Wednesday, December 17, 2008

2007 CNNP 6111

I received a sample of this in a shipment from Dragon Tea House this past summer. This tea is somewhat of a mystery in that there were only samples available for purchase, which have now been discontinued. I found many positive characteristics about this tea during my session.
This CNNP style tea was greatly compressed, typical of cakes from this factory (lousy image :/). The tea smelled of sweet fruit leather, down the alley of Lincang area tea. It brewed up a dark amber color. (I find many tightly compressed pu-erhs to exhibit the darker amber color, contrary to lightly compressed teas which usually brew light. That may not be true in all cases, just in my experiences).

The taste of this tea was in tandem with the smell: thick, honey, fruit leather, bitterness, no astringency, and a big hui gan. Funny how the tea is no long up for grabs- ayy! I had plenty of infusions off this tea, surpassing about 14 until I quit. Liquor like that grows up healthy and natural, not an easy life which probably made the tea grow slower and stronger.
What I found most peculiar was a layer of thick oil which accumulated on the top of the brewed tea. I have never experienced or read anything noteworthy on this topic. I've only heard of leaves looking oily in their dry appearance. Sometimes I notice coffee does this, where the oils float upon the drink. No, I don't brew coffee in my Yixing... This trait seems to coincide with the idea of this being a hardy, naturally grown product of high quality. When stressed by climate, many plants produce oils to prevent the loss of water, especially in drier environments. Although much of China is humid, it harbors dry climates as well. Maybe I'm a wishful thinker, however, it's hard not to speculate about the origins of such tea.

It should be noted that it took me a whole day to finish the session; the intensity required spacing.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

2008 Xiaguan FT Nan Zhou

This past summer, I decided to make a down payment on some future drinking. In other words, I bought a tong of some delicious FT pu-erh.

Since each cake is 454 grams, there are only 5 cakes in a tong. I opened a cake and have had many sessions with this tea. The other four cakes are going to rest in a cardboard box with my other shengs for many years.

Nan Zhou is an interesting tea, being thick, bitter, flavorful, smoky, and leaving a nice hui gan in my mouth. Also, the aroma cup during gong-fu lights up with an appetizing sweet, penetrating smell.

The soup, golden amber, is as thick as it looks.

Although it's not a perfect tea, I am happy to have some cakes for ageing. The leaves are mostly small and fine, though some larger leaves appear periodically. The buds on the cake which appear as decoration, reveal to be well preserved and "larva-like".

I usually acheive 7-8 infusions of varying intensity, which fare much better through a vessel like a gaiwan due to fast pouring.

Long Time no Post

It has been quite a while since a posting. I think being occupied with school and reading other blogs has deterred any attention here. Also, I started twittering about tea! There are a bunch of other tea heads on twitter and have found it to be quite fun thus far.

With that said, I gladly return to this blog with some needed posts. Honestly, my camera is full of tea pics that I never got to posting... Stay tuned.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Bai Cha Tang 3rd Generation Iron Cake

Amazing. The first smell of the beeng, and smell from my sniffer cup both heightened my anticipation for the brew to come. I was, genuinely amazed. The taste was, so smooth, rich and dense without astringency or bitterness. The aftertaste was quite happy, penetrating every available surface in my mouth and nose.

The liquor consistently brews up a golden color, which can be obtained at least a dozen times when brewed gong fu stlye.

The leaves appear to be very healthy, larger leaves probably grade 6 to arbor size. The beeng is tightly pressed (iron cake), somewhat like a xiaguan. There is no smoke smell from dry or brewed tea, and no broken leaves (until I hack ruthlessly with a pu-erh pick).

For 400 grams, you'll pay 36.50 USD plus shipping. Honestly, for the quality and integrity, this is worth the money. I can say that given the elements, this is a wise choice for aging, though it may not last that long! My kudos to Mr. Ai at Bai Cha Tang, for putting his passion into his work.


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Pu for Pleasure

There is something enigmatic about pu-erh tea. The smell, the taste, the age, and the words to describe its' characteristics. There is green, 'sheng' pu-erh which can be classified as a green tea (without the baking). Dark, 'shu' pu-erh with its' unmistakable "scoop from a remote forest floor" flavor profile, classified as a post-fermented tea. With uncommon personality, pu-erh seems to becoming more and more common as people get to know it.

