Thursday, March 14, 2019

Qian Liang Hunan Hei Cha from Jip Eu






This hei cha version Kittichai, the owner of Jip Eu, passed on in one of the visits there a couple months back (my favorite Bangkok Chinatown shop).  I tend to bring them teas to try, and they give me more in return, and I buy some to drink, related to wanting to own that tea, but almost in part to keep up the pretense of being a customer.  To me they're great to visit with; that stands out as much as the shopping opportunity.  I don't even know if they sell this but it was my impression that they don't, that he was just sharing something interesting.  Or maybe they do. 

I bought other tea I liked so much I've bought it three separate times now, a sheng tuocha that's on the basic side but well-aged and seemingly quite underpriced, which I will get around to writing about.  I almost want to just buy the rest of what they have of that tea and let it go at that, but somehow that seems selfish.  Maybe I should split the difference and buy a couple more tuochas.

I might as well cover what this is first, even though I tried the tea and made notes without looking that up:





It's Qian Liang hei cha from Anhua, Hunan.  Kittichai mentioned that, and about it being made as a long cylinder, aged for a long time, and then sliced in parts.  Teapedia lists a short description:


Qian Liang Cha (千两茶) is a speciality from Anhua. Anhua county of Hunan province is famous for many dark teas. The tea is similar to Pu-Erh produced and post fermented. Qian Liang Cha is pressed to long and heavy poles from which later small discs or cakes are sliced. Qian Liang Cha means translated 1000 liang tea. Liang is a traditional Chinese unit for mass. While 10 liang are appx. 1 pound and therefor a Qian Liang Cha is about 100 pounds (50kg) heavy.


Tony Gebely's "Tea:  A User's Guide" adds detail to that, beyond identifying it as hei cha:


Hua Juan Cha is produced by pounding steamed Hei Mao Cha into a cylindrical bamboo basket lined with a layer of bamboo leaves and a layer of palm husk. The cylinder is then pounded with a large wooden hammer as it is rolled tight by several people. It is then tied off and allowed to dry outdoors for several weeks...

Each Hua Juan variant uses a Chinese weight measure called a tael (两.). During the Qing dynasty when this style of tea was first produced, a Tael was equal to 36.25 g. The most common sizes produced are Qian Liang Cha (千两茶, qiān liăng chá) or thousand tael tea, Bai Liang Cha (百两茶, bǎi liǎng chá) or hundred tael tea and Shi Liang Cha (十两茶, shí liǎng chá) or ten tael tea.


That does go on to list this version out as a size of 36.25 kg, 150–160 cm tall, and 20 cm in diameter.  My wife would go crazy if I brought one of those home.


Review


The first infusion is a bit light; this will need to be brewed significantly longer to show its character well.  I didn't weigh out the sample but this proportion is low compared to what I tend to use for other types, intended for a longer infusion approach.  I'll skip to the next infusion to say more.


earlier round infusion brewed a bit strong


It's different, earthy in a unique way; that is kind of how I thought it was supposed to be.  It tastes like brewing aged wood and dried fungus, so mushroomy.  I expect that will clean up a bit over the next two infusions or so, and even using really long infusion times will produce a lot of steeps.  It's not musty or sour so the flavor doesn't need to clean up in those senses; it's pleasant.  A dark caramel sweetness supports that other range well, with plenty of flavor that is more towards dried fruit, closest to date, or between that and fig.  The thickness is nice, a slightly oily feel.

It transitions a little on the next round but the same description still applies, the balance just shifted a little.  The fungus / mushroom range mostly cleared out, and might be faded further in the next round.  The other dark wood / dried fruit range is nice.  A mineral layer played more of a role than I described, which stands out more in this round.  Of course it's warm and towards earthy, between a dark version of a rock and corroded metal. 

It's like you might expect a meteor to smell.  There is a big chunk of one at the temple we keep visiting, but to be honest I don't remember picking up any smell from it.  This doesn't have the same kind of feel structure that even softened aged sheng has but the version of thick feel is interesting.

It's not that different on the next round; I think transitions may not make for much of a story for this.  This does match up with the only other "golden flowers" version of hei cha I've tried, a Fu brick tea, based on distant memory of that experience. 

