21 December 2011

2007 Dayi "Secret Fragrance" Shu, Courtesy of Shah8

Everybody has secrets. Secrets are priceless to oneself, and when those entrusted with our secrets choose to sell them, the transaction comes at a high cost.

But when you make several wan (万, meaning 10,000) of cakes out of your secret and sell them, is it really still a secret?

2007? Dayi "Secret Fragrance" Shu Pu'er - dry leaf close up

暗香 (àn xiāng) means "subtle scent" or "hidden (as in obscured) fragrance". I don't know if "secret" is a good translation (care to opine, Marshaln?). "Dark fragrance" or "underhanded fragrance" are also possibilities, if unlikely ones.

Also, there was a Chinese movie by the same name in 2009. Perhaps drinking this tea while writing inspired the author to use this name?

Whatever the translation, the name clearly suggests that we take a good whiff of this tea and explore the scent, an act that can yield some unpleasant results when the object of our olfactory sense is shu pu'er, which can often smell like that pesky neighbor's clogged and funky drainage ditch.

The scent of this shu pu'er's wet leaves was pleasant, certainly. Mulchy and wet without smelling dirty, that "forest floor after the rain" euphemism that changes "smells like dirt" into a fond recollection of sierran enjoyment. It also carried a "secret/hidden/subtle/dark/underhanded fragrance" of cake.

2007? Dayi "Secret Fragrance" Shu Pu'er - brew

The taste also carried this clean and balanced trait, woody, mulchy, and peppery. Velvety textured in the mouth, it made me salivate--a very "active" quality for a fermented tea to have. The only downsides were a thinness of texture and aftertaste, although the mineral, rocky aftertaste gave the tea an appreciably clean finish.

The fragrance, expectedly, changed little over infusions. The cake quality became a fruitiness as the tea thinned and tasted sweeter in later infusions.

2007? Dayi "Secret Fragrance" Shu Pu'er - brewed leaf

Some of the fragrant qualities of the tea arise from the more lightly fermented large leaves, visible in the photo above.

I found it a very enjoyable tea, and thank you to Shah8 for sharing this sample with me. If you're interested, Dragon Tea House on ebay sells the cake for US$48 (free shipping), or you can find it on Taobao for less than a third of that price before shipping and proxy fees.

16 December 2011

2002 Menghai Factory 7542-208

I used to think our friend Su kept her tea a little too dry for my taste. I felt that way until trying her 7542-208, supposedly a special production that contains higher quality (i.e., older tree) leaf.

2002 Menghai Factory 7542-208 - dry leaf face2002 Menghai Factory 7542-208 - dry leaf back

The tea above neither looks nor smells traditionally stored, of course. Su doesn't run a wet storage facility. But it does look rather well aged for a 2002 tea, and the strong, sweet and woody aroma of the dry leaves foreshadows the deliciousness to come.

Bitterness appeared quickly, as did some smoke early on. Yet, the smoke and the aromatic woodiness of the tea reminded me of cedar planks, a trait I associate with Banzhang and some Pasha teas, a good sign that this might indeed have some older arbor leaves from those areas. It moved into more complexity, some "younger" floral notes floated above an almost leathery taste.

2002 Menghai Factory 7542-208 - brew

The aftertaste was thick and lasting, and the tea remained velvety soft in the mouth. Yesterday I drank this tea with a friend, and I used too much leaf, making some dryness appear early that later softened. The tea is potent enough that a little less leaf than normal might better highlight the complexity.

We drank probably 20 infusions of this tea before retiring for dinner, and it held up impressively.

2002 Menghai Factory 7542-208 - brewed leaf

As usual, many thanks to Su for providing a great experience. This was one of the best stored examples of early 2000s pu'er I've had the pleasure of tasting.

04 December 2011

"Lipstick Red" Aged Sheng from Su

"Lipstick Red" Sheng Pu - wrapper

Su sent over a cake of a tea that she indicated Malaysians know as "lipstick red" for the color on the wrapper. Will Y. and I decided to share the cake and sawed it in half.

Upon opening the cake, I noticed it had the familiar compression of Shuangjiang Mengku tea factory productions: a compression that leaves an inner ring (visible immediately below) but keeps the edge of the cake thick (farther below).

I was delighted to think this could be an example of one of the factory's first productions before they broke off from the state-owned China Native & Natural Products (CNNP) firm. I have not had an example of this factory's tea from the years before their privatization, and so I felt some delight when noticing this.

"Lipstick Red" Sheng Pu - dry leaf

"Lipstick Red" Sheng Pu - cake profile

Another way I know that the tea is not by Menghai Factory is the inclusion of these two fellows: an unthreshed piece of rice and a tea seed. Menghai Factory has, in my experience with their aged teas, not allowed such riffraff into their cakes.

"Lipstick Red" Sheng Pu - seed and grain

Describing the tea in one word, I would say "fruity." The wet leaves smell like raisins in a box, which brought back the memory of my childhood when a small box of raisins was in my lunch bag seemingly every single day of elementary school. Moreover, the taste--aside from its Lincang-proving "rancid in a good way" sour notes--is of dried berries or raisins for many of the infusions. Davin even called the tea a "holiday pu'er"!

