Steep Stories

of the Lazy Literatus

Month: August 2014

Bada “Beeng”, Bada Boom

Well…this is embarrassing.

The day I finally got around to trying this – after whittling down my significant tea backlog – three revelations hit me square in the sack. Revelation #1: I had already written taster notes for this tea. Revelation #2: I had already taken pictures of the tasting experience. And Revelation #3: Said pictures had already been posted online. Not only did I feel like a schmuck, but an absentminded one to boot.

That said, once I reviewed my notes and visual aids, I fondly remembered what I had sipped. Like a mob hitman remembering his first victim.

hitman

Okay…bad example, but a perfect(-ish) segue to…

This young pu-erh was harvested in March of 2013 from Bada Mountain in Yunnan Province, China. Said region is one of the oldest tea producing areas, and the wonderfully-named “Bada” is one of 26 classic tea producing mountains. Pulang and Hani minorities grew and harvested the tea leaves for this offering from some of the world’s oldest tea trees.

JalamTeas offered this up to my (un)usual scrutiny in May. By vague recollection (and by that, I mean Instagram), I remember digging into the beengcha (tea cake) the following month. In my defense, there was a lot going on in June. World Tea Expo, for instance.

When I dug into this, I chuckled at the mountain’s name. Most would immediately think of a Goodfellas riff, what with the “Bada” moniker. Me? I was more reminded of this cute li’l gem.

leeloo

As with all of JalamTeas wares, this was a beautiful beengcha. The pressed green and silver-tipped leaves gave off a springtime scent of flowers, soil, and something vaguely herbaceous and medicinal. It also came across – in scent and sight – as older than it actually was. I almost felt bad that I had to tear a sliver from the li’l, pretty cake.

bada

There was only one way I could approach this – gongfoolishly. Several smaller infusions at about thirty seconds or more, boiled water for the base. For the purposes of playing, I prepped three steeps to start.

The aroma wafting from all three amber-gold-liquored cups was straight leaves from fruit trees. Unlike the deceptive dry presentation, brewed up, this came across as young as it was. On taste, I felt like I was sipping a non-astringent, low-altitude Darjeeling green tea. With a pu-erh-ish lean, of course. I have no clue how this will turn out in a few years. With other young shengs, one has some idea how they’ll age – this one was a little more secretive. I don’t mind a little mystery.

bada brewed

I’ll revisit it again in five years. If I don’t drink it all by then, that is. Chances are, though, I’ll forget. Must be age catching up with me; perfect for aging pu-erh.

Now get off my mountain…I mean, lawn. I mean…where am I?

The Dark Side of Bancha

Bancha (literally translated as “ordinary tea”) is the redheaded stepchild of the Japanese green tea family. Whereas the topmost tea leaves are reserved for higher grade sencha, gyokuro and matcha, the older, courser leaves are reserved for lesser brews. They typically lack the flavorful kick of the top-tier leaves or the caffeine level.

Left with no other option, the Japanese do what comes naturally with these late-harvest, leafy underachievers. They f**k around with them. Sometimes, the results are magical – as demonstrated with houjicha, a charcoal-roasted tea. Other times…*sigh*…abominations like genmaicha – tea leaves blended with rice – occur.

Okay, that’s not entirely fair. Genmaicha has plenty of fans out there, and that’s all well and good. We’re allowed to like terrible things. I’ve been known to chuckle at an Adam Sandler movie or two, for instance.

sandler

But I digress.

One of my favorite f**ckarounds the Japanese devised seems like it was lifted from the Chinese/Taiwanese handbook. It was as if there was a meeting that went something like this:

Guy 1: “So…what should we do with all these autumn harvest bancha leaves?”

Guy 2: “I dunno…let’s age ‘em.”

Guy 1: “No, too long of a wait…and the Taiwanese already do that.”

Guy 2: “Uh…we could ferment it?”

Guy 1: “Don’t the Chinese already do that?”

Guy 2: “Yeah, so?”

Guy 1: “Fair point.”

Which brings me to Goishicha.

goishicha stacks

Source: Tosa Wave Blog

Goishicha originates from a town called Otoyo in the mountains of Kochi Prefecture. It is so named because of the tea’s compressed appearance – resembling playing pieces for the game, Go. The process involved in making it is rather labor intensive. Bancha leaves are steamed, stacked on the ground, flattened by a mat, left to ferment, then stacked into a barrel, and left to ferment a second time.

For awhile, this was considered the only post-fermented tea coming out of Japan. A tea so rare that at one time there was only one known producer of the stuff. That has changed in recent years due to a rise in Japanese tea experimentation. With the proliferation of other Japanese heicha (“dark tea”) surfacing, it was only a matter of time before the Goishicha practice resurfaced.

I first ran into mentions of Goishicha while researching another fermented bancha for an article – Awabancha. That eventually led me to getting in contact with Yunomi.us about acquiring some for a write-up. Around the same time, I also sampled two other Japanese dark teas through Yunomi – Batabatacha and Mimasaka Bancha, respectively. I covered both on my oft-overlooked Tumblr page. After those taste-tests, I could safely say I had a palate for “dark bancha”. All that remained to be seen was if I took a liking to the granddaddy of them all.

goishicha piece

This was one of the most unique dark teas or banchas I’d ever come across. In appearance, the leaves were compressed like a Chinese heicha, but more complete. It was like the makers just took the unbroken leave, without bothering to roll or cut them, and just pressed ‘em – waiting for fermentation. The aroma they gave off was also rather bizarre. I’ve encountered teas with kelp-like characteristics, but this was straight saltine seaweed snacks on smell. It took a whole lot of composure to not bite into the sliver.

