Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Why Is Yang Qing Hao So Famous These Days?

YangQingHao, heard of it?  Years ago it was a rarely mentioned puerh tea producer in Western circles.  I think Houde was the only place you could get it in the West once and a while and the selection was limited.  So why do so so many puerh drinkers know of YangQingHao?  Maybe it has something to do with a household name in Westren Puerh circles- Emmett Guzman.

Emmett has been around puerh for a while and I even remember some of his comments on this blog years and years ago.  When I put out to readers for some recommendations of semi-aged Yiwu puerh he suggested his baby, YangQingHao.  I researched it a bit on the net which is virtually filled with blog posts and steepster reviews nowadays… people LOVE this YangQingHao stuff.  I was very surprised with how familiar people are with YangQingHao nowadays.  But why all of a sudden so popular?

Accessibility.  All the credit has to be handed to Emmett for his now famous group buy-ins of YangQingHao.  He has made the whole selection of YangQingHao cakes completely and very easily accessible to the English speaking world.  This is big.  All too often the West is restricted by language and intimidated by the process of using middle men.  To be able to flip through an English site of a whole producers catalogue is priceless.  This is the only one I know of.

Affordability. Years ago I had never even heard of group buy ins or group orders as a way to acquire puerh.  I actually had to research what a group order actually means.  Its benefit is two pronged- accessibility and cost savings.  Emmett has made not only YangQingHao accessible but also affordable.  We basically pay what you would pay in Taiwan (actually cheaper than Taiwan for some cakes).  This is also big and rare in the West.

A gap in the market.  Another reason I think YangQingHao is popular in the West is because it fills a gap in the market.  There are really very few places that offer a large selection of higher end, boutique puerh from 2004-2007 in the West.  Some vendors might offer a cake or two on their site from these years but most stuff is big factory productions which were the most popular and mass produced at that time period.  There are very few places where Westerners are offered the whole catalogue of puerh from a specific factory or vendor.

Unique Storage.  I think people in the West still don’t really understand storage and how that either benefits a puerh, or disadvantages it or even just changes it.  These YangQingHao cakes seem like they are stored at a nice balance of not to dry but also not too wet.  They offer a response to very dry storage which the west had become accustom to and the very dry cakes that have been stored in the West their whole lives from that time period.  However, the storage is not so humid that the higher notes have disappeared.

Criticism. Even with its success there are criticisms of YangQingHao.  Most question whether it’s worth the price.  The criticism is especially true for those that question the actual taste of the tea.  Most agree that the most of their offerings have great Qi.  Some question why there are so many cakes left for sale.  If YangQingHao puerh is so good then why hasn’t it sold out in the first few years in Taiwan?  Good question.

Here are a few plausible answers...

The tea was initially overpriced.  If the tea was initially overpriced when it was first put on the market or was over priced for years and year and marketed as high end puerh without the material to back it up, then you would expect there to be a lot left over.  Think about it, if you are selling a product that you know will only increase in price why not over price it and see how much you can sell and what you don’t sell you can likely sell later for much more years later.  This is the reality of selling puerh.  The only problem is when the tea reaches a celling price where the market will no longer pay much more and the tea no longer increases exponentially in value annually.  I think the owners of YangQingHao are at this point in the market for 2004-2011 puerh and so they have incentive to sell now and keep prices relatively stable.

Personally, back in the mid-2000s I did not have the appetite to spend $135.00 on puerh.  This tea was marketed to a very niche group of puerh drinkers and, at the time, many thought it was a bit overpriced.  What is most interesting to me is that the price of this tea has not increased 10X the initial price like some of the factory puerh from that time period (i.e. Douji, Chen Shang Hao, ect).  The price of Yang Qing Hao has only modestly gone up since that time.

The centralized supply management of Yang Qing Yao.  Another plausible reason there are many Yang Qing Hao cakes is that the market supply has been closely monitored and controlled by Mr. Yang.   I don't think he was selling this tea by the jian to warehouses and distributors and other vendors.  This really allowed for market control of the price, I suspect.

Export duties from Mainland China. I really don't know enough about this.  I wonder if this operation was on the Mainland would more of the inventory be long gone?

Large production size.  Sha8 had mentioned this before somewhere.  He suspects that Yang may have had access to giant swaths of tea gardens all to himself.  He also suspects that production numbers for these cakes are much higher than most boutique Puerh especially compared to the scale of production these days.

In the next few weeks and months I hope to explore the question of whether or not Yang Qing Hao is worth the money by posting notes on a few of these productions.  Even though there is tones written about Yang Qing Hao, I hope to try and add a new, fresh, personal perspective on these frequently reviewed puerh.  Please join me in this exercise as I meditate with Yang Qing Hao.


Friday, July 13, 2018

2018 Puerh Situation in the West So Far...

The 2018 puerh production started off with murmurings of even higher maocha prices than 2017 which really is no surprise at all.  What was really surprising is that we didn’t see the almost predictable vendor blog posts, tweets, or Instagram updates warning us of this dire situation.  I think it was way too obvious even for them to try to rattle the cage on this one.

