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)


  1. Yes, how fortunate that we both reviewed these near in time ! Honestly, the Burma "pu-erh" I tasted could have fooled me. I'll bet it's from trees related to the Yunnan's, given proximity.

    1. The borders are political, not geographical. I have not tried any Burmese teas yet, but it seems that there are several available for sale online.

      I'm going to try and write a bit about leaf identification, so nobody can even TRY to fool you in the future :)