is also a reasonable sweetness, a bit of grain and overripe fruit, a sourish one - often found in too drily stored tea ("too" for me, some people like it).

The liquor smells sweet woody with a bit of camphor. It is actually beautifully clean, even though it is not really that obvious from the photo below.

The first steeping is quite bland, but that's probably just the compressed leaves unfolding.

The second steeping has always disappointed me. There is the reasonable combination of things from the aroma, but it is overriden by a dry bitterness. The taste of hemp which comes shortly after that does not help either. There is a nasty sharp sourness sometimes, coming from the dry storage I guess.

Now, the wet leaves give up their original sweetness and emit a complex aroma of various woods - it is interesting, but it does not really scream "will taste awesome".

In the third and fourth steeping, the bitterness is not as bad, but high astringency prevents much enjoyment anyway. The sharp sourness from dry storage is there too and the more I taste it in teas, the more I dislike it.

Sometimes, people say that dry storage keeps a tea's complexity. I do not know about that, I'd say that when you interpret this the wrong way, i.e., confusing dry storage with western super-dry storage, the teas have a tendency to die off, lose complexity and became sour, rather than to retain their complexity.

I pushed the tea further hoping there would be something good about it - it was not really pushed for enjoyment. Surprisingly, there actually was something good - the taste of fresh plums (known from 7542s) in the longer-term aftertaste did appear. Not overly powerful, but there.

Anyway, this single positive does not, in my opinion, redeem this tea. Combine the not-too-terrific taste with virtually no mouthfeel and no qi (I could not feel any, at least) and you get a mediocre tea.

Even though the tea is quite expensive (almost $200 per 400g), I can not get rid of the impression that the tuocha comes from a low quality material and was way too dry stored for its good, but as it is Dayi and 1998, the price is high.

However, the tea may be ok for people who like very dry stored tea I guess...