Maocha is unsorted tea leaves. In the case of raw puerh, it is what producers/distributors buy from farmers and then sort, blend, and press into cakes (or ferment into shou Puerh). Basically, puerh maocha is green tea made from Camellia sinensis var. assamica.
A bit ago I posted about an earlier years’ Bitter Leaf Teas‘s Big Old Ass Tree raw puerh.
So, because the nice people at bitter leaf teas had some of the maocha they were going to process into the 2021 version of Big Old Ass Tree in the office when I ordered something else, (hint, the something else was a gift for Mrs Flannestad and it is in the pictures,) they sent me a sample.
Opening the bag, it smells great, spring forest meadow. Upon brewing, he first impressions are of mild flavor, thick body, and a bit of almost salinity. Towards the end of the first infusions, as it cools, a mild bitterness makes itself felt. The sweet bitterness lingers on the palate, with little of the harshness that young Puerh has a reputation for.
The energy is definitely a fast head buzz, rather than body.
An intriguing preview, looking forward to trying the finished tea later this year!
“The name Rock 4X4 comes from this blend of rock oolongs, which contains 4 different yancha varietals (tieluohan, rougui, shuixian and qidan) with 4 roasts. This blend has enduring aromas and a burly bite from both the flame and the strength of the tea. This blend is for seekers of strong tea; heavy handed roast and heavy handed character.”
I ordered this bunch of Rock Oolong, (Rock 4×4, Dahongpao, Stone Sparrow, Shui Xian, Shui Jin Gui, No.2 Rougui, No.8 Rougui, Jin Guan Yin, and Stone Milk,) in November of 2019.
For the last couple years I have had a tradition of drinking Rock Oolong in the first few months of the new year as a celebration and I wanted to be prepared for 2020.
Little did any of us know what 2020 would have in store. I started a new job, then COVID-19. I just never got around to drinking the 2019 White2Tea rock oolongs in 2020.
Fast forward, or slow forward, a year, and I am finally drinking the tea I had been most looking forward to of the bunch, Rock 4×4.
I sometimes joke that White2Tea makes all varieties of tea they sell with puerh drinkers in mind. Which is to say, they are not shy about flavor and they are not shy about energy in their teas, whatever the variety and wherever they come from.
And while this commonplace isn’t true of all the tea from White2Tea, it is true of this blend 4x rock tea varietals roasted 4 times. And check out that color! You can tell they weren’t shy about oxidation, either.
And while the roast character is heavy, and the flavor is heavy in the mouth, it is still a balanced tea somehow.
Well, anyway, if you like strong roast character and heavy oxidation in your Rock Oolongs, Rock 4×4 is one yancha that should be on your list to try.
I live in San Francisco where our water is mostly snowmelt from the Sierras (Hetch Hetchy) or pretty neutral water from a few city wells.
SF PUC does often add a pretty heavy dose of Chloramine, so the water does need to be filtered, (and there is sometimes a bit of off flavor,) but mostly a quick trip through a britta or maytag filter is all that you need to get it ready for tea.
After a bit of filtration, the water here is very neutral and ready to let almost any tea shine without much effort.
Other areas of the world, it can be a bit more challenging. For example, I grew up in the Midwest in an area where all the water came from wells tapping into limestone aquifers. The water there was horrible for tea. I spent much of my young life trying and trying to make a good cup of tea and failing over and over.
I recently visited an area of California where the tap water comes almost exclusively from volcanic mineral hot springs. The water there is so mineral laden that the it nearly tastes like tea just coming straight out of the tap.
The hotel where we stayed even filtered it heavily through the device pictured above. It tastes much better coming out of the filtering machine, but I still spent several days futilely trying to get a good cup of tea out of it, even with teas that I was familiar with from home. I dunno, I think maybe the mineral content makes it more challenging.
I suppose it is interesting, as in China mountain spring water is most often highly thought of for tea brewing, the most famous, of course, being that from the “Dragon Well” in Long jing, which is said to be very heavy in texture.
But, I don’t really remember the tea there tasting like anything but tea leaves in water.
