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The White Pu-Erh for the Right Time.

At the end of June, Portland, Ore. was dealt one of its most severe heatwaves in recent memory. And I got the flu during it. A mere week ago, we were dealt another STRONGER heatwave . . . and I got the flu again. That’s eerily coincidental.

Luckily, I caught this one in time and doused myself with various forms of ‘Quil on the market. That and I offset the medicine head with copious amounts of apple cider vinegar and lemon juice. But of course, there was also the issue of what tea to drink.

For most normal people that isn’t an issue, but tea still had to play an integral part somewhere. When knee-deep in flu-plague the recommended real tea is white tea. Straight-up young tea leaves and buds that are withered, dried and nothing else. They supposedly have antiviral properties, but – like the downy furs on the leaf buds – the science is a bit fuzzy on that claim.

The problem with most white teas, though, is that they aren’t strong enough. Okay, not entirely true. White tea leaves actually possess more caffeine than any other type because of their minimal processing. However, for most types to taste any good, they have to be brewed as light as possible. Boiled to death, yes, one would get the necessary daily-start caffeine wallop, but the brew itself would taste like a grassy turd. There are exceptions to this, but they’re hit or miss.

My phlegmatic redemption lay in the form of two freakish teas from Norbu Tea I had in my repertoire that – as per usual – I had yet to get around to writing about. There were pu-erh teas out there that were made from young tea leaves and buds.

White pu-erhs

Old and Clean – A Pu-Erh Perplexion

Okay, learning time.

Everyone knows about black tea, green tea, oolong, and so on . . . but I’m sure there are some newbies passing by this article that don’t know what pu-erh is. Well, I’ll tell you, but I’ll keep it brief. In short, it’s heicha (dark tea). Or rather, tea that’s meant to be aged. The leaves are processed in such a way that they’re only “mostly dead”.

miraclemax

Meaning, they still go through an enzymatic change (i.e. fermentation) well after processing and pressing. Pu-erh, specifically refers to aged teas from Yunnan province, China. Like champagne, pu-erh is not pu-erh if it doesn’t hail from this province. All pu-erhs are dark teas, but not all dark teas are pu-erh. Got that? No?

Booze Teas for Boob Teapots

Booze Tea for Boob Teapots – The Tea-Totaler Trilogy, Part 2

Around the year, 490 BCE, in the ancient Chinese kingdom of Yue, there was once a beautiful woman who was offered as tribute to an invading king. The woman was so marveled for her beauty, it was said that fish would forget how to swim if she passed by a pond. Her name was Xi Shi, and she was considered one of the “Four Beauties” of ancient China.

Xi Shi

Poems and stories have been written about her. Some industrious individual even sought to make pottery inspired by her very physical form. Well . . . part of her form, anyway. Okay, the perv settled on designing a teapot around her boob. The areola, to be precise.

The Xi Shi design is a classic one utilized for yixing clay teapots, and I learned of this on my last visit to J-TEA International. Owner Josh Chamberlain, while I was interviewing him for an article, showed me his collection of yixing teapots for sale. He regaled me with the ancient tale. Somehow, he knew I’d appreciate it.

And appreciated it, I really did. Not just for pervy reasons. I wanted that damn pot. Several months later, I got that damn pot, and one other.

boob pots

I was already expecting the Xi Shi pot, but I had no idea what the second one was. What did this have to do with anything? Why was it there? Josh couldn’t remember, either, but he assured me that it was also a boob pot of some sort. I checked the name of the product on his site: Red Yi Xing Melon Pot.

Ha! Melons . . . I chuckled inwardly. Yep, definitely another boob pot.

