March 30, 2009

2007 Light Roast Tie Luo Han from Seven Cups

I recently purchased several "light roast" Wuyi yen cha from Seven Cups that I received along with the two Bai Ji Guan samples. Lightly roasted yen cha are rarer than medium and "traditional" roasted teas, and since Seven Cups features several light roast teas, I figured I had some learning to do with my first purchase. My previous experiences with such oolongs have been very good--generally the flavor leans a little more to subtlety but a little away from complexity, as the roasting doesn't compete quite as much with the tea's inherent flavor characteristics.

Tie Luo Han is one of the Si Da Ming Cong (4 famous yen cha cultivars) and the name is usually translated as "Iron Warrior Monk." Seven Cups translates it as "Iron Arhat." "Arhat" is usually used to describe leading disciples of a buddha (though the term also applies to the buddha as well)--when the buddha reaches enlightenment and attains nirvana, so too do the arhats through his teaching. Some scholars will Christocentrically explain that arhats are "the saints of buddhism," though this analogy (like most of its kind) is probably more misleading than it is helpful, though it is apt on a thin surface level. I've always liked to think of this tea as the male version of the famous Tie Guan Yin, which is an even less apt analogy for every reason except the similarity between the names. Back to the matter at hand, this Tie Luo Han turned out to be a real gem.

The dry leaves are thick, long and complete, which is what I love to see with yen cha--it means whoever sold it to me took really good care of it. The leaves' gray/green coloration only comes through slightly in the pictures (surprise, surprise; I think it's time to embrace my camera's many flaws and play off my grainy tea photos as a "lo fi" artistic statement). Since the tea's obviously pretty green, I use less leaf than I would with a roastier yen cha, filling the pot roughly half full. I also infuse for about 15 seconds to start with (rather than flash-infusing) to get the best flavor.

Mmm-boy, this one is a winner. The honey-colored liquor yields a delicious assortment of dried fruit flavors reminiscent of raisins and dates, as well as a dark cooked apple-like feeling (thanks to Authoritea for encouraging me to buy this tea sooner). The wet leaves echo this experience but add a savory grain-like aroma to the mix. In the fair cup, the aroma is achingly honeyed with a wee bit of spice; I think the very successful light roasting for this tea really brought out a different character. Usually Tie Luo Han gets heavy traditional roasting, which can have its merits, but with this much underlying tea flavor, it's nice not to have the competition of a strong roast obscuring the tea show. With the second and third infusions, the liquor becomes dense and buttery, which is the aspect of these light roasted oolongs that keeps me coming back over and over again. The tea goes about 7 or 8 infusions before thinning to the point of simplicity, though I'd probably find at least a little enjoyment out of 10+ infusions. The mouthfeel was pretty pleasant for most of the session, with an acceptable astringency peaking around the third go.

The wet leaves behave interestingly--some remain tightly twisted, some pop open completely, and some remain in limbo between both extremes. It's also easy to see that the oxidation doesn't seem to be too heavy, just sort of creeping into the edges of the bruised leaves. I don't feel like I'm any closer to understanding what the archetypal Tie Luo Han tastes like (I most certainly could not pick a Tie Luo Han blind out of a line-up, or probably even say what makes three different Tie Luo Han teas similar to each other), but I can say that I found this specific one extremely pleasant to drink. Despite the fact that it's light-roast and 2 years old, it's still holding up better than the 2007 Bai Ji Guan I tasted from Seven Cups--and it's on sale! I may have to get some more.

March 28, 2009

NadaCha's 90's Sheng Tuo Cha

Here I sit, slap happy, drinking pu-erh underneath the acnalbasac noom. I've had this tuo cha for over a month, prying off a chunk whenever I feel the urge for a relaxing and mellow aged pu-erh session. At £12 or about $18 for a 100g tuo, it also means I have the liberty of enjoying the session without feeling like I have to make a special event out of it, like I usually do with more expensive aged pu-erhs I try. This has to be the best internet deal I've yet seen for aged sheng pu-erh.

