Monday, January 28, 2008

Den's Guricha / Tamaryokucha

Well isn't it about time for a green tea review?

I hold in my hand a wonderful tea that hails from the shizuoka prefecture of Japan.

This beautiful green leaf is called Guricha, also known as tamaryokucha. This particular one comes from the online shop of Shirakata Denshiro Shoten, known to us as Den's tea. There are other vendors that carry this tea, and I look forward to tyring them all in time. There is very little information to be found about tamaryokucha, but from what I've gathered, it differs from normal sencha by having comma-shaped leaves instead of the rolled needle form of most sencha, as well as a quite different flavor profile. The comma-shape is said to be caused by the omission of a later rolling/kneading process involved in sencha production. Other sources say that the leaf follows the same processing as most sencha, but in the final stage it is rolled into comma form instead of needle form. Tamaryokucha and guricha translate to "curly green tea," reflecting the shape of it's leaves.

I have been using 1.5 tsp leaf in 175ml water at 176°f for 1 minute. (I let my water cool in the kyuusu, so this is the temp at which I throw the leaf in. Steep time includes pour.) If overbrewed, this tea won't become as astringent as sencha normally does, but it will become unpleasant in a way that is all it's own. So don't beat up the leaf, or you'll be left with a less-than-worthy cup.

The dry leaf smells amazing with a pungent smell similar to that of a good karigane. The leaf also smells sweet and slightly grassy.

Guricha Leaf in the drained pot is delicious-looking: dark green with some lime-green leaves. As I look at them, I notice I used slightly less leaf than normal.

The aroma is similar to gyokuro in that it is sweet and mellow, but hiding in the fragrance is a wonderful tartness that is usually associated with karigane. (The sniffer is a little broken right now.)

The first steeps liquor is clear as opposed to the cloudiness of fukamushi, but it carries a vibrant yellow-green.

(The picture of the tea didn't come out well and is somewhat inaccurate. Don't take it to heart.)

The flavor is amazing. At first it resembles gyokuro with its mellow sweetness. Then, with a little percolation and a sloshing of the tea around the taste buds, the sides of the tongue pick up a wonderful pungency similar to karigane, but tied into that tart flavor is the mellow sweetness that resembles gyokuro. The aftertaste is incredible for a green tea. A mellow tartness sticks to the back of the tongue and throat, while the deep sweetness pleases the palate during exhalation. This tea gives my mouth a lasting flavor profile that is most enjoyable.

I'll have to wait a short while for my palate to become unsaturated with the goodness of this leaf before going for a second steep.

For the second steep, 176°f for 30 seconds(including pour).
The liquor of the second brew has more color, and a slight cloudiness, but the aroma of the tartness has decreased, and the tea still gives off a sweet vegetal aroma.

As expected from the aroma, the taste of the pungent tartness has decreased and it has been blended into the grand sweetness of the tea. The tea is much sweeter, and more vegetal. The tartness is still present, but has lessened and is more incorporated with the overall sweetness of the tea.

I really love this tea. Right now, it's place is at the top of my favorite list. is going to start carrying their own soon, and an online vendor named Mellow Monk exclusively carries this kind of Japanese green tea. In fact, I just found a blog post by the Mellow Monk about Guricha/Tamaryokucha in general. Tamaryokucha = Guricha by the Mellow Monk. It's a good post that sums up the curly leaf, and actually is a response to a few posts I made a while back.

I'll throw up some more reviews on this curly green tea in the future. Until then, enjoy your tea.


Saturday, January 12, 2008

2004 Yan-Ching Hao

2004, fairly young. I ordered this sample from Hou De and got what seems to be the final chunk of the cake. The leaf appears typical of a young sheng, smallish leaf, and slightly darkened past the new-green stage.

I chipped off a few good chunks, used 2 10 second rinses to break them up. I snuck a sniff during the first rinsing, and it smelled of sweet caramel.

1st Steep: The lid of the gaiwan carries the sweet caramel aroma, while the wet leaf has the characteristic tough leather smell. The tea smells of the light caramel mixed with a healthy fresh wood. The taste is characterized by caramelized sugar. Mostly caramel, with a dark toffee. - A clean bark smell is also present, which also is in the taste of the tea. Tastes of roasted sugar, caramel, and a clean woody-bark compose the tea. Also notices is a bit of cloudiness in the tea.

The lid of the gaiwan again smells like caramel, which is also present in the smell of the wet leaf. The wet leaf is also accompanied by a dry grass smell, and faint leather. I think I might be feeling a dose of qi from the first steeping.

2nd Steep (20s): Smell hasn't changed much, but the taste has changed from the dominant caramel, to blend with a stronger light leather, and some deep notes of wood. Cloudiness also present. - At a temperature that is more warm than hot, the caramel flavor is more present, with a hit of wood, and a sweet aftertaste of roasted sugar (huigan).

At this point, I feel a definite high on qi, perhaps some teadrunkness.

3rd Steep (~20s): A rounding of the flavors leaves it harder to differentiate, but with a bit of percolation, the wood is the most dominant flavor acting. Still, the aftertaste is of sweet caramel (huihan). Leaves an odd coarse, sweet, and airy throat feel.

