One of my all-time favorite Onion articles is “Fuck Everything, We’re doing 5 Blades.” It seems directly related to tea companies naming their teas with ever loftier names like the Tea King of this or that region.
Tea King? Fuck you, Tea Emperor. I imagine a scene with a coked out Tea CEO yelling angrily at a boardroom full of underlings, “Oh, no, what will people say?! Grow the fuck up. When you’re on top, people talk. That’s the price you pay for being on top. Which [Xiaguan] is, always has been, and forever shall be… Tea Emperor? Tea God.”
If anyone from Xiaguan reads this, and the boardroom meetings are anything like my fantasy, please send video.
The Tea Emperor has an atypical smell for Xiaguan. None of the smoke or the burly lumberjack manliness. It smells soft and sweet.
8.8 grams of tea, how lucky. Heavily fragmented, lots of crumbs pouring out on every steep, the 8.8 grams is probably down to 7 now. The fragments are a product of the dust I chose to steep, the cake is just typical small varietal leaves and some chop.
The first rinse is very cloudy. Subsequent steeps follow suit and taper off.
Early steeps taste a bit like a sweet egg cream cake on entry. Lots of astringency in this young cake. Soup is gold colored.
Thick on the finish with a subtle huigan [sweet aftertaste] that is mostly overshadowed by the astringency of the puer tea.
Prices online seem to vary, roughly about $30-$50 per cake, which seems fine to me. There is a nice finish to the cake that a lot of teas which cost more lack. I have no idea how this tea will age though. The flavor of the cake is somewhat foreign to me. What I labeled as egg cream cake is a sickly kind of white sweetness. I don’t know what that is or how it will age. Would be fun to try in 5 years, if only for the sake of research.
A long while back, a fellow on teachat named Chengducha and I exchanged some tea. After neglecting the package in my pariah sample bin for many months, I finally decided to open up the bundle and pick out a tea for a session on this rainy afternoon. Numbers and plastic wrap, a welcome surprise! Tea guessing allow me to free their mind from preconceptions and try something purely on its merits, not to mention uncovering my own biases and misconceptions. So, I decided to write the following notes as I drank, before looking up the tea’s origin.
The small packages looked liked drugs purchased from a dealer in the park. The only information at my disposal for choosing a tea for the afternoon were numbered stickers on the outside of the plastic wrap. Twodogteablog, White2tea. Guess which number I chose?
I was fully expecting to be getting a bag of sheng, but the we don’t always get what we want. I opened the package and found a tightly pressed shu brick with a dimple from the press. The smell of dui [pile smell] was faint, but the other fragrances were strong enough to indicate that it was pressed within the last few years. Something like a mix of wood with perfume and compost. Not exactly what I was craving, but rather than give the finger to the number gods, I decided to just drink the ripe tea.
The remaining dui smell is gone by the second steep. The remaining flavors are smooth and woody. The red fruit fragrance i smelled on the dry leaves and the lid of the gaiwan does not show up in the mouth, but it is still very nice, and maybe better off. If there were additional flavors in the mix, the softness of the wood flavor might be lost in a battle.
A shadow of sweetness is left in the mouth after drinking. Not really huigan in the raw tea sense, but some tiny sweetness in the mouth and on the tongue.
And here were are at the last paragraph, the rain has stopped and the sun is finally out at 5:30 PM. After looking in the records of my teachat – our mystery tea is, and I shall quote Mr.Chengducha:
2012 Brick shu pu – Great taste, very stable. (my local dealer still has a big stash of this if you want some)
Most of my guesses were close, I would have guessed 2011. In general, shu is not as difficult to guess as sheng, as it tends towards uniformity. Some additional notes, now that I have seen his, I agree it is very stable. Split between two people we went for easily over 10 steeps. I liked the tea more as it went on. The fragrances were subdued and the feeling of warming smoothness took precedence. Overall a very nice shu.
