21 November 2010

2010 Dayi 7562

2010 Dayi 7562 Shu Brick - face detail
As mentioned in my post on the 7452 cake, the 7562 recipe offers heavy competition in the realm of Menghai shu pu. A little grittier and less refined than 7452, the 7562 brick's blend contains more heavy fermentation leaves. This yields a greater complexity than the aforementioned cake, but sometimes at the cost of brewing tenacity and usually making it less "easy" to drink.
2010 Dayi 7562 Shu Brick - box front
This year's 7562 is certainly more complex than 7452. It's earthy, chalky, woody, mineral, and aromatic. The earthiness and chalk/talk are bold and bolder still after the tea cools in your cup: a shu lover's shu pu.
2010 Dayi 7562 Shu Brick - back detail2010 Dayi 7562 Shu Brick - back
As the tea brews on, it lightens some, tasting of bark and then of wood, eventually tasting thinly of rocks--or, at least, tasting the way rocks smell. All in all, it gives the impression of wet stored sheng pu'er but without the mold smell/flavor and with more punch.

7562 lasted a few infusions less than 7452, perhaps 9 good infusions. Knowing of its limitations, I used a lot of leaf to get this many out of the tea. I think that, using less leaf, the tea would have a smoother feel, but taste less rich.

I brewed leaves from the back of the brick. As you can see, there's a fair amount of broken stem in the mix.
2010 Dayi 7562 Shu Brick - brewed leaf

20 November 2010

2009 Lancang 0081 Shu Bing

2009 Lancang Factory 0081 Shu Bing - wrapper 1
Of my most recent order, none of the teas so far had heavy earthiness to them, which is odd for the genre to which they belong, shu pu'er. This tea is the exception.

This tea hails from Lancang region in Pu'er Prefecture (formerly known as Simao (1950-2007), formerly known as Pu'er (1729-1950), formerly known as...?). Lancang is a minority autonomous county inhabited by the tea-growing Lahu, Dai, and Bulang ethnic minorities. It contains the famous Jing Mai tea mountain (Dai minority) and lesser-known Mangjin (Bulang minority).

I couldn't remember the last time I had a purely Simao Pu'er Lancang shu pu'er (Pu'er pu'er sounds too redupicative!), and thus I bought it for variety.
2009 Lancang Factory 0081 Shu Bing - face2009 Lancang Factory 0081 Shu Bing - back
I generally don't like Lancang area sheng pu'er: I find it bland and lacking depth. But in the spirit of "don't knock it until you try it" I kept an open mind.

The leaves are the usual "pretty face, ugly butt" blending trick. If this isn't obvious enough from the pics above, click on the pics below for comparison. I should mention that this review is of leaves from the back of the cake.
2009 Lancang Factory 0081 Shu Bing - face detail2009 Lancang Factory 0081 Shu Bing - back detail
Also, the tea was pressed in January 2009, meaning it's likely summer 2008 tea material, maybe with lighter fermented stuff from fall.

The first three brews tasted very earthy, like the smell of loamy soil, so I would suggest rinsing this tea twice to reduce some of that taste if you don't like it. Not fishy or pondy, just muddy. For the large size of the leaves, the tea held out for an impressive 13 infusions, even when pushed for more flavor.
2009 Lancang Factory 0081 Shu Bing - neifei
The next infusions were sweet, earthy, woody, finishing rocky. They made me salivate quite a bit, and the "mouthfeel" of the tea was comfortable and oily. Not too much aftertaste, and not too much depth, but enjoyable nonetheless. It took extra long infusions very well. All of this adds up to be a good tea for brewing at work, where I have no one to impress and want passably good tea even if I forget it or otherwise abuse it.

I forgot to take a picture of the brewed leaves and the brewed liquid, but it's all the same with shu pu, no? No? OK, well, the leaves are mostly heavily fermented, with some of the larger leaves looking lighter in color.

A good tea for sitar music, rain, and the smell of baking pumpkin sourdough bread.
2009 Lancang Factory 0081 Shu Bing - nei piao
(the neifei (far above) and nei piao (immediately above) are both marked "10", whatever for I can't say. Any clues?)

If you have had this tea or any other shu pu from this region, please comment here and give me your thoughts. I'm always curious!

