Yi He Cha Zhuang – 2011 Liu Xiang – Cream Of Banna

My collective experiences with Meng Song region teas have not exactly been, ummm, outstanding. Most have produced insipid liquors leaving little impression in their wake. The others were just plain dull.

When I had requested a set of Yi He Cha Zhuang samples from Cream Of Banna it didn’t register, for some odd reason, that one of them was actually a Meng Song sourcing, the Liu Xiang. Needless to say, I wasn’t exactly champing at the bit to bring this one to the tea-table after re-reading the entry on the site and discovering its’ origin upon arrival of the package.

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Fast foward to today.

Once again forgetting that the Liu Xiang is the Meng Song tea, I decide to steep a healthy bit of the sample. I do wonder, considering my existing bias, if this was to its’ benefit.

Sitting at the tea table, the dry nosing reveals a strikingly fresh and vibrant fragrance, though softer in expression than other teas of recent. Once humid, the leaf develops sweet aromatics which deepen the profile. A perceptible bitterness greets the sinus.

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Decanted liquors develop from pale straw to heavier shades of gold across the first three steeps as the leaves expand to fill the gaiwan. I am using 9g of leaf to 120ml.

The kou gan is consistently gentle and balanced throughout the session, even as later steeps develop a poised se (涩) that fluctuates with returning honey sweetness.

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As the Liu Xiang comes to life, the tongue feels invigorated and tingles, then becomes calm as the mouth is increasingly coated. A subtle nagging note of ku hovers in the arch of the soft palate, rushing into the sinus cavity upon swallowing broths.

Cooling sensations linger between steeps on the tongue, soft palate and sinus. A graceful tian wei provokes salivation. The throat feels warm, lubricated and comfortable; as well as the inside of the cheeks.

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Considering the softness of its’ nature, the tea is surprisingly lively and far from limited in depth. The leaves give of themselves at length. Retro-olfactory sensations are exceptional. It feels full and balanced.

If I was to make a criticism, it would be that the tea did fall a bit short in corporeal sensations. It offers some weight at the brow, but nothing dramatic. The most significant aspect of its qi is the heightened physical alertness it provides in the mouth cavity. It really is difficult to explain in words, but once you experience it, you know it. For the record, I certainly find nothing wrong with this lightness of touch in a tea. If a drinker is looking for a physical work out, however, they are not going to find it here… at least as it behaves now.

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As I finish the session and log on to the Liu Xiang entry… well, wait… Meng Song??!! “This is a tea that Yi He made last year from Meng Song gu shu. It’s actually a blend of autumn and spring teas, with about 60 -70 % spring tea.” – Cream Of Banna

While I am not exactly jumping on the Meng Song ship quite yet, it was a pleasure to discover a recent example that didn’t leave me feeling frustrated that I wasted both time and water. Coupled with a first session of the Qing Teng from Wistaria House the other day, it certainly provided with some food for thought.

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Love for my Cha Hai

I purchased this cha hai at Maliandao tea market in September of 2011 while in Beijing. It has not left my side since that time. If I am taking tea at home, this guy is with me.

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It has developed a distinguished strip down the front of its curved belly. A slightly darker broken ring is now visible on the interior. No amount of scrubbing seems able to remove either.

Foolishly, I considered swapping out for a glass pitcher on several occasions as I wasn’t sure how well it went with different gaiwans, pots, cups. However, each time the thought crossed my mind, I felt as if I was considering cheating on a partner.

In reality, it suits the Arte Povera feel of my tea set-up.

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This post is for you, little trooper.

Tian Yun Spring 2007 BaDa, Zhang Lang Gu Shu

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Pre-adolescent puerh and I often don’t get along very well. I find their lop-sided profiles incredibly dull, or just simply unpleasant. Without the foresight to know if it will change for the better it is obviously difficult to want to invest in a cake bereft of “now” positives. By and large, I like them old and relatively settled. Or, I like them fresh-faced. This “issue” of mine, unfortunately, leads to an unhappy bank account.

I do, however, continue to search. The hunt is always on.

