pondělí 21. července 2014

Mid 90s CNNP Ba Zhong Red Mark

This tea originally came from Origintea to Hobbes, who has kindly gifted me with a sample of this. It happened after the announcement that Origintea is closing - given this tea, sadly. In my first order sampling their around-2000 puerh and some oolongs, I've received very nice oolongs (even one from Tony's private stash that was among the best oolongs I have ever had), but the puerhs were, unfortunately, not to my taste, being uniformly distributed in the range between "where is the dissinfection" to "rather good". I am well aware that the prices were not that high, but I have had many much better teas from that tea even in that price range, so I don't buy that argument entirely. Therefore, it is perhaps unexpected that this "gravestone" cake should be good, especially as the part of its marketing was its low price.

The cake looks amiably brown and rusty, containing a mixture of all sorts of materials (leaves, huangpian, twigs,...). It is rather lightly compressed too. The dry leaves give a happines-inducing aroma of clay.

After rinsing, the  clay/earthiness goes away surprising quickly, leaving nuttiness (cashew). The edges of the cake seem to me to be a bit more earthy - possibly due to larger area being in contact with aging-inducing surroundings in there?

Even though the tea has seen some wetness, it is not really dominant at all. The color of the liquor is not too dark either, for a mid-90s tea either (mind that this is quite a deep cup). It's like if this tea was kickstarted in HK and then moved somewhere to dry out. It ttends to form a layer of something on the surface, I wonder what it is. I don't think that it's merely Oxford water this time.

When a normal amount of leaves is used, the taste is mainly about old paper, wood and slightly rancid nuts, feeling slightly stale and hollow overall. Nevertheless, the taste tends to hold for a good amount of time, however not-awesome it is.

Hobbes suggested to me to use more leaves  than normal - when I have done so, the tea has improved, becoming stronger and more concentrated, without acquiring sharp edges. It essentially becomes a quite nice, easily drinkable aged tea with enough sweetness and thickness to feel pretty good. With many leaves used, it can also sometimes cool the tongue down, which I do enjoy. It is calming and recharging at the same time, which is what I like about teas with some age to them.

What I miss is the long-term aftertaste of fresh plums that is often found in Red Marks (and in 7542 recipe too). There is a hint of it, but not enough.

Overall, even though this is possibly the weakest 90s Red Marks I've tasted, it is still plenty good for normal drinking and I'm always looking forward to tea sessions with it -  not bad at all! I just wonder what the price was - could someone please fill me in on that?

čtvrtek 10. července 2014

2002 White2Tea White Whale

This little brick (for which I thank Hobbes) seems to have aroused some interest lately. It can be attributed to its reasonable age (12 years) and low price of $15. The price is actually so low that it nearly did not pass TwoDog's own scam alerting system

England, contrary to popular belief, is not constantly lashed by rain... only almost constantly. However, there are certain moments when there is no rain for a whole day or so - which calls for enjoying a tea outside.

John Henry Bonham... Moby Dick dick ick ick ck... and you know the rest. Or is it different whale that has been the inspiration to the label of this brick? It might be also that TwoDog is obsessed with finding good tea for good prices and this brick epitomises that painful pursuit - putting TwoDog into the position of captain Ahab (in this case, I'm sorry to break this to you, dear Ahab, but you've got a couple of white whales already).

The little (100g) brick is perhaps not composed of the fanciest materials, but it has got a decent color and aroma - not all teas from 2002 can say the same. 

The leaves, dry and wet, smell of wood, camphor and perhaps a little woody smoke. There is not yet the aged earthiness, but the depth of aroma suggests a proper aging process.

The color of the liquor is pleasantly amber, heading for darker and redder hues after a couple of steepings.

Now, how does the tea do in mouth? I must admit that I was not really that thrilled about it as some others seem to be, however not bad the tea is, but that may be just that I do not care for this family of tastes so much. It seems to be mainly woody and camphory, with a varying amount of smokiness (I do not yet understand the latent smoke function except perhaps that yixing clay ameliorates it considerably) and longan. Despite the undoubted strength and relatively good balance of tastes, there sometimes is s a taste of something rancid which slightly irritated me - fortunately, when it appears, it is more in the aroma of wet leaves rather than in taste. Despite not high thickness and not that much sweetness, the liquor does coat mouth nicely and pumps taste for a good amount time - it might be also due to the bitterness that is still present and that sometimes acts as a carrier of tastes.

