Big shoutouts to Carolyn, Richard, Dignitea and several vendors for providing teas and others like Shah8 for their recommendations! A brief disclaimer: This report should be taken as my own personal journey into tea and not as the ultimate, definitive anything.
WTF Part 1!? These reports have been getting progressively longer. Rather than do something sensible, (a) get an editor to reduce flab and misspellings or (b) allow my mom or girlfriend to chuck out samples/stage an intervention… I stuck my middle finger out and indulged.. That’s right! This report is even longer than the previous one and will be released in two installments. The first will cover the young tea and the second will consume the Yiwu with some age (somewhat arbitrary set as 8 years).
The Yiwu report last year was really my first significant step into pu’erh. This is despite reading and dabbling with a few teas from Yunnan Sourcing. Drinking through the teas for the report was also one of my favorites, making a very nice, pleasant introduction to young pu’erh. Last May I was looking to just get my feet wet. Since that year has passed, my attitude towards pu’erh has grown/evolved significantly, something I hope to convey over the course of this report.
Vendors sampled from:
- Essence of Tea
- Tan Long Tea
- Tea Urchin
- Yunnan Sourcing
Approximate Brewing Parameters
~5g/70ml gaiwan. Single rinse and short steeps. The rinse was skipped for a few of the more expensive teas. Likewise, two rinses (or even three) were used for several of the resessioned cheaper teas.
Labels with a
Heavy Grain (/sea) of Salt
This is definitely one of the things that has been further fleshed out in my head. It’s also a topic that has been covered to death by a bunch of different parties, most recently TwoDog (of White2Tea). Labels can be a tempting and easy way to follow pu’erh (they’re everywhere!), but despite good intentions they’re frequently misleading and sometimes blatantly incorrect.
To acquire the teas for last year’s report I emailed Scott and asked for recommendations . Things generally turned out alright for last year’s Yiwu report, but many of the teas that I picked out while searching on my own weren’t really up to par. In my opinion, this was especially detrimental to the Nannuo and Bulang reports last year.
In the end, this report is inherently hypocritical (due to its adherence towards treating Yiwu as a region). I’d prefer that it be known as the labeled-as-”Yiwu” Report, or simply an excuse to drink some really nice teas.
I separate these lies in my head into a few different types/tiers..
Level 3: “If you say so”, Tree Age/Gushu/Old Arbor, etc.
You should take tree age about as seriously as the guy on the street trying to give you free life advice.. I’ve seen/heard of people buying cakes, strictly based off the purported tree age. This approach is loaded with problems and is basically a complete crapshoot.. There’s simply no regulation. It’s difficult to measure and nearly impossible to verify/cross-check a trees age. Estimates put 90% of the “ancient arbor” market as not what it supposedly is. Not to mention the bounds of conflict of interest here. There’s also the matter that sometimes old trees aren’t even very good!
Level 2: “Uh huh..”Very specific premium area i.e. Bingdao, Xigui, Lao Banzhang
Many of the hotspot pu’erh areas are small villages that produce small quantities of tea. These areas are frequent violators of the fake rolex comparison (the tea is cheaper than it should be). In both case 1 & 2, vendors often don’t even know/realize they’re lying. Remember.. shit (pu’erh lies) always roll down hill..
Level 1: “I might believe you a little…” Larger Areas i.e. Yiwu, Menghai County, Lincang
These areas are far larger than the areas in category 2. Doesn’t mean that it’s not susceptible to fakes or anywhere close to guaranteed accuracy, just that there is a greater likelihood that there’s at least a shred of truth in the label. In some cases, the fake tea might simply be from a nearby area and have a reasonable resemblance to the real thing (not necessarily a terrible thing).
The other variable in the equation is vendor trust.. There’s two important aspects here:
Important Parameter #1. The vendor isn’t lying.
Important Parameter #2. The vendor isn’t gullible.
Most vendors are resellers of some sort and will just regurgitate the information given to them. If the vendor doesn’t have a discriminating eye and a knack for details know it doesn’t really matter if they’re honest.. That $85 tong of “Pure Old-Tree Lao Banzhang” (aka 25th flush, summer plantation tea produced in Hunan) will roll down the hill and smack you right back in the face.
In my mind, that’s the relative equation and hierarchy. Some combination of the two categories .. If your vendor really is the shit, knows what they’re doing, and is conservative about throwing around buzzwords, then there may be some truth in the labels listed above. It’s easy to get caught into individual, convoluted cases/mindfucks here. In the end, it’s really best to just judge the tea on its own merits and not chase after specific regions.
Note: One of the easiest mistakes is to buy the cheapest teas labeled after an area. What idiot would do that? Oh wait!! How comes this $4 tuo of “500-year old Naka” isn’t getting me high like the good stuff?? Maybe it’s cause you actually have to spend and not cheap out! Oh and your tea isn’t from Naka or anywhere close.
Note #2: What’s the best way to avoid these pitfalls as a beginniner? Frankly, I’m not 100% sure. Obviously not buying whole cakes of teas based off the region reduces te risk. Emailing your vendors will be more hit or miss but is usually worth doing.
Tier 1. The Cheap (<$0.20/g)
One change this month will be the separation of teas by price range ($/g). I briefly considered separating it out by subregion (i.e. Lincang report), but decided that separating this better represents how people shop.
