Sunday, December 14, 2014

Grey Areas

Tea is full of grey areas. Every rule has its exception, and tea is full of these exceptions. Today we'll be exploring two teas that are sort of exceptions to the "rules of tea" - a Laotian pu'erh and an aged black tea.

First up - Laos Ban Payasi - from Chawangshop by way of James (TeaDB). This is a pu'erh in every way possible except for one - it's not from Yunnan (or China). This hails from the country of Laos, from a (village?) called Ban Payasi. The Yunnan-Laos border is very close to the Yiwu village of Guafengzhai, which is one of the most sought-after tea growing areas in Yunnan (cakes of 2014 GFZ for for $60-500). In China, pu'erh can only be called pu'erh if the tea material hails from Yunnan. However, in New York I play by my own rules so I'm going to call this pu'erh.

The Ban Payasi is the lowest grade Laotian pu'erh sold at Chawangshop, going for $22/200g. The other two sold are the Ban Komaen Blue and the Ban Komaen Black, going for $38/200g and $48/200g respectively. The Ban Payasi (supposedly) comes from trees that are anywhere between the age of 50y/o to ancient (whatever that means nowadays). Hobbes reviewed the two Ban Komaens if anyone wants to check it out.

Thick. Strong. Sweet. Clean. This is what young sheng is supposed to be like. Upfront it's strong and bitter, and then it develops into a cooling/herbal taste, and finally a sugary sweetness coats the mouth and throat. If Laos is a grey area, then I'm in your area. I give this one...6/7 coconuts. For $22/200g it's a pretty great buy in my opinion, but don't put too much faith into my word as I have little tasting experience with young sheng.

This next tea is an aged black tea - not as controversial as Laos pu'erh - but aged blacks are a kind of grey area, as they're not technically aged oolongs, but they're similar. I personally just lump em' in with aged oolongs. Note that this isn't an aged dark tea (Hei Cha) like Pu'erh, Liu An, Liu Bao, Hunan Heicha, Fu Cha, etc., but this is an aged black/red tea (Hongcha), like Dianhong, Ceylon, Assam, or Darjeeling.

This aged black tea is a 1982 Sun Moon Lake (Taiwan) black tea, purchased from Taiwan Tea Crafts, sent by (you guessed it) James ( was right). This is cheap as hell, going for $4.50/25g. I actually tried this almost a year ago when I first (and last) ordered from TTC. I hated it back then, but I was also a n00b back then. I thought it was similar to shou pu'erh - which was something I hated back then, so I gave the rest of the bag to a friend, who forgot to tell me what he thought. I now drink shou and traditional sheng on a regular basis, so I thought that I might like this.

So I broke this sample out to try again, after tasting over 20 aged oolongs and a variety of aged pu'erh. Dry leaf is VERY broken and does not have a pleasant aroma. Still - dry leaf aroma isn't a 100% accurate way to predict the way an aged oolong (or black in this case) will come out (see Aged Pinglin). A rinse clears it up a bit, the aroma is actually quite buttery and roasty, as well as being earthy. Not the typical aged oolong aroma - one difference. Dark red liquor.

Damn, that's humid tea. Makes sense why I made the comparison to icky shupu when I had this. But to a more refined (read: less of a n00b) palate, this is actually a pretty good tea. Smooth, herbal, leathery, it's pretty good. It also has some of that Sun Moon Lake Assam flavor leftover, with its spicy tones and cooling aftertaste. This is also quite similar to aged pu'erh (and aged Dancong). I enjoyed this tea quite a bit, it's a VERY easy drink, and is priced quite nicely.  I would personally love to drink this Grandpa Style, however the base material is VERY twiggy, and twigs (not fka) and grandpa style (not Gangnam) do not mix. The leaves sink normally while the twigs stay at the top of the brew, leading to a very unpleasant tea session (dodging twigs is not fun drinking). Perhaps some sort of Thermos or french press mug would help.

What I've established from trying these "grey area teas" is that they can be damn delicious and cheap as well.

Now, a question.

Readers: Would you be interested in some exploration of non-Yunnan pu'erhs (Vietnam, Burma, Thailand, Laos)? Possibly as a mini-unit? I can try to acquire some young and aged examples of these, but I'll only do it if there's interest. I'd love to hear your opinions either in the comment section of this post or via email (sidebar)

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Origin Tea...again?

Yep, we're tasting some Origin Teas again today. Origin Tea is a now-defunct vendor of premium Taiwanese Oolongs, aged pu'erh, and high-end Yancha. We previously tasted some of his off-the-shelf aged oolongs (1, 2, 3), which we found to be pretty great in general. Today we're tasting two more teas that Origin sold - a CNNP Red Mark from the 1990s and a 30 year old oolong teabag.

First up, the Ba-Zhong Red Mark. This is a traditionally-stored pu'erh from the mid 90's, it cost about $100 on Origin Tea's site, which is a pretty low price for 90s pu'erh. One of the factors behind its low price is the fact that it is missing its original wrapper, which was replaced by a blank wrapper by the vendor.

The dry leaf is typical of a traditionally stored pu'erh, dark with some frost on it. Not much aroma either, but again, that's pretty typical. I rinsed it once, and the first two steeps were AWFUL. I took Jakub and Hobbes' advice to use more leaf than usual, so I used 5g/60ml, which must have been too much. I took out some leaf and it transformed into a good quality traditional pu'erh. Nothing special, but that should be expected at the price. It had that cocoa flavor (which I happen to be in LOVE with...) that seems to be common in some traditonally stored sheng. I kind of regret not picking up a cake, but I kind of regret not picking up a lot of things (tenet 3 guys/gals!!!). Longevity isn't great, but that's okay considering the price ($100!). Overall I think this tea is pretty good, but nothing special.

Other reviews:

Next up - 30 year old oolong TEABAG. Yep, I'm drinking a 30 year old teabag. Apparently meant to be exported to Japan, but got left behind for 30 years. If I was sane I would rip open the bag and brew the tea normally, however I'm not sane. I picked up my mommiest mug possible and threw the teabag in with some boiling water. How long am I going to steep this for? I'm not going to stop steeping this, in fact we're drinking this with the teabag left in. I'm sure that isn't healthy at all, but that's none of my business. It was about 15 minutes until it was cool enough to drink - which actually reminds me of something I saw on TV, Two and a Half Men to be exact (I'm so sorry...). Alan was asserting his manhood, which led to Charlie making a snappy remark to imply that Alan wasn't manly. Alan, while steeping his tea rebuts Charlie and then sips tea - burning his tongue in the process. Charlie then asks if Alan burnt his tongue on Chamomile tea again. Alan, with a half-frustrated/half-defeated look on his face, responds with this:

"It's oolong."

This tea was described to me as being the ultimate old man tea. And it is. Roasty, herbal, earthy, but slightly sweet as well. Minimally sour. As Alan would say, It's (aged) Oolong. Not much to say about it actually, it's pretty standard. Again, I wish I picked some of this up for travel, but oh well.

We'll miss you, Origin Tea. Thank you to James of TeaDB for sending me these samples.

Music: Both of these teas were mellow, but potent as well.