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I embarked on my tea journey when I studied abroad in China in 2008 and traveled around Taiwan that summer. I'm here to share my experiences and offer my own opinion, advice, and comments on tea.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

2008 Mengyang Guoyan "Queen of Yiwu"

Interesting enough, the Chinese name for this is Yiwu Cha Huang, which translates to "Yiwu Tea Emperor." Modesty and humility are certainly not traits of pu-erh factories when it comes to naming schemes, I believe. Sadly, this tea is neither a king nor a queen, but rather it's more like a pretender to the throne. This is merely the review of a humble pu-erh neophyte, so maybe I'm not "getting it," or once again, this tea just doesn't sit well with me.

I had heard good things about this cake from the folks over at TeaChat (specific thread here). I mostly agree with the sentiments there, but whereas these qualities are described positively by that reviewer, those same traits are negative qualities of the cake in my mind. The leaves look gorgeous, and compression was nice in my chunk of a sample. It seemed like a nice tea: floral, sweet, a touch woodsy. Like many things in life, looks can be deceiving.


If only the tea tasted as good as the leaves look

The first three infusions did not bode well in my judgment of this cake. The mouth feel of the infusion is decent which borders on being thin, while the smoothness borders on blandness. Frustrated, I recalled that a lot of leaf was needed to make it tasty, so added about two grams of new leaf after the third infusion. It did little to help, and even when pushed hard, the tea still had little to give. It's a bit fruity and there's nothing offensive about it, but it lacks the punchiness that I like in my pu-erh. Soft and rounded, it might be tasty to people who like that sort of thing.

Disappointment seems to be the trend of these samples, and I'm only considering ordering four or five cakes of what I've tasted thus far. Thank goodness I didn't subscribe to the cake = sample theory, because even if a cake is relatively cheap, when it's bad it's just sitting there, serving as a reminder of how stupid I was. I was actually thinking or purchasing this cake right off the bat, just based on what I've heard. So glad I didn't. I've also vowed to myself that I won't purchase a cake outright unless it's a recommendation coming from people whose opinions I trust. Though I'm more likely to take the advice of what cakes to avoid, than what cakes to get.

Hopefully the trend of disappointment will end when I receive a spur-of-the-moment pu-erh purchase I made from Seven Cups, their 2001 Winter Yellow Green Cake. Looks ugly, doesn't it? I would never had even entertained the thought of ordering such an expensive cake, but a combination of things were at work behind this spontaneous decision: 1. BBB's glowing review (see here), 2. their 20% off sale (who can't resist a good deal) which is ending this month, and 3. staying up until 2 AM thinking about pu-erh. I hope this wasn't a rash decision, but I trust BBB and his taste (and I hope his opinion of said cake hasn't changed too much in the three years since that review).

Saturday, October 24, 2009

2009 Guan Zi Zai Jing Mai Wild Arbor

See product description here

I've been sampling whole load of young sheng from my recent order, and I'm pretty glad that I didn't order cakes right off the bat - some of these are stinkers. Now, most of them are stinkers not because they taste horrible, but they weren't my cup of tea. As of now, I'm looking to purchase for immediate consumption...not worrying too much about storage. Since I'm going to be gone for two years, now's not the best time to start collecting. I also figure that in the near-future it'd be clearer what kind of cakes are going to age and which ones are not. Hopefully any cakes I buy will start to age as usual once I move them to a more suitable aging environment.

So, I'm reviewing this cake as it is, without considering if it's going to age well or not. I'm starting to find that I like pu'er with character, raw and fierce...and from what I've tried so far I'm really digging stuff from Bu Lang or Jing Mai. And I don't like many of the Lin Cang/Meng Ku samples that I have, but maybe I'm not drinking the right stuff, or stuff from this region doesn't fit my needs.

So, onto the actual tea. I've returned to this tea a few times, just to be sure that I like it enough to buy a whole cake. I think I'm sold. The product description reads that this tea's "bitterness is rivalled only by Bu Lang." Very nice


The remaining piece of my original sample

There's a nuttiness that permeates this tea. From the dry aroma to the wet aroma to the actual tea itself, it's always there. This seems to be a trait common to teas from this area, IIRC. I'm quite happy to distinguish that, but perhaps I wouldn't be in if this were a blind tasting between regions. There's also a "savory" element in the tea, which is also apparent in the wenxiangbei. Quite smooth and creamy, a slight bitterness in the tip keeps this tea interesting, and which also also compelled me to order a cake once I'm done with all the samples I have. It seems fairly durable, but I didn't keep an exact count of how many infusions it went through before descending into simple honeyed tea water (though I went through half a pitcher of water, which is fairly remarkable since a whole pitcher lasts for three sessions).