A few Western facing vendors were out of the blocks quickly.  Crimson Lotus kicked things off with a release of a special Jade Rabbit blend of different areas and years which he unveiled with James of TeaDB.  Cody of theoolongdrunk also has a review of this unique puerh.  Seems like Crimson Lotus has gone the routeof mainly blends in 2018.  Bitterleaf dropped their whole 2018 Spring pressings real early.  Bitterleaf went back to one of their solid 2016 tea farms for their popular 2018 Secret Garden, they also offered some puerh from an area less Western vendors have been pressing lately, Lao Man E.  See Cody’s reviews of many of their productions and Cwyn’s look at the Lao Man E.

Essence of Tea has really been the talk of the puerh world this spring with so much news and very big change. They seemed to really steal the spotlight this spring with the announcement they will be moving their operations to Kunming (while continuing to store long term in their warehouse in Malaysia), they launched a new beautiful website, and will be accepting USD as a trading currency.  These are giant moves from one of the most popular puerh producers.  On top of that, they started up a new tea club that looks a lot like white2tea’s.  I think they learned that keeping it simple, fun, and educational is the way to go here for these tea clubs.  No doubt, it will have a very Essence of Tea feel to it though.

Another thing Essence of Tea started doing this year is offering pre-orders of their puerh.  This year many actually sold out.  Check out Thomas’review of one of the sold out preorder, this 2018 WuLiang Forest Garden.  You can sense from his review, lamentations of it selling out before he could even order more.  It’s a weird world we live in, a sign of the times, when some of the best puerh is completely sold out before anyone has had a chance to even taste or sample it!  I guess this is the new reality with puerh.  White2tea played around with this idea with the release of their Snoozefest tea on Black Friday.

 Yet another thing they will be doing is starting to de-list cakes, white2tea actually started this with two of their 2017 productions.  Again, a sign of the times.  By removing some of the product that they didn’t sell, vendors are increasing the feeling of exclusivity while removing options from the customer.  I really don’t like this as it creates an artificial feeling, a fear of missing out.  On the other hand, there will be others who will appreciate that the selection of teas in these vendors catalogues cleaner, less intimating, and easier to navigate.  For the case of Essence of Tea puerh, they will presumably benefit from being in the Maylasian storage vs the Kunming.  So I think that this is more of the reasoning here.  Personally, I think digging through the back catalogue of a vendor’s tea selection makes much more sense because of the rising price of maocha these days.  I think you can get almost 2-3x the quality for what you would pay for 2017 (probably 2018) puerh if you just go back 5 or so years.  I have been doing this lately.

Yunnan Sourcing is sitting on a majority of their 2018 cakes no doubt.  So far the 2018 wrapper design for their Yiwu release is one of my favorite from them ever.  Scotts dog is featured on this Year of the Dog, so meaningful to him no doubt- beautiful stuff.  No questions Scott will be releasing puerh from towns and areas we have not heard of, I’m excited to discover these new areas with his help.  He is a pro at going to more remote areas in hopes of keeping the prices of puerh low for us.  Of particular note, is that Scott continues to guarantee that all of this cakes are of the highest level of purity by testing all his pressings for pesticides each year.  This must not be cheap, but is a guarantee that I appreciate.  He is the only Western Vendor that currently does this with all his product.

It seems like white2tea is doing all they can to address some of the criticism they received lately.  There were some complaints that their catalogue of 2017 puerh was too massive to navigate (25 raw puerh) , considering they offer little in the way of meaningful descriptions.  So far they have released a much smaller catalogue this year (12 raw puerh) with much clearer, but still ambiguous, descriptions.  They seem to be following the idea that there are two categories of puerh buyers- the value buyer and the big spender.  They seem to offer a lot less of the middle price category.  They have also brought only 3 popular cakes back from the previous years.  Something to note is that they seem to be holding the same prices of the previous years on these cakes.

A vendor that I often fail to mention, Farmerleaf, has also released their 2018 for those into that, oh so fragrant and soft, Jingmai puerh.

I got to say that out of all of these so far, I almost did some Essence of Tea pre-order but managed to not purchase any 2018 yet.  Not easy to do these days.

Thank you vendors for putting all your love and qi into getting these wonderful puerh to us every year.  


Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Longest Pending Order for the Best of Yibang: 2012 Tea Urchin Yibang Spring

I have a very interesting and long history with this 2012 Tea Urchin Yi Bang Spring, one of my favorite examples of the Yi Bang area and my favorite production from Tea Urchin from their early productions.…

I actually sampled this tea way back in 2013, five years ago.  I typed up detailed tasting notes for this tea as I usually do.  Actually, I completely forgot that I had done that.  Life got a bit crazy and I didn’t get to posting them.  I tend not to post on teas I am considering for purchase, until I have either ruled out the purchase out or until I actually buy them.  Otherwise, "the Blogger Effect" could leave me empty handed.