The tuo is standard size--not one of those gargantuan 250g babies. It's also unwrapped, which I'm sure affects the price in a serious way. Nada says the size probably contributed to the tea's very aged nature--as the above picture shows, the leaves are quite visibly frosted (there were a couple human hairs pressed in my tuo!), the liquor is dark red with an attractive mist that lingers on the top, and there's no astringency and very little in the way of bitterness. Also notable is the size of some of the leaves--some are around an inch long, which is pretty large for a tuo cha.

When brewing this tea I like to break off a nice shell-shaped piece from the outer edge--I'm not overly picky about having the leaves seperate in the pot--the water can do the rest of that work, and I'd rather have the leaves in tact. After giving the tea a nice rinse for that purpose, the leaves come alive with aroma. Though they've been wet-stored, they don't smell quite as wet to me as a couple of Nada's other teas. More, I smell the light, sweet woody aroma that informs me this tea is aged sheng, not shu (sort of; I'll get to that later). It's certainly true that this tea's storage seems to have reduced the leaves' potency a bit--the first few infusions have a shy but pleasant sweetness, with the tea taste lingering in the background. What complexity there is must be sought out; this isn't the sort of flavor explosion found in Nada's more famous cakes like his 7542s and 8582s. Later, as the leaves open up, the flavor grows a bit stronger, bringing the notes of woodiness and mushrooms to full power, and the more humid storage aspects start to taper off. My fair cup smells extremely mellow and sweet, with little of that mustardy acridity (not necessarily a bad thing) from the other pu-erhs I've been trying lately. The storage aspects of the tea seem to linger most in my mouth after drinking, with an interesting cooling sensation arising in my mouth and throat. Nothing wrong with that, since I often drink aged pu-erh for relaxation.

The main reason I'm returning to this tea with a blog entry is because of a recent discussion about it on the Half-Dipper. A few of the participants conjectured that the tuo might be a blend of sheng and shu leaves. My experience with these blends is limited to two examples--an 80's and a 90's brick, both from NadaCha. After drinking I surprised myself by actually being able to easily differentiate between both types of leaves amongst the spent leaves of the pot. Here, though, I had a much tougher time--the only really dark colors visible in this pic seem to be stems, and it's tough to find any leaves with the type of texture that indicates they're shu. This, combined with the lighter nature of this tea's aroma and liquor, make me think that maybe it's not shu after all--plus, Nada has been pretty accurate about labeling the cakes he sells that are blends. Maybe I'll find some more convincing evidence one way or another in future sessions, but for now I'm just enjoying some guilt-free aged pu-erh whenever the mood strikes. Thanks, Nada!

March 23, 2009

Bai Ji Guan Trifecta

Ok, so that's not what trifecta means, but it sounds cool, so sometimes I use it to describe three of something. Bai Ji Guan means white cockscomb, which is that thing on a rooster's head, and it's one of the Si Da Ming Cong, or the four famous Yen Cha cultivars (the others being Da Hong Pao, Shui Jin Gui, and Tie Luo Han). There are a few things that are almost always said when describing Bai Ji Guan, so I'll get them out of the way in attempts to avoid dwelling on the same old same old. The first is that the tea gets its name from a legend about a rooster that died protecting its chicks, or some such story, or that the tea is so named because its leaves actually resemble a rooster's crest. Tea naming legends don't really interest me very much, though the physical appearance of Bai Ji Guan's leaves is quite striking in comparison with other teas--they are generally a much paler yellow, are rather small and almost seem a little more translucent. The second thing that people always seem to mention when describing Bai Ji Guan is that it's the rarest of the Si Da Ming Cong. Seven Cups offers more information than most regarding why this is (the cultivar's touchiness to growing and climate conditions and the sensitive and limited harvest window), but most vendors are content to leave it at "rare." From personal experience, Bai Ji Guan is quite rare insofar as its availability to the West is concerned; few online sellers even offer a Bai Ji Guan, and if they do it's usually quite expensive. It's also pretty difficult to find more than the cursory information I've already mentioned and few bloggers have posted experiences about the tea.

