úterý 23. července 2013

Yunnan sourcing special: beta to nu

When there is a kind person, it is good. When there are two and their interaction is connected, things can get even better. In this case, I'm talking about Scott of YS and Hobbes, via whom I could try samples of Scott's new cakes, presumably from this year. The tasting is blind - the samples are named beta, theta, iota, kappa, lambda, mu, nu, sigma.

Hobbes will write his main post on some of these teas on Friday, but as I'm to be wed that day, I won't be able to join the discussion then. 

You know flagellants, these chaps walking around, whipping themselves and drinking litres of young puerh. The suffering is supposed to do them good, demonstrating their piety. I joined them in the past week, though I omitted the whip. It was quite interesting, though it reminded me of how little I know about young puerh. And of northern puerh... it seems to me that a lot of the samples is from north, which I do not particularly care for.

Below are photos and my notes, in two groups (the order is not chaotic, but not completely alphabetic either):

Beta, iota, lambda, nu:



Lambda (that was really a light blue bowl, not just twisted colors)


Sigma, theta, kappa, mu





Now, after super-tedius photos, to the teas themselves - let's take it in alphabetical order now.

Wet leaves have a medium amount of tobacco smoke, which reminds of me Mangfei or possibly Wuliang. There is a "baoshan" element of animality/leatheriness - an aspect that I appreciate. 

The taste is rather hard, with tones of tobacco, cut weed, which feels quite "dark green" or mossy. It does not taste, nor feel particularly positive to me. The aftertaste is not short, but it is not pleasant enough to make that a winner feature.

The sweetness is decent, there is some good activity in mouth, not much qi.

I wonder what this is. It is a lot better than ordinary teas from Wuliang or Mangfei. I'm thinking it might be either a high-quality tea from there (2013 YS Mangfei) or a good blend.

The wet leaves smell good overall, powerfully sweet, harmonic, with tones of forest fruit, lilies, leather, dried plums but also some mushroom and boring vegetalness. It all leans towards dark fruit as the leaves get cold.

In mouth, the tea furthers my belief that this is Yiwu. It does not taste that powerful, it's a bit distant, floral, with some exotic fruit and soap. And wet straw and honey, both nice. When I steeped it in a gaiwan, using long steepings, a pleasant, fresh fruitiness appeared, which reminded me of young teas from Yibang.

Theta creates good feeling in mouth and brings some qi too. Astringency is medium.

The tea would certainly benefit from more taste, but it is decent as it is. I'm thinking this would be the Dong Gua Ling.

Ah, definitely not my cup of tea, this is. "Not to my taste at all", as Edwin Odesseiron puts it. The aroma of wet leaves reminds me of cold cigarette ash, it is quite sharp, woody and citric. An aspect of fruitiness is present, actually - rowanberries.

In taste, there is a strong "main" taste of cigarette ash, groundnuts and roasted chestnuts. I do not like this sort of taste and it is not improved by a rather high astringency, not great aftertaste and lack of qi. 

When I tasted it for the first time, I thought it would be Wuliang or Mangfei, but I'm not that sure of that anymore. It could be the Sanhezhai, according to what I remember of that one... 

Back to good tasting stuff again... The aroma of this one is sweet, fresh and quite pleasant (actually, it is a lot like some green teas, hope it's not a lucha-pu). It also reminds me of wines from around Mosela.

In taste, this is sharply fresh, fruity (underripe garden fruit), with only a small hint of tobacco and chestnuts in background. Actually, it not only smells, but also tastes like some green teas. The freshness is supported by good hugian, pleasant small bite of bitterness and fruity-floral aftertaste. 

Being so spring in nature, one could expect it to be Feng Chun (if so, well done Scott, it really feels like spring), but I'm a bit more inclined to believe that it's from Jingmai...

This one smells young-fruity-fresh (young apricots), sort of in a Mengku-way. In the first tasting, it did not smell much good to me, but since that, it improved.

In taste, it all starts with very good Lincang-style young fruit (young apricots, fresh lychee), with some difficult-to-identify background. Unfortunate, as steepings go, the background gets more forward (and the fruit dies away), the tea also getting more green and "grassy". And clay makes an appearance sometimes - it is not too bad, just weird.

The tea feels somewhat unstable and unbalanced yet. There is that weird taste progression, also, the tea tends to change quite a lot as it cools down.

Astringency is strong with this one and it is not accompanied by a buzzing mouthfeel... not much qi there either.

This seems to me like a blend which has not got coherent yet. It starts good, but then it starts losing energy quite fast. I'd say most of this tea comes from Lincang. I was thinking it might be Sanhezhai, but when I smelled the piece of Sanhezhai from 2011, it was much more about groundnuts and smoke, so it probably won't be it. I'm also not particularly sure how this sort of tea ages, I'm guessing it could head for hongcha.

