Big shoutouts to Brian, Carolyn, and Richard (+vendors) for providing several of the teas for this month and allowing the content to be what it is! I hope you like long-form content, because this tea of the month report is truly massive.
In the month of March 2015, the tea of the month was Yancha. During this month, I had Yancha 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. This is 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 sampled from:
- Bana Tea
- Baxian (Taobao)
- Essence of Tea
- Great Horse Teas
- JK Tea Shop
- Music City Tea
- Sea Dyke
- Tea Yuan
- Yunnan Sourcing
Approximate Brewing Parameters
~5g/80ml gaiwan. Single rinse and short steeps. The rinse was skipped for a few of the more expensive teas.
When I announced this tea of the month it included a 50/50 split of Yancha and cheap Taiwanese oolongs . As people may have predicted, this was a horrible misjudgement in timing. Not only have I not consumed any Taiwanese oolongs but it took me well into April to finish drinking Yancha. The report had been announced as a cheap Yancha report. Due to the influx of samples and teas that have crossed my path it’s become something more inclusive, including Yancha of all colors, creeds, and price ranges. As a result, this report is sorted into three categories the cheap (<$0.25/g), the reasonable (<$0.50/g), and the beyond. Thanks to those who sent in samples!
Box Shuixian (Sea Dyke) – $0.01/g
If anyone ever need to discredit me, you need to look no further than this tea and the fact that I find this stupidly cheap tea to be drinkable. Coming in at a damning $1.50/125g, this boxed Shui Xian has a sweet, warm roasty aroma. It isn’t complex and features none of the tartness from other more expensive Yancha but it’s pretty damn good for the price. Some herbal smells. Loses steam pretty quickly. The aftertaste is similar to the Sea Dyke Dahongpao.
Lao Cong Shuixian (Baxian) – $0.06/g
Proper mineral, grainy Yancha aroma. This is all-around quite decent, although the sweetness is more absent than I normally like, but it is still a step up from Sea Dyke. Good mineral/rock taste. The aftertaste is light but present.
Red Box Dahongpao (Sea Dyke) – $0.08/g
I like this as the daily-drinking Sea Dyke option if you can find it locally. The boxed one is fine, but you can definitely do better. Tart and slightly creamy, the roast is heavy and the taste is sweet. I do enjoy this. It also has a softer texture which I find appealing. The lingering sweetness is mainly on the roof the mouth. Obviously not spectacular, but quite solid.
Rougui (Yunnan Sourcing) – $0.16/g
I loaded up on this pretty hard about 18 months ago after tasting through all of YS Yancha. It’s a very friendly tea and its appeal is obvious. Good aroma, mineraly and slightly chocolatey. With infusions kept short, you get more chocolate, charcoal, stone fruits rather than a more bitter brew. It numbs the bottom of the mouth with the aftertaste gradually moving to the top part of the mouth. At this point, I’m all out having given alot away to friends. It’s still a great intro to gong-fu tea due to it’s appeal to the nose.. However, given my own pu’erh habits I’m not sure that I’ll restock.
It should also be noted that this is amongst the lighter-roasted Wuyi options (similar to the Tieluohan). This makes it pretty nice to drink now, but it isn’t exactly your standard mid-roasted Wuyi.
Autumn Golden Guanyin Dahongpao (Yunnan Sourcing) – $0.18/g
Also definitely on the lightly roasted spectrum, even more so than the Rougui. This is smooth, sweet nutty, chocolatey notes. It’s lower on mineral/rock taste but is a pleasant roasted oolong to drink now. Probably likely to be a good intro tea.
Rougui (Wuyi Star) – $0.27/g
Another big Chinese brand. While the aroma is decent, I don’t care for the taste which is a dull, flat tangy/roastiness to it. Personally, I’d rather be quaffing Sea Dyke by a long shot. There is some alright mouth-action but it is a moot point when the rest of the tea sucks.
Tieluohan (Yunnan Sourcing) – $0.30/g
Like the other Yunnan Sourcing teas in this month, this is a light roast. This obviously doesn’t compare with the $1/g stuff, but it is good for the price. The taste and appeal are deeper than the Rou Gui, inducing alot of salivation and more mouth action. Very solid as a drink-now option that can appeal as a daily drinker or a good intro to tea.
