28 November 2011

2011 (2010?) Yangpin Hao 'Jing Mai'

Today's tea, the 2011 (2010?) Yangpin Hao Jingmai mountain cake, is another sample from the set of sheng pu'er offered by China Cha Dao with the expressed intent of contrasting plantation "small tree" teas with older arbor "large tree" teas. This is one of the small tree examples, and it is not a tea that the vendor carries. Perhaps this indicates the vendor's opinion of the tea?

2011 Yangpin Hao Jingmai - dry leaf

The leaves, as pictured in the photo above, are of smaller size. This is typical for teas from Jingmai, whose tea trees are of a smaller leaf varietal. One other trait of note is the heavy stripe-rolling treatment given the leaves.

The first infusion has a hard-to-place aroma, and "leafy" seems like a terrible description, but I can think of no better word for the "baseline" smell of raw pu'er leaves when they are very young. It offers a brothy taste, meaty and astringent, with a cooling aftereffect in the mouth. It moves onward to taste more sour, but with a mouthfeel the lasts and extends to the root of the tongue.

2011 Yangpin Hao Jingmai - brew

At times chocolatey and alkaline, and in later infusions becoming thinner in texture and offering mostly bitterness and hay, the tea falls into the "ok" category. It appears to be well processed enough, but of a medium quality material that, although it will likely improve with age, may not become spectacular. If this is the cake I suspect it is, it sells in China for about US$8 per 380g cake, a reasonable price given the quality.

2011 Yangpin Hao Jingmai - brewed leaf

26 November 2011

Douji 2011 Red Da Dou (红大斗)

No manufacturer of tea, however well regarded, is infallible. Yiwu Zhengshan Tea Company, more commonly known by its (only?) brand, Douji, has produced many teas I have enjoyed. Even those Douji teas I thought un-spectactular, none did I suspect were poorly processed.

2011 Douji Hong Da Dou - dry leaf

Unfortunately, today's tea is such an example.

2011 Douji Hong Da Dou - brewI rather enjoyed the 2008 version of this blend, red "dà dŏu", roughly meaning red star, red north star, or red big dipper. The leaf grade/quality for this year's production compares poorly with it, however. Many small bits of leaf, twigs, and older leaf bits (huang pian) comprise the blend--material that was not hand-harvested.

The smells and tastes of the tea are green tea. This surprises me because usually tea blends' having multiple raw material sources usually results in any one poor source being balanced by other better sources.

How to tell? For one, the flavors say green tea: vegetal, buttery, mild. Young sheng pu can taste bitter, but the bitter of this tea appears in the wrong place: the front of the mouth. It also appears without the delicious feature of shengpu bitterness, which is that it fades into sweetness.

The most interesting note the tea gave was Parmesan cheese. The most interesting occurrence during the tea session was the appearance of this little stinker on our rubber plant.

Sort of appropriate.

Visitor at Tea, 25 Nov 2011

Anyway, here are the leaves, which along with the soup, prove that looks can only tell so much about a tea. That is, they don't look bad.

2011 Douji Hong Da Dou - brewed leaf

25 November 2011

2011 Mengsong Maocha (sourced from Douji)

Mengsong is a huge region comprised of the mountain range west of the Lancang River and east of Menghai city. It includes pu'er tea regions/mountains Nannuo, Hekai, Naka, and others. When I see a tea labeled Mengsong made in the past few years, I wonder if the tea leaves came from one village or many, and if this village was not famous enough to merit renaming it Nannuo, Hekai, or Naka, for example.

2011 Douji Mengsong - dry leaf

This 2011 sample was given to Jerry of China Cha Dao as a gift, and he decided to share a limited number of samples as part of a sample pack whose aim was to contrast presumably old tree tea with the lesser-regarded plantation tea.

If you were wondering about that odd orange twiggy thing in the photo above, it appears to be some sort of dried moss. Finding this stowaway lends the tea a "wild arbor" or other naturalistic feel, and, always skeptical, I asked myself if Douji included it intentionally (hopefully not fraudulently). Here it is up close:

2011 Douji Mengsong - WTH?

As natural as these tea plants' environment may be, the tea itself disappointed me. Although the leaves are beautiful and the flavor pleasant, I had to brew this tea in long steeps to extract a decent strength of flavor and texture. 7g in a 100ml gaiwan (same as the previously reviewed Douji Nannuo) should offer up enough mouth feel, even if the flavor is lacking.

The tea tasted biscuity, like sheng pu'er tinged with some first flush Darjeeling, but only one or two leaves showed any visible reddening. The flavors are all "middle notes": no bright florals or heavy meaty/mushroom flavors, just middle cut-stem and ashen flavors.

2011 Douji Mengsong - brew

The leaves completely unfurled look beautiful with their thick veins chunky stems:

2011 Douji Mengsong - brewed leaf

No conclusion, as I have come to none myself.

24 November 2011

2008? Ban Tian Yao (半天腰) Wuyi Oolong

Like so many teas randomly found in small bags in the various boxes where I store samples, I cannot remember where this one came from, exactly. I can say with some certainty it came during a large yancha order as an extra sample, hence why I place the production year around 2008.

