Skip to toolbar

of the Lazy Literatus

Tag: Nan Nuo

Time Traveling by Way of Tea Tasting

A couple of months back, I did an Instagram Live tasting with this chap.

Image owned by West China Tea

So Han Fan, purveyor of West China Tea.

I’ve “known” So Han for nearly six years. I put that in quotes because . . . we’ve never actually met in person. Our mutual tea-related hijinks only criss-crossed online. He first caught whiff of me as a tea blogger when I wrote extensively about my favorite puerh mountain – Nan Nuo Shan. He just so happened to work with a farming/processing genius from there named Li Shu Lin.

And since then, I’ve written extensively about his Nan Nuo farmer friend’s wares – even once in sonnet form. During our live talk, though, I got So Han to expound upon something of Mr. Lin’s that I hadn’t tried. That being his Yuán Shēng Tuó line of shou puerhs. Yuán Shēng Tuó literally translated to “Original Life Chunk”; a term coined by Li Shu Lin. It was a new form of small batch fermentation that sometimes allowed for the leaves to glom together into nuggets of ripe-y goodness.

Pa Sa Puerh and More Tea Pet Hijinx

NanoTeaMo, Day 14: “Pa Sa Puerh and More Tea Pet Hijinx”

As of tonight, I am two-thirds the way through my NaNoTeaMo goal of doing one tea blog a day for a month. Much to the joy of a few of you, and annoyance to the rest. This has mainly been about establishing some sense of writing discipline, which I’m going to need going forward on some future projects.

Given that this is officially the two-week mark of that self-imposed challenge, it seemed fitting that I celebrate with a special tea. And also – given that it’s still Fall – what better way to do that than with a sheng puerh from my favorite mountain – Nan Nuo Shan. One that I almost forgot about, no less.

wrapped cake

Nan Nuo Revisited – Still My Favorite Mountain

Of all the tea blogs I’ve written, none have possessed the traction that my Nan Nuo Mountain coverage displayed. And I don’t mean in terms of viewership. (Let’s face it, what viewership?) But rather the enormity of vendors that specialize in single origin teas who’ve contacted me in its wake; I think the count is up to three? Point being, for that reason alone, it’s my new favorite post. Because of it, I wouldn’t have run into So-Han Fan.

Said wacky gent is the proprietor of West China Tea Company, which (I’m guessing) is a fairly new outfit. I’d never heard of it before, and I’ve been around. (Er…not like that.)

So-Han’s primary focus is – as the company name implies – teas from Western China, with a strong emphasis on Yunnan. He contacted me via my “normal” website, and mentioned that he carried two unique teas from Nan Nuo Shan (my favorite mountain, remember?). That and he also mentioned digging my tea fiction. Way to butter up the blogger, S-H. *heh*

Point being, I was more than excited to experience other teas from Nan Nuo, but when they arrived…there was a dilemma. I couldn’t tell the two apart. S-H had mentioned in the e-mail that I’d be able to identify them easily…but my blind eye-‘n-taste-testing skills weren’t that…uh…honed.

Both looked (and smelled) like loose sheng pu-erhs.

IMAG1627

Sure, one smelled grapier than the other, but I needed a bit more of a walkthrough with these. S-H gladly got back to me about the two teas. When he finally identified them, my mouth was agape.

One of them was a black tea.

Unroasted Yunnan Hong Cha

The process – as described to me – for making this tea was…confusing. As far as I know, the leaves don’t go through a standard quickening of the oxidation process. (I.e. No cooking, roasting, pan-frying, kill-greening, speed-drying, what-have-you.) Instead, the leaves are…uh…massaged every two-to-three hours after picking to hasten the drying/dying process. In other words, old school oxidation by way of hand.

As I mentioned above: When I first received this sample, it was hard to tell it apart from a regular loose sheng pu-erh. The only thing that differed was the color of the leaves themselves – ranging from green-brown to black. However, the aroma was indiscernible from a sheng, which probably can be attributed to its “raw”-ness.

