Che Ma Xuan Pasha

My budding love affair with Che Ma Xuan sourced cakes stemmed from correspondences with Eugene (Tea Urchin) about the NaKa region.

I have since greatly enjoyed the various cakes sampled; a BingDao, two NaKa, a MengHai, a YouLe, and now a PaSha… each lovely, each unique.

courtesy of Eugene (Tea Urchin)

courtesy of Eugene (Tea Urchin)

courtesy of Eugene (Tea Urchin)

The dry leaf of this early spring 2011 sourcing from PaSha offered what I find in a sum of youthful puerh, an intense aroma of pasture –a muddle of humid dark grass with faint traces of fruit, and hints of flowers. This PaSha offered an additional expression in the form of a vaporous smudge of candy-like sweetness.

The first yielded broths were thick in body, buttery smooth. Each contributed to the increasingly distinctive mouth feel as they dramatically bowed from the tongue into the hard palate.

As the soft palate became engaged, my mind went into overdrive scrambling to identify notes as they appeared in flashes –cherry wood, sweet tobacco, flowers of undetermined variety, menthol, spice, corn (??)… all seemed right, yet potentially incorrect.

The tea truly opened up around the 6th and 7th steeps with a penetrating sweetness. It rounded out the existing notes, filled the mouth, and reached easily into the throat. It soothed. The lips became coated with tea oils.

A latent veil of coolness began to rise from the front of the mouth into the sinus.

The considerable nature of its sweetness soldiered on well into the final cups –I took the leaves to a healthy 15 steeps.

Its energy was ever-present, built gradually, and weighed heavily on the shoulders. It calmed. The body pulsated with warmth, which was notable as cool breezes rushed in from the patio door behind me.

I fought a bit with this PaSha; not in steeping, but in defining the nuances of its flavor. It confounded me with its profile. I look forward to a session or two more –on the back of three to date– to truly define all of its subtleties. This, I am afraid, will have to wait for a cake to arrive.

It seems a potentially good tea for aging, if considered for its now complexity and vibrant nature. It is also priced nicely at $50 for a 357g cake.

Should you be interested in this PaSha, or any of the previous Che Ma Xuan cakes, please contact Eugene for samples, and or cakes.

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.

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

Gua Feng Zhai in a new space with a dose of David Bowie

It has been a little over two weeks on from my move, and I continue adjusting to the new space. As expected during this period of acclimation my tea sessions had fallen a little flat, when they happened at all. Moving was certainly a whole lot easier when I was younger before I had accumulated an inordinate amount of records and books. It seems our possessions have a way of sneaking up on us in the night, don’t they?

Today, I found myself more at peace with my new surroundings, even coupled with it being surprisingly hot here in Northern Massachusetts. While I normally tend to thrive in the heat, it did manage to throw me off a bit today. It felt downright nuclear on my patio during my preparation of the first steeping. It was barely noon. With that said, today still ended up being a good tea day.

If you’ll remember from my last post, I made note that the Gua Feng Zhai was my favorite wrapper from Tea Urchin’s Spring 2012 offerings. How wonderful then to discover that it was even lovelier to behold upon its arrival in the post.

In its obvious attempt to challenge my re-wrapping skills, the cake comes double wrapped. (Alas, my dear sweet cake, these are the once trained hands of a baker and chocolatier, so your challenge shall be met and conquered.)

Upon removal of the first layer, a pungent aromatic blast of a hearty young sheng revealed itself, possessed with just the right amount of sweetness to make my heart flutter. I actually believe my eyes may have also fluttered for a second à la Bugs as Valkyrie Brunhilde.

The leaves pulled apart nicely with just a bit of work from a well placed pick.

As the sip from the first prepared cup entered the mouth, it immediately sent a tingling sensation the length of the tongue to the top of the throat. It reminded of the effect of huā jiāo initially, minus the numbing. Upon consideration though, it seemed far more lively and effervescent, similar to a mouthful of Pop Rocks. And, oh, how this liveliness lasted throughout the session.

It eventually dipped into the throat, halfway down the length of the neck. And for a flash, it reached down a touch further. Even as the last few steeps rendered a pale broth tasting of delicate shades of floral sweetness, it persisted in the mouth, however faintly.

The broth quickly delivered an exceptional mouth feel which developed across the length of the prepared steeps. It evolved from full and penetrating, to coating and buttery. A thick sweetness pulsed out from beneath the tongue within the first few sips, and continued to swell. It was a pleasing compliment to the gentle ku which presented most strongly across the initial set of steeps, but lingered throughout the session.

Its rather expressive qi presented itself first within the head. It expanded from its center focal point into the brow and crown. At the height of its strength, it seemed to gently pulsate. Standing up quickly from a seated position left me feeling a little wobbly.

