Bai Cha Tang (百茶堂) is a brand that I had yet to delve into, until a suggestion from Shah (of teachat fame). From what I have read, this cake is a middle of the road entry point to their productions – not old or precious, but still quite good. This cakes proper name is sandai [third generation] tiebing [iron cake] , which boasts gushu [old arbor] material. As you can see from the leaves below, they are typical of an tiebing (see: pressed into oblivion).
Sweet aged smell coming off of the leaves. The friend who sent me this puer was in Guangzhou, but I think this cake spent some of its life in Kunming. The Guangzhou storage shows, as its age is more apparent than say, this 7542 i recently reviewed, with twice its age.
As one would expect with a tiebing, it takes a little while to gear up. The aged flavor is accompanied by balanced kuwei [pleasant bitterness] and a thick coating in the throat and mouth. The tea also had a noticeable qi [mystical voodoo magic or body calm].
As you can see, the gaiwan was stuffed. The tea carried on for an impressive 20 steeps, which was partly due to the 10g-12g in the gaiwan and partly due to the puer itself. Midway through this marathon session there was a vibrancy on my lips and huigan [sweet aftertaste], both of which were pleasant. This tea just marked its fifth birthday and seems to have plenty of potential for further aging.
The tea is not exactly pretty, but when the tea is good, I tend not to care about such superficial things. I will keep an eye out for some Baichatang cakes to add to my own coffers, they are fairly reasonably priced and well made.
A random note: this blog post of a 2008 Bai Cha Tang 3rd Gen Tiebing turned up in my searching and it interested me because the author’s leaves were so much larger than mine and mostly unbroken! It could be that the samples I had were broken off haphazardly or that my cake was just more heavily chopped. Who knows. Seems that author of the seemingly defunct blog enjoyed the cake too.
I have owned several Apple computers in my day. Several of my PC fanboy friends would deride my decision to purchase with valid points ranging from software incompatibility to lack of gaming options, but their loudest complaint was always the same; price. When a brand offers a quality product and sells it for a premium, my American heritage has taught me to applaud the unabashed capitalist profit margins. I never minded paying extra for my computers, or my puer, if it offers something special. The design was sleek, I liked the OS, and I could always play games elsewhere. I felt like the mark up was worth it. The brand was offering me something. Segue to:
A friend recently sent me me several Fujin (福今) factory cakes, ranging from the mid 2000’s through 2012. Fujin’s prices are in the Apple mark up range, but with the added value of a Hewlett Packard. I have had a dozen or so Fujin cakes, and my experience has always been roughly the same; the cake is alright, and there is a cheaper option out there for 1/3 of the price with comparable quality. Now that I am done getting on my soap box regarding my gripes against Fujin, let me take a look at the positives:
One of the first cakes I sampled was this 2006 Bulang Qingbing. In a whirlwind of 2006 Bulang tea, Fujin produced at least four that I know of; a ripe cake, this raw cake (qingbing), and a high grade raw cake, which retails around 1800 RMB (~$300) and a Bulang chawang [tea king] brick that sells for even more than that. (Some outlets price it upwards of $600)
My favorite part of this tea was the smell of smoked trout that came off of the leaves after the wash. It’s not often that I have memories of eating brook trout conjured up during puer sessions. The leaves were very tightly packed, and the third steep was still a bit subdued. After the leaves finally opened up, they revealed a relatively smooth smoke. Something like a 70/30 balance of smooth vs. harsh. This is will probably smooth out over further aging.
Later in the session there was an undercurrent of sweetness, with leather and tobacco throughout. Around steep ten I decided to do a 10 minute oversteep and, surprisingly, there was very little change in the character of the tea with only an increase in density. It mostly remained the same throughout the session.
Overall, this is a pretty standard representation of a factory production Bulang mountain tea. Lots of chop, tightly pressed cake, average material with decent staying power. The Fujin brand has plenty of loyalists, but I do not count myself amongst them. However, I am also not a detractor of their teas. This cake is decent, but not quite my taste, and certainly not a value cake.
