Wednesday, April 30, 2008

2007 Huanglong Mengsa

The leaves look alright, 2007-green.

No prominent aroma from the leaves in the preheated gaiwan. The liquor comes out quite yellow, with orange character. Smell is rather dry and grassy. Hints of bark and lumber with hidden hints of zest. Taste is pleasant and clean, like trees and grass in dry months of summer. Hints of zest are tasted now as a mellow, non-acidic dull orange. The second steeping reveals some honey-floralness.

The second steep seemed dull, so I used less water and more time for the third. It came out smelling very little. To sum up the aroma in one sensation: dried-up oranges under a canopy of withered trees, over a floor of dried-out grass and earth. I pick up the orange to smell it, but alas, it does not smell.

The color of the brew darkens, but the flavor remains lifeless. At this point, I'm rather tired of the tea, so I thumb through the leaves to find one which is smooth, thin, and fragile, and another which is coarse, thick, and durable. A rather interesting find.

The coarser one looks to be about 1/3 of a larger leaf. This picture shows the varying leaf types found in this tea.

My lack of enthusiasm for this tea isn't because it's a bad tea. Its taste reminds me of a stale, sun-dried Chinese green tea. This is kind of what it is. I've had some bad shengs, and I can't lump this tea into that category. For the price ($12 and change), it's not a bad way to go. I'd be interested in tasting it again in a few years, which is likely, because the sample is sizable.

I arrive at the grove. The area is arid. The orange trees have all but died, spewing forth only a number of green leaves. I crunch over the dead grass and kick up some dust and grass pieces from the ground as I walk. Noticing oranges on the trees, I become curious. I grab an orange and rip it off with modest force. It comes off with a snap along with a sizable portion of the branch. Pollen is released from the branch. I squeeze the orange, but it is dried-out and solid as a rock. I smell it, but the smell has dried away. All that's left is me in this dead field. It's time for my nomadic-self to grab up my spear and depart.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Fukamushi Video

Here it is, a steeping video featuring fukamushi sencha.

Tea Videos!

Good evening, everyone. I finally kicked on the spurs and made a tea video. This first one is of me gongfuing some shu pu-erh cha. I'm thinking of making a fukamushicha brewing video soon.

Here's my channel:

Monday, April 21, 2008

Okayti Darjeeling Autumn Flush Oolong

Gongfuing tea is wonderful.
What one normally expects from a Darjeeling is a single-steep black tea. Not with this Darjeeling. Mighty Leaf's Okayti Darjeeling Autumn Flush Oolong, when gongfued (lots of leaf, many short infusions), lasted me about 8 infusions. Not incredible for an oolong, but not bad either.

The taste, at first, is buttery-smooth Darjeeling goodness. The aroma and taste is sweet, late-spring honeysuckle blooms, and light wood. Dominant in the taste is a melody of fruit: apple, pear, and raisin. Unlike pu-erh, throughout the steeps this tea's flavor doesn't change much.

Comparing the oolong to it's back tea brother (same estate), one might say the oolong lacks in flavor. This is understandable, as black tea packs all its punch into its first and only steep. I adore the flavor that the Okayti black gives, however, I am much more passionate about the oolong. The oolong may not pack the same punch, but it can be enjoyed over many steeps, and over a longer period of time. I also prefer the oolong because it has a lighter character that allows me to enjoy it any time of day. On the other hand, black teas are at their best in the morning.

An awesome aspect of Darjeeling leaves are their varying colors. From light green to dark brown, it seems the complexity of the color scheme gets carried into the cup. From these pictures, and this review, this tea might seem like a lighter oolong. I would classify it otherwise, as a more darkly oxidized oolong. In reality, it's between the two: my favorite.

Monday, April 14, 2008

2004 Liming Yue Chen Yue Xiang shu

To accompany me in my late-night shu session is this 04 Yue Chen Yue Xiang from Liming Factory.

The leaf looks good for a shu, specially when compared to the last two. The color of the first infusion is a nice, clear, deep-red. I should note that the added leaf was left in small chunks, so unfurling will occur over the steeps, however, I did rinse twice.

