Friday, June 29, 2012

Tea Bag

I bought this sack of tea at the big market in Galanba outside of Jinghong in 2010.  

A jin of mystery tea
 I didn't have high hopes for it.  I was just desperate to buy some spring tea because we were in Xishuangbanna too early for the big spring harvest, which, that year, was seriously impacted by extreme drought conditions.  The tea was cheap though not as cheap as it should have been.  I don't know anything about it and, at the time, I thought it was just some kind of porch-dried green tea because that is what it smelled and tasted like (when I brewed it up back at the hotel).  The seller did say that the leaves were from old trees, for what that's worth.  

We saw a bit of drying tea here and there while on a 4 day walk along the Lancang.  I didn't know if it was sun-drying puerh maocha or what.

While we did run into a fair number of tea groves, we saw a lot more of this:

Rubber trees
Catchment bowl
The market at Galanba is an impressive and bustling affair.  The whole thing is covered by a roof that blocks out the sword-like rays of the tropical sun.

Anyway, back to the tea.  I carted the bag back with somehow minimal pulverization and tossed it on the shelf and forgot about it.  About a year ago, I opened it up and sniffed.  I was surprised to find that it smelled like sheng pu.  I don't remember the session I had with the tea then, but I opened the bag today to give it another try.

Still quite green

Though the dry leaves continue to be fragrant and reminiscent of young puerh, the tea soup tells a different story.  

The tea brews up a slightly cloudy yellow and is quite empty of flavor.  It's thin, too.  It does not resemble young puerh much at all, but instead tastes a bit like stale sencha.  There's some bitterness and a sweet finish.  

Looks like maocha
The wet leaves are fairly strong, but the stems are not super thick.  They are VERY green and there are a few hints of oxidation here and there.  They smell like wet sheng leaves.  

I don't know what it is.  Could be sheng pu that has been terribly stored (by me) or Da Ye leaves that were processed like lu cha.  Whatever it is, it's stale and is giving me a nice case of heartburn.  If anyone thinks they have an idea of what this mystery tea is, I'd be happy to know.  It's going back on the shelf.

I'm sure this dish sounds more compelling in the local (Lijiang) vernacular than it does in the English translation provided in the menu.  The English description conveys about how I feel after drinking the mystery tea. 

Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Bruiser

Two teas from Bulang today.  Two toughs.  One young and the other a precocious teenager.  Both admirable and husky and just what I needed.  I overdid it.

I'm always awed by the distinctive bitterness of Bulang teas:  thick and centered in the back of the throat.  It somehow manages to punch without being harsh.  A bone crusher rather than a lacerator.  

I think Essence of Tea won in the Bulang department this year.  I never tried last year's offering, but the 2009 and 2010 cakes have been shelved in the hope that time will take their edges off.  In fact, these teas might be the only ones that survive the dry climate here.  We'll see.  The 2012 Bulang is excellent, still quite a brute, but drinkable now if one is careful about leaf/water proportions.  I went overboard with leaf today and could only finish 5 or 6 pots.  The bitterness lasts in the throat and mingles with a lingering sweetness.  This tea has stamina.

For comparison, I broke out the last of a sample of the Heng Li Chang Bulang bing and alternated cups.  I've never sipped an older and younger tea back to back like this and it was quite the contrast:  the crisp and fragrant hammering of the younger tea and the sweet, thick, rounded depths of the 1997 cake.  The quality of bitterness is very much the same in both while being diminished in potency in the older cake. 

I wouldn't drink tea like this often because I think the specific qualities of both teas got submerged in the combination.  But what the hell.  It impressed upon me just how wonderful it is to drink great, meaty, carefully aged sheng pu.  Truly a delight.  I wish I could drop the $180.00 for a full bing of the Heng Li Chang.  I'm sure that's reasonable for a tea of this caliber, I just don't have the spare change.  After today's session I went on the EoT site and tried to order 100 and then 60 and then 40 g more of the tea to no avail.  Maybe one can only order up to 20g in lieu of a full cake.  Maybe they're out of samples.  All I know is that, for good or ill, this tea has become a benchmark for me and I'm going to miss it.

Heng Li Chang Bulang
Essence of Tea 2012 Bulang

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Green Things

I don't know if it's the cold spring or whether there are changes afoot with my body's preferences, but I'm having trouble downing the rawer teas of the 2012 spring season.

It happened first with the fabulous range of fresh lu cha from Gingko.  Great teas, beany longjings and ethereal mao fengs.  Lovely teas.  I just don't find myself stuffing them in the gaiwan.  

Now the same is the case with the spring EoT puerh cakes.  What I have tried has been very fine indeed (how about that Bulang this year?  Butterball.  well done!)  I'm just not in the mood.  

And this 1500 m Alishan:

It is everything a fresh, high mountain oolong should be.  Fragrant beyond measure.  Neon green and crystalline in the cup.

I just find myself craving the dark, heavy, old, fired, meaty, musky stuff.  I can't get enough of it.  I've had my first encounter with the Heng Li Chang Bulang cake and basically melted into a puddle of ecstatic goo.  The thick, greasy, bitter-sweet brew stuck to the ribs and swaddled the throat in such a satisfying way.  The energy low and focused.  Chewy and rooted.  

I don't know what's up.  Perhaps my heart has finally become a dark and withered mandrake-- a poison soothed only by similarly concentrated poisons.  (Hee Hee)

Maybe I'm just....cold?

All I know is I'm craving thickness.  I want a tea that drives me like a coal-black Mack truck.  A pile of old oolong, a jin of last year's yancha or an oily bing from the nether-basement.

Nothing against the wonderful greenery of spring time.  It all just feels too sharp and frigid.


Friday, June 15, 2012


Here's what the first pot I ever bought looks like after a moment of spaciness this afternoon:

It's always the handy ones that get busted.  Why not one of the pots of no account that I sometimes consider throwing against the sidewalk- just so I don't have to be reminded that I spent hard-earned cash on them?  Oh yeah.  It's because I don't use them.  Woe unto any item of tea ware decent enough to be used by me with frequency.  For them, it is only a matter of time.  

I've not had much luck with gluing lids back together.  If anyone has a recommendation, I'm all ears.  

Bye bye 'lil oolong brewer.  Sniffley sniff.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

"Paradise Regained"

Well, that's overstating it a bit.  After some infernal sessions with the rebel angel's char-grilled oolong offerings, I've happened upon an upstanding Tie Guan Yin.  It is dark roasted, yet retains its essential character.  Thanks again to Mr. Erler.    

It's been a cool spring in Western Montana.  I'm a big fan.  But, all of these fresh spring tea samples are flooding in and they just aren't sitting well in my bundled-up body.  I'm left searching for something to stoke the internal furnace. 

End of March

I bring attention to this TGY not because it is mind-blowing, but because there is a fundamental decency to it.  The roast is prominent but not at all overbearing.  Very pleasant, soothing and toasty.  Good sweetness and fairly long throaty aftertaste of dried cherries. It tastes like TEA, not a barbecue pit.  This TGY is reasonably priced for a well-stored 2008 tea.  ($25 for 100g)  I've paid more for TGYs that were far inferior.  I can see drinking this stuff very quickly as the clouds and rain hover.  

  "Let it rain, let it pour.  Let it rain a whole lot more, cause I've got those deep river blues."
--I wish to recognize the passing of the great Deep Gap, North Carolina musician Doc Watson who died at the age of 89 on May 29th.  Among Doc's many accomplishments is his signature version of "Deep River Blues," a tune originally performed under an alternate moniker by the Delmore Brothers.  A good tune for gray days.  Raise a cup for Doc!