11 May 2010

Twin Hong Yun - 2008 Dayi Hong Yun & its Liming imitator

Quick disclosure: the Liming Hong Yun was given as a free sample in an order from Puerhshop.com.

In 2008, Menghai Factory released an iron-pressed embossed tea cake called "Hong Yun" aka "Red Flavor/Rhyme". A year later, Liming Factory, Dayi's ever-chasing doppelganger put out its own version, in nearly identical packaging (Dayi on left). Edit: the box looks too much like Chinese cigarette packaging for my taste.

Dayi 2008 Hong Yun - boxLiming 2009 Hong Yun Mini Cake - box
Dayi 2008 Hong Yun - wrapperLiming 2009 Hong Yun Mini Cake - wrapper

Dayi Face:
Dayi 2008 Hong Yun - closeup

Liming Face:
Liming 2009 Hong Yun Mini Cake - neifei

How do they measure up?

2008 Dayi Hong Yun (available here and here)
Although it looks as compressed as plywood, digging my tea knife into the cake surface I managed to scrape chunks off without pulverizing the leaf.

Creamy, loamy flavors and velvety thick texture, my flushing face tells me there's energy in this tea. The Dayi Hong Yun coats the mouth and hits every part with flavor. I swear I can taste it on my soft palate and inner cheek (weird?). The milky flavor is a treat and reminds me of hong kong pearl tea. Sweet for shu, this reminds me of a more refined version of the famous, darkly fermented 7262 recipe.

The negative of this shu lies in its long stretch of similar flavors. From the second infusion until the tea nearly dies, the creaminess takes its time changing into chalk and wood flavors with a side of bittersweet, more like liu bao than shu pu. To that point, Davin walked into my brewing several infusions in, and toward the end had to ask what we were drinking; he said had I told him this was tea other than shu, he would have believed it.

I try to compare small portions, like tuo and mini cakes such as this one, to the price of larger cakes. At $6.45 to $8.45 for 100g, this is the equivalent of a $23 to $30 for a 357g cake, on par with other Dayi greats, the 2007 Golden Needle White Lotus cake, 2007 Yun Xiang, and even some aged shu pu cakes from 2002-2003. I feel that for the quality, this is competitively priced. And only having to invest under $10 to try it, it's easier on the wallet than the slightly better and slightly cheaper per-gram Golden Needle White Lotus.

2009 Liming Hong Yun (available here)
The Liming, once you can pry off a chunk, has dark, earthier flavors. Like the Dayi, the higher grade leaf makes the heavy fermentation release a creaminess, but unlike the Dayi, it offers a hint of unpleasant pondiness. While both teas are velvety in the mouth, the Liming leaves the mouth and throat dry after swallowing, not achieving the olive oil slipperiness of the Dayi. A few other tasting bits: it leaves a rocky/mineral and bark mulch flavor in the mouth, and sometimes has the flavor of baked bread, much in common with your average shu, but a few degrees more interesting.

But darn that fishpond flavor when it sneaks in!

A cardinal rule of reviewing is to review something for what it is, not what it is not (thanks, Aristotle!). The Liming Hong Yun tries hard to be the Dayi Hong Yun, and so I compare them. Standing apart, the Liming is a good value--moreso at its taobao price of 9 Yuan ($1.31; Dayi Hongyun from 2008 sells for $4.40 on taobao)--but even at its price at Puerhshop, considering its durability (8+ good infusions). It's a third the price and over a third as good. At US prices, it costs about 1/2 to 2/3 the price of the Dayi cake, making it a tougher decision if you had to choose between the two.

Still, I wish they had marketed the cake on its own. Why not, Mulch Rhyme (土幂韵)? Or Mineral Spring Rhyme (矿泉)?

Dayi Wet Leaf on left, Liming Wet Leaf on right. Notice Liming has larger, less fermented leaves in greater proportion:
Dayi 2008 Hong Yun Xiao Bing - wet leavesLiming 2009 Hong Yun Mini Cake - wet leaves

07 May 2010

New to Pu'er?

I have posted a brief bit of advice and a current list of sample recommendations for people who are new to pu'er tea. Please click "New to Pu'er?" on the tabs above to view.

Hopefully, some of you out there will find this information useful as you start enjoying this tea.

05 May 2010

Assumptions, Surprises

Last night, Davin, Maitre_Tea, and I brewed dancong oolong for the UCLA Natural Complementary & Alternative Medicine student group, as a complement to Imen's gongfu presentation. At my table, we brewed four teas provided by Imen: a commercial grade Ba Xian "Eight Immortals" dancong, a Milan Xiang "Honey Orchid Fragrance" Gold Medal dancong, a Guihua "Osmanthus" dancong, and a 1999 aged dancong. They appeared to be ordered from lightest to darkest.

Most of the students at my table didn't regularly drink tea, and none regularly drank oolong. When I brew tea for non-tea-drinkers, I assume that most of them will enjoy the more flowery and fruity aromas of lighter oolongs. Dancong proved to be a good choice, as most of the students commented on enjoying the floral, fruity flavors and smells the teas offered.

While I knew they would enjoy the dancong, I did not predict that they would have such strong preferences and instant intuition about which of the three new dancong teas offered the best quality. Independent of me and without my having mentioned the "gold medal" in the grade, all the students at my table agreed that the second tea, Milan Xiang Gold Medal, was the best of the three. The first they thought was good. The third they thought was all florals with no flavor underneath it.

Not enjoying the third, I asked Imen for a fourth tea, and she brought over a 1999 aged dancong: a twiggy, brown, mushroom-smelling tea whose wet leaves the students called "wood ear mushroom" and "wood when it's wet". Thus began the most surprising part of the evening: their favorite tea overall was the dark, woody, straw-aroma'd aged dancong!

Whereas for the first three teas, they passively accepted the few milliliters of tea I could afford each of the 12-14 of them, they nearly fought over the old stuff.

I learned that good tea demands attention loud enough that even newcomers to tea can't ignore its call, even when presented with prettier, if less substantial, aromas.