One would expect the flavor to be earthier in a much different way than it seems to come across, heavier on fungus (it is mold).  But to the extent it works to extrapolate from only two versions--which doesn't work, of course--the resulting flavor is sweet, distinctive, and clean in effect.  It's a bit faint and mild, something like dried bamboo smells (not that it's so familiar; that description is a stretch).  Like some sort of tisane, maybe, a root-spice version, not so different than a smell component of visiting an herb market in Seoul that sold a lot of ginseng.




A lighter infusion round doesn't change things much, but it's still quite pleasant, sweet, complex, and distinctive.  It's interesting contrasting that with brewing a round for about 2 minutes after, much longer than I would any other type of tea (except shu would also be fine prepared extra thick).  The mushroom aspect comes back; that aspect coming out seems to be a function of the infusion strength.  The tea is nicer brewed light but including mushroom flavor isn't as bad as it might sound.  It's funny how that drops out completely brewed lighter and other flavor range doesn't change that much.  The feel isn't necessarily all that thin brewed for 15 to 20 seconds at a relatively moderate proportion (low, for me).


Back at that 20+ second infusion timing it's better again, light on flavor and limited in body but interesting and pleasant.  It's interesting comparing this to a 10 year old Malaysian-storage aged sheng I tried yesterday, the final rounds of that, now surely around 15 infusions in.  It's not right to say the experiences are similar but there are some parallels and overlap.  The flavor is in a comparable range for type, with that sheng including more tobacco towards dark tree bark, now light in feel for being somewhat brewed out, but still substantial.  It's catchy. 

This hei cha is earthier, with more in the range of corroded metal or mountain spring mineral scent, like the smell from a pipe coming out of the side of a mountain with water flowing out of it.  Some people would love it, but tea drinkers acclimated to better aged sheng range might not, as much for being different as being inferior in character.  To me both are nice. 

I can't really place exactly how good this version is, to pin down trueness to type or quality related to a standard range for versions.  The other golden flowers Fu brick tea I tried a long time ago might've been slightly nicer, but similar in nature, or then again maybe I've just been drinking a lot of better teas in the past year, so this is being judged against a tougher baseline.  Either way it's interesting and pleasant, if a bit simple across some of the aspect range.  The mushroom and corroded metal range could put some people off but sweetness hinting towards dried fruit and other complexity balanced that in a reasonable way.


I sort of start to get it why people evolve a singular preference for better aged sheng, in a range of character types I've barely been exposed to yet.  I'm not sure that I'll drop out my liking for all other kinds of tea, as is common enough.  There was just a discussion in a FB tea group about that, with results splitting in both directions.  Some even claimed to have been really into pu'er earlier in their tea experience but have since moved on to preference for other types, the opposite of the more standard form of transition.  I probably wouldn't switch my tea drinking habit over to include a lot of this form of hei cha but it is interesting and pleasant to try different teas.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Liquid Proust Sheng Olympiad 2008 Guang Bie Lao Zhai






I'm reviewing the last of a Liquid Proust Sheng Olympiad set, probably two months after most of the people who bought that set tried it.  It was nice.

Perhaps the main story behind this tea is the part of the label that I left off, "Malaysian Storage," or for others the producer name is the real novelty, made by Huang Chuan Fang.  The other samples in this set were younger teas (newer), and this will be a chance to check if my past impression of Malaysian storage lending a specific flavor to sheng is right.  Not conclusively, since it will take lots more samples of different kinds to really get to firmer conclusions, but it will still be interesting to see.  I don't know what the tea itself is; probably as well to leave that until the end to check anyway.

For here let's start in with the Liquid Proust description:

Malaysia: 16g 2008 Guang Bie Lao Zhai from Huang Chuan Fang 

Still new to Huang Chuan Fang... but these cakes have been stored in Malaysia for 10 years.


I got side-tracked reading up on that area designation and background (between the earlier statement and editing phase), but suffice it to say that it's a Bulang mountain location.  A lot of the tangents that turned up were interesting but these reviews are long enough as it is.  This reference seems to mention this producer, Huang Chuan Fang, and an interesting tea event awhile back, from Phyll's Account of the June 2007 Pasadena Pu'er Tasting Event.  It's odd that's no longer a news update, as presented there, and more like US tea culture history now.



