2013 San Ke Shu, Yunnan Sourcing

I guess I need to promise to review something that’s not fromYunnan Sourcing in the near future here… Can’t really help it though is Scott sells good tea and that’s most of what my present tea cabinet consists of…  Anyhow, I was sifting through the dregs of my San Ke Shu jar this morning, and realized that after the few whole fragments I pulled out, the rest may be dust after this. As this may be the last real session I have with this terrific tea, I felt obliged to write a post for it, so here goes:

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Last call…

The dry leaves by themselves still smelled amazing, like vanilla and spice. The rinsed smell opens into green earthiness, with sweet musk and peat moss.  The first infusion is unexpectedly thin and bitter, but not necessarily in a bad way. There’s plenty of depth and sweet Lincang floralness already, and the leaves aren’t even open.

Year three is in my experience when sheng puer starts to show the very first signs of aged flavor, and I’m seeing a little bit here… There are still the soft vanilla candy flavors that I’ve known from this tea, but now something else has creeped in, probably best described as “woodsy” in the manner of tree bark and lichen (sounds weird I know), and maybe some tobacco.  Steepings two and three certainly have this quality, along with a strong kuwei (bitterness that fades quickly into sweetness) and lots of texture. While I can’t say that I regret finishing this cake while it was young, I’ll probably always be curious where this would have gone now… I’m really enjoying some of these drier and more textured dark flavor notes. This tea is at once very sweet and very bitter, floral and woodsy, light and dark (like Darth Vader). It is a complicated character indeed (like Darth Vader).

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Steeping five yields a deep yellow soup, notes of star anise, vanilla malt, and tree bark (lol at that description, but it’s how I feel). Knowing when to drink a tea is always a bit of a challenge, especially as I’m just now getting a feel for how Colorado dry storage affects my puer (it doesn’t kill it). My philosophy has been if it’s good now, drink it now, but I’m always tempted to hang onto fragments such as this, “just to see”. As I’ve discussed is the case with gongfu brewing in a session, there is no such thing as absolute better and worse, just change over time. The challenge is locating our own preferences within that. Certainly, there are those that would advocate that aging puer is mandatory, but I don’t believe that at all… You have to do what makes sense for you in this moment, because we don’t know what the future holds for any of us, tea included. Maybe this is where the human tendency to speculate about alternatives comes in (or in my case hanging onto fragments of mostly finished tea cakes); we want to know where that other road would have lead. I guess with tea, unlike life, we can sort of do this…

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Was it as good for you as it was for Pancake the tea pig?

Having said this, may our understanding of the view of tea deepen, and our realization grow vast as space.

-Ginko-san

2015 Da Xue Shan, Yunnan Sourcing

For a tea from relatively less mature trees, the aroma of the rinsed leaves is surprisingly sweet and thick. I can already smell the usual suspects for a tea from this region- honey, tobacco, and wildflowers. The first infusion yields a pale yellow tea soup. At the first couple sips, it feels perhaps a bit thin, but is textured and has real huigan (lingering sweetness and aftertaste). I find it to be grassy, with light honey suckle and sugar cane notes. The second infusion is a much darker yellow with a thicker flavor profile; there is an almost syrupy sweetness and some encroaching bitterness that I can tell is about to pick up… Otherwise the same grassy Lincang profile as the initial steep.

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I’ve never been quite sure how to open one of these…

The third infusion brews a beautiful golden liquor. There is some bitterness indeed, but still not as much as I’d be anticipating… It is still sweet, dense and highlay enjoyable. Because of the relatively low price point and age of the tea trees, I keep looking for something to find wrong with this tea, but I’m still grasping. Perhaps there is a touch of dryness, but that could be from my own storage conditions. Of course, tea doesn’t have to be expensive to be good, just as it doesn’t have to be cheap to be bad.

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Golden soup

The fourth infusion is bolder, with a heavier emphasis on tobacco and dark straw. Now the huigan is starting to feel a little thin, and a bit watery. At steeping five it might be petering out a little, which is fine at this price point. There is still sweetness and layered raw puer complexity, but it’s fading rapidly now into dry grey tones. Again though, this still gave four solidly enjoyable steepings which is more than can be said for other teas in this price range. My feeling is that Scott presses teas in this range as more “store now, drink later” types of affairs (e.g. San He Zhai, Mang Fei). The base material is fine, but not really enough for me to enjoy it as a young tea by itself. In five to ten years though I could see this being an enjoyable middle aged tea…

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That said, it’s still going on steeping six… Plenty on sweetness, and retaining its Lincang flavor profile of wildflowers and honey. This bodes well for aging, it’s just not quite there as a young tea.