The aroma from the cup carries a bit of graham and some odor resembling dough. The taste is quite mellow (a term I may have to stop using when talking about shu). Instigated on the tongue is a pleasant taste of sweet dough, bordered by overly-wet mulch. Very warming. Starting on the tongue, then moving through the mouth, the warmth follows the tea down the throat and heats the extremities from the inside.

The wet leaf smells only of one thing: pungent wet wood. Similar to the pungency of freshly cut wood, as if a wood that has been soaked and decomposing has simply refused to give up its pungent odor. An interesting aroma, but one that is not carried into the brewed infusion.

In the 2nd steep, the color of the liquor turns to a deeper red. Permeating in the aroma is a slight maltiness that goes along well with the dough. When the tea is significantly hot, one can taste a hint of the wood aroma that was found on the wet leaf. While finishing off the second steep, I find it interesting, and vexing that I have found another enjoyable shu. Two in a row is an extreme record for me. This one does have value over the menghai brick from yesterday in that the taste is of higher quality and purity. The better looks and texture of the leaves also play their role in this teas status.

The 3rd steep got 10 seconds or so and delivered a soup that was near-brown in appearance. This one becomes a rounded, sweet blend of flavors, with a deep, hard-to-notice huigan. 4th infusion's aroma has the same hint of malt. The flavor provides a nice balance without being overly thick. The warming sensation persists and courses nicely through the body. Huigan builds slightly over the steeps.

Unfortunately, my excitation about finding another good shu all but fades to dust as I notice the flavors in the shu have all blended together by the 4th infusion, maybe even the third.

This shu does rate above yesterdays menghai brick in the aspects of quality and purity. However, I prefer the "crisper" flavors of the menghai brick. This Liming shu tends to blend it's flavors too early, perhaps in the 3rd infusion (post-2 rinses). This becomes an issue in the 4th infusion where it's hard to pick out any flavors from the tea past a simple "pure" feeling. As an end note, this shu is about four times more expensive than yesterdays menghai brick. Obviously not priced according to my tastes.

2005 Menghai Xishuangbanna

I don't know exactly what this one is, so here's a pic of the uhh... paper description note for those interested.

The dry leaf looks alright. Typical small-leaf young sheng, really.

Leaf into the pre-heated gaiwan produces a smoky aroma. The brewed soup is light-orange and slightly cloudy. Taste is slightly smoky, and has a hint of some floral, warm fruit. Rather smooth past the initial hints of smokiness. Quite floral, with the fruit taste perhaps being a very flavorless melon. There is a soft huigan that dissipates rather quickly.

The smoky aroma and flavor really kick in if this sheng is oversteeped even a little. I think this will lead the tea to have a better balance of flavors later in its life.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

2006 Menghai Yue Chen Yue Xiang Pu-erh Tea Brick

The leaf looks bad, like the xiaguan, it's very stringy from crumbled-down leaves. Not a good first impression.

The cup lends out a deep brown color. I used a lot more leaf than I meant to, and usually do for shu. The smell is interesting, shu-like, but bordering on a graham-cracker aroma. The aroma definitely transfers to the taste, giving this shu a "foody" character. Indeed, it does taste low in quality, and like Chinese medicine. But if you're looking for a cheap shu, yet one that still shines with some character in the flavor, this is the one to get.

This stuff gets very dark brown in the second run. Yet it stays not cloudy. The flavor profile does have some distinctness; I'm finding a good malt, associated also with a graham-cracker taste. It has the sweetness, mellowness, and richness one can expect when in the mood for a ripe puerh.

In the third infusion, I notice this is the only shu I've been able to pick out some inkling of the wood flavors dominantly found in shengpu. It is mellower now, and moreso reminding me of the usual shu.

I feel right now that I definitely like this shupu. I think it's been produced better than most of the rest. Could this opinion be biased by a fact that I'm just in the mood for a warm, mellow, thick, rich shupu? Nonetheless, it will be a good tea to have in my collection. I'll have the 2006 melon for when I'm in the mood for a lighter shu, and I'll have this one on stock for the richer, thicker shu.

