I’m gonna call this tea @mudandleaves GC High Mountain Oolong, Summer 2019, ‘cos I find its actual traditional name a little creepy. Mud and Leaves also suggested calling it by its Pinyin name, “Huangjin Guafei Wulong” (Link to the GC High Mountain Oolong, Summer 2020).
GC High Mountain Oolong is a type of Taiwanese Oolong which the growers intentionally allow/encourage to be bitten by an insect called the Tea Jassid, a type of leaf hopper. The teas are also commonly called “Bug Bitten Oolong”.
The producers of this type of tea say that the insects’ bites on the leaves cause the tea to have a sweeter character.
On a practical level, these teas do not generally have the same levels of perfume and/or types of flavors evocative of fruit that you would expect from an oolong tea. Or maybe a different type of fruit.
Instead, the primary characteristics of Bug Bitten Oolongs are more reminiscent of Fujianese white teas. Early steeps have flavor and a thicker mouthfeel a bit reminiscent of minerally dry white wine, perhaps minerally Sancerre or very dry gewurztraminer. Subtle floral scents dominate the middle steeps, which fade to sweet grain-like flavor the later steeps. A long lasting light after taste stays in your mind and palate.
The energy seems concentrated in the throat and upper chest.
As is usual with all of their teas, Mud and Leaves’ 2019 GC High Mountain Oolong is an excellent example of this style of tea. Like White Teas, Bug Bitten teas are great summer teas, sweet, with a lasting cooling effect. (For the record, I also got the cool Dragon cup and nifty Ruyao Porcelain Gaiwan in these pictures from Mud and Leaves.)
As an aside, one of the most interesting things about Taiwanese teas, which are often formed into pearl shape, is when you weigh the dry leaves, it never seems like enough tea, yet when the leaves unfurl, you are always surprised by how much they fill the gaiwan.
The “BGT” here is a Raw Puerh cake known as “Big Green Tree” (because there is a picture of a big green tree in the middle of the wrapper).
To explain, in the early days of pu-erh enthusiasts, most of the teas were distributed by the Chinese National Tea Company (CNNP) with only Chinese characters on the wrappers. Puerh enthusiasts who didn’t read Chinese characters would distinguish between these various puerhs based on the main graphic feature of the label. “Big Yellow Mark”, “Small Yellow Mark”, “Big Red Mark”, “Small Red Mark”, and, obviously, “Big Green Tree”. The early, pretty legendary, versions of “Big Green Tree” were distributed by CNNP and very highly thought of among the teas of that time.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, a Guangzhou tea collector and distributor named Ye Bing Huai started commissioning teas under the name “Big Green Tree” as a tribute (or attempt to reproduce those teas). He worked with different companies for a while, but recently they have mostly been made by the Xiaguan Tea Company.
The initial impressions are of a nearly Lapsang level of smoke. Later flavors are autumn forest floor, leather, tobacco leaves, perfume/incense, wood, and finally camphor. Very good length of flavor and complexity, but definitely a Puerh for Scotch and Mezcal lovers. I no longer drink Scotch (or smoke), but I do enjoy a Puerh that evokes those flavors.
Given the darkness of the leaves, and its relative youth, it seems like this tea must have spent at least part of its life, (before traveling to Slovakia,) in pretty fast storage, i.e. hot and/or humid. However, given the smoky burly nature of the tea flavors, it is still relatively clean tasting.
The tea provides a nicely zippy, but not unpleasant, long lasting head based energy.
As someone who grew up in the Midwest, obviously, I am going to buy a tea called “Midwest Nice”. Basically, no matter what the tea.
This raw puerh from White2Tea is one of their exercises in forming tea cakes using a traditional method of steaming the tea inside roasting fresh canes of fragrant bamboo. It’s a complicated and labor intensive process, which they usually employ for a few tea batches every year. If you’re interested, it is covered in depth on their blog: Bamboo Style of Puer
The tea picks up sweet toasty/grassy flavors from the fragrant bamboo, a bit like fresh corn grilled in the husk at a Midwestern corn boil (or Mexican tamales steamed in corn husks).
I’ve tried a couple of their Bamboo Ripe Puerhs, usually on the younger side, but this is the first time I’ve tried…
a) one of their bamboo raw puerhs
b) a bamboo compressed tea with any significant amount of age.
At this point, 6 years down the line, as a raw puerh in its young middle age, the flavor and sweetness of the bamboo has completely integrated into the tea.
And indeed, if you are expecting a tea with big, burly upfront Puerh punch-you-in-the-face flavor, Midwest Nice is not currently that tea. The flavor is soft and sweet, its main attributes and charms existing more in its aftertaste and lingering post consumption impressions than in the flavor of the tea while you are actually drinking the tea. The energy of the tea is a calming, warming, body buzz.
