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

Teamasters

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

Bianjingcha

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