30 November, 2011

1998 Kunming "Zhongchapai Yuancha"

My usual approach when trying to find a good tea vendor is to find someone whose face looks honest.  "It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances.  The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible..."

If people are honest and kind, they usually look honest and kind.  Conversely, if they look calculating and cunning, they probably are.  This is a useful filter that I employ to quite considerable effect when walking the hundreds of teashops in Maliandao.

It takes time to develop a relationship with a teashop owner.  You have to sit and drink, and get to know them a little.  Therefore, I can really only spend time with a small number of teashops per visit.  So, I employ my filter to ensure that the teashops that I pick have the best chances of being owned by someone friendly and honest.  It really seems to work.

Wandering around Xiaomei's mall, I came across Taochaju, on the ground floor.  It was run by a smiling, friendly chap by the name of Xiao Yunqing.  He was kind, gently-spoken, was enjoying a chat with a tea-friend about Taiwanese pu'ercha when I arrived, and seemed throughly excellent.

By chance, I found a photograph of him when I later Google'd in an attempt to find his shop.

Xiao Yunqing

The "Shopping in Beijing" watermark is a bit silly, I know, but it's the only image I could find of this charming chap.  I caught him just before he left for a pilgrimage to Tibet, then Nepal.  His shop was filled with tea and Buddhas.  My kind of guy.

When I came in, Yunqing was chatting with a similarly pleasant-looking friend, the latter of whom was buying some tea.  He had acquired a few piles already and was making a decision on this 1998 Kunming cake.

1998 Kunming Tiebing

It was at this stage that I employed a delicate Maliandao bargaining manoeuvre that I dub "The Friend-Price".  I was sitting at the tea-table, enjoying some brews with the two chaps, who were chattering away.  I was quite happy to be the laowai at this stage.  Then, when discussions on the Kunming cake came to a head, the friend asked the price.  Perhaps assuming that I wouldn't understand (usually a fair assumption), Yunqing indicated that it was 280 RMB.  

"Ah, it's 280 RMB?", I asked.  The two gentlemen stopped talking, looked at each other, looked at me, then burst out laughing.

1998 Kunming Tiebing

I spent the next four or five hours with Yunqing, after his friend left, and we drank a lot of tea.  To his credit, he gave me the low "friend price", explaining that the price was actually this low because his friend was buying a large quantity of tea.  "This would normally be much more expensive, if you just walked in off the street."  

So, let's examine the 1998 Kunming "Zhongcha Brand Yuancha" [round-tea].  It may or may not be the same cake as the 1998 Kunming "Tiebing" a sample of which Dr. Kim kindly provided during the summer of 2009.

1998 Kunming Tiebing

This is a tiebing [tee-air bing, iron cake], of course referring to the fact that it has compressed using hydraulics, rather than by someone jumping up and down on a stone press.  In the photograph that follows, you can see the indentations left by the hydraulic pressing plate.

1998 Kunming Tiebing

The leaves, I hope you'll agree look both very appealing and within what one might reasonably expect a dry-stored cake to look like after ten years or so.  It has been mostly dry-stored in Guangzhou, and has a clean, sweet fragrance.

1998 Kunming Tiebing

This cake blew me away when I was sitting in Beijing Taochaju with Yunqing, and, on coming home and drinking it again, the enjoyment was not diminished.  It really is a lovely tea, and stands at the upper end of the scale in my collection.  It is sweet, long, and has a pronounced cooling and full body.  "This is very cooling!" notes Lei, as she has a cup in passing.

Perhaps best of all, it has a mighty zhangxiang, or aroma of camphor, which reminds me of great, old pu'ercha.  

1998 Kunming Tiebing

Its age is probably accurate, and the brew steadily darkens with passing infusions, starting out orange (as pictured above) before tending, slowly, towards a heavy redness.  This sheer inertia is evidence, to my mind, of a great deal of content.  Further evidence is the fact that it barely diminishes as the infusions pass - compared to many teas, these leaves have an enormous amount to give, and can easily support twenty-five infusions.  I tire a long time before the tea does.

1998 Kunming Tiebing

The price of 280 RMB is a brazen, bombastic, buxom bargain, the likes of which I hope I can achieve on my return visit.  It's a dazzingly good tea for the price.

