I will never really understand the Chinese tea-naming mind. I mean, I think this tea is supposed somehow to look like a water tortoise, but I keep thinking it tastes like a water tortoise. Shui Jin Gui is normally one of if not the greenest of the great Yanchas. But this one brews an amazing dark orange. The first impression is cashews and balsam. The roast is present and important but very subtle. There is a clarity and a complexity that rewards slurping and making your tongue go flat so that some gets to the sides of your inner cheeks. I am willing to bet that a golden water tortoise has cheeks. The other thing striking about this tea is the compulsion to brew two pots and pour them both into a larger cup rather than using a little cup. It just goes with the slurping propensity. But please don’t miss this: at the end, after the cup is empty, the sweet evergreen aroma lingers and is really worth paying attention to.
24 Tasting Notes
Fans of Oriental Beauty will love this tea. As I understand it, Guei Fei is a newish tea, developed after Taiwan’s 1999 earthquake, when tea farmers were too busy rebuilding fields to apply pesticides, so tea plants were attacked by a kind of cicada, which makes the tea plant produce a protective juice that gives the tea a characteristic honey flavor.
I tend to brew hotter than instructed, but this summer tea doesn’t like very hot water; it makes for a more floral aroma but a bitter taste. “Shrimp eye” or “fish eye” water yields a more perfect balance of taste and aroma. Of course, the honey is there, but also that buttery caramel of a high mountain green tea. It also has a wonderful texture. It felt “oval” to me; extraordinary balance, warm and floral, lots of depth. The experience is comparable to Oriental Beauty but more subtle, I think, more complex—lighter roast and much less fermentation.
This is a hand harvested tea as is evident by the wet leaves, which open quickly and fill the entire pot. Spent leaves are a beautiful dark green with mahogany edges and intact stems.
This is the only version of Guei Fei I’ve tried so I can’t compare. But this should definitely be listed among the really great Taiwan teas.
Bai Ji Guan has proved difficult to find. Jing Tea Shop told me the 2010 year was not a very good one, so that may explain the rarity. Also, this particular Wuyi tea can get expensive. I found the tea at three vendors: TeaSpring and Dragon Tea House (online) and Maison de Trois Thes. TeaSpring dates theirs as 2010; I couldn’t get a date for the other two. The TeaSpring and DTH dry leafs were characteristically lighter than most Yanchas, though not as light as I’ve seen in photos of Bai Ji Guan, not really yellow-green as has been described. The M3T leafs were very dark and almost waxy. I would not have thought they were “truly” BJG if the Madame Tseng & Co were not so reputable.
I brewed them together in three small gaiwans with water coming just above the leaf. The color of the teas were consistent with the color of the leafs, the M3T brew being as dark as Da Hong Pao or Shui Xian.
All three teas were very bright and full. TeaSpring and Dragon House were very close in taste: toasty, not heavy roast, very little oxidation, with a prominent nuttiness, maybe almonds and honey but a little more woody; malty. Some caramel behind that and some light and pleasant floral tastes. Very pleasure making and complex enough for some excitment. The Maison Trois Thes version was not as strongly roasted in taste as in appearance. It was more complex than the others, thought provoking even. The nuttiness was there but not as prominent. More wood and honey and something almost like mild pine nuts and fruit. This one had much more aroma that complicated the taste. I thought of chewing the twig of a fruit tree, for example, after having eaten buttery toast. Or better, if you could somehow lace buttered toast with threads of woody fruit. Sorry, but that’s what it brought to me. I really wish I could do better with the description.
I’m thinking that the M3T tea is older. Do vendors re-roast teas as they age? That would explain the dark color. Surely aging, even a few years, complicates the taste.
I will buy more of the TeaSpring tea; it’s nice enough. (See my more gushy first taste of it here http://steepster.com/teas/teaspring/15607-bai-ji-guan) I will definitely buy more of the M3T if I can get to Paris, which is not likely. But I still don’t think I’ve had the full Bai Ji Guan experience. I asked a tea-friend who just went on a buying trip to China to look for some and he didn’t find any. The 2011 vintage won’t begin to appear before July or even later. I’m hoping Hou De or Jing Tea Shop will get some 2011.
