31 October, 2011

2011 EoT "Xiping Tieguanyin"

I don't drink tieguanyin.  

It's not that I don't like it - it's just that I think it's a drink for girls, or fascinating girl-man hybrids.  It is, for want of a better adjective, namby pamby.

2011 EoT Xiping Tieguanyin

Imagine my delight when the ever-generous proprietor of Essence of Tea kindly provided us with the sample shown above, which is, if their track record is anything to go by, likely to be very decent.  Given Mr. and Mrs. Essence's firm, unshakeable grasp of all things delicate and fine in tea (possibly at odds with my own quest for rough, violent, potent pu'ercha), I anticipate that this will be a charming, refined wulong.

I am not disappointed.

2011 EoT Xiping Tieguanyin

As I reveal the pretty contents of the sample packet, I can feel my testosterone levels steadily decreasing.  The leaves are beautiful, rolled examples of the genre.  

Perhaps it will not surprise you to learn that it has a clean, green, buttery scent - it rather reminds me of the honeysuckle that my German neighbours (who are both materials scientists, by coincidence) are growing over our fence, in a most pleasant and welcome contravention of neighbour-neighbour boundary lines.  

It is at this stage that I will not make a joke about the stereotypical German race.  Some of my best friends are German.  Some of my teachums are German.  I'm pretty sure that somewhere in the dim genetic mists of my family tree, there are some German branches.  Therefore, I will simply leave this paragraph dangling in the air, and allow you, dearest Reader, to fill in the gap using your imagination.

2011 EoT Xiping Tieguanyin

Much like the Germans' honeysuckle, this tieguanyin reminds me of summer.  It is soapy, floral,  and buttery in a gentle way.  I wonder if it is perhaps a little too gentle for my tastes, but I am not a delicate soul.

While I feel the oestrogen building up within my body, I take time to reflect on the careful provenance of this most ethereal of tieguanyin.  It is from Xiping [shee-ping], which is an Anxi [an-shee] town famous for (allegedly) being the birthplace of tieguanyin.  This is not to be confused with the (perhaps marginally more famous to non-tea drinkers) town of Xiping next to my wife's hometown in the historical central part of China, which is famous for various Warring States and Tang Dynasty sites.  

Mr. Essence writes that this tea comes from a mountain that goes by the stupefyingly descriptive name of "Laochashan" [old tea mountain], near Yaoyang Village, in the Xiping locale.  He also notes that he has tried very hard to find a truly organic version of tieguanyin from this area.

2011 EoT Xiping Tieguanyin

For the last few days, Xiaohu has been sitting on his father's lap, taking the last few sips from each infusion directly out of the pinmingbei [drinking cup].  He has enjoyed several pu'ercha, and genuinely seems to like drinking both new and older shengpu.  

My concerns regarding my son's masculinity are eased, as it is with some satisfaction that I observe Xiaohu refusing to drink any more of this tieguanyin after the first few sips.

So there you have it.  This is a delicious tea, and while it may or may not cause you to experience some gender-related issues after consumption, my little son gives it the "thumbs down".  In fact, he seemed more content to suck on the handle of the tea-brush, and that probably tastes like damp bamboo.

Thanks again to Mr. Essence for the genuinely delightful sample.  If you one of those types of people that enjoys tieguanyin, you probably owe it to yourself to have a quick go with a decent organic example such as this from Xiping.

(Currently £34/100g, which reaffirms my conviction that wulong prices can tend to be a touch higher per unit enjoyment than I am comfortable paying - a conclusion that seems to hold across most vendors.  At least for the money, in this case, you are getting a very pretty tea with assured provenance.)

30 October, 2011

Warm Summer Street

2011 EoT Xiping Tieguanyin

warm summer street
tea at the teaparty
between raindrops

28 October, 2011

2011 Essence of Tea "Manhai"

The hand-made cakes at Essence of Tea seem to be remarkably popular, and have, I believe, sold out entirely.  This is a deserved testament to the time and effort that Mr. and Mrs. Essence put into making them each year; along with Yunnan Sourcing and a few shops in Maliandao (Taochaju, Fengmingyuan), there are few other hand-made cakes that I buy regularly.