Note that I could also see this as someone’s first foray into young raw… I’d absolutely endorse it as such.

I sing this song so that everyone’s passion for and understanding of good tea may grow.

-Ginko-san

Wild Da Hong Pao, Yunnan Sourcing

I woke up to another snowy day, after the most mild climate-change-winter Imaginable, so with the weather change I needed tea to help myself aclimate.  The choices as such were either fermented puer or oxidized oolong. I went with the later as to finish off a bag of Yunnan Sourcing’s Wild Da Hong Pao I ordered late last year. Compared to the Shui Xian I reviewed in my immediately previous post, the DHP smells much smoother and greener, with stronger grilled vegetable aromas and a somewhat lighter tea soup. The first sip floors me completely. The gaiwan is probably a bit overpacked because I wanted to finish the bag, but there is hardly any harshness to this tea. Instead, there is a big, round mouth filling sweetness that goes all the way down the throat and doesn’t quit. Notes of grilled zucchini, caramel, sea salt.

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The second infusion yields a dark orange soup, lots of sweetness but otherwise nothing really changed from the first. This profile likely indicates a slightly lower level of oxidation than the Shui Xian, with sweeter and more vegetal tones. The leaves have a tinge of green as well, so this is more in the middle of the rock tea spectrum (remember these are a particular subset of oolong which come from an area of China known for its mineral rich soil). The third infusion happens to more reflect this minerally nature, with a drier, more textured and subdued soup. Here are the charcoal, earth and creek silt I had been waiting on. There is some bitterness also, but like I said, I probably overpacked the gaiwan…

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Too many leaves!

I reheat the water for the fourth infusion, and the Da Hong Pao continues its progression towards textured earthiness, though it’s vegetal notes still linger. What I enjoy most about the tea though is its texture and full mouth feeling. This is, of course, why we practice gongfu tea brewing- to appreciate the subtle changes and nuances hidden n the tea, and to draw them out as a new dancer takes center stage in each subsequent infusion. The fifth infusion is smooth and mellow, with more friendly floral flavors than any of the previous ones. Looking back, we can appreciate the evolution of a tea over time. Just as with biological evolution, one stage is not better or worse than the last, or superior or inferior to the next; the tea doesn’t “build” to anything, it just changes, and we sit with the changes, taking note and appreciating that this change is the nature of things.

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Good water is as important as good tea

But to return to the world of value judgements, I prefer the more roasted Shui Xian just on a personal level. I found it to be richer and more nuanced, though there’s certainly nothing to complain about here. This is just lighter on the Yan Cha scale, and I happen to prefer darker. See how relative truths of preference can coexist with absolute truths of change and thusness?

Thinking such thoughts while drinking awesome tea, my mind is filled with joy. May all who ponder with their tea be thusly inspired.

-Ginko-san

Bonus picture of sugar gliders eating yogurt:

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They’re hard to get a good picture of…

Ceng Gao Cong, YS

I told you I’d get around to reviewing something that wasn’t a raw puer some day!  Today we have Scott’s old bush Shui Xian, “Ceng Gao Cong.”  For the uninitiated, this is a Yan Cha, literally “rock tea,” a kind of oolong that grows in or around the Wuyi mountains in Fujian province.  These teas tend to be heavily roasted, and are known for the mineral-rich soil in which they grow.  Together, the roasting process with the unique terroir, these teas tend towards dark, savory flavors with textured mouth feelings.  Without further adieu, here are this morning’s notes:

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7 grams for my little gaiwan

When warmed up, the dry leaves have a heavy roasted fragrance like sweet coffee grounds. The rinsed leaves give off more vegetable tones, but still amid the backdrop of charcoal and coffee. In fact, the rinsed tea soup is so densely red-brown I decide to go ahead and drink it. It opens into a textured and mouth coating floral bouquet with strong notes of roses, creek silt, charcoal and caramel. The first proper infusion is all about texture; silty and spicy, there are pleasingly sweet qualities floating amidst the more nature-y flavors which ground this tea.

The viscosity that I associate with the Shui Xian varietal breaks through in the second infusion. This cup is notably smoother than the previous ones, and there is a soft, welcoming bitterness to accompany the toffee and caramel flavors clamoring to the front. The third infusion returns again to charcoal and roses, though I likely need to reheat my water at this time. There is still a balancing act going on here between bitterness and sweetness, between domestic and natural flavors, and I love it.

