Saturday, July 28, 2012


I have long tracked various tea bloggers' home-roasting experiments with keen interest.  I'm a sucker for skillfully roasted oolongs and sometimes wish that I had one of those cute little electric roasters to try my hand at transforming a surfeit of fresh Baozhong into a pile of something more dark and soothing.

One of the teas Brett kindly sent as part of our trade is a Baozhong he roasted after his sister found it in the back of her cupboard.  The tea had been left open and neglected since a trip to Taiwan in 2008.   In accordance with the pleasing element of surprise that has characterized the teas Brett sent, I didn't know what it was until I clipped open the sample.  

This is what it says on the sealed bag he sent me:

When I saw that the sack contained roasted Baozhong, I remembered reading about Brett's roasting experiment.  The tea had lost potency sitting on the shelf for four years so he threw it in the roasting basket for a few hours and tried it again.  While the aroma of the roasting tea was pleasant, Brett did not enjoy the tea when he brewed it.  He roasted again the next morning and liked the results a bit more, but still was not pleased by a metallic aftertaste he attributed to the bag the tea had been stored in.  He planned to roast once more and store the tea in a jar to let it rest awhile.  I assume the tea I have in hand represents that final roasting and jar storage.

I've had two sessions with the tea today and I think it's pretty good.  In fact, it is astounding that this tea sat open on a shelf for 4 years.  It has been revived.  I used a lot of leaf and very short infusions for both sessions.  The first session was early in the morning before breakfast and the scent of the dry leaves in the pre-warmed pot was sweet and nutty.  Inviting.  The brews:  fruity, sweet, a bitterness slightly on the harsh side and a long lasting coolness in the throat.  After eating a lunch of tacos with carnitas, cilantro, lime, radish and slivers of new onion, the second session was very different.  I don't think I've ever realized how much lunch can impact one's experience of a tea.  There are so many factors that affect a tea tasting-- yet another argument for postponing set ideas about a tea until one has had it many times.  The second session oozed a thick honey flavor.  More honey than in any tea I've had.  Still the bitterness and the nice cooling sweetness to wrap things up.  

Thanks for sharing, Brett.  I did not detect anything metallic and the bitterness was the only drawback.  But that may derive from using too much leaf.  I'll try a lighter brew with the remaining tea.  I would drink this stuff regularly.  I do love a roasted Baozhong.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Warming up

The summer temps are climbing in Western Montana and the fire season is ramping up.  It's not nearly as hot as the Eastern and Midwestern states, but it is hot enough that I find my behaviors and cravings changing in accordance.  In addition to swimming/drifting down 1/4 mile of the Clark's Fork River in town and sucking down a great deal of iced Aperol and soda, I've been drinking mostly young sheng pu.  I don't know if that's because it is genuinely cooling or if it's just some idea I have or if somehow the general flavor profile of young sheng is more tolerable than other kinds of tea when it is hot outside.  

Aside from Jakub over at "T," I haven't seen many reviews of Essence of Tea's 2012 puerh pressings.  I'm not sure if folks have not got around to (or are avoiding) trying them, or are withholding negative opinions out of politeness.  Maybe people are simply tired of the hype that attends products from this company.  The prices this year were hard to swallow.  I enjoyed the few sessions I had with the Bulang bing, but I tend to enjoy bitter teas.  I had a somewhat less successful session with this year's Bangwei/Bangwai (I've seen it written both ways) today.  The tea has a sourness that I find unappealing.  The dry leaf smells good enough.  The brews present a decent bitterness as well as a cool sweetness that lingers in the throat.  As far as flavor goes though, the tartness breaks like a wave over whatever other characteristics this tea might possess.  Maybe, as Jakub suggests, these leaves need to rest awhile to take the sour edge off.  Maybe this tea is a diamond in the rough and years down the road will be a pleasure to drink.  Unfortunately I won't have any left to drink then because I'm not going to buy more than this wee sample.  