Fujin is a well known brand, and brand names come at a price.
Preconception can be a pain. My brain had already worked out a wonderful expectation of what a ten year plus 7542 puer ought to be, and I had latched on to the idea, despite the session flying in the opposite direction. Where that concept came from, I am not sure. Probably a conglomeration of romanticized past experiences coupled with the unshakeable optimism that accompanies hunger or thirst. Your stomach is empty and someone utters the words “dessert”. Your thoughts drift into a world of decadent layered cheese cakes, freshly baked chocolate chip cookies, and warm fruit pies. Then, the waiter brings over a plate of ho hos. (No offense to the readers who like ho hos, they have their place, but that aren’t a homemade cake) Anyhow, this particular cake did not quite live up to my expectations, which is more my own fault than the cakes. The tea was good, and will likely be better if stored humidly for a few more years.
7542 is a recipe that can have some fairly wide variations. Different factories and years label 7542 (A recipe that has officially been in use since 1975) on cakes, which when consumed side-by-side, bear only a faint resemblance. Menghai factory (Dayi) productions of 7542 tend to be fairly uniform, but when you factor in further variables like different productions (this particular sample was 201 pi) and aging, you get further off into the unquantifiable ether of puer. This particular tea falls somewhere in the middle of the pack, not the best example, but far from the worst. (see: ho hos)
The scent of the dry leaves is gentle and woody. The leaves are on the dry side of the moisture spectrum with a matte finish. I only know that this tea spent the last couple of years in Sichuan, prior to that, it’s anybody’s guess. The leaves give off a middle-aged smell.
The liquor is a dark ochre color, not as red as my amateurish photography suggests. The first whiffs off of the gaiwan smell of scotch, vanilla, and tobacco.
The first steeping was oddly se [astringent], which was a surprise. Given the odors coming off of the dry and wet leaves, I would not have imagined the tea to be very astringent. My guess would have been velvety smoothness, but that turned out to be wishful thinking. After the first steeping, it became less harsh, but remained tannic throughout the session. Around steep number four, the leaves started to open up and some licorice appeared in the cup.
The teas best feature was its huigan [sweet aftertaste] and persistent throat coating. The aged taste was present, but it seemed to have been subjected to much drier storage than a few other samples in the batch. It could use a year in the steam room, as it is still pretty edgy. Maybe I had too many expectations about what this tea ought to be, instead of letting the tea be what it was. I’ll take note of this tendency and never force my hypothetical son, Billy, to join the basketball team against his will. Billy, if you want to dance, I fully support your decision to join the Russian ballet. And 2002 Dayi 7542 puer, may you hold on to your youthful astringency until thine heart is content.
I came across this 250g Dahei Shan [big black mountain] wild purple puer cake at a vendor recently and thought I would write about it, not because the tea was interesting, but because it served as an interesting price vs. tea quality comparison.
This puer tastes remarkably similar to Yunnan Sourcing Dehong purple. Smokey and savory, but unfortunately, with very little of the character that was so expressive in the YS Dehong. (It’s not a direct 1:1 comparison, there was some difference in the huigan [sweet aftertaste] and astringency as well) The cake has been stored in Beijing, leaving it noticeably dry on the surface, as pictured above. The leaves border on an inky purple, lovely how they produce the unexpected golden liquor pictured below.
As is typical of Beijing aging (see: bone-dry), maturity is earned slowly. The soup is gold, reflecting what I guess is very little change from its young state. For a 5 year old tea, this tea has remarkably little maturity. It is a bratty five year old with no manners. Somewhere in the world I suspect this tea has a cousin who grew up in Guangzhou and is well behaved at the dinner table. I’d like to meet him. Whether the lack of character in this tea was due to its storage, or the material itself, is difficult to say. In either case, what struck me was the price tag.
