I am in the midst of a lingering cold and taking a break from taking notes on puer. Please accept these brief notes on a session from a few months ago, while I patiently wait for my nasal passages to resume accepting air.
This session was a bit light in the weight department, probably about 5 grams, about 1/2 what I normally use. I used less water, filling my gaiwan only half way to try to keep things in check.
The tea has a definite middle-aged smell, with a little bit of plum and fruits on the gaiwan lid.
The soup is on the dark side of gold, but not quite copper. Cereal, dried grass and grains, with a subtle sweetness in the mouth. Out of the 5 grams, there are only about 3 good steeps, before the tea stumbles into a generic Yiwu thinness.
Some past reviews of this tea put its price down at a humble $35, just a few years ago. Now, this tea commands a much higher price, mostly due to its brand name, rather than a sudden increase in quality. The material for this cake is fairly average, and for the damage this cake does to your wallet, better teas can be had. Thanks to Jakub for the sample!
Christmas bells in the air and a trip to the good ol’ US of A. Some people abroad like to trash American food, but there are plenty of delicious highlights; particularly biscuits and gravy, which is not only delicious, but also the cheapest form of winter insulation known to man. After already indulging twice in three days, if I can keep pace, it is likely I will need a second seat on the return flight to China.
The other thing I love about home is cheese. I ate an aged blue (not bleu, this is ‘Merica. Freedom fries) goat cheese the other day which was both fantastic, and reminiscent of this tea which i had a couple of months ago. I don’t get the opportunity compare cheese and tea often, so I figured I would finally do a post about this Zhongcha production.
The tea is a Anhua Heicha, which is black tea, but not in the sense most people in the West are used to. It is a fermented brick tea from Hunnan, in this case, intentionally filled with jinhua [golden mold – i don’t know the scientific name]. Tea, twigs, and whatever unfortunate small animals get tossed into the thresher are all present in the brick – well, maybe not the last one, but I’d bet it has happened. The brick is exposed to this mold and kept in an environment which encourages further mold growth. This is where the comparison to blue cheese comes in.
This particular brick is from 2008. It is meant to be aged like puer, although letting this brick into your puer closet is like admitting an angry drunk into an elementary school. I’d be worried about having the mold and aggressive scent near my own storage.
Now, onto the cheesy sharpness. This black tea was easily the sharpest tea I have ever encountered, surpassing the previous record holder (a 2004 wet stored raw puer) by a country mile. Sometimes wet stored puer teas carry some sharpness after being released from the tomb, but this tea was sharp in a way that dwarfed even an aged blue goat cheese.
These teas allegedly get smoother with age, but given its current sharpness, I don’t think I have enough years left in my life in order to test that claim. The tea was nearly undrinkable. I brewed it upwards of 6 or 7 times before giving up and tossing the twiggy mix into the trash can. For those of you who have not had other heicha, this is definitely NOT a good example, nor is it representative of what is possible. There are good heicha bricks out there, but the intentionally molded variety can be pretty ugly. The mold is also supposed to have some medicinal properties – but, I am can barely get the soup down. I think I will stick with biscuits and gravy + puer for the near future.
This Henglichang Bulang tea has gotten some mention from other bloggers with widely varying opinions. Thanks to Apache, I had a chance to try a sample. Luckily, I had not read any other reviews prior to sitting down for my session – so the scribbles in my little notebook were from an unbiased mind – relatively speaking.
When I decided to make a post about the Henglichang Bulang, I poked around to see what others had wrote, finding some divergent views. A 2010 review from Hobbes begins:
Some cakes give you hope. …
This Henglichang* cake is an excellent example of an aged cake that has real “trousers”. The leaves are homogenous in colour – there is no partial blend of type (i) leaves. The whole tea is a big, mahogany treat. It is a big, bold tea that is doing very well for its years. I appreciate its power, its duration, and its complexity.
There’s no real complexity and offers none of the surprises of a well aged tea. After trying this, now I know why this tea is a complete unknown this side of the Pacific. There are lots of options for late 90s teas, and this one isn’t a representative example of a good one.
These two reviews are fairly divergent, which is fine. I will quote my own notes below, which fall somewhere in between Hobbes and Marshaln. I can relate to the trousers and the lack of real complexity. It has both; thick bitterness and a lack of much else going on.
The rest of the quotes are direct from my notes:
Looks very dry. Lots of tips, smells of dusty books
Deep throaty kuwei right out of the gate, active salivary glands. Chocolatey.
