04 May, 2007

2004 Baijiguan Zhengyan, 2004 Tieluohan Zhengyan

As the beautiful springtime sunshine recedes, what better time to spend huddled up indoors than with the "si da ming cong" [Four Great Famous Bushes] sample set from Hou De. I find it difficult to obtain good Wuyi yancha [rock tea], and so the prospect of tasting potentially decent examples from Hou De is an attractive one.


Today, we examine the first two of the set of four - and let's begin with the unusual two: Baijiguan [white cockscomb] and Tieluohan [iron monk]. These are particularly hard to obtain in any form, let alone of any decent quality.

All four samples in this sidamingcong set are labelled "zhengyan" [proper rock-tea], equivalent to the pu'er "zhengshan" [proper mountain], being indicative of provenance from the "true" Wuyi central district (elevation > 650m). I crave fine examples of these two unusual yancha, and look forward to the results.

In the following, Baijiguan and Tieluohan will be referred to as "A" and "B", respectively, and appear upper and lower in accompanying photographs, respectively. As always, more detail may be obtained by clicking on the images.

2 scoops in 12cl nongxiang pot; Caledonian Springs @ 90C; 1 rinse.

Dry leaves:
A:
Typical yancha twisted strips, these are loosely rolled. In the expected mass of dark browns, there are plenty of green shades to be seen. The roasting is far from homogenous - some tips are roasted at the edges only. Is this indicative of poor roasting, or an intentional part of making baijiguan?

The aroma of these leaves is captivating: wulong scents mix with a creamy butter. The roast-scent is gentle, and very smooth - it rewards attention, and a little time. Particularly with heavily-roasted leaf, I find it all-to-easy to dismiss the aroma with a cursory sniff, which would be a shame for a tea like this.

B:
Superbly dark. The only concession to the darkness is an occasional rich, chocolate colour. The leaves are 2-3cm twisted segments. The primary aroma is that of the roasting, but with an unusually potent scent of the tea itself. I find it unusual for such roasted teas to smell so heavily of tea, and I wonder if this may indicate a certain potency of leaf due to its "zhengyan" specification.

15s, 15s, 20s, 25s, 30s, 45s:
A:
Pure, golden soup - shining with the luster of gold. The entire room is filled with the sweetness of the butter-and-honey aroma. Drinking this tea is a privilege.

The beidixiang opens with spicy-green wulong, becoming that wonderful butter, which in turn cools to a caramel lengxiang. The flavour attests to its Mainland origins: a hearty wulong base, with a fine sourness around the outside. The butter and caramel from the aroma are present in the aftertaste.

"Very deep, round sweetness". Contrary to previous concerns about a potentially poor roasting, the flavour shows that it has been executed particularly well, giving a seamlessly-integrated roasted profile to the rich leaf flavours.

The huigan is the sweet-yet-spicy huigan that one might experience from cooked ginger: spicy and warm, but not discomfortingly so.

B:
The aroma is truly unique. It is... acrobatic, and will require a little careful description.

It opens with a roasted, dark-chocolate musk, which lasts for about five seconds. Then, as if the melody had suddenly shifted from the violins to a double bass, the aroma drastically and obviously changes: it becomes instantly bass, low, and nutty. I've never experienced such an exertion in the aroma, and it performs it repeatedly and consistently throughout the infusions.

This rich, low nut aroma lasts for around 30 seconds, before the lengxiang eventually arrives as a sweet-sourness. It is a highly accomplished aroma, and bears future examination.

The powerful bass aroma is also the basis of the flavour: this is broad, sincere - truly, an iron monk. "Luohan" refers to a somewhat senior rank of monk, who has gained position through commitment and sincerity (though not a high rank, such as abbot) - this tea is very well-named. It is a stocky, dark, robust tea.

Used leaves:
A:
Very green, interestingly enough for a yancha. They are quite large, and strong, with very few tips evident. I wonder if the grade of this tea is not quite the finest - though the quality of what is present is very fine, perhaps by virtue of being "zhengyan". The aroma is peach-like.

B:
Segments of large leaves, particularly dark. Similar grade to A.

Overall:
A:
Sweet, buttery, yet robust enough to be yancha. This is a fine tea, and a real treat to find. Certainly this is one for the yancha enthusiast, who will not be disappointed. Later infusions tend to polarise in flavour between the robust Mainland wulong taste and the rich roast. It does indeed feel like the grandfather of Taiwanese leaves.

B:
Zhengshan potency and refinement, with a highly skillful roasting. Quite the most acrobatic wulong aroma I have ever encountered, and fascinating it is too. The iron monk is well-named, for this is a solid and unaloof tea.

15 comments:

xdustinx said...

I've been staring at these teas on Guang's website for quite some time. You may have just convinced me to purchase some, even though they're so expensive. I'm not sure if that's good or bad. Either way, excellent review.