Somehow it lacks the earthiness I associate with older pu'er. None appears to be developing here. In fact, the tea doesn't taste of other typical aged pu'er flavors such as wood, mulch, etc. And yet, it tastes like pu'er in a dark grainy sweetness. Later it shows the remainder of its youth in greener flavors like fresh pruned bushes and bitterness.

"Lipstick Red" Sheng Pu - brew

The tea has an aftertaste of moderate length, and though the mouthfeel is thin, it travels all around the mouth. It lasted a full kettle of water without weakening too much, which I appreciated.

I'll be curious to hear from Su if my guess hit the mark. Nonetheless, I am thankful for the opportunity to try a tea that matched the fall season so well.

"Lipstick Red" Sheng Pu - brewed leaf

03 December 2011

Experiments with blending

The recent teas I tried came from 10g (+/-) samples. Because I tested each using 7g in my gaiwan, I had about 2-4g of each left. I decided to review the results of the first brews to see which teas I thought might blend well.

Here they are again, in short:
  1. Douji 2011 Nannuo
    1. Good: aroma, flavor, bittersweetness (gan), camphor
    2. Bad: thin texture, flavors could be stronger in later infusions
  2. Douji 2011 Mengsong Mao Cha
    1. Good: heavy in "middle flavors"
    2. Bad: weak flavor and texture
  3. Douji 2011 Red Da Dou (thrown out!)
    1. Good: ??
    2. Bad: green tea pu
  4. Yangpin Hao 2011 (2010?) Jingmai
    1. Good: mouthfeel, savory bass notes, interesting flavors, some cooling/camphor
    2. Bad: gives out quickly, becomes unpleasant when it gives out, a bit sour at times
  5. Dayi 2011 7542
    1. Good: well rounded, potent, aftertaste lasts once it appears
    2. Bad: smoky aroma, can brew sour, no initial aftertaste
I decided to make two blends, the first a 50/50 blend of 7542 and Douji Nannuo, and the second a 50/50 blend of the YPH Jingmai and Douji Mengsong. I didn't quite have enough of the Jingmai for the second blend, so I threw in about 0.5g of the 7542, of which I had too much.

Here's what I learned:

  • Blending is not a straightforward science
Two teas with good traits mixed in equal portions does not make a tea that has all their traits equally highlighted. Some of the finer notes of the older tree maocha disappeared into softening the harsher notes of the plantation tea. While the effect was good, it tasted like "less than the sum of its parts".

  • A little plantation tea goes a long way in a blend
Being stronger in bitterness and off flavors, a little plantation leaf goes a long way. To the same effect, old tree tea requires less correction, I think. The 50/50 blend of Nannuo-7542 tasted like 75% 7542 and 25% Nannuo, and the 47.5/47.5/5 blend of Mengsong, Jingmai, and 7542 tasted like 85% plantation and 15% Mengsong. I think an actual 85/15 or 75/25 blend of these two teas would have been a better place to start.

This made me think of the many, many times vendors told me that a pu'er was a blend of X (plantation) with a little bit of Y (old leaf). My taste buds made me skeptical of such claims, because very little if any trace of old leaf traits could be found in those teas. Now I wonder if the vendor told the truth, but the producer did a poor job of blending. Ah, speculation.

  • It's not easy, but it's fun!
Blending stuff makes fun work out of the odds and ends of samples that otherwise get thrown in a big jar of leftover samples (to later become what MarshalN calls "house blend").

01 December 2011

2011 Dayi 7542

Finally, I tried Dayi's elusive 2011 production of 7542. For some reason, Dayi was stingy with their releases, and when I was in China this year, no vendor had enough 7542 to let anyone sample.

It seems Dayi corrected the situation, and a sample was included in the China Cha Dao pack as an example of plantation tea.

2011 Dayi 7542 - dry leaf

And it is! But Dayi has a reputation for blending reliably good, ageable tea--a reputation which, in spite of the innumerable competitors now in the pu'er market, and in spite of rumors of processing tea at too high of temperatures, appears to have withstood all tests. At least, it has so far.

Steaming leaves in the gaiwan smell of tobacco and smoke, and although the smoke doesn't appear in the flavor of the tea, the tobacco does, along with a more herbal element, savory and sweet like tarragon. The texture is oily.

2011 Dayi 7542 - brew

Other flavors appear later, include a sour/citrus element, some butter, a heaping dose of bitterness in later infusions. Concomitant with the bitterness, the mouthfeel and aftertaste appeared in the middle infusions, lasting longer with subsequent infusions until the tea outlasted me, around infusion 14 or so.

The bitterness makes the tea unpleasant to drink now, but the signs are there that the tea should, hopefully, have enough "oomph" to calm into something decent after aging. With no lack of "decent" sheng pu around at similar or lower prices, this particular example doesn't merit my wallet. But for someone who wanted factory-style tea, this tea would suffice.

2011 Dayi 7542 - brewed leaf