Sunday, December 21, 2008

Mellow Monk's Blissful Buds

There's a great vibe I get from the mellow monk. I like to keep up to date with his blog because I truly enjoy every post. He finds some stunning photographs, research into tea, and many interesting articles. There have been more than a few things I've wanted to repost here, but figured it's best if you check it out for yourself.

I've tried a few of his teas. I enjoyed his Top Leaf tamaryokucha, and his Monk's Choice, but I didn't ever post on the Monk's Choice. In short, it's an enjoyable everyday green tea. There's a slight foody (like graham) taste to it, but also a fresh tang to compliment. It reminded me most of Den's Guricha, which I fell in love with shortly before trying Mellow Monk's tea. Today, I have another tea from him.

"Blissful Buds. Made form only the choicest young buds." Blissful Buds is a mecha, which is otherwise known as "bud tea." It's created from the small buds of the tea plant, and after being subjected to Japan's brutal processing machinery, to which the buds surrender their integrity, the leaf gets broken into a low grade. Mecha is a common tea for sushi restaurants to serve. It is said that its bitter features are good for after a meal. I don't feel the same way, and I've never even had a bitter mecha. It makes me think that sushi restaurants just don't know how to make a good cup.

It's called a "rolled tea," but I think "crushed tea" is more accurate. You can see that it isn't whole leaf, but in the world of sencha, having whole leaves doesn't really matter. All sencha are crushed to some degree, and all that matters is the outcome. Of course, you don't want any coarse or yellow leaves in your sencha, but that is rarely a problem.

Brewing with my parameters of 176°f / 180ml / 1 min / 2 tsp. I'm using a new teacup that I got as a gift from Chip of TeaChat. It's taller, opens up more with a wider opening. It's a rice grain cup, which I believe has actually had translucent rice grain put into the walls of the cup, so you can see light come through each of the grains. The wider opening helps to spread the tea out over my tongue as I taste it, giving me a wider flavor profile.

The color is a nice and bright light-green (greener than photo). Aroma is spinach, and rather succulent. The taste is great. In the mouth there isn't much more then a vegetal asparagus flavor, but after the swallow, a sweet aftertaste kicks in, and is followed by the true character of the tea. This aftertaste has a sharp but sweet spinach taste, some tangy dew like guricha, and a fresh outdoors feel. The mouthfeel is a little drying, which further accentuates the aftertaste/afteraroma. The whole experience feels delicate and refined.

I am completely surprised by this tea. The mecha I tried from Den's tea wasn't pleasing in any way. It had a mild flavor that could satisfy a craving for tea, but couldn't bring any pleasure along with it. This mecha is completely different. It's just as mellow in the mouth, but lives in the aftertaste, inviting you to sit back, close your eyes, and enjoy the extended experience. Sometimes, there's really nothing like a good, long aftertaste. It moves the tea from being a simple flavorful drink, to an elongated sensation.

Please don't drink this tea after food. I'm afraid that if you do, you'll lose the ability to enjoy the aftertaste. I still didn't get the slightest bitterness from this brew, so I suggest everyone should follow these parameters for a delicious cup of Mellow Monk's mecha, Blissful Buds.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

2004 Nanjian Phoenix Tuocha

I never get too excited about drinking tuos, I don't know why, maybe it's just because I haven't fallen in love with any of them, but it leads them to sit around forever. I can't remember when I got this tuo, but it managed to survive the storage mishap without so much as a speck of mold.

It is is low-grade, made up of very small pieces of leaf, and some very, very small leaves. Definitely not daye (large-leaf). Perhaps as a direct result, the soup is thick, cloudy, and a pleasant orange. Aroma is light, grassy (dry), and something spicy. The taste has a lot of kick, but not much flavor, very prone to becoming overly astringent, bitter, and dry. No aftertaste more than a dry grass, and unsweet honey. However, as the more intense flavors die off in later infusions, a light honey taste and sweetness shines through.