Strong kuwei. Horehound
Heroic staying power, 20+ steeps
That was the abridged version of the notes. After looking over what I wrote, I noticed a surprising lack of adjectives such as good or bad. Very little in the way of judgmental adjectives, which is not that common for me. My notebook is usually littered with swear words or praise, or in some cases, both. It has been a couple of months since I drank this tea, but I remember drinking it for over an hour before a basketball game one Sunday. (We did win the game, which i must partially credit the Henglichang bulang for)
I do not throw around the phrase Heoric staying power lightly. I do remember this tea having a never ending rolling bitterness, which I enjoyed. I do also remember there not being much change or complexity, but I didn’t mind. Also, this is probably the first and only time I have encountered a note of horehound, which is a nostalgic flavor of a candy (derived from a plant) that my grandfather enjoyed and I ate on trips in South Dakota in my youth. Probably to do with the thick coating and dark syrupy tea.
Additional reviews, which i jacked from Marshaln/Jakub’s posts include: Jakub T , The Skua , and Wuxingcloud. And now you can add my notes to the pile.
Two Dog’s Handy Guide to Writing a Shitty Tea Blog
Don’t post anything for over a week
After not posting for a week, make triumphant return with post about bagged tea
Done and done.
Dayi recently began pushing bagged raw puer and curiosity got the best of me. I entered into the experience with plenty of preconceptions, despite my best effort to come in with a clean slate. Judging books by their covers can lead to faulty conclusions, but when the book cover is a teabag, the book is probably going to be an bargain bin airport spy novel. It’ll do in a pinch on a cross country flight, but you wouldn’t read it on the couch in your living room.
And, so go the Dayi teabags. If you were in the need of a convenient sheng, this will do. Would you brew it for a session on a leisurely Saturday morning? Well, probably not – unless you are a tea blogger with a masochistic streak for sampling the scummy underbelly of the puer world.
The bags contain fannings [tea dust/fragments] of raw menghai puer. But, not just any fannings, 6 YEAR OLD FANNINGS! Nine out of ten puer experts agree, that the best way to age puer is in fanning form! (Nope.) The age of these tea crumbs does not matter much, if at all.
The tea is pointed and astringent, but manages to convey some semblance of raw puer menghai character, which is something. Airport spy novels have their moments. If they didn’t, nobody would read them. They would opt to stare at the seat in front of them for three hours until they arrive in Newark.
I have seen threads floating around on forums from time to time, people who travel or are in an office where it is inconvenient to have implements for brewing; the dayi teabag solution works. It is raw puer, it is decent, and it is not a lot of fuss. It is also an all-star in the teabag leagues, blowing Colourful Yunnan out of the water. It won’t ever have a major league career, but that’s why we have separate leagues.
Kudos to Dayi for a great business decision. Prior to deciding to bag and sell these “6 year old” specks of tea, I guess they were destined for the dumpster. Whoever recommended they started bagging and selling it deserves a promotion.
Apache introduced me to the new darling of the Hong Kong internet forums, the 2011 Jin Dayi, with a sample packet (signed with beautiful penmanship, as shown above). The first time I had checked the price of this tea was several months ago, when it was hovering around 215 RMB. By the time I drank the tea, it was nearer to 300 RMB. As of the writing of this article, it is above 300 RMB – or 380 RMB at the flagship store. Some pretty active climbing for a newish tea from a big factory.
This runaway freight train price increase is due in no small part to the accolades doled out by Cloud, Hong Kong tea aficionado. The Hong Kong tea forums have been bustling with praise over the last year, with prices rising commensurately.
To be perfectly honest, most Dayi raw puer after the early 2000’s has been a bit of a drag. There are bright spots here and there, but in general, nothing to rave about. After seeing the enthusiasm over this tea, I had to try a bit and jump on the bandwagon.
The first cup is a bell tolling. A loud declaration of presence. There is kuwei [pleasant bitterness] and a syrupy coating in the throat from the outset. There are bones and guts and body. These are high compliments, as most Dayi sheng from recent years is a bit lacking in the skeletal department.
The gold dayi also has fortitude. Deep into the session, there is still a strength of kuwei and full body that is not present in most of the recent Dayi teas I have tried. It is clear why Cloud and the HK tea forum crowd are backers of this tea.
The Jin Dayi is typical in its menghai character, but it is done better than any I have had in previous years. As for what I mean by menghai character, Hobbes described it as
dark-mushroom with malt, and plenty of hardcore bitterness.
This is in the ballpark of how I would describe Jin Dayi, if I could swap out mushroom for raw tobacco. The darkness, malt, and hardcore kuwei are all there in force. Altogether these components combine for a very intense and pleasurable session.
One last note, the 2011 Jin Dayi blend has a fairly wide range in leaf size. Some buds, some larger broad leafs. Ages of the material also ranges, but in general seem to be a few years old. It drinks more smoothly than several other 2011 Dayi blends I have sampled. Some details on the leaves in pics above and below.
If you plan on purchasing this tea, probably better to do it sooner than later. The price will probably climb into farcical territory soon, if it is not there already.
Special thanks to Apache for allowing me to sample a tea I might not have otherwise gotten around to!