Moon Bear is a bit of an oddity. To go back a bit, Puerh tea is traditionally made from a tea (Camellia sinensis) varietal called ‘assamica’. There are also specific processing steps which are traditionally used to make Puerh tea.
Moon Bear is not made from the ‘assamica’ tea varietal, it is made from another varietal which the “locals” and farmers call ‘white’ (not to be confused with “white tea”, which refers primarily to a processing style). Beyond the growers calling it ‘white’, the seller of the tea is not sure exactly what the varietal of Moon Bear is, (though I suspect it is something close to Camellia sinensis var taliensis).
On the other hand, Moon Bear IS processed with the same steps used to make Puerh tea. I.e. Brief rest, kill green, roll, dry.
And, for the record, Moon Bear IS made from a pretty bud heavy, (1 bud, 1 leaf,) early spring pick, while puerh is typically a bit later spring and 1 bud, 2 leaf.
The flavor is much closer to Raw Puerh tea than tea processed as White Tea, but a bit on the light side, however with a fair kick of bitterness in the aftertaste.
The feel/energy is strong and definitely closer to the head/body punch of puerh than white tea.
The producer describes Moon Bear as, “another of those teas that doesn’t fit very neatly in any of the big boxes,” which seems about right.
This tasting flight includes: 1. Gao Cong ShuiXian (高枞水仙) 2. Tiger Whistling Rock Rou Gui(虎啸岩肉桂) 3. Peach Fragrance Da Hong Pao(桃香大红袍) 4. Huang Jin Gui(黄金桂) 5. Golden Water Turtle (Shui Jin Gui)/水金龟 6. Iron Arhat (Tie Luo Han)/铁罗汉 7. Huang Guan Yin/黄观音 8. Heaven’s Waist (Ban Tian Yao)/半天腰 9. Yue Ming Xiang (悦茗香) 10. Shui Lian Dong Qi Lan (水帘洞奇兰) 11. Yellow rose (Huang Mei Gui)/黄玫瑰 12. Bai Rui Xiang /百瑞香
I’m not going to do detailed writeups of each tea this year, but will say that it appears 2021 was a very good year for rock oolong from Tong Xin She Teahouse, especially the traditional varietals in the selection. Here’s hoping that 2022 is just as spectacular!
In February, 2020, I started a writeup of the 2019 Premium Yancha Tasting Flight from Jon Huarong Li and Tong Xin Teahouse. Somehow, I never got around to writing up the second half of the teas in that sampler. I can’t remember exactly what distracted me, I vaguely recall something about a pandemic? Maybe a new job?
In any case, later that year I ordered their 2020 Premium Yancha Tasting Flight and will endeavor here to record my impressions of the teas and some photos of the teas contained therein.
2020 Premium Yancha Tasting Flight
In conjunction with the new year, I would like to show my gratitude to your continuous support by offering a premium yan cha tasting flight! I’ve spent half a month going through the selections of tea that I’ve sourced from Wuyi after the tea competition ended on the 18th of Nov to curate this premium Yancha tasting flight.
Tong Xin Teahouse
Grand Prize ShuiXian
Silver award RouGui
Hui Yuan Keng LaoCong ShuiXian
Golden Water Turtle (Shui Jin Gui)
Iron Arhat (Tie Luo Han)
White Cockscomb (Bai Ji Guan)
Heaven’s Waist (Ban Tian Yao)
Rock Milk (Shi Ru)
Jin Guan Yin
Yellow rose (Huang Mei Gui)
Huang Guan Yin
No 7-12 are much rarer tea varieties. These tea varieties are named after its terroir, allowed to grow naturally with minimal human intervention. Based on the rich soil, biodiversity, and microclimate of the terroir, the tea produced has all the goodness from nature.
Tong Xin Teahouse
Blend Da Hong Pao
Tong Xin Teahouse describes Blend Da Hong Pao as follows, “this rock tea is a very cost-effective blend of Dahongpao made by my brother Gao Peng. Among them is a blend of Zheng Yan Shui Xian. This blend of Dahongpao has a deep fragrance, no astringency, and is resistant to brewing. Rock rhyme is obvious, full of aftertaste.” Which makes it seem like a fine place to get warmed up for our tasting of the various teas provided in their 2020 Premium Yancha Tasting Flight.
White Cockscomb is lighter in oxidation and roast than more robust rock oolong. Sweet candy-ish scent from dampened leaves gives way to grain character, almost like a white tea. Light lingering herbal aftertaste with a touch of grip. Easier to appreciate as it cools, a subtle style of rock oolong.
