Tuesday 24 May 2016

Tea knowledge Sharing with Sweet Man 知茶: Tea leaves from the YiWu Mountain... 易武山的茶叶

This time round, i would share with everyone a tea not by its brand. But sharing it based on the region the tea leaves are grown and harvested! I will be sharing a 生普 (raw pu'erh tea leaves) that harvested in the spring of  2016 (around April). Hence what I am using for the review is considered a pretty fresh leaves (新茶) that are not even pressed into a disc (饼), bricks (砖) or semi-sphere (沱) for storage purpose... we call it loose tea (散茶).

Every year, spring (春), that is when most of the tea leaves are harvested for the various kind of tea. And of course there can be a really long write up to explain tea harvested during various part of the spring; Example tea harvested early-spring, tea harvested before-the-rain comes (雨前茶), tea-harvested before-QingMing festive (明前茶) and so on... In term of taste differences, it might not be as obvious and as big differences as its price; it is obviously more rare to have the leaves completely grown and ready to harvest earlier in the spring hence the more expensive price tag.
Today's blog, to make my sharing really straight forward, we focus only on what I going to share, I generalize the tea leaves I used as "Spring Tea" (春茶).

You might also be wondering, why i stated in the first line "review a tea not by its brand"? Again, i don't want the focus be diverted. I want to share with you tea leaves harvested at this mountain known as YiWu Mountain (易武山) and not affect people on the judgement of the tea based on brand it associated with (yes, indirectly to a lot of tea-lover, the brand do at times affect how we review a tea subconsciously due to its value is higher for a reputable brand).

Here are some background of YiWu (易武山). "YiWu" in the tribal language it means "The place where the Beautiful Lady Snakes live". It got its name from a cave located at YiWu that is filled with snakes. The YiWu Mountain Tea region (易武茶区) consist of the whole YiWu villages as well as those region under ManSa Mountain (慢撒茶山). The region with more of those ancient trees are the Yiwu (易武)、MaHe(麻黑)、LuoShuiDong (落水洞)、GuaFengZhai (刮风寨)、LaoDingJiaZhai (老丁家寨) and ManXiu (曼秀) area.

YiWu is Yunnan's famous ancient tea cultivation region, with a long history of tea planting. As early as Tang Dynasty,  already existed several tribal natives (BuLang  布朗族, Wa 佤族, HaNi 哈尼族 etc) living at YiWu while growing tea plants there. Till today, we can find traces of few hectares of land filled with old ancient trees as tall as over 20 metres. All planted by the tribal people back thousand of years ago hence the trees aged for more than thousand of years.

In the market, it is very often to see tea leaves claiming its source from YiWu Mountain (易武山). A lot of brands having formula (undisclosed to the public the exact combination of tea leaves from various region) that based strongly with tea leaves from this region. It is very common practise for big brand to introduce certain series based on tea leaves gathered from various regions blended together under each of their tea blending experts working for the brand. And some brands will even market some of its series as pure leaves harvested from YiWu mountain.
"YiWu's Spring" by XiaGuan (易武之春 - 下关 2015)

YiWu Main Region - by TaeTea 易武正山-大益 2014
It is without fail that tea leaves from this region/mountain, somehow ensured a mark of quality. Which also explains why series related to this region usually are selling at higher prices than one that doesn't have the luxury to be called "tea harvested from YiWu". Not to mention the bigger brands which often gives consumer a even stronger assurance of the sources where these leaves are harvested (with China's ability and courage to fake anything, it isn't unusual for some merchant to falsely claim that the tea leaves are harvested in YiWu with some even faking the brand by changing its packagings).
For collectors, I always strongly encouraged to go for tea product that have a strong tea base to start with. As we all know value of pu'erh increases over time as the tea leaves aged and mature, and "time" is a constant factor that multiply the value of the tea depending on the quality of the "base value" of the tea leaves. Having a good "base value" provide the value of the collection (tea) to increase exponentially over time.

Some basic characteristic of tea leaves from the YiWu Mountain...
The leaves are generally black, long shred and shiny. The colour of the tea after brewing is usually golden yellow, very little bitterness to speak of. High in fragrance, strong hint of sweetness, generally smooth and giving a great after-taste that lingers long around the palate.

YiWu's freshly spring harvested tea after 3rd washing

The Tea leaves I trying/sharing today live up to its name indeed.

The tea leaves from YiWu region usually mature faster too. And also due to the fact that lots of these trees are reduced in height thru the years (a trimming technique some farmers practise), and that the leaves also do grow in the wild in this region, tea leaves tend to have subtle taste differences ranging from village to village within the YiWu tea region.

Take a look at the debris/leftover after the brewing...

These are the typical 一芽二叶 tea leaves (one bud and two tea leaves) combination that signal that tea leaves are the best to be harvested. If the tea leaves only showing one bud/one left, it is a bit too young to be harvested and likewise, one that showing one bud/three leaves, it is a bit too old for a nice brew.

To end the sharing/review, i would side track a little regarding drinking raw tea.... if you have a weak stomach, avoid drinking raw pu'erh tea with an empty stomach. These raw tea are high in acidity with the leaves still contains high dosage of caffeine.  Some connoisseur suggest to go with some light cracker in order not to be distracted from the taste of the tea. But to me, pairing it with nice food sometimes do make tea drinking a bit more interesting and gives you some unexpected result. So be daring to try and you might discover some good pairing that brings out the better side of your tea collection? It also makes tea drinking closer to our day to day lifestyle and makes it a more sustainable hobby, don't you think so?

