This 2006 Wuyi oolong comes from Hou De. Ban Tian Yao can be had from a number of different vendors, but this is probably the best one I've tried. It's the last remaining Hou De yan cha available from a series offered (I think) in 2006, before they started only offering yearly Da Hong Pao/Rou Gui/Shui Xian. The roast is right in the middle range and it tastes like a 3-4 year old yan cha--the punchy high notes have mellowed and the initial mouthfeel has become a lot softer. Around this age, it seems like medium/light roast yan cha become quite a bit more subtle. I haven't had many light roast teas of this age, but I imagine their greenness wouldn't hold up too well--the 2 year-old light roasts I've had mostly seemed dulled, not refined, which leads me to my next point.
As I've mentioned ad nauseum, I'm on a perennial hunt for well-roasted yan cha that reach a peak after a few years of aging. I bought this tea for a second time hoping it would be a bit more like some of the other teas in its series--the Tie Luo Han, Bai Ji Guan and Shui Jin Gui (the stocks of which I think I personally finished off for all three) were probably my three favorite yan cha ever (in that order), and over the past year I polished them each off with a happy mouth and a heavy heart. So far, I've found few teas to replace them, and this Ban Tian Yao doesn't quite fit the bill either--today I loaded the shit out of my pot, which sometimes increases the flavor concentration, but with this tea it mostly just increased the caffeine experience. It's a pretty good tea, though, and demonstrably better than most of the yan cha I've been drinking daily this year--it just doesn't have the roasting level/quality I'm hoping for. I get the feeling that this is what a lot of the "heavier" roasted teas currently available from Jing Tea Shop, Seven Cups and perhaps even Hou De will taste like in 3-4 years: a bit of mellowed improvement, but not worth storing for much longer after that for danger of diminished potency. No way to be sure without storing some, though, which I'm doing to a limited extent. All I know for sure is that the charcoal taste in my favorites has been strong enough that they were probably undrinkable during their first couple of years, which doesn't describe any of the teas I've tasted this year. Ah well, there are still plenty of tasty and drinkable yan cha available out there even if I don't get my way. Probably more than many other tea genres, though, there are some pretty shitty examples.
This pin zi ni pot has developed a pretty healthy sheen since the end of January, thanks to an almost daily diet of yan cha. I'm not very meticulous about brushing the pot with tea liquor or polishing it with a cloth. I'll pour the dregs of a cha hai on it occasionally, but if the tea's good it's more likely to end up in my mouth, so most of the external patina on my pots ends up a) where drips repeatedly happen, and b) where what little I pour on the pot is likely to sit without running off. Pots look so much better after they've been used for a while--even if the burnishing isn't great, a bit of tea residue brings out so many more visual dimensions.
Guide to buying tea in China: Part IV – Negotiations
21 hours ago