Sunday, December 27, 2015

Yunnan Sourcing's 2006 Nan Jian Wu Liang Mountain Raw Puerh

Yunnan Sourcing's Description
This is purely first flush of spring 2006 tea leaves from the Wu Liang mountains in Jing Dong county of Simao.  High altitude tea leaves were plucked and processed in the traditional manner and then pressed into these lovely 200 gram tea cakes.

My thoughts
My puerh stash is pretty heavily skewed towards the ripe end of the puerh spectrum. Not that I dislike raw puerh, but I find that many of them are fairly plain until they get some age behind them, and the more age the have behind them, the more the cost prohibits me from buying them. This one was an exception: a 200g cake will run you just over $20. That price point for a cake that's about 9 years old, plus the bonus of being from Wu Liang Mountain, means that I already know this is going to be a great tea.

The leaves in this cake are from Wu Liang Mountain in northern Pu'er prefecture, but the cake was pressed by Nan Jian Tea Factory in southern Dali prefecture, about 100 miles north of the source.

Dry leaves - The cake has a bronze-green sheen with plenty of lighter tips mixed in. The aroma has a nice florality on top of the green pungency of a sheng, but it definitely has an aged feel to it. The vegetal bite is mostly gone and replaced with a pleasant sweet aroma. This one is pretty tightly packed, so it will take a bit of work to separate the leaves from the rest of the cake.

Brewing parameters - 212F, 2 x 10s rinse, <5s steeps at first, increase as necessary.

Steeps 1 and 2: As with any sheng, the first couple steeps are still a bit rough as it calms down. There is a fair amount of bitterness and astringency right off the bat, but the flavors underneath promise that this will be a good one indeed.

Steeps 3-6: The dryness and bitterness fade away quickly, leaving me with a smooth, sweet, floral tea. It's more of a general floral taste as I can't really pick out any specific aromas or tastes from the broth. There is a definite aged flavor to this one as well, not a prominent aged feel yet, but it's certainly there. A nice pleasant kuwei bitterness has taken hold as well, and gives the flavors a bit of depth.

Steeps 7-10: The tea really hits its peak here. The smoothness is striking, almost buttery, and the florality is just wonderful. The soup has steadily increased in sweetness with each steep, and has really brought out the floral flavors with each successive brew.

Steeps 11-15: While most puerhs have faded by this point, this one is still going strong. The sweet aged floral tones are fantastic, and it only continues to get smoother as time goes on. The aroma is almost like a dried spring bouquet.

This is a great budget sheng, and certainly worth your money. It's a good tea to drink now, but I think this one will really hit its prime in another 5-10 years or so, after it's had a bit longer to mellow out.

You can buy this tea from Yunnan Sourcing here and here.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

What-Cha's Fujian Wuyi 'Zi Hong Pao' Purple Varietal Oolong Tea

What-Cha's Description
A most unusual Wuyi oolong possessing a thick and smooth taste of roasted plums with a sweet finish.

My thoughts
This one has all the aspects of my favorite teas: highly oxidized, Wuyi, purple varietal, and it's even from What-Cha. I mean, how could it go wrong at this point? This is a newer offering from What-Cha, and I received 10g of it as a sample with my last order. I had a 50g bag of this tea in my cart, but then removed it because I was spending too much money already. So I was quite excited to see that Alistair had included a sample of it.

Zi Hong Pao is a naturally occurring purple varietal mutation of the classic Da Hong Pao varietal.

Dry leaves - Yup, it looks like a yancha. Dark twisty leaves with an amazing fruity, roasty, mineral aroma that makes my mouth water. Notably, this one is quite different from any of the Wuyi oolongs I reviewed from last month's Verdant tea club. Not that I could ever get tired of drinking tea from the Wuyi mountains.

Brewing parameters - 212F, 5s first, +3s after. I brew lots of different teas in many different ways, but yanchas and dianhongs are always brewed gongfu style.

