sobota 29. června 2013

Mold under miscoscope

Due to exceptional kindness of Ondra Novák, I acquired some microscopic photos of molds (white spots on wetter tea and aspergillus crystatum from Fu brick). Actually, I wanted to post the photos of the former (the white spots) to back up my earlier statement that it is mold (and to refute the statement of certain other people). Some photos were composed from Z-stacks using Combine ZP, if you're interested in the source photos, just ask me - but the depth of field is really small so one does not see that much from that.

White spots first:
Unfortunately, I drank almost all of tea with coating I had, therefore I had to use a tea which has been only mildly wet stored and had only a couple of white spots. The magnification is a bit limited by the dry objective used, but it should be sufficient nevertheless:

a stem

... and a closeup

The only other thing that the white spots could have been was probably crystals of minerals (sort of like efflorescence) - and the white matter is obviously not crystals (at this magnification level, they would be entirely obvious). It totally looks like puffs of mold hyphae.

I wonder what sort of mold it is. It might be some acremonium, maybe (which also plays its role in shu puerh). Anyway, I'm currently searching for a lab which could perform the analysis.

Aspergillus Crystatum
How does our good friend, found, e.g., in Fu bricks, look like? 

The microworld is entirely amazing - is it not?

čtvrtek 27. června 2013

2003 Xiaguan WDJG series

Before I get to a really good tea, the 2000 Apple green 7542, let's have a look at a set of five cakes from Xiaguan, made in 2003. WDJG is Wu Da Jin Gan and it is supposed to be a reproduction of famous "marks". I do not think that the attempt is too succesful, given what I heard of the famous 50/60s cakes, but I think that one finds various "marks" these days, it would be naive to expect them to be an exact reproduction of the past stuff. The exact pricing is difficult to tell (one would have to ask Alan), but I guess it could be somewhere between $80 and $100.

As the teas look more or less the same, I took only a single set of pictures. Here they go:

The leaves are rather dark, given the lightness of the liquor - they are noticeably blacker than similar cakes of this age.

The liquor is, in general, quite light for a 2003 tea; the storage must have been dry, but not unreasonably so.

As you can see, the degree of brokenness is similar to that of mountain climber's bones after a fall from K2.

All the five "marks" share certain features that I'll describe below, then I'll get to details and differences of them.

Aroma of rinsed leaves contains some wood and smoke (wood/dry leaves, not tobacco). To that, the teas add various sorts of fruitiness/spice. Most teas of the set smells good.

In taste, the teas generally are not as good as their aroma, though some of them are quite drinkable. They do taste decent, but the wood and smoke tend to be strong, therefore the "xiaguan element" tends to obscure the original nature of the leaves. Sweetness and thickness are, in general, nothing much, medium at best.

The fact that the taste of the set does not interest me too much may be just that I'm not into "northern" tea. However, the relative lack of mouth activity (which is not compensated by exceptional thickness and sweetness, as is in some other teas) and complete silence in qi are a problem that could be more general. 

Now, to the very teas:
Hong Yin (Red Mark)
I think I enjoyed this one the least. It is arguably most "Xiaguanish", quite woody, with some smoke and some red fruit, which has a tendency to go sour, I believe that partly due to dry storage. While the tea was drinkable, I did not find anything positive about it, outside not being bad.

Yi Ji Lan Yin (Grade B Blue Mark)
So sorry, I lost the notes to that one. As far as I remember it, I enjoyed it more than the Hong Yin, having nice tones of longan.

Jia Ji Lan Yin (Grade A Blue Mark)
This one is one of two WDJG teas that I rather enjoyed. Already the aroma promises good things. It is sweet, with powidl and positive animality. As steepings go, it gets more woody-smoky, which makes it less interesting, but at the beginning, it smells quite good.

Sadly, the taste is not nearly as full and sweet as the aroma, again, it is mostly dry wood and smoke. There is a part of good fruitiness (longan, plums) and animality (Baoshan sort). It is one of few WDJGs that have some activity in mouth, but it's nothing to write home about. 

I feel that given its Xiaguan origin, the taste profile of this Grade A Blue Mark is interesting, but compared to other makers, it is still far behind.

2003 Mei Shu Zi Lu Yin (Green Mark, artistic font)
In aroma, there is some oriental spice added to wood. Not much smoke is present.

The taste reminded me of bland, sweet wood, with below-average amount of smoke and some camphor. Not too interesting, in my opinion.

2003 Lu Yin (Green Mark)
This is the second tea from the set that I found enjoyable. In the aroma, there is a very pleasant mixture of overripe garden fruit and dark, thick sweetness, "mystical". Other features are light animality and powidl, the usual Xiaguan hardness being light and only in the background.