We drank many teas that day, some of which Yunqing selected and had pressed himself, in one of his trips to Yunnan.  We chatted, bitched lazily about certain tea personalities who shall remain nameless, shared stories, and had a great time.  I'll write some more about some of the other finds from his shop in due course.

His Taobao website (Beijing Taochaju) may be found here.  This should not be confused with the main Taochaju website, which is run from Kunming - Xiao Yunqing has the Beijing branch as a franchise, from which he sells the occasional Taochaju cake, but which mostly operates as a platform from which he can sell his hand-made brand, "Danzhen".  I don't see any of the latter on his web-site, but he assures me that they will be coming. 

(You'll notice that the Taobao price for this cake, on his web-site, is a more expected 1,200 RMB.)

29 November, 2011

Green Pu'er


green pu'er
every last infusion
is the first

27 November, 2011

2008 Yizhuyuancha "Yiwu Zhengshan"

Maliandao was a bundle of laughs this year.  I went to China alone, which makes it a lot harder (and a lot less enjoyable) than if I were able to travel with my dear wife.  However, she had a conference taking place in Poland at exactly the same time - Xiaohu got to have a holiday away from both of his tiresome parents with his Nainai back in the UK.

Therefore, I got to practice my exceedingly ropey Mandarin.  However, as Lei put it, "It's good for you.  If I were there, I'd just take over the Chinese-speaking, and you wouldn't have to try."  She is right, because such trying is both fun, useful for my (rubbish) level of Chinese, and, somehow, productive in terms of relationships with the tea vendors.  They seem to love it when a laowai tries to speak their language.  (Almost none of them speaks any English.)

2008 Yizhuyuancha

This year, I concluded that Chayuan sucks.  (Chayuan is the huge hypermall at the southern end of Maliandaolu, which runs north-south.)  I was of this mind the last time that I went (immediately after submitting my DPhil thesis, in fact).  Lots of the pu'ercha sellers have left; those that remain are sucky little outfits trying to sell Haiwan Laotongzhi.  The majority are tieguanyin sellers, which I consider about as interesting as a steamed bun filled with cardboard (a foodstuff sold in the centre of town,  for which roadside vendors were arrested because they attempt to sell it as real food).

The pu'er market has gone from the east-west intersection north of the Carrefour supermarket (where the latter is the unofficial hub of Maliandao, offering cash machines, food, and non-tea shopping).  This just leaves Xiaomei's mall, if we exclude the large touristy malls on the main street.

2008 Yizhuyuancha

Xiaomei's mall is a mall behind a mall.  I recently wrote the following guidance for a correspondent planning an attempt to find it:

Step 1. Start at the Carrefour ("Jialefu") supermarket on Maliandaolu.
Step 2. Head south (away from Beijing West train station).
Step 3. Cross intersection ("Chamajie" - "Teahorse Road", or similar), staying southbound on Maliandaolu.
Step 4. Find a mall on your left as you head south, which has a big, green arch in front of it.
Step 5. Enter this mall - there is a "Lin's Ceramic Studio" at the main entrance.
Step 6. Go through this mall, and out the back of it.
Step 7. You are now in a backstreet. There is a mall to your right, with three entrances ("A", "B", and "C").
Step 8. Enter this mall through any of the three entrances.
Step 9. Taochaju is on the ground floor, on the left-hand side as you go in.
Step 10. Fangmingyuan is on the first floor up, on the right-hand side.
Step 11. ...
Step 12. Profit.

...where Xiaomei's shop is Fangmingyuan, and Taochaju will be covered in a later article.

2008 Yizhuyuancha

Xiaomei's shop is awesome, and is the site of many bargains obtained in previous years.  More than anything, I like to sit there and recover, drinking some good tea with gentle, pleasant people.  It's really very enjoyable, even if my Mandarin is rubbish.

One of the first cakes we tried this year is this "Yizhuyuancha" [Yi (as in Yiwu)-bamboo round-tea].  I fell in love with it instantly.  Xiaodi (Xiaomei's brother) has a handy knack of finding teas that he knows I'll enjoy, straight off the bat.  He has a success rate up above 90% so far, which indicates that he is definitely in the correct business.  You can examine the green-coloured wrapper in the first photograph, above.  It's not a brand that I've tried before, but that's OK.  In Xiaodi we trust.