Monday 2 May 2016

Tea Tasting with Sweet Man 品茶: Dragon Disc by TaeTea 大益 龙年纪念饼,简称《龙饼》

My first attempt to start off my Tea Reviewing Blog, going to share with you one of a raw Pu'er tea  (普洱生茶)i kept for almost 4 years....

Name/品名:Tae Tea Dragon Disc (a.k.a "Dragon Disc") 大益 龙腾盛世 (简称“龙饼”)
Year/年份: 9th Dec 2011
Type of Pu'er Tea/茶类: 生茶
Date of opening the disc:20th Feb 2016
Date of Review/Tasting: 1st May 2016

Pressed in 9th Dec 2011 for the year 2012 Year of the Dragon (Chinese Horoscope)...
(wow... The tea pressed on the birthday of one of my idol!!! )....

This "Dragon Disc" was bought in early year 2012 and instead of one disc, i have bought one whole stack (一整提) + 1 disc (total of 8 discs).

One reason why i bought one whole box/ tube... Because I always have this special affection to powerful animals such as Lion, Horse and legendary characters such as Dragons, Phoenix, Unicorn etc. It was the year of the Dragon in 2012, and TaeTea comes out with Horoscope collection every year and this is one of them.

And another reason why I bought so many to keep,  TaeTea (大益) is a reputable brand that enjoys a good increase in price over the years. Having a good track record on its appreciation value means I can just buy them and put them aside without worrying that it will depreciate.

Of course, with a major brand, it comes with assurance too for the hygienic environment where the tea are produced. After all, these are tea that we drink and consumed into our body system. (I will share more reason why we need to look into this aspect in future posts)

The tea was pressed in 9th Dec 2011. From the time i bought it early 2012 till now, the value gone up 2-3 times its original price. You might think since it is a horoscope-year special edition, it is only natural that prices gone up that much for special edition?
But the Rabbit series pressed the year before (The year of Rabbit), didn't really enjoy such a soar in price as its Dragon-disc did.

I open the new disc on 20th Feb 2016 after keeping it for almost 4 years plus. I have left this disc exposed to air by putting it on the shelving as a display hence giving it a lot of room to ferment and speeding up its maturing pretty fast. The tasting for this review was done on 1st May 2016.

Take a look a the tea leaves itself... 

The insert is just the standard insert TaeTea being using for a lot of its series...
(I believe there are a lot to learn from this insert but yet to do proper research,
 do share with me if you know something about this insert, ok?)

Personally, i like what i sees with every leaves clearly seen and pressed such a way that even inside the disc, it is the same leaves closely pressed, with a certain maturity and colour turning really dark. But i feel it could have being nicer if i can see some green for a 5 year old tea.

First, i started break the disc into manageable bits. I usually take 8-10g for each brew.

Using my Zisha pots (紫砂壶) which is approximately 220cc
(Will find a chance to share more on my pots on separate post).

Washed the tea leaves for 3 rounds (my usual number of rounds for older tea; will share more on brewing techniques in posts ahead).
here goes the various colour changes....
1st brew

2nd brew

3rd brew

Seriously didn't really expect much from the tea since it is only kept for less than 5 years, but surprising. it shown a very beautiful matured orange colour that only older tea would have.

4th brew, this is where i start to drink.

Fragrance wise, it isn't those that give out strong fragrance when brewingbut if you take the effort to notice, you can smell the fragrance that is light and sweet. Giving out a very steady, pleasant fragrance that isn't wild and isn't overwhelming.

I took the first sip... Marvellous! Taste almost as wonderful as a few disc of my 2002/2004 tea (will share more on separate posts).
Maturity wise, isn't that "overly-matured", still have some raw after-taste, but seriously, for a less than 5 years tea, couldn't have expect anything more than this.
The taste is sweet, pleasant, not overwhelming, not too strong. It didn't lose too much of its pu'er-ness of the tea (interestingly some "overly-matured" tea totally lose it) yet it is comfortably smooth. As mentioned, it DOES have a raw after-taste but isn't strong that it can easily be ignored by having the next cup. I feel it is matured to just-right condition to start drinking.

It is really satisfying. And even thou the price gone up 3 times compared to the price i bought it at, i seriously think it worth the price. But would i buy them at the current price?... maybe not for me. But for those who don't really have a wide collection of past stocks, it is worth the purchasing. After all, the dragon disc is a limited edition in celebration of the year of Dragon during 2012. The next one might have to wait till 2024.

Here is the remains of the tea leaves after all the brewing...

Here goes my rating...
Colour/色: mature orange
Fragrance/香:steady and comfortable, not overwhelming
Taste/味道: sweet and matured (a pleasant surprise that it matured so much faster than a lot of other tea i had)
After Taste/回味: pleasant after taste with nice lingering of the sweetness.

sustainable brewing/耐泡: average.
Looking forward for next brew: Yes.
extra notes: The tea was kept in Singapore for 4 years intentionally exposed to air to ferment, that could be the reason it matured so much faster.
But again, I don't have a disc that I kept in China or other climate to compare the differences.
Neither did i open the disc to try earlier years to monitor it maturing.
So if you do have something to share, please share to let us know how you find your Dragon-disc? And leave us some keynotes to compare?