Review


It's pleasant, and it definitely tastes aged.  I let the infusion run longer than I will for the rest of the cycle (well over 10 seconds), to move past a "still getting saturated" phase, so it's on the strong side this round.  Familiar age-related flavors are clear.

People describe those in all sorts of ways and I'm not sure if my own ordinary-language versions really mean much to anyone.  They probably only would to people who are familiar with the experience, which defeats a little of the point of communication, only talking to people who already know what you are saying.  I'll stick with it though.

That warm, mineral-intensive, sappy range reminds me of aged leather, stones, old books, and to some extent to warm spice.  Sweetness is along the lines of an earthy form of molasses.  A lot of this review will probably be trying to put better description to all that than I'm able to, and I think today I'll say less since adding more words won't really help anyway.  That spice is probably in between a tropical dark hardwood, an incense spice, and tobacco.  Maybe on the next round the general-scope descriptions can be clarified to a narrower set.



Next round:  it's still complex, hard to narrow beyond adding that laundry list of what aged teas (sheng) tend to taste like.  Tobacco probably does stand out more this round, but it's not alone, still in a complex other set.  Incense spice is on the same level, frankincense or myrrh or something such.  I should figure out where the modern versions of hippies are hanging out in Bangkok and go to a store selling products in those ranges. 


The level of aging seems right, pronounced for this tea only being 10 years old, and the flavor intensity and general character works.  Sometimes aged versions can seem quite thin across an aspect range, the body / feel can be light, aftertaste just missing, or flavor set one-dimensional.  Maybe that's related to a storage issue, or maybe due to not being suitable for aging in the first place.  I expected this to be slightly heavier yet in flavor tones (danker, to stick with that earlier theme), and it still strikes a decent balance.  I could see why people further along in experiencing aged sheng might possibly think this is great, or might think it's not how such teas are supposed to be at all, outside even a broadly defined range of potential preference scope.  To me it's nice.


On the next infusion the flavor didn't really need to clean up or sort out in any sense, and it has only transitioned slightly.  A different kind of warm mineral tone is ramping up, and the sappy resin-like character that had been there all along.  The rest falls into more of a complex and even balance.  In seeing positive feedback about this version in limited online discussion I was wondering if it was more the positive character of the tea that caused that impression or that it was a chance to try an aged version.  It's probably both; the tea is ok, and aged.

A kind of generic aged sheng version I bought in Chinatown was similar in some ways, or overlapped, especially related to the tobacco flavor, but it was a lot less complex and thinner in feel and overall impression.  Again the range that's there being positive depends on preference but it seems a decent fit to ordinary likes, beyond just lacking common flaws.  I've tried sheng this aged that had just faded away and this didn't.

I just ran across an interesting aging related review post describing teas seeming quite young at double this age, if stored in dry and cool enough conditions.  It stands to reason; just as this tea probably experienced an environment that more or less optimized related bacteria and fungus growth it would be easy to imagine the relative opposite in the form of a typical Northern US or Canadian indoor household, generally cool and dry.  I'll probably get around to mentioning more about it but I also ran across this interesting post on a series of combined-trial environment tests on aging.



On the next infusion flavors settle a little and the mineral picks up, still warm and complex but across a narrower range now.  I saw a post about someone drinking tea-bag tea (in a Gong Fu Cha FB group; it wouldn't be funny in others where that's common), claiming that it tasted like pennies.  This does too, a little, but it works.  From aged leather to incense spice then tobacco and now pennies; I could imagine it not working as well for everyone, but I liked it across that range.  It seems likely that it will settle into a character that's different and just as positive or more so over a few infusions, that also sounds a bit strange.

More of the same on the next round.  It's nice the way the mineral intensity balances, and a related feel coats your tongue and transitions to a pronounced aftertaste.  More of the same the round after.  There are going to be mild shifts in character but I'm not as much in the mood for trying to split that apart today.  I'll go slightly longer and add a few notes and let it go.

A tree bark / warm spice range is picking up, although some of that is the character seeming different infused slightly longer.  I could imagine that being interpreted as tobacco instead; it's close enough.  Mineral underlays that nicely, with molasses sweetness filling it in.





