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Category: Pu’erh Page 1 of 2

A Sneak Peek at BitterLeaf Teas

A new tea vendor caught my eye a few months back. Their site was clean to look at, their teas were tempting to read about, and their aesthetic was absolutely gorgeous. BitterLeaf Teas certainly made a splash, what with their nature-themed tea names and clean lines. But since the Canadian dollar was going down the tubes, I watched (and thirsted) from afar.

Until about a month and a half ago, that is. That’s when they announced a flash sale to cap off a successful trip to various tea festivals across the West Coast and get rid of any remaining inventory they still had before returning to China. They offered cheaper shipping to boot — so of course I couldn’t resist.

I ended up buying two teas and got another three free samples included in my package! Even better, two of the samples are of teas that BitterLeaf hasn’t even started selling yet. So here’s a sneak peak of some teas that BitterLeaf is planning to offer in the near future. I feel like such an insider!

Ice Queen 2007 Bing Dao Raw Pu’erh

Of the three free samples BitterLeaf Teas sent, this is the one that they’re already selling on the site. Here’s how they describe it:

Our Ice Queen 2007 Spring Bing Dao Ancient Tree raw Puer is easily the crown jewel in our tea collection. This exceptionally smooth and drinkable tea has a strong taste of honey from the moment it hits your lips until well after you’ve finished drinking, not to mention an extremely sweet scent that remains in your cup.

BitterLeaf gave me a free 7-gram sample of this with my order, along with brewing instructions. I followed them as closely as I could, using 95°C water, a quick rinse, and then steeps ranging from 3 to 8 seconds. The dry leaf was brownish-green with a few golden tips, and didn’t give off much smell. Rinsed, though, it as a different story: the wet leaf gave off aromas of earth, grapes, tobacco and hay.

BitterLeaf_Bing_Dao_07_leaf

The first few steeps were pale and mild, but over time both the colour and the flavour deepened, going from grass and smoke to a tart sweetness like grapeskin and quince. (Quince! So astringent, but so satisfying to chew!) The first steep was a pale golden amber, but the following few steeps were a lovely deep amber with a green overcast — looking at my cup, I couldn’t help but think that I was about to drink some very fine, very rich olive oil.

However, it didn’t feel like olive oil in my mouth. Instead, it had a very clean feel on my tongue; not thin like water, but not thick like broth. “Lively” is the best word to describe it — like I was drinking something sparkling and vital.

BitterLeaf_Bing_Dao_07_cup

As the steeps continued, the depth and rambunctiousness of the second, third, and fourth steeps gave way to something that was mellow and incredibly well-balanced: the tea grew earthy, tart, and astringent, but no single aspect dominated the others.

I eventually went through 10 steeps, and even after the 10th steep the tea was still a rich amber colour with flavours of sour grapes and grapeskin. I have no doubt I could have made the tea go beyond 10 steeps, but I really didn’t have the time or inclination to test that assumption. In the end, I was left with a lovely vessel full of olive and russet leaves.

BitterLeaf_Bing_Dao_07_wet_leaf

You can buy Ice Queen 2007 Bing Dao tea here.

2007 Lao Ban Zhang Raw Pu’erh

This is where the sneak peek starts! Here’s what BitterLeaf Teas told me about this puppy:

We may list the LBZ [for sale on the site]. Not sure. We have various factory cakes sitting around aging at the moment. If it’s not that, there are other factory cakes that may be added. This will most likely happen along with our spring 2016 pressings.

They sent me a free 7.7 gram sample along with my order. This amount was too small to break down into two sets of leaf, but a bit bigger than what I normally brew at once; to compensate, I decided to take the whole thing and do really, really quick steeps to ensure it didn’t taste too strong and overwhelming. As with the Ice Queen tea above, I used 95C water.

The dry leaf was a compact chunk of dark brown and green, with no white leaf tips. However, the smell was very fruity. Because the chunk was so large, I did two quick rinses of 5 seconds each to try and soften it a bit and make it easier to steep.

BitterLeaf_Lao_Ban_Zhang_07_leafThe rinsed leaf smelled smoky, fruity, and sour. I could tell from the first steep onwards, though, that this thing had staying power, as I could sense a lot of flavour just beginning to wake up.

As with the Ice Queen tea, the subsequent steeps gave off a liquor that was amber with greenish overtones, so the whole cup looked like rich olive oil. From the third steep onwards, I got a note of fresh green wood, plus fruit. Slightly drying, but not harsh. As I continued through the first pot, I tasted notes of damp forest floor, honey, plums, and grapeskin; the texture was very smooth, but I noticed my mouth pucker over time.

