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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Love for my Cha Hai

I purchased this cha hai at Maliandao tea market in September of 2011 while in Beijing. It has not left my side since that time. If I am taking tea at home, this guy is with me.

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It has developed a distinguished strip down the front of its curved belly. A slightly darker broken ring is now visible on the interior. No amount of scrubbing seems able to remove either.

Foolishly, I considered swapping out for a glass pitcher on several occasions as I wasn’t sure how well it went with different gaiwans, pots, cups. However, each time the thought crossed my mind, I felt as if I was considering cheating on a partner.

In reality, it suits the Arte Povera feel of my tea set-up.

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This post is for you, little trooper.

Water lessons learned

For the years preceding this blog, I used Poland Spring for exclusively steeping. At this time it read as non-intrusive upon various teas to me. It was also very easy to get my hands on, as most shops within walking distance carried it.

As my tea explorations progressed, and my sensitivities increased, I began to realize how it yielded excessive high notes, and allowed little lows. And so, I began actively reading/researching about water importance.

This series of posts by MattCha became very influential to my decision-making at this point. (MattCha’s Blog was the first tea site that I read with regularity, along with MarshalN’s A Tea Addict’s Journal, for just such posts.) I started to actively look for better water to use, and fell into using Fiji during a period when I was predominantly drinking cooked and aged raw samples, which worked a treat.

With a new-found uptick of young raw puerh in my diet, I began to note that the Fiji was a bit heavy-handed with these teas. However, Poland Spring, my old option, still delivered rather sharp, undesirable highs. I looked outward again for a complimentary water.

Upon discovering Zhi Zheng via Tea Urchin’s blog my water choice broadened again. Theirs was the first producer site I had visited with a suggested use of water for steeping their tea; Volvic, an ancient volcanic sourced water from Auvergne. With a Whole Foods now within walking distance, and several satisfactory test sessions, I made the total switch. It gracefully allowed the highs and the lows of young puerh, as well as the important middle notes, where previous waters had leaned to one side of the equation.

Most recently while commenting on a post by MarshalN on water importance, I made mention of how I grew up near a natural spring that my family drew from with regularity. I thought it would be interesting to see how it affected the tea, as I remembered it being fantastic drinking water as a kid. Of course, there would be no way possible for me to use it with any regularity considering the distance, but I felt it would be an interesting experiment.

As we were just home visiting my family following a lengthy gap of time the other weekend, we visited the spring, and brought home two jugs of the water to test out. What I experienced with it was surprising.

Tasted before steeping, the first thing of note was how heavy the water felt in the mouth. While not to the degree of mineral water from Saratoga Springs, it surprised none the less. I later read that someone had measured it presenting in excess of 200 TDS (Total Dissolved Solids) at their time of visit, though they didn’t offer an exact number. Considering earlier use of Fiji and Poland Springs, and still drinking both on occasion, it felt heavier than both.

(For comparison: Fiji has a TDS of 210, Volvic a TDS of 109 – 130, Iceland Spring a TDS of 36 – 48, Poland Spring a TDS of 37. Evian, which I have often read as being less than complimentary to tea steeping, has a TDS of 309 – 357. (I also noted that in June of 2012, China refused an Evian shipment for a second time noting excessive nitrite levels.) Finewaters.com, interestingly, lists the Virginality of certain waters depending on how protected they are from their surroundings. This is an interesting point to consider with the ever-expanding impact we have on our environment.)

I have since used the Troy Springs water with two separate puerh that I have experience with; the first with a PaSha from Che Ma Xuan, the second with a JingMai from Zhi Zheng. The affect on the yielded liquor was notable in the color of the PaSha, the Volvic produced a pale yellow, and the Troy Springs a hazy yellow-orange. The JingMai, by contrast, presented a less significant variation in tone.

In both instances, however, the water produced teas’ that were highly one-dimensional in taste and energy. The eight channel stereo surround presentation courtesy of Volvic became a mono recording through a single plastic speaker. Neither tea achieved any distinguishable highs or lows, their dynamics became severely flattened. They both became heavy, lifeless… completely undrinkable in my opinion.

It was a little heartbreaking to say the least.

I am still not quite done yet with the water. I want to give it a go with a 2003 cooked tuo that I am quite fond of. I am curious as to the effect it will have upon something a bit darker and meatier. Perhaps, in this case, it will be positive.

We as tea drinkers understand water importance, but sometimes it takes a truly profound experience to fully know it. And this experience was so much more distinct than any previous waters used.

This experiment also highlighted the importance for me to give the X of the X + Y = Z in my posts. Noting water used when discussing our readings of teas should certainly be a given considering the depth of its impact.

(Note: Apologies for the lack of images. They didn’t take to the memory card for some reason… This may, or may not, have to do with me dropping the camera. Ahem…)

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…

a Pu-erh.sk Yi Bang Spring 2011 session soundtracked by John Lee Hooker

This is the second of two sheng pu samples from Yi Bang in as many months, this one from pu-erh.sk. This a spring plucking. (from the site: PU-ERH.sk is a website that will try to offer mostly selected “gu shu” Pu-erh’s from the 10 famous tea mountains of Yun-Nan province.)

