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!”
“The 2019 Dangerfield was blended with an intention of being a poor man’s Naka.”
Sometimes there is an, ahem, danger with Puerh, in that there is a lot of jargon and knowledge of that jargon is assumed. For example, before receiving this tea and doing a little research, I had no idea what the characteristics of “Naka” Puerh would be and why it would be prized.
Na Ka is a village in the Menghai county of Yunnan China. For a long time tea from this village was highly prized and not allowed to be sold outside of China.
Authentic “Naka” has gotten to be quite expensive, (#white2tea sells a 2005 Naka for around $1 a gram,) and is known among Western Puerh fanciers for its strong body centered cha qi. Young Naka from old trees is also known for a middle bitterness that gives way to a long lasting sweet aftertaste.
This is not Naka, but is a blend of Raw Puerh which is intended to evoke the flavor and physiological effects of an aged Naka Puerh.
The early flavors are clean and on the dry side, a bit earthy. These give way to a medium level middle palate bitterness. The bitterness fades leaving an lingering appetizing sensation of lightness and sweetness on the palate. The cha qi is more of a slow build than a fast head rush, but it is noticeably there and also clean and pleasant. Not a bad trip.
I have not had an actual Naka, but I can tell you this is a good, well priced Puerh that will not disappoint, either if you are looking to expand your tea drinking horizons, or if you are an experienced Puerh drinker trying to shave a little money off your tea cake budget.
At $33 for a 357g cake, this seems almost too good to be true!
But it is a good, solid, clean tasting Pu-Erh that, as they say on the Mud and Leaves site, would make a fine “daily drinker”.
Like the Tianming Bang Dong, the flavors are on the forest floor/umami side of Pu-Erh. There is a small amount of bitterness, but not as strong as the Bang Dong. It has good length of flavor, as well. Cha qi, aka tea energy, is also lighter than the Bang Dong, but decidedly present.
I’m a little sad that I’ve already drunk my way through the sample I’ve enjoyed drinking it, but onwards and upwards!
*I received this tea as part of a sampler I won from Mud and Leaves after entering an instagram based contest.
The first two most likely Chinese teas you will find in America are probably jasmine or the sort of indeterminate Chinese black tea usually served in Chinese restaurants. The next most likely is probably Dragon Well or Gunpowder Greens. After that, you might find the smoked version of Lapsang Souchong. A certain amount of Scotch drinking and/or cigar smoking tea drinkers are quite fond of the in-your-face, drinking a campfire, flavor of Smoked Lapsang. While I used to be among the Scotch fancying Lapsang drinkers, cigars have never appealed. And, I haven’t drunk a Lapsang Souchong tea for a few years.
A smattering of single dose 8g samples of Lapsang from Fujian province teas arrived via the July @white2tea club and presented me with the option to revisit my opinions and prejudices regarding this opinion provoking tea.
As I discussed in a previous post, “Traditional” Lapsang Black teas from the Wuyi region of Fujian province are NOT smoked.
This tea is very similar to the “Lapsang Wild Tea” from Yin Xiang Hua Xia Tea. There are notes of sweet potato and dried fruit with a dry menthol/camphor finish. This is a very well balanced black tea and I could see making it a daily drinker (if I didn’t have so much other tea to drink).
I don’t know if this feels Herb-ey to me. I feel like there is a bitter-sweet orange character along with a bit of sweet potato and a very long finish/aftertaste. More elegant than the “Traditional Lapsang”, this is one of the better black teas I can remember having recently.
Of the Lapsangs, this is my favorite. It has great length of flavor, nice character, and a very clean feel. I would definitely make this a special occasion black tea, if it were available.
Fruit Bomb Lapsang
The last of the “traditional” lapsang is the Fruit Bomb. This one didn’t really grab me. It didn’t have the elegance of the Herby Lapsang or the slightly rustic character of the “Traditional”. Just not a very complex tea. I’d drink it again, but I wouldn’t search it out. (Of course the problem with single dose samples, is you never know if it is your mood, a fluke in preparation that day, or some oddness.)