Why the Bai Ji Guan obsession? Hou De used to sell a Bai Ji Guan from 2004; I encountered it near the beginning of my blossoming passion for yen cha (a little less than a year ago) and was blown away by its flavor--different from every other yen cha I've tried, with a vibrant fruity/floral acidity that floated lightly over the tea's obviously skillful roasting job. Well, Hou De eventually sold out of the tea and, though I've got a bit tucked away, I've been on a search for more of the same ever since. The catch is, though, I have yet to encounter another Bai Ji Guan that is even processed in the same manner, let alone as high-quality. In some ways, my Bai Ji Guan quest is the ultimate microcosm of my intentions with this blog--my quest to find more Bai Ji Guan has also been a quest to understand what exactly the characteristics of authentic Bai Ji Guan are, and how and where I can get more of the one that caught my taste buds. Unfortunately my attempts to prolong the magic have thus far been thwarted--of four other Bai Ji Guans I've tried, none have even come close to the style of Hou De's. I have, however, learned quite a bit about what seem to be the tea's hallmark characteristics. Here I'd like to humbly share what little I've learned from my attempts, in case you've heard of Bai Ji Guan but haven't wanted to shell out the big bucks to try it. Tasting notes for three examples follow.

The well-informed and generous staff at Seven Cups were kind enough to include samples of both their 2007 Bai Ji Guan and their 2008 Bai Ji Guan with a recent order. Before I launch into my notes and impressions, I'll say that the difference between Hou De's Bai Ji Guan and every single other one I've tried (including one from Teaspring) has been roasting--all the others have been comparatively extremely lightly roasted, which imparts a totally different flavor and aroma. As I inspected the greenish brown leaves of Seven Cups' 2007 tea, I immediately knew I wasn't going to find my elusive tea, but I eagerly anticipated a chance to try another piece of the puzzle. Please forgive the quality of the pictures--clouds make for dull natural light, so the colors aren't quite as vibrant as they appear to the naked eye, but flashes are so harsh. The leaves are complete but small (especially for yen cha). A common denominator I've noticed with all examples I've tried is that the dry leaves are two-toned--one dark and one lighter and yellowish. As you can see in both pictures, they're a delight to behold and I could personally spend hours inspecting the delightful intricacies of each leaf.

After a few experiences, I've learned to brew Bai Ji Guan differently from other yen cha. Usually I'll stuff the pot over half full with leaves and flash infuse the teas for the first four infusions, increasing by 10-15 seconds on each later infusion. This tea's lighter roasting changes the rules, though, and that much leaf just makes the tea too strong in an unpleasant way (unlike the strength of a heavier-roasted yen cha, which I find pleasant, if quite powerful). So, as I try to understand this tea's needs I've had better results with about a one third-full pot and a slightly longer first infusion (15 or so seconds), dropping down to 5ish for the next few, then climbing back up as taste determines. I wish I could go in-depth with this 2007 tea, but unfortunately the results were pretty disappointing. Brewed with my trusty yen cha setup (zhuni pot and celadon pitcher and cup), the aroma and flavor were familiar and immediately recognizable as kindred to the other light-roast Bai Ji Guans I've tried. It's got a totally unique oolong flavor, and there's really little to know noticeable relationship to your average yen cha. You might as well be drinking alien tea, but please don't ask me what alien tea tastes like (I am not at liberty to either confirm or disconfirm the existence of alien tea). There's a savory vegetal aroma that immediately emanates from the leaves, offering a light honeysuckle sweetness that is immediately accessible. In some ways this tea is reminiscent of green tea in aroma and flavor, but with an oolong's body, complexity and longevity. Sadly, my experience with Seven Cups' 2007 example didn't go so hot--the first infusion confirmed my expectations for the tea and gave me enough information to say "Yep, it's Bai Ji Guan," but the flavor seemed shy. Though this isn't uncommon in first infusions, the tea never really increased in potency as the session wore on--insipidity came on pretty quickly (around the 4th or 5th go) and a several minute infusion even failed to produce much flavor. I'm wholeheartedly open to the prospect that my preparation of the tea could be the cause for these results, but I've prepared similar examples (including Seven Cups 2008 tea) in the same fashion with completely different (and successful results). Depending on storage conditions, 2 years could be just a little too long for this lightly-roasted tea, and I respectfully submit that this tea might be past its "sell by" date, especially considering the fact that $38/25g raises customer expectations considerably. Despite the tea's diminished power, it's still fun to take a look at the cashed leaves--I've noticed that the leaves often display widely varying color and oxidation, ranging from dark green leaves to pale, almost yellow ones, and the oxidation is always beautiful and easy to spot. If only the tea were a bit fresher.

