Welcoming Spring with Autumn Matai (Bannacha)

This year winter just didn't take place in this western part of Germany. The first blossoms of spring in our garden are usually pushing up through remaining layers of snow at this time of the year. But in 2014, Spring has been with us since January.
Matching this absence of winter, I am enjoying an autumn tea to welcome the flowers of spring.
Autumn leaves and spring flowers - both inside and around the cup

This 2013 Autumn Matai I have received from William as part of a quiz he did with the forum users of TeeTalk.de ... when first sampling this tea in a gaiwan, I just couldn't place the tea. A few days previous to being introduced to this Autumn Matai, I tried the Spring version of it. To be quite honest, the Spring Matai was a disappointment to me. Too flowery, playing mainly on fragrance ... not what I am looking for in a sheng puer. The Spring Matai is a very well crafted tea of good material as far as I can tell - and I guess it will be a sure way to get fans of Bi Luo Chun and other fragrant green teas over to the pu side of life. But it left me unfulfilled.

sorry - picture has an unnatural dark blue tint. In real life the leaves are very silvery

Then came this sample to me, with all the information (at that time) the letter "E" written on the sample bag. A fresh and young tea. Just look at all the young and downy buds in this tea - seems to be more silver than green. But then my nose detected some whiffs hidden between the loosely pressed leaves - a fragrance promising a bit more of substance ... hints of a feminine scent I love in tea (well - not only in tea).
With this tea, I am even drinking the rinse

Sipping the light green golden brew from my cup, I find fragrant flowers, a bit of vegetal freshness and a delightful bit of body. And on top of that, my gushu nose gets going. With sinuses opening up and an easier intake of oxygen I am convinced that I am enjoying leaves from old trees.

The aftertaste is a curious thing in this one. It is light, delicate, almost timid (like the first flowers of spring) ... yet it goes on for a surprising stretch of time and I find myself trying to pinpoint it, losing myself in trying to get into every nook and cranny of this sweet and floral aftertaste. Truly captivating!

A wonderful tea to idle away a sunday morning. It doesn't come crashing in, shouting loudly and bragging with its charms. But after starting off in the mood of "Okay, time for something light and easy - this greenish stuff might do" I find myself at infusion number 15 wondering: when did I fall in love with this tea?

Please support the artist - Tina Dico can be found on amazon 

What is it that Pu Jin Jing (producer of this tea) and Tina Dico have in common? They produce gems which have remained mainly unnoticed though they deserve more recognition.


Sampling pu-erh.sk: Shu Tuocha 2003

Here we get back to another sample from the generous parcel sent by Peter.
It is Winter time, so either aged sheng or shu are the teas of choice according to ancient Chinese lore (or what is considered such in the western bloggosphere). Well, here I've got in one sample both aged tea and shu: Shu Tuocha 2003
Hier nun die Besprechung einer weiteren Teeprobe aus dem großzügigen Päckchen von Peter. Es ist Winter, also sind alter Sheng oder Shu die Tees, welche überlieferte chinesische Weisheit (oder das, was die westliche Bloggosphäre dafür hält) für die Jahreszeit empfiehlt. Nun, jetzt geht es an eine Probe, die sowohl alt als auch Shu ist: Shu Tuocha 2003

The leaves in my chunk of a tuo are a mix of dark brown and russet leaves which look rather intact and are clearly discernible as individual leaves. Do you know (and dread) those shu teas which look like pulp compressed into one homogenous tuo/bing/zhuan? Thank heaven this tea looks like it has been produced to higher standards. My nose doesn't detect the typical smell of shu - no trace of fish pond, compost heap or other smells which accompany poorly made shu. Seems the years of storage (apparently not too wet) have aired out the tea sufficiently. There is just a hint of old leather - but from time to time I find that in aged sheng too.
Die Blätter in meinem Brocken des Tuo sind eine Mischung aus dunkelbraunen und rostfarbenen Blättern, die sehr gut erhalten wirken und klar voneinander abgegrenzt sind. Kennt (und verabscheut) auch Ihr diese Shu Tees, die wirken als sei irgendein weichgekochter Brei zu einem homogenen Block gepresst worden? Zum Glück sieht dieser Tee so aus, als sei er deutlich besser produziert worden. Meine Nase stellt nicht den üblichen Shu-Geruch fest: weder Fischteich Mief noch Kompostgestank, wie man sie bei Billigshu oft findet. Es scheint, dass die Jahre der Lagerung (vermutlich nicht zu feucht) dem Tee genug Zeit zum Auslüften gegeben haben. Da ist nur so eine Ahnung von altem Leder - aber den Geruch finde ich auch oft bei altem Sheng.

