Friday, September 14, 2012

Golden Peacock Shu Puer Cake

A tea lover named Richard recently returned from China with a tong (筒) (or possibly more) of these shu puer tea cakes. Nearly two weeks ago he sent me a generous half-cake sample to evaluate. 謝謝 Richard!

The cakes are labeled Menghai seven sons cake tea (勐海七子餅茶) across the top and Li Ming Xing Huo Tea Factory (黎明星火茶厂) across the bottom. In the middle is a painting of two lovely peacocks and a sign that says Golden Peacock First Class Cake (金孔雀一級餅). The wrapper is stamped with a May 2007 production date. I also found these cakes here on Tao Bao.

The dry leaf has a pretty appearance, mixing rusty-red and golden-brown flecks with dark brown leaves. It has a woody, nutty aroma.

I've had a few sessions with this tea now and I like it quite a bit. It is easy to pour dark and smooth. There was a little bit of an acidic finish on some infusions but most were sweet and milky. It's not terribly complex but it goes the distance and it doesn't have any unforgivable faults in my opinion. Later infusions, when the tea soup starts to lighten up in color, are wonderfully sweet and even display fruit and honey notes that remind me of ripe plums. When the liquor got cold in my cup it yielded some great vanilla bean notes too.

Richard reported "a highly caffeinated" sensation after drinking this cake but my sessions with it have left me feeling relaxed (almost sleepy), mellow, and thoughtful. That is my most common physical reaction after drinking a large amount of decent shu puer.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

White Peony Cupping Experiment

A couple days ago I conducted a new cupping experiment with a high quality White Peony (aka Bai Mudan) (白牡丹). I thought it might be interesting to stagger the water temperature and the steeping time three ways and taste the resulting infusions.

For this cupping, I used six identical 8 ounce glass mugs. After the cups were cleaned and warmed I placed 2 grams of White Peony dry leaf into three of the cups.

The first cup was brewed for 2 minutes with 200° F water,
the second cup was brewed for 4 minutes with 180° F water,
and the third cup was brewed for 6 minutes with 160° F water.

After they steeped for the correct number of minutes the tea soup was immediately decanted into an empty mug.

200° (left) - 180° (middle) - 16o° (right)

As you can see, the liquor had a very similar color for each cup. They all smelled nice too but 200° had a little less fragrance than the other two.

I sipped each cup carefully going back and forth between them while making notes.

16o° for 6 minutes was easily my favorite. It had the cleanest mouth-feel, a pleasant sparkly sensation in the throat and aroma notes of champagne and fragrant wood.

Predictably, 180° for 4 minutes was squarely in the middle. This cup of tea was a bit heavier and earthier than 160° with some similar flavor notes but also notes of grass and sand.

200° for 2 minutes tasted "cooked" and had a harsh finish. The usual nice fragrance of White Peony was present but in the mouth it was muddy and elusive.

After sipping the 200
°, when I switched back to the 160°, the 160° really popped out with a sweet, clean, happy flavor. And of course, going the other way made the 200° taste even worse.

Another point in favor of the cooler water was the look of the leaves after the first infusion. The 200
° were limp and dull looking. They did not steep well at all for their second infusion. The 180° and the 160° both still had little bits of dry white fuzzy buds shielded by the top leaf. These cups produced good second infusions.

160° right after the first infusion (left). The white fuzzy bud is still mostly dry.
180° (in the middle) has a little fuzz left.
200° on the right is spent and the bud is cooked to a pale green.

*Like all my casual cupping experiments these results don't really mean anything in the larger scheme of things. This same experiment could have totally different results depending on any number of variables. Even so, it reinforced my long-standing personal belief that most white teas prefer a longer, cooler infusion.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Sakuma Brother's Washington State Oolong

The Sakuma Brothers farm in Skagit County, Washington State has been growing tasty berries for over 85 years. I first heard about their tea growing experiments about 6 years ago when a coworker at the Teacup purchased a small bag of their white tea at a farm stand. At this time, the idea of growing tea plants in Western Washington was entirely new to me and I was excited to taste the tea. My impression of that tea was poor. It looked and smelled pretty good but the flavor was lack-luster and tasted strongly of raspberries.

Until just 2 days ago, I had not tasted any other tea from the Sakuma Brothers farm but I still tried to keep their operation on my tea-dar. I met Richard Sakuma at World Tea Expo and I could tell that he is a true tea lover and eager to grow and process high quality tea. A year or two later, I heard that Sakuma's tea making skills were getting much better thanks to practice, study and joining a Taiwan tea tour with Floating Leaves. Last week my desire to taste their tea again got the better of me and I ordered a bag of their current Oolong offering.

The dry leaves are brown and green with flecks of silver. They have a mild aroma that reminds me of fresh hot soy milk.

The tea pours a sunny yellow liquor with a fragrance of oranges and hay.

The mouth-feel is light and fleeting with a sparkly texture and the flavor is very nice. It most certainly has berry notes but they are subtle. For me it tasted like a weak, floral, jade oolong brewed with a chunk of tart, unripe strawberry and possibly a leaf or two of rosemary. It is unlike any other tea I've ever had but I would call it complex, interesting and enjoyable. It doesn't have much of an aftertaste (which is, of course, preferable to a bad aftertaste). I would have to say that for the very new world of Washington State tea, this is the best one I've sampled so far. I find that to be very exciting and encouraging!