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42 Tasting Notes

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“Wrestling of dragon and tiger” is a traditional way of tea drinking among some ethnic groups of Yunnan. It’s not 100% puerh (and sometimes black tea is used instead). It’s a mixture of liquor and puerh. I’ve read about it in quite a few books but have never seen it’s practiced. So I did mine based on guestimation :-p

In my nutrition knowledge, it may be very unhealthy to take alcohol and caffeine together, when both are in large doses. But with large amount of one and small amount of the other, it seems ok. That’s why Irish coffee with Bailey is supposed to be ok, but nobody would put a shot of rum in a shot of espresso.

I made my “wrestling” drink tonight, because it has been cold and I thought some brandy and some shu puerh may boost up some warmth. Too bad I only have a cheap ginger flavored brandy, which is supposed to be my “flu medication” (learned of it from my Irish neighbor!). But I used it anyway, along with my shu puerh left over from yesterday. I used a 150ml tea bowl, poured in 1/5 bowl of ginger brandy, and filled the bowl with hot, hot puerh. Every book talking about the “wrestling” drink stresses that it’s important to add tea into liquor, not liquor into tea.

The light drunk feeling came before the taste of tea. When made a warm drink, everybody should cut off half of the amount of alcohol that she usually feels comfortable with. Besides, I did get peanuts and chocolates right next to me, in case I would feel the drink burning my stomach lining (luckily it didn’t). The steam of alcohol rushed through the throat as well as the nose. Then the taste of tea kicked in and lingered around. That’s the way to get both tea drunk and alcohol drunk with just one bowl :-D

It’s not something with gourmet tasting. However, the warming effect is amazing. Next time, I would use even less liquor (when it’s steamed up in high temperature, it’s strong!) and stronger tea (instead of left over tea). Not something you should have too much or too often. But it does give you quite some kick, and yet so much healthier than a regular liquor shot :D

Ever since I saw the name “Wrestling of Dragon and Tiger”, I have been memorized by this drink. I hope someday I will have it by the fireplace of a Yunnan native. Before that, I will try to make some of my own :D

Preparation
Boiling

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I dug it out from a big pile of samples, and haven’t figured out who gave it to me :-p

But, wow, this is Nan Mei Village! The tea is from 2009, but to my surprise, it barely has any bitterness and has only very slight astringency which disappears instantly. There is a smooth, sugary taste that brings me some warm feeling. Normally I am very reluctant to have a sheng younger than 3 years because I constantly feel it would make me feel cold (probably from the harsh taste, the stimulation to stomach and something hard to explain). But I am totally comfortable with this one. I may get a bunch and still wait for another few years before drinking it up, just for the sake of metal comfort :-p

I got a generous sample of probably 10g. I put all of it in a 150 teapot, used boiling water and about 10-15 second for the first several infusions. I didn’t pay much attention to the dry leaves. But then, surprised by the nice taste, I peeped in the teapot and took a look at the leaves. They are very beautiful!

I have heard of Nan Mei Village for a few times and this is the first time I’ve tasted some tea from there. I have a special love to Bing Dao tea. It usually has very clear and refreshing aroma as well as a nice sugary taste. Nan Mei Village is very close to Bing Dao, and many people say some Bing Dao tea is actually from Nan Mei Village because their tastes are somewhat similar. But a tea labeled as Nan Mei tea is much less expensive than a tea labeled as Bing Dao tea.

From now on, both Bing Dao and Nan Mei are sweet names on my list of Sheng! This 2009 Nan Mei tea is probably the tastiest new Sheng I’ve ever had. I am actually not sure at all if such a smooth Sheng has any potential for aging of longer than 10 years. I doubt you can have both ends. But I think it’s already great if it tastes great NOW!