More interesting, however, was the latent ball of energy which sank into the middle of the chest around the seventh of eighth steeping. It sat poised just behind the sternum, where it seemed to slowly expand, threatening to make an outward expression of itself. A wee bit Alien-esque, I know. It does, however, properly explain the sensation. It was one of the more interesting sensations I have felt from a tea to date.

I took these leaves a good 12 or 13 steeps. It seemed to have a bit more to offer, however I felt thoroughly content with where it had taken me and decided to let the session end as my hands began to tremble slightly.

While I would agree with Eugene and Belle’s assertion that the Gao Shan Zhai is the pick of the litter out of the spring 2012 teas on offer –at least out of those that I have tried so far– this Gua Feng Zhai is certainly no slouch. I look forward to a few more sessions over the coming months, and then finding out where some time takes it leaves.

steeping listening: David Bowie: Young Americans

A 2012 spring Gao Shan Zhai, and a dash of wrapper appreciation

I haven’t had much quality time recently for taking tea due to an impending house move. Which as I recently commented to Bev of the wonderful Listening to Leaves, has made me just a wee bit cranky of recent.

Over the past weekend, however, I finally managed to steal some time for a session in between painting, packing, and donating. I decided on a bit of a sample from Tea Urchin’s Gao Shan Zhai spring 2012 cake acclimatizing for the past few weeks in a favorite earthenware jar. Amusingly enough, Gao Shan Zhai is the one cake that I hadn’t sampled from their autumn 2011 productions. So, unfortunately, I won’t be able to compare-and-contrast on this occasion.

The tea, however, in and of its self, was exceptional.

From the site: “This is our favorite Tea Urchin pressing from the first batch of early spring 2012 maocha. This Gao Shan Zhai puerh cake is pressed from un-pruned 300 year old trees and has amazing chaqi that is almost euphoric. Completely hand processed according to traditional methods and stone pressed in Yiwu.

The nose of the dry leaf reveals an exceptionally fresh, very green, and heady fragrance.

As the leaves awaken in the gaiwan the broth deepens to a limpid yellow, losing the smudge of pale grassy hues from the first two steeps.

The liquor is clean on the palate, accented by gentle floral notes. It is full in the mouth, coating the tongue. Where most teas I have had of recent presented a gradual arching into the sinus cavity, here its’ nature bolts straight through the hard palate.

This Gao Shan Zhai is incredibly vibrant, offering a well placed bitterness in the form of a prickling sensation along the length of the tongue. As the session progresses it moves to the back of the tongue. A mild astringent sensation reaches briefly into the throat and then dissipates. A gradually developing warmth replaces this slight drying, and spreads ever deeper.

The huigan is a significant aspect of this tea, dwarfed only by its dynamic qi. Wave upon wave of complex sweet notes rise from the throat with each exhalation, lingering at considerable length in the mouth.

The energy builds with measured pacing, rising out of the body with a suggestive sensation of pulling at the physical body. The shoulders and the upper back become warm and slightly damp, yet the core feels cool. Every pore is open and tingling, and physical awareness heightens. As the tea sinks further into the body, the middle of the back feels humid, yet remains dry.

Really, there is so much more to this tea than what I have detailed in the above notes. However, as time is rather limited, I chose to stay in the moment writing less than I would normally.

steeping listening: Dead Can Dance: Within The Realm Of A Dying Sun

I had planned to write a separate post drawing attention to a recent series of Tea Urchin’s wrappers that really struck a note with me. However, as I was finishing this post knowing the amount of packing and painting that the next two weeks hold in store for me, I thought it a good idea to tie it in to this post as the Gao Shan Zhai is one of my favorites. (And yes, I know the most important thing is the tea within the art.)

Eugene made note in an email that his inspiration for this series came from his sourcing travels in Yunnan. Happily, I have already found the inspiration for two wrappers from photographs in his posts. It has become a bit of a “Where’s Waldo?” game, which I am greatly enjoying.

My favorite wrapper of the series: Gua Feng Zhai by Tea Urchin

Yi Shan Mo by Tea Urchin

Man Zhuan by Tea Urchin

Gao Shan Zhai by Tea Urchin

Luo Shui Dong by Tea Urchin

My first 2012 spring sheng session paired with a little Matsuo Ohno

courtesy of Tea Urchin

My first sheng pu’er of the spring 2012 season, this a Tea Urchin production sourced from Jing Mai.

From the Tea Urchin site, “This Jing Mai cake is made from tall, ancient tea trees growing on top of the mountain at 1,700m. The leaves are a slightly smaller varietal, and were picked & hand processed by Dai tribes people in early April, after a week of constant sunshine. This period of excellent weather means this batch of tea is exceptionally good. These cakes were stone pressed in Yiwu.”