Conclusions


On the subject of storage-area and climate related changes, I think I can taste what I expected, but it's hard to be certain.  Other Malaysian aged versions seemed to have a warm, earthy, mineral and almost musty flavor range that this matches up with.  It's not so far off the smell in a basement, something hard to pin down, but noticeable and distinctive.  It smells a little like a wet cement block, or just a little towards a tree root from there.  It's not so far from the slate-mineral taste common to Liu Bao, just not exactly that.

It's hard to evaluate how good or bad a thing it is, but the effect / aspect I'm talking about is quite faint, with the general fermentation level something else altogether.  Maybe this could've achieved a more subtle and refined complex aspect range in another five years in a slightly less damp environment; I couldn't know.  At least it did get relatively completely aged (fermented) in 10 years, and the character stayed pleasant, not musty at all, in spite of how I've just described that aging effect.


Placing this in relation to other aged teas I've tried seems in order.  It's quite decent tea, it seems, per match against my preference.  It's not significantly different than the Thai aged shengs I've tried, Hong Tai Chang versions from Tea Side, one of which from 2006 I own what's left of a cake of.  I tried a Changtai version from that same year a friend passed on that shares some aspect range that seemed a good bit thinner, missing some depth, with limited complexity and a bit thin over-all.  Of course there's no guarantee that a tea is as presented, and all the details of that one weren't shared anyway, but the point here is more a general comparison.

This tea was pleasant for me going back to it and brewing a lot more rounds of infusions, so many that I couldn't guess a count.  It faded over those but stayed positive all the way through them.  Infusion count isn't necessarily a definitive guide to tea quality but to me it seems to be a marker, along with the character of the aspects (of course), and undergoing a pleasant transition cycle. 

It could seem odd that I'm not mentioning feel at all (cha qi), but I only tend to notice that in the most extreme cases, when a young old-tree sheng or older well-evolved sheng version stand out for intensity related to that.  Eventually I might be more "in-tune" myself in order to pick it up better but my kids would need to adopt more regular sleep cycles so that I could share in that practice.  The youngest is now 5; it's about time for that.  I spent some time as a stoner so I feel a bit over experiencing externally caused changes in myself, even if the character of those is generally positive.  My natural neurochemistry balance is working out.

I'm tempted to judge just how good the tea is, or try to place it further, or to estimate how fast it aged related to that storage location and climate.  It's as well to just let the description stand as a partial account; after a few more years of trying tea versions I'll be better prepared for it.


at a local water park with my daughter's friend and his father





Kalani and a cousin at a play area


that little girl is so cute and sweet


this one too


Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Comparing Laos and Nepal white teas


Moonlight white lower left, Laos top, Nepal tea bottom left


This tasting was about getting to a few teas I've been meaning to try for awhile.  Anna of Kinnari Teas passed on teas at the end of last year, some versions that were sold as Kinnari teas and some that she had ran across in travels in Laos.  Her teas are great.  Laos teas are great, in general.  If this government initiative to support that industry works out you'll have broader access to try some, but don't hold your breath; SE Asian government projects take time.

Another friend, Somnuc Amnousinh, passed on some Laos teas I've written about as well.  He's not a vendor, just a tea enthusiast who gets out, and related to that he shared some great versions from Laos.  This black tea version works as a good example; it's a crying shame that anyone being able to order that tea online is only a distant dream.  If it sounds too good to miss then you need to get on a plane and fly to Laos.

The third is a Nepal tea, shared by a small producer friend there, Narendra Kumar Gurung.  His teas are produced through a Highlanders Farmers Private Limited tea-coop, which I said more about in this post, sold labeled as Barbote teas.  This review of a black tea version conveys how unique and well-made those teas are, just amazing they could be that good so early in their production history.  It's not as if he is new to growing tea though, and processing very good tea is nothing new in the local Nepal industry.  "Very good" is all relative; in this case I mean in the sense of not giving up much in terms of Darjeeling quality standards, or maybe as good but just different in style.  To me that's impressive.


It is nice knowing such interesting and diverse people through exploring tea interest.  Now that I think of it I've written about all three of these people in one other post about meeting interesting tea friends, here.

I've not actually met Narendra in person yet, and there really is an extra depth to that form of experience.  But it can still be nice sharing ideas through messages, and I've tried his teas, which have all been very nice.  It's probably luck of the draw as much as anything but all of the Nepal teas I've tried, not just his, were very pleasant, distinctive, and somewhat consistent in style ranges.  I won't add more about that background, though, since there's plenty of review to get to.

