image

2016 Na Han, YS

The rinsed leaves smell mossy, thickly sweet, and almost tacky just in the aroma. The rinse-soup itself is somewhat darker than I’d expect for such a young tea. The first cup is quite pleasing, there is real and robust density, with soft caramel and forest-y flavors throughout. The second infusion sharpens, yielding the kind of precision sweetness which radiates from the back-center of the tongue that I crave is a young sheng puer. The thickness continues into cup three, but with newly emerging wildflower undertones and a lingering, musky huigan (that’s the back of palette sweet aftertaste). Sitting, I can feel a gentle waterfall of calming cha qi at the crown of my head, seeping slowly down into my core and limbs. There is an almost stoney feeling palpable in my body which wakes me up and makes me want to smile for no reason at all.

image
Style points

In the fourth infusion the flavors seem to collapse and meld, swirling in a soup that is silky-soft and swimming with rich wildflower sweetness.  I take a break to have a few cashews and reheat the kettle. Not even I am immune to the adverse affects of a young sheng on an empty stomach…

I find the fifth infusion to be gentle and sweet, with the floral flavors becoming ever more pronounced. There is a bit of bitterness, of course, but it is not at all this tea’s most notable element. Rather, the later steepings seem all about the sweet creamy and floral elements which one would expect from a tea in the Bing Dao area.

image

In the end, what else can I say? This tea is pure and clean, complex enough to hold my attention but not overly so. I don’t think there’s anything extraordinary and its price prevents me from considering it a value tea, but I like it, and nothing speaks against it. For a lover of clean wild-arbor tea like myself, Na Han has it where it counts.

Two posts in a month!  I’m doing better… Until next time,

Gassho,

-Ginko-san

image

2016 San Ke Shu, YS

So people keep calling me crazy for drinking puer from this year.  The heart wants what it wants, I tell them.  In some seriousness though, and with concerns about dry storage aside,  there’s something to be said for a very young, very raw tea on a hot summer’s day.     While some teas aren’t quite “there” to be sure, I feel that if a tea is good now, there’s no reason to feel guilty for drinking it.  Of course, Scott Wilson of Yunnan Sourcing fame is renowned for his wild and ancient arbor pressings, and with good reason.  I actually had a cake of the 2013 San Ke Shu back in 2014 and attacked it with the same unrelenting ferocity that I am with this year’s pressing.  I’m still developing my own philosophy of what to drink and when, but it certainly seems that listening to one’s own desires is a good as any place to start.

What follows are my notes from a session with this very excellent tea:

image

“Rinse smell is soft and inviting, with promises of complex floral and honey notes in the aroma. Tasting this rinse, there is already a density and sweet, creamy character to this tea, though it’s still more water at this point… There is a sticky, candy-like aroma from the leaves. The first proper infusion is clear like golden morning light, but still tinged by snow-pea green. As I sip, the first thing to strike me is the rich texture which drags itself down the tongue leaving fresh vegetable and wild honey sweetness in its wake.

The next notable element is the tea’s qi, or energy. Though not yet overpowering, I do feel a sudden rush to the head, which eventually settles behind the brow. This is a thick and sweet young sheng, active and full of life.

image

The subsequent infusion glows a darker and deeper gold without the hints of green from before. Its taste is more pungent, with notes of flower pollen and beach grass. There is also a bitterness present in this infusion, hiding just beneath the surface, which leaves behind a back and forth interplay between it and the sweetness in the aftertaste.

The third cup is clearer and crisper, with a more forward but fast passing bitterness. The creamy and desserty qualities I associated with the 2013 San Ke Shu become more apparent, in a way that is almost reminiscent of a Taiwan Oolong such as Jin Xuan, being both milky and vegetallay sweet at the same time.

