Dec 26, 2010

Meng Ding Snow Orchid 蒙顶雪兰

The tea is from Meng Mountain (production region of Meng Ding Snow Bud and some other famous teas). The tea is a newly designed scented tea, however the processing procedure is inspired by and largely follows traditional method. In fact, in Chinese tea market, traditional scenting with real flowers/fruits is still seen by most producers and buyers as the only acceptable way of making scented tea.

I was lucky to have got a small sample of this tea from a supplier, as 2010 is the first year this tea has arrived the market, in very small amount.

The green tea that serves as a base in this tea is made in the mode of Meng Ding Gan Lu (a historically famous green tea produced in Meng Mountain), whose fuzzy structure can better absorb any fragrance than Meng Ding Snow Bud. 

The tea is very fragrant and sweet. One important thing I've learned from this tea is, now I know exactly what "orchid aroma" is. "Orchid aroma" is a very important descriptive term used in Chinese tea jargon. The orchids many Chinese Southerner are familiar to are supposed to be fragrant and sweet, but with smaller flowers, unlike most orchids we see in market with more showy flowers but little scent.

As a Northerner, I didn't have much clue about the real "orchid aroma". I see it again and again in tea books, but I've never tasted an orchid flower. I understood "orchid aroma" as the good aroma in many teas, only at the conceptual level. Since this tea is scented with orchid, it gives me a good idea what "orchid aroma" is. In the past, I had "orchid scented" teas a few times from Asian groceries. But they were not up to the level of fine tea and I could hardly recognize any aroma from them. This tea has very intense aroma and the aroma does resemble what I've experienced from a lot of high quality green tea which were not scented at all. The aroma is just amplified in this tea due to its scented nature. Now I know what "orchid aroma" is. And now I know my favorite Orchid Fairy Twig does have the typical "orchid aroma", and the Yong Xi Huo Qing has some "orchid aroma" too! And the lovely Tong Cheng Small Orchid, it's not called orchid just for the outlook of its spent leaves! This is very enlightening experience to me, because no description or learning through other ways can replace tasting.

This also makes me think again about many people's view toward scented tea, as discussed by Alex Zorach and me in the past. I am sure there are other tea drinkers who talked about this topic too but can't get all the relevant articles off the top of my head. These days, it seems that I see more people who look down upon scented tea than who appreciate it. I believe it's largely because of the large amount of poorly made scented tea in the market. If seeing from the inner quality of various types of tea, I don't think scented tea should be considered as an "inferior category". Not all the people would like the floral fragrance from scenting. I personally drink a lot more unscented tea than scented tea. But if a scented tea is well made with high quality tea and flowers, it's excellence is undeniable. There is good tea and bad tea. There is well made tea and poorly made tea. Any tea can be good or bad, well made or poorly made, whether it's a jasmine green or a Long Jing.

Traditionally orchids have been adored by Chinese literati and admired as a creature with noble virtues - because naturally they grow in the mountains, not requiring much nutrient or care. Their pure white florescence, implicit yet long lasting aroma and simple living conditions are seen as symbolization of hermit life, which is the ultimately ideal life in eyes of many Chinese literati.

Together with plum flowers and chrysanthemum, orchid is one of the favorite flowers used in traditional Chinese poems and paintings.

This is one of the best valued orchid paintings of Zheng Banqiao, a great poet and artist in Qing dynasty.

The man who invented processing procedure of Meng Ding Snow Orchid, He Zhuolin, was inspired by an old painting of orchid and tea bush growing together. Orchid and tea plant are both seen as "noble plants" in Chinese culture. There is some connection between people's love of tea and love of orchid.

I am very excited to experience the physical, not just conceptual, resemblance between green tea flavor and orchid flavor. It's very possible that Chinese people's love of orchid has greatly influenced processing of even non-scented tea, so that the green teas with "orchid aroma" has been the most adored and highly-regarded green teas in, at least, the past a few hundred years.