He also included another tea from his barrel-aged line to play around with – a loose cooked pu-erh that was aged in a rum barrel for about a month. It wasn’t available for purchase, yet, but he wanted to get my input on it. I had already set my sights on using one of the boob pots for another of his barrel-aged teas – Drunken Dragon – a three-month, bourbon barrel-aged oolong. This way, I could now play with two teas with both pots.

prep

The Drunken Dragon looked and smelled a lot like its predecessor – Bourbon Oolong. The charcoal-roasted, ball-fisted leaves ranged from dark green to beige-brown. What was different about this batch – in comparison to prior ones – was the smell. There was a deeper, liquor-like smell; likely from the added two months to the barrel aging. That and there was an almost chocolaty sensation on the back whiff. Very titillating.

The Rum Pu-Erh couldn’t have been more different from its bourbon barrel-aged brethren. Sure, the notes of earth, dust and malt were present. It was the same five-year-aged cooked stuff from the Bourbon Barrel Pu-Erh. However, the use of a rum barrel sweetened it quite a bit. It didn’t quite smell like straight rum, but the one-month scenting process gave it an odd cotton candy-ish aromatic vibe. Well . . . cotton candy dipped in liquor, anyway.

J-TEA had no specific recommendations for which type of tea belonged with which pot. There was a passing mention that the “Melon” pot was best for greener oolongs, but that was it. I used that as my barometer, and decided to brew a teaspoon of Rum Pu-Erh in the Xi Shi pot. The Melon pot was broken in with a teaspoon of Drunken Dragon. For both teas, I settled on a gongfu brewing approach – for ease more than anything.

Mulan

Small confession: I had no idea how to use these yixing pots. I should’ve consulted more knowledgeable tea friends in their uses, but – in my zeal – I forgot to. I was already halfway through brewing when I remembered this little oversight. Someone even informed me that I had to “season” the pots before use. I had no idea what that meant, and it sounded like “work”. I wasn’t in the mood to work. Day off and all.

It, also, didn’t occur to me that a clay pot would be piping hot when hot water was added. Nor did I remember how to hold it properly. I did remember a tea vendor holding just the handle, and placed a finger on the lid for support. When I did this the Xi Shi – and attempted to pour – nothing came out. I was, apparently, blocking the little nipple hole at the top. Once I removed my finger from it, liquid poured freely . . . everywhere.

spillage

Eventually, I (sorta) got the hang of it.

The Rum Pu-Erh brewed beautifully dark, and the aroma was both earthy and sweet. All three infusions I test drove with the pot turned up exactly what I hoped for. Earth, sweetness, and a touch of gasoline on the aftertaste resulted. The second infusion was the deepest, whereas the third was more nuanced.

pu-erh

The Melon pot was a different story . . .

Pouring that thing was like trying to use a urinal while drunk. No matter how well I aimed the damn spigot, I made a mess. On the second infusion, I tried to pour a bit more gingerly – same problem. By the third infusion, I figured out that – unlike the Xi Shi pot – I was required to plug the nipple hole with my finger. That concentrated the pour, making the aim of the tea stream flow true. (And, yes, I made it through that entire paragraph without chuckling.)oolong spillage

 

The three infusions of Drunken Dragon all brewed amber with an aroma of butter and oak. It was a much stronger yield of liquor notes this time around, compared to its predecessor. Just as I thought it would be. Bourbon showed up right in the top note, once the roasty introduction gave it some wiggle room. That, then, trailed off into the taster note territory usually reserved for desserts. Or boobs. Or both.

oolong

I can’t say I left this experience a more enlightened tea gentleman than I was before. Like with actual breasts, I had no clue what I was doing. But I’ll be damned if those barrel-aged teas didn’t give me the necessary liquid courage to give it the ol’ college try. Like actual women, one had to treat these teapots with delicacy . . .

boobs

And caution.

A Saturday Evening with Friday Afternoon

It was a Saturday, as the title suggests. Saturday, March 21, to be precise. It was a really shitty Saturday, in other words.

The work shift was going frustratingly poorly. My student loan sharks announced they were tripling my monthly payment. And finally . . . a panic attack was looming. Not sure how that got there.