The fourth infusion is crisper still, admirably structured and with a texture approaching what I would call ‘minerally’.  Subsequent infusions remain full, alive, bitter, sweet, with a pungent floral complexity. In my very humble opinion, this is a nearly perfect young raw puer. As things stand, I can’t really see any reason to sit on this cake or put any portion aside for aging- this is already a very real tea, with a character that is direct and pure. Each steeping is enjoyable, and brings me back to why I love tea.”

image

I am still expecting to do a write up on tea storage this fall, when a couple of cakes will hit their two year mark in Colorado.  Though I know that aging and storage can be divisive topics in the tea community, I hope we can appreciate the diversity of experiences present at the tea table.  Teas, like those who drink them, are dynamic and change over time.  Again, I think that there is a danger in focusing on what flavor or storage qualities are right or wrong, what matters is the experience in our cup, right now.

Gassho

-Ginkosan

image

2009 Lan Ting Chun

My apologies for the severe lack of posts recently.  The last several months have been a big period of upheaval (plus I haven’t had a discretionary budget for new tea to review), so blogging falls to the back of my mind, even if tea itself doesn’t.

As some may know though, I’m fortunately back working closer to tea again, this time at the Trident cafe in downtown Boulder, CO.  As a result, our tea buyer and general manager Peter has been kind enough to let me sample some of the Trident’s inventory, the following puer tea was given to me as such.

I must admit that I am not familiar with teas from this region, Ming Feng mountain.  However, this tea was apparently on the receiving end of a few years of wet storage, and so is likely somewhat disjointed from its original character anyway.  Session notes are as follows:

image

 

“The tea’s leaves are quite attractive- big and dark with lots of fat stems. The rinse aroma in right on. It smells dark and musty with earthy sweetness already on display. The soup itself s a healthy orange, maybe already with some red tints. These are the kinds of qualities I can get excited about…

I find the first sip to be full bodied, smooth and surprisingly relaxed; there is only the faintest trace of the smokey flavor I usually associate with middle aged teas. There is good activity on the palette as well, with a minty and drying quality. The second infusion yields some very nice leathery hints, along with oak and rosewood. Notably, this already seems more on the “aged tea” of things.

image

The third infusion grows richer and deeper yet, its sweet and savory qualities are interlaced and topped with that above mentioned note of old leather. There is a bit of sourness, and he drying quality remains unfortunately persistent, but these are only minor issues for a tea with this kind of lovely earthy and woodsy flavor profile (and at only seven years… I suppose that’s wet storage for you).

The fourth infusion is a touch lighter, wth some fruitier qualities shining through the smooth and earthy base. As the tea session progresses, these nuances become more apparent as the more forward earthy flavors are dialed down a touch. The wet storage seems to have made this deceptively complex tea very, very drinkable.”

That’s it for today, but expect some more posts incoming in a more timely manor.  Thanks again to Peter for this great tea session.

Gassho

-Ginko-san

image

Zao Qiao Di, 2015, YS

Notes are from a while back, been a bit scattered this month so I haven’t really been focused on blogging.  The following is a review of the cake my parents bought for my birthday at the beginning of June, Yunnan Sourcng’s Zao Qiao Di.

“The first thing I notice is how many small buds are in this tea.  Especially when it is broken from the cake, so I expect a forward and potential tea.  Another thing I note is the somewhat dark shade of the rinse, and the pungent, earthy smell emanating from the gaiwan.

image

Infusion one is all this and more; it is powerfully bitter, fragrant, earthy in the vein of wild mushrooms and damp moss.  It is not lacking in sweetness in spite of the above notes, as it has the returning throaty sweet aftertaste that young sheng puer should.  In the subsequent infusion, I note a minty and herbaceous quality atop the deep green forestry tastes of the first.  This strikes me as somewhat of an older tea in a young tea’s body, with qualities I’d usually expect from a tea wth a bit more age.  Indeed, this steeping three is oily and thick, with young sheng bitterness, there is also a sort of basementy dankness that is surprising from a tea barley a year old.