In any case, it’s always good to remember that tea is 99.99% water. If the water doesn’t taste good, the tea you make from it won’t taste good either.
It was almost 80F here yesterday, so time to get out the green tea.
However, the 2021 green teas aren’t quite available yet, so I pulled one out of the cabinet from last year. This is a Gui Ding Yunwu from Guizhou province, which I got from @tong_xin_she.
“Yunwu” means literally, “Cloud and Mist”, describing the weather and climate in the tea mountains and has become a bit of a generic name for roasted green teas. Gui Ding is the county in Guizhou that this tea comes from.
In the past, the better quality versions of this tea were thought of highly enough for this sometimes be an imperial tribute tea.
The little rolled buds and leaves are said to resemble fish hooks.
It reminds me a bit of a good quality Mao Jian, light flower and perfume in the scent with a hint of medicinal character, grainy honey sweetness in the flavor, a touch of astringency, and a long lasting aftertaste.
If I were an Imperial Official, I would be happy to have this Gui Ding Yunwu in my teacup.
Among modern tea makers dahongpao, rather than referring to a very exclusive tea from a specific set of bushes in the Wuyi preserve, is usually a sort of house blend which the producers feel is representative of their house style. (Well, unless you notice the tea costs more than your mortgage for a gram or two.)
According to their website, the @white2tea dahongpao is a Meizhan heavy blend prepared along traditional lines, medium roast and oxidation.
White2Tea dahongpao is a very good introduction to the Wuyi Yancha style, balanced and with surprisingly punchy in energy content. It will get your morning going and stoke your enthusiasm and curiousity for Rock Oolong.
According to the blurb, White2Tea requested a roasting style for this rougui that they were hoping would highlight “mineral aspects and aromas” in the tea.
And, indeed, there is very little perfume or fruit to this tea’s flavors. It is more on the savory side. There is a slight astringency, as well, that keeps things interesting. And it has flavor that keeps going for a few more steeps than is usual in a rock oolong.
No.8 rougui probably wouldn’t be my desert island rougui, but it is a super interesting tea that amplifies certain aspects of rock oolong in a fascinating manner.
If you’ve struggled with identifying the mineral character in rock oolong, here’s one that shows you exactly what that is all about.
“This green oolong comes from the gardens of Luoyan Village [罗岩村]. Roughly 800 meters above sea level, the tea bushes grow in fields and terraces alongside a small variety of native plants…This is the Summer harvest, made in July of 2019. Because this tea was grown in the summer without any pesticides, leafhoppers bite the tea leaves and provide the tea with its distinctive sweetness. The picking standard of this tea is roughly 1 bud for every 2 leaves. The leaves were withered in the sun, shaken and oxidized by hand, and then fired and shaped by machine before drying. The tea itself is sweet, buttery and floral. It is a very approachable tea.”
One of the interesting parts about the tea scene is that occasionally people and companies simply just disappear. They stop posting to social media and their websites vanish. Ghost teas.
This is an Anxi Oolong that a company called “Breathing Leaves” sold a couple years ago. They’ve seemingly shut down since then and the proprietor has disappeared from social media.
The tea is called “Luoyan Leafhopper”. The first impressions are of the Ooolong perfume, and it is indeed sweet and thick, like a bug bitten tea, but with more astringency and, along green tea lines, and a bit of surprising, and pleasant, huigan, or lingering sweet bitterness, that makes itself known in the aftertaste as the tea cools.
It is a very nice tea. I am not usually a fan of low oxidation Oolongs and this is very well done. I am a bit sad that the company seems to have disappeared, (Or at least gone into hibernation, as the last time I looked, their website was still up, but the shop shuttered. I tried to contact the proprietor with comments about enjoying his teas, but received no response.)
(Not to mention, they also sold some really good, well priced, Puerh.)
Trying to build a brand on social media is a thankless job, seems like lightening in a bottle, one in a hundred thousand, unless you are previously famous, or have the guts and commitment for a very long haul. Take it from someone who has had websites for almost as long as there has been an internet, and even a pretty “successful” one for a while. Don’t think it’s easy path to quick money, success, and fame.
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.
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!”