Preparation
Boiling 0 min, 15 sec
Gingko (manager of Life in Teacup)

On the second day, something I want to add is, having 10g tea at one time is a little above healthy level, especially when it’s in later afternoon of a day :-p A lot of tea can get people as caffeinated as coffee does. I think I will try my best to make 7-8g as a top limit :D

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I am always in pursuit of new tea, out of curiosity. My curiosity is big, and sometimes it can be weird :-p When my friend told me about this cheap Phoenix Oolong, without hesitation, I said I would try it. At 22 yuan per 500g ($3.3 per 500g, or 19 cent per oz.), it’s probably the cheapest oolong I’ve ever had. So I took all the trouble to obtain 2 samples and include them in my international shipping parcel, all the way from Chaozhou to Massachusetts. I thought, I’ve got to experience the 19 cent per oz. oolong!

To my surprise, the dry leaves are not bad at all. Besides some extra twigs, there aren’t many hint of cheapness (but of course my eyes are not as sharp as those of oolong farmers). The dry tea smells pleasant, a light aroma remotely resemble low-grade but presentable jasmine green tea.

I first infused it with typical gong fu style, with about 7g tea leaves in a 120ml teapot and with infusions as short as possible. The tea tastes bitter and astringent to certain degree, but not unbearable (I do have strong tolerance of bitterness, though). Both the bitterness and the astringency hit the tongue and fade away. There is no lingering fragrance at all. The smell of the tea is all the way weak but pleasant. I feel I can’t really take this tea in gulps because it’s indeed harsh in some way. But on the other hand, if there is only this tea in the world for me to drink every day, I wouldn’t feel as desperate as if there were only some brand name teabags left in the world for me to drink every day. With the seduction of my other more tasty teas, I didn’t go for more than 2 infusions in my gong fu style brewing of this tea. But still I think this tea is drinkable, more so than some teas I’ve seen from Asian groceries and mainstream supermarkets.

I also tried brewing smaller amount of this tea in a mug. It’s less bitter or astringent than in gong fu brewing. Again it reminds me of some low-grade jasmine green tea, not great but drinkable, even with some aroma. Then I cold brewed some of this tea. In cold brewing, as I’ve found in some other teas too, the bitterness and astringency are largely reduced, probably because such tastes do not dissolve into water in lower temperature.

Overall it’s an interesting experience, and I am glad this cheapest oolong I’ve ever had didn’t make me suffer too much. A bonus of this tea journey – the producer obviously doesn’t want me to think this tea is a typical representative of their teas (in fact it’s their cheapest tea), so they gave me samples of their most expensive Huang Zhi Xiang (the same tea tree variety but a “pure breed”) and their intermediate-range Huang Zhi Xiang. I love freebies and they justified my expedited international shipping :D

Preparation
Boiling 0 min, 15 sec

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Among all the tea categories, puerh Shu is probably the one that I like the least. I occasionally enjoy shu, but had never felt the “magic” as I would find in some other teas. After trying some older shu that everybody else adores but I feel at the most neutral, I’ve kind of settled with the few inexpensive products that I can get along with, and I haven’t been trying a lot of new products recently. Generally my take of shu as a “restaurant tea”, “milk tea” and “tonic drink” may have largely held me back from exploring it as a gourmet tea.

Now here is another shu that’s supposed to be “really, really good”, according to some friends. I wondered if it would taste good to me.

This brick is in a paper box without any information about the production date, which is not uncommon for puerh products before 2005. I got the production date from the supplier, whom I 100% trust. But in general, I believe for products like this one, people should always taste a sample before buying a whole brick or cake. Inside the layer is a thin layer of paper wrap, which I had to tear into pieces to get the brick out. The brick is made with Grade 8 leaves, which are larger and older leaves with some stems. Although it was the first time I had pried off flakes of leaves from the brick, I already got a small stone slightly larger than peanut size, which of course is nothing extraordinary for a puerh brick. :-p

I used a 150ml purple clay teapot for this tea. Although the teapot is indeed suitable for Shu, the real reason I used it is that I thought the teapot was already “soiled” by other shu products I had before. So you know my general attitude toward Shu. :-p I used tea leaves of the size of a oreo cookie and had the first several infusions as short as possible (approximately 10 seconds).

