June 20, 2011

2011 Long jing

It's once again green tea time.  As I've mentioned in past spring posts, I really look forward to drinking Chinese greens while they're fresh from the recent harvest.  This year I've been drinking more than ever--mostly from two of my usual suspects in Jing Tea Shop and Teaspring.  Today I decided to sit down and try the two long jing I purchased this spring for the sake of comparison.

I've been brewing my teas pretty casually this spring--bring the water to a boil, then fill my celadon fair cup with water.  When it's cooled down to the proper temperature (sometimes I'll pour it back and forth between a second fair cup and the cup I'll be using) I'll start steeping the tea, topping the cool water fair cup from the kettle's hotter water with each infusion. After I decant the tea into the second fair cup, I'll pour about half of it into the drinking cup, mixing the next infusion with the remainder, and so on.  While this method hardly allows for scientific scrutiny of each infusion, that's not what I'm really looking for and the overall session tends to produce a more consistent standard of quality from each cup.

That's some hairy tea.
So, that's how I brewed my dragonwell today.  First, Teaspring's Emperor Long Jing and second, Jing's Shi Feng Long Jing.  I get the impression from reading the notes that Jing's tea is a bit more on the hand-selected side, but who knows for sure?  Both sites have offered teas that I've enjoyed for the last four years or so, and I usually have very few objections.  To my surprise (I thought Jing's would be better), they're both pretty good long jing--but different.  The Emperor example is more up-front, with a more robust body, a bolder flavor and more of the chestnut notes people usually associate with long jing.  The Shi Feng example, though, is subtler, with a lot of sweetness but less of a bold body.  It reveals its character in the aftertaste rather than immediately, and develops more of a vegetal flavor throughout the infusions, even appearing greener to the eye after the session ends.  As usual, I'm glad I tried both teas together, because I likely wouldn't have picked up on the differences trying them days apart. 

Somewhat on the subject, I just added an Eilong studio gaiwan to the Teaware For Sale page.

June 17, 2011

A Teapot

Nothing too exciting happening today--just sharing a relatively recent and strange Yixing purchase and some thoughts on Yixing in general.  I've coveted a nice, classic shi piao teapot for a while, since the ones I've owned so far haven't really worked out (too big or just not good enough).  It's a classic shape that I find attractive in a lot of ways--the unassuming-yet-jollily-angled spout, the graceful lid handle, the characteristic shape of the pot handle, and the generally solid performance pouring and accommodating most tea types.  So, I purchased this one from Jing Tea Shop, which, incidentally just listed a handful of nice-looking xiao pin teapots for those in "need."   At 120ml it's a little larger than my ideal size (usually around 100ml) but I enjoy having a slightly larger pot around, and you don't always have to fill the thing completely full.  When the pot arrived, though, I was quite surprised--thought the listing described the pot as "flat," the pictures couldn't quite capture just how smooshed this pot actually is--it's like somebody squashed it before it was fired, and the main body is barely over an inch tall (for comparison you can see my tiny 70ml hong ni dancong pot, which looks immensely tall in comparison).

Consequently, the pot is quite wide (probably about four inches) for its volume.  Also interesting is the clay, which is described as "Cu Sha Hong Pin Zi Ni."  "Cu Sha" is straightforward--there are some pretty knobbly sand grains blended into the clay, but "Hong Pin Zi Ni" is something I haven't heard of before--pin zi ni is a general term to describe a blend of different zi ni clays, so there can be a pretty broad spectrum of different appearances between different clays labeled as pin zi ni.  But the "hong" is a strange addition--is this pin zi ni blended with hong ni?  Or is there a type of clay that somehow qualifies as zi ni that's actually red?  The answers to these questions sit firmly in the "hell if I know" category.  The origin of the clay's blending aside, it's pretty cool-looking.  The picture below probably best displays the simultaneous visibility of both red, more traditionally brown pin zi ni, and the sand in spite of the bright conditions caused by the "hot" Seattle sun (hey, I'm not complaining). 

Despite how unusual it is, this pot actually works quite well--obviously the lid opening is huge, so it's quite easy to get the leaves in and out, and the pour is much smoother than I expected--a lot of times weirdly-shaped pots don't perform very well.  Another thing I've noticed using this slightly larger pot is that the traditional "rules" about tea-type-to-pot-shape pairing become less and less important the larger the pot is--if this shi piao were 80ml, it would be quite ill-sized for brewing pellet rolled oolongs, as the tea wouldn't have the proper space and shaped area in which to expand.  A bit larger, though, and there's plenty of room, so the pot can be used with really just about any kind of tea, though I'm sure some work better than others with the unusual clay.  I've only been using the pot occasionally to brew mostly steeped-out teas or a weak pot with just a few leaves, so I haven't been too picky about what goes in there.  Works for me.