I have a fair share of samples from Guan Zi Zai, and they've all left me with a good impression so far. But I'm still a greenhorn in sampling young sheng, so perhaps my opinion doesn't count as much. Would be nice to see other peoples' impressions of offerings from this company, especially the ones that are up on Yunnan Sourcing, which are all 2009 cakes.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Complications, Complications, Complications

This won't have anything to do with tea, besides the fact that I'm drinking some while I'm typing away ... but this is my blog, so I can do whatever the hell I want!

So as some of you may know, I am currently applying for the Peace Corps, and I'm at the second to last step, the medical and legal review. Now, from what I've heard this is the process that's the most frustrating and time-consuming. I'm hoping to avoid any unnecessary troubles and getting this done right the first time. Now, the medical review is divided into three parts: the physical, dental, and eye examination. The last one was by far the easiest. Thank god for Costco optometrists. Haven't gone to my physical yet, but that's not until Monday. Now, my first obstacle: the dental examination.

The Peace Corps are truly attentive to details, requiring the actual X-Rays or digital images. Now, my dentist is ahead of the times and he's done away with the X-Ray machine, so this should be a snap, right? One caveat, it needs to be printed on photo-quality paper. Now, this shocked even the dentist because he said even cancer patients didn't have trouble with plan paper, but somehow I need photo-quality paper. So I'm going back to the dentist on Monday, after my physical, and buying some god damn photo quality paper. But I'm going to stop by his office first thing in the morning to write down his model number, and pray to God that regular printers can print on photo quality paper...

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Overwhelmed with Tea

I've been pretty busy lately with the tea, and it's probably karma for venting about the tea ruts a while ago. But it's always better to have more tea than less tea, unless of course the tea in question is quickly perishable green tea. I recently met up with WY last Saturday, and we tried a wide range of different Oolong, mostly high roasted stuff, some Yancha, and an aged Baozhong. As always, I left with tons of samples of various high roasted TGY and Yancha (Thanks again!).

Soon afterward I became the latest to enjoy the Oolong Box Pass, courtesy of the folks over at Teachat. Some of the teas were things I wouldn't normally buy myself, but it's always nice to be part of a IRL tea drinking shindig, and it's a way for me to try to be as generous as others have been to me. Pay it forward is a way of thinking I strive to live by.

My order from Yunnan Sourcing also came on Saturday. I missed the mailman and he left me a "Sorry We Missed You" notice, which irked me, since I wouldn't get my package until Tuesday (because of Columbus Day). I am highly impatient, and I marched down to the Post Office at around 4:30 PM so I can grab my package when the carriers return back to the Post Office. I was scared for the worst, but luckily I returned home with a large package of four cakes/tuocha and 27 (!) samples.

I've tried all of the four cakes/toucha, and at this point I'm quite partial to the 7532 and the Xiaguan FT Baoyan Tuocha. I'm kind of disappointed in how "weak" the 2008 Xiaguan FT Instant Sensation is, but maybe I need more leaf. It's enjoyable to drink, but I was expecting something with a little more kick ... especially since it's a chopped factory cake. I've been thinking about how to tackle the samples, and I've decided to tackle these samples by region, starting with Bu Lang and Lin Cang. So far I like the 2009 Guan Zi Zai "Jing Xuan Bu Lang", which stands out a little more than the 2006 A-Gu Zhai Wild Arbor Bu Lang. The former has a better mouth-feel and bitterness (but a good way) than the latter. There's also some sort of "bean-like" aroma that I can't really describe.

I'm fascinated with the different flavors and aromas that come from a genre of tea that I had limited experience prior to this, and I'm also having difficulty conveying what aroma/flavor I'm detecting. To me, it seems that a lot of these teas I'm tasting tend to be more about the mouth feel, but some also have an interesting flavor as well. The 2005 Hai Lang Hao "Lincang Impression" has some kind of tangy fruitiness that caught me off guard.

I'm also finding that I find young sheng more enjoyable than most aged sheng (shocking isn't it?). I probably haven't had that kind of "aha" moment, but I prefer the flavor/aroma profile of young sheng. Hopefully I'm not overdoing it with young sheng, which I hear can cause stomach problems later on...so I'm balancing it with some other Oolong that I have, but it's so darn hard not to just plough through all my Yunnan Sourcing samples!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Window Shopping

What I would give to live in a metropolitan in China or Taiwan...I would be able to window-shop for for pots to my heart's content, sadly here in the states the best I can do is look at different vendor sites, because a lot of these pots are either a. too large, b. way out my price range, or c. highly likely to be fake, or d. not very good quality. The fact that some of the vendors don't have their pots online, whether they don't update often (Hou De), or they lack an online store entirely (Best Tea House). *Sigh* This is quite depressing....