After about 8 steeps, I started to feel some gauziness and astringency on my tongue, but the tea was still very smooth and clean. Then I started to feel a crinkly, drying sensation at the top of my throat leading down to my esophagus. Soon afterward the pot of water was empty; I stopped for the morning, went on some errands, and resolved to try a second pot of tea in the afternoon to see if it had staying power.

BitterLeaf_Lao_Ban_Zhang_07_cup

The second pot of water produced some really different results! At first, I was surprised by how bitter the steeps tasted, until my tongue acclimated to the tea again around the fifth steep from the second pot. This time around, after I got used to things, I noticed that the tea was really fruity, with stonefruit notes of apricot and nectarine making a big appearance. The liquid itself was still a rich amber.

However, over time, I could finally sense that the leaf was fading; a real, genuine note of olive bitterness joined the cup, and then the whole thing turned pale and mineral. I lost count of the steeps at this point, but I’d say that with 2 pots of water, I easily got 15-20 steeps out of this leaf!
BitterLeaf_Lao_Ban_Zhang_07_gaiwan

The spent leaf was a dark green that reminded me of cooked spinach.

2014 YiWu Raw Pu’erh

Here’s what BitterLeaf Teas had to say about this one:

We’re 90% sure the Yiwu will be added to our lineup, but it will be the 2016 version. We’ve been drinking this farmer’s tea from the last 5-6 years and really enjoy them and how they progress, so we’re excited about that one.

Unfortunately, I don’t share their excitement. They gave me a whopping 14 grams to play with, and after doing a traditional session with 6 grams of leaf in my gaiwan, it didn’t really taste like anything. There was smokiness and sourness, but it felt like the bones of another tea — there was no unexpected note, nothing that gave the tea life.

BitterLeaf_YiWu_14_leaf

I used the remaining 8 grams of leaf and brewed it using a regular tea mug, but that was similarly underwhelming: at most I got a sense of something sweet and a little sour, but it felt like an approximation towards tea, and not the real thing. Considering how much I enjoyed the other two teas mentioned above, this one was a real disappointment. It just didn’t have the richness, either in colour or in flavour, of its compatriots.

BitterLeaf_YiWu_14_cup

Lao Cha Tou Ripe Puerh from White2Tea

Shou and I are not exactly on the best of terms. It’s too earthy. It’s too fishy. I hear people say they like it, that it’s so rich, but when I make it, the results just leave me….flat.

I bought these Lao Cha Tou nuggets from White2Tea when they had a big sale about six months ago, and they’ve just been chilling in the bottom of my tea cupboard. No longer. Dare I face off against my current tea nemesis? Let’s see.

Here’s how White2Tea describes this type of tea:

Lao Cha Tou are the small nuggets that roll off of the fermenting pile of ripe tea. They have a strong sweet flavor, similar to caramel or molasses.

This tea is from a pure, Spring Bulang production.

They are very enduring and can be resteeped for a very long time. When you are done steeping them, you can also boil them for ten minutes or so and you’ll have a syrupy sweet drink awaiting you.

I gotta admit, when I took the tea out of the bag to measure it and start steeping, it looked… dubious. The nuggets were small, matte, dark brown, and just in general highly suggestive of some other type of substance. I’ll let you see for yourself:

W2T-lao-cha-tou-dry

I took 5.25 grams of these nuggets and made sure to give them a good, thorough rinsing before drinking: two rinses of 30 seconds each with just-boiled water.

After that, I did a first steep of 20 seconds. The resulting liquid was a deep reddish-brown, like beef broth. The flavour was light, but overall it was earthy, slightly fishy, somewhat salty and savoury. Kinda like soup broth.

The second, third and fourth steeps were all for 30 seconds, and they were pretty similar in taste to the first, if only a bit more intense in colour and flavour. The smell was savoury, brothy, and earthy, with notes of spices like cinnamon, star anise and clove. The mouthfeel here was also pretty thick, like soup broth.

Over time, I also noticed grainy notes that reminded me of popcorn. However, I’m not getting the chocolate or caramel notes the description above promised. Where is my chocolate, White2Tea??

On the fourth steep, I started to notice a cool sensation creeping across my mouth and throat, like menthol or camphor. My lips also started tingling.

