Wednesday, August 26, 2015

1950s SunYiShun Liu'an

First of all, I'd like to thank Varat Phong for sending me this generous gift. He's a fellow tea blogger based in Thailand, and I'd strongly recommend for anyone who has an interest in aged teas to check out his blog, as he is incredibly experienced and knowledgeable in the subject.

Instead of writing my own introduction to this review, I'll just provide a link to Varat's review of this tea, as he did a better job of introducing this tea than I could.

The dry leaves are black with a long, wiry shape. A piece of bamboo from the basket that the tea was aged in was included with my sample, as Liu'an is often brewed with a piece of bamboo in the teapot for added flavor and/or medicinal qualities. The dry leaves have a faint aroma of sweet licorice. After a quick rinse the aroma is much more intense, an unmistakable scent of a well-aged tea arises, along with a woodsy accent from the bamboo.

As expected for a high quality tea of this age, it's very, VERY good. The liquor is remarkably thick, almost syrupy in consistency. While not complex and strong like an old pu'erh, there's a more comforting mellow and sweet flavor, with hints of chinese herbs and bamboo. The cha qi is definitely worth mentioning as well, after a few cups of this tea my mind was completely empty and I felt completely calm.

As the number of steeps increase this tea shows no signs of dying out, in fact it actually gets better and better until about the 15th steep. I eventually called it quits around steep 30, as the leaves were giving me nothing but sweet water at this point, even with extended steeps. Teas like this must be enjoyed with care, as 60 years of environmental and socioeconomic changes in China made it much harder for top-quality teas such as this one to be produced, so an opportunity to taste something like this should be treated like a rare gift. However, there has recently been a huge increase in the production of teas made with high-quality base material, so it is entirely possible for some of these newer teas to age into something great such as this. Or perhaps they'll age into something better, or maybe into something much, much worse. There's no telling at this point.

not sure why this picture is upside down, one of the later steeps

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Checking in


Has it really been almost 6 months since I've posted to this blog? Sorry about the neglect everyone.

I'm not 100% sure if I'll be regularly posting to this blog again, but I still wanted to check in. Yes, I'm doing alright, there's just been a lot going on in the past few months.

Since my last post I have:

  • Met James from TeaDB, who has been a great friend and mentor to me, and is the only reason this blog ever took off (thank you so much!). I believe we tasted a 1960s oolong at T Shop in New York.
  • Placed a large Taobao order for both tea and teaware, finding both great deals and some of the nastiest tea I have ever come across. I'll write a post explaining my findings another time, all I can say now is if you're in the market for Yixing, old porcelain, or very cheap traditional pu'erh, prepare your wallets. ;)
  • Stopped drinking tea for a while.
  • Grown up a bit.
I'm going to try and get back in the habit of drinking tea regularly, as well as updating this blog more. I have some ridiculously good teas that I've been a fool to ignore for this long, so the next couple of weeks I should be pretty active on this blog, although I've already said that I'd return to this blog/the tea world several times (both to myself and others).

Right now I'm drinking the 1980's Miaoli oolong from Floating Leaves Tea that I reviewed just over a year ago, and I mostly agree with my old notes.  At the time of this post, Floating Leaves Tea is holding a sale, which will expire on the 18th. I'd recommend placing an order there if you're interested in aged oolongs (I recommend this 1980s Miaoli and their aged Pinglin), as well as any other Taiwanese teas. In my opinion they're the best online vendor for Taiwanese oolongs.

The dry aroma is a typical sweet aged oolong scent, which personally reminds me of powdered sugar and dried fruit with some earth. The aroma of the liquor is a very distinct smell of old honey. At first the taste is quite leathery and mineral, however the taste then evolves into a plummy/honey sweet taste. What I didn't notice last time is that the taste changes a third time, into an herbal taste with a sour cherry and menthol background. A surprisingly complex tea, considering the low quality of the base material (see my other blog post for pictures).

I personally like this tea, however it definitely depends on who's drinking it, as there is a noticable level of sourness in this tea. I don't mind sourness to a point, however there are definitely some people out there who don't like any sourness in their teas and I can understand that. Aged oolongs don't entirely mellow out like aged pu'erh does, so there can be some bitterness/sourness in them, either caused by the base material or the storage (high humidity leads to sourness). I'd like to call this a daily drinker, but let's be honest, how many of us are really drinking the same teas every day?

To anyone out there who's crawling the web/the earth for bargains, or to anyone who wants to ask me a question, or to anyone who wants to give me advice, please feel free to use the contact form in the sidebar, it goes right to my email and I'll respond ASAP.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

1960s Hei Long Zhu (Bug Shit Tea)

"Eat shit!"