As I noted above, this pretty little cake is 250 grams, but it carried a price tag of 400 RMB (~ USD 63 ) , which is a bit high for my taste. The tea was quite pleasant, but when you consider the YS Dehong is 400g and less than 1/2 of the price (not to mention better tea, in this writer’s humble opinion), it is not worth it. I am not sure where this price tag comes from, but it seems to be related to the labels wild and purple. I have seen some other cakes floating around that are 100g of wild purple this and that for absurdly high prices. The only time something wild and purple should realistically hit this price range is if the cake shows interesting age or if you are at a Phish concert.
In some alternate universe where I had no other purple teas to compare this to, and the price was more towards USD 45, I might consider buying a cake out of curiosity to how it would develop.
The Puer section of Tea chat forum (mostly debunix and myself) had a little discussion involving both the Yi Wu Purple Tea 2012 from Yunnan Sourcing, and the focus of this post, the Wild Tree Purple Tea of Dehong 2012. While both puer teas share a deep purple exterior, that is where their commonalities end.
The dried leaves are Deep Purple. ( Not Purple Rain purple. )
After the clean, the gaiwan smells like smoked meats. Savory and thick. It’s an oddly pleasant smell that stirs hunger and desire for scrambled eggs. The soup itself smells of pine. Side note, I filled my yixing pot with the soup after I was finished drinking, and left it open to the air. When I returned at the end of the day, the whole room smelled of pine and puer.
The first cup is smokey, but in a very pleasant way. It is neither harsh, nor aggressive, like a young Xiaguan. The smokeyness seems to be more of an inherited flavor, than an addition – meaning, the smoke does not appear to come from a charcoal fire near the leaves during processing. It’s not so much the feeling of smoke (which can tense the throat) as it is the flavor of smokeyness.
After about the 4th steep, I decided the soup was a little thin and began eying the remaining 4 grams of puer left in my sample. I thought to myself, “What the hell am I going to do with 4 grams of puer?” It’s the dilemma we have all faced. You have managed to eat 6 of 8 pieces of pizza, and are fairly full, but decide to choose gluttony and regret over prudence and clean living. Those last two pieces are not quite lunch for tomorrow, and the impending stomachache does not get factored in to the decision.
I crammed topped off my gaiwan with the remaining 4 grams. I stand by my decision.The next few steeps took a bit of tweaking before it reached a comfortable place. Somewhere in those steeps was a smoked sausage brew that was quite nice, albeit a bit heavy. I eventually settled on some quick 7-8 seconds steeps, and the remainder of the session was quite enjoyable.This cake has plenty of punch – even without an overstuffed gaiwan. It has a youthful edge, but some age will likely turn this into a very drinkable cake. It is already drinkable, and for puer drinkers who crave savory smoke, it is solid.
400 gram cakes retail at Yunnan Sourcing for $25, which is a fine price for a sizable amount of good tea.
I have been waiting patiently for the Douji 2012 stock to arrive, so I could begin to swim through their new teas. Below is this years production of Naka Shan raw puer.
The dry leaves smell like white sugar. Very young, with scents of vegetal grass still present – probably due to being pressed only a month ago, and picked but a few months ago. That young smell can be put-offish, but in this case it is quite endearing.
The first steep was very smooth for such a young tea. No harshness. A little bit of ku wei [good bitterness]. Some vegetal flavors lurking around, with a deep yellow soup.
It became creamy (or what I call creamy… a lot of Naka teas have this sort of fatty, dairy like mouth sensation) in the later steepings, and the kuwei picked up and dropped off around steep number five. There was also a rising se wei [astringency] that I imagine will disappear with age. The astringent feeling was lingering around until about steep number five.
I also noted it was a bit one dimensional, which for me, is not an issue. I am generally a Naka fan, so one dimension of Naka is joy enough. It went for a total of eight steeps, and by nine was fairly lifeless. If a young tea grows tired after under ten steeps, it does raise some concern about how it will age.