On the plus side, I'm going to Boston and New York City for a week in late January/early February. Although I don't know of any good tea shops in Boston, Tea Gallery is definitely a place I want to hit up when I visit. Hopefully I'll be able to pick up a nice Zi Ni pot and some good tea while over there, but sadly this also means I need to tighten the metaphorical tea budget belt, so I can go bonkers while I'm there.

Besides Tea Gallery, I might hit up Ito-En...and maybe troll around Chinatown, though I doubt I'd find anything there, and I'm not good enough with pots to distinguish fakes. But Tea Gallery is still a little over 4 months away....*sigh*

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

An Exploration of Terrior

My previously posted entry on this mysteriously vanished into thin air, and now I am left with the task of recalling into memory what I have already written before. This must be divine retribution for doing tea-related work. *shakes fist at the work gods* But anyway, such is life...at least it gives me a chance to actually mull over what I write, instead of furtively sneaking around doing it...

Terroir, a concept pretty important in wine enjoyment/production, has found usage in tea drinking as well. I believe that it makes a difference in any kind of plant, not just tea (and it shows because produce from California beats produce from most other states in my opinion). But how much of a difference does it make, when you stack it up to other factors such as farming techniques, processing, storage, etc. I never really thought much about terroir that much when buying tea, that is, until I started researching pu'er.

From what I've read, single-estate cakes a relatively recent (recent being a relative term, of course) phenomenon. Back in the day the state-controlled factories picked leaves from all the different mountains, and blended them together. Now, in the post-DXP world, privately owned factories could make their own productions; however, they lacked the resources (or maybe even the legal right) that the larger factories had, and could only create single-estate cakes. It seems that these estates all have their own special characteristics, but the question remains of how these single-estate cakes will age, and whether their regional characteristics will stand the test of time, or will they all converge somewhat, and to the a point a Nannuo is no longer distiguishible from a Jing Mai. Since there's no historical precedence of single-estate cakes, no body knows.

But moving on from pu'er to what I'm most curious about: terrior in oolong. This is very interesting, because we have the opportunity to taste the same varietal of plant, Wuyi Shui Xian and Anxi TGY, grown in two different regions. So this is a good opportunity to see how terroir influences the same varietal in different environments.

I've sampled a fair share of Taiwanese Shui Xian and I've also had my fair share of Chinese Shui Xian. These two taste nothing alike, and the difference between these two is like night and day. But why is this? Well, Taiwanese Shui Xian is not processed traditionally like the Wuyi version; instead, it's a medium roasted Bao Zhong. I'm not saying that it's bad...but it's Shui Xian in name only. So maybe this shows that terroir is a big deal, but let's not be too hasty. The processing techniques of these two are way too different, and their differences may not be attributed mostly to terroir, but mostly to processing differences.

Okay, so let's turn to traditional roast TGY, which is done both on the mainland and in Taiwan. I could be wrong, but their processing techniques aren't going to differ as much as the difference between Wuyi Shui Xian and Taiwanese Shui Xian. Sadly, I haven't had the opportunity to taste these two side by side...but actually, now that I remember, a friend is sending me a sample of some traditional roast Muzha TGY. Now if only I could get my hands on some Chinese traditional roast TGY (looks at WY). But at least according to WY, who's tasted a fair share of traditional roast from both sides of straights, says about Muzha TGY, "there's something missing..." (I believe I'm paraphrasing him correctly here)

So maybe that "missing something" is terroir? Or is it processing differences?

Also, how much does terroir matter within the same genre of tea? Perhaps characteristics amongst the single-estates is more noticeable, because pu'er processing is more or less uniform (correct me if I'm wrong here), where as with oolong, things like roast and oxidation can muck things up. Will different Shui Jin Gui exhibit more similarities than it does differences? By the grace of...well, WY, I have in my possession four different samples of Shui Jin Gui, and I have ordered some from Seven Cups. Will they have more similarities than they will be differences?

Even though I may not have the palate to actually come to some sort of conclusion by the end of all this, at least I get to drink some tasty tea.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Sickness

Ugh, I hate being sick ... because I don't really enjoy tea as much when I'm preoccupied with all the sniffling, coughing, and all the other nastiness that comes with the common cold. Also, I'm afraid that a coughing fit will hit when I'm holding a teapot, and lose of control might lead to unfortunate accidents. Tea has been touted, both in modern and ancient times, as something that can cure sickness, but I don't think I could really enjoy tea like this.

Also, the cough drops I'm popping would definitely mess with the taste of whatever I'm drinking.