This sample is interesting, for it comes from a bing that has only been sold locally at the EoT shop in the UK, rather than via the web-shop.

2011 EoT Manhai

Mr. Essence puts thie web-absence down to the fact that he felt it didn't quite "make the grade", which is an admirable sentiment.  That said, I have lower standards and am delighted to indulge in a cake from an area I've not encountered before.

That said, I have no idea where "Manhai" might be, and, it seems, neither does Babelcarp (my usual last resort and extended memory).

2011 EoT Manhai

Anonymity aside, the leaves are, as you will have come to expect, very pleasant.  As pictured above, they are whole, and medium-sized.

2011 EoT Manhai

The soup is a yellow-amber, which is the first indication that something is ever-so-slightly different in this cake with respect to the dazzling yellow of the other EoT cakes.  However, it has the expected aroma of long, sweet butteriness that accompanies almost all of the bingcha from this vendor.  

Its character is of clean grassiness, and it has a bright, fresh body.  That body is, perhaps, a shade thinner than one would like, but is enjoyable nonetheless.  The finish of gentle butter, following its scent, dwells in the throat after the swallow.  I assume that this effect is imparted by the wok; the butteriness never becomes so strong that it could be described as "roasted", but it is more prominent than usual.

2011 EoT Manhai

This is a good summer tea, being light, fresh, and clean.  It is not complex, but remains sweet and fresh throughout its infusions, and handles extended brewing quite decently.  Perhaps Mr. Essence might be convinced to make this cake available, because I have tasted many hand-made cakes below its standard.  Then again, I have never been accused of being fussy when it comes to pu'ercha...

26 October, 2011

2011 Lapsang Souchong

Regular readers may remember my eternal, unfulfilled quest to find a solid Lapsang Souchong.  I have come very close; the delicious 2010 Zhengshan Xiaozhong from Essence of Tea was a marvellous hongcha, full of elegance and beauty - but it wasn't quite an Englishman's lapsang.  Likewise, I was sent a charming version from Canton Tea, which has perhaps been the closest to what I'm after, despite its rather excruciating price.

My long-time Singaporean teachum, Keng, took pity on us, miserable offenders, and sent a few different types of lapsang with his last package.

2011 Lapsang Souchong

The tin contains a sealed, foil bag, which is home to a tippy, blank hongcha that has a satisfyingly grape-like scent.

2011 Lapsang Souchong

When brewed, it becomes pure, liquid pine.  It really is rather pine-like.  As I'm sure you know, lapsang souchong is made by smoking the leaves in pinesmoke.  It traditionally comes from Xingcun [hshing-tsun] village of Chongan county, in northern Fujian.

It is full of charms, and has a dense, rich body.  In my diary, I wrote "smooth, long, and satisfying".  The hongcha base is excellent, and it reminds me very much of the 2010 Essence of Tea version.  This, like the latter, is a classically beautiful tea.  My wife comments, "Very fragrant - excellent hongcha".

2011 Lapsang Souchong

I appreciate that showing photographs of a tea of which I have no idea where to buy more may be less than ideal.  Even less ideal, then, will be the statement that Keng also provided a tub of lapsang from a local teashop called "Tea Chapter", and this latter is actual Englishman's lapsang - it is properly smokey, and less delicate, than these other fine hongcha.

So, in a way, my search is over.  Thanks to Keng, the tub of "Tea Chapter" lapsang (not shown here) is my perfect way to unwind if the mood for such a tea takes me.  That said, both this delicious red tin of lapsang, and Essence of Tea's 2010 and 2011 versions (more on the latter later) are working on my affections: they really are too good not to consider.  They are more delicate, and more like hongcha, than Englishman's lapsang, but they are remarkable.

2011 Lapsang Souchong

Thanks again to Keng for the fantastic selection.  Lei and I have enjoyed these very much; lapsang is, coincidentally, one of her favourites, too.

