Time Travel made possible: 2003 Fengqing Lushi by 6FTM

Time seems to be my most precious ressource during this time of year. Actually I can browse my favourite online shops (in case I got time for that) whithout getting into fits about all the tea desires beyond my financial budget. Time restricts me in such a way, that I just know I can not sample any further purchases. 

But when Chris (Mr. Chenshi Chinatee) sends me samples, I warp the flow of time to create bubbles into which I can slip to taste those additions to his stock. A month ago, he sent me samples by that Grand Teaproducing Entity of bygone times: 6FTM or Six Famous Tea Mountains or Liu Da Chashan 六大茶山.

According to Hobbes, Liu Da Chashan used to be better in times gone by: "Some of their older cakes, though, can be really very proper."  Well, the samples I received range from 2000 to 2003 - all being rather delightful with this Fengqing Lungshi being best among them all (according to my personal preferences).

But what is this tea really like?
Dry leaves are really dark brown with just a few golden tips. Seems the bing was pressed quite tightly as even now (almost 12 years later) I would still describe it as being medium compressed. Sniffing at the leaves in my preheated zisha pot, I detect [FLASHBACK - a wormhole in time takes me right back to my grand uncle's living room when I was a child no older than 11. My brother and I searching for the toy cars my grand uncle had hidden for us. Taking books from the shelves to see if anything is hidden behind them. Always being fooled by the box of cigar labels tucked away beneath the couch. Though I don't remember him smoking his cigars during our visits, everything is permeated by cigar smoke. A smell deeply connected to excitement and a most benevolent relative.] fond childhood memories.

In the cup, the liquor looks less orange or reddish than I expect from a tea this old. In the mouth, I am amazed by the lack of sweetness. But this tea is far from lacking in other aspects! Its taste reminds me of Darjeeling First Flush mixed with my gand uncle's books. But honestly, who cares about taste in a tea like this! Though fragrance and and taste take me to ages long gone by, it is still full of energy that makes me feel young. My mouth feels vitalized, gums are pulsing, my mind is drifting through memories more than 33 years old yet fully awake. Actually the vitalizing effects can rival any Matcha I have ever tried.

Reversing my time travel, I look into the future: 24 days left of this year ... and I can not imagine to find a tea which can take the crown away from this tea: surely this tea has given me the highest tea pleasures this year, being my personal "Number 1 Tea of 2014".

If you do not mind (or even prefer) reading German tea tasting notes, I suggest this entry on teetalk.de. In case you would like some music with your tea, how about this one:

While you are busy reading and listening, I'll just lean back and enjoy the next dozen infusions of this fabulous Fengqing Lushi.

P.S. If you have already used up most of your tea budget, I suggest the 2002 Bangwai by 6FTM, being my second most favourite tea by that producer - at a lower price.


Xiao Hu Sai (yi ke shu) 2014

For the last three months I've laboured with this post. The tea in question is not shy in stating its quality claims: "yi ke shu" - one single tree (link to product on bannacha.com). A tea made from the oldest trees in Mengku's competitor for Bingdao fame: Xiao Hu Sai. If you look it up on the shop page at Bannacha, you will find more background information.

Picture used with kind permission by William / Bannacha

Picture used with kind permission by William / Bannacha
My first impression of this tea can be found (in German language) on www.teetalk.de 
Since then I have had several more sessions with this tea (bought a 100g bag before finishing the initial sample) and all the while I wanted to blog about it ... but each session turned out differently, making it very hard for me to describe the tea. A diva?

my initial sample, this pic taken three months ago

too boring in this zisha pot

Finally I found out how to brew this tea so I get reliably good results during the last 3-4 sessions. What I call "good results" in this tea, might well be labeled "breathtaking bliss". This tea is way beyond terms like good, tasty, vitalizing ... it is all the strength true gushu tea offers, yet not being brash or loud. More like a glacier wrapped in velvet: smooth and gentle at first touch, but behind that lurks an unstoppable energy which slowly but unerringly opens my nose, dances beneath my tongue and makes me smile (i.e. paints an imbecile grin on my face).

