I just recently branched out to a couple of new vendors with some success. Tea life is still pretty unexciting for me--I'm mostly on the lookout for a handful of reasonably-priced teas to consume often as staples. Most notably, heavily-roasted yan cha and charcoal-roasted Dong-Ding.
The main adventure was with Camellia Sinensis. A tea friend had shared with me a couple of their aged oolongs and I thought they were pretty good for the price. So, we went in together for an order and explored a few other aged oolongs, some yan cha and a couple of fresh Taiwan oolongs. It seems we picked up the last of their stock of 1987 Muzha Tieguanyin; it's quite tasty and I'll likely be trying the 1994 option the next time I return. The 1982 Wu He is also quite interesting, with a much earthier beety flavor. The 1995 Dong-Ding doesn't really taste very aged, but the roast is heavy and satisfying for when I want one of those teas that's roasted to the limit of acceptability (but in a good way). We also tried the un-aged "cooked" Dong-Ding and Muzha Tieguanyin. The former really isn't roasted much at all, which is not the kind of Dong-Ding I'm looking for, but the Tieguanyin is nice--almost as good as the 2009 one offered on Hou De, which is more than I can say for the 2010 Hou De TGY. I think it was a successful experiment, but I was thwarted in finding good yan cha (Shui Xian was average and the Tie Luo Han has a downright funky note) and didn't really succeed in finding a good Dong-Ding with the roast level I was hoping for.
The second vendor was Dragon Tea House. I only ordered two teas--a 1999 Dong-Ding which appeared to be well-roasted, and a 2010 Shui Xian which also looked to be high-fire. The Dong-Ding was kind of a bust--not much of a charcoal flavor (probably because it's 11 years old, right?) and sort of a weird hybrid character. The wet leaves reveal some suspicious results, looking like a blend of two different processing styles, so I'm not quite sure what to make of the tea overall, though the flavor shows evidence of aging. The "Nonpareil" Shui Xian, on the other hand was a resounding success--exactly what I've been looking for for quite a while. It's heavily roasted but has a nice solid tea base, and I'm hoping to save up the cash for a large order. I've got a hunch that this is the type of yan cha that produces the round, thick aged yan cha that I've had the pleasure to experience just a few times. Either way, it's a nice drinker now for the days I'm not in the mood for more contemporarily-processed yan cha. I have to give kudos to Dragon Tea House for providing so many and such helpful photos for their oolongs--I was able to identify the characteristics I was looking for (blistery leaves, dark wet leaf color and dark liquor color) with relative confidence and the tea that arrived didn't disappoint me. I'm intrigued to check out more of their yan cha--I don't think I've ever seen a vendor with so many obscure cultivars available, and some of them look to be traditionally processed, too!
I just posted two yixing pots on the Teaware for Sale section, for anyone interested. Happy tea drinking to all!