Sacha said...

Hello,

I just wanted to show you my gratitude for this wonderful blog that you have created. I like the way you express us your impressions through the steps of your tastings. By your beautifuly presise images of the aromas you encounter, you almost make me taste and smell the tea!
I just discovered your site and will come by as often as I can from now on...

Thanks again!

Sacha

Hobbes said...

Dustin,

They had been on my "to buy" list for quite a while, too. The prospect of getting decent grades of rare wulong tipped me over, though. The baijiguan and the tieluohan are definitely the best of the four - more on the other two later.


Sacha,

Thanks indeed for your kind words; I'm very glad that you found us.


Toodlepip both,

Hobbes

Anonymous said...

Hobbes,

Top shelf notes. I received a few Wuyis from Guang a few days ago, (regretfully, not these two of the four famous cultivars), and was at a bit of a loss for proper parameters. (I was going a bit too short, 15,5,10,10,15,20,etc) Using yours worked most wonderfully.

-Ian

speakfreely said...

I've also been drinking Wuyi rock teas for the past several days - samples from Jing, 3 different Spring 2006 Wuyi Shui Xians. Fairly certain my general tea preference is settling in around these (despite the fact that I enjoy the variety more than any one tea). One thing that is coming through is an underlying "flintiness" that has me wondering - is it the "gout de terre" of the Wuyi region?

bushmillsrare@yahoo.com said...

have you ever bought rock wuyi from enjoytea.com or any other tea from them. i'm new to the tea internet shopping and trying to find a good sorce for teas.

Hobbes said...

Ian,

Thanks for the kind words, and I'm glad that the parameters proved helpful. Getting the quantity/temperature/timing right is very much an intuitive activity, I think - evolutionary learning at its finest. I've made so many poor cups of tea that I'm slowly learning from my mistakes. I think it's this intuitive act of preparation-cum-creation that elevates tea-drinking above the common event of merely consuming a beverage.


Carla,

I'm beginning to notice that you are very much into your nongxiang! Regarding flintiness, it could well be. The famous Graves ("gravel") red wines are known for picking up some of that characteristic, too. If a grape can achieve this, I cannot reason against a tealeaf doing the same.

On an unrelated subject, Amber I just visited the market earlier today for some more Anyu Valley for you - I'll get it sent out soon, with some other random selections. I know you're wading through a new batch already. ;)


Bushmillsrare,

Thanks for stopping by. I've not used that vendor before, and so can't shed any light on them, I'm afraid. If it's useful, my personal experiences with Yunnan Sourcing, Hou De, and Teamasters have been excellent as far as Internet tea-shopping goes. Do let us know how enjoytea.com works out, if you order from them.


Toodlepip,

Hobbes

Bill said...

Once again, I feel like framing your picutures! Of course I won't :P Love it!

Bill

speakfreely said...

Nongxiang, yes! I like the complexity of the darker flavors/aromas, but the delicate qingxiang fragrances are important too. Honestly, I like it all (Or most of it anyway - just tried a 2001 Liu An, hmmmm.).

I was just thinking about that Anyu Valley. Awfully darn nice of you to procure some for me. Likewise, if there's anything I've sent you that you would like more of, please don't hesitate to ask; some of it came from YSLLC in ample quantity, and it will surely stale before I drink it all or give it away.

Your blog, BTW, has been a real joy to read; It is truly lovely and beautifully reflects the cha dao.

Hobbes said...

Bill,

Too kind by far - but signed glossy prints are now available*!

* Or perhaps not ;)


Carla,

Psychically enough, I was just writing you an e-mail as you posted. I'm glad you liked the ol' notes here.

It would be criminal of me not to waggle my eyebrows in appreciation of your offer, especially regarding the "2006 Premium Yunnan 'Gold-Tips' Dianhong" that Scott's no longer selling - thank you!


Toodlepip both,

Hobbes

speakfreely said...

Dianhong Gold-Tips will be included in generous quantity with the next shipment. I've bought a few interesting things lately, so I'll let you know what's available at some point once it all comes in.

Ta!
-C

Hobbes said...

Party-poppers are go!

~ Phyll said...

Aiya, now I'm itching for a very good cup of Wuyi Yancha tea. But it's 12:30am, so I will have to wait 'till tomorrow. Awesome notes, wonderful handwriting!

Steven Dodd said...

I like the use of music to describe taste. Flavors each have their own note, and when combined, create a melody. Aromatics the high notes, dark, savory flavors the base. The melody of flavors needs a good balance to be enjoyable. There's also how we play the flavor music, tuning our gongfu stereo and speakers to draw out those tastes and sensations, each tea a different artist and style.

Hobbes said...

Chaps,

Thanks for the posts - glad to see you're still awake!

Given the type of musical taste that we share, Doddy, I'm not sure if "tone" is quite the right word... :)


Toodlepip both,

Hobbes