I opted to use the full 10g sample provided in the prepped 150ml gaiwan. (Where in years past I had used a smaller quantity of leaf to water ratio, I have steadily increased this quantity to suit the increasing demands of my palate.)

The body of the broth was substantially thick. The color a clear yellow-gold –should the photos read darker I apologize as we have had about 3 hours of sunlight over the past six days.

The liquor delivered a well-tempered ku which moved in waves across the hard and soft palates, and streaked the length of the tongue into the deep of the throat. The ku se persisted across the dominant length of the session, continually provoking my want to take another steeping as it fluctuated in its strength.

A faint cooling note was present, stimulating the sinus cavity.

The throat feeling alternated between the sensations of catching half way into my throat, to slowly and deliberately moving down its full length. This later experience is where I found myself reminded of the thickness of gulab jamun syrup in its movement.

The leaves continued producing broths that increasingly saturated the mouth with a heavy sweetness by the later quarter, extending the session well beyond my anticipation.

This tea, for me, acted as a mild sedative. While my mind remained clear and focused on the experience, my body wholly relaxed. Even the tightness in my lower back which had been present since I awoke eased. A tingling sensation also developed throughout the session in my torso and upper arms. My ears even prickled for a few deep breaths.

What remains most impressive about this tea is how long the floral and honey sweetness has lingered since I walked away from the kettle and gaiwan. It has now been an hour, and it still persists. This, I can appreciate.

steeping listening:John Lee Hooker

Who knew…?

Who knew that one simple cardboard box that held this little treasure on its way to me:

would be such a comfort to this other little treasure deposited on my door step as a wee kitten over three years back.

I haven’t the heart to get rid of the damn thing, even though it’s plunked under my kitchen work table, and not the most attractive addition to the kitchen. Ah well, more on this tea later…

Lok On Tea Stalk?

So, I am hoping that perhaps someone could shed a little light on this Lok On Tea Stalk. I picked this up at the Hong Kong Supermarket near my office on break yesterday afternoon. I swore I had remembered something about it online, but upon returning from break I could only find one message board discussion which didn’t seem to entirely resolve the original posters question about it.

I feel certain that I read somewhere that is a by-product of Liu An Gua Pian or Liu An Basket tea, but was unable to find anything definitively confirming this online.

I have included photos of the two sides of the paper bag that it came in.

There were some small remnants of leaves mingling among the stalks when I had it this morning.

The broth, as seen below, comes up a pleasing shade of amber (perhaps red amber). The liquor is thinnish in consistency, but nicely mouth filling.

My partner thought it smelled and tasted of steeped old wooden furniture, my co-worker suggested old upholstery, that had been stored in an attic. This as opposed to the old basement, which he sometimes refers to, when I drink other aged teas.

It definitely presented a very unique woody flavor which lingered for a substantial amount of time after the last cup. I want to say it tasted of wood pulp, though I’ve not personally sampled any wood pulp recently.

It exhibited a lovely golden ring, and was rather lively in the head.

From the steeping sessions I have had with it so far, there is not much in the way of flavor progression. It’s pretty straight-forward. There was no notable bitterness, even when steeped for lengthier durations of time.

I realized later on this morning that I remembered seeing it, or something similar, (at least I think it is the same thing obviously not of this vintage) at sampletea.com:

http://www.sampletea.com/product/1920s-anhui-liu-an-zhi-anhui-liu-an-stem-loose-tea

I would be grateful to anyone who could shed some light upon this curio. The cashier at the market even picked the bag up three times to look at it, once from my just packed shopping bag. She remarked that she thought it was a curious product for them to have in stock. There were two of these bags, though the other one was torn a bit on the bottom, so I purchased just the one.

While I certainly wouldn’t say that I would want to drink it every day, it is interesting. I also wonder how it will mature with time, if it is indeed the same as the tea at Sample Tea.

Camellia Sinensis: Liu Bao 1970 Guangxi 6608

1970 Guangxi Liu Bao 6608

Liu Bao is a post fermented tea originating from Liubao village in Cangwu County, Wuzhou prefecture in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. It is often compared to shu pu, which inherent processes in its production actually predate.

While this point of reference is not completely off the mark based on my experiences with these types of teas; I prefer to keep them separate, as they are ultimately two different teas. This particular Liu Bao, a 1970s 6608 from Camellia Sinensis, is assuredly one of the most pleasant productions that I have experienced.

The stems and flattened leaves of the sample displayed varying shades of cocoa brown and exhibited the texture of crêpe paper. It was similar to the crisp dryness of the bamboo wrapped Ya Xi Tibetan tea that I purchased from Life in Teacup. I derive a great pleasure in the sounds these teas make as they are prized from their wrappings, or tumbled into porcelain; it seems rather singular.

While little aroma was present in both the sample bag and cha he, the dry leaf cast a clean wood note with a hint of spice into the rising steam as the cluster tumbled into the warmed gaiwan.

