White2Tea’s OBSX “Old Bush Shui Xian” Wuyi Yancha Oolong

I dug through my quickly growing selection of samples and picked out this neat OBSX oolong from White2Tea. I received this as a sample from the ever-knowledgeable TwoDog, of http://www.twodogteablog.com/ and http://www.white2tea.com/.

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TwoDog is quite the mysterious person, according to the other tea blogs I’ve read. He has appeared on a few blogs out there, but his face is covered in all of the photos I’ve seen. Suspicious! Perhaps he is secretly a famous actor or something. My bet is that TwoDog is actually Brad Pitt or Johnny Depp. Or perhaps this explains what actually happened to 2Pac. He gave up the life of being a rap musician in order to write about tea and help people on reddit. 2Pac, 2Dog…it all makes sense.

Anyways, on to the tea.

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I was quite puzzled by the name “OBSX,” until I looked on White2Tea’s website and discovered that it was an acronym for Old Bush Shui Xian. That was good news, since I’m a big fan of shui xian style oolongs. I drink a lot of shui xian oolong, but this is the first time I’ve ever tried the “fancy stuff.”
Shui xian meats “narcissus,” referring to the flower that is often used in Greek mythology. I’m not sure what the connection is between narcissus and Chinese culture, but perhaps a reader out there can inform us.

This shui xian, like almost all shui xian style oolongs, comes from the Wuyi Mountains in northern Fujian Province, China.

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Here is Fujian Province, in case you were wondering. I bet you weren’t expecting a Chinese geography lesson.

Dry Leaf

This was quite a generous sample. The bag was packed full of leaves. It was actually 14g, so it looks like TwoDog was a bit heavy handed on the samples. I appreciate that! I used just shy of 9g for this taste test. I kept the rest for some grandpa style brewing later in the week.

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Whoa, these leaves are huge! They were long and thin, and super light. The 8.9g of dry leaves filled my rather large gaiwan all the way to the top. These leaves are very dark brown, perhaps even black.

Once I smelled these leaves, I knew I was in for a treat. The most notable smell is probably the roasted aroma that the leaves give off. They do not smell overly roasted at all. I would call this a medium roasted yancha, which is also how TwoDog describes this tea on his site. There is a very nice fruity aroma present, perhaps more on the dried fruit side of things. It’s very woody and sweet smelling as well.

Teaware

I used a standard gaiwan for this sample. Kinda boring, yet again. I should definitely switch up my teaware selections a bit more.

Brewed Tea

I gave this tea a quick one second rinse, and then moved on to the first steep.

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This first steep came out a lovely orange-red copper color.

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This tastes so complex and interesting that I honestly don’t know how to describe it. This shui xian is on a whole other level compared to other shui xians I have tasted. The sweet mineral taste that most yanchas have is certainly present, but the flavor is a lot more complex with this tea. There is a very strong floral note that I have never tasted in a shui xian yancha before. The fruity, woody taste is very strong and pleasant as well. I also taste a sort of roasted grain or bread kind of thing going on. I notice that flavor in a lot of yanchas, so maybe that is just how my palate works.

I also got the sense that this tea is a lot less roasted than most shui xians I’ve had. Although this shui xian is definitely roasted, it is not overly so. Many shui xians are very heavily roasted, presumably to cover up the taste of cheaper teas. These shui xian style teas are still enjoyable, but definitely more one-note that White2Tea’s offering.

The aroma was even more intriguing. This tea smells so much like cinnamon. This tea seriously smells like Big Red chewing gum. I haven’t seen any other reviews mention this aroma, so perhaps it is just the way this tea interacts with my particular senses. But for me, the cinnamon smell was so strong and obvious!

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By the third and fourth steep, the tea calmed down a bit. The strong spice flavors have died down and tea has settled into a pleasant fruity and mineral taste. The sweetness is definitely more present, and the tea leaves behind a very sweet aftertaste with no dryness.

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The spicy flavors returned for a bit of an encore in the sixth steep, completely out of nowhere.

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Finished Leaf

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To be honest, I kind of forgot to get a good finished leaf photo for this tea. Oh well, at least here you can see the leaves inside of my gaiwan. This was towards the end of the session, so the leaves were pretty finished by this point. The leaves were very large and leathery, and did not really expand much from their dried state.

Conclusion

This tea is without a doubt the best shui xian yancha I have tasted. I enjoyed this sample a lot. However, tea like this certainly comes at a price. At $35 for 50 grams, I don’t think tea will become a regular fixture for me. But I really could not say anything bad about this tea. It is definitely worth a shot if you are into this style of teas.

