Tuesday, February 26, 2008

2006 Yongpinhao Yiwu Zheng Shan

Another Yiwu for the collection.

Picking off leaves for the first brew goes well until I find these odd plastic-like strands:

I don't know what they are. They feel more organic than plastic, like rice-paper. Perhaps scraps from the production of the neifei(inner ticket). I found more of this stuff on the backside of the cake. It will probably be something thats dispersed throughout the life of the beeng.

Plastic pieces out...

On to the brewing...

2006 Yongpinhao Yiwu Zheng Shan

During the rinsing, I find an aroma coming off the wet leaf that I've never smelled before. At first, the smell reminds me in one way or another of hair. As I continue sniffing, I smell something that reminds me of a desert. There's a dry floral quality and a hint of fruit.

1st Infusion
The liquor is very clear. A pale yellow with hints of green. I don't think the leaves fully woke up from the single rinse. The smell is pretty floral, with hints of fruit. The taste is dominated by a fruity flavor. There's no leather or dirt taste to this pu-erh. The main flavor has a lemon-like taste without the citrus. Also in the taste, following the lemon, is a muted wood flavor.

2nd Infusion
The aroma that was coming off the leaf is definitely more pronounced now. It is a strong odor of wood. Like what fills your nose when you walk into a home-improvement warehouse. There's almost a spice to it, like the smell of dry cayenne or cinnamon. The second infusion's color is pretty much the same, but slightly more yellow with some cloudiness. The aroma is muted, but has notes of both wood and dried fruit. The first flavor to hit the tongue in this infusion is the wood. Not dominant over the dried fruit The two flavors are now pretty equal, complimenting each other.

The tea tastes clean, fresh, mellow, and slightly sweet. I've noticed many Yiwu shengs share these characteristics when they're young. What's particular about this one is the dried-fruit-lemon peel flavor, and the prominent aroma of wood from the wet leaf. In appearance, the wet leaf is mostly green, typical for a young sheng, and some yellow with a couple pale yellow leaves.

3rd Infusion
The aroma seems to stick to the leaves, as the brewed tea carries only muted notes of wood, but the wet leaf still throws out a strong wood aroma. The tea this time carries a little less flavor. The lemon taste now comes out just on top of the wood and is followed by a smooth, sweet finish.

4th Infusion
Gave it a little more time, about 30 seconds. Came out better. A slight hint of astringency accompanying the wood at high temperature. As the tea cools, the flavors are brought back into balance to give a smooth and mellow cup. Wood being complimented by dry lemon peel.

5th Infusion

The color is on the verge of decreasing, the flavor is in balance, but has decreased. I figure this is the last developing steep, but I will probably get two more good ones out.

Overall Impressions: 2006 Yongpinhao Yiwu Zheng Shan
I think this tea is well done. As with most of the Yiwu I have, this pu-erh is young, but already pleasant and drinkable. The wet leaf of this one lets off a very dominant and persistent aroma of fresh and cleanly cut wood. Like that of a home-improvement store. The flavor was composed of wood and lemon-peel(without any citrus bite). The two flavors complimented each other, but one of them was usually more prominent in the taste.

It will be interesting to see what the lemon and wood aromas develop into over time. Although this one is nice young, it's going into the aging section for the time being. When I'm in the mood for pu-erh, 2006's are usually just a tad too young. Being young, they are a bit similar to green tea, and when I want green tea, I'm pulling out the kyuusu.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Cheap Gongfu Tea Table - Puerhshop

I just got my first real gongfu tea table from Puerhshop. Gongfu tables are small table-top tables that have some way of catching water for making tea gongfu-style. For a while I'd been looking through all the choices. At first I wanted one that was like a box, then I decided against it because I didn't want water sitting directly on the wood for extended periods. So then I decided I wanted one with a drain tube so that I could have the excess water go directly into a small container seperate from the tea table. Realizing that all the ones I wanted would have to be shipped from China put me off from buying for a while. I didn't want to have to pay $20 or more for shipping that could take around a month.

Eventually, I found a small table being sold for $16 from a shop in the U.S. When I noticed that it would only cost an extra couple of dollars to ship it, I decided to buy the table. The picture on the site wasn't far from horrific, so I wasn't expecting much. But when it came, I was pleasantly surprised. At first glance, it looked an order of magnitude better than I thought it would.

The table has a nice, dark stain that really enhances its looks. Removing the tray showed me that I had lucked out. I found that it was (kind of) hooked up for a drain tube!

Well, on closer inspection, I found that it wasn't ready for the drain tube at all!