For brewing, I decided to do as the West China Tea Co. website suggested, and went with a gongfu-ish prep. They recommended a pre-wash…but I always end up drinking the pre-wash anyway. So, three steeps to start – each at thirty-to-forty-seconds.

253df6f6c10e11e38efa0002c9550b4e_8

The results were dark amber infusions with earthy-to-floral aromas. Nothing special was leaping out at me, yet. Then I took a sip. Holy whoah. It was like someone decided to see what would happen if a high altitude black tea made sweet-sweet love to a young sheng pu-erh. Flavors present were flowers, fruit, earth, sweetened wood, and…blanket.

Yes, blanket. This was one heckuva relaxing black tea. I just wanted to curl up with it, and talk about our future plans together.

Nan Nuo High Mountain Immortal Dew 2009 Loose Sheng Pu-Erh

Probably one of the most unique aged shengs I’ve come across. It was made in a small village called Duo Yi, at the summit of Nan Nuo.

Duo Yi Shu

Photo taken (and owned by) Villie Jokinen

No paved roads lead to the village, and many of the tea trees in the area range from 700-to-900 years old. This Nan Nuo sheng wasn’t commonly prepared for export, but rather used for everyday drinking for the Hani folks that prepared it.

The leaves were just as long and twisty as the Nan Nuo hong cha, but greener and wider. Plus, the scent they gave off was straight grapes. I’ve only ever encountered one other pu-erh that had that aromatic effect. Said smell also helped me tell the two teas apart.

In a typical gongfoolish fashion, I brewed about a tablespoon of the long leaves in a 6oz. gaiwan – using boiled water. Each infusion was roughly thirty seconds. To be honest, I wasn’t keeping accurate count.

b3cfa46ac3fb11e3ab820002c9c81574_8

The result was three starter steeps of bright green-to-amber liquors wafting springtime scents of lemon and grapes. On taste, the grape lean continued even stronger. There was a winy note to the pu-erh, one that comes with at least five years of age. The sensation was like tasting a heated Riesling. In more oblique terms, it was like being fed grape juice that was pulverized by the feet of a goddess.

Nan Nuo pu-erhs still have no equal.

Favorite?

I have to be an indecisive schmuck again. Everyone’s a winner here. I’m so beyond ecstatic that I got to try such a rare black tea from the mountain, and even more stoked that there was a new style of Nan Nuo pu-erh I hadn’t tried yet. The only thing that’s settled is that Nan Nuo Shan is now on my tea-do vacation list.

Paved roads or no.

We don't need roads

Nan Nuo – My Favorite Mountain

Anyone that’s developed some sort of taste for tea starts to identify flavors with places. As palates develop, so do preferences for terroir – i.e. the characteristics tea plants take on based upon their geography. Where do Assams get their malt, or Darjeelings their muscatel notes? Why do Hawaiian teas tend to have fruit-sweet/tropical sensations on tongues? Part of the answer is where the tea is grown. I just so happen to have a favorite mountain.

Image mooched from JalamTeas.com

Image mooched from JalamTeas.com

Back in ’05, I had no liking for pu-erhs at all. At. All. It took a raw pu-erh from an unassuming mountain located in Xishuangbanna, Yunnan province, China to convince me otherwise. I first had it in ’08; the tea was an ’05 – aged three years. It tasted like herbal wine with a dab of lemon. In mere moments, my palate changed. The words “Nan Nuo Shan” – “shan” meaning “mountain” – became a buzzword for me.

One could say that said tea was a fluke, but my foray into the tea review game proved otherwise. Every loose maocha (proto-pu-erh), sheng, beengcha (cake) and kitchen sink from that mountain had a profile that I liked. The best part? They could take a Western-style brew-beating. Before I even knew what “gongfu” was, I knew how much I liked teas from Nan Nuo.

I just didn’t realize how little I actually knew about the mountain until running across JalamTeas. For those that haven’t heard of them, they’re a relatively new pu-erh subscription service. Every month, they send out new pu-erhs from areas around Yunnan province. How can they possibly do that? you ask. Well, pipe down, I’ll tell you.