Why I place this one above other rich shu is that this menghai brick still carries a few interesting flavors. Noted are malt, graham, and the surprising wet wood flavor that doesn't normally get carried into the shu category of puerh (in my experience, anyways).

I do have to admit that while this brick is cheap, and seems like a great deal, the quality is low. However, even the low quality won't stop me as this one matches my tastes.

5th infusion is still kicking me some good flavors, although the brew has mellowed out. A ~15 second infusion for the 6th gives this more character once more. A nice, relaxed, and calm state of conciousness has been induced. 7th steep for ~25 seconds is still kicking. The color has lightened, but the taste is riding on.

I'll throw a stamp of recommendation on this one. I like it, it's a shu thats more according to my tastes, and is cheap. Can't go wrong with cheap. You can find it here, at Puerhshop.

2006 Puwen Nannuo "Four Good Words"

This mini-beeng(250g) appears to be almost as buddy as yesterday's Chunming. A few more leaves, and the buds don't look as scrumptious. The cake is more solid than the buddy Chunming, but it still easily breaks apart with the hand. This one is deemed to be Nannuo leaf, made by Puwen factory.

The smell as the leaf hits the preheated gaiwan is very much the same, strong odor of hay. The wet leaf looks a lot more green, and more leaf than bud. The color is light amber.

1st infusion, after one rinse. The taste has a strong hay, dead grass body. There's a warm and silky texture that lingers on the tongue.

2nd infusion is rather bitter after only maybe a 5-second infusion. Still sweet, hay-like. Silky texture, and sweet aftertaste.

3rd Infusion. Again astringent after only a flash-infusion. This tea is real young, and quite harsh. I used enough leaf to just about fill the gaiwan. Because of this tea's young character, I think it would be better with less leaf, enough to fill about half of the gaiwan.

I think in about 5 years, this one will be very nice, but for now, it's going to the shelf. The leaf does look good, and the strong hay and astringency give me the feeling that it will age well, so I'll keep my faith in this one.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

2005 Chunming Highland Spring Tips

This one is really catching my interest. I sourced this chunk of a sample from Puerhshop.

Messing around with the chunk... it's really buddy, just as the title suggests. It's much less dense than the usual puerh. It bends, and flakes apart easily with only the hands. Pretty fun to break up, to tell you the truth. I pretty much broke this up to the point of it being loose. Because of this, I'll only do one quick rinse, and I won't expect too many infusions.

Leaf in the preheated gaiwan gives off a fragrance of dead grass, fairly earthy. The brewed soup is very light amber in color. Smell is slightly honey and hay. Taste is actually very pleasant for a young sheng. A sweet structure, tasting of honey, some floralness, a muted hay, and perhaps some hidden cantaloupe. No astringency whatsoever.

Sip. That taste was amazing. I've never had a puerh anything like that. I feel like this is a significant tea. The taste is giving me something that I would have expected from a "white puerh." This is a pleasant break-away from the usual profile of young sheng.

The wet leaf, however, does not smell good. Like hay and animals.

2nd infusion is slightly darker in color. This infusion tastes slightly more like hay when it's at its hottest, subsiding as the temperature drops. The taste then slows to a floral concoction, similar to a green oolong, yet with notes of hay bringing it back to the sheng side. I think this tea should definitely be drunk at slightly lower temperatures. The aftertaste is pronounced and enduring, mellow and sweet, similar to potato chips.

3rd infusion and the smell of the wet leaf is reminding a lot of the berry-notes of white tea. Exactly what it is. The hay in this infusion has now hit the same taste that I find characteristic of white tea; a berry-like smoothness accompanied by a hay-earthiness. This tea is very individual. If you're expecting a young sheng, you're going to be surprised. If you expect what you read in this review, you're going to be dead-on.

This definitely tastes better warm(warm-hot), rather than hot. The deeper flavors come out, and the high notes of hay become blended and muted.

