After reading Liquid Proust’s review of the YQH Bulang a few days ago, I decided to try it myself. This was my second session, and the first try was underwhelming (which is pretty much what he said). During the 1st steep, I got a bright idea and pulled out a 2006 6FTM Bulang sample from Tea Urchin to do a side-by-side tasting. These are my notes.
The dry leaf was what you would expect: the YQH had beautiful full leaves that came apart easily and the 6FTM was tightly compressed. The small bits and powder probably are more inherent in the tea than due to my technique in breaking off my sample. First steep (10 s): surprise: the older tea has significantly lighter color than the younger tea. Second surprise: They tasted quite similar; the YQH had more complexity but wasn’t as potent as the 6FTM.
Second steeps (10 s): The colors are now very similar. The initial darkness in the 6FTM is probably due to the powder that’s now in my strainer. Both teas have that smoked meat aroma I associate with Bulang. The YQH is stronger. The YQH also has more flavor. The 6FTM seems just a bit washed out after I tried the YQH. On an absolute basis, the 6FTM is fairly full in the mouth, has good flavor and a bit of complexity. I liked it well enough to buy another sample but not a cake (this is about my 5th session). When I go the the YQH, though, it is just a bit more powerful, has bigger mouth-feel, and is more complex. Kind of like that kid in school who did everything just a little bit better than you did. It’s a bit hard to judge the finish when you go back and forth, but the 6FTM seemed to have a very good finish. After waiting a couple of minutes to let it fade (though it was still pretty good after 2 minutes) I finished the slightly cool YQH. The taste had opened up to be a bit stronger than I remembered, and was showing some stone fruit at the finish. There is a slight astringency I didn’t notice in the 6FTM but otherwise the finishes are comparable, though the YQH seemed to last longer, though of course it is building upon the 6FTM finish.
3rd steep (20 s): This is usually my best steep. I waited 10 minutes for the finish to fade. Very similar visually. Excellent nose on the YQH; less on the 6FTM, though it is quite good on an absolute basis. I like the 6FTM a lot; it is showing some sweetness and the smokiness is less obvious. The taste glides gently into a smooth, pleasant, finish. The finish is slightly astringent, but not really bitter. The YQH is also less smoky, but I’m having a harder time finding the flavor: It is what wine drinkers call “closed-in,” which means you can sense flavor but it’s hiding. When I aerate the tea in my mouth, it shows a slightly vegetative flavor. For this round, I’m favoring the 6FTM slightly, just because it is more approachable. I’m noticing a big, astringent finish that I suspect is due to the combined effect of the two teas. Hard to separate things at this point. The qi is also starting to affect my judgement. Time for another break.
4th (30 s): 6FTM is really nice. Sweet and smooth with a bit of fruit. Fruit especially obvious in the finish. Some astringency. Probably wants even more age. The YQH is very similar to the 6FTM at this point. Slightly stronger, and more astringent. I think most of the finish is coming from the YQH, but it’s impossible to separate the effects, when the finish lasts for 10 minutes and I have 30 sec between tastes. The flavor of the YQH is a bit lighter, with citrus elements, while the 6FTM is more straightforward. I still have a slight preference for the YQH, but it IS slight.
Steeps 5-8: This is where I abandon myself to a tea-drunk to see which tea lasts longer. The 6FTM grew more bitter in later steeps, while the YQH just faded away gracefully.
Bottom line: the YQH is the better tea, but not by a wide margin. The 6FTM is definitely the better value.