27 February 2010

Pondering "orange"

Lately rather unremarkable but easy to brew teas have filled my cup, mostly because the bulk of my tea drinking now occurs at work. Some examples:

Cheap "dong ding" ($7/600g)
CNNP fu lu shou xi brick from c. 2006 ($40/300g)
Lu Yang Chun (free!)
"Long Jing" (free!)
Korean Persimmon Leaf Tea (free!)
Bei Dou Yi Hou Fannings ($? The cost escapes me.)

My "drinking" young pu'er has been a 2007 Six Famous Tea Mountain Factory approximant of the famous Hong Yin, or perhaps better understood as an homage to the famous cake.

2007 resulted in some very strange pu'er tea productions. From the many Haiwan productions that tasted like green tea to the highly varying products released by Xiaguan, Menghai, and Mengku, even the bad teas cost twice what they should have, yet all big factory productions seemed to sell out shortly after release.

Why this cake?
Six Famous Tea Mountain, whose cakes post-2005 have disappointed me, produced this series of Red, Blue, and Green Label cakes, each one very different in compression. Our local Chinatown ginseng and Chinese products warehouse stocked them. They sell for approximately $11-$14 a piece, which means they probably cost next to nothing (For comparison: Mengku cakes at this store cost thrice what you get them for from Yunnan Sourcing).

I chose the Red Label (Hong Yin) cake hoping to taste the best of the three. Presumably this cake was stored for 2 years in Hong Kong before I purchased it, in dry storage conditions, as the leaves are still bright green and the wrapper shows minimal staining.

The topic (and I have one) is the “orangeness” of a young cake. Orange on the leaves, dark orange liquor, and the smells and tastes that accompany it.

Hobbes and other bloggers associate dark orange brews with excessive oxidation aimed at making maocha palatable immediately. Some feel this process ultimately harms the ageability of the cake. Truthfully, sometimes a brew oxidizes into orange while sitting in the pitcher or cup, and leaves left wet for hours between infusions often oxidize as well.

Teas that are usually orange when young have included Dehong "wild" tea and lower grade Xiaguan productions such as Bao Yan branded teas. I have tasted these teas with some age, and they aged well and pleasantly.

I have nearly finished off the entire cake, and here are some observations and some questions:

Its leaves appear beautifully intact after brewing. They don't show much obvious signs of poor processing—brown or red edges or veins, e.g.—yet the tea usually brews orange. The tea can overbrew, but not easily, and the flavors are monotonous but pleasant in their predictability brew-to-brew: florals, slight biscuity flavor, some bitterness, not much aftertaste, but not sour. It smells of grain and fertile soil.

Are two years in Hong Kong enough to produce some orange color? At what age does a darker orange tinge become an expected marker of age? Under what storage conditions?

These questions have been bouncing around in my head. I don’t have enough experience with pubescent pu’er to make a judgment.

I’ll try to update this with photos later.