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322 Tasting Notes

85

I guess the good news, given I’m not a huge fan of this leaf, is that I’m already out of it!

Apparently I didn’t order very much.

I could see this tea working very well with dim sum, being light and soft but having a sufficient contrast to cut through all the pork fat and sugar.

Preparation
Boiling 0 min, 15 sec
Spoonvonstup

Ack! Oh, I know we’ll just have to agree to disagree on this one, but to my ears, wasting this tea with a meal sounds like blasphemy. Well, more for me!

Jim Marks

?!

Pairings with any premium beverage are always understood to enhance the beverage, not detract from it. This is common practice with the finest wines, beers, spirits, and teas.

David Duckler

I see both sides here- Mostly I want to share the experience I had conducting a tea and chocolate pairing with Colin Gasko of Rogue Chocolatier, possibly the finest bean-to-bar craftsman in America. I haven’t tried tea and meal pairings (except psychologically in that some sheng pu’ers imply a full meal through the course of the steepings), but when truly fine tea is allowed to synergize with something equally fine, interesting flavors comes through. It wouldn’t have worked with a milky cheap chocolate, but in this tasting, the aftertastes of the chocolate worked to bring out flavors in the tea that were previously hidden.

Rogue Chocolate and Potomac chocolate are both worth a try in this regard, as they engage the same parts of the palate as fine tea, but do not coat your tongue. Anything that coats the tongue has the tendency to dull the taste buds.

In general, fine teas are not commonly consumed with meals in China, but that definitely shouldn’t stop you from seeking out creative pairings for the sake of synergy. Just like, for example, I will choose an yixing pot whose nature I think will have a synergistic effect on the tea I am brewing. Occasionally however, and whenever trying a tea for the first time, I will brew it without having eaten anything for a while, in a non-reactive vessel like a gaiwan so that I can understand the “true” nature of the tea before moving into pairings.

Happy tasting.

Jim Marks

When I lived in Chicago, I would attend semi-private tasting events at the TeaGschwendner retail location on State Street hosted by their in house “tea sommelier” (who is, now, I believe, the manager of their Edmond’s collection rather than specifically connected to the retail store). At one point he began attempting pairings with chocolates — unfortunately the “best” (in the minds of all the local residents, anyway) in Chicago is Vosges — which I really don’t care for, personally. Probably because I got spoiled by the work of Andrew Shotts and his Garrison Confections line from my years living in Providence, Rhode Island.

I would boldly assume that fine teas are not consumed with meals in China, traditionally:

a) for simple economic reasons

b) because most meals are not a slow, deliberate activity for drawing out flavors, but for the consumption of daily nutrition

You don’t do a wine pairing on a random Tuesday afternoon with a sandwich, you know?

That’s why I specifically referred to yum cha rather than lunch or dinner. Something which is more of an occasion, and is supposedly about the tea as much as it is about the food — and is mostly about the experience of fellowship with other people. I was thinking about the mindset of chefs in the Imperial style in China where everything is about balance, control, contrast and interplay — and pork fat.

As a primary defense I will offer up both the matcha and sencha formal tea ceremonies in Japan — where a confection of some kind is always served between steepings and is considered crucial to appreciating the later steepings (which become bitter).

As I’ve indicated in previous tasting notes, while I recognize the extremely high quality nature of this tea, I don’t actually care for it all that much. So, I’m mentally thinking of ways to improve my experience with this leaf.

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91

The RoTea sheng was nice, but completely failed to stir my chi in any way.

So I returned to the Wild Arbor. Nothing like it was last week. A very mild mannered tea, today. I must have used far too much leaf last time — or there was something in the air, in the water… something.

This is also failing to stir my chi. Maybe I’m just all blocked up, today.

Preparation
Boiling 0 min, 15 sec

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After my experience with the Wild Arbor last week, it occurred to me that my concerns with this tea maybe were over blown. So, I unpacked it from the storage arrangement I’d created and decided to steep it again.

I’m into the second steeping now and I’m chuckling to myself that just a few weeks ago I thought this tea needed more age. This second steeping is downright soft for sheng — maybe I made some kind of error the last time I made it.

This is actually really good and has encouraged me to re-approach the Wild Arbor with less leaf and more respect.

Preparation
Boiling 0 min, 15 sec

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90

The gloom continues. On the one hand, we need this hydration so desperately I dare not complain. On the other hand, aside from it being 70 degrees in February, this weather is reminding me of New England a bit too much.

I’m having company over later for tea, so I’m saving the complex leaves for later.

One thing I love about wuyi oolongs, and of course da hong pao is a premiere example of the breed, is that there is nothing unexpected or challenging about them without that collapsing into something mediocre.

Sometimes roast, age and the caramelization that comes with both is all you need to sustain you for a time. No flowers, no fruit, no wet stones, no sun bathed cabin wood, no moth balls, no deep stirrings in the dantien or yi.

Just a warm cup of soothing, excellent tea.

Preparation
Boiling 0 min, 15 sec

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I think I must have scrimped on leaf by mistake this morning. This isn’t blowing my doors off like it did the first time.

Still an absolutely stellar tea, don’t get me wrong. But apparently it requires a truly generous pinch for short steeps to go well.