June 4, 2011

1990's Small Yellow Label CNNP 7532

It's been a while since I promised Matt a post about this tea--partly because Seattle's weather has been pathetically uncooperative for tea photo shoots.  Anyone who's followed the online pu-erh market for any length of time has surely noticed the most recent surge in prices of both aged and young pu-erh.  Unsurprisingly, a lot of us have felt a bit alarmed and have made attempts to nab up a few teas before their prices reach unpurchaseable levels--nothing like a good old market panic to drive the prices up even more.  Having avoided buying much aged pu-erh for a while, I decided to join in the frenzy and purchase some teas I'd been eying for a while.  Like most of the aged pu-erh I tend to post about, this tea comes from Essence of Tea, which means that the strength of the British Pound Sterling versus the US Dollar is an additional factor.  Thankfully it's been pretty stable around $1.60-$1.65 as of late--about average for the last few years, but thankfully nowhere near the $2ish levels it reached around '06.  I suppose the point is that, for once, I actually planned a bit before plunging into this purchase.

Let's find out: One, two, three...three.

So, this is only the second full tong of pu-erh I've ever purchased.  What was the first, you ask?  Back in 2007 when I knew very little about pu-erh I bought a tong of this tea on sale from Royal Puer in celebration of the shop's first anniversary, thinking it'd be good to have a large amount of "some pu-erh," as if all pu-erh is pretty much the same.  Talk about falling down the rabbit hole.  For the foolish but fairly inexpensive $70 investment, it's a pu-erh of acceptable quality, though I have my doubts as to how well it'll age starting from complete immaturity in the Pacific Northwest.  My main regret is the fact that I ripped the bamboo wrapper completely off right after receiving the tea and the cakes have been loose ever since.  With my most recent tong purchase, my past mistake resulted in behavior of a polar opposite nature--perverse neurosis.  So obsessed with keeping the tong whole for who knows how long, I decided I needed to buy one more cake to work on in the meantime.  Perverse neurosis. 

Oh no, almost gone!  Better buy another cake so I don't have to break into the tong!
Now that I've so greedily hoarded a substantial stash of this tea, perhaps it'd be a good time to try it for the first time?  Joking!  Only joking--I tried numerous samples of this tea before making the purchase.  What do I look like, 2007 me?  This 90's cake is by no means an exceptional aged pu-erh.  Like very few aged pu-erhs, though, it actually inhabits a sweet spot of agedness, quality and price I like to call "value."  Since the tea's only labeled "90's," I assume it's toward the late end of the decade.  If considered as a twelve-year-old aged tea, it's remarkably mature (even for a tea from the mid- or early-90's, I'd say).  There's very little in the way of astringency remaining, the liquor is quite dark and it's only bitter if egregiously oversteeped or too many leaves are used.  I can only assume that it's gone through some fairly humid storage, though the cake surface is really quite clean and mold-free.  There is, however, an attractive staining of the wrapper and tickets that would indicate a bit of humidity, juiciness or both.

 Flavor-wise, it's no paragon of complexity--the notes are mostly what I'd expect from my past experiences with 90s CNNP--standard pu-erh plus a solid dose of sticky huang pian sweetness.  There's plenty of humidity and earth in the flavor to corroborate the other evidence, but this tea's storage is by no means as tough to handle as the stomach-churning (for me, anyway) Hong Kong storage of its similarly-priced EoT brethren, the Late 90's Grand Yellow Label.  There's no sparkling complexity that can be found in more special aged sheng, but it's a far cry from the one-dimensionality often exhibited by aged loose teas, for example, providing a handful of simultaneous flavor and mouthfeel experiences and a noticeable progression during a long brewing session.  This is a tea I thoroughly enjoy drinking now and will be happy to continue drinking whether or not its aging progresses, which gets at the primary motivation behind this purchase. 

I find myself less and less often looking for amazing, unparalleled examples of a certain type of tea, but more often for good, solid examples that are "the way I like it" and can be enjoyed repeatedly without the stress of budgeting a tiny quantity.  Not that I don't appreciate amazing tea, but I can't afford a ton of it and tea drinking is such a part of my lifestyle that I can't always pay the kind of attention that extremely expensive, good tea deserves.  This tea fits bill, and after buying so much of it I can virtually drink as much as I want without any fear of running out before finding out whether or not it's continued aging.  Also importantly, if I simply feel like casually drinking "some pu-erh" I can turn to this tea instead of a much more expensive one, thereby making my more modest stocks of those teas last much longer.  In the months since I special ordered my tong I see the full cakes have sold out.  I'm hoping David and Kathy restock this tea soon, as I feel it's probably the best value for its agedness on the Western-oriented web--what an affordable way to learn about aged pu-erh!  At roughly $90 for a cake, this tea is priced below innumerable cakes of 2005 or later vintage that provide no insight into the experience of drinking aged pu-erh, an experience I feel is usually unjustifiably difficult and expensive to achieve in the Western tea drinking world.