If you are like me, the cheapo way is the way to get started. I got my start into tea by riding Denny’s irresponsible use of the company credit card to buy tea. Immediate results? Me burning my tongue on overpriced tea acquired locally that I didn’t pay for.. Longer-term results? Tea snowballing for me as a hobby. Online shops should be sending yearly Christmas cards to some of the local shops that will remain nameless.. Onto the cheap “Yiwu”…
I set the limit here at $0.20/g. I use 5g for most of my sessions. That puts a session here at $0.35-$1/session, a more than reasonable amount for a daily drinker in my opinion. Others might use slightly more leaf (i.e. 7g), putting this at a still reasonable $1.40-1.50/g max.
Note: People that use 10g/single person session for multiple sessions a day intimidate me. If I drank that much, I think I’d be properly arrested in a few hours for assault/indecent exposure/illegal gambling. I also think my stomach/head/body/mind would explode..
Note #2: Teas in this category range from ~$25/357g cake to $70/357g cake.
2011 Chawangpu Yiwu Zheng Shan ($0.07/g), 2012 Chawangpu Yiwu Zheng Shan Qiaomu ($0.08/g), 2013 Tea Urchin Yiwu Peacock ($0.10/g)
These are all more or less what is marketed. Chawangshop thrives in this price range. For Tea Urchin this is a slightly atypical budget offering, but I think it is a similar caliber tea.
Very straightforward teas with a sweet, bitter, somewhat brash profile. The Chawang productions veer towards fruit and grain, whereas the TU develops a pleasant softness as it steeps out. There’s a certain roughness in all of these teas that is avoidable if you are OK with spending more.
2012 Cangyan Gufeng (W2T, $0.10/g)
Looking over my notes from last year, I’m not sure I would change anything: Decent, basic profile of an Yiwu. Sweet, easy drinking.
A similar profile to the other teas previously mentioned, but is a cut above. It’s a little denser and not as brashly straightforward as the previous three teas. This causes me to lean towards choosing this tea for immediate drinking (vs. the others).
I’ve always been a fan of White2Tea’s budget offerings. Carefully curated and solid value. If I were a college student/homeless/smarter, is there an easier vendor to goto then White2Tea? Let’s say I consume 5g/day for either a gong-fu or more casual session and want to spend $1/daily. Let’s also say I have no interest in aging tea. That means I need to buy ~1825g a tea (5g*365days) for the year, or slightly over 5 357g cakes (1785g). If I spent my $365, I’d probably do something like this:
- $15 – Flat-rate shipping
- 357g x $59.00 – 2005 Gaoshan Qingbing (semi-aged)
- 357g x $46.50 – 2006 Yunhai Nannuo (semi-aged, wet-stored, fruity)
- 357g x $34.50 – 2012 Cangyan Gufeng (easy-drinking, not too hard on the stomach young raw). Could be replaced with some of the newly listed 2015 raws (or if you are a masochist/love brutal young sheng, the new Amerykah).
- 100g x $18.00 – 2006 Old Bear (smoky, semi-aged)
- 100g x $29.00 – 2002 White Whale (older, good value)
- 357g x $49.50 – 2002 7572 (great value ripe)
- 300g x $33.00 – 2014 Laochatou Ripe.
- 1928g x $284.50 – Total.
Those are seven respectable teas and it costs very little ($0.80/daily). That could be adjusted to fit more young teas or ripe teas depending on your particular tastes. Heck, in this imaginary scenario I didn’t even spend close to $1/daily. Beat that coffee!
Or…. I could spend spend 8x that (just an extra $2000), use 100x the amount of time stressing/calculating the perfect orders, and infinitely more space and time rearranging my pumidor to fit a few extra cakes in. Meanwhile as a bonus I get to worry endlessly about storage which could very well turn into a total disaster. You choose! But that’s the fun part right?? All pu’erh-heads are allowed to facepalm.
Note: Is there a better value out there? I’m not too sure that there is anything quite as easy to execute as that. Places like Yunnan Sourcing or Chawangshop also have solid value tea, but require more sampling.
2013 Changdahao Gedeng (Puerh Shop, $0.12/g) & 2014 Pu’erh Shop Gedeng ($0.16/g), 2013 Yunnan Sourcing Autumn Yibang ($0.14/g)
These are all supposedly smaller leaf varietals. Dignitea kindly sent me five teas supposedly from “Gedeng”. Two are more aged and three young teas (2010, 2013, 2014). In this sub-section, I also included the 2013 YS autumnal Yibang because it fits in price range/theme.
2013 Changdahao Gedeng.. Smells vegetal and smoky which caused me to worry a little. Decent body, surprisingly sweet, but not much in the way of aftertaste. A leathery aroma comes in around steep 4. Smoke and bitterness begin to come into the taste especially with extended steep times. It’s not bad, but I stop my session after some stomach irritation starts to settle in. Ultimately I don’t really like I’m missing out on much and peg this as too harsh/plantation-like for me to drink often.
2014 PS Gedeng.. An active tea that has that tangy quality that borders on sourness (similar to the YS Gedeng/YS Yibang/TU Xikong). Overall it’s a decent tea for the price, especially if you’re OK with drinking it young. The profile is sufficiently interesting and starts to get a little too sour/bitter around steep four. Still, it’s pretty manageable as long as you keep the steep times low. Eventually this tanginess completely disappears. I prefer this over the stomach bludgeoning Changda Hao Gedeng.
2013 YS Autumn Yibang. I’m a fan of Scott’s 2010 Autumn Yibang (see tier 2) and I was hoping that this might represent a good value. It’s not quite up to those standards (I really like the 2010 version). It’s described as not a typical autumn tea and I’m inclined to agree. Hay/granary, well-bodied, and strong. It’s a proper tea, but not particularly exciting for me and a few grades beneath the 2010 version.