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A pleasant surprise then to find a five to ten-year old cake that I actually enjoy, a Tian Yun production from the spring of 2007 sourced from Zhang Lang village in the BaDa Shan range. This sample comes from Cream Of Banna, a new side project started by the venerable Mark of Zhi Zheng.Song intended to, “…introduce what I believe to be some of the best Puerh that ‘Banna has to offer.” The cake sells for 290 RMB, or about 46 US dollars.

The xiang qi of the dry leaf out of the sample bag is simple, fresh, rounded, with a top note of some Banna storage. Placed in the prepped gaiwan fragrances of leather, roots, sweet mild tobacco, some developing age, hints of dried fruit, minor floral and camphor notes are now present.

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The first yielded liquor delivers an aged softness to the mouth. It reminds of caramelized Valrhona Ivoire with a camphor back note, which seems odd I know, but there it is. The broth offers a rather surprisingly voluminous feeling, despite its relative quietness in the mouth at this point.

This Zhang Lang does take a few steeps before it truly shows itself, however once it does the leaves settle in for the long haul. You will likely grow tired of it before it wears itself out.

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Aromatic nuances from the dry nosing begin to develop in the mouth, coating the tongue, constantly shadowed by the hint of Ivoire. The profile becomes increasingly rounded in the mouth. Essences now linger at greater and greater length. Faint bitter-sweet notes edge the back of the tongue, as broths pool gently in the mouth. The tea is consistently pleasing in feel.

A muffled and gentle cooling develops and pushes at the hard palate by the sixth or seventh steep. It radiates to the back of the upper lip and into the sinus cavity before finally dissipating leaving a humming fresh, small white flower fragrance. The Ivoire/camphor note begins to arc into the soft palate.

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A subtly varied hui gan develops quickly. It is increasingly long-lasting and promotes salivation in the trenches of the mouth.

The tea is present in the throat, offering a lubricated feeling by the second half of the session. The insides of the cheeks are pleasingly oiled.

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This Zhang Lang is not as heavy in the body as other favored mid 00s cakes that I have come across. The ChenGuangHe Tang MengHai Yieh Sheng at Hou De comes to mind despite discussed storage issues. And yes, the comparison is apples to oranges when considering the many variables. The qi of this Zhang Lang leans more ethereal. It is graceful, massaging at the brow and weighing on the eyes before lilting into the thorax. The palms become humid. It gently relaxes and focuses.

This Zhang Lang seems poised at the beginning of a new stage in its development. Will its’ strength settle in heavier with further years of aging? Or, will it retain its relative subtlety? How will its profile progress? It does seem headed in a favorable direction though, which is why I will likely purchase a cake.

Often, in these circumstances, I wish I had a tea seer.

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2011 1016 Hou You (厚 有) Wu Liang Shan

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Of recent, my posting has taken a back seat to the need to read and research. And simply, to taste new tea uninterrupted by note taking, etc. I now have several about which I plan to write during the coming week.

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I thought I would first start with this 2011 1016 Hou You (厚 有), a studio based in Ku Cong Shan Zhai (苦 聪 山寨), that I have had since mid-December. The cake is Wu Liang Shan sourced.

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The producer in question, a Mr. Lou Hou You. If I am translating the bio-overview feature on puerh.fr correctly, he was born in Zhen Yuan county, Pu’er prefecture, in the Wu Liang Shan chain. He began his research and moved into production during the early to mid-2000s, and has since devoted himself to understanding the trees, working closely with families, etc. in both Wu Liang and Ai Lao.

The 1016 is a noted representative of his name and his years of work. While no specific village is given, from what I have culled from the two features on Mr. Lou Hou You, he specializes in tea’s from the Zhen Yuan area.

The 1016 cake is favorably composed and exhibits a firmer compression than the recent Mengku Silver Buds. The leaves require a bit more skilled pick maneuvering by comparison to remain intact.

The xiang qi of the cake is a muddle of primal notes; animal, pasture, pipe tobacco, highlighted by a light traces of sweet apricot and the freshness of evergreens. The aromatics of the leaves intensify once dropped into the warmed gaiwan, diminish once wetted, and present again via the decanted liquor.

Rounded, lively, increasingly penetrating, the tea feels invigorating in the mouth. It is lubricating, most notably at the cheeks, yet presents fleeting drying sensations at various intervals on the tongue surface across the 10 plus steeps.