Jinmudan (Great Horse Teas) – $0.33/g
Thanks to Jake for supplying this tea. Very aromatic and low-fired like the YS Rou Gui. I suspect this is an autumn harvest. Spicy aroma, Slightly chocolatey, with a bit of the yan taste. It’s not exactly the classical rock oolong but hits some of the notes. Similar to the Yunnan Sourcing teas, this is a good friendly option for drink-now rock oolongs.
Tieluohan (JK Tea Shop) – $0.39/g
My first foray with JK Tea Shop, with their small famous bush rock oolong sampler. I can say with relative certainty, that it will likely not be my last (more on this at the end).
Smaller leaves. Predominantly standard Yancha aroma, minerals, roast. Some tartness in the aroma. Complex texture, spiciness, strong sweetness. Very smooth and a great feeling in the mouth. Aftertaste is not the strongest, but coats most of the mouth. Begins to round out with mineral and cacao notes. I’d place this as (light-mid)-fired. It is light enough to be quite good now, but will probably benefit from a few years of resting. The roasting of JK Tea Shop’s teas will also appeal more to Yancha lovers, who tend to prefer mid and high fired roast.
Shuijingui (JK Tea Shop) – $0.41/g
More roasted than the Tieluohan. Reminds me of some of the mid-high fired Shuixian I’ve consumed. Roasted, but still floral. Rock, minerals come out at steep 3. This tea is quite smooth, but needs time for the roast to mellow out.
Dahongpao (JK Tea Shop) – $0.39/g
Mineral and grainy smell/taste. Dry stone fruit sweetness and astringency. Has decent thickness and a nice soft texture. This one could definitely benefit from a few years too. Longevity and aftertaste are definitely there. At around steep 4 or 5 the astringency goes down and the familiar rock/mineral taste continues.
Dahongpao (Music City Tea) – $0.33/g
Thanks to Brian for supplying this tea and allowing us to try Music City Tea! Those that are local to Nashville are lucky to have Music City down there. Their tea are properly mid-fired, but are quite enjoyable now. Charcoal, bitter to sweet, tart, a slight sweetness to it. Mineral, proper rock taste. Good mouthfeel on it. Decent huigan.
Shujingui (Music City Tea) – $0.33/g
Again, thanks to Brian! Caramel, roastiness. As it brews out, the immediate bitterness goes away and a pleasant candied sweetness emerges with the grainy, mineraly Wuyi rock taste. Doesn’t quite have the same longevity as the Dahongpao and is probably a step below in quality.
2011 Zhu Lian Dancong – $0.49/g (Essence of Tea. 2011 is sold out, price for the 2012 version)
How the hell did this tea sneak in here? A reasonably-priced selection from Essence of Tea. Thanks to Richard for sending this my way!
It is quite good and I’d imagine this is one of their best bang for your buck teas. A nice complex aroma. The roasting has faded and this tea is at a nice spot to be consumed. The taste starts out with a proper rock taste, with a well-balanced tartness. There is some throat gripping that I begin to notice more on the third or fourth steep. Some cacao and dried fruit notes. Lightly creamy.
This includes alot of different teas, including some that are 3x more expensive than other teas that fit into this category. Yancha can get pretty damn expensive quickly.
Baijiguan (JK Tea Shop) – $0.56/g
Like their Tie Luo Han, this is the stuff to drink now. Complex aroma of baking spices and raisins. The taste is composed of raisins, spices, followed by a tart then sweet finish. Texturally this is also on the same level as the Tieluohan. The rock taste starts to be more obvious around steep 4-5 before it starts to lose some steam. Lots of mouth action and aftertaste in the mouth. Fun and enjoyable to drink now.
Zhengyan Jade Buddha Dahongpao (Bana Tea) – $0.70/g
A reliable proprietor of mid and high end pu’erh teas, Linda Louie tried her hand in Yancha last year. Thanks to Carolyn for providing this tea. The taste is lightly fruity, but overall the roast is still dominant. This tea could definitely use more time. Lots of grainy minerals. The taste is fairly unremarkable, but you can tell the base material and aftertaste are very good (some nice throat sweetness). This tea also got me salivating intensely. Difficult to place in the rating scale. For now, I’d rank it decently, but I could see this being much better in a few years.