So, while the expression “Midwest Nice” generally refers to a superficial niceness independent of your actual feelings about someone or something, I can say that I do not have to employ any false niceness to say good things about the 2015 Midwest Nice Raw Puerh. It is a truly nice tea.
Liubao is a regional Chinese tea from Guangxi province.
The more common form of Liubao is a fermented/oxidized dark version similar, but pre-dating, ripe puerh style tea. This is another type, more similar to raw puerh. The unusual thing about this type of LiuBao is that older leaves, and even stems, are purposely used. The name “Lao Cha Po” means something like “Old Granny Tea” or maybe “Old Tea Granny”. From what I can tell, the reason for the name is that this was a tea that tea farmers would make for themselves, simply processing and drying the tea leaves in their homes. Of course, the Grannies and the Wives would do the hard work of processing the tea.
I’ve seen pictures of Liu Bao La Cha Po and always been struck by how much it looks like nothing more than a pile of leaf litter. (I’m tempted to start a series of instagram posts, “leaf litter or liu bao?”) In any case, I’ve always been very curious what such unusual, and often visually imperfect appearing, tea leaves might taste like.
With both versions of liu bao, it is not uncommon for the tea to be aged for decades. However, this is unaged fresh tea.
Because the tea leaves are older and thicker, both types of Liubao are often prepared by long simmering the leaves in a pot and adding more water as the tea gets drunk and the water level gets lower.
So, that’s what I did. I gave 7g of the tea a good soak with some boiling water and poured it off. Then I added the rinsed tea to 16oz (475ml) water and brought it to a simmer. When it was at a simmer, I poured half off into cups and drank. When I’d finished, I added another 8 oz water to the tea water and brought it again to a simmer. Et cetera, until it tasted more like water than tea. What I will say is that that first simmer after the rinse didn’t taste like much. While hydration is never bad, you could probably discard both the first rinse AND first simmer without missing much.
The tea smell and flavor is very unique and reminds me of a plant smell from my youth which I still can’t quite place. One thing Mrs Flannestad mentioned is that the kitchen smells a bit like it does when she steams fresh artichokes, minty-vegetal-grassy. The flavor of the tea has a herbaceous sweetness that lingers on your palate.
This is a wood roasted version of the same material used in the above Green Liubao Laochapo.
Definite smokey roasted smell as you open the bag.
Again making this by simmering the tea leaves. If anything, the roast version seems to take even longer to start giving up its flavor.
Initially my thoughts were that I preferred the green version, but as the simmering went on the roasted tea expressed even more interesting and complex flavors than the green had. At one point something like a maple flavor came through, at others more typical tea astringency. Like the green Laochapo, this is a tough tea to pin down. With a base from the flavor of the tea and the smoke of the roast, other flavors dance in and out as the steeps progress. Cool.
I don’t know if either of these teas would make it into my daily or weekly routine, (unless I was visiting Guangxi province in China,) but they are super unique, unusual, and interesting representatives of the Chinese Tea family. Another educational and pleasurable shipment from the White2Tea Club!
One of the interesting things about the various lists of “Big 10 Famous Chinese Teas” (十大中国名茶)” is there is usually only one black tea on the list.
Most of the world drinks nothing but Black teas, but, in China, most black tea, (they call them red or “hong cha”,) is not very highly thought of.
As I discussed in the post about Lapsang Wild Tea, the creation of black tea was (allegedly) a happy accident when the green tea making of a mountain village in the Wuyi area of Fujian province was interrupted by a raiding party and the tea left to oxidize for longer than usual.
In any case, the single black tea traditionally included among the Chinese lists of “Big 10 Famous Chinese Teas” (十大中国名茶)” is usually Qimen, (usually anglicized to “Keemun” in the West).
“Keemun is produced exclusively in the Qimen County in the south of Anhui province. The name of the tea is an older Western spelling of the name of the nearby town, Qimen (pronounced “Chee-men”). The tea-growing region lies between the Yellow Mountains and the Yangtze River. The cultivar used for Keemun is the same as that used in production of Huangshan Maofeng. While the latter is an old, well-known variety of green tea, Keemun was first produced in 1875 using techniques adapted from Fujian province farmers.
“Many varieties of Keemun exist, with different production techniques used for each. Nevertheless, any Keemun undergoes particularly slow withering and oxidation processes, yielding more nuanced aroma and flavor. Some of Keemun’s characteristic floral notes can be attributed to a higher proportion of geraniol, compared to other black teas.”
I’ve drunk Keemun/Qimen quite a few times over the years, but for the most part I’ve had the very coarse types which are easily available in the US. While not usually bitter or overly astringent, these types are very strongly flavored, with a medicinal umami character that is unmistakeable even when it is used as part of a tea blend. I always describe that distinct flavor as a bit similar to the iodine tang of lowland Scotch whiskey.
