Tuesday, January 31, 2006

How Hath the Mighty Fallen? In Pursuit of Tea Royal Yunnan

How hath the mighty fallen? For well over a year now, I've had the luxury of knowing that the In Pursuit of Tea Royal Yunnan was going to be the clear winner for my own tastes, and I could rely on it being there if no other tippy Yunnan would suit me. I've posted a previous review of this tea under the title "A Yunnan Comparison and Farewell Salute to the Woodwose Yunnan". But that previous review was based on a very different tea experience than the new order received in January 2006.

All question of lots aside (as I've had conflicting input on this point), the tea has changed throughout the time I've been drinking it with different orders, but it's still been my Yunnan tea of preferred choice even through those changes. But what I ordered and received in January 2006 was quite disappointing, enough so that I have requested a return to vendor of the unopened quarter pound bags I had received. This was a tea I loved enough to be comfortable ordering in half and full pound amounts. Not any more. The aroma still has some of that maple sap sweet/earth/cocoa character that I think of as mocha. But most of what the aroma promises does not meander into the cup itself. It does not have the soft fruity-woody range of the IPOT Royal Yunnan I referred to as 'Woodwose.' This cup has almost no sweetness whatsoever, especially compared to previous orders. Besides being quite heavy in earth, the earth itself doesn't have that clean taste I think of as 'good earth.' Instead there is a metallic note connected to the earth, and the overall cup seems much more astringent than it has been in the past. I actually register this with some degree of digestive upset, which I've never experienced with the IPOT Royal Yunnan before. Sometimes a Yunnan can have a fresh note to it that is quite floral. I experienced this in a Golden Bud A Yunnan from http://www.pu-erhtea.com/. But this current order from IPOT has a hint of something young that seems more raw, and it doesn't cross over to the lovely floral notes I've had in some lighter golden Yunnan teas. It's something akin to a grainy note that isn't richly malty but rather metallic, and it lingers unpleasantly into the finish. I found myself just very much disliking the lingering aftertaste to this tea. It's not only 'not as good as' past orders but quite distinctly inferior and not currently worth the price for my own tastes.

Friday, January 27, 2006

'old tree teacher's lot' phoenix bird oolong [private reserve] from silkroadteas.com

item O-PBO-PR
harvest: 2005
brewed for these notes: 060121

another of the high-end fenghuang dancongs from silk road teas. michael plant has also recently reviewed this tea.

brewing vessel: gaiwan, paired with aroma and tasting cups
dry leaf: big, straight noodles of twisted leaves, extremely dark green with some silvery grey tones
infused leaf: not much unfurling going on in the gaiwan; predictably, the green of the leaf becomes a somewhat more vivid green upon moistening, but still quite dark.

brewing parameters: 1 g tea : 1 oz water. the infusion times were as follows: INF1: 20s; INF2: 5s; INF3: 40s; INF4: 90s; INF5: 3 min.

what struck me most about this tea was the dramatic way in which the aroma increased along with steeping time. on the first two infusions it was what i would call 'faint' -- not at all arresting. beginning with INF3 it began to make a more assertive statement. INF5 was like being in a warm flower bed.

perhaps less surprising was the gradually darkening color. INF1 was pale pale gold with only the slightest tint of green. INF5 was a hearty tawny gold but, again, with only a very slight greenish hue.

as for the taste: this is a tea i would drink primarily for the aftertaste, which is distinctly like peaches. it is also tenacious [lasting many minutes after the tea was consumed] and yet extraordinarily delicate. astringency is very low; only INF3 had any sharpness to it, and i attribute this to the sharp increase in brewing time. i'm inclined to tweak these parameters somewhat in future, so that INF2 is not quite so short and INF3, 4 and maybe 5 not so long.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Michael Plant on Wenshan Super Premium Looseleaf Puer, from Yunnan Sourcing LLC

[from an email to corax. posted by permission.]

Wenshan Super Premium Loose leaf Pu'erh

Harvest: 2005

195 degrees, 6 grams of dry tea, 5 ounces of water. Steeps after rinse in seconds: 10, 20, 30, 40, on up to 600. (Brewed in a gaiwan.)

Deep in the woods the clapboard house burned down, charred to a crisp in the dead of a cold winter’s night, snow on the ground and mist in the air. The scene smells of destruction, but for the most part it’s the clean smell of charcoal, not quite tarry, chastened by the snow.

Now you’ve got a good idea what to expect from this tea: A wood charcoal aroma, almost tarry, from the gaiwan lid and from the liquor, a bit of vegetal from the leaves. Taste is of a charred wood fruit. There is astringency. It’s balanced and consistent from steep to steep. Aftertaste clean, bright, open, expansive, fruit and astringency predominating and even recurring minutes later in the back of the throat, especially in later steeps. There is a touch of the bitter (sour?) here too, not to be confused with astringency, which it complements. I took the tea to eight steeps. It had lightened toward the end, although I petered out before it did.