Thinking of all the ways to cut up that plastic tray scared me because it would prove next to impossible to find a replacement if I messed up. I decided to play it safe(r) and send an email to Puershop to see if they had the wisdom on how to do it right. I'll wait it out and see what they say, and I welcome any suggestions on what you think is the best way to go about this.

On closer scrutinization, I did find some small imperfections. Mostly just things to do with the glazing. Not every single inch being covered, and a very small glob of glaze left on. None of these really matter as I scored this tray for about $18 total instead of spending $50-$100 on a nicer one.


Overall Impressions: Gongfu Tea Table
For $16, and little extra for shipping, this is probably the best tea-table deal on the net. For anyone looking for a table, and not looking to spend too much, I strongly recommend this cheap Gongfu Tea Table. It can either be used with a removable tray, or a drain tube (hopefully!), and has a removable top for easy cleaning and any other reasons.

Friday, February 22, 2008

O-Cha Washi Tin and Kabusecha Sencha

After a long week, and an extra mail delay due to President's day, I received my O-cha order. Highlighted in the order are the new O-cha Tamaryokucha, the Kabusecha sencha, and a beautiful red Washi tin. I ordered the tamaryokucha because I absolutely love this kind of tea (also known as Guricha), and added in the Kabusecha as a daily sencha. I've also been needing more double-lidded tins, which are best for air-tightness, so I added to the order one of each tin. I already had one of the $8 tins, so I knew I could expect a perfect-sized tin with an excellent seal. I decided to buy the washi tin because I thought my tea deserved something beautiful to reside in.

The Washi Green Tea Canisters from O-cha are "handmade with Japanese washi wazome paper" which results in each being a beautiful and individual tin. There's no way to choose which color or design. I thought it would be a welcome surprise, and it was.

The inner lid fits fairly well, and I consider it to be air-tight. The outer-lid is also fairly snug, and perhaps air-tight as well. Double-lidded tins are the best because if theres a flaw in one of the lids, it is usually covered by the other one.

I'm happy I bought the tin, because now I can open my bag of Kabusecha sencha and dump it right in.

Kabusecha Reveiw
The smell of the kabusecha upon opening the bag is not extravagant. Though it does smell great, with a heavy grassiness and a pleasing sweetness. The leaf is not overly broken up and has a nice needle shape. The tin perfectly fits the entire 100 gram bag of sencha after tapping it to help the leaf settle.

How To Brew Sencha
For this session, I will use my small kyuusu which holds around 190mL. I will fill it with hot water first, then pour that water into my chawan (tea bowl, what I drink my sencha from). This will preheat both pieces. I'll then fill the kyuusu with boiled water, and let the water cool to ~176°f. Then I'll throw in 2 teaspoons of leaf and let that steep for 1.5 minutes. That's for the first steep. For the second infusion, I'll put 178°f water into the still-warm kyuusu, and let it steep for 30 seconds total, including the pour. The third will be about 182°f for 80 seconds.

The larger size of the leaf reminds me that this sencha will be less-steamed than what I'm used to. 2 teaspoons is what I usually use for this 190mL teapot, although I wonder if this lesser-steamed sencha would turn out better with more.

1st Infusion
The tea came out very clear, as is usual with first steeps. The color is a very light green which looks more yellow under incandescent light. The aroma is light with deep vegetal notes and a slight grassiness. The taste is also considerably light, yet very delectable. Noted is a mellow sweetness, perhaps from brewing a little cooler. The leaf might want to be brewed hotter, around 180°f to bring out more aroma and heighten the flavors. As it is, the mellow sweetness is accompanied by a broad range of vegetal flavor and partnered with an undertone of grassiness.

As I wash down the final sip of the first steep, I remark that the flavor is not intense. There are not sharp flavors as there are with tamaryokucha, and no extremely bold flavor that we find in fukamushi. The flavor is instead a balance of vegetal and grassy flavors, accompanied all the while by a sweetness.

This "vegetal" flavor I speak of is defined differently by different people. Some people find this "vegetal" flavor to remind them of asparagus, while it reminds some of green beans. It might remind some people of spinach, and still others of broccoli. I call it "vegetal" because I can't find it similar enough to any vegetable in particular to call it by that vegetable.

There seems to be a certain smell residing in my bowl after this steep that is reminding me of "dried up" syrup (syrup never really dries, but gets sticky. Touching the bottom of the bowl insures me that it is not sticky). I've noticed this smell regularly with sencha, and find it interesting. It's intriguing that such a healthy beverage can leave behind a smell that reminds me of liquid sugar.

