February/March Tea of the Month 2015

I decided I’m going to be announcing these early in groups of three months. This gives me a bit more time to combine orders and collect samples. Please suggest teas in the comments or via email teadborg@gmail.com.

Tea of the Months:

  • Wu Liang/Ai Lao (February), I’ll do other parts of Simao later.
  • Cheap Yancha (first half of March)
  • Cheap Oolongs (second half of March)

February 2015 (Wu Liang/Ai Lao)

In February Wu Liang/Ai Lao tea. I considered making this all of Simao, but decided against it. Simao seems fairly disparate and can’t be as easily categorized as Xishuangbanna for instance.

Similar to the Lincang tea of the month, this will likely be all young tea. It’s a region I’m not really familiar with, so it will be my first real jump into it.

Proposed Core Teas for consideration:

  • 2014 Wu Liang (YS)
  • 2013 Feng Chun (YS)
  • 2012 Wu Liang (YS)
  • 2011 Wild Mountain Green, Ai Lao (MT)
  • 2011 Ai Lao (YS)
  • 2010 Wu Liang (YS)
  • 2010 Organic Wu Liang Nanjian Brick (NJ, YS)
  • 2006 Nanjian Wu Liang (NJ, YS)
  • 2004 Nanjian Jia Ji Tuo (NJ, YS)
  • 2002 Ai Lao Shan (HLH, YS)

March 2015 (Oolongs)

One suggestion from Jake of drinking teas was to split up the sessions of raw pu’erh. While it’s valuable to have consistency drinking, it gives my stomach a break and adds more diversity both for myself and readers. I’ll likely be coming back to Xishuangbanna in May/June tea of the months.

Cheap Yancha

This will be the tea of the first half of March. Despite my considerable enjoyment, I stopped drinking good Yancha when I realized that the top-end isn’t remotely cheap. Yancha also benefits from high leaf to water ratios and can quickly get extraordinarily expensive ($2/g+). This means many sessions can be too expensive for my taste. That being said, I am still a consumer of daily drinking Yancha and occasionally the good stuff. I’ve found it makes a good introduction tea for many new tea drinkers and like to always have some stuff on stock. The past year I’ve used the 2013 Yunnan Sourcing Rou Gui and Tie Luo Han as my friendly teas for guests but have been running low. As a result of the lengths I’m willing to go, I’ll be limiting this to teas of $0.40/g or less.

It will also be interesting to see if pu’erh has changed my perspective on Yancha at all.

Core Teas/vendors for consideration:

  • Yunnan Sourcing (Rou Gui + Tie Luo Han)
  • Sea Dyke Da Hong Pao (for calibration purposes)
  • JK Tea Shop (what are your recs!?)
  • Music City Tea
  • Great Horse Teas

Cheap Taiwanese Oolongs (to age)

The tea for the second half of March. It’s no secret that I’m a fanboy of aged oolongs. With the west being dry, storing oolongs for the long-term is theoretically easier than pu’erh. I’ve been long meaning to track down oolongs in higher quantity to age, but procrastination has gotten the best of me so far. Alas, the best way to get me motivated is to announce a tea of the month! Since I’m looking at stuff to be consumed in ~20-25 years, I’m going to be limiting the price at around $0.25/g.

Roasted Taiwanese oolongs seem to be the most-proven/safest bet, so I’m going to be sticking with the cheap and functional.

Vendors for consideration:

  • Tea Home (Medium Roasted teas)
  • Mountain Tea (Medium Roasted teas)

This entry was posted in Article, Drinking Report, Low-Elevation Oolong, Oolong, Raw Pu'erh, Taiwanese Oolong, Wuyi Oolong. Bookmark the permalink.

27 Responses to February/March Tea of the Month 2015

  1. Jake says:

    What about Jing Tea Shop for Yancha? Don’t forget to try some Sea Dyke stuff.

    • Jake says:

      *other Sea Dyke stuff.

    • James says:

      Hi Jake,

      JTS – Would love to, but I’m afraid I currently don’t have the budget if I buy from JKTeaShop. I’ve tried them before and have been satisfied with their quality.

