Sunday, June 28, 2009

2008 Sinouk Champasak (Southern) Lao Organic Oolong

This was one of two very small bags of tea from Sinouk that one purchased while traveling throughout Lao. This Oolong was recommended by the Sinouk retailer. One is quite fond of the rather simple but interesting taste of the semi-oxidized tea from this Southern area of Lao that one posted about earlier this month.

These leaves are full, wiry, dark, and unbroken. The smell exudes that characteristic scent of Paxsong tea- a lingering coffee tone with hints of milky chocolate and overpowering raisin. Cue Salivation.

One puts three scoops of these space consuming leaves into the pot, water is added, then poured into a serving pot, then into ones cup. This cycle repeats itsself, mindlessly, mindfully.

The first sip of this tea is unforgettable as it really tastes quite different then most oolong. It has a rather unique woody-smooth, coffee-raisin taste that is a touch sweet and sometimes ending a touch bitter.

This tea has a slight roast to it. The nice roastiness of raisin and more slight bitter chocolate stay on the breath for sometime afterward.

Later infusions allow this tea to evolve slightly with raisin notes out pacing coffee and chocolate. Even some subtle soft, sour citrus notes can be noticed creating space and depth between sweet raisin and bitter-roasted coffee.

This tea becomes a touch smokey and throaty, or is it roasty and full? Sometimes it's really hard to tell with this tea. In the end this effect allows for somewhat of a fullness presenting mainly in the mouth that makes this one rather enjoyable. It seems to meld perfectly with the flavours of this tea.

It's chaqi is very noticeable but not distracting. Very similar in fact to the hong cha type of energy found in its semi-oxidized sibling.

As many sessions drag on with this oolong it develops flatter, vegital notes that sneak out under the dominating roasty- raisin and fading coffee. This tea can be enjoyed like this for a very long time as its stamina is quite good.

And so one enjoys it this way for quite some time.


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

1985 Yiwu Tuo Cha Puerh

It was a bit of a chilly day so one took a bit of time digging for a nice old sample of Puerh and found one that Stephane from Teamasters had sent a while back. Taking a note from ol' Toki, one let this one breathe for a while before preparing.

Although this sample is quite small, it seems to overcome the other things in the room. It tugs at ones nose whenever in the vicinity. Ones nose, perhaps unconsciously, lavishes attention upon its woody, subtle, unidentifiable fruity smell.

The rumble of the boil. The sound of a quick rinse hitting the ceramic of the tea table. The smell of old puerh embracing hot water. Calm. These things bring immeasurable content.

This sample moves slowly and gracefully as one walks with it through the day and then through another.

It evolves slowly as if not to draw too much attention to itself. Small changes, infusion by infusion.

What was first dark thick brown is now an orangy- yellow red brown. What was once gritty is now smooth. The core flavours of crisp wood and subtle cherry have changed- rounded out, became more but less edgy. It's as if its peripheral charisma has all but worn off and now the true character shines with simple beauty.

It is still warming and kicks off some decent qi. The nice warm flavours and chaqi slows one down. As the morning turns into night, and day once more, things become slower in the act of exacerbating this puerh.

This slowness brings immeasurable content.


Sunday, June 14, 2009

Sel Young Jin's Phenomenal Rustic Erabo Style Tea Cups, Part 2: A Mini 'Hal Gu Dae' Style Foot

There is some interesting points about the form of these amazing cups and how they influence the flavour of tea in the comments section of Part 1. Please do check it out.

This petite white cup is a touch smaller than the other, making it the smallest cup one currently uses. In fact it can even be stacked into the other.

It's form is similar to the 'snail foot' but still very individual. It makes up for its size by standing much more pronounced and confident than the other.

This little cup is far from arrogant though. This is partly because of its small stature, but also due to the myriad of interesting imperfections that can be found on this piece.

Its cracks seem finer with greater density than the other. The white glaze barely covers some aspects of this work. We can see the pinkish hues from the clay staring at us from underneath the thin gloss. In one spot on the outside wall of the cup, there is a large blotchy birthmark where the clay almost breaks through. There are so many tinny embedded rocks that stare out at you, only adding to its uniqueness.