2008? Ban Tian Yao (半天腰) Wuyi Oolong - dry leaf

Just opening the bag, the tea offers a smell of roast and raisins. And upon tasting it, I felt glad that I had waited so long; whoever made this tea did a heavy high fire roast. I imagine the roast flavor even stronger two years ago.

The first two infusions offer strong flowery notes with equally strong--too strong--roast, making the florals turn toward bitter/charred flavors. Subsequently, the tea has a combination of roast and flower flavors that remind me of very "bright" coffee.

The energy of the tea and the texture are both good. It has a soupy, brothy thickness to it, something thicker than water but thinner than milk.

2008? Ban Tian Yao (半天腰) Wuyi Oolong - brewed

Eventually, the roast calms to an enjoyable level and becomes part of a complex group of flavors: grain, floral, raisin, whiskey. But this lasts for only three or four infusions before it becomes bitter and thin.

I have enough of this left to try it once or twice more, and I hope airing out the tea will alleviate some of the less desirable traits. Also, some extra brewing practice would probably help, too. I still feel my gongfu skills are rusty after brewing no gongfu teas during my last two weeks in California.

2008? Ban Tian Yao (半天腰) Wuyi Oolong - brewed leaf

23 November 2011

New Family Members

I am proud to welcome some new members to the Bearsbearsbears teaware family.

New to the family - stoneware tea kettle

My new kettle, purchased at Maliandao in Beijing. It's a stoneware clay from Fengqing Tang company.

5 new pots and a new (old) tea friend:
Newcomers to the family - 5 pots and a rabbit

Clockwise from the upper left:

This rabbit comes with a sad story. A good friend of mine who recently, unexpectedly passed away owned this rabbit, which we purchased together many years ago when I bought my pig. The rabbit looks joyous from some angles and feral/angry from other angles; sometimes like it jumped in to join a party and other times like it was pouncing on something or fleeing. I have been using this rabbit since it came into my possession as a way of honoring the departed, who I miss dearly.

Hei Xing Tu Pot #1
This was purchased at a friend's shop in Beijing. It was a 90s commission using 80s Hei Xing Tu (black star earth, 黑星土) clay. This shape was originally designed for export, I believe. Will Y. will have to correct me here, but I believe the straight "cannon" spout was for export. So far I have used it to brew aged pu'er.

Hei Xing Tu Pot #2
A larger round pot with a big lid opening, it's telling me it wants to be used for stripe oolong, but this question remains unsettled. It has a beautiful etched mountain scenery design. It is of the same clay as #1; in fact, all pots here are from the same commissioner.

Zhu Hong Ni Pot #1
A higher grade of hong ni with a richer, deeper red. Shape-wise, it looks like combination of Xishi (i.e., the shape named for a famous beautiful woman's breast) and a Shui Ping ("water line", known for the balance between its lid, handle, and spout).

Hei Xing Tu Pot #3
A unique shape, especially in the spout. This diamond shape finds an echo in the handle, which connects to the pot in the same shape.

Zhu Hong Ni Pot #2
I couldn't decide between this pot and the other Zhu Hong Ni pot, so the commissioner told me to take both.

I have no idea for which teas I will use these last three pots. Suggestions?

21 November 2011

Douji 2011 Nannuo

I have finally (finally!) made the transition to full-time living in Georgia. Now, if I could only find some others to join us for tea...

They could have enjoyed the 2011 Douji Nannuo, a pretty decent example of the region. By decent I mean: a well processed, tenacious example exhibiting the flavors of Nannuo Mountain with patriotic fervor.

Douji 2011 Nannuo - dry leaf

Leaf from Nannuo is a smaller family member of the "big leaf" (dà yè 大叶) varietal, as shown above. Though small when dry, they expand to an appreciably larger size than plantation teas.

While I cannot say that fresh Nannuo tastes more delicious than aged Nannuo, not having had much of the latter, fresh Nannuo does have some traits I love: a distinctive herbal flavor, like sweet tarragon and anise, a fertile scent, and an easily controlled bitterness that lends the tea much flexibility in brewing.

Douji 2011 Nannuo - brew

This particular example's bitterness returns as a sweetness at the back of the mouth, and it even displayed some cool camphor on the lips in the later infusions. It outlasted a full kettle of water, becoming more savory with each infusion. It is very easy to like.

It lacks thick texture, unfortunately, and though it lasts many infusions, later infusions are, to borrow from hobbes, "namby-pamby." But such is the flaw with single-mountain and single-estate teas: strongly idiosyncratic performance that highlights the region's best and worst traits.

As a value question, I would only recommend this tea to someone seeking old tree Nannuo specifically, and I might not recommend more than a cake or two at the price. Douji's pricing always carries some brand inflation.

Though, it is selling on China Cha Dao for cheaper than you could get it in China at the moment. My thanks to them for the sample.

Douji 2011 Nannuo - brewed leaf