Gua Feng Zhai Puerh Tea

And Never Say Always, 2008 Guafengzhai

Guafengzhai Puer Tea and Managing Expectations

Anyone who has talked puer with me knows that I am a Guafengzhai fan boy. Not quite to the level of Beiber fever screaming and hysterics, but i play the album often. Guafengzhai is an area far East of Yiwu, on the border with Laos. It is a village of Yao minority people surrounded by mountain jungles, with three main tea picking areas; Chaping, Baishahe, and Chawangshu. In addition to those areas, which in my fan boy opinion are some of the best puer areas anywhere, they also have some younger plantation teas. This 2008 Guafengzhai is one of those super young plantation teas – I believe one of the first years they made xiaoshu [little tree] tea using local material, or this is how it was disclosed to me from the source.

Chawangshu
The road to Chawangshu, taken by yours truly in Spring 2013

Being a Belieber in Guafengzhai, before it even comes on stage, I am lost in fantasies of our future together. How it will slowly step down off the stage and press through the crowd, gaze fixed on me. Motioning for the security guards to step aside and pushing through the throngs of other desperate eager puer fanboys. “Come to me. We were meant for each other,” I mouth to the Guafengzhai. It winks at me and picks me up in its long stemmed arms. Or at least, these were my expectations for the session.

We all continually relearn the same lessons in life. My lesson today? Expectation is the precursor to disappointment. Desire the source of all pain. Did the Buddha ever have plantation Guafengzhai?

Plantation Teas and Thinness

Without getting into a bunch of sticky and dangerous talk about the difference between gushu [old arbor] and xiaoshu [little tree, plantation] teas, let me preface by saying there are exceptions to most rules. If you want to talk about stem size. Or veins. Or leaf thickness. Or depth of flavor. Or thinness. Or Body. Or _____. There is almost always an exception. If anyone wants to write a definitive “Gushu is always ______”  list, be my damn guest. I am not poking that hornets’ nest.

Guafengzhai Puerh Tea
Dry Leaves, showing a few years of age

What I will say is that plantation teas generally have less body and staying power, meaning that they are thin in the mouth and die out after a shorter number of steeps. These two factors are what made this session fall short.

The good points, on the first rinse this tea was deeply fragrant. Low purple fruit in the gaiwan, very sweet in the cup.

GFZ Puer
Thin soup

In the third steep two strange things happened. First, a strong smell of Stilton cheese on the leaves – which I have no explanation for, especially considering this tea was dry stored and blue cheese sharpness usually shows up with wet stored teas that have a bit of mold. Second, there was an abrupt and intense astringency. Also, not something I can explain, as I rarely associate Guafengzhai with astringency. The astringency quickly passed however, and was gone on the next steep.

Guafengzhai Puer Tea
Spent leaves

Later in the session ,around the fifth steep, the tea drifted off into thin oblivion, with nothing left to offer. So, there I stood, having the painful realization that my expectations were too high. I did a couple of oversteeps for research and pitched the rest. There are many fish in the sea, and many other teas in my cabinet. No sense in spending time dreaming about this one, especially since I have my own Spring Guafengzhai cakes on the bench.

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Tea Flower Blog

Never Say Never, ManSong 2001 Raw Puer

Cloudy Tea & the Trappings of Conventional Opinion

After countless experiences being proven dead wrong when speaking in puer absolutes, I should know better by now. Today’s tea, a 2001 ManSong raw puer pushes back on a couple of puerisms that many people toss around:

  1. Aged teas tend to lose their youthful fragrances over time in non-dry storage
  2. Cloudy soup is an indicator of “bad” tea

Both of these pieces of knowledge are generally true. An aged tea will often leave it’s floral scents of youth after a decade, or sometimes much faster, depending on the storage. And cloudy soup can be an indicator of a variety of woeful situations, like tea picked after rain or even poor processing, both things which tend to impact the quality of the tea.

Nine times out of ten, these things are right. And then you have the tenth tea.

Zisha Teapot
Dry Maocha about to go into the pot

This tea is roughly a decade old, but smells more fragrant than most young teas.