2010 Yunnan Sourcing Gedeng ($0.22/g)
This is a little more expensive, but fits better thematically here. I have a bit more to say so it gets its own section. Also from Dignitea. Thanks!
My experiences with this represent a few issues with judging too much from one session. I was sent 10 grams, the perfect amount for a pair of sessions. I ha two sessions on consecutive days. Results were decidedly varied..
The first session left me with notes like.. Decent tea. Like a slightly inferior version of the 2010 Yibang. Very sweet with a similar brown sugar/savory/floral quality to the Yibang. It has a decent aftertaste that comes and goes with occasional throatiness that makes it tempting for the price. Brewed too long it has a similar sourness to the 2010 Yibang. Leathery aroma to it in later steeps.
Pretty legit, right? Unfortunately, when I brewed the remnants of the sample the next day. Something seemed off.
This session started out definitively worst. Sour and vegetal.. I ended up tossing the first few infusions before it returned to the profile I’d liked before. Still, the sourness seems to pervade the session in a way that made the tea difficult to enjoy.
Hard for me to make too much of this tea with only two sessions. Draw your own verdicts.
2010 Yunnan Sourcing Youle ($0.15/g), 2012 Yunnan Sourcing Yiwu Purple ($0.16/g)
A pair of affordable oddities that don’t quite fit into your standard eastern Xishuangbanna archtypes.
Youle.. Not really an Yiwu area, but since we’re not taking regions too seriously we’ll fit it here anyways! This is easily the fruitiest young tea this month. Medium body. It’s a bit more brash than the average tea tasted this month and gets astringent pretty quickly and has some throat effect.
Keeps the body feeling cool. Does induce a little mild stomach discomfort. Compared with the better sessions of the the 2010 Gedeng it is little less friendly, but has a stronger base. Constantly tiptoeing the line between astringency and sweetness. Didn’t notice any stomach irritation either. Not bad for a young, daily-drinking sheng. Given its current age and profile, this will probably due fine in the future. This also gets bonus points for giving a consistent brew.
Yiwu Purple.. I picked up four of these last year during a Yunnan Sourcing sale. Two major points here. (a) This tea is going through an odd phase and seems pretty different from the tea I consumed a year ago. (b) This tea has gone up alot in price (I picked it up for $24 a year ago and it now sells for $40).
Simple profile, with nice sweetness and roundness with occasional smoke. Lasts ~9 infusions. There’s been alot of doubt cast on the aging viability of Purple tea with opinions on both sides. Jakub has recently spoken about his huge stash of 2010 Purple Yiwu developing nicely, whilst others are firmly in the other camp. This tea gets slightly downgraded in rating, just because I’m not sure where it’s headed.
“NOT PU’ERH disclaimer” 2014 Chawangshop Laos Ban Payasi ($0.14/g), 2014 Chawangshop Laos Ban Komaen (Blue) Gu Shu ($0.19/g), 2014 Chawangpu Laos Ban Komaen (Black) Gu Shu ($0.24/g)
Border tea! As a testament to the apparently decent alternative (smuggling tea into eastern Mengla), this tea isn’t cheap. It’s more in line with Yunnanese/Yiwu area prices. Interestingly, none of these teas fit into the reputation of bassy eastern Mengla/Laotian tea.. More on this in the individual notes.
The Ban Payasi has the most standard pu’erh taste of the three with the fullest, most-balanced taste. It has a nutty/floral profile that’s well-balanced between bitter and sweet. It’s not a great tea and gets watery and a little citric around steep 5 or so.. Still, it’s affordable and decent. (As a sidenote, if I were to pick any two words to describe ChaWangShop those would be at the top of my list.)
The blue is also a good tea. It’s soft, smooth, and kind to the stomach.There was some noticeable mouth cooling, especially at the beginning of the session. The blue is more focused on higher notes and there’s not really much astringency, making it a good candidate to consume in the next few years. The body and longevity are average at best, with the tea needing to be pushed pretty hard on steep 6+ in order to get a decent profile. Still it’s the most pleasant of these three Laotian teas to drink now, with some huigan and a nice lingering sweetness.
I drank the black a while back and ended up circulating the sample to get a few extra opinions. It is my least favorite of the Laos gang. It starts out strong before falling off a cliff. Becomes vegetable soup and loses steam completely around 7 infusions.
2012 Tea Urchin Zhangjiawan ($0.19/g)
This is probably the most enticing tea for me in the affordable category. It’s somewhat similar to the Autumn Guafengzhai and other purportedly eastern Mengla teas. Alot of floral sweetness/berries in the nose. A sweet, dark fruit flavor, coupled with a leathery texture and grainy astringency. Some salivation and coating of the roof of the mouth. It’s surprisingly aged for being just three years old, and I can see the start of basic woodiness developing. There’s a little throatiness that starts to happen around the 4th steep although it isn’t as strong as other teas. Good value buy.
2013 Yunnan Sourcing Xiangming ($0.20/g)
This is a good gatekeeper tea between the tiers.
A sweet, honeyed taste with a generic sheng grain/slightly smokey base. Surprisingly deep huigan. This is not bassy or soprano, and has a decently balanced base when compared with the higher-notes of the 2010 YS Yibang. Pushed hard gets more nutty/savory aspects along with salivating astringency.
There’s two main reasons to buy tea. To drink or to age (or quite possibly both). Here’s a few I would most closely consider buying in consideration to both the price and these criteria.