After the fruit bomb, we switch over to the smoked versions of the tea.
Pine Sap Lapsang
Pine Sap Lapsang, on the other hand, is a smoked Lapsang Tea.
For a Smoked Lapsang, it is fairly balanced, you can tease out the tea elements underlying the campfire scents and flavors. It shows a bit of affinity for Oolong teas with a strong menthol element in the finish. However, it is a tea you will be tasting ALL day. You might brush your teeth once, you might brush your teeth twice, but you are still going to be tasting campfire and pine sap when you go to bed at night. So, if you don’t enjoy smoky flavors, this probably is not a tea for you. A good tea for cold winter nights (and it might make a nice addition to a hot toddy).
It’s funny, this lapsang is actually smokier tasting up front than the Pine Sap Lapsang, but somehow I enjoy it more. Weird.
Anyway, this is pretty much exactly like drinking a campfire. Super-smoky, but with a decent, somewhat sweet, black tea backbone. Interestingly, while it is smokier up front, the smoke flavor recedes more in the aftertaste, isn’t as cling-ey, and it is the core of the sweet tea flavor the sticks in your mind. If I were drinking smoked Lapsang, this is the one I would drink.
While I enjoyed trying all these Lapsangs, the ones that really stuck with me were the “Traditional” and the “Herby” Lapsangs. I am definitely now more curious about black teas from Fujian!
Jinjunmei is a Black Tea from the Wuyi region of Fujian, specifically, a village named Tongmu.
Unlike traditional and smoked Lapsang teas, Jinjunmei is a relatively recent innovation.
“In 2006, another innovation took place in Tongmu. A Fujian official asked Jiang Yuanxun, the biggest manufacturer in Tongmu, to make some tea as a gift using bud tea and without the familiar smoking. The tea was made by Liange Junde, the tea master that worked for Mr Jiang at the time, and the tea Jin Jun Mei was born. In 2007, it went into production and rapidly became the most expensive black tea ever sold in China.”
Jinjunmei is essentially the type of early spring, carefully picked, all bud material that would normally be used for Silver Needle (or Baihao Yinzhen) White Tea. But, instead of being processed into White Tea, it is fully oxidized and then dried.
As I mentioned, Baihao Yinzhen, due to the labor necessary to carefully pick the individual spring tea buds, tends to be the most expensive of Chinese White Teas.
Making a Black Tea from this type of material is a true conspicuous luxury move.
The early flavors/scents are citrus-like. Secondary flavors evoke peach and pear. The aftertaste is subtle yet lengthy, returning to the citrus-like character, with a touch of mint-camphor overtone.
It is a lighter and subtler tea than the unsmoked Wild Lapsang, as you would expect from the material.
It is another great tea to try, whether it ends up being your favorite Black tea will be a matter of personal taste.
The process for making Black Tea probably originated in Wuyi area of Fujian. There are different myths about it.
Allegedly, most tea was processed as green tea up until a raiding party invaded a Wuyi Mountain village during the tea harvest. The villagers fled from the raiders. When they came back they discovered that their tea had turned black. It was ruined! They dried it anyway and found that some people enjoyed it, especially, the English, (who would later go on to found entire tea industries in India and Sri Langka based on imitating this tea).
The difference between Green Tea and Black Tea IS that the leaves are allowed to oxidize before they are finally dried.
There is a type of Black Tea from Fujian that is usually called “Lapsang Souchong” in the West. Most often it is a tea that is dried over pine wood.
However, “traditional” Lapsang Souchong is not smoked, and even the more traditional smoky kinds have a lighter smoke character than you might expect.
This is not a smoked tea!
The early flavors remind me a bit of sweet potato, the middle flavors are stone fruit, and the late flavors and aftertaste are a bit menthol/tarragon.
It is a delicious and complex Black tea which rewards multiple steeps.