30 January, 2008

2007 Yongxi Finetip

Many thanks to CB for this most unusual green tea, sold by The Whole Leaf where it goes for about $7/oz. I've been meaning to post this review for just under two months, and a steady stream of tea reviews landing in my inbox from CB herself prompted me into action!

It comes in a charming little black zip-lock bag, decorated with lovely Chinese art. It's easy to go overboard and get vulgar with the Chinese art and crazy amount of seals/calligraphy, but this is nicely understated. I appreciate the effort on their part. You can catch a glimpse of it in the background...

The leaves are very curious indeed, being tight, green snails that are very glossy, as if made from wax. Don't they look charming? They are similarly glossy to the touch. The aroma is fresh, classical lucha.

While there is a certain zesty energy on the tongue, the flavour is standard grassiness.

The wet leaves are charming, being entire tip systems, elegant and curled.

This tea is quite a looker, if not one to absorb you in its flavour.

27 January, 2008

2007 Milanxiang "Gold Medal" Dancong

So, then, dancong [single bush]. Also known as "Fenghuang" [phoenix] tea, after the mountains down in Guangdong, hence the surfeit of brands such as "Super Phoenix", "Imperial Phoenix", and "I Can't Believe It's Not Phoenix". Imen has a whole ream of interesting information on this genre of tea, for the curious reader.

I have a fairly strong set of prior assumptions when it comes to dancong:

i. Dancong is fruity and floral. It can be pleasant, but is usually fairly simple. It lacks the complexity and enduring appeal of, say, Wuyi yancha or pu'er.

ii. Dancong is fairly homogenous. Once past a certain level of quality, it all tastes the same to me. I can't distinguish a prize-winning uber-dancong at $200/1 mg from a good-quality, reasonably-priced $30/100g.

iii. It's best in the first few infusions, and then it tails off into a gently sweet warm water without developing or evolving into anything too exciting.

Dancong is, to me, a pretty girl who turns out to be horridly boring in conversation.

Don't get me wrong, I like dancong very much. However, I consider it a "light and pleasant" tea to enjoy on a fresh week-end morning, rather than an engaging, exciting voyage of discovery as some other teas can provide. The above are just my personal foibles, if you will.

The subject of this article, the Milanxiang [honey-orchid scent] is from Imen's new foray into the world of on-line tea selling, with which I hope to challenge my prejudice. It is a "gold medal winning" tea which is a statement that, coming from most other people, would make me roll my eyes, given that it's hard to substantiate and even harder to quantify. However, Imen knows her stuff and has been a good writer for so long, that it must mean something in this case.

The leaves are long, as you'd hope for a dancong, and have the fresh scent of fruits that you would expect.

Unlike many dancong, this one has a vibrant energy that is felt on contact with the lips and tongue. It has a smooth honey beidixiang [initial scent in the aroma-cup], which, while pleasant, doesn't endure. It's an aptly-named tea, at least.

The flavour is sweet and full, with a gentle, warming chaqi that flushes my neck. Against all odds, this dancong exhibits a huigan that leaves the mouth watering.

By the fifth infusion, it's all over, and we're into the familiar territory of sweet, fruity warm water.

Overall, this is one of the better dancong that I have had the pleasure of encountering. It didn't really shake my assumptions about the genre, but it was a treat finding out nonetheless.

23 January, 2008

These Diluvial Times

Oxford is pretty much underwater. This has been happening for the past thousand years, so it's not a great surprise (and is why all of our libraries are not built at ground level!), but it's quite hard to get used to.

Here's the view from our lounge:

It looks innocent enough, until you realise that this wide lake is actually a sports field. You can see the tops of park benches sticking out of the water!

This makes it good weather for drinking tea. Many thanks to Imen, Tomas, and Giorgio for the various samples - I'm looking forward to tucking into them over the next few weeks. Stay tuned for some notes!

In other news, we recently discovered a lovely old traditional shoeshop in town; raising a pair of good shoes seems very much akin to raising a good teapot, requiring plenty of polishing and care after each use, with the intention of developing a rich, deep patina over time. Oddly, polishing shoes seems to get me into the same psychological "zone" as does making tea.

I was standing in the entry lodge of Somerville College last night, and a passer-by stopped to say, "Are those shoes from Duckers?" It's good to see that some old, good things from the past can still hold their own against modern living. I think we'd all count good tea in that category.

11 January, 2008

Going Postal

If you're anticipating tea from me, then there's a very good chance you might be receiving it soon! I've just packed off ten parcels to the Post Office, and they were heavy. Do forgive my tardiness in getting them all together - the studies are taking their toll. :)

I've been getting a lot of new visitors from Badger and Blade, lately - gentlemen, this one's for you...

09 January, 2008

1999 CNNP Shupu

There's the scent of mystery in the air. The game's afoot, Watson!

Maybe... but I suspect asking my Chinese wife to read it to me will make it quicker!

It's a 1999 CNNP cake (hence the title), allegedly Simao-region leaves, a "tiebing" [iron-pressed cake], and "gancang" [dry-stored].