In my notes, I reflected:
It is a lovely tea. I only have two complaints:
Conclusions on Douji Tea’s Current Pricing
Douji has left me a little bewildered about puer prices. This cake retails at around 550 RMB (not far off of USD 100). When you creep into 80 dollar territory, you can’t be half-assing it. I remember having a 2006 Nan Nuo from Douji awhile back, and thinking, “Damn, this is great tea.” That tea was using its whole ass. This Douji tea is somewhere near 5/8 ass usage.
In the past, Douji produced some good quality teas, (2006-recently) and their pricing was fairly expensive, but tolerable. With their 2012 teas, it seems several of their teas have leapfrogged in front of the market. Perhaps they are correct in their assumption that Naka teas will continue along the path of Lao Ban Zhang [currently a monopolized pricey region for puer] and continue to drastically increase in price. Or maybe their teas have gained enough of a reputation that they are priced for gifting. Or, perhaps this cake snuck into the wrong weight class.
Tea blog posts usually become more and more coherent as they progress. The caffeine starts fueling increasingly enthusiastic prose, and the tension builds to some revelatory climax. This tea blog post will be nothing of the sort. In this post, I will be recounting a night of tea beer drinking, where the prose gets progressively more drunken and the climax is a heartfelt and slurred “This guy right here…this is the guy…th’s guy…I love you, man.”
For those of you who caught my last post, I was looking forward to venturing into the old neighborhoods of Beijing to have a night at Great Leap Brewery. The craft brewers from America are tucked away in an old courtyard style Chinese home that has a ton of character and is far off of the beaten path, if a little hard to find. It had been several months since my last visit. This visit was prompted by a 1,000 liter brewing of their latest concoction, Yunnan Amber.
Yunnan Amber is brewed using black tea from Yunnan called Dian Hong [滇红]. It’s a deep blood-orange color. I decided to start off with a pint of the amber, while I still had my wits about me. The first sip revealed a strong sweetness. Floral on the entry (a product of the tea) and very bright with notes of sweet potatoes. The beer’s bitterness comes out after the entry and the finish is full of flowers. It’s a complex beer and I wanted another pint, but there was a problem. That problem being that the menu boasts several other tea flavored options, including a Silver Needle White (made with silver needle white tea ［银针]) and an Iron Buddha Blond (made with Tie Guan Yin [铁观音]). As a sacrificial duty to the tea blog, I abstained from a second amber and ordered a silver needle, but the pour was slow, and my friend came over with a round of Honey Ma Gold. Long story short, I fail at turning away free beer and the honey ma makes its way into the tea blog post.
The round of honey ma, which doesn’t contain tea, but for the sake of science will be analyzed anyway, is made with Sichuan peppercorns. (photo below along with the puer tea that is lifting me out of a hangover) Sichuan Peppercorns [花椒] are the Ma [numb] in the Honey Ma name. For those readers who have never had Sichuan peppercorns, they numb the mouth, and are a staple of Sichuan cuisine. Great Leap Brewery made its name by making interesting brews combining Eastern and Western ingredients to make fusion brews like this. My first visit to Great Leap was due to this beer. The peppercorns leave a slight numbing in the mouth and throat that is unique in the beer world. It’s a spectacular beer, one of my favorites on their menu.
The silver needle white was finally poured. A few beers deep at this point, so my smart phone notes are containing increasing amounts of mistyped notes. (my favorite being “2 sweat on entry”…I think I meant sweet) The silver needle white is the sweetest of the beers I will mention, much more so than the Yunnan Amber. Some jasmine flavors fight through the beers other elements, but the sweetness overrides most of the warring flavors. When discussing these beers with the brewers at Great Leap, they mentioned that it is a challenge to have the tea shine through when creating a beer. This tea is the best example of that struggle. The character of the tea is having a difficult time expressing itself in this beer.