4th Steep (~30s): A lighter sweetness with the woodiness being fresh, light, and slightly floral. Lighter altogether. - Still sweet, and again, more percolation is giving more woodsy flavor and aftertaste.

The leaves are looking slightly light brown.

5th Steep (40s): The liquor has turned slightly lighter. The leatherness is now identifiable, complimented by slight woodsiness. The sweetness is light, but still present. - The leather and the wood go well together, and compose the character of this 5th infusion.

I'll go for one more infusion with this. The leaf has an almost animalian smell.

6th Steep (~65s): A long steep gives the liquor back a little color. This is a good last steep, light, yet still sweet. Carrying more leather this steep, I would say the leathery taste is the main characteristic here.

This 2004 sheng gave me something I've never gotten from a tea before, that is a sweet and strong caramel character. That is what makes this one so interesting. It starts with a dominant flavor of roasted sugar and caramel, but into the 3rd steep it rounds out into a balances tea, then afterwards it turns to a more characteristic sheng, with a hint of leather, and a fresh, dry woodsiness. I really like this one, perhaps mostly because of it's sweet beginnings, but it still delivers complexity, especially with more percolation. The sweet aftertaste (huigan) is a definite plus. Hou De doesn't have the cake up for sale, and only one sample left... but I heard that the price for the whole beeng was around $135, more than I'd like to spend.

Friday, January 11, 2008

2005 Ming-Yuan Hao Yi-Wu

A 2005 harvest makes this one of the youngest shengs I've ever tried. I've had luck with Yiwu leaf before (2003 Keyixing), and was told this is similar, so I decided to give it a try. If I like it, I might buy a whole cake.

The leaves are giant, as long as my longest finger.

After two rinses, the leaves smell like crispy leather, sharper, a bit like a live animal, similar to hair.

From the brew I get a smell of dry, dead grass, and a light, dry woodsiness. The color is a healthy amber with some orange.

Taste: Surprisingly smooth! A warm welcome cup that is not intense with flavor, but has a hint of smokiness. Not dry or sharp, the third infusion (post-two rinses) has a smoothness and balance of flavor. The light, calm leather flavor lingers on the palate. VERY GOOD!

The wet leaf now has a smoky/mesquite hint, and a slight sandy smell.

The 2nd steep smells more of the dry-grass and also the barbecue smokiness. Again, incredibly smooth! Warm, and sensuous, this tea is very well balanced, with only a hint of astringency, which is actually welcome. There is also an odd sweetness that is actually a high note, not a deep sweetness, but an open, light, yet smacking sweetness.

At this point, I think I've decided on buying a whole cake.

The 3rd steep (5th infusion, after 2 rinses) has a flavor that is more smoky, a tad more astringent, which is contrary to the norm. Perhaps because of a longer steep time.

Feeling a little tea-drunk at this time, but the 4th steep is once again a brilliant balance of flavors. No unwelcome flavors to unbalance the tea; neither too much smoke, nor astringency. I feel that this tea lacks a strong character, and is instead a wonderfully smooth balance of many light flavors.

Well, 5th steep carries a woodsy aroma and flavor, perhaps giving this tea a character of light flavors of leather and wood in a very equal balance. Yet the overall flavor has become even lighter.

The leaf is slightly amber, past green, and reminds me of the '03 Keyixing Yiwu.

A longer steep-time for the 6th brings back a little bit of the leather, and a deeper woodsiness, and a bite of astringency. Also lighter in color. This is either the falling off point, or the saturation point of my taste buds.

This one was a great session. After two rinses the first cup came out smooth and rounded, with a good blend of light, welcome flavors. The tea lasted well into 6 infusions, and gave gave me a very satisfying drink. I still have about two-thirds of this sample, but I may go ahead and buy the cake, perhaps along with some more samples. This is the best young puerh I've had to date.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

1996 Chung-Cha. Menghai. "Orange-in-Orange."

This is my first aged puerh. The leaves were picked and pressed in 1996. Which makes this tea almost 12 years old.

The leaf is so dark that I would easily mistake it for a cooked "shou" puerh. Unlike shou, the smell is more dry and leathery, opposed to shou's musky, muddy, fruity smell.

The aroma of the leaf is very earthy, dark and dank, similar to a shou.

While smelling the tea, an old, dark leather comes to mind. As well as a musty bookcase, but the tea has just a hint of the mustiness. There is also a fruitiness present in the tea. Not a light yummy fruitness, but the tangy sweetness most fruits have.

The wet leaf smells strongly of dark leather, and wet bark.

The second infusion is sweeter, more mellowed out, with the strong leather flavor blending into the others to give an overall deepness of flavor. I get a hint of an old car in the smell, but overall, the flavor is extremely earthy.

The wet leaf has the light-dark brown color that is characteristic to black tea.

The third infusion is marvelous. All the stronger flavors noted earlier have blended to give a very well rounded drink. The strong leather flavor is no longer predominant, and the tea has become mostly a very earthy drink, with wet bark and dark, wet wood chracterizing the taste.

The wet leaf now smells more woodsy than leathery.

The fourth infusion is similar to the third, except perhaps lighter, or maybe wasn't given enough time, or maybe my taste buds are become saturated.
The fifth is milder as well. Smoother in the sense that it has less strong flavor.
The sixth, after being brewed for 2 minutes carries a heavier leather taste.

Too much tea. Need food.