Upon my return to tea blogging, I went out to find teas I was interested in purchasing years ago.  I was surprised to find that this tea was still available.  I remember that I had really liked it, especially the qi was of note.  I waited a bit, long enough to piece together an order from Tea Urchin, and watch this tea slowly dwindle in numbers.  I ordered a sample in a recent order from Tea Urchin to see what I thought of this tea with 5 more years of dry Shanghai storage on it.  I had a similar “Wow” moment with this Yibang during the first session.  The second session was less exciting but still very nice.

Then something interesting happened…I accidentally did a search on my PC for something else and came across my original tasting notes on this tea.  This prompted me to search for a saved email conversation I was having with my puerh buddy in Victoria about the potential purchase years before.  I thought it would be interesting to share both my original notes, my email trail about the potential purchase 5 years ago, and my current notes, thoughts, and how I finally came to purchase a cake!

Go back to 2012/2013… I had sampled a lot of puerh tea pressed by western vendors between 2009-2012 but had actually purchased very very little.  This one stood out for me enough to consider a purchase at the time, which says a lot.  Here is my original tasting notes from early 2013, I think:
The dry leaves smell of a pungent, spicy-meat, savory odour with a contrasting undercurrent of creamy sweetness.

The first infusion is a foresty, savory-pungent almost menthol-like odour which pillows in the mouth.  There is a sweet bubble gum edge that lingers underneath and expands in the mouth.  These flavours expand and stay in the mouth even minutes later.  The mouthfeel is soft and creamy.

The second infusion is of layers of creamy pungent, savory-meaty foresty tastes.  The savory notes come first and are propped up by creamy, swelling fruit notes underneath. The mouthfeel is viscus, sticky, and full in the mouth.  The mouth can't help but water.

The third infusion takes more layered savory-foresty notes with that same expansive swelling of sweet tastes in the mouth.  The mouthfeel is full and reaches and opens the upper- and mid- throat.  The finish is a cool-sweet menthol in the mouth.  There is a candy-like sweetness even minutes later.  The qi is mellowing and soothing, it seems very light in the body.

The fourth infusion brings spicy-salty foresty-sweet notes the flavours seem more condensed now with a swell of creamy tastes emerging.  There is a bit of a mushroom taste in the mouth minutes later.

The fifth delivers distinctly sweet, expansive, tastes in the mouth.

In the sixth infusion has a strong, pure, layered sweetness with a light underlying bitterness.  The aftertaste is of sweet unripe plum.  It is long and sticks to the mouth.

The seventh infusion is much the same with heavy layers of sweetness prevailing.

The eight infusion becomes a touch bitter-tangy with a fruit edge but with most of the sweetness now diminished.

The ninth same as above ....

* That's probably why I didn't publish the notes- it looks like my session was preemptively interrupted*

Then here is the email trail between my tea drinking buddy and me as we consider a purchase:
Me- Have you ever tried any of the puerh from Tea Urchin? I have been drinking a sample of this:

It is the best puerh from Yi Bang that I have tried and I am thinking about getting a cake? They have a $20 flat rate shipping and was wondering if you are interested a getting anything from them? I might get some samples of their 2013 cakes as well? I'm still uneasy with the $100 price tag of these new puerh... but I guess that is the reality.

Let me know,
Tea Buddy- I like Tea Urchin teas...they are high quality. Count me in for two Yibang cakes...I trust your palate!
Me- It's a false alarm!

I sampled the Yi bang again and wasn't as enthusiastic about it so I decided to not order, sorry bud.  Haha The benefits of having enough for two pots eh?

I think I am going to hold off on an order.

Of note is my unease with the price of young sheng in 2013.

Recently I had another great session with a sample I ordered in my second order from Tea Urchin in late May 2018.  These notes are 5 years later than the notes above but with a sample that came from Tea Urchin's brilliant dry storage.  These are the notes of a particularily nice session with this tea…

Dry leaves smell of distant fresh floras and fruits with a light wildflower honey sweetness to them.

First infusion starts with a vacuous wood, rice cracker, and almost paper-like and faint wildflower nuance before turns into a very nice clear and crisp nice mentholy honey sweetness.  The cooling builds in the mouth it leaves a slight sticky taste in the mouth.  The stickiness is also felt on the lips and throat.  There is a faint lingering almost fruity and wildflower sweetness throught the whole profile of this tea.  This tea has a very pure essence to its taste.  The sticky mouthfeeling and throat feeling carries these high noted tastes in the mouth minutes later.

The second infusion has more woody initial taste with a more pronounced fruity start then transitions to a strong creamy and notiably menthol sweetness.  There is almost a crisp almost artificial tasting percing spearmint taste in the intial taste as well that is quite nice.  The mouthfeel is quite sticky and enjoyable and drags the flavours on minutes later.  The qi is very relaxing and makes the head feel heavy on the neck- it induces as sweat.  The qi of this tea is quite nice, it induces a strong happy feeling. 

The third infusion starts with a dry woody and spearmint onset.  These two taste create a nice polarity of depth- low and high notes.  The mint turns into a lingering sweet coolness there is a pronounced wildflower taste thoughout the profile.  There are notes of rice and grain but this taste is not a deep cereal taste but rather a light basmati rice or sticky rice taste. 