2008 Yizhuyuancha

The leaves, as you may have ascertained from the images shown above, are whole and delicious in their appearance.  They have a very decent aroma of sharp sweetness.  I loved this in Maliandao, and I love it now back at home.

The soup is clean and orange.  It starts softly, then swells to a bitter, powerful finish that hangs in the back of the throat while I write these sentences.  A woody Yiwu, with a surprisingly long time-constant before the kuwei [good bitterness] kicks in.  Rouded, sharp, with good body and potency - I am happy to have bought a trio.

2008 Yizhuyuancha

This really very tasty cake was 190 RMB, which is a good price.  I don't ever haggle with Xiaomei or Xiaodi, because neither they nor I particularly enjoy it.  The price is right, I buy the cakes - job done.

The second and third infusions open even further.  I appreciate cakes that take time to get going, as if they have serious mass.  It is quite penetrating.  Later infusions emphasise the Yiwu sweetness, and remain both elegant and clean.  I expect good things in coming years.

Xiaodi proudly showed me the new Fangmingyuan website, at which some of their cakes may be bought directly.  There are some familiar cakes on that list!  You might like to try the 2005 Tianlu "Gushu Chawang" that I bought last year, for example.

25 November, 2011

2011 Yunzhiyuan "Ailaoshan"

By odd coincidence, I drank this sample immediately after retrying the 2002 (2005?) Fuchaju "Ailaoshan", which may be the only two cakes from this mountain that I have tried.  Both came from Yunnan Sourcing, separated by four years.

2011 YS Ailaoshan

This Yunzhiyuan version is a respectable 18 of your American bucks, and comes from an area that is remarkably close to the entirely wallet-destroying 2011 Yunzhiyuan "Wuliang".  Like the latter, this Ailaoshan cake comes from Jingdong county in Simao prefecture, which is to Simao's north where it joins Lincang and Dali.  The farm was in Wangjia village, writes Scott.

He writes that this cake has less bitterness and that it is "more subtle" than its neighbour.  You can imagine that this translates into my prior assumption that it might not be quite as accomplished as the Wuliang.

2011 YS Ailao

The soup of this Ailao looks different to the Wuliang, in that it is pure yellow.  Likewise, its aroma is correspondingly different being a pure, orthodox, white-sugar sweetness.  However, it is full and long-lasting in its aroma, which is a very good sign.

2011 YS Ailao

Some of its basis is the same as its Wuliang neighbour, in that it has a gentle tobacco underneath it.  However, it is a much lighter tea, and perhaps that reduction in obvious content suggests that the aging process has less to act upon.

2011 YS Ailao

This is similar to the Fuchaju version, but the latter has the advantage of being much stronger, which is perhaps the cause of its renaissance into a very drinkable somewhat aged tea.  This Yunzhiyuan version is, indeed, more subtle, more buttery, and more "normal".

This is not at all bad for a mere $18, and Scott should be commended for selling it at the right price.  That said, in a line-up between this somewhat more ordinary example and the stunning, provincial beauty of its sister, it's not much a competition.

24 November, 2011

Clouds Hurry By

Zhongguo Mama

clouds hurry by
on their way to
the horizon

22 November, 2011

2011 Yunzhiyuan "Wuliang"

Here's a good one.

2011 YS Wuliang

Wuliangshan is proper Simao prefecture tea, the region to the north of Xishuangbanna.  Scott of Yunnan Sourcing, whence cometh this might cake, has provided plenty of background data.  Background data make people like me happy.

The leaves come from Zhongcangzhai [djong tsang djai], in Jingdong county, which is up in the northern-most region of Simao, where it borders both Lincang prefecture to the west and Dali prefecture (home of Xiaguan) to the north.  Scott writes that these trees are some 200 years old, growing on ridges and slopes.  He then notes that its altitude of 2.3 km makes "this some of the highest-altitude pu'erh in existance".

2011 YS Wuliang

Perhaps best of all, the area is exceedingly remote, far off the beaten track, and so the price of maocha is low.  Scott sells this for an entirely reasonable $20/bing, which is much more like Maliandao price than Western price.

