Enjoying some ripe pu-erh this morning. Not sure really what kind or where it is from since it was a gift. It has a wonderful deep earthy taste and aroma though.
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Andrew (LiquidProust) had offered to make a custom blend for my tea book club to coincide with the book House of Leaves. I basically told him that I need/want something that is dark, full of depth, and a bit confusing. After some messaging back and forth, he came up with this concoction: a Lui An tea from the 1990s, a ripe puerh from 2006, a 2016 Dianhong black tea, a 2015 Bang Dong, Black tea, a 2014 Shui Xian Wuyi roasted oolong, and Mugwort.
Whew! The blend itself looks fascinating. Despite there being a lot of dark leaves mixed together, it certainly looks like there is a lot going on if you know what you are looking at/for.
I decided to give this two quick 3 second rinses. The smell off of the wet leaves had me a bit worried. It smelled… old and bitter. The old part was okay as I enjoy the sort of old pages of a book smell. It was the bitter that concerned me. Not like an astringent bitter… more like a medicinal green bitter. Maybe that is the Mugwort? Either way, I was concerned.
After the two rinses, I steeped for 15 seconds. The liquor itself doesn’t have much, if any, of the bitter smell. It brewed up a golden amber color not unlike a thick, locally produced honey. The flavor here is very smooth. It does have a tinge of that green, raw plant flavor on the back end put it is not overpowering. I, again, suspect that to be the Mugwort. Maybe Andrew can weigh in here and give his thoughts. The rest of the flavors, as I said, are very smooth. I would say it is a perfect combination of a puerh and black tea flavor. Kind of like drinking an antique book.
After this first steep, I am impressed. This is a tea that, on the surface, could be intimidating if just judging by the ingredients. But the flavor on this first steep lends itself to being very drinkable and approachable even if it is a bit complex and layered (which is what I had requested!)
Second steep (20 seconds) and holy shit. That bitter type of smell that I couldn’t place? I’ve found it. It smells like that earthiness that you associate with a fresh plucked and cut beet. Like a light bulb going off, it hit me. That is exactly the smell of the wet leaves. And that taste still translates into the after taste a bit. The color of the liquor is slightly darker, a cinnamon brown color. Yeah… this is still good. It has such a smoothness to it. I would say that, if you can get over the slight earthy beetness on the aftertaste, this is much more approachable for newbies than just a regular ripe puerh. It isn’t as muddy or heavy. It is a bit lighter, cleaner, and smooth.
Andrew… you could totally blend this and market it as something like “Dream Leaves” or “House of Dreams” or “Leaves of Dreams.” I don’t know… spit balling here. But, really, this is good. And, dare I say it, I’m feeling a bit of a tingly head buzz just two steeps in?? Maybe I’m inhaling too much of the incense I have burning but I am getting something going on.
3rd steep, 25 seconds. Beet-ness is still with us in the wet leaves. Let me just say here that somehow, for some reason, the song “House of the Rising Sun” is a damn near perfect song to go along with this tea. It came on Pandora and it just fits. The color remains the same here. The flavor is mostly similar but a little more beet flavor on the end. But not bad at all. And seriously, I feel ridiculously giggly. I don’t remember a tea doing this to me. I almost feel high… not that I know what that feels like or anything… But this tea is definitely having an affect on me.
4th steep, 30 seconds. Color holds. Cinnamon brown. Interestingly enough, that beet like flavor is slowly becoming the more dominating flavor. This makes me question if it is the mugwort at all. Having never had Liu An tea, perhaps the flavor is coming from that tea instead of the mugwort. I’m starting to assume this simply because I would expect the flavors the the fermented teas to outlast that of the mugwort. Perhaps I am wrong. Again, someone with more knowledge on these two leaves can lend some clarity.
5th steep, 45 seconds. During this steep, I smelled the water and leaves and I finally got a hint of a whiff of a classic ripe puerh smell. Also, because researching things tends to be a love of mine, I went on a search to see if I could find a taste description of Liu An tea. My search returned a lot of descriptions using words like medicinal and earthy. That would seem to fit in with my earthy beet description. So, maybe that solves it! The earthy beetness could very well be the Liu An. Yeah… still digging this tea and the impact it is having.