Amidst the chaos, I received a text from Misty Peak Teas’ Nick, informing me that there was a package waiting for me at Tea Bar. I kind of knew what it was, but it gave me something to look forward to. After the work shift, I made the trip out to NE Portland, sat myself at the bar like a regular, and ordered a Lapsang latte. My usual.

The barista handed off said Misty Peak mystery package. It was a giant bag of sheng pu-erh. That created an instant “happy”.

Misty Peak Teas

As I was about to nurse my latte, mood improved, I received a Facebook message. It was from someone I rarely heard from, a dude from my gaming circles. For those who haven’t figured it out, yet, I’m a bit of a geek. Occasionally, I’m easily roped into roleplaying and board game events. However, I’m what you would call a “casual”, at best. But I digress . . .

Said dude chimed in with, “Friday Afternoon Tea wants to meet you personally. She is at Gamestorm.”

My first thought was, “What’s a Gamestorm?”

He informed me that there was a gaming convention happening in Vancouver, WA. I knew of Friday Afternoon. I reviewed several of their teas when I still contributed to Teaviews. I remembered being particularly fond of their Snow Day blend.

I said to my gaming pal, “I can be there in twenty.”

It was the truth, I was in N.E. Portland, a mere skip across the river to Vancouver. He was a bit surprised at my impromptu decision, and so was I. But why not?! Up until now, my day had been shite. A little adventure wouldn’t hurt. (Much.) So, off I went to a gaming convention, to meet a tea blender op I’d never seen before.

When I got there, said friend met me at the front and directed me back to the vendor room. Toward the back was a woman with multicolored hair, decked out various pieces of geek flare (including Pac-Man earrings), chatting with other patrons. She was like a cross between Tank Girl, Kate Winslet a la Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and Pinki-Pie.

Pinkie Pie

In a word, “Adorkable”.

She was the patroness of Friday Afternoon Tea, and her actual name . . . was Friday. I was not expecting that, at all. Apparently, sci-fi conventions, gaming events and other geek ephemera were her bread-and-butter; the demographic she catered to. That and her blends reflected this. She had blends themed after Harry Potter, Firefly, Battlestar Galactica, and so on.

We got along fine.

I arrived just as she was closing up her booth for the day. She easily suckered me into buying a blend dubbed, “Setting Things on Fire” – one of her “Cylons for Breakfast” line of teas. It was a fusion of cooked pu-erh, Ceylon, and Assam – with a little bit of Lapsang Souchong sprinkled in for good measure. It smelled divine, had a kickass name . . . sold, to the gentleman with poor impulse control.

Friday Afternoon

We talked about various things under the geek umbrella, as we walked her daughter – dubbed TeaGirl – to the video gaming room. Before I knew it, two hours had passed. Not quite sure how that happened. She and her young ‘un called it a night, and I (somehow) got roped into a LAN game of Artemis with various other friends of mine at the con.

Before she left, though, she said, “You do know we’re best friends now, right?”

I was too befuddled to answer eloquently.

The next day, I broke in a mug of Setting Things on Fire. (That sentence sounded far less silly in my head.)

Setting Things on Fire, Loose

This was an incredibly even blend. What I mean by that is, all the elements fused well together. They all seemed as if they belonged together. The smaller cut Ceylon and Assam leaf pieces worked well with the more spindly pu-erh strands. The color palette ranged from tippy beige to chocolate brown. Nothing seemed out of place.

That even-ness carried over in the scent – strong contributions of malt, earth, smoke and . . . something fruity that I couldn’t quite place. Maybe I mistook the floral bend of the Ceylon for fruit. Stranger things have happened.

For brewing, I went with a typical black tea approach – 1 tablespoon of leaves for a 12oz. cup, steeped for four minutes in boiling water. Usually, I do three, but for something called “Setting Things on Fire”, I thought an extra minute would be fine.