And for the record, I did not add the dealer or stash to that sentence. Seems it was drugs after all.
Veteran puer blogger Hobbes recently reviewed this Ruiyuan Nannuo laoshu [old tree] tea, which was made by a puer presser named Ma Yongwang. As Hobbes mentioned, I think of Mr.Ma as a straight shooter. After sampling some of his tea productions from Hekai and Nannuo, I decided two things:
1) Mr.Ma had a good nose for curating good puer
2) His prices were in line with the tea quality
These two factors gave me the green light to make a new tea friend. After drinking his laoshu teas, I got a third positive signal when I asked if he made any cakes with higher quality material. He said, “Yes, but it is expensive and all gone.” This is a good sign for a few reasons. First, actual gushu [ancient arbor, very old tree] tea is not cheap. Second, if he sold out, that means the production was – as it should be – small. Third, there is not a lot of money in the Sorry, We are sold out! game. But before I get ahead of myself, the main factors were; his tea was good and priced well. So, we hung out and drank tea together, talking about the wonderful mysteries of puer and whatever else came up.
Fast forward to Hobbes review, I began thinking about the gushu tea that he made from Nannuo. I knew that Mr.Ma had sold out of it before we had even met late last summer, but I thought maybe I could rescue a sample. I called him up and found he was already in Yunnan, running around Mengsong. He said to track down his wife in Beijing and see what she had left. Lucky for me the mission was a success. I was given the wrapper of the last cake with about 30 grams of the enchanting cake below.
The Ruiyuan Nannuo Gushu starts off with grape sweetness in the gaiwan and immediately reveals its strength. It is lively and dries my mouth out with a pleasant sewei [astringency] that activates my salivary glands.
After the third cup I take a brief rest, and a low undulating sweetness comes up from the back of my throat through to the top of my tongue. Through to the back on my throat and the back of the roof of my mouth, a coating lingers. No wonder he doesn’t have any of this left.
There is warming bitterness that lingers like a blanket. Looming in my mouth and throat. In the fourth steep I start drifting off with a hazy feeling. There is plenty of Qi [voodoo energy or religious enlightenment or something] in this cake. Maybe even too much, as I felt a light headed and needed a sit before continuing.
As I began gliding around the room and digging further and further into the session, I decided to spin the wheel with a long oversteep, somewhere in the neighborhood of 5 minutes. I find that a lot of teas made with lesser material break under this pressure and start throwing off all kinds of offensive flavors or unpleasant feelings. This tea handled it quite well. It had an even throatier kuwei [pleasant bitterness] and nothing that made me regret the long steep. Enough of this for today, I think I should have invited a friend to share this session with me.
Note to self: Tell Mr.Ma to write my name on some of his gushu cakes for next year.
This is the last of my nostalgic holiday time posts. I am currently back in China, but before I left I participated in some much needed gaming. This post will recount that experience, in the traditional literary style of a Magic: The Gathering tournament report. I heard it is a bad strategy to write blog posts that alienate and confuse 99.8% of your audience, but we will be back next post with regularly scheduled programming.
I didn’t have much time to prepare for the Type Tea tournament. I’ve been out of the game* for awhile, but was ready to make a triumphant return to the DCI. I grabbed some old decks that had been sitting in my closet and mixed them together. My deck was not potent. A shabby compilation of common garbage thrown together last minute. I grabbed a 2012 Dayi Chatou brick for a shu, a crappy Bulang from 2007, and a Xiaguan 2012 Yiwu tuo. My veteran experience would have to compensate for my decks overall crapulence and lack of play testing.
Round 1: Xiaguan/Bulang vs. 15 Year Old Scotch
I sit down for round one and some balding guy sits across from me. I figure he probably has some experience, because he is one of the older guys at the tournament. I start shuffling, he wins the roll and decides to play. I mulligan to 6, but decide to keep because I draw a demon Bulang combo.