With the tea being both aged and shu, I rinsed it twice just to be on the safe side. Still, when I poured the first "real" infusion, it ended up quite light in the cup and absolutely clear. Sometimes I have shu which is so strongly fermented that it is cloudy during the first infusions. Not this one! During subsequent infusions it got darker as the nuggets of the tuo loosened up in my gaiwan.
Weil ich hier sowohl "gealtert" als auch "Shu" habe, wurde der Tee zweimal gespült, um auf Nummer Sicher zu gehen. Der erste Trinkaufguss landete völlig klar und erstaunlich hell in der Tasse. Manche Shu kommen so trübe in die Tasse, dass ich annehme, zu starke Fermentation habe die Blätter so geschwächt, dass sich kleine Feststoffe vom Blatt abtrennen. Nicht bei diesem Tee! Im Lauf folgender Aufgüsse wird der Tee dann zunächst dunkler, während sich die Nuggets des Tuo im Gaiwan lösen.

What about the taste? There is the warm impression of aged leather. And a chalkiness which I find in shu of the smooth and mellow type. But behind both of these typical attributes of shu I find something else: a taste of spinach - the way my mother cooks it. There is a very earthy vegetable flavour with a pronounced sweetness (my mother adds breadcrumbs to spinach which makes it sweeter) and a fine spiciness (spinach is only good spinach if you add nutmeg). Just like dishes from a happy childhood, this tea warms me. Not just the warmth sliding down my throat into the belly but also a warmth in my chest, radiating to my limbs and mind.
Was ist mit dem Geschmack? Da ist der warme Eindruck von gealtertem Leder. Und eine Kreidigkeit, die ich gelegentlich in weichen und geschmeidigen Shu finde. Aber hinter diesen Shu-typischen Eigenschaften ist mehr: ein Geschmack von Spinat, wie meine Mutter ihn kocht. Dieser sehr erdige Gemüsegeschmack mit einer deutlichen Süße (meine Mutter reibt immer Zwieback in den Spinat, was eine sehr harmonische Süße gibt) und eine feine Gewürznote (Spinat ist nur wirklich Spinat, wenn man ihm Muskat gönnt!). So wie die Gerichte einer glücklichen Kindheit wärmt mich dieser Tee von innen. Nicht nur die physische Wärme, welche durch den hals in den Magen rinnt, sondern auch ein warmes Gefühl, das aus der Brust in die Gliedmaßen und das Bewusstsein strahlt.

Poor photography of a great tea
If you have read my previous ramblings, you might have found out that I like teas which dig up childhood memories. So it will not come as a surprise to you that I really like this tea. The spinach trait is something I find some aged sheng which I really love. On top of the presence of something I love there is the absence of a shu trait I detest: no fish pond.
Wer sich schon öfter durch meine Ergüsse gequält hat, weiß wie ich mich für Tees begeistere, die Kindheitserinnerungen ausgraben. Somit wird es keine totale Überraschung sein, dass mir dieser Tee ausgesprochen gut gefällt. Diese Spinatanmutung finde ich auch in alten Sheng, die ich sehr mag. Zusätzlich zu dem Vorhandensein einer geliebten Eigenschaft kommt noch die Abwesenheit einer Shu-Eigenschaften, die mir zuwider ist: umgekippter Fischteich.

This might not mean much, as I don't drink a lot of shu, but I have to say: this is the best I've ever tried! Or to phrase it in a more emotional and direct way:
I love it!
Angesichts meines sehr seltenen Shu-Konsums mag die Aussage wenig Kraft haben, aber ich muss festhalten: Dies ist der beste Shu, den ich jemals hatte. Oder um es ungewohnt kurz und bündig zu sagen:
Ich liebe ihn!