In short, this is a really superb oolong. If you are a bit less price sensitive than I am (college student!), I would highly recommend purchasing this tea.

http://www.white2tea.com/tea-shop/obsx-oolong-tea-old-bush-shui-xian/

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2008 Often Tuo from White2Tea

After reading countless stellar reviews of White2Tea’s curated selection of puerh teas and impeccable customer support, I had to place an order. The owner of White2Tea, known in the tea community as Two Dog, is arguably the most knowledge tea blogger on the Internet. You can read his work over at http://www.twodogteablog.com/ and http://www.white2tea.com/blog/. He is also very active in the r/tea and r/puer communities on reddit.

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White2Tea is based in Beijing, China and offers a very minimalist, “no bullshit” approach to selling puerh teas. Although White2Tea’s selection is smaller than some of its competitors, sometimes it is nice to select from a smaller amount of curated puerhs, rather than sift through hundreds and hundreds of random cakes. I also love all of White2Tea’s creative and adorable logos on their wrappers.

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This 2008 Often came as a sample with my order (White Whale!). Two Dog was very generous, giving me four different ten gram samples. The 2008 Often Tuo is White2Tea’s main budget offering, which is why I wanted to jump in and try it right away.

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Dry Leaf

I used almost the whole sample for my review, so this is a little bit more leaf than I would normally use. With that in mind, I brewed the tea with very quick infusions.

This tuo (nest shaped puerh) has quite an interesting composition. My 10g sample contained one large chunk and several smaller leaves. The tuo is pretty tightly compressed, just like most tuos. The leaves are on the larger side, and are a fantastic array of color. Some of the leaves are light straw colored, while others are dark gray. They gray colored leaves had beautiful gold and silver hairs on them. I was transfixed by the way that the light was bouncing off of the hairs. If you zoom in on this photo, you can see the hairs!

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The dry leaf is not overly fragrant. There is a slight hay or grassy smell to the leaves, but it’s nothing too strong. I detected a slight smoky note to the aroma of the dry leaf. Perhaps the most noticeable aroma coming off of these leaves is a sweet and earthy smell, which I really enjoyed.

Teaware

I used a standard gaiwan, nothing too exciting. I picked up this neat tea strainer and hand from Tea Drunk in New York City. I used a tea strainer like this in Taiwan once, and I have been looking for one in the US ever since. I finally found one! I showed off this tea strainer and hand to my friends, but they were a bit concerned about how happy it makes me.

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Brewed Tea

The aroma of this puerh really took off once I placed the leaves into the warm gaiwan. The fruity and smoky smells were intensified tenfold. Incredible! If I had to describe it, I would say it is very peachy and smoky…perhaps grilled peaches? Nah, that makes me sound like one of those wine snobs.

I opened up this tuo with two five second rinses.

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The first steep came out an interesting orange-yellow color. The color was definitely darker than I expected. This puerh has a very interesting flavor, with many of the characteristic sheng puerh flavor notes, but it is a bit more vegetal than most puerhs I’ve tasted. The first steep was quite astringent, even though I essentially poured the hot water in the gaiwan and then immediately poured it into my cha hai. I actually found this astringent character quite pleasant. This steep was also notably vegetal. Although the dry leaf smelled a bit smoky, there was no smoky flavor in the brewed tea.

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The mouthfeel was very slick and smooth, giving this tea a very pleasant juicy and thirst quenching quality.

The astringent and vegetal qualities of this tea combined quite well, combining to create an interesting flavor that I identified as green bell pepper, or perhaps celery. The aftertaste was notably sweet and very pleasant.

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The second steep was a similar color but tasted a bit less astringent. The next several steeps were very strong and powerful. This tea is definitely strong in the early steeps, as noted on the White2Tea website. Steeps five through eight calmed down quite a bit, although the strong vegetal qualities still came through.

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Finished Leaf

I steeped this tea in my gaiwan about ten times, and then threw the leaves into my tea mug and brewed the leaves “grandpa style” a few more times. The tuo definitely packs some power!

This tea gave an excellent cha qi. I felt super calm and relaxed after this gongfu session.

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These leaves were definitely on the larger side. The leaves were mostly light green or gray-green, but there were a few darker brown leaves thrown into the mix.

Conclusion

At $22.50 per 250 grams, the 2008 Often tuo is a solid daily drinker with a few years of aging. I would definitely consider buying this tuo again, and perhaps keep a few for aging and see how they taste in a few years. This tea is just beginning to calm down, and I would love to see how this reasonably priced tuo will develop in the future.

I would definitely recommend buying some teas from White2Tea. Two Dog is one of the most knowledgeable and helpful people in the specialty tea business. White2Tea offers a carefully selected and well-balanced selection of puerhs and oolongs at various price points. While some of the offerings are definitely a bit out of my price range, I am sure the quality is impeccable. Luckily, Two Dog also has plenty of teas that are quite reasonably priced.