There also seems to be some subtle apricot in the aftertaste, which is obscured by the above note dankness.

image

The middle infusions mellow out a bit, revealing a tea-base that is full bodied and textured.  There is more sweetness now, still underscored by mushroom-y bitterness, but now that’s moved into the background.  These rounds of steeping are quite crisp and clear, with the earthy and sweet flavor freely intermingling.

At around the seventh infusion, I decide to pack it up, even though the tea leaves could probably support more steepings.”

image

I’ve had this tea quiet a few times since.  It’s certainly very different, and undoubtably has a high base-quality.  I can’t really say if aging would make this better or worse, but I certainly count it as an integral member of my morning tea rotation.

Thanks as always to everyone for reading.  I hope only to have, even if only in some small way, added to my readers’ understanding and enjoyment of tea.

Ginko-San

image

2014 Gua Feng Zhai, Wang Jo Cha

I know, I need to be a little better about posting regularly, especially since this blog achieved minor notoriety recently when Wisteria shared my Zinpin post on Facebook… So today I’ve got something a bit weird, a sample of some young Gua Feng Zhai from a small Korean shop.  A tea friend of mine did a year teaching in Korea, and brought back a tong of these very fine GFZ baby cakes.  You can view their website here, though it is in Korean: wangjocha.com

Also of note, I drank this tea at something like 5 in the AM following a bout of insomnia wherein I only got about an hour of sleep and gave up.  So kids, if you can’t sleep, then there’s always tea.

image

Review is as follows:

Dry leaves in the heated gaiwan smell of sweet, pungent barnstraw. In fact, these are almost abnormally sweet aromas… The rinsed smell is much greener, like fresh garden peas. The soup looks pale, but really it’s hard to tell in the faint, early morning light. The first sip is vibrant in the extreme. The wet and dry aromas all come out in the flavor. I find myself sitting suddenly at attention in order to fully appreciate what I’m tasting as well as to deconstruct this crazy complex GFZ profile.

The second infusion is a bit rounder, with barn straw, tart cherries, green beans, and orchids. For anyone who hasn’t had real GFZ (I’ve had only a few myself), I always find these to be a little dry and thin, though not in a bad way… Really the character is more focused on texture, complexity and an aftertaste which is subtly mouth-coating and sweet.

image

Third infusion picks up some bitterness. Combined with the cherry sweetness there’s almost a cough syrup quality. As with any higher quality raw puer though, the bitterness fades fast, leaving a dry, sweet, tingling on the tongue. This is, as expected, an elegant fucking tea.

Overall this is fairly consistent with my impressions on GFZ in general. While I’m personally not as stoked on these delicate Yiwu teas as some folks are (I prefer more of a creamy and pungent Lincang myself), I can certainly appreciate them academically. I’m always amazed by the poise these carry; with fast fading bitterness and heavy tannins, they almost seem like too much before quickly pivoting into soft floral affairs. The way good GFZ holds this duality is just impressive.

The energy of the tea is strong enough to give me slight jitters… Though sleeping for only two hours might also have something to do with that. Again, the delicate floral profile obscures the true strength of this tea. The tannins are very heavy, now in its later steepings. I’m reminded of Darjeeling, in particular, but with much more forward intensity. Like the dual nature of this tea, I’m now experiencing mental calm amidst a certainly elevated heart rate. Hm. I should probably take it easier than this at 5:30 in the AM.

-Ginko-san

image

2003 Zinpin Hao, Wistaria

It’s been a minute since I posted.  Haven’t made any recent purchases, and so had anything new to review in a while.  Of course, that all changed when the kind Mr. Andrew Harto was awesome enough to send out samples of this to the gongfucha diaspora.  Without further adieu, here is my review of this lovely tea:

 

image

The rinsed leaves of this tea smell deeply earthy, pungent and fruity. There is wetness in these leaves, which after the first pour are a deep wooden brown. This wet and composted quality comes out in the first infusion, but the dominant character I’m encountering is tobacco-pipe-wood underscored by some subtle medicinal mintiness. The balance and poise of this tea is strong, and continues into the second cup, which has notes of forest log, tobacco pipe and wet leather. I’d say that there is a bit of mineral-astringency as well, so I let the water cool off a bit before re-infusing to see if I can’t reduce the harshness and smoke that I’m getting. As I sit for a moment I note how gently but penetrating the qi of this tea is; its as if I seem to be slowing down and watching the world move at a distance, and at its own pace.

image
Orange soup!