His first turn he drops a swamp, mox diamond, pitching another swamp, and casts a Glenlivet 15 year old scotch onto the table. I immediately call for a judge. I was under the impression this was a type tea tournament, where does he get the idea he can maindeck a 15 year old scotch? The Judge, a portly gentleman, waddled over and leaned on the table, which could barely support his weight.
“What seems to be the problem?” he wheezed.
“Scotch is banned in Type Tea.”
“This is a vintage tournament. Scotch is perfectly legal.”
This is going to be a rough match.
I drop an tea kettle and start heating some water, but I can’t match his early scotch. 0-1
Game 2, he gets another early jump, dropping a Jura on turn 3. I get a couple of steeps in with my Bulang, but the scotch has a much better finish. 0-2. That was a quick round and my sideboard didn’t have much to deal with the scotch. I decide to get some D&D in before round two.
Round 2: Xiaguan/Bulang vs. Apple Pie
My opponent this round was also unaware of the Vintage format and brought a newly brewed Apple Pie deck. He looks like a bit of a scrub, I figure I can take this round and still Top 8 if I win out.
Win the roll, decide to play. Keep an opening round Xiaguan Yiwu Tuo draw. He drops an early Battleflight Eagle, which is going to be tough to deal with. He insisted it was a valuable card, which seemed like nonsense. It’s a 4W 2/2 flier and its common. They have never even printed an eagle rare. In any case, I didn’t have many main deck fliers, so I am peeling for a prayer. The eagle keeps swinging in for two shots and I scoop. 0-1
Game two. I sideboard in some brats to deal with the Apple Pie/Eagle Rare non-bo. I get mana screwed against an early Apple Pie. This is a homemade combo if I have ever seen one. If there is one thing I hate losing to, it is scrubby decks with 5 drop 2/2 fliers and homemade combos.
The 1/1 Apple Pie swings in for one shot after another, I underestimate its impact on the match. After a few turns, I still can’t peel an answer and the Apple Pie damage is starting to add up.
I drop a gaiwan to block, but I am already at 8 life. The gaiwan makes short work of the apple pie, but he shatters my gaiwan and I only have two in hand. At this point I need to topdeck an answer.
Next turn he drops a 1/1 Smirnoff and a 1/1 PBR. I am not too worried, I’ve got answers. I peel an island, go. He casts overrun and swings with both. I cast dizzy spell, -3/-0 on the PBR, I refuse to take that damage. It buys me another turn.
I peel another blank. He casts Shred Memory and swings for 2. (Side Note: why was he maindecking this? 3 colors with maindeck overrun and splash for shred memory, why am i losing?) I reluctantly take damage from Smirnoff & PBR, putting me at 1. I scoop and decide to get some cake and water to take the sting off the loss.
I figure there is no way I make the top 8 starting 0-2, so I drop.
– The Apple Pie / Eagle Rare was a spicy combo. The damage adds up a lot faster than you think. Still don’t know about 3 color overrun.
For the longest time I thought the wrapper above read “Taste a legend”. Finally, I realized it said “Taetea Legend”, Taetea being the English name for Dayi. Legend is a word that shouldn’t be tossed around lightly, unless your tea is Michael Jordan good. If you are more of a Toni Kukoc player, that’s fine. Kukoc was a great player, but he’s not really a legend. Kukoc is a decent comparison for a basketball player skill versus Longyin tea goodness. Not good, not bad. A bit overhyped because he is on a good team. Croatian. 6ft 11 inches tall. Ok, not that last two. Whatever, enough half-baked basketball/tea analogies.
The Longyin [Dragon mark] cake is named as such because of the Chinese zodiac “year of the dragon”, which will quickly be passing us by into the year of the snake. Not to fear, Dayi does not waste time waiting for such trivial things such as the actual passing of the lunar year. The American equivalent must be Christmas trees in stores before Thanksgiving.
The pictures above show a mixed tippy cake with varying material and a bit of chop. Very menghai-y in fragrance.