I have had many enjoyable sessions with EoT offerings-- for example the Bangwei from 2010.  This was not one of them.  

Inspired by a session with the "Shi Dai Mao" from Brett, I've ordered some sheng samples from Scott Wilson's enormous cache.  My tea tastes are so fickle.  After a long break from young sheng pu, it's what I most crave.  Go figure.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The beauty of trade

I recently exchanged some teas with Brett of BlackDragonTeaBar and it has been pleasant to brew teas toward which I have no, or very few, preconceptions.  The business of buying teas through the web based on blogger reviews (god bless 'em), vendor reputation, price, vendor's descriptions, etc. can be wearisome and disappointing.  The prospect of offloading some decent teas that I just didn't have the taste for in exchange for new stuff was very welcome.  

What I did not anticipate was how nice it would be to sit down with a bunch of teas that I hadn't read any blurbs about or clicked away at with the mouse, piling hopes upon a shot-in-the-dark.    Whether I like them or not, it is refreshing to experience the teas without measuring them against what so-and-so has said.  I know only that I trust Brett's taste and that he would not send junk.  

When we were arranging the trade via email, I listed the teas I thought Brett might like to receive in order to get feedback from him.  "Surprise me!" he said.  And that's just what Brett went and did with the parcel he sent my way.  I didn't realize at the time what a swell thing it is to approach a tea cleanly, just the two of you in the ring, mano a mano.

Today I sat down with something called the "Shi Dai Mao Purple Varietal Sheng Puerh Tea Cake" from 2010.  If folks have blogged about this one, I don't recall it.  The dry leaves are very dark, the darkest I have seen in a sheng this young.  The cake is loosely comprised and satisfyingly easy to prize apart.  

A clean, mild, sweet opening led me to think:  nothing wrong with this tea, maybe a bit light, but drinkable.  The broth is dark yellow.  After the first cup a cooling sensation presents itself in the throat, followed by pleasing bitterness and a lingering sweetness.  Quite an active tea, something I would enjoy on a regular basis and, in terms of being active and interesting, something that rivals cakes I have paid a fair amount for.   

After the session, the Google at Delphi leads me into the familiar recesses of the Yunnan Sourcing site where I see that the tea is going for $14 for a 357 g bing.  Not bad for a clean tea (meaning, for me, no smoke, rubber, acid, or other off flavors) with enough guts to keep one interested.  It inspires me to order some samples from YS sometime soon.  It has been a long time, basically since I stopped consuming large amounts of young sheng pu a couple of years ago.  The description of the Shi Dai Mao states initially that the cake is "composed entirely of fall 2009 purple leaf varietal of Puerh," and a couple of paragraphs later says "Spring 2010 material, April 2010 pressing."  I'm not sure which it is.  Whatever year the leaves were harvested, I look forward to another session with this tea.  

There has been some discussion of late among tea bloggers about how many times one ought to drink a tea before forming an opinion about it.  The consensus seems to be at least three sessions.  While I agree fully with that, I have so little time to drink tea these days, I would never get around to blogging about anything if I followed the three session rule.  I think that exhaustive study and re-tasting over time is best when it comes to tea, but I also think there is something to be said for first impressions.  Better yet, gut impressions informed and updated by long study and inquiry.  It is instructive to have a large quantity of a particular tea that one likes in order to live with it for awhile and watch how one's impressions change.  Not always possible.  Until I have the time to devote to a decent quantity of a particular tea I shall have to take my own impressions with a grain of salt.  I try to make a practice of that.  I take for granted that readers of this blog are doing the same.       


Tuesday, July 10, 2012


The height of summer busyness is upon us, and, unfortunately, not much tea is being consumed at the present time.  I'm off for the Missouri Breaks for 10 days of work restoring a 100-year-old homestead barn for the Bureau of Land Management.

I hope to get back to the tea table in late July.  For now, it's bags of Yorkshire Gold in the morning and that's about all.