Chan’s Thousand Charm 2011 meets Akio Suzuki

I have enjoyed a run of decidedly gentle and rather elegant teas of recent –well, and one truly pedestrian aged tea that left me greatly frustrated. From the 2012 Qi Sheng Gu from Essence Of Tea, to a 2012 Jingmai shan sourcing from Zhi Zheng, and now the 2011 Chan’s Thousand Charm from Bana. This latest –a Vesper Chan supervised production from hundreds of year old trees within the forests of Lincang– was graciously gifted by Linda Louie as a sample with an order.

As experienced with the leaves from other Vesper Chan curated cakes, the dry aroma is extraordinarily pleasing. The nose is a beautiful foundation of meadow heavily accented with overtones of stone fruits. Carrying into the warmed gaiwan, this scent blossoms to an even greater degree with the first measure of water poured on to the leaves post-rinse.

While substantial in cup appearance, the liquor is ethereal in the mouth, yet filling and complex. A gentle liveliness is quickly present on the tongue.

Throughout the ten plus steeps, expressive notes of fruits and green radiate and recede, quite similar to the visual of the ‘Breath’ video animation by Iranian artist Shirazeh Houshiary.

Latter broths seem to evaporate upon contact with the mouth, existing only as sensation.

The throat warms with inhalations, and cools upon exhalation. As this sensation rises from the throat it fills the back of the mouth before pushing forward and pressing against the back of the lips. It remains at the soft palate throughout, fluctuating with intensity.

The energy of this tea is notable, and arguably its most significant attribute. It develops at the shoulders first, increasing in heaviness. As it spreads, the neck thickens, the arms and legs become weighted down, and the chest feels swollen. When it finally moves into the head, the eyes feel drowsy beneath weighted lids.

A gentle drying develops at the front of the mouth as the leaves fade.

This tea is a study in softness, though far removed from simple or insubstantial. If you’re predominantly interested in tea with the ability to knock you clean off your chair, it would be best to look elsewhere. It possesses a character that will be found elusive to the drinker who expects, or is inattentive.

Akio Suzuki’s ‘NA-GI’ 1997, which I believe translates as <calm>, served as the perfect foil.

Essence Of Tea Bulang 2012, and Morton Feldman

Aside

When Essence Of Tea announced its 2012 cakes, I was in the midst of attempting to control my buying habits. (Translation: my tea buying had gotten out of control –if that is actually possible– of which my back account kindly reminded me.) After much consideration, I decided on the QiShengGu (about which Bev posted), and the Bangwei 33 (about which Hobbes recently posted). When the QiShengGu arrived, with it came a sample of their Bulang offering for the year, which was a pleasant surprise.

Saturday as the humidity began to lift, and the rain began to move out, it seemed a good time to have a first-impression-exchange with this sample/gift.

The first steep post rinse, and rest, filled the mouth with sweet notes of damp pasture, grass, composting flowers and touches of fruit –an intensified extension of the dry leaf aroma. A trace of toasted rice powder lingered on the tongue and gaiwan lid. I have to admit, the first couple of broths seemed rather meek, which had me worrying. While I certainly don’t mind tea’s that are exercises in subtle elegance, I had genuinely hoped for a little punchiness in the mouth on this occasion.

My concerns found themselves alleviated when the leaves awoke with the third application of water. As the broth entered the mouth it finally delivered the anticipated dose of pungent ku I had waited for, and provoked a bit of ‘sour-face’ squinting at the brow. A subtle tingling marked the tongue. I couldn’t have been happier.

The broth was pleasingly full in the mouth with a placed focus on the soft palette. The building ku expanded forward from here into the full mouth cavity. Salivation started to increase and pushed out from the sides of the tongue. The mouth and upper throat moved toward an increasingly harmonious state. A vaporous cooling developed on the tongue and muzzle of the face. The hui gan began to arrive in fits and starts.

Approaching the later point of the session, a gentle astringent note briefly developed on the lips and entrance of the throat. It is also here where the inside of the mouth suggested being fitted with a band of bitterness at the meeting point of the soft and hard palates. I first experienced this curiously pronounced sensation with a 2008 Hai Lang Hao Lao Ban Zhang/Lao Man’E. While in this instance it was far less pronounced without the boost provided by Lao Man’E leaves, it was notably present.

The energy seemed to pull at the face. The neck and shoulders became heavy. The chest also felt heavy and swollen with energy. The abdomen was damp.

When the leaves finally gave up their sweetness, it was complex and heavy with brown sugar. It pushed the lingering bitterness from the sinus and throat, leaving the latter feeling swollen. A trace of flowers was now found on the lid.

As the leaves faded and produced nothing more than sweet water, my exchange with the tea came to an end. This 2012 Bulang was gracious and well-heeled by comparison to the full fury assault provided by some tea’s I have had from this mountain range. It was a lovely tea that left me considering a full cake.