Update: 25 February 2011

As of today, I am halfway through the Lancang 0081 shu cake. I have been drinking it at work, which is where I drink most of my shu tea. For me, shu is easy to brew, easy to drink, and given it's of decent quality or better, forgiving when brewed in imperfect situations, such as my office.
In my office, a small fabric-lined cardboard tea caddy holds a comfortable half a qi zi bing (approximately 179g).

I dip into the red box about once every four days. I keep to a routine tea schedule at work, alternating between teas daily--usually one or two oolongs and one or two pu'er teas. The benefit of this seemingly obsessive-compulsive habit is that I don't spend unnecessary time pondering what tea I'm in the mood for or want to brew. I stick to the order unless I arrive at work with a strong feeling for what I want to drink.
Enough distraction and onto the tea!

The tea remains smooth, earthy, and rocky, even when brewed in my California stoneware pot using filtered water. It feels less thick in the mouth and tastes less rich, but the rocky aftertaste seems stronger.
I suspect the filtered water, boiled in a metal kettle, causes this thinness and stronger mineral flavor. It's a small complaint to say a good tea could be better unless the price is high. Thus, even at this slightly lower quality, the good value of this cake remains solid. A loose shu at a similar price ($15.90 per pound) would probably taste horrific.

13 November 2010

2010 Dayi 7452

2010 Dayi 7452 - wrapper
You read that right, 7452, not 7542. Reverse the 5 and 4 of 7542 and you get a shu pu'er instead of a sheng pu'er. Funny how that works!

7452 is probably my favorite standard Dayi shu cake, which means it's probably my favorite shu cake of all time. Some years are better than others, and in some years 7562 sometimes beats 7452 for "shu of the year" in the Bearsblog "Teas of the Year" Awards.
2010 Dayi 7452 - face
I haven't tried this year's 7562 yet, but 7452 clearly wants badly to hold onto its title. It displays some of its best traits this year: richness, smoothness, clean earthiness, mineral/"rocky" flavors, thirst-quenching throat "feel", tenacious brewing, and an aftertaste that lingers in the mouth for an hour or more after drinking.
2010 Dayi 7452 - back2010 Dayi 7452 - sticker
2010 Dayi 7452 - brewed2010 Dayi 7452 - face detail
My two complaints with this year's 7452 is a lack of complexity, maybe highlighted by having drunk the Nan Jian Tulin brick too near in time. Second, 7452 has little aroma this year, but this could be my sense of smell (?).
2010 Dayi 7452 - brewed leaf

11 November 2010

Nan Jian 2009 Tulin Organic Ripe Brick

Nan Jian 2009 Tulin Organic Ripe Brick - face
I rarely stray from my Menghai/Dayi, Xiaguan, and Haiwan factory shu. More truthfully, I feel even those latter two can taste significantly less smooth and interesting than my classic standby Dayi-brand shu.

But after drinking only Menghai/Dayi shu for the past year--and only Menghai lao cha tou for the past 4 months--gourmet wanderlust overcame me when it came time to order more cooked pu'er, and I included two non-Dayi offerings in my lineup.
Nan Jian 2009 Tulin Organic Ripe Brick - back wrapper
This post deals with one such purchase, the 2009 Nan Jian Factory, Tulin brand "certified organic" cooked brick. Known mostly as an "also-ran" factory, Nan Jian was at one point a conglomeration of three brands via the partnership of three individuals: Zhai Zi Po, Nan Jian Feng Huang, and Tulin. Something brought Zhai Zi Po out of this partnership, and currently Nan Jian only produces tea under the Feng Huang (phoenix) and Tulin (local forest...?) brands.
Nan Jian 2009 Tulin Organic Ripe Brick - nei fei
Nan Jian 2009 Tulin Organic Ripe Brick - brick face
The brick is moderately compressed and, as shown above, covered with pretty face leaves that look like grade 1-2 material. One look at the side of the brick, however, shows that underneath the veneer lay less illustrious leafage, and a view underneath the face layer confirms the suspicion.
Nan Jian 2009 Tulin Organic Ripe Brick - brick side
Nan Jian 2009 Tulin Organic Ripe Brick - inner leaf shot
It also appears to be a darker fermentation, but this too is a trick of blending, though maybe not a purposeful deception, considering that lighter fermented shu pu'er is "of the now" in China...but more on this in the tasting notes.

