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.

1950s Pu Tian Gong Qing with a friend

This morning as I rummaged through various bags of samples and small quantities of aged puerh searching for my teas of the day, I happened upon the 50’s Pu Tian Gong Qing Liu Bao from Essence of Tea. It was one I had ordered a small quantity to accompany the purchase of the book noted in its product description, Lao Liu Bao Tu (Pictures Of Old Liu Bao Tea).

(I emailed David asking if there was anyway possible for him to get a copy of the book for me before I had even ordered the tea. Happily he could, and now stocks the title on the site. It is a gorgeous book of photos and text. I urge anyone with even a passing interest in liu bao to grab a copy.)

I had one session with it previously; today, it was time to share the remainder with a friend.

My friend/co-worker/tea-pal TK and I have so far only drank together at work. And so, we tend toward the good to great cooked pu, and oolongs of various stripes. Every now and then, we take in the odd new cake or a less complex aged puerh, but rarely at-home quiet-time teas. I guess it was time to break our unspoken rule.

He, somehow, caught sight of the bag before I could surprise him with it. He was notably excited as he anticipated the first cup to land on his desk. (TK seems to have a sixth sense for these things, as he spied the 70s Jiang Chen from across the room when I brought it in the first time.)

As I poured the first steep, and a golden halo edged the broth, it was clear that I had made a good decision.

Possessed of all the lovely medicinal and earthy tones looked for in a good liu bao, it carries with it an added heaviness and tone which is assuredly a product of its age. The broth was abundantly thick in the mouth from the first sip. TK suggested it was gelatinous in feel; I couldn’t have agreed with him more.

We paced the tea out to absorb its energy slowly, as I recalled that it sets deeply into the body –my first exchange with this liu bao left me barely functional for an hour or so after the last cup.

Between the two of us –starting in the morning– we steeped the leaves for all they had in them.

TK came over with a tea-crazed sort of look –which I assuredly was also sporting– following a series of morning and then post-lunch steeps, asking if he could take it for another. I had to tell him that I hadn’t even gotten to it yet following my lunch.

I had then accidentally left the leaves steeping for an hour or so while on an errand. Upon return, I assumed the broth would be undrinkable. What I hadn’t expected was one of the most heavy and sweet broths of my portion of the session.

I brought the filled pot into TK for its last steep, and left it on his desk. It’s always sad to see the good old ones come to an end, and that was its last sigh.

It mattered little as the mouth was left feeling saturated with oils and essences which lingered ad infinitum. I carried traces of its heavy, nutty sweetness on the tongue hours after my last steep. As I type, I swear it still lingers along the soft palate. Perhaps, this is a trick of the mind.

This type of tea isn’t exactly taken for its endless complexity; which is frankly fine by me. What is important is its aged qi and the elegant sweetness that haunt the mind and body. Yeah, I know, that reads like a load of waffle, but it is what it is, and this liu bao is assuredly rather special.

Taken with a dear friend only elevates it that much higher.

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.

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)