Saturday, August 12, 2017

Enjoying Puerh That is Not Good- 2005 Guanzizai YiWu #30 and 2007 Guanzizai “Nanlahe” YiWu

I really enjoy this A Tea Addict’s Journal article fromyears ago about what exactly makes a tea bad.  A tea can be poor for many different reasons- too weak, too strong, no stamina, off taste, off storage, bad Qi, no mouthfeel, harsh dryness, ect… these are just some of the reasons a tea is not a good tea.  You are lucky if a tea is just weak because you can simply add more tea to the pot to usually improve it but for the others you are out of luck and stuck with something sub-par maybe, at worst, undrinkable.

Hopefully, your tea at least is drinkable and there is something to enjoy in it!  Cultivating a mindset of seeing and enjoying the positive aspects of any tea can help with enjoyment of all tea even not so good puerh.  However, we have to be critical of the teas we purchase least we continue to enjoy mediocre tea and fail to get the most for the money we spend on the tea we love.  It is impossible for all teas to be good but yet we should still appreciate the good elements in not so good tea and not just toss them immediately.

The following are two of three GuanZiZai Yiwu raw puerh that Awazon currently has available on their website.  The GuanZiZai I chose not to order is an Autumnal puerh and is the only one of the three that has been somewhat favorably reviewed online.  Yunnan Sourcing still orders new cakes to this day from this smaller and affordable YiWun factory apparently ran by the older brother of the owner of Yong Pin Hao puerh factory.  There is a wonderful blog post here about the deep meaning of GuanZiZai that I also recommend.

Okay lets get to it…

I was really excited about this puerh and it was the first cake I tired on my first order from Awazon  that arrived a month or two ago.  The dry cake just looks and smells like my kind of puerh and I have always wanted to try some of the Guanzizai brand.

The barely redish, fat, dry leaf smells of deep, rich and very sweet smelling.  They develop a meat like sweetness as they are put into warm yixing.  I really pack them in good to push this aged tea hard.

The first is a meaty, smokey, salty tasting tea with a slow to develop mouthfeel that slowly and softly creeps to the throat.  It finishes slightly smokey with a base of slight soft sour bitterness.  The mouthfeel is quite full and the mouth develops a slight chock-like feel, the tongue a slight dryness.  It is immediately apparent that this tea has strength as my stomach cringes, slightly uncomfortable under the power of this tea.  My mind is immediately ultra aware and sharp… meditate.

The second pushes out rounder tastes but the smokiness of this tea is definitely its main note.  No high notes can be found in these first infusions this is a deep, rough, strong tea.  Wait there it is minutes after swallowing there is a very slight coolness with suggestions of sweetness, barely.

The third infusion brings us a slower to evolve, trying to be softer, taste but is overwhelmed by this teas harsh smokey character.  The mouthfeel is very full and coats the whole mouth but lacks a thickness to it.  I think I was a little over zealous with the amount of leaf and remove about half from the pot in an attempt to curb the strength of this tea.

The weaker fourth infusion has slight suggestions of sugar cane over harsh stronger smokey bitterness.  This Kunming dry stored 12 year tea is far removed from any resemblance of YiWu with a bitterness of a much younger Bulang tea.  This tea is not ready to drink and hard to enjoy.  On the other hand, there is no off tastes to this tea either it is simply a strong smokey deep tea with very little high notes to balance its strength.  I decide to end the session here and banish this tea for another 10 years.  Removing the leaves from the pot, a strong menthol odour lingers in the air.

I have second thoughts and give this tea another chance a few days later using much less leaf this time but pretty much got the same inevitable outcome- a strong, rough, harshness in taste and feel.

Never has an older brother been so harsh.  At $88.00 for 400g ($0.22/gram), it seems even harsher.  When you have a tea that is too harsh the hope is always that whether its 5 years or 20 years, at some point the tea has to mellow right?  With my dry storage, I’m of the belief it might stay quite undrinkably strong for ever or a very very long time.