So, when I purchased this cake I think it was 2X0 RMB, (can’t remember), it is currently 390 RMB, or thereabouts. The price rising in tandem with the Jin Dayi. This is a legendary price increase for a tea this young. Perhaps part of the rise in price is due to the good mojo of the Dragon year? I found the cake to be much less interesting than the Jin Dayi. My first sessions with the Longyin were particularly astringent, which is to be expected from a young tea. It was brash, coming out of the gate like a bull. Lots of kuwei [ bitterness ] and astringency, but with a lack of body to back them up. This is a common complaint I have about Dayi raw puer, the lack of body.
The current price of 390 RMB (caution: one more bad basketball analogy) is a Gilbert Arenas contract. You are paying well over $50 million for a player who is going to sit on the bench and cause trouble by bringing guns (allegedly) into the locker room. For the same price, you could hire Chris Paul, Lebron James, or Kevin Durant. So, why are you hiring Gilbert Arenas? You probably shouldn’t. Nor would I recommend buying the Dragonmark. This is just my humble opinion, however. I have seen much praise floating around the HK tea forums for this tea.
I will be interested to see how this cake ages and whether any of its brash characteristics fill out into more pleasant sensations. For now, it is going on the bench. Luckily teas, unlike basketball players, get better with age.
I had high hopes about Colourful Yunnan puer teabags, the mass marketed bagged puer tea that swept over China’s grocery stores last year. My excitement stemmed not from a desire to drink it, but because it would provide me a sturdy soap box to stand on. This would not be one of those mysterious sessions, where the complexity of the tea left me grasping for adjectives. Nor would it be a session where my writing skills were painfully inadequate to describe the experience of the tea. And last but not least, it would not be a session where I was left feeling amatuerish, a boy playing a man’s game. One of those sessions where puer leaves you mystified, as if your years of experience amount to nothing more than a fizzling star in a galaxy of tea knowledge.
No, not today.
Today is Colourful Yunnan. Today I get to plant a flag and stand my ground and call a spade a spade. Today I am Lebron James and my opponent is the Westside Middle School 6th grade basketball team…or that was what my initial reaction. However, after a bit of soul searching, I decided that dunking on 6th graders was neither fair nor productive. Rather than point out of all the flaws of Colourful Yunnan’s bagged tea, of which there are many, I ought to try to and focus on some of the good. After all, Colourful Yunnan does have a couple of major positives:
1) It increases overall public awareness of puer
2) It provides a relatively inexpensive and convenient way for people to steep puer tea, sans accoutrements
3) They make use of the floor sweepings left behind when average puer tea is produced
5) The…er,…um… packaging is … presentable
Alright, maybe slightly fewer positives than I had anticipated, but let’s look at the first couple. It does do a service in terms of bringing puer to a wider audience. Maybe restaurants that would previously not have offered puer as an option will now stick it on the menu. Maybe they will stock it at offices next to the bagged greens and oolongs. Maybe it will start showing up as a free bagged tea in hotel minibars outside of Asia. When I was growing up in the US, the only tea option most restaurants had was a bag of Lipton. If they got into Bigelow territory, they were already ahead of 99% of the competition. As a kid, I remember going to a small hotel that had a tea box with several different colorful packets of tea on the table and thinking it was some sort of lost beverage treasure chest. Every tea drinker starts somewhere, and Colourful Yunnan could be a gateway drug. Even Lebron had to begin his career playing 6th grade basketball.
Second positive, it is widely available and convenient to steep. How many people are willing to keep a puer cake, a tea needle, a gaiwan, cups, and a tea table on their office desk? There are a lot of people who scoff at that amount of equipment. Those very same people would be more than willing to have a mug and a tea bag in their desk drawer. Problem solved. Anyone who was turned off by the process of brewing tea just joined the puer team. Again, gateway drug. You start them off on bags, and hopefully within a few years they are brewing up 15 year vintage puer in a gaiwan on their 3 ton mahogany and stone tea table, complete with intricately carved scenes of phoenixes and monks and whatever the hell. Also, clay figurines of Buddha.