But of all these elements, the foot of this piece is the kicker. It is a beauty. This type of foot is usually only found on 'Hal Gu Dae' style tea bowls.

The 'Hal Gu Dae' style, which originated in sixteenth century Korea, is a very difficult style to pull off and, perhaps for this reason, is rarely attempted by the master potters of today. It is characterized by its famous eye-catching foot and the balance that it creates with the main body of the bowl. The original 'Hal Gu Dae' foot has four protruding extensions forming a hollowed-out cross that can be seen on the very bottom of the foot if you flip the bowl over.

This style of foot has a inclination to overwhelm the grace and naturalness of a bowl. The challenge is to make such a monstrous and pompous foot look harmonious, natural, and more modest- not as easy as it sounds.

It is perhaps this very successful attempt at balance and slight standoffishness subdued by such natural imperfections found in Sel Young Jin's favorite 'Hal Gu Dae' style bowl that got Louis Vuitton's attention a few years ago (link doesn't show picture of this 'Hal Gu Dae' bowl but gives the deets on the story).

This mini version, a Sel Young Jin modification, only has three protrusions which seem to properly fit with the size and form of this little guy. The combination of rugged imperfections paired with the slight flashiness of this foot is what one values in the 'Hal Gu Dae' style. It goes without saying that this foot definitely makes a statement.
And as one fashionably sips tea from its innards in a room with old furniture and bare walls, one wonders if Louis Vuitton is doing the same in his big mansion somewhere.


Monday, June 8, 2009

Sel Young Jin's Phenomenal Rustic Erabo Style Tea Cups, Part One: 'Snail Foot'

It was Hobbes from The Half-Dipper that noticed this little guy in action with some young shang puerh a few posts ago. These three pieces were a gift from a close friend before one departed from Korea.
The care that master Sel Young Jin puts into his cups are beyond what most masters put into there pots and tea bowls. Every micro space of these pieces are beautiful.

Both of these cups are quite small (think small Chinese cup), this one is just a bit bigger than the other. It sits staunchly, its form cute and natural. Its white body resembling the white caps of mountains.

The outside and inside of this cup is riddled with cracks, holes, blotches, and other so perfect imperfections. When ones eyes climb over its lip and onto the inside wall, it is met by a latticework of large cracks. These cracks meet a ring of little holes when the inside starts to level out. One especially enjoys the sight of the lonely hole in the middle of the the cups shallow- as if the poor guy was trying to lend some symmetry to this eccentrically wabi-sabi piece.

The outside wall tells a similar story of cracks that reach down toward a spattering of teeny, tinny holes at the base of the foot.

Yes, this cup has a foot much in a way that a tea bowl (chawon) would have. The detail of it is astonishing.

This foots style is 'Dal Paeng E' style. 'Dal Paeng E' translates to 'snail' because of its obvious similarity to the swirling of a snails shell. Traditionally a nail, twig or whatever was with an arms length was used in clear moment of zen to create the swirl. Although never a perfect swirl, the 'snail foot' adds balance, symmetry, and finality as well as an obvious air of natural beauty. The rustic look of this 'snail foot' was probably made by such a device and imbues such a feeling. The foot has an unfinished feel to it with three exposed blotches of unglazed clay, a permanent marking, a badge of honour only eared in the kiln. Most pieces have these imperfections sanded off. One enjoys the fact that Sel Young Jin choose to leave them on. Perhaps an attempt to roughen the effect of the snail swirl, or perhaps a statement on change.

The change this little rugged cup has undergone doesn't stop after it is cooled from the kiln. It's important to note that this cup didn't look like this at all when first made, but acquired its appearance through ware. This cup was completely white like blanketing fresh shimmering snow when first used. Only as tea penetrated its barely viable imperfections did it acquire the look it does in these pictures.

And as one sips tea from it now, change continues. The snow melts from the mountain peeks that one views from big windows, tea penetrating its cracks and hollows. But for a microsecond everything is clear once more.


