30 July, 2011

1970s Maocha

At the time of writing, it is Xiaohu's eight-month birthday.  To celebrate, I ransack my shelves for a good tea, and return victorious, carrying this sample of 1970s maocha generously provided by Stephane, of Teamasters.

1970s Maocha

There is not much to be said concerning the provenance of this old tea, because tracing the roots of maocha is seldom fruitful.  No wrappers are on hand to guide our way, just the leaves.

These leaves are of good length, and have a noticeable shicang [wet store] aroma - perhaps unsurprising for a tea from the 1970s.  The years have been kind to this tea, and, unlike much old maocha, they retain a definite potency.  The decades have turned them into a rich shade of husky chocolate-brown.

1970s Maocha

Even though the sample is less than 5g in size, its potency results in a dark red brew, with a heavy flavour, if the infusions are kept long.  It has a particulate, granular texture that, when combined with its sweet-vanilla shicang, comforts and soothes.

I tend to keep my maocha out of the air, sometimes in whisky-tubes, or boxes.  They tend to run out of steam, otherwise.  This maocha has no such concern, and lasts a decent number of infusions, before fading into a gentle, orange-red background.

We toast Xiaohu's mini-birthday, and thank Stephane for a delightful session.

28 July, 2011

2009 Guyi - Yubang "Mushu Chawang"

I haven't encountered much from the Guyi tea factory, and that which I have has come entirely from Singaporean teameister, the ever-generous Keng.  This 2009 cake comes under the factory's "Yubang" label, where "Gushu chawang" means "Ancient-tree tea-king".

edit: mushu!  (see comments)

2009 Guyi Gushu Chawang

On first unwrapping, I was surprised by its appearance.  Have a glance at the image below, and see if you can  see what I mean.

2009 Guyi Gushu Chawang

The colours are quite accurate, for once, in this photograph, and we can see that it contains a blend of huangpian [yellow flakes], standard black/brown leaves, and a significant quantity of reddened leaves.

2009 Guyi Gushu Chawang

The aroma of the dry leaves is similarly surprising: I was not expecting to be greeted by the gentle sweet vanilla of shicang [wet storage], which hangs about the leaves in a gentle manner.  

2009 Guyi Gushu Chawang

The main leaves themselves appear to be healthily large fragments of decent leaves, which result in a solid yellow-orange soup.

2009 Guyi Gushu Chawang

Our initial supposition seems to be correct, and the flavours of granary, sweet, raw shengpu have been cleanly blended with a redder, maltier character from the pre-oxidised leaves.

2009 Guyi Gushu Chawang

There are many "drink it now" cakes on the market, but this one is clean, crisp, and well-presented.  It doesn't have the most enormous huigan known to man, but there is something decent waiting in the finish.  

One of the most striking aspects of this tea is the overtone of swollen, sticky fruits, which reminds me of the over-the-top, yet very enjoyable, sweetness of purple-leaf pu'ercha.  This may come from the reddened leaves, in a wulong / dancong style, but it adds a little charm at this breakfast-time tea session.

2009 Guyi Gushu Chawang

It sells for around 150 RMB on Taobao, for the 2009 version, and for around 180 RMB for the 2007 version, for those interested in what turned out to be a solid cake suitable for immediate enjoyment.  Thanks again to Keng for sending us this crisp, sweet, and fruity bing.  

27 July, 2011

Roadside Farmer

Disco Inferno

roadside farmer
cooks with naked flame -
pecked liver

25 July, 2011

2011 Essence of Tea "Gushu Shupu"

What kind of evil genius makes shupu out of gushu [ancient tree] leaves?

2011 EoT Gushu Shupu

Even after the compost-heap effect of the wodui [damp pile] process used to make shupu, the leaves look pretty, as shown above.  They are medium in length, and darkened nicely.

2011 EoT Gushu Shupu

This is a rare afternoon session, because most of my time for drinking tea occurs in the mornings.  I also try to avoid afternoon tea-drinking in order not to affect my sleep, which is rare enough as it is when given Xiaohu's tendency to wake throughout the night.  The afternoon sun lights up the tea dramatically, pictured above, and the comforting warmth of the shupu is most welcome in this slow part of the day.