Even though the usual unpleasant Xiaguan features are present, the taste contains a lot of goodness too - heavy overripe garden, a bit of longan, some spice. It is decent, though not much more than that (there are teas like that without the annoying hardness). 

Astringency is a bit higher than in other WDJGs; there is light activity in mouth.

The WDJG set consists mostly of lower-grade material and the reasonably dry, good storage does not hide that. No tea (possibly except the artistic font green mark) sucks, but none of them shine either. It sort of reminds me of the Gu Puer set from YS, where the teas were also often "it has some good features, but...".

Among the many Xiaguan teas I tasted over the years, these teas tend to be better than most (though it by no means means that I consider them to be too good). The pricing is also decent. At comparable prices and age, one can get baoyans or tuos here in CR and with all respect (not much) to these, most WDJGs are better and cheaper than these. 

For Xiaguan lovers, this is a definite "go for it" set. For the rest of us, meh...

neděle 23. června 2013

80s Wild arbor loose leaf and 99 Yiwu loose leaf: a comparison

Unfortunately, the compressed mid-aged teas (cca 2000) from Origintea are not entirely to my taste - too dry, strange and generally lacking positive sides. However, the loose leaf teas: 99 and 80s are a better thing, which is why I would like to give them a couple of lines below.

I used 3.5g, steeped in 120ml gaiwans, for 1 minute, 2 minutes, 5 minutes.

The 99 Yiwu is to the left, the 80s wild arbor is to the right. Now, a couple of shots of

99 Yiwu

80s Wild Arbor

I believe that the largest difference in looks is obvious even from the photos - while the 99 is dark brown-grey, the 80s is rather dark deep brown-orange.

The aroma of wet leaves is quite different too. The 99 smells aged, of forest floor and wet wood - after a couple of steepings, the aroma of some sort of fruit appears. The 80s smells also aged, but of walnuts...and walnuts. It is really nutty. The strange  thing is, that from 1st steeping since, the wet leaves smelled almost like rancid walnuts - not only appealing.

The liquor, 99 to the left:

The 80s is redder and a tiny little bit darker (it is rather obvious at the photo, but by eye, it was not as clear). The aroma of the 80s' liquor is a lot better, warmer, with interesting spice. The 99 does not smell much, some wood, with a bit of fish. 

And this is the tiny chap, the small grey spot above the 80s' cup:

Now, to the taste&the rest...

1st steeping:
  • 99: Tastes a lot of forest floor (nicely), with a hint of fruit, but a sort of fishiness apppears after a while. It is sweet and thick; good, but nothing extra. Activity in mouth and qi are both light, but there. Long-term aftertaste is decent (it is there, that's a good thing!). This steeping feels simple, but good.
  • 80s: It is clearly fuller, stronger and more intensive in taste than the 99. The forest floor is substituted by aged nuttines (though probably not as intensive as in the aroma, relatively speaking). I think that for those who dislike even a hint of wetness in tea, this tea will be a lot more suitable. The only problem is, however, also a bit of fishiness present here. It is not overpowering, but clear enought to be a slight nuisance.
    The activity in mouth is nicely strong and intensive. Qi is, as in the 99, light, but different. The long-term aftertaste is good. Overall, this steeping is also simple and good, but quite different from the 99.
2nd steeping:
  • 99: The fishiness is gone! Good huigan is another nice surprise. It is still by no means a superb tea, but the forest floor tastes good and clean, light astringency is not an issue, overall a pleasing steeping.
  • 80s: Still stronger, fuller, more harmonic and nuttier, also with the fishiness gone. I think this one will appeal to others more than the 99, but I tend to like a bit of forest floor tea sometimes; I do not care for the taste of aged nuttines too much.
3rd steeping:
Sort of the same as the 2nd, both teas are stable.

The wet leaves keep the same color pattern (80s more orange, 99 more grey) as the dry leaves.



The leaves of the 80s seemed a bit healthier to me (and there is more of them; the 99 contains a lot of leaf stalks), however, they break more easily when rubbed.

Both teas are decent loose leafs - which means that they definitely are not in the same league as cakes - loose leaf teas can give one the basic idea of what aged tea is like, but it is still worth remembering that cakes tend to do a lot better. All these vendor comments one sometimes sees, how their aged loose leaf is magnificent and epic aged tea, tend to be simply uninformed blabbering.

Where loose leaf teas outperform cakes is, in general, their low price. Indeed, with the $10 per 50g of the 99 and $20 per 50g of the 80s, one finds it harsh to fault these two teas for their lack of grandeur - they are cheap and for the money, they both perform well. 