This tuo was a solid introduction to White2Tea’s offerings, and I look forward to reviewing more of Two Dog’s teas in the coming weeks.

“I say let the world go to hell, but I should always have my tea.”- Fyodor Dostoyevsky

http://www.white2tea.com/tea-shop/2008-often/

Review of Wenshan Baochung Oolong from Tea Ave + Tea Travel Adventures in Pinglin, Taiwan

Baozhong (AKA baochong, baochung or pouchong) is one of the staple Taiwanese oolongs. I must admit that I’m not generally a huge fan of this style of oolong. Baozhong is usually a little light and subtle for my palate. However, this sample from Tea Ave smelled so incredible that I couldn’t wait to dive in.

Baozhong (包種茶) translates to the “the wrapped kind.” This name comes from the production process, in which the leaves are wrapped in paper during drying. Baozhong style teas tend to be very floral and fragrant, with a mild taste. Some of the baozhongs I have tasted had a very notable fruity and grassy character as well.

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Drinking baozhong oolong brings back a lot of good memories for me. Baozhong tea is almost exclusively grown in a small region called Pinglin, about an hour and a half outside of Taipei, Taiwan. I visited Pinglin in January, hoping that my trip to the world’s largest tea museum would be one of the major highlights of my adventures in Taiwan. Alas, my enthusiasm was crushed when I noticed that the tea museum was closed for reconstruction.

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Luckily, I was joined by my travel buddy Ben, the eternal optimist and baozhong enthusiast. Ben made sure that we still had a fun time wandering around the tea fields and taking photos with the tea themed statues. Busloads of travelers from Mainland China and Korea dominated the landscape, just like everywhere else in Taiwan. We saw some old Chinese ladies picking tea off the bushes and putting them into hot water to make fresh tea. I wish I had thought of that!

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We managed to taste a lot of lovely teas in Pinglin. Each shop offered several grades of baozhong to try. We sat down and had tea at a few different shops. This place also served some nice baozhong flavored mochi!

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The little downtown of Pinglin is full of shops and restaurants serving tea related foods. We got some delicious food at a restaurant that only used oolong tea seed oil in the kitchen. The oolong oil gave all of the food an herbal, grassy kick. I really enjoyed it, but I can certainly imagine that some people might find the flavor overpowering.

If you follow the online tea nerd world (presumably you do, since you’re here), you’ve seen the much-acclaimed Tea Ave sampler. It really was the greatest sampler I’ve ever received. My package included samples of Ali Shan Jin Xuan, Li Shan, and the Wenshan Bouchung.

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Tea Ave is a Taiwanese oolong specialty shop run by a brother and sister team in Vancouver (Best city ever! The real world utopia/Shangri-La). Their website and general design is perhaps the best of any company I’ve seen.  You should definitely check out their website and drool over the beautiful packaging. Perhaps I am a bit biased, since I have an unnatural love for sky blue.

Teaware

I brewed this tea using a standard gaiwan. Nothing too exciting this week.

Dry Leaf

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These leaves looked wonderful, just like the highest quality baozhong oolongs you can find in Taiwan. I was very impressed with the aroma. I could smell the leaves through the sealed bag! The aroma was incredibly floral and had a slight caramelized note, which is a bit unusual for a baozhong, but still very lovely! There was a mixture of dark grey-green leaves and light greenish-yellow leaves, with the characteristic long, twisted shape that all baozhong oolongs have. Between the amazing appearance and smell, I was super impressed by Tea Ave’s sample!

Brewed Tea

I brewed this tea using a gaiwan and 8 grams of leaves.

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I started with a quick five second rinse just to open up the leaves and warm up my gaiwan. I tasted the rinse water, as I always do (don’t judge me). It was very floral and flavorful, even though it had only steeped for a few seconds.

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The first steep came out a light golden-yellow color. The taste is very light and subtle, but definitely more complex than a run-of-the-mill baozhong oolong. This baozhong is a lot more “herby” tasting than most baozhongs I have tasted. The tea also has a very grassy character, which might lead some people to classify this as a green tea. The characteristic floral taste is certainly there as well.

The aftertaste is nice and vegetal, like raw spinach. I love teas that taste like spinach, so that is a good thing in my book.

This tea has a very smooth mouthfeel, and even has a touch of the creaminess that tea drinkers tend to associate with the high mountain Taiwanese oolongs.

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By the six or seventh steep, the tea was starting to lose a bit of its strength. Oddly enough, the color did not change much.

I enjoyed my session with this tea. It was very thirst quenching, which was a nice change compared to all of the dehydrating puerh I’ve been drinking lately.