Let's give it a go; thanks to Norpel for the sample...

Despite the "iron compression", it comes apart easily. It looks and smells very much like shupu! I like shupu, though, so that's a fine thing.

The soup is dark, as you can see. I can't abide shupu that messes around; if you're going to forcefully oxidise a tea, at least make it brew a lovely, dark soup.

The flavour is smooth and sweet, and the years have been kind to it in that regard. 10-year-old shupu is a great age. Much of the shupu I've encountered that's much older than a decade has begun to lose its flavour, even when tightly compressed. Up until that point, it's like water eroding a stone... gradual, smoothing, and pleasant.

There's even a gentle huigan to this particular shupu. I always brew shupu quite hard, in an attempt to bully out some "oomph" from it; this one stands up to the bullying, and shows no obvious flaws throughout, delivering a solid, shupu character.

Shupu is a great evening drink. Somehow, it doesn't keep me awake at night. Thanks again for the sample, Norpel!

By way of thanks, here's a Buddhist cartoon for you. Admittedly, it's a Zen cartoon (made for my group in town here) and not a Tibetan one...

(Based on the koan of the same name.)

08 January, 2008

A Blogging Trick

(Or, perhaps more accurately, a Windows trick which was new to me. Apologies if you know this one.)

Can you tell the difference between the following two snapshots?

If the two images look the same, then this trick is not for you. You might want to update the prescription of your spectacles. :)

The top image is "default Firefox", which is fairly pixelated (especially italic text), while the bottom image uses the Windows "ClearType" fonts, and is very smooth to read.

I previously thought the pleasantly smooth fonts were a feature of Microsoft's Internet Explorer (which seems to be quite a popular assumption). Happily, you can get Firefox to do the same by simply going to "Display Properties" (right-click on the Windows desktop and select "Properties") -> "Appearance" tab -> "Effects" button -> select "ClearType" from the drop-down list of screen fonts. Done!

Reading blogs is much easier this way, it seems...

07 January, 2008

Internet Pots

I recently had a conversation about teapots - "Internet pots", in particular. Aware that I have been singing the praises of the "non-Internet" pot for a while, I think that a few words are very much in order to redress the balance. Some of my best pots were obtained from Internet vendors, and I'd very much like to give them their due acclaim.

Specifically, from the old photograph below, pot #8 and pot #12 really are exceedingly good. (Iwii and Vlad may recognise #5 as "The Donkey".)

Here's why #8 and #12 are worth further attention...

Pot #12 is from Yunnan Sourcing, where it was priced at about $30. You might recognise it from the Half-Dipper banner at the top of the page - it's very photogenic:

This pot has provided a year-and-a-half of fine service, and is aging very well indeed. I'm fairly sure that Salsero owns one too, no less. It is made of quite light clay, but is very porous, and brews a lovely heavily-roasted wulong. It enriches the dark notes, and takes away any bitter edge that I otherwise obtain from brewing the same tea in a gaiwan. Furthermore, the wonderful texture of the skin holds the hot tea-rinses very well, and has developed a beautiful shine. I thoroughly recommend it.

For reasons that become obvious when you see it pour, my mother, during a visit last year, named it "Little Boy's Willy" (for "willy" read "peepee" if you're reading from the USA).

Pot #8 is a "Xishi" pot, from Teamasters, where it sold for around $50. Stories abound why this slightly erotic teapot style should be named after the famous Chinese beauty:

Again, while made of fairly light clay, the fit between lid and pot is absolutely perfect, and the skin is a joy to caress. Over the past 1-2 years, it has become richer and shinier with use, and pours magnificently: the pour is so precise, that it is like turning a tap on and off instantaneously. It makes a superb hongcha, amplifying the malty darkness, and smoothing out any nervous high-notes. I drink a great deal of hongcha in my office (in a gaiwan), and it never tastes as good as the same tea brewed at home with my Xishi.

So, then, two very good pots, at very reasonable prices, and easily obtainable. In the spirit of the occasion, I'd very much like to hear of any success stories that you have encountered - it's an absolute certainty that there are plenty of fine pots that I have yet to discover, and I welcome your guidance in unearthing them.

05 January, 2008

2004 6FTM "55th Anniversary"

Continuing the rediscovery of a factory that I had previously avoided, a few words on the 6FTM cake produced to commemorate the... 55th anniversary of the P.R.C. Methinks the chaps at 6FTM have run out of things to commemorate.

Let's get cosy with the tea. Thanks in advance to Norpel for the generous sample.

It's a yinzhen [silver needles] bing, and is correspondingly green-and-white, comprising furry tips and tiny leaves (see below). These can be refreshing teas, while it is said that they do not change greatly with age. For this reason, I keep a very small supply of yinzhen tea from Maliandao for drinking when the mood arises.

The soup looks like a good Chablis, and is similarly fresh in the wenxiangbei. The lengxiang [cooling-down scent] is wonderful: creme brulee!

