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.

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.

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.

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.

Zhi Zheng Kong Shan Xin Yu spring 2012

Just a few days before moving house, I received a parcel pick up notification in my mailbox. I thought this rather odd as I hadn’t placed any recent orders, well, at least that I hadn’t already received. The only information provided on the slip was point of origin, China.

The following morning I made my way to the post office to sign for, and pick up this mystery package. What a surprise to discover as I tore away the tape sealing the box that it was a set of 2012 spring samples from Zhi Zheng. A Jing Mai, a Wan Gong, a clutch of Cha Wang Shu mao cha, and lastly a Kong Shan Xin Yu.

Today as the heat had just started to set in, I turned to the Kong Shan Xin Yu sitting humbly at the back of my stash of samples.

Upon opening the bag, the nose is greeted by a distinctive floral aroma that is nothing short of elegant. Quite honestly, I could sniff the bag all day.

With the rinse and leaves rested, I prepare the first steeping. Of immediate note as the broth enters the mouth is how the tea possesses the finest sort of ku acting as a backbone upon which the other notes are built. It is provocative and engaging, never overwhelming. It is fleeting in the mouth, giving way to a generous softness. A subtle cooling follows on the tongue and pushes at the front of the mouth cavity.

This tea provides a clean, notably glossy feeling in the mouth. I have noted this before in at least two other teas of recent, the Naka from Che Ma Xuan, and the Bing Dao from Legends Of Puer. Needless to say, I am a fan of this effect.

The ever prominent floral notes of this Kong Shan Xin Yu intensify throughout the session, becoming more rounded and descending into the throat as I move forward through later steeps. The liquor warms its full length down into the chest. The slightest astringent effect appears at the back of the mouth and at the top of the throat before a rose-sugared almond sweetness rises in its wake, enveloping the mouth. It pushes into the base of the cavity, and then focuses on the forward third of the tongue.

The eyes begin to feel as if they are receding into the heaviness of my brow. The upper body is excessively warm and relaxed. I am quite ready for an afternoon summer nap at this point as this tea lingers in the mouth for quite some time following the last cup.

The spent leaves pictured here show bud sets, full leaves, stems, some torn leaf, a little touch of wok burn here and there; a beautiful cup of leaves in other words.

I have grown to greatly enjoy my sessions outside with teas over the past couple of weeks with the increased amount of green space around me, and this was no exception. Where once a small yard flanked by several roads lurked just outside of my windows; a larger yard now occupies the front and sides of the house, and a large graveyard sits just behind. (This has also become where I now keep my little compost pile of spent leaves. It seems rather fitting.)

I may have once desired the city life, but now as I settle into my early 40’s I find I have little patience for it all. Life in the sticks just doesn’t seem all that bad now…

She’s also settling in quite nicely…

(note: The last I checked, none of the 2012 spring cakes have yet to début on the site. I am certain they will shortly. h\However from what Mark suggested in an email, only certain cakes will appear online, the rest will only be available at their physical shop.)

Update for September 8, 2012: Zhi Zheng have now listed the Kong Shan Xin Yu. The cake can be found here.

An afternoon with a beast from Naka and Cabaret Voltaire

I can’t for the life of me remember exactly what triggered my interest in Naka.

There might have been a mini-brick online somewhere that first put the name into my head, or perhaps it rang in my head as Naga –one of my favorite features of the Wats in Thailand when I visited years back. Whatever the exact reason, I made mention of the village to Eugene at Tea Urchin during an email discussion about teas, prompting him to make note of a tuocha Che Ma Xuan sourcing from the autumn of 2009. I ended up falling in love with the purchased sample, and a short while after happily invested in a 250g tuo.

After an exchange which included mention of their 2012 Spring sourcing, a sample arrived gifted with a recent order. It, however, sadly appeared just as I packed away my tea’s into boxes, where it has patiently waited for me since.

Today, as I sat out on the back patio on this lovely day, it seemed as good day as any to give it a first run. After a bit of rummaging about in a couple of boxes, the sample was found.

With just a dry nosing, the invigorating aroma from the leaves drew me in before they were even wet. This is also when what became the dominant flavor note in the first half-dozen steeps appeared. I couldn’t place it just then, and it took me a handful of sips to name it.

Toasted rice powder.

The liquor was clean, bright. It provided a mild ku along with an anchoring note of the toasted rice powder. This fragrance also lingered on the lid of the gaiwan, even as it began to fade in the mouth by later steeps. As the session progressed, the tea rounded out with increasing array of notes and subtleties.

It felt incredibly soft, buttery perhaps, in the mouth. And while it might be a clumsy way of describing the progressive sensation, ‘glossy’ best sums it up. It wasn’t the high buff shine experienced from the Legends Of Puer Bingdao cake I had recently (which I will post about shortly), but it was in a similar league. It cooled the tongue, and even the lips, at points.

What I wasn’t fully prepared me for was the energy lurking within this Naka. It was unapologetically powerful. Within the first three steeps it began pulsing energy into the brow where it increased in weight. It weakened the strength of my legs. My torso felt impossibly warm. I was absolutely consumed whole by its energy. I had to walk away from the beast for a break around the seventh, perhaps eighth, steep as I was fully intoxicated. I was reluctant, truly, but sometimes you have to know your limit.

It will certainly be interesting to see how the qi transforms with time. Will it fade? Will it strengthen? I can barely even imagine the latter –though I have a sample of an eighties Shui Xian from Essence Of Tea lurking in the wings which reportedly knocks the drinker for a loop within a steep. Might this also be the future for this Naka? I kind of hope so.

steeping listening: Cabaret Voltaire: International Language