Dec 18, 2010

Wrestling of Dragon and Tiger 龍虎鬥

A tasting notes about this was logged on Steepster. Viewers’ discretion is necessary!

And later, I tried various versions of it!

“Wrestling of Dragon and Tiger” is a traditional way of tea drinking in some ethnic cultures of Yunnan. It’s not 100% puerh (and sometimes black tea is used instead). It’s a mixture of liquor and puerh. I’ve read about it in quite a few books but have never seen it’s practiced. So I did mine based on guestimation and imagination :-p

In my nutrition knowledge, it can be very unhealthy to take alcohol and caffeine together, when both are in large doses. But with large amount of one and small amount of the other, it seems ok. That’s why Irish coffee with Bailey is supposed to be ok, but nobody would put a shot of rum in a shot of espresso.
I thought of this exotic drink at a cold night. I have some ginger brandy as my "flu formula" and some other liquors for making cocktails. A shot of my cheap brandy always does miracle and makes my instantly warm. So at that cold night, I thought some brandy and some shu puerh may boost up some warmth. Indeed it worked perfectly! So the second time, instead of using some left over puerh leaves, I used some newly brewed puerh to get more taste of tea. And I tried a third time with Yunnan Golden Bud. Besides, I cut down the amount of alcohol. In the initial taste, I said, "When made a warm drink, everybody should cut off half of the amount of alcohol that she usually feels comfortable with." And later I thought, it should be cut down to 1/5 or less, since the alcohol rises with hot steam and gives you a light drunk-feeling very efficiently!

Here is my notes from the first drinking - The light drunk feeling came before the taste of tea. Besides, I did get peanuts and chocolates right next to me, in case I would feel the drink burning my stomach lining (luckily it didn’t). The steam of alcohol rushed through the throat as well as the nose. Then the taste of tea kicked in and lingered around. That’s the way to get both tea drunk and alcohol drunk with just one bowl :-D

Here is a record of what I did with Yunnan Golden Bud and rum.

First, I use the lid of the rum bottle to measure 1/2 to 3/4 lid-full of rum, and put it in my small chawan. According to the books, it's always crucial to add tea into alcohol, not the other way around. That's very reasonable, because alcohol is lighter than water. If alcohol is added on top of tea, it all floats on the surface and you are very likely to get drunk, as well as a big hit on the stomach.

Then, I used hottest possible water to brew some strong tea (ideally the tea should be brewed by boiling in water on fire). And then the tea was poured into the chawan. Then the drink is ready!

I like the name of this drink. It's exactly how it feels!

But it's NOT a daily drink. Don't let them fight each other too often, or the world will be upside down!

P.S. - Since I will be in Yucatan during the holiday, now I am considering the possibility of puerh-tequila as a New Year celebration drink :-D

Dec 14, 2010

Concept Tea (5) sampling a 2002 CNNP shu brick

I got a sample of this from Da Dian, and here is the link of this product in Da Dian's taobao store. It's a very pleasant tea, even for me, who is not crazy about shu puerh. I think it's a very good deal for people who love heavily fermented Shu. As an independent puerh manufacturer as well as a CNNP sales agent, Da Dian has sharp eyes on puerh. (By the way I don't sell this tea, but Da Dian is a seller that I would recommend to people who shop from taobao.)

It's a great tea, but not a super unique tea. However, I still see it as a Concept Tea, because it serves very well to demonstrate a few important concepts in puerh.

First of all, stored all the time in Kunming, capital of Yunnan, this tea is an excellent example of a product of dry storage. Dry storage may not be the only good way of storing puerh, but it's one of the safest ways. It's also my personal preference of storing puerh. Probably it's because I grew up and have lived all my life in very dry regions, humidity makes me nervous and I can easily dislike tastes caused by humid storage. Very dry storage or less dry storage, it's just personal preference. But for people who are curious about it, this tea can serve as a "standard specimen" as a purely dry-aged Shu.