How did I manage to get this horribly young tea to quit being rash and hard on my stomach? I had to change almost every aspect of my sheng brewing habits. A neutral gaiwan renders a brew which is far too harsh. My trusty zisha pot I use for almost every sheng is taking too much off the edges - leaving me with a slightly boring brew. So I had to dig out my much neglected hongni pot (fired high) which is mostly used for greenish baozhong. Next I experimented with water temperature - this tea is so young, it resembles green tea in many aspects. So I poured the hot water into a pitcher (gongdaobei?) to let it cool a little before pouring it into the pot. Much better! Perfection (or as close as I might get with young sheng) came, when I reduced the quantity of tea leaves and instead increased brewing time. Bliss!

Allow me to take you on a detour: I am married - happily! - to a wonderful wife who tolerates my nerdy tea enthusiasm. She likes Gyokuro (if brewed mildly), light Oolongs - but her heart is given to that other beverage (coffee). To her it seems that Puer is a substance, which belongs to the realm of compost and other uncouth materials I shouldn't drag inside our home. But today she complained of sleepiness and a headache, so I tricked her into trying the Xiao Hu Sai. This resulted in the grandest praise which could ever be bestowed upon a Puer tea - my wife saying:

"Sure, I'll have a second cup, please!"


testing my puer storage

Ask any three collectors / consumers of puer tea about the right way of storing your tea cakes (=bing) ... and be ready to get at least four contradicting answers.
Wenn man drei Puer-Sammler / -Trinker danach fragt, wie man seine Teekuchen (=bing) lagern sollte, kann man mit vier verschiedenen Antworten rechnen ... die sich auch noch total widersprechen.

By lucky chance I got the opportunity to test my storage in a comparison to that of a well established tea vendor. End of last year I received a shipment from Chawangshop, to which a sample of a Mangfei 2008 sheng was included as a free gift. Yes! Exactly the same tea I bought in July 2012 from Bannacha, described here and here.
Durch einen Glücksfall bekam ich die Gelegenheit, meine Lagerung mit der eines renommierten Händlers zu vergleichen. Ende letzten Jahres erhielt ich eine Lieferung vom Chawangshop, der eine Gratisprobe vom Mangfei 2008 Sheng beigefügt war. Ja! Das ist genau der Tee, den ich im Juli 2012 von Bannacha gekauft habe, bereits hier und hier beschrieben.

What a fortunate coincidence: The bing has spent 2 years in my storage (terracotta jar, containing 9 teacakes and a bowl of water) - while the sample arrived eight months ago in ziplock bag, staying sealed most of the time (apart from one session I had previously before realizing why that tea tasted so familiar). So today I brew both specimen side by side, to check if my storage can live up to the standards of an established vendor.
Das war wirklich Glück: der Bing hat zwei Jahre in meiner Lagerung verbracht (Terrkottatopf mit 9 Teekuchen und einem Wasserschüsselchen) - während die Probe vo 8 Monaten in einer Ziplock-Tüte ankam, fest verschlossen bis auf eine Session (wo ich mich wunderte, dass dieser Tee so vertraut schmeckte). Heute nun bereite ich die Tees parallel zu, um zu vergleichen, ob meine Lagerung mit der eines etablierten Händlers mithalten kann.