Setting Things on Fire Brewed

The liquor brewed cedar brown with an alternating burly and sweet aroma. Crimson lined the edge of the soup, while it transitioned into a pool of dark brown. As even a transition in color as I would expect from such a blend. What shocked me was the taste. Contrary to the burly bits in the blend, this was a deceptively smooth operator, starting off with a floral front, ushering in a hint of malt, segueing (or even Segwaying) in a dash of smoke, and ending with a sensation of napping on a forest floor. Very deceptive . . . like a Cylon.

The weekend went from shit to shine.

A Young Yiwu Pu-Erh Afternoon

morpheus

It’s an honest question.

For years, I was taught that, sure, a young sheng (raw) pu-erh could be good, but it had yet to reach its full potential. After all, pu-erh was meant to be aged – to mature over time. Particularly the raw variety. However, I’m starting to rethink my stance on that. Sometimes, just sometimes, a younger, just-plucked, newly-pressed pu-erh can stand up against its older beengcha brethren.

Two months ago, I received a text from Nick “Misty Peak Teas” Lozito. He had just returned from a sourcing trip to Mount Yiwu, Yunnan province, China, where his farming contact was. Nick direct sourced from one farmer, and one farmer only. All the products he carried were from one dude. I covered his outfit a few months ago. But I digress . . .

Nick practically said, “Dude! You’ve gotta try this autumn flush I got. It’s amazing.”

He was too busy to get together that week, what with a newborn son and all, but he dropped some off at Tea Bar – the local outfit that carried his sheng to serve. I made the trip out to North Portland to try it. And, boy, he wasn’t kidding.

tea bar

I wasn’t used to judging pu-erhs by their recent seasonal plucks. Usually, that was Darjeeling territory. Pu-erh is generally judged by the year it was plucked/pressed, not the month. But there was a definite difference between the spring 2014 Yiwu pu-erh and the autumn. I just needed to judge for myself a bit more thoroughly.

In the meantime, Misty Peak Teas was carving out a niche for itself in the online community. I was hearing rumblings about how good the stuff was from other fellow bloggers. Their wares were even receiving accolades on Steepster. To date, the 2014 cake was the highest rated pu-erh on the site. Impressive, given the competition.

Steepster

Alas, life got in the way, and I didn’t follow up with Nick for a more thorough tasting until . . . well . . . yesterday [at the time of this writing]. He cut out a section of his day in which to entertain my urge to drink more of the autumn tea.

When I pulled up to “Misty Peak HQ”, I was told to come around to the back. There he was on a green blanket, feeding his four-month-old, Vincenzo. It was far too adorable a sight not to snap.

nick and son

Then we got to drinking.

First, as a palate starter, Nick broke out a cake of his 2005. It was the one year from that farm I hadn’t tried yet. The leaves were large and lovely.

beeng

Brewed gongfu, the liquor was a deep brass, and I tasted straight stone fruit, earth, and ancient civilization. Is that a taste? Well, it is now.

2005

I was in a daze, and we had only just begun.

Next up, he offered up the autumn 2014 side-by-side with the spring.

2014s side by side

The spring pluck was fruitier, but the autumn was somehow sweeter – more mature. On a blind test, I couldn’t tell them apart, but the difference in maturity was there, if subtle. The autumn was just a shy bit better. It was like comparing two pieces of cheesecake based upon how many strawberries were topped on ‘em.

Further down the line, we compared two 2012s, binged on some pu-erh that’d been left outdoors to cure. (For the heck of it.) Mizuba Tea’s Lauren Danson also stopped by to join in the festivities for a quick minute or three. What was initially intended as, maybe, an hour’s tasting session turned into three.

After I-dunno-how-many cups of 2005, 2012, and 2014 teas, I was good and basted. Feeling the Universe and s**t. But it was high time to retire. Before I left, though, Nick brought out a really interesting sight to show off. A giant ball of pu-erh. No seriously.

big balls

Look at that thing. Apparently, the farmer plucked it the same month Nick’s son was born, and pressed the ball to the newborn’s exact weight. I held it. The sucker weighed about seven pounds – and change!