Now that I have respectfully acknowledged some silver lining, its time for some Harlem Globetrotter style disregard for my opponent. The tea itself is typical bagged tea. Dregs, fannings, whatever you want to call it. It’s a one and done brew, and the brew is not particularly smooth, a little bit harsh. It is floral in a generic (see: bad) way and has a slight sweetness. It is also perfumey and no doubt has some sort of standardizing additive. Additional silver lining, the liquor has a nice color and clarity to it; I must admit, it does have a nice color (colour) to it. Based on visuals alone, it’s quite nice. Throw the actual drinking of the tea into the mix and you have a bit of a problem. Rather than prattle on about how this tea lets you down in nearly every department, whether it be flavor, mouthfeel, and on and on, I will just say that it is somewhat like the Lipton of puer, and leave it at that.
I can’t really see myself drinking Colourful Yunnan for any reason other than hypothetical desert island scenarios, but then again, they don’t need me. I am not their target market. And if you are reading this, I suspect neither are you. The two things that it has going for it are mass marketing and convenience. I have seen promotions in supermarkets and office buildings in several major Chinese cities. There has been an assault of advertising, in an effort to secure some market share for people who want a bag of tea to brew and chuck into the waste bin. I would say that the price is good, but pound for pound there must be 10,000 other teas that are better. The bagged dregs weigh in at 2 grams, when considering you can get some really respectable 357 gram shou puer cakes for a few dollars, I can not claim their price is good.
Whether Colourful Yunnan will flourish has yet to be seen. It will be a battle of marketing and mass appeal versus quality. Who the globetrotters are in that game, is still anybody’s guess.
Another tea from the Chenshenghao brand, this time an Yiwu puer. I may have made the mistake of leading with the strongest in a bunch of samples in my previous post. From here on out, my enthusiasm for the brand dwindles. (NO! WAIT! Don’t click close! This review is really interesting, I swear!)
The dry leaves show a good blend of tippy material with some larger leaves. The tangle of leaves carries a pungent, sweet aroma.
After a rinse, the aroma becomes even sweeter with some light overtones of fruit.
The first few infusions are creamy, pleasant.
Pleasantness is nice, but if highschool taught me anything, it is the limitations of pleasantness. Pleasant is good for a chat in the cafeteria, but it will never get you a date with a prom queen. It’s better to have an attitude. A motorcycle. A name like Dylan McKay.
That was a terrible analogy/90210 reference, but what I am getting at is the general Milquetoast nature of this tea. The following infusions barely deviate at all. If one was looking for a tea with depth or evolution, this would not be the cake to settle on. There is a gentle kuwei [pleasant bitterness] and …and…and that is about all. Not a whole lot of character, just a quiet and generic Yiwu puer.
Whether this kind of Yiwu puer ages well is anybody’s guess, but I refer my readers to this thread on teachat, where some experienced puer drinkers have a discussion that dances around this issue. This tea probably does not have the strength to age beyond 5-10 years, but that is just this humble puer junkies semi-educated guess. With a lack of strength and definitive character at such a young age, it is not a gamble I would want to take. We shall see , maybe this tea will be worth USD 500 a decade from now and i will have to bake up some humble pie.
Knowing Chenshenghao’s tendency to push up their prices, I may need to preheat my oven.
Before going into this tea, a brief explanation of Chen Sheng Hao (陈升号). The Chenshenghao brand is currently one of the priciest brands of puer tea on the market. The Chenshenghao label is generally known for securing lots of Ban Zhang region material, being famous, and being expensive.
This cake, the Cheng Sheng Yi Hao, is one of the least pricey puer teas the brand has to offer.