The leaves, shown above, are quite small.  They are also dark and fruity in their aroma, and seem lively.

2011 YS Wuliang

The soup is yellow with, dare I say it, a hint of a brown hue that always reminds me of Simao, and sometimes Lincang, tea.  It's a strange thing to write, but there you have it.

The qualities of this cake are obvious from the wenxiangbei [aroma cup], which has a low, savoury base that correlates with the colour of the soup.  This lowness slowly, gradually becomes a heavy sweetness.  It has real mass.

2011 YS Wuliang

This tea is mighty fine, and a true pleasure to drink: it has a tangy kuwei [good bitterness], and a broad, heavy tobacco - but not the heavy blackness of cheekily-processed modern Xiaguan; rather, this is the dark tobacco of seriously savoury leaves.  It's precisely my cup of tea.

Throughout it all comes  long sweetness, that lingers admirably and causes the mouth to water.  Some grassy notes, some butter from the wok, but mostly just big, fat tobacco richness with sweetness atop.

This is $20?  I consider buying a tong even after the first infusion.  Even while the tetsubin boils up water for the next infusion, my mouth revels in the huigan from the previous cup, such is its duration.

Frighteningly good tea.  Be warned that it is highly atuned to my own preferences; if you don't share a love of potent, dark, low teas, this might not work out for you.  If you enjoy such things, consider getting yourself a sample and let us know how you get on.

I drank this tea last thing before leaving for Beijing, and it stayed with me as a potent comparator throughout my time in Maliandao this year.  Plenty of (modern) cakes that I tried around Maliandao weren't up to this standard.

20 November, 2011

2006 Baichatang - Chenxiangpai "6137"

After our delightful exploration of 7542s through the ages, Apache was so generous as to give Lei and me this 2006 cake from Baichatang, a factory that I cannot recall coming across before.

2006 Baichatang

I've since had it on numerous occasions, the results of which I present today.  Oddly enough, I write from the "club room" in my professional institution in London, on the banks of the Thames.  There seems to be something odd about describing a pu'ercha while drinking a very English Darjeeling, in a typical London club-like setting.  The oak-panelled walls muffle the booming laughter from nearby bearded grandees, and my spoon vibrates quietly on my saucer.

2006 Baichatang

The beauty of this cake is quite obvious; the photographs above and below attempt to convey some of its chubby charms.  Perhaps the five-year-old darkness comes across in the images.  Fittingly, the name of the brand is "Chenxiangpai", roughly "aged aroma brand".

2006 Baichatang

This currently sells for a respectable £30 at Dragon Teahouse, which is an eBay shop with whom I have had nothing but good experiences. 

2006 Baichatang

The soup is a suitable orange.  I am a little concerned that a cake would be named "aged aroma" even while young, as if it has been cunningly adjusted such that it has had such an aroma from birth.  The scent of the leaves is sweet, but somewhat reminiscent of cakes that have experienced such interventions.

2006 Baichatang

..and yet the charcater in the mouth is quite a surprise: it is vivid, lively, and "tingling" on the tongue.  The body is packed with heavy camphor and spiced wood, and it bubbles and fizzes along as if it is very much alive.

Apache found this cake to be not quite to his tastes, but it suits me well.  I think that my dear wife may side with our guest on the matter, as she observed "Strong and bitter - not the kind that I enjoy."

It is very strong in the throat, and could do well over the years.  My diary at one points has "pungent, potent, and penetrating" which must surely be a compliment.

Many thanks to Apache for such a pleasant and lively gift.  Not a cake for refined palates, but perfect for mine.

19 November, 2011

Nursery Rhymes


nursery rhymes
and silence dissolved
in cold tea

17 November, 2011

2010 Xizihao "Manning Gucha"

You know that I loves me my Xizihao. It used to be terrifically exciting when Sanhetang released a new cake; or, rather, when Houde or Yunnan Sourcing chose to stock them. The 2005-era cakes were really very good, and perhaps, if quality has waned a little through the years, then we can say that Xizihao are, at least, still reliable.

(I consider productions such as the recent 2010 Xizihao bamboo tong to have been transient negative events that I'd rather pretend didn't occur.)