I’ve even tried to order Qimen from different sources, but never really found any that helped me to understand why it deserved its place among China’s top 10 teas.
Through my travels in the tea circles on instagram, I became familiar with a user called @soiwatter, a French national who was living in China learning about Chinese teas. Even going so far as to help out with the harvest and processing of Tai Ping Hou Kui last year. He posted some great photos from his time there, which helped me understand the tea harvesting and processing steps.
When he posted to instagram wondering if any of his instagram followers would be interested in trying directly imported high grade Tai Ping Hou Kui and Qimen teas, I quickly raised my hand.
If you look at the photos below, you can see this is not at all a coarse tea. In fact, it appears to be bud only with a few small stems, early spring tea, of very high quality.
Wonderful bakery scents in the dry leaves. When steeped, super clean in flavor, with the savory medicinal notes only appearing in the background. Lingering umami/savory sweet bitterness which lingers in your palate and mind. Good resteepability for gong fu style brewing, at least 6 or more, and it was still going.
Strong cha qi, which, even as I write this at 8pm, I am still feeling from this morning in my chest and throat.
Easily one of the most elegant black teas I’ve tasted.
“Mei” is a grading term often used with Fujian black tea. It literally means “eyebrow” and refers to, basically, single buds the size of an eyebrow lash. It is bud only tea from very early in the season.
When I was weighing this out, I pulled out a big pinch figuring it was way more than 7g. But the tiny buds, without hardly any stem and no leaves, is super fluffy and light. The big pinch turned out to be nearly exactly 7g, even less dense than the bud heavy Qimen above.
Distinguishing it flavor-wise gets a little tricky, as it is the same tea, picked a few days earlier in the season, and sorted for smaller buds and no stems.
I talked a bit about the medicinal note in the Qimen above. That is non-existent in the Qimen Qi Mei. Instead there is a stronger floral character, (Retour des Montagnes Jaunes describe it as rose-like and I agree,) in both the dry tea and the tea in the cup.
That floral character that the scent of the dry leaves promises is stronger through the whole drinking experience, it is rounder and softer in the soup. For a bud only tea, I got a good number of steeps.
I think the cha qi of the Qimen Qi Mei is slightly more calming than the Qimen. All bud only teas have strong cha qi, it is intense in the Qi Mei, but a bit more even.
I said the Qimen was one of the most elegant teas of tried so far, and the Qimen Qi Mei ups the ante on that tea, bringing a stronger floral note and better, more evenly integrated flavor and smell.
Retour des Montagnes Jaunes calls this Qimen “fragrant spirals”, but it is also sometimes called “aromatic snail”, due to the curly shape of the dried leaves.
This is an earlier pick than either of the other teas, but a larger sort, and also a longer oxidation, making this a more assertive, full bodied tea.
However, of course, it is still a mostly bud, very early spring tea with a very clean sort, so it isn’t going to be anything thing like the broken large leaf “keemum” typically found in most Western tea blends. There is a bit of the medicinal character I mentioned in the plain Qimen, but it is mostly in the early steeps. The later steeps are given over to stone fruit and rose character, maybe even a bit of sweet date. The added length of oxidation gives it a bit more resteepability than the other two teas.
The folks from Retour des Montagnes Jaunes have said this is their favorite of the three Qimen teas and I can see why.
I am glad Retour des Montagnes Jaunes have chosen to feature these Qimen among their offerings. It is hard to find exceptional examples of this famous Chinese tea, and tasting the three illustrates why Qimem deserves its place among the “Big 10 Famous Chinese Teas”.
If I were to compare the three, the Qimen Qi Mei feels like a rich, floral special occasion tea. The Qimen and Qimen Xiang Luo are also special, but a little more down to earth and accessible, highlighting the richer and fruitier aspects of the tea. But, really, you can’t go wrong with any of the three, they are all amazing teas.
“Old arbor large leaf varietal tea that is usually destined to be made in raw Puer, picked and processed into dianhong style tea with sun drying. We also have a white tea version of the same material.
“Arbor red has an herbaceous fragrance and flavors that often border on medicinal. Sweetness underlies the complex flavors and heavy body of this tea. This is an enduring and heavy black tea best suited for a longer, gongfu style tea session.”
I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with Yunnan red teas (aka black. In China what we call “black tea” they call “Red Tea” or Hong Cha).
Young Yunnan black tea can be tad harsh and astringent, with cranberry and sour cherry flavors standing out and twisting in your stomach.
In older Yunnan black tea, the fruit fades and they inch into leather and dry forest floor type flavors, but sometimes the harshness or mellows into bitterness.
There is a sweet spot, though, between enthusiastic youth and dusty age where Yunnan Red Teas can be quite nice.