- 2010 Yunnan Sourcing Youle (store)
- 2012 Tea Urchin Zhangjiawan (store/drink)
- 2012 Cangyan Gufeng (drink)
Note: I don’t think it’s a bad idea to pickup some of the Chawangshop/YS productions in here either. Lots of reasonable value in Tier 1.
|2014 Laos Ban Komaen (Black) Gu Shu||Cha Wang Shop||Cha Wang Shop||$48.00||200||$0.24||OK-.|
|2010 Gedeng||Yunnan Sourcing||Yunnan Sourcing||$54.00||250||$0.22||Good-.|
|2013 Xiangming||Yunnan Sourcing||Yunnan Sourcing||$51.00||250||$0.20||Good.|
|2012 Zhangjiawan||Tea Urchin||Tea Urchin||$69.00||357||$0.19||Good+.|
|2014 Laos Ban Komaen (Blue) Gu Shu||Cha Wang Shop||Cha Wang Shop||$38.00||200||$0.19||Good.|
|2012 Yiwu Purple||Yunnan Sourcing||Yunnan Sourcing||$40.00||250||$0.16||OK+.|
|2014 Gedeng||Puerh Shop||Puerh Shop||$32.00||200||$0.16||Good-.|
|2010 Youle||Yunnan Sourcing||Yunnan Sourcing||$37.00||250||$0.15||Good-.|
|2014 Laos Ban Payasi||Cha Wang Shop||Cha Wang Shop||$28.00||200||$0.14||OK+.|
|2013 Autumn Yibang||Yunnan Sourcing||Yunnan Sourcing||$56.00||400||$0.14||OK+.|
|2013 Gedeng||Puerh Shop||Changda Hao||$48.00||400||$0.12||OK-.|
|2013 Yiwu Peacock||Tea Urchin||Tea Urchin||$35.00||357||$0.10||OK+.|
|2012 Cangyan Gufeng||White2Tea||Cangyan||$34.50||357||$0.10||Good-.|
|2012 Chawangpu Yiwu Zheng Shan Qiaomu||Cha Wang Shop||Cha Wang Shop||$16.00||200||$0.08||OK+.|
|2011 Chawangpu Yiwu Zheng Shan||Cha Wang Shop||Cha Wang Shop||$14.00||200||$0.07||OK+.|
Tier 2. “Yiwu“ Tea Ain’t for the Cheap ($0.20-0.40/g)
If you like lots of value in your tea shopping or aren’t into spending money, you should probably stop reading here. Tea sold as “Yiwu” isn’t cheap and to get supposed older arbor stuff, you’ll have to spend more money (more than this category). Tier 2 qualifies from the low end of a ~$70/357g cake to a $140/357g cake at the higher end. It also bleeds heavily both upwards and downwards (there’s alot of teas right at the cuff between tiers).
Note: This puts Tier 2 in the $1-2/session for me. 7gram users who don’t like doing math, it’s $1.40-2.80/session.
2010 Yunnan Sourcing Autumn Yibang ($0.31/g)
I like this tea alot. Especially when it comes to immediate drinking.
Inviting aroma and very tasty. Active in the mouth with lots of high notes. Very sweet, brown sugar, some hay/grain, lightly fruity. Compared with the TU Xikongs this is more obviously fruity and sweet. There’s a bit of sourness at the beginning that is slightly problematic but not nearly as bad as a few other teas. This sourness also disappears after opening up the samples and airing it out a little.
In terms of aftertaste, it’s an active tea in the mouth and does have a small amount of throatiness although not as prominently as higher-end teas from this month. Still, despite being more focused on higher notes it balances out and it offers significantly better/deeper aftertastes than the Xiangming.
Note: For inexplicable reasons I ignored the smaller leaf varietal when I did the Yiwu report last year. This qualifies as a regret. The 2010 Yibang inspired me to try the 2013 Autumn Yibang (not the same caliber), but also makes me curious about Scott’s other small leaf productions (Xikong, Jiabu, etc.). Anyone that’s had those feel free to chime in the comments section.
2014 Yunnan Sourcing Guafengzhai ($0.22/g), 2013 Yunnan Sourcing Guafengzhai ($0.44/g)
Wait a second… The 2013 version is 2x the price of the 2014 version. I had no idea.. Good illustration of perception + price in small and big cakes! When I had the 2013 last year it struck me as quite different from the rest of the teas consumed that month, mainly being more of a face-smashing pu’erh.
The 2014 version also hits hard. Compared to other teas, It’s not particularly sweet but the body and vegetal aromatics have staying power. There are more lower-register grainy notes to it than the higher notes of the 2010 Autumn Yibang (as an example). As a testament to the teas brute strength there is noticeable stomach discomfort and mouth drying after only a couple steeps. All in all, this tea’s overall strength make it a difficult regular drink (for me) but the roundness and denseness might allow it to age well.
I had enough for a small session of the 2013 version left sitting in a sample baggie from last year. Hey, wait a second. Aren’t you the same guy who bitched and moaned about samples sitting in their baggies for over a year? This one’s your fault.. Whatever, shutup I don’t care!
First, the major differences.. The 2013 has a better aroma, more up-front bitterness and some complex nutty notes. After the first three steeps I had this pegged as different and better than the 2014. However, after the intiial steeps they converged to be fairly similar. Their most obvious shared traits are astringent/mouth-drying, stomach-smashing ferocity (I even had the 2013 on a stomach filled with braised pork fat), and an absence of sweetness.