While priced at 71 pounds sterling for 400g (in the area of 112 US dollars); when considering the use of 10 g of leaves to 150 ml, with a minimum yield of 10 steeps per session… (I managed about 15 or so on this run with it.) .28 cents per steep just doesn’t seem all that bad.

steeping listening: Morton Feldman: Piano and String Quartet (1985)

Zhi Zheng Kong Shan Xin Yu spring 2012

Just a few days before moving house, I received a parcel pick up notification in my mailbox. I thought this rather odd as I hadn’t placed any recent orders, well, at least that I hadn’t already received. The only information provided on the slip was point of origin, China.

The following morning I made my way to the post office to sign for, and pick up this mystery package. What a surprise to discover as I tore away the tape sealing the box that it was a set of 2012 spring samples from Zhi Zheng. A Jing Mai, a Wan Gong, a clutch of Cha Wang Shu mao cha, and lastly a Kong Shan Xin Yu.

Today as the heat had just started to set in, I turned to the Kong Shan Xin Yu sitting humbly at the back of my stash of samples.

Upon opening the bag, the nose is greeted by a distinctive floral aroma that is nothing short of elegant. Quite honestly, I could sniff the bag all day.

With the rinse and leaves rested, I prepare the first steeping. Of immediate note as the broth enters the mouth is how the tea possesses the finest sort of ku acting as a backbone upon which the other notes are built. It is provocative and engaging, never overwhelming. It is fleeting in the mouth, giving way to a generous softness. A subtle cooling follows on the tongue and pushes at the front of the mouth cavity.

This tea provides a clean, notably glossy feeling in the mouth. I have noted this before in at least two other teas of recent, the Naka from Che Ma Xuan, and the Bing Dao from Legends Of Puer. Needless to say, I am a fan of this effect.

The ever prominent floral notes of this Kong Shan Xin Yu intensify throughout the session, becoming more rounded and descending into the throat as I move forward through later steeps. The liquor warms its full length down into the chest. The slightest astringent effect appears at the back of the mouth and at the top of the throat before a rose-sugared almond sweetness rises in its wake, enveloping the mouth. It pushes into the base of the cavity, and then focuses on the forward third of the tongue.

The eyes begin to feel as if they are receding into the heaviness of my brow. The upper body is excessively warm and relaxed. I am quite ready for an afternoon summer nap at this point as this tea lingers in the mouth for quite some time following the last cup.

The spent leaves pictured here show bud sets, full leaves, stems, some torn leaf, a little touch of wok burn here and there; a beautiful cup of leaves in other words.

I have grown to greatly enjoy my sessions outside with teas over the past couple of weeks with the increased amount of green space around me, and this was no exception. Where once a small yard flanked by several roads lurked just outside of my windows; a larger yard now occupies the front and sides of the house, and a large graveyard sits just behind. (This has also become where I now keep my little compost pile of spent leaves. It seems rather fitting.)

I may have once desired the city life, but now as I settle into my early 40’s I find I have little patience for it all. Life in the sticks just doesn’t seem all that bad now…

She’s also settling in quite nicely…

(note: The last I checked, none of the 2012 spring cakes have yet to début on the site. I am certain they will shortly. h\However from what Mark suggested in an email, only certain cakes will appear online, the rest will only be available at their physical shop.)

Update for September 8, 2012: Zhi Zheng have now listed the Kong Shan Xin Yu. The cake can be found here.

2011 spring Lao Ban Zhang and AUN

This Lao Ban Zhang cake came to me following a fortunate exchange of emails, and is a purchase of which I remain extremely grateful for. This is a spring 2011 Tea Urchin sourcing. You can find a blog entry on this sourcing, here. 

As I unfurl the knotted wrapper, extracting it from the dimple, an aromatic rush rises from the folds of paper. A heavy scent of pasture greets the nostrils. It is remarkably similar to the raw milk dairy farm visited just last weekend, a town over from the new residence. A note of leather lingers in its background.

The now steeping leaves give little nosing. As they come to life with subsequent doses of water throughout the session, however, their scent gradually hangs heavy in the air.

The tea gifts the mouth with a pungent and coating broth on first meeting. The tongue is alive beneath the wash of vibrant liquor. Its taste is earthy, dark, quite frankly… beautiful. It provides low to high notes, and a rounded middle.

The tea’s energy moves counter-clockwise within the mouth cavity, accumulating notable warmth at two distinct points where the hard and soft palates converge. A gentle bitterness increases with each steep, dapping the length of the tongue before pushing through these two focal points and settling into the sinus cavity. A coy note of menthol develops in tandem to the ku, shadowing its movements. The fluctuation through the palate evokes a sense of congestion followed by a flash clearing.

The tea warms into, and expands at the middle of the throat.

The brow is now weighted. My head feels filled with cotton wool, my only focus is this Lao Ban Zhang. I can think of nothing but it, desiring more of it, even as my state of calm leaves me weakened.

The leaves give, and give some more, scoffing at each further dousing of water.

As I pass the 10 steep marker, the broth is now vaporous in the mouth. It seems to barely register on the tongue, yet it lingers at the back of the mouth and pushes forth an exquisite sweetness. Swelling from beneath the tongue it intensifies, saturating the mouth, heightening salivation. The lid of the gaiwan is heavy with sugar. The hui gan is profound and lingering.

An hour on, it remains…

steeping listening: Christian Fennesz: AUN