Personally, I like to drink them in the fall here in CA. Once the fire season sets in, it’s time for me to put away the light summer green tea and move into something that can stand up to a little smoke.
When, in 2019, I ordered this cake of 2018 White2tea Arbor Red, I was hoping to get it right in that sweet spot. I even figured that, being in a cake, some of that youthful exuberance might be preserved.
The first thing I noticed on unwrapping the cake was how great it smelled, like dried cherries and plums. Just fantastic.
But, when I brewed, I noticed it was not very red, more of an orange.
And when I smelled the brewed tea, and tasted, I got a bit of smoke wrapping around a mild flavor with a lingering sweet complex bitterness in the aftertaste.
What I’ll say is that this is not so much a Red tea for Red tea lovers, as a Red tea for Puerh drinkers.
Someone who likes English Breakfast tea (or even other Chinese red tea,) is probably not gonna dig this tea. But someone who digs Puerh tea might taste it and say, “Huh, that’s some interesting and subtle character. This is a Red Tea I can get into!”
Last year I talked about Wuyi Stone Oolong tea, (Or Wuyi Yancha,) when I received an assortment of them from white2tea, starting from this post on “Iron Arhat“.
A type of Wuyi Yancha, Da Hong Pao, or “Big Red Robe” can be among the most highly desired, (and expensive!) teas grown in China, especially if it comes from the legendary few original tea bushes allegedly chosen by a monk and designated when he put his “Big Red Robe” over them.
While none of these teas are original Da Hong Pao, many of them were chosen by Jon Huarong Li of Tong Xin Teahouse to represent the best Wuyi Yancha teas he tasted in 2019.
To celebrate this year in Wuyi tea, he created a “Premium Yancha Tasting Flight“. It is a set of 12 single dose samples of (mostly) 2019 Wuyi Yancha teas.
Also, in 2018 I had ordered a selection of Wuyi Yancha from Yunnan Sourcing. Some of the varieties overlap with the teas from Tong Xin Teahouse and some don’t. But they provide interesting contrast to the Tong Xin teas.
Because I didn’t write down any notes about this tea, I will simply quote the description from the Tong Xin Teahouse website.
“Today, I want to talk about Shui Xian, the lotus peak in Wuyi rock tea. It is one of the thirty-six peaks in Wuyi Mountain, and it is also well-known. The Shui Xian tea garden has a good environment, old trees, long fragrance, and obvious rock charm. The Shui Xian tea garden uses boiling water to Chong Pao, which has a longer fragrance. The dried tea has both the fragrance of orchid and flowers. People familiar with rock tea know that Rou GUI has made it very well A tea has the fragrance of osmanthus. Shui Xian makes this tea very well. He has the fragrance of orchid. This is a kind of fragrance of his. We say Yan Cha is made with the right technology, which is to make the characteristic fragrance of rock tea. This year’s Wuyi rock tea production process has been greatly improved compared with last year. We say that the most difficult part of Yan Cha process is Bei Hoo. If it is baked high, it will have a burning smell and cover up its fragrance. If it is not baked enough, the tea soup will have a green and astringent feeling, the fragrance is not enough, or the tea soup is thin, and there is no alcohol thickness, so this fire is particularly difficult to grasp.”
“”Lao Cong” (or old bush) Shui Xian is grown in the Jiulongke area of Wu Yi. Jiulongke is included in the “Zheng Yan” (lit. “Proper Rock”, meaning strictly the original area of Wu Yi Mountain) area of Wu Yi Mountain. This Lao Cong is grown and picked from 100-150 year old bushes. Shui Xian is the oldest varietal of Rock Oolong and has been grown in Wu Yi for several hundred years.”
“Lao Cong Shui Xian generally refers to Shui Xian tea trees with an age of more than 60 years. Shui Xian belongs to large leaf type, late growth type, and semi arbor type. Its leaves are larger than those of ordinary small leaf type tea trees. Its growth environment is generally humid, and its surrounding ecological environment is good. Lao Cong tea trees are covered with various parasitic plants, especially moss. Lao Cong Shui Xian has a high age of trees, so it absorbs a lot of natural breath and has a unique flavor of mountains and varieties. It is difficult to pick Lao Cong Shui Xian because the tea trees are very high and it is necessary to use stairs when picking tea.”
Tong Xin Teahouse
It’s funny, some of the notes from the yancha from Yunnan Sourcing sometimes mention a marijuana-like smell in the flavor notes. I got the hint of marijuana smell in some of their teas, but here it is, in this Tong Xin Teahouse yancha full on, from the wet leaves to the tea in the glass.
Medium charcoal roast flavor as the tea cools in the glass and a strong earthy mineral character grounding the tea.