Minor Issues, and recommendations:
The loose leaves are big and on long stems that soften in the water. Liquor color ranged from straw to deep yellow. Experiment around with parameters, but expect more finish and aftertaste in a pushed steep, one brewed longer and/or hotter. I let the temperature rise and fall within limits, and found this tea giving and easy.

General Impressions:
This is a tasty and pretty tea, a surprising combination of tastes and aromas, not cigar-like, not smokey beyond clean charcoal. It’s a tea for right now, as loose leaf Pu’erhs are poor candidates for aging. I’m impressed. I’m very impressed.

Michael Plant on Old Tree Teacher's Lot Phoenix Bird Oolong, from silkroadteas.com

[from an email to corax. posted by permission.]

Item: O-PBO-PR
(A Feng Huang Dan Cong)

Off boil, 11 grams of dry tea, 5 ounces of water. Steeps in seconds: instant, instant, 5, 10, 10, 10, 20, 20, 30, 30, 60, 60, 60, 120, 120. (OK, add 20% to account for the pour time.)
(Brewed in a fully stuffed YiXing pot seasoned to Feng Huang Dan Congs.)

Aroma: Soft fruit and round, more fruit from the emptied cup, consistent throughout steeps.

Taste: Green flint, lightly fruited, especially in later steeps. At around the seventh steep, a pronounced increase in finish and aftertaste, a sweet fruit on the roof of the mouth and the top of the tongue, complex, dry and flinty by turns. At around the tenth steep, less complex, but still producing that soft round aroma.

Minor Issues , and Recommendations:
The wet leaves are deep jade green , strong, big, with a reddish edge caused by manufacture, and a heavy central vein. A more lightly oxidized Feng Huang (Phoenix Bird) Dan Cong (Single Bush) Oolong from Guang Dong Province, it allows longer steeps than the more heavily oxidized versions. Stuff the pot full of leaf. That means placing dry leaf, tapping the side of the pot to cause the leaf to settle, and then putting in still more leaf. Use water off the boil, but adjust the time for each steep up or down according to the taste of the previous.

General Impressions:
A physically beautiful tea, complex in taste, friendly in aroma, and pleasing through at least fifteen steeps. Gorgeous. I love this tea, pure and simple.

Michael Plant on Tongyu Mountain Green, from silkroadteas.com

[from an email to corax. posted by permission.]

Lot: G-TMG-5

+/- 165 degrees, 5 grams of dry tea, 10 ounces of water. Steep around a minute, second steep less. (Brewed in a gaiwan.)

A refreshing tea with just a touch of Gyokuro butter, astringency and sweetness, and a hint of bitterness behind it; aroma, a wee vegetal and meadowy. It’s clean and fresh and consistent throughout, but admits of two steeps maximum, the first the better. Astringency comes up as the cup cools. I like astringent, you might not. In any event, it’s gentle.

Minor Issues, and Recommendations:
Leaves are variable in size and form, and small throughout. Liquor color is yellow-green, with emphasis on the yellow. Try a third steep if generic green is OK with you, as it usually is with me. This tea is inexpensive, and gives more than its money’s worth.

General Impressions:
I’m on board with Tongyu Mountain Green. It’s my everyday green of choice. It reveals a sophistication beyond its price.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Viet Nam Beencha, Silk Road Teas P-VNBC-95

So what's inside the wrapper? It's a very, very good ten-year-old shu cake. Where's it from? Well, it's hard to say.

The characters corresponding to the non-Pinyin transliteration Yuen Neun translate as Distant Year, which is, I suppose, accurate enough after ten years, but was hardly true when the wrapper was placed on the bing. My friends Winnie and Michael, who are extremely fluent in tea Chinese, have been all over the wrapper and the unusually big nei fei, and there just isn't any categorical information on who pressed the cake and where. Winnie and Michael suggest that maybe the cake wasn't made exactly in Vietnam but rather near Vietnam in southern Yunnan, and that whoever made it intended it for the Taiwan market, where it would be important to disguise the tea's PRC origin.

OK, end of inconclusive gossip. How good is it?

Of all the shu Pu'ers I've tasted in the last few years, there's only one other I would rather drink: a 20-year-old mushroom that I have trouble believing is really (all) shu, since it tastes so much like aged sheng and supports an infinite number of steeps.

This Vietnam, or Yuen Neun, bingcha has some of the attributes of an aged sheng, but there's no doubt that it's cooked. The dry leaf is dark brown, and the first few steeps are typically shu: very dark brown and opaque.

The brewing regimen for this tea was: boiling water; 5g/5 fluid ounces; rinse followed by steeps of 20, 10, 20, 30 seconds, then 1, 2, 5, and 10 minutes.

The aroma of the brewed leaves in the first steep was sweet, fruity, and pondy. The cup aroma had that plus some wood, and some vague herbality. The taste had all of that except the pondiness: smooth, balanced between sweet and herbally bitter; a nice long finish too, which seemed to cycle among the various components. The second steep was about the same.