Let’s go on to the less imposing of the two…

First, a little recycling of knowledge.  “Nanlehe” or “Nanla” River is located in Mengla Xishuangbanna.  I have never had a puerh from this puerh producing area before.

These dry leaves smell more promising.  They carry a somewhat sweet, subtle perfume sweetness in their long, still hairy, leaves.  At $29.99 for 400g ($0.07/ gram), my expectations are lowered.

When rinsing a sweet “rou gui” (cinnamon) odour is emitted from the pot.

The first infusion is surprisingly light with soft notes of floral sweetness and a very mild returning sweetness.  The mouthfeel is full but thin.  This tea is a gentle one and rewards the mouth with a soft returning sweetness.  The qi of this tea is immediately sedating and relaxing.

In the second infusion some stronger more astringent vegetal notes emerge in the front of the mouth while the subtle creamy sweetness is pushed into the back of the mouth and resides even more in the aftertaste.  The second infusion starts to contain some very familiar hints of its harsher 2005 production in the overall feel in the body.

The third infusion tastes of quite standard vegetal puerh tastes with an overall very thin mouthfeel.  The sweet notes have dropped off almost completely in the initial taste and now just linger in the thin aftertaste.  The mouthfeel has become slightly harsh and dry.

The fourth is even more watery.  This tea lacks strength and depth and is overall a very simple puerh tea and should be enjoyed as such.  The highlight of this tea is its deep-ish relaxing, nice qi.  The stomach doesn’t really love this tea though and is a touch harsh on the digestive system.

The fifth infusion is of barely sweet water with scant hints of fruit underneath.  There are almost unnoticeable hints of faint cinnamon that appear and disappear quickly.  This tea has very little stamina.  It is what its price suggests no more and no less...  and so I enjoy it like this for at least a few more infusions with a relaxed mind.

I wrap both of these teas up and vow to not open them up in many many years.  Each had similar and yet very different flaws.


Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Introducing Laomane Menghai Banzhang Factory: 2006 Laomane Menghai Banzhang Factory “Banzhang Wang” Banzhang Ancient Arbor and 2006 Laomane Menghai Banzhang Factory “Banzhang Wang” Laomane Ancient Arbour

Is there anyone out there reading this that has ever heard of Laomane Menghai Banzhang Factory? This factory has been around for a little while and is located in the puerh producing village of Laomane (aka Laomaner).  Location, location, location.  This factory has undoubtedly benefited from being located and by primarily pressing cakes from the Banzhang area.  Their selection of puerh includes lots from this trendy area.  It seems to include very factory/ plantation like productions as well as old arbour pressings from this area.  King Tea Mall has a wideselection to look at if anyone is interested.

I acquired these two cakes together in a recent order fromAwazon.  I paid $59.00 for 400g($0.15/gram) for the Banzhang and $21.95 for the 357g ($0.06/gram) Laomane.  A few days after ordering there was a big “Sold Out” marker on these two.

Let’s first try the 2006 LaomanE Menghai Factory “Banzhang Wang” Banzhang Ancient Arbour…

Large dry leaves have an airy soft and creamy floral smell to them with a very slight suggestion of smoke.

First, is a light slightly smokey, slightly creamy taste with nice soft mouthfeel in a sour soup.  The throat is opened but not overly activated by the liquor.  There are faint suggestions of cherry hidden in all of this.  This first infusion is a ghostly one.  The mouthfeel slowly layers itself on with each cup.  Very slight cherry tastes are left in the mouth along with barely floral suggestions.  The cha qi almost immediately sharpens the senses.

The second infusion has more vegetal notes as well as smoke in there.  The mouthfeel really stacks itself to the point where it is nicely thick.  It holds some tastes of barely sweet cherry and even more fleeting floral.  A very mild coolness develops in the throat.  There is a soft astringency and sourness that comes in as well.

The third infusion shows slights of slight, crisp juicy cherry tastes up front the slight smokiness is pushed to the middle and there is a faint fruity floral lingering in the breath.  The smokey taste is the dominant taste in this tea with the fruit and floral at the edges.  This infusion has a stronger perfume and fruity onset.