Up to trying this tea I didnt really see the point in ageing shu for many years. Okay, it takes some time to air out the unpleasant smells of wodui fermentation. But once those smells are gone, why age it any further? Hasn't accellerated fermentation exhausted the tea?
At least this one shows that it is possible to age shu in a way which yields benefits similar to good sheng.
Bevor ich diesen Tee probiert habe, sah ich nicht richtig den Sinn darin, Shu über Jahre hinweg reifen zu lassen. Okay, es dauert einige Zeit, bis die unangenehmen Gerüche der Wodui-Fermentation ausgelüftet sind, aber warum dann noch weiter reifen? Hat die beschleunigte Fermentation den Tee nicht schon ausgelaugt?
Zumindest dieser Tee zeigt, dass es möglich ist, Shu ähnlich günstig wie Sheng reifen zu lassen.

Another piece of music at the end of my review - unrelated to the tea except for the similarity in how it makes me feel.
Wieder zum Ende einer Teerezension ein Lied, das nicht das geringste mit dem Tee zu tun hat - außer dem Gefühl, das es mir gibt.


Late 1990s Jin Gua Gong Cha

Aged sheng comes at a price. You might get lucky to find a ten year old bing for 50€ (about 68US$) as described here. But usually prices in Europe are way higher. 150€ for an unspecified bing of Menghai tea from the late 1990s seems like a bargain when searching through European shops. So at long last I mustered up all my courage and ordered directly in China at Chawangshop.

An meine deutschsprachigen Leser: ein muttersprachlicher Bericht ist auf TeeTalk.de erscheinen. Dies ist der Link.

Browsing through their selection of aged sheng, I stumbled upon an unbelievable offer: 500g of sheng from the late 1990s for just 78US$ (about 57€). Too good to be true? Well, they offer a sample of 25g, so I decided to give it a try and included a sample in an order which was budgeted as my wife's Christmas present to me (yep - I'm the luckiest husband!).

Photograph borrowed from www.chawangshop.com

The ordered goods arrived several weeks before christmas. Of course I had to check the contents of the parcel straightaway ("No sipping, just sniffing" my wife admonished) and opened all the sample bags and the bing (more reviews coming up). When I got the first whiff from the Jin Gua sample bag, I was hooked. I just had to write something about it on TeeTalk (internet forum on tea in German, link found in the side bar). But when I published my first lines of euphoria, horrible premonitions started paining me: What if TeeTalk readers start buying up all the stock of Jin Gua? What if nothing would be left after christmas when I could try the sample?

These horrors caused me to utter sounds like an injured dog. Must have been quite a severe case of whimpering, as it caused my wife to say "Okay, okay, stop whining and order a lump of that old tea." If I truly were a dog, I would have licked her face!

Two weeks after that incident (still well before Christmas) a complete 500g melon of that tea arrived. So now I feel secure with a pound of aged tea waiting for March. Secure enough to write about this tea.

Lets start with the dry leaves: Dark brown with hints of copper. Compression is tuocha-like: bordering on the density of diamonds. Some slender stalks are included. The dry sample omits a fragrance of antique furniture and loads of camphor. Just what I go for in aged sheng.

What can be found in the cup? Quite a dark tea, but not as deep brown as I expected. Still, the  russet brown speaks of Age, not mere storage. Inhaling the steam rising in lazy clouds from the cup, my nose gets the full load of 'antique drawer in which a chinese herbalist use to store his camphor' with a good dose of old leather on top. Sipping the tea, the impression of leather is much more pronounced than antique wood. But the focus of attention is unfailingly gripped by the mint. That's funny: my nose tells me that this tea must be the mold after which Tiger Balm is  produced, but my tongue tells me I'm having a mouth full of fresh spearmint. At least when I brew this tea in my Zisha pot, it is mainly leather + mint ... but when I brew it in a porcellain gaiwan, my tastebuds tell me that I am drinking an infusion of antique wood and camphor.

But fragrance and flavour are only part of the experience. The aftertaste and mouthfeel are even better: Right after swallowing the impression of wood or leather is gone instantly, leaving the mouth awash with mint and the cooling sensation of mint. I've never tried a mint chewing gum which gave me such a minty cooling as this tea! The cooling effect slowly seeps down my throat and seems to clear my lungs. After following that sensation for a while, a sweetness starts do develop in my mouth. But it is not easy to concentrate on that sweetness as I am distracted by a tingling feeling starting in my hands and feet then rising up. A brew such as this is just the right stuff to serve to someone who doubts you can get drunk on tea.
Final infusion

As the tea is quite strong, I use a very light leaf/water ratio: only 3g for 100ml. When I first tried the tea I brewed it a bit stronger at perhaps 5g / 100ml. But it was way too strong - I had to dillute the brew with hot water, still it made me feel giddy and even slightly drugged. Brewing this aged tea with only 3g still yields a strong tea, if you increase steeping times accordingly. The drawback is that increased steeping times make for a reduced number of infusions. After ten infusions the leaves feel spent.