The astringency is still there is the third cup. It seems to have the smokey quality of a Xia Guan tea, but atop an elegant, woodsy base that retains all of the many nuances already mentioned. By the time I steep the fourth cup, my water has probably fallen into the 175* range, which I think allows some of the more leathery and medicinal qualities to really shine. From what I can tell, this tea is everything it should be for Yiwu sheng in its middle years. It is rich and fragrant, gentle, woodsy, sweet and complex. The bite I’m getting probably really is just its middle aged awkwardness between vibrant green youth and dark, settled maturity.

Later steepings remain spicy and mellow. I’m preferring the cooler water for this tea as it does seem to be driving down the astringency now. Having imbibed this tea, my thinking feels easy and light. Lessening the grip of the more neurotic aspects of my mind, I fall into the spacious eternity of the present moment, recognizing that while form and function change, the nature of right now is nothing but surrender and peace.

-Ginko-san

image
So sleep
image

2015 Da Qing Gu Shu, YS

This’ll be the last of the teas from my most recent order, but this one is from a cake… I wanted to give it a little time to settle before jumping in, so here it is, notes from this morning’s tea session:

The rinse is so dark and pungent that I decide to go ahead and drink it. It barely tastes like a rinse at all, rather it is bitter and thick with musky floral notes. The he rinsed leaves smell like a hot wet jungle, earthy, mossy and floral all at once. The first proper steep is already a dark copper bordering on orange. I’m taken aback by how much power this tea shows right out the gate. The taste has a vaguely sweet green bean quality on a base of spring orchids. Also notable is the viscosity of the soup; it feels almost closer to molasses than tea…

image

The second infusion is sharper, raising the pitch of the bitterness, and clarifying the mess of flavors that was the first cup. There are some hints of butter and brown sugar, and a pleasant sweetness that undercuts the sharp bitter edge of this tea. The subsequent couple of infusions yield what is in my limited experience archetypal Simao terroir; sweet grains, honeysuckles, and citrus in the vein of orange rind. By the time I reach the middle steepings, the tea has mellowed somewhat into a balance between sweet, bitter and earthy qualities, with persistent viscosity and strength.

image
These three leaves were all rolled together in the cake…

I push steeping six a little longer, and am rewarded with a clear and kuwei-laden tea soup. The green beans and sweet grains from earlier are still here, though accompanied by a somewhat coarser texture than any of the previous cups. This is no problem though; the tea is strong and complex. Compared to the Huang Shan from the same year (and county in Yunnan), I find this to be a more “masculine” tea, in its forward complexity, while the Huang Shan is much smoother and more subdued. Regardless, they share many of the same qualities present in most Simao teas (grab a cake of Wu Liang if you don’t know what I’m talking about).

Taking a moment to sit with the aftertastes, I can still feel the sugary texture of the tea, and taste something of a brown rice flavor lingering on my palate. Though the tea is a sort of rough ride, I find the qi (tea energy) to be deeply calming. It’s easy to enter into a more meditative state of mind right now, feeling both calmed and uplifted at the same time. The later steepings give us the opportunity to experience the pure substratum of the tea without all the various flavors clamoring for attention; a thick, smooth persistently sweet and bitter soup that is almost preferable in this very pure and filtered form.

image
Give us this day our daily tarot card

This might not be everyone’s “cup of tea”, but I find myself to be a little enamored with it. I don’t think that fans of aged tea or Yiwu purists will enjoy it as much, but that’s no problem. Not everything has to have something for everyone, so we have to both sample around and know ourselves, in tea and in the larger context of our lives.

