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.

Zhi Zheng.Song Bing Dao 2011

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I was quite fortunate to have received a sample of a 2011 spring Zhi Zheng.Song Bing Dao some time back with an order of 2012 JingMai and Kong Shan Xin Yu cakes. The latter of which, I would like to once again state, is an assured highlight of their spring pressings, and worth a sample at the very least.

I have enjoyed a couple of sessions, courtesy of this sample, over the past few weeks. The last of this leaf found its way to the cha pan yesterday, and finally yielded what i felt was a long overdue post.

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The pasture heavy dry xiang qi exhibited a faded trace of tobacco. Once humid, the pasture aromatics intensified, and the tobacco developed muskiness.

Initial liquors offered a complex herbaceous profile rounded out with hints of dried floral and aromatic woods. Complementary notes developed by the third steep which existed somewhere between the sharpness of cracked peppercorn and the soft sweetness of long pepper. Each subsequent steep exhibited gradual increases in depth and increasingly reminded of the aroma of Sorig Tibetan incense.

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The ku shifted in its placement throughout the session. First present between the underside of the tongue and the base of the mouth cavity, it progressed to the sides of the tongue and finally resolved itself at the top of the throat. It also engaged the hard palate and opened the sinus cavity.

The mid to back of the tongue became lightly numb.

The hui gan appeared first from the top of the throat and low soft palate, sinking deeper until it rose from the clavicle into the trenches of the mouth cavity. A fir-like cooling appeared and edged the tongue. The sweet and complex aftertaste lingered at considerable length following the last cup.

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The energy unleashed from these leaves first nagged at the forehead and warmed the scalp, leaving it dampened. It weighted at the back of the neck before sinking into the chest and abdomen where it warmed excessively throughout the 15 plus steeps, most notably at the solar plexus.

The tea was fully penetrating.

It was sad to finish the last of this Bing Dao. Each session increased my awareness of its’ inherent characteristics. The more I came to understand it, the more I became attached. And I still feel as if there are many elements I have yet to experience.

Many thanks again to Mark, for the generous sample.

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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.

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.

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…)