6th steep, 1 min. So, I decided to switch up my music selection from random to a more relaxing nature/spa sounds. Annnnddd now I just want to lie down and pass out. My brain and my body are trying to tell me, “It’s fine. Just lie down and close your eyes for a second.” Which, I would, but I have to pick my son up from school in about 45 minutes so… that won’t work. In the meantime, I’m in a consistent sweet spot with this tea. Color and flavors have hit a constant at this point. I am happy.
7th steep, 1 min 30 seconds. Andrew, dude, what have you done to me!? Haha this is some light headed, get lost in the clouds, stuff here. I’d give you a hug right now if I could. Seriously, I have never had a tea make me feel like this stuff here. I wish I could say that I am over exaggerating but… my head is tingly and soft, my body is super relaxed. I had a banana and oatmeal square for breakfast so I don’t think I can blame it on that haha. Oh, right. The tea is still good as well. It is getting slightly thinner on the after taste but it is still drinkable.
I would love to keep this up but the time has come to go and get my son. But yeah… Home. Run. Thanks Andrew.
Session picture: https://www.instagram.com/p/BLv3kr2BixY/
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.
When I found out I wouldn’t be able to attend the Midwest Tea Festival I decided to look into some of the vendors from last year that I would be missing. I decided to order samples first from Singe Origin Teas because I’ve seen good things (plus they have a chesnut tea, which I needed). I ended up “throwing in” the Waverly Tea Estate tea grown in Florida because 1) I’m a plant person and I’ve always wanted to grow my own tea and 2) it would be nice to have premium tea here in the US. I figured I have spent more on Kickstarters that didn’t pan out so I might as well try this.
My tea was picked 5 days ago, and I got my 6 oz in the mail yesterday. I didn’t give any parameters other than “green” so I got a medium rolled and medium pan fried green. I wasn’t sure what to expect and went really conservative for my first brewing temp since I thought it could be a super bitter spring green.
1st steep: 4 grams, 8 oz water, 100 F, 1.5 min infusion
The tea looked really dark in the package so I almost was going to treat it like a toasted tea, but when I got it out I noticed it was actually dark green and had a really fresh green smell like a sencha so I was afraid of going too high with the temp. It brewed a light green gold color and started to smell a little toasty. It ended up having a super silky mouthfeel and tasted sort of light and buttery.
2nd steep: 8 oz water, 125 F, 1.5 min infusion
The first seemed a bit light so I decided to up the temp for this one. It brewed to more of a green color. There was a bit of a butteryness still there but now with more vegetal spinach notes. The toasty notes are now coming out and it’s like a cross between a summer dragonwell and a lightly toasted oolong.
2nd steep: 8 oz water, 125 F, 1.5 min infusion
I kept the brewing parameters the same here. It was very much like the second steep but now with a slightly dry finish.
4th steep: 8 oz water, 160 F, 1.5 min infusion
Whoops, I wanted to up the temperature a bit, but didn’t mean to go this high. I honestly I thought I ruined it. It turned a dark gold color and tasted like a smooth hojicha or even a darkly toasted barley tea, it was a little bizarre. I had a bit more of the dryness at the end.
5th steep: 8 oz water, 140 F, 1.5 min infusion
I just had to find out. It’s gold with a green undertone. It’s still very full flavored and now has a buttery mouth-coating ending followed by a fuzzy dryness.
Assesment: An aromatic, full flavored, chimera of a tea. Not quite like anything I’ve had before, and really resilient to my playing around with brewing parameters. I’ll use up the remainder in a gaiwan session once I have the time. Now that I’m not afraid of getting a super bitter cup I’ll probably start with a temp of at least 140-150.
2016 Sheng Olympics
As part of the #2016ShengOlympics organized by LiquidProust, I decided to do a side-by-side tasting of all three Verdant “old tree” shengs. I figured with 50ml gaiwans it should not be overwhelming (I was not entirely correct; it’s still a lot of tea!)
Here’s the teas before the start of the session:
And here’s the aftermath showing the most intact and largest leaves I could find:
I took each tea through 11 steeps over several hours in round-robin fashion using 3.5 grams of leaf in each 50ml gaiwan with 205F (+/-2F) bottled spring water heated in a clay boiler. I let the tea guide my steep times, ending up with 10/10/10/15/20/30/40/60/90/120/300 seconds for each one.