The fourth infusion delivers a very thick taste of very delicate flavours.  It starts with a thick creamy sticky sweetness with pronounced wood underneath.  The sweetness is a light, fresh floral wild honey.   The sweetness dominates the profile thoughout.  The mouthfeeling and throat feeling is nicely thick, sticky, astringent.   The mouthfeel is really nice here and the taste feel stuck to the lips and tongue and edges of the cheek.  This is very nice qi.

The fifth infusion sends out more pungent, sticky sweetness and lighter undertone of wood right off the bat.  The taste is dense but light.  The sweetness that returns is nuanced cotton and honey and floral.  The taste continues to build with each infusion becoming more structured and deep.  Overall the tastes are actually quite light and gentle.  The qi is strongly relaxing and makes me feel high.

The sixth infusion starts with that sticky sweetness that dominates the profile.  It ducks with wood undertones to rice and then to a long sweet floral honey taste.  The mouthfeel is profoundly sticky as is the throatfeel.

The seventh infusion woody shares with sweet. Sticky in the mouth.  The woody taste seems at an equal place as the sweet floral in this infusion.

The eighth starts with a juicier fruit taste there is a long woody intonation with a mild creamy sweet pungent taste in the aftertaste which crests and flows.  The sticky full mouthfeel remains.

The ninth develops more of a fruit sweetness initially then transitions with faint wood.  The returning sweetness has a berry-cherry taste.  The mouthfeel is less sticky but significantly so.  There is more of a cherry fruit vibe here.

I add 10 more seconds to the flash infusion in this slower pouring pot for the tenth infusion and it pushes the dry wood tastes to dominate the profile now.  The taste becomes more of a tart cherry taste.  The pungent sweetness has diminished now but is pushed to the aftertaste.

The eleventh infusion is much more of the same at 10 seconds added.  Things are less full but the balance is still there, the taste is still there.  The stickiness is more of a drier stickiness now.

The twelfth infusion is steeped for a good 30 seconds nice the flavours and feelings are less but the qi remains strong and the broth vibrant.  A banana, tropical fruit like taste lingers it the aftertaste.  The woodiness manages to give this tea depth throughout the session but never becomes too drying or over bearing.  I really like the qi of this tea- light airy, profound, happy, gentle its all in the head and a bit in the chest, the limbs feel so light.

I drank this one for another few good infusions.

Later that week, I had another session with this tea but, again, was not as impressed.  Could be this tea is just a touchy one.  Can’t believe that happened again.

Conclusion: I decided to add one 357g cake ($173.00 or $0.48/g) of this to my last order of Tea Urchin along with these remaining 2011 Lao Man E Spring samples.  It was a bit hard for me to get over the price of this one.  What sealed the deal was that the price of mediocre 2018 Yi bang will probably cost the same- maybe more.  At the present time there is only one cake left and a handful of samples.  I think its a very unique and interesting marketing strategy to show your inventory these days.  I personally appreciate the transparency.  Anyways, I recommend trying at least a sample of this for anyone who enjoys the Yibang puerh producing area.  It’s always a good idea to have a great example of an area or style for future reference, I think.  The ability for the average puerh drinker to do this is getting harder and harder with every passing year.

Jakub's (T) Tasting Notes

Steepster Tasting Notes


Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Very Good Lao Man E: 2011 Tea Urchin Lao Man E Spring

Certain puerh producing areas have a certain character, feel, or qi to them.  Lao Man E is widely known for both its intense bitterness and its Qi sensations.  In the West, I feel like Tea Urchin played a big role in Lao Man E’s notoriety.  This tea was the very first offering of Lao Man E from Tea Urchin.  The vendor description is as follows...

When returning from my puerh buying hiatus, I found it quite interesting that there is no review or mention of this tea on the internet.  Just one blog post by discipleoftheleaf back in the spring of 2012 (link).  I guess this is understandable due to its rarity and high price at the time  of release($128.00? for a 357g cake).  Naturally the full cakes sold out quite quickly.  However, the site showed that there were nine 30g samples left for purchase at $16.50 for 30g ($0.55/g).

On Tea Urchin’s BlogI noticed that there is a picture of 12 of these pressed Spring Lao Man E cakes, but on the website it states that only 10 cakes will be sold.  I imagine that the 11th cake was broken into samples and the 12th is a prized possession of Eugene and Bell.  The rarity of such a production immediately lured me into a purchase of one of these with my very first order from Tea Unchin in early May 2018.

After receiving this sample, I really did sit on it for a little while, waiting for the perfect day to sample such a special tea. When choosing a puerh to drink on a given day I don’t do this haphazardly nor do I do it randomly.  I try to choose a tea which best harmonizes my energy.  Today, I choose this bitter Lao Man E…

In Traditional Chinese Medicine each flavor has an energy, a season, a direction, ect.  The flavor of the Heart is bitter.  The Season of the Heart is Summer.  The bitter taste is said to Drain (Heat) in the Heart.  The bitter flavor in general is both Heat Clearing and Damp Draining.  It is especially beneficial for draining Damp-Heat.