Highly-Relevant Note: After drinking the 2014, I ate two cookies to settle my stomach at ~7:37AM in the morning. I’m OK with this! I should really drink this tea again.
2012 Tea Urchin Yishanmo ($0.25/g)
I had a few sessions here that differed. One had me pegging it as a very distant tea without much of a base. The second had me pegging it as similar to the Zhangjiawan with a base (albeit light) of leather and grain. In the end, I think the truth lies somewhere in between. This features nice base material and a reasonable price when compared with other supposedly eastern Mengla County teas. Very sweet nose, that is similar to a few other Tea Urchin productions. Cooling and a decent thickness.
Like the Zhangjiawan this represents a decent value. It’s a bit more distant than that tea which much of its appeal lies more in its coating and huigan. I suspect this is the sort of material that would work very well in a blend. I’ll also chime in that I disagree with the description that this tea isn’t astringent. Pushed hard, it definitely pushes a proper salivating astringency (a plus in my opinion).
2011 Tea Urchin Autumn Guafengzhai ($0.27/g)
The aging has started to happen. Reasonably strong especially for an autumnal production. Some dry fruit flavors coming in. This kind of reminds me of a souped-up version of the 2010 Youle. There’s more sweetness (fruit + brown sugar) compared with the 2012 Tea Urchin version. This is not as good as that tea but is still a decent performer. The huigan is OK.
2013 SampleTea Pudi ($0.25/g)
I covered this in this inbetweenisode. Along with the 2010 Yibang is one of my favorite teas for drinking in this price range. Very enjoyable. Really soft, smooth texture to it. It’s not quite at the level of the upper-tier teas but is great value (sells for $25/100g) and is clearly a notch above other teas in this price range.. Speaking of which.
2014 Misty Peaks Tea “Yiwu” ($0.29/g)
With the recent controversy you might as well put heavy quotations over Misty Peak’s teas. Is it from big trees? Is it from Yiwu? Is it from Yunnan? I don’t know and I’d recommend everyone to keep a healthy dose of skepticism.
Misty Peaks sent me this cake and some loose leaf maocha (which was alright). Who knows what the hell this tea actually is, but the beeng isn’t very good. The aroma is inviting but that might be the only good thing about the tea. Overall it is a fairly insipid, sour, light taste. It’s not 100% terrible but is an uninspiring tea. It lacks even the charming dense grainy base of the 3x cheaper Cangyan Gufeng. Wouldn’t recommend and it compares very poorly vs. nearly all the other teas this month. I will say, the maocha was an OK tea..
2012 Chawangpu Yiwu Zhangjiawan Gu Shu ($0.26/g)
On the other hand, this is a very proper tea. It’s slightly up in the price scale for Chawangpu. Very straightforward tea with a consistent form and dense body. Stone fruit sweet, with more of a granary/hay/straw base than the dark fruit of the Tea Urchin Zhangjiawan/Yishanmo. There’s decent body and some nuttiness creeps in. Going from Tea Urchin’s Zhangjiawan to this shows the significant difference between the teas. The Tea Urchin tea has a darker/sweeter/fruity base. This has a good mouthfeel, grainy base, some cooling, and lingering sweetness. It most closely reminds me of a few Yunnan Sourcing productions I enjoy. However, it isn’t the most fascinating tea nor does it pierce as deep as the Tea Urchin tea.
2013 Tea Urchin Yiwu Snake ($0.31/g), 2014 Tea Urchin Yiwu Beauty ($0.28/g)
Mid-range Tea Urchin Blends. While their cakes have been trending down in size, these are larger beengs and deceptively cheap (or perhaps everything else is deceptively expensive).
Yiwu Snake.. Why is the snake the high-end cake? I get that 2013 was the year of the snake, but peacocks have always seemed far fancier.. This tea is softer and less up-front than the Qiaomu (small tree version). There is a cherryish sweetness with some brown sugar in the background. Whereas the Peacock is more of a pungent burst, this is more elegant and lingers and sits in the mouth much more.
The body begins to thicken in the middle brews and avoids the astringency of the Peacock. I don’t notice much of a huigan although it lingers in the lower parts of the mouth. Good longevity.
Yiwu Beauty.. This is my preference over the Snake. Gentler than the Snake and much gentler than the Peacock. A bland, soft, medium Yiwu body. I like it alot. Very sweet and less vegetal than the Snake. Immediately cooling, with a good throat feeling to it. Floral nose and a pleasant character. Some nuttiness and astringency when pushed. Strong salivation effect. I think I prefer this to the 2013 blends. While this is distant sort of Yiwu. When compared with the also-distant Yishanmo, it does a better job balancing the after-effects with a more solid base.
- 2010 Yunnan Sourcing Autumn Yibang (drink)
- 2013 SampleTea Pudi (drink)
- 2014 Tea Urchin Yiwu Beauty (drink)
Note: Although I don’t totally love any of them now. I’d probably choose any of the supposed Guafengzhais (2011 TU, 2013/2014 YS) to store.