Great length of flavor and very good resteepability.
Even though this tea has had since 2015 to settle, it is a bit of a bruiser. You have to like big teas, to like this one.
I again spaced on notes for the Lotus Peak Rou Gui, so will reproduce the notes from the Tong Xin Teahouse website.
“Wuyi Mountain Rou Gui, also known as Yu Gui, why is it called Rou Gui? Because of its strong fragrance of cinnamon, it was named this name. Rou Gui is a kind of tea with high fragrance, which is charming and domineering. There are more than 200 kinds of fragrant materials in it, and it is also the most fragrant and changeable tea among all Wuyi rock tea. Therefore, Rou Gui is loved by so many people. It has a strong sense of mystery. The tea in Wuyi Mountain scenic spot is called Zheng Yan tea, whose quality is also excellent. When we make the first four bubbles, we can choose to make soup quickly (3-5 seconds). Because it’s a highly fragrant tea with a strong fragrance, the first four bubbles can reflect the essential characteristics of cinnamon and what kind of fragrance it belongs to. From the beginning of the fifth bubble, we have to soak it consciously for some time (1-3 minutes). Many people say that it’s not good to make this tea without fragrance after eight to nine bubbles, not eight to nine. The tea after jiupao drinks its astringency, water alcohol thickness and Gan Tian degree, which is what we call “Yan Yun”. Not every tea is the same. There are many misunderstandings among tea makers. I will share this conclusion with you because many Yan cha in the tea market are not the tea planted and produced in Wuyishan. They are sold to you as the tea of Zheng Yan in Wuyishan. In fact, as long as you taste it with your heart, you can distinguish its good from the bad. It’s easy to drink a cup of tea, but it’s hard to taste a good cup of tea. I just share some of my experiences over the years. Maybe some of my friends don’t agree with me. I hope you can put forward more opinions. I will accept them with an open mind.”
“Rou Gui means Cinnamon in Chinese (肉桂茶). It’s varietal of Wu Yi Mountain rock tea that has been around since the Qing Dynasty. First flush of spring tea is picked, wilted, fried, wilted again then lightly roasted to bring out it’s subtle bouquet of aroma and tastes. Our Rou Gui is a medium roast level and can be brewed 7 to 10 times easily using the gong fu method of brewing. The brewed tea produces a golden tea soup with hints of fruit and chocolate. A lovely tea that can accompany you on almost any tea session.”
Super solid well balanced flavor.
Decent resteepability, as long as you keep early steeps short.
Moderate length of flavor, with a bit of lingering bitterness and a nice perfume.
“Ma Tou Yan Rou Gui 马头岩肉桂 (lit. Horse Head Rock Cinnamon) is a unique varietal grown in the “Zheng Yan” Ma Tou Yan 马头岩 area of Wu Yi. Zheng Yan (正岩) refers to the innermost protected area of the Wu Yi Heritage site. It’s a protected area separate from the scenic area and outsiders are not allowed inside. The “Zheng Yan Growing Area” refers to these tea gardens: tiānxīn yán/天心岩, mǎ tóu yán/马头岩, huìyuàn/慧苑, zhú kē/竹窠, bì shí/碧石, yànzi kē/燕子窠, jiǔlóng kē/九龙窠, yù cháyuán/御茶园, yù huā dòng/玉花洞, shuǐ lián dòng/水帘洞, fo guó/佛国, táohuā dòng/桃花洞, guìlín/桂林, sān yǎng fēng děng děng/三仰峰等等. Ma Tou Yan area is 425 meters high. Rou Gui varietal has been grown here for over 100 years and many of the bushes are quite old. The mineral taste of the Zheng Yan area is present in this tea. The processing style is a medium-high level of roast done respectfully over several months time. The taste is silky and sweet… roast taste is there but not strong and will fade over a few months. Nice thick body with a long lasting sweet cinnamon-like after-taste. Tea can be infused 7 to 10 times if brewed gong fu style.”
Darker Roast/Heavier Oxidation
Chocolate and camphor flavors.
Very Good length of flavor and fair resteepability.
Flavors of the later steeps edge towards herbaceousness.
“My Aunt Chen Zhenying has 40 years of practice and research experience in the Tea Research Institute. She has rich experience in the cultivation, cultivation, management and traditional rock tea production technology of the tea garden. Besides the fourth Quxi of JIUQUXI, Wuyishan, is the seat of Wuyishan Tea Science Research Institute and the former royal imperial tea garden. Now, most of the famous varieties of Wuyi Mountain are from here. Today, I want to share this tea with you from the Dahongpao made by Aunt Chen Zhenying. What is the matching Dahongpao? It refers to the Dahongpao (generally 4-5 strains of tea) which is made up of more than two strains of tea. The main ingredients of rock tea are cinnamon and Narcissus.”