The first rinse left an intoxicating aroma in the gongbei [shared cup], but as you can see from the image above, it is very low on the clarity scale. Once in awhile you get some fall teas picked after heavy rain which are less cloudy than this. I have no idea where this opacity comes from, but most puer snobs would scoff at the color of the liquor.

Mansong Puerh Tea
Cloudy Tea (Partly to my bad camerasmanshipbility)

I am a snob and I scoffed as well. Then, I took a sip, followed by a bite of humble pie. The first steep had remnants of astringency, but was smooth and thick in the back of the throat. A mix of fruity caramel flavors and a fast huigan [sweet aftertaste] that followed a light bitter body. Don’t judge books by their covers and all that.

Mansong Puer Tea
The soup, getting a bit less cloudy and more red in color

Speaking of prejudice, I was a little bit down on ManSong tea and several other teas from that area before this Spring. Probably because I had a few bad encounters and wrote it off. After visiting several areas around Xiangming and ManZhuan I changed my opinion. Just another re-learning of the lesson to keep an open mind and two open eyes when looking for good tea.

Mansong Pu-erh
Spent leaves, all very hearty
* Might be wrong on the date here, but that is what the farmer wrote on a slip of paper in the bag

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Petr Novak Teapot

Teapots, Teacups, & Art

Waiting for the Quarry to Arrive

After spotting this artful teapot in late 2012, I contacted its maker Petr Novák of the blog Pots and Tea to see if the pot had an owner. I introduced myself and put my name in to reserve the teapot, and began to patiently wait (I only e-mailed him once every few weeks…)  for Petr to finish his “Gem Series” and wait for my pot and cups to arrive. A few weeks ago I got a call from China post, letting me know that they had conveniently delivered the package across the city and would not deliver it to my door. Passport in hand, I braved the traffic and went to pick up the long awaited package, traveling 10 km across the city. For those of you not familiar with major Chinese cities, 10 kilometers can translate to an hour in bad traffic.

Pots and Tea Teacup
A teacup from Petr Novak

Finally, the teapot whose name is Quarry Under Jade Water, is on my tray and helping me brew.

Those of you with a keen eye for Petr’s work may have noticed some of his cups in a few recent posts. I strongly recommend you check out his work, as his pieces are a rare kind functional art, made by a man who cares about both tea and the form of objects.  It is a treasure when an artist has an intimate relationship with the functionality of the object they produce. How many ceramic artists really drink puer?!

Teacup Novak Petr
Another of many wonderful cups

There is an old adage that says you should  never trust a skinny cook. By the same token, never trust a ceramicist who doesn’t drink puer.

Many thanks to Petr. You can contact him and purchase his works at Pots and Tea blog.

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Steeping Puer

Douji Gamma & Eta

Gamma

My first impression is the huigan [sweet effect] is fast in cup number one. There is a bubble gum sweetness with some hints of over roasting or “sun flavor”. There is some feeling similar to Mengsong in the first cup.

Puerh tea
Dry Gamma
Puerh tea
Gamma Soup

The following is more of the same. On the light side of bitterness, with a sweet draw in the mouth, and palpable astringency. This tea reads like an above average Mengsong tea. It lacks staying power and is not into the “deep side” of what a tea like this could be. Then again, I have no idea what this tea is or where it is from, so who knows.

Puerh tea
The Gamma leaves

Eta

Immediately straw and sweet grains. Tastes like a Sanhezhai area Yiwu tea in the first steep. Sewei [astringency] is a bit strong. In previous articles I tried to avoid using locational descriptions for these blind taste tests, but it would be difficult to describe this flavor other than Yiwu sugar straw. The soup is a consistent marigold color.

Puerh tea
Dry Eta

More of the same from this tea in later steeps. I am a little underwhelmed by these too offerings. Price is a big factor for cakes like this. If the price is low, these cakes would be a decent buy. If the price is high, I think these cakes can’t justify the mark up. For my personal collection, I already have some outstanding examples of teas like this, so I won’t be opening my wallet for Eta or Gamma.

Puerh tea
Eta Leaves

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