Overall, the tea isn't any good to drink yet. I guess all the kick it has is going to result in some lasting complexity as it ages. I probably won't drink this stuff again for at least another 5-10 years. On the plus side, it does feel like this tea is doing a number on all the extra food in my belly.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Pu-erh Storage and Mold and A Return to '06 Yongpinhao


It's the one thing that can go wrong with pu-erh. Mold is also one of the things responsible for pu-erhs maturation. So, while mold is good, it can also be bad, very bad. Yellow mold on pu-erh is said to be toxic, however, a light frosting of white mold is said to be beneficial. So, in short, mold development must be kept in balance.

Sadly, a few bings in my collection have developed mold. This mold has passed the beneficial point. It journeys into the realm of yellow pu-erh mold. Not only the color, but also the rate at which it has developed is a bad sign (in this case, under a year). Because of the lack of information on pu-erh on the web, especially in the field of mold development, I'm hoping this will be of interest and help to enthusiasts.

The story...
So, here's what happened. I made a storage cabinet for my puerh, with elevated RH levels in the 70-80% range. I got careless in opening it up for air exchange at one point, leaving it closed up for 3-7 days at a time. After a couple months of this, I found mold growing on one of my cakes. I checked most of them out, and about half are affected, this '06 Yongpinhao, for some reason, took the grunt of the burden...

Pu-erh mold starts on stems...
What's very interesting to note, is that the mold is essentially only growing on stems. Is this typical? Does pue-erh mold generally start on stems? Did the stems soak up more water from the air because they're, well, stems, and made to transfer water? Hard to know because of the miniscule amount of data out there. From what I can remember, I haven't seen mold exclusively on stems. Hobbes of the half-dipper posted this photo of moldy puerh (which he drank), which shows mold on the leaf. This seems typical to me. My other bings that have developed a lesser amount of mold, also show it almost exclusively on the stems. Bings from the cabinet that don't have many large stems showing, for example the 01 baoyan, don't have any mold.

So, for now I have opened up the cabinet to ensure good airflow, and removed humidifiers. The area is resting at just over 60%RH on average. For one very stemmy cake ('05 ming-yuan hao), I brushed off the mold from half of it with a toothbrush. The mold on that side hasn't returned, but the mold on the other side hasn't gone away either.

These pictures are all of the '06 Yongpinhao, which I will revisit in this entry. The mold on the other cakes isn't significant enough to photograph, and appears at most as a very light frosting on the cake, with some more significant development on the looser edges of the cake, again, only on the stems. My plan is to brush the mold off all of the affected, except for the ming-yuan, which I will watch closely to observe development. The Yongpinhao is not being subjected to a brushing, but to more air circulation, and light. While these aren't good for the tea, they'll hopefully take care of the mold, and it will be interesting to learn what it takes to get rid of the mold.

So what happened...
Over a few months, in a storage cabinet with no air flow for 3-7 days at a time, and 70-80%RH, raw sheng bings developed significant visible mold. Most with only minimal amounts, occurring mostly on the looser edges, and exclusively on stems. After being opened to free air flow, and resting in an RH just over 60% for a few weeks, the mold has not gone away, but has not increased either.

If you're curious about anything, feel free to shoot me an e-mail (address found at bottom of page).

2006 Yongpinhao Yiwu Zhengshan

I reviewed this tea a while back. My final thoughts were that I was very interested in how the strong lemon/zest and lumber flavors would develop over time. I've been interested in the storage of this cake ever since.

9 Months Later...

Because of the condition of this cake, I had to chip leaf off of the bottom, where there was less mold. I also rinsed it twice, just to be careful. But, to be honest, the mold doesn't scare me too much. Mold is what makes pu-erh better, or so I will tell myself.

So, I'm tasting this 9 months later, and I've noted some new things. First off, the color is much darker, an orange now. Quite amazing really. Compare the orange above to the yellow of this photo, taken 9 months ago:

In addition than the color, the tea has changed in multiple other ways. It now has a very noticeable mouthfeel; it's viscous, and sticks to the tongue and cheeks. I can still smell the lumber on the wet leaf, but I believe that it's a subjective scent. It took a moment for me to recognize the aroma as lumber. It was like it was hidden beneath the other aromas. The taste now is much sweeter. There's still a lot of orange/zest to it. Some smoke, but little bitterness if brewed with very short infusions (except when it has cooled off, then it is very bitter, and can be very bitter with longer infusions). Some astringency sticks to the throat, drying it out.