Happily, Seven Cups' 2008 Bai Ji Guan fared much better compared to the previous year's harvest. According to the web site, the tea received a slightly higher roasting to prevent any grassy taste from the weather conditions on the day of harvest. Though the leaves are pretty similar in appearance, you can tell the difference in comparison of both photos (as well as in the liquor, which is a few shades darker). Even more so, the aroma and flavor betray the roasting. The same sweet, flowery and honeyed notes are there, but are complemented by the bewitching darker, woodier roasting element that only caramelized the floral aspects of the lighter-roasted version. In the flavor, the roast takes on a really pleasant chocolate-like sweetness. Though I drink a lot of yen cha, I don't tend to liken their darker aspects to chocolate, but here the description seems pretty direct. Like other fresh Bai Ji Guans I've tried, this one goes on and on, taking shorter infusions at the beginning with gentle results and yeilding up thinning but minutely evolving flavor with longer later infusions. Despite the longer infusions, the tea's astringency is neither unpleasant nor powerful, which is a plus. Unfortunately I didn't get a chance to photograph the spent leaves; though the first tea's flavor was weak, its caffeine apparently wasn't! By the time I finished both teas, I was levelled by caffeine and fled desperately in search of food and plain water. Needless to say, I was much more impressed with this example than the first, and I liked it enough to flirt with the idea of purchasing some, though I'll have to think it through a bit more, considering the price is similar to the 2007 tea.

Finally, we have Jing Tea Shop's 2008 Bai Ji Guan. Though this tea comes from 2008, its roasting seems to be lighter than Seven Cups'. Since I shelled out $78 for 100g of this tea, it is the Bai Ji Guan with which I've had the most experience. Unfortunately this included burning up a few pots' worth of tea with bad brewing parameters and mistakes. Expensive education! Thankfully, though, this experience allowed me a little more confidence in preparing my one-shot samples from Seven Cups. Though this tea didn't recapture my elusive Hou De lark, it is quite a pleasant tea to drink. Thick, syrupy liquor with plenty of flowery honey and an almost tingly mouthfeel. As pictured, the liquor resembles that of the first tea, though a bit darker because of the cup's depth (as Captain Beyond lurks above, awaiting play at the Stepping Stone's vinyl night). Like some others I've tried, it does seem to march on indefinitely above 10 infusions, which is certainly a plus. Usually I get worn out before the tea does! Astringency is again present, but in appropriate quantity and quality. The flavor of this tea is unique and pleasant, but as far as gong fu brewing goes, it's not especially dynamic, that is to say it doesn't make a whole lot of evolution flavor and aroma-wise throughout a session. So, at its premium price, I'm not sure I'll be rushing out to buy 100 more grams anytime soon, if I even go through my tea very quickly. Thankfully, Jing Tea Shop also offers 25g samples at a reasonably increased fraction of the 100g cost (reasonably priced samples of every tea is one of my favorite things about Jing Tea Shop, which is one of my go-to vendors for Chinese oolongs, greens, and sometimes pu-erh).

