Monday, September 4, 2017

Yi Qing Yuan factory Hunan Fu brick tea with golden flowers

Fu brick; yellow spores vary in different layers

More of reviewing hei cha from a Yunnan Sourcing purchase, a Fu brick tea as described in the title.  This is the fourth and last review along those lines, with one black tea in that order still to go.  The last related post reviewed a hei cha brick from Hunan that didn't have golden flower spores introduced to the tea, and although it won't be possible to separate out that one input from other differences it will be interesting comparing both.

I really just keep including that order summary graphic to look up what the teas are, but in this case there isn't much detail there.  I'll also add the Yunnan Sourcing description:

This is a 10 gram sample portion of larger Fu brick tea fermented in 2009. Made by the Yi Qing Yuan tea factory in An Hua county of Hunan province. Special traditional fermentation process gives the tea a mellow, sweet and spicy taste.  Golden Yellow spores called "golden flowers" (金花) have been allowed to flourish just after pressing, which gives this Fu Brick a unique taste and feeling.

I wanted to add just a little about what the "golden flowers" are, and although I didn't find the type of description I had in mind I had recently read a "Mattcha's Blog" post covering that (one that also included links related to fluoride levels in some versions of hei cha, another subject I've been on recently):

What gives fu zhuan cha its regulating, harmonizing, centering, and grounding properties is its special production method. Its production is rather complex and involve twelve steps which include: fresh picking of leaves, panning, pile fermentation, rolling, drying, softening with steam, piling, partitioning, pressing into bricks, fungal fermentation, drying, packing and storing. In the end there are many pro-bacterial flora that proliferate in the finished tea the most commonly recognized is the eurotium cristatum bacteria which produces fu zhuan's famous "golden flower" yellow mold. It is famous because it is most noticeable to the naked eye. However many other bacteria are found in fu brick tea, and not all brick tea contain golden flowers.

Zhuan means "brick," more or less (but it sounds better than brick); and the rest I could live with as explanation, but I did look further into one reference on this bacteria versus fungus issue:

Microbial counting and identification revealed that genera Aspergillus, Penicillium, and Eurotium were the dominating fungus during the manufacturing process of Fu brick tea6, 7...  

A recent studies using PCR-DGGE analysis revealed that the microorganisms found in Fu brick tea were from or closely related to the genera Aspergillus, Beauveria, Debaryomyces, Eurotium, Pestalotiopsis, Pichia, Rhizomucor, and Verticillium10, while other studies found that Aspergillus niger, Blastobotrys adeninivorans and Bacillus, Enterobacteriaceae were the major fungal and bacterial communities involved in Pu-erh tea, another kind of post-fermentation tea11, 12. 

It might sound like that's the summary then, but that was only the introduction to their own review, with a bit more about that one input following:

Since the recent synonymization of the teleomorph-based genus Eurotium with Aspergillus by the International Commission on Aspergillus (ICPA, 2012), which adopted the newly established principle “one fungus, one name” (Norvell, 2011), species formerly included in the genus Eurotium are displayed with their Aspergillus name27. Many previous reports showed that Aspergillus cristatum (Eurotium cristatum) was the dominant fungus during the manufacturing process of Fu brick tea31, 32, and it is considered to be safe under low- and high-osmolarity conditions...

So it's a fungus.  It's all so clear already, but if that's of interest do give the rest of the paper a close read, since there's lots more to it.  On to seeing if I get harmonized and centered.


in gaiwan; lighting changes the tea color in photos

The scent of the tea isn't very intense; it's vaguely earthy, a little sweet, and as much as scent comes across it seems complex.  The brewed tea will tell more of the story.

I let the initial infusion go a little longer, to a standard time, and didn't use a rinse.  For drinking this tea regularly it would probably be a good idea to (not to be alarmist but a limited amount of toxins is an output from some types of tea fermentation), but I wanted to see what that part tasted like in this try.

It's nice; still subtle in this infusion, and will probably get going a bit more in the next.  It is earthy, a bit subdued, and pleasant, definitely not off in any way, not musty, or nasty.  One flavor aspect is definitely unusual and unfamiliar but it doesn't strike me as off.  I'm assuming that's the input of the golden flowers but more tasting and reading background on what that is supposed to contribute could help pin that down.