All of the teas were quite mellow with mild aromatics and easy on my stomach. And the energy imparted was moderate; I never felt too wired.
300 Year Tree: Light yellow liquor. Aromas of pine in the first half of the session, turning tart and fruity in the latter half. Medium bodied, slightly oily mouthfeel. The flavor started fruity, turned to sweet-tart citrus with slight spice in later steeps. Some faint astringency in the beginning and again near the end when I pushed the steep times. Overall a decent mild young sheng.
1000 Year Tree: Medium yellow liquor. Aromas of pine in the first half, turning to old books, then spicy-tart near the end. Medium bodied, fairly oily mouthfeel and a soothing feeling coating the throat in most steeps. The flavor was primarily sweet-tart with slight spice and pine notes appearing at times, and citrus and herbs arising in the later half. Faintly astringent in the longer steeps. I liked this one just a little better than the 300 Year, mostly because of the feeling in my throat.
1800 Year Tree: Medium-dark yellow liquor (but not quite amber). Aromas were primarily tart, sweet, faint pine, woody, turning fruity sweet in the long steeps. Medium bodied, slightly oily mouthfeel. Flavors started as a sweet-tart balance with faint pine, citrus emerging in the mid-steeps, some herbal notes, ending with light sweetness and slight pepper. No astringency. This one edged out the other two in terms of flavor, but just barely. My notes repeatedly show “a mellow, smooth cup”.
Any one of these would be a good beginner’s sheng since they were all quite mild and well behaved. In truth I cannot pick a winner since they were all so similar. I had to really focus to pick out the differences. Also I did notice some slight camphor mid-session, but since that can carry over in the mouth from one tea to the next I could not attribute it to any one tea.
So what did I learn after drinking about a liter and a half of tea in one night?
(1) When I closed my eyes I felt I was swooping around the cosmos with “Rocket Man” playing in my head.
(2) Drinking this much tea leads to truly epic pee sessions. (Wife: “Did someone leave the water running?” Me: “Go back to sleep dear”).
(3) A few of my Steepster friends keep weird hours on Instagram as well.
(edited to add “2016 Sheng Olympics” at the top)
A friend asked to come over and make cards together. We had leftover Snickerdoodle cupcakes that my youngest daughter the awesome baker made. I asked my friend what kind of tea she would like it, as I usually serve sweets with a plain black tea unless I have a fruity tea that matches the flavor of the dessert. She said she normally liked fruity flavors but that didn’t seem like a good match with dessert, so I mixed Hot Cinnamon Spice half and half with Queen Catherine to tone it down a little. I don’t want to scare away tea newbies!
It went together really well, the cinnamon was present but not as “in your face” and the more cupcake I ate, the better the tea tasted with it. I think it came out as a really great pairing.
And yes, I just did a review that said we are all sick with a bad cold, but I did tell her and give her the option not to come, and she said, “I’m not afraid of a cold!” :)
Random cheap eBay Tie Guan Yin, was originally for trial for bulk alcoholic tea making, it turns up and its a roasted version. bummer. Didnt mention that in the listing. I was presumptuous :D
But – its not too bad, hints of milk, chocolate & hazelnuts in the medium-light roast, if steeped strongly the floral/vegetal tgy comes through and while isnt the best ive had it isnt bad either. Quite sweet, so it reminded me of cadburys dairy milk or even galaxy (shudder) type of chocolate (but only hints). Later steeps became a mix of vegetal and lighter roast, aroma was hard to place. Nice though.
£8/200g, pretty cheap. I dont really drink roasted TGY. I always wonder about perceived quality when drinking cheap or expensive tea but I havent any other to compare it to so I just have to judge on whether I liked it or not. It was ok – Im not knocking it, and probably nice if you like sweet chocolate milkshake :)
Flavors: Chocolate, Hazelnut, Milk, Roasted, Sugar, Sweet, Vegetal
Having a go at one of LP’s pu-erh sample packets. This one was unlabelled, and looked like a fourth of a tiny tea cake. I actually pulled out my digital scale for the first time since buying it (over a year ago… lol) and the piece weighed 7g. I thought this might be too much to use for a single mug of tea, but I was unable to break it in half as it was quite hard. So I did a really terrible mock version of gong fu brewing. It turned out OK, but I wouldn’t really know because I had no idea what I was doing, haha. I just went off of what I read in other people’s notes when they do multiple steepings.
