Tian Yun Spring 2007 BaDa, Zhang Lang Gu Shu

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Pre-adolescent puerh and I often don’t get along very well. I find their lop-sided profiles incredibly dull, or just simply unpleasant. Without the foresight to know if it will change for the better it is obviously difficult to want to invest in a cake bereft of “now” positives. By and large, I like them old and relatively settled. Or, I like them fresh-faced. This “issue” of mine, unfortunately, leads to an unhappy bank account.

I do, however, continue to search. The hunt is always on.

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A pleasant surprise then to find a five to ten-year old cake that I actually enjoy, a Tian Yun production from the spring of 2007 sourced from Zhang Lang village in the BaDa Shan range. This sample comes from Cream Of Banna, a new side project started by the venerable Mark of Zhi Zheng.Song intended to, “…introduce what I believe to be some of the best Puerh that ‘Banna has to offer.” The cake sells for 290 RMB, or about 46 US dollars.

The xiang qi of the dry leaf out of the sample bag is simple, fresh, rounded, with a top note of some Banna storage. Placed in the prepped gaiwan fragrances of leather, roots, sweet mild tobacco, some developing age, hints of dried fruit, minor floral and camphor notes are now present.

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The first yielded liquor delivers an aged softness to the mouth. It reminds of caramelized Valrhona Ivoire with a camphor back note, which seems odd I know, but there it is. The broth offers a rather surprisingly voluminous feeling, despite its relative quietness in the mouth at this point.

This Zhang Lang does take a few steeps before it truly shows itself, however once it does the leaves settle in for the long haul. You will likely grow tired of it before it wears itself out.

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Aromatic nuances from the dry nosing begin to develop in the mouth, coating the tongue, constantly shadowed by the hint of Ivoire. The profile becomes increasingly rounded in the mouth. Essences now linger at greater and greater length. Faint bitter-sweet notes edge the back of the tongue, as broths pool gently in the mouth. The tea is consistently pleasing in feel.

A muffled and gentle cooling develops and pushes at the hard palate by the sixth or seventh steep. It radiates to the back of the upper lip and into the sinus cavity before finally dissipating leaving a humming fresh, small white flower fragrance. The Ivoire/camphor note begins to arc into the soft palate.

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A subtly varied hui gan develops quickly. It is increasingly long-lasting and promotes salivation in the trenches of the mouth.

The tea is present in the throat, offering a lubricated feeling by the second half of the session. The insides of the cheeks are pleasingly oiled.

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This Zhang Lang is not as heavy in the body as other favored mid 00s cakes that I have come across. The ChenGuangHe Tang MengHai Yieh Sheng at Hou De comes to mind despite discussed storage issues. And yes, the comparison is apples to oranges when considering the many variables. The qi of this Zhang Lang leans more ethereal. It is graceful, massaging at the brow and weighing on the eyes before lilting into the thorax. The palms become humid. It gently relaxes and focuses.

This Zhang Lang seems poised at the beginning of a new stage in its development. Will its’ strength settle in heavier with further years of aging? Or, will it retain its relative subtlety? How will its profile progress? It does seem headed in a favorable direction though, which is why I will likely purchase a cake.

Often, in these circumstances, I wish I had a tea seer.

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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.

2012 Bo Yi (搏易) Mengku Silver Buds – Spring

Let me preface this post with the following; I highly recommend NOT getting the flu.

That said, what a thrill today to finally be able to properly taste again after two weeks of nothing but nasty flu residue in the mouth. It was actually difficult to decide which tea to re-acquaint my taste buds with the concept of pleasing, as there were several on my mind.

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In the end, I seem to have chosen wisely with this Bo Yi (搏易) Mengku Silver Buds cake.

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From the product page: This cake was produced by our talented Lincang friend Mr. Chao, who produces cakes under his own label – “Bo Yi” 搏易. He showed us around Mengku in Spring 2012 and made this cake at his family’s factory. The maocha was hand picked from 100+ year old Mengku tea trees, hand processed, and stone pressed.

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Composed of a nice balance of stems, broken leaf, full leaf and bud sets, the cake smells fresh, vivid. Traces of rice powder, meadow and a distant spice complement this base. Compression is medium-firm, easily allowing leaf removal with the deft use of the trusty puerh pick.

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Moistened leaves give off a heightened fragrance of roasted rice powder in the gaiwan.

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Entering the mouth, its youthful effervescent nature hits the back of the tongue, and engages the hard palate. The tea sits quickly in the throat, and at the front of tongue and hard palate during the beginning of the session before expanding fully into the cavity.