Sunday, June 7, 2009

2008 Lao Mountain Fair Trade Organic Bolaven Plateau (Paxsong) 'Golden Green Tea'

One brought this one back with a few others from Lao. The company that produces this tea, Lao Mountain, pioneered the fair trade, organic movement in Lao and is doing much to give the farmers a fair wage they deserve. Check out their homepage to see all the good they've been doing and a description of their product. Like most tea producers in Lao, Lao Mountain is mainly invested in the coffee trade as tea is more of an after thought in Laos. This is manly because tea people simply haven't really discovered how good it is yet. Either way, this one sure is interesting and exudes the essence and defining flavour profile of teas from this southern region.

The bag of this tea came in a beautifully hand woven box from Kopnoi which truly gave it a Lao feel. The bag is removed from this interesting encasement and is snipped- revealing the wonderful aroma of malty, sweet coffee and hay. Mmmm...

Water is brought to a boil and then is left to cool before embracing these delicious smelling dry leaves.

The first infusion has a distinct coffee smell and taste with some notes of barley and almond. This tea is very tasty. Any 'greenness' in this tea is completely lost to this initial surge in flavour. It's mouthfeel is a touch juicy.

The next infusion delivers bitter-rich roasted coffee and dirt tones with a very light sweetness of sweet fruit. This time the tea leaves a dryness on the lips that seems unable to make it past the very front of the tongue. There is a dryness of natural rubber in not only feel but subtly in taste as well. This tea is dirty, gritty, and rough, something that, along with its flavour makes this tea immediately worthy of liking.

When infused again, roasted notes poke at the idea of becoming smoky before backpedaling. The roasted coffee profile of this tea almost allows for bitter to only act as a compliment. A bitterness that fits. A good bitterness. A black coffee kind of bitterness. By now it is quite apparent that this tea isn't so green but should actually be classified as a semi-oxidized tea as it fails in all areas to fit the 'green tea' profile in both its liquor colour and taste.

Apparently Lao is at a loss at how to classify tea. Confusingly enough, it seems to refer to all teas as 'green' but then adds descriptors such as 'smoked' and 'golden', and later as you will seen in an upcoming post ' puerh'.

The chaqi of this tea is not so amazing at all but what it lacks in qi it makes up for in flavour. And its flavor holds- this tea has stamina like few others one has ever sampled. In fact you can take this one further than some puerh. Through many infusions this nice, rough dirty, coffee taste hardly budges. It exudes the taste and feel of having a black coffee and smoke first thing in the morning- unrushed and cherished.

Actually, after many, many infusions have passed this tea develops a qi that characterizes some kicky hong cha as it slowly accumulates overtime in the bowels after filling the body with alerting energy.

The chaqi profile, stamina of flavour, and even the look of chopped wet leaves further suggest that this tea went through more than a little oxidization.

Those who drink tea but love the taste of coffee, this tea is for you.


Thursday, June 4, 2009

2008 Nannuo 'Cha Chan Yi Wei'

This sample was a part of a package from Nada a while back. His taste in puerh never lets down, challenging ones definition of 'good puerh' with every sample. One has heard many good things about this tea that Nada personally pressed last year on Nannou Mountain.

This one emits a mild aroma from leaves that are well defined- a nice mix.

The kettle and mind are prepared, the tea steeps. After a while this is nothing special, that's why its special.

This tea leaves a tingle on the lips as it enters the mouth. A tingle which lingers. A good tingle. The feeling in the mouth also follows suit. This pale yellow liquor is excessively creamy and sweet with hits of fruit in the nose. It is light, soft, smooth puerh but its mouthfeel is fuller than most with this profile. This is what one would expect from organic, old growth trees.

The next few infusions carry a sweetness that comes on fast then slips into spicy, banana-sweet creaminess. A dryness only begins to approach after the first few infusions and emerges after sweetness and flavours come and go.

This tea is a delicate one in flavour and in qi. This teas gentle nature unravels a soft, 'yin', downward flowing energy. A nice energy. A spring energy.

Further on, the fruitiness develops a distinct plum taste as the intense creamy and sweet tones drop off a bit.

Soon a lingering bitterness all but drowns out this tea's delicate taste. Fainter, tougher notes like licorice and a woody-caramel are sometimes present latter into the session under good brewing conditions.

A very nice tea.