Measuring of 5g of tea from each specimen, I realised how little that is. Usually I use more, surely 7g for the 100ml gaiwan serving as testing equipment today. The leaves looked quite similar - perhaps the portion taken from the bing was a tiny tad more brownish than the leaves from the sample bag. When sniffing the dry leaves in the preheated gaiwan, the bing leaves displayed a slightly smoky hint I did'nt get from the sample bag. Upon rinsing, the wet leaves displayed the same fragrances in both gaiwan. Perhaps the right hand sample pronounced herbal aromas while the left hand sample emphasized apricot fragrance ... but I found both herbal and apricot impressions in each gaiwan.
Als ich 5g von jedem Testkandidaten abwog, fiel mir auf, wie wenig das doch ist. Üblicherweise verwende ich deutlich mehr, vermutlich 7g für den 100ml Gaiwan, der mir heute mit seinem Zwilling als Werkzeug diente. Die Blätter sahen annähernd gleich aus - vielleicht waren diejenigen aus meinem Bing einen Hauch bräunlicher als die Blätter aus dem Probentüte. Beim Schnuppern an den trockenen Blättern im vorgewärmten Gaiwan zeigten die Bingblätter einen leicht rauchigen Hauch, den ich nicht bei den Blättern aus der Probe  fand. Nach der Spülung fand ich in beiden Gaiwan die gleichen Duftkomponenten - nur die Gewichtungen unterschieden sich: rechts dominierten die Kräuternoten und links war es der Aprikosenduft.

Who said "The truth is in the cup."? Dunno, but I am a firm believer of that credo. So I poured the first infusion to find out ... that I just can not tell any difference. Following infusions were just the same. I have reached infusion #8 by now, but still both cups seem to be nearly identical. Sometimes I detect tiny differences ... but as I can not pour both gaiwan 100% identically, those miniscule nuances in taste might derive from brewing variations.
Wer sagte "Die Wahrheit findet sich in der Tasse."? Weiß nicht, aber ich befolge dieses Glaubensbekenntnis. Also schenkte ich mir die ersten Aufgüsse ein um rauszufinden ... dass ich absolut keinen Unterschied finden konnte. Inzwischen bin ich beim 8. Aufguss und noch immer erscheinen beide Kandidaten nahezu identisch in den Tassen. Manchmal meine ich winzige Unterschiede zu entdecken ... aber weil ich nie beide Gaiwan exakt identisch abgießen kann, mögen die minimalen Geschmacksabweichungen auch durch Variationen in der Zubereitung erklärbar sein.

Didn't write anything about mouthfeel or aftertaste so far. Reason is: when drinking teas side by side, those slower effects blend into each other, making it impossible to say which tea provides the lingering aftertaste. So I can come to a conclusion without considering those topics.
Habe noch nix zu Mundgefühl und Nachgeschmack geschrieben. Der Grund dafür: bei einer Parallelverkostung vermischen sich diese langsamen Effekte der Tees, so dass ich die Eindrücke nicht klar der linken oder rechten Probe zuordnen kann. Also ziehe ich mein Fazit ohne jene Eindrücke zu berücksichtigen.

Evaluating the differences:
A) Difference in looks: honestly, if the bing really is a bit more brownish than the sample I can not say for sure - perhaps it was just caused by the light.
B) Difference in fragrance: biggest difference of all. Why did the bing appear to be a bit smoky? This is a non smoking household, so that can't be the cause. My only explanation: other bing in my jar are a bit smoky, flavoring other teas superficially.
C) Difference in taste: well, there is none I could detect.
Beurteilung der Unterschiede:
A) Unterschiede im Aussehen: ehrlich - ob jetzt die Blätter aus dem Bing etwas bräunlicher aussahen, mag ich nicht mit völliger Sicherheit sagen; das kann auch vom Licht beim Betrachten abhängen.
B) Unterschiede im Duft: deutlichste Unterschiede in diesem Aspekt. Warum duftete der Tee aus dem Bing etwas rauchiger? Dies ist ein Nichtraucherhaushalt, daran kann es also nicht liegen. Meine Erklärung: andere Bing in meinem Topf sind etwas rauchig und färben damit auf ihre Nachbarn oberflächlich ab.
C) Unterschiede im Geschmack: nun, da konnte ich nichts entdecken.