2011 EoT Gushu Shupu

Unlike many shupu, this has a pleasant tanginess, left over from its raw state.  The soup is so very clean, and smoothly, fine-grainedly particulate.

Also unlike many shupu, it has a significant energy, and a vibrancy on the tongue.  The voice of the gushu leaves may still be heard.

Xiexie indeed to Nada for this charming session.

23 July, 2011

2011 Essence of Tea "Single-Tree Laobanzhang"

It is understandable that Laobanzhang is being seen a little less frequently than it once was in the productions of both major factories and smaller, hand-selected runs.  The price of the maocha reaches record-breaking levels each year, and the output of the village has been largely accounted for by one particular buyer.

2011 EoT Single-Tree LBZ

So, then, a single-tree maocha from that area, picked by Mr. and Mrs. Essence of Tea themselves, is a definite and rare treat.  Some of the most arresting unaged shengpu I have ever encountered has been from Laobanzhang, and so I set aside a full week-end tea session to enjoy this sample.

2011 EoT Single-Tree LBZ

As shown above, the leaves are entirely enormous.  There is absolutely no way that these are going to fit into the mouth of Zidu [purple-belly, my teapot], and so I decide to soften them in the chahe by pouring some hot water on them.  The results are pictured below.

2011 EoT Single-Tree LBZ

Even softened by water, they refuse to give up, and have an amazing structural integrity, trying their hardest to resume their original shape after the deforming force of my fingers has been removed.  It feels rather like flexible bamboo, trying to return to its full length.

After a little coercion, they end up being coaxed into Zidu without breakage, as shown below.

2011 EoT Single-Tree LBZ

The three ladies of our house (Lei, and Xiaohu's two grandmothers) have taken our little son out for a walk in the push-chair, and all is quiet in anticipation.

It is an entirely hyperactive tea, feeling excessively alive and vibrant on the tongue, while also being exceptionally cooling.  It is very smooth, and wonderfully, delicately sweet - a porcelain delicacy.

2011 EoT Single-Tree LBZ

The sensation causes the roof of my mouth to pulsate, and I feel instantly "high", despite only imbibing a few tiny cups.  The dizzying narcotic effect is quite obvious.  I am obliged to pause between infusions to regain myself.

2011 EoT Single-Tree LBZ

The session endures for several hours, by which time I am feeling as light as a feather.  The character of the tea remains perfectly balanced, with the exceptionally fine sweetness continuing throughout.

Ever so gently, it begins to fade, without any hint of cracking into roughness.

Quite something - a session to remember.

22 July, 2011

Surprised By Warmth


surprised by warmth -
red morning sun
white Beijing mist

20 July, 2011

2010 Essence of Tea "Rougui" Yancha

You may, Gentle Reader, have gathered that I don't drink a great amount of yancha, or any wulong for that matter.  This is not because of any dislike for that genre, but merely reflects the fact that I entirely adore pu'ercha, and take every opportunity in my increasingly rare tea-sessions to catch up with cakes that I have been anticipating.

Therefore, the generous gift of some Rougui [cinnamon] yancha [Wuyi rock-tea] from Nada is a gratefully-received opportunity to redress the balance, to some small degree.

2011 EoT Rougui

Nada notes on the product page at Essence of Tea that this tea was obtained from 60-to-80-year-old trees in the "zhengshan" [proper mountain] region for this tea.  I understand that Mrs. Nada has been making diversions through Fujian, after the couple's annual trips to Yunnan, hence this addition to their pu'ercha inventory.

I'm not very good at telling yancha apart - from an outsider's perspective, as is mine, yancha all looks about the same.  I'm not sufficiently familiar with its nuances to be able to discern, for example, Rougui from some of the other classes of yancha.  Therefore, the "long, brown leaf" appearance, pictured below, is unsurprising, and unenlightening, to one of my ignorance.  That said, they seem to be unbroken and well-handled.

2011 EoT Rougui

The clean orange soup that results has an intense aroma of sweet pudding.  Perhaps that is fitting for a class of wulong named after a pudding spice!  

The character in the mouth is a great surprise: it is substantially cooling, like a good pu'ercha.

2011 EoT Rougui

The roast does not dominate, which I take to be a good sign in roasted wulong; rather, it is a complement to the surprisingly green, raw-wulong flavour of the leaves.  I like it very much.