2nd Infusion
The second steep came out with a greener, cloudier brew, as is usual. Not cloudy enough to be seen of as a good fukamushi, so it is still relatively clear. The aroma is more present than in the first infusion. The aroma is mostly vegetal with the grassy smell all but lost. This infusion is still tasty and sweet. The vegetal flavor is dominant, with side-notes of grass. I want to claim that a slight woodsy taste is present, but it isn't bold enough for me to be sure. The ever-present flavor of this infusion is the vegetalness. I expect successive infusions to just be a downplay of the vegetal flavor, with the hidden caramalized sweetness coming out more dominantly in later steeps.

Overall Impressions: Kabusecha
When I first saw the unbroken nature of the leaf, I expected a brew that was more asamushi (lightly steamed) than I was used to. I've had many asamushis, and the kabusecha reminded me of the general category. The grassiness was a welcome involvement in the flavor, which set it apart from previous asamushis. I enjoy this tea, and welcome it to my tea cabinet as an inexpensive daily drinker. Comparing it to the daily-drinking Sencha Fuka-Midori from Den's tea, I'd rather shell out the extra $6 and get the Kabusecha.

Overall Impressions: Washi Green Tea Canister
The first thing that shows is the tin's beauty. Hand-wrapped with washi wazome paper, and an indent on the lid that helps in lining up the design on the lid to the design on the canister. The function of this tin excels as well. A second inner-lid helps seal the green tea leaf in nicely so that fresh tea can be enjoyed even longer. The best part about this tin is its beauty. If I were to recommend it to anyone, a few words relating to good looks would definitely come up.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Mellow Monk's Top Leaf Tamaryokucha

Looks like I get to satisfy the curiosity of sencha drinkers everywhere with this review. More Guricha! Mellow Monk's Top Leaf tamaryokucha is what's in the pot today. Here is the description from the Monk's website:

This is our top-of-the-line honcha, or traditional green tea. Top Leaf tea is specially pampered in its own separate corner of the tea orchard. Not only does this tea receive extra fertilizer (organic, of course) during the growing season, but at harvest time, the growers pick only the top layer of young tea leaves. The result is a distinctive, more subtle, gentler flavor. This tea is always first flush.
Top Leaf comes from the Aso region of the Japanese island of Kyushu. All of Mellow Monk's tea comes direct from small family-farms that have been certified ecologically friendly by Japan's Eco Farmer program.

The Tea

The aroma of the dry leaf is mild and mellow, but carries with it the tantalizing tang noted in the previous post. This tang smell is exclusive to the leaf of guricha. The leaf is in amazing shape compared to the usual broken up sencha leaf. This shows that care really did go into the processing of this tea.

For this first steep, I used 1.5 teaspoons leaf in 180mL of 176°f water for 1 minute. The Mellow Monk advises simple brewing, paying no mind to thermometers, timers and the like. I decided to go my usual route, as appealing as simple brewing sounds. I do wonder whether there might have been a tea-scientist of days past, putting sand grains in a glass vial for exact brewing. :)

The scent from the brew is mellow and slightly earthy. Upon tasting, the slight tang presents itself to the palate. The tea at first tastes very clean and mellow with some earthiness, and is followed by a soft bite of tang characteristic of guricha. The tang is predominantly present in the aftertaste. The gist of this first steep is that the tea has a very clean taste. Den's guricha had a much stronger bite of tang, which was a kick to the tastebuds. This tea is different in that it brings into the picture a slight earthy taste, but is still characterized by the guricha tangy aftertaste. I feel that I can taste the more organic methods used in growing the plants, and perhaps even the volcanic soil of the Aso volcano.

For the second steep I decided to go with 180° water to see if I could bring out any hiding tastes. The result has an aroma similar to that of most sencha second steeps. It has a deep vegetal-sweet aroma as well as a ghost of something that smells almost citrus. The taste has smoothed into a deep vegetal-sweetness that reminds me of second steep fukamushicha. The characteristic guricha taste is still present, but has gone down to a much deeper flavor, and can no longer be seen as a "bite." This second steep is thick, and just as flavorful or moreso than our famed fukamushi, but the taste resides in mellow vegetal-sweetness with no burst of flavor.

In comparison, Den's guricha packed a punch of flavor that made me believe could only be done with heavy chemical fertilizing. Mellow Monk's Top Leaf, whether fully organic or not, brings a much cleaner and mellow flavor profile to the palate, while balancing in an earthy undertone to a sweetly green tea. What I realize now is that the mellow flavor profile is brought about by the use of the uppermost tea leaves put into this tea. Tea buds and younger leaves always bring about a more mellow tea. The Top leaf is very interesting. Next session will see more leaf go into the brew. Right now, I'm thinking 2.2 teaspoons would bring about something different. If this additional leaf adds a new dimension, I'll throw up a post. I also have some the Monk's Choice to review on another day.