pátek 31. května 2013

Three mid-aged pieces from Origintea

Succesfully beating the fearsome final exams, I am exceedingly happy to get back to peaceful sessions with music and/or tea. 

Today, I'll write about three teas I sampled from Origintea. 

2001 Menghai Orange Dayi Banzhang

Banzhang may be an overmarketed area, indeed, but I still enjoy it. 

The leaves look quite good, but I think there may have been an issue with their storage - the leaves smell like piss; some teas do that. However, airing out the tea for a couple of days helped.

The 1st and 2nd steepings are shown above. The color is light, but reasonably so for a 2001 tea. 

The taste of the tea may not be the strongest or most permanent, but it is there and it is rather decent. I do taste a "Banzhang element" that I appreciate about the area and even though it seems diluted by inferior material blended with the sweet goodness, it is there. As a result, the tea is not headed in a single direction. Instead, there is some nothingness mixed with Banzhang-like stone fruit and sweetness. 

My issue with this tea is not that it would taste downright bad - but it is really a bit too weak to be called good in my opinion. It is somewhere around the 2001 Gu Puer Banzhang - in both, you can sense there is some Banzhang around, but the tea has a lot of minor glitches which prevent it from being too good.

There is some decent aftertaste, but no real activity/longer sweetness staying around mouth and that is not good. Qi is likewise lacking.

Overall, I found the sessions with this tea pleasing, but not really captivating.

...the leaves are still surprisingly green.

2002 commissioned 8582

This tea was recommended to me by Tony. 
The dry leaves smell predominantly by camphor. The wet leaves add some of decent wood smoke to it (in the style of older Xiaguan), with a hint of overripe fruit in the background.

The taste rather follows the schema sketched by the aroma. It is of camphor, woody smoke (not unfriendly) and a sort of overripe fruit in the background. Not too much sweetness (but not an obvious lack of either), thickness is good, but not great, the tea overall tastes and feels decent, but not much more. I tasted a couple of the 2003 Xiaguan "X-Yin" alongside and I don't think I could confidently tell apart this 8582 from the cluster of these Xiaguans. I consider all these teas to be decent, but not my style and not something I would wish to drink on my own. Too "northern" to my taste. 

There is a reasonable aftertaste, with a hint of sourness, which hopefully will not develop further. Actually, it is same sort of sourness which is in some of the Xiaguans...

1990s something (not the Yibang currently available)
This tea, a bit like the two above, is not entirely bad, but there is nothing what would make it good. It is an interesting piece as it is obviously somewhat dry stored, but it has the characteristic aged taste. Unfortunately, it lacks concentration and strength that more humidly stored teas (or from better material) have. It is entirely inoffensive, but ultimately boring. 

Overall, these teas disappointed me a bit. Not because they were bad, but because I wanted them to be better. They are not too cheap (that may be a mixture of maker and storage place) and there are a lot better teas hanging around at that price. Or, rather, more to my style. Almost all of the Origintea's teas I had up to now were drier than I'm used to drink and enjoy which could be also why I did not feel entirely happy throughout my sessions with them. For fans of drier stored tea (but not too much), Tony's pieces could be the way to go.

sobota 18. května 2013

2012 BHYJ Yiwu Wan Gong

I've never heard of Bao Hong Yin Ji before Origintea got to the world of internet and I was eager to taste his Wan Gong, as it was strongly recommended by the owner. Honestly, I haven't had a whole lot of pure Wan Gong either. As it is, like Guafengzhai, rather near Laos border, I had hopes it could be interesting.

The scent is that of a young Yiwu tea, no doubt. 

The aroma of rinsed leaves is rather interesting and above-average. It has both intensity and complexity, especially the latter is sometimes a bit lacking in single-origin Yiwu teas. It is also more characteristic than pure generic Yiwu, having more of cocoa/chocolatey tones.

The taste is good and strong and though not really like the one of GFZ, it is similar in being more forward than "thick sweet water" of some Yiwus. The taste tends to start with heavy floralness, good sweetnes, then taking a turn towards dark chocolate/cocoa sort of taste (I think this may become more pronounced in the future). As steepings go on, the floralness tends to change into fruitiness of a tropical sort (mango & pineapple?). It all feels to me like a dense, exotic wildwood from adventurous literature, with all the flowers and fruits growing.