Now I want to say this is my favorite Shu so far. But please notice that this conclusion is from someone who doesn’t have much experience with lots of good and expensive Shu (many of them are so rare and legendary that I can’t manage to have them). One the other hand, I would recommend this tea to people who like black tea and dark oolong but don’t like Shu, because this may be the “likeable” Shu.

I like this tea first of all because it doesn’t have a hint of over-fermented (Wo Dui) taste. Nor does it have the un-offensive but rather hollow taste I often find from a Shu. Secondly, I was glad to have got some kicks from this tea. (To me, “kicks” means prominent aftertaste, especially a taste rising to nasal cavity and back of the throat.) Besides it has all the nice characters of a shu and yields many soupy and sweet infusions.

This is why I really love this tea. Would I call it a gourmet tea? Yes and no. Yes because it tastes great and it’s rare. No because look at those leaves! It’s typical of a puerh brick to have coarse leaves. After all, originally puerh brick is supposed to be enjoyed by nomads and boiled on campfire. Its charm is not elegance but unruliness. For us modern geeks, nomad life is an intriguing fantasy. Next time after my lamb chop meal, I am going to enjoy this tea and dream of the life on the prairie! :D

Preparation
Boiling 0 min, 15 sec

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Usually a puerh comes with a wrap with its title and brand name. This one has a white paper wrap, that’s all. The inner label bears the tea factories name and a short name (Horse Caravan Tribute Cake). It’s made with Jing Mai tea leaves.

The leaves are very nice looking. At the beginning, I felt the taste was not as strong as what I had expected. But the taste is stable and long lasting. I guess it can be a great introduction cake for people who love greener oolong but are new to puerh. The tea has very pleasant aroma and almost floral aftertaste. The aftertaste is not as prominent as my favorite Meng Ku Bing Dao, but it’s also quite long lasting.

I like this tea very much. It has only a touch of bitterness and a remote feeling of astringency, both turned into moist sweetness in a second. The tea liquor feels very friendly and tasty.

Generally I tend to not believe all the puerh is the older, the better. But I don’t have the experience to predict the future of a tea either. There is a saying that some currently elegant and tasty puerh may not get more and more brilliant when being aged. This is the kind of tea that makes my hesitate, since it’s so nice, should I save some for the future, or enjoy it now and not expect much from its future?

Preparation
Boiling 0 min, 15 sec
Stephanie

I say enjoy it now! :)

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I am recently in a puerh sheng mood, which doesn’t happen often. So I would grab the chance and taste a few more sheng products :D

This tea is supposed to be one of the routine, decent products of Da Yi. It’s from 2007, which was not a great year for puerh, but not the worst year either. The tea is pretty good, that’s if you are like me and don’t mind bitterness to a small degree. I think this tea is reasonably bitter, and by reasonably, I mean the bitterness is not long-lasting. It hits the inner part of the tongue and disappears fairly quickly. The aftertaste is very nice. It’s the aftertaste that make you feel the mouth is very cool and clean. There is a little bit of astringency and a hint of smokiness.

The leaves are not very chopped, but not the whole leaves either.

I made about 8-9 infusions of it, and pushed the brewing pretty much to an end. It’s not a very strong sheng among the teas I’ve tried recently.

I’ve sadly found I’ve got a little bit of allergy recently. A friend of mine used to say, if you live in Northeast and don’t have a season allergy yet, don’t think that you are spared and it may start any year! Now I think I’ve got it :-S but just a little bit. Probably that’s why I crave for sheng puerh recently. It did help a lot. Probably just drinking that much of water would help anyway, but only with tea, I can patiently drink so much water!

Preparation
Boiling 0 min, 15 sec
the_skua

I’ve noticed lots of people have been craving sheng puerh lately, myself included. I wonder if it is indeed seasonal allergies!

Gingko (manager of Life in Teacup)

Possibly! Autumn can be a very dry season. Tea that brings moisture to the mouth is great for the season :D

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I got it as a manufacturer sample. It’s early spring tea of Keemun cultivar made into spiral shape (similar to the shape of Bi Luo Chun green tea). The specific processing method was invented in 1997 and the product has been sold well in Japanese and Korean market. It’s rather expensive for a black tea. I’ve been curious about what’s in it.