Let's take a look at the spent leaves. What strikes you is the clear distinction of tea types of maocha that went into the blend: the usual look of leaves which have been rolled into needle shape - and ball shaped leaves which have not yet unfurled fully and look several shades darker. This is the first time I encounter ball shaped maocha.

How to evaluate this tea? On one hand there is a powerful tea exhibiting flavours and sensations I look for in aged sheng at an amazing price. On the other hand there is the fact that the leaves don't last for long, being exhausted rather early. The fact that leaves in a melon are compressed at leat as tightly as in a tuocha might explain something: high compression damages a leaf's structure, so it is easier for the water to extract flavour, coffein and other ingredients during infusion. Thus the brew gets stronger but you sooner reach the point where everything has been extracted from the leaf and the brew feels hollow.

My personal conclusion is: at 57€ for 500g (which equals about 41€ or 56US$ per standard bing of 357g) this is still a great deal! Even if I can only get 10 infusions out of it, I have to consider that I use only 3g per session. You can do your own math to decide if this tea is ridiculously underpriced ... or you can just add a 25g sample of this tea to your next order at Chawangshop and find out for yourself.

No - I don't get any benefits from Chawangshop for writing this review. To my knowledge they are as yet not even aware of the fact that I write this little blog. Our e-mails concerning my orders (not all tea drinkers are patient, so I can be a real nuisance while waiting for my order to arrive) were really friendly and I got the impression I was writing to new friends, not just a business acquaintance.
Call me romantic, but somehow I believe that the love of tea can be a unifying factor, creating something like a fellowship of people who have never met but share the enthusiasm for watery infusion of camellia sinensis.

Let me finish this entry by encouraging you to use the comments function:
Have you ever found ballshaped maocha?
What are your experiences with melon shaped puer tea?
Anything I forgot to mention?


Sampling pu-erh.sk: ManZhuan 2013

Today I had something like a tasting. Not quite, as I am still harbouring a cold, coughing and sneezing with only a very limited sense of taste or smell. Yet I felt like sitting down and experiencing a new tea - even if I had to concentrate on other impressions than taste or smell.
Heute hatte ich fast so etwas wie eine Verkostung. Nicht ganz, denn ich schleppe eine beharrliche Erkältung mit mir rum, die mich husten und schniefen lässt. So sind meine Möglichkeiten zu schmecken und zu riechen sehr eingeschränkt. Trotzdem hatte ich Lust, einen neuen Tee zu erleben - auch wenn ich mich mehr auf andere Eindrücke als Geschmack oder Duft verlassen musste.

The tea I picked is a very young one: ManZhuan 2013. Manzhuan is one of the traditional Six Famous Tea Mountains, it is situated between Yiwu and Gedeng in eastern Xishuangbanna. A good collection of Yunnans tea mountains can be found here on Teachat.com.
Der Tee der Wahl is ein sehr junger: ManZhuan 2013. Manzhuan ist einer der traditionellen Sechs Berühmten Teeberge und liegt zwischen Yiwu und Gedeng im östlichen Xishuangbanne. Eine gute Sammlung von Karten der Teeberge Yunnans findet man hier auf Teachat.com.

The cold has not affected my eyes, so I could fully enjoy the beautiful, healthy looking leaves. A good silvery shine to the dark green leaves and an aroma (well, okay, I couldn't keep my rather congested nose from sniffing) which reminded me of an unusual Longjing green tea.
Die Erkältung hat nicht meine Augen getrübt, also konnte ich die schönen, gesund aussehenden Blätter bewundern. Ein silbriger Schimmer auf den Blättern und ein Duft (ja okay, dann konnte ich eben doch nicht meine verstopfte Nase von den Blättern fern halten) der mich an ungewöhnlichen Longjing Grüntee erinnert.

Thinking of Longjing (and following the line of thought that very young sheng is similar to green tea) I chose to brew this Manzhuan like a green tea: using fewer leaves, water which had cooled down a little and extended infusion times.
An Logjing erinnert (und der Ansicht folgend, dass ganz junge Sheng wie Grüntees sind), entschied ich mich für eine Zubereitungweise wie bei einem Grüntee: weniger Teeblätter, Wasser unter dem Siedepunkt und längere Ziehzeiten.