Finished Leaf

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This tea was very durable. I got about 9 steeps out these leaves, which is pretty impressive for a baozhong. The dry tea unfurled into giant army green leaves with very dominant veins. The leaves had no holes or tears.

Conclusion

This tea is undoubtedly one of the best baozhong style oolongs I have ever had. In fact, I would probably say that it is the best baozhong I have tasted. With that said, this tea is certainly not cheap. At about $11 per ounce, this tea is a bit out of my usual price range. I would certainly consider buying some oolong from Tea Ave if they had a good sale going. If you are a fan of baozhong or other lighter oolongs, then you should definitely try this…and leave more Li Shan and Ali Shan for me!

2013 Wu Liang Ye Sheng from Yunnan Sourcing

What is the most bitter tea that exists?

Reali-tea. Ouch.

Ah, the “tea joke” threads on Steepster and TeaChat never get old.

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I am a big fan of purple tree puerh teas, although most of my readers out there in Tea Blog Land will probably disagree with me. Purple puerhs have a reputation for being super powerful and bitter. I should start by mentioning that this particular tea is not bitter at all. However, this reputation that purple puerh holds brings up an important idea. In my opinion, bitterness should be embraced, not feared. Tea with more bitter characteristics can be enjoyed just as much as dark chocolate, IPA beer, coffee, or Chinese bitter melon. Of course, I’m not referring to the bitterness that comes from oversteeping teas. Rather, it is important to simply enjoy the more bitter nature that some teas, such as some varieties of puerhs or Japanese greens, naturally hold.

A major reason for our natural distaste for bitter foods and drinks comes from cultural influences. In Bitter: A Taste of the World’s Most Dangerous Flavor, Jennifer McLagan investigates why some cultures such as China and other East Asian nations tend to love bitter tastes, while North Americans and Western Europeans tend to steer far away. I definitely recommend reading this book. It will open up your eyes to the importance of bitterness.

I will admit that some purple puerhs taste a bit like dipping your tongue into a vat of arsenic (made that mistake…never again). But this tea is something special. This I the only purple puerh I’ve ever had without barely trace of that punching bitterness.

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The cake I received looks just like the photo from Yunnan Sourcing. Mine is a bit more mangled of course. Puerh is not like fast food, where you get some gross crap that looks nothing like what is advertised. With puerh, you get exactly what you ordered. Thanks Yunnan Sourcing!

This 2013 Wu Liang Ye Sheng from Yunnan Sourcing came into my life somewhat haphazardly. I was gifted an Amazon gift card a few months back, and I wasn’t sure what to spend on it. Luckily I stumbled upon Yunnan Sourcing’s Amazon store. They only offered perhaps six or seven different cakes on their Amazon storefront. After I received my order, I noticed that the Yunnan Sourcing Amazon page disappeared from the world. Hmm, not sure what that’s about.

Out of the cakes that Yunnan Sourcing offered, the 2013 Wu Liang Ye Shiang jumped out to me. Once I read the words “wild tree purple,” the tea was in my cart.

This cake is made entirely of Ye Sheng varietal tea leaves. According to some Internet research, Ye Sheng or 野生, refers to a subspecies of Camellia sinensis assamica. This is a naturally occurring varietal found only in Yunnan Province, China. The Ye Sheng tea plant is naturally bug repellent, which might explain its powerful nature. The tea for this cake was picked from bushes above 2000 feet in elevation, and between 50 and 200 years old. The tea leaves are from a farm in Jingdong County, which is inside of Pu’er Prefecture, also known as Simao Prefecture, which is in Southern Yunnan, China. Wow, that was complicated.

I could not find any explanation for why exactly the tea is purple, but I can make an educated guess thanks to my small knowledge of plant biology and plant physiology. Since these tea leaves are grown at a very high elevation, they are exposed to more UV (ultraviolet) light. UV light is represented by the purple part of the color spectrum. The leaves likely turn purple as a natural defense mechanism in order to reflect some of this UV light and protect the plant from some of these UV rays. Plants often have defense mechanisms like this, turning purple due to a buildup of anthocyanins in the leaves. Or perhaps it is all just a quirky genetic variation. If you know the answer to this, tell us all about it in the comments.

Dry Leaf

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I weighed out 8.4 grams of the puerh to use in my gaiwan. The leaves are very dark purple with some larger green leaves sticking out. The leaves are very large and lightly compressed.

The dry leaf smells very smoky and fruity. The fruity note is incredible strong…you can even smell it through the paper label. To me, it smells very much like stone fruits, perhaps plums or cherries.

Teaware

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I used my favorite gaiwan, which I purchased at Dobra Tea in Portland, Maine. Isn’t he/she beautiful?