It just so happens that lately I have been slightly pulled out of balance by a case of too much Damp-Heat.  The abnormally hot and humid weather as of late has only made this imbalance more entrenched.  The weather today is hot and humid, above 30 Degrees C, the deep heavy lying dark clouds are pleading for a release in this close humidity.  I can’t think of a better time to heed the warnings of the over-the-top bitterness of this Lao Man E and just dive right on in…

Dry leaves smell of intense fruity with undertone of hay and woods and even raison/ grape.

First infusion has an intensely bitter initial taste with a nice buttery taste and a creamy almost fruit hay taste.  The mouthfeel and throat feel are slightly sticky and softly astringent.  This initial taste of butter and even slight raisin is strong and long lasting in the mouth.  The cha qi is intense very intense and pushes one into an immediate sweat.  The body feel is cloudy and light- the head floats away.

The second infusion has that intense initial bitterness. The aftertaste has a fruity faintly sweet, raison and butter rum taste.  Despite the bitter the mouthfeel is full and oily and not dry nor astringent.  The buttery rum and raison taste is stuck on the breath minutes later.  The mouthfeel and throat feel are sticky and gummy.

The third infusion shows maltier raison notes over an increasingly bitter initial taste.  The taste is not a simple taste but dense in some respects.  The bitterness doesn’t relent in the profile.  It slowly diffuses over the span of minutes.  The qi is big.

The fourth infusion the bitterness is getting more intense.  It is hard to imagine drinking this tea for the taste.  The flavours splash into the mouth even a fresh berry taste in the initial appears quickly.  It’s simply too bitter to enjoy yet the flavours are brilliant in here malty rums and raisons in a buttery sticky mouth and throat feel.  There is a mild cooling on the breath minutes later.

The fifth infusion is bitter bitter bitter and much the same… maybe more bitter.

The sixth is a touch more cohesive in taste the malty tastes come to getter nicely.  Strong qi.

The seventh infusion is again much of the same tastes but more together now.  Malty, buttery, rum and raisin, almost fruit, barely sweet- big qi.

The eighth infusion… finally the bitter is starting to back off to a more tolerable level.  There is a bright berry fruit taste in there briefly in the initial taste.  It has a malty raison buttery base taste.  The mouthfeel is sticky.  There is a mild cooling aftertaste with slight raison and faint berry.  The ninth is similar with a more raison and fruity notes emerging now.  There is a nutty taste left on breathe.

The tenth infusion is still at a flash infusion.  It presents as almost watermelon kind of mango like buttery sweetness initially.  The base taste is much less malty raison and more cooling in aftertaste now.  This tea is transforming.

The eleventh infusion starts off with a nutty buttery bitter taste then slowly transitions to raison.  There is dried fruit in the aftertaste as well as a distinct coolness now.  The tongue feels sticky and a little numb.  The throat is sticky and open.

The twelfth infusion has an almost fresh watermelon velvety buttery initial taste with a bitter that slowly builds then drops off.  It has a nice coolness on the breath.  The deeper, richer, maltier, nuttier deeper flavor profile is gone leaving a different taste to this tea.

The thirteenth infusion starts with a creamy buttery taste which turns into watermelon then into a cresting bitterness.  There is a coolness and barely sweet taste in the aftertaste.  The mouthfeel is sticky and nice.  An almost chewed out gum taste is left on the breath along with these tastes.

The fourteenth infusion starts with a fresh pop of fruit then trails into a bitter which crests into a returning not that sweet cooling feeling on the breath.  The aftertaste is like gum almost rubbery.

The fifteenth infusion is much the same but with a long nutty aftertaste.  There is an interplay of nutty tastes that seem to emerge in some infusions and not in others.

The sixteenth and seventeenth are quite nutty also with the higher fruit tastes disappearing and leaving a barely bitter and mainly nutty profile.  There is still a cool sweetness with nutty tastes in the aftertaste.  It is important to note that the taste is still quite full at this point with no signs of giving up.  The rubbery gum taste is gone and a pleasant nuttiness remains.

The eighteenth and nineteenth has a touch of watermelon again the nineteenth has this slight fresher fruit touch with a thicker nuttier taste.  This is a good tasting tea.  Still significant qi in there.  Significant sticky mouth feeling.

This tea has great stamina the twentieth is steeped a bit longer but the tastes are much the same just a bit more bitterness really, a bit more depth to the tea.  I long steep the 21st just for fun and a very strong, bitter brew with a strong cooling aftertaste is what happens.  Sweet high fruit, watermelon, lots of nuttiness.  I think this is hands down my favorite Lao Man E I have ever sampled.  I really enjoy the 10% wild leaf addition, it adds more interesting depth and pumps the qi up even higher.  This tea seems to last forever…

As the rain finally falls down… I am at peace…


Saturday, July 7, 2018

2011 Tea Urchin Autumn Gua Feng Zhai and Tips On Steeping Autumnal Puerh

Do you remember Tea Urchin? … They made such a splash in the Western puerh drinking world back in 2011/2012.  Owners Eugene and Bell stunned us all with a gorgeously written blog of their tea adventures in Yunnan, the first modern- very clean and slick website design for a puerh vendor, beautifully staged picture of their product, intelligently written descriptions, super easy to navigate webstore, and most importantly- very high quality (and high priced) gushu puerh from areas most of us were just beginning to hear about.  They shook the puerh world to the core.

