Chinese Tea Pics


A Brief Public Service Announcement

If you are ever hungry and drifting around the internet, i recommend avoiding descriptions like Susan Chang’s delightful prose about buttermilk. It not only stoked my burning desire for excellent dairy products, which are in short order in China, but it also awakened in me a longing to be a better writer. I often gloss over points that I am unable to describe in the puer world, going with tired old adjectives for bitterness or mouth feeling, rather than aspiring to sentences like:

 the way it evokes cream without cream’s over-the-top heft; the way its tanginess goes up to the threshold of yogurt and stops just shy

Shit. Give me some of that! Nothing tickles a Midwestern boy quite like sultry talk of buttermilk. Susan, you had me at evokes cream.

How did this make it onto my tea blog? Well, buttermilk starts with B and so does Beta, so there is probably some connection if you look hard enough.

Beta Blind Tea Tasting

Dry leaves of Mister Beta
Dry leaves of Mister Beta

The fragrance off the leaves is excellent, both dry and after the rinse. On the first rinse I can smell the thickness of this tea wafting of the top of the soup.

The first steep is intriguing. Thick in the mouth, fast huigan [sweet aftertaste], and I am immediately refilling my tea kettle, which has gotten low on water. As I wait for the water to boil, the lingering character in my mouth is palpable.

Double walled glass
Beta soup

The leaves have a 80/20 split between fruit and smoke respectively. The second steep opens up a lot, again a fast huigan. There is still some smoke in the soup and a medium-light kuwei [good bitterness].

The further steeps seems similar, a mix of kuwei and a background savory smoke flavor. The tea is pleasant and more towards my taste than the theta. The base material also seems a bit sturdier.

Single puerh tea leaf
One tiny leaf

The Beta also responds really well to an oversteep, as I accidentally steeped it for several minutes after a distracting phone call. (Protip: Don’t answer the phone while steeping tea) Luckily, there was no ugliness, just a more intense bitterness and stronger huigan.

Oversteeps are a good test if you want to tap around and feel where a tea has chinks in the armor. In some cases, a tea will fall apart and become nearly undrinkable when steeped too long. The Beta holds up very well under scrutiny, and has more going on than the others I have tried, Theta, Kappa, and Sigma, for those of you keeping track at home. I still don’t know what this tea is because I have not gotten around to asking Mr.Hobbes or Mr.Scott.

Lastly, Jakub made a review on his puer tea blog T, where he has a different opinion than I did. Anyone who disagrees with me is totally wrong. Twodogteablog is pure puer truth. Never forget it.

Gaiwan spill
The worn out Beta leaves
beautiful tea tray

Kappa & Sigma

More of the samples from this post. Seems the other tea bloggers did these in a different order than i did. So, my notes may not coincide with those of others, such as Hobbes and Jakub.

The Kappa shows some flecks of charcoal in the rinse and initial steeps. This could just be a stray scorched leaf that was at the bottom of the wok during the kill green stage of processing, or it could be indicative of tea that was cooked too long or on high heat, tough to say from the small 8 gram sample I am brewing.

Charcoal in Puer
Charcoal caught by my strainer
dirty puer soup
…and some more charred bits that squeezed through

This tea is far more green in flavor than any of the other samples I have tried so far. It’s got some sort of umami flavor lingering around, with some sweetness on the gaiwan lid. This tea might be better consumed in the short term rather than aging long term.

Pile of puer
Spent Kappa leaves

The Sigma was better tailored to my tastes. Thicker in the body, enough complexity to keep me entertained, and nothing I could pick out in terms of major processing flaws. Not much to describe for particular flavors or feelings, it was  mostly the body that I enjoyed.  I am one tired tea blogger, so despite the short description, just put the Sigma in my like column and the Kappa in my dislike column.

hunk of puerh tea
Dry Sigma leaf
Tea Meditation
Sigma soup

*Notes: Seems the Kappa was a Wuliang, which reveals my aging bias. Still not sure what the Epsilon is, but i enjoyed it.

**Edit: I originally wrote Epsilon. Obviously slept through Greek lessons as a lad.

Theta & the Blind Dates

Blind Tea Tastings with the Greeks

This post was written a couple of weeks ago, but in the interest of synchronized timing, I will be releasing these reviews in the coming few days.