Just one last note. I just received three little red clay and porcelain gaiwans from Dragon Tea House and I love them for comparisons like this one. They are lined with porcelain, which I think is best, but the clay on the outside allows them to hold heat a little better. They are very thin and light. They yield about 60ml of tea, which just fits in most sipping cups. They make me very happy. This whole set up and tea tasting made me very happy.
No notes yet.
I know a lot of you enjoy various kinds of bamboo tea. I just stumbled across this video on the Hou De blog site and thought you would enjoy seeing the tea-making process.
I found it very beautiful.
I’m amazed at how tightly the tea is packed and how gentle the roast is.
I guess I expected the bamboo to burn.
There are reasons why Da Hong Pao is considered to be the best of the Wuyi rock teas (aroma, flavor, spice, feel, and so forth) so I was skeptical about futzing with it — like say, compressing it and aging it.
I’ve had this cake buried in the cupboard since a bad first try at brewing yielded too much leather and mud. A recent new teapot purchase prompted me to try it again — one last time, I thought, before dumping the tea. Well…
In my new pot, I dropped a healthy chunk of the thick cake. I rinsed twice quickly. Now with near boiling brew I left it maybe a minute. Whoa! What have I done? Clear, spicey but balanced liquor. So very recognizable as Da Hong Pao in its flavor but much much rounder, mellow, mature. Spices are way in the background compared to newer, looser DHP. None of the threatening harshness.
Second steep. Oops! Too hot, too long. Here comes the lack of clarity that I remembered from before. Just too much tea!
So I realized that, for the first steep, the leaves had not yet opened fully, but with good results. The second steep, which now packed my new pot and threatened to push off the lid, was just overpowering. Too much leaf for water.
So I scooped out some leaf and steeped for a third and fourth time, no more than 30 seconds, more like 25 seconds. Yes! I am again in control.
Summary: Use less of this tea than you would shu puerh because it expands much more. Give the first brew some time. But after the leaves open up, shorten the brew to less than 30 seconds. This will give you clear recognizable DHP with depth and maturity. I’m sure if you want to push this tea, it will take you into the shu puerh realms; I just wasn’t ready to go there.
I would say to anyone who likes heavy roasts, you have to try this. If you like shu puerhs, this will recalibrate your tastes. If you drink DHP, it will mainly (I think) adjust the spice scale, bringing them from the high notes to the middle and low.
Some of the best Yanchas I’ve had have been from Hou De and this Shui Xian is excellent. It is grown in an area of Wuyi where the soil composition consists solely of weathered rock, which I’m guessing is what gives it its characteristic strong, malty, minerally flavor. That and some heavy roasting.
I played with it a bit, searching for its tea soul.
My Yancha pot is biggish — 160 or 170 ml — and I filled it three quarters full of leaves. First infusion at 190-ish degrees, pour quickly after 15 seconds. First taste was leather and chocolate, almost dank but in a pleasant way; from the taste I would have guessed I was drinking an aged oolong. But the mouthfeel was a bit thin and the taste lacked complexity. I was slightly disappointed with the first cup.
Second infusion I decided to use almost boiling water. Wow. The heat brought the smokey charcoal taste right up front. Strong but pleasant. Lots of pepper and spice and a great roundness in the feel — a kind of mineral feel. Heavily oxidized as well as heavy roasted, I think, and I would bet this tea is from old bushes. Beautiful dark red color. Both color and taste were puerh like. I think it’s correct to call this tea as Yan Gu, “rock bones,” which describes such depth of flavor.
Third and fourth infusions, back to 190 degrees but I let it steep a bit longer — maybe a minute but not much more. Exquisite. Much more balance between the spice and charcoal. Cloves and nuts appear. Some fruit peeking through, dark berries; definitely charcoal and nuts and berries, maybe vanilla, too; more complexity. Very full feel, round and thick and a nice lingering dryness.