A bit of the air was taken out of their tires with a scathing review by Hobbes of their first release of mainly Autumnal puerh in2011.  Marshal’N wrote a blog about their tea as well proclaiming that it was good but he wasn’t buying.  I think the price of their Autumn puerh was just too much of a shock back then.  Really nobody in the West was drinking or buying Autumn puerh back then.  Why would you?

Why would you spend $10-20 on a cake of Autumn puerh when you could get the spring stuff for $30-40?  From a producing point of view it probably cost more to pick, process it, and package it than it was to sell it for its market demand price back then.  Nobody was doing Autumn puerh.  It made no sense in the early-mid 2000s.

On a personal level, I would never consider it back then.  I remember my teamaster Mr. Kim telling me about Autumn puerh.  He said it was still good puerh, just a different taste and energy.  He said Spring tea has the true harmonious energy of Spring- its Springtime vibrancy cannot be matched by Autumn.

I remember in the Spring of 2012, puerh prices broke through a psychological threshold.  People were really in shock at how high prices were so quickly at the time.  Looking back, I think Tea Urchin was way ahead of its time by pressing fine gushu Autumn pressings.  They make sense these days.

However, after the pushback, Tea Urchin never did press any more Autumn puerh.  These 2011 Autumn Tea Urchin pressings, despite being reviewed extensively, may have been slower to sell as a result.  So recently, they have been doing something kind of neat- offering steep price cuts (40%ish off) on these 2011 Autumn puerh on a rotating basis.  Every few months or so or when one sells out, they will put another on sale.  The 2011 Tea Urchin Gao Shan Zhai Autumn, many drinkers' favorite among these, sold out in a week or so last month ago.  I think it’s really brilliant marketing, something a bit different.  Instead of just increasing the price of their puerh every year or whatever, they are actually looking at the market demand for such tea and offering them for much less.  This is what got my attention to finally put through my way overdue first Tea Urchin order…

Actually, it was the first time I watched a review on TeaDB and thought… I want to try that tea.  But the chain of such things actually started with a newer tea blogger ManOTea, doing what we all should do, and preach, but (at least me these days) rarely do- sample everything and select the best.  Then he did something very noble by letting us all know that it was agood one worthy of some attention.  In fact, he ended up sending that sample to James and Denny of TeaDB.  Thanks ManOTea for flagging down this one for us.

Within a few months or so of this 2011 Tea Urchin Gua Fang Zhai Autumn being on sale for $79.00 for a full 357g cake ($0.22/g), it completely sold out at the reduced price.  Currently, there is a number of 200g small bings available at $79.00 ($0.40/g) that popped up after the full size sold out.  I ended up buying two full size 357g cakes in two orders with Tea Urchin over this time.

This is a particularly good session I had with this one…

The twiggy large blend of dry leaves smell of fruit both a mix of deeper dried fruits and darker fruits of cherries and such.  It has a deep foresty odour in there as well.

First infusion has an open watery onset but builds in to a deep complicated nuanced taste in the mouth even in this first infusion.  The dominating taste that it seems to work up to is a deep sweet amber maple syrup taste with very mild woody background.  Before this taste there is a sweeter cherry taste of higher fruit.  A long cotton candy like sweetness lingers minutes later.  The sweetness is interesting and complex.  The mouthfeel is significantly coating and slightly sandy but mainly sticky.

The second has a more pronounced higher noted taste with cherries, cotton candy, with sweet maple syrup as the base taste.  The mouthfeel is heavy.  The cotton candy sweetness is strong and sticks to the cheeks.  There is a nice sweet cooling in the aftertaste under the dense layers of sweetness and faint undertones of mahogany wood.

The third has a deep dried fruit nuanced with light sweet fruit.  The dominating taste is a nice dense maple syrup sweetness. There is still that returning coolness under the high notes of cotton candy sweetness, barely wood, maple syrup density.  Yummy.

The fourth infusion is syrupy and dense maple syrup sweetness.  This taste is solidifying here with a cotton candy sweetness on top.  The deeper sweetness is heavy in the full feeling of the mouth.  There is a splash of cherry fruit in the initial burst of flavor.  The aftertaste has a long sweet, high noted and slight menthol like taste.  The qi is a nice relaxer of a qi.  Brilliantly soothing calm.  Nothing overly stoner-like here people just quite calm in the head.  The chest has a lightness as well as the shoulders.

The fifth infusion has a malty sweet almost molasses, maple syrup edge now.  There are more noticeable woody and deeper fruits.  The higher notes of cotton candy lingers in the aftertaste.  The mouthfeel is sandy and full in the mouth it straddles grainy and not quite dry.  T,he throat feeling has a very mild deep opening feel as well as a slight astringing- closing feel that is not off putting.

The sixth opens with a mild woodier taste over the darker sweet tastes.  The high notes predictably emerge in the aftertaste along with mild menthol.  The mouthfeel gets coarser.