Overall, tasting these teas has been a very educational if not wholly satisfying pursuit. Though Bai Ji Guan is unique in flavor, I'm not sure the price is justified for my tastes. Today I actually dug out the remainder of the sample I purchased from Teaspring--if it compares favorably to Jing's (which in my memory it does) I might say that you should try Teaspring's instead of Jing's if you're curious, since it is considerably less expensive. Stay tuned for that update, if you're interested. I now feel like I've got a decent handle on what light-roast Bai Ji Guan is supposed to taste like. If (as according to Seven Cups) the tea is actually traditionally lightly-roasted, I suppose I can appreciate the tea's traditional processing, but I still yearn for the experience I've had with Hou De's 2004 Bai Ji Guan (I'll review a bit of my final stash in the future). The hunt continues.

March 20, 2009

1999 Menghai 7352 from Jing Tea Shop

I...might've glid before...

More sheng pu-erh! This is a sample of Menghai's 7352 recipe purchased from Jing Tea Shop. It dates from 1999 and, according to its brief description, it's 'dry stored,' which could mean any number of things. Perhaps more informatively, it's been dry stored in Guangdong province, China, which we can assume means something different from 'it's been dry stored in Phoenix, Arizona,' probably in a good way. There's so much debate online about the proper storage of aging pu-erh, especially from a humidity perspective, that this tea is even more interesting to try from an academic perspective. Most of the aged pu-erh I've had the opportunity to try has been supplied via Taiwan, which comes with certain biases regarding ideal flavor, storage, which cakes achieve popularity amongst the booming afficionado market etc., so it's especially informative to receive a more diverse example. Considering the cupboard I've got full of pu-erh cakes, I'm already invested in this debate, so it's with bated breath that I try and learn just how dry and cool a storage environment can be without destroying a cake's chances of aging. I consider this cake a key piece of information in the spectrum of different storage styles and conditions.

The leaves of the sample are already well-separated, which doesn't really bother me (as long as they're not powdered), though I probably prefer larger chunks. They're still looking pretty young, but not excessively so--they're darkening and looking just a bit frosted. Rinsed in the pot, the aroma has that dusty sweetness that I have come to lovingly associate with the few delicious dry-stored aged pu-erhs I've had the privilege to enjoy. The leaf aroma also betrays a healthy remnant of smokiness. I'm happy that it appears to be diminishing, leading me to wonder how many more years until it's gone completely.

This tea is in a transitory phase between the young, raw characteristics I'm very familiar with, and the aged maturity that is less readily available in quantity. Somebody in one of the Art of Tea magazines said that teas of this maturity aren't fun to drink, but I have to disagree--if the aging characteristics were only very slight, I might concur, but here it's really straddling the line, which I find quite pleasant. I have to admit that I have found myself a bit bummed that some of my favorite characteristics found in young sheng have been nowhere to be found in some of the aged pu-erhs I've tried, and it's nice to taste that light, airy quality that makes the tea very active in the mouth. The first couple of infusions are healthily bitter, but the bitterness recedes and partially sweetens in the aftertaste. The liquor's color surely shows the aging progress, and that mist on top of the cup is always fun to take in. The smoke is quite subdued in the flavor, and what's more prominent is a mushroomy, sweet wood flavor that sweetens more with air and as the tea cools. Astringency is still potent, though pleasant--could be my proclivity for yen cha, but I don't mind a bit of saliva when I'm drinking tea (as long as it's my own). The aroma in my tea pitcher is definitely less engaging than the last tea I tasted, leaning toward the smoky and sharp side, kind of an emphasis on that mustardy smell I mentioned in the last notes. Interestingly enough, the final, long and mellowing infusions are where this tea's aged qualities become most pronounced and a thicker musty sweetness becomes the dominant flavor. I don't know anything about this blend (it seems not to be one of the very top blends from Menghai) but this tea drinking experience is on a really promising track.

If the aging of this tea continues the way it has, I could see it being really dynamite in another 10 years--no more smoke, no astringency, and no bitterness, and it would be just like that delicious 80's 7542 ching bing that Hou De used to have samples of. From a personal perspective, since this tea has very definite aging progress and very definite room to complete its maturity, I should be able to monitor its progress (or lack thereof) fairly accurately as I try to determine firsthand whether or not pu-erh can actually be aged in the Pacific Northwest's climate, or if I should stop buying young pu-erh. Let the hand-wringing continue.