2011 EoT Rougui

I use plenty of leaves, to bring out the flavour, and it gives me a rare opportunity to use my roasted-wulong teapot, which my mother once dubbed "Little Boy's Doodah" (pictured above).

Thanks again to Nada for a fine session with a fine yancha.

18 July, 2011

2011 Single-Tree Nannuo

Every now and again, Lei and I are jammy enough to be given the odd sample of really excellent maocha from all-too-generous teachums, and Nada (of Essence of Nadacha fame) has been particularly kind in this regard.

2011 Single-Tree Nannuo

This sample is a single-tree example picked by Mr. and Mrs. Essence themselves, where the single tree in question was a charming old example, a photograph of which I have foolishly mislaid.  In fact, in the above photograph, the colourful green-and-red dragons may be seen, which are a pair of colourful shoes that Xiaohu has come to love, also given to us by the same generous couple (I think!).

2011 Single-Tree Nannuo

As shown above and below, the maocha has been wrapped in a fold of bamboo.  I always think that Nada's handwriting is suspiciously good for someone who trained in the sciences.

2011 Single-Tree Nannuo

The long leaves have been well-handled.  Nada mentioned that it was particularly difficult to shaqing [kill green] in a wok when dealing with small quantities of leaves, and there is a hint of roastedness in their aroma.

2011 Single-Tree Nannuo

Perhaps, if you are looking at your monitor in good light, you might be able to see this in the colour of the soup, shown below - it is a little towards beige-brown.  Its aroma is sweet, enduring, and heavily buttery, as we might expect if the influence of the wok is evident.

2011 Single-Tree Nannuo

It is comforting on the stomach, in the same manner as shupu or roasted wulong, and yet is combined with a gripping, sweet, fulsome character of raw shengpu.  As with all of Nada's maocha that I have been fortunate enough to drink in previous years, it is particularly clean, pure, and obviously very heavy and full in the mouth.

2011 Single-Tree Nannuo

It pushes its way into all corners of my mouth, without a trace of any negative characteristic.

As the infusions pass, the roasted butteriness becomes less dominant, and the contents of the leaves begin to assert themselves.  It has become ever-sweeter, and has caused me to feel alert and fresh.  

Truly it is said that old-tree leaves are like standard-grade leaves, but just most pure in every dimension.  It is an excellent indication of the very kernel of the Nannuo flavour, nestling alongside that complementary roasted butteriness.  Thanks again to Nada for an instructive and enjoyable session.

17 July, 2011

Li River Farmers


Li River farmers
farm without looking
at the mountains

15 July, 2011

2009 Zhimingdu "Hekai" and "Bingdao"

A while ago, China Chadao very kindly provided me with a bag of delicious Zhimingdu xiaobing, which made excellent testers of various regions.  Today, I catch up by publishing my notes on another pair from this bag of delights.

2009 Zhimingdu Hekai

The Hekai is a piffling $8 at China Chadao, and Hekai is in the northern region of Nannuo - presumably, not all that far from Bama, where the 2010 Hailanghao cake was obtained.  Pictured below, the small leaves may be seen to be tightly compressed into the xiaobing, as are the cakes throughout this series.

2009 Zhimingdu Hekai

Some careful work with a sharp implement prizes away enough leaf for a session, but they don't give up without a fight.

2009 Zhimingdu Hekai

The resultant yellow soup has an excellent aroma of old honey.  It is sweet and clean in character, and combines granary notes with my imagined notion of Nannuo floral flavours.  It is a very solid little "taster" cake that balances well the desire to have an introduction to many regions, of a suitable quality, while making the cakes affordable.  Great fun, and quite instructive.

2009 Zhimingdu Hekai

The Bingdao version, shown below, appears to have sold out at China Chadao.  Again, it is highly compressed, and I give myself several hand-wounds before getting my leaves free.  I am a clumsy man, and not the kind of person that should be playing with sharp items.

2009 Zhimingdu Bingdao

The small, tippy leaves have a decent aroma of fresh green, combined with sweet fruits.  However, the flavour changes gear, and speeds into a citric, sweet-leather body.  Both are enjoyable aspects, however.  It is a compact, clean, tidy tea with a small kuwei [good bitterness] in its finish that leaves me with a feeling of tobacco.