Preparation
Boiling 0 min, 15 sec

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91

I’ve been hesitant to come back to the Yabao.

I admit that it intimidates me, and I have this sense that I’m somehow unworthy, not yet ready, for this tea.

But already things are going better than they did the first time I went through a series of steeps with it.

I used more buds, and while the results are still incredibly subtle, I don’t feel like I’m bursting blood vessels trying to taste something, here.

In the end, though, as interesting and unique as the flavor profile here is, I think I’d rather spend my money and effort on a good silver needles or bai mudan.

Preparation
Boiling 0 min, 15 sec

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92

Alas, samples go fast.

And this one is gone.

Preparation
200 °F / 93 °C 0 min, 30 sec

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91

Today this tea is completely kicking my head in.

After a good 18 steeps on the wang shu over the past day and a half, and today’s on again off again rainy day pattern, I wanted to take things to another level. I have wuji qigongquan tonight and I want to take that to the next level as well.

So one turns to sheng.

Wild Arbor is right. This tea is a haggis fueled Scotsman like my college roommate of 20 years past. Huge, rough, uncouth, but tenacious, warm and giving.

I cannot claim that I am enjoying the flavor profile right now. I feel like I am drinking cups of mothball soup with an insulation garnish.

But the energy is stretching straight to my toes, and fingers, and my yi has grown full and heavy. And right now, that is a delicious feeling.

Preparation
Boiling 0 min, 15 sec
Spoonvonstup

Ha! Good description. Try it next time with less leaf and maybe even less steep time (though I see you’ve got 15sec there.. as low as Steepster lets you go). Yes- less leaf, and this will be more gentle with you. You certainly don’t have to worry about this being light. ;)

Jim Marks

Yeah, my actual steep times are much shorter than that.

Charles Thomas Draper

Your reviews are always on the mark. This is Sheng.

Jim Marks

After about 8 steepings, this calmed down quite a bit, and the last 8 to 10 steepings were enjoyable as a beverage in addition to being enjoyable as a medication and meditation.

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Gongfu Madness returns!

Four steepings into a common pot. All 5 seconds.

The result borders on overwhelming in complexity.

This is why I love shu.

Preparation
Boiling 0 min, 15 sec
ScottTeaMan

I’ve always wondered if loose leaf puerh is as good or better than the cakes. I do want to order this one…….well possibly. I really do want to experience puerh cakes this year.

Jim Marks

I’ve stopped trying to chase the “best” pu-erh. That way leads to madness.

ashmanra

Just bought my third loose puerh tonight. It tastes pretty good, but I think my tuo chas have had more flavor.

Jim Marks

Which one?

ashmanra

I bought Rishi Classic Puerh tonight. I have Osmanthhus Puerh from purepuer.com and Ancient Puerh Classic from Southern Season. A long time ago I also had their Organic Five Year Aged puerh, and it was pretty good.

Charles Thomas Draper

You are correct Jim. It leads to madness….

Jim Marks

I can’t say with certainty, ashmanra, but I suspect you would find this one from Upton to be on a slightly different level than either a tea from Rishi or a flavored pu-erh.

I may be biased, though, because I find getting mini tuocha to break open to be a huge pain in the rear aiming for very short steeps.

ashmanra

You have made this one sound so tempting, and I am trying trying to be good and not order more tea but I have caved twice this week already! LOL! I have one tuo cha type that doesn’t break down until the second steep and even then it is slow, and I have another that falls apart instantly. The ones from A Southern Season are somewhere in between. Their loose puerh is pretty good, too. One of them has the fishy aroma, but it tastes okay. The other is really horsey, which I like! :)

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I have a confession to make.

My heretical tea behaviors may have gone too far this time, and… and I like it.

The other afternoon I was making a “help you get through your afternoon” latte for Liz (with coffee, which, for some reason, she still drinks ;) and I steamed way too much soy milk. I didn’t want a coffee drink myself, but I didn’t want to waste the soy milk. I thought about an earl gray or a chai latte, but Liz has been going through a lot of those leaves lately and I didn’t want to use them up on her.

What to do?

Evil thought: You have yunnan rare grade and it is fruity and sweet and strong.

So I did it. I made a soy latte using this tea. I know! What a horrible thing to do.

It was FAN. TAS. TIC.

And I’m not even that big of a fan of lattes.

ScottTeaMan

Sounds like a good dessert tea, but wasn’t the tea flavor overpowered or masked making it this way?

Jim Marks

Unsweetened soy milk is a pretty mild flavor and isn’t thick and heavy like dairy with dairy fat in it, so it didn’t really get in the way of the tea at all.

If your idea of a dessert tea is a natural hint of sweetness through the notes of the tea, then yes, this would qualify (as would the yunnan rare grade all on its own). But if your idea of a dessert tea is more like a dessert wine, then you’d probably want to skip the high end tea and go with an earl gray or a chai and add honey or something similar.

LadyLondonderry

Works for me, but I add unsweetened almond milk to most black teas, including this one.

It’s not a dessert tea to me either — for me that would be something like Marco Polo or Florence. The perceived “sweetness” of this one is a lot more subtle.

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I am rarely, if ever, active here. But I do return from time to time to talk about a very special tea I’ve come across.

You can hear the music I compose here:
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