I'll take a quick stab at what I'm experiencing now and move onto more conclusive definition in the next infusion.  Do you know that sweet, minerally, slightly earthy scent that a steel pipe gets after it's been outside in the open weather for a very long time?  It doesn't smell anything like rust at that point, although it is more or less a form of rust.  It's a little like that.

old oil tank and pipes (credit here, with background on oil history)

Permit me a bit of related tangent:  I grew up near enough to Titusville, PA, the home of the first commercial oil well, an experiment by Colonel Edwin Drake in 1859.  I actually lived closer to Oil City, the center for oil refining for roughly a century after that, a history that only ended when the last of the refineries moved out within the last 20 years or so.  Oil well equipment was everywhere, and some still is, with some history and modern issues covered in this article.  I suppose that old equipment having a nice smell wasn't the most significant aspect, for most, but to me it was the smell of history itself, even of my personal history.  One of my grandfathers worked his whole life maintaining oil well equipment, and my family would go hunting in an old oil production area.  There were earlier levels to the local history than that, with old smelting furnaces from an earlier part of the industrial revolution still buried in overgrown woods, and Indian relics around from before that, with stone ruins and stories supposedly from an earlier people before them.  But this is all plenty for one tangent.

more "flowers" in different layers

I went about the same time on the next infusion, on the order of half a minute, expecting this tea to still be opening up.  I think I'll probably go a little longer next time to experience a more intense version of it, but there should be plenty to taste at this strength.

The flavor is nice, if anything a little sweeter this time.  In one sense it has good complexity; there is a good bit going on with the rich, clean flavors.  In a different sense it's quite simple and straightforward; the feel isn't thin, but it doesn't have lots of effect on different parts of your mouth.  It's simple in the sense of all the flavor range being kind of related, as a full set of aspects but within a limited range.  It's nice, to me, but it does possess an unusual set of earthy flavors, and people drinking teas for mouthfeel-based effects might see that side as more of a gap.

In a sense I'm not really completely sold on describing teas as tasting like ten other aspects, related to that not being fully descriptive.  I never really reject those sorts of analysis, even though they tend to vary by individual, so that even two people I would be inclined to trust tend to pass on different lists for the same tea.  It seems like a valid but limited approach, although to some extent any description of something that is completely experiential would be limited.  Can you really describe experiencing a sunrise, or roller coaster, or the difference between good french toast and an average version?  You can definitely use concepts to remind someone of their own related experiences, or even to explain how yours varied slightly, but at some other level the words fail to model the impression.

A flavors list it is then.  Sweetness reminds me of malted barley, not really "malt" in one the same senses I keep using it, but it has a grain-like background to it.  "Above" that the one unusual flavor aspect sits, in the same type of range, one that is hard to pin down.  It doesn't share the rust-like components of old rusty pipe, just the other mineral and earthy sweetness.  Mineral is doing something unusual in this; it's soft, not at all pronounced, but there is a layer that relates to that.  It's nothing like the mineral in Wuyi Yancha, or Taiwanese high mountain oolong, but of the two it reminds me more of the underlying tone that comes with sweet, mineral-like lightly oxidized oolongs from Taiwan.  The mineral undertone might be lighter than in that last Hunan hei cha.  It's not as earthy as one might expect; nothing at all like a range typically found in shou pu'er (although the one in this set wasn't exactly typical; it was light, smooth, and sweet).  I'll go with a longer infusion next time and see if I can't split the list out further.

An even stronger infusion does help with intensifying the experience.  I get the impression this tea would still be fine doing a two minute soak at Gongfu proportion, it might just be a bit stronger than ideal.  That sweetness reminds me a little of the sweet smell of fresh cardboard boxes in this.  Usually when I'm saying a tea tastes like cardboard I mean that negatively, but not this time.  It would seem odd to drink this tea very regularly, to go through a kilo of it, but I really would appreciate drinking a few hundred grams regularly until the novelty wore a little thin, and keeping it in a periodic rotation after that.

The subtle fruitiness present in it might be along the lines of longan.  To be clear I mean longan and not longkong (as that second similar fruit is called here); it tastes a little towards brandy versus the other similar fruit range leaning towards grapefruit.  A Huffington post article compared rambutan, lychee, and longan but stopped at saying longan has a "more tart and distinctive flavor."  It's like that, except that tart is completely wrong; they're not tart at all.  That writer botched the other two fruit descriptions too, saying a rambutan is richer and creamier than a lychee, and a lychee balances being sweet and tart.  That all works for average lychee but the levels of both tartness and sweetness vary a lot.  When you get a good version, from the right plant-type that is perfectly ripe, they're so sweet and complex that the rest of your world basically shuts down while you experience it, and for some plant types you'd have to say they taste a little like spice, maybe towards nutmeg, just not exactly that.  There were longan on the dining room table yesterday but today it's rambutan, and lychee season here seemed to be a month ago.  Anyway.

Back to the tea.  The taste range also reminds me of aromatic root spices; I suppose it had been like that in earlier infusions, and also it's moving more in that direction.  I wish I could name which ones.  Ginger smells nothing like it, and ginseng doesn't have that much smell.  I want to say "sassafrass" but I may have never actually tried a sassafrass infusion.  The trees grew around our house when I was young, and as I recall even the leaves gave off a really nice scent when broken.  I was a strange kid; I climbed trees a lot, smelled a lot of plants, and played with mud a good bit too.  Even as an adult while hiking in Colorado or Utah I'd crush bits of sage or pine needles to smell.