25 October, 2011

The Laughter of Birds


the laughter of birds -
cycling home after work
in the rain

23 October, 2011

2011 Canton Tea "Yiwushan Dashucha"

Selling tea must be very difficult.  English people, despite the stereotype, know almost nothing about tea, and are happy to drink Earl Grey, sticky-toffee-pudding tea from Whittards, and all of the usual fannings-in-teabags.  Those vendors that have had a go at cracking the mainstream UK market do so by likening their produce to wine, which is something that we know a (very) little more about.  Hence, you see lots of glistening-white websites, with high prices, describing their products as "premier cru" tea, etc. etc.  

The alternative to the mainstream market is to sell to enthusiasts (you and me), but this must be even harder, because we tend to reject the high prices from the mainstream sellers.  We can, after all, get great tea at a decent price from Yunnan Sourcing, Essence of Tea, Taobao, China Chadao, Red Lantern, and their ilk.

2011 Canton Yiwu

Canton Tea used to fall into the first category, and the previous pu'ercha from them that I have sampled was a highly processed 2004 CNNP cake (in the style of modern Xiaguan productions) that was sold at an immodest £78.  However, the company has taken a healthy change of direction (in terms of its pu'ercha), and sells this hand-made Yiwu cake for £35, which is much more like it.

As shown above and below, this is possibly the first cake that I have ever seen which is aimed exclusively at laowai [dirty foreign mongrels], such as you and me.

(Its name in English is simply "Yiwu Moutain Big-Tree Tea".)

2011 Canton Yiwu

I don't remember the last time that I saw real English on a neipiao.  Where is our beloved text describing it as a panacea?!

In fact, the only error I can see is in the Chinese: "Meng Hai Hai".

OK, perhaps the grammar could use a minor tweak, but that's just the pedantic tutor in me speaking.

2011 Canton Yiwu

You may not be able to tell from the scaling in the photographs, but this is a xiaobing, weighing 250g.  Therefore we must multiply the price by a factor of 1.5 in order to obtain the "bing equivalent" price, which would of course be £52.50 / 375g in this case.  This makes it approximately as expensive as the very best (vendor-made) cakes from Essence of Tea and Yunnan Sourcing, which is useful as a comparison.

2011 Canton Yiwu

The leaves are whole and furry; immediately, we may assume that this is markedly different in quality from the previous CNNP cakes.  The little cake has the fresh, sweet scent of good Yiwu.  Allegedly, Seb and Jing of the ever-excellent Jing Teashop (not to be confused with London-based "Jing Tea") were involved in the production of this cake, which gives me confidence.

2011 Canton Yiwu

The soup is so blissfully yellow that it tends towards green hints.  Its aroma in the wenxiangbei [aroma cup] is reassuringly stable and heavy.  I am relieved to find that its character in the mouth is similarly accomplished.  The complex background of decent wild honey combines with a good, clean kuwei [bitter flavour] in the finish, which reminds me of other good Yiwu cakes.

It is honest, open, and quite potent.  Good stuff.

2011 Canton Yiwu

Unexpectedly, and quite happily, the leaves develop a satisfying character of Chinese medicine in later infusions, which reminds me of some of the best hand-made, laoshu [old tree] Yiwu cakes.  "Decent - very good", notes Lei, as she takes a cup in passing.

The medicinal intensity increases in later infusions, yet always stays within the bounds of sweet Yiwu.

2011 Canton Yiwu

After a large number of infusions, the leaves remain full, clean, and quite charming.  A good blend has been used here, which balances a range of flavours with the need to have a common, underlying direction in the blend, such that it doesn't run out of steam.  It's not easy to blend tea, and this cake is a satisfying example.

2011 Canton Yiwu

If future cakes from Canton Tea turn out to retain this level of quality, we may be seeing a new name added to  our annual sources of good, hand-made tea.  This Yiwu is priced more-or-less properly (I'm feeling a bit biased towards lower Chinese prices after still being in Maliandao mode), and is definitely worth a go.  See if you agree with me.