Tong Xin Teahouse
In my limited experience with Wuyi Yancha, I think this tea is as close to perfect as I have yet tasted. It is such a wonderful balance of perfume, roast, and astringency.
A seriously great tea to contemplate, and turn over, again and again, on your tongue and in your mind, on a cold winter’s day.
“Grown naturally in a small family plot in Tong Mu Guan village in Wu Yi Shan, these Da Hong Pao varietal tea bushes have been growing without human involvement and are picked twice a year in May and late September! The aroma is at once nuts, chocolate and floral, while the taste has these elements too, but also some slight astringency to complement it’s pungent and vibrant nature. Sweet and thick in the mouth the tea that reminds just how good unadulterated naturally grown tea can be!”
Grassy, vegetal smell in pre-heated pot.
A little bitterness/astringency to the liquid as it cools.
Some stems and buds noticeable.
Almost like a green tea made from yancha varietals, even a bit of nuttiness.
“Da Hong Pao is the quintessential Wu Yi Rock Oolong varietal. Our Zheng Yan 正岩Hua Guo Xiang (花果香 Flower Fruit Aroma) was harvested in May 2018 and tirelessly processed through roasting and resting, and only available for sale by mid-June (this is fairly typical for Wu Yi rock oolongs). “The tea leaves come from mature bushes that grow in an area with heavy mineral content in the soil. This superb (and classic) environment for Rock Oolongs is felt when cupping this divine tea! Thick, sweet, viscous, and complex with tons minerality, cannabis, fruit and flower tastes melded together into something that is better experienced than talked about. Zheng Yan (正岩) refers to the protected areas of the Wu Yi Heritage site. It’s a protected area separate from the scenic area and outsiders are not allowed inside.”
Smell in the pre-heated pot has a strong floral and roast character, reminding me of Chinese incense.
Sweetness and astringency in flavor, thick soup.
Very unusual flavor of the tea also reminds me of Chinese incense and perfume.
“Qilan, one of the representatives of Wuyi rock tea, is a very distinctive kind of rock tea. People familiar with it all know that rock tea is famous for its water and not for its fragrance. Today’s Qilan, which I share with you, is made by my brother Gao Peng. Description: Its fragrance is fresh, full-bodied, not as fierce as Qilixiang (seven mile aroma) yancha, but has its own penetrating power, Its first two Infusions are standard orchid fragrance. It’s like an empty valley orchid which spreads its fragrance. It’s particularly elegant and refined. However, from the third infusion, its fragrance has changed into an obvious Gardenia fragrance. The fragrance is stronger, stronger and more vigorous. The fragrance is rich, clear and sweet, which is intriguing. Besides the fragrance, the soup of Qilan also has its own characteristics. The soup is extremely sweet. At the entrance, I almost thought that I was drinking fully fermented black tea. However, when I drink it, I feel like walking in a quiet valley and meeting an independent orchid. I am happy to pick it up and suck the nectar of its flower juice. Its sweet smell of flowers is like the magical dew from heaven.”
Tong Xin Teahouse
Pleasant smell in the pre-heated pot.
First narcissus/lillies, then medium roast and medium oxidation.
There is an implied candy scent of fruit pastilles in the aftertaste.
Good resteepability and very good length of flavor.
“This Yan Cha was cultivated from the Wusan Di Tea Garden. Jin Mu Dan tea is a clone, shrub type, middle leaf type, and an early-growing species. The fertility of buds and leaves is strong and tender. Jin Mu Dan was bred with excellent quality, strong lines, long fragrance, mellow and sweet taste, bold flavor and quality characteristics of a Tie Guan Yin varietal. In fact, Jin Mu Dan was bred by the Tea Research Institute of Fujian Academy of Agricultural Sciences from 1978 to 2002. A crossbreeding between Tie Guan Yin and Huang Bi creates the unique taste and aroma of Jin Mu Dan.”
Tong Xin Teahouse
Excellent smell in the pre-heated pot, sweet orchid and narcissus.
Medium roast flavor and oxidation.
Complex and perfume-ey aftertaste, with a lingering sweetness.
It turns out the Gaiwan (Gaiwan) is the most controversial aspect of Gong Fu Tea Brewing with some of my friends, some complaining they didn’t feel they were coordinated enough to operate Gaiwan. Always burning their fingers, spilling tea, and what not.
As I probably destroyed a bunch of nerves in my fingers working as a line cook in restaurant kitchens in my 20s, my finger tips are no longer so sensitive.
However, I was looking for something that would be a bit more convenient and simple for gong fu tea making while traveling.
When I was at the San Francisco International Tea Expo, I saw quite a few vendors using a small combo strainer and share cup, and it put it into my head to track one down.