Tasting notes - Smooth, sweet, candied plums, floral, roasty

Based on the sweet roasty plum aroma of the leaves, I really expected the soup to be purple. I was only briefly disappointed when it turned out a light golden hue rather than a royal violet. The aroma of the liquor is one of candied plums, mild roastiness, and a touch of minerality to give it that distinctive Wuyi feel. This tea is almost like a candy in liquid form. Something something visions of sugar plums...this would make a great tea for the holidays.

The first steep is much like I expected from the aroma: sweet roasted plums and a bit of that Wuyi minerality, and it goes down wonderfully smooth. It has an almost lip-smacking sweetness to it that persists for a long time after finishing the first cup.

Steeps 2-5 balance out quite a bit, with the sweetness mellowing out slightly, and the roastiness and minerality bringing the candied plums down a notch. But only a little. This is still an extremely sweet and fruity tea, and it quickly becoming one of my favorite Wuyi oolongs.

Steeps 6-9 don't change the profile much, but a mild florality has cropped up under the roasted plum taste. It really compliments the plum flavors well, and was kind of unexpected this late in the session. Not that I'm complaining. I don't think I could find anything wrong with this tea to complain about anyway. Steeps 10 onward are much more subdued. It seemed to drop a lot of it's flavor after #12, but I still went through 15 total. The sweetness is still there, but most of the individual flavors have disappeared.

This is a fantastic tea, and one of the best Wuyi oolongs I've tried so far. I was honestly surprised it was not only so different from a typical Da Hong Pao, but markedly different from any other tea I've ever had.

You can buy this tea from What-Cha here:

Saturday, December 19, 2015

What-Cha's Russia Solohaul Tea Estate 'Keemun' Black Tea

What-Cha's Description
A premium hand-picked Russian black tea possessing a full and sweet malty fudge taste.

My thoughts
Alistair posted a slew of new Russian teas literally moments before I placed my last order at What-Cha. I'd been running low on one-steep-and-done morning teas to take to work, so I went only slightly overboard and ordered at least a sample of each the new Russian black teas. I'll eventually get all of them reviewed here, but this is the first of the group.

Dry leaves - The flat black and variously sized leaves look fairly typical for a Ceylon tea. For a Russian tea? Not as much. I'm used to seeing smaller and fairly uniformly-sized leaves coming out of Russia. These new teas from Solohaul Tea Estate break the typical Russian mold in just about every way. Another example: the aroma, which is a deep, rich chocolate fudge smell with just hints of malt beneath. Again, not typical for a Russian tea. And I'm seriously excited to give this one a taste.

Brewing parameters - 212F, 3.5m. Russian teas fall into the same category as Georgian teas. That category would be "slow to impart flavor and virtually impossible to make bitter". Long steep times make me twitchy, but they work here.

Tasting notes - Smooth, sweet, chocolate fudge, malt

Mmmmmm. Seriously, do I need to write more than that? This tea is extremely smooth, certainly the smoothest Russian tea I've ever had, and carries a wonderful sweet taste of rich chocolate fudge. A mild dark malt follows close behind the fudge taste, but never overwhelms the chocolatey flavor. The typical Russian terroir of smooth tannic smokiness isn't even remotely present here. I'm really going to have to try this one gong fu style sometime and see how it performs that way.

I have to keep reminding myself that this isn't from Fujian, because it would fit better there than from the more northern latitude of Krasnodar. If you handed me this tea and asked me where it was from, I'd likely guess Fujian first, Yunnan second, and Ceylon third. Russia would likely never even cross my mind. I'm not sure if "Keemun" was the most accurate name for this tea, as Anhui black teas have more of a smoky/cocoa/stonefruity taste, and this one has none of those. Regardless of the naming, this is an excellent tea and a great example of the tea coming from southwestern Russia.

You can buy this tea from What-Cha here:

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Puerh Shop's 2013 Zenpuer 1306 Menghai Ripe Puerh

Puerh Shop's Description
A new ripe Pu-erh tea made by using pure Menghai raw materials, no off taste, rich enough tasting profile is the key for a long term storage and enjoyment. Ripe and expressive, with explosive pear and lychee flavors mingling harmoniously as they swoop into the polished finish.