Now, I don't think this cake is of good quality. In fact, I find it to be pretty low. So, why do I like it? I enjoy the flavors it presents, especially the lumber and orange/zest, and am real interested in how these will change over the years. Puerhshop still has them in stock, for $17/400g, which is worth it to me. So, I think I'll buy another, and keep it mold free, but I'll keep this moldy one around to see what happens to it.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Chiran Yutaka Midori O-Cha

A while ago, I tried this sencha grown in Chiran, Kagoshima from Itoen which came from the kanaya-midori breed. I found it to be a light-flavored asamushi. Today, I have another sencha from Chiran from one of my favorite online sencha suppliers, It comes from a yutaka-midori breed plant.

The dry leaf is really broken up. According to the description, this tea is deeper-steamed, thus the more broken leaf. The first steep is a clear yellow-green, with an aroma that is slightly foody, yet succulent. The taste is very satisfying, but very different from most of O-Cha's high-quality senchas. The foody aroma transfers into the taste, which gives the tea a lot of body and warmth. However, it also reminds me of lower quality sencha, and even bancha. This characteristic gives the tea a much less refined feel. A medium viscosity and thick mouthfeel tell me the tea is situated right around the chumushi (medium-steamed) range.

The second steep finally delivers that thick, deep-green liquor. Now, the taste hasn't changed much, still being foody and succulent, but it has blended and come out fuller. This tea actualy reminds me a lot of Itoen's makinohara fukamushi, but I think the chiran rests a few levels above, for just $2 more. Compared to O-cha's more expensive ($23-28) offerings, it doesn't quite match up. But because it's only $18, I believe it holds its place. I really can't tell any similarity between this chiran and the other one from Itoen. Whatever differences in upbringing, and processing are greater than the similarities chiran soil and climate must impart.

I've been drinking lots of gyokuro and asamushi sencha lately. This chumushi is obviously quite different. It delivered 3 flavorful steeps, all thick and succulent. If this is your price range, then it's not a bad choice. If you can, I highly recommend stepping up to O-Cha's classic offerings. $7 more will get you a better Kagoshima Yutaka Midori that few other chumushi sencha can compete with.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Mystery Xiaguan Tuocha

Jade Cicada of the Pu-erh LiveJournal Community found this Xiaguan tuocha hiding in a vendor's cart, selling for $8 a piece. She supposed it was shu, but later found that something was different about it. To help identify, and reassure her opinion that it is not a young Xiaguan shu, she enlisted the help of a few fellow tea enthusiasts. It took me a while to get to this, but here we go.

A simple examination of the dry leaf already reveals much. The color of the leaf is dark, however, the golden color of the buds and stems show that if it were a cooked pu-erh, it would have to be on the light side of fermentation. Though these looks alone aren't revealing a lot, the smell of the dry product gives big hints towards the identity of the tuo. A floral/honey aroma is what comes from it. This is the main giveaway that it is, in fact, uncooked. I can't recall a cooked pu-erh that smelled anything like honey and flowers.

The white you see is mold. Showing only on parts of the tuo, I would say this is a sign of wet storage at one point or another. White mold is said to be ok, and some say that an aged pu-erh will not be good without it. The mold is not just on the outside, but spread throughout the tuo. In fact, there is more visible on the inside. This is likely because handling of the outside has rubbed some of it away.

Whew! While rinsing and warming up cups, it is completely obvious that this tuo is a sheng, uncooked pu-erh. Smoky, spicy aromas fill the air around the table. Aroma from the cup is mellow, with a woodiness, and a hint of sweet. Color is a deep red match to my gongfu table. Taste is smooth, relaxed, mellowed out. Flavor is actually pretty minimal. I get a good sweetness, a lovely wood and, yes, a pleasant aftertaste. The aftertaste is sweet and lingers for a long time. No acid, no bitter, only perhaps the slightest touch of astringency.

My conclusions. It is definitely a sheng, no doubt about it. It underwent some wet store, and it's my guess that this mellowed it out significantly. Depending on how long the wet storage was, I would guess anywhere from mid to late 90's. It could be as old as early 90's, but that would mean a short wet-store, and a very long dry-store. It is a boxed tuo, so a long dry-store is actually likely.