This pot and strainer combo from Kamjove, (KAMJOVE Glass Gong Fu Teapot with Filter, 300ml,) looked pretty good.
You put your tea in the top compartment. Cover with hot water. Then wait a few seconds. Push the button on the top and the tea strains through a filter into the carafe. Repeat as necessary. When your tea leaves are spent, tap them into the compost pile and rinse out the two sections.
I like that it is mostly clear glass (the strainer section is clear plastic, though the filter itself is fine metal mesh). The tea it makes is good. A bit different tasting from most of the gaiwans and tea pots I’ve used, tea from every type brewing vessel is different, but it is a lot simpler to use than gaiwans and easier to get the tea leaves out of than tea pots, especially early in the morning when you’re not quite awake. If I were to venture an opinion, I would say it makes good green and black tea. As a bonus, the fact that it has a filter strainer, means it will work fine for both whole leaf and broken leaf teas. I don’t think I’d use it for Puerh or Oolong, the thin glass loses heat too quickly.
It’s a good compromise between convenience and quality for hassle free loose leaf tea.
Dripd O’Bitters is a ripe PuErh tea which has been blended with chenpi.
There are two big classifications of PuErh tea.
The main type, and traditional type, is called Raw or Sheng PuErh.
It is basically green tea, made from a specific type of tea plant from a specific region, which is partially dried and then aged for years or decades.
The second type is called Ripe/Cooked or Shou/Shu Puerh.
Ripe Puerh was invented in the 1970s The idea behind Ripe Puerh was to accelerate the aging process of the tea so it could be sold sooner. While what they ended up producing isn’t exactly flash aged PuErh, it is a tea that is worthy of contemplating for its own merits.
Ripe and Raw Puerh start the same. Leaves and buds of the tea plant are picked, withered briefly, then mostly dried to form what is essentially a rough looseleaf green tea, or maocha.
For Ripe Puerh, the maocha is put into a big pile, kept damp, and repeatedly turned using implements like rakes for a month or two, allowing it to ferment and further oxidize before being completely dried and/or formed into cakes.
If Raw Puerh is sort of like funky green tea, Ripe Puerh is more like funky black tea. Especially if it is a freshly made tea, Ripe Puerh can have very strong funky taste, (wet pile taste,) reminiscent of certain Belgian farmhouse ales. There is some Brett happening in there, for sure. While the funk of Raw Puerh increases with age, the funk of Ripe Puerh tends to calm down with age. Older Ripe Puerh can exhibit stonefruit or chocolate flavors, alongside the usual notes for PuErh tea, camphor, mint, etc.
For Dripd O’Bitters, White2Tea took an already somewhat aged Ripe PuErh and blended it with a type of citrus peel called “chenpi”. Chenpi is the dried peel from a small orange. Chenpi sometimes used in Chinese medicine for a variety of ailments, “to regulate ch’i (or qi), fortify the spleen, eliminate dampness, improve abdominal distension, enhance digestion, and reduce phlegm.” As near as I can tell, chenpi seem very similar in flavor and character to the Italian Bitter orange called, Chinotto (Citrus myrtifolia).
In traditional Chinese medicine, foods are often divided by their warming or cooling natures. Teas are also divided up this way. Unaged Green and white teas, including puerh, are considered cooling, while aged Puerh, Aged White, Black, and Ripe Puerh are considered warming.
Chenpi also have a strong warming element, making drinking a ripe Puerh and Chenpi blended tea, a good choice for weather where you need to warm yourself up.
However, according to wikipedia, “Traditional Chinese medicine urges caution in using Chenpi when red symptoms occur such as red tongue or redness in the face. In addition, pregnant women or those who have menstrual problems should use it carefully.”
In any case, Dripd O’Bitters’ flavor does remind me a bit of Chinotto soda or certain Italian Amari, especially Torani Amer or Amer Picon.
The funk of the Raw Puerh is noticeable in the first few steeps, and not overpowering, while the flavor of the orange develops later, as an aftertaste, or in the later steeps, noticeable as a pleasant bitter flavor on the sides of your tongue. Dripd O’Bitters as a young tea doesn’t have a great deal of re-steepability, but it is a tasty, and warming, diversion for a chilly day.
For the last couple months I’ve mostly been drinking young Raw/Sheng Pu-Erh Tea fresh from factories or distributors that is less than a year or two old.
However, there is another element to consider, which is the aging of Pu-Erh Tea.
To go back over the basics.
All tea comes from varieties and species of the Camellia plant, usually Camellia sinensis or Camellia assamica.
Most Pu-Erh tea is made from varieties of Camellia assamica.
Tea is made by picking the young leaves and buds of Camellia bushes and trees.
After the leaves and buds have been plucked they can be processed by simply drying them relatively quickly. The result of this is what is called “White Tea”.