My thoughts
While on my hunt for Black Friday sales, I stumbled across a new-to-me tea shop simply called Puerh Shop, located just a few hours from me in Troy, Michigan. They have a puerh selection rivaling Yunnan Sourcing and prices to match, so I figured I'd order a couple of the cakes they had on sale. This is a 250g cake, which cost me a whopping $10.

Dry leaves - It's a fairly average looking cake, nothing really standout about it. The aroma is one of a pungent earthy sweetness with a bit of spiciness to make it interesting.

Brewing parameters - 212F, 2 x 10s rinse, 5-15s per steep adding time as necessary. Pretty much standard for a puerh.

Tasting notes - Smooth, sweet, earthy, cedar, persimmon, spicy

First thing I notice is the complete lack of fermented taste. I mean, there is literally no flat or fishy off-taste from the fermentation whatsoever, which is unusual for a shou that's only 2 years old. Second, this shou is sweet! A wonderful sweet earthiness hits me right off the bat, and lingers long after the sip.

Steeps 2-4 are starting to bring out the individual flavors, though they're still a bit muddled. The sweetness is just amazing, and easily rivals Crimson Lotus' '08 Bulang in that area. A hint of fruitiness is beginning to rear its face behind the sweet earthiness, but it's too early to tell what it is just yet. A mild cedar spiciness is mingling with the flavors as well.

Steeps 5-8 are where this shou really shines. The fruitness has taken me a few cups to pin down what it is, because it's been quite a while since I've eaten one: persimmons! Spefically, Hachiya persimmons, the kind that need to be practically a liquid before you eat them. I don't really notice any pear or lychee like the description states, but the sweet honeyed flavor of the persimmon more than makes up for that. The earthiness has mellowed out and let the fruitiness take hold.

Steeps 9-12 keep a similar flavor profile to the previous bunch, but have mellowed out significantly. The liquid is still extremely smooth and sweet, and the persimmon flavor hasn't let up yet. Steeps 13+ struggle to keep the flavor going, but I'm not stopping until I've wrung every last bit of flavor from these leaves.

This one really did surprise me. For ten bucks, I expected a shou that tasted like ten bucks. This one tastes like it should cost 4-5 times more than what it actually does.

You can buy this tea from Puerh Shop here:

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Verdant Tea's November Tea Club - Wuyi Oolongs

Going to try something a bit different here. I received my first box from Verdant's tea club recently, and rather than review each tea separately, I'll post a slightly abridged review for each tea here. At least then this blog will have some sense of organization. I mean, I like to think it does anyway.

This month's theme are all Wuyi oolongs from Li Xiangxi's farm in Tongmu, Wuyishan in the northern slice of Fujian. They are all new to Verdant's site and were just posted a day or two before I received my box. All were brewed gongfu style with 5-6g of leaf in roughly 120ml of water.

Bai Ji Guan
Brewing parameters - 185F, 5s first, +3s after
This is the greenest of the five oolongs, and one of the most unique Wuyi oolongs I've had thus far. All Wuyi oolongs are fairly heavily oxidized, but this one falls on the low end of that spectrum. The leaves are a mottled bright green, yellow and deep burgundy and smell strongly of florality and minerality.

A quick 5 second steep in 120ml of water, and these leaves produce a light pale green soup that emits a wonderful floral/mineral/vegetal aroma, most reminiscent of cherry blossom and honey with the classic Wuyi minerality. Cherry blossom and lotus come through prominently in the taste, followed by sesame seeds, mineral, and just a tinge of honey.

Bai Rui Xiang
Brewing parameters - 208F, 5s first, +3s after

Wuyi oolong #2 is a much darker variety than the Bai Ji Guan. The Bai Rui Xiang leaves range from dark green to flat black, and smell of vanilla, incense spices and minerality.

As soon as the water hits the leaves, a wonderful tangy aroma arises. It's still distinctly Wuyi, but it delivers an citrusy, spicy lily, and almost jasmine aroma. If the tea liquor is anything like the aroma, I'm sold.

And the tea does not disappoint. The broth is wonderfully complex and brings notes of vanilla, mineral, cream, and lily florality, all with a slightly roasty overtone. It mellows out gradually with each steep, and the vanilla and cream elements take over the forefront of the sip.