The picture above is a little on the blue side of the color spectrum, but the young raw puer is that dark. It was fragrant, with a couple of larger leaves (front right) mixed in amongst a majority of buds.
The gaiwan lid had a breezy smoke on it, which was also present early in the session. This smoke will probably drift away with time, and is likely due to the processing, but it was smooth and not at all unpleasant.
After the first couple of steepings, the smoke transitioned into tobacco, with an intense bitterness. The soup heavily coated the throat and had a little bit of huigan [sweet afterglow], but not in perfect balance with the kuwei [pleasant bitterness], which was burly. Had the huigan been in proportion, my mouth would have been very sweet indeed.
The sample I brewed was roughly 9 grams (I noted, but forgot to weigh), and had decent staying power. Roughly 12 steeps and the tea continued forward. It was willing to go on, but I was ready to hang up my hat and call it a day. I noted:
Still smooth until the end. Pretty damn decent
Usually when I write something like “pretty damn decent”, it is sort of a nod to my initial bias being wrong. I have not given Chenshenghao too much credit in the past, thinking of the brand as the LV of tea. A designer brand with a famous name and equally famous prices. But hey, LV makes some good designs. That’s one of the reasons they are well known. (That, and marketing)
I should also note, recently I whipped through a pile of samples from older Chenguanghe Tang samples, and despite not writing them up, I did enjoy several of the older teas. (Marshaln has blogged several of them, poke around)** There were mixed results, sometimes the price defies logic, and in other cases, the teas are well blended and well made. This tea falls into the latter category.
The Chen Sheng Yi Hao (陈升一号) tea in this article varies in its Taobao retail price, between roughly USD 50 – USD 75 per 400 gram cake. If you are interested in exploring this brand, I think this is a fine place to begin.
Also, some self promotion news: I am testing out an online shop to source some of the puer I enjoy – will be in full swing shortly!
**Edit: I made a mistake in associating Chen Zhitong and Chenguanghe Tang with Chenshenghao – the two are totally separate and have no relation
Douji’s prices have been steadily gaining in recent years, at an even faster pace than spring material from Yiwu. Devotees of Douji may remember the prices listed by Hobbes in this vintage (…2009) post; back when a nickel would buy you a steak and kidney pie, a cup of coffee, a slice of cheesecake and a newsreel, with enough change left over to ride the trolley from Battery Park to the polo grounds. (Citation)
Unfortunately for those of us in 2012, those days are long gone. Their 2012 Naka fetches a price that makes me squirm, and their Yiwu ranks even higher on the price scale (~690 RMB). That is a tough price to justify, but I have to admit, this is a fine Yiwu.
Lots of big leaves, buds, and thick stems. Loosely pressed, and quite easy on the eyes. One of the sexier spring cakes I have seen in 2012.
The first steep was very astringent. On the second steep, I took the eloquent note:
worried it’s going to suck
Luckily that forecast was 100% wrong, and by the third steep it became very entertaining. There was a very strong cooling in the mouth and throat, and some nice qi [voodoo] for an Yiwu.
The huigan [sweet aftertaste] and feeling in the mouth with persistent. My throat felt like it was coated in warm butter. As you can see from the photo above, the color is not unlike that of melted butter, so perhaps there is some relation.
There is a reason that Yiwu is a famous region for tea, and this Douji Yiwu is a stellar example of that reason. The price is steep, at roughly USD 110. Is it worth that much? It depends if you are an investment banker or a public school teacher. The tea is excellent, made with high quality healthy leaves, a blend of broad leafs and buds, with thick stems, as in the picture below. If you are short on time (or geographically distant) and can not search through high-end spring teas to buy, this would not be a bad place to settle. If I had to choose USD 90 for Liming from 2005 or tacking on 20 dollars to your bill for this Yiwu, there is no contest. You upgrade to the Yiwu.
For the more budget conscious consumer, you might want to set your sites on other brands and snoop around lesser known regions.
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.