The sample shows full small leaf, buds, stems, and some broken leaf. The nose of the dry leaf is heavily fragrant with green, muddled with meadow hay and a trace of orchid. Once wetted, the leaf gives up some of its floral note, placing its faded trace along the lid of the gaiwan throughout the session.

The vigor of the tea is noticeable as it flutters along the edge of the tongue. It enters and fills the mouth beautifully, arching into the soft palate, ebbing and flowing into the sinus creating a flooding sensation.

The notably thick liquor increasingly coats the mouth and the lips.

The broth moves slowly down the full length of the throat, warming.

Eager to assert its youthfulness, it presents a pronounced and engaging ku se (bitterness) lasting well across 6 steeps. A drying sensation (this astringent nature is a signature of teas from this area from what I have read and experienced) develops, increasing throughout the length of the session, continually drawing me back to the gaiwan.

The hui gan is pensive in its nature. It moves with subtlety from the throat, along the length of the teeth before finally soaking the tongue. It progressively develops a seemingly textural quality.

Its energy becomes noticeable by the fourth steep, building through to the last. It arrives in waves of heat, spreading to the crown of the head, arms and legs. My body begins to radiate the excess by the end of the session. I actually thought of the scene from Melancholia where Kirsten has her hands raised to the sky.

I have become noticeably tea drunk.

Any edge in my mood has smoothed out.

Shortly after the final cup with the tea’s essence still lingering in my mouth; I note that the tongue, mouth and sinuses have now cooled. Yet, my shoulders remain prickly with warmth.

What an exceptional first cake to begin the spring season’s offerings.

steeping listening: Matsuo Ohno – I Saw the Outer Limits

courtesy of Tea Urchin

Mr. Gao x Tea Urchin: Autumn 2011 Yi Bang Sheng Pu:

This is my second experience with a Mr. Gao x Tea Urchin produced sheng pu, this an autumn 2011 cake from Yi Bang. Yi Bang is a hilltop village lying within the township of Xiangming in Mengla County. I would be interested to know if anyone can verify a claim that I read suggesting that it was the birthplace of the tong (seven cakes wrapped in bamboo).

I don’t think it would be hasty at all for me to suggest that with only two co-produced teas, Mr. Gao has made me an ardent admirer. As I discovered during my experience with the cacao and baking arts, you develop a sense for the artistry of the truly dedicated. The sensitivity and dedication to the leaf is certainly notable in each aspect of these teas produced by him and the venerable Tea Urchin.

In contrast to the delicate, reflective nature of their Mang Zhi cake, this Yi Bang acted as a pungent and assertive counterpoint. Possessing of a poised and desirable bitterness that persisted throughout the session, its kuwei gently stimulating. I noted a tingling at the tongue tip before it began to arch up from the middle of the tongue creating a domed sensation into the soft and hard palates and then seeming to spray like fireworks into the sinus cavity.

The broth, which greatly appeared set by gelatin, possessed a lingering sweet tartness in its taste. I found myself repeatedly associating it with fresh white currant, or at times white grape skins, muddled with vanilla. Citrus notes fluttered along the tongue in later steepings, as did floral shades of rose and lilac. A sugary sweetness persisted from the sixth steep on, rising from the trenches at the back of the mouth and pushing forward.

The qi of this Yi Bang seemed relatively mild during the session until appearing full-bore in the latter half much to my surprise. I experienced a flushing of the cheeks along with a tingling perspiration in the lower abdomen, shoulders, upper arms and thighs. My palms went damp and my feet tingled. I felt light-headed and euphoric.

I have had such a fantastic run with the cakes sampled, some later purchased, from Tea Urchin, and the two with Mr. Gao. I greatly look forward to the cakes that they produce in 2012 separately and with some hope, jointly.

p.s. Should you not have already realized, my furry companion Newt was not present for this session. She was far more preoccupied with warming her fur on the radiator cover in my office.

steeping listening: Van Der Graaf Generator: The Least We Can Do Is Wave To Each Other

Che Ma Xuan – BingDao Spring 2010

photo provided by Tea Urchin

This tea is a Che Ma Xuan 2010 spring production sheng pu. According to Tea Urchin, who provided me with the sample, Che Ma Xuan is a small private label producer with a physical storefront in Shanghai. The leaf is from BingDao, which translates as Ice Island, a small village within the Lincang prefecture of Yunnan, not far from Lincang city. It is considered one of the areas of earliest cultivation of tea trees.

The aroma of this BingDao dry leaf in the cha he was penetrating to the point of taking the breath away, heavy with forest trees and earth. The faintest trace of pepper peered out from within the evergreens. A further teasing floral note developed among the firs, once placed in the warmed gaiwan.

The flash rinse, which while pale, was remarkably pleasing and sweet to the nose.