The first infusion really turned out somewhat flowery like a green tea - as far as my limited impression of taste went. But there was so much more: a tingling feeling in my mouth, lingering long after the tea was swollowed. And an increased awareness of the blood pulsing through my body. Over the next infusions something else happened: my nose opened up - an effect caused by gushu leaves.
Der erste Aufguss erschien dann wirklich etwas blumig wie ein Grüntee - soweit mein begrenztes Schmecken es erkennen ließ. Aber da war noch so viel mehr: ein prickelndes Gefühl im Mund, das noch lange nach dem Schlucken verblieb. Und eine gesteigerte Wahrnehmung davon, wie das Blut in meinem ganzen Körper pulsierte. Über die nächsten Aufgüsse geschah noch mehr: meine Nasenatmung wurde freier (ein Abschwellen der Schleimhäute) - so reagiere ich auf gushu Blätter, also Tee von alten Bäumen.

During later infusions I found the taste (or at least my impression of it) to turn from flowery, fresh hay to sweet mushrooms, displaying more orthodox sheng flavours. While I can't say anything about the aftertaste, the sheer force of the tea was amazing. The gushu nose, awareness blood pulsing through my body ... yes sir! This is truly well done sheng, not just some "near  Longjing".
Während späterer Aufgüsse fand ich den Geschmack (oder zumindest das, was ich davon wahrnehmen konnte) im Wandel von blumigem, frischem Heu zu süßen Pilzen, also im typischen Sheng Spektrum. Obwohl ich nichts über Nachgeschmack sagen kann, war die schiere Kraft des Tees wirklich beeindruckend. Der Gushu-Naseneffekt, die gesteigerte Wahrnehmung des Pulses im ganzen Körper ... jawoll! Das ist wirklich gut gemachter Sheng, nicht nur ein "fast Longjing".

Sorry, awfully blotchy. In reality the leaves looked great
What I made of it tastewise (at my currently limited abilities) was nothing too exiting and definitely far too young for my liking. But apart from fragrance and flavour there were truly good sheng qualities. Yes, even if you can't rely on your olfactory or gustatory system (nerdy choice of words?), it is still possible to appreciate high quality sheng. Perhaps even better than under conditions where individual preferences in taste might tell you otherwise.
Was ich vom Geschmack (sofern er durchkam) hielt, war nicht so aufregend und vor allem viel zu jung für meine aktuellen Vorlieben. Aber unabhängig von Duft und Geschmack zeigt der Tee wahrlich gute Sheng-Qualitäten. Ja, selbst wenn man sich nicht auf Geruchs- und Geschmackssinn verlassen kann, kann man immernoch guten Sheng zu schätzen wissen. Vielleicht sogar unter Umständen besser, wenn subjektive geschmackliche Präferenzen einen nicht ablenken.

Almost midnight - Happy New Year!
Beinahe Mitternacht - Guten Rutsch!


Durch die Sheng-Galaxie, per Anhalter

Es wird Zeit, dass ich mal ein paar Überlegungen loswerde, die nach wohlwollende Meinung philosophisch genannt werden können.  Mein Standard-Referenzwerk zur Philosophie ist seit Jahrzehnten die 5bändige Trilogie "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Univers" von Douglas Adams. Wer das Werk kennt holt jetzt schonmal das Handtuch. Wer es nicht kennt, sollte den DON'T PANIC Button beachten und mal bei Tante Wiki reinschauen.

Nun aber zum Thema Sheng. Ein sehr netter Neuzugang im Forum TeeTalk.de hat mich gefragt, wie er denn mal einen Einstieg ins Thema Puer finden könne. In meiner Antwort (etwas länger als ein Zweizeiler) schrieb ich Empfehlungen zu einzelnen Sorten und Zubereitungsweisen. Als ich das abgeschickt hatte, kam ich ins Grübeln.
Wenn ihm das jetzt nicht schmeckt?
Wenn er jetzt nicht genug über die Herkunftsregionen kennt, um sich über die Typischkeit zu freuen?
Wenn er jetzt enttäuscht ist, weil er einfach nicht auf den Nachhall achtet?