At this point I started to lament that I used such a thin gaiwan for brewing, because I was burning my fingers pouring the tea out. I have a perfectly serviceable stoneware gaiwan with thicker walls; I need to bring it out again.

Anyways!

The fifth, sixth, and seventh steeps were 40-50 seconds long. The flavour still hadn’t developed those chocolate notes I was told to expect but when I smelled the lid of the gaiwan after the sixth steep, I noticed scents of tobacco and a sweetness that reminded me of red bean past. The second steep was a bit lighter in colour, but by that point I had pretty much used up the water in the teapot so I wasn’t interested in drinking anymore.

At least I didn’t get any caffeine rush this time.

What’s amazing is that even after seven or so steeps, these Lao Cha Tou nuggets still hadn’t unfurled. They were still compact, dark, and tightly packed.

You can buy this Lao Cha Tou puerh from White2Tea here.

Wymm Tea Samples: Jingmai and Mahei Sheng Pu’erh

My first taste of Wymm Tea’s stuff was so good that when they had a sale in October for the Mid-Autumn Festival, I made an order. I got more of the Bingdao Laozhai Huangpian and the Mangnuo Tengtiao “Cane Tea” from last time, plus a bunch of samples. Today I’m going to look at 2 samples in particular.

Jingmai Sheng Pu-erh 2013

First up is this tea, which I purchased a single 6-gram sample of. Here’s what Wymm Tea has to say about it:

This is a sheng pu-erh that brews bright golden liquor with a heady orchid aroma, and can last for around 15 steeps. First spring leaves make the best-valued tea because of the concentrated nutrients, and the infused liquid emanates strongest aroma and flavour. Picked from the first spring of 2011, our Jingmai pu-erh possesses opulent aroma and intense flavour that is reminiscence of wilderness of Jingmai.

The dry tea leaf looks dark and spindly with the occasional silver tip; its smell was fairly neutral — sort of an earthy forest floor note. There was a bit of dust, but the wrapper kept it all contained.

wymm-tea-jingmai-2013-dry

I used my usual steeping parameters for this tea: 90°C water, my gaiwan, and a quick 5-second rinse to start things off. After the rinse, the tea gave off a really strong funky, fermented smell, followed by a fruity finish.

I didn’t time the steeps too much, but I tried to keep them under 10 seconds. The first steep resulted in a pale gold liquor that tasted smooth and mild with no astringency. The flavour hadn’t woken up yet, but I could taste minerals and pale wood, like birch. What’s really cool is that after the first steep — and throughout the rest of the tea session — the leaves themselves smelled like sultana raisins. Raisins! Hell yeah.

The second steep resulted in a cup of tea that was deep gold edging into amber. The flavours were still very mild, but stronger than the first steep; I tasted metal, earth, wood, and autumn leaves. There was a little bit  of astringency starting to peek through — on the back of my tongue I sensed a sharp aftertaste reminiscent of chewing on grapeskin.

wymm-tea-jingmai-2013-brew

The third steep was a deep goldenrod yellow. The wet leaf still smelled like raisins, and there was still a strong mineral/autumn leaf/wood note in the taste. However, I didn’t go much further beyond this point. I only did about 5-6 steeps in total because I was starting to get a headache. Still, the used leaf looked pretty nice in the gaiwan:

wymm-tea-jingmai-2013-gaiwan

You can learn more about Wymm Tea’s Jingmai Sheng here.

Mahei Zhai Sheng 2011

I had the Mahei Zhai sheng later on in the day after my headache cleared up. The description below is from Wymm Tea again:

Handmade with tea leaves picked from Mahei village in the spring of 2011, this sheng pu-erh brews bright yellow liquor with a delicate taste and silky texture. The tea is full-bodied with minimal astringency and bitterness, and brings back a prolonged honey-like aftertaste.

I could tell the difference from the Jingmai sheng right away: while the dry leaf for that tea smelled like a forest, this one smelled intensely sweet. It also looked a lot different — the main chunk of leaf was a murky tangle of dark green and brown, like camouflage.

wymm-tea-mahei-2011-leaf

I used the same parameters for the Mahei sheng as I did the Jingmai sheng above, including giving the tea a 5-second rinse to wake it up. The rinsed leaf smelled creamy, sour, sweet and smoky — a combination of tobacco, prunes, and cheesecake that I found quite compelling.

