2016 XinZhai – Essence of Tea

​While still on a whirlwind tour of the scenic northwest, I’m taking some time each day to have some tea. Some days it’s an old favorite, but today, I’m having the 2016 XinZhai from Essence of Tea

Oh, and excuse the pictures. Starbucks has terrible lighting, though I’m grateful that they supply me with endless hot water.

EoT’s XinZhai is a sheng puerh (生 – sheng, 普洱 – puerh) pressed into a 200 gram disk shape (餅 – bing; literally “cake”). I got a sample of this cake when it was released, but am just now getting to try it.

Let’s get this party started 

Steeping

I’m not really sure what to expect from this tea, so I gave it a short rinse. The taste is clean and vegetal. A first steep of five seconds yields a light and fragrant tea. It has a slight cooling sensation and a long taste of green fruits.

steep 1 

Steep two has a “full” taste that lingers in the throat and is accompanied by a mid-head feeling. Moving to the third steep, I tried to push it more to find any bit of punchiness, but the tea is quite green and lacks the bitterness and astringency.

Steeps Four and Five

Steep four, I went for 25 seconds. This tea isn’t very viscous, but has a full, lingering feeling. There’s a great intensity in the top of the throat, but is still very green tasting.

steep 4

I went for 45 seconds on steep five. There’s a little more bite on the tongue, but still plainly vegetal. This tea isn’t a rollercoaster of flavor, but more of a pleasant ride through the countryside. 

Finishing the Session

Steeps six through eight were increasingly longer. Steep eight went for five full minutes, but still didn’t yield any stronger sheng flavors. 

The wet leaves are very green and most likely need some time to mature into a decent sheng puerh. If you’re a fan of green tea, this could be a good entry point into puerh, but I’m not sure how well this will actually age. There’s the feeling of punchiness, but it’s just… so far away from the tongue, like it’s there but you just can’t quite taste it.

very green

Until the next cup.

2016 “Year of the Monkey” Spring Yiwu – Bitterleaf Teas

I’m about to make a lot of assumptions and draw a lot of conclusions. Buckle up.

Today is a special day. I’m writing this post from the airport on my phone. I’m headed to the scenic northwest United States 1.) To travel, and 2.) To visit some tea friends. This will mean fewer posts over the next two weeks.

Today’s tea review is of the 2016 “Year of the Monkey” Spring Yiwu from Bitterleaf Teas, or, as I like to call it, the “smoking monkey.”

I’ve mentioned yiwu teas many times. One of my favorite teas is a 2003 yiwu. Yiwu is one of the six famous tea mountains, though today it’s probably the most famous. 

The 2016 “Year of the Monkey” comes in a 357 gram bing.

The dry leaf is floral and immediately catches my attention. All of my favorite yiwu notes are present in the scent. I only mention this because out of all the 2016 yiwu teas that I’ve tried, this seems to be the most on point. All of the other yiwu teas have been “blends” of some sort… but what are they blended with?

Let’s get it started

Steeping

From the rinse, you can tell this is going to be a spectacular tea. When you drink enough puerh, you can get a true sense of a tea without drinking a ton of it. Sure, you don’t get all the nuance and there might be unexpected flavors, but sometimes, you just know.

The first steep, I let go for a longer than average time, about 15 seconds. No bitterness. No astringency. Just perfect and classic yiwu flavors. 

Deliciously Yiwu 

Okay, now you can ask. “What are classic yiwu flavors?”

I’m glad you asked. To me, classic yiwu has notes of wood, floral, sweetness, and minerals. The mineral taste usually comes from the nearby rivers, etc. but I’m sure there are plenty of other contributing factors.

Steeps Two through Five

This tea is as exquisite as it is simple. The notes are soft. You have to listen to the tea. You can’t oversteep it (I’m sure you could, technically, but you’d have to try hard). 

The build of flavors, the lack of bitterness, and only a hint of astringency through the heart of the session. I can’t even give you details about each steep in a way that will make sense. This tea is an experience that must be felt.

By the fourth steep, I’m sweating like crazy. The energy hides in the tea and jumps out at you when you least expect it. There are no signs of slowing down; the flavor keeps escalating in only the best way possible.

Amazing tea so far

Finishing the Session

My least informative review, by far, but perhaps one of the best teas of the year (2016 harvest, not 2016 releases). The tea starts it’s decrease around 8 steeps and lasts for a little while longer. The longevity isn’t a problem, since it’s a young tea. 