The dry tea leaves look very delicate, with golden tips on the little black leaf buds. The aroma of dry leaves is very pleasant, almost floral. It’s an aroma that is found more on green tea than black tea.

I used a glass mug to brew the tea, with newly boiled water but had it sit in the mug for a few minutes before throwing in tea leaves. The sample is 4g leaves, a little more than I usually use in a mug. I hesitated for a second and threw all the 4 grams in the mug. Sometimes this is how I made a cup of tea too strong and regret for it. But luckily this tea turned out fine.

The first infusion turned out ruby color liquor typical of keemun. The aroma is very keemun too, even better than keemun, I think. But the flavor, in my opinion, was just ok and didn’t match up to its fantastic aroma and beautiful leaf shape. It was very pleasant sugary flavor and left the mouth soothed and moist. But I didn’t find as long lasting aromatic aftertaste as in my favorite keemun black tea. Could it be that the spring tea leaves are too subtle to have such aromatic aftertaste? The flavor was very stable in the first 3 infusions, which I think, is very outstanding for a black tea. I had totally 6 infusions or so out of this tea. Another great characteristic of this tea is that it seems very tolerant of long infusion and also performs well even if too many tea leaves are used in the brewing. It’s a tea that won’t go wrong. Just because of this feature and its beautiful leaves, I can see it must be adored by many people. I enjoyed every sip of this tea, but have decided that for the same price I would rather buy other teas. I guess it’s mainly because great aftertaste of a tea is quite important to me. But people who love its unique flavor may find it irreplaceable.

What I’ve found a little weird about myself is, when a tea doesn’t meet my expectation to a full degree, I could feel no disappointment, but even a bit released. It’s more of a release when you naturally stay out of love with an expensive tea. Life is short. Too many teas, too little time to drink. With one less tea to love, a tea drinker may stay less crazy. Ha!

Preparation
195 °F / 90 °C 2 min, 30 sec

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It’s great that steepster system allows you to categorize a tea as both black and green, which this tea is.

I put more photos on my blog:
http://gingkobay.blogspot.com/2010/05/ban-na-sunset.html

I heard of the idea from a friend – it’s a popular way of drinking tea among Yunnan people (which part of Yunnan, he doesn’t know though. Yunnan is so large and diverse!).

Step 1, brew Yunnan green as usual. This time I used a Yunnan roast green (the one that was made on January 1, 2010). The original version is using Yunnan sun-dried green though. I don’t have any of it, but puerh young sheng is basically the same thing, just it’s hard to get a young sheng with beautiful leaves. Next time I will try using the Guan Zi Zai Yi Wu, which has the most beautiful leaves I’ve seen from a puerh cake.

Step 2, enjoy the first 3 infusions as usual. But for this, I refilled the mug every time when the tea liquor was about half of the cup volume. This is partially because I wanted to keep the strength of the tea, partially because I did use too much leaves. Yunnan green is strong!

Step 3, at the end of the 3rd infusion, when there is about 1/4 volume of the liquor left (I assumed 1/4 was better than 1/3 because the more newly added hot water, the better the tea would be infused), add in Yunnan red (black) tea.

Step 4, refill the mug with hot water.

That is it. Then you can re-infuse on and on. This lasted a whole afternoon for me. Eventually the leaves expanded a lot and there is relatively small space for accessible tea liquor. I guess, this is a tea enjoyed by people who drink a lot of tea and don’t have much time to take care of their tea brewing. In other words, this is a tea for real workers to gulp, not for Gongfu drinkers to take sip after sip. So for such a purpose, this mug is too small.

The first infusion after adding red tea was a bit astringent. But I didn’t mind at all. Yunnan people would say if a tea is “bitter without biting your mouth and astringent without sticking to your tongue”, then it’s a good tea. I kind of agree. The astringency instantly became sweet aftertaste. Then later in the many infusions, the tea became smooth and remained flavorful.

Supposedly, Yunnan sun-dried green (such as a young sheng) is even stronger than roast green. So next time when I have a whole day of work, I will start the day with some Yi Wu leaves in a big mug and add in some Yunnan red tea later on. It can be a good companion without much attention required.

