2012 Bo Yi (搏易) Mengku Silver Buds – Spring

Let me preface this post with the following; I highly recommend NOT getting the flu.

That said, what a thrill today to finally be able to properly taste again after two weeks of nothing but nasty flu residue in the mouth. It was actually difficult to decide which tea to re-acquaint my taste buds with the concept of pleasing, as there were several on my mind.

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In the end, I seem to have chosen wisely with this Bo Yi (搏易) Mengku Silver Buds cake.

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From the product page: This cake was produced by our talented Lincang friend Mr. Chao, who produces cakes under his own label – “Bo Yi” 搏易. He showed us around Mengku in Spring 2012 and made this cake at his family’s factory. The maocha was hand picked from 100+ year old Mengku tea trees, hand processed, and stone pressed.

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Composed of a nice balance of stems, broken leaf, full leaf and bud sets, the cake smells fresh, vivid. Traces of rice powder, meadow and a distant spice complement this base. Compression is medium-firm, easily allowing leaf removal with the deft use of the trusty puerh pick.

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Moistened leaves give off a heightened fragrance of roasted rice powder in the gaiwan.

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Entering the mouth, its youthful effervescent nature hits the back of the tongue, and engages the hard palate. The tea sits quickly in the throat, and at the front of tongue and hard palate during the beginning of the session before expanding fully into the cavity.

Notes of fir, powdered rice, meadow, and latent delicate flowers mingle with peripheral minor notes that radiate and fade the length of the 12+ steeps. The full profile of this Silver Buds tea has a gentle incense-like quality that I have noted in a few other Mengku area teas, and of which I am rather fond.

The mouth feel becomes increasingly full, rounded, and possessive of a humid stickiness.

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The ku moves in distinct stages, touching first on the hard palate and entrance of the throat, then pushes out from back to front along the sides of the tongue.

Brown sugar sweetness develops in accent to the main body of the tea. Rising from the trenches of the mouth, it never becomes sickly or flatly sweet. It floods the excess salivation.

The lingering ability of the tea between cups increases across the length of the session. As of the thirteenth steep, the mouth is fully coated with aromatics that are pushing out from the throat. It stays at length after the last cup.

The qi sinks gracefully into the chest, building in expanse from the base of the neck to below the rib cage. It is not heavy. The energy is pleasing and calming, feeling natural and elegant.

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By the end, the chest is fully warmed, the throat feels fresh, and the sinuses are clear.

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It was a pleasing return after a little over two weeks off from drinking tea.

This 357g cake sells for $52 US at Tea Urchin, which seems a good price for a very solid cake.

Steeping listening: Harold Budd/Elizabeth Fraser/Robin Guthrie/Simon Raymonde: The Moon And The Melodies

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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.

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.

Che Ma Xuan Pasha

My budding love affair with Che Ma Xuan sourced cakes stemmed from correspondences with Eugene (Tea Urchin) about the NaKa region.

I have since greatly enjoyed the various cakes sampled; a BingDao, two NaKa, a MengHai, a YouLe, and now a PaSha… each lovely, each unique.

courtesy of Eugene (Tea Urchin)

courtesy of Eugene (Tea Urchin)

courtesy of Eugene (Tea Urchin)

The dry leaf of this early spring 2011 sourcing from PaSha offered what I find in a sum of youthful puerh, an intense aroma of pasture –a muddle of humid dark grass with faint traces of fruit, and hints of flowers. This PaSha offered an additional expression in the form of a vaporous smudge of candy-like sweetness.

The first yielded broths were thick in body, buttery smooth. Each contributed to the increasingly distinctive mouth feel as they dramatically bowed from the tongue into the hard palate.

As the soft palate became engaged, my mind went into overdrive scrambling to identify notes as they appeared in flashes –cherry wood, sweet tobacco, flowers of undetermined variety, menthol, spice, corn (??)… all seemed right, yet potentially incorrect.

The tea truly opened up around the 6th and 7th steeps with a penetrating sweetness. It rounded out the existing notes, filled the mouth, and reached easily into the throat. It soothed. The lips became coated with tea oils.

A latent veil of coolness began to rise from the front of the mouth into the sinus.