The general characters heads towards north on puerh map, in my opinion - Mengku, I'd say. It's not unlike some Xiaguan cakes from 2003 which, despite looking a lot prettier, were actually not that much better if at all (they did cost about the same too). There is a clear link between the taste of this White Whale and 2001 Mengku Yuanyexiang (which bolstered my belief that the WW comes from Mengku), which is good. The grandeur, sweetness and all that is missing in WW, but that was not really expected of it, was it?

The tea did not do anything to me physiologically - I think it to be a good workhorse tea rather than something fancy... which is not that surprising given the nature and price of the tea.

Right... I think this is one of the non-prettiest teas I've seen in some time. But then again, a lot of the prettier teas sucked, while this little brick does not.

In general, this tea shows how important a decent aging process is. The brick seems to come, in my opinion, from relatively low quality of leaves, but due to good storage conditions, it has actually beaten many nicer teas that either changed into dried out mummies, or moldy manure in the process of 10 or so years. And due to its baseline character, it retained a reasonable price tag, which is important. 

$60 per 400g for 2002? Why not? However, before clicking BUY 100 times (it's too late for that anyway), I have to say that there is still some competition even at that price tag. Some time ago, there were several shops selling 2003 Xiaguan Jia Ji which, in my opinion, is from far better leaves and while aging more slowly, it is likely to get better. Finepuer has 2003 Xiaguan Blue Label for $45 that is somewhat similar to the White whale, better in something, worse in something else. Sampletea has Purple Dayi 7542 from 2004 (also rather quickly aging) for $80 or  so, which sounds like a good deal and that cake is more to my taste, like the 2004 Shi Kun Mu Menghai (which is, imho, a really nice tea). If you dare to go to 2005-6, one starts encountering teas made from a nice-ish material that are likely to get pretty good. All that said, the teas above that I consider better than the WW (i.e., everything but the 03 Xiaguan Blue Label) are slightly more expensive.

By mentioning some competition, I do not wish to imply that the 2002 White Whale is not worth buying or anything - it is a really good tea for the price if you don't expect too much and I'm afraid that such finds, while not impossible, are less likely to happen in the future. Thank you, TwoDog and Hobbes!

P.S. I've just read the description on White2Tea website - it is pleasant to see vendors accurately stratifying their offerings. Some others would go how the brick is super-awesome and how the last Chinese emperor actually died of happiness when he had been gifted a similar brick and all that, which is not the case here... 

pondělí 7. července 2014

2013 Chawangpu He He

I consciously postponed writing about this tea of somewhat funny name - Honza, the maker, has warned me of it, that it may need some time to settle down. It did indeed - I'm periodically checking it and it is only two last months or so when it has stabilised. Before that, it kept switching between several characters, none of which were super-pleasant.

Once, I had a piece broken off and when I tasted it, I was surprised how lemony it was - I haven't seen such a strong lemon character in a tea. I wrote to Honza, whether he thought the same, but he did not. The strange taste has been explained later when I discovered that the piece of He He has peacefully resided next to a small pouch with lemon scented mate for some time... However, even excepting this genuinely "off" case of changing taste, there were enough changes to make the tea quite unstable for some time.

After reaching the stable state though, this tea is a most pleasant one!

The taste is a very solid one, classical and powerful. Even though interregional blends often don't work so well (this is a blend of 2007, 2012 and 2013 leaves from Yiwu and Menghai), it all does work really nicely here. The start of the taste is dominated by the Yiwu part - sweetness, sweet tobacco, some leather and fruitiness - with the Menghai part kicking in a bit  later, keeping the taste strong and "puerhy". Possibly due to two strong sets of leaves, the taste feels really strong and muscular. Admittedly, after the "simply nice" initial phase, a not inconsiderable bitterness arrives, but it's not an unpleasant sort, at least for me. As steepings go, the garden-fruity characters gets more pronounced and more flowery and honey tastes are suggested for the future (in the way, e.g., of my favorite Spring of Menghai recipe).

The tea feels very warm and pleasant, which is a no mean feat given its nontrivial bitterness. Also, it is surprisingly full in taste and body - I'd expect the 07 Yiwu component to give more hollowness (as I expect it has aged uncompressed, which often yields a somewhat empty tasting tea). Similarly unexpected is the fact that it is so coherent now - it's really not a slightest problem that it comes from such a wide range of age and places.