This one smells actually quite good. There is heavy floralness (lilies) and fruitiness, both quite heavy, but decent. The aroma feels very easygoing, like walking in the evening in a forest after rain in summer.

It also tastes good. It is not superthick and the tastes have no problem reaching the taste buds. As in the aroma, there is a lot of sweetness, dark, heavy flowers and small hints of fruit-to-be. Good taste is accompanied by good huigan. In the aftertaste, sweet mint makes a guest, but welcome appearance.

There is a lot of bitterness and astringency, but neither falls into "hostile" category.

Good feeling in mouth! And good qi too.

I wonder what this one is. In the first tasting, I was almost sure it would be one of the two villages near Bingdao (Nanpozhai?), but it could be Yiwu too... Or something else :) Assigning young pu to its locality is difficult for me as I drink so little of such a young tea.

Smells spicy, of young Lincang-style fruit, sugar, feels a bit more mature than the rest.  And yes, jasmine, that surprised me very much in puerh.

In mouth, it is thick, sweet and solid, but somewhat "going to width" - it is not really that concentrated on the tongue and it felt rather hollow to me on several occasions, with good tones from aroma substituted by a rather dull sweet wood. 

Even though the description may not sound too positive, I actually liked it more than lambda - the sort of fruitiness is rather similar, but it felt a bit better to me overall.

Very young, sugary aroma here, but already with some deeper/darker tones of lilies (also close to wet straw) and exotic fruit (pineapple).

The liquor is thick, coating the oral cavity, but the taste is distant. When longer steepings are used, thin fruitiness becomes more prominent. To me, this tastes like average older-tree Yiwu no. 13849...

The qi is nice, though. And cooling too. Buzzing is not too high, but I do not mind that. 

I guess that the quality of this style of tea will be clear after 10 years when we know how they age... For drinking now, it is certainly inoffensive, but not particularly awesome. I'm thinking that this could be the Xiang Ming...

The winner for me is Mu, by several horse lengths, as it has good feeling, good qi and is powerful in taste (and it has balls for further aging). It is actually probably the only tea from this batch that I might consider buying.

Kappa is quite enjoyable for drinking now, though I'm not sure how these young lovely young tastes are going to age.

Sigma and Theta seem like decent Yiwus to me, but I need to taste aged cakes of modern single-village Yiwus, if I'm to believe that such a tea is a great ager. But they should not become bad either, methinks.

Lambda and Nu are also decent teas, in my opinion, but showing high degree of disharmony/imbalance yet.

Beta and Iota contain precisely the tastes I dislike in puerh, though I'd say that Beta is probably quite a good tea in that genre.

I'm looking forward to future discussions on Half-Dipper! And thanks once more to Scott for providing such an interesting tea.

sobota 20. července 2013

2005 Zi Pin (Yiwu, Wistaria)

As the 2003 version of the Zi Pin felt so good to me, I wondered what it would be like to taste its younger counterpart. Due to extraordinary kindness of Wistaria, I got a sample of that for tasting.

The last session was a night one, sorry for flash photos...

... and a comparison to 2003 (the big fellow to the right):

The 2003 Zi Pin is a bit browner, compared to dark green-brown of the 2005, but the difference does not seem to be huge.

The rinsed leaves have that trademark Wistaria house aroma, with some sweet wood and red  fruit, accompanied by light woody smoke (Xiaguan <=2003  style); if one inhales deeply, there are some dried herbs. It is not really that attractive, being similar to the 2003, but lacking the ellegance and inner harmony the latter has. While the actual difference is probably quite small, it makes a big impact on my perception of pleasantness. 

The liquor is just a bit lighter than that of 2003 - not a big difference here.

The taste... The tea is reasonably thick (not as much as the 2003 though) and quite pleasant, though not really shining awesome. The first steepings contain a taste of clay (young, not aged), sweet dry wood and red fruit. There is also a some smokiness, which is not bad, but not that great either. Slight plummy taste (sort of like in Cheng Guang He Tang's autumnal Yiwu of 2006) is a good addition. The components I described, plums aside, tend to be quite awful in too dry stored teas, but as the storage of this one seems to be just right, it works rather well. Anyway, the taste in the first (circa five) steepings is not as easygoing and harmonized as that of the 2003 version.

Luckily, after a while, things get better - the smoke goes away and the taste gets cleaner and more pleasant. After the 4th or 5th steeping, it is really very similar to how the 2003 version tastes. The not-that-great red fruit turns into more pleasant overripe variant, the sweet plums become more pronounced and the tea enters the state of harmony. It is dark in feeling, I think, but warming.