      Sea Dyke – Certainly. I’ll be including whatever I can procure in Seattle’s Asian markets!

      Cheers!
      -James

  2. shah8 says:

    1) I’ve never had it much, but hate cheap yancha. Lot of the same nastiness as plantation puerh dreck, and not much redeeming value. Cheap yancha is defined as the stuff that’s below about twenty-five cents a gram. At forty cents a gram, you’re talking about respectable yancha for everyday drinking (for those that can afford it). At forty cents a gram, though, you can get very superior hongcha, though.

    2) Cheap Taiwanese style oolongs are another thing altogether. Cheap Siji and Jinxuan oolongs have never been anything other than cheerful (provided that you bought them from a respectable place), and they run to about twelve to twenty-five cents a gram. Lots of these oolongs are probably from Vietnam or Thailand, though.

    3) Proposed additions/alterations to Wuliang list…
    http://yunnansourcing.com/en/2002/1508-2002-hai-lang-hao-ai-lao-shan-mini-cake-raw-pu-erh-tea-200-grams.html

    http://yunnansourcing.com/en/rawpu-erh/877-2009yunnansourcingailaojueserawpu-erhtea.html

    https://www.essenceoftea.com/tea/puerh-tea/2009-wuliang-wild-puerh-tea-pressed-2013.html (recommended)

    http://www.chawangshop.com/index.php/2008-fu-cha-ju-wuliang-qing-bing-357g.html

    http://hojotea.com/item_e/d31e.htm

    http://www.houdeasianart.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=27&products_id=1097
    Technically, this is supposed to be from Nanjian at the very north tip of Wuliang Mountain, but the tea behaves more like a reasonably successfully aged Yibang or Jingmai. Nanjian is lobular leaf as well, so could be a coincidence.

    http://www.houdeasianart.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=48&products_id=1354
    This is technically in Wuliang county, but it’s really a XiaoJingGu tea. Then again, I think Xigui is closer to Yangta, in character as well as miles, than Bingdao, and should be thought of as a XiaoJingGu tea as well.

    You will find that there is a reason why people previously did not make traditional puerh out of Wuliang tea (aside from QianJiaZhai, and real gushu there is very expensive) as a rule. They are thin and constant teas, with a bit of pleasant fruitiness, and they don’t have the sheer niceness of other thin tasting northern teas. Better than Dehong teas, but share similar faults. They make better green tea, and young puerh, instead.

    • James says:

      Hi shah8,

      Thanks for the comment.

      1) Perhaps I am easy to please, but I’ve always been at least somewhat satiated by some of the cheap and reliable Sea Dyke offerings.

      You’re right. I’m probably stretching the definition of cheap a bit with $0.40/g. That is about the limit of what I would consider a daily drinker for me, which is likely a bit higher than most folks. My main goal w/the price restriction was to stop myself from going wild with the truly good (and expensive) stuff!

      2) I’ve never been much of a fan of Siji or Jinxuan myself. Daily drinkers for me in here have nearly always been Dong Dings. I was thinking mainly cheap-enough Dong Dings and Muzha TGY, with maybe some GuiFei or Hong Shui.

      3) Just what I was looking for! Thanks very much for the recs. I’ve heard about Wuliang’s controversial reputation and lack of aged teas but have yet to really try much of anything. Will be interesting to explore for myself.

      Cheers!
      -James

      • shah8 says:

        I’ve never been offended by Sea Dyke stuff. Those are perfectly drinkable, if not particularly memorable. Think mostly because they are pretty high roast, not sure.

        Sure, I could go for the more fermented and roasted stuff myself, though I don’t think I’ve ever had a cheap dongding or tgy of any kind. The only cheap balled oolongs I’ve ever had were siji and jinxuan stuff.

        • James says:

          Yeah, I’m pretty sure it’s the high roast that makes it not completely awful. I can get really cheap boxes of that locally here.

          Tony used to sell cheap, functional Dong Ding that was pretty great for the price. I’ll have to look around a bit more once it comes closer to March.