I suspect that due to the good strength of character, there should be no problem in the future either. Of course, it may happen that all the components forming this little chamber orchestra fail to cooperate - we'll never know until it happens, but at least, I don't see an immediate threat of that happening. At $17 per 200 xiaobing, I can't fault this cake at all, it's really very nice. I think that Chawangpu may be actually hurting themselves a bit, selling such teas this cheap.

pondělí 23. června 2014

2003 Wistaria Tz Ing

Is it really almost a month since the last post? Time seems to speed around so quickly now. It's not that I'm not drinking tea - I'm drinking gallons of it (most notably and happily, 1997 Red Mark, 2013 Chawangpu Lao Yu, 2006 Haiwan Pa Sha and 2012 Jalam teas Meng Zhr), it's just I'm not having so much new tea. Possibly peculiar, but I don't feel as strong urge for discovery as I used to - now, I'm more in the process of discovering new things in what I already have.

That said, I discovered the rest of the sample of 2003 Wistaria's Tz Ing and so I took my old notes and reinforced them with a new experience. All the teas from Wistaria I had previously ranged from good to excellent, so I was approaching the Tz Ing with anticipation.

The aroma of both dry and leaves is characteristic of Wistaria's production/storage, rather than the raw material. I can try shooting at the "house taste" saying it's herbal, woody, slightly plummy and very slightly smoky, but you have to taste it really. I found people for whom this specific taste is a "no go" as it tends to somewhat overshadow the original character of the tea.

The taste is kind of ok, but not very special - and, again, dominated by the "Wistaria taste". I did not mind so much in the other teas they make, as they were part Wistaria, part their own character, but in this one, I really struggled to find anything beside the house taste. I'd say that it was a bit more herbal than most their other teas, with sandalwood type of taste and a bit of smoke. I'd guess that from behind the veil of Wistaria taste, a not-so-super Bulang tea was peeping.

The taste is okay, but not great. It is a bit thick, but not much. A bit sweet, yet not so much again. One thing that is not "not so much" is the dry bitterness which reluctantly transforms and disappears, but again, the pleasantness of the process returns to the "not so much" territory.

I felt subtle qi in the leaves - i.e., the tea is not a hollow trunk of mediocrity... but it does not really shine either.

From Wistaria, I was used to AAA teas (or AA), but the Tz Ing is, I'm afraid my least favourite. It was not bad, to be sure, quite ok, rather, but entirely forgettable.

neděle 25. května 2014

2014 Chawangpu Ban Komaen maocha

Chawangpu aren't making many teas this year, I've been told. Looking at the prices of raw materials in famous areas, one is not surprised. In the line of Meng Zhr of the previous post, we're still staying in Laos in this post. I've been kindly given maocha from Ban Komaen, which is the fancier of two villages in Laos where Chawangshop have sourced their tea...

I think this is possibly the first tea from 2014 I'm having and hopefully not the last one.

The leaves give the aroma of young puerh you would likely expect. They smell sugary, floral and a bit fruity.

Rinsed leaves smell very nicely too. It's not a really new aroma, one smells a lot of teas with roughly similar aroma many times a year, so the angel is in the detail really (in some teas, unfortunately, it is a devil). This particular aroma gives away its near-Yiwu character, being sugary sweet, floral (magnolia), with an element of exotic fruit and citruses. The latter elements are more pronounced than is common in most of Yiwu. The floralness is so intensive that it can resemble glue/solvents containing toluene and similar aromatics.

The liquor has standard good color and clarity. The taste follows the aroma closely, being mostly sugary and floral, with some fruitiness and light cinnamon tones. The cinnamon works interestingly with the flowers - especially the aroma of the liquor can resemble a part of aroma of a green Tie Guan Yin - I'm not saying this Ban Komaen tea is much like green oolong - I'm just noting that there is an interesting intersection of aromas and, to smaller degree, taste.

While the thickness of liquor is rather high, it is not really super-high, allowing for more taste to get to our tastebuds (this is probably the biggest difference from Yiwu teas that I could find).

The astringency is very low and while the tea can be pushed to be bitter quite easily, I would not say it's too bitter by default. Furthermore, the bitterness is of a rather pleasant sort, transforming into a good, pomelo-like long aftertaste.

The tea feels very clean and pure in its qi, being calming and soothing. It gently numbs mouth cavity and vibrates. Of course, the sensation is completely unlike the feelings imparted by pesticides. 

Overall, I thought this tea to be very nice. Not a super-exciting one, but well produced and all-around of high quality. Its cost of $38 or $48 per 200g cake is quite sound (sigh...). Is it expensive? Perhaps - but compare it to young Yiwu teas that cost two or more times as much... I honestly can't say that I could discern this Ban Komaen from Yiwu. Of course, it has got some properties that make it not really like "standard Yiwu", but so does Guafengzhai and surrounding areaas... 

