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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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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