The soul doth rise.
I don’t know about you guys, but up until recently I’ve sought for the “correct” way of brewing yancha. Lately, however, I’ve gained the confidence to challenge convention. It’s kind of thrilling to taste what almost boiling water can do, for example. Or using more leaves than normal. Or shorter and longer steeps.
Also, I think staging teas is important. For example, I was drinking Taiwan dong ding the entire day before I tried this Wuyi Shui Xian tonight. The lighter tea with vegetal tastes set parameters which made the dark, spicy Shui Xian all the more vivid and challenging. In the morning maybe I’ll look for a more fruity tea.
I’m thinking that a tea’s soul is more differential than we’ve been told.
Bai Ji Guan has a status almost as mythical as the Yixing Pot itself. If you believe half of what you read on tea blogs, etc., this tea should transport you to heretofore unattainable planes of pleasure and enlightenment.
Inspired by Thomas Smith’s recent post on Steepster here: http://steepster.com/ThomasSmith/posts/63238#comments, I was determined to try this tea — my first time with Bai Ji Guan.
It was difficult to find. I was told by Jing Teas that the 2010 crop was inferior because of climatic conditions. Tillerman was out; Hou De didn’t have any. The only 2010 Bai Ji Guan I could find was from Teaspring.
Well, if this is inferior, I’m not sure I could handle “the truth” about Bai Ji Guan. I’ll try to break it down:
First, I am partial to old-style Wuyi oolongs, traditional heavy roasts. At the same time, I understand the preference for “new” light roasts with more vegetal and floral draperies. Bai Ji Guan seems, impossibly, to hold on to both tendencies. A sniff of the bag convinced me it was Yancha — could have been Da Hong Pao or Rou Gui; no big deal. Color of dry leaves was light golden but not as blond as I’ve seen advertised. But when I slid the leaves into a very pre-warmed pot, the aroma gushed toasted pecans. I awoke with my head in my grandmother’s oven.
After playing around with this tea in a gaiwan (which is where I suggest you start), I filled the little pot almost full — not tightly packed, just loose 80 percent to the top. Quick rinse and just as quick a first infusion. Really. Just a deep breath, then pour.
This is no mere Yancha! In the gaiwan, the spice and pepper were way up front. Sharp almost. Now, in the pot, the green pepper was perfectly balanced with roasted nuts, while a smokey, yes pipe tobacco sense, lay just behind.
I really felt like the difference between Bai Ji Guan and other Yanchas was spatial — similar aromas and tastes but different hierarchy and layers of sensation. Also, the deep creamy thickness that came out of a very light amber liquor. I’ve really never had quite the combination.
In subsequent infusions the tobacco-nut flavor remained dominant. But I’ve never had a tea that changed so much across steeps. Nuts yield to flowers, flowers for a moment seem vegetal. I wish I had Thomas Smith’s fine-tuned vocabulary! Yes, husks and caramels and rain-soaked hay! Egg. I never knew what egg meant until now.
Spent leaves are golden and green, very light. Worshipful.
So. This didn’t make me giddy the way good Dan Congs do. But it may be even more profound; I’m not yet sure.
I can’t believe this is an “inferior” year. May I live to taste next year’s crop. May I live to suck this last little drop off the cup.
I’m adding a footnote to a previous tasting note. Today I brewed this using what I understand to be the brewing method of the Chao Zhou region, which is to fill a small pot (120 ml max) almost full with leaves. Don’t crush the leaves, but use as much as the pot will hold. Rinse twice as quickly as possible; it needs two for the leaves to open. Then fill the pot with water and immediately pour the tea. Don’t let it “steep” for more than a breath. You can reinfuse many, many times, so this way is no more expensive than using less leaves.
This tea was so good my head almost popped off. It actually compelled me to smile!