First sip screams, "Coffee! Or an approximant!" The tea has a roasted quality, almost like instant coffee without the bitterness, insomuch as instant coffee has none of the acidity of fresh brewed coffee. Oddly described (I apologize), but the flavor strikes me as pleasant. Maybe they oven-dried this brick?
Nan Jian 2009 Tulin Organic Ripe Brick - brewed
The texture is creamy, oily, soft. Stems and big leaves show their presence in the aftertaste, and while tasting I guessed they comprise 30-50% of blend. It dawned on me that this tea is not earthy, and instead the flavors variate "woody": stem in the flavor, sawdust in the aroma. Mulchy is as close to earthy as it gets. A fermented aroma appears in later infusions, not the fishiness of bad shu, but something piquant (read: pickle-y, umami...?).
Nan Jian 2009 Tulin Organic Ripe Brick - brewed leaf
You can see above that the tea is a blend of heavier fermented stems and leaves, with less fermented small to large leaves in the mix, too.

When it weakened after some 9 good infusions, only the stem flavor and sawdust aroma remained. So, I moved the leaves from the gaiwan to my pitcher, added some tea flowers, and prayed this concoction would counteract any caffeine in the tea.

Verdict: there's a good amount of complexity in this tea, but it tastes very little like the Menghai Factory teas I enjoy, which is appropriate considering the tea is from a region typically unused by Menghai Factory, Lincang. I don't remember much about shu pu'ers I've drunk from Lincang, so this this brick has provided an altogether different experience, thankfully a pleasant one!

09 November 2010

2010 Autumn Yong De Cha Hua "Tea Flowers"

I haven't had much opportunity to buy tea lately. I bought perhaps three dozen samples of young sheng pu'er some time back hoping to drink through them, find good aging candidates (at least, by my standards), and buy in bulk.

While I found a few winners, I found myself without money to buy them before they became too expensive to merit bulk purchase. And now, I have three dozen half samples to add to my jar of "shake".

But, I have been regularly drinking through shu pu'er. Having drunk through 90% of my last two bricks of shu cha tou--those little nuggets left over at the bottom of the pu'er compost heap--I ached for variety. And variety I bought:
Shu pu purchase 2010
7452 and 7562, two of my favorite Menghai recipes. Lancang (Simao) 0081 and Tulin (Lincang "border tea") were recommendations of Scott of Yunnan Sourcing. Normally I don't venture far from Menghai, but one risks becoming too boring when consuming only one brand. Drinking only Menghai is the pu'er equivalent of wearing only Giorgio Armani: it's classic, always well made, but after a while your friends think you predictable and maybe a tad snooty.

More on those teas later--much later if my recent posting frequency is any indication.

This post actually treats with a tisane I have come to adore: tea flowers. No, not the little balls of green tea with globe amaranth, notoginseng, and strands of jasmine flowers tied into ornate shapes by the tortured hands and strained eyes of Chinese girls: these reproductive organs of the tea camellia require no more than picking and drying to blossom into a beautiful product.

In my conversations with Scott online, I requested he find me some fresh tea flowers. I drink these pearl colored gems at night because they have insignificant caffeine content--if any--and help me sleep. After running out of some 2006 vintage, I had to dig deeper into some 2003 vintage, and although they still did the job, their taste had morphed into something like "tastes the way dry sycamore leaves smell", and not in the good "earthy pu'er" way.

Scott replied that he had found some 2010 autumn flowers from Yong De county in Lincang prefecture.
2010 Autumn Yong De Cha Hua 2
You can't tell from the photo above, but these flowers are so fresh, they yet hold enough moisture to bend when touched. Their color is another fine indicator: compare to this less fresh, golden brown-yellow bud of a previous post.

They taste most like honey (appropriately for a source of honey!) with a bit of orange zest. Light, crisp, subtle, never going bitter and delightfully free of mouth-drying tannin.
2010 Autumn Yong De Cha Hua 3
And here I sit, drunk on tea flowers, half sleepy, wondering how I'll stay awake until my proper bedtime.