As I made my farewells, I made it a point to acquire a cake of the autumn 2014.

autmn 2014 beemg

Oh yeah . . . I was supposed to be devoting this entry to making a case for young pu-erh. Look, it’s a subjective thing. If you prefer the aged stuff, you’ll likely stick to the aged stuff. Young pu-erh tastes young. It’s like a green tea with lofty aspirations, or Luke Skywalker before raging against the second Death Star. All I wanted to show was, a great time could be had with the new as well as the old. And the less stuffy you are about either, the better.

Because . . . GIANT PU-ERH BALLS ARE AWESOME!

That is all.

Tea and Tubas

I picked a helluva month to quit drinkin’.

Okay, not “quit”, per se, but definitely a self-imposed sabbatical toward beer. A beerbatical, if you will. Over the last couple of years, I’d naval-gazed my relationship with alcohol. Sure, I didn’t overdue it often, but questionable decisions had been made. That and it was no longer as “social” a beverage as it once was.

I hung out with maybe five other dudes who drank – never all at once. That’s not a party; that’s a Family Guy episode. And I won’t even go into the missing hubcap on my car.

As a result of this catharsis, I decided a break was in order. I wish I’d known what was ahead of me before I did so. Work drama, matters of the heart, and other familiar growing pains manifested in rapid succession. Good things were happening, true, but they were automatically offset by a perpetual feeling of being kneed in the groin.

I needed an outlet – a social one.

Enter the Portland Tea MeetUp group.

Tea – the beverage that never steered me wrong. I drank it often, but I was rarely social with it. Sure, I was social online about my tea consumption, but rarely in real life. There was a burgeoning tea community present in Portland, but I stuck to its periphery like some kind of creeper with a cup. I thought it high time to change that.

As luck would have it, a meet-up was scheduled for this weekend. The reason? Freaking tubas!!! In Downtown Portland, situated at Pioneer Square, was a holiday tuba concert. Tubas…playing Christmas carols. And we would drink tea during it.

Everything about that sounded amazing.

The biggest issue for me? Finding the perfect tea to bring. The internal struggle didn’t last long. I chose the best black tea I’d had all year.

Black Fusion, Autumn Flush 2014, from the Doke Tea Estate.

Yes, I’m aware I’ve already written about it. There’s even a Batman Brews video floating around extolling its virtues. But that was only the first flush version. The one I had in my possession now was the autumn flush. And it was perfect.

Like the first flush, there were notes of nuts, spice and malt – betraying it’s assamica heritage – but for the autumnal crop, there was an added nuance. I didn’t quite put my finger on it until the day I brewed it for the tuba gathering. There was a strong sensation I had while tasting it that reminded me of honey. The autumn flush was sweeter and more textured than the first.

*Sigh* Oh yeah…back to the meet-up.

I was almost late to the gathering. Traffic was a particularly artful brand of “SUCK!” that day, and I had a prior engagement on the other side of town. Along with my expected road rage was a feeling of…dread. It wasn’t as if I hadn’t socialized with tea before, but rather that I wasn’t particularly good at it. I’m a bit of a geek, can’t help it.

Luckily, so were they. The moment I arrived, I felt like I was in like company. Three folks brought canisters of chai. One particular gent was rockin’ two travel carafes. One held a high-oxidized Taiwanese oolong; the other, a seven-year-aged purple varietal pu-erh. I partook of both.

The purple varietal…oh my.

Another of the group members brought cups and homemade banana bread for the sharing. It went perfectly with…well…everything. Particularly with the tea.

And in the background, tubas played. The square was jam-packed with people, however. I think I caught a glimpse of, maybe, one tuba – two at the most – until the crowd dispersed. If I had one complaint about the performance, it was that the carols they chose were too down-tempo. If you’re rockin’ a gosh-durned tuba, you must have bombastic carols in your rotation. “Little Drummer Boy”, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”, etcetera. While the concert was nice, it faded into background noise over conversations of tea and general geekery.