Huang Mei Gui
Brewing parameters - 208F, 5s first, +3s after

The darkest oolong so far. The aroma of the dry leaves is significantly less pungent than the previous two, but release a mellow infusion of rose, minerality, and roastiness. The leaves are a dark flat brown and mostly uniform in color.

The leaves create a light amber brew that is highly floral, but still much heavier than the last two. Rose, nectarine, barley, mineral, and roastiness all combine into one to make a mellow, yet flavorful brew. I was able to detect a hint of raw cacao coming out in the later infusions as well. While this is still a great tea that I thoroughly enjoyed, I think it's probably the least unique of the group. It's fairly similar to what you'd expect from a mellow Qi Lan.

Mei Zhan
Brewing parameters - 208F, 5s first, +3s after

I've been looking forward to this one for a while now. Not really sure why, it just piqued my interest for some reason. The dry leaves are almost as dark as the Huang Mei Gui, but are slightly larger and less uniform in size. They also have a similar aroma, but more pungent, mixing sweet orchid, mineral and roastiness.

Wow, this one is aromatic. The smell of thick, sweet orchid and rose blends with roasted almonds to fill the room. The taste is just as wonderful, with the roasted almonds taking the lead, followed by a smooth creaminess and just a touch of florality and grain at the finish. The soup was surprisingly less floral than the aroma, and the minerality isn't as strong as the previous teas.

Fo Shou
Brewing parameters - 208F, 5s first, +3s after
The fifth and final tea from this box, and also somewhat of an outlier from the other four. The thick and chunky leaves don't have much special in the way of aroma, but they are easily twice the size of any of these other teas.

The taste contains a woody element that I hesitate to call cherry, but it's something in that neighborhood. Rosewood maybe? I'm not familiar with that taste, but it reminds me of rose, but without the cloying florality. It is accompanied by vanilla, cinnamon and only a bit of roastiness, while the minerality is the weakest in this tea. I can also detect a slight fruity aftertaste as well.

These are all excellent teas, and if you missed out on the club this month, you can still pick up each of these from Verdant's website (click the name of each tea above for a direct link). I think my favorite of the bunch was the Bai Ji Guan, simply because of the green uniqueness of it.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Yunnan Sourcing's Imperial Pure Bud Black Tea

Yunnan Sourcing's Description
An incredible premium pure bud black tea. Made from the highest quality high altitude material from Ning'Er county of Simao. Only young bud sprouts are picked and then expertly processed into this delicate and textured Imperial grade black tea!

My thoughts
Yass! More dianhong! This beautiful tea came with last month's tea club, and I was excited for it because this tea has been on my wishlist for some time now. In my book, you just can't go wrong with a malty, chocolatey tea, especially not one from Simao district.

Dry leaves - This tea is gorgeous. Easily one of the prettiest dianhongs I've ever seen. The fuzzy leaves are a rich, bright golden yellow, and curled slightly to make a soft, cushiony pile in the teapot. They smell of malt and cocoa, richer than a typical fengqing dianhong; just from the smell I can tell that this would make a great dessert tea.

Brewing parameters - 200F, 5s first, +3s after. Most black teas I brew western style, but dianhongs are strictly brewed gongfu style. Just my preference.

Tasting notes - Dark chocolate, malt, sugarcane, sweet, raisin

Everything about this tea is delicious. The aroma is a rich, sweet, and malty with a touch of dark chocolate, and the color is a beautiful dark amber hue. For the first couple steeps, the maltiness is the most prominent flavor, followed closely by dark chocolate and raw sugarcane. As the fuzzy leaves release their trichomes, it imparts a tingly mouthfeel. It's certainly not astringent, but the tingle is quite enjoyable.

In steeps 3-6, the chocolate comes quickly to the forefront and joins hands with the malt. The sweetness is still quite strong, and begins to bring the mild taste of dark raisins as an afterthought. I drink a fair amount of various dianhongs, and I can say with some certainty that this is one of the most richly flavored chocolatey dianhongs I've had the pleasure of drinking so far.