paper-wrapped bing go into the jar, samples are stored in the bag

Conclusion: Though there is the risk of one bing mingling its aroma with its neighbours in my storage jar, there is no indication of my sheng collection faring poorer in my storage than in a professional warehouse. Sure, my storage does  not accelerate maturation, but it keeps the tea in good condition - all I ask for.
Fazit: Auch wenn das Risikio der Aromenübetragung in meinem Lagertopf besteht, habe ich doch keinen Hinweis darauf gefunden, dass meine Shengsammlung mit dieser Lagerung schlechter fährt als in einem professionellen Lager. Okay, meine Aufbewahrung beschleunigt nicht die Reifung, aber der Tee bleibt in einem guten Zustand - mehr brauche ich nicht.

As a side effect I have noticed that the Mangfei is really doing quite nicely two years further down the road. So I am happy this tea is available from Chawangshop - giving me the chance to stock up on this reliably pleasing sheng! Though the price tag is about doubled from my first purchase, I still feel 36US$ is an adequate price. Now I just need to win the lottery and I'll order a tong! (And another storage jar)
Als Nebeneffekt habe ich herausgefunden, dass sich der Mangfei mit zwei Jahren mehr auf dem Buckel richtig gut macht. Also bin ich froh, dass es diesen Tee beim Chawangshop noch gibt. Obwohl er jetzt rund doppelt so teuer ist wie damals bei meinem Kauf, empfinde ich die geforderten 36US$ als angemessenen Preis für diesen Tee. Jetzt muss ich nur noch im Lotto gewinnen, und ich kann mir einen ganz Tong davon bestellen! (und dann brauche ich noch einen Lagertopf)

P.S. Having just read about sudden mould infestation in two bing of a teafriend on teetalk.de, I have decided to remove the water bowl from my storage jar.
P.S. Nachdem ich auf teetalk.de von einer plötzlichen Verschimmelung zweier Bing bei einem Teefreund gelesen habe, entferne ich jetzt die Wasserschale aus meinen Lagertopf.

Fool if you think its over. As if I would let you slip off so easily! It is time to confront you with my weird soundtrack for this entry - focussing on what effects the passage of time might have:

In case you doubt that age beats youth, compare this plastic remake to the well aged original posted above

Cute, but can't live up to the mature version.


Daxueshan 2014: Big - Snow - Mountain!

Usually I order teas from William based on samples. When I found this Daxueshan on his website, I ordered 100g witout sampling. Somehow I've got the feeling that I can't go wrong with Daxueshan (1,2,3) if ordered from a reputable source. This assumption was strongly affirmated today.

Dry leaves are (guess what) ... beautifully healthy looking, olive green with lots of silvery shine to them. Pressed not too tightly, they separate without any perceivable damage. Their fragrance is fresh and flowery-fruity. There is none of the minty coolness I have come to expect from Daxueshan teas.
Do you feel tempted to take a bite? I did (well, felt tempted - didn't really sink my teeth into the bing)

Once the leaves are rinsed, their fragrance transforms into a surprise: crema di balsamico! As they cool down, the fruity fragrance changes into a more refined herbally impression, reminding me of both the Tengzi and Daxueshan which William offered back in 2012.

The light wasn't very good when I took this pic. Actually the tea looked much greener.

First infusion - light colour, quite green. Even for a sheng so young I was expecting more yellow. My nose is confused: neither balsamico nor Tengzi-like herbalness found before. Now it is slightly salty, like a breath of ocean air. Next is taste: slightly herbal, refreshing cool. Seemed to be such a pretty, dainty, neat tea of the extremely young type. But this is the real stuff - a grown-up tea despite its young age.

The next infusions turn out a bit darker, more yellow. Perhaps it is a bit more fullbodied now, with a hint of salt. Herbalness is less pronounced, taste is interesting, with slight hints of a Jinggu characteristic (always reminding of chewing gum that has been chewed out of any added flavours) which is faint enough to be intriguing instead of repelling. So the taste is somewhere between spring meadows next to thawing glaciers on one side and crashing ocean waves on the other hand ... but it doesn't get my full attention. That is given to mouthfeel and mood. Roof of mouth, gums, tongue, throat are pulsing with a sensation of cooling. But while sometimes lingering on aftertaste and mood makes me feel drowsy, today I am vitalized, invigorated.