21 October, 2011

2004 Mengyang Guoyan "Bulangzu"

It seems that every time I open an article concerning Mengyang Guoyan, I have to remind myself that, once or twice, they have produced good, complex cakes that I enjoy.  The reason for this odd statement is that their usual productions are bland, mainstream mulch, to my humble tastes.

The cakes that I own from this factory typically derive from the blissful naivety of my early pu'er-drinking days, when I bought them from Yunnan Sourcing, Royal Pu'er, etc.  If I've learned one thing, it's that the cakes that are the cheapest of the cheap very often turn out to be fairly unimpressive.  Surely a profound revelation!

2004 Mengyangguoyan Bulangzu

I have also learning that several years of storage in Singapore can do wonders for even the most mediocre cake.  Our entirely-too-generous tea-friend, Keng, has so kindly provided us with cakes from across the spectrum, over the years, and yet almost all have been entirely delicious. The depth of flavour imparted by proper storage is something to behold.

2004 Mengyangguoyan Bulangzu

I remember visiting a shop deep within the cavernous belly of the "Chayuan" shopping centre, at the southern end of Beijing's Maliandao, some years ago.  There is a photograph of the shop somewhere in the old pages of the Half-Dipper, but I cannot recall where.  A smiling hostess and her daughter sat in front of a wall of Mengyang Guoyan cakes, the wrapper of each of which was of a similar style to that shown in the upper photograph on this page: a series of ethnic minorities in local dress.

2004 Mengyangguoyan Bulangzu

The tippy, flat leaves have a reassuring scent of humid atmospheres, and they are correspondingly dark without being red.  As you can see in the images above and below, this is a rough-and-ready blend, incorporating all sizes of leaves.  Perhaps that will give it stability and complexity.

2004 Mengyangguoyan Bulangzu

I am unsurprised to be greeted by a thick, orange soup, the charming product of humid, warm storage.  As ever with cakes from Keng, this has a fine body filled with the powerful, sharp woodiness for which one would hope.  It is great fun, and pulls me to wakefulness.

As with good cakes, it has some inertia: it resists making itself fully available until a few infusions have passed, and it is similarly reticent in the mouth, building slowly.  The result is an excellent, solid huigan, when it eventually appears.

2004 Mengyang Bulangzu

The 2006 version of this cake is available for a mere 80 RMB via Taobao, and that strikes me as being particularly low: I recall that the original cakes, in the Maliandao shop, were also priced quite humbly.  I am confident that this is a fairly basic cake, and yet Singaporean storage has worked its familiar magic upon it.  Of course, the Taobao version, being two years younger than this 2004 cake, and probably stored in different conditions, could prove to be more prosaic.

Thanks, as always, to Keng for yet another satisfying tea session.

20 October, 2011

Strong Bamboo Frame

Xiaohu Apples

strong bamboo frame
bends under the weight
of peaflowers

18 October, 2011

2011 Yunzhiyuan "Mushucha"

The 2011 "Nanpozhai" was from the next village over to Bingdao [ice island], and tasted cooling, but noticeably cereal-like, and quite different to the usual Bingdao flavour.  This cake promises to be the orthodox  creature itself, coming from Bingdao Village in Mengku County of Lincang prefecture, and is named after the famous "mushu", or "mother-trees", of that area.

2011 Yunzhiyuan Mushucha

This packet is already stuffed with the scents of fruity, grape-like sweetness.  There really is a great deal to be determined in the aroma, I think.  It often presages the contents of the tea quite well.  In this case, they smell great: potent, long-lasting, very encouraging.

2011 Yunzhiyuan Mushucha

I must have had this session in the small hours of the morning, perhaps woken by a crying son in the middle of the night and unable to return to sleep (as is quite common these days).  The artificial light of our house does not put the leaves in their best aspect, but you get the general idea.

These leaves are medium-sized fragments, as pictured below.