My understanding of the chemistry of this is that the leaves never get as hot as the temperature of the water. No risk of too much astringency (which is a concern with Dan Congs). And yet, you get a blast of tea oils nevertheless. And the aroma was strikingly more fragrant and different than before. Much more flowery (magnolia?) rather than just peachy, though peach is still there, too. Very full in the mouth.
I may also use this as an excuse to purchase another, smaller pot. Hehehe.
Let me first confess that I am a big fan of Tea Habitat’s Dan Cong teas and consider them the best Dan Congs available. I went the whole way and got a little Chao Zhou teapot from her, made especially for Dan Congs (same as Teaddict, I believe), I brew according to Iman’s instructions, pour low to high, etc., etc.
All of which is to say that this Dan Cong from Hou De is right up there in the Tea Habitat echelon. This is premium quality, old bush, not commercial grade Dan Cong.
The aroma is fabulously peachy, as expected from “Eight Immortals.” The thickness is very satisfying, really difficult not to gulp. Sometimes, a lesser Dan Cong’s aroma can be meretriciously ornamental. But this aroma is a precise index of the actual flavor of the tea. I filled my 120 ml pot half to two thirds full, steeped for just less than a minute. The characteristic Dan Cong astringency is perfect. I was left with a very good feeling.
Now I’ll modulate to slightly picky. The leaves were a bit broken in my package. Maybe it was the end of a bag. Maybe I wasn’t careful opening the package. The very first brew was a tiny bit cloudy, but subsequent infusions were brilliantly clear. I didn’t find this tea demanding. I agree with The Skua that it is mild, but only compared to a Yancha or something. Almost minimalist. But it’s a generous giver. It’s the kind of tea that could become a daily, especially given the entirely reasonable price.
I have a suggestion if you try this tea: Choose a Sunday when you can sleep late. The Saturday before, wash your best bed linens and give them an extra rinse so all detergent is rinsed out. Fresh, cool cotton. Drink this Dan Cong when you wake (don’t set a clock!). The clean, fragrant minimalism of the tea connects with the memory of the smell of cotton. Open a window, even if it’s cold out. The different, fresh smells and sounds and memories and dreams of the night before all connect. Your spirit moves around with little effort. It’s quite wonderful. I just happened upon that experience, but next time, I’m fixing for it.
There is something so pure about raw puerh, the least processed tea of all, simply sun dried and compressed, not even pan fried like longjing, but allowed to remain “alive” with tiny microbes that facilitate fermentation and constant change. What I love about the idea of raw bamboo puerh is the contradiction of that purity with the elaborate process of making charcoal, packing the bamboo sections, steaming them, cutting away the bamboo, etc. This is tea dialectics! Simply complex. Fire and water. Heaven and earth.
As I understand it, there are a couple of different ways to make bamboo puerh: One is to roll or knead the fresh tea leaves, directly fill the bamboo tube, and oven bake; the other is to first sun dry the leaves, then steam them on rice, and compress the leaves into the bamboo while baking over fire. I think this tea was processed the second way.
I have only ever had the Wuyi Mountain bamboo tea from Norbu, which is subtle and very mild. This Dai tea (the Dai are one of China’s ethnic minorities) is an interesting comparison. First the tea tubes are much larger — two and a half inches in diameter. And the tea is much more tightly compressed; it was difficult to break off a chunk and, consequently, I crushed some of the leaves. I rinsed the tea twice to open it up, which it did nicely. The first tastes were of the familiar purity of green puerh, predominantly vegetal, no camphor. In the next infusions, floral notes appear (mushroomy magnolia perhaps) against a definite smoky background (pace the YS description). What I’m calling smokiness is very subtle and quiet pleasant and recessive — different from up-front roasted; others may call it woody but it was smokey to me. It adds further complexity. The spent leaves are amazingly whole; the smell of the leaves in the pot is more flowery than other shengs I’ve had.
I think the Dai simply put this tea in a bowl with hot water rather than prepare it in a pot and transfer to cups. I will brew and drink directly from a gaiwan next time, to try to emulate the Dai. Tea dialectics put me in touch with people I don’t even know. I can travel with tea if I concentrate. I can become very old and also very young. Raw bamboo puerh is particular good and helping me do this.