2010 Xizihao Manning

This cake, unsurprisingly, is expensive.  At over $110 for a one-year-old cake, we are expecting good, perhaps great, things to occur in the cup.  It is the more expensive of a pair of Simao cakes stocked by Houde, which reportedly come from Jinggu (not Jingu!), in Simao prefecture.  For a man like that likes Simao cakes and Xizihao cakes, surely a Xizihao Simao cake will be impressive!

(Edit: thanks to Shah8 for suggesting that this might be a Manzhuan (?) cake - this information wasn't available at Houde.)

2010 Xizihao Manning

The leaves look healthy enough.  Much ink has been spilled concerning the varietal of pu'er trees in Jinggu, and concerning the predominantly taidicha [plantation tea] crops in the Laowushan area on Zhenyuan county from where this product derives.  In this case (edit: unless it's a Manzhuan cake!), the leaves appear to be medium-sized (not particularly small), and have the gentle, sweet aroma of a cake coping with the English wintertime.

2010 Xizihao Manning

Alarm bells begin to ring from the rinse, which is orange.  I'm willing to accept that some regions might brew orange straight away, but I am left with the suspicion that something untoward has occurred.  There are plenty of reliable young Jinggu cakes out there that brew bright yellow, after all...

This suspicion builds when we consider the aroma in the wenxiangbei [aroma cup], which proves to be a muted, uninteresting, generic sweetness with little potency.

2010 Xizihao Manning

As with all Xizihao cakes, this is a clean tea.  It brews a fresh, zesty brew. However, something is amiss here.  Somewhere near the back of the throat is a hint of a huigan [returning sweet sensation]; somewhere on the tongue is a distant hint of cooling freshness; somewhere on the lips is a muted vibrancy.  I take such characteristics to be positive signs, but their presence seems significantly diluted, as if there is a portion of leaves in the blend that is trying to make itself felt, and which is failing in comparison to some other, larger contribution to the blend.

Sadly, that remainder of the blend must be less accomplished, because it is a fairly flat, generic affair -although tasty enough, in its granary Simao way.  The distant sensations of quality are all that suggest that this cake is more than a mainstream cake, and I suspect that many tasters would pass over it in a blind tasting test.

Whether this majority of the blend comes from processing or from lesser leaf quality is debatable; the result is a decent, clean, but ultimately unrewarding cake.  The final nail in its coffin is that my mother, who was passing by and tried a cup, noted "It's rather empty."  And that's my mother.

I respectfully disagree with Guang when he writes that this is a masculine tea which would probably overwhelm the senses if brewed "incorrectly".  Its orange character makes it very forgiving and difficult to overbrew, and it is not at all the powerful, masculine cake that the product description had led me to hope for.

It is entirely unimaginable that this cake could sell for over $110.

15 November, 2011

English Storage, IV

In our continuing look at the evolution of cakes under Occidental conditions, we turn our attention to a cake that used to be really, truly substandard: the 2002 Fuchaju "Ailaoshan".

2005 Fuchaju Ailaoshan

I am delighted to report that magic has occurred.  As always, I invite you to join us at the original article for this cake (and, as ever, please scroll down on arrival to the addendum).

(Cf. English Storage I, II, and III)

14 November, 2011

Water Jets

Xiaohu Apples

water jets
and fields of Lyon sunshine
push up cabbages

12 November, 2011

2009 Yangpinhao "Naka Dashucha"

In my quest to remain open-minded and sample a wide variety of cakes, in search of those that I like, this is the fifth cake from Yangpinhao that I have tried (all thanks to Keng).  The two single-mountain cakes, a 2004 Yibang and a 2006 Bulang, were both excellent: potent, full, present, and enduring.  We have tried a novelty 2009 Mengku zhutong [bamboo tong], which was roasted but decent, and a 2008 "Ganlu" blend which, while lesser in comparison to the single-mountains, was not at all bad.

2009 Yangpinhao Naka

Yangpinhao is an outfit that sprang up, like many others, in Xishuangbanna.  They are based in the principal city, Jinghong, and sourced the leaves for this cake from Nakashan, which is in the Mengsong area.  I recall a darned lovely 2009 Nakashan cake from Essence of Tea (then Nadacha), which had "grass-like scents, with a sweet flavour of low grain, and tons of bitterness".  I remember it as being generally very heavy, energetic, and powerful.