Yunomi.us recommended three different forms of brewing, but the basic gist was the same for each method. Boil water, put a piece in per cup size, wait for four-to-five minutes. I went with the scaled down version for a steeper cup’s worth of testing.

goishicha brewed

The liquor brewed bronze with an aroma that reminded me of a rice-cultured Japanese pu-erh variant from yesterbrews. On taste, just…whoah. Sooooo much going on. The flavor started with a soy-sauce-tart and salty introduction, then shifted to something akin to prunes or raisins, and finished with a lingering, earthy mouthfeel. Basically, like a pu-erh that the Japanese would concoct. It may sound rather primal, but a part of me compared it to a rum barrel-aged beer I had long ago.

If this is what bancha could become after embracing its dark side, then consider me a steeping Sith Lord.

ITS TOO HOT!!!

Three Roads to Fengqing

Fengqing is a county located in Lincang Prefecture, Yunnan Province, China.

Source: Yunnan Adventure

Source: Yunnan Adventure

The Almighty Wiki listed at least four different ethnic groups indigenous to the region, two of which I recognized as pu-erh producers. In the early 1940s, the Fengqing Tea Factory came into existence and was instrumental in the development of Dian Hong (Yunnan black tea) as we know it today.

To date, I’d only ever tried two black teas from Fengqing and no pu-erhs. Angel from Teavivre approached me a few months ago with an opportunity to sample – not one, but three – offerings from the county. A unique black tea and two pu-erhs, respectively. I jumped at the chance, and over the course of a week I took a veritable sipping journey to the region.

Fengqing Dragon Pearl Black Tea

Looking at these li’l suckers was a trip. They were indeed as advertised – gold-tipped leaves that pressed into the shape of pearls. I’m not sure how many leaves made up one pearl, but by the looks of it, several. On aroma, they gave off a fragrance similar to any other gold-tipped Dian Hong, but with a more earthen, leathery edge. Similar to another Fengqing black I had years ago.

Dragon Pearls

For brewing, I went with a scaled-down, gongfu approach. Three pearls to a 6oz. steeper cup of boiling water. First infusion was for thirty seconds, followed by further steeps with an added twenty seconds successively.

The first infusion – I’ll confess – was the rinse, which I should’ve dumped. But I never dump the rinse; seems like a waste of tea to me. So, I’m incorrectly considering it the first infusion. Anyway, the rinse was pale, but the second and third infusions brewed boldly dark crimson. The aroma on each steep was straight chocolate by way of a rawhide belt. On taste? Again, straight chocolate. No rawhide this time, but a bit of honey, some pepper, and a whole lotta “yum!” It was note-for-note like the pressed Fengqing gold bars I coveted months ago.

Dragon Pearls brewed

Fengqing Arbor Tree Ripened Pu-erh Cake 2010

Pu-erhs from Arbor cultivars were among my favorites. This wasn’t the full cake, but rather chunks of it shaved off for easy sampling, which was fine. The pressed leaves looked like – well – wood that’d been shaved off the side of an “arbor” tree. Albeit far better smelling. This was an earthy pu-erh to the core – notes of earth and dust were prevalent. Commonplace in a ripe/cooked pu-erh, but I also detected an underlying sweetness.

arbor

For brewing, I stuck with a typical gongfoolish approach – several different steeps at varying degrees of time. Then hoped for the best. It was my way. Thirty seconds for the first, adding ten to the subsequent infusions.

The liquor for the first three infusions brewed dark crimson to blackest night (with a red tinge). The aroma from each possessed that same wood-sweet earthen sensation from the dry whiff. In fact, the same characteristics showed up in taste. Sure, it had all the trappings of a regular cooked pu-erh (minus the young fishiness), but there was that sweetness – just out of sight, but still making its presence known. Not strong but subtle; like being waved at by a pixie.

Arbor brewed

Fengqing Zhuan Cha Ripened Pu-erh Brick Tea 2006

When I went to open this sucker up, I was greeted by (fittingly enough) a chunk of brick. I’d had teas from a zhuan cha (or “brick tea”) before, but this was the first chunk I had to play with at home. Like the Arbor Tree pu-erh, there was an earthy smell with a tinge of sweetness. No young pu-erh fishiness here, either. The smell was straight-up ancient.

zhuan cha

For brewing, same ol’ same ol’, like with the other pu-erh. Gongfoolishly with a side of “tired”.

After pouring three successive infusions of the stuff, I noticed the liquor gradually darkened from deep crimson to brown-black. Typical of a shou (cooked) pu-erh, but the majesty for this one was in the aroma. As is common knowledge, I’m not much of a fan of cooked pu-erh unless it’s had about five years to age. Well, this had about nine, and it showed. Each infusion was earthy, slightly smoky, deep-bodied, practically chewy…and damn smooth! The mouthfeel was like an Italian red wine. Heck, on the last infusion I dared, I was having flashbacks of a good Barbera.

Zhuan Cha brewed

Hrm…that should be a new taster note – earthwine. Yes, perfect! I vote this one as the poster child.

Conclusion

I’d be hard-pressed (heh, get it?) to find a favorite out of the three. All I will say is that they occupied the same pantheon of “Awesome!” in their respective categories. The cooked pu-erhs were miles ahead of others I’ve tried, and those black pearls…man…I want to pair that with chocolate ice cream someday. In short, all three roads led to the same destination…

Deliciousness.

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