Wow, Laos seems to be the next area to be discovered, I guess - both teas (this Ban Komaen and previously mentioned Meng Zhr) were genuinely good puerh. It was also interesting to taste these two teas side by side - it was fun to observe the difference between old and not so old trees (which were very good and clean as well, just different).

pátek 16. května 2014

2012 Jalam teas Meng Zhr

Recently, I have been offered a tea for review by representatives of Jalam teas. Who am I to oppose?

I was surprised to learn that Jeff Fuchs, a photographer I appreciate for some years, is behind the company and tea. I must admit that Jeff's surname carries a slight unwanted connotation with it, - I'm sure that those middle-europeans among you have at least heard of the (in)famous Horst Fuchs - yes, the crazy teleshopping chap who tries to sell all sorts of things on TV (e.g., kitchen knife, which is so good you can cut nails with it... or a frozen can of something - so useful)... just imagine him selling puerh.

Now, going back to serious stuff - Jeff has made some seriously serious journeys and he is by no means an arbitrary westerner who went on making tea. Anybody who manages to walk for 6000 km in less than 8 months has my respect. Of course, long-distance walking is probably not directly correlated to tea making abilities, but I think that people who pursue their non-profitable dreams, are seldom sly, trying-to-rob-you and all that. Furthermore, if you've read Jeff's book on travelling along Ancient tea horse road, you have no doubt realized that he loves tea.

This particular cake comes from "Meng Zhr" - I've never heard of this place, I shamefully admit. According to the site of Jalam teas, Meng Zhr is a town near the Laos border - it seems that teas from there are getting larger share of market.

Cakes don't get much more "white label" than this...

The large leaves, purportedly coming from trees of 20 to 50 years of age are pressed into this small cake. The cake seems to contain a good mixture of leaf types.

After rinsing, I got a flowery, dark green scent, with some spice and animality. It is more interesting than average.

Even though the taste is distinctly young, it is actually quite rich and multi-layered. It is mostly flowery (lilies, magnolia), toasty/bready (I never thought I'd encounter this taste in tea, but here it is), quite strong and thick. It is indeed a "classical" young puerh, but with more complexity in taste than is ordinary. There is some positive bitterness that keeps the taste going. Even though the spectrum of tastes is somewhat narrow (flowery), there are many facets and little differences that make drinking this tea fun.

Thickness, cleanliness and lack of unpleasantry show, that even though some teas are no super-fancy gushu from trees that remember female ents, they can be still very good. I'm starting to believe that health of trees and attitute of harvesters to them is as important as the age of trees. If old trees keep being overharvested (and supplemented with artificial diet), they may lose their charm in a couple of years and well cared of younger trees may be the next way to go.

The leaves are quite strong and they look "happy".

As did I, actually, after I kept having this tea for several days in a row - because this is indeed a good tea! Many new tea makers have to get through phase of half-good teas or teas that suck - it is nice to see that Jeff makes good tea straight away.

Now, the tea is good, that is not the issue. What is the issue, a bit, is the price. This 100g cake costs $24 for club members and $39 for non-members. Ugh. I don't know about this. The tea is nice and all that, but maocha from near Laos, from trees of 20-50 years of age should be fairly inexpensive, right?

I find it difficult to criticize price (unless I have a cheaper reference), there may be a good reason why the tea costs this much, but at least for me, it is too much to pay

středa 30. dubna 2014

1999 Tie Guan Yin

And here comes another oolong from Chawangshop:

Aged Tie Guan Yin can be a completely delightful tea. It is sometimes even not that awfully expensive, which is definitely a plus (unless you get a cheap overroasted ripoff). This particular TGY is not super cheap, but $2.70 per 10g sounds quite fair to me, if the tea is a real deal. Which this... is. Unfortunately, dramatic pauses are not really that punchy when written.

The leaves are of a pleasant dark brown color and an even more pleasant aroma of aged plums and nuts.

It certainly does not disappoint when drank too. The taste is very rich and deep. It may not be as explosive as the 2006 Benshan from the last post, but it is fuller and without a sign of a disturbance.

The taste consists mostly of dried plums, treacle, rich dark nuttiness and dark forest honey (which is quite in contrast to the 2006's meadow honey). The roasting seems to have been medium indeed - there are not features of a green oolong on one hand, but on the other hand, no harder roast is to be discerned.

It is also "well sat down" (~not that dynamic is another point of view), going along at its own pace as the steepings go.

Overall, this is a very rich and pleasant tea, much enjoyed.