The seventh has more of a malty licorice initial taste with a stronger and bolder woody taste which overtakes the sweet maple taste here.  The high notes and menthol return on the breath.  The qi builds into more of an unpretentious, spacy high.

The eighth infusion turns into a juicier, waterier fruit presentation initially than transitions into woody notes with a touch of light syrup and slow to build up higher sweet notes.  The sweetnotes and menthol are less here.

The ninth infusion is much the same- a mellow fruit vibe lingers here not only in the initial taste but in the mid-profile even melding with other tastes such as more of a dried apricot in the aftertaste now.  The qi is nice, mellow, not overly strong, but mainly in the head- a bit spacy.

The tenth infusion has a mellow juicy fruit mixed with wood initial taste that slowly transitions into dry fruit, a touch of maple that has mostly ducked away.  The taste is still very full here.  The mouth- and throat-feel is solid, if not grainy.  The sweet high note and menthol are light but very much long and present.

The eleventh develops a nice juicy fruit taste over deeper notes.  The juicy fruitier notes linger on the breath.

The twelfth infusion, I push harder with a 15 second longer infusion time and more thick taste develops with still a juicy fruit taste over deeper dried fruit notes.

The thirteenth has a mellow fruity vibe over light wood.  Throughout these infusion the sweet taste is the dominant.  The complexities of the different layers of sweetness are thinning out but overall there is still lots to enjoy.

The fourteenth is cranked up to 30 seconds infusions and is a bit too dry for my liking.  A dry wood tastes astringes the throat and reminds me to back down to about 15 seconds.  This tea still has a lot of power undernieth. Sweet tastes emerge from the dryness.

The fifteenth is more light fruity wood over a solid mouthfeeling that is sandier in the mouth, slight sticky.  A long sweet menthol sticks around.

The sixteenth infusion delivers more of those tastes, this infusion is more juicy fruit than wood here.  Menthol and mellow sweetness predictively follows.

The seventieth and eighteenth have more wood than fruit but still has some bones to it thanks to the sandy full, slightly astringent, almost drying mouthfeeling.

The eighteenth, nineteenth, twentieth – this tea keeps marching on with much to offer- sweet juicy taste, slight wood, returning juicy fruit sweetness over wood, menthol cooling aftertaste.  I wonder how long this one could be enjoyed like this…

I have had various sessions with this tea and this was one of the better sessions.  I used lots of leaf (as always) and basically flash stepping up until the twelfth infusion where I just add 15 seconds.  Any more than this or if the teapot clogs you are going to get a real bitter, astringent, overly dry wood tasting tea which can spoil the leaves for the whole session.

If you keep it quick you are gifted with many many great infusions.  I find that the twiggy autumnal puerh pressings are often like this.  The twigs and leaf stems in there can make for lots of depth but often get too dry, bitter and astringent.  So naturally you have to either use less leaf or quicker (flash) infusion times.  If the autumn tea is not exceptional the result doesn’t turn out well.  This tea is in the exceptional autumn category, I think.

Watch to see if the rotating sale will hit these xiao bings in the next few months if you are interested.

Hope you will join me over the next weeks and month reviewing some of the treasures that I have unearthed over at Tea Urchin.

Tasting Notes from Hobbes (Half-Dipper)

Tasting Notes from Marshal'N (A Tea Addicts Journal)

Tasting Notes from Eric (thedispleoftheleaf)

Tasting Notes from Eliot (Something Smuggled In)

Tasting Notes from James and Denny (TeaDB)

Tasting Notes from ManOTea (ManOTea)


Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Yin/Yang of Seasoning Yixing

When preparing tea there is Yin and Yang.  Yang is potential energy, the tea leaves.  Yin is nourishing energy, the water.  You cannot separate Yin and Yang.  Without tea leaves and water there is no tea.

When acquiring a new yixing teapot you should always season it first.  What are you seasoning?

You are bringing harmony to the clay.  You are imparting and setting the deep energetics of Yin and Yang into the essence of the teapot.

To season yixing you should use a pot that is not metal.  In this pot you bring fresh spring water to a boil. When the boiling point is reached you reduce to a gentle simmer and gently immerse the teapot in the boiling water. Then you add the tea leaves you will actually use in that new teapot.  Boil it until the water turns dark from the tea leaves, until Yin and Yang are in harmony.  Remove teapot from the tea leaves and water decoction.

If the exact same leaves and water are used in the future in this seasoned teapot, true harmony can be achieved.

When Yin and Yang are in perfect harmony, what is this?


Friday, June 29, 2018

Verdict, Lessons, and Other Thoughts: Authenticating a Stack of 1970s Zhongcha Guang Yun Bings

After drawing on personal experiences, gathering as much background information as possible from the seller, extensive internetresearch, and tasting this tea extensively I have come to the following conclusions about whether this is actually a 1970s Guang Yun Gong Bing…

First, we know that this tea has to be produced in the 1990s at the latest because that’s when the production of the series ended.  This gives us an end point on the date of this tea.  The start date can be determined by a visual identification- the use of the very unique “zhongcha round ticket”.  This type of neifi was used exclusively on the Gong Yun Gong cakes, I believe.  My research indicates that the use of the round ticket started in the 1970s, but not in the early 1970s.  This gives us a possible start point.  From what I’ve read the 1970s cakes are more “pre-cooked” than other years and as such have darker or blacker looking dry leaves.  These productions of Guang Yun Gong tend to be more shu puerh like.  Both the dry leaves, wet leaves, are in line with this observation.