Wooed by oolong’s song I once strayed from the puerh way.
Camphor and indigestible vegetable fumed frustration and dismay.
Reoriented by a strange tea’s measure, I have now returned to the treasure
Of Sheng Cha. Oh happy day!
Really, though, I had stopped drinking young raw puerh for a while. I had become confused by camphor and raw vegetables. I just didn’t know what I was looking for. The famous astringency had turned from interest and complexity to unpleasantness for me. In order to recalibrate I decided to focus my green cake puerh efforts on teas from two trusted vendors, Hou De Asia and Norbu, with two teas from the same year, 2006 — enough time passed to have mellowed out the teas a bit but recent enough to still be considered young. These two teas have led me back to the true path of sheng cha.
Both teas are from famous puerh growing region of Yunnan. The mountains of Yiwu (site of Hou De’s tea; please see my notes on that tea), are in Xishuangbanna prefecture in the very far south of Yunnan. Yong De County in Lincang prefecture (Norbu’s tea), is 500 kilometers across the mountains, north and west. I feel certain that someone who really knew the geological and climatic differences and similarities of these places would find a nuanced terroir or sense of place in the teas. I, however, can only pretend.
The first infusion (after a single rinse) of Norbu’s “Qi Cha” yielded a very pleasant taste that seemed a combination of bamboo shoots and sugar cane with just a hint of the presence of something else — woody, maybe balsam? Not the needles, not piney; rather more fragrantly woodsy, like the bark of the tree perhaps. The tea has a nice long oval shape that makes an arc from the back of my throat across my palate to the tip of my tongue, not spreading out much to the sides. Second infusion, yes, definitely woody and sweet underneath. I wonder if what I’m tasting is what Norbu calls the malty taste.
Maybe it’s just the season but I definitely feel a wintry festiveness in this tea — not quite jingle bells, but still… I think this shall be my holiday tea this year.
The spent leaves a surprisingly intact, given that I was working with a small sample, with some large, juicy stems and white streaks. I here pledge to stick with small-batch sheng cha. And I like the idea of “wild arbor” tea, but I must find out what that actually means.
This 2006 Yiwu puerh is what I would think of as setting the standard for sheng cha. By that, I mean it is high quality with the taste profile you expect from sheng cha from the famous Xishuangbanna prefecture, with little surprise. (Let it be said that I only had enough tea for one session; other sessions might have yield more surprise.)
The tea has a very pleasant, full, broad feel on the palate and back of the throat. I detected some vegetable tastes, ginseng, and mild fruit, maybe pears or white berries (if there are white berries), underlined with mild earthiness. I keep saying mild, but I want to stress it is also very full.
It was interesting to compare this to Norbu’s 2006 “Qi Cha” (please see my notes on that tea) from Yong De County in Yunnan’s Lincang prefecture, which I found more bamboo-like, less fruity. It would also be interesting to compare Norbu’s Yi Wu mountain bamboo roasted puerh to this tea — same mountain, different processing.
I’ve been drinking two different “oriental beauties”: Norbu’s Bai Yun (which is also Yunnan Sourcing’s “Wild Arbor Oriental Beauty”) and Hou De’s Taiwan Bei-Pu Bai Hao. Norbu’s is a Yunnan varietal made by Taiwanese tea masters who brought their Bai Hao skills to Wu Liang mountain. Hou De’s is the classic Taiwan oolong, harvested in the summer in the humid, foggy, northern part of Taiwan, after the legandary little bugs have poked holes in the tea leaves, provoking the plants into a juicy protest that produces more intense flavors.
Both versions of the tea have a beautiful, autumnal mixture of dry leaves — mahogany, golden brown, and the “white hairs” of the name.