|2013 Guafengzhai||Yunnan Sourcing||Yunnan Sourcing||$110.00||250||$0.44||Good-.|
|2010 Yibang||Yunnan Sourcing||Yunnan Sourcing||$78.00||250||$0.31||Very Good-.|
|2013 Yiwu Snake||Tea Urchin||Tea Urchin||$111.00||357||$0.31||Good.|
|2014 Misty Peak “Yiwu”||Misty Peak||Bin Family||$29.00||100||$0.29||Not Good.|
|2013 Pudi||Sample Tea||Sample Tea||$25.00||100||$0.25||Very Good-.|
|2014 Yiwu Beauty||Tea Urchin||Tea Urchin||$99.00||357||$0.28||Good+.|
|2011 Autumn Guafengzhai||Tea Urchin||Tea Urchin||$97.00||357||$0.27||Good+.|
|2012 Chawangpu Yiwu Zhangjiawan Gu Shu||Cha Wang Shop||Cha Wang Shop||$52.00||200||$0.26||Good.|
|2012 Yishanmo||Tea Urchin||Tea Urchin||$89.00||357||$0.25||Good+.|
|2014 Guafengzhai||Yunnan Sourcing||Yunnan Sourcing||$86.00||400||$0.22||Good-.|
Tier 3. At least it’s just the price of a daily coffee ($0.41-0.60/g)
Sometimes you just have to say “eff you” to your wallet, conscience, girlfriend/boyfriend/wife/husband and everyone else and do what you want.
<beginrationalization> Tea in this price range is really only as expensive as some moderately decent Alishan.. Dayuling is at least twice as expensive… </endrationalization>
Ever wonder why pu-heads bare a surprisingly similar resemblance to drug addicts? Want to live paycheck to paycheck? Like being exiled to the couch by your significant other and dreaming about tea? Sold yet? Read on..
Note: Sessions in this range go from $2-3 for a 5g session and $2.80-4.20 for a 7g session.
2012 Tea Urchin Gaoshan Zhai ($0.39/g), 2014 Tea Urchin Gaoshan Zhai ($0.60/g)
The sold-out 2012 was kindly and generously supplied by Richard. Thanks!
2012 Gaoshan Zhai. These are very different teas. The 2012 some of the sour/savory aspects I associate with other Mengla County teas. Not nearly as aloof (or as special) as the 2014. More of a solid hay/grain base that reminds me of the Manzhuan/Xikong productions coupled with a really nice huigan.
2014 Gaoshan Zhai. Description on the site is accurate. Lower register sweet aroma. Huigan is gentle, soothing and immediate. It grabs the throat immediately. Extremely sweet, soft texture. An acorn/nutty sweetness comes in during the middle steeps. It also can get properly bitter if pushed. Excellent longevity. Compared to the 2012 version it feels more distant without as much going on up-front. It is a more refined tea and deeper in other ways.
2012 Tea Urchin Xikong (Gao, $0.50/g), 2014 Tea Urchin Xikong ($0.54/g)
Both teas were swapped with Richard. Thanks man!
2012 Gao Xikong. Made by the same Gao in Zhang Jinghong’s book (I think). Really legit tea. Very small leaves. Excellent depth of flavor. Smooth form with a buttery thickness that gets bigger and bigger for the first three steeps. Base is standard hay/grain with a bit of tanginess. It is a really strong tea that hits hard in the mouth and actually begins to make me feel a little uncomfortable. The huigan is alright, with a bit of throatiness although not nearly at the level of the 2014 Gaoshan Zhai. I put this a small notch above the also very good 2014 version.
2014 Xikong. This tea holds its own against the Gao Xikong. Average-sized leaves that are noticeable better than the Gao Xikong. Has a similar hay/grain base with occasional tangy notes. There’s also a fresh grassiness in this tea. Cooling and active in the mouth. It gets quite astringent and doesn’t have the same sweetness as some of the YS teas initially but is also well-bodied, smooth and strong. Not much throatiness, but a strong lasting buzzing that lasts in the mouth. As it steeps out it does begin to lighten and sweeten up. A caramel/fruit sweetness coming out in later steeps.
2013 Yunnan Sourcing Walongzhai ($0.50/g), 2014 Tea Urchin Manzhuan ($0.45/g)
2013 Walong.. Decent thickness right off the bat, and I immediately peg it as one of the best YS productions. Sort of an earthy/grassy smell to it. Nutty, acorn, brown sugary sweetness. It is well-balanced between low and high-notes, not being extremely bassy nor high. The huigan is initially quite gripping and deep. This all makes me curious how Scott’s 2015 version is.
However, it unfortunately changes rather quickly. After the first few infusions the sweetness goes away and the granary base continuously teeters on the astringent. A sort of grassy/fruit aroma remains at the end. An interesting tea and a tricky one to evaluate. Overall, I think I’d go for Yunnan Sourcing’s similarly priced, but bigger cake (Dasi), a sample I purchased around the same time.
2014 Manzhuan.. Another tea acquired in a swap with Richard. Thanks! A bit more active and numbing/cooling in the mouth. Overall with it’s hay/grain base it’s a similar tea to alot of the other teas consumed. Body is a little lighter than the YS Walong but is otherwise quite consistent? There is some huigan that comes and goes, but the taste is pretty constant.
2014 Tea Urchin Wangongzhai ($0.47/g)
Smells great. It’s not as dark and bassy as other teas but it’s got a strong dense form and continues to brew for many infusions. The taste is a textured graininess mixed with sweet berries. Good longevity and as noted from the vendor description it’s not very astringent making it a very forgiving brew and a great drinker now. Gets dinged slightly due to not having much throat taste (there’s a little but you have to push really hard). Still it is a decent tea and a bit better than the supposed Wangongzhai from Tan Long.
2014 Tan Long Tea Wangongzhai, maocha ($0.56/g)
Comes in loose form. Huge, gorgeous leaves. Reasonably dense soup, floral aroma, brown sugar sweetness, hay base, with some mouth cooling (green camphor?). While it is a decent quality tea, the taste isn’t particularly deep and is absent any throatiness.