The considerable nature of its sweetness soldiered on well into the final cups –I took the leaves to a healthy 15 steeps.

Its energy was ever-present, built gradually, and weighed heavily on the shoulders. It calmed. The body pulsated with warmth, which was notable as cool breezes rushed in from the patio door behind me.

I fought a bit with this PaSha; not in steeping, but in defining the nuances of its flavor. It confounded me with its profile. I look forward to a session or two more –on the back of three to date– to truly define all of its subtleties. This, I am afraid, will have to wait for a cake to arrive.

It seems a potentially good tea for aging, if considered for its now complexity and vibrant nature. It is also priced nicely at $50 for a 357g cake.

Should you be interested in this PaSha, or any of the previous Che Ma Xuan cakes, please contact Eugene for samples, and or cakes.

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.

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

Gua Feng Zhai in a new space with a dose of David Bowie

It has been a little over two weeks on from my move, and I continue adjusting to the new space. As expected during this period of acclimation my tea sessions had fallen a little flat, when they happened at all. Moving was certainly a whole lot easier when I was younger before I had accumulated an inordinate amount of records and books. It seems our possessions have a way of sneaking up on us in the night, don’t they?

Today, I found myself more at peace with my new surroundings, even coupled with it being surprisingly hot here in Northern Massachusetts. While I normally tend to thrive in the heat, it did manage to throw me off a bit today. It felt downright nuclear on my patio during my preparation of the first steeping. It was barely noon. With that said, today still ended up being a good tea day.

If you’ll remember from my last post, I made note that the Gua Feng Zhai was my favorite wrapper from Tea Urchin’s Spring 2012 offerings. How wonderful then to discover that it was even lovelier to behold upon its arrival in the post.

In its obvious attempt to challenge my re-wrapping skills, the cake comes double wrapped. (Alas, my dear sweet cake, these are the once trained hands of a baker and chocolatier, so your challenge shall be met and conquered.)

Upon removal of the first layer, a pungent aromatic blast of a hearty young sheng revealed itself, possessed with just the right amount of sweetness to make my heart flutter. I actually believe my eyes may have also fluttered for a second à la Bugs as Valkyrie Brunhilde.

The leaves pulled apart nicely with just a bit of work from a well placed pick.

As the sip from the first prepared cup entered the mouth, it immediately sent a tingling sensation the length of the tongue to the top of the throat. It reminded of the effect of huā jiāo initially, minus the numbing. Upon consideration though, it seemed far more lively and effervescent, similar to a mouthful of Pop Rocks. And, oh, how this liveliness lasted throughout the session.

It eventually dipped into the throat, halfway down the length of the neck. And for a flash, it reached down a touch further. Even as the last few steeps rendered a pale broth tasting of delicate shades of floral sweetness, it persisted in the mouth, however faintly.

The broth quickly delivered an exceptional mouth feel which developed across the length of the prepared steeps. It evolved from full and penetrating, to coating and buttery. A thick sweetness pulsed out from beneath the tongue within the first few sips, and continued to swell. It was a pleasing compliment to the gentle ku which presented most strongly across the initial set of steeps, but lingered throughout the session.

Its rather expressive qi presented itself first within the head. It expanded from its center focal point into the brow and crown. At the height of its strength, it seemed to gently pulsate. Standing up quickly from a seated position left me feeling a little wobbly.

More interesting, however, was the latent ball of energy which sank into the middle of the chest around the seventh of eighth steeping. It sat poised just behind the sternum, where it seemed to slowly expand, threatening to make an outward expression of itself. A wee bit Alien-esque, I know. It does, however, properly explain the sensation. It was one of the more interesting sensations I have felt from a tea to date.

I took these leaves a good 12 or 13 steeps. It seemed to have a bit more to offer, however I felt thoroughly content with where it had taken me and decided to let the session end as my hands began to tremble slightly.

While I would agree with Eugene and Belle’s assertion that the Gao Shan Zhai is the pick of the litter out of the spring 2012 teas on offer –at least out of those that I have tried so far– this Gua Feng Zhai is certainly no slouch. I look forward to a few more sessions over the coming months, and then finding out where some time takes it leaves.

steeping listening: David Bowie: Young Americans