They have a man on the inside, or at least someone who visits Yunnan proper very frequently. I must say, I wasn’t familiar with author/mountaineer/explorer – Jeff Fuchs – before JalamTeas.

800px-Portrait_of_Jeff_Fuchs

But the more I read, the more fascinated I became. To sum him up in Internet terms, he’s basically the Bear Grylls of tea.

43337725

He was the first Western explorer to cross the Ancient Tea Horse Road and the Tsalam. Never heard of the latter, but it has something to do with salt. A salt road, of some sort. I think. Moving along.

JalamTeas’s model was simple: Mr. Fuchs visits a place that produces pu-erh, he writes up a bio about said pu-erh, and then makes it available. Rinse, repeat, once per month. Brilliant, really. The tea bios themselves are rather in-depth, and sometimes video accompanies the write-ups and photos taken. Thus making the overall experience more well-rounded.

Fellow tea blogger – Nicole “Tea For Me Please” Martin, whom I seem to mention in a lot of my origin stories – did a write-up about JalamTeas’ March offering – a Nan Nuo beencha produced by the native Hani people of said mountain. That led me to zap an e-mail  to JalamTeas HQ to acquire a tea cake.

I got both a reply from their Yunnan source – Jeff Fuchs himself – and from their co-founder – Allen Leftick. The replies were along the lines of:

Untitled

Okay, maybe less Izzardian, but still…I was excited.

I received the – not one, but two – cakes in the mail following my return from World Tea Expo in June. And in true me-like fashion…I didn’t break into either cake until…um…several months later. Well, I was busy. Yes, I felt bad. But in November, I finally unwrapped one of ‘em. Yep, right before Thanksgiving. Same week, actually.

I had some difficulty getting the damn thing unwrapped. Although, to be fair, I was never good at unwrapping presents deftly. The brand sticker on the back wouldn’t let up, even for a slow tear. It took the pu-erh wrapping with it no matter what angle I chose to peel. The results were…well…expected.

IMAG1345

That said, once I got it unwrapped, I was greeted by a lovely li’l beeng of compressed leaves – some lighter colored than others. The aroma was straight earth and wilderness dipped in sweet white wine. It smelled like how I expected it to, if not younger.

IMAG1346

Using my pu-erh stabby-thingy (I still don’t know the proper name for it), I cut off roughly a tablespoon-sized chunk of the cake for brewing. JalamTeas recommended at least 8 grams of leaves per serving, but I didn’t have any way on-hand to measure that out exactly.

The infusion times were what I expected – short brew times (fifteen-to-twenty seconds to start), and add ten seconds to each additional steep. I went with three infusions to start with – the first at twenty seconds. Ten seconds for each additional; last one at forty. I sipped the pre-wash, but that was a bad idea.

After pouring three infusions, the first thing I noticed was a smell of grapes on the nose emanating from the cups. The second was the lack of difference in color in all three liquors. All were light amber and welcoming. No shift in shade. All three were spry, fruity to the palate, earthy, slightly grassy, and…young-seeming. At their current level of maturity, they tasted like a full-bodied Taiwanese green tea, rather than a pu-erh.

IMAG1350

That is in no way a negative. Far from it. I’ve tasted a few young pu-erhs in my time. Some have a mature character right out of the starting gate, others feel rough and young. This one had character. It had all the right aspects of Nan Nuo Shan in play, but in the early stages. Even a novice pu-erh drinker could tell this was going to get better as years went on, but recognized its greatness early on. In short: A talented youngster.

A few days down the line, I even tore off a piece and took it to work with me. No proper gongfu brewing; just a tea travel mug with a mesh. It handled a neglectful Western approach perfectly. Not only that, it was thirst-quenching. Tea is many things, thirst-quenching ain’t one of ‘em.

If my first impression to a tea is “My God”…then it’s on the right path. I’m just glad JalamTeas gifted me with a second cake to revisit in a few years’ time. My gratitude is endless.

