24 Tasting Notes
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.
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.
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.