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…

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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.

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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.

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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

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.

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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).

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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

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’.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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