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Dark soup, puer remnants scattered around

In the context of Yan Chas, rock oolongs, I still can scarcely believe how dense this tea is. Visually, the tea soup resembles an aged puer, such is its dark color. The fourth infusion then (I need to review my notes to determine where we are, in my tea drunken state)? More of the same, which is very very far from being a complaint. As seems to be the case with oolongs (which generally can’t be pushed as far as puers when brewing gong-fu style), this later steep is more delicate than the previous ones, and this allows its spicy and mineral-y nuances to really shine. I may even detect notes of red wine and wild honey; this tea really has some tremendous depth to it.

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Letting it ride

In my experience four steeps is usually where rock oolongs peak, so I let the fifth steeping ride for a little longer than I otherwise might. This yields a gorgeous rust colored tea soup, with mossy smooth notes and hints of Asian spice. I go ahead and begin the sixth, and probably last, infusion while I enjoy this cup. I’m quite sloshed now from this tea already, and there’s not a lot of point in pushing to eight cups like I do with puer tea anyhow. I also take a moment to enjoy the sweet and musky smell of the empty cup, which is important to do when brewing tea of all types. As expected the final infusion, is all about texture, it’s more forward qualities having died down. I’m still struck by how thick and viscous the soup is though; this is still probably the densest yan cha in my own recollection.

I don’t always drink rock oolongs, but when I do, i look for an experience like the one above; sweet, textured, complex, and with gentle, unyielding cha qi (tea energy).

Thus the cuckoo has sung its song, drunk on the nectar of awesome tea. May all who drink from this source remain for a long while in the state of tea-bliss.

-Ginko-San

 

2014 Yi Bi, YS

The rinsed leaves give off an etherealy sweet bar straw aroma. I let them sit and steam for a moment or two before the first steep, which is a pale champagne yellow. But judge me not by the color of my soup, the Yi Bi implores us, for color matters not. Its ally is the Qi, and a powerful ally it is… It has both texture and depth. Barn straw is the base, but there is a very distinct white grape flavor. The second steeping is more appropriately deep yellow. A deceptively thin initial flavor makes way for a burst of returning sweetness; it grips the back of my tongue with sweet grape and caramel tones and doesn’t let go.

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Pancake!

Last week I left off with a teaser about Yiwu terroir. While the Poundcake is certainly on one side of that spectrum, a smooth, thick and sweet young tea, I find that the Yi Bi occupies the other side. It’s not terribly smooth and not at all thick, but it has similar base flavors and is, in my opinion, several orders more complex. This tea seems to be all about the aftertaste; straw, tropical fruits, toffee, caramel, all loaded with a serious huigan. Not to knock the very excellent tea that is the W2T Poundcake, but as far as Yiwu goes, this is much more my cup of tea.

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My ever shifting tea corner

I may have just overloaded the gaiwan (the chunk I pulled out weighed exactly 9g), but on the fourth steep there is some really invigorating bitterness that emerges. It is pungent and earthy, while retaining its more subtle and ethereal qualities. It’s certainly a light bodied tea, as already noted, but I really don’t find that to be an issue at all; it is perfectly being exactly what it is.

There is a smokey and savory quality is steeping number five, which I wonder may be the result of wok charring (it seems odd that it would emerge only in a later steeping if this were the case though). A few minutes after that cup, there is still a sweet and leathery feeling left in my mouth. Like I said, the aftertaste here is no joke. Steeping six has it all: pungent damp straw, intense bitterness, tender floral and fruity notes, and, have I said it enough already? H U I motherfucking G A N (returning sweetness).

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I really can’t imagine that this would be everyone’s cuppa, what with its thin body and relatively intense bitterness, but that’s not a problem; everyone has different ideas of what the good is. Whereas someone else might prefer something smoother and more subdued, I greatly appreciate the Yi Bi for its complexity and forwardness.

Anyhow, I hope anyone who’s taken the time to read this quick little review benefits from my experience, even if it contradicts their own. There seem to be few absolute truths in this world of tea… Except for boba. Boba is an abomination and must be put to death.

Under the guidance of good pu and sound advice, may all beings attain the path of good tea.