Letztlich die Frage: ist er schon genug in der esoterischen Lehre unserer elitären Sheng-Galaxie vorangeschritten, um den Tee entsprechend zu würdigen?

Im Dezember habe ich in unserem Bonner Fachgeschäft Tee verkauft. Ich würde mal tippen, dass 99, 8% der ganz normalen Teekunden völlig pfeifen würden auf huigan, gushu oder chaqi. Denn: ist ein Tee etwa nur dann ein guter Tee, wenn er mir erst nach
monatelangem Studium der esoterischen Sheng-Lehre gefällt?

Um jetzt mal zum Werk von Douglas Adams den Bogen zu schlagen (leider habe ich gerade das Buch nicht zur Hand für ein exaktes Zitat): Es gibt wohl auf dem Planeten Magratea (wo ja auch unsere Erde gebaut wurde) eine riesige dunkle Halle, in die alle neuen Präsidenten geführt werden. In dieser riesigen Halle ist Nichts bis auf ein einziges Stück Erdbeerkuchen. Normalerweise versinnbildlicht dieser Kontrast zwischen riesiger Halle und kleinem Kuchenstück, wie unbedeutend das Individuum für das Universum ist. Bis Zaphod Beeblebrox nach seiner Wahl in die Halle kommt, umherirrt, das Kuchenstück findet ... und es isst.

Sollten wir Shengtrinker nicht auch wie Expräsident Beeblebrox einfach auf das ganze Drumherum pfeifen und den Tee bloß trinken?

Eigentlich gefällt mir der Ansatz. Aber andererseits macht es mir auch Spaß,  die große Blogwelt zu durchforsten und auch verschrifteten Tee mit den Augen zu schlürfen.


Chenshi Chinatee: Mengku Daxueshan 2006

Before we get to the English version: 
Einen deutschsprachigen Bericht zu diesem Tee habe ich im Forum www.teetalk.de hier veröffentlicht.

There are days which are great, cause you've got good tea. And there are days on which you need TGT (Truly Good Tea) to ballance out all the rest. Thanks to the new compensation policy of Deutsche Bahn (our national railway service), I could afford to buy a TGT right when it hit the (virtual) shelves at Chenshi Chinatee (link to procuct in shop).

Here it is:
Truth be told: this is in the Himalayas, not THE Daxueshan in Lincang, Yunnan
"Daxueshan" - "Big Snowmountain" is a name which feels like home to me. The first Sheng I ever tasted from a reliable source of young Sheng Puer was William's Daxueshan of 2010 vintage. That tea instantly won me over for Lincang teas.

What is it like to revisit that mountain of fond memories with a tea from a different producer (Shuangjiang Mengku) and another vintage? I have thoroughly tested this one in different sessions and I will publish my notes from a session at which I took some photographs. But to make this clear from the start: whether I brew it in a gaiwan while watching TV or I do a blog-worthy session with my zisha teapot ... this is TGT which always stays true to its character.

Let's get started with my notes from the recorded session.
Dry leaves look biggish, darkbrown with some coppery-golden tips, a few stalks and even some of the yellow flakes (huang pian). The preheated pot gets filled with a fragrance of ... well ... storage! That delightful aroma of antique furniture, ancient libraries(and some dark basement) is paired nicely with the fragrance of brown sugar. Basement and sugar remind me of caramelised potatoes - a wonderful side dish in wintertime I remember from my youth in Denmark.

When sniffing the rinsed leaves my nose barely detects a fruity note, but that is far too fleeting for me to pin down. Predominantly I get impressions of basement furniture, sugar and butter.

Infusion #1 yields a cup of purest orange colour. The first few sips surprise me by their concise and refreshing acidity (pleasant!). As the tea cools in my cup, the taste turns to the Gunpowder-like character which I can not describe by any other expression than 'camellia flavour'. Through all of this there shines the clear freshness which I have come to attribute to Daxueshan. Instead of an aftertaste there is an 'afterfeeling': a lively pulsing in the mouth.

Infusion #2puts more emphasis on the taste of storage. But beneath the storage there is a clear impression of camellia with some slightly sour freshness. But that sour impression is soon washed away by the sweetness of brown sugar. After the tea is swallowed, sweet and sour tastes are replaced by a minty fresh aftertaste. As an afterfeeling, a minty cooling sensation pulses up and down my throat.

