A tale of three Nan Nuo

With the sudden flush of Nan Nuo puerh I found myself in the company of –following receipt of a 2012 Zhi Zheng.Song Nan Nuo Zi Di cake sample. I thought it was time to tackle the comparative review.

The three teas in question:

2012 Zhi Zheng.Song Nan Nuo ‘Ji Di’

2011 Essence Of Tea NanNuo (sourced near Douizhai)

2012 NanNuo Qing Mian brick sold by Bana Tea

I wasn’t initially certain if it was fair to compare the EoT and ZZ.S as they were from different years. However, as they shared some similar characteristics, it seemed relatively acceptable. Do take this year variation into consideration when reading the observations.

First, the Zhi Zheng.Song.

The nose of the dry leaf was fresh, flush with the inevitable scents of meadow often found in young puerh. Placing the leaves into the warmed pot provoked intensification of the aroma, further rounded out by a gentle sweetness, nestled deep and barely detectable.

As the first broth entered the mouth it felt quite vaporous, elusive. That said, it did, however, leave a notable impression in the wake of its descent into the throat. It lingered on the tongue, with a forward focus.

A sweet aromatic clung to the air surrounding the just steeped second broth, and served as foreshadow.

By the second and third steeps bittersweet citrus notes hung gently in the hollow of the mouth. They would fall, pooling, into the pockets behind the lower jaw. The mid-point of the hard palate exhibited a strong focal point of cooling which pushed its way into the sinus cavity.

The sixth and seventh steeps revealed a sticky sweetness at the back of the mouth and entrance to the throat. My brow had become considerably heavy at this point. The core increasingly warm.

Its full flavor profile proved difficult to describe, then and now. A sort of ‘otherness’, with a confounding trait of spice that nags at my brain still.

Approaching the eleventh steeping the mouth feel turned soothing and glossy. The dominant profile became quite ethereal, a series of waxing and waning washes of floral and citrus, and that damned hidden spice.

Sweetness continued to increasingly gather at the back of the mouth. Deep inhalations fill the chest with the soft citrus aromatics. Upon exhalation they pushed out from deep within the throat, and penetrated into the sinus cavity through the soft palate.

The tea’s nature had fully sank into the chest with the 18th steep. I had decided on the purchase of a full cake at this point as it had effectively ticked all the boxes of things I look for in a tea.

We now come to the Essence Of Tea NanNuo sourcing from 2011.

The nose of the dry leaf here was far softer, more like a green tea in its gentleness with highlights of pale woodiness and a streak of citrus.

The softness of this aroma carried over nicely into the sweet grassy profile of the first few steeps. The liquor settled into the mouth with a generously buttery smoothness. Where the Zhi Zheng.Song initially focused forward, this tea focused at the back of the tongue and pockets of the mouth.

A cooling sensation streaked the length of the meeting point of the soft and hard palates, and filled the arch of the soft palate.

Its energy sat at the brow, though not with quite the same strength as noted in the Zhi Zheng.Song.

As the session progressed a glossiness developed in the mouth, as did a slight drying sensation which appeared greatly at the back of the lips. A floral and citrus sweetness began to extend into the throat as I rounded the eighth and ninth steeps. There was also a similar curious spice note suspended in the mouth, once again reluctant to name itself.

The beauty of this tea was the liquor’s density, and its delivery of a heavy sweetness. The latter of which seemed to seep out generously from the corners of the mouth by later steeps.

It was clean, humble, albeit, seemingly a touch one-dimensional. It didn’t evolve as successfully as the younger Zhi Zheng.Song offering, nor was it as expressive in the mouth or body. Could this be the year variable? Or, is it purely the village variable. Regardless, it remains a delicate and beautiful tea.

We now come to the NanNuo Ming Qian offered by Bana Tea.

The nose of the dry, rather fragmented, leaf was closer to the Zhi Zheng.Song. It offered further extensions of faint floral aromatics, and a more pronounced sweetness.

The flavor of the steeped liquor then shifted toward the Essence Of Tea offering; pure, fresh, grassy. It also presented a sweet, soft, buttery sensation that quickly enveloped the mouth. The nature of the tea sent floods of elegant sweetness into the arch of the mouth, pushing gently at the soft palate.

A faint cooling developed in the mouth by the third and fourth steeps. Glossiness was felt, though muted by comparison to the heightened sensation found in both of the previous teas. A notable drying developed at the sides of the tongue and the points of contact at the palate by the fifth and sixth steeps.

And then, in heartbreaking fashion, successive steeps yielded little in the way of texture or movement in the mouth. The body feel was relatively faint. Its’ remaining attribute was the protracted sweetness that returned in the mouth.