Til we meet again

There are few teas that I’m blown away by, but this is one of them. I’m so glad to have a whole cake… maybe more is needed. For now, I’m just glad I threw another helping in my bag to have on my trip.

Until the next cup.

Sharing Tea

Tea is more than just ancient tradition. Tea is more than the leaves on the tree, the processing, or the liquid in the cup. Tea doesn’t care if you buy from a farmer, a vendor, a big chain store, or Lipton tea bags.

Okay, maybe tea cares about the last one.

Tea is an experience. Experiences are meant to be shared, just as I’m sharing this writing with you. I haven’t been in the tea world as long as a lot of people, but I’ve shared tea with so many people around the world in all sorts of situations. Mailing tea around the world… traveling to meet tea friends… video chatting with vendors in China… it’s all a part of the tea experience.

But why?

No matter your belief, tea, in ancient cultures, has always had a “spiritual” connection. Drinking tea alone has calming abilities. It gives you the chance to center yourself, to focus on something other than life, to feel the energy of the tea. But what is so special about sharing tea? Sharing tea connects people and provides a sense of community. Not only do we feel the connection to the tea, we feel connection to the other people in the room, regardless of conversation. Tea is a bonding experience, meant both to be shared and enjoyed alone.

I’ve shared tea with quite a few vendors including Crimson Lotus Tea, White2Tea, Bitterleaf Teas, and Meimei Fine Teas. Tea with vendors is fun for someone like me. I’m trying to learn tea-related Chinese terms, processing techniques, arbor vs. taidi, different mountains, leaf size, etc. But you don’t need to be an aficionado to have tea with a vendor. Just sit back and listen. Enjoy the time. Enjoy the tea. Learn more about the drink you love. Listen to the stories of the people who have been there. Live vicariously through them. Dream.

Did you just..?

Yup. Sure did. I’m passionate about tea. I dream about the future endeavors that I can have – open a curated tea store, sell teaware, hold classes locally and online. I’ve had a lot of hobbies that involve learning about subject matter, attending conferences and shows, buying… a lot. Tea is a community experience. You can’t just have it alone and feel satisfied.

So, what does this mean?

Sharing tea is less about what you’re drinking and more about how you’re drinking. Tea transcends differences, unites, comforts, and delivers an experience unlike any other. Turn off the television. Turn off the cell phone. Turn off the computer (unless you’re skyping someone for tea!). Drink in the experience and, better yet, experience it with someone else. Find someone who doesn’t know about tea and explore it together. Start with a simple green and work your way to complex puerhs. You don’t have to bond over expensive tea, you just have to enjoy the time.

Oh, and if you want to have tea with me, just let me know.

Until the next cup.

2016 “Teadontlie” – White2Tea

The supply of 2016 teas is almost endless. I have so many to try and so many more to review, not to mention other purchases and trades. Being a puerh junkie can get pretty overwhelming!

Today, I’m trying another new tea from White2Tea – 2016 “Teadontlie.” Teadontlie is a sheng puerh (生 – sheng, 普洱 – puerh) pressed into a 200 gram disk shape (餅 – bing; literally “cake”). The only notes on White2Tea’s site regarding this tea are:

A blend of raw Puer material that has a sweet, thick body. A heavy interior fruity floral fragrance and a strong astringency that will calm down with age.

Sounds pretty good to me.

DO IT NOW
DO IT NOW

The cake has pretty loose compression and relatively large leaves.

All ready to go
All ready to go

Steeping

Just a quick rinse for this young tea. The rinse is lightly floral with a wood base. Automatically, I think this tea has a yiwu (易武) base, but is most likely blended with leaf from other mountains/regions. The first five-second steep brings out more of the woodiness and some creeping astringency. This astringency increases greatly at steep two (five seconds) and there is also an increase in the floral notes. Hiding in the background is a fruit taste which lingers on the top of the mouth.

Steep 1
Steep 1

Steeps Three through Five

Steep three, seven seconds long, delivers a high viscosity. The astringency also levels out at this point, but doesn’t decrease. The fourth steep, and the heart of the session, has the astringency starting to fade. There’s a decrease in bitterness, but the tea is still heavy on floral notes. The tea remains thick and sweet, also providing a sharp punch of tea energy (茶气 – cha qi).

The heart of the session
The heart of the session

Steep five, increasing to 15 seconds, is still quite thick and sweet. The floral nature is fading, but is being replaced by softer fruit notes, which I’m identifying as pear-like.