Sadly, my gaiwan took a bit of a tumble. When I was washing the gaiwan before this review, I dropped the lid and it bounced off my sink. Somehow, the Tea Gods graced my presence and the lid managed to escape unscathed. Phew, that would have been devastating.

The cup and tea coaster are from the Tea Ave sampler that went out last week. I will review those teas next week, once the pricing comes out!

Brewed Tea

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I gave this puerh two quick rinses. I went with a 5 second steep to start, and then increased by 5 or 10 seconds each steep.

These photos are of the third and fourth steeps. The third steep came out a beautiful golden straw color.

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This tea is very complex. It is very mellow and delicate for a wild tree purple puerh. If I tasted this blindfolded, I would have never guessed this tea is only a year or two old.

Although the tea smelled very smoky, the brewed tea has barely a trace of smoke flavor. The main flavors that I picked up on were very intense stone fruit tastes, just like the smell suggested. The cherry and plum notes are so noticeable here that you definitely can’t miss them. There is also a pleasant sour, tart note on the finish that many other reviewers noted. Some tea writers described this as a lemony taste, which I would agree with.

The most noticeable aspect of this tea is the incredible thick mouthfeel. The tea coats your mouth with a rich buttery taste, similar to the sensation of drinking a quality high mountain Taiwanese oolong. I couldn’t get enough of the creamy mouthfeel. Awesome!

Once steeped, the leaves looked much more green than they did in their dry form. The steeped puerh leaves look pretty much the same as any other puerh tea.

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By the eighth steep, the color has lightened up quite a bit but the taste is still just as strong.

Finished Leaf

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I got about 10 steeps out of these leaves. I am drinking a few more steeps of the tea right now, and it is still going strong! The leaves were quite varied in size. Some of the leaves were huge, and some were tiny and appeared chopped up. I’ve never seen puerh leaves with such mixed colors.

Conclusion

This tea offers a great introduction into the world of purple puerhs. This cake was $41 for 400 grams, which I suppose is sort of the mid level of young sheng pricing. I really enjoy this cake, and would buy it again. This is one of the best sheng puerhs I have had! I love this tea, and I am looking forward to enjoying this cake for the next few months. Luckily I’ve got about 390 grams left!

“Coffee is not my cup of tea” ~Samuel Goldwyn

2012 Yunnan Sourcing Impressions from Yunnan Sourcing

If you are a puerh drinker living outside of China, then you have definitely stumbled upon Yunnan Sourcing at some point. Browsing Yunnan Sourcing is like window-shopping at the Mall of America. The selection is unrivaled, but it’s also a bit overwhelming. Hundreds and hundreds of cakes from all over China fight for your attention. This black hole of puerh tea grows even deeper if you shop at www.yunnansourcing.com, the international wing of Scott Wilson’s tea empire. As a puerh tea enthusiast living in rural New England, Yunnan Sourcing’s online store is a godsend.

Although Yunnan Sourcing is most well known for its puerh selection, Scott also carries some lovely green teas and oolongs that I enjoy. I’m a big fan of the 2014 Teng Chong Hui Long Zhai Yunnan green tea in particular.

On to the review!

This lovely guy is the 2012 Yunnan Sourcing Impressions cake from www.yunnansourcing.us.

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This tea has received numerous positive reviews online, so I figured this would be a nice one to try. But if I’m being completely honest, I really wanted to buy this cake because I loved the label. Check out that beautiful yin and yang!

I suppose that buying a puerh cake based on its packaging may seem a bit silly. It’s like buying a wine just because you want to keep the bottle. Luckily, this time I was rewarded for my impulsive tea buying. I snagged a nice cake at an incredible price.

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This puerh cake is made of a blend of wild arbor mao cha and spring and autumn plantation mao cha from Lincang, Wu Liang, and Simao, three of the most famous puerh producing areas of Yunnan Province, China. This blend was designed for aging, so I look forward to trying this tea again in a few years. Or maybe I’ll pass it along to my children one day. Of course, this is assuming that my hypothetical children are as interested in tea as I am. There’s a good chance my kids will say something along the lines of “Dad, what the hell is this? Is this a cow patty?” That seems to be how most non-tea drinkers respond to seeing the stacks of puerh cakes I have in my dorm room.

In case you want to recreate my tea tasting experience, here is the musical accompaniment I chose. A lovely live performance from Kishi Bashi! KEXP never lets me down.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3NPTWXKB0C4

Dry Leaf

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This puerh cakes is loosely compressed, but still broke off in nice manageable chunks. I weighed out 9.2 g of the tea to use. That’s a bit more tea than I normally use, but this adorable huge piece of tea broke off and I didn’t have the heart to break it up. Isn’t it cute?

