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.

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…)

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.

2012 JingGu from Bannacha

I had ordered a cake each of Bannacha’s JingMai and MangJing pressings about a month back after a ridiculous sum of time browsing the cakes for sale on his site –three months or more, as I have said before in a post, I have purchase commitment issues.

image courtesy of Bannacha

Unbelievably, despite how anxious I was to receive the cakes on top of a mistyped zip code, I have still not had the pleasure of a first run with either of these teas.

I encountered a bit of a distraction.

The culprit, a lovely JingGu sample which William –whose Bannablog should definitely be checked out and followed– graciously included with my order, and stole my attention.

(This tea was made by a friend of mine who has recently acquired an abandoned tea garden in a remote place around Xiao Jinggu. The tea garden is pesticide free and a great care and each tea tree has plenty of room to grow a solid root system. The garden is so remote that the leaves have to be processed on the premises in a small workshop. –Bannacha product description)

It was a surprise to realize upon checking my note-book that I had not previously encountered a JingGu puerh. So, a bit of a first date here… well, second really.

Its’ yielded broths were generous in the mouth, possessed of sweet grass, meadow and floral notes that had presented in both the dry leaf, and cup nosing. The tea was thick in body. As intakes of liquor were held suspended in the mouth, it suggested pushing its dense sweetness into the tongue and increasingly soaking the teeth.

The tea was impressively bright, fresh and full throughout the session, though restrained in its subtle changes. It was not eager to rush its evolutions, nor declare them. It reminded me of Phill Niblock compositions where his use of “close ratio tones” produce “overtone patterns” as he noted in a Rob Forman authored article published in the Weekly Dig. A blink of an eye would have resulted in a missed fluctuation.

Its aromatics progressively sank into the throat and chest, influencing the exhaled breaths.

What impressed me most about this tea was how elegantly it both rested in the mouth physically, and sank into body throughout the session. It was soothing, relaxing, near to hypnotic. I would happily drink through a cake of this tea in a single month as it is now, aging-schmaging.

As William notes in his product description, “It is certain, this tea was made with great care.” There are lovely teas, and then there are LOVELY teas. This Jing Gu most certainly falls into this latter category.

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.

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.

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…

2012 Chawangpu Jingmai Gu Shu Xiao Bing Cha

I stumbled upon the Cha Wang Shop last year while searching for Gao Shan Zhai puerh. For some odd reason –even though I was searching for such teas– I didn’t buy their spring production from this area at the time. Quite sadly, it sold out before I came to my senses. I made a vow at the time that I would sample their 2012 sourcings with intent to follow with a cake or tong if the tea was quality.

I have since bought one of the remaining samples of the Bada Da Shu Xiao Bing –full bings sold out over a month back. I also ordered a cake of their Jingmai Gu Shu Xiao at the same time along with a handful of miscellaneous producer samples, and a Liu Bao cake. I suppose it was rather foolish to order a full cake without sampling first, considering I had yet to try any of their house productions.

Luckily for me, I chose wisely on this one.

The leaves come from Jingmai Da Zhai, Da Ping Zhang area. You can read Honza’s blog post on the sourcing, here.

The cake itself is beautifully composed of two and three bud sets, full leaves, the odd stem here and there. All of which are quite easy to prize off in preparation for steeping. My anxious pick yielded very little in the way of residual fannings.

The soup is clean and quite bright in the cup, exhibiting fullness in its body. The tea enters the mouth with elegance; rounded, smooth, carrying a fleeting trace of ku that one struggles to register. It produces a distinct cooling sensation at the hard palate within the first cup. A beautiful hui gan develops without barely a second thought.

The liquor is deceptively complex, flourishes of stone-fruit, rose, lily and orchid mingle demurely beneath its predominate luster. It reaches quickly and gracefully into the throat, cooling, and then rises out to fill the full cavity of the mouth. The sensation builds as the steeps progress, becoming increasingly penetrating, pushing into the nostrils, and finally through the pores of the skin.

Briefly in later steeps, a note of white grape flashes along an invigorating background of fir needle.

The sweetness rises from the depths of the throat, generously blanketing and saturating as it moves forward.

I am now seriously considering a tong.

The occasional downside of sampling

In my currently developing quest to drink every tea possible I can get my hands on sourced from Jingmai shan, I ordered a sample of Xizihao’s 2009 ‘Spirit Of Dian’ from Hou De. This past Sunday I had my third go around with this tea, where my love for it was undeniably confirmed.

The dry leaf presented a muddle of stone-fruit, floral and spring meadow aromatics to the nose, which carried effortlessly into the first broths, generously coating the mouth and initially leaving a faint cooling sensation at the middle of the tongue.

Throughout the session the tea gestured expressively within the mouth in waves and curls. The heaviness of peach and rose pushed at the hard palate, while a cluster of minor notes –including peony, almond, lily of the valley, lilac– filled the soft palate and emanated from the throat originating at the base of the neck.

The mouth developed a glossiness and fluctuated between an elegant drying to a notable increased salivation. Moving past 10 steeps the liquor left the mouth feeling crystalline. The lips felt coated in a light wax.

The sternum became increasingly warm, and gradually moved into the full torso and shoulders. The body felt flushed, feverish, absolutely sedated.

A faint toasted note lingered shadow-like in the last few steeps.

As I pulled the leaves from the pot I noticed how tightly rolled some of them still remained. I had taken this pot easily into the middle to late teens, and apparently they still had some distance to go.

I also discovered a guest observing from the bushes.

At this point, I was more than ready to buy a full 400g cake. What a drag to then discover as I logged on to the Hou De site that it was no longer available. Saddened by the thought that I may only be able to buy a further sample or two, I fired off an email in hopes that Hou De might have one still available that they are not listing. Only time will tell.

It would be unfortunate to not be able to live with a cake of this tea, and experience its aging at greater length. It seems to have a potential future trace of the Evening Fragrant Jade cake in its younger leaves.

Should anyone be able to give information on how to get a full cake, I would be greatly appreciative.