It would seem that the chopped nature of the leaf had something to do with its short life in the pot. The leaves unleashed everything within a few quick steeps, and then gave up the ghost. The Young Jade Ming sample previously encountered performed wonderfully by comparison, so perhaps it’s due to the fragile nature of the Nan Nuo characteristics. Whatever the case, it seems like the tea would have otherwise been of note.

This was an enjoyable exploration of three different sourcings from Nan Nuo Shan, with multiple variables, ending with the discovery of a much preferred cake from the bunch.

With Newt now continuously stamping across my keyboard, and swatting at my screen, this post must come to a close.

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High Mountain Song Zhong from Tea Urchin

Following a successive string of rather uninspiring tea’s last weekend, I took a few days off from serious drinking in hopes of clearing the mind and the palate.

Today, I decided to change gears a bit and took a second run at a High Mountain Song Zhong sample Eugene and Belle of Tea Urchin kindly gifted me with a recent cake order. I had certainly enjoyed this tea on my first exchange. Today, however, it was something altogether quite special.

I’ve not written about oolong tea previously on this site. And I had really only taken the occasional note here and there over the course of the years I actively romanced them before falling head over heels for puerh. So bear with me a bit here… though it was like rekindling an old love affair, the words weren’t coming easily.

The nose of the dry leaf was heady with melon and stone fruits, rounded out with a dark honey sweetness and traces of never-to-be-named flowers. Aromatic oils visibly streaked the first steep of liquor like clusters of veins.

As the first sip entered the mouth, it blanketed the mouth. Its’ essences quickly reached deep into the throat, and flooded the lungs within the first two cups. Honestly, and not to sound corny, it was exhilirating.

Yielded broths moved with deftness in the mouth as the exchange progressed, alternating between high and glossy, to low and dense, often within a single cup. Its complexity intensified with grace, developing an intriguing pine like note –what my head suggested at any rate– at the meeting point of the palates. This note gradually filled and perforated the soft palate, reaching gently into the sinus cavity.

A full sweetness lingered on the tongue and pushed through the teeth.

I pushed these leaves easily in excess of 15 steeps. They never once hinted at any bitterness. Around the 18 mark even though they produced what was greatly honey sweetened water, shadows of their former selves lingered in the background. Essences still blossomed in the mouth, which now felt purified.

It was nice to find contentedness with a tea once again following a long week of disappointment. I have Eugene and Belle to thank.

Meng Song, Fengqing, ennui

Sunday was not a good tea day.

I had returned the previous evening following three days in New York attending the 30th anniversary performances of a long-standing favorite label, touch. While on the grueling bus ride home, I had started to look forward to engaging with a couple of teas the following day.

I had recent, but brief, enjoyable exchanges with both of the following detailed. Each session never made it past a few steeps due to distractions and time constraints. Today, however, was more far more revealing in both cases.

I decided to start the day with a mini cake from Meng Song Man LV. The attention was quickly grabbed once again with its creamy mouth feel, delivered via a delicate green flavor profile. Flashes of grapefruit/citrus tartness prodded at the soft palate and suggested a rounding out of its simple, yet enjoyable, nature by the third and fourth steeps. An interesting series of cooling patterns flecked the tongue and mouth cavity, and pushed into the sinuses. And then unfortunately, from there, it went shockingly flat. By the sixth steep I had to push it for all it was worth, to which it yielded nothing more than one-dimensional sweetness. It was nice while it lasted.

Later in the day I chose to have another go with a Fengqing from 2006. The dry leaves of the sample provided a nosing full of dried fruits, powder and hints of forest floor. A hint of aging appeared in the aroma as the leaves entered the warmed pot. Once again, the tea presented a buttery, creamy mouth feel courtesy of a nicely sweet, faintly aged, liquor that draped across the tongue. A pleasant bouquet of perfume notes settled into the back of the mouth. Drying appeared at the top of the throat and at the inside of the lips, yet salivation had increased beneath the tongue. A cooling sensation developed at the tip of the tongue, followed by a gentle numbing similar to a personal god of mine, the Sichuan peppercorn. This tea, however, followed suit of the Meng Song from earlier in the day and faded greatly around the seventh or so steep. It had become quite thin, lacked in any of its initial complexity, and struggled to hold my interest. The leaves went out into the field. Hmmph.

I have had many an unfortunate tea session in my time, but twice in one day was a bit of a downer when I had anticipated quite the opposite.

Worse still is that I have done no better over the past couple of days. From a disappointing first round with a 2004 Yunnan Treasure on Monday, to a passable 2006 Southeast Asia Puerh Trade Memorial Cake… I seem unable to connect at present. And perhaps the problem is greatly that, I am not finding what I am looking for.