This is how the tea marches on over the next infusions. Cool, fresh, vitalizing. After 11 infusions I transfer the leaves to a matcha bowl - now leasurely enjoying this tea in Grandpa Style. The only drawback I have found in this tea: I have to lengthen brewing times quite early. So Grandpa Style seems a natural choice in the later state of the leaves. Even without any gongfu, the pleasantly cooling effect still kicks in.

Well, as mentioned further above: this tea is really a good choice for a fan of Daxueshan teas like me. The biggest surprise to me is the fact that this tea is described as being "processed rather green" - something I am not overly fond of usually. 
This tea is not a frilly-fragile affair of flowers, it is BIG (Da 大)
Its cooling properties remind me of ocean spray and ice ... close enough to SNOW (Xue 雪)
And now I leave it up to you to figure out how the MOUNTAIN (Shan 山) fits in - while I sit back, relax and enjoy my tea with a cooling soundtrack provided by Solstafir.


tasting side by side: 7536, 7532 and another 7536

Okay here we go with lots of numbers: 7532 (2012), 7536 (2012) and 7536 (2007).
Anyone shouting "Bingo!" yet?

As I have posted here in October 2012, I am quite a fan of Fuhai's 7536. When Chris at Chenshi Chinatee restocked on the 2007 version (now from Guangdong storage - yummy!), I immediately ordered an entire bing even before I hade finished my previous cake of that tea. Chris also sent me a sample of a newer pressing of that recipe, dating back to 2012. And in yet another shipment he sent me a sample of Menghai's counterpart 7532 from 2012.

For ages I wanted to do a comparison of Menghai/Dayi and Fuhai ... actually I don't know if 7532 and 7536 were developed independently in Menghai/Dayi and Fuhai factories, or if one is based on the other. Another interesting comparison might be to brew two different vintages of 7536 to see what influence storage has on this tea. Being one of the few remaining advocats of factory blends (well, I do enjoy single mountain gushu tea ... but I will not limit myself to this new fashioned style of post Y2K puer tea), I would even venture so far as to say comparing a factory blend at different ages will give me clearer results. What makes me write this?
If I compare a single mountain small scale production of different vintages, I will taste differences caused by aging ... and differences caused by growing conditions (and production differences) across years. As a blend is a composition of differing materials, the factory will change the proportion of of each material year by year, so the result each year will be as uniform as possible. Thus in a blend the differences found when tasting various vintages will primarily be caused by storage / aging.

For tasting three teas side by side, I had to use tea taster sets, as I had no three identical gaiwan on hand. Before I go into details about the teas, I can give you one conclusion I got from yet another sheng tasting in these tea taster sets: please don't use tea taster sets for sheng. Compared to clay pots or even just plain gaiwan, each sheng I have made so far in a tea taster set seems flat and lackluster.

But now lets get to the teas in question, starting with the dry leaves:

7532 (from 2012) is of a dark olive-green leaning heavily on the brownish side. A few silvery-golden tips can be found, hardly any stalks. As number 3 in the recipe number suggests, leaves are rather small. In a preheated vessel a fragrnace develops which I can only describe as "sheng!" (don't miss the "!"). There are some miniscule hints of mint, but primarily my nose finds just sweet sheng fragrance.

7536 (from 2012) displays an olive-green which is not as brownish as its Dayi counterpart. Tips in this tea are silver with hardly any trace of gold. Might just be my sample, but to me leaf size in this Fuhai tea seems slightly bigger than Dayi's 7532. The fragrance speaks of wetter storage and there is even a tiny bit of fish shop in the background. Though I like some wet storage, this fragrance is not as appealing to me as the first tea's.