It is quite apparent that this cake is made from a blend of leaves. There are some beautiful gold and white leaves sticking out from the mass of green and green-grey leaves. The dry cake is very fragrant, with a lot of the tobacco notes that are common in young sheng puerhs. There is also a very noticeable fruity fragrance. I also picked up on a lot of smoky accents, which other reviewers didn’t seem to mention.

Teaware

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I used my lovely dedicated sheng puerh Yixing for this sample.

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Check out my tea pet/tea toy!

Although I have been the proud owner of this tea pet for almost six months, I still haven’t decided on a good name for him/her/zir. If you have a suggestion, please let me know!

Brewed Tea

I rinsed this monster sized chunk with two ten second steeps. I figured I would rinse the tea pretty vigorously, since it takes a while for these large pieces to open up and release their true character.

After the rinse, I took a big whiff of the leaves. Whoa, incredible! This tea smells so fruity and complex that it’s very hard to describe. The tobacco and fruit scents of the dry leaf were amplified. The aroma is actually quite similar to a fruity flavored shisha tobacco, just like you would use for a hookah. Although I despise hookah, I find the smell mesmerizing.

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The first real steep was a beautiful golden yellow color, even after only ten seconds in the pot. This tea is pretty high up on the astringency spectrum, which you will probably notice right away. But this not the bad kind of astringency, it’s actually very pleasant. The word “astringent” seems to have a negative connotation to it, which shouldn’t be the case! I find that a little bit of astringency adds a lot of character to a tea.

This tea is very well balanced, but the smoky character is definitely noticeable to me. I noticed the smokiness in the aroma and the taste, although other tea bloggers don’t agree with me. Perhaps I am just more sensitive to smokiness.

The smoky taste is buffered by the other flavors, such as a very noticeable fruity accent. I can’t quite decipher what the fruity taste is…perhaps raisin, dried fruit? The tea has a light sugar cane/honey sweetness to it towards the end. Lovely!

The aftertaste is very grassy and minerally, as others reviewers have mentioned. A lot of young sheng puerhs taste minerally to me. I’m not sure if that’s just my palate, or if that is a characteristic taste for many young puerhs. I enjoy the mineral taste either way! Mmm, just like licking a rock. Before you call bullshit on me for saying that I know what a rock tastes like, I actually do! Earth Science/Geology major, woohoo! I’ve licked many a rock in my life.

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The orange color starts to sneak in by the third steep. You can see the orange color in my cha hai.

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This tea finally started to mellow out on the 7th steep. The tea is still quite powerful, but the fruity taste and aroma have faded away and have been replaced by a strong mineral note.

I started to feel profoundly “tea drunk” at this point. I felt pleasantly warm from the inside out. This high was coupled with a pleasant caffeine rush thanks to my heavy hand…9.2 g of tea certainly adds up! Ah, what a wonderful feeling. All is right in the world!

I got 9 or 10 steeps out of this tea. I could have probably gone for a few more steeps, but alas I had other things to do in my day besides taste fancy teas. Hopefully one day tea tasting can be my sole focus, and silly things like college can be out of the picture.

Finished Leaf

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The finished leaves look super high quality. There are some very light green leaves alongside some darker green leaves, with a few dark grey-green ones thrown in. The blended character of this tea gives it a very unique appearance. The leaves are very large and intact, with no rips or tears.

Conclusion

I enjoyed this tea a lot. It’s really great, especially for the price. $20 is about as cheap as you are going to get for a puerh cake, so this one is certainly worth a shot, especially if you are new to puerh or are buying cakes for aging. I’m interested to see what this tea will be like in a few years. Perhaps it will smooth out a bit.

$20 for 357 grams…wow. Considering that I got 9 or 10 steeps out of my 9.2 g of leaf, you can do the math and see that 357 grams is a ton of tea. We’re talking like 10 cents a cup here, guys. Fancy tea doesn’t have to be expensive!

http://www.yunnansourcing.us/store/index.php?id_product=334&controller=product

I’ve got some exciting reviews coming up, so stay tuned! My 2002 White Whale cake from White2Tea should be coming in tomorrow along with some samples. I also just received my sample from Tea Ave out of Vancouver, Canada. I haven’t cracked into those yet, but the samples look wonderful.

Thanks for reading everyone. My last reviews have been read by over 200 visitors. I feel very fortunate to have access to such a wonderful audience!