At infusion #5 I get the feeling that someone hase merged a Gunpowder green tea with Darjeeling Second Flush, smoothed off all edges and poured such a harmonious and rounded tea into my cup, delivering a good body and pronounced aftertaste.

From infusion #6 onward the tea's sweetness dominates the taste, ballanced by a good helping of that Daxueshan freshness. Along with that character of good storage it made me note "One of my best tea moments in 2013!"

Infusion #11 got 6 minutes of steeping time (by accident). Yet there was no astringency. The taste has become thin and watery but the mouthfeeling is wonderfully silken.

Infusion #13tastes like a rather bland white tea. But the aftertaste! Sweet mint with a good helping of antique furniture.

The spent leaves are far from spectacular. They show no sign of their grandeur.

Conclusion: this is T*G*T!
Storage in Guangzhou has given that cozy coat of mellowness to lend sweetness and an air of mystery to the clear, minty freshness of the Big Snow Mountain. I should have posted this review earlier, so you might have had a chance to order this tea for christmas, as it is just the right treat for the holidays.

Hope you have all got delicious teas to celebrate the season!


Sampling pu-erh.sk: Yiwu autumn 2012 and Bulang 2013

Blogging might be a source of additional income - if I would allow Google to place advertising banners amongst my ramblings. Well, I don't think I could become wealthy in a monetary way through these ramblings - but sometimes gracious benefactors send me samples I can write reviews on. Peter from pu-erh.sk contacted me some weeks ago, asking if I would be interested in sampling some of his teas and writing reviews about them. Who am I to resist such an offer?
Truth be told, we exchanged a few emails before the teas arrived. I offered to Peter the same terms I have offered before in exchange for a review of teas from a shop I haven't previously ordered from: when the review is written, I send it to the person providing the samples to ask if they place a veto. There will be no changes in my review (unless they find factual mistakes) - just the choice to accept the publication as it is or getting no review at all. Peter's reply to my offer of these terms was very straightforward: no censorship whatsoever! Okay Peter, you have asked for my honest opinion, so here it starts with the first two reviews. (The gracious Mr. pu-erh.sk sent me a total of 7 samples, which will be covered over several entries).


even the bag looks nice with such a neet handwriting

The first sample I picked was a Yiwu, harvested in autumn 2012. Okay, autumn teas are typically considered inferior to their spring versions - yet on a cold and grey autumn day the highpitched characteristics many youngish spring teas offer were not the things I wanted to happen in my teacup. So the quietude of an autumn tea seemed to be a good idea.

The dry leaves look big and healthy. Several buds are included - ranging in colour from silver to copper. The bigger leaves pick up the autumn theme by blending colours of fallen foliage into the dark green predominating the look.

Once rinsed the leaves open up readily and present some stalks blended in - what a relief to my supersticious assumptions! (no proof for this credo, but I assume that bings bereft of all stalks are artsy fartsy pretties neglecting their historical roots in being an everyday commodity. They are devillish imposters mimicking true bings, but alighting my stomach with purgatory flames or giving me the boredom found only in the deepest of hells. Or, if you would take it without any meta physics: the Japanese aesthetic ideal of wabisabi is better met by allowing something as rustic as a stalk.) The wet leaves appear to be tinted slightly rusty - colours of autumn or signs of a production allowing slight oxidation to make the tea more accessable? The fragrance is surprisingly fruity: strong mango aroma with even some hints of roasted bell peppers. 

The first infusion tastes of mushrooms, mango and passion fruit. Well - at least those are the impressions I got. To most people it would propably taste like sheng puer with some hints of mushrooms and exotic fruits. The next issue in my notes might seem odd (which topic doesn't) to anyone outside my weird head: the tea's mouthfeel (not taste) makes me think of Darjeeling Second Flush. 
in case this your first time on my blog: the binary infusion counter shows infusion #4
Subsequent infusions lean more and more to the type of mushrooms and sweet hay, but the fruity sweetness doesn't disappear. At infusion 14 I called it quits and emptied the gaiwan. The reddish tint of the leaves (many beautiful set of '2 leaves and a bud') in combination with the fruity flavours have me convinced: this tea has been more or less oxidized on purpose.

Is the oxidation of maocha a bad thing? That depends - all my sources agree on a negative correlation between initial oxidation and the ability to age such a sheng successfully. But to me this is not a raw material needing to be aged, rather it seems to be a tea tailormade to win over tea drinkers sceptic of sheng: hardly any bitterness, sweet and fruity flavours, a mouthfeel which is not alien.
... or just the right tea for me to cuddle up on a rainy day with a good book and some Sibelius on the radio.