At this price point, I'd still rather take some of the cheap 90s cakes from thechineseteashop, but they don't seem to be an overly reliable place, also their cakes could be a bit wet to someone...

čtvrtek 13. června 2013

1999 Dadugan

This YYY-rated cake (it comprises Yibang, Youle and Yiwu) is, I have been given to understand, rather famous. I've been told that Cloud wrote about it somewhere, but I could not find the article... if some of you know of it, please post a link in a comment.

Dry leaves smell lightly of nuts (smells like Yiwu) and meadow flowers (smells like Youle). They are actually quite light, almost green in a couple of places. That is interesting, given that the tea was in Banna until 2006 (Kunming since then). The overall slower rate of aging could be also due to heavy compression, but it is interesting that the surface is not darker.

The dry leaves give away the Yiwu and Youle origins (the former via a sort of nuttiness, the latter via meadow flowers), I can't really pinpoint yet how aged Yibang tastes so I don't know about that.

The rinsed leaves emit a fairly strong and pungent aroma, with red fruit, various sorts of wood, a bit of camphor, a bit of pears, maybe. Anyway, there is a lovely "mysterious" sweetness which promises good things to come.

The color of liquor is interesting - while it is rather dark, it has an unusual tint. Possibly the result of mixed storage? Or an amount of small-leaf varietal leaves? I do not know. 

The taste very much depends on how you prepare this. I had much better success using less leaves. I believe that there is a lot of wild leaves in the cake and the drying bitterness it can pump up is absolutely brutal (I am really a fan of wild material). In my first session with the tea, I was beaten by a mile - I had to do four rinses before the searing lava became a drinkable tea. 

When too much leaves were used (which was circa 8g for 120ml pot), the tea was overpoweringly bitter, rather hollow, not sweet, nor good enough. Some taste components (the sort of fruitiness) was shared with Red Dayi cakes. After a couple of rinses, an elegant taste of precious woods and incense came up. While the activity and qi were good, the taste and bitterness were rather prohibitive.

When I later used less leaves (as little as 4g per 120ml), using a bit longer steeping times than usual, the tea suddenly became a lot better. The bitterness and tannins were still obviously present, but not anymore being the first and dominant thing one perceived - they ran in the background, so to say. There appeared a good sweetness and fullness of body, in the sort of pleasant, sweet-granary Yiwu. This base was nicely accompanied by the aged floweriness (probably of Youle) and the remains of taste of garden fruit. There was still some wood and incense, but it also tended to appear later in the session.

Overall, the taste is not yet in harmony, I believe. There are various small tastes and aromas which distract one from the "big picture" the tea conveys. Also, the wild bitterness is really wild and needs to age away (will it?) for the tea to become pleasant.

Despite the overall "dry" character (the feeling probably comes from the drying bitterness and not-too-humid storage), the tea had obvious and strong qi, though perhaps not as friendly as some other teas have. 

Likewise, the tea causes good vibrations and activity in mouth, especially the palate.

The tea rather reminds me of some Bordeaux wines... you taste it in a time, when wines from some other regions would be at their peak... and the wine is still harsh, tanninic and obviously not for drinking yet. Therefore, you wait another 5-10 years before opening another bottle; and that is precisely what I would do with this Dadugan. It has undoubtable qualities, but at its current state, it is really too brutal to be simply enjoyed.

čtvrtek 6. června 2013

2001 Jin Chang Hao and 2002 Yiwu ancient spirit: a comparison

Today, I would like to have a look at the 2001 Yiwu from Jinchanghao, sold by Essence of tea, and 2002 Yiwu from Yunnan sourcing. I had the 2001 Yiwu some time ago and when I recently got a sample of the 2002 one, I thought it remarkably similar to the 2001. Along my order of yancha from EoT, I piggybacked a small amount of the 2001 Yiwu for comparison. I used about 3-4g in gaiwans, 2min steepings.

Dry leaves: 2001

Dry leaves: 2002

Unfortunately, my piece of 2002 Ancient spirit comes from the center of the cake and is pressed brutally dense - therefore, the leaves look entirely different. Both teas smell of agedness and nuts.

Rinsed leaves: 
The 2001 has plenty of dark nuttiness, which is accompanied by background taste of overripe fruit; not bad at all, very sweet. The 2002 is also basically dark-nutty and similarly sweet, but the fruitiness is weaker, its place is taken by a sort of woodiness. Hints of fishiness and tiny remnants of smoke can be detected, but they are not a big issue. I observed that the less leaves are used for the 2002, the more fishy it can get. When I used 1g in a gaiwan, using long steepings, it was not really that good. However, in gongfu, there is no problem.

Since the second steeping, the leaves if 2001 Yiwu start to smell of potato-earthiness, while in the 2002, more of the good caramel sweetness occurs.