IMAG1351

Defending a Discerning Palate

Source: Cute Overload. Submitter: Maureen K.

Source: Cute Overload. Submitter: Maureen K.

A few nights back, I had a dream where I was asked by a vendor in Darjeeling to review some of their products. The box that came in the mail was huge; there were at least fifty 100g bags in it, along with other various Indian-ish tea apparati. The first bag I took out was by some estate I’d never heard of. When I tore it open, a foul, earthy smell invaded my nostrils – like poorly cooked puerh only worse. On the inside, instead of leaves, I found beige furballs and brown clumps.

I was known to be an experimental drinker, but even this weirded me out. The ingredients listed on the package mentioned squirrel, venison, animal droppings, and molded leaves. With a shrug, I brewed it up…and tasted the worst muck that ever befell my tongue. Yes, even worse than overbrewed genmaicha or anything with copious amounts of lavender. I woke up after the first taste.

And that was my first tea nightmare ever.

What does that have to do with discerning palates? Probably nothing; possibly everything. What it did do was finally compel me to make a more legitimate response to a blog post by fellow “Beast of Brewdom”, Ken (aka. Lahikmajoe) – a collaboration with another Twitizen, Radhika/Levis517. The dilemma that was posed was how the social celebration of tea was lost the moment people ascribed pomp and circumstance to it, plus the cost therein – i.e. snobbery.

Source: Yunnan Sourcing

Source: Yunnan Sourcing

At first, I was completely on board with Radhika’s well-versed argument in the post. In developing a fancy-schmancy culture around something so simple as dead-‘n-dried leaves in hot water, some of the inclusivity is lost. I will fully admit that I sometimes take a ridiculous amount of pride in having a favorite pu-erh mountain. (It’s Nan Nuo Shan, by the way.) But does it really matter if there’s no one to share this joy with over a cup of Nan Nuo sheng?

You’re damn right, it does.

When I first started this nerdy persuit – and, yes, it is nerdy – I was mainly sticking to the teabag fringes with the likes of cheap Moroccan Mint or a blueberry-flavored white. Heck, when I worked nights, my beverage of choice was a bag o’ Stash Orange Spiced Black in a paper coffee cup, boiled to s**t, and mixed with sugar and French vanilla creamer. Why? Because it tasted like an orange creamsicle. Sophiscated? Not in the slightest.

As my tastes changed, so did my leanings. I started off hating pu-erh, then I had some of the aged stuff. Darjeeling was a name I met with derision, now I can’t resist its earthspice aroma. Oolongs used to tasted like roasted, metal feet but now impart a sense of peace I haven’t felt in any other beverage. Japanese green teas hinted at a world populated by spinach that spewed fire, now it embodies vegetal sweetness personified. And none of that would’ve happened had I not heightened my brow a bit.

A funny thing, though. As snooty as my tea tastes became, my approach hadn’t. I never considered myself better than the average teabagger at Starbucks. Nor did I cringe (too much) when someone mentioned their favorite tea flavor was “cheesecake”. Granted, I do wince a bit when my brother takes a Lipton over a Golden Bi Luo, but I don’t throw a huff about it. Much.

In short, yes, tea snobbery is alive and well. It is as drowned in ritual as any fancy ball…but it’s a party everyone is invited to. The tea folks I’ve met are like Quakers; they’ll extol the virtues of the leaf, welcome you to the fray, but they won’t force you to join, or turn a nose up at you if you don’t. None of the social importance is lost on us. We want to talk about tea with non-tea drinkers, preferably over a cup of tea. I mean, it’s a beverage that’s been around for millennia, how could we not geek out over it?

What I’m trying to say is, I would like what’s in my cup to taste good. I would like it to have a story to tell. And, lastly, I would like to tell it to someone. I think that’s what this little blog of mine (and every other tea blog) is about. So, come on in; I’ll warm the kettle. Pick a tea. A good tea.

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén