26 February 2011

Dayi 2009 69th Anniversary Cake

Dayi 2009 69th Anniversary Cake - sample

After some discussion with MarshalN and his recent blog post ("It’s not about the flavours"), I remembered with humorous self-deprecation the days when my tea reviews focused almost entirely on flavors. At the time, pu'er was new to me and its flavors unlike any I had drunk before: complex and dynamic, changing across infusions, its strange flavors colonizing regions all over the mouth.

Now, as my sensory appreciation of the tea I drink continues hours past when I've finished drinking it, the same question that hung over my hunt for pu'er tea in 2005 continues to haunt me when drinking pu'er in 2011: which teas will make great, ageable pu'er?

Today's contender for the label of "great, ageable pu'er" is Dayi's 69th Anniversary cake, of which I purchased a sample at Yunnan Sourcing. The leaves pictured above and below show some rather broken, probably machine-harvested, low elevation, plantation leaf: pretty typical for the factory (I digress to note that, despite the fact that many Dayi cakes share this same appearance, no two cakes taste exactly alike).

It brewed up yellow and clear, without smokiness, and with a fertile, stemmy fragrance. Flavor-wise, Dayi celebrated their 69th anniversary with buttered biscuits, green olives, and root vegetables. So much time has passed since I last drank a Dayi tea, I'd nearly forgotten what they can taste like. The olive note reminded me of many Lincang teas I've had, and the vendor's description of the cake indicates the blend contains some Bada mountain leaf, which is on the border with Lincang. Coincidence?

Dayi 2009 69th Anniversary Cake - liquor

Beyond flavor and fragrance, the texture of the brewed tea struck me as neither thick nor thin, though water temperature has an effect, with rapidly boiling water thickening the tea somewhat, and below boiling water thinning it. It sometimes hit the roof of my mouth and soft palate, and at its thickest hovered its flavors and fragrance by the root of my tongue. On the whole, though, it felt weak in the mouth.

Between infusions my tongue felt like a sponge soaked with the aftertaste of this tea: ashen, mildly sour, and bready or yeasty. Writing this blog some 45 minutes after drinking the tea, I still have some olive and ash drifting out of my tongue.

Dayi 2009 69th Anniversary Cake - brewed leaf

The verdict? It's another Dayi factory tea, solid but unremarkable, not too pricey but not cheap. "Middling" describes most of its qualities, the exception being the aftertaste, which was appreciably lengthy. Ageable? Probably. I should revisit some of my earlier purchases of tea in this style and check up on their aging to get a better answer.

One final note: the tea's sticker says something about how Menghai is located on a volcanic/seismic belt that produces a soil rich in volcanic nutrients and a magnetic field. Not sure what all that means for your tea, but thought it interesting they included the information to market the tea.

25 February 2011

My system of breaking pu'er cakes

I wanted to post a photo of a cake I recently broke into for drinking, the 2008 Lancang 0081 shu blend. I thought this might be useful to people who love the fascinating beauty of pu'er tea wrappers as much as I do, and want to preserve them. I have also updated my tasting notes at the original post.

When I remove a chunk of tea from a pu'er cake, I begin at the center dimple of the cake and work my way around it and outwards, a sort of spiral from the center. I have several reasons for breaking the tea this way:
  1. It slices off half the thickness of the cake, making the cake easier to break later with fewer broken leaves.
  2. It gets the hardest chunks to break off out of the way first, leading to more whole leaves later.
  3. It keeps the face whole. This has two benefits, one purely cosmetic and one practical. Aesthetically, the face of a cake looks better than the back. The practical reason is it that it avoid the neifei (the inner label), which I get to last. By the day I get to the chunk of tea around and under the neifei, the tea around the neifei has had time to breathe and the neifei comes off with less damage to it.
  4. Most importantly, it keeps the cake round. When a cake is rewrapped, the most taught areas of paper are on the edge and face, jagged tea leaves and stems left sticking out when breaking tea off the edges and faces of cakes can cause the cakes' wrappers to tear, which has several drawbacks. Torn wrappers look sloppy, and the holes in the paper often spill dust out onto the tea table, floor, etc.
After I have completely removed the back, I take tea off the edges of cakes in a reverse spiral, moving from the outside inward to keep the cake round. I rewrap the cakes very loosely to avoid tears in the wrapper.

There is one drawback to this method, which is that for cakes with "pretty faces, ugly butts", where the face of the cake has different material from the back of the cake, taking leaves only from the back (or, later, only from the front) does not yield a 100% representation of the blend. In my experience, those prettier face leaves are not very important to the overall taste of the pu'er cake at hand, so I don't suffer the loss. But, your mileage may vary, and the information may prove useful.

So, a question to you: do you have a preferred method for breaking up cakes, bricks, tuo, etc.? Please share!