Shuixian (Tea Yuan) – $0.52/g
The first of the Wuyi oolongs from Tea Yuan. I suspect this shop will be interesting to those into higher-end Yancha (see vendor notes below).This Shuixian is a very proper, standard Wuyi. Good tartness, good aftertaste. Slightly creamy. The roast is still quite strong and I suspect this would benefit from a few years of resting.
Tieluohan (Tea Yuan) – $0.64/g
Tart, charcoal aroma. A complex mineraly, tartness that develops into a really nice sweetness. The aftertaste is very good. I think I prefer this a tad over the Dahongpao. Good salivating effect.
Rougui (Tea Yuan) – $0.74/g
Complex, roasty, fruity aroma. The mouthfeel and texture of this tea is excellent. Starts with a strong mineraly/grainy bitter taste that transforms into a much brighter, sweeter, fruity finish. This is darker than I’m used to Rou Gui’s being and is closer to your heavier roasted Yancha. The spicy aspects are still definitely there, primarily in the finish. I think this tea is very good now and will probably improve even more in a few years. It’s a bit lighter on aftertastes, but is quite a good tea and probably one of the most immediately appealing of the Tea Yuan teas.
Dahongpao (Tea Yuan) – $0.74/g
Kind of a cross between the Shuixian and Rougui. Mineral and roasty with a nice soft fruit finish. Chocolatey and slightly creamy. The aftertaste is quite good. Compared to the Rougui, this is more roasted and slightly less fruity.
Shuijingui (Tea Yuan) – $0.85/g
A soft, pleasant texture that becomes tart. There’s a fair amount of astringency that develops into a really nice dried fruit sweetness. Great huigan. Similar to Bana’s Jade Buddha, it has the proper framework, but needs more time.
Baijiguan (Tea Yuan) – $1.20/g
More baking, spicy, mildly less charcoal aroma. Active in the mouth, some wood/fruit. This is definitely a bit heavier than JK Tea Shop’s Baijiguan. The texture is smooth and quite appealing. I think this probably wins in aftertaste, but loses in other aspects as a drink now tea. Probably one I’d set aside for a bit.
2008 Handmade Shuixian (Essence of Tea) – $1.37/g
One of the few higher-end (well-roasted) teas that is at a good place to be consumed. The roast has worn down nicely. There is some tartness and mild numbing. Dark cherries/plum off the nose. Some herbal/ginseng notes developing especially later on which complement the mineraly rock taste. Good throaty aftertaste.
A Few More
Vicony Teas is a wholesaler of a variety of Chinese teas. I haven’t a clue to what these two teas cost (you’ll probably need to buy at least 1kg), but they were lying around and I drank them.
Wuyi Qi Zhong (Fo Guo Yan) WYA 37 (Vicony)
This tea is in a good place now. Very smooth with a good mouthfeel with some light, dried fruit sweetness that induces salivation. This probably had a medium-roast as it’s already quite mellowed out. Pretty decent huigan.
Huang Guan Yin (Hui Yuan Keng) WYA 38 (Vicony)
Lighter liquor. Good thickness, smoothness and aroma. The roast is also medium here and isn’t super prevalent. Nice tartness. The tartness fades and some cacao notes begin to come in on the 3rd steep or so. The longevity is also very good. My only knock is the huigan isn’t as present as the Fo Guo Yan and stays more in the mouth.
JK Tea Shop + Music City Tea
These are two vendors that were recommended to me by multiple sources for Wuyis. I’m happy to report that both are good sources for properly, mid-fired, smooth Yancha. I’d probably slightly favor JK Tea Shop over Music City due to the greater diversity and closeness to the source, if I were to make a purchase.
A new vendor made up of a young couple (Ben + Abbie). They source a bunch of higher-end Zhengyan Wuyis and a few Taochaju pu’erhs. I suspect this will be a vendor to look out for if you like you’re in the market for decent quality, higher-roasted Yancha. Nearly all of their teas that I’ve tasted were well done, displaying both the characteristic rock taste, a well-done roast and decent aftertastes. Most of their productions are 2013, and could definitely use some time for the roast to wear off a bit more.
Recommended Casual Brands:
- Sea Dyke + Baxian for cheap mid-fired Yancha.