A heavy scent of musty loam developed with the first steeping measure of water, as the liquor immediately assumed a beautiful, clear shade of mahogany.

The broth possessed a pleasing medium body that delivered a full mouth feel, exhibiting its 30 plus years of age in taste with a pleasing mustiness shadowing the dominant wood and old leather. A mineral like quality was present from the beginning, and persisted to end.

A note of eucalyptus induced a gently cooling sensation which emanated from the soft palate into the forehead starting with the third steep. The old leather note continued to linger into the sinus cavity until the fifth. As this diminished, I began to detect a light touch of aniseed in the throat. I was most pleased when that old tea calming sweetness began to present itself by the sixth.

The hui gan strengthened throughout the length of the session, really taking hold around this pivotal sixth steep. It proceeded to gradually fill the mouth until it had penetrated the soft palate. I steeped this enduring leaf well into multiple minute intervals, and continued to coax pleasing broths until the liquor lightened significantly and had become mere shades of sweet in taste.

The qi of this tea was subtle, but ultimately calming.

On a day such as today, when spring seems to have retreated into a second round of late fall, this tea was the perfect companion.

someone else also wondering where spring went...

Notes taken on March 31st, 2012

steeping listening: Phill Niblock: Touch Works, For Hurdy Gurdy And Voice

Che Ma Xuan – BingDao Spring 2010

photo provided by Tea Urchin

This tea is a Che Ma Xuan 2010 spring production sheng pu. According to Tea Urchin, who provided me with the sample, Che Ma Xuan is a small private label producer with a physical storefront in Shanghai. The leaf is from BingDao, which translates as Ice Island, a small village within the Lincang prefecture of Yunnan, not far from Lincang city. It is considered one of the areas of earliest cultivation of tea trees.

The aroma of this BingDao dry leaf in the cha he was penetrating to the point of taking the breath away, heavy with forest trees and earth. The faintest trace of pepper peered out from within the evergreens. A further teasing floral note developed among the firs, once placed in the warmed gaiwan.

The flash rinse, which while pale, was remarkably pleasing and sweet to the nose.

The broth yielded from the first proper steep appeared thick in the cup. The fragrance emanating from the cup was heavily floral, expanding upon its previously shy presence in the dry leaf, and rinse.

The mouth feel of the liquor was pleasing, tasting of white pepper, white fir incense, and sweet moss. An elusive kuwei accompanied, turning immediately sweet just as the palate would register its presence. A cooling sensation developed at the front of the mouth, expanding into and stimulating the forehead and chest.

Where were the strong floral notes, I thought to myself, that had previously coursed into the nostrils? They seemed to have diminished in the transition. I shouldn’t have been so hasty to wonder. They saved themselves for later in the session arriving with a note of almond in tow, and heavy with palm sugar sweetness. This became the dominant theme by the later steeps, altering in expression only with intensity through to the last cup.

A slight drying of the mouth and at top of the throat was detected in the fourth and fifth cups. This did not persist however, and by the 6th the mouth began actively salivating. The 7th steep even engaged the wellspring from beneath the tongue.

As I edged over an hour in the company of this tea, its qi had fully engulfed me after noticeably starting to move in waves by the middle point of the session. My hands had started to tremble by the last steeps, and I found myself wanting to lie down. I wasn’t fatigued, as I had thought for a moment, just seriously tea drunk.

I took a spot on the floor next to Newt who had already noted my state. She always seems oddly aware of, and appears at, these moments in my tea sessions. We decided that this was a good tea, a very good tea indeed.

photo provided by Tea Urchin

Mang Zhi 2011 Spring by Mr Gao

(From the Tea Urchin web site: We selected this tea with Mr Gao, who then spent 6 months creating this special production for us by inspecting each and every leaf, removing discoloured & damaged leaves. Over 10% of the leaves were discarded, to create this exceptionally smooth, beautiful, private pressing. The maocha came from Mang Zhi, one of the original 6 famous tea mountains of classical times, located in what is today known as Xiangming region, between Yiwu & Simao.)

This Mang Zhi is a tea deserving of an absence of distractions. Its refined poetry would be lost amid trivial mental wanderings. My first run with this tea left me speechless. I hope that I am now able to convey some of the extraordinary nature of this tea with the brief notes that I transcribed below from my second session.

The level of attention in the production is unquestionable upon viewing the dry leaves. They gently interlock with seeming reverence for one another. The aroma in the cha he is clean, vegetal, and accented by notes of small white flowers.

The liquor is full-bodied in the cup, exhibiting pureness in its tonality from the first rinse through to the final steep. It gifts substantial fullness in the mouth, and presents an initial cooling sensation in the sinus cavity and at the top of the throat.

The flavor is heavy with notes of stone fruits, honeysuckle and narcissus. The profile ascends to a peak on the sixth steep, blossoming fully within the mouth. Inhalations heighten its ethereal sweetness to the point that it suggests a physical manifestation around the tongue and teeth.

The cha qi syncs with the pulse. It fills the chest and upper abdomen with warmth, eventually moving into the limbs. The forearms become heavy. The palms go damp.

I am flooded.