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!
Every year White2Tea releases a few green teas for a couple weeks in the spring.
They usually include one with the March Tea Club shipment.
When I tried the one with the teaclub shipment a few years ago, I realized that it was both some of the freshest green teas I’d tried and some of the tastiest. The only disadvantage is that White2Tea only pre-sells a fairly small amount for a couple weeks in the spring and then they are gone for the rest of the year.
The teas are early spring harvest, (pre-qing ming,) but come from relatively uncoveted regions for green tea production, Sichuan and Guizhou, whose producers and teas, the proprietor of White2Tea maintains, are often tapped to fill in the production gaps of more desirable regions.
In any case, tea producer gossip aside, White2Tea’s green teas are great, well priced, and I usually order a big bunch of them for the couple weeks they are available to get me through my summer hot weather tea drinking.
Book Cover Green is a bit of an oddball. It is a blend of tea leaves that are sorted out from the Green Tea producers other high end productions. More single and broken leaves than you would expect from a bud only early spring tea, but great quality tea. If you’re familiar with the Puerh term, Huang Pian, it is sort of like that, but for early spring green tea. A little less subtle than some bud only green tea, but a good chance to drink high end pre-qing ming green tea at every day green tea prices.
You could brew Book Cover gong fu style, but I prefer to brew summer green tea lazy stylee: Put tea in a tall glass, pour over nearly boiling water, wait to cool, drink, and repeat with more hot water until it tastes more like water than tea. I find 4g in a 450ml glass is about right for me.
Tasting Notes: Sweet fresh spring asparagus, tarragon, a touch of umami, and lingering menthol. Calm, but strong and lingering, warming body centered energy. Some broken leaves does mean more caffeine.
If one tea is unanimously liked from Northern China’s Siberian steps to Southern China’s tropical forests, it is the Mao Feng from Yellow Mountains. Smooth, sweet and subtly flowery, this tea is a mirror of the millennial poetical Chinese culture. Its name, Mao Feng, is coming for this poetical realm, as an homage to the “Downy Peaks” of the Yellow Mountains surrounding the tea gardens.
Type: Yellow Mountain green tea
Producteur : Family Lü – Shexian County – Da Gu Yun
Période de cueillette : 2nd April 2020 (pre Qing Ming – batch 01)
Retour des Montagnes Jaune
While in China, Green Tea is more universally drunk than any other sort of tea, in the US, green tea has never been very popular.
I have some theories as to why this is.
First, green tea needs to be drunk fresh to appreciate its subtle charms, and, ideally, it should be drunk within 18months of its picking.
There just isn’t a market for selling vintage dated tea in the US.
The best case is usually an undated bulk bin in a coop, hippy grocery, or spice store.
So, most of the green tea sold in the US is probably old, largely flavorless, or, if it does taste, it tastes like the patchouli sold in the hippy spice store it came from.
Second, green tea is about subtle charm, herbaceous light flavors, and a slight lingering sweetness.
The jaded American palate is about big bold flavors, we don’t really hang with the less-is-more ethos which the best green teas strive for.
Finally, green tea is best made with slightly less than boiling water, in addition, due to its subtle flavor characteristics, you really need to pay attention to the quality of the water you use.
So, suppose do somehow find some well stored green tea in the US, how should you drink it and what should you expect?
The most common way green tea is drunk in China is “Grandpa Style”, where you put a pinch of tea in your thermos or mug in the morning, add off boil water, let it cool until it is drinkable, and then add more hot water through the day as you drink and the water level goes down.
Alternatively, if you have some friends coming over, you can make it in a pitcher or if you are solo, the usual gong fu method with a gaiwan.
Which brings us to the Huang Shen Mao Feng from Retour des Montagnes Jaunes. We talked about Huang Shen Mao Feng once before in this post, “Huangshan Maofeng“. Everything there applies to this tea and I stand by my previous tasting notes, “light grassy vegetal flavor evocative of green beans or asparagus with a camphor/pine aftertaste…This is a super elegant and light green tea, more vegetal than fruity, almost no bitterness or grip to speak of.”
The only thing I will say is that this Huang Shen Mao Feng from Retour des Montagnes Jaunes is it was an earlier pick, so it has smaller buds, and lighter, less vegetal, flavor than the “Huangshan Maofeng Has Strong Buds” from Yin Xiang Hua Xia tea had been.
About this tea, Retour des Montagnes Jaunes says, “It is a very smooth tea, sweet and honey-like: a nice introduction to the subtlety of Chinese green teas.” I would completely agree with that. While this is a green tea, it is almost like a silver needles type white tea in its delicate character and the light color of its soup.
“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.