Thus, I sung this song as I progressed from a tired and groggy state towards tea-drunk lucidity.

-Ginko-san

image

2015 Autumn Nuo Wu Village, Yunnan Sourcing

Up today is the cousin of last week’s tea, Autumn 2015 Nuo Wu Village, another young Bing Dao are sheng from last fall’s harvest. I let the rinsed leaves steam in the gaiwan for a moment before taking the first whiff, which is deeply pungent, earthy and fruity. The first infusion is just as it should be; textured and sweet with fruit and tobacco tones. It is also bitter and forward in the best way, and not at all without aftertaste lingering throughout the palette. I love the look of the leaves right now as well, alternatingly light and dark green with lots of buds and stems.

image
Leaves after the first rinse 

The second infusion is probably creamier, and much of what I wrote last week about the Ba Wai is applicable here; the tea is vibrant, oily, and bitter, with notes of tobacco, diesel, wild grass and tropical fruits. I find the third infusion to be just a little fuller and more mellow. There is a relaxing and stoney cha qi (tea energy) that accompanies this cup as well, which serves as a contrast to the active and intense flavor profile of the tea.

On steeping four the tea continues to mellow, like a fast and turbulent mountain stream settling into a wide and meandering flatland river. This probably a cake I would let age a year or two (or ten) though before really getting into it; it’s just a little bit of a rough ride, even this many steepings in, with its intensely raw flavors and vibrant green leaves (this coming from a guy who likes it raw, too). There is astringency (not bitterness) in steeping five, so this will need to be worked out a bit… Of course that’s just what one is getting into when drinking tea that hasn’t even had a year to sit. Maybe I’ll try to snag one of these before the price jump in autumn, because a full year of aging makes a big difference in my experience. I’m unfortunately though not currently in the market for tea to age (got enough of that I’m still waiting on to see how my storage conditions are. Might do a bit of a write up on that this coming fall).

image

Still, this tea is really something, just a hair too raw still for my tastes. Maybe more mellow Yiwu teas like Ge Deng are drinkable this young, but kick-you-in-the-teeth-Mengku-pu might need a little more time to settle into itself. On the later infusions, I’m enjoying some musky floral notes that call to mind the trees that are just starting to flower here in Colorado. It remains thick and bitter, which, as I’m told, bodes well for aging. Really this is a tremendously complex tea, and a really good find from Mr. Wilson at ye olde Yunnan Sourcing.

I sung this song, drunk on qi.

-Ginko-san

image

2015 Autumn Ba Wai Village

Alternately titled: “Autumn tea on a snowy day in Spring.”  We’re experiencing a bit of a late snow here in Colorado in mid-April, which while unexpected, is not unheard of. More time inside means more tea sessions though, and I have samples that need reviewing’.

image
Not pictured: lots of snow

The dry leaves smell intensely pungent and fruity, definitely some attractive leaves in there too. I give them a quick shake in the heated gaiwan, and the smell turns almost boozy, with glimpses of tropical fruit. A sip of the rinse and the profile is already quite clear: pineapples, sugar cane, green nettles. The wet leaf aroma is light green sweetness, like an early Spring day. Now that I think if it, I don’t remember where in Yunnan this tea comes from, which is just as well.

image
Leaves after the first steeping, just starting to open

The first cup immediately gives it away as another Mengku tea, with its very active kuwei (bitterness that immediately transforms into sweetness) and creamy green flavors. I check quickly to confirm this and indeed, Ba Wai appears to be situated about 2km south of Bing Dao, one of the most famous, and one of most lucrative, puer growing villages in Yunnan. Scott seems to have struck some measure of gold this tea and its cousin, Nuo Wu (review pending); this is quite good, even compared to Spring teas of the same price point (and many at price points above this one if we’re being honest).