That one aspect is not completely unlike star anise but it's as wispy and faint in this expression as that spice is typically intense and overpowering, so the opposite, related to a typical level and overall effect.  Along those same lines a sweet version of autumn leaf also matches.  It's woody, but not necessarily in the same sense I usually mean by that.  Typically I experience wood as either a dark wood, more common in Wuyi Yancha, or a cedar-like aromatic wood, but this is more like how stacks of wood set aside for winter use back home would smell, sweet and complex, light in one sense, but with some different scent range going on.

It might seem odd that I'm describing all those as "narrow in range."  The general effect is comparable to that of an aged shou mei, it seems to me, even if the aspects aren't a perfect match, they just overlap a good bit.  It's warm, soft, sweet, earthy, and a bit complex but also subtle.  I would hope that some people into shou mei completely get what I'm talking about.  I was expecting something else; a much earthier, more intense, rocks, leather, and tree bark sort of tea, maybe even with a challenging, funky edge to it.  I'm not disappointed that it's subdued and approachable, it's just not what I expected.

blog mascots, camping inside the house

Post-script; two other bloggers talk about Fu zhuan (brick) tea

I remember reading about one of my favorite tea bloggers, Amanda of My Thoughts are Like Butterflies, trying Fu brick tea for the first time and being disappointed.  It reminds of a point that sort of goes without saying about trying this one:  I'm not reviewing the type of tea in general, I'm passing on an impression of this one version.  If you tried one Anxi Tie Kuan Yin or one Wuyishan Da Hong Pao and judged the type by that tea you might love that type or hate it for all the wrong reasons.  To me that works better for the DHP than the TKY since those really do vary so much in character, but the intense, sweet floral aspects range that make Tie Kuan Yin so appealing don't appear in all of the quality range of versions.  Bad DHP really can taste like cardboard, in the bad sense, so that's a different thing.

Amanda's blog post description is interesting:

I am going to just lay it all on the table, I do not like this tea, at all. I am not sure if there is something wrong with the tea (having never had it before, though I do have a different sample of a Fu Zhuan to try now sitting on my desk, convenient timing on that one) or if I just do not like it, so I cannot judge it on quality. Doing a little research on Fu Zhuan, it is said that the taste will connect you to the element of Earth in Chinese Medicine, personally I think I got kicked in the face by an angry Ent trying to impart lots of the element of Wood. It tastes like drinking mulch water (yes, I do know EXACTLY what that tastes like) mixed with leather and that same odd taste you get from chewing on the collar of your cotton shirt (and yes I know what that tastes like too, I was a chewer once upon a time) there is a touch of sweetness at the finish that reminds me of pine loam, that part I liked, but the woody and almost cardboard like aftertaste killed it for me.

I'm going to miss new versions of that rambling coming out, since she let tea blogging go, at least for now.  It's odd I added that after making up the earlier description and we both mentioned cardboard, as positive and negative.

Earlier descriptions in her post had mentioned wood, mulch, and leaves, so kind of the same range I'm experiencing in this other tea, although this version seems to have included more fruit and spice.  I wonder how similar they are, and to what extent a difference in preferences shifts impression versus the teas being different.  Sometimes it really just takes that one narrow bit of aspect range to make a tea really work or really not, some spice or mustiness to tip a tea towards working or not working, although from the sounds of it she may just not be on that general page.

After reading that, through the power of suggestion, or just helping bring a flavor to the light of description, a very faint touch of pine seems present.  As with the trace of star anise-like spice it's odd experiencing that at such a low intensity; it's not how those particular flavors tend to work.  I also just tasted my shirt; maybe the tea is not like that, although I'm not getting much flavor out of it.

I really liked the tea.  It probably didn't hurt that I was just drinking a Hunan brick tea, and a lighter, sweeter shou pu'er, and that I went through a shou mei phase earlier in the year to keep moving into that range.  And I loved a compressed black tea that went in a similar direction.  I could imagine people being on lots of different pages that would relate to not liking it as much as I did.

While I'm citing other inputs, another description by the Oolong Owl blogger went into more about the effect of a related version of tea, experienced at the 2017 World Tea Expo:

Cwyn waved me over to the Xixianxinqu Jinye Fucha Tea booth, and displayed was a wrapped 2 kilo brick and samples of clear golden tea. I was told it was fu zhuan tea, aka fermented tea with purposefully grown golden mold.  We didn’t have an open example, but was assured it was full of golden flowers.

I don’t recall how many cups I had. One? Two? It was delicious, honey, and sweet. Immediately I felt like a thousand ants were crawling on me and my head was filled with stuffing. I also would fail a sobriety test as I could not walk straight, began to chatter and laugh too much. I completely lost my usual professional routine of doing the World Tea Expo and stumbled through the show floor in a random manner, cursing fu bricks as I went. I had to piece much of this day by photos I took.

I'm quite a few cups into this tea--ten?  funny it's not fading more--and not noticing anything.  Maybe I'd need to be out in public to get the full effect, at a tea convention, or at least to walk into a 7-11.

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