This is a statement that has been directed towards me countless times. Before this tea passed my lips, all I could reply with is more vulgarities. Now I can tell them "I've drank shit, and it was okay."

That's right, I drank bug shit and hot water. This is sold by SampleTea and was generously sent my way by LE (thanks!). This was supposedly collected from some 60s aged loose tea in Guangxi (very likely Liubao). Worms ate the tea leaves, digested them, and excreted these little balls of tea. The digestive system of the worm somehow changes the taste of the tea a la Kopi Luwak.

Enough talk, let's get to brewing. In order to brew Hei Long Zhu, people use a method similar to a coffee pour-over (don't worry, I'm done with coffee analogies). You put a few grams of tea into a filter and pour hot water over it. Suddenly, tea drips from the filter. This only works for Hei Long Zhu (although it could work with CTC hongcha or gongting pu'erh) because the tiny pieces of excrement provide a high surface area for extraction.

This tea smells exactly like the bug shit tea I threw away, so the dry aroma is regret (along with medicinal herbs). Ends up this tea doesn't smell that great in general. At least I only paid ~$10 for the other one. I dumped the first ~60ml or so of this tea as a rinse, although that probably wasn't necessary. This tea tastes herbal and medicinal, with a thick body and little bitterness. Very little complexity or strength. This tea died off fast, however I was able to prolong its exhaustion by steeping it (pouring through) multiple times near the end. Overall, I think tea is somewhat enjoyable. I wouldn't buy more. In the future I'll probably mix the rest this with some aged pu'erh in order to get a more balanced flavor. I'll update this post when I do that.

Tuamie - Chicken

Tuesday, February 17, 2015


The point of using recipes to blend pu'erh is to create a product that is similar throughout different production runs, right? This is usually the case, as recipes like 7542 and 8582 are celebrated for their reliability throughout the years. However, CNNP's 7581 recipe is known for its inconsistency. That doesn't stop it from being one of the most famous and popular shu pu'erh teas out there (although it's purportedly a blend of shu/sheng). But why is the 7581 such a popular recipe if it's so inconsistent? The answer is simple, it's delicious when done right.



The 1997 7581 from Yunnan Sourcing (provided by James, thanks!) and the 1998 7581 from (provided by YE, thanks!)  are two great examples of aged 7581. The former retails for $92 while the latter retails for about $112.

First up is Yunnan Sourcing's 1997 7581 sent to me by James of TeaDB, who provides a good portion of the tea I review on this blog. This has been stored in Kunming for its entire lifespan, which is usually not a great thing, however the super-dry Kunming storage seems to have helped this tea quite a bit. This tea is NOT complex, in fact it's quite monotone in flavor. This tea tastes like one thing, and that one thing is camphor. Smooth camphor is really the only way to describe this tea. The flavor doesn't evolve throughout the steeps and dies off after a few infusions, however I still love this tea for that smooth delicious camphor. Worth $92? I don't really think so, however it might be a good idea to snatch one up anyways. The only place that price is going is up, way up. 7581s are selling like hot cakes (hot bricks) right now and good deals are going to become scarcer as collectors buy them up.

Next up is's 1998 7581 which was very generously sent in by YE, my generous friend from the Netherlands. This 7581 was kept in Taiwanese natural storage (on the wetter end of the spectrum) for most of its life until bought them up. This can't be too different, it's only a year apart, right? Nope. The first difference I noticed is that it smelled more fermented, which might be due to the wetter Taiwanese storage vs. the drier Kunming storage. Early steeps of this one tasted like vanilla and dark fruit with an herbal aftertaste, while later steeps have an additional cocoa note. I can taste a tiny bit of camphor, although it's very subdued. This is definitely more of a traditional shu than the YS 7581.


In case my notes didn't make it clear, let me say this. These teas are very different. And they're both delicious. At this point all I can do is resent those Taiwanese and Chinese tea collectors for snatching up my 7581 and try to join in on the buying frenzy myself.

Friday, January 30, 2015

2006 751 "Two Elephants" cake

Since we just discussed the negatives of buying tea via Taobao, why don't we talk about something nicer? How about the positives of buying tea via Taobao?