1st steeping's liquor (2001 to the left):

2nd steeping's liquor (2001 to the left):

In the first image, the 2001 is a bit darker, while in the second one, the 2002 is darker. I guess that due to heavy compression of the 2002, it opened up more slowly, despite my best efforts. In my previous (unpublished) comparison, when I used 1g only, the color and character of the liquor was essentially the same.

In mouth, I find both teas entirely satisfactory, though not exalting. Both teas share very good thickness, solid active mouthfeel, pleasant caramel sweetness and nicely aged character, given their age - this manifests in a sort of aged nuttiness and light taste/feeling of forest floor. Both have pleasant aftertaste, which lasts long.

The 2001 one is, in my opinion, somewhat fruitier and a bit deeper, while the 2002 has more wood, spice and feels wider in mouth - like there are more tastes cooperating. The bitterness (not too strong) behaves differently - in 2001, the tea starts perfectly smooth and then the bitterness strikes, while in the 2002, weaker bitterness is present almost all the time. This holds for the teas being pushed - in gongfu, using shorter steepings, no real bitterness appeared. 

In general, these teas taste quite similar. I could not tell them apart blindly back when I used only 1g for a gaiwan. I like their coherent nature (some could call it simplicity) and good (for me) storage.

I thought the tea quite different in qi. While the 2001 was ordinary young-aged soothing tea, the 2002 felt more powerful and distinct to me; it hit me harder.

Spent leaves: 2001

Spent leaves: 2002

Indeed, the 2002 Yiwu is not the sexiest looking tea under the sun - some breaking may be attributed to my manipulation with the rock-hard sample, but it seems to contain less whole leaves in general. The leaves also are not as thick as the leaves of the 2001 tea. 

Even though the inspection of leaves suggests that the two compared teas should entirely different, the 2001 tea being a lot better, I do not find it so. I rather think that these teas are quite similar in general character, with small differences. Furthermore, the biggest difference - in qi - is probably personal.

This result suggests that either the 2001 Jinchanghao is quite overpriced ($180), or the 2002 ancient spirit is a great bargain ($53, used to be $38). I think that the truth lies somewhere between. I certainly would not pay $180 for a similar cake. However, I would not pay more than, say, $80 either. Anyway, I think the Ancient spirit is really a solid tea for its current price and if you can live with a bit of humidity in storage (or you enjoy it), it is a quite pleasant and free-of-big-flaws tea.

úterý 4. června 2013

2012&13 Yibangs by Tea Urchin

Today, it will be about two teas made by Eugene - the Tea Urchin - from Yibang leaves. Even though Yibang is near Yiwu and it seems to me that some Yibangs age similarly to Yiwu teas (at least in some aspects), these two nurselings show how different may Yibang tea be.

2012 Yibang

The aroma of dry leaves is quite young, floral and a bit metallic, reminding me of "light top of Yiwu taste". The wet leaves smell pleaantly sweet, leathery, dark floral, generally sharper than young teas from Yiwu.

The taste goes into rather good, dark sweet tones which I am surprised to find in a tea this young (e.g., "will-be-honey"). There is a sort of dark floralness and rather light fruitiness (watermelon, maybe pineapple). After a short while, the taste takes turn to sugercane aftertaste.

The bitterness is medium (can be fine tuned, of course), but I was surprised by the rather high astringency. It is not a particularly unpleasant one, but a strong one nevertheless.

For me, it is rare to find qi in a young tea and this one is no exception. 

While I enjoyed this tea, it is rather simple and we have to wait to see how it ages (by the way, it comes from a mix of varietals, therefore there is no reason to worry about  its aging a priori).
2013 Yibang

A brief comment to start with - the liquor of 2013 leaves looked, in reality, basically the same as the one of 2012 tea - the orangeness here is due to overall darker photo and more time spent oxidizing. Both teas are clean yellow when steeped and they get light orange with time.

The dry leaves again smell light, green and sugary, but the wet leaves also have darker components of heavier fruity base and sugercane. Again, there is a light metallic aroma (also in the aroma of liquor), which is not as strong as to make the aroma unpleasant though.

In mouth, the tea is thick, light and fluffy - actually, too much so for me. It may be thick and coating, but I do not find it interesting at all; it tastes more like a component for blending. The little tastes to be found are of watermelon and some sort of flowers.

As steepings go, mushrooms appear in the aroma of wet leaves and even later, in taste too. While I do enjoy mushrooms on their own, I am not particularly enamored of them in tea. 

Not much activity, nor qi for me... Only a kick of bitterness. 

For drinking now, I certainly enjoyed the 2012 version more.