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.

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A Man Zhuan from spring 2012

It’s odd that the first cake I had in my possession from Tea Urchin’s spring 2012 productions is one of the last about which I have written.

I’m a highly moody individual. Blame it on all the formative years influence of Gary Numan, Blondie, Donna Summer and Soft Cell. My mood dictates everything. If I am not “feeling” something, it is best not to bother. It could be the penultimate Rene Redzepi creation sitting on my plate, and my nose would turn up at it if I wasn’t in the mental space for it. And such was the case with this cake.

I had my first taste of this Man Zhuan as mao cha. I think it was barely a month old at that point. It was remarkably sweet, clean, almost transparent in its lightness, and incredibly lively. It seemed like it had the potential to be a winner in the collection.

As soon as the pressed cakes were with Eugene and Belle, I ordered one. And then it arrived, and it sat. It moved from one shelf to the next. Under a Gua Feng Zhai, next to a Gao Shan Zhai, in a box while moving, endlessly shifting its seat waiting for me to pay it some attention.

As I recently stumbled across my little stash of the remaining mao cha, I realized that I hadn’t yet actually tasted the cake. Whatever the subconscious reason for my negligence, it finally felt like the right time to take my trusty puerh cha pick to it.

The cake itself was highly aromatic straight out of the wrapper. It was ‘high’, fresh, incredibly sweet. Initial cupped broths carried these aromatics over into the mouth as a gentle blur of sweet grass, hay and buttery mixed floral notes. Its vibrancy was unmistakable upon the tongue and at the soft palate.

As the energy of the leaves slowly opened in the pot across the first few steeps, the profile grew increasingly full and lingering in the mouth. Thick sweetness started to push out of the throat and into the pockets of the mouth cavity by the fourth and fifth steeps. Liquors became nicely coating, and pleasingly rounded.

The surfaces of the mouth were increasingly slicked in oil, most notably at the upper palate where it felt buffed to a high gloss. A cooling developed at the gums. Tart complexities developed within the heavy sweetness later in the session before the leaves wound down and fizzled out.

The tea slowly settled into the body during the session. The core became increasingly warmed, the skin dampened and cooled upon evaporation. Its energy contributed nicely to the session.

Though I did a side by side tasting, I won’t bore you with the mao cha versus pressed cake comparison at this point as I had originally intended. The former had matured enough that the ‘now’ similarities are too great. I wish I had taken detailed notes of it when it was fresh, because at that point it was a mere tracing of what this cake is now.

While this Man Zhuan didn’t possess the penetrating qi of other favorite Tea Urchin productions, it was still a notable and rather humble cake. It was surprisingly engaging, and not one to be overlooked in their selection. It is also priced at a cost conscious pleasing $54 US dollars.

A 2011 Nan Nuo ‘Ji Di’ from Zhi Zheng.Song

A while back I posted my tasting notes for three Nan Nuo area village sourced puerh cakes. While less a competition and more a compare and contrast review, I did come away with a clear favorite.

Following the post, Mark from Zhi Zheng made note in an email that the leaves of their 2012 sourcing came from Ban Po Lao Zhai, and that he would now send me a sample of their 2011 pressing for comparison.

The dry leaf of the 2011 ‘Ji Di’ was pungent, herbal, citric tinged, and meadow-like. The liquor read fuller in the mouth, yet vibrant on the tongue. It offered deep-toned, complex and penetrating liquors. As in the 2012, sweet grasses and meadow flowers composed the outer edges of its profile, but by measure, felt more dramatic here.

The full profile of the 2012 remained elusive throughout my sessions due to a nagging spice note. With the 2011, it was defined as clove with a measure of cardamom. I also detected what registered as a distant hum of camphor across a couple of steeps. The spice notes built a ‘cooling’ sensation at the hard palate and inner upper lip.

Sweetness was once again significant, here laden with clove and wild fennel pollen essences.

The weight of the tea pushed into the throat and left a cooling sensation as it continued further.

Its’ nature was more pronounced in the mouth cavity. Where the 2012 felt as color washes, the 2011 felt weighted into the forward of the soft palate and at the middle of the tongue.

A profound narcotic feeling lingered in my body. The head and limbs felt heavy. My vision was a bit ‘off’ for a brief period after the last cup. It seemed as if my eyes were moving rapidly, and the focus had become trailed at the edges.

It would be difficult for me to choose a favorite from the two Zhi Zheng.Song Nan Nuo offerings, as they were both immensely enjoyable in their own rights. However, tasting and experiencing the development already taking place in the 2011 as it has aged in Jinghong was revealing. And to Mark, I am thankful for that opportunity.

I can’t recommend these cakes enough considering my experiences with them.

2011 Mr. Feng Zhi Qing Dao He from Essence Of Tea

With the recent purchase of a Chen Ju Fang Ming Yuan Luo Han Zini Yixing pot from Essence Of Tea came a gift. A sample of a Menghai sourced ‘Zhi Qing Dao He’ puerh cake composed of mao cha from 2008, 2010, and 2011. This from a new line they now sell produced by, Mr. Feng.