Since no tea order from Taobao is complete without a few random pu'erh cakes I chose two cakes from a Guangzhou based vendor who specializes in the stuff. One of the two cakes I chose is the 2006 751 Two Elephants, which is a mid-aged sheng pu'erh, supposedly with dry storage. This cake was commissioned by Zhong Hanrong (钟汉荣), a somewhat famous pu'erh guru based in Hong Kong. Two Elephants the brand he produces pu'erh under - supposedly in existence since 1964 (although I can't find anything earlier than 2000). It seems that most of the available Two Elephants brand cakes are pressed by Changtai. Not much is for sale online - all I could find is a  2007 sheng brick from the same vendor and some miscellaneous shupu from other vendors.

The Taobao reviews of this cake were very positive, one reading "Chen Xiang (aged taste/aroma) overflowing" when translated, so I decided to go for it.  Anyways, how could I resist? Those two elephants on the wapper look so cute and happy, playing in a bamboo forest, not a care in the world. I was secretly hoping that this tea would leave me happy and without a care in the world, just like those Two Elephants.

The leaves of this one are completely full and unbroken - an indication of above average base material. The dark color and shiny exterior of the leaves suggests dry storage in a more humid area (HK dry, Guangdong dry, Taiwan dry). The dry aroma is sweet and somewhat reminds me of brown sugar. Sign 2 of good storage - a sweet aroma. The third sign is the deep orange color of the steeped tea. The fourth and most important sign is the taste. This pu'erh is one of the sweeter pu'erhs I've come across, with a thick body and a crisp aftertaste. Early infusions are fruity/honeyed with a plesasant bitterness. Floral elements come through in the later steeps, along with a slight hint of sticky rice. Don't let these fruity/floral taste descriptions fool you though - this tea is quite strong. My kettle ran out of water before this tea started losing steam - I've pushed previous sessions to ~20 steeps. Although I'm not a huge believer in Cha Qi (tea energy), I can't deny that this tea left me quite relaxed and at ease. Happy and carefree, just like the Two Elephants.

In hindsight, it was a bit foolish of me to expect a good 9 year old cake at that pricepoint (148RMB or about $24), however it paid off. At 148RMB this tea is an absolute steal - a cake of this quality with 9 years of Guangdong dry storage would likely go for $70-100 in the west. I'm seriously considering a tong of this, this tea seems like it'll age into something nice, not to mention that this tea is a very good daily drinker for now. This made up for the horrors that came with my first Taobao order. Needless to say, I'll be on the lookout for elephants while tea shopping.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Gambling on Taobao 1: Disaster Strikes

As some of you may know, I recently placed an order to Taobao - uncharted land. Anything goes on Taobao - from great bargains to great disaster. My first Taobao adventure led to both ends of the spectrum. Today I'll be writing about the disaster end of the spectrum.

Have you ever thrown a tea out after the first cup? I didn't even get to that point with these teas. I'm not even living up to the name of this blog.

"Jake, which teas could be this awful?" you may ask. Well, I can name two. 2001 Bug Shit (worm) tea is the first. Who would have thought that actual shit would be so shitty? This is a tea that has been processed by a worm's digestive system, known for being smooth and sweet when brewed. The dry leaf smelled quite moldy and somewhat plastic like. I decided to air this out by emptying the container into a Ziploc bag - an effective method of airing a tea out. The nasty aroma was only beginning to fade after a few days, so this tea went straight to the trash.

Even worse was the 1980s Tibetan Kang brick tea I bought samples of. As for the positives, the vendor sent me 25g samples instead of 10g samples. On the downside, the 25g samples were 25 grams of pure evil. This had the same plastic-y aroma as the Bug Shit, except with a strange chemical cleaner aroma and 10x more intense. I decided to air this out in a mason jar, after a few days the toxicity of this tea seemed to have increased exponentially. A whiff of this tea left me sick to my stomach with an intense headache for the rest of the day. Needless to say, this also went straight into the trashcan. That's not the last I heard from this tea though. This tea haunted me beyond its grave. For the next few days, I was able to smell the same nasty odor that this tea gave off for brief periods of time. Goes to show you, just because it's aged doesn't mean it's good.

Thankfully, the total value of the tea discarded was ~$20USD. Needless to say, avoid seller "lawyer_hangdb" on Taobao.
Left - Bug Shit | Right - Kang Brick

Music Selection: tropes  - air-em-out

Air em' out - that what I tried to do and failed.

Friday, January 16, 2015


A few months ago, Stéphane from Teamasters sent me a few samples to try and review (thank you!). I just got around to reviewing them. They're all slightly darker oolongs (one is a bit aged). The notes on these teas will be pretty brief - I can't talk about high mountain oolongs the same way I blab on about Pu'erh.

I found that 4-5g/100ml is a good ratio for these teas. I tend to prefer rolled oolongs with lower ratios.