And now the second sample, picked randomly by my dear wife:
 Fate made it a tea promising a bit of a rough ride: a 2013 Bulang. That area is considered the epitome of Bitter Tea. This year's harvest gives me no hopes of a mellowed character and the fact that this sample is taken from the spot of highest compression within the bing (its dimple or navel) screams at me to expect fragmented and torn leaves laden with astringency...
... a challenge I am eager to take on. Let's see if the tea will knock me out or I'll manage to wrestle it down.

Here is my life coverage of this fight:

Dry leaves: tightly compressed nugget from the bing's dimple. Hard to say anything about the leaf size in that extreme state of compression, but the many silvery downy parts speak of a high percentage of tips in the otherwise grey-green leaves. Is my opponent trying to mock me with that girlish show of tender silver locks?

The notion to rinse this tea twice crosses my mind. Might help to break open the nugget - but on the other hand that might be considered cowardice to rinse out initial bitterness. So it is just one rinse and that alone makes the nugget crumble. The hard fist of tea opens up into smallish leaves fragmented and reminding me of ... Bi Luo Chun. Even the fragrance screams of fresh green tea - fruity, fresh and light. Will I be robbed of my fight? To my nose that fragrance is like the white flag of surrender.

Do you know Aikido? The Japanese art of using your attackers force of aggression to best him. That is exactly what the first infusion does to me: with me coming braced to the battlefield, prepared to meet an opponent that strikes hard and fast ... I am instantly disarmed by a flowery sweetness and a mouthfeel like syrup. Mostly like fresh green tea, but with more body, presence and enduring mouthfeel than a Bi Luo Chun. An experience to make you dream of light spring clouds caressing the trees on Mount Bulang ...
... and then I sipped again of the cup which now contains a slightly cooled tea - now revealing the edge of Bulang Bitterness.

The second infusion is usually an awkward moment - at least to me. My mind has been set by the first introduction as I just can't seem to learn my lesson that a sheng practically never reveals its true nature in the first infusion. But then it comes - the tea releases more of its essence and reality clashes with assumptions based on rinse and first infusion. The same here: the syrup turns to chicken stock. Well, there might be something flowery in the background, but actually the soup has become savoury now. The cooled sip at the bottom of the cup tastes of licorice (yummy!) and the aroma found in the emptied cup is of that adult feminine type, which can be quite dear to some (such as me).

Some impressions I got over several infusions (3-6):
Full bodied, viscous mouthfeel and extreme bodyfeel (being alert of your bloodcirculation in each part of the body - tingly - alive and tippsy). Gushu material included? My nose detects the tell tale symptomps (sinuses opening, increased intake of oxygen). Reminding me of music which is not something I listen to very often but which fits the sensations very well:

Having arrived at infusion number eleven I have long since given up considering this as a battle  - it has become like a dance which invites you to surrender. Dancing like this, with the tea lulling you in, it is hard to focus on a precise description. Concerning taste and fragrance I have to resort to stereotypes like sweet hay, mushrooms and the usual sheng attributes with just the chicken stock to make it individual. But to me this tea is most definitely not about taste or fragrance. Neither is this one of the teas to drug me and conjure pictures from the past - I am 100% in the here and now, enjoying the tea undisturbed by old memories.
To me this tea is about feeling. Not smelling, not tasting - just feeling the tea filling your mouth with its thick soup, spreading warmth from your belly throughout you body with the blood pulsing from my toes to the scalp.
  A most pleasant tea - using the Bulang strength not for the typical bitterness, rather giving power to its body. My uneducated gut feeling makes me think this tea's heavy load of substance makes it well suited for ageing. Yet I don't trust in my skills and environmental conditions to age sheng successfully, so I'd rather not risk 48€ for a bing of 250g (equals 68,54€ for a standard bing of 357g) on this notion.

Aaw really - I shouldn't be doing this live! Infusion 12 is pure school book Bulang: sharp, precise bitterness to shake you up and then transorming into a sweet (slightly minty) aftertaste. An unexpected uppercut when I thought this fight was called off before it had even started. 

But still I stick to my conclusion: a most pleasant tea.

Thank you Peter - I am very much looking forward to tasting the other samples!