My own experience started a year ago in a local tea where a friend ordered some Rishi pu-erh Maiden for me. I drank it and was overtaken by its' strength, smoothness, flavor and unknown origin. Little did I know as I read some lyrics my friend wrote, that I would soon be diving off the deep end into pu-erh. Almost a year later I've gathered a modest collection of shu's and sheng's in the form of bricks and cakes which I sample from time to time, always refining my gong-fu cha techniques. My two pots and a gaiwan do justice to any pu in the vicinity.

I feel fortunate to be engaged in the pu-erh world at this time. Up until the 90's, most Chinese tea stayed in China. With the help of a few tea explorers in tandem with Chinese political reform, the tea market truly began*. Black tea and Chinese government controlled tea was largely available before the 90's, denying white, green, oolong and pu-erh teas.

It's exciting to be apart of this newly emerging tea culture, specifically gong-fu cha culture. I have met other people in person and online who also share the passion for the pu. It's easy to find a handful of well-written, thorough blogs about pu-erh or other teas. A multitude of websites exist from connoisseurs and sellers. Even Youtube can be used as a multimedia learning experience, where I learned techniques of gong-fu cha. With a little investment in some teaware and quality tea, anyone can get their feet infused with the enigmatic brew. Aside from the internet, the perfect place to start asking questions is your local teashop.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

What Makes a Good Pu-erh?

I'm no expert. In fact I've only been drinking Pu-erh since August 2007. My experience is limited to about two dozen varieties of pu-erh, sheng and shu alike. I rely heavily on reviews, either from merchants or consumers, as the main component of my purchasing. I also like to identify the origin of a tea, how old it is and how affordable it is. Also, knowing your supplier is very important. Of the few pu-erh distributors on the web that I've dealt with, I would say most are legitimate. However, merchants themselves have to find pu-erhs themselves. That is much harder because some Chinese manufacturers and distributors alter the appearance of pu-erh, increasing the quantity of false pu-erh on the market.

Why the good stuff?

My goal is to experience pu-erh in its entirity. Even with my limited experience I've noticed how variable pu-erh can be. "Indefinite character" seems to fit pu-erh very well. I think what really drives a tea drinker, and more so a pu-erh connoisseur, it that fundamental human curiosity to discover. There are so many teas, and so many pu-erhs on the market that it would certainly take a lifetime to experience even a small portion of what is available. Now why on earth would anyone want to waste time consuming a false or benign pu-erh which has little to offer? Counterfeit pu-erh is a reality, and I am thankful to have the few quality pu's that I do. Also, buying a cheap pu-erh for too much money can be a problem. Being informed is best tool.

So pu-erh gets better with age?

The most interesting spin on pu-erh it's aging factor. Both sheng's and shu's age well, though sheng's age longer and supposedly more noticeably.

I have tried eight year old shu, cha tou and small tuos, and find them all to be very smooth. Even a 2003 CNNP 7581 shu brick was incredibly gentle, having aged just five years. I have heard that every five years changes a pu-erh's character.

My sheng experience is limited to newer products. The oldest I've had is an '05 SFTM Banzhang mountain tea. It is good, but I believe aging will affect it significantly. Though aged tea is highly sought after, it is simply not affordable for every day tea drinking for the majority of the world's population. (It is said China's middle class is driving the pu-erh pu-erh market prices). In my opinion, buying young pu-erhs at a low price would make a great investment for the pu-erh drinker. Some esoteric folks feel that anything younger than 10 years old is sub-par. On a budget, this severely limits the ability to try younger, inexpensive types and the ability to start a collection of your own.

Young pu-erh can be consumed regularly if you don't want to age or collect it. It would be analogous to consuming a young red wine- it will taste very good, but just imagine the potential! My guess is one bottle of young red wine disappear faster than a 357 gram beeng for the same price.

Why are you hashing out the pu-erh "down-low"?