- Great Horse Tea + Yunnan Sourcing for friendly lighter roasted, drink-now Yancha.
- Tieluohan + Baijiguan (JK Tea Shop)
- Rougui + Tieluohan + Shuijingui (Tea Yuan)
- Zhulian Dancong (Essence of Tea)
Observations, Thoughts & What I learned?
There’s a clear pecking order to the price range. It’s important to figure out where you fall into this. Well-roasted, cheaper tea are readily available as daily drinkers and can be acquired cheaply. I’d generally recommend budget-conscious people to check out either Sea Dyke or (for the willing) Taobao vendors. For myself, these teas are pretty unremarkable but are perfectly drinkable.
Most western vendors seem to sell lighter-roasted teas. These teas aren’t exactly loved by the hardcore tea audience. The roast is often done lightly because the base material simply isn’t good enough to take the fire. Still, I think they fill a niche for those looking for more casual, aromatic Yancha. This sort of tea doesn’t need to break the bank either and you can pretty easily find decent, drink-now Yancha from a number of western vendors (i.e. Yunnan Sourcing, Great Horse Teas).
If you are a Yancha head in the market for the legit stuff (good base material, long + high-fired roast) then you’ll likely have to both pay up and possibly wait. My favorite Yancha remain teas that I’d previously tried from Origin Tea (a shop known for reasonable prices) that were both ~10 years old and not remotely cheap ($1/g+). While you probably don’t have to wait that long (~5 years should be fine), paying $0.70/g+ and not being able to drink it immediately is no fun. Hurting the wallet even more is that Yancha isn’t a tea to slack on the leaf to water ratio.
So WTF happened with the Taiwanese Oolongs?? As you may’ve realized in what was clearly a poor mismanagement of time, Yancha (deservingly) took alot of time to give it its proper due. I’ll be doing the Taiwanese oolong unit over the next couple months when I have time. Hopefully it’ll be a bit shorter than this one.
|Lao Cong Shuixian||8xian (Taobao)||$14.00||250||$0.06||Good-.|
|2013 Zhengyan Jade Buddha Dahongpao||Bana Tea||$35.00||50||$0.70||Needs Time.|
|2011 Zhu Lian Dancong||Essence of Tea||$36.75||75||$0.49||Very Good-.|
|2008 Shuixian||Essence of Tea||$137.00||100||$1.37||Very Good-.|
|2014 Jinmudan||Great Horse Teas||$16.49||50||$0.33||Good.|
|2014 Tieluohan||JK Tea Shop||$19.50||50||$0.39||Very Good-.|
|2014 Shuijingui||JK Tea Shop||$20.50||50||$0.41||Needs Time.|
|2014 Dahongpao||JK Tea Shop||$19.50||50||$0.39||Good.|
|2014 Baijiguan||JK Tea Shop||$28.00||50||$0.56||Very Good-.|
|Dahongpao||Music City Tea||$18.95||56.7||$0.33||Good+.|
|Shuijingui||Music City Tea||$18.95||56.7||$0.33||Good-.|
|2013 Dahongpao||Sea Dyke||$10.00||125||$0.08||Good-.|
|2013 Shuixian||Sea Dyke||$1.50||125||$0.01||OK+.|
|Rougui||Tea Yuan||$37.00||50||$0.74||Very Good-.|
|Tieluohan||Tea Yuan||$32.00||50||$0.64||Very Good-.|
|Shuijingui||Tea Yuan||$42.50||50||$0.85||Very Good-.|
|Wuyi Qi Zhong (Fo Guo Yan) WYA 37||Vicony Teas||$155.00||1000||$0.16||Good+.|
|Huang Guan Yin (Hui Yuan Keng) WYA 38||Vicony Teas||$165.00||1000||$0.17||Good+.|
|Rogui||Wuyi Star||$16.99||50||$0.34||Not good.|
|2013 Tieluohan||Yunnan Sourcing||$15.00||50||$0.30||Good+.|
|2013 Rougui||Yunnan Sourcing||$8.00||50||$0.16||Good.|
|2014 Autumn Golden Guanyin Dahongpao||Yunnan Sourcing||$9.00||50||$0.18||Good.|
Next up for May: Yiwu + Taiwanese Oolongs (when I can get to them)