2012 Tea Urchin Guafengzhai ($0.56/g)
I sessioned this ~4x. It’s a good tea and my experiences are a good showcase of how it isn’t good to judge a tea off just a session or two. Sessions have varied from very good to just alright. The tea starts out similarly to SampleTea Pudi with a heavier, leathery, more astringent. The 2012 Guafengzhai also has some throatiness although it comes and goes and isn’t quite as pronounced as it could be. The longevity is also quite good although it does become more generic (and astringency sometimes persists) as it steeps out.
I don’t think it is up to the standards of the recent EoT GFZ or Last Thoughts (it is half their price). I do find it mildly concerning that it tastes very similarly to the cheaper 2012 Tea Urchin Zhangjiawan after the first four or five infusions or so. This leads me to believe that for the value hunters interested purely in value, there are better options in the Tea Urchin catalog. Still I definitely wouldn’t complain if I had a cake.
Note: Perhaps most importantly, for those interested in the 2012 Tea Urchin Guafengzhai it has sold out recently.
- 2014 Tea Urchin Xikong (store/drink)
- 2014 Tea Urchin Gaoshan Zhai (drink)
This represents the last of the Tea Urchin teas. Here’s a few quick points and a case to be made in favor of them an email to a tea friend..
- Tea Urchin’s stock doesn’t sell uber fast. and some of it hasn’t really risen in price on their site making it decent value compared with other popular western shops.
- Their sampling markup is non-existent, making them a great vendor to sample heavily.
- They live in this $0.25/g to $0.60/g range. It’s not a bad area to buy from and despite being firmly premium it’s important to remember that teas a tier up can be well over $1/g!
- They’re good curators either and are consistent in this upper-end price range.
|2014 Gaoshan Zhai||Tea Urchin||Tea Urchin||$119.00||200||$0.60||Very Good+.|
|2014 Wangongzhai||Tanlong Tea||Tanlong Tea||$28.00||50||$0.56||Good.|
|2012 Guafengzhai||Tea Urchin||Tea Urchin||$199.00||357||$0.56||Very Good-.|
|2014 Xikong||Tea Urchin||Tea Urchin||$107.00||200||$0.54||Very Good.|
|2012 Xikong||Tea Urchin||Tea Urchin||$180.00||357||$0.50||Very Good+.|
|2013 Walong||Yunnan Sourcing||Yunnan Sourcing||$126.00||250||$0.50||Good-.|
|2014 Wangongzhai||Tea Urchin||Tea Urchin||$93.00||200||$0.47||Good+.|
|2014 Manzhuan||Tea Urchin||Tea Urchin||$90.00||200||$0.45||Good.|
|2012 Gaoshan Zhai||Tea Urchin||Tea Urchin||$140.00||357||$0.39||Good+.|
Tier 4. Just Take My Money (while sobbing)..
This is the kind of tea that will not just have you slurping down the rinse but licking tea crumbs off the floor (no comment).
That’s the good shit (after finishing the sample). Too bad I can’t afford it everyday. Wait, this 5g session is only like $8… **thinks for a second** I spent that much on my turkey sandwich for lunch. It’s also less than the price of a cocktail at a bar and half of what I spent when I saw Mad Max on Friday. It’s a good thing I’m not married yet. **Opens up wallet**
–rationalizations of a tea drinker.
2010 Hailanghao’s Yishanmo ($1.12/g)
This tea probably is closer in caliber to Tier 3, but Hailang prices his teas rather highly. Pretty sure it’d be priced into this range.
Just one session with this tea. The end of the sample from last year and I had to use a little less leaf than normal. Sweet, sugary aroma. Generic sweet, granary, Yiwu base. I remember the cooling sensation in the mouth from last year and it is definitely still here. Good mouthfeel. The taste is dark, bassy, deep with a really nice throat-feel.
2014 BanaTea’s Red Yiwu ($0.81/g), 2009 Sanheshao (Bana, $1.00/g)
Linda Louie is one of the most reliable proprietors for pu’erh.. Her tea isn’t cheap, but if you want the real deal she’d be towards the top of the list. The Red Yiwu was supplied by Carolyn (thanks!) and the 2009 Sanhe was supplied for comparison by Linda Louie.
2014 Red Yiwu. Squarely in between categories. This is exactly what I’d have in mind if I were to describe a well-balanced Yiwu. There is denseness in the form but it leaves room for a smooth, soft finish. Very pleasant. The flavor is a relatively simple, sweet graininess that begins to develop both nutty and bitter notes as it brews out. The bitterness balances well with the sweetness and persists for a long time during the session, a testament to the tea’s strength. Good mouth cooling. The huigan is also good and reminds me of the Tea Urchin Gaoshan Zhai. The body isn’t quite “Last Thoughts” thick but is decent. Long-lasting tea.
2009 Sanhe. Fun comparison. So what has six years of aging (Kunming I think?) done to the same material. The material has become alot sweeter (think thick honey). There is still a grainy astringent quality here that seems to be transforming into woodiness. As it gets to steeps 4+, it smooths out and becomes quite soft similar to the 2014. There’s a similar deepness of flavor and mouth cooling.
In the end, I think I prefer the 2014 version. This is interesting to me, as I generally do prefer more aged teas. It’s not a blowout by any means, but my personal guess is that this harvest was particularly good and the Red Yiwu wins with a denser, more solid body and better longevity. In the end, I think these aspects outweigh my preferences.
Note: Maybe even broad regions are useless. I’m not convinced I could tell the Red Yiwu apart from the grainy/nutty teas I had in the Lincang report.