2009 Zhimingdu Bingdao

It becomes a touch aggressive, with acidity waiting to surprise the unwary drinker in later infusions.  Recognisably Mengku-region, given its tobacco-sweetness, but not immensely enthralling.

That written, it is more-ish, and another good, inexpensive taster of the region.  Similarly good fun to the rest of the series.

I wouldn't complain if such xiaobing series became more common...

13 July, 2011

Taobao Red Labels

2004 Douji Yisheng Red-Label

I've been buying Douji from Taobao - further details may be found appended to the original article

Come join our merry band.
(Please scroll down on arrival.)

12 July, 2011

Stern Businessman


stern businessman
pressed white towel
and a teddy-bear

10 July, 2011

A Quick Quartet

Today, four rapid-fire encounters with the remainder of my last batch of samples bought from Yunnan Sourcing.  I enjoyed these over the course of a week or so: one from Hailanghao, two autumnal teas from the YS label, and one "premium" spring tea, also from the YS label.

2010 Hailanghao "Bama Gongchuncha"

Bama Village is in the northern part of Nannuoshan, near the large town of Gelanghe.  Scott's 2010 Nannuo came from Yakou Village, in th south.  Gongchuncha is "Tribute spring tea", and it is priced at $49/400g.  The leaves, shown below are tippy and fresh, while also quite long.  In my diary at the time, I wrote "Wonderfully drinkable: sweet, slightly buttery, and smooth."  Overall, this is a little less enthralling than Scott's version from the south of the region.  It is not at all bad, but becomes green, pine-like, and rather average after a few infusions.

2010 HLH Bama Gongchucha

Secondly, we have the

2010 Yunzhiyuan "Pasha Qiuxiang"

...where qiuxiang [ch'ee-oh sh'eeang] means "autumn fragrance", referring to the autumnal picking, which can be less potent than the springtime flush.  Mengpashashan, from whence cometh this $27/400g cake, is supposedly the highest point in Xishuangbanna.

Shown below, it has thick leaves which result in a solid yellow soup.  It starts out strong, thick, and heavily sweet, with grassy characteristics.  Both of my Mengpasha cakes (the 2009 Xizihao and the 2006 Haiwan) are monstrously powerful, with similarly grassy notes.  This YS version is by far the easiest-going, and most approachable.  In later infusions, it stays smooth, but its character becomes more dilute, and tends towards "brown hay".  It is a decent cake at a low price, although the distant, dilute character seems common to many of Scott's autumnal range from 2010, where I suspect the drought may be at fault.

2010 YS Pasha Qiuxiang

Thirdly, the

2010 Yunzhiyuan "Mangfei Quixiang"

...which is also an autumnal cake.  The whole range of qiuxiang cakes is reasonably priced, and this is just $19/400g.  Mangfeishan is in Yongde County, in Lincang, near the border with Myanmar.  It's one of my favourite locations for pu'ercha.  The tippy, small leaves pictured below deliver a big, grain-like soup with some initial smokiness.  It is clean and cooling, as are most of Scott's cakes, which testify to his ability to pick decent leaves.

Later on, I wrote that it "takes a turn for the pungenetly green, and its smokiness comes to the fore."  Just like the 2010 Yunzhiyuan "Bangma",  another Lincang cake from autumn 2010, it seems distant, despite starting well.  It has good kuwei, and is suitably inexpensive to consider as a fun cake if you're looking for something to bulk out your shelves, but it is undistinguished.

2010 YS Mangfei Qiuxiang

Finally, the

2010 Yunzhiyuan "Jinggu Yangta"

This is noticeably better than the previous three, being a "premium" spring cake from Scott's own label.

Pictured below, this spring tea, which sells for $27.50/250g, is a "dabai" [big white] variety of tea, different to the usual "daye" [big leaf] pu'ercha varietal.  Jinggu is in Simao Prefecture, and this cake was made from Yangtashan leaves.

Typical of daibacha, this has huge leaves which result in a cloud of downy fur being thrown into the air whenever they are disturbed.

2010 YS Jinggu Yangta

The result is a yellow soup with a distinctly creamy texture, common to downy pu'ercha.  Clean and cooling, it is a crisp and well-made tea.

