Thursday, June 22, 2017

Which one is Ddok Cha? Which Is Puerh?

I was just long steeping both a 2008 Korean ddok cha and a 2007 Mengsong puerh when it occurred to me how similar they were.  In fact, the leaves look so familiar that I doubt you can tell the difference between them? Any guesses just for fun?

In that moment I had to think long and hard and actually sniffed them to tell them apart.  I definiately think even a seasoned puerh drinker could get tricked.  I thought that even the taste of ddok cha this aged resembles puerh and could even pass as puerh after many infusions.

I feel that the ddok cha is actually much better and complex tasting too.  However, there would be a huge price difference between the two so probably not a fair comparison but an interesting one.  Apples to oranges.


Thursday, June 15, 2017

"Stoner Qi" and 2006 Mengku Shuangjiang Wild Arbour King Brick

This was my first panicked purchase after realizing the puerh stash was dwindling.   When the shock wore off I immediately thought to myself, “Who has the most accessible selection of semi-aged puerh out there?”  Yunnan Sourcing came immediately to mind.  Upon searching their old site to replace some of the cakes I drank through, I came across this tea for which I have a long history.

I distinctly remember my first run-in with this burley brick back in 2007.  It was in a teahouse in Korea and the owner kindly steeped up some tea from a brick that was not for sale.  We at the tea table were mesmerized by the unique heavy but delicate tastes of this puerh at the time and, although I never consumed any in the 10 years that followed, that tea left a positive impression on me. 

Back then nobody, I mean nobody, was talking about BingDao (“Ice Island”) puerh.  At the tea table we had many discussions about what kind of raw material could give out such a unique taste.  But, at that time, we didn’t even know that BingDao even existed- almost nobody did.  The location of the material of these early Mengku Shuangjiang Wild Arbour King (“Qiao Mu Wang”) claims to be from BingDao and contain at least some of this old arbour material.

So when I came across this tea I was both excited, curious, and relieved.  I always thought to myself that this tea would be a great example of a full, fragrant Lincang that would be great for aging.  Now, at 11 years aged and most of its life in Kunming storage, I guessed that this tea would have a nice leg up at the ageing process while probably ready to consume right now.  The nostalgic red and yellow colors of Scott’s old site was comforting and familiar to me- a space I could trust and had a familiarity navigating.  When it showed that there were only 6 of these 1KG bricks left in stock for $140.00 a piece (only 0.14/gram) all six bricks, six whopping KG of puerh immediately jumped into the cart.  China ground shipping took the full amount of time to arrive and 3 months later a heavy box of these giant bricks arrive at my door step. 

Please sit down, take some time out of your busy day, relax and join me for this special tea…

Dry leaves smell of soft deep, if not slightly distant, floral with a very nice tropical fruit odours embedded deeply into the leaves.  These leaves are liberally packed into the pot.

The first infusion opens up with full deep creamy malted sweet medicinal tastes and a nice fresh strong returning coolness that dips into the throat.  There are undernotes of slight hidden fruit and a slight metallic taste at the end.  The mouthfeel has a nice powdery fullness and it descends slightly into the throat nicely.  The tastes are bold and strong so I remove some leaf from the pot.

The second opens up with distinct florals in a deep pungent base of slightly citrus fruity puerh cloaked by a malty middle aged syrupy sweetness.  The aftertaste is a cool metallic floral sweetness.  The mouthfeel is a significant chalky fullness.  The leaves have clogged up my little tea pot so I move them to a larger pot and add the leaves I had taken out.  It is apparent that this tea needs very little leaf.  The qi of this tea really stays in the head giving you a very profoundly relaxed even euphoric high.  A new tea term that I see lots of lately is “stoner tea” to describe cha qi.  This tea has a relatively strong “stoner tea” effect.

The third infusion has a creamy banana sweetness that lingers into a soft sweat floral tastes.  There is a full bouquet of malted slightly sweet but very distinct fruit tastes that are revealed when this tea is steeped more lightly.  It finishes with a very metallic taste.

The fourth offers very clean fruity notes of banana and tropical fruits as well as interesting citrus in a crisp slightly powdery metallic finish.  The qi profoundly relaxes and euphorically pushes the mind as if it has escaped my body, floating above it somehow.  Really great head qi in this puerh.  It doesn’t really linger in the body as much at all- it just says right in the head.

The fifth and sixth continue to push out an interesting array of fruity flavours in a fairly full mouthfeel.  A coolness is retained in the throat.

The seventh and eighth are long steeped and bring out slight camphor wood notes with fruity florals underneath.