The cherry fruit and slightly floral taste slowly gains momentum in this tea.  In the fourth infusion it is more obvious still.  The cha qi is quite relaxing and focusing on the mind.  I can feel the energy gingerly sauntering around my body as well.

The fifth and sixth is much the same a nice crisp pop of fruity cherry slight florals then soft smoke then a slight returning fruit flavor.

The seventh infusion the smokiness is gone and the fruit and floral are left behind.  This tea is a nice slow moving tea that feels like it will last many many infusions with quick infusions.  Overall the taste and qi is not standoffish and is very unpretentious.  The leaves have lots of stamina. 

The eighth has some honey and florals in there now with less fruit.  The ninth has lots of honey floral tastes.  To me the long stamina and changing flavor of this tea confirms its arbour/ non plantation status.

Ten, eleven, twelve push out a nice floral taste in a decent soft mouthfeel with still a cooling throat feel.  This tea can be steeped a long time with nice floral taste in a soft and juicy mouthfeel with barely cooling in the throat.

Overall, this tea is believably Banzhang and possibly at least some arbour material.  Overall, I like the tea and it is different than any others I have ever had before.  I guess most people don’t get to test lots of 11 year Banzhang?  LaoBanzhang puerh was a rarity in Korea and most of what I’ve sampled in the past were great examplesof 1-5 years old LaoBanZhang.  I have never purchased any LaoBanzhang bings in the past so overall this is new territory for me.

Ok let’s change gears just a little and try some of the 2006 LaomanE Menghai Banzhang Factory “Banzhang Wang” LaomanE Ancient Arbour…

Dry leaves smell of strong, vibrant, pungent floral and sour fruit.

First infusion presents with a thick floral front with a sweet creamy sweet edge and nice harmonious coolness in the throat.  There are some juicier and watery edges to the taste that appear more as well.  The mouthfeel is slightly sticky and fairly full the sweet creamy florals stay on the breath.  An interaction of fruity notes on the breath minutes later.

In the second the initial floral notes are pronounced and plume and cloud on the breath with an underlying note of creamy fruity sweetness.  There is a barely noticeable bitter vegetal taste underneath.  It finishes with a solid coolness in the throat.

The third is much of the same strong floral display.  The mouthfeel of this tea has a nice chalky consistency.  The qi is somewhat strong in the mind pushing racing thoughts around, simulating, alerting, the body feels it too but is relaxed under the influence of the cha qi.  More of a malty, creamy sweet base starts to present itself now in the layers of chalky mouthfeel.

The fourth and fifth present with many fruit tastes of honeydew melon and honey along with the now secondary floral tastes that expand on the cool aftertaste.  The tea develops some more pronounced slight vegetal notes here that seem to add a further layer nuance to this tea.

The sixth and seventh has slight  flat wood and vegetal base to the mainly dominating floral and sweet honey fruit tastes.  The qi is more relaxing on the mind now- putting it at peace. 

The eighth has floral tastes almost fading away now and some sweetness is left in there too.  Long steeping pushes out mainly drier woody notes with slight bitterness- there doesn’t seem to be much left in the tea after eight infusions.

Overall, these teas could easily be priced 3-4x what I paid for it.  I feel like I got quite a deal from these two and am currently looking at exploring more from Laomane Menghai Banzhang Tea Factory from King Tea Mall in the future.  King Tea Mall lists the 2006 Banzhang at$289.00 per cake which is probably closer to the actual value of a cake of this namesake and age.  If you completely forget the name and just go on the actual taste and feel of this cake is probably closer to double what I paid- still a great deal.
Of the two I really preferred the LaomanE in the initial steepings but the BanZhang had much more stamina and tasted good for many many infusions.  Overall, both of these teas were on the mild end of the spectrum for BanZhang and LaoManE teas.  I think that the Laomane might have a harder time as it ages but the Banzhang has enough to last the long. 
It is my understanding that the LaomanE Menghai Banzhang Tea factory tends to produce puerh that tends to be less strong and more mellow than your typical LaoBanZhang and LaomanE.  It was interesting though to see how potentially BanZhang and LaomanE puerh age because there is not really that much out there for comparison.