Beginning with a half full pot of dry leaves, I brewed at 200+ degrees for 2+ minutes. Golden amber cup. Though honey is definitely present, it was not so pronounced as in the Norbu cultivar. And rather than berries, the taste was more of mild stone fruit, nectarines I would say, with lycee nuts. In the first and second infusions, I distinctly detected a mysteriously sweet pine. This tea is rounder and “wider” in my mouth, whereas the Yunnan varietal sent some bright vertical tracers up toward my nose. I find this tea generally round and horizontally mellow, whereas the Norbu perhaps asked for my attention a bit more. But it could also be that I tasted this second, after drinking an entire pot of the Norbu first.
The wet leaves show the quality of the processing, with little bundles of stems and leaves intact. They are an extraordinary golden-purple-red that are even more beautiful in my pin zi ni purple pot. My guess is that this tea is less oxidized than the Yunnan, with no roasting.
I found both these teas rewardingly complex. I intend to do another tasting, tasting the two in the opposite order.
I’ve been drinking two different “oriental beauties”: Hou De’s Taiwan Bai Hao and Norbu’s Bai Yun (which is also Yunnan Sourcing’s “Wild Arbor Oriental Beauty”).
The idea is that the Taiwanese tea masters who settled in Yunnan brought their Bai Hao skills, which in Taiwan are used on the teas that grow in the humid, foggy, northern part of Taiwan, to the higher-altitude Wu Liang mountain variety.
The dry leaves of this Yunnan variety are a beautiful, autumnal mixture of dark mahogany, golden brown, and the “white hairs” of the name. Overall they are slightly darker than the Hou De.
A half full pot of dry leaves produces a pot brimming with wet ones. I brewed at 200+ degrees for 2+ minutes. Dark amber cup. For me, honey was the pronounced aroma and taste. Berries quickly get your tongue’s attention: let’s see, cranberries, maybe? white grapes? Definitely some spice notes, but I can’t really pin point them. Not earthy; a little wood, but rather more bright. A very pleasant thickness and dryness balances the sweet honey.
The wet leaves show the quality of the processing, with little bundles of stems and leaves intact. The wet leaves are more green, less golden-red than the Hou De Taiwan variety. But while Norbu describes this variety as having large leaves, I don’t see them as any larger than the Taiwan variety.
This tea is quite oxidized, low roast, no smoke, rather bright. I’m not sure about the correlation of fermentation to caffeine, but I got jacked on a couple of pots of this, whereas I can drink yan cha all day and still fall asleep easily. This tea is quite durableand it’s really pleasant to drink later infusions, even after the complexity wanes. It stores a long time (like black tea) . It’s also kind of amazing for the price, like most of Norbu’s teas. I think this would be a good tea to recommend for friends new to oolongs.
I haven’t had this tea since summer. There was something about the first day of October and the unseasonably warm rain that seemed to call for Dan Cong. I decided to splurge and filled by little pot (120ml Xi Shi from Tea Habitat) about two thirds full (which is a lot for my budget!). Rinsed as quickly as possible. Then shrimp eyed water. I took two deep breaths and poured. Slip into daydream: In the South where I spent childhood we ate ripe peaches with the peeling on. The peeling adds a very slight dryness without compromising the sweetness. This was the aroma coming from my cup. The aroma seemed to spread out and join the warm rain-cleaned air. I can’t remember how the tea tasted. Second and third infusions, same but three deep breaths; I don’t think I ever broke single digits in seconds, though. The aroma gets heavier: ripe peaches and apricots. The emphasis is still on the aroma, but the taste starts to assert itself. But this is interesting: for the fourth and fifth infusions, the aroma seems to shift to something more floral — ginger flower maybe, but I’ve never smelled a ginger flower that I remember. Definitely less peachy and more flower, though. And the taste is now way up front. More wood and nuts and spice. Dry, spreading horizontal to edges of tongue, brilliant feeling in my throat. I wonder if this one, this infusion, is the tea’s “true” character. I took a walk as the rain withdrew and the back-of-the-throat feel stayed with me. I will try more in the morning.