(Dashucha refers to "big tree tea".)

2009 Yangpinhao Naka

The leaves are large, flat fragments, which come from a rather handsome, thick bing.  After a year in Singapore, they already have a dense, sweet aroma.

2009 Yangpinhao Naka

It is a strong tea, and I overbrew it using my normal (fairly generous) quantity of leaves.

2009 Yangpinhao Naka

This is not an innocent, raw tea.  It has notes of maltiness that suggest "reddened" processing, but its power and sweetness are redeeming, leading me to wonder if there is a significant quantity of raw leaves in the blend, in order to give it some muscle.

2009 Yangpinhao Naka

This is a simple, yet enjoyable, pu'ercha.  I can't say with any certainty that it alludes to the terroire of a particular region, due to its processing, but the penetrating power of its sweetness does a good job at keeping my attention fixed on the tea session.

2009 Yangpinhao Naka

Tangy, sweet, penetrating, and even somewhat mouth-watering, I very much appreciate Keng's generosity in providing it.  The 2010 version sells for around 50 RMB on Taobao, which is a fair price for a powerful, if not overly complex, cake.  Its older single-mountain sisters probably have an edge over this in terms of immediately apparent quality, and, perhaps, aging potential.

10 November, 2011

2011 Essence of Tea "Zhengshan Xiaozhong"

Dear Reader, some of you are far too generous.  I lament my inability to find good lapsang, and suddenly, four kindly souls have provided me with really very good examples of it.

Perhaps the most "authentic", in the sense of provenence, must be this 2011 version from Essence of Tea.

2011 Zhengshan Xiaozhong

I believe that it was Mrs. Essence who procured this tea, which came from Tongmuguan [tong-wood pass], an area near Xingcun village of Chongan county, in northern Fujian, from which zhengshan xiaozhong is supposed to have originated.  

As Mr. Essence notes in his description of the tea, it is longer in leaf than the 2010 equivalent.  Like that tea, it is a well-handled affair, and the leaves have a beautiful fragrance of sweet, dense hongcha.

2011 Zhengshan Xiaozhong

You may notice in the photograph above a charming little "xishi" teapot.  I bought this from M. Erler of Teamasters some years ago, for around £40.  It was a birthday gift from my parents, in fact, and is one of my most beautiful teapots.  I duly dedicated it to hongcha at the time.  However, this decision means that it spends most of the year in my cupboard, because my increasingly-rare tea sessions tend to be filled with pu'ercha.  Thus, it is a real pleasure to blow the dust off it (literally) and brew up some good red tea.

2011 Zhengshan Xiaozhong

In character, it is much like the 2010 version, which is to its credit.  Both teas are delicious hongcha, which my xishi pot seems happy to brew - she glows visibly.  It is smooth, full in the mouth, and the pine-like hints are gentle, and well-integrated with the malt of the hongcha.  It is a real treat - thanks again to Mr. Essence for the sample.

I could definitely get used to zhengshan xiaozhong like this, which is the "yin" to the aggressive, smokey "yang" of traditional English "lapsang souchong".

(For reference, this tea costs £22/100g at the time of writing.)

09 November, 2011

Face Down

2008 EoT Nannuo

face down
nose pressed on the desk
afternoon lecture

07 November, 2011

2009 Yiwu Manluo - Changdahao "Yiwu Zhengshan"

A thousand years ago, I bought some "Yiwu Manluo" cakes from Maliandao, at the suggestion of Xiaomei, the owner of a shop, and friend of MarshalN.  I have since scoured Taobao to find more of the same, the results of which are tirelessly (and tiresomely) chronicled in this article on the 2005 cake.

Keng since provided us with a charming 2003 version, which was perhaps not quite as full as the flinty, chunky 2005.  It was that cake that caused me to realise that Changdahao is a brand from the Yiwu Manluo factory.

2009 Changdahao Yiwuzhengshan

Time and tide wait for no man, and pu'ercha even moreso.  Changdahao have been churning out the cakes, and this is a more recent example, a sample of which was kindly provided by viking teachum, TD.  In design, the wrapper is closer to the old 2003 version...