20 second fourth steep added a hint of astringency. If this isn't a white puerh, I expect it to be very simlar. Doesn't taste like a 2005 sheng either. Perhaps more like a 2002 or older mellow puerh.

This picture is of the first infusion. Following infusions actually came out a bit darker, oranger. Unfortunately I was feeling the vibe of the session and forgot to take more pictures.

5th infusion stays kicking with all the flavors mellowed out. I did forget the filter for this one, although this tea hardly needs to be filtered.

6th infusion. Looking through the leaves in the gaiwan, this isn't just "mostly" tips. It's all tips. Minus a couple very young leaves. This tea didn't give out early, I'm surprised. I thought the less leaf, and fully broken apart nature of the leaf would lead this puerh to infuse quickly. However, this sixth steep is not even pronouncing signs of backing down. Perhaps only just, this one is a bit lighter in flavor, but not lacking in it. I find it more enjoyable now, to be honest. Mellow, light, and extremely enjoyable. This tea compliments the end to a warm spring day quite nicely. In fact, I've never tasted such a good decline in a tea.

I seem to have developed a nice, relaxed state of calm. Listening to "Underworld - Dark Train," and enjoying the development and decline of a puerh throughout the steepings. Truly something to be cherished in life.

7th steep. What's interesting, is that unlike white tea, all these buds sink and stay at the bottom. Again, I tried a 30 second steep, and was awarded with a hint of astringency. This tea doesn't need the longer time yet. 10 seconds would have sufficed. Still, this longer steep has brought back the earthy berry-nature that reminds me strongly of white tea.

8th steep is running down in flavor. I am surprised it lasted this long without a smathering of leaf. Overall, I'm very happy with this tea, and I recommend anyone who's looking for something a little different in sheng to grab up a sample.

I actually just threw in a 9th infusion. Gears still moving. I'm surprised it can last this long. One of the favorable characteristics of a good puerh.

Pu-erh Chamber Update

First, an updated graph:

I did get lazy and stop logging the RH, but it has leveled out and is staying consistently between 68% and 71%RH. This could be a result of the tea having absorbed it's proper amount of moisture. This could also stem from my not opening it every couple hours to check the humidity, like I was doing before. Lastly, it could be from having a greater volume of water, which I don't think is the case because all the vesicles holding the water still have the same surface area as before.

I've been swapping out water every two weeks, cleaning the dishes with soap, and rinsing them very well before putting them back in. The cleaning is keeping the water from growing any mold, and the hefty rinsing is to keep all the odor of the soap away from the tea. I've been striving to keep the cabinet clean. This means washing hands before handling all puerh so as not to contaminate them.

I acted on commenter Stephane's advice, who suggested that I store a chunk of the puerh on a nearby shelf. Down the road, this will hopefully determine differences between the two storages. The victim of this experiment is a 2004 Xiaguan tuocha that I picked up from Puerhshop last fall.

I wrapped the pieces in tissue paper to best keep all other storage aspects identical.

I decided to chop a chunk off of one of my purple leaf cakes. This, I thought, was a good idea because purple leaf puerh is fairly new to the market, so it's aging process is widely unknown. SO in the interest of scientific advancement....

I broke my knife. Damn. Next puerhshop order, I'll snatch the Pu-erh Sacrificial Death Knife. For now, I'll have to find a replacement. I still managed to get a chunk of purple out. This new experiment box has gone onto the top shelf, just above the pu-erh chamber. It now contains 1 Chunk 2007 Purple Leaf, 1 Chunk 2004 Xiaguan, and 1 mini-tuocha for good spirits. Some time after this picture, the humidity is reading at 52%, and still dropping.

I must admit that my hygrometer might be reading a bit low. I performed a shifty experiment that is supposed to determine how far off the mark a hygrometer is, and mine read 8%RH below. Well, I don't think this is saying much yet as there are too many factors that could have resulted in this bad reading. I'll try it a few more times and see how it goes.

Now that experiment is in order. I want to show you my other invention for puerh drinkers.

