Six Famous Tea Mountains brand (named for the actual six famous tea mountains ) has experienced one of the more profound falls from grace amongst puer brands. I had yet to discover puer tea when they were producing quality teas, but most puer drinkers agree that any six famous tea mountains tea produced after 2004 (give or take a year) is pretty low on the quality spectrum. This tea was from a bit before the cutoff date and is a formidable argument for the former reputation of the brand.
The color in these two photographs is a bit washed out, the actual leaves are bit deeper brown than this, something towards a medium chestnut brown. The dry leaves smelled of caramelized tobacco and had some fluffy white spotting on them, as pictured on the detail below.
After a quick rinse, the gaiwan held a sharp woodsy tobacco smell. A very intriguing way to enter a session. The first steep extended the intrigue, with a jumpy vibrancy on the tongue and a hint of some camphor. After a couple of steeps, the gaiwan lid was malty. The astringency remained present through over half the session, but was never a nuisance when couple with the cooling in the throat. In the way of flavor, this tea is very light and thin, but this is offset by the myriad of other activity going on.
In my note book i scrawled
Very good example of a tea with little flavor, but a lot of feeling
In beverages, a lot of emphasis gets placed on flavor. Try explaining to a non-puer drinker why a lightly flavored tea has value and you will no doubt encounter a bit of difficulty, but let me try to expand upon why i enjoyed this tea, despite its shortcoming in the flavor department.
Here are some notes I took, scattered between steepings
Cooling in the mouth and throat
Immediate Qi [body calm, etc]
The cooling in the throat and bouncy liveliness in the mouth were like a lights on a path, guiding the session. The addition of some nice Qi contributed to the enjoyment.
For flavor, i didn’t make many notes beyond its generic aged flavor, which was not bad, but fairly common amongst tea in this age range. Certainly not the strong suit of this cake. Some of the smells in the cup and gaiwan held my attention, mixes of malt and stale caramel, along with tobacco and general agednees at the start of the session.
This enjoyable session does give some insight into why people like (and fake) early 2000’s Six Famous Tea Mountains tea.
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.
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.