A bit unfortunately for me, I lacked more pronounced cooling/activity and qi. I guess it could be autumnalness, if the tea is autumnal... 
Not that I would expect young teas to have terrific qi, but, e.g., Tea Urchin's Miles' birthday or HLH's crazy Yiwu have hit me a lot harder.

Overall, I quite enjoyed this tea as it is sweet, very easygoing and not as boring as some other teas of such age/locality. On the other hand, as it costs some $135, you probably have to be a fan of Yiwu to appreciate it. Otherwise, I'd say it is not that far from more ordinary and more generic Yiwu teas.

čtvrtek 16. května 2013

1998 Fuhai

This is currently the only slightly aged tea that Tea Urchin offers and when I read that it was stored in Guangzhou, I thought I would try it along young Yiwu beauties which form the core of TU's offerings. 

The leaves are brown, sometimes with a green hue. There occasionally is a white-coated bit of stem, but very seldom.

When the leaves are rinsed, the aroma is sweet, lightly aged, with some herbs and posibly remnants of fruit - it does not have any heavier storage aroma. This tea reminds me of how I used to confuse natural agedness with storage aroma. There is a large difference though. This tea is quite clean. Both rinsed leaves and color of liquor suggest that the tea did not undergo wet storage, despite being stored in Guangzhou.

Indeed, a bad photo. It just serves to demonstrate that the leaves are brown-green, rather than aged brown.

The taste is what I'd describe as "few years after the golden spot" - but "golden spot" I mean the time when mid-aged tones are at their peak, the tea is calmer, sweeter that when young and all that. Arguably, the teas are the tastiest at that time (circa 10 years of natural storage in someplace humid?). This Fuhai cake is definitely more aged than it was at its taste peak, I believe.

There is that good aged nuttiness, decently thick, sweet, "crystalline" (I don't say that this word means something definable, I just say what I thought), I thought. The sweetness has tones of brown sugar and remnants of "aged sweet granary", certainly pleasant. The tones of mid-aged tea still did not give up entirely to "common agedness". If I had to criticize something, there are hints of fishyness... But it's not too bad to ruin the overall experience, it's not too pronounced.

The tea still has a lot of space to evolve to. It should be more mouth-coating and it would be nice to have it thicker, but it can get there naturally, I think.

I very much enjoyed the positive activity in mouth in the first couple of steepings, which furthered the sunny and pleasant demeanor of the session. It did not last until the end of the session. Indeed, inspection of the leaves suggests that the leaves are a blend of younger and older leaves. The blend contains several sorts of leaves - some seem to soak water more than others, being soft and breaking easily; on the other hand, there are harder, thicker leaves. This is not to say that the leaves are chaotic - they work very well together.

I sort of think that this tea comes from Yiwu, which would explain the early-obtained aged character... I wonder what the more experienced of you think of the origins of the tea.

I felt only a rather subtle qi, but as with some other features, the tea still has a lot of years to evolve.

This tea is not exactly cheap and for immediate drinking, there are possibly cheaper alternatives. However, it offers a decent agedness, which is free of inappropriate humidity, therefore if one goes for cleaner, drier stored tea, than is perhaps traditional, this could be the way to go. After having so many too dry teas recently, it is honestly a pure pleasure to drink something non-acidic and all-around decent like this Fuhai.

úterý 14. května 2013

On cooking rice

Before I get to writing about Origintea's new teas, I thought I'd share a recipe for cooking rice. While it is nothing new for many people, finding about this sort of cooking rice was a small revelation to me and it ment huge leap towards better appreciation of rice.

For me, good rice is a great thing, very pure and "right". From time to time, I have rice days, when I eat only rice - it feels like a pleasant natural organism cleaner. 

I grew up in an environment, where rice was cooked in an indian style, i.e., in a lot of water. Hower, this may not be really ideal for many occasions where rice is a side dish. In the case when rice is supposed to be the main course, it is even less satisfactory.