7536 (from 2007) well, this tea has aged well in Guangdong and the colour is a warm brown with some copper. Only faint hints of green remain. Compared to my other bing of this tea from 2007 (Kunming storage?), this tea looks really mature. Do leaves shrink during storage? Somehow the leaves of this tea look slightly smaller than the ones in its younger brother from 2012, more like its Dayi cousin.

In the cup:

As mentioned earlier, they all turned out surprisingly flat, at least in the first infusion. Each tasted of the fragrance described above - just in less intense than expected. Fortunately later infusions turned out more pronounced.
Left: 7532, Top: 7536 (2012), Right: 7536 (2007)
7532 developed nicely from infusion number 2 onwards. There were sweet mushrooms and an aftertaste of brown sugar. Later the taste of brown (cane) sugar became more pronounced and even brought some mint along.

7536 (2012) was strong in the mushroom flavour - something I have come to expect from the Menghai region. Yet there was also a trait I refer to as the "Jinggu chewing gum": in teas from Jinggu region I usually find something that reminds me of chewing gum which has lost its flavour but hasn't turned bitter yet. I know that there are fans out there of Jinggu teas and there surely are some great teas from Jinggu ... somewhere ... to some of you ... just not me. Later infusions of 7536 (2012) turned slightly towards a fruity direction (apricots just about to ripen), but not enough to override the undesired Jinggu bit.

7536 (2007) well, in the end, all is well! Where its younger brother was nothing to inspire enthusiasm in me, the mature version of this tea is just my cup of tea. Sweetness, mushrooms, fresh tobacco and the unmistakeable blessing of Guangdong storage. Yummy! I know from other sessions with this tea in my zisha pot that it turns out wonderfully fruity (apricot jam) when prepared in good clay.

My own personal conclusion without any claims at objectivity:
When sitting down for some younger sheng, 7536 can not live up to 7532. But if you don't trust in ageing tea yourself, a mature version of 7536 is great value for small money.

Should I try to stash away a couple of youngish 7536 bings to let time work its magic on them? Hardly worth the risk with the 2007 version selling for merely 44€ per bing.

Thanks to Chris for the samples!


Temomicha: Japan von seiner feinsten Seite

Meine Liebe zum Tee erwuchs aus meiner Begeisterung für Japan. Auch wenn ich auf diesen Seiten selten über japanische Tees schreibe, sind sie doch meine Basis und mein Anker in der weiten Welt des Tees. Als ich vor 16 Jahren ein Praktikum in Shizuoka machen durfte, wo rund 50% des japanischen Tees produziert wird, habe ich jede freie Minute (und je nach Vorgesetztem in Heimwerkermarkt auch Arbeitszeit) in Teefabriken, bei den Händlern, auf Teefeldern und im Tee-Unterricht verbracht. Damals beschloss ich, meine Teeliebe irgendwann mal zum Beruf zu machen.

Der Beruf brachte mich in den ersten beiden Maiwochen wieder nach Japan. Mit einer Gruppe von unseren Franchisepartnern (d.h. Inhabern von TeeGschwendner-Fachgeschäften) sind wir durch Japan gereist, wo ich wegen meiner Sprachkenntnisse als Reisebetreuer mitfahren konnte.

Kein Gyokuro-Feld, aber ein Foto aus der richtigen Gegend

Vielleicht ergibt sich die Gelegenheit, nochmal mehr von der Reise zu berichten, heute möchte ich erstmal von einem ganz konkreten Tee berichten: einem von Herrn Nishi handgerollten Tee (temomicha), den er dieses Jahr aus frisch geernteten Gyokuroblättern als sein privates Freizeitvergnügen hergestellt hat.

Was für traumhafte Blätter!