Like the white cockscomb, Yellow Rose is also on the lower oxidation side, however it is a more robustly flavored varietal, paired with a bit stronger roast. This is a very good tea, with the complexity of scent and flavor I associate with fine yancha. A pure pleasure to drink, think, and savor.
Golden Water Turtle
Medium-light rock oolong both in oxidation and roast. There’s a tropical fruit/incense character to the early steeps. Lingering light huigan in the aftertaste.
A medium roast, medium oxidation rock oolong. About the name, Tong Xin She says, “Heaven’s Waist is originally produced on the halfway of Matouyan in Wuyi Mountain. It is difficult for ordinary people to reach directly. When picking tea, you need to take a ladder to go up in the tea garden. Hence the name Heaven’s Waist, this tea grows in the tea garden between the cliffs.” After an initial fragrance of flowers in the warmed pot, Heaven’s Waist is a bit on the savory side in later steeps. Scents of flowers return in the long lasting lingering aftertastes.
I am never entirely sure what is meant by the word “Milk” in the name of Milk Oolongs, does it mean they are supposed to taste like Milk? Which seems weird, since adults don’t really traditionally drink Milk in China. Is there some other word playing going on with the name not apparent from the literal translation? The Tong Xin Website explains about Shi Ru Rock Oolong, “…some people even directly regarded stone milk as the representative of Wuyi rock tea, which is well-deserved ‘essence in stone'”. So rather than the name meaning the tea tastes like Milk, it is more like Rock Milk teas are an expression of the essence of the rock they are growing out of. In any case, rock milk are one of my favorite type of rock oolong. This Rock Milk from Tong Xin She is no exception. Great damp leaf smell, good body and balance, long lasting aftertaste, and warming energy. Good tea for a damp San Francisco morning.
Iron Arhat is almost always one of my top favorite types of rock oolong. Again, this Iron Arhat from Tong Xin She is no exception. Stronger in oxidation and (especially) roast from any of the other 2020 teas I’ve tried so far from this sampler, it still manages to strike a beautiful balance between the flavor/scent of the base tea and the processing. A very good rock oolong!
Huang Guan Yin
As you might gather from the name “Huang Guan Yin”, this rock oolong is a cross involving Tieguanyin. The other parent is Huang Fen. To showcase the Tieguanyin fragrance, the producer has opted for a lower oxidation and light roast style, as you can see from the amber broth. Early impressions are of the narcissus perfume, with an undertone of slight astringency. As the tea cools, in later impressions, the rock character asserts itself. A subtle, but elegant, and very skillfully made tea.
Jin Guanyin strikes me as a very good medium. Medium roast, medium oxidation, pleasant perfume and flavor that is neither overwhelmingly complex nor underwhelmingly simple. It exhibits all the good qualities of great rock tea without being showy about them.
2020 Wuyi Mountain Rock Tea Competition Silver Award Rou Gui
I never quite know what to think of teas which are marketed as award winners in tea competitions in China. As I have neither the length of experience drinking tea nor knowledge about the judging criteria for tea competitions, I can only go from my impressions. I try to open all my senses and recalibrate my perceptions of the aesthetics for the tea variety around the characteristics I perceive. This is a medium oxidation, medium-light roast Rou Gui, which allows the base character of the tea to shine. Cassia/Camphor and more than slight grip give way to iris perfume in the very long after impressions.
Hui Yuan Pit Lao Cong Shui Xian
“Hui Yuan Pit Lao Cong Shui Xian 120 years old tea tree – Three times charcoal baked, total 42 hours of baking” The very well known areas of the Wuyi preserve are the mountainous rocky peaks, but between the peaks are areas known as “pits” and rock oolong tea is also produced in these areas. This tea comes from older tea trees in the Hui Yuan “pit” area. Funky and a bit savory, for all the baking, the charcoal isn’t as assertive as I would expect, nowhere near the level on the Iron Arhat, for example. Very strong rock character, twisted with slight narcissus in the finish.
2020 Wuyi Mountain Rock Tea Competition Special Prize Shui Xian
Overall, I feel that the 2020 Premium Yancha Tasting Flight highlights softer and more elegant teas than the 2019 Premium Yancha Tasting Flight. Well, what I remember of the 2019 Tasting Flight, anyway.
Awards aside, for me the highlights were the Yellow Rose, Iron Arhat, and Rock Milk teas. All, I thought, were fine examples of what I enjoy in Rock Ooolong and well worth your investment if you are investigating this fine purveyor of Fujian tea, (though, also check out their sneaky recent additions of vintage puerh to the store!).
Happy Holidays and wishing you a new year filled with great and enjoyable teas!
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.