I did have moments of occasional social faux pas, though, particularly when I uttered the line, “I am a man, and the world is my toilet!” Yes, I was sober. Tea drunk, maybe…but sober.

In closing, I think I could get used to this “tea socializing” thing.

Next time, I’ll work on the tact.

Prelude to a Tea Bar

This all started back in the Spring…with Instagram. I was still fairly new to the site, and had one specific goal for it – make my blog pictures look prettier. I was a crappy photographer at best; a passable one at worst. Never did I expect to actually use it to network. Social or otherwise.

Sometime that season, I was “followed” by an outfit that caught my eye, simply dubbed Tea Bar.

It was exactly as it implied, a soon-to-be bar focused on tea in North Portland. I was intrigued and started interacting with the outfit. As far as I was concerned, Portland needed more tea bars.

Shortly after that, a young woman friend requested me on Facebook. Women never add me on Facebook. (Unless I’m related to them.) Her default picture depicted her sunbathing in Mexico. My initial thought was, Fake profile. I’d dealt with Facespam before.

Before I inched toward the “Deny” tab, I looked at her employment stats. She was the owner of Tea Bar, Erica Indira Swanson. That caused me to arch an eyebrow or two. The woman looked old enough to be my niece. Soon enough, though, she confirmed it. Either tea entrepreneurs were getting younger…or I was finally an old top hat in the tea community.

Erica messaged me seeking advice about what to carry on the Tea Bar menu. While I hardly considered myself a professional anything, I agreed to occasionally give my teacups worth of insight. We agreed upon a meet-up at a tea place downtown to discuss this further.

Despite her age, she was professional and optimistic in person – personable and radiating enthusiasm. I…came across as a guy talking about his comic book collection. Logistics of tea were discussed, but I couldn’t help thinking I was geeking out a little too much over tea. Even down to our choices of beverage while talking.

I had selected some Nan Nuo sheng pu-erh and a first flush Chamong Darjeeling for taste comparison. Just because.

While we kept in touch, I didn’t see her again until the Fall. It was a particularly busy summer. In the interim, I kept tabs on Tea Bar’s development. The look Erica had in mind was one of – what I would describe as – comfortable minimalism in aesthetic. The proposed interior was inviting but not too busy; modern but not urban. It reminded me of an art gallery I used to work for.

In September, I finally set out to see the progress for myself. Erica agreed to meet up to show me around. The interior was about two-thirds the way done. Her pictures of the development were great.

Mine were…um…

We’ll just stick with hers.

Of the helpful pointers I could give her were potential tea-related contacts in the Portland area. Over the ensuing months, I had encountered both Lauren Danson from Mizuba Tea and Nick Lozito from Misty Peak Teas. Tea Bar needed a matcha and a pu-erh. I pushed for those to be added to the menu, and “softly” facilitated contact with them.

A couple of months after that, Erica contacted me to finally taste-test their proposed menu. Said meet-up was the weekend before their opening day. I had never sat in on product testing before. As a blogger, this was well out of my paradigm. I usually product tested at home. In my pajamas. Shower optional.

When I arrived, there was a group of them discussing finer business-related minutiae.

Mizuba Lauren showed up as well. I was the oldest one in the room by a good fifteen years. Dear lord, I was an old top hat in the tea community, now. All I needed was a monocle.

Of the items tried, the highlights were no surprise to anyone.

We started off with some 2014 sheng from Misty Peak.

It was just as I remembered it – fruity, floral and forgiving.

Second off was a trial whisking of Mizuba’s matcha.

After three tries, an ideal technique was agreed upon. It was a frothy, green blanket of awesome.

Those highlights aside, there was one thing I wasn’t expecting. One particular item on the menu that solidified my continued patronage. And I found out about it by accident as the group were playing with the milk steamer.

“You should have a Lapsang Souchong latte on the menu,” I suggested, half-joking.