2011 Yunzhiyuan Mushucha

The refreshing sweetness of the dry leaves carries through into the aroma of the soup itself, which rapidly assaults the back of the nose, and condenses, leaving a sort of scent-based equivalent to a huigan [returning sweet flavour after the swallow].

It is, perhaps unsurprisingly, cooling in the extreme.  The breath becomes chilled.  Alongside this is a fresh, grassy character.

There is also a decidedly bitter streak to these leaves, which do not mess around.  The bitterness is such that it reminds me of my dear grandmother's hairspray - a sharp, bitter sensation that grips the mouth.

2011 Yunzhiyuan Mushucha

The quality is high.  Scott is making some very good cakes these days, and this is definitely one of them.  It has the potency and broad content of real laoshu leaves, but is perhaps not going to be at its best for some years.  I suspect that it will be quite something in five or so years, when it has had a chance to settle down somewhat.

2011 Yunzhiyuan Mushucha

I didn't buy this cake, simply because space is limited on my shelves, and I can no longer just buy everything that takes my fancy.  This cake was "borderline" for me, being clearly good quality, but perhaps lacking the broad, chunky characteristics that I tend to enjoy the most.  These are just my peculiarities, however, and it may well be that this cake appeals to those of us who enjoy a pure, "porcelain" experience from our pu'ercha.  I would at least try a sample, just to give yourself an idea of what a good Bingdao cake should taste like.

16 October, 2011

2005 Yiwu Manluo - Changdahao

2005 Changdahao

Apache's generosity knows no bounds, and, following our recent meeting, he kindly presented me with a cake of my old friend, the 2005/6 Changdahao.  I invite you to join us at the Half-Dipper article for this cake.

(Please scroll to the bottom of the page, on arrival.)

15 October, 2011

Office Lunchbox

Xiaohu Apples

office lunchbox
apple picked by tiny hands
bitten by tiny teeth

13 October, 2011

2006 Yiwuzhengshan - Douji "Shengtai Gushu"

I like this tea, very much.  I was going to buy a cake, given its niceness.  The Douji-frenzy that overtook some of us Westerners has caused Scott of Yunnan Sourcing to sell out of his stock.  Perhaps it's time to trawl the mighty Taobaowang...

2006 Douji Shengtai

"Shengtai Gushu" means, approximately, "Ecological Ancient Tree", and is (was!) sold under the name "Organic Old Tree" at Yunnan Sourcing.  Scott writes that it is a "blend of wild arbor and ancient arbor tea leaves from the first flush of spring, 2006."

2006 Douji Shengtai

The leaves are very pretty, wouldn't you say?  They are large and separate, and have been handled quite well, as shown above and below.  Douji can sometimes turn out very reasonable cakes; even their day-to-day produce is quite respectable.  That stability, combined with around five years of age, can make for some very decent tea.

2006 Douji Shengtai

As with its 2005 and 2006 companions, this Douji brews orange, and the soup has the heavy, sweet aroma of its dry leaves.  The flavour is that of a very well-aged cake: it is heavy, dark, low, and filled with the dense tones of tobacco that permeate some of Douji's older cakes.

There is a distinct shengjin: a mouthwatering quality, which is present alongside a surprisingly strong cooling effect and effervescence.  Perhaps there is something to those claims of old-tree leaves, at least in part.

2006 Douji Shengtai

For someone that writes about tea as much as I do, it seems that I often miss out on some of the cakes that I love.  These days, I rather like missing out.  A Zen master, Shunryu Suzuki, once said that to love something but to not indulge in it is good karma.  I'm sure he had something in mind along the lines of dissolving the ties of attachment; sometimes, it is good to yearn, and yet not to be satiated.  The anticipation is oftentimes more enjoyable than the event itself.

I console myself with such thoughts, and weep quietly into my teacup for my lost "Shengtai Gushu".

Taobao has the 601 for RMB850, which is more than it is worth.  The 701, from the same seller, is RMB350, which is a little more palatable...