March 19, 2009

1993 Menghai 7542

I've found myself in a pu-erh mood this week for a number of reasons--I got a selection of samples from NadaCha, I finally found a good pu-erh pot through Life of Tea, Hobbes has been posting about pu-erhs that I've tried, and it just sounds good. All signs point to a pu-erh review.

In some senses, the very idea of me reviewing an aged pu-erh is a bit absurd, considering how few examples I've experienced and even how little experience I have with contemporary productions of the same famous blended cakes. With me, it's always a learning process, though, and this is more of a personal journal than a critical forum. I can say with great enthusiasm that Nada's generous mission has multiplied my aged pu-erh drinking experience several-fold. If only there were just a few more vendors online attempting to sell quality and aged pu-erh at reasonable prices, the online pu-erh community might have a little more actual experience to go from, rather than blindly and hopefully accepting the oft-perpetuated 'facts' about this most mysterious and complex of teas. Enough meta-commentary, let's get to the tea.

Nada's shop notes for this tea are brief but tantalizing nonetheless. Since you don't have to know a whole lot about pu-erh to have heard about the famous 7542, I was very excited to add to my smidge of experience with this tea (a beautifully dry-stored sample of an 80's cake from Hou De, all of which is now sold out). The well-separated and treated leaves of my sample don't reveal a whole lot when dry; a bit of a frosting on the leaves does indicate they've received plenty of humidity. Nada is certainly not afraid of wetter-stored teas, which certainly broadens the list of options. For the most part, I'm lousy at pointing out specific other things that a tea tastes like, so I'll try and focus on some other descriptive aspects to convey my experience with this tea.

This tea's aroma is worth the price alone. When I say aroma, I mean a combination of 3 things: The tea's liquor in the cup, the hot/wet leaves in the pot, and the fair cup after pouring. Some teas put off completely different aromas in all three, and this is one of them. The cup aroma seemed to most closely resemble the flavor, starting off bold with an almost acrid edge (maybe not the best word choice, because I still found it pleasant). This was the most "basementy" showing the aroma gave me. The leaves were delightful to smell for about 4 infusions, alternating between a strong storage smell and a woody, chocolatey, rainy aroma until mellowing into a rather plain pu-erh aroma. The fair cup was another story again. I don't really enjoy aroma cups quite as much--a lot of trouble to use and clean, and I can never really get the aroma as well as I can burying my face inside the fair cup. If I hit it at the right time (not immediately after pouring, but before the pitcher's heat had evaporated nearly all of the tea residue), the fair cup aroma alternated between dark and light smells with some incredible results. On maybe the 7th infusion (I don't really count, sorry!) I impressed myself by taking a whiff and saying "Mustard! That's what that smells like!" But really the aroma tread a wide path across many varying sensations.

Flavor-wise, this tea certainly satisfied me. Though not as complex as the aroma, the flavor began with a gently pressing and very slight bitterness (maybe I oversteeped by a few seconds) that eased off after a couple steeps. Nada seems to have a flair for choosing more affordable teas that were clearly stored with plenty of humidity yet aren't overpowered by that characteristic. Though I've been most blown-away by the dry-stored aged teas I've tasted, I can see where Nada is coming from in many ways. I found the tea's flavor changed markedly depending on how much air I took while slurping, which is another good sign for complexity. Dark and light alternation probably best sums up my overall experience.

One last thing I noticed was a light astringency. Strange, though, because it was different from your average unaged sheng astringency--primarily in the mouth, and only lingering temporarily. Something that would go away with a few more decades of aging, or par for the course with aged pu-erh? Hmm. Maybe someone out there with more experience could enlighten me.

This tea was very fun to drink; I could see myself demolishing an entire bing in just a few months trying to understand all of its complexity. As it stands, I've got a small sample to keep tantalizing me as to its potential.

March 4, 2009

Jing Tea Shop's Xing Ren Dancong Oolong - Winter 2007

I'd have liked to kick this blog off with something exceedingly special, but instead it's just what I spent my morning drinking--what could be better? This is the 2007 winter harvest of Jing Tea Shop's Xing Ren Dancong oolong.