Notes of fir, powdered rice, meadow, and latent delicate flowers mingle with peripheral minor notes that radiate and fade the length of the 12+ steeps. The full profile of this Silver Buds tea has a gentle incense-like quality that I have noted in a few other Mengku area teas, and of which I am rather fond.

The mouth feel becomes increasingly full, rounded, and possessive of a humid stickiness.

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The ku moves in distinct stages, touching first on the hard palate and entrance of the throat, then pushes out from back to front along the sides of the tongue.

Brown sugar sweetness develops in accent to the main body of the tea. Rising from the trenches of the mouth, it never becomes sickly or flatly sweet. It floods the excess salivation.

The lingering ability of the tea between cups increases across the length of the session. As of the thirteenth steep, the mouth is fully coated with aromatics that are pushing out from the throat. It stays at length after the last cup.

The qi sinks gracefully into the chest, building in expanse from the base of the neck to below the rib cage. It is not heavy. The energy is pleasing and calming, feeling natural and elegant.

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By the end, the chest is fully warmed, the throat feels fresh, and the sinuses are clear.

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It was a pleasing return after a little over two weeks off from drinking tea.

This 357g cake sells for $52 US at Tea Urchin, which seems a good price for a very solid cake.

Steeping listening: Harold Budd/Elizabeth Fraser/Robin Guthrie/Simon Raymonde: The Moon And The Melodies

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.

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.

Essence Of Tea Bulang 2012, and Morton Feldman

Aside

When Essence Of Tea announced its 2012 cakes, I was in the midst of attempting to control my buying habits. (Translation: my tea buying had gotten out of control –if that is actually possible– of which my back account kindly reminded me.) After much consideration, I decided on the QiShengGu (about which Bev posted), and the Bangwei 33 (about which Hobbes recently posted). When the QiShengGu arrived, with it came a sample of their Bulang offering for the year, which was a pleasant surprise.

Saturday as the humidity began to lift, and the rain began to move out, it seemed a good time to have a first-impression-exchange with this sample/gift.

The first steep post rinse, and rest, filled the mouth with sweet notes of damp pasture, grass, composting flowers and touches of fruit –an intensified extension of the dry leaf aroma. A trace of toasted rice powder lingered on the tongue and gaiwan lid. I have to admit, the first couple of broths seemed rather meek, which had me worrying. While I certainly don’t mind tea’s that are exercises in subtle elegance, I had genuinely hoped for a little punchiness in the mouth on this occasion.

My concerns found themselves alleviated when the leaves awoke with the third application of water. As the broth entered the mouth it finally delivered the anticipated dose of pungent ku I had waited for, and provoked a bit of ‘sour-face’ squinting at the brow. A subtle tingling marked the tongue. I couldn’t have been happier.

The broth was pleasingly full in the mouth with a placed focus on the soft palette. The building ku expanded forward from here into the full mouth cavity. Salivation started to increase and pushed out from the sides of the tongue. The mouth and upper throat moved toward an increasingly harmonious state. A vaporous cooling developed on the tongue and muzzle of the face. The hui gan began to arrive in fits and starts.

Approaching the later point of the session, a gentle astringent note briefly developed on the lips and entrance of the throat. It is also here where the inside of the mouth suggested being fitted with a band of bitterness at the meeting point of the soft and hard palates. I first experienced this curiously pronounced sensation with a 2008 Hai Lang Hao Lao Ban Zhang/Lao Man’E. While in this instance it was far less pronounced without the boost provided by Lao Man’E leaves, it was notably present.

The energy seemed to pull at the face. The neck and shoulders became heavy. The chest also felt heavy and swollen with energy. The abdomen was damp.

When the leaves finally gave up their sweetness, it was complex and heavy with brown sugar. It pushed the lingering bitterness from the sinus and throat, leaving the latter feeling swollen. A trace of flowers was now found on the lid.

As the leaves faded and produced nothing more than sweet water, my exchange with the tea came to an end. This 2012 Bulang was gracious and well-heeled by comparison to the full fury assault provided by some tea’s I have had from this mountain range. It was a lovely tea that left me considering a full cake.

While priced at 71 pounds sterling for 400g (in the area of 112 US dollars); when considering the use of 10 g of leaves to 150 ml, with a minimum yield of 10 steeps per session… (I managed about 15 or so on this run with it.) .28 cents per steep just doesn’t seem all that bad.

steeping listening: Morton Feldman: Piano and String Quartet (1985)

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.