If, instead of simply drying, you first steam or shock the leaves in a wok, the green color will be fixed, and, after drying, the result is “Green Tea”.
For Pu-Erh Tea, the leaves and buds are allowed to wilt slightly, shocked, (as with green tea,) and then dried. The result is a product called “maocha”, which can then either be aged as it is or steamed slightly and formed into various solid shapes for ease of transport and aging. The most common shape is a disk shape, commonly called a “bing” or “beeng” which will weigh between 100-500g, (357g being the “traditional” weight for a full size bing) . These Bing are usually wrapped in paper and then further wrapped in bamboo leaves in groups of 7, (7, traditionally, but sometimes more or less). This package of 7 tea cakes is called a “tong”.
Pu-Erh collectors and enthusiasts highly prize Pu-Erh which has been stored well for many years.
As you might imagine, the weather in the area where the tea is stored, and the exact conditions of the warehouse it is stored in, affects how fast it matures and the character it takes on.
“Wet Storage” Pu-Erh comes from warehouses in areas like Malaysia, Hong Kong, and Guangdong, which are quite warm and humid in the summer months. In these areas where aging proceeds relatively more rapidly, a 15 year old Pu-Erh might be considered “partially aged” or “aged”, depending on the exact conditions of the warehouse.
“Dry Storage” Pu-Erh is stored in areas where the humidity and temperature are lower in summer and it might be cooler in winter. An example of a common dry storage city in China would be Kunming. Tea stored for 15 years in a dry storage warehouse would still be considered relatively young Pu-Erh.
While it is not intentionally infected with mold spores, (some other Chinese teas are intentionally infected with types of mold,) “Wet Storage” Pu-Erh can take on flavors that resemble mold or mildew, depending on your sensitivity to those flavors. Some may even show mold visually. Some people like those flavors, some do not.
A tea friend of mine is super enthusiastic about wet stored Pu-Erh, so I thought I would give them a try and see how I felt about them.
Conveniently, Yunnan Sourcing offers a Guangdong Aged Raw Pu-Erh Tea Sampler. The teas in the sample are all at least partially aged, most having been stored in Guangdong for around 15 years.
One of my favorite parts about Yunnan Sourcing’s listings for aged teas are warnings like this, “Wrappers may be bug bitten from humid storage conditions. If you are squeamish don’t order this tea!” and this, “Wrappers have disintegrated a bit due to bamboo worms that eat the bamboo leaf tongs. It does not impact the taste of the tea!”
Initial impressions in scent are of smoke. No real Wet Storage Funk, the YS site notes this was stored in, “dry Guangdong conditions”. Presents fairly bitter in early steeps. As the steeps advance changing the smoke evolves to leaf tobacco and finally leather.
Be careful with the steep times on this, or you may find yourself in a little over your head. This is a STRONG in every sense of the word tea, burly and a little harsh, both in flavor and in buzz. I can’t say I find it entirely pleasant.
Pleasant, mildly bitter tea with some astringent notes similar to a black tea. No detectable funky “wet storage” flavors. Lingering complex camphor, herb, and fruit character in the lengthy finish. Strong, clean, fast acting head buzz.
A very well balanced and drinkable tea, especially for the price.
If you want a good example of funky camphor/mushroom “wet storage” raw Pu-erh flavor, this one has it. And from what other people write about this tea, this isn’t even that funky. Not sure I can deal with really funky wet storage, if this is mild!
On the other hand, whatever is growing on it, has transformed the later flavors of the tea into an interesting thick brown sugar-like flavor. No bitterness or astringency. Strong, warming, chest centered buzz.
Early flavors remind me a bit of black tea, but with very little bitterness or astringency. Some mild smoky character. Lengthy sweet aftertaste reminds me a bit of roasted chicory. No musty wet storage character to speak of.
Another very well balanced tea, with a very interesting aftertaste. Might be my favorite of the sample group!
A little smoke in the nose. Mild, well balanced complex flavor with only slight bitterness and astringency. More floral and herbaceous with lingering tobacco, freshly cut wood. No sweetness, but a nice camphor and herb lift in the later steeps.
A very, very good tea, but a completely different experience from the other four.
As an exercise, I find drinking these well aged teas to be a fascinating exercise. But as I contemplate their flavors, I am not sure I find the taste of “Wet Storage” to be my favorite at this point in my life.
Out of the five, two I don’t really enjoy; The Big Yellow Mark is just too rough for me and the “Wet Storage” character of the Big Snow Mountain is just not enjoyable for me. 2 I find intriguing enough that I will enjoy the rest of the sample, Gu Pu-er Cha Ma Gu Dao and Pasha Mountain Gushu. Finally, one I find enjoyable enough I might buy a cake, the Feng Qing Jia Ji Er Deng.