“A man without tea in him is incapable of understanding truth and beauty.”-Okakura Kakuzo, Book of Tea 

2007 Ronzhen Imperial Concubine Sheng Raw Puerh from PuerhShop

Raw puerh, here we go! I drink a lot of sheng () puerh. Unfortunately my desire to drink high quality puerh tea is slightly at odds with my infamous cheapness. I like to define myself as “frugal,” but my family members would tell you otherwise. Hence, I am on a never ending search for good tea that won’t cost me a ridiculous amount of money. With that said, I am more likely to drop a large amount of cash on tea than almost anything else in my life. In the words of James Norwood Pratt, perhaps America’s foremost tea expert, “No luxury is cheaper than tea.” In this video, he explains that a pound of tea that costs $600 per pound, or $37.50 per ounce, will yield about 600 cups. “One of the world’s greatest handmade works of art” will cost you about the same per serving as soda. And there are very few teas on the market that cost that much. So in the grand scheme of life, spending $100 or $200 on a puerh cake is not a huge expense I suppose. With that said, I would still cringe for days after spending $200 on puerh!

James Norwood Pratt also states that you should approach learning about tea “…like you would approach learning about making love: privately, discreetly, and with devotion and feeling.” Haha, what a weirdo!

His way of talking is so soothing and wonderful. I could just listen to his gravelly, soulful voice forever. Damn, I wish I had a voice like that.

Wow, what a tangent. On to the tea!

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I bought this cake from PuerhShop. This cake is made from early spring silver buds, which explains it’s very unique appearance. Holy crap, look how silver/white it is!

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The leaves are from Xishuangbanna, in the south of Yunnan Province, China. This cake is 400 g. Super size!

Dry Leaf

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This puerh cake is very loosely compressed, perhaps to speed up the aging process a bit. The colors are beautiful, lots of white and silver mixed in with some darker leaves. The tea smells wonderful and really sweet. I’ve never smelled a puerh that is this light and floral.

Teaware

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I brewed 7.4 g of this puerh in my dedicated sheng puerh yixing pot! This was my first ever yixing pot, given to me by some great friends. This teapot inspires a lot of lovely memories every time I bring it out.

Brewed Tea

I gave this tea one ten second rinse. For the first few steeps, I was very careful to keep the infusion times very short, between five and ten seconds. I read a few reviews of this tea online, and other bloggers noted that this tea is very easy to oversteep and make it bitter. I tried to pay special attention not to do that!

Once the cake opened up a bit, the tasting started. Look at that beautiful color! This tea is a bizarre orange-yellow shade that I find quite pleasing. Peep the new cha hai I got from Scott at Yunnan Sourcing.

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This tea is incredibly aromatic. I couldn’t stop myself from smelling it again and again, much to the amusement of my roommates. The astringent nature of the tea is one of the first things that I noticed after sipping the tea. This tea has plenty of astringency, like most young sheng puerhs, but I didn’t find it unpleasant. But then this tea really hit me over the head with its incredible sweetness. From what I understand, this sweet taste is somewhat characteristic of silver and white. The sweetness just lasts and lasts, and stays in the mouth for quite a while afterwords. This is definitely one of the sweetest tasting sheng puerhs I have tried.

As far as the flavor goes, this tea is very earthy and smokey tasting, along with a lot of the tobacco like flavors that are often noted in young sheng puerhs. This tea is not very complex though, which is perhaps its main flaw. The flavor kind of all comes at once, and then dies out quickly.

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I made several more steeps, adding five or ten seconds each time. The flavor didn’t really change much over these repeated infusions, but the tea held up pretty well.

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Here is the 6th or 7th steep. Still very bright and orange-yellow!

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I got a solid 12 or 13 infusions out of this tea before it finally gave out.

Finished Leaf

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The leaves are quite small and choppy. There are a few larger leaves in the mix, but they are a bit hard to find. Most of the leaves are a dull green color, but there are some purple guys thrown in the mix.

Conclusion

I am very happy that I tried this tea. It is not the best sheng puerh I have ever had, but it is probably the best I have had for the price. This tea is incredibly cheap, at $22.80 for a 400 g cake. This is a solid daily drinker for a puerh drinker on a budget. It is still quite “young” tasting and might improve a bit over time. But all in all, this a tea worth trying. This could explain why this tea is currently listed as the best selling sheng puerh on PuerhShop!

http://www.puerhshop.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&products_id=395

2011 Phatty Cake Shu Ripe Puerh from Mandala Tea

Well, it looks like it’s finally time for me to break into the puerh reviewing game. While I drink a lot of puerh tea, I must admit that my palate for puerh, and shu (cooked/ripe) puerhs in particular, is not very refined. I certainly enjoy shu puerh teas from time to time, but most shu teas taste the same to me. I really enjoy the savory, earthy character of most cooked or ripe puerhs, but I generally can’t tell one quality shu puerh from another. I’m more of a sheng man at heart.

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This Mandala Phatty Cake is a shu puerh. For you non tea-drinkers (what are you doing here?!?!), this means it was artificially “cooked” to imitate an aged sheng (raw) puerh. This process usually involves piling the tea leaves in a warm, humid environment. The leaves are turned over regularly. In essence, the tea leaves are being composted.