A simple solution is to buy an electric rice cooker. However, I prefer to keep the number of single-purpose machines in the kitchen low and I'm not convinced that the sort of cooking I'll describe below is inferior to cooking in a rice cooker. 

What rice to use? I usually prefer jasmine rice, a decent thai version is not even that expensive. Some basmatis can be used too. 

What pot to use? It should not be a too light, tin pot. But this is quite a general suggestion. To paraphrase one of my favourite recommendations of Anthony Bourdain (on pans) - imagine you want to hit your enemy with it. If you have doubts what is going to get broken, the pan or his head, throw your pan away and buy a decent one. I second that opinion. All these feather-light pseudo-teflon coated pans or tin pots with special anti-catching layer, are mostly no good and some foods can't be properly done in them. I prefer using cast iron stuff.

Ok, the recipe... (this time, I cooked basmati, which actually resembles jasmine rice more than basmati)
1) Rinse the rice under water. It should not be white and scruffy, but glossy and sexy. Basically, I put it in a strainer, put under flowing water and rub it, till the water pouring through loses its chalky looks.

2) Put it in a pot and pour cold water over (yes, the rice starts in cold, not boiling, water). Rule of index-finger is to put the tip of your index finger on the rice and pour water in there until the surface reaches your first juncture.

3) Boil it - probably on medium-flame, but I don't think that it is really crucial how fast the rice will cook now. Wait until small craters start forming on the surface (I guess it takes 5-10 minutes). The photo below is not the best due to the foam formation. Usual jasmine rice I have does not do that.

4) At the moment when the craters start to form, put a lid over it and make the flame the smallest one available. Now, the rice will be basically steam-cooked. Keep it this way for 10 minutes, then turn it off and give it another 5 minutes of rest (with the lid on).

5) Done. Don't tell me you don't find the aroma of rice cooked this way delicious, when you uncover the lid...

čtvrtek 9. května 2013

2012 Miles' Birthday by TeaUrchin

I believe that for most people, having a child is good. And when something is good, why not to commemorate it with a puerh cake? I believe it is a lot better idea than commemorating a birth by getting drunk as two hells. Furthermore, when one commemorates a child's birth with a cake, why not to base it on Guafengzhai? Why not indeed... well, Tea Urchin picked the right moment to have a child with his bella Belle. If I wanted to have children this year, with 6500 RMB per kg of GFZ leaves, I'd have to make only a couple of cakes. Furthermore, as far as I know, no children are planned this year, so the nearest year would be the next one. It is likely that GFZ material prices will be even crazier. I must not delay having children for much longer or I'll have to resort to Wuliang, Mangfei or some no-name Mengku.

The scent of dry leaves was certainly promising and stronger than you meet in many other Yiwu teas. I like Guafengzhai for its "in-your-face" power and directness.

The leaves are quite long, not always whole, but definitely in large pieces. And there is a lot of whole leaves too. 

Upon rinsing, ample amount of makes-me-happy aroma is emitted by the leaves. There is a lot of sweetness and while I'd describe the main aroma as "wet hay", but it could be viewed as floralness too. And there's a lovely aroma of blackberries too. I like that component in Yiwu teas; when it is manifested in the taste as much as in aroma, I tend to quickly fall in love with it. 
Listening to Kind of Blue, I poured myself a cup.

The liquor actually started a lot lighter, yellower, but gradually changed into this sort of orange. It is pleasing to look at, I think. 

The performance in mouth is very good, I'd say. Unlike a lot of Yiwu teas, this cake has easy-to-grasp taste, it's not just "sweet thick nothing". Guafengzhai is indeed a tasty place. I'd say the liquor is very thick, very sweet and smooth in a most pleasing way. It starts with higher tones of dark forest fruit and then, over further steepings, acquires more clearly defined heavy floral undertones (like lilies, I believe). Overall, the taste is quite satisfying, rich and fulfilling. I had no problem aiming all my concentration at drinking it.

After the main body of the taste goes away, a rather smooth bitterness comes up, followed by a medium deal of astringency - which is also quite smooth. No problem there. I did not pick up as much cooling and vibrations as I have in some other Yiwu teas.