Initial liquors offer an effervescent sensation across the back half of the tongue.

The ku is well measured throughout, constant, dipping into the throat. It is never unpleasant. It tempers the residual sweetness of the liquor, which arrives quickly and strengthens with successive cups.

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Fluctuating notes of pasture, light earthy tobacco, floral, stone fruit, and an ever-increasing eucalyptus/evergreen, expand from the back of the mouth throughout the length of the session. Lingering aromatics suspend above the tongue, actively pushing into the sinus cavity via the soft palate, and fill the throat and lungs upon deep inhalations.

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Its energy is gentle, relaxing, and rests upon the brow. I became a little light-headed toward the end, but in the euphoric sense, as opposed to being unsettling. Considering my stomach was full of recently consumed baguette and slices of Alp Drackloch, the effect was certainly not due to lack of eating.

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I have enjoyed many great sessions with this tea since December. It continually reveals previously undetected nuances with each exchange, of which I consider important when judging the worth of any cake. I certainly look forward to its development with some time.

2012 Bo Yi (搏易) Mengku Silver Buds – Spring

Let me preface this post with the following; I highly recommend NOT getting the flu.

That said, what a thrill today to finally be able to properly taste again after two weeks of nothing but nasty flu residue in the mouth. It was actually difficult to decide which tea to re-acquaint my taste buds with the concept of pleasing, as there were several on my mind.

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In the end, I seem to have chosen wisely with this Bo Yi (搏易) Mengku Silver Buds cake.

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From the product page: This cake was produced by our talented Lincang friend Mr. Chao, who produces cakes under his own label – “Bo Yi” 搏易. He showed us around Mengku in Spring 2012 and made this cake at his family’s factory. The maocha was hand picked from 100+ year old Mengku tea trees, hand processed, and stone pressed.

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Composed of a nice balance of stems, broken leaf, full leaf and bud sets, the cake smells fresh, vivid. Traces of rice powder, meadow and a distant spice complement this base. Compression is medium-firm, easily allowing leaf removal with the deft use of the trusty puerh pick.

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Moistened leaves give off a heightened fragrance of roasted rice powder in the gaiwan.

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Entering the mouth, its youthful effervescent nature hits the back of the tongue, and engages the hard palate. The tea sits quickly in the throat, and at the front of tongue and hard palate during the beginning of the session before expanding fully into the cavity.

Notes of fir, powdered rice, meadow, and latent delicate flowers mingle with peripheral minor notes that radiate and fade the length of the 12+ steeps. The full profile of this Silver Buds tea has a gentle incense-like quality that I have noted in a few other Mengku area teas, and of which I am rather fond.

The mouth feel becomes increasingly full, rounded, and possessive of a humid stickiness.

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The ku moves in distinct stages, touching first on the hard palate and entrance of the throat, then pushes out from back to front along the sides of the tongue.

Brown sugar sweetness develops in accent to the main body of the tea. Rising from the trenches of the mouth, it never becomes sickly or flatly sweet. It floods the excess salivation.

The lingering ability of the tea between cups increases across the length of the session. As of the thirteenth steep, the mouth is fully coated with aromatics that are pushing out from the throat. It stays at length after the last cup.

The qi sinks gracefully into the chest, building in expanse from the base of the neck to below the rib cage. It is not heavy. The energy is pleasing and calming, feeling natural and elegant.

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By the end, the chest is fully warmed, the throat feels fresh, and the sinuses are clear.

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It was a pleasing return after a little over two weeks off from drinking tea.

This 357g cake sells for $52 US at Tea Urchin, which seems a good price for a very solid cake.

Steeping listening: Harold Budd/Elizabeth Fraser/Robin Guthrie/Simon Raymonde: The Moon And The Melodies

Zhi Zheng.Song Bing Dao 2011

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I was quite fortunate to have received a sample of a 2011 spring Zhi Zheng.Song Bing Dao some time back with an order of 2012 JingMai and Kong Shan Xin Yu cakes. The latter of which, I would like to once again state, is an assured highlight of their spring pressings, and worth a sample at the very least.