There are fruity and rummy notes dotting a base of creamy sweet goodness. That said, the kuwei is really the star of this show, being forward and sharp as a tea from near Bing Dao should be. On steeping five (or maybe four :S), the soup is a bright gold. Though it has softened somewhat from the initial steepings, the flavor remains deep, pungent and sugary. I start to push it a little harder wth the next infusion, and a coarser, more lingering bitterness emerges. Keep in mind that I probably caused this with a long steeping, and also don’t mind it anyway… Goes to show how much life these leaves have though.

image
Tea table succulent

The last steepings finally show a bit of autumn-wateriness (leaves picked in the fall have a higher water content than those in the spring), but there’s still sweetness and texture, so this might fade as these cakes dry out a little more… This is still a very young tea after all.

Overall a very nice tea, especially at the $64 price point, I think that it outperforms many other in the $50-$100 range. If you like this kind of tea, there’s really nothing wrong with it, and would probably age fine if that’s what you’re into. If nothing else, this could be a really nice summer-time tea.

As I sang this, my yearning to drink all the puer grew.

-Ginko-san

image

image

2015 Autumn Ge Deng, Yunnan Sourcing

With my most recent order, I decided to sample the most expensive cake in Scott’s most recent autumn line just to see what the fuss is about… I plan to sample through the majority of his 2015 autumn teas eventually and post them up here, hopefully this will be a good benchmark.

image

When I warm up the dry leaves they smell intensely pungent and sweet, with a typical Yiwu straw aroma. I resolve to just drink the rinse, which is a very pure pale yellow. And it’s good. Nuanced, complex, and actually already plenty thick, there is subtly interwoven sweetness and bitterness that one expects from high quality Yiwu teas. The rinsed leaf smell is also of note; there is a very specific meaty aroma that I can’t quite place my finger on, perhaps in the realm of saucisson, weirdly enough.

image

The first real steeping reflects a very elegant and proper Yiwu tea, with balance and poise, no one element really clamoring for my attention, but still with plenty of moving parts in play. The bitterness really lingers though, which is no complaint. Minutes after this cup, my mouth still tastes of wildflowers and honey. The second infusion is yellow and DENSE, bordering on gold. Very pungent soup, and the bitterness has picked up also. Tasting notes for this infusion are as follows: Wild honey, orchids, sweet grass, a little cream.

I continue to be surprised that an autumn tea can be so rich. Most I drink are either watery or lacking this kind of thickness and vigor. I suppose the $88 price tag on a 250g cake isn’t for nothing… I wouldn’t say this tea is life changing or anything, but it’s certainly worthy of some mad respect. The price tag just makes this difficult for me, because $88 is already the upper end of what I’d usually spend on a full size cake. Of course price is subjective and only has meaning in the context to ones own pu budget, and I certainly wouldn’t call this cake a waste, so I resolve to forget about price and continue drinking.

image

Now in the middle steepings, this tea is smooth and creamy, having settled a bit from the rowdiness of the second and third cups brewed from these leaves. I’m not really sure what else to say about this tea right now… I think fans of Yiwu will love it, and even then there’s something in here for everyone, whether its sweetness, bitterness, complexity or the thick, textured mouth feeling the tea leaves in its wake. Perhaps one strike against it is that there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of huigan (lingering throaty sweetness). In fact, it’s the bitterness that lingers more than the sweetness, which again is not necessarily bad, just something interesting to note.

The later steeps are silky smooth, quintessentially inoffensive Yiwu tea with tender grassy and floral notes. Not a bad place to end up, in the scheme of things… Very nice tea overall, no critical flaws and a lot going for it. Again, the price tag means I won’t be springing for it, unless I ran into some unexpected cash, and even then there are a couple other big ticket items on Yunnan Sourcing I’d purchase first. But especially for fans of Yiwu tea in particular, I think this is still a solid buy.

May all people who hear this song be guided towards tea they find pleasing and away from tea that is objectively bad.

-Ginko-san