Steeps 7-12 are still extremely sweet and mellower than earlier. At this point, it's beginning to remind me of the mu shu hong cha black I reviewed last month. That one skipped the chocolate entirely, but with that addition it probably would have tasted quite similar to this tea now. The raisin element is still subtle, but it is also accompanied by a slight fruity florality that I can't really place.

This is a wonderful tea, and I can't recommend it enough. It's definitely one of my favorite dianhongs in my stash, and is a great tea to impress company or just to drink yourself

You can buy this tea from Yunnan Sourcing here and here.

Monday, December 7, 2015

What-Cha's Fujian Zhangping Light Roasted Shui Xian Cake Oolong Tea

What-Cha's Description
Possesses an incredible floral aroma and taste as expected of the best Shui Xian oolongs with a smooth texture and a very slight detectable trace of the light charcoal roast.

My thoughts
I reviewed the heavy-roasted version of this tea in the very first review on this blog back in September (see here), and that one is outstanding, so when the light-roasted version showed up at What-Cha a bit later, I knew I had to give it a shot. Green oolongs are very hit-or-miss for me. Some are excellent (i.e. Taiwanese Jin Xuan), while others are just deplorable (i.e. green tieguanyin, seriously, green TGY is a heresy). Knowing how good it's darker brother is, I had high hopes for this tea.

Dry leaves - Like the heavy roasted version, these are pressed into loosely packed square cakes, roughly 10g each. Coloration ranges from a bright chartreuse to an autumn orange to a dark forest green. Quite the color contrast going on here. The aroma is a light springtime floral/leafy scent, with just a hint of charcoal.

Brewing parameters - 185F, 15s first, +5s after

Tasting notes - Smooth, daffodil, lilac, lily of the valley, sweet citrus, charcoal

A light fruity citrus takes the forefront of this tea, followed closely by a smooth, sweet florality that just screams springtime. The citrus is more of a sweet tangerine than grapefruit like the heavy-roasted version has. The thick, vegetal/soybean element that I tend to associate with green oolongs is not present here in the slightest, which is nice. After 2 steeps, the cake was still mostly intact, so I broke it apart before the third steep.

Steeps 3-5 really took the floral sweetness and knocked it up a notch (bam!). Breaking the cake apart brought out the flavors quite well, and rather than just a general floral taste, I can detect daffodil and lilac quite easily, and even a touch of lily of the valley towards the finish. The tangerine/orange is still present and is present throughout the sip, but not overwhelming. I can taste just the tiniest hint of the charcoal roast long after the sip as well.

Steeps 6-9 mellow out significantly and the flavors become a little bit muddled. The charcoal flavor is just barely hanging on underneath the floral/citrus tones, and I can no longer pick out individual floral notes. It's still quite sweet though, and is incredibly smooth.

Like it's heavy-roasted cousin, this tea is a bit pricey so I doubt it will become a daily drinker for anyone, but it's a great tea to break out for company, or just to lift your spirits from the grey wintery crap that is moving in.

You can buy this tea from What-Cha here:

Sunday, December 6, 2015

What-Cha's India Arunachal Pradesh Hand-Made Black Tea

What-Cha's Description
A strong tasting hand-rolled black tea with a malty taste and gentle smokey finish, perfect as a breakfast tea.

My thoughts
I'm fairly well versed in Chinese geography. Indian? Not so much. I had to look up exactly where Arunachal Pradesh was on a map. Turns out, this tea comes from the extreme northeastern edge of India, just a few hours' drive from northern Yunnan, at nearly the same latitude as Darjeeling to the west. There isn't much tea that comes from this area, so I was pretty unaware of what to expect from these leaves.

Dry leaves - They look fairly typical for an Indian black. The aroma is somewhat unusual, starting with a strong odor of malt and wood, and ending with a slight smokiness. It reminds me almost of a Russian tea, rather than something from India.