I have enjoyed a couple of sessions, courtesy of this sample, over the past few weeks. The last of this leaf found its way to the cha pan yesterday, and finally yielded what i felt was a long overdue post.

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The pasture heavy dry xiang qi exhibited a faded trace of tobacco. Once humid, the pasture aromatics intensified, and the tobacco developed muskiness.

Initial liquors offered a complex herbaceous profile rounded out with hints of dried floral and aromatic woods. Complementary notes developed by the third steep which existed somewhere between the sharpness of cracked peppercorn and the soft sweetness of long pepper. Each subsequent steep exhibited gradual increases in depth and increasingly reminded of the aroma of Sorig Tibetan incense.

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The ku shifted in its placement throughout the session. First present between the underside of the tongue and the base of the mouth cavity, it progressed to the sides of the tongue and finally resolved itself at the top of the throat. It also engaged the hard palate and opened the sinus cavity.

The mid to back of the tongue became lightly numb.

The hui gan appeared first from the top of the throat and low soft palate, sinking deeper until it rose from the clavicle into the trenches of the mouth cavity. A fir-like cooling appeared and edged the tongue. The sweet and complex aftertaste lingered at considerable length following the last cup.

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The energy unleashed from these leaves first nagged at the forehead and warmed the scalp, leaving it dampened. It weighted at the back of the neck before sinking into the chest and abdomen where it warmed excessively throughout the 15 plus steeps, most notably at the solar plexus.

The tea was fully penetrating.

It was sad to finish the last of this Bing Dao. Each session increased my awareness of its’ inherent characteristics. The more I came to understand it, the more I became attached. And I still feel as if there are many elements I have yet to experience.

Many thanks again to Mark, for the generous sample.

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An interesting bit of autumn Yi Bang mao cha

An interesting bit of Yi Bang autumn mao cha recently came into my possession following an order from Tea Urchin.

Eugene had noted in a confirmation email that he had included a last-minute sample from Yi Bang with my order. A nice bit of timing that… Apparently it was a bit of an outlier among the four other autumn mao cha blind tasted, and he was the only one to enjoy it.

When he also mentioned in the same email that it was strong and smoky, I must admit it worried me a bit. While I greatly enjoy high quality Zhengshan Xiaozhong; ‘smoked’ flavors otherwise do not always agree with me. If not done well, it can easily lean-to the side of being vile, and frankly, nauseating.

As I opened the sample bag for the first time, strong smoked aromatics unabashedly flooded the sinus. It was, admittedly, a little overwhelming… yet uniquely thrilling. A faint trace of dark fruit was also detected in the background following a few deep inhalations.

The mao cha, as obvious from the photo above, was gorgeous. Lengthy stems, single to two-leaf bud sets, and full large leaves mingled freely. The measure of leaves placed in the warmed gaiwan appeared as a cluster of Daddy Long Leg spiders attempting to escape.

The mouth feel of the liquor was surprisingly light, yet generous and penetrating. It easily coated the full cavity in shadowy notes of smoked forest and ripened vegetation. A touch of indefinable otherness persisted on the tongue from beginning to end.

Later steeps offered the mouth low fruit notes nosed in the dry leaf.

A gentle cooling coated the tongue at intervals throughout the session.

This mao cha was vibrant, expressive, and engaged the palates of the mouth with thick banding sensations. It sat within the throat nicely, intermittently warming and cooling.

The body felt the tea quickly. The skin became feverish, near to damp within a handful of steeps. It calmed, yet kept the mind alert and focused.

A peat-like sweetness lingered at length across the back of the tongue, trenches of the mouth, and top of the throat following the final cup. The front of the tongue and hard palate carried mineral and vegetal remnants. Bittersweet notes hung at the soft palate.

It was surprisingly enjoyable, when considering my initial fear. I found myself wanting more of it later the next day, should that be any sort of endorsement. And for myself, it is.

I am not certain at the time of writing if there are intentions of pressing cakes, but I imagine it would find itself a healthy fan base. Fans of smoked and savory profiles in puerh, or the various levels of Zhengshan available would assuredly find a dear friend in this leaf.

Thanks again to Eugene for the gift, and the unique opportunity.