For June 2014, the tea of the month was Bulang Pu’erh. During this past month, I had Bulang tea at least once a day (unless totally unfeasible). I’ll still consume other teas, but the primary focus is understanding and building a palate for a specific type/genre/region of tea through repetition and concentrated learning. This the most personal blogging type style of post for TeaDB, and the goal is to stretch my palate as well as give recommendations to interested parties.
Vendors ordered from:
Primary tea producers:
- Banzhang Tea Factory (Cha Wang Shop/White2Tea)
- Hai Lang Hao (Yunnan Sourcing)
- Yunnan Sourcing
- Mengyang Guoyan (Yunnan Sourcing)
- Gu Ming Xiang (Yunnan Sourcing)
Bulang and Nannuo are located in the same range of mountains, separated by Hekai and Pasha in Menghai County. As a result it is unsurprising that these teas share many of the same traits. Bulang raw pu’erh has a reputation for being burly and bitter, traits that are definitely present in many of the teas (slightly overstated in my opinion, but definitely present). Bulang is one of the larger tea-growing mountains in Xishuangbanna, leading to a number of different profiles.
There is also a strong focus on blends that use either a Bulang or Menghai County base. This is also unsurprising given Bulang’s bitter-nature as blending can serve as a way to balance out the strong nature of Bulang with different characteristics. Shah pointed out in the comments of the Nannuo report that the softer stuff, while easier to drink initially will not amount to all that much in the long run. Thankfully much of what I encountered seemed to be of the bitter Bulang variety (with a couple possible exception).
Approximate Brewing Parameters
About 7g/95ml yixing or less frequently 4g/60ml gaiwan. Double rinse and short steeps.
Yunnan Sourcing (the vendor)
I picked up a bunch of Bulang-based samples (including Banzhang) from Yunnan Sourcing’s US-based store. I tried to pick out stuff with at least a couple years (ideally more) of age to avoid self-hatred.
Hai Lang Hao
As was the case for May and June, I included a couple Hai Lang Hao teas in this order. This included one older, more affordable Hai Lang Hao cake and a cake that represents one the most extreme in pricing of their recent efforts, the pricy 2011 Lao Banzhang.
2008 Hai Lang Hao Star of Bulang
From the Hai Lang Hao old era of cheaply made cakes. I picked up one of these blindly for $29 from the US site. This tea is far more aged than your average 6-year old Kunming stored tea. The advanced age of the mao cha (2005) makes this pretty easy to drink. Mild bitterness and smokiness accompany an otherwise sweet, slightly herbal taste. As it steeps, more plumminess come to the front. It is a basic, straightforward tea, but quite pleasant altogether. The huigan is light and the tea has merely average longevity. Still the Star of Bulang is humble and a decent purchase, given the unassuming price (a statement untrue about later HLH productions).
2011 Hai Lang Hao Lao Banzhang
I sessioned this with a few friends, alongside the YS Xin Banzhang. Side-by-side this tea was the clear winner. The leaves are expectedly small. While both of the teas followed somewhat similar profiles, this tea was better in most aspects. Texture, mouth feel, huigan, etc. Sadly, this tea is very expensive, about 5x as expensive as the Xin Banzhang ($480/400g). If you are trying to rationalize your way into a purchase, it did last 30+ brews. If one is looking at trying real or even good-faked Lao Banzhang, we must always look the other way at the pricetag..
Lao Banzhang has a reputation for kicking like a mule. One of my friends told me that he had an intense headache for the rest of the day. Thankfully the LBZ mule missed me!
- Quality? Good-Very Good.
- Price? $3-37/oz.
- Would order again? Hmmm.
Yunnan Sourcing (the producer)
I’ve always enjoyed Yunnan Sourcing brand pu’erh. Oftentimes it is very solid tea for affordable prices. The Yiwu batch from May had more than a few teas I greatly enjoyed. The sessions with the YS Nannuos (especially the 2010 Ya Kou) were a bit odd but I found very little corroboration on the internet. I still suspect a tainted sample or perhaps an odd part of the cake.
