Tag Archives: laos

2015 Laos Ban Komen Maocha

Today I found a package in my box of Sheng Puer that I haven’t yet opened (let’s be honest, there’s two boxes of Sheng Puer and many unopened packages, but I digress). This beauty is from my last trip up to Camellia Sinensis in Montreal. I remember having it recommended to me by one of their tea crew, and being intoxicated by the smell of the leaves. Much like the aroma of roasting oolong in Pinglin, the crisp fruity sweetness of Máochá brings back memories of walking around tea factories in Southern Yunnan.

Máochá is so fun to brew: toss a pile of it into a gaiwan and pour on the boiling water. The result? A golden cup of thick liquor with the taste of freshly cut hay. There’s also a floral component, like the sweetness of honeysuckle, that I find very comforting. A mineral overtone is unmistakeable, but it doesn’t result in a overly dry mouth feel.

That honeysuckle sweetness is more prevalent in this Laos tea than in other Máochá that I remember. It’s not really a perfume, but more a gentle sweetness that just tickles the senses.

So, if you’ve read this far and have no idea what kind of tea I’m drinking, maybe I should explain a little about Máochá (毛茶 or sometimes Mao Cha).

Máochá isn’t technically Sheng Puer (生普洱茶), even though it is often placed in that category. Literally it is something close to “raw tea”; the fresh tea picked from the large leaf varieties of Camellia sinensis that grow in the south-western region of China, or in this case, Laos. (Aside: It is always important to remember what Global Tea Hut wrote in their October 2015 issue: “tea regards no borders”. While you can talk about tea practices, production techniques, and preparation, the tea itself, “belongs to Nature”. Our political and social delineations of territory don’t mean anything to the tea plant, which just grows where it finds itself, and produces leaves that are adapted to its climate and terroir.)

laosmaocha-wet-2Most Máochá is steamed and then pressed into cakes, producing Puer as it ages. Some, however, is left raw, and this is the tea that a lot of the locals in Puer-producing regions drink as their daily beverage. Made with minimal processing, Máochá has very little in common with the Puer that much of it becomes, evolving much more like a Green, or even a White tea.

Characterized by large, wildly twisted leaves that glow with a green and gold energy, Máochá can harbor some delicious flavors that are not seen in any other tea category. In fact, I’d much prefer to think of Máochá as its own type of tea rather than trying to explain how it comes from a world of Puer, but acts like Green tea.

As I’ve written about before, most tea drinkers in the tea producing regions of China don’t drink tea gong-fu style, nor with western style strainers, but grampa style: just leaves in a jar with hot water. Máochá lends itself really well to this style of drinking. The massive leaves just melt as you pour in the water. It’s a beautiful thing. Máochá is great for every day drinking, and usually rather inexpensive compared to Sheng cakes from the same region.

Like other tea (outside the Hēi chá category), I’d say that Máochá is better within the first year after harvest. It can be aged, but in my experience the flavors can become overly dry and dull the older it becomes, unless aged very skillfully. I imagine that the process of pressing Máochá into Sheng Puer cakes offers the leaves some protection against the elements which the raw tea doesn’t have. Then again, I have tried fewer than six different Máochá in my time, so please conduct your own research and let me know!

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.