That's it. A can to collect pu-erh leaves. Please, save the Lemelson-MIT award, really. ...Ah, the meaning of the can. Well, there were too many times when I was done breaking up some puerh, and had a smathering of crumblings and dust left over. I also found that after I finished my samples, I would be left with a few chunks which weren't enough to make a pot. I decided to stop throwing them out the window, and to collect them. JF is doing something similar, I believe he's wet-storing them. These are going to stay dry (well, in my enlosure). This will probably benefit my other teas in one way. That is, when I finish an expensive aged puerh sample, I can keep some crumblings in this can. I hope this will serve to more quickly introduce all the friendly bacteria that develops on puerh over time.

Check back in a few years to see how things are developing!

Friday, April 11, 2008

2000-something Rishi Puerh Maiden

2nd of 3 received from Bhale.

Maiden is a dark shupu said to hail from a small tribe where only female virgins pick the tea-leaves. That aside, the leaf is small and has that slight powder-coated look to it.

The taste is much as I remember it when I first tried it oh so long ago. The color is quite red, and if I could say it tastes red, then this would be a lot easier. Anyways, the taste is fairly bold, in it's shupu style, with a heavy fermentation taste (*like malt) and some doughy sweetness. The cloudiness is not too much, but the tea isn't clear either. For some reason my filter has been getting clogged quicker of late. This shu set the record. I don't know what I'll do about that. Maybe I'll pressure-wash it. Otherwise it's time for a new one.

This stuff is really red. Kind of scary. Like blood. Maybe my tea got virgin sacrifices dedicated to it. That'd be a deal.

In my experience, there are two main colors of shupu: red and brown. At least to me, the reds have always been better than the browns. This is one of the few reds that have carried a hefty maltiness. The malt is usually found in the darker, cloudy-brown shupus. I find the malt to be a pleasant flavor.

The secon infusion keeps with it, delivering that same heavy fermentation(*malt) smell. This one tastes quite different from most shu I've had. I suspect it might be from a slightly different cooking process. It's very shu-like, malty. That might be it. A strong taste and odor of maltiness. I usually use the word "malt" to describe the texture, but in this case it definitely instills the flavor profile.

The tea color stayed surprisingly consistent in the following infusions. The taste mellowed out around the fifth. Leaving the 6th to be drinkable, but not interesting. Color lessens around the 6th. I figure this one could go for 8 if someone wanted to push it. I didn't use much leaf, so more would probably mean more good infusions.

I conclude that this is good stuff, on level with my other favorite shu. It's interesting to think that the first shu I liked, oh so long ago, is still at the top of my list. I do have around 5 more new shu samples to try. If none of them pan out, I might try to keep a stock of this stuff. Although, it is pretty overpriced at Rishi. Oh well.

To define this one in one word: Malt.
Crap, that was a lot easier!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

70's Vietnamese Liao Fu San Cha

I received this sample from Brandon as part of a tasting. Thanks again, Brandon. No pictures for this one today, sorry for that.

70's Vietnamese Liao Fu San Cha

The leaf is quite dark, but looks a lot better than what you'd expect from a shu (I'm not saying this is a shu). The stuff, after 30 years, is still in relatively large pieces.

The smell that emanates from leaf in the preheated gaiwan is musty and dusty. Normally I would be taken aback (as I'm allergic), however, what develops in a longer sniff is a luscious odor of old lumber.

2 flash rinses, then about 5 seconds for the first steep.
The smell of the must mostly got rinsed away and is only very minutely present in the brewed infusion. However, the must is one of the high notes in the taste, accompanied by a rich woodsy flavor. Deeper notes of wet leather and old lumber. The taste is very well-rounded and extremely enjoyable.

In the second infusion, I tasted a bit of tang. Probably akin to plum.

In following infusions, the flavors blend into a very enjoyable cup. Deep, warm, rich tones of old, wet lumber and leather. I bumped infusion 5 to a ~20 second infusion. The leaf lasted to about 10 infusions for me.

I really enjoyed this one as I don't get to have aged sheng all that often. It's from Houde, but unfortunately was sold out before I could get to more.