It still showed that a tong of these two were available days after I placed my order.  I am left wondering who was that lucky puerh drinker that purchased a tong of these two just days after my purchase?  They really walked away with a deal!  For me I am happy I walked away with a cake of each, I'm not sure if I would have purchased a tong of it anyways.


Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Bargain Basement Clear-Out Puerh at Awazon

After loading up on mainly semiaged Lincang puerh from Shuangjiang Mengku Factory purchased at Yunnan Sourcing (here, here, and here).  I turned my attention to an often overlooked puerh tea vendor that I have never ordered from before, Awazon (not to be confused with Amazon).  At first I was quite surprised at what I had found there.  I noticed that there were some obvious deals to be had with some of their factory puerh offerings.

I did a bit of internet research and found out that there are very few reviews of Awazon puerh.  Most of what can be found is on TeaChat and Steepster and is not very favorable for the teas but the service and shipping were heavily praised.  This understandably turned many away from this vendor in the past.

However upon looking through Awazon’s selection of puerh I noticed a few cheap factory bings that were given positive reviews by some of the old school puerh bloggers years and years ago.  Also I noticed that they have a large selection of 2004-2008 sheng puerh, just what I’m searching for!

So I place an order of these cakes, a few others that are obvious deals, and a few others that I am just curious about.  It turns out that out of the seven puerh tea cakes I ordered, 4 are the last cakes or sell out within a day or so after ordering (I can’t tell because they don’t show how many are in stock), 2 are not very drinkable right now, and 1 I enjoy and reorder.

Because the first order went surprisingly well I order 5 more different sampler cakes in the reorder. Three out of those 5 are seeming the last ones.

At that point, I feel like something strange is happening here.  It feels a lot like Awazon is simply clearing out their inventory.  7 out of 13 puerh that I ordered are last cakes.  It seems like they are maybe selling off their own last cakes that they were holding on to or maybe it is just a coincidence and their inventory was not that deep to begin with but it is really really odd.  And the price of the puerh seems at the low end of the puerh’s actual value.  Have you ever been to a clearance sale that is just filled with last items that the seller just marks down to get rid of them (or in this case just doesn’t raise the price in years)?  It sort of feels like this is what is happening at Awazon.

It looks like Awazon is long past its prime and has little stock left.  It seems like a business of just selling off remaining stock without engaging too much in restocking new young puerh.  I think the increase of puerh prices throughout the years may have impacted the business model of Awazon which is focused mainly on affordable puerh.  Its just a guess but its plausible given my ordering history with them.

The puerh tea for sale at Awazon is a real mind field to navigate, probably another reason it isn’t frequented by Westerners.  First you have to watch out for all the autumn pressings, there are tons of that stuff on Awazon.  Almost all of their cakes are Autumn and some them say they are spring but are actually Autumn as well!  Also because many of the cakes are simply priced so low and are still available you have to expect that these are not the cream of the crop- those ones are long gone.  Check expectations reasonably.  But even worse is the fact that you just know that there will be some cakes in there that are just undrinkable.  So the whole exercise of buying some of these Awazon cakes is a gamble at best.

But when you have very little puerh in stock and you are just looking for some everyday drinkers the risk seems calculated.  So far I think I have done quite well in this gambling act which has left me with an interesting selection of decent, dry Kunming stored, affordable, everyday drinkers.

Expect a thorough reporting in the coming weeks and months.  Who knows there might even be some goodies left for you when I’m done?


Thursday, August 3, 2017

"Puerh Tea Is The Black Hole of Tea"

I have a phrase when it comes to puerh that my tea drinking friends have all heard before...

"Puerh tea is the black hole of tea"

It is a true mystery.  It sucks you in slowly but surely.  If you really really love tea, it is only a matter of time before it sucks you in too.  Its complexity and mystery and evolving nature makes it hard to understand and comprehend.  But yet we try tirelessly to describe it and to predict what its going to do next.

Puerh tea is truly the black hole of all tea.