October, 2011

Reading the above, you might be forgiven for chuckling at the frailty of the human condition.  Well chuckle no longer, ye chucklers, for the mighty generosity of teachum, Apache, has delivered unto us...

2006 Douji Shengtai Gushu

"I hope that you have a good day at work and that you enjoy the tea - Apache", reads the little card that comes along with the cake, in Apache's trademarked green-ink handwriting.

2006 Douji Shengtai Gushu

In awe of Apache kindness, I save the cake for a special morning, when all the deadlines have passed, and when term has settled into comfortable routine.  Now, and only now, is the time right for this excellent cake.

2006 Douji Shengtai Gushu

Encountering the sticky label on the back of the wrapper (pictured above), my starry-eyed happiness turns to amusement, as I recall that it is almost impossible to get into a Douji cake without tearing something.  You can't make an omelette without breaking a few eggs, so they say...

2006 Douji Shengtai Gushu

Douji do what they do very well.  That doing is usually coming up with dark, heavy, stable, potent blends with the "house style" of a rich tobacco, combined with a penetrating sweetness.  Every now and again, they branch out in single-mountain territory, but my heart remains dedicated to these "older" Douji cakes (the company isn't exceedingly old), in which they do what they do best.

2006 Douji Shengtai Gushu

You might be able to infer from the rubbishness of my photography that I rose early in the morning to drink this tea, before the sun rose.  I sat there at my table, scribbling my miscellaneous thoughts into my diary, for over three hours, and must have consumed over 1.5 litres of this tea.  (More accurately, 1.5 litres of water were used, although I drank less than this - I typically give a cup from each infusion to Qingchan, my zisha toad, and Zidu, my zisha pot.)  That corresponds to an awfully large number of infusions, and this tea was solid, sweet, and tobacco-laden until the end.  My son began to wake, and so the session ended with me taking toast and (English breakfast) tea up to his sleeping mother.

Thanks again to Apache for such a generous and entirely delicious surprise.

11 October, 2011

2011 Hailanghao "Yuanshengxiang"

Here, "Yuansheng" means "original life" and is often translated as "primeval" (Babelcarp) or "primary ecology" (Hanping).  It sells for a reasonable $49, where Scott of Yunnan Sourcing notes that this is a blend of various "wild and ancient" leaves from Xishuangbanna, with "gushu [ancient tree] material that has enough power and density to age well."

2011 HLH Yuanshengxiang

A part of me hopes that this cake harks back to the halcyon days of Hailanghao, back before the owner lost his marbles.  The 2008 "Ban'e Laoshu" was, for example, really very tasty, and the tong I have on my shelves is getting better every year.

2011 HLH Yuanshengxiang

The dry leaves are highly aromatic, assaulting the nose with a grievous-bodily-harm mixture of purple fruits and over-the-top sweetness.  I like its violence very much.  

2011 HLH Yuanshengxiang

Heavy yellow infusions await, pictured below, where the thick scents and heavy colours correspond to a sweet, solid tea that mixes a robust tobacco base with fresh, grass-like overtones.  

Likewise, its kuwei is a slap across the chops, but it is the slap of a friend.  

2011 HLH Yuanshengxiang

It is a well-balanced tea, with a solid character that hangs on the tongue and refuses to budge.  For $49, I rather like it.

2011 HLH Yuanshengxiang

The fat tobacco base swells and grows, while its anonymous blend does it many favours: it is stable, and has a number of interesting features that keep the attention.  Sharp citrus, heavy tobacco, brisk kuwei, some throaty sweetness.  I can imagine that this quite potent, heavy character will provide a useful foundation on which the years can build.  However, the downside of this blend is that there is a lack of a definite characteristic that endures through the infusions, and it soon tastes like thin, bitter sweetness, with a gentle hint of tobacco.

(Partial) redemption for Mingxiangyayuan.  It just goes to show that, no matter how much you suck, you can always pick yourself up and produce good work once more.

10 October, 2011

Puddle of Tea

Xoobs with Camera

puddle of tea
flees the broken teapot
and baby's cries