One of these is a Moonlight white and two are silver tips style teas (buds-only white, not so different than silver needle, but I take that to be a more type-specific reference).  It's odd comparing diverse tea types like that, just sharing being white tea.  The plan was for the contrast to make sense, for the Moonlight White to stand out for being type-typical and nothing like the other two, and then for them to make sense related to each other, with the contrasting descriptions as a base that fills in more about character.  It sort of didn't work out like that, but that's part of it too, seeing how things go.


Review


I used about a 30 second infusion time for the first round, which would be way too long for the shengs I've been drinking more of lately, but for these they'll just be getting started infusing in that time.

Laos Moonlight White (Kinnari Tea):  the tea is great, as expected.  It leans more towards spice than I thought it would, since I was expecting more fruit, but that works too, and the fruit will probably develop more over the next two rounds.  This is warm and earthy enough that it could easily be an aged tea version, it's just not, similar in some limited ways to a well-transitioned shou mei.  It's nice, distinctive and sweet.  As near as I can tell based on drinking a light initial infusion it's well balanced.  I'll do more with an aspect list next round.

I didn't take a picture of the dry teas before reviewing them, a bit of a lapse.  As memory serves this looked similar to Oriental Beauty in color scheme as these teas go, with dark, reddish, and brown leaf colors, not limited to silver and black as is typical for Moonlight White.  I really should take another photo since I have more at home, and may edit this to include one if I end up posting it before I do. 

I didn't do much with photos at all in this tasting; I'm not sure why not, since I am in the habit.  It probably related to family-originated background noise; I can't always wait for the kids to clear out somewhere to try and write notes about teas, and it's really hard to focus with piano playing, banging around, and screaming in the background.  It's like having wild animals in the house.


the sweet little noise makers out for pizza recently


Laos silver tip (or silver needle, if you like):  this is labeled "Yanchaw W;" I don't know what that part means).  For once this silver tips version doesn't taste vaguely like straw and flowers.  A good bit of spice comes across in this tea, even more so than in the Moonlight version, which included more spice than anything else.  Strange.  If anything the proportion is slightly lower for this white and it seems more intense than the Moonlight (although without weighing the teas that's just a guess, a guess that will be more informed once I see the fully saturated leaf volume, when it will still be just a guess).

I'm wondering if this wasn't contaminated by being stored too close to something else, the taste range is so unexpected and intense.  There were tisanes in that storage box too and one in particular was aromatic, an unusual form of compressed fruit tisane bar.  I had some pu'er and other long-term stored teas well isolated in a cabinet, and other samples and in-progress versions in a moderately sealed box in that same cabinet, and miscellaneous samples and boxes piling up all over the place, and my wife collected the strays into one storage box.  It would be odd if this whole review was about flavor the tea picked up along the way, and it's as much an actual possibility as a funny thing to say at this point.  These Laos sample teas from Somnuc were stored in plastic bags similar to ziplock bags, and those are a bit permeable, not a great moderate-term storage solution, and this has been around for a few months now.


Nepal silver needle:  this is interesting, distinctive, and pleasant; not on the weak side for being an initial round.  It does taste floral and like dried hay, so it is what I expect as a default from bud-only white teas, but a touch of unique range mineral seems to give away the Nepal origin.  There's a hint of citrus in it too, a dried peel that could be tangerine versus a sweet version of orange:  that's nice.  I'll leave off the longer descriptions to do a full list for all next time.


Laos Moonlight White left, Laos white middle, Nepal tea on the right


Second infusion

Moonlight white:  fruit isn't necessarily filling in yet but a nice savory sweetness similar to sundried tomato is.  That's primary; the spice range isn't as noticeable, and really at this point it requires imagination to split out the rest further.  Free associating a little to get to that:  milder spice is present, and some degree of light floral, but a sweet version of it, something like violet, or instead like a light version of lavendar.  Fruit is closest to dried apricot; to me that part does stand out.


