It's been a while since I've done a specific tea review, so here's one. This tea's either still available or now unavailable, depending on where you look on Jing's website ('Rare Teas' for the former, 'Raw Pu-erh Tea' for the latter). I eyed this tea for quite a while from afar--watching as it sold out and was restocked, wondering if it was worth $1.45/gram. I try not to nickel and dime too much about these kinds of things, but this tea wasn't available as a per-gram sample, so the stakes were higher. Obviously I eventually caved under the auspices of the classically pathetic "birthday present to myself."
This tea is ultimately a bit disappointing, but mostly in relation to its price--I can point with every finger on one hand (maybe some on another) at less expensive teas at Essence of Tea that I prefer to this one. In brief, this tuo isn't as mature as I'd hope from a 1984 tea, and it's also less complex and less enduring than I've come to expect from aged pu-erh. Does this all come down to its storage? Surely, when it comes to maturity and remaining astringency, but when it comes to complexity and endurance I really have no idea. A more humid might transform the flavor with a little more depth, but then again the original source material might just not have the complexity found in more famous blend bings.
Really, though, a few years ago this would have been the best aged pu-erh I'd ever tried--the drier storage does bring out a sweetness that for some reason always reminds me of blackberry bushes. It's quite sweet and soft in the mouth barring a little astringency, and it does survive more brews than an unaged pu-erh. If this were the only aged pu-erh I'd invested in, I'd probably be pretty upset. As it stands, it's a rather expensive addition to my modest stash of aged tea that I'll be able to occasionally dip into in order to take the pressure off the better stuff. I suppose part of the expense goes toward the reminder that not all aged teas are good, and that years aren't always an accurate measure of maturity.
The last yixing pictures went down pretty well, so here's my other most-used pot. I use this 1980's tall shui ping for pu-erh. Since I primarily drink aged sheng pu-erh, that's mostly what's going into this pot, but on the occasion that I drink some younger or adolescent teas, I use this pot too. It really isn't that important to militantly reserve pots for specific teas or tea types, as the effects of past brews are pretty negligible on how the pot typically brews a tea, especially if you only brew a certain type of tea in it once or twice. It's really not going to make much of a difference.
Rather, I'm more focused on how the clay of a particular pot affects the brew, and this pin zi ni is just tender enough to round out the body wile at the same time supporting the tea's aroma. Since this pot is a bit "newer" and since I don't dip into my stash too often these days (it's easier on my wallet!) the patina is coming a little bit slower, but the inside seems to be darkening more quickly than with some other pots (it's only slightly visible above.
This pot's chop is the same as this one (which is upside down in the picture), and it refers to the fact that the pot was made at Yixing Factory #1 as a graduation model. Shui ping isn't the most adventurous style of pot, but there's still something powerful about the simple aesthetic. I really like that this one is a bit taller--the lid isn't quite as wide and has more of a vertical energy. I think the compressed shape also contributes to its pour, which isn't the fastest but hardly leaks at all. I've gone through a lot of pots trying to find one that feels right for a particular type of tea, and I hope this unassuming pot will be brewing my pu-erh for many many years.
Lately I've been enjoying watching my teapots accumulate patina--it's the perfect hobby for a lazy nogoodnick like myself. Here's some photojournalism with the help of a long-overdue new camera. Yippee for close-ups!
This is my newer hei ni pot. I've been using it for aged oolongs. The shape is accommodating for just about any tea and the pour is great. In my experience, hei ni, despite being classified as a tender clay, tends to brew pretty bitter greener oolongs, so it's a better match for something that's mellowed with a diminishing roast, or an oxidized low-roast oolong with little remaining bitterness. I've been enjoying a light pot of aged oolong in the afternoons as I haven't been drinking a whole lot of tea during that part of the day.
One of my favorite features of this shi piao is the bottom--it's ever so slightly concave, with slightly rounded edges. It feels great in-hand.
I've been using this pin zi ni pot for yancha for just over a year now, and it's certainly showing its use. My unstated goal with this pot has been to get it as filthy as possible--I don't pour much tea over the top of my pots, but it definitely shows where the tea drips. The tea stains are obvious, but what's pretty interesting is how the overall color begins to darken over time. The only polishing I occasionally do is to gently rub off the water mineral deposits that build up around the opening and spout.
One of the enduring mysteries of yixing has been the accumulation of patina on the lid skirt--for some reason it builds up fastest there, to the point that it's completely covered, then the thick patina will start to come off in patches as you can see above. It's already happened to several of my pots. Is it friction? The thick patina getting looser when the hot tea contacts it? Who knows why? Surely not I.
The inside of the pot seems to build patina at a much slower rate--the inside of the lid here shows graded evidence of patina, and the more-difficult-to-photograph interior is somewhere around that color. It's hard to believe the photos I took when the pot arrived are even the same pot--it looks like plastic! Hopefully I'll be able to hold off breaking this pot for a while so I can see just how dark it'll get. It still makes great tea.
Here's another one I've been using heavily for quite a while. It's about in that phase where the skirt is covered in patina. We'll see if it starts to come off like the others. This pot also makes awesome tea--roasted Taiwan oolong, especially Dong Ding. I can tell that the more porous duan ni clay soaks up the patina more than hard clays, and the seasoning has resulted in more balanced brews. The mouth feel is still velvety.
The bottom of this pot is flat, so there's some interesting build-up there too. The huge lid doesn't fit too tightly, so there's some nice drip trails between the lid and spout and down the spout. It seems like the more porous clay types tend to actually soak up the tea more than have it pile on top. I feel like if I tried to polish this pot, the darkened areas would stay dark, but on a zhu ni pot the patina would probably just come off. At the time of this writing, Jing Tea Shop still has one of these pots in stock...somebody's going to be happy.
Even when tea life isn't too exciting, there's still fun to be had watching the daily brews leave their marks. You may have noticed I'm no longer posting under a pen name. Don't get me wrong, I still love Gong, but I've decided to consolidate my blogging endeavors for convenience--my music blog is in the blogroll now if you're interested in checking it out. I also work and blog for Seattle's Miro Tea, so it should probably be said that this blog is about my personal tea explorations and isn't affiliated with the store. Plus, the idea of a blog pseudonym is a little ridiculous and paranoid anyway--there's not too much reason to worry about privacy violations (please request copies of my birth certificate and/or social security card in post comments) unless of course you're planning a group gathering in downtown Tehran. Happy tea drinking...I'll hopefully be back soon with a rundown on two new traditional yan cha from Jing Tea Shop.
For Westerners without the means to travel to Asia, our knowledge and experience of tea comes second-hand, with a healthy dose of mystery. Therefore, it's tough to really know anything for sure, let alone make claims about being any sort of expert. Instead, we can only enjoy and learn from small tastes of something ... smuggled in ... hopefully building a reliable knowledge base and maybe even scratching the surface of truly great tea.