The ninth is left for a few hours and is now mainly woody with a bit of faint fruit.

This tea is quite versatile in taste and quite stable in Qi.  When brewed lightly with less leaf and shorted steeping times you get a very fragrant, fruity, floral tea that still has some power to it.  With a heavier hand you will get deeper more syrupy and thicker medicinal notes like I have gotten above.  One thing is stable throughout- its heavier sedating head qi. 

Do I regret the rather spontaneous 6 Kg purchase of this tea?  Not at all, but for someone whose favorite profile is not the Lincang character I think I would have been just as satisfied with 2 or 3 KG.  For those that are interested Scott has restocked this tea and is still selling them for $140.00 for a hefty 1 KG of puerh.  I have to admit that I have a hard time knowing what is truly a “deal” these days because of both the increased price of puerh and the fact that I have not sampled a wide range of Lincang semi-aged puerh.  However, this tea definitely falls in to my category of “Good Tea” and for the storage, age, and price I consider it as such.  I think it will continue to age into something interesting but is great to drink now.  I have not encountered too many puerh that were this inexpensive with such strong relaxing qi. 


Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Menghai, Douji, and Mengku -Trifecta of Factory Puerh/ Reliable Old Friends

When things go off the rails in life who do you go to?

Your oldest best friends of course!

So recently when I realized that my puerh stash will soon be gone, I did what I know is a sure bet and called on my reliable old friends to get me out of this situation fast… factory puerh.

These friends are not the overly flashy types, they are a little rough around the edges, and to be honest they can be a little cheap but there is an honesty, a reliability, and a familiarity to them.  It doesn’t matter how long it’s been since you last met, a true friend will be there in a time of need.

If you have been drinking puerh tea since the early/ mid 2000s it is inevitable that you have a spot in your heart for big factory puerh.   If you look at the old school puerh bloggers Hobbes, Marshal’N, Bears they all still hold them in some kind of respect.  You never hear these puerh drinkers entrenching themselves in the debate of factory vs. boutique because they are wise enough to see value in both.

Back in the day there was pretty much just the Zhong Cha wrapped mystery stuff, CNNP, and big factory puerh.  There were smaller factory pressings as well but in Korea these were rarities.  So this is what you drank back then.  All the puerh drinkers in Korea knew that fresh puerh is not good for your health so quite naturally we would drink a lot of stuff from the 1990s 10-20 year aged stuff even 80s stuff at the tea table.

At this time there were three big factories that were generating lots of excitement amongst my puerh drinking buddies and tea shop owners.  A trifecta of factory puerh if you will…

1-      Douji in 2006 really lit up the puerh drinking universe.  Their 2006 offerings were especially epic and turned the puerh drinking universe on their head.   They were based in Yiwu and the cakes they offered from that region were absolutely delicious and they brought with them a new style of processing that made their puerh very delicious to drink now as well or to age for later.  I remember trying this stuff and really feeling like it is something special.  I remember that by the time I decided that I needed a tong of this stuff in 2006, no dealer or friends would sell any to me.  It was so delicious I think I drank through a 2006 cake of Douji Yiwu in one year.  No big deal, everyone was expecting their 2007 offerng to surpass their 2006 stuff so I picked up a tong of the 2007 Yiwu which turned out to be noticeably in superior to the 2006 line up.

Douji was definitely my Yiwu factory go to but even before I completely checked out, Douji was demanding very high prices.  Personally, I think they somewhat deserve these prices (Okay maybe not that high).  This comes from someone who has tested the resiliency of Douji puerh and has found that it ages brilliantly even in the face of unideal and varying aging conditions.

Unfortunately, the West is pretty mute these days about Douji.  Even the once active China Cha Dao has stopped marketing new Douji puerh (although it would be likely they could special order anything).  Last time I extensively sampled Douji was at a time when I was not paying much attention to the puerh world- during a blogger China Cha Dao tasting event hosted by Hobbes of Half-Dipper.  We didn’t sample much from YiWu in that event and my favorite was not even from Yiwu.  Douji is definitely a case of being priced out of the market.  I kind of feel like my old friend ditched me and is now hanging out with a wealthy group of friends, the popular crowd… not cool… but that’s what success does.

So I am currently in the hunt for a solid YiWu that is priced more accessibly.  Any suggestions?