When I drank this tea, I constantly compared it to my 2002 CNNP French Export 7581 shu brick, which is another excellent example of purely dry-aged Shu. Both bricks have been stored dry, and their leaf grades are comparable too. But I would take Da Dian's brick as a "concept tea", because it's a dry-aged tea that has reached its peak. This leads to the second concept the tea demonstrates.

Secondly, this tea is an excellent example of a Shu at its peak. By comparing this tea and my 2002 7581 brick, I can see a big difference in their levels of fermentation, although the leaves were both from 2002. Personally I still prefer my 2002 7581 brick, which has more kick (I mean, aromatic aftertaste rising to nasal cavity), and whose "aroma of age" is more subtle. But I can imagine some other people may prefer this more deeply fermented tea, which yields liquor of richer texture, smoother, with very dark and warm "aroma of age". By comparing these two bricks, I am again confirmed that I personally prefer pre-peak puerh, and I am glad that my 2002 7581 bricks still have some years of shelf life. About his own 2002 CNNP brick, Da Dian's comment is, "It fits tastes of all the people in the world!" It may sound a bit exaggeration, but in some sense I think it's very true. This tea is perfectly smooth and sweet. One may critique on its depth or power of lingering taste, but would still find this tea very pleasant to drink.

About his own 2002 CNNP brick, Da Dian suggests that it should be consumed in few years, because with time being, the tea will step down from peak stage and will start to fade. I personally don't have the expertise to predict the shelf life of a tea. And I understand even highly experienced tea professionals bear the risk of inaccuracy when they predict the shelf life of a tea (although more often than not they are quite accurate). But I always appreciate such attempts of carefully estimating the shelf life of a tea. Nowadays many people, including manufacturers and sellers, would only tell you a puerh is "the older, the better". But in reality, no physical existence is "the older, the better". It's simply against the 2nd law of thermodynamics, one of the basic truths of the universe :-p Da Dian never hesitates to give you an estimation of the potential shelf life of a tea. His estimation is probably accurate, and probably less so. But he allows his thought to be tested by time, instead of just throwing us the simple theory of "the older, the better". That's one of the things I like the most about Da Dian  as a manufacturer.

Thirdly, both this tea and that 2002 7581 brick are excellent examples of how much taste lower grade leaves can yield. This tea is made with leaves of Grades 7-9 mixed.

Dec 9, 2010

2005 Bai Mu Dan (White Peony, 白牡丹)

Can white tea be aged as what they do with puerh? I don't know. I am generally very conservative about it. There are historical records of keeping white tea (as well as oolong) for years and use the tea for medical purposes. But I've never seen historical records of keeping white tea for connoisseur appreciation. But then, no record doesn't necessarily mean non-existence. Luckily I got this 2005 Bai Mu Dan sample from a supplier, and of course I wanted to try it.

Dry leaves: very lovely. Color is overall darker than new Bai Mu Dan. I added two photos of new Bai Mu Dan at the end of this post for comparison purpose.

I put this much in a glass mug. Later it turned out a bit too much for mug brewing. But the flavor was fine and didn't seem over-brewed.

I brewed the tea in a glass mug and put a gaiwan lid on top of it to conserve the heat. I like to have a lot of heat in white tea brewing.

The leaves are beautiful. Due to the processing method of white tea, the cells are well preserved in the tea leaves, which enables the tea leaves to last a long time without degrading.

Overall I love the taste of this tea. It has much "darker" taste than newer white tea. The flavor remotely resembles Oriental Beauty, Moonlight White and a non-smoked lapsang souchong I recently had. It has a unique chocolaty taste that I've never found in another white tea. I enjoy drinking it very much and will stop worrying about any of my white tea that can't be consumed in a few years.