Steeps Six through Eight

Steep six, also at 15 seconds, is much sweeter and amplifies the wood base, which was relatively hidden under the other flavors since the start of the session. The fruit taste moves into an apricot-like state. A 20-second seventh steep is much thinner with the peak of the tea obviously behind it. There’s still a great sweetness and wood/apricot blend. Steep eight, for 30 seconds, is much thinner, but still provides a good taste and sweetness.

Eighth steep, dying fast
Eighth steep, dying fast

Finishing the Session

I’m sure I could push this tea to about 11 steeps or so, but since the tea is dying rapidly, I’m losing interest. Overall, I’m still confident in my yiwu base assessment, though I’m not always right about these sorts of things. The leaves are nice and large; however, there are a lot of stems. The leaf size definitely lends to the sweetness of the tea – typically, the larger the leaf, the more sweetness, but that’s not always the case.

Pretty large leaf size, lots of stems
Pretty large leaf size, lots of stems

This tea is pretty magnificent right now. The length of the session will grow with age and some of those harsher, more astringent notes will die down over time, as well. I would highly recommend this tea for a sample (a cake is a sample) for further hoarding. This is a great tea to drink now or let age for a few years.

Until the next cup.

Warrior Wednesday – 2016 “Fade” – White2Tea

Warrior Wednesday! We all know western style (little leaf, lots of water, long time), grandpa style (little leaf, cup of water, continuous steeping/re-steeping), and traditional gongfu style (lots of leaf, little water, little time).

But… what if there were another way?

Enter warrior style. This is a method that my good friend paxl13 and I had invented over a year ago. Warrior style takes an extremely high ratio of leaf to water, roughly 1 gram per every 10 ml of water for sheng and potentially even higher for shou. Warrior style started as a “challenge” featuring New Amerykah 2 from White2Tea, so, how fitting that I introduce it to the world with yet another White2Tea product.

Today, I’m revisiting an “older” 2016 tea: Fade from White2Tea. This tea was initially in the April 2016 White2Tea club box… and I hated it. A lot of people raved about the tea, but I just couldn’t find any good qualities. I buried the brick in the back of the pumidor and said I’d try it again in six months. Well, it’s been five and a half, so.. close enough.

Snagged from www.white2tea.com
Snagged from www.white2tea.com

Fade is a huangpian (黄片 – huangpian; literally “yellow leaf”), which I’ve already ranted about in detail in my “Alter Ego” review. It’s a sheng puerh (生 – sheng, 普洱 – puerh) pressed into a 200g brick shape (砖茶 – zhuancha; literally “tea brick”).

Why not try it.. warrior style?

My ridiculous parameters for the session? 13g/100ml

Leaf stacked up!
Leaf stacked up!

Steeping

Fade has relatively loose compression for a zhuancha, so I was able to do a five-second rinse. The wet leaf is heavy on the wet tobacco scent. The rinse has tastes of stone fruit and a citrus top note. The first, full, five-second steep was a rich orange/yellow color. The sour citrus notes are much stronger as the leaf opens and the tea also develops a decent amount of astringency (bearing in mind that I’m severely over-leafing a young sheng).

Already punchy
Already punchy

Steeps Two through Five – Steep two moves into a vegetal sweetness and is still very heavy on the citrus top notes. I can’t say that I’m a huge fan of this weird sour taste in my tea, but I’m also feeling it as an attribute of young tea that would fade (heh, fade) with time. The tea starts to smooth out through the next few steeps, but really punches with astringency. Keep in mind that I’m basically flash steeping this for the first eight steeps due to the amount of leaf in the gaiwan.

The tea energy (茶气 – cha qi) is striking me hard around steep four. The tea starts developing a sweeter fruit profile – stone fruit and green apple are the predominant flavors along with the citrus top notes.

Drunken warrior...
Drunken warrior…

Finishing the Session

Out of respect for everyone’s reading attention span, I’m not going to break this into every steep. The amount of leaf that I’m pushing gives me 20+ steeps, even on a young tea.

Look at all of that leaf!
Look at all of that leaf!

Most importantly, Fade delivers a sweet fruit taste throughout the session. There is some astringency and a strange sour note, but I imagine that these will improve over time. Being a huangpian, Fade is relatively cheap. Would I keep drinking it now? Maybe not, but I sure will enjoy it in 2020!

So, maybe next time you break out an old favorite, you might want to brew fast and hard… in the WAY OF THE WARRIOR!

Until the next cup.