Brewing parameters - 200F, 60s first, +15s after

Tasting notes - Malt, cocoa, wood resin, cedar smoke, maple syrup

The soup brews out to a lovely dark amber color, and emits a pungent aroma of malt and smoke. Taste is quite strong for the shorter steep time, but not at all bitter. This would definitely be a good wake-up-in-the-morning tea. The maltiness takes the forefront, but quickly gets pushed aside by the woody, sappy, resinous taste and a well-defined cedar smokiness. Cocoa notes show up slightly under the rest of the flavors, but they are pretty subtle at this point.

Steeps 2 and 3 lose a lot of the woodiness and smokiness, letting the malt and cocoa take over the ride. It tastes a lot more like I'd expect from an Indian tea now, though I am somewhat disappointed that the cedar smokiness has dissipated because I rather enjoyed it. I am noticing a very slight sweetness at the end of the sip that is almost certainly a mild maple syrupy flavor. The pungent resinous taste of the first steep has mellowed out to a smooth and satisfying brew.

Steeps 4 and 5 are mostly a malty, tannic, cocoa-infused tea now. My final steep I left sit for 5 minutes and the smokiness began to show its face again, but it was much more subtle than the earlier steeps.

This is a great, strong black tea, perfect for mornings. The typical darker Indian black teas (i.e. Assam, Ceylon, and Nilgiri; Darjeeling is in its own class) have a tendency to taste very similar to each other, but this one breaks the mold with it's resinous, smoky pungency, which is more akin to something Russian than Indian. I'd definitely recommend it to anyone wanting to explore the area further.

You can buy this tea from What-Cha here:

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Yunnan Sourcing's 2013 YS "Jing Mai Mountain" Wild Arbor Raw Puerh

Yunnan Sourcing's Description
Entirely hand-picked and processed at every stage makes this an awesome tea with perfect profile and aging possibilities.  Tea trees are between 80 and 150 years old growing naturally without the use of artificial fertilizers or pesticides!

My thoughts
Continuing on the puerh binge I've been on lately. I received a sample of this sheng in an earlier monthly plan from Yunnan Sourcing. I love when tea vendors offer a varied selection in the monthly tea clubs because oftentimes it ends up being a tea you would never have tried otherwise. Case in point, this gem. This is YS's own brand of puerh, which I have found can quite easily stand up to anything the big Chinese tea manufacturers make.

These leaves originate from Mangjing village at the foothills of Jingmai Mountain in southwestern Yunnan.

Dry leaves - It looks pretty much like you'd expect from a sheng with a bit of age behind it: more of a brownish-greyish-green than the bright silvery green of a new sheng. The aroma though is what sets this apart. Amidst the typical green pungency, there is the almost unmistakable smell of cherry blossoms. It's a very light floral stonefruity aroma, definitely none of that nasty cherry cough syrup smell.

Brewing parameters - 212F, 2 x 10s rinses, then <5s steeps at first, adjusting time as needed.

Tasting notes - Smooth, cherry blossom, kuwei bitterness, white grapes, mild astringency

Steeps 1-3: This sheng starts off not nearly as pungent as I expected. Wild-growing leaves can have a pretty wicked vegetal bite to them, but this is much mellower. The sweet cherry blossom aspect carries over nicely to the broth, and permeates the taste from start to finish. There is a very slight astringency that hangs around after the sip, but again it's not as strong as I expected from wild leaves.

Steeps 4-7: The astringency is gone already, leaving me with a smooth, sweet, cherry-infused soup. The mild bitterness is a little more prevalent here, but it's certainly not overwhelming; it's balanced very nicely with the sweetness. A bit more fruitiness is starting to crop up here, but I can't really place what it is yet.

Steeps 8-11: White grapes! That's what that fruitiness is. The grape component is quite a bit more prominent here, but sweet cherries are still the primary flavor. The broth is quite sweet now, overpowering the bitterness and is extremely smooth, with an almost lubricating mouthfeel.

Steeps 12+: Most of the individual flavors have faded by this point, but it's still a very sweet, smooth tea. I stopped at 15 steeps, but I'm confident I could have pulled at least another 5 from these before they gave out completely.

For only being two years old, this is a great tea. I could see this aging into something really special a few years down the line, and would certainly be a great addition to anyone's raw puerh collection.

You can buy this tea from Yunnan Sourcing here and here.