So, I used boiling to near-boiling water for everything, since I don’t have a variable temperature kettle. Also… all my times are approximate.
I started with a 10 second rinse, since apparently that’s what you’re supposed to do with pu-erh tea. Next, I let it steep for about 20 seconds and I pulled out another mug to pour the tea between the two a few times to cool it down so that I could try it faster. The first infusion was too light, I couldn’t really pick out any definite flavours. The cake was still mostly packed though, so after the first infusion I loosened it up with a knife to get the leaves to separate a bit. The second infusion I left for maybe 30 seconds, and this one turned darker quicker. It also had a rather woodsy aroma, but the tea remained a light amber/orange tone, not the dark brown that I had come to expect with my other pu-erh experiences. This is the infusion I decided to drink and review. I have put aside the leaves so I might go back and use them a couple more times to see what happens.
The tea is pretty decent. I still have a hard time understanding the flavours of a pu-erh because I am not able to identify other notes other than a woodsy aroma that reminds me of the smell of wet, earthy moss. Nonetheless, I like this infusion and would call it a mild success. I would even say it reminds me a tiny bit of the earthiness of oolong, but with the slight fermenty flavour that pu-erh gets. That’s another thing: I know that pu-erh has a distinct flavour which comes from its fermentation, but I can’t isolate this note from the others in my infusion, even though I know its there and I can detect it. Dunno if pu-erh will ever really be my thing, but I will keep trying.
On the 17th day of sipdowns…
I got this in a swap but I’m not actually sure what it is… It’s in an Adagio tin labeled “Pearl” but the list I received from the swapper said there were two other Adagio teas but no Pearl. I decided this must be Strawberry Shortcake from the list (though it doesn’t taste like it.) It was good, but not as wonderful when iced. I’m not terribly let down that I can’t figure out what the tea is but it was interesting to try to decipher the tea without having an ingredient list.
Flavors: Berry, Cream, Fruity, Spices
Acquired through the Regional Group Buy. This is only for my second or third purple-ish tea. Still very new to me. I evaluated this tea as best as I could, and I tried to be as concrete in identifying the flavors I was smelling and tasting. I decided to first brew half the sample in a gaiwan and then then other half in an infuser mug.
120ml. No rinse. Steeping times: 30 seconds, 10, 20, 40, 60, 90; 2 minutes, 3, 5, 8, 12.
I had difficulty discerning specific notes in the dry leaf aroma. I wrote: sweet, cloves, grain-like, Cheerios. I let the leaf rest in the pre-heated bowl and smelled an entirely different aroma: tart berries, particularly blackberries and gooseberries. The wet leaf aroma is combination of the previous, smelling of pies made with tart berries, and of Cheerios.
The gongfu method produces a liquor the color of rose quartz. The body is medium, and the texture creamy, and the aftertaste consistently sweet. The tasting portion starts off sour – literally. At the second and third, the tart berries stay in the front of my mouth while the Cheerios note rests in the back. The fourth and fifth infusions are more grainy than sweet/tart. From the sixth infusion to the end, the liquor tastes sweet with a note of chard, the grain having disappeared entirely.
I found steeping the leaf Western method more favorable. This leaf is meant to be steeped this way. Steeping times: 3 minutes, 5, 10.
Two days later, I had an easier time picking out what I was smelling in the aromas. Dry: rhubarb, gooseberries, gooseberry pie. Wet: same notes, but the sweet- and tartness are stronger. I can’t tell what the liquor color is because the inside of the mug is blue. This time, the body is fuller. The first cup, at first taste, has a bitter grass notes, underneath of which is plum. As I continue to drink, the tea becomes more flavorful. The bitterness disappears, the sweetness completely takes over, and the delightfully fruity aftertaste lasts for minutes. The second and third cups taste lighter and not as flavorful, but are just as sweet, with no bitterness at all.
Additionally, I couldn’t find anything off-putting about this tea. Preparing Purple Leaf Tea the gongfu method draws it out too much. Consequently, its personality doesn’t shine through. I highly recommend to steep the leaf in an infuser mug like me or a larger pot. The leaf gives out so much more.