30 August 2011

China Cha Dao Qi Lan Grade A

China Cha Dao Yan Cha - Qi Lan - leaf

"Qi Lan" means "Strange Orchid" and at grade "A" this yancha stands a good grade (and a half?) below the Shui Xian. A link to the tea is here.

The sample measured just over 10 grams, and I used all of it, tapping the gaiwan to use the "Brazil nut effect" to my advantage to sort the broken bits to the bottom of the gaiwan, where they would be the least agitated from pouring and decanting.

The dark dried-seaweed green of the leaves often indicates, in my somewhat limited experience with yancha, a higher oxidation combined with a middle-high to middling roast, my guess on appearances alone being the former. I enjoy higher oxidation Chinese oolongs and also often prefer a middle to middle-high roast, so despite the shorter and more broken leaves that have little aroma when dry, I am looking forward to this tea.

My expectations drop, however, when the leaves have little aroma even when wet, and very little aroma evaporates from the lid. The taste is tart and the texture thin. I want to disregard this first brew as a mere rinse, but I rinse my nose with a neti pot to rule out my sense of smell as the problem.

The second infusion was still tart, but offered a grainy flavor and some gan, a term best explained as "the return of sweetness to the back of the tongue and throat after swallowing something." The only Western food I can think of that has gan is coffee, particularly espresso, but an accustomed mouth can find it in foods like grapefruit and rapini. It's also obviously present in bitter liqueurs like Campari.

China Cha Dao Yan Cha - Qi Lan - brewed

By the third infusion, the sourness has calmed down some, the texture has thickened some, and the aftertaste lengthens some. It is floral in the middle infusions (orchid!), tasting strongly floral of jasmine when cooler. The next infusion balances these tastes with the roast and finishes fruity, confirming my suspicions about the oxidation.

China Cha Dao Yan Cha - Qi Lan -

The remaining infusions, which brought the total infusions of this tea to only 7, were thin and mostly fruity, leaving me the impression that the tea was well oxidized but not well roasted, or too weak in leaf structure to stand up to the roasting process. The oxidation is visible in the purpling apparent on many of the wet leaves in the picure above.

I think this tea might improve some with resting, but I was unimpressed sufficiently to not want to find out.

The remaining teas from the sample pack are mostly all higher grades, so I am hoping they are more like the Shui Xian and less like this Qi Lan.

28 August 2011

China Cha Dao Shui Xian Grade AA+

China Cha Dao Yan Cha - Shui Xian - leaf

Jerry of China Cha Dao offered a free Wuyi oolong sample pack on Steepster recently, and always on the lookout for good yancha, I joined in.

I decided to start with the most generic and widely available varietal of this tea, Shui Xian. Shui Xian is highly variable in quality and characteristics, a trait it shares with its more illustrious brother Da Hong Pao. A suspicion bites at me whenever I see Shui Xian and Da Hong Pao that a particular store takes its least interesting yancha of any varietal and renames it Shui Xian, and takes its best tasting and thickest yancha of any varietal and names it Da Hong Pao. But I digress.

Jerry's Shui Xian carries the grade "AA+" which I interpret to mean "not just your average Shui Xian". I brewed it "gongfu style" using the entire 11g sample in my 100ml-but-functionally-90ml gaiwan and did very quick infusions to start.

The leaves above are long but not uniformly colored, meaning the tea is likely a blend of two roasts or oxidations--or more. I let them rest after their long journey from China, and they became more fragrant as they came to adore the dry, mild California climate, like any good tourist.

China Cha Dao Yan Cha - Shui Xian - brewed

The brew has mild fruit flavor and a punchy sourness in the first brew. The sourness becomes less prominent from the second infusion onward, which offers cinnamon notes and has a longer aftertaste. Throughout most infusions, the tea tastes a bit bitter on the front tongue. Third infusion tastes more balanced--less roast, more florals, with an even longer aftertaste that is really pleasant.

The Shui Xian offers a smooth mouthfeel and a slightly cooling sensation after I swallow. There is a sweet smell under the lid of my gaiwan; in fact, the aroma is more interesting under my gaiwan than the taste of the tea. This average complexity puzzles me, because clearly something (grain? candy? malt?) wants to be in the cup, and perhaps my brewing is to blame.

It lasted a good 10 infusions.

One nice feature about roasted oolongs is that they improve with 6 months or more of resting after the roast, and if this tea is from this year, that means its roasty aromas and flavors of this 2011 tea may calm into something even nicer by the middle of fall, which is perfect weather for roasted teas.

$51/500g is a good price for a Shui Xian I would call an A+ tea. I think AA+ sounds over-the-top, but I suppose not knowing how these are rated means I should respect their hyperbole in classification.

27 August 2011

Pardon my absence

Since my last post in May, I have moved twice (in a sense), relocating to Georgia and then returning to Los Angeles for a final 3-month stint. The result being a long period of adjustment in which I've sat down to gongfu tea only four times since the end of July.

I am now all settled in and will return to my semi-demi-hemi-regular postings in the next days.

For my time in LA, I have much simplified my teaware out of necessity. Below is my setup: a 100ml gaiwan, pitcher, small cup, and bowl on a hand-woven Red Yao minority wedding scarf from Northern Vietnam. I kept only one teapot here, a hei xing tu pot I use for older sheng pu'er.

My Setup at the New Apartment

The many samples I meant to drink but haven't also wait here with me, tapping their feet impatiently, un-greeting me with a scornful silence, angry at my neglect. Patience, little leaves! I will bathe you soon.