Zunächst etwas zur Herkunft es Tees: die Familie Nishi produziert in dritter Generation in der Kirishima-Gegend (Norden der Präfektur Kagoshima) Tee, in der zweiten Generation fand die Umstellung auf Bio-Anbau statt und die jetzt aktive 3. Generation (drei Brüder) führt die innovativen Ansätze des Vaters erfolgreich weiter. Tees von der Familie Nishi trinke ich seit Jahren mit Begeisterung [kurze Werbeeinblendung: z.B. die Shincha in unserem Edmon's Sortiment stammen von der Familie Nishi], nun mal die Menschen hinter dem Produkt kennenzulernen, war für mich das absolute Highlight der Japanreise!

Als wir in der großen Wohnküche der Familie Nishi saßen und unserer Begeisterung für den Tee freie Bahn ließen, breitete sich auf dem Gesicht eines der jüngeren Nishi-Brüder ein verschmitztes Lächeln aus und er ging zum Kühlschrank. Zurück kam er mit einer Tüte Tee, deren Inhalt er ohne große Rede in eine Schale umschüttete und uns zeigte.
Nicht bei Familie Nishi, sondern bei mir im Esszimmer

Das war kein Erdbeben, das war meine Kinnlade, die auf den Esstisch knallte: ein Haufen von vielleicht 150g Tee, den er selbst gerollt hatte. Was er uns dort präsentiert war etwas mehr als die Hälfte von dem, was er an einem Tag im April in sieben Stunden Arbeit aus frisch gedämpften Blättern hergestellt hat.

so zart aber völlig intakt

Zur Erklärung: handgepflückter Tee ist in Japan schon eine Rarität - handgerollter Tee ist noch viel seltener. Während eine Maschine Druck von ca. 500kg auf eine handtellergroße Fläche ausüben kann, ist dies bei einem Menschen ein Druck von maximal 50kg. Daher muss ein Mensch viel länger arbeiten, um den Tee so eng zu rollen, wie es eine Maschine kann. Dafür ist handgerollter Tee auch viel schöner (fast nur intakte Blätter) und deutlich milder - wegen der nahezu unversehrten Blätter lösen sich kaum Bitterstoffe.

Nachdem wir den Tee dort in Kirishima probiert hatten, holte man ein paar leere Tütchen hervor und verteilte den verbliebenen Tee unter den Gästen aus Deutschland. Ein Kollege von mir und ich nahmen zusammen ein Tütchen, wovon ich mir gestern im Büro etwas abfüllte, um den Tee am Wochenende zu genießen. Heute Mittag war es dann soweit:

Erst hatte ich die Befürchtung, zuviel Wasser für die wenigen Blätter genommen zu haben, aber der erste Aufguss war wunderbar konzentriert, dickflüssig wie Sirup und auch ungemein süß. Im Hintergrund war eine leicht mineralische Note, die den Tee viel spannender machte, als es eine bloße Süße könnte. Und meine Nase weitete sich, die Atmung wurde viel freier ... ein Effekt, den ich sonst nur von Puer von alten Bäumen kenne.

Der zweite Aufguss war mir nicht so geglückt - vermutlich hatte ich das Wasser zu sehr abkühlen lassen. Zum Glück konnte ich noch 3 weitere Aufgüsse aus den Blättern kitzeln. Alle etwas unterschiedlich: das Mineralische wurde stärker, Süße wandelte sich zu Umami, abschließend eine fast schon an Shiso erinnernde Frische. Was für ein Tee!

Das japanische Kaiserhaus führt seine Dynastie zurück auf Nachfahren der Sonnengöttin. Diese hat ihren Enkelsohn auf die Erde geschickt, um mit den himmlischen Insignien der Kaiserwürde (Schwert, Juwel und Spiegel) die Herrschaft des Kaisergeschlechts vorzubereiten. Die Ankunft auf der Erde soll auf dem Berg Takachiho-no-mine stattgefunden haben - in der Kirishima-Region, nicht weit von Familie Nishi. Dass die Region, wo der Tee wächst, von den Göttern gesegnet wurde, glaube ich gerne. Einfach himmlisch, dieser Tee!


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?