  3. John says:

    James
    I am very interested to follow your attempts to age Taiwanese oolongs. How much of a given tea do you plan to age? What kind of storage containers will you use? I have found it challenging to find good and economical containers for long term oolong storage. I have been looking for inert ceramic with an air tight seal and excluding anything with foil, cork, rubber and other stuff that might impact the tea. I would really value some recommendations for storage containers.
    Please keep us updated as your plans take shape for ‘tea of the month’.
    best
    John

    • Bef says:

      Hi John,

      I’m doing the same experiment as James. So far, I have ordered 11 lbs of team from Mountain Tea (from their wholesale site) and planning to do the same with Teahome.

      I had the same issue finding some cheap jars. After days searching, I ended up deciding to try using mason jars, and bought a bunch of them today. Had a short discussion with Marshaln, and he seemed to agree that mason jars might be OK. He also told me that the best aged oolong he got were stored in huge plastic bag so that (I’m rephrasing) I shouldn’t keep looking for “special” jars.

      That being said, the seals from the lids have a slight chemical smell, so I will let them air for a few days or weeks. I’m not sure if we should worry so much about the seal odor, since they actually tend to absorb the odor of what you store in the jar (just try to google for something like “mason jar seal remove odor”…).

      Also, we’re talking about teas with strong smell so I guess that the roast smell would dominate the light seal odor.

      Another option might be to keep all the seals for a few weeks in a ziploc bag full of heavy roasted oolong to remove that odor. Or use bigger jars so that the volume of tea per seal will be greater.

      Anyway, I’m no specialist, just sharing my thoughts, and curious to know what others think about that.

      • brian says:

        I’ve also been buying larger amounts of roasted oolongs for aging. So far my focus has been on yan cha though, I love well aged yan cha. I do have some Taiwanese oolongs though as well.

        I’m kind of experimenting also. Two-thirds will be aged in mason jars(like you I’m not worried about the smell from the lid) and a third is vacuum sealed. Not sure how the vac sealed will turn out, but I thought I’d give it a try.

        I also have many smaller jars and vac sealed bags of each tea so I can taste them periodically through the years without opening the larger jars and bags. Not sure if that matters or not but it seemed like a good idea.

        Hopefully we’ll all have some decent aged tea in 20 years 🙂

        • Bef says:

          Hi brian,

          Thanks for sharing your experience.

          From what I’ve read and been told by a tea vendor, the vacuum seal will slow down the aging process. The same vendor actually vacuum-sealed with a little more air/space in the bag since I was buying their tea for aging and they were recommending more air.

          Mason jars are really convenient as they come in different sizes and can be found anywhere.

          I would be interested in knowing which yancha you are aging and where you got it from.

          • John says:

            Hi Bef and Brian
            Thanks for your ideas. Do you guys plan to re-roast or dry the tea in some manner over the years? I guess if the jar is air tight it might not accumulate moisture. I am assuming if you use mason jars it will be important to keep in the dark…is that right? I have found a few ceramic jars with silicone seals on the lid and was planing to use them; but the mason jars seems like a good strategy too – and less expensive. I have found that food grade vegetable and fruit cleaner (from the local grocery store) has been a good way to clean jars before use. I then rinse them well with boiling water before air drying.
            John

          • brian says:

            I’m using yan cha from silkroadteas. We carry three of there teas at the shop I work at so I was able to get it wholesale for a pretty good price. I’m not to impressed with a lot of there teas but this one is pretty decent. Good enough as a daily drinker and to age.

          • Cwyn says:

            Vintage Mason jars have glass lids held on with a metal clamp type thing. I have a couple of small Mason jars of this style. The one down side is they have collector value so you’re competing on price with people who just collect them.

            I still think for western climates our own vintage stoneware is some of the best storage for tea unless you want something more decorative.

      • Jake says:

        you can buy plastic tops for mason jars – should have slightly less seal.

        i might join in on your experiment after James does his TOTM. another idea would be to buy some already aged oolong. i might have a few ideas. shoot me an e-mail (side of my blog) if anyone’s interested.

    • James says:

      Hi Bef, John, Brian, & Cwyn,

      Thanks all for stopping in and kicking off the discussion.

