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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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…