2009 Yunnan Sourcing Bulang Shan (Autumn)
Included this in my order from the US site, mainly as an afterthought. A pleasant surprise. Despite being from autumn material it has aged surprisingly well. This reminds me a bit of the 2006 Yunhai Nannuo from W2T. A friendly sweet, honey taste. The bitterness comes out more in the middle steeps (4-6). There is even some huigan. An interesting contrast to the 2008 Hai Lang Hao, as they’ve had similar storages and lifespans. This is probably the better tea, but is also more expensive.
2010 Yunnan Sourcing Jie Liang (Spring)
This tea lives up to the reputation of Bulang. Strong, bitter, grassy, slightly sour, and nutty. This is a pretty powerful tea, and the sourness doesn’t feel off in the same way that it did for the Ya Kou (I’ve also began to reevaluate my earlier opinions on the Ya Kou). I find it to be enjoyable and believe it is something I could drink semi-regularly depending on my disposition at the time. Strong, floral aroma. Better longevity than the Cha Qi.
2011 Yunnan Sourcing Cha Qi (Spring)
Vegetal, corn, decent body followed by a surprising amount of sweetness. It is different from the Jie Liang. Despite its name, it is not the most powerful tea of the month. It dies off a bit quicker than the Jie Liang or Xin Banzhang, but it is a fair and decent tea, reasonably priced. Blends are probably the most value-oriented cakes worth aging. There are a number of blends to choose from on Yunnan Sourcing and I would have to compare them more closely to decide how this compares.
2012 Yunnan Sourcing Xin Banzhang (Spring)
A good tea. Decent, but not overpowering amount of bitterness coupled with nice huigan. I think this would be an appropriate substitute for those that want to taste the basic profile of Banzhang without an extremely excessive price. The sweetness here is apricots and stone fruits. The tea slowly becomes sweet water around the 11th or 12th infusion. Like the HLH Lao Banzhang this has small leaves.
- Quality? Good.
- Price? $4-6.50/oz.
- Would order again? Yes! Scott continues to offer some very respectable tea for very reasonable price. Despite my mixed experiences with Nannuo, there’s really no whether question of whether or not I’d order from Yunnan Sourcing again. If I were looking to age Bulang, I’d probably have a glance at his blends (both in Bulang and out of it).
2005 Mengyang Guoyan Banzhang (Autumn)
Picked up from the YS US site. This one has big, autumnal leaves, a stark contrast to the 2011 HLH Lao Banzhang and 2012 YS Xin Banzhang. It is not a bad tea and age has mellowed it down considerably into something that lacks alot of the potency of younger, spring Banzhang. It is fairly light, with only some astringency and has some of the familiar stone fruit sweetness. It needs to be pushed to get strength out of it. Perhaps it is the autumnal nature or maybe it was fairly weak to begin with. Lasts maybe 8 good infusions. This is still a decent tea, but a disappointing one given its price.
2010 Gu Ming Xiang Banpen (Spring)
This one is also pretty disappointing. The leaves are intact and generally look good. The compression is loose. It comes off pretty light and displays very little character. I did at least three separate sessions with this and just couldn’t get much out of it. There is some aftertaste and bitterness. As I pushed the tea, my girlfriend remarked that all she tasted was bitterness.
White2Tea is a great vendor for filtering out the duds that often accompany pu’erh shopping. The selection is smaller, but more curated. Their selection of teas from this region seems to range from the cheap plantation tea to slightly more expensive blends using Bulang/Menghai County-based material.
2011 Dashu Bulang
So cheap! How can it possibly be good? Well it has the basic structure of a decent Bulang tea and is enjoyable on the whole. This is a drinkable for those that enjoy plenty of Kuwei. Others talk about smoke, and I get some but to me it is not overly smoky. Perhaps my yixing has smoothed it out a bit. Expectedly it lasts for only 6-8 solid steeps. Still it is definitely worth at least a sample for anyone remotely interested. I am confident that it will be worth the measly amount of money it costs.
Easily the most bitter tea this month, but it has plenty of character. If you thought White2Tea’s Ruiyuan Nannuo was too bitter, then you should avoid this tea! Similar to the Jie Liang, if you are a fan of kuwei and bitter teas, this is perhaps a drink now. Others will likely want to age this. Comparatively the 2014 Amerykah (also a good tea) is less bitter.