Go now in peace,
-Ginko-san

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Letting one of the later brews ride

 

2015 Poundcake, W2T

I initially break off a chunk that’s too big for my gaiwan, so I ease it in slowly. The aromas after I rinse the piece are deeply green, giving hints of damp moss and cooked vegetables. The first brew, even now a deep golden hue, is quintessential sweet, creamy Yiwu, one of the oldest and most renowned puer tea growing regions in Yunnan. As with many teas from these mountains, it’s story is that of a smooth, mouth coating soup with a distinctive dark straw base. There are rich, sweet and savory flavors throughout the second infusion with vibrant dark green vibes that I’m just all about.

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Pancake the tea pig wallowing in tea

There does seem to be some deal of wok charring, an imperfection in processing that gives it something of a rough smokey edge, but only slightly… Unfortunately for this tea, the smoke contrasts especially poorly with its sweet and subtle nature. For other areas that yield teas with more forward and busy profiles like Bulang and Mengku, this isn’t as big of a deal, but for a tea that stakes itself on being subdued flavor wise while being thick and sweet, the smoke just hurts a little more. Again, not the biggest of deals, it just is what it is.

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Returning to what I enjoy about the Poundcake, the color of the soup is simply gorgeous. It I has almost a copper tone and seems to glow with its own light. The fourth infusion releases a small amount of bitterness, as it should, and this really seems like the height of the leaves’ release of flavors; there is now more of a tobacco base even, with cooked vegetables and sticky rice. Some real Chinese village stuff here…

The fifth infusion mellows out nicely, while the bitter edge has picked up. Also the smoke which had been bugging me seems to have mostly steeped out, and I’m getting more pleasantly floral and honey background notes now. Overall this is a very pleasant, if not perfect tea, and a good representation of terroir. Speaking generally from my own mostly secondhand knowledge and limited experience, this is what most Yiwu teas should be. There are some notable exceptions though, so with that teaser, I’ll leave it at “to be continued…”

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Once again, you have sat through the ramblings of a tea drunken lunatic, and aimless wanderer of life.

Go now in peace,
-Ginko-San

 

Special bonus feature: Osho Tarot of the day:

 

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2015, If You’re Reading This, It’s 2 Late

Rinse smell is sweet cream and greens, warmly grassy and richly savory. A pulled out a more inner chunk so this will take a little while to open… While the first infusion is pretty thin for this reason, there are the creamy spinach notes that I expect from the 2Late. Things get going on steeping 2 though; this is where the 2Late’s famed textures and mouthfeel come to life. There is the olive-oil, mouth coating viscosity that I crave in a young sheng, and radiant back-of-palette sweetness that’s really noticeable but not at all overpowering.

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There is a quality to this tea that I can’t quite place my mind on… Peppercorns, maybe? I believe it’s something in the “spice” family of tasting notes, it’s just that the backdrop of this tea is soooo light and creamy it’s difficult to detect the fleeting moments of bolder flavors. By the fourth steeping though the soup is notably denser, and there is more bitterness with a quality almost like new rubber in taste and texture. The aftertaste is almost… fruit punch, weirdly enough, but this is just another in a long stream of fleeting impressions.

This tea is just really hard to nail down, and refuses to be confined to a set identity. Steeping five, for instance, I find to be less sweetly creamy, with strong grassy and fresh vegetable notes, but with subtle fruity flavors flashing in the background. There is also the sweaty stank (in the best way) that my friends and I associate with Lincang (though Paul doesn’t directly tell us where this tea is exactly from). At steeping six I find this to be mostly about a smooth soup with a very active aftertaste, which is a very very good thing to be mostly about.

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If I had to playtime guessing game I could also see this being from Nannuo, actually, in addition to Lincang. The fruitiness really tips me off, and while there is not the tobacco-forward flavors that usually betray Menghai terroir, I have had few really delicate and oily teas from that mountain that fit in this vein as well… Not that there’d be any real point to pinpointing the location of these leaves, the tea is more than enough to just shut up and drink. The final infusions remain oily and sweet, clean, subtle and complex. This is really a very good tea that fits my own preferences rather well.

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Thank you all again for reading the ramblings of a tea-drunken madman, and lonely proxy-wanderer of Yunnan’s tea mountains.

Peace be with you,
-Ginko-San

2015 Huang Shan Gushu, YS

I let the rinsed leaves sit and steam for a few minutes. Afterwards, they smell sweet and perfumery. I believe that this tea, younger than one year, is still settling from being picked and processed. It is cloudy, sweet, pungent and just a little rough around the edges. It has the profile one would expect from a Simao-grown sheng puer; granary sweet with musky notes of honey suckles and fresh greens. With the second infusion the soup grows a deeper, darker dense golden yellow, as notes of vanilla extract and malt emerge.