Flavourwise, it is fairly predictable: an opening of wild grasses, before turning into a smooth mushroom as it proceeds to the throat. The texture is quite thick and smooth, too, though it requires some bullying in order to force a huigan out of it.

Over the course of the infusions, it changes little, but does its job smoothly and pleasantly.

I cannot find any details of this tea on-line; Norpel notes that it was bought from Awazon. It's a good yinzhen cake.

Given that the resident don of the tea-world (Corax) recently posted here, in his honour, a small insurgent apostrophe from one of my other existences...

04 January, 2008

1990 CNNP "Jiang Cheng" Brick

Cold rain - not the brutal stuff that commands respect, but the annoying, drizzling, clammy kind. The perfect day to stay indoors and explore an old tea.

Copious thanks to Norpel for this sample; it's from a 300g brick sold at Teamasters for $175 [pictured].

I'm not sure what the "Jiang Cheng" means as it doesn't appear on the wrapper - we have "Yunnan Yesheng ["wild"] Tea Brick, CNNP". Wild!

As you can see above, the leaves are small (SE describes them as "grade 1" size) and very dark, with a robust compression. A vividly sweet shengpu aroma indicates that this has been aged very well. Today, a small Hanwu ["Han-dynasty ceramic"] pot, pictured below, dedicated to older teas.

Unlike the more contemporary teas that I have been drinking lately, this one is bold and clear throughout its beidixiang [the initial cup-bottom scent]. That crispy clear aroma from the dry leaves shines throughout.

As shown above, the soup is a deep amber, with a definite golden ring at the meniscus that some take to be a mark of quality.

First into the mouth, the sensation of buzzing lips comes long before any flavour has had a chance to register. This is a particularly fine tea as far as chaqi goes, leaving the mouth menthol-cool afterwards, in accordance with Chinese medicine's designation as shengpu as a "cold" drink.

The flavour itself is rather simple: sweet sandalwood, a very quiet huigan, finished by a pleasant shicang [wet storehouse] yunxiang in the nose. The storage is really top notch: it is clean and fresh, and the chaqi has become bold.

Fine as this tea is, it strikes me as a bit monotonic: the sweet, high flavour is simple, and each cup is much like the last. This is a tea to drink for the sensations it generates in the body, rather than for enjoyment of flavour or aroma. I deliberately overbrewed the tea on occasion in an attempt to get something complex out of it, but this was plumbing for depths that seem not to exist. It didn't really strike me as "wild".

A fine experience of a well-aged tea; thanks again to Norpel for this excellent companion on a cold, wet day.

P.s. Unless I'm very much mistaken, this looks to be The Half-Dipper's century-and-a-half!


In the interests of good scholarship, an article on this tea can be found in the oak-panelled interior of Chadao, penned by Geraldo. Happily, my notes appear to be in agreement, and I must quote a rather fine passage as a most suitable epithet:
"On the excellence scale, I would rate it very high.
On the fascination scale, I would not rate it quite so high."

02 January, 2008

2005 Dehong Purple-Leaf

In the Lotus Sutra (I think), it is written that anyone giving even just a single syllable of a sutra with a sincere heart will surely achieve great merit and blessings. As I unpacked a festive parcel from the resident Tibetan Buddhist of my readership, I wondered to myself how much merit one must receive for giving the entirety of Shantideva's 1200-year-old "Way of the Bodhisattva".

It is with humble thanks to Norpel that I provide a few notes of one of the teas that accompanied his superbly generous gift (which I am learning and enjoying each day).

The 1999 Luxi Dehong brick is one with which I've been hoping to become acquainted for quite some time. I first read about it over a million years ago, when ancient writings signed by one known only as Geraldo were unearthed on the subject, preserved for posterity in the annals of Chadao. Much later, a little after the coming of the Industrial Revolution, I read about it once again at Chemistea.

It's a tea that I never got around to buying, and then, all of a sudden, it was too late... Now, all is gone from Yunnan Sourcing (despite my protestations to the tolerant proprietor). Imagine my delight, then, to see that my friend from Up North had kindly reversed the arrow of time.

The little "purple leaves" are fine and dark. In his exposition of the biochemical properties of these leaves, the author of Chemistea notes that the purple colouration is due to resistance to sun (and I direct the interested reader to the above link for further details). The aroma of the dry leaves is sweet and clean, turning into a fine flower-like scent when dampened in the pot.

The aroma in the wenxiangbei is the burned-sugar aroma of a floral Oriental Beauty, and really is particularly enjoyable. The soup is a solid yellow, looking all the world like liquid pollen.

A flavour so sweet that it seems almost sugary! Then comes a sour leaf character that fills the body of the tea, but the yunxiang is that now-familiar Oriental Beauty floral tone. It promptly makes its way through the mouth to a gentle but enduring huigan.

It seems almost impossible to overbrew this sweet little confection. The ku is very slight, but just enough to satisfy the slavering maw of a hardened pu'er addict (c'est moi).

Simple, sweet, delicious... Thanks again, Norpel.


Though I cannot vouch for them, the Holy Mountain Trading Company stocks this tea (currently at $55).