“Oh, we are,” Erica replied.

My eyes widened.

“You want to try one?” she offered.

YES!!!” I think it was the first time I ever shouted in all-caps.

“Sweetened or unsweetened?”

UNSWEETENED!

It was…it was…*sigh*

Glorious.

Like…William-Wallace-leading-an-army-of-Scotsmen-on-the-fields-of-Sterling glorious.

And with that, I was sold on this place. The comfy bar stool, the farm-direct rari-teas, the smiling faces, the apparent camaraderie. This new haven, this Tea Bar had potential. And I was happy to see it grow from the bleachers.

As of today – Monday, Dec. 1st, 2014 – Tea Bar has opened its doors. I wish Erica and her crew much success.

Photo by Justin Bond

Bada “Beeng”, Bada Boom

Well…this is embarrassing.

The day I finally got around to trying this – after whittling down my significant tea backlog – three revelations hit me square in the sack. Revelation #1: I had already written taster notes for this tea. Revelation #2: I had already taken pictures of the tasting experience. And Revelation #3: Said pictures had already been posted online. Not only did I feel like a schmuck, but an absentminded one to boot.

That said, once I reviewed my notes and visual aids, I fondly remembered what I had sipped. Like a mob hitman remembering his first victim.

hitman

Okay…bad example, but a perfect(-ish) segue to…

This young pu-erh was harvested in March of 2013 from Bada Mountain in Yunnan Province, China. Said region is one of the oldest tea producing areas, and the wonderfully-named “Bada” is one of 26 classic tea producing mountains. Pulang and Hani minorities grew and harvested the tea leaves for this offering from some of the world’s oldest tea trees.

JalamTeas offered this up to my (un)usual scrutiny in May. By vague recollection (and by that, I mean Instagram), I remember digging into the beengcha (tea cake) the following month. In my defense, there was a lot going on in June. World Tea Expo, for instance.

When I dug into this, I chuckled at the mountain’s name. Most would immediately think of a Goodfellas riff, what with the “Bada” moniker. Me? I was more reminded of this cute li’l gem.

leeloo

As with all of JalamTeas wares, this was a beautiful beengcha. The pressed green and silver-tipped leaves gave off a springtime scent of flowers, soil, and something vaguely herbaceous and medicinal. It also came across – in scent and sight – as older than it actually was. I almost felt bad that I had to tear a sliver from the li’l, pretty cake.

bada

There was only one way I could approach this – gongfoolishly. Several smaller infusions at about thirty seconds or more, boiled water for the base. For the purposes of playing, I prepped three steeps to start.

The aroma wafting from all three amber-gold-liquored cups was straight leaves from fruit trees. Unlike the deceptive dry presentation, brewed up, this came across as young as it was. On taste, I felt like I was sipping a non-astringent, low-altitude Darjeeling green tea. With a pu-erh-ish lean, of course. I have no clue how this will turn out in a few years. With other young shengs, one has some idea how they’ll age – this one was a little more secretive. I don’t mind a little mystery.

bada brewed

I’ll revisit it again in five years. If I don’t drink it all by then, that is. Chances are, though, I’ll forget. Must be age catching up with me; perfect for aging pu-erh.

Now get off my mountain…I mean, lawn. I mean…where am I?

Three Roads to Fengqing

Fengqing is a county located in Lincang Prefecture, Yunnan Province, China.

Source: Yunnan Adventure

Source: Yunnan Adventure

The Almighty Wiki listed at least four different ethnic groups indigenous to the region, two of which I recognized as pu-erh producers. In the early 1940s, the Fengqing Tea Factory came into existence and was instrumental in the development of Dian Hong (Yunnan black tea) as we know it today.

To date, I’d only ever tried two black teas from Fengqing and no pu-erhs. Angel from Teavivre approached me a few months ago with an opportunity to sample – not one, but three – offerings from the county. A unique black tea and two pu-erhs, respectively. I jumped at the chance, and over the course of a week I took a veritable sipping journey to the region.