The broth yielded from the first proper steep appeared thick in the cup. The fragrance emanating from the cup was heavily floral, expanding upon its previously shy presence in the dry leaf, and rinse.

The mouth feel of the liquor was pleasing, tasting of white pepper, white fir incense, and sweet moss. An elusive kuwei accompanied, turning immediately sweet just as the palate would register its presence. A cooling sensation developed at the front of the mouth, expanding into and stimulating the forehead and chest.

Where were the strong floral notes, I thought to myself, that had previously coursed into the nostrils? They seemed to have diminished in the transition. I shouldn’t have been so hasty to wonder. They saved themselves for later in the session arriving with a note of almond in tow, and heavy with palm sugar sweetness. This became the dominant theme by the later steeps, altering in expression only with intensity through to the last cup.

A slight drying of the mouth and at top of the throat was detected in the fourth and fifth cups. This did not persist however, and by the 6th the mouth began actively salivating. The 7th steep even engaged the wellspring from beneath the tongue.

As I edged over an hour in the company of this tea, its qi had fully engulfed me after noticeably starting to move in waves by the middle point of the session. My hands had started to tremble by the last steeps, and I found myself wanting to lie down. I wasn’t fatigued, as I had thought for a moment, just seriously tea drunk.

I took a spot on the floor next to Newt who had already noted my state. She always seems oddly aware of, and appears at, these moments in my tea sessions. We decided that this was a good tea, a very good tea indeed.

photo provided by Tea Urchin

Tea Urchin -Gua Feng Zhai: Autumn 2011-

(An update of note 03/09: Tea Urchin’s recent post on A tea trekkers guide to Gua Feng Zhai.)

Please excuse my absence… I had intended to post during the previous weeks; however an increasingly consuming health issue that had kept me from being able to comfortably sit since the beginning of January had completely soured my mood.

Finally over this past weekend following a lengthy series of chiropractic adjustments, and coupled with a healthy dose of physical therapy, I began to feel increasing relief. I don’t think I had realized how much I had missed taking tea without the fear of discomfort until this morning when I had a fully pain-free session with a remaining sample of a Gua Feng Zhai sheng cake.

EugeneTea Urchin– had graciously sent this sample to me back in December. I wanted to write about it for as long. While I had remembered from my first experience with this tea that I thought it was exceptional, this was a considerably more profound exchange with the notable lack of discomfort. I felt as if the tea and I had become one at multiple points. I found myself not wanting to part with the experience, and was reluctant to do so even when the leaves had finally given up their last bit of energy.

The perceived purity of the leaf from the cake is one of its most remarkable traits. While the slightest note of smoke may have whispered among the fresh green in the dry nose, it all but vanished with the preliminary flash rinsing, leaving only the faintest note of oak lingering in the second and third cups.

The tea exhibited a strong characteristic of sweet grass during the first third of the session. This was delicately streaked with a trace of youthful ku wei which actively engaged the tip of the tongue and the sinus cavity. Throughout each subsequent steeping the flavor profile expanded with a powerful series of minor and major notes, dwarfing what may have initially suggested humble simplicity. The symphony moved in a circular motion throughout the mouth, from the tip of the tongue up across the hard and soft palates and down before flooding forward.

I made particular note of a detected ‘thickening’ in the throat beginning around the 6th or 7th steeping.

With this tea I also found myself taken by the density of its liquor. The leaves sang within the pot as they thickened and exhaled with each addition of heated water. Tiny beads would ping outward from the entry point of the pour just below the surface of the liquid to the rim of the cha hai. The broth would then thread as it was poured into the cup forming foam clusters in the center of the soup, while short pearl-like links strung along the edges. It was a beautiful sight to behold.

The consuming movement of its cha qi became wholly calming, and well, just a bit more. I had become surprisingly intoxicated to the point of near sedation around the 8th steeping. My eyelids were heavy. My limbs felt light. The palms of my hands were damp. My thoughts concentrated. They did, however, become increasingly softened and blurred around the edges as my time with the tea came to a close. My tea taking partner Newt appeared content by proxy while lying next to me, intently observing.

This tea remained decidedly thick and substantial throughout the session in excess of the above brief details, even after the exhausted leaves had rendered a nearly transparent broth.

Did I enjoy this tea? Most assuredly, yes. I can’t say that I have attached myself to many teas in the way that I have this one. While I am more than aware that some of this feeling may have developed out of the lack of the negative effect of the health issue after a period of it being present, I choose to never underestimate the powerful effect of an excellent tea. This Gua Feng Zhai left me contented and wanting to share this experience with others. I ask; how can that not be the greatest outcome of any moment with a tea?

Notes taken on 25th February.

Steeping listening: Johann Johannsson: and in the endless pause there came the sound of bees