2010 YS Jinggu Yangta

I tend not to get too excited about dabeicha, and have suspicions that it might not age well, because it reminds me of large-leaf, downy pu'ercha than tends to empty over time, rather than develop any degree of complexity.

It becomes low and tangy as the infusions pass, not in any way that I particularly appreciate.  My diary has, "It doesn't provide the satisfaction of real pu'ercha."

Not a tea to thrill me, but instructive to sample.

2010 YS Jinggu Yangta

This marks the end of the large bag of samples that I bought from Yunnan Sourcing, to catch up after a year or so of absence from my tea-table.  It was a decidedly mixed bag, ranging from cheap-but-decent (the qiuxiang autumn cakes) to pricey-yet-sometimes-excellent spring cakes.

I particularly enjoyed the $40/250g Xikong, the $40/250 Yibang, and the $42/250g Wangongzhai.  I concluded that the rest have been a little hit-and-miss, to my tastes.

It will be interesting to see what 2011 provides...

08 July, 2011

White Labels

"White labels" - the anonymous, sexy, vinyl records much loved by DJs and other lovers of turntables.  I am reminded of my dear friend SC, whose house is as filled with white-label disks for his turntables as our house is filled with pu'ercha.  I think his hobby is (significantly) more expensive than mine, and so I feel better about myself already.

By analogy, a pu'ercha "white label" is a prototype, thrown together at a whim, without the pomp and circumstance of a fully-branded product.  Perhaps it is edgier, more immediate, more vital, more experimental.


2006 Yiwu Laochencha

One of my two white-labels is a 2006 "Yiwu Laochencha" [Yiwu aged-tea], bought for a piffled 19 RMB ($3) from 普洱茶人家 [pu'ercha renjia, or Pu'ercha Family] via Taobao.  This entire cake costs less than a pint of beer, and is pictured in all its anonymous glory in the above photograph.

The second white-label that I've been drinking is the 2010 Hailanghao "Suibian", which means "casual" or "do as you wish".  Again, it was a very cheap cake, costing just $19 at Yunnan Sourcing.  Scott translated it as being "as you like", which is one word away from being a brilliant Shakespearian allusion.  The leaves of the Hailanghao are pictured below.  The small leaves are heavily compressed, and certainly look unassuming.

2010 Hailanghao Suibian

The Laochencha is shown below.  For $3, it looks really rather good.  Amusingly, it has a blank space where a neifei [inner ticket] was once located.  It could be that these are a knock-off batch from elsewhere, stripped down to the bare essentials for resale.  Some of the leaves look noticeably red.

2006 Yiwu Laochencha

This colour continues in the cup, which is a solid orange.  It is gently, slightly woody and sweet, and yet clean and smooth.  There is a hint of a kuwei, as if the producers decided to retain a little energy.  It is a small, humble tea - everything is in miniature, but it is fair despite its tinyness.

I find it rather fun, being clean and ever-so-slightly cooling.  There is a flat maltiness, as one would expect from a reddened tea, but there are other components: a straw-like Yiwuesque note, perhaps even a very few leaves of quality, giving a tingling sensation.  It is a fun little blend, but, ultimately, my teapot gets a lot of it poured over his skin, as the simplicity and monotony of the tea begin to wear me down.

2006 Yiwu Laochencha

Meanwhile, the Hailanghao exhibits a power and an entertaining fruitiness that is beyond its price-tag.  The soup is slightly watery, slightly cloudy, but there is a long-lasting huigan.  It is not immensely complex, bit it is clean and powerful - much moreso than similar blends offered by mainstream tea companies.

In fact, this inexpensive blend has given me a better tea session that several of the single-mountain samples that I have recently bought from Yunnan Sourcing.  

2006 Yiwu Laochencha

Perhaps the Hailanghao, like the Laochencha, expires quickly: by the sixth infusion, the former is down to being a sweet, slightly citric water, although the clean kuwei [good bitterness] is mouthwatering.

Neither cake tempts me to drink more, but they are both cheap and cheerful - the Laochencha is absurdly cheap, and would make decent filler for an office tea, while the Hailanghao has more power than you might expect from a cheap cake.