2-      Mengku RongShi Shuang Jiang Tea Company was another factory that was doing really exciting things in the mid- 2000s.  Many of my puerh drinking friends and the tea shops we frequented gravitated to the very fresh, clean, crisp and pure examples of Lincang such as their Big Snow Mountain (Da Xue Shan) and Wild ArborKing (Qiao Mu Wang).  Something I never knew at the time and learned recently from reading Yunnan Souring website, is that it could have something to do with their processing which takes place right on the mountain in portable huts.  Did I also mention they never shy away from big, bold, chunky cakes?  Often enough they were the only Lincang teas in these shops and left us with a pretty impressionable picture of Licang puerh.  As a result Mengku is my Lincang factory of choice.

Unlike Douji, there is still lots of accessible Mengku Shuang Jiang out there.  I think this is because of its general location outside of the more traditional and popular Xishuangbanna.  I too have much less Lincang because of my preference for Xishuangbanna.  You will be sure to see lots of reviews on these teas in the coming months.  I hope our relationship will be as fresh, unique and enjoyable as I remember!  What are some of your favorite Menku Shuang Jiang puerh?

3-      Menghai Dayi Tea Factory is an old classic.  Ten years ago I would drink a lot of aged 80sand 90s Dayi hanging out in tea shops.  It was so popular that when I first started learning about puerh tea I thought that “Mengahai” meant “Menghai Dayi Tea Factory” and was unaware that it could be referring to a tea producing area.  That really sums up Dayi’s dominance and presence during this time.  Dayi = Menghai!  I remember there were some shops that would deal exclusively in Menghai Dayi puerh.  I didn’t spend too much time at these shops that were mainly ran by more traditional, conservative, less open minded to the changes in the puerh tea industry kind of people (maybe I would love these now… hahaha).  They were usually older men dressed in traditional Korean clothes in the old district of town.

For me Dayi is really the classic aged puerh tea taste.  It’s familiar, it’s home.  It’s your reliable and wise friend that is a little harsh but has the experience to back his reputation up.  Despite me being so chummy with Dayi I have never purchased a cake.  Mainly my puerh drinking friends and I thought that the stuff being produced in the mid 2000s was somehow not of the same quality recipes they once were.  Besides, there were more interesting and exciting things happening with other factories like the ones mentioned above.

Cakes that I tried or simply passed by when they were young years ago are now on their way from China.  I guess we will be exploring the ins and outs of the 2006-2008 line.  I wonder if they will even be close to the 10 years aged 1990s stuff I would drink regularly oh so long ago?  What are some of your favorite Menghai Dayi puerh?

Friends change and you change too - so is life.  I wonder if my relationship between these old friends will be much the same or completely different?


Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Ground Shipping China Post Puerh is the New Tea Horse Road

One of the things I really enjoyed reading about upon my return to puerh was all the lively discussion on shipping.  This article on shipping fees is especially interesting.  I had never seen shipping fees under the microscope like they are currently.  A recent post by Cwyn suggested that consumer pressure by puerh drinkers has even amounted to change- lowing the threshold for free shipping.

Unfortunately, living in the Great White North, Canada, many free shipping options are not available.  So, I feel a need to advocate for some free shipping to extend to your friendly neighbours up north!

I really love to select ground shipping using China Post when I order puerh.  First of all, there are some modest cost savings and I’m terribly cheap.  If you compare SAL to ground shipping you really only save a few bucks so if you are doing it purely for value, SAL which usually arrives in a few weeks makes more sense.  What really doesn’t make much sense is trying to rush a product that essentially gets better with age.  I think the fast shipping methods just really play into the modern, have it now, go faster and consume more mentality of the world.  This world view is actually opposite GongFu drinking of puerh tea which is a rather slow process.

What if you really like said sample or cake and wanted to order another but then it sells out in a few weeks leaving you totally missing out?  Yeah that is a possibility but there will be more puerh out there and the likely hood of this happening is slim anyways.  If you ship using ground shipping you really have to come to terms with this unlikely possibility.  In doing so you are challenging the Fear ofMissing Out (FOMO) puerh collecting mentality.  Ground shipping promotes the slow movement and way of life which I value.  I imagine few things slower than receiving a package from China using ground shipping.

There is also something natural about the slow method of receiving puerh.  I think this method mirrors the slow process of receiving tea from Yunnan the way it arrived thousands of years ago using the Tea Horse Road.  There is a slow and sustained building up of anticipation using this method, that I find priceless.  The feeling a child has waiting for Summer holidays to come or in counting down the days to Christmas.  There are not so many things in our life like this so I really enjoy this process.  I really try my hardest to use China Post Ground shipping for my orders.  And so here I am waiting as patiently as I can for my orders placed in March.

Then a moment of reality sets in as the only order that I used SAL arrives at my doorstep before all the others… and for a moment I reconsider… maybe ground shipping is not my favorite after all.