On the recommendation of TeaEqualsBliss I steeped this for 4 mins+ today. 160ml yellow pot with maybe a tablespoon or so (I don’t have a scale) of dried leaf-balls, which had expanded to fill the pot by the third infusion. What the longer steep brought out for me was more definite veggies plus a mild citrus I hadn’t detected before — like green beans barely splashed with lemon. Roast is still mild but more present in first infusion. Absolutely no bitterness.
I’ve noticed that several people enjoy the fall and summer Alishans from Norbu. I think we should try to do a comparison of all the different Alishans there. But now I have only this 2008 winter version (which BTW is 35% reduced in price).
It’s difficult to add to the notes from the vendor and what TeaEqualsBliss has already posted. I would simply join in the enthusiasm for Norbu’s Taiwan teas.
This Alishan is from the same cultivar as the Norbu Old Plantation Qing Xin. I think this must be an exceedingly complex plant, given the experience of these two teas. And while in Taiwan this would be considered a certified organic tea, Norbu can’t market it that way because of different US laws. Nevertheless, the care that has gone into the making of this tea is very much evident in the tight dry rolls, but even more in the finished leaves, which are beautifully purply green and intact.
There is very little oxidation, I think, so the florals really come through. They are not as intense as other Alishans, however — more sober, more solid, more restraint. But the richness is amazing. It just rolls around in your mouth. There is a sweetness that makes you think someone has slipped in honey to your cup. The roast (notwithstanding the label “medium”) is very mild, much less roast that the Old Plantation Qing Xin. It’s really interesting to taste the difference that processing makes to the same tea cultivar. The same floral, veggie, and roasted notes as the Old Plantation are there in this tea, just arranged in a different chord. Very gentle but substantial. D-minor, I would say. Later infusions loose the complexity but not the sweet fullness. Pretty amazing.
I find this tea more meditative than other Alishans. It’s a tea you can stay with.
Let it be said that the ability to describe the tastes of sheng puerhs has always evaded me, like those dreams that seemed so pleasant but you can’t really remember just what they were about. All the roasty-toasty oolong vocabulary just doesn’t work. So my task now is destined to fail, but must nevertheless be undertaken. Because this white-bud sheng from Norbu, which I tasted for the first time today, produces a pretty amazing experience.
Routine brewing in a tiny pot. First sip seems to make a small explosion in my mouth, like the tastes are shooting sideways across my palate and tongue. I taste steamed yellow squash, very precisely. But almost none of the characteristic sheng camphor. There’s something else that I can’t quite say: maybe caramel, yes, or maybe really good whole wheat toast eaten outside near a honeysuckle bush? But the amazing thing is how sweet and how full the nectar is. Does tea have sugars in it like wine or milk?
Second infusion. I think I actually shivered. Second infusion is even better. Camphor just whispers but not medicinal like other shengs. This one would be undetectable except that it’s camphor wrapped in sugar. And the liquid is now even richer. A tiny bit of earthiness, not loamy like old puerth, just fresh earth and a tiny pinch of grass clippings.
I think it does an injustice to say this is a good starter puerh; I think you have to have struggled with sheng first to see how different this is. I look forward to more time with this.
But… I have only a small sample. And Norbu is out of it (lifts the back of his hand to his forehead and sighs). The stuff of dreams.
Dan Cong tea is shrouded in seductive mystery for me, thanks in part to Imen, proprietor of Tea Habitat, and her blog Tea Obsession. As I understand it, each single bush of the ancient “originals” had a singular scent that often seemed to mimic other flowers. The Communist Party organized some of these fragrances as generic categories to use for labels for commercial teas, so a lot of different teas can be “Ginger Flower.” I don’t think this Po Tou is claimed to be from a “mother tree,” but it is claimed to be from a single bush or group of bushes derived from the old one. This is not your commercial PG Tips (it’s nearly $50/ounce).
I got this tea because of Teaddict’s helpful recommendation (thanks!). This tea is really worth spending time with. The aroma is like fresh flowers after a rain and just underneath definite stone fruit flavors like nectarines. The flowers and fruits seem inseparable. The spices demand attention at the edges of your tongue. Swallow and you get this pleasant back-of-the-throat feel. Joyfulness unbounded! Later infusions are sweet and mellow. The spice subsides and the nectar of the flowers remain, very round, still with fruit flavors.
