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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2011 1016 Hou You (厚 有) Wu Liang Shan

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Of recent, my posting has taken a back seat to the need to read and research. And simply, to taste new tea uninterrupted by note taking, etc. I now have several about which I plan to write during the coming week.

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I thought I would first start with this 2011 1016 Hou You (厚 有), a studio based in Ku Cong Shan Zhai (苦 聪 山寨), that I have had since mid-December. The cake is Wu Liang Shan sourced.

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The producer in question, a Mr. Lou Hou You. If I am translating the bio-overview feature on puerh.fr correctly, he was born in Zhen Yuan county, Pu’er prefecture, in the Wu Liang Shan chain. He began his research and moved into production during the early to mid-2000s, and has since devoted himself to understanding the trees, working closely with families, etc. in both Wu Liang and Ai Lao.

The 1016 is a noted representative of his name and his years of work. While no specific village is given, from what I have culled from the two features on Mr. Lou Hou You, he specializes in tea’s from the Zhen Yuan area.

The 1016 cake is favorably composed and exhibits a firmer compression than the recent Mengku Silver Buds. The leaves require a bit more skilled pick maneuvering by comparison to remain intact.

The xiang qi of the cake is a muddle of primal notes; animal, pasture, pipe tobacco, highlighted by a light traces of sweet apricot and the freshness of evergreens. The aromatics of the leaves intensify once dropped into the warmed gaiwan, diminish once wetted, and present again via the decanted liquor.

Rounded, lively, increasingly penetrating, the tea feels invigorating in the mouth. It is lubricating, most notably at the cheeks, yet presents fleeting drying sensations at various intervals on the tongue surface across the 10 plus steeps.

Initial liquors offer an effervescent sensation across the back half of the tongue.

The ku is well measured throughout, constant, dipping into the throat. It is never unpleasant. It tempers the residual sweetness of the liquor, which arrives quickly and strengthens with successive cups.

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Fluctuating notes of pasture, light earthy tobacco, floral, stone fruit, and an ever-increasing eucalyptus/evergreen, expand from the back of the mouth throughout the length of the session. Lingering aromatics suspend above the tongue, actively pushing into the sinus cavity via the soft palate, and fill the throat and lungs upon deep inhalations.

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Its energy is gentle, relaxing, and rests upon the brow. I became a little light-headed toward the end, but in the euphoric sense, as opposed to being unsettling. Considering my stomach was full of recently consumed baguette and slices of Alp Drackloch, the effect was certainly not due to lack of eating.

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I have enjoyed many great sessions with this tea since December. It continually reveals previously undetected nuances with each exchange, of which I consider important when judging the worth of any cake. I certainly look forward to its development with some time.

A 2011 Nan Nuo ‘Ji Di’ from Zhi Zheng.Song

A while back I posted my tasting notes for three Nan Nuo area village sourced puerh cakes. While less a competition and more a compare and contrast review, I did come away with a clear favorite.

Following the post, Mark from Zhi Zheng made note in an email that the leaves of their 2012 sourcing came from Ban Po Lao Zhai, and that he would now send me a sample of their 2011 pressing for comparison.

The dry leaf of the 2011 ‘Ji Di’ was pungent, herbal, citric tinged, and meadow-like. The liquor read fuller in the mouth, yet vibrant on the tongue. It offered deep-toned, complex and penetrating liquors. As in the 2012, sweet grasses and meadow flowers composed the outer edges of its profile, but by measure, felt more dramatic here.

The full profile of the 2012 remained elusive throughout my sessions due to a nagging spice note. With the 2011, it was defined as clove with a measure of cardamom. I also detected what registered as a distant hum of camphor across a couple of steeps. The spice notes built a ‘cooling’ sensation at the hard palate and inner upper lip.

Sweetness was once again significant, here laden with clove and wild fennel pollen essences.

The weight of the tea pushed into the throat and left a cooling sensation as it continued further.

Its’ nature was more pronounced in the mouth cavity. Where the 2012 felt as color washes, the 2011 felt weighted into the forward of the soft palate and at the middle of the tongue.

A profound narcotic feeling lingered in my body. The head and limbs felt heavy. My vision was a bit ‘off’ for a brief period after the last cup. It seemed as if my eyes were moving rapidly, and the focus had become trailed at the edges.

It would be difficult for me to choose a favorite from the two Zhi Zheng.Song Nan Nuo offerings, as they were both immensely enjoyable in their own rights. However, tasting and experiencing the development already taking place in the 2011 as it has aged in Jinghong was revealing. And to Mark, I am thankful for that opportunity.

I can’t recommend these cakes enough considering my experiences with them.

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.

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.

Chan’s Thousand Charm 2011 meets Akio Suzuki

I have enjoyed a run of decidedly gentle and rather elegant teas of recent –well, and one truly pedestrian aged tea that left me greatly frustrated. From the 2012 Qi Sheng Gu from Essence Of Tea, to a 2012 Jingmai shan sourcing from Zhi Zheng, and now the 2011 Chan’s Thousand Charm from Bana. This latest –a Vesper Chan supervised production from hundreds of year old trees within the forests of Lincang– was graciously gifted by Linda Louie as a sample with an order.

As experienced with the leaves from other Vesper Chan curated cakes, the dry aroma is extraordinarily pleasing. The nose is a beautiful foundation of meadow heavily accented with overtones of stone fruits. Carrying into the warmed gaiwan, this scent blossoms to an even greater degree with the first measure of water poured on to the leaves post-rinse.

While substantial in cup appearance, the liquor is ethereal in the mouth, yet filling and complex. A gentle liveliness is quickly present on the tongue.

Throughout the ten plus steeps, expressive notes of fruits and green radiate and recede, quite similar to the visual of the ‘Breath’ video animation by Iranian artist Shirazeh Houshiary.

Latter broths seem to evaporate upon contact with the mouth, existing only as sensation.

The throat warms with inhalations, and cools upon exhalation. As this sensation rises from the throat it fills the back of the mouth before pushing forward and pressing against the back of the lips. It remains at the soft palate throughout, fluctuating with intensity.

The energy of this tea is notable, and arguably its most significant attribute. It develops at the shoulders first, increasing in heaviness. As it spreads, the neck thickens, the arms and legs become weighted down, and the chest feels swollen. When it finally moves into the head, the eyes feel drowsy beneath weighted lids.

A gentle drying develops at the front of the mouth as the leaves fade.

This tea is a study in softness, though far removed from simple or insubstantial. If you’re predominantly interested in tea with the ability to knock you clean off your chair, it would be best to look elsewhere. It possesses a character that will be found elusive to the drinker who expects, or is inattentive.

Akio Suzuki’s ‘NA-GI’ 1997, which I believe translates as <calm>, served as the perfect foil.

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