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.

Zhi Zheng -Bulang Peak Spring 2010-

Today’s tea: Zhi Zheng: Bulang Peak 2010 Raw Puerh (From the Zhi Zheng website: General Information: Pressed this year from early Spring 2010 pure, raw, ancient tree tea maocha from Bulang Shan. Hand picked, fried and rolled. Sun dried. Naturally post-fermented.)

Tea Urchin‘s blog post from September on “Making maocha with Zhi Zheng on Nannuo Mountain” led me to the Zhi Zheng site. I browsed the site periodically over the course of a few weeks before placing an order, as I seem to have developed an irrational fear of purchasing commitment in my later years. I finally decided on samples from two cakes from their aged collection, a Gedeng from 2003 and a Lao Zhuan also from 2003, and the Bulang Peak from 2010.

These samples, unfortunately, arrived with me at the beginning of my health issue mentioned back in the Gua Feng Zhai post. All but one ended up being stored on the tea shelves in their shipping packaging. I put the Bulang Peak, however, for some reason that I can now not recall, into a lovely earthenware tea jar I had purchased in Beijing from a woman with a beautiful little shop selling tea ware near Zhōnglóu. (She had some beautiful black pottery on display, including several teapots, that I was desperate to purchase… alas they were her own private collection.)

Upon removing the lid from the jar, the dry leaf inside gave off a sweetly vegetal aroma mingled with floral honey and some peppery spiciness. It was quite pleasing to the nose. When the leaves were placed in the warmed gaiwan the essences intensified and were accented with a flash of smokiness.

With the first addition of water to the leaves resting in the gaiwan post rinse, the newly forming broth was frothy and became significantly gelatinous. (Honestly, it had felt criminal to discard the flash rinse as it had appeared exceptionally clean and rich itself.) When decanted into the cha hai, tiny pearls glided across the surface before breaking on the edge or clustering into short-lived strings. The yielded liquor in the cup also exhibited notable clusters of foam, which remained static even as I moved the cup from side to side. The visibly substantial body of this tea remained consistent through 10 steeps before beginning to thin, leaving a thick glazing across the bottom of the cup.

The flavor of the tea was immediately rich with honey, fruit and floral notes which blossomed, morphed, and faded across the length of the session. A barely detectable trace of smoked hay lingered in the background with the initial few steepings. Notes were made that lily, grapefruit and persimmon were introduced to the palate at various stages. These were the easiest of the variations to define, but the profile extended well beyond. There was a particularly elusive character that came and went during later cups, which nagged at my mind even after I exhausted the leaves.

During the course of the first half-dozen steepings a high note of bitterness gently stimulated the tongue. While it was certainly no match for the power of last weeks Lao Man E, it did move through the hard palate and into the sinus cavity. Even when the dominant sweetness proceeded to intensify, a faint streak of bitterness remained and fluttered into the forehead well into the 8th and 9th steeps. A pleasant cooling sensation also developed within the first two cups, progressively flooding the full area from the upper mouth to the forehead.

This Bulang Peak concentrated the greatest sum of its dialogue to the front of the mouth and face until considerably late in the session when it slowly moved to the back of the tongue, eventually sinking into the throat. I had not before experienced this sort of reserved movement in a tea. I thought it was curious in nature. This ‘unusual’ characteristic may also account for its’ slow to develop hui gan. Once it had finally arrived it was quite giving and full, but it took some time before making its move. Its presence continued to linger throughout my mouth well into an hour after the last cup, as if to make up for its late appearance.

While mentally detailing the slightest nuances in a tea’s taste is enjoyable, part of me prefers to let some of that mystery remain in its shadows. I have found through time, and these blog postings, that I am considerably more preoccupied with detailing the distinctive, and at times elusive, nature of each tea. I take great pleasure in the experience of these expressions.

Compared to other recently experienced teas which flooded the mouth and throat quickly; this Bulang Peak seemed reticent by contrast, content to move at its own defiant pacing. Its qi unraveled slowly through a series of movements that in the end left my head feeling, to borrow a quote from Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine, like “fluff on the needle”.

steeping listening: Coil: Time Machines