Pu-erh is a growing market- more so than ever! Some would say it's growing exponentially. There is some information available on pu-erh, usually vague or hidden on some forum from two years back. Or a background like on wickipedia or just little blips from sellers describing the tea as "earthy".

Pu-erh is getting more publicity and more awareness for many reasons. It is a health tonic (contains vitamins, minerals, polyphenols, xanthines) and tastes amazing to those who drink it. It is also a large part of ancient Chinese culture, and is in the midst of making a come back in to modern culture as of 2008. It is a healthy social event compared to alcohol, coffee, cigarettes or illicit materials. It also helps the body metabolize lipids (fats) and can be used as a detox drink.

So what really makes a good pu-erh?

If you can find a reliable pu-erh distributor and a well reviewed pu-erh, then choose something you can afford. Try both sheng and shu varieties to see which you prefer, unless you already know your preference. Analyze the tea (dry material, wet material and concoction) with your senses. Experiment with different brewing techniques and different water. Most of all, find out what works for you. These steps can help you obtain a good pu-erh which may yield the best possible results. Good pu-erh is subjective, so without too much more discussion I'm providing the following.

To quote from Puerh Tea Blog, while asking a seasoned tea head how to choose a tea...
"I no longer spent too much time on researching a tea.
If I find one I like and I can afford it, I will buy it.
After that, I would try to enjoy it as much as I could."

Monday, April 21, 2008

2007 Jingmai Mountain Spring Pu-erh Cake

2007 Jingmai Mountain Spring pu-erh tasting.
Manufacturer: Kunming Ruipinhao Tea Ind. Co.
Source: Pu-erh Shop

Price: $13.93/357 g, or about 4 cents a gram.

(I use seven grams per pot (150 cc), so about 28 cents per pot.)

My first impression is that the dry material of the cake has a promising appearance. The cake appears well preserved, not over compressed with blue/gray/green leaves decorating the surface. I managed to excavate some nice chunks without having to break too many leaves or hack at the cake.

(The dry leaves are laying on a finished bamboo tea breaking tray.)

My Gong Fu tea ceremony was conducted with my Yixing pot designated for sheng/raw/uncooked/green pu-erh.Gong Fu for me is one rinse to warm pot, one rinse to awaken leaves, five seconds, flash infusion, flash infusion, five seconds, then variable depending on first few infusions.

First Infusion was light, with a MILD after breathe taste. There was a very mild smokey taste, barely detectable. The only thing I could think about during this first infusion was
...walking through a Chinese jungle at dusk, shortly after a rain storm, following my nose to a warm cabin where a fire was going...
The second infusion has a more noticeable after breathe of freshness. Mild astrignecy was followed by a sweetness. The viscoscity felt good. There was no ugly bitterness, nothing sharp or overwhelming. This was not quite rounded tea yet, but you could sense with age it would mature. There are fruity/floral/melon notes floating around in the background. The mild smoky taste has gone away completely.

4 (infusions)

Third infusion was a bit stronger in that it was slighty darker amber/yellow. It also left a stronger after breathe than the previous infusion. Taste/smell of after breathe simply lingers and is quite enjoyable. Still somewhat subtle though.

The fourth infusion was darker, but about as strong. I let each cup cool just a bit, which allowed the tea to taste different, usually better. The after breathe lasted around 10 minutes even though it wasn't all that strong. I've had stronger tea before. Even though the after breathe is more pronounced in stronger teas, the intensity is higher, not always better for a young sheng.

I actually got around eight infusions, steeping about 1, 3, 5 minutes for the 6,7,8th infusions.

The spent leaves are beautiful. They are mostly large, intact arbor-like leaves. Some are more yellow, some your average medium green, and some darker, more oxidized looking leaves. The leaves felt strong and thick while I handled them. They were not fragile by any means. Some were fold in half the long way, and so I opened them up for imaging.

In summary, I am very excited about enjoying this tea again. Considering the whole leaves, the light and fresh after breathe, the numerous infusions without losing flavor, and the integrity of the cake as a whole, you get pu-erh that is good and will undoubtedly get better over time. This is as tasty of a young sheng as I've had, and I'm curious how the slight nuances will change over the months/years to come...