Yong Lung (Dong Ding) "Strong" - Dry aroma is the typical roasty (metallic?) aroma. Wet aroma is very sweet. Tan liquor. Very flavorful, with notes of grains and flowers. I was surprised by how roasty this was, since the liquor was quite light. It lives up to its name for sure, as it packs a nice punch.  Earlier steeps leave a cooling sensation, later steeps are quite dry (but still good). Nice caffeine kick, which is not optimal for midnight drinking. A surprisingly excellent tea, as most Dong Dings have been underwhelming.

Aged Yong Lung - A sweeter, fruitier, less floral/roasty version of the Yong Lung. Only 11 years old, so not fully aged (25-30yrs are optimal IMO), but it definitely picked up some great flavors. It's definitely turning the corner from rested to aged. A bit expensive, not sure if it's worth the price, but it's definitely a good tea.

Shanlinxi Hong Shui: I was excited to try this tea, as Shanlinxi teas are some of my favorite oolongs and this one is roasted (a positive in my book). The dry leaves of this one smell amazing. Very sweet and grainy, with a floral hint. The wet leaf smells even better, sweet and floral. There's the obvious taste of floral grainy sweetness, but I also tasted some beer (another positive in my book). This is a really unique tea, with a good balance of freshness and heartiness.

My overall opinion on Teamasters is that they're an excellent vendor to buy Taiwanese Oolong from. Stephane has a very diverse selection, with prices ranging from $4/25g (baozhong) to $16/gram (1960's pu'erh). The 3 teas featured in this post are higher-end, however I'm sure that the lower-end selections are great as well.

only pic I could find on my phone (SD card broke) - Stéphane wanted me to compare the size of tea leaves to coffee beans

Saturday, January 3, 2015


I will be referring to all tea in this post as pu'erh, although it's not technically pu'erh (see my comments on reddit for info)

Bianjingcha - pu'erh produced in Northern Vietnam on the Yunnan-Vietnam border.

Bianjingcha is also known as Border Tea.

Bianjingcha can be quite good.

One of my friends in Taiwan purchased a few cakes of (what we later discovered to be) Bianjingcha and he mailed me a few samples to try. Going to review two of them.

Tea 1: VERY tightly compressed, iron cake level. Leavese look quite dark, wasn't sure if it's sheng or shou at first (it's sheng). Long leaves, very stemmy, quite characteristic of a border tea (I use this MarshalN post as an identification guide). I actually found a piece of what seems to be cardboard in this tea (i.e a prize inside). This was quite humid stored, but not overly so. After 2 rinses it becomes a soft, sweet, but potent tea. Not as interesting/complex as pure Yunnan tea, but that's okay. Definitely does not excel in the field of flavor clarity, in fact the flavors of this tea are quite muddled (i.e hard to pick out). Has some decent longevity going on, probably got around 10 steeps. Overall I think that this is a pretty good tea, a viable daily drinker for the average person seeking aged sheng pu'erh. Definitely not a connoisseur's tea, as it doesn't have the flavor clarity/quality of a good quality Yunnan pu'erh. Not sure how much my friend paid for this, but I'm guessing around $70-80 based on the quality of it.

Tea 2: Same level of compression, quite dark with some orange tint (humid). Again, sheng. Very similar leaves to the first tea. Mellower than the first tea, with a slight sweetness. I think it's about equal in quality to the first tea. Although the quality isn't as good IMO, it's mellower and ready to drink. One advantage that this tea has over the first one is that it has decent flavor clarity.  Another daily drinker for sure, nothing extraordinary here. One thing that I have to mention is that this tea was VERY bubbly, which could be a sign of pesticide usage. I wouldn't be surprised if that was the case, I don't think Vietnam is known for their top quality farming practices.

Verdict: Vietnam border pu'erh is a good alternative to "true" Yunnan pu'erh. A well-documented border tea is TeaClassico's Tongqinghao Chi Cheng, which has gotten higher marks than quite a few Yunnan pu'erhs from several bloggers. These types of tea are definitely worth a shot if you're seeking cheap aged tea. These seem to be quite common in Taiwan, possibly because the modern Tongqinghao brand (a company that produces these teas) is located in Taiwan. Another source that is more accessible in the west is Taobao, although you must exercise caution!

#2 wet leaf, sorry for the blurry pic.
Speaking of Taobao, I'll be reviewing a few teas from Taobao in the near future. Also in stock for 2015 is Teamasters' teas. I also expect to be writing more informative articles in 2015, rather than reviews. If anyone wants to see me write about any topics in particular you can either comment below or drop me a line via email (sidebar of this blog).

Music: No brainer. Acemo - Boarders