According to Mr. Feng: “This tea mountain is in Menghai region at an altitude of around 1700-1900m. I think the trees are around 200-400 years old, some of the trees are even older, but I’m not a scientist, so I can’t tell you the exact age. The village has 6-8 families. They have Han, Hani and Lahu minorities. The tea trees belong to 3 different minorities.

As I sniffed the dry leaf, a heavily aromatic muddle of dried and ripe dark fruits settled into meadow fragrances. Once wetted, the leaves sweetened to ripe apricots, and tender grasses.

True to its product description, the first proper steep post-rinse presented little more than faintly sweet water. From there, however, the tea progressed nicely across the session.

Yielded broths presented a healthy surface tension in the cup, courtesy of a notably thick body.

The aromatics of the dry leaf carried into the liquor with its penetrating foundation of fruit tones. A whisper of smoke presented during the second and third steeps, along a note of butter and a faint trace of camphor. In later cups, floral notes, grain, and earthy mushrooms provided fleeting accents to the progressions between ripe and dried fruits in the dominant profile.

Honey sweetness secreted from the tongue by the seventh and eighth steeps.

Ripened meadow fruits altered to traits of dried as the buttery note once again came to fore before the leaves went flat. The final two cups tasted high and thin, with a base of waxed wood. The lid of the pot, however, still carried honey and sweet grass.

The initial movements of the tea were confined to the back of the tongue and mouth before filling the full cavity. The tea managed to push into the throat to the base of the neck.

A satisfying amount of vibrancy was present in the broth. It shifted from the forward arch of the soft palate, to the hard palate, and then opened up the sinus cavity.

The mixture of leaves from different years –2008, 2010, 2011– assuredly contributed to its progressions. The dominant foundation, however, prevented it from reading as disjointed, at least for me. I found it to be greatly enjoyable. It would be interesting to track how it develops in the coming 10 – 20 years considering the year variables in leaf composition.

The 357g cake now sells for 46 pounds sterling –roughly 74 US dollars. There are three other Mr. Feng cakes available on the site, which all look highly promising.

I thank David and Kathy for the gifted sample.

2009 high-fired roasted Nan Tou Fo Shou from Hou De

With the realization that a bit more balance was necessary in the cup, my attentions of recent have turned back to an old love of mine. As such, arriving packages have been a touch puerh deficient, oolong heavy. New additions to the table have come from Hou De, Postcard Teas, and Tea Habitat. A Tea Masters blog selection order is currently winding its way to a rather anxious me.

I had thought of returning to the ‘fold’ several times over the past couple of years. Yet I felt as if I had betrayed old friends after falling so deeply into the puerh wormhole that they would refuse me upon return. And why shouldn’t they? I had all but stopped paying them any attention, even browsing vendor selections had come to a screeching halt.

My fear seemed realized when my first handful of sessions yielded nightmarish steeping results. Too much leaf, too little leaf, etc. it seemed as if my memory had attempted to draw from ancient unknown history.

It was the most anticipated, a 2009 Nan Tou Fo Shou from Hou De, where I really missed the steeping mark. So much so that I decided it was best to put it aside for a while to focus my attentions on newer, less temperamental acquisitions that required only slight adjustments.

This past Monday as the rain and wind increased through the morning hours, and we waited for hurricane Sandy to fully arrive and pass here in the North East, the Fo Shou found itself once again in the pot. What was once read as a dimensionless cup of bitter roasted charcoal, however, had now become pleasingly complex and well-balanced. It seemed the ways of old love are never completely forgotten.

Scents of biscuit, dried dark fruits, and smoked wood rose from the pot. Once poured, its broth was notably thick and clean in the cup. The body of the liquor in the mouth was full, complex, penetrating. It sat notes of caramelized walnuts and malt in the mid of the cavity. A roasted backdrop of baked currants, and ripe-berry-leaning coffee essences hung from the back of the soft palate into the top of the throat. Cooling sensations developed quickly at the front of the mouth and the lips, and blossomed into the sinus cavity.

It exhibited an engaging mid level acidity, which contributed to the full profile. The warmth of its roasted aromatics moved deep into the throat and intensified with inhalations, on exhalations it suggested a cooling like warm skin coming into contact with cool air. The strength of its roast also clung to the hard palate and front teeth at various stages during the session.

A malty sweetness settled into the curvature of the soft palate as the roasted foundation began to dissipate by later steeps. At this point the liquor began to take on faint cinnamon and root-like medicinal tones as the session winded down.

The cha qi of this Fo Shou set gradually, yet deeply, into the body. I found it quite easy to drift. I felt calm, euphoric, near to feverish as I finished this successful exchange.

Its essence lingered in the mouth and throat for considerable time after the final cup –easily in excess of an hour– though I didn’t take note to when it had fully dissipated. The body returned to normalcy in a shorter period of less than an hour. At a mere $17.50 for 2oz. this tea provides in excess of its price. I couldn’t recommend it more to those with a taste for elegant roasting in their oolong.