Sunday, September 25, 2016

Yangqing Hao - 2006 Chawangshu and 2004 Tejipin sheng puerh

There have been a lot of teas I have been wanting to write about for a while.  My indecision to pick one to write about has resulted in another long absence of any posts at all.  Then today I had one of those teas that struck me as quite amazing and I had to write some notes.  Today I had the 2006 Chawangshu raw puerh from the Taiwanese puerh boutique Yangqing Hao.

Yangqing Hao 2006 Chawangshu - Wrapper picture courtesy of my friend "Blerrp" who has split this massive 500g cake with several people, which is how I got my sample.

Like a lot of people in the west who are just now learning of Yangqing Hao, I first heard about it through TeaDB.  James, and guest contributor Grill, wrote some extensive and fairly scientific comparison notes and a report* that paint a nice profile of most of the Yangqing Hao offerings which span back to 2004.  I am also thankful for the efforts of a man named Emmett who coordinates group buys of Yangqing Hao teas to western customers since this tea is difficult to buy outside of Taiwan or China.   Emmett is not employed by Yangqing Hao nor is selling tea his full time job; he is a puerh enthusiast who recognized the high quality of Yang's teas and the limited availability of such quality teas in the western market and has been coordinating the group buys in an effort to help bring these teas to more people.

I have sampled about five different Yangqing Hao teas now and so far one consistent finding I notice is that the dry leaf aroma is very clean.  Although the area of Taiwan where these teas are stored is considered hot and humid, these teas seem to have a good balance; enough heat and humidity to allow an aged taste to start to develop within 10 years and clean enough to allow some "dry" characteristics to develop such as leather, honey, and apricot aromas.  Those are characteristics I love in semi-aged sheng.

The 2006 Chawangshu is from an area near Gua Feng Zhai.  This area is difficult to find on Google Maps, but if you find the Yunnan province of China and zoom in to the southern most prefecture, Xishuangbanna, and then look at the eastern part to find the Yiwu area of Mengla county, Chawangshu is here very close to the Laos border.

Chawangshu in southern Yunnan province of China, eastern Xishuangbann, Yiwu area.

The dry leaf shows a nice dark brown appearance and loose compression which allows the leaves to be separated with minimal breakage.  Upon hydration, the clean leathery aroma is still present and a layer of honey aroma emerges.

Yangqing Hao 2006 Chawangshu

I tasted the initial rinse of the leaves and found it to be a bit weak, so for my next infusion I added another couple seconds.  Even still the tea was not very strong.  I was beginning to have some doubts about this tea until the following infusion where I again added a couple more seconds and that is when it started to come out beautifully.  After having consumed a lot of younger raw puerh earlier this week I was still in flash-brew mode, but the age on this tea has rounded everything out and flash brewing is not necessary for getting the best extraction.  When brewed properly the liquor pours up a crystal clear vibrant orange color that almost glows in the cup.

Between mouthfeel, taste, aftertaste, and overall experience, this tea performs very well in all aspects and none of those areas are lacking or showing any significant flaws.  The mouthfeel is very thick, almost syrupy.  It's a tea you nearly feel the need to chew when you take a sip.  It has a coating effect and leaves a pleasant layer of taste behind on the mouth and tongue.  A  nice level of astringency creates a good active feeling on the sides of the tongue without being drying.

The clean leathery notes from the aroma come through in the taste accompanied by a slight earthy and talc/chalk taste, in a good way.  An herbal component of the flavor balances well with the sweet apricot fruitiness.  In the very late steeps it starts to get an interesting leafy flavor-- not like steamed spinach or fallen autumn leaves, but fresh tree leaves.

This leaf taste is interesting because of the tea age and level of fermentation and oxidation of these leaves.  The age taste dominated throughout the entire session until the end when I pushed the steeps hard which is when the fresher leaf taste appeared.  This perhaps is why I like sheng around the 10 year age so much because there's still a hint of youthful leaf that adds a bit of complexity.  Another interesting observation about the Chawangshu leaf is that the leaves and stems are very hearty and thick.  I believe this is possibly an indication of old arbor slower growing trees.

Yangqing Hao 2006 Chawangshu

The leather flavors continue in the aftertaste and the tea provides a wonderful delayed hui gan.  In the middle infusions the aftertaste becomes a bit menthol-like and has an nice cooling effect in the throat.  This contrasts to a slightly warming feeling that I get deeper down.  This is a great tea to enjoy slowly and calmly as it provides a relaxing experience.  There are no sudden dropoffs with this tea and it continues to provide a very generous amount of steeps all day long.  I easily ran my 1.7L kettle dry with this 5g session using an 85ml gaiwan.

Yangqing Hao 2006 Chawangshu

To try to get a little more perspective on this tea I had a meal and then later in the day I decided to brew the 2004 Yangqing Hao Tejipin raw puerh.  The material for the Tejipin is also from the Yiwu area, though it is unclear exactly where, which is not a bad thing.  It's common to see a lot of teas that claim to be from one specific village or even one specific group of trees, but often a really great tea will be made from a blend of various places near an area or even among several different areas, and characteristics from each area can add various qualities to the overall brew.

Yangqing Hao 2004 Tejipin

The 2004 Tejipin dry leaf aroma is similar to the 2006 Changawangshu, but it is slightly more earthy.  Could this be due to an extra two years of age or is it a characteristic of the leaf?  The wet leaf aroma again is similar to Chawangshu, but the Tejipin leaf aroma has a bit more tartness to it.

The additional tartness follows into the taste as well.  Tejipin has some leather characteristics in the taste, but is a bit more earthy and slightly acidic.  Wood flavors are present, but not of the cedar variety that I prefer.  Despite the tartness, it does have a certain creamy characteristic to