The last tea beer of the evening, the Iron Buddha Blond, gets bonus points due to my being well lubricated by the time I drank it. I noted in my phone
Not sweet, lingering bitterness in the throat, honey on the tongue, pretty drunk, nice.
Wise words from a wise man. I don’t think the Iron Buddha got a fair shake in the review category, but I also noted it was my second favorite beer. Would I make an inaccurate statement like that when inebriated? Perish the thought. I did note there was some of the oolong showing up in the brew, but the Amber had the most pronounced tea character.
Tea Blog Tea Beer Ranks
Ranks for the beers:
Iron Buddha Blond
Honey Ma Gold (Doesn’t contain tea…but, it’s damn good, so why not?)
Silver Needle White
I also tried to grab the attention of the two brewers present by offering puer from my personal stash to let them mess around with. There is a 2005 fake Zhongcha Yellow Label Shu that I have in mind. It’s dark and syrupy, lots of red date flavor. I can envision it in a porter, even though I couldn’t brew my way out of a paper bag. I hope they take me up on the offer, it would give me a reason to return for more beer and create another tea blog post fueled by alcohol.
As a patron of both Boxing Cat Brewery in Shanghai, and Great Leap Brewing of Beijing, I was very excited to see this Wall Street Journal blog post about the two craft brewers collaborating together on this new beer, Yunnan Amber, which uses Yunnan Dian Hong tea in the brewing process. Tea beer has been something that I have often wanted people to experiment with and it seems these two chaps have decided to put it on the menu.
I am glad to see them pushing craft brewing with some interesting materials. Great Leap Brewing Honey MaGold gained some recognition for incorporating Sichuan peppercorns into the brewing process. (Hence the ma[numb], as sichuan peppercorns leave ones mouth with a numb sensation) My last visit, I enjoyed several solid beers, including an oatmeal porter and a stout. A pleasant break from the tea table in the evening. Beer is much better at putting me to bed than tea.
This visit, my goal is to grab the owners ear and convince him to do a second tea beer, a puerh brew. Possible names:
Bu Lang Lager?
Only 1,000 liters were brewed, and I imagine supplies won’t last long. I will haul over there and have a pint, and report the results. The menu online also boasts a Silver Needle Ale, which also deserves a drink. That sounds like an admirable challenge, having silver needle tea flavor show up through beer. Even the lightest lager seems like it would totally eclipse the gentle nature of silver needle tea. I am very much looking forward to a tea beer adventure.
If I ever press an Yiwu purple puer tea, I will have an extraordinarily difficult time naming it. I won’t bore you with the hundreds of suitable names I have come up with in my free time, but atop my list are “Purple drank“, “Grimace’s delight”, and “Screwed up and chopped“. (or maybe just Lean?… have I lost everyone yet? I am trying to win the award for most 1990’s Houston hip hop references for a tea blogentry this year)
Scott, from Yunnan Sourcing, has gone with a much more direct approach, and named this “Yi Wu Purple Tea”. I actually appreciate his directness, especially considering he could have named it something like Purple Dragon Twilight Emperor’s Blend.
A Quick Bit of Background
Before I jump into this tea blog review. A small discourse evolved around this tea on the popular forum teachat. You can view the thread here. Quick Summary, another puer drinker (Debunix, whose blog can be found here) and I had some differing opinions on this tea. Nothing wrong with differing opinions, and I quite liked the comparison Debunix made between the 2012 Dehong Purple and the Yiwu Purple, which I drank around the same time as the Yiwu purple, but have yet to finish the tea blog post for. I only regret that I had already finished off my sample by the time the discussion occurred, so I never had the chance to drink them side by side like Debunix did, which would have made for a more interesting tea blog comparison.
Back to Tea Blog Tomfoolery
The leaves are attractive and my poor photograph does not capture the depth of the plum purple hue. The sample I had was loosely packed with plenty of large leaves. The smell was light and sweet, and matched the color – if smells can match colors.