The information I obtained from the vendor seems to roughly match this visual id as well as the tasting notes.  Mr. Chan told me that this tea was stored in non-traditional Hong Kong storage for at least 13 years then was very very dry stored in Regina from 1993 onward. It was wrapped/sealed sometime in Regina.  It is obvious that this tea had a least some more humid storage as per the look of the dry leaves and wet leaves as well as taste.  There is also a distinct dry storage taste as well as the preservation of high notes in the first handful of infusions.  In my experience the dry storage taste like this would need at least 15-20 years of dry storage.  If it was dry storage in the ultra-dry prairies 30 years seems more reasonable.  That would place this tea in the mid 1980s.  However, pictures and descriptions of the 1980s Gong Yun Gong that I have come across don’t support this at all.  The leaves are more sheng puerh looking than shu and the dry leaves look more like sheng as well in these 80s Guang Yun Gong.  The tasting notes don’t fit with the 1980s notes as good as the 1970s notes I’ve read.  The qi of the tea is an old qi feeling but I can’t distinguish an approximate year or even a decade from qi alone.  Who out there can?

A really interesting thing about the stack is that they all look a bit different- some are redder and others more black colored, come look like they might have got a touch mold that was removed in chunks but most are clean.  Some seem to be completely sealed where others have tears, gaps, or holes in the plastic film.  I think each one will have a slightly different personality and taste to them.  It will be fun to explore this aspect of this stack.

So in the end, I have determined that this is quite possibly a 1970s stack of Guang Yun Gong.  I feel like I need try to sample more extensively from reputable dealers or to send some samples to those people who own some of these to be surer of my conclusion.  But, really, I don’t know if I really want the price of samples used to validate these cakes to be more than the actual price I paid for them!  It might be something I might explore for fun in the future though.

In the end these cakes aren’t super complex, special tasting or even that amazing tasting.  These teas weren’t ever intended to be that.  They were produced even in the 1970s to be accessible and drinkable while containing the full effect of cha qi.  Does this stack accomplish these things?  Yes.  Even in the early days of puerh connoisseurship these cakes were used as everyday drinkers.  Interestingly, this increased the rarity of them because many were consumed rather than collected.  Nowadays they have a nostalgic collectability to them.

I kind of agree with classifying these as heicha rather than puerh.  They actually have a unique, almost between heicha, shu and sheng taste to them.  I don’t believe these contain any Yunnan mao cha in them but my lack of experience with the Guang Yun Gong restricts me from stating this confidently.  Readers of this blog might remember that I am a bit picky when it comes to what exactly is classified as puerh (see here and here). Hahaha…

The qi is quite wonderful though and the aged taste is a real treat.  The iron pressing mixed with the dry storage imparted this cake with some nice high notes still in there.  Something quite rare for a cake this old.  In fact, I have never ever even heard of a cake that was dry stored in the West for 25 years, have you?  In this way these cakes are a real treasure- the only known example of 25 years dry storage in the West- apparently since 1993!  That’s something really interesting, I think.  Maybe I should try to get them certified as a Western puerh drinker’s cultural intangible property… hahaha.

The main reason I find these so interesting is because it gives us Westerners an idea of what basically unattended, long, overly dry stored puerh can become and the outcome is not all that bad at all.  If anything it supports the idea of sealed storage and iron machine compression.  This doesn’t say much because obviously the storage on these cakes could have been a lot better.

In the end, I am left feeling like these cakes are simply an unpretentious, aged, everyday drinking tea which is just my style, really.  But as a puerh drinker and not a collector, I am a bit torn what to do with these cakes that might be worth a fair bit and are one of a kind.  What would you do?

Also something should probably be said about the “herbal medicine storage taste”.  There is a cultural difference between what tastes are valued in puerh amongst Westerners vs Southeast Asia vs South China vs Mainland Chinese.  In Asia, a strong Traditional Chinese Medicine storage taste is not valued the same way it is in the West.  For Westerners, this is a new taste with very little memory attached to it.  It is exotic and interesting and can give the aged tea a different dimension and depth to it.  For those in Asia, they often associate these tastes with very strong and bad tasting medicine that their parents or grandparents forced them to take when they were small children.  As a result a taste aversion to such things can even occur.  For Westerners it would be like their puerh tasting like banana penicillin or cherry cough syrup.  These Guang Yun Gong bings seem to carry this herbal medicine taste, which I enjoy but which would command less attention in Asia.

So there you go, the long and the short of it.  I hope you enjoyed my detailed assessment of these cakes over the last few posts.  Thought it would be both an interesting story and also an educational tool for those trying to determine the age of an old puerh.  In some ways, I feel like I have only scraped the top of the ice burg with these cakes… so is the mystery of puerh (… or hei cha)