The first and second steeps were similar in flavour and colour, with both being a pale gold. However, the second steep tasted more intense, with a smoky flavour that had a dry, sweet aftertaste similar to licorice. (That I kept on drinking this tea is amazing, because I absolutely hate licorice.)

The third steep was a rich golden colour and the brew smelled like tobacco. I liked this a lot, especially with the sweet aftertaste. The sweetness was dry and herbal, like stevia or dry wine, rather than being fruity, juicy, or honey-like.

wymm-tea-mahei-2011-brew

The fourth, fifth and sixth steeps were similar: I got a deep golden brew, but the sweet flavour morphed to both metallic and fruity. I also noticed some nuttiness, like walnuts.

Where this tea really shines is in the mouthfeel, though. As I was drinking it, it felt like my mouth was full, like the tea was taking up more real estate than it had any right to. I could feel its warmth and lingering flavours inside my cheeks, on the sides of my tongue, and even on my hard palate. There was a roughness, too, to the tea in my mouth, like construction paper was sliding over my tongue.

The tea smoothed out by the sixth steep, but by then I had also started to notice a warm tickle at the back of my throat. I let the tea run its course over a few more steeps, but by then I was all tired and I could feel the liquid sloshing around in my belly. Not a bad way to end the evening!

wymm-tea-mahei-2011-gaiwan

You can learn more about Wymm Tea’s Mahei Zhai Sheng here.

White2Tea November 2015 Subscription Box: 2015 Pin Raw Pu’erh

Sometimes, you strike the jackpot. It felt like that earlier this month when I saw what was awaiting me inside the November 2015 White2Tea subscription box: a single cake of raw pu’erh that weighed 200 grams! Considering the price of a monthly box, this month’s selection was a bargain. And I’m always happy to get a bargain.

It’s even better when the bargain looks like a piece of Warholian art. Get a load of this wrapper! White2Tea has some of the most creative packaging in the business, and this beauty is no exception:

W2T-Nov-2015-Pin-wrapper

So, what was this month’s tea? The company is calling it “2015 Pin”. I know there’s a reason for it, based on an Anglicization of a certain character of Chinese script, but since I know little about the language, I’ll leave it at that. Here’s the full description from the White2Tea site, though:

The Pin is a blend of three years of high quality material (2013, 2014, and 2015) with Lincang character. The tea has a sweet flavor and a heavy fragrance. The texture of the soup is much smoother than our other 2015 productions due to the blended material from previous years, which was stored in Menghai prior to pressing. An excellent tea to drink now or save to drink several years down the line.

So, there are three pairs of Andy-Warhol-esque lips on the wrapper to represent the three different annual harvests of leaf that comprise the cake. Sounds straightforward enough. My cat Gracie remains unimpressed, however.

W2T-Nov-2015-Pin-gracie3

Gracie is unimpressed with my Andy Warhol tea. She’s more of a Jackson Pollock cat.

Too bad, Gracie! This tea is just begging to be opened up and tasted. And what a beauty it is once it’s unwrapped! The cake is a tightly compressed mass of dark green, with strands of silver, beige, khaki and white interspersed throughout. The dry leaf smells smoky and slightly fruity — pretty typical for a younger sheng.

W2T-Nov-2015-Pin-cake-closeup

I broke off 5.85 grams of dry leaf and gave the tea a quick rinse in 90°C water in my medium-sized gaiwan (about 130 mL). After the rinse, the smell of the leaf transformed from slightly smoky and fruity to intensely fermented — it was sour and reminded me of yogurt. I don’t mind this smell, but it was a surprise.

The first steep was very clear and had an amber tint to it like beer. The taste was refreshing: clear, smooth, with no sharpness or astringency. I noticed a slight bitter aftertaste.

The second steep was bitter and some smoke started to creep in. It’s possible I oversteeped this one, though, as I was slow to pour the liquid out of the gaiwan. Because of this, I noticed some astringency along with the bitterness. I took care during the third steep and was rewarded with liquid that was lighter in both colour and flavour – the bitterness hadn’t disappeared, but the fruitiness of the leaf came out to play. Despite the presence of fruit, though, the tea was still relatively herbal in flavour, with a bitter aftertaste.

The flavour stayed pretty consistent from here until the seventh steep. One thing I noticed about this tea is that its bitterness has a quality I feel on the middle and sides of my tongue, rather than the back of it. The mouthfeel and the flavour are both thin — this tea washes over my mouth smoothly, coats my tongue, and recedes quickly, leaving no trace. The colour lightened over time as well, becoming a pale gold rather than the amber it was at the beginning.