- Quality? Solid.
- Price? $1.40-8.50/oz..
- Would order again? Yes!
Cha Wang Shop
A Yunnan Sourcing-like shop that makes a good alternative. I’ve been quite satisfied with the teas and selection from Cha Wang Shop.
2007 Banzhang Tuocha (not from Banzhang!)
The name for this tea is confusing, as it is definitely not from the Banzhang growing region. It was actually produced by the same group that made TwoDog’s Dashu Bulang and is another so cheap it can’t possibly be good tea. So how does this little Banzhang Tuocha fare? Very well! If the Dashu ages in a similar manner, I would be very satisfied. This tea is still pretty compressed and the sessions did vary significantly in quality but this is a fun, cheap tea with all the characteristics that one should expect from Bulang tea. Nice, floral aromatics with a leathery texture and a basic stone fruit taste. I was surprised to see the Menghai County storage as it is still quite compressed. With some age on it already, the 2007 Banzhang Tuo is a very solid value buy.
The price tag and age set the expectations considerably higher for this Bulang. The leaves are small and generally intact. The tea itself is herbal/medicinal and it becomes very clear quickly that this has been dryly-stored for its lifetime (Jakub also had similar observations). The first few steeps also come out surprisingly similar to the 2007 Banzhang, perhaps this is the storage at the Menghai warehouse. More of this tea’s character comes out later and it lasts far longer than the 2007 Banzhang. There is a lingering sweet taste. I brewed this back to back with the 2004 Yong Pin Hao Xiangming from the greater Yiwu region (sold by YS). Comparatively this tea felt less aged (more dryly stored) and had a dried fruit, medicinal taste, whereas the Xiangming had a stronger ripened fruit flavor. Overall, this is probably the more complex tea, but I find the Xiangming more easy to enjoy.
- 2007 Banzhang Tuocha (CWS)
- 2010 Jie Liang (YS)
- 2014 Amerykah (W2T)
Thoughts & What I learned?
Overall this was a good tea month. Perhaps due to my naivety for Menghai County I overdrank last month, making this month of Bulang an oddly soothing contrast. Knowing one’s limits is quite important and it seems to vary significantly tea to tea. This month I used smaller brewing vessels and followed up many of my sessions with traditionally-stored pu’erh or ripe pu’erh. I’ve found these teas to be helpful in rebalancing my body, particularly if I’ve been consuming a good deal of strong, young pu’erh.
I was also pleasantly surprised by how inexpensive many of these teas were. It seems to be easy to get very decent, daily-drinking teas from Bulang, even with a little age. On the other hand, there is a huge price jump up to Banzhang, and I will likely be skipping out on the uber-hot regions. The middle price range seems to be composed of blends with at least some higher-quality base material.
~11-14 teas seems to be the sweet spot for a month. It giving me the time for multiple sessions with each tea and allowing me to become comfortable and intimate with these teas. I feel significantly more confident in my evaluations this month compared with the previous month’s Nannuos and Yiwus.
Many of the expensive teas had small leaves, far smaller than Yiwu. This was most noticeable in the 2002 Bulang, 2012 YS Xin Banzhang and 2011 HLH Lao Banzhang. The exceptions were autumnal (Guoyan Banzhang) or blends with some autumnal material. For those intent on aging tea, I’d probably look at some Menghai County blends that have a good deal of the stronger Bulang in them.
|2010 Yunnan Sourcing Jie Liang
|2008 Hai Lang Hao Star of Bulang
|Hai Lang Hao
|2010 Gu Ming Xiang Ban Pen Gu shu
|Gu Ming Xiang
|2005 Guoyan Ban Zhang
|2012 Xin Ban Zhang
|2011 Yunnan Sourcing Cha Qi
|2011 Hai Lang Hao Lao Banzhang Gushu
|Hai Lang Hao
|2011 Dashu Bulang
|Banzhang Tea Factory
|2007 Banzhang Tuocha
|Banzhang Tea Factory
|2009 Yunnan Sourcing Bu Lang Shan Yun
Next up for September (August is off): Aged Oolongs Part II.