I have felt my mind recently wandering back to oolong tea a bit, which I find interesting. I had lost my way with them some time back before puerh took full hold of my attention. Essence Of Tea’s 1970s Pinglin brought me back a bit, but I strayed from the path too quickly. I have been actively flirting with the 1960s Shui Xian carried at Mandarin’s Tea Room, so perhaps I need to finally commit. And I still have the 1985 Shui Xian from Essence Of Tea sitting in on a special shelf in the house, which I need to finally dig into.

I suppose I need to re-loosen my margins a bit.

Yes, Sunday was not a good tea day, but the need for the exceptional continues to move me forward. And, there are those lovely looking Jingmai and Mangjing cakes that just arrived from Bannacha giving me eyes from the shelf as I type. Well, hellloooo…

2012 Chawangpu Jingmai Gu Shu Xiao Bing Cha

I stumbled upon the Cha Wang Shop last year while searching for Gao Shan Zhai puerh. For some odd reason –even though I was searching for such teas– I didn’t buy their spring production from this area at the time. Quite sadly, it sold out before I came to my senses. I made a vow at the time that I would sample their 2012 sourcings with intent to follow with a cake or tong if the tea was quality.

I have since bought one of the remaining samples of the Bada Da Shu Xiao Bing –full bings sold out over a month back. I also ordered a cake of their Jingmai Gu Shu Xiao at the same time along with a handful of miscellaneous producer samples, and a Liu Bao cake. I suppose it was rather foolish to order a full cake without sampling first, considering I had yet to try any of their house productions.

Luckily for me, I chose wisely on this one.

The leaves come from Jingmai Da Zhai, Da Ping Zhang area. You can read Honza’s blog post on the sourcing, here.

The cake itself is beautifully composed of two and three bud sets, full leaves, the odd stem here and there. All of which are quite easy to prize off in preparation for steeping. My anxious pick yielded very little in the way of residual fannings.

The soup is clean and quite bright in the cup, exhibiting fullness in its body. The tea enters the mouth with elegance; rounded, smooth, carrying a fleeting trace of ku that one struggles to register. It produces a distinct cooling sensation at the hard palate within the first cup. A beautiful hui gan develops without barely a second thought.

The liquor is deceptively complex, flourishes of stone-fruit, rose, lily and orchid mingle demurely beneath its predominate luster. It reaches quickly and gracefully into the throat, cooling, and then rises out to fill the full cavity of the mouth. The sensation builds as the steeps progress, becoming increasingly penetrating, pushing into the nostrils, and finally through the pores of the skin.

Briefly in later steeps, a note of white grape flashes along an invigorating background of fir needle.

The sweetness rises from the depths of the throat, generously blanketing and saturating as it moves forward.

I am now seriously considering a tong.

The occasional downside of sampling

In my currently developing quest to drink every tea possible I can get my hands on sourced from Jingmai shan, I ordered a sample of Xizihao’s 2009 ‘Spirit Of Dian’ from Hou De. This past Sunday I had my third go around with this tea, where my love for it was undeniably confirmed.

The dry leaf presented a muddle of stone-fruit, floral and spring meadow aromatics to the nose, which carried effortlessly into the first broths, generously coating the mouth and initially leaving a faint cooling sensation at the middle of the tongue.

Throughout the session the tea gestured expressively within the mouth in waves and curls. The heaviness of peach and rose pushed at the hard palate, while a cluster of minor notes –including peony, almond, lily of the valley, lilac– filled the soft palate and emanated from the throat originating at the base of the neck.

The mouth developed a glossiness and fluctuated between an elegant drying to a notable increased salivation. Moving past 10 steeps the liquor left the mouth feeling crystalline. The lips felt coated in a light wax.

The sternum became increasingly warm, and gradually moved into the full torso and shoulders. The body felt flushed, feverish, absolutely sedated.

A faint toasted note lingered shadow-like in the last few steeps.

As I pulled the leaves from the pot I noticed how tightly rolled some of them still remained. I had taken this pot easily into the middle to late teens, and apparently they still had some distance to go.

I also discovered a guest observing from the bushes.

At this point, I was more than ready to buy a full 400g cake. What a drag to then discover as I logged on to the Hou De site that it was no longer available. Saddened by the thought that I may only be able to buy a further sample or two, I fired off an email in hopes that Hou De might have one still available that they are not listing. Only time will tell.

It would be unfortunate to not be able to live with a cake of this tea, and experience its aging at greater length. It seems to have a potential future trace of the Evening Fragrant Jade cake in its younger leaves.

Should anyone be able to give information on how to get a full cake, I would be greatly appreciative.