Feeling in mouth is good, lubricating, with pleasant activity, which is nicely accompanied by light and rather pleasant astringency.

Qi... that's the reason why I was semi-crazy about the 2003 Zipin and, unfortunately, I find it quite lacking in the 2005 version. Throughout the session, enough qi accumulated and harmonized me in the end, but it was nowhere near that qi smasher the 2003 was.

This tea is quite a lot cheaper than the 2003 version (about 70% of the 2003's price, according to my notes), but where I grabbed the 2003 cake as soon as I could, I don't think I'd be that keen to buy this 2005 cake. In the second half of the session, it was quite good in both sessions I had it, but the first halves were rather disappointing, unfortunately (still, we're talking "this is quite good, but not nearly as great as the 2003", not "this tea sucks"). The 2003 was 70% about qi to me, with the other 30% being "decent mouthfeel and taste" - if you cut that qi bonus and some of the taste for the initial phase of steeping, you get a tea which is clearly not as good as the 2003 version. I wonder whether it is more a matter of aging or material. I'm guessing material, but it would be nice to be wrong.

Nevertheless, thank you very much, Wistaria, I enjoyed this tea!

středa 17. července 2013

Writing about tea

Writing about tea is definitely fun, as well as reading such notes (for me so, at least). However, there is some criticism of too deep/thorough analysis of tastes due to subjectivity.

I myself sometimes write about small tastes occuring in teas (though, I hope, not too much to bore you). Why? I think that even very detailed taste description may be useful, but one needs to have a reference. If you have a teachum who sent you samples and you read his notes, when you read what he writes about other teas, you might have a pretty good idea what the tea is like. Without that, however, it may leave you completely clueless. From my own experience, I know that there are many ways of describing a taste - with the likenings may be quite far from one another in reality. 

Why do I write about tastes? Well, I have an almost-perfect reference, which is myself. I think that it is good to write notes about tea in detail, as when I read my notes two years after I wrote them, I still might get a good idea what the tea was like. However, the use of such notes to others is largely questionable, I'm afraid.

When I read about people's disagreement with too detailed tasting notes, I thought "wait, it works in wine". Actually, that is why I think it might work in puerh too, sort of. There are several obstacles to this though. The wine tasting conventions were not summonned by a french wizard, but they sort of evolved into their current state, via sharing and tasting together. This process may be a bit more difficult in puerh for the following reasons:

a) Water: Two people may come to different conclusions about a single tea because of different water used. The same tea with different waters used may be more different than when two teas (different, but, e.g., from the same mountain range) are prepared with the same water. Therefore, various tasters may come to different conclusions about a tea.

b) Storage: Again, difference in storage can make a huge difference. If you compare a tea stored for 10 years in HK and in Kunming, I doubt you'd have guessed it was the same tea. Besides, it also depends on how far in the aging process the tea is. When a wine is drank, it still usually resembles itself when young. In puerh, that may not be true at all.

c) Preparation: While wine performance does rely heavily on the glass used, there are not really any steeping times to play with (all right, there is temperature, decantation, etc...).

d) More fakes: self-explanatory

e) Subjectivity outside-taste components: Different people feel qi/mouthfeel/bodyfeel differently. There may be a sort of population coding, but it will still hamper the evolutionary process.

f) Personal bias. That is partly relevant in wine too, but it seems stronger to me in puerh. People tend to deduct properties of teas they drink from their actual properties. I.e., one person nearby drinks mostly Xiaguan stuff, which means that you have to translate his "tastes of overripe fruit with hints of flowers" into "80% smoke, 15% overripe fruit, 5% flowers" - but because he drinks mostly Xiaguan, he ignores the smoke entirely.

In my opinion, there are basically three levels (interleaved) of detail:
1) Top-level: E.g., sweet/sour, thick/thin, smoky/not-smoky, bitter/not, astringent/not - most people can agree about that and these features do approach some sort of objectivity.

2) Mid-level: E.g. overripe fruit, dried fruit, apples, longan, camphor, dry wood,... I think that these can work locally - be it in a tasting group or a set of bloggers exchanging samples. I think that this level of detail is probably still worth pursuing/standardizing and it can be useful to wider public. But outside its locality, it may fall apart. That may not be a problem though. I think that if you gave Hermitage to a Bordeaux drinker and Burgundy drinker, you might end up with quite different answers too.

3) Low-level: Burning walnut leaves, clay under freshly sprinkled dwarwen bamboo, sunday tobacco of uncle Jim, etc. While these will be hardly useful to anyone but the writer, it may be still worthwhile for him and therefore I would not dismiss even this sort of notes.