Dan Cong is reputed to be difficult to brew. I followed Teaddict’s brew and it was perfect. Preheat the pot to enjoy aroma of dried leaves. My 120ml pot was half full of the long leaves. Water almost at a boil. I would suggest that the first infusion may be slightly longer than the next to open up the leaves. But too long will definitely produce some bitterness. I’m not sure you have to rinse this tea. I drank the first rinse straight from the serving pitcher — I couldn’t stop myself!
Other high end vendors have Ba Xian as (very expensive) single bush Dan Cong tea (from Phoenix mountain in Guan Dong province). Seven Cups describes the taste of this tea as “similar to Dan Cong,” but it is a Wu Yi tea or Yancha. I assume it’s the same varietal moved to a different location, but would appreciate any more info.
First tasting: Leaves fill 2/3 of my favorite Yancha pot. 185° to 190° water and steep 30 to 40 seconds. This yields a seriously good cup with immediate floral scents and the first taste of stone fruit — apricots maybe, but subtle. Lots of minerals, but no bitterness even this strong. After first impression, spices and mild roast tastes emerge. The tea seems highly oxidized to me — no green tastes — and lightly roasted.
Seven Cups is having a sale that makes this tea an insanely good deal! I believe this would be a great everyday tea for oolong lovers.
This tea rewards attention with a complex layering and swirling of the mild roastedness and floral tastes. Leaves are tightly rolled. One teaspoon+ in a 175ml dragon egg pot (the leaves will eventually expand to pack that pot). Heat the pot first and sniff the vanilla aroma from the hot dry leaves. Now water 180-185º. After rinse, I let the first infusion go for 45-50 seconds to give the leaves time to unfold. Spice and bright flowers in the first infusion. Leaves still tight. Second infusion 30 seconds. A nutty creaminess starts to emerge and appears to float between toasty spice and floral tastes. Still bright but maybe slightly sweet vanilla-almond. Am I dreaming? Sniff the empty cup for a pleasantly pungent herbal aroma clinging to the bottom — sassafras? Long lasting tea; even the last cups, steeped more than two minutes, are sweet. The finished leaves reveal the quality of the tea’s making by hand — whole leaves with stems still intact. Teaddict gives alternate steep times, which should be tried. But even my longer times yield no bitterness. There’s a lot to appreciate here.
This is a weird and wonderful tea that doesn’t know whether it’s a green tea or an oolong. When I first opened the package of this tea, the aroma was so floral I thought it might even be a single bush tea from Guangzhou. Out of habit I brewed it like a heavier roasted oolong (fish eyes 185º or more) and by mistake, left it a bit too long (pot 2/3 full of leaves, 2+ mins). Happy accident! I got a nutty, almondy taste and a wonderfully pleasant back-of-the-throat astringency. Next infusion, cooler, shorter, and I think I smell the eponymous plum blossoms, again reminders of Dan Cong but much lighter. I think I prefer the oolong type brew: raw almonds and pea shoots and subtle floral elements are in the cup as much as aromatic; it delivers in its taste what some green teas only promise in their smell. The dry rolls of leaves are very long and surprisingly dark with silver bits, but the tea has a beautiful pale color brewed and full mouth feel for such a light tea. I believe TGY and Alishan drinkers, as well as green tea drinkers will find this tea a real treat. I usually don’t find green teas this interesting. Oh wait, this is an oolong!
I make this by filling a 120ml pot about 2/3 full of tea leaves, then I use water at fish eyes and first infusions very fast, a minute or less. I get the most amazing floral aroma and the taste of peaches or nectarines. I actually get giddy drinking this tea it is so good. Imen’s teas are expensive but well worth the investment. I’ve tried 8 immortals Ba Xian teas from other vendors and they can’t rise to this level. Highly recommended.