Did I like it? I did, a lot. It's not a complex tea, in fact, it is quite the opposite. Mellow sweetness, but with enough wood/leaf flavor to keep it interesting and very enjoyable. If intense flavors really do make good aging candidates, then my guess is the lack of bitter, astringent, and acid flavors in this tea means that it won't stay as tasty in the long run. Another 5, 8, even 10 years? Sure, I think a few more years would make it delicious. But I also think that it's already delicious enough to enjoy regularly.

So, congratulations JadeCicada, on finding this little gem. Not only is it a cheaply bought aged tea, but it's well stored, and very tasty. Thanks for bringing me into this tasting.

Here is JC's original post on livejournal. Here's the follow-up on livejournal. Here's the post on TeaChat. Here's JF's entry.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008


I received this as part of a tasting from Eric of Me And My Tea.

The leaf is a deep green and looks more suited to a kitchen's chopped herb jar. The smell is enticing, a deep, sweet gyokuro aroma, and light milky smell resembling matcha. Tencha is the precursor to matcha, so it seems natural that they should smell similar. Tencha is grown similar to gyokuro, with a period of shade before harvest to develop higher chlorophyll levels, which among other things, produces a sweeter, grassier tea. After harvest, tencha is ground for many hours into a fine powder, matcha. Matcha is then whisked in hot water and drunk with a slight foamy head. Matcha is the tea used in the Japanese Tea Ceremony.

Knowing that this tea had been shade-grown like gyokuro, I decided to steep it at a lower temperature of 150°, a good temperature for matcha as well. Due to its fluffy nature, I also used 3.5 tsp leaf in 180ml, as opposed to my usual 2 tap/180ml I use for sencha, and it took some convincing to get the leaf underneath the waters surface. In my attempt to brew this tea using gyokuro parameters, I upped the time to around 2.5 minutes.

The resulting tea: clear, quite grassy, and a little sour in aroma. The taste surprised me with how similar it was to gyokuro. No bitterness at all, abundance of grassiness, sweet, the slightest tang, and pleasant vapors reaching the nose. I was expecting the buttery, milkiness of matcha, but that is definitely not what I got. As I look at the spent leaf, I see that I could have used twice as much, 7 tsp. Shocking.

I enjoyed this one quite a bit. The flavor is light enough that I find myself downing cups much quicker than I normally would. Although it is light, there are still prominent tastes, the grass, and a pungent sour. The sour develops after many cups, and could seem nasty if one doesn't enjoy the taste. I do, somewhat, so I did like this tea. At $50 for 4oz at Harney & Sons... I wouldn't say it's worth it. Very nice to have as a sample, but I feel that the money would be better spent on a good quality gyokuro. Tencha is a great novelty for the matcha drinker, or any green tea enthusiast, for that matter. It lets the enthusiast become more intimate with matcha's path to powder.

Thanks Eric, for letting me try this exclusive tea.

Other reviews of this same tea can be found at TeaNerd, Me And My Tea, and perhaps elsewhere.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Duan ni Yixing Pot

This is an extra special day because I just acquired a new Duan ni yixing pot for my wuyi oolongs.

The pot is made out of Duan ni clay, "a yellow or green Zisha, literally Satin Mud." The walls are thinner than my other pots, which is a bit of a scare. I don't think this pot can take a fall. I got it from Rishi-Tea, who packaged it very well, very safe. I seasoned it very mildly. I ran a lot of hot tap water through it, shaking the water inside to disturb loose particles. Then I brewed a few steeps of Wuyi Amber in it, leaving the steeps in for longer than I would have, had I been planning on drinking it. Afterwards, I brewed a few pots of some 2005 Shui Xian, which came out thicker, more viscous, and sweeter than when brewed in a glazed porcelain gaiwan.

I think the quality of the clay is very high. When I got it, I performed the "sniff test," which is a simple test to determine quality of Yixing clay. I learned of this test through Jason Fasi, aka BearsBearsBears. It is very simple. You start by rinsing the pot out well to get leftover dust and powder from the manufacture out. Then you pour near boiling water into the pot, then back out again, and take a good whiff of the smell that the clay puts off. There are basically three possibilities. If the clay smells like chemicals, then it has been mixed with paint or synthetics. If it smells like mud, then it's been blended with low-quality clay. Real yixing clay will smell like hot rocks or sand. If it's real, then the hot rock smell will be very pronounced, so much so that it may seem a little too intense.