Preparation
195 °F / 90 °C 2 min, 30 sec

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I put the tasting notes on my blog and there are more photos:
http://gingkobay.blogspot.com/2010/04/meng-ding-snow-bud-xue-ya.html

Let me say first that I do love this tea very much. I will describe all the great features of this tea first, and then tell a little about my mixed feelings about this tea.

Mount Meng is one of the most famous tea mountain in China with probably the longest culture history. In ancient time, people believed “brewing Meng Ding (top of Mt. Meng) tea with water from the center of Yangzi River” is the highest level of tea enjoyment. The harvest standard of Snow Bud on top of Mt. Meng is, when there are only 5% of the tea bushes start budding. It takes about 80,000 tea leaf buds to make roughly 500g of the final tea product. A skillful tea harvest worker may well spend half a day to get just enough tea leaf buds to make 100g final tea product.

Dry tea leaves – they should actually be called tea buds!

I’ve just realized that I had been anal about NOT using a scale. Although I use a scale to weigh tea all the time for other people, I never knew the exact amount of tea I used in each cup! So today I thought I would just use a scale, at least once :-D It turned out I used 2.5g leaves. It’s about just right amount for me. So I think up to 3g tea in a mug will be ok. More than 3g will make the mug too crowded with tea leaves.

I used the middle-throw method (中投法)as described in the post about Long Jing.

I am obsessive about the view of tea leaves in water!

The taste: light vegetal, with sweet aftertaste. It feels clean and moist in mouth, and the tea radiates some cool feeling even in hot water.

This is first yellow tea we’ve ever carried. Yellow tea was developed from green tea technique. After the tea is heated (in this case, pan-fried) to have the enzymes killed), the tea is allowed further oxidation with optimal temperature and humidity. Therefore, oxidation in yellow tea is different from oxidation in black tea or oolong. In yellow tea, the oxidation is not catalyzed by the tea’s own enzymes, but triggered by outside environment factors such as temperature and humidity.

Here comes my mixed feelings.

Oxidation of this tea is very light. If we compare this tea and another Meng Ding Snow Bud I had last year, the differences are big, although both teas are great. The other tea has larger buds, and deeper oxidation, and therefore more typical sweet taste of a yellow tea.

Currently in China, Green Tea still dominates. A direct outcome is, many other teas are green-tea-ized. The most popular Tie Guan Yin is made to be very green. And many yellow tea products is made very green.

Recently I discussed with a friend who has dealt with yellow tea for many years. In his opinion, it’s not possible to make Meng Ding Snow Bud into typical yellow tea with deeper oxidation, because the buds are so young and tender. On the other hand, the other Meng Ding Snow Bud I had last year (which I loved very much), in his opinion, is more typical yellow tea, but should be called Meng Ding Yellow Bud (Huang Ya) instead of Snow Bud, because the buds are larger than the standards of Snow Bud. So here is the trade-off, you may choose the precious Snow Bud, but it can’t have the typical oxidation level of a yellow tea. On the other hand, the bonus is, if we forget about the yellow tea, and compare this tea with a green tea, the price of this tea is much more friendly than a first-harvest green tea with comparable youth and tenderness.

I hesitate to call this tea yellow tea, because, as you can see, from leaves to liquor, it’s all green! I hesitate to call it green tea either, because it does intend to be a yellow tea, and it does have some nice sweet aftertaste of yellow tea. I guess it’s not my own dilemma and it’s shared by many tea people.

Preparation
190 °F / 87 °C 2 min, 30 sec
Stephanie

Very interesting and informative note!! :)

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Oolong is my love. Other teas are my great interests too.
As a tea drinker, I am in everlasting curiosity for tasting new tea varieties and learning about tea culture.
As a tea seller, I believe in small business operations in tea manufacturing and trading. My goal is to provide more tea varietals, especially rare ones, with diverse flavor profiles directly from their producing regions.

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Masschusetts

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http://www.lifeinteacup.com

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