This particular tea comes from Mandala Tea, an excellent tea shop and online tea store based in Rochester, Minnesota. The 2011 Phatty Cake is wildly popular in the internet tea world. Steepster, Reddit r/tea, and TeaChat are all full of glowing reviews for this shu puerh.

The leaves for this cake were picked in Lincang, Yunnan Province in 2006 and then ripened in 2007. In 2011, the ripened leaves were pressed into cute little 100 g cakes.

Dry Leaf

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Normally when I brew puerh, I like to break off a large chunk or two and then have a few smaller leaves in the pot as well. However, since I’m towards the very end of this cake I could only break off this giant piece. The dried leaves are darker brown, as shu puerhs tend to be. This cake has a lot more variety than most shu puerhs I’ve seen…there are some lighter brown leaves and some darker brown leaves. The leaf size ranges from tiny and almost dust like all the way to entire leaves.

This lovely chunk of shu has that deep, earthy smell that is typical of shu puerhs. The cake is very densely compacted, and was a bit hard to break apart with my tea pick.

Teaware

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For this tea, I used my designated shu yixing pot. I bought this lovely little guy in the Yingge Ceramics District of New Taipei City in Taiwan. I bought it from a group of old ladies on the side of the road that had a little teaware shop. I can never resist buying something from cute old Taiwanese ladies.

Brewed Tea

I weighed out 8 g of this tea for my sample. I gave this tea two ten second rinses. Normally I only give puerhs one rinse, but since this chunk of tea was so solid I thought it would need another ten seconds to open up.

The first steep was an incredibly dark shade of reddish-brown, approaching completely black. And this was only a 15 second steep! You can’t even see the bottom of the cup.

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You may notice the white mist on the surface of the tea. Apparently these are tiny microdroplets of water that are actually levitating above the surface of the tea. How fascinating! This phenomenon was discovered by Takahiro Umeki and his team of physicists out of Kyoto University in Japan.

You can read a bit more about it at http://www.marshaln.com/2015/01/that-white-mist/. http://www.marshaln.com is also one of the very best tea blogs on the internet, so you should check it out anyways. https://medium.com/the-physics-arxiv-blog/the-mystery-of-the-white-mist-on-the-surface-of-black-coffee-a1a9624edfde also has a nice article about Umeki’s discoveries.

The first thing I noticed about this tea is that it is super clean tasting, as most other reviewers have noted. There is absolutely none of the “funk” of fishiness that you often find in shu puerhs. The initial taste is very leathery and earthy. This typical puerh flavor is boosted by a delicious savory taste, very mushroom like. As far as tea tastes go, mushroom might not be to your liking…but I certainly enjoyed it in this tea.Perhaps the most noticeable aspect of this tea is its texture. This tea is very thick and heavy, even for a shu. It is oddly filling, like a meal in a cup! The tea has a really pleasant sweet aftertaste.

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This is about the fourth or fifth steep. You can see that the tea has lightened up a little bit to a reddish-brown color. Even after five steeps, the tea is still incredibly heavy and thick. A lot of the mushroomy/savory notes have faded into a sort of medicinal or herbal note. This might not sound good, but I found it quite pleasant. There are so many flavors in this one puerhs. I was impressed by this tea’s complexity.

I lightened up the steep times to 8-10 seconds for the remaining steeps. I easily got over 15 steeps out of this one 8 g chunk of tea, and I certainly could have gotten some more out of the tea. This tea is incredibly strong and potent, as most reviewers have noticed. I love teas that have this aspect, but unless you are really into shu puerhs, I don’t think you would like this tea.

Finished Leaf

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The finished leaf is nothing too exciting to look at, since it’s a compressed puerh. But the leaves looked pretty full and high quality.

Conclusion

This is a good shu puerh, to put it simply. It’s incredibly strong and potent and will give you lots of repeated infusion. It’s a lot better than your standard $15 or $20 cake online. But at $19 for a 100 g cake, I don’t think I’ll be buying this tea again. It’s simply too pricy for what it gives. If you consider that most puerh cakes are 357 g, this tea would be in the $60 range if it were full sized. That’s pretty expensive for a shu puerh, and I wouldn’t pay that regularly for a shu puerh cake unless it really knocked my socks off. Maybe this just means that I’m too cheap 🙂

I’m happy I tried this tea though, and I’m happy that I supported Mandala Tea by buying it. If you are looking for an online tea vendor, you should give Mandala a look. They have a great selection and incredibly friendly customer service, even if the prices are a bit high for my tastes.

https://shopmandalatea.com/100-gram-mandala-phatty-cake.html