      Storage. I’ve been corresponding with Bef alot here. He’s done alot of research, has alot of smart ideas and is a bit ahead of me in the whole part. I’m likely going to be following his lead and using Mason Jars. Hadn’t heard about the lid dilemma, but using plastic lids sounds like it makes the most sense. Previously, I’d been overthinking the whole thing and was leaning towards some sort of heavy duty ceramic container.

      Yancha. Brian it’s really interesting that you’re aging Yancha. I really haven’t had the opportunity to taste hardly any good aged Wuyis. 80% of the stuff I’ve had has been Taiwanese and the rest were mainland TGY. What aged Yanchas have you tried?

      Natural conditions. One thing I’m worried about is the natural conditions. I live in the PNW where it is considerably moister than alot of the west. An advantage for aging pu’erh perhaps, but not oolongs.

      One other point I’m interested in is the aging process. Unlike pu’erh where there’s alot of semi-aged stuff available with different storage the aged oolong market doesn’t really have nearly as many semi-aged stuff. Most oolongs I’ve tried are at least 15 years old!

      Not sure about quantity yet. Predicting future tea drinking habits is always a challenge. Come April, I’ll probably just pickup whatever I can afford.

      Cheers!
      -James

  4. Bef says:

    @John: I don’t plan to re-roast, so I got to find teas that are already dry and store them under dry conditions (i.e. where I live).

    @Jake: Yes I was also thinking about plastic lids. Just not sure if it would seal well enough for tea aging. Hard to say, though, as most probably no one ever tried.

    • Bef says:

      I have contacted Bernardin (our local mason jar company, here in Canada) about using their jars to age tea. They were very responsive and gave me a lot a interesting info:

      – The standard, metal & rubber lids have an estimated life time of 5 years, after which the seal is expected to fail. They do not recommend these lids for aging teas for 15-25 years.

      – They recommend using their plastic lids instead of their standard lid. The plastic lids are not guaranteed or certified as 100.00% hermetic, but at least, it’s enough to block liquid from leaking when kept horizontally (even though it’s obviously not meant or guaranteed for that purpose).

      – Another option they suggested was “applying the one piece snap lid with the plastic lid”.

      Also, I’d like to point out that Marshaln told me that he thinks that “some low level of air exchange is fine, perhaps even beneficial”. So I guess we don’t have to be too much paranoid about some very moderate air leak.

      Here’s what I will personnaly probably be doing: Use mason jar with plastic lids. Then, cover the bottleneck with some kind of translucid plastic bag (like sandwich bags) and seal it tightly on the bottleneck with a rubber band.

      • John says:

        Hi Bef and others
        Thought I would share a couple of resources I have stumbled upon. I am paranoid about plastic smells/chemicals leaching into the tea and impacting the taste and safety with long term storage. That is probably my non-rational fear more than anything else…but here are some non-plastic options:
        1) silicone sealing mason jar lids
        http://simplerproducts.com
        2) glass, stainless steel and silicone storage
        http://www.lifewithoutplastic.com/store/ca/round-large-airtight-watertight-glass-container-with-stainless-steel-lid.html
        3) porcelain/silicone option
        http://www.mingtaoxuan.com/porcelain_tea_storage_long.htm

        I have some of the porcelain storage containers from ming tao xuan and have been pretty happy with them.

        I am going to try and get my hands on some medium roasted oolong of various ages – that is, some that already has some age on it – so I can better experience the aging process.
        I look forward to sharing more notes on our aging experiments.
        Best
        John

        • Bef says:

          Thanks John. Looks interesting, but too pricey for me, considering I have to store 11 lbs of tea…

          I ended up using the plastic lids that they sell for mason jars. Looks pretty hermetic, more than I expected, and can’t detect any kind odor coming out of the lids.

          BTW, for those interested, I found that the volume of 1 lb of rolled oolong is about 1L – at least, it was the case with the first one that I transferred to mason jars.

  5. Daniël says:

    I have some recommendations!!

