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)



Unknown said...

Hello Matt,
I didn't hear from you?
If my location is unsuitable that's ok.

Matt said...

Peter Robrtson,

Sorry. I found you and google messaged you today and am awaiting your response.