If you read the thread above, you know where this is going. One way ticket to Sourtown. Here are some notes I jotted down in my log whilst drinking:
Steep 1: Astringent on the tip of the tongue, some non-distinct Yiwu sugar
Steep 2: Sourness, slight kuwei [bitterness], astringent, a little white sugar on the back end, the cup smells like butter
Steep 3: The gaiwan smells like 7-grain bread, golden colored soup, more sour
(blah blah blah)
Steep 5: Not much going on, sour on the front end, some soft yiwu huigan [sweetness in the mouth after drinking]
(further blah blah blah)
Steep 7: Acerbic the whole way through
When I wrote acerbic, I was thinking of a specific flavor. A lemon wedge that has been left in an exposed glass of water overnight. The reason I know this flavor so well, is due to a personal habit of leaving lemon wedge stuffed water glasses out overnight and drinking them the day after. It is an acquired taste… acquired by being too lazy to throw out old water.
I also made an interesting note, that I was having more fun smelling the cups than drinking the tea, mainly due to the sourness. But, also due to the lovely evolving fragrances the tea was leaving behind in the gongbei [communal cup] after each steep.
Aesthetically, the leaves look healthy, robust. Lots of plump stems and big tea leaves.
Since there was such a difference in what Debunix and myself experienced, I thought I would make a shortlist of possible reasons for the discrepancy:
got a bad chunk of cake
stray lemon rind got pressed got discarded into the maocha
I steeped twice as much tea as Debunix (as you can see from the pictures, I loaded the gaiwan with gluttony*)
mistakenly used vinegar to brew tea in lieu of water
just wasn’t my bag (see: some people like apples, some like oranges)
top level tea blog conspiracy
*I normally steep on the gluttonous (see: American) side of things, and have rarely experienced sour flavor like this, but I am still not ruling it out as a possible reason. If nothing else, it is a variable in our experiment
Whatever the reason, I can not say this was the most enjoyable tea session I have ever had – but it was also not that bad. I want to get another sample, just so i can give the Yiwu purple another go around on the tea blog. That being said, if I was to order a young tea from Yunnan Sourcing tomorrow, I would decidedly prefer the Wu Liang Shan 2012 over the Yiwu Purple.
I got trapped smelling the dry leaves of this puer tea for a full minute. The smell was quite deep and fragrant, a mix of tobacco and apricots. The fresh tobacco smell is common in raw puer tea, but to have a smell of apricots was a treat. The leaves appeared quite small, which I later read on the Yunnan Sourcing website (where the tea can be purchased) was:
Due to the high altitude most of the tea trees in this area are a naturally occurring hybrid of large and small leaf (sinensis and var. assamica)
After I pulled my nose out of the bag, I did a quick rinse of the tea. The gaiwan smelled slightly sweet and floral. The first steeping was calm and smooth, while still showing signs of youth. The smell coming off of the leaves was creamy.
The second steeping brought out a lot of vibrancy that was not present in the first cup. The flowers became more pronounced, and a pleasant kuwei (desirable bitterness) began to emerge. The further steeps had a lovely crescendo of kuwei, that built up steep after steep, peaking around steep number nine. My throat was thoroughly coated in bitter goodness by this point. Unfortunately, the session was a victim of my busy schedule. But, had I been able to continue, the Wu Liang puer tea would have obliged far into the teens.
The leaves, although small, look quite healthy. There were some slightly burned leaves (pictured below) in the sample that I had, but the flavor of ‘burn’ (see: tastes like burning) or smoke did not show up in the soup.
For such a young raw puer tea, it is both pleasant and strong. Usually, if a young puer tea is too pleasant, I worry whether it lacks potential to age well. The Wu Liang Shan tea left me with no such worry. It has plenty of strength and staying power and is a bargain, at $23 for a 400g cake.