Most of the Dancong that can be found online and in the flesh here in the US are generally of underwhelming quality (not to mention boring in their lack of diversity)--usually they seem to be of the medium-roast, "Milan" variety, though they'll often be called simply "Dancong." With crap quality being the norm, it's no wonder Dancong as an oolong genre is not well-known in the West, let alone in other places. I have to admit I first fell in love with Jing's Dancongs because of the pictures. Just look at those huge, multicolored leaves--it's like a much more interesting-looking Baozhong! With only a tiny bit of research, it turns out that Dancong seems to be one of the most diverse oolong categories out there--the number of cultivars is about as huge as with Wuyi Yen Cha, and the flavor variety is even larger! This particular Dancong (whoops, didn't take any leaf pics this time) is on the lighter oxidation side, with only a light roasting. The unfurled leaves are generally pretty yellowish-green, with maybe a few brown oxidation blotches.

Robbie Basho's "The Falconer's Arm" seems to be the perfect music this morning. Cascading, ecstatic 12-string guitar really adds to a thoughtful mood. I brewed this one in a teapot I purchased at Jing--I'll put up a teapot profile later, but it's called "Yu Ru Hu" and it's made of modern Zhuni. It was my first pot purchase at Jing, and I'd say it was a pretty worthy investment; at the very least it's brewing delicious Dancong whenever I want it! The lovely tea mat was made for my by my aunt. Celadon cup and pitcher came from Hou De; they're solid and retain heat very well. Though I haven't gone as celadon-crazy as Bret from Tea Goober, I've certainly bought a few. It's rare to find hand-made pottery of this quality for such a nice price, and the size and functionality of the pieces I've purchased have been really ideal for my everyday needs, which is the most important part for me.

Anyway, if you haven't tried one of these lighter-oxidation and roasting Dancongs, it's definitely worth at least a sample; they're unique as far as I can tell. The first couple infusions give off a room-filling fruity/floral aroma. Compared to Jing's Ba Xian, which was my other favorite, this one has a slightly savory edge to supplement the tropical amalgam of fruit and flowers--maybe that's why this Dancong's name means "almond seed." I'm not sure if it reminds me of almonds in the least, but the added "foody" dimension makes this one the winner of Jing's greener Dancongs, as far as I'm concerned. One other interesting facet of these teas is the leaf aroma. Sniffing the pot at the beginning is a dizzying, intoxicating experience that combines notes of the tea's flavors with an unrelated, juicy smell that persists even after the tea leaves have cashed out on flavor. As the infusions wear on, the leaf aroma gradually loses its complexity until it's just this fruity base.

The other thing I'll note is that this tea actually has a nice, thick syrupy body (check out its light golden color in the pic above), though the astringency seems to come on after the third infusion or so. This confuses me a bit--I usually associate astringency with heavy firing--like with a Dong-Ding or Yen Cha, but this tea is only lightly roasted...I guess there are some other factors at work, though, since green tea racks up some pretty righteous astringency after several infusions too. Maybe it's because the tea is almost a year old? Despite the astringency, this tea will soldier on through 10+ infusions really easily--I always feel good about teas that can last forever. Combined with the price (under $30 for 100g) it's a pretty good value as well, compared with some of the jaw-droppingly expensive premium Dancongs available out there. This winter's harvest is still pretty fresh--this tea is listed as AA grade, while the Ba Xian and Yu Lan are AAA. I'm not sure what exactly separates the grades--leaf uniformity? Leaf size? Regardless, this one's my favorite from a flavor perspective. As usual with Jing, the tea made it all the way from China without experiencing much damage--lots of whole, big leaves. Makes me wonder why a lot of the Yen Cha I get from the US has to be so beat up and fragmented. I bought a bit too much of these Dancongs (100g each of this and the Ba Xian) for my rate of consumption, but I've promised myself not to buy this season's until I've finished off the older stuff, which is still holding up quite nicely. It's tough!