About long-term aging of white tea, I've seen opposite opinions. The advocates say that white tea has cells more intact than any other tea (which is true) and therefore the leaf contents are in better conditions to age and develop favorable flavors (which I don't know). The opponents say that few other teas have the biochemical basis of Yunnan large-leaf varietals, and therefore can't develop complex flavors through aging (this sounds plausible too). But one thing that's pretty much for sure is, white tea can possibly have much longer shelf life than some other teas, due to its intact cell conditions. From this tea, I've seen that white tea can possible develop some unique, darker flavor through aging. But when would be a peak time for such flavor and will the good flavor fade within several years, only time can tell and only those who care enough to experiment can discover. Personally I wouldn't invest time and tea to experiment on it. But who knows, maybe some of my white tea will accidentally end up in the closet for years and give me some new knowledge :D 

These are photos of a new Bai Mu Dan taken last year. However, this tea is of a lower grade than the above 2005 tea.

Dry leaves are more colorful, with a lot greener leaves. The 2005 tea mainly has black leaves and white buds.

Tea liquor is of lighter color than the 2005 Bai Mu Dan.

Dec 6, 2010

What's your puerh collection style?

In China there is a common saying that there are a few types of puerh collectors, named by their collecting styles. One type is called "philatelists", who collect a few cakes/tuos of each product. Their collections cover a wide range of puerh brands and products but with only one or a few representatives of each product.

A second type is "ti collectors". A ti (or tong) typically has 7x357g puerh cakes, or 4x250g tuos or 5x100g tuos. The number may vary depending on the specific product. Traditionally a ti is wrapped by bamboo shoot shells which provides the most favorable environment for puerh aging.

A third type is "box collectors" who collect whole boxes (jian) of puerh. For example, for Dayi and most other 357g cakes, each box/jian has typically 6 ti, which are 42 cakes. It's not uncommon that some fans (obviously, those with larger houses!) would collect one or more boxes of some popular Dayi or Xia Guan products each year.

The last type is called "sample collectors" who collect as many samples as they can, not to keep them but for tasting purposes. Here in US, there are not as many free tea samples, but still many vendors offer sample options for puerh. After all, it's always important to sample a puerh before buying a big cake.

For my personal collection, I am pretty much a "ti collector". I love to have replicates of my favorite products, but feel I can't handle too much. Even if I have enough storage space, mentally, I won't be able to handle many whole boxes of puerh.

Besides, I love samples. For good or for bad, I've probably collected more samples than I can really consume in foreseeable future. One of the most interesting character of puerh is its unpredictability. Tasting is believing.

As an inexperienced puerh drinker, I think sampling is always important. What makes tea appreciation easy is, everybody can taste a tea and tell if she likes it or not. Sampling endless varieties of tea products and finding out what you like is always fun! On the other hand, puerh tasting has its limitation. One can tell if she likes a tea or not at current moment. But it's highly unpredictable how likable a puerh will be in future years. That's why after tasting countless puerh samples, I feel I haven't known better. Anyhow, I still enjoy sampling. It's a journey, not a race. That's my excuse :-p

Dec 2, 2010

last bowl of 2010 semi-wild Huang Shan Mao Feng

My last bowl of 2010 semi-wild Huang Shan Mao Feng, which I started to enjoy from here.

There wasn't much left so I had to use a small tea bowl.

In traditional green tea business, it was taken as great pride and bliss when a tea product was sold out far before the start of the next season. Large tea houses would even use fireworks to celebrate it. Having  a tea sold out fast was interpreted as a nice achievement of the tea house. It was celebrated also because all the precious green teas went to appreciative drinkers, and no tea would be wasted by getting stale in the warehouse.

For personal collections of green tea, I believe it's also better off finishing a tea far before the start of next season, rather than having more than enough and having the tea stale and unwanted later. Wasting tea (actually wasting pretty much anything) makes me feel guilty :-p It's not just because of the cost. The great Confucius said, "Too much is no better than too little." I've found this very true in many aspects of life, including tea. Sometimes, by having too much, we may not get more happiness. Instead, that may just dilute the happiness.

It's great to have just enough green tea, or a little less than enough. (I know it's easy saying than doing...) Then the thirst for spring tea will build up in the coming months, which will make the new harvest even more exciting!