W2T-Nov-2015-Pin-brewed

Things changed around the 8th steep, where I started to notice more fruitiness and a “sparkle” on my tongue. At this point, the liquid in my teapot had cooled by quite a bit, which makes me wonder whether it would be better to serve this tea at 85° or even 80°C, rather than the original temperature of 90°C. Subsequent western-style  brewing attempts hold true to this — the bitterness was more prominent at higher temperatures.

I still have a whole bunch of this tea left, so I’ll probably tinker with it more in the future. I also want to see how it tastes if I use less leaf (5 grams rather than ~6 grams).

You can learn more about the 2015 Pin cake from White2Tea here.

PS: Want another cat photo? Here you go.

Gracie is shocked, shocked I tell you, by the scandalous comic strips of Kate Beaton.

Gracie is shocked, shocked I tell you, by the fact that I’m reading some Kate Beaton.

White2Tea October 2015 Box: Lots of Pu’erh!

The White2Tea October 2015 subscription box came in right smack dab on the first of the month. Nice! I ended up splitting half of it with my tea-friend, but I still wanted to get a review in before the end of the month. So here’s a look at 2 of this month’s 3 teas.

2006 Gongting Ripe Pu’erh Mini-Cake

I am still pretty new to ripe/shou pu’erh, but this tea didn’t convert me. The dry cake of this was compact, thin, and very tightly compressed – it was very hard to break apart into a chunk for brewing. The leaf was quite dark, with a matte finish and the occasional vein of gold.

W2T-oct-2006-gongting-cake

I took a chunk that was about 6.5 grams and rinsed it a few times. Then I did steeps of 10, 20, and 30 seconds, but even after all of that steeping, the chunk still didn’t break apart into smaller leaf. Ultimately, I had to break it apart by hand after the third steep to get any traction. The first steep was extremely light, though the longer steeps were darker. All in all, the brewed tea ranged from mid-orange to deep burgundy/red.

The taste was as uncompromising as the dry leaf. I didn’t get much flavour development beyond notes of fish, earth, and something resinous like cedar or pine. After the fourth steep I gave up, because this thing just wasn’t happening. I’ve heard that good shou can be really rich and chocolaty, but this tea was way too much effort for so little satisfaction.

Plus, I did not like the way my body felt once I drank it. After a few steeps, I started to notice the kind of jittery, tapped-out muscle tension that I feel when I don’t get enough sleep — a cold, stringy hissing across my body that makes me want to curl up into a ball under a pile of blankets. At this time of year, I want tea to warm me up, not make me feel like I’ve pulled an all-nighter!

Overall, I did not consider this tea a good drink. Maybe this shou just needs to mellow out for a few more years? If there’s anyone reading this who wants to take some of this off my hands (I have ~40 grams remaining), let me know — you’re welcome to it.

Lincang Raw Pu’erh Orbs

This one came wrapped up in foil — a tightly rolled ball of dry leaf about the size of a big cherry. I had the option of splitting the ball in half, but dammit, I like to live dangerously. Nine full grams of tightly rolled leaf into the gaiwan!

W2T-oct-2015-lincang-orb-dry

I used 90C water and lots of short steeps, ranging around 5 seconds or so. The smell of the dried leaf was tart, slightly smoky, somewhat fruity. After a quick rinse, the leaves began to stick out from the ball and make the whole thing look shaggy. After a few steeps, the dried leaf bloomed and unfurled like crazy!

Over this steeping session, the flavour was pretty consistent, though it got stronger over time: smoky, grassy, kinda apricot-y and astringent. The taste was pretty clean — no mushroom, fish, or other funky flavours. The initial steep was a lovely pale peach colour that deepened into a nice sunset peach over time.

W2T-oct-2015-lincang-orb-brew

I got between 10 and 15 steeps out of this. I probably could have gotten more if  I gave it some time, but I like the frenzy of trying to finish off samples quickly.

Plus, look at how huuuge the ball of dried leaf became once it fully unfurled!

W2T-oct-2015-lincang-orb-leaf

The October 2015 box also came with a dried tangerine stuffed with ripe pu’erh, but this got about as big a reception on my tastebuds as this month’s ripe cake did (without the whole weird, crashy, all-nighter feeling). However, it’s all part of  my puerh education. I’m still pretty convinced that I’m more of a sheng person rather than a shou person, though.

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