Fengqing Dragon Pearl Black Tea

Looking at these li’l suckers was a trip. They were indeed as advertised – gold-tipped leaves that pressed into the shape of pearls. I’m not sure how many leaves made up one pearl, but by the looks of it, several. On aroma, they gave off a fragrance similar to any other gold-tipped Dian Hong, but with a more earthen, leathery edge. Similar to another Fengqing black I had years ago.

Dragon Pearls

For brewing, I went with a scaled-down, gongfu approach. Three pearls to a 6oz. steeper cup of boiling water. First infusion was for thirty seconds, followed by further steeps with an added twenty seconds successively.

The first infusion – I’ll confess – was the rinse, which I should’ve dumped. But I never dump the rinse; seems like a waste of tea to me. So, I’m incorrectly considering it the first infusion. Anyway, the rinse was pale, but the second and third infusions brewed boldly dark crimson. The aroma on each steep was straight chocolate by way of a rawhide belt. On taste? Again, straight chocolate. No rawhide this time, but a bit of honey, some pepper, and a whole lotta “yum!” It was note-for-note like the pressed Fengqing gold bars I coveted months ago.

Dragon Pearls brewed

Fengqing Arbor Tree Ripened Pu-erh Cake 2010

Pu-erhs from Arbor cultivars were among my favorites. This wasn’t the full cake, but rather chunks of it shaved off for easy sampling, which was fine. The pressed leaves looked like – well – wood that’d been shaved off the side of an “arbor” tree. Albeit far better smelling. This was an earthy pu-erh to the core – notes of earth and dust were prevalent. Commonplace in a ripe/cooked pu-erh, but I also detected an underlying sweetness.

arbor

For brewing, I stuck with a typical gongfoolish approach – several different steeps at varying degrees of time. Then hoped for the best. It was my way. Thirty seconds for the first, adding ten to the subsequent infusions.

The liquor for the first three infusions brewed dark crimson to blackest night (with a red tinge). The aroma from each possessed that same wood-sweet earthen sensation from the dry whiff. In fact, the same characteristics showed up in taste. Sure, it had all the trappings of a regular cooked pu-erh (minus the young fishiness), but there was that sweetness – just out of sight, but still making its presence known. Not strong but subtle; like being waved at by a pixie.

Arbor brewed

Fengqing Zhuan Cha Ripened Pu-erh Brick Tea 2006

When I went to open this sucker up, I was greeted by (fittingly enough) a chunk of brick. I’d had teas from a zhuan cha (or “brick tea”) before, but this was the first chunk I had to play with at home. Like the Arbor Tree pu-erh, there was an earthy smell with a tinge of sweetness. No young pu-erh fishiness here, either. The smell was straight-up ancient.

zhuan cha

For brewing, same ol’ same ol’, like with the other pu-erh. Gongfoolishly with a side of “tired”.

After pouring three successive infusions of the stuff, I noticed the liquor gradually darkened from deep crimson to brown-black. Typical of a shou (cooked) pu-erh, but the majesty for this one was in the aroma. As is common knowledge, I’m not much of a fan of cooked pu-erh unless it’s had about five years to age. Well, this had about nine, and it showed. Each infusion was earthy, slightly smoky, deep-bodied, practically chewy…and damn smooth! The mouthfeel was like an Italian red wine. Heck, on the last infusion I dared, I was having flashbacks of a good Barbera.

Zhuan Cha brewed

Hrm…that should be a new taster note – earthwine. Yes, perfect! I vote this one as the poster child.

Conclusion

I’d be hard-pressed (heh, get it?) to find a favorite out of the three. All I will say is that they occupied the same pantheon of “Awesome!” in their respective categories. The cooked pu-erhs were miles ahead of others I’ve tried, and those black pearls…man…I want to pair that with chocolate ice cream someday. In short, all three roads led to the same destination…

Deliciousness.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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