The samples are all labeled with Greek letters, and I have no prior knowledge of what I am drinking. Time to find out how little we all know, as I mistakenly profess my love for pesticide drenched plantation summer tea and denounce spring gushu [old tree] laobanzhang with hubris! Though it is pretty safe to say neither of those things are amongst what Scott offers – as he is usually in the good tea/ good value range. Whatever, Let’s get this frat party started.

Theta, I choose you!

Gaiwan with tea
Dry leaves

10.2 grams and 150 ml gaiwan.

The gaiwan lid smells of fruit after a rinse and sitting for about a minute. The first two steeps have a few things in common; very gentle, cloudy soup, and soft fragrances. A light astringency comes and goes in the second steep, and the tea leaves a light sweetness in the mouth. There are the beginnings of a coating in the throat.

Tea in Gaiwan

The soup retains its cloudy character on third steep and astringency perks up even futher, along with a very fast huigan [sweet aftertaste]. It becomes less gentle as it opens up. As far as a distinct flavor character, nothing leaps out at me. Something like dry grass and honey.

Cloudy tea
Cloudy soup

The fourth steep makes seems to be a bit thicker. The flavor is still not the center point of the tea. The sweet aftertaste is the best feature, appearing quickly and staying for a long period of time afterwards, as well as stimulating saliva and drying the mouth. The astringency is still very strong, but it is not a bad astringency, it is the kind that a young tea ought to have.

To quickly get off track, some older people have said to me, and I am paraphrasing, “Young people are always complaining about astringency. We used to say that if it is not bitter and not astringent, it is not tea.” Astringency is not a bad thing. Young puer tea should be astringent. So, when I say the astringency is strong, that is not a slight, merely an observation.

Around the fifth steep, it is more of the same. Huigan. Shengjing [inducing salivation, dryness]. I take a ten minute break between cups and my throat is not very comfortable. The coating seems gone and feels a little raw.

Later steeps
Later steeps

Sixth steep through the eight steep seem about the same. After my break, the first cups re-coats my throat. The huigan is still there, as is some remainder of the astringency.

I got for an oversteep on the ninth to see what rises up. Stays pretty much the same. All of the aspects I listed above are amplified, but none of them overly harsh. It has been an even keel of what is described above, not a lot of depth, but consistent enough.

I guess this will not be my favorite of the group and will probably be towards the bottom of the list. It is not bad tea,  but I am sure better things await in the other bags. Also, I had bad experience with the Thetas in college which clouded my judgment of this tea. Damn you, Θ s!

puerh tea leaves
Spent leaves
Masi Amarone

Amarone della Valpolicella

Wine at Night, Tea During the Day

Although I never had intentions of turning this into a broad beverage blog, (see: domain name) recently I have spent a lot of time researching and drinking wine. Wine and tea actually compliment each other quite well. For the caffeine sensitive, drinking raw puer tea at 8 PM mean a sleepless night. For those who must adhere to social norms, having a bottle of wine at 9 am is farther from charming and more towards alcoholism. Better to balance it out and have tea with the sun and wine with the moon.

My wine drinking in the past 3 months has been mostly scattered around European wines with some new world wines, but one wine in particular has repeatedly come up, Amarone della Valpolicella, a wine from Veneto, Italy. Not by grand design, but due to several chance meetings, expos, and wine tastings, I have had about 25 different Amarones in the last month. After snapping some pictures along the way and getting an Amarone crash course I have arrived at this post.

First, a quick description of Amarone, which the bubbly professor explains much better than I ever could, so here is her lovely explanation:

Amarone della Valpolicella: Amarone della Valpolicella received its DOCG in 2009. Amarone is a well-known version of Valpolicella made using the partially dried grape process known as apassimento. The grapes used for Amarone must be dried until December 1st following the harvest. The wine must also be aged for two years from the 1st of January following the vintage. (Riserva versions must be aged 4 years from November 1st of the vintage year.) The minimum alcohol percentage of Amarone della Valpolicella is 14%. While technically considered a dry wine, small amounts of residual sugar are allowed; the amount allowed is in proportion to the amount of alcohol with higher alcohol wines allowed slightly larger amounts of R.S. Interesting factoid: Along with the 2009 DOCG decree, Molinara is no longer a required component of Amarone della Valpolicella, although it may be used in small amounts for blending.

Key points to hit the DOCG [Italian wine grade meaning denominazione di origine controllata]: made from partially dried grapes, which means more sugar/more alcohol. Aged at least two years, four for Riserva. The grapes involved are majority Corvina, less Rodinella, and sometimes Molinara. It is generally full bodied and fruity.

Amarone Wine
An aged Masi Amarone from the 1990’s

Aging Amarones

I was lucky enough to end up at a wine event where they had Amarones ranging from 1990, 1995, 1997, and the early 2000’s. Having these wines side-by-side gave me a glimpse into how the character of an Amarone evolves over time. Similar to puer tea, the sharper rough components of a wine get smoothed out by the grindstone of time. The analogy of a sharp young puer tea rounding out into a more silky orb-like flavor seems to fit. Another of my amateur observations was that they seemed to have a sweet spot around 15-18 years. The 1990 vintage seemed to have surpassed what I desired out of the wine. Anytime you give up something for smoothness, you lose something in character. This also happens with puer, certain very old teas drift into nowhere in certain storage conditions and after a certain period of time. After all the changes have to occur within a finite amount of material. All of the aged Amarones from 1990 were from Masi, a  large wine producer who produces 3.5 million bottles per year. The featured image at the top is a row of Masi Amarones.

Corta del Pazzo Amarone
Corta del Pazzo Amarone

A+ Amarone

After a barrage of different wines, only a select few producers and wines really stood out in my mind. Most of my favorites were from smaller producers – in comparison to Masi – such as Fasoli Gino, who makes some of my favorites from the group. (Their Soave called Pievi Vecchia is also damn great)  Fasoli Gino is an organic producer in Veneto with really innovative wines. The Alteo is their best Amarone, and my favorite Amarone of the bunch. For a wine with 17.5% alcohol content, it is very balanced. Lot of dark fruit, cocoa, and some wood tastes which I thought were close to cedar or sandalwood. The wine transformed from glass to glass, which as with tea, is the it. If I can steep a tea for a session and have it go on a journey, that’s it. Sign me up. Ditto for wine. If I can drink a bottle of wine and have the wine lead me down a path, I am in. It’s not an easy mark to hit, but the Alteo did it for me. Their other Amarones were also excellent – the bottom of the Fasoli range was still better than most of the Masi offerings; another correlation between tea and wine, bigger productions just can’t compete on quality.

Fasoli Gino Alteo
One of my favorites, Fasoli Gino “Alteo”

The one Masi wine that did stick in my mind was the Riserva di Costasera Amarone Clasico 2007. Let’s call it a Jin Dayi and move on.

Canestrari Amarone
Another Amarone I enjoyed, named for it’s small production of 1888 bottles

The other Amarone I really enjoyed was the Villa Canestrari 1888 Riserva 2006. Another wine that had a lot of guts, with some flavors that reminded me of dark syrupy tobacco. Their Plenum was also good with a lot less going on in terms of complexity, but better value.

And so concludes my first article in wine territory. Hopefully I didn’t step on any sommelier toes. If you happen to be a wine freak, feel free to correct me in the comments, although I suspect you stopped reading after my 5th puer reference.

Tea Samples

The Pepsi Challenge of Tea Samples

2013 Tea Samples

If you follow tea blogs like the half-dipper or the tea closet, you may have already heard the news that Scott from Yunnan Sourcing and Jerry from China Chadao are doing a round of puer tastings. I was lucky enough to receive samples from both parties rather quickly, thanks to China’s army of bike messengers. I have already gone through about six teas from YS and will continue through the rest of the batch before I post my thoughts. Then, it will be onward to Douji.

Box of Tea
Box of Goodies

The name of the game is:

  • The teas are not labeled with any information other than a Greek letter
  • Nobody has prior knowledge of the teas (Or I should say that I don’t know what the hell they are. I assume some of the other participants extorted information from the organizers with threats of violence, but that’s not my style)
  • The online community will post their notes about various teas and there will be some grand reveal where we all find out that we secretly crave plantation Lancang

Should be a lot of fun, I am already enjoying the guessing game. I am not sure who else is involved, but let me know in the comments and I will gladly link to you blog/profile. Much thanks to everyone involved!

Looking forward to intense debates about which leaf is best when placed in hot water.