Where the tea shone the most for me was its qi or whatever you call it. It was an intense experience to drink this. Right after swallowing the first couple of cups, I felt that my perception of the world around changes to that pleasantly "stoned" point of view and I had stronger  and different perception of processes inside my body. Not many teas affected me this strongly from the start (and all were from Yiwu, interesting...).

I think that Miles may be very happy with this cake. It is a very well done piece and if you are, like me, a fan of Guafengzhai area, it's probably noticeably cheaper than this year's (or, even worse, of the years to come) material. Still not an exactly cheap tea (and I'd still prefer to buy something older), but in the realm of young teas, this cake seems to offer a rather good value for the money.

And two shots of mighty, muscular leaves:

úterý 7. května 2013

2003 Menghai Dayi Nannuo

This is the first of the juicy-looking samples I tasted from Tony of Origintea. As I have the Wistaria's Zi Yin Nannuo in fond memory, I decided I'd start with another Nannuo tea.

The leaves are large, fairly light with occasional green and they smell quite nicely.

After being rinsed, the leaves emit several layers of aroma - first, when they are warm, they smell like one herb, the name of which I can't recall, but the similarity is striking. Then, there is dark fruitiness and a sort of metallic taste. It is light and maybe not too complex overall, but nice. As opposed to many teas from Nannuo, there is almost no leatheriness.

The liquor is very light for a 2003 tea, which is a result of dry storage, but, luckily, not too dry one. In mouth, the tea is quite thick, decently sweet, wide and starts smooth. It starts with taste of dark fruit of a sort - I realize it's very close to frequent Nannuo leatheriness, but due to subtle changes in the "taste vector", it comes out as fruit. 

Unfortunately, the tea gets worse after a while (5-6 steepings?); its astringency gets quite unpleasant and the fruitiness gives way to taste of sweet mushrooms (it's not that awful taste as it sounds, but it's not particularly great either). Some tones of "what could become honey" are there.

Activity in mouth and qi are on the weak side, in my opinion.

Overall, the tea maybe left me a bit underwhelmed or unfulfilled. It starts "all right" and then becomes "hmmm, I may finish it along reading a book". I think it's basically too young now and probably not in its best years. Were it to acquire additional richness and fullness of body via more humid aging, it could get better, I guess. However, its relative simplicity and one-dimensionality (to an extent) could be problematic even in further aging.

A good experience to taste it, yes; but not really a bargain I think.

čtvrtek 2. května 2013

2004 CNNP Red Ribbon tuocha

Do you know what is shared by good 2003+ CNNP tea and tardigrades? Until recently, I have never thought such things would exist. I must admit that I approached this free sample of CNNP Red Ribbon with a certain degree of distrust. 

The leaves certainly look nice and have a good color

Even the aroma of rinsed leaves was good, no smoke I was afraid of, nor dryness I was afraid of. In gongfu, the aroma was sweet, herbal, rocky, with fruit wood and a bit of exotic spice. In a tester, it was more fruity and less herbal.

Upon tasting the tea, I had to give up - the tea just wouldn't be bad, nor badly stored. It is very sweet, smooth, fruity, with taste of sweet granary and a base which could shift into honey with a couple more years of aging. There was a rather surprising element of rock or iron... something a bit hard and not altogether pleasant, but it was not too strong. In a tester (or longer steeping in general), the fruitiness got stronger, moving the rocky taste into background. If I made too short steepings, the liquor was not as tasty. Later steepings are a bit more herbal and have a light, but persistent bitterness (a bit of Man'E?). Overall, I'd say the tea is very Bulanguesque, in the good way.

The long term aftertaste is already good and I suspect it will get very good eventually - it's that fresh sort of plums (which was almost floral when short steepings were used), strong, obvious and good. It is sometimes accompanied by certain activity on the tongue, but that activity is not why I would buy the tea.

I can not judge the ratio of price to performance of this tea as I don't know how much a full tuocha costs. But I think that independently on the price, this tea is jolly nice, pleasant, nicely aging and without major faults.