Monthly Archives: January 2013

2012 Bai Hao Winter

I originally wrote this post for Cha Xi Collective. I’ve just copied it here for record keeping.

I’ve tasted several examples of Bai Hao (or 東方美人茶, Dong Fang Mei Ren Cha) this year and been disappointed in each, so this was a real treat. I understand that much of the harvest in Hsichu county were poor, which accounts, I suppose, for all the broken leaves I’ve seen. This one, however, is very tasty.

I’ve tried this a few times and a few different ways. This time I rinsed the leaves and infused the tea gong-fu style in my roasted yixing pot. The rinsed leaves had the aroma of toasted oats and brown sugar. A good sign for a Bai Hao. Last year’s harvest had a deep roasted sweetness unmatched by any other oolong.

Immediately noticeable in the pot, the leaves glow with a red-gold color, and I can definitely see full leaf sets with the stem intact. Another Bai Hao I recently tasted had many broken leaves, but I’ve had Bai Hao before almost entirely composed of two-leaves-and-a-bud leaflets.

For my first infusion I tried a longer time, forgetting for the moment how many leaves I had put in the pot. This was a mistake, I think. While the result was not bitter, it was sharp on the tongue. Still, I could feel a good cha qi arising with the taste.

The liquor is amber-gold with the definite aroma of toasted grains. The taste of the second infusion, done for only 30 seconds, has a pleasant woody sweet character, although there remains an acidity on the sides of the tongue that lingers. Further infusions enhanced the woodiness into a bit of walnut and the sweetness of a young plum. At the same time, the sharpness faded, leaving entirely by the third infusion. The acidity became simply a dryness, although that remained in the mouth long after tasting. The mouth-feel was full and warm, very comforting and energizing.

When I removed the spent leaves, I saw that I was right about the full leaf sets; there were almost no broken leaves. There were only a few sets of two-leaves-and-a-bud, though. Mostly they were much more gnarled sets of three or four leaves in various stages of growth and a fair amount of stem.

Altogether a pleasant tea experience, even if it is difficult to live up to some Bai Hao harvests of prior years. Tea is a living and changing thing, though, so this is as it should be.

2006 Shu Laos Xiao Ye from Camellia Sinensis

I originally wrote this post for Cha Xi Collective. I’ve just copied it here for record keeping.

The mid-winter sunlight streaming in through my living room window practically begged me to set up some tea. I chose a puer that I haven’t opened yet, purchased on my last trip to Montreal.

This tea is a shu (熟 or ripe) zhuan cha (砖茶 or brick tea) made in Laos (who knew they made hei cha?). The name means “small leaf”, and indeed it appears that the leaves on this brick are quite small. Not necessarily different from the leaf size used in most zuan cha, though.

The brick itself was wrapped in plain white paper (of the standard puer style), unmarked except for the date stamp (a little worn, but I believe it read “2006年3月” and then something I can’t make out but which looks like “L8日”). The paper was then wrapped inside a bamboo wrapper of the kind that usually wraps a tong (筒) of bings. I had to damage both, unfortunately, in order to get inside, as the bamboo cracked easily and the paper was glued shut. Luckily I took photos of each before I began.

I’m unsure what kind of storage this has had, but the leaves came apart quite easily with my puer pick. The advantage of a small leaf cake is that it’s easier to pry whole leaves from the surface without cracking too many.

The aroma of the warmed leaves is surprisingly sweet. It first brings to mind cherries but with the definite musk of age. The taste of the first infusion reminds me similarly of dark cherries, perhaps a little amaretto on the tip of the tongue. The sides of the tongue still detect that this Shu is nicely aged. Still, it’s not so old that there are any qualities of leather or musty books. I think that the musk taste might eventually evolve into that, but for now it’s just a subtle note.

The liquor is quite dark at 20 seconds, as I’d expect, but it’s not just inky black. There’s a red glow of energy in there, which is probably another good sign as far as the quality of this tea.

While I think it’s possible to infuse this tea many times, after my fourth or fifth infusion there wasn’t much nuance remaining and the taste was one of a pretty standard shu cha. At the seventh infusion, I let it go for 2 minutes and the result was mostly puer-colored water.

After removing the spent leaves from my pot, I took a look at them as well. Although mostly mashed up, there were only a few bits of twig and I did even manage to find a few full leaves. About what I would expect.

My conclusion is that this zhuan cha is an average puer, definitely good for everyday drinking (and certainly better than much loose shu puer that I’ve had), but with a life of around six infusions, not something worth a serious gongfu session. I seem to remember a friend who explored tea in Laos saying that although they’ve had tea for many years, the production of “quality” tea is only a recent phenomenon. It’s likely that the producers of this puer don’t yet have the skill to make really nuanced tea or the trees are just too young to produce it. That said, this is an interesting find and I’ll be curious to see how it ages.