    As for Yancha; I am not sure if you consider this cheap or not, because it just about hits your $0.40/g limit.
    It’s a Da Hong Pao tea from JK teashop. I have only tried a handful of different Da Hong Pao tea, but the one from JK teashop was very different from what I previously had thought Da Hong Pao was supposed to taste like. So I thought it would be very interesting to hear what you guys have to say about this tea, considering you probably have a way greater point of reverence when it comes to good quality Da Hong Pao tea than I do.
    http://www.jkteashop.com/zheng-yan-imperial-mediumroasted-wuyi-pure-da-hong-pao-rock-tea-p-252.html

    They also sell a tea similar to the above mentioned Da Hong Pao. It tastes a bit more roasted, but is quite similar (still has noticeable differences though).
    http://www.jkteashop.com/zhengyan-imperial-commodity-da-hong-pao-p-840.html

    Another recommendation I have from JK teashop is their Mi Lan Xiang Phoenix Dancong oolong. Out of their 3 grades (premium, imperial and nonpareil), I personally like imperial the most. Premium is a nice daily tea. It is not quite as floral as imperial and nonpareil and not as complex. Imperial in turn is not quite as sweet and smooth as nonpareil, as it can have a slight bit of bitterness to it. But I think it gives the tea more character and greater complexity than the nonpareil grade. So I would have to recommend the imperial grade.
    I am pretty sure that when JK teashop is running out of a certain tea, that they stop selling it on their main store (www.jkteshop.com) and only sell it in their ebay shop, which costs like $1-2 more to ship. So for the imperial grade you will have to order it from their ebay shop. However, they don’t sell samples in their ebay shop, so I will include the link to the nonpareil grade that they sell from their main store in case you don’t want to buy 50g of imperial grade tea.
    Imperial: http://www.ebay.com/itm/Imperial-Mt-Wudong-Honey-Orchid-Phoenix-Dancong-Oolong-Tea-50g-1-76oz-/290671540190?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&hash=item43ad5fb7de

    Nonpareil: http://www.jkteashop.com/nonpareil-mt-wudong-song-variety-mi-lan-xiang-phoenix-dancong-oolong-tea-p-263.html

    Another Phoenix Dancong they sell is Huang Zhi Xiang. To me it tastes very similar to Mi Lan Xiang, only it is a bit creamier and the premium grade is extremely sweet compared to the Mi Lan Xiang premium grade. I personally prefer their Mi Lan Xiang, but I can definitely see how many people would prefer their Huang Zhi Xiang over their Mi Lan Xiang.
    If you want to try out Huang Zhi Xiang, I am not sure what grade to recommend. I´ll just give links to all their grades.

    Premium: http://www.jkteashop.com/premium-mt-wudong-huang-zhi-xiang-phoenix-dan-cong-oolong-tea-p-264.html

    Imperial: http://www.ebay.com/itm/Imperial-Mt-Wudong-Yellow-Sprig-Gardenia-Phoenix-Dan-Cong-Oolong-50g-1-76oz-/301470761683?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&hash=item46310ec2d3

    Nonpareil: http://www.jkteashop.com/nonpareil-mt-wudong-song-variety-huang-zhi-xiang-phoenix-dan-cong-tea-p-266.html

    • James says:

      Hi Daniel,

      Thanks for stopping in! Recs are much appreciated. I’ll finally be trying many of the teas you recommend :).

      Cheers!
      -James

  6. Ian says:

    Glad you’re looking at that 2002 Ai Lao mini cake from Hai Lang Hao. That tea is baller (and cheap). I’ve had one of the old 100g’s for like two years and had broken it up and clay potted it to mellow out some of the smoke action. I kind of forgot about it but revisited it recently and it’s definitely a winner in my opinion. Gives me great hope for all these Pacific-Northwest-dry-storage Simao cakes I’m sitting on 😉

  7. Jim Vandegriff says:

    Verdant tea carries Master Han’s Ai Lao mountain sheng and shu. I’m not sure what their present inventory is, but I have found the teas intriguing.

    • James says:

      Hi Jim,

      Thanks for the comment and suggestion! I’m curious as well, but am afraid I don’t quite have the budget for it.

      -James

  8. Pingback: Lincang Raw Pu’erh [January 2015 Tea Drinking Report] | TeaDB

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