Laos silver needle:  I hate to say it but this does taste like the spice in a tisane blend I tried not long ago, something really novel from Moychay, a pressed fruit bar that was quite heavy on spice (listed here with a description cut short since it's sold out).  This might be a rare case of an aborted review, leaving off as a warning about combined storage, especially if one of the teas isn't well-sealed.  Using ziplock style bags can be a problem; not much of the rest of how teas are stored is as open to being affected like that.  The tea is quite nice, for what that's worth; that hint of spice works well with the rest.  If it is natural it's a unique, positive aspect of this tea.  It's probably not (more guesswork), and most likely a happy accident that the flavor cross-contamination was positive.


Nepal silver needle:  the mineral, light floral, sweetness, hint of dried citrus peel, and dried hay all works together.  It's a distinctive profile that seems familiar.  I'd probably have to brew it stronger to draw out a thicker feel but it doesn't necessarily come across as thin, I've just accustomed to sheng lately, which are even more multi-dimensional.  I will let this run over another 30 seconds to get plenty of infusion strength out of it.


Third infusion

Kinnari Moonlight White:  more of the same, mainly savory, towards sun-dried tomato, with a bit of spice under that.  Or it could seem more like autumn forest floor:  warm, sweet, and rich, clean flavored but earthy.  Using either as a main flavor-range interpretation (or more likely seeing it as covering both for range) there's a hint of spice as well, closest to cinnamon, but also not so far off nutmeg.  Reviewers with a great imagination would add a lot to that, aspects like warm floral tone or rich berry, like blackberry, maybe closer to that than apricot in this round.  I thought it might be even fruitier but at least it does get to a little of that.


Laos silver needle:  I'm dropping this out of the review process; it tastes like warm spice and fruit, way too close to that Moychay tisane pressed bar.  Now that I think of it that tisane bar would be perfect for mixing with an inexpensive white tea to convert it to a flavored version.  To some that would seem like an unnatural act, way off their own preference, and I tend to not drink teas along that line much myself.  But it seems to work in this, and it's not even brewed together, seemingly just picking up a trace of flavor transferred across two layers of packaging.


Nepal silver needle:  the mix of flavors seems to evolve to include a bit of fruit.  The light tangerine peel aspect already was that, but it seems more pronounced and complex in this round.  It's a bit non-distinct, since it is coming across along with all the rest (mineral, dried hay, etc.), and since the profile extends to light floral too.  I'll guess out a range for that fruit as dried citrus fruit itself, versus the peel, maybe closest to blood orange, quite warm and sweet.


apparently I didn't feel like taking pictures that day



Fourth infusion


This will do for a final take; it's enough tea, even though these are probably only more or less half finished.  Using the longer infusion times would limit the count, so it won't make it to over a dozen as sheng tastings have (which brews a lot of tea too).  White teas are often durable related to what can be brewed from them compared to black teas.  Oolongs are in the middle; it just depends on the type.

Moonlight white:  other than fading a little the general effect is the same.  Even that change could result from a variance in infusion time, from not keeping track.


Nepal silver needle:  still in the same range, but the balance keeps shifting.  Mineral might be stronger than the rest in this round (a flinty / limestone sort of range mineral, lighter stone), with light citrus, dried hay, and floral tone standing out, more or less in that order.  It's quite flavorful as buds-only white teas go, in a range that's pleasant.


Conclusions


I really liked all three teas.  The Moonlight wasn't what I expected but it was nice.  For amounting to a tea storage glitch the Laos white was very pleasant.  I probably never will carry through on using that tisane for making a homemade blended version, mixing it with tea, but it would be great for that, and I tend to just not think along those lines.  I did mention in writing about it elsewhere (another story I'll get to) that the fruit tisane bar might work well for adjusting the flavor of a masala chai, doing a fruit-adjusted version of spiced tea.  That I might get to; it's interesting messing around with versions of those.

The Nepal tea was better than I expected, although I probably should've expected that character.   Buds-only whites so often come across as relatively flavorless to me that I don't start with high hopes but Nepal teas are often on the intense side, and Narendra's other versions have been really pleasant.  Someone with more exposure to Nepal white teas would've done more with placing that, comparing it to other range.  In the past I've been more of a fan of the really intense bud and fine leaf Nepal white versions, which can be heavier yet on citrus fruit with a cool mineral undertone, as Narendra's version of that type was.


Many thanks again to those three friends for sharing those teas.


at a local temple with a visitor recently


probably time to get back to a haircut theme


same week, same temple (Wat Pho), different visit


a photo with my wife and a very respected local monk