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Given my last week’s observations on the progress one of of Scott’s 2014 teas, I think this one will definitely improve over the next several months; as noted, it’s got it where it counts, but is still a little too straightforward and active… It hasn’t settled yet into subtlety and balance like the Bangbao Village has. Which is not to say that I’m NOT completely in love with this tea anyway… It’s almost cotton-candy sweet, has tons of mouth-feel, and a really good bitter edge. I think this will really be at the top of its game in summer 2016-17 as far as young tea goes.

The later steepings (I think I’m on five now…) are HEAVY, sweet and almost spicy. There is a borderline iron-ore quality sitting within fragrant summer flowers and fresh garden spinach.

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The interesting part about late steepings for me is the subtleties that are harder to detect when all of its initial flavors are coming out, especially in the case of the HSG which is so flavorful out the gate. There is a very slight olive oil quality in both fragrance and feel, and plenty of sweet grassy and mossy notes that come out as well. It is this more than anything else that makes me think this will be a really excellent tea very, very soon. For people like me who enjoy a very pure, green and balanced tea, this certainly seems like a worthy investment. Again, I don’t think it’s at the top of its game this very minute, but I’m speaking of course to my own personal tastes… It’s definitely too perfumery still for me to really give it my full endorsement, but this is a really good value, especially right now when I feel like this is on the cusp of true greatness.

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As a final note, I have to just give it up for Scott Wilson; I really think the teas that he makes in this price range ($80 iirc) can go toe to toe with multi-hundred dollar gushu cakes that other outfits put out…

 

2014 Bangbao Village, YS

Today’s notes:

Very clean, oily young tea. In addition to the pure, oily soup, the BBV is pungently floral, more so than most young sheng puers, in fact. There are notes of, well, Tie Guan Yin to be frank, but against the backdrop of a densely yellow sheng. I honestly don’t mind this, so long as it Remembers Who It Is, Simba, which it does. The mouth feels are no joke and there is real kuwei.

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I’m gonna go out on a limb here and claim that young sheng is best to drink in its second and third years. I’ve noticed in the teas I’ve had recently that they seem to clear up after their first year, in which the teas can be more dirty and forward. The BBV has, in my opinion, transformed from a tea that was straightforwardly pungent and floral into a tea with real subtlety and depth, whilst not venturing yet into middle aged flavors which can feel awkward for many years before settling.

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Really though, this is terrific tea with lots going on for it. Maybe I’m just having a good session, but I can’t really find any fault with this tea. I suppose there’s nothing MAGICAL about it, but there doesn’t really need to be… Magic is in the ordinary, not the extraordinary. It’s extraordinary already to sit here in a human body enjoying this little cup of plant-water from the other side of the planet, which by the way, is still going strong at almost a liter in. If it’s thinned out a little, the backbone of bitterness has stepped up to compensate. It’s nature is clearly buttery and floral, as it always has been, but the nature has been clarified, like there is no more confusion or pretension.

So yeah, overall a solid cake, at least for the time being. Gotta say I’d drink it again…

Signing off,

-Ginko-San

2012 Xin Ban Zhang, YS

This morning was one of my personal favorites, 2012 XBZ from Yunnan Sourcing.  Again, my lightly edited notes:

I think I pulled a center piece, because the first steeping was thiiiiiiin. Things quickly picked up, however, because round two was bolder with the tobacco base I expect from this tea, complimented by ephemeral notes of sweet white grapes. Round three is where the action is though… The soup is densely yellow and we finally get to bitterness and barn straw (which is, if you’re being honest, the reason to drink a young Bulang-Shan puer). As expected from a bit of Colorado dry storage (I’ve had this one for about a year), this tea seems a little less flavor-forward than it once was, but more bassy and textured. The initial flavors are the aforementioned tobacco and barn straw, but damn does it have dat returning sweetness (otherwise known as huigan).

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This is certainly one of Scott’s more expensive offering at this moment, but I can’t really say that it’s not worth it either, as long as you understand what you’re getting into. That is to say, it’s actually pretty subtle, but its easily one of the most complex and rewarding teas in my admittedly humble collection. Again, this is much less about initial flavors than it is about a nice oily soup with lots of nuances. Maybe others with different tastes and storage conditions will find something totally different, but then again, I think that’s part of the magic of puer-cha…

Again, thank you everyone for taking the time to read this little blog post.

Go now in peace,

-Ginko-San