This pot passed with flying colors. The smell was very strong and was exactly like hot rocks. So even though it's a little thinner than I'd like, the quality of the clay was better than I expected.

Red Blossom Yancha, Rougui

Red Blossom Rougui

I got this Rougui along with the other wuyi oolongs from Red Blossom. I already blogged the Huang Kuan Yin, and the Jin Fo "Golden Buddha." Neither of which I liked very much. I also got a few others I didn't blog: Wuyi Amber, which is very low quality, not very pleasant, but still drinkable. Organic Qi Zhong which is just around as bad as the Amber, not surprising. Good organic teas are few and far between. I also got the Tie Luo Han, "Iron Warrior Monk," which was delicious. I'm holding off on finishing the sample until I can blog it.

The large, twisty leaf puts off a smell that is clean, but bold and roasty. Sadly, the brew comes out a golden amber, denoting a less-oxidized tea, making this closer to a green oolong, which I don't enjoy.

Suprisingly, the aroma is mostly roast, but with some underlying floral. So perhaps a more roasted lighter oolong? And that is exactly what it tastes like. The oxidation seems to be a little more than that of the Jin Fo and the Huang Kuan Yin, but lighter than I like, making the tea floral. In the first steep, the roast masks much of the floral, which is quite nice. In fact, the floral seems to add a nice amount of complexity to the first brew. But this didn't turn out bold, how I like my yancha to be.

As I expected, the roast rinses off and the tea becomes rather boring. It's too bad I find less-oxidized oolong to be boring, because there is a whole lot of it out there. It does have a nice, tranquilizing qi to it, so I'll continue to finish it off and enjoy that aspect.

What's odd about this tea is that it isn't what I would call a green oolong. It is less oxidized, and that shows through the floralness, and the "boring" attribution. But it is also something more, which means it's most likely between the two oxidation levels of what I would call green and dark. The poor side of this is that it has the boring characteristic of a green oolong. But on the other hand, this odd level of oxidation leaves one analyzing cup after cup to see what's really going on.

The evolution of this tea is very intriguing. While it starts with a roasty steep, then followed by two floral steeps, which are then followed by what tastes like a darker oolong, but lacking in roast. An even odder aspect is that the taste can shift somewhat from sip to sip between the two. I'm probably just crazy, but this is how I tasted it.

So who knows about this tea. It's quite odd, which makes it interesting. It has light-oolong characteristics, and dark-oolong characteristics. This makes me think it's at an uncommon level of oxidation, in between the common greener and darker thresholds. For now, I can't say that I like it or that I dislike it. So, while I'm unsure of this tea, I find it quite interesting. If anyone has, or knows of anyones notes on it, I'd love to read them. I'll revisit the sample again, and leave a note on any changes.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Huang Kuan Yin Red Blossom

The leaves are large, green, and smell delicious. Aroma of floral, and graham, not much roast.

The tea is golden amber in color, and floral and honey in aroma. The taste is smooth, creamy, floral and honey. The slightest taste of graham is left from the light roasting.

This tea is rather boring, which is what I find nearly all green oolong to be. The light roast adds a little to the character of the tea, but it wasn't enough. Either more oxidation or more roasting is needed.

Georgian Tea

Yes, Georgia, the country that's all over the headlines. Who knew they grew tea... until now.

The smell of the dry leaf is nice, fruity and dark. 3 minutes, the liquor comes out a deep red-brown. The smell had that fruitiness and dryness that reminds me of an assam or ceylon.

Having just ate sour rasberries, the tea seems very light in taste. There's the fruity flavor, and some soil but different from the pu-erh dirt taste. 5 minutes for another steep, similar in character.

So, it's not amazing, but I really didn't have high hopes. I would say, "surprisingly mediocre," not bad, as I expected to be. It's not a tea I would rush out to buy, but if I was offered it, I would enjoy it with a warm heart. [insert sentimental political statement here]

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Chiran Kanayamidori Itoen

The second of three teas I just ordered from Itoen. I chose this over the others on the Itoen website without much basis. It seemed less steamed, like an asamushi, which would be nice to have around so I don't get overloaded on fukamushi. I was also drawn in by their description, verdant with succulent notes of leafy greens.