The third had less fruit and some toast in its aroma, suggesting the dry quality of some shu Pu'ers that I find not terribly exciting. But the taste was sweeter than in the first tow, a bit like some nice Jin Gua teas I've had, and better still, had kept its complex finish. In the fourth and fifth steeps, the aroma stayed more or less the same, but the herbal component seemed to clarify into camphor. The taste in the fourth and fifth was pretty stable, but I started noticing increasing richness and melony sweetness as the cup cooled.

By the sixth steep, the liquor was clear of suspended particles, and looked like hongcha. The aroma was still the same melon/camphor/toast; the flavor still had melony sweetness and camphor, but the pondy quality had left the scene. The seventh was the same as the sixth.

In the eighth steep, the color lightened. The aroma still held its melon and camphor, with the toast gone. The taste still had melon and camphor, but had lost a lot of its strength.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

dong fang hong phoenix bird oolong [private reserve] from silkroadteas.com

vendor: silkroadteas.com
harvest: 2005
item #: O-PBO-PR; lot DFHT5
parameters: 1 g : 1 oz
brewing vessel: cebei
date brewed for this review: 060101

dry leaf: dark green twisted leaves, some of them quite long.

brief rinse [20 sec] followed by 40-sec rest.

INF1: 28 sec, 190F. aroma: vaguely floral. color: medium gold with just the slightest tint of green. taste: delicate oolong flavor but not ostentatiously floral like some dancongs. a tenacious finish that is rendered the more pleasurable by its subtlety. the aroma continues up the nose in a pervasive and comprehensive way; this is in some ways the most distinctive aspect of this subtle tea. there is a mild but noticeable astringency.

INF2: 20 sec, 190F. aroma: this infusion, interestingly, veers away from the vegetal/floral and toward the toasty. color: deeper gold than INF1, and less of a greenish hue. taste: follows the aroma straightforwardly. often the toasty oolongs are what one might describe as 'milder' in a certain sense -- perhaps less assertive than the more floral ones. when that is the case, in general it simply invites greedier drinking, and this tea is no exception. but 'bull-drinking' of such a noble tea would obscure the fact that even a modest mouthful of the liquor escorts you to fenghuang shan. the astringency is attenuated now.

INF3: 25 sec, 190F. aroma: still toasty without a pronounced vegetal note. color: again a medium gold, which [also again] allows the green hue to show. taste: much like INF2, except that the astringency reasserts itself here.

INF4: 30 sec, 190F. aroma and color: as for INF3. taste: a tiny bit of bitterness here. was the infusion too long, or is this just the home stretch?

INF5: 40 sec, 190F. aroma: as for INF3/4. color: a deeper gold/green than INF3/4. taste: i brewed this infusion no longer than INF4, lest i incur more bitterness, but that was not a problem here. this was the toastiest infusion yet, with very little astringency.

IN SUM: i have used the word 'subtle.' one of the less dramatic dancongs on offer from SRT, but no less appreciable because of that. a quiet tea, perhaps, for quiet moods. certainly a dancong that combines great delicacy with tenacity. i surmise it could withstand at least two more infusions without expending its virtue.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Private Estate Green Tea, “Flat Needle” from Silk Road Teas, G-PET-5

DATE PURCHASED: October 27, 2005

DATE BREWED FOR THESE NOTES: Between 12/9/05 and 12/23/05

DRY LEAF: Olive with silver notes, consistent whole flat leaves, about 1 inch long

WET LEAF: Appearance not noted. Sweet, soft aromas of pine resin and cooked cereal from wetted leaves in gaiwan.

APPEARANCE OF LIQUOR: Almost colorless in all steeps.

TEA-TO-WATER PROPORTIONS: I tried ratios of 1g per 1 oz. and 1 g. per 2 ozs. 1:2 was far more successful in all trials; 1:1 yields a liquor with too much astringency.

BREWING VESSELS: Gaiwans exclusively.

TEMPERATURES: I experimented with temperatures ranging from 140F to 160F. I find 140F preferable, 150F acceptable.

This is one of several different Private Estate greens currently offered by Silk Road Teas.

The principal flavor of this tea recalls the taste, and even a hint of the pungency, of pine needles. It’s a welcome, refreshing, delicate flavor, though, when not brewed too strong. This character remains through all steeps (which may extend up to five) and is offset in the earlier steeps by a warming, hot-cereal note. There’s a nice contrast between the cooling effect of the pine and the warming cereal. There’s sometimes a fleeting, toasty character, and sometimes a hint of sweetness. Good, long finish.

I’ve recognized this “pine” characteristic in another of Silk Road’s greens, the Green Silver Needle (G-GSN-2), in a lot from 2003.

The pine flavor is a personal reference, and I’ve asked myself if that reference might be influenced by the name “needle” and leaf shape. But that’s all I come up with, and perhaps another taster will come up with a difference reference.

CONCLUSION: A very good, but quite individual, fresh-tasting green.

Joe Kubera