2013 White2Tea’s Guafengzhai (-)
If you want proof that I lack taste and don’t deserve nice things, look no further. Not only did I misread the label and assume this was the Taochaju version (it’s not), but I left the remnants sitting in the sample bag for over a year… I also got way too excited when I found this tea that I promptly burnt my tongue on the second infusion.. But good tea is all about aftertaste, qi, and not so much taste, right?? Paul shakes his head in disapproval..
I only had enough for one session with this. How is the tea? Really delicious. A dark, deep aroma. Starts out sweet, i.e. dark cherries and berries. Good consistent throatiness. Has strong mouth-watering astringency and bitterness. It isn’t quite as thick as the Last Thoughts and gets bitter quicker than that tea. It also has discernible minerals and grittiness. What was initially dark fruits, becomes dark (brown) sugar. Frankly, I haven’t had enough repetition with this tea to really know what I prefer. Let’s just say it’s pretty good (an understatement).
Note: If one were to look into regions more, they would probably think of these eastern Yiwu areas (Guafengzhai, Wangongzhai, Zhangjiawan, Yishanmo…) as bassy/lower register tastes..
2014 Essence of Tea’s Guafengzhai ($1.47/g)
A very good tea that was only really to put into perspective after spending alot of time with other expensive teas. This supplied a couple fun, dynamic sessions.
Initially has a strong lower-register bass to it. Some dark fruits although maybe not quite as dark as Paul’s. Lots of sweetness and some mouth buzzing. On a few of the steeps it veers towards the hay/tangy notes. The aroma becomes more floral/vegetal than either of the high-priced teas acquired from Paul. The taste is deep and there is throatiness, but isn’t as pronounced as White2Tea’s 2013 GFZ or Last Thoughts. A little astringency creeps around that builds as the steep times get extended.
Does start to lose speed around steep 8 or 9 and moves a little away from the tangy notes to more of a dark fruit base with floral aromatics. By that time my mouth is watering. Overall, I think of this as a kind of hybrid between the White2Tea Guafengzhai and Mr. Gao’s Xikong.
Note: I’d exchanged a few emails with another pu-head about this tea and mentioned that this is a great tea to convert qi non-believers, a statement I stand by.
Note #2: For those with deep pockets, this would make a fun comparison with the 2009 Changyuhao Guafengzhai (also sold by EoT) supposedly from the same garden.
2014 White2Tea Last Thoughts ($1.22/g)
I don’t comment on qi often, perhaps because I don’t get/notice it that often. Both the EoT GFZ and this have great qi. Unlike Crimson Lotus Tea’s Slumbering Dragon which has the aggro/yang/nun-punching qi (sorry Cwyn), this is a bit more calm. TwoDog has a hard time talking up his own tea, an attribute that I appreciate in him. So let me do it for him.. This tea is really freaking good.
Cwyn has described this tea as thick like motor oil… In addition to the considerable body, it’s got a complex taste with excellent depth that supplies a very dynamic session. If you get a chance to taste the 2014 or 2015 version, pay attention to how the tea goes down your throat and into your stomach.. This has some of the most obvious throat taste I’ve ever had. Heck, even the rinse had it in spades. Then compare it with a more pedestrian tea.
Frankly, these teas from Bana, Essence of Tea, and White2Tea are all really good. Are they better than the teas in tier 3. (In my opinion) Definitely yes they are better and can be worth the extra $$ (budget pending). As far as recommendations.. I’m partial to the Last Thoughts, but don’t want to hype the tea too much.. After all, I need to wait 12-15 business days before I can collect on my deal with the devil for my soul to buy an extra cake or two…
|2010 Yishanmo||Yunnan Sourcing||Hailanghao||$400.00||357||$1.12||Very Good.|
|2014 Guafengzhai||Essence of Tea||Essence of Tea||$526.00||357||$1.47||Very Good+.|
|2014 Last Thoughts||White2Tea||White2Tea||$435.00||357||$1.22||Excellent.|
|2009 Sanhe Shao||Bana Tea||Sanhe||$399.00||400||$1.00||Very Good-.|
|2014 Red Yiwu||Bana Tea||Bana Tea||$325.00||400||$0.81||Very Good.|
A Few Extra Thoughts
I drank alot of teas this month. I have a friend who orders huge quantities (think 500g) of three to five oolongs and drinks through them in a few months. Then he re-ups and does it again.. In the end, he only drinks maybe 20 different teas/year but has an incredible feel and muscle memory for teas and a great idea of his preference. Ignoring the possibility of duds, I think there’s alot of value in the repetition here. Simply glancing at my tea stash, I have about 100024234 different options of teas (samples, cakes, w/e) I could drink next. One of my goals is to reduce this tendency (and my stash). It’ll inevitably affect how I do these reports. More on this when I flesh it out more..
Some more perspective on stomach-hurting sheng.. While I was drinking through these teas, I was simultaneously drinking a few supposed Lincang teas/samples. Was struck by how stomach-cringing some of these were. Many were resesssions, whose stomach-irritation exceeded my memories of the tea. In contrast, many of the teas I had this month (despite being young) weren’t noticeably tough on the stomach. This seems to be especially true of several of the nicer teas.. I’d say something about gushu/tree age, but that’s not really reliable information..
A reminder that stomach irritation is very dependent on the tea. Imagine someone starting with young factory tea as their introduction to young sheng or even just sheng. That’s a very different starting point from just about all the teas in this report..
Coming soon.. Part 2 (in four weeks, 7/4).