Notice, however, that this is a 125g xiaobing.

2009 Changdahao Yiwuzhengshan

The leaves are medium-sized, as may be seen above, which is a departure from the large-leafed loveliness of the older recipes.  They are also rather fragmented, but otherwise look healthy enough.

2009 Changdahao Yiwuzhengshan

This is a difficult tea to drink.  Its tight compression makes it easy to use too many leaves, causing it to overbrew.  Lots of small fragments are released from the chunks placed into the pot, causing both my teapot (Zidu) and my filter to block.  This stops me from pouring out the water at good speed, meaning that the leaves brew longer, which further increases the overbrewing.

Even when approximately proper brews may take place, the result is a heavy orange soup - in two years, this colour cannot arise from aging.  It tastes like a sweet, pleasant Yiwu, but it has the flat acidity and limited scope of a plantation Yiwu that has been processed ("reddened").  Would it really be so bad to leave plantation leaves in their natural state?  

2009 Changdahao Yiwuzhengshan

This xiaobing sells for around £6 on Taobao, which is quite a lot for a mainland cake (by weight).  It goes for around £5 at Red Lantern Tea, which, like many of the good eBay shops (Yunnan Sourcing, Dragon Teahouse, China Chadao), is often a good way to get decent tea at a reasonable price.  The Taobao fees can mount up to make them more expensive, sometimes.

The 2010 version returns to the wrapper style of my old favourite, the 2005, and so perhaps I will pursue a sample of that when next ordering.  Thanks again to TD for the generous sample, and an interesting tea session.

05 November, 2011

2011 Essence of Tea "Queshe"

I should drink more lucha.  The real obstacle is drinking it before it dies, because I usually cannot get through large quantities of green tea within a year.  One solution would be to resort to drinking it in my office, but that is rather an ignominious fate for good tea.

2011 Queshe

The only other Sichuan [ser-chooan] tea that I've had before is Zhuyeqing [bamboo-leaf green], which is a bulbous, tippy tea that hangs vertically in the water, rather like a seahorse.  It's also one of my favourites greens, and not widely available outside China.

So, then, particularly thanks are due to Mr. and Mrs. Essence of Tea for kindly providing me with a sample of this most unusual tea: a queshe [choo'air sher, "sparrow tongue"] tea from the same province.

2011 Queshe

I'm used to "queshe" being used to describe a grade of Longjing, and so it is quite exciting to try an entirely new variety of tea - new to my limited tastes, that is.  As shown above, it is a light yellow, which has a hint of brown about it.  This suggests roasting to me, and, lo and behold, it has a lot in common with the roasted nature of Longjing.

2011 Queshe

Like good lucha, it is grassy, fresh, and this sample is quite full in the mouth, reminding me that these are good leaves.  As with the Essence of Tea 2011 Xiping Tieguanyin, it is perhaps a little light for my tastes; I get the impression that Mr. and Mrs. Essence like their teas to be fine, delicate, and rarefied. 

2011 Queshe

The "sparrow tongue" is shown above.  Coincidentally, the same phrase is used to describe a common move in taijiquan, whereby one spreads one's arms in a forward motion, simultaneously warding off an attacking strike, and directing a counter-attacking push to the opponent's centre of gravity.

The price is £28/100g, which is along the same lines as wulong pricing.  I almost never buy tea that isn't pu'ercha, and so such prices seem rather lofty by comparison.  It seems that the market will bear significantly higher prices in wyulong and lucha, perhaps because their provenance is (generally, across most vendors) more opaque, which can be attributed to the lack of "branding", due to the nature of lucha and wulong.  Perhaps pu'ercha benefits from such branding - a 2008 ABC cake from XYZ factory is traceable and has a history, whereas a "200X wulong from PQR region of KLM province" is less so.  Certainly, pu'ercha customers benefit, at least.

Essence of Tea products try hard to relieve this opacity, and are generous in the information that they provide: this "queshe" was bought in Dashui village in northern Sichuan.

Thanks again to Nada for a thoroughly enjoyable session with a type of tea that I'd like to encounter more; Sichuan greens seem, from my N = 2 sample, to be really rather nice.