The leaf is a good deep-green. It's fairly broken up, which doesn't say anything about the tea by itself, but is a sign that pushes towards the side of a deeper steamed sencha.

176°f - 1.5 minutes. The tea presents itself in a color that is not entirely green. I would definitely say it's green, but more of a yellowish green. The aroma doesn't have much to offer other than leafy greens and an inkling of tang. The taste is delicate, light, and delicious. Its sweet on contact, then opens up with a very very slight floral, dominated by spinach-like greens, and a slight accommodating tang.

This is actually a quite good tea. It's delicate enough to be enjoyed anytime, but provides more for those who wish to pursue it. At $16.50/3oz, it's neither cheap nor expensive, and I say a good deal. Although I'm not usually fond of lighter-steamed senchas, this one accommodates my need for a smooth, luscious, and succulent drink. Some might say it is chumushi (medium-steamed), and I may also say this at a later date, but right now it provides a contrast to the fukamushi Megami, and adds to my cupboards healthy selection of senchas.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Jin Fo Golden Buddha Yancha

"Golden Buddha is a new Wuyi oolong cultivar developed only ten years ago." -Red Blossom

The smell of the dry leaf is already enticing: sweet graham, which passes over into the aroma of the tea. Also noted is an aroma difficult to pin down: a dry to bitter caramel aroma. The taste is new for me, being quite different from all yanchas I've had. At first I notice a delicate, yet dominant sweetness like caramel accompanied in the mouth by more than a share of floral complexity. Followed afterwards by the sweet graham. There's a lingering aftertaste. In fact, I can still taste it after 2 minutes.

The roast must have been a very light one. Most of the yanchas I've had have been medium-fired and carry a heavy roast flavor throughout the first few steeps. This tea must have had a lighter roast because of the floral's ability to come out early, and the relative lack of a heavy roast character.

The florals come out more, and the sweet graham dissipates as the steeps go on. 3rd is well-balanced, but the flavors mesh and mellow out. By the 4th, they've started to dissipate. The tea dies around the 6th.

When I first sipped, I thought I loved this tea very much. But as the session wore on, the floral became more than I like to have in tea. Then, it started dying by the 4th infusion. Not long enough for me I'm afraid.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Megami Sencha Itoen

Today, I'm trying Megami Sencha from Itoen.

I believe it is a deep-steamed fukamushi because in the site's description, they say, "You'll immediately note the jade green intensity that comes from extra steaming." Well, the first steep(176°f - 1m) isn't so intense in color:

A light lime-green. The taste, however, is bold, lucious, and delicious. Flavor mostly of spinach, asparagus (name your vegetable), slightly grassy, carries a wonderful lip-smacking tartness, and definitely some lime.

Now, it's been a long time since I've had a deeply steamed sencha, fukamushi style. With this in mind, Megami is hitting the spot perfectly. One factor that may be influencing my opinion is that I'm using a small gongfu cup(right) instead of the usual(left):

The next steeps are the same lime-green color, but cloudier.

What is really appealing to me from this tea is the tart lime flavor. It's my favorite flavor in a sencha (right next to grass), and is typically found in abundance in karigane (gyokuro stem) tea. I always feel lucky when I get a stem-less tea with this flavor.

The bottom line is, I love this tea. It's full of flavor, slightly creamy, quite vegetal, and well-balanced with a tart lime flavor. My first impression of Itoen was that they're too commercial to have great sencha, but hey, I was wrong. However, their packaging was a simple padded envelope, which didn't protect the tea as much as one would hope. Luckily, 2/3 of the teas I ordered were deep-steamed, and already broken up. Deep-steamed senchas taste best when broken up, but the breaking of the leaf is just an effect of the deep-steaming.

At $16.50/3oz, Megami Sencha is a tea worth your time and money. I have two other Itoen senchas I'm looking forward to trying: Chiran Kanayamidori, and Makinohara. If they turn out as well, then I'll give Itoen the seal of approval.