By the way, I thought this resource quite good. It may be about wine and in french, but it seems like a good reading to me, even though my french is abysmal.

pondělí 8. července 2013

2004 Wistaria's Chin Yiai (Nannuo)

After the very good  7542 from the last post, another great tea today. I seldom push teas to the end, but with these two, I squeezed them 'till their juice ran down my legs...

Not a part of recent (very good) tasting round of Wistaria's teas, this is nevertheless another cake by Wistaria teahouse. Before the price increase, its price was about $50 per 200g cake, which is somewhat cheaper than the Zi Yin Nannuo from 2003. Both teas are priced very reasonably, in my opinion - the Chin Yiai perhaps even more reasonably than the Zi Yin. 

The cake arrived (along 2003 Zipin - yay! - and a couple of samples I'll write about later) packed in a lovely box:

The cake looks healthy and smells plentifully of the Wistaria's house aroma, which is quite easily recognisable. 

Aside from the Wistaria component, dry leaves smell of wood and leather - while it may not sound like much, one gets used to liking that. It is definitely different than dull wood&leather of some not-that-good teas from Bulang.

In rinseed leaves, there is sweet wood, leather-animality and red fruitiness. After the initial rinse, the leaves start smelling even better,, of sweet granary and garden fruit, it gets more easy and pleasant than the former, perhaps too hard, blend of aromas. Together, the aroma works very well in harmony. And, which is not always the case with Nannuo teas, it is not spoiled by smoke.

The liquor looks nice and suggests aging in a good environment. It smells sweet, with gentle fruity foxiness (not a bad one!).

The taste is strong and very smooth. The sweet woodiness and leatheriness/animality (sort of Chateau Beaumont style) tend to dominate, but there is also notable component of garden fruit and a difficult-to-decribe feeling of meadow. Maybe some sort of hidden floweriness? Anyway, it's more like a feeling, rather than actual taste. The "Wistaria component" (maybe like a mixture of some clay and wood?) is there too, but gets weaker as steepings go (and a tiny tiny smokiness crawls in)

Overall, the taste is very good, working together, almost without bitterness, with only low astringency, without the tea feeling weak or bland.

The phase after the main taste is also pleasant, noble, with gentle vibrations on the tongue mingling with the aftertaste.

The tea does have some qi, though maybe not as strong as the Zi Yin. Nevertheless, it also feels very good to drink this one.

Overall, a balanced and all-around very good tea, heartily recommended.

One finds it difficult to label a $100+ per 400g cake as a bargain... but this really is one of the very well priced teas you might buy, I believe.

úterý 2. července 2013

2000 7542 (apple green)

Sampletea has, among other puerh e-shops, exceptionally rich spectrum of Menghai teas from early 2000s. Not all of them are stored exactly to my taste, but even these give one an idea. However, there are several really good teas and one gem - indeed, this Apple green 7542. It is not priced higher than the rest, but for me, the combination of good material and good storage really makes it shine - I'd call this tea a very good reference cake for the 7542 recipe, having the good of 7542s, but without faults that some of these have. 

The dry leaves contain some huangpian and "tea balls" (e.g., at the left of the botom photo - any idea what is it?), the amount of tips is quite decent - not too much to make the tea sour.

The aroma of dry warmed up leaves in a teapot is sweet-earthy,  but when the leaves are rinsed, things get a lot more interesting. The aroma is very complex indeed, it's earthy (not like wet stored earthy, just clean, aged earthiness), sweet (my notes say "narrower than in Yiwu"), fruity (overripe garden fruit, dried longan, powidl). The aroma is clean, harmonic, balanced and pretty much faultless, in my opinion. It is basically between young and aged tea, but rather having the worse of both (which some teas do), it has the better of both.

(this is actually one of darker steepings)

In mouth, the tea is perhaps not as bombastic and explosive as some other teas from this period, but it is extraordinaly pleasant. It starts with earthiness and powidl, after which dried longan and some wood take place, developing into spice and aged nuts. Overall, it is complex and all components are working very well together - that's what I appreciate about this tea. It is multidimensional without being disharmonic or faulty. It is just right in thickness and sweetness, very rounded.

The first wave of taste is not that long, but the tea just comes back again and again - in the end, it has quite a long taste.

There is some light dry bitterness, but very smooth and almost pleasant. Astringency is virtually none.

The activity in mouth is good, as is decently strong qi (no powerhouse though) - but these components are not the point, just as the taste. I can not pinpoint any aspect where this tea would be great - but because it is very good in pretty much anything and it all works together, it is a lot more than mere of its parts.

With price likely above $400 per cake, this is not exactly in a bargain corner... but the sample was definitely worth it and I'll likely buy more in the future. Of course, there probably is some Menghai TF overcharge, but among other Menghai TF's teas from this time, this one offers very good performance for the money - highly recommended.