*addendum*
Okay, so I wrote a new entry...and it's completely gone for some reason...sorry if you were checking in on the new entry, folks.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Impulse

There isn't a better title than this...and it's pretty self-explanatory. It hasn't even been a day since I posed the question before my readers, and I already found myself caving into the temptation. Between the advice of those on TeaChat (a cake = a sample) and the advice of WY (buy samples), I didn't know which school to follow. So I choose the middle path, buying a few cakes and a ton of samples. I figure I would buy some of the classics, and even if I didn't like them...it would be a good learning experience and give me a better understanding of some solid foundations. I picked the following cakes:

'08 8582
'08 7532
(I would've gone for the 7542...but I fear that its potency would turn me off completely)
'08 Xiaguan FT Baoyan Jincha
'08 Xiaguan FT Yiming Jingren aka "Instant Sensation"
Yunnan Sourcing Sampler (Just because it's nice to support your vendors, and the Half-Dipper tasting event made me curious)

Even though others might say that single-mountain cakes may not age as well as blends...but unlike many others out there, I'm not buying to collect, I'm buying to drink now (well, I might hold a few for long-term storage). Don't have the space/money to build a pumidor, so I'll just let nature take its course for now, and in a few years I'll get around to buying/assembling one. A few years isn't going to kill a cake, in my opinion. So anyway, I'm interested in tasting the different mountains, and maybe get a feel for their distinctive qualities. I didn't even know where/how to find recommendations for cakes that would be representative of their region, so I just emailed Scott from Yunnan Sourcing and said, "I want to sample cakes that are representative of the major estates: yiwu, nannuo, bulang, bada, lincang, jingmai, etc. What suggestions do you have?" He emailed me back in about 15 minutes and produced the following:

  1. 2009 Guan Zi Zai "Ban Zhang Wild Arbor" Raw Pu-erh 25g
  2. 2009 Yunnan Sourcing "Ai Lao Jue Se" Raw Pu-erh tea 25g
  3. 2009 Yunnan Sourcing "Yi Wu Da Qiu Feng" Pu-erh tea 25g
  4. 2006 A-Gu Zhai Wild Arbor Pu-erh tea * Bu Lang Shan 25g
  5. 2009 Mengku * Wild Arbor King * Raw Pu-erh tea * 25g
  6. 2009 Guan Zi Zai * Jing Mai Wild Arbor Pu-erh tea * 25g
  7. 2007 Zhen Si Long "Autumn Harvest Yi Wu" Raw Pu-erh 25g
  8. 2009 Yong Pin Hao * Stone-Pressed Manzhuan tea cake 25g
  9. 2009 Guan Zi Zai "Jing Xuan Bu Lang" Pu-erh tea * 25g
  10. 2009 Hai Lang Hao "Yi Wu Zheng Shan" Raw Pu-erh tea 25g
  11. 2004 Hai Lang Hao "Big Snow Mountain" Pu-erh tea * 25g
  12. 2009 Guan Zi Zai "Zao Chun Nan Nuo Shan" Pu-erh tea 25g
  13. 2005 Hai Lang Hao "Lincang Impression" Raw Pu-erh * 25g
  14. 2006 Jinuo Shan * You Le Wild Arbor Pu-erh tea * 25g
  15. 2007 Hai Lang Hao * Jing Mai Wild Arbor Pu-erh tea 25g
  16. 2007 Hai Lang Hao * Bu Lang Wild Arbor Pu-erh tea 25g
  17. 2008 Guoyan "Queen of Yi Wu" Premium Raw Pu-erh tea 25g
  18. 2008 Lao Ban Zhang Wild Arbor Pu-erh tea * 25g SAMPLE
  19. 2008 Yong Pin Hao * Stone-Pressed Yi Wu Wild Arbor 25g
  20. 2005 Lincang Tea Co "Wild Arbor King" Pu-erh tea * 25g
  21. 2007 Mengku * Mu Ye Chun * 001 * Raw Tea Cake * 25g
  22. 2002 CNNP * Bing Dao of Mengku * Raw Pu-erh tea * 25g
So including the Yunnan Sourcing samplers, I have 675 grams of pu'er to sample. I think I'm going to have a crazy September.

And I found out that I don't have to start paying my student loans until January instead of November, which is the reason why I was tightening the belt. So I get to have both options, and next week I'll be putting in an order of high fired TGY from Aroma Tea House.

*NOTE*
I love living in California because it's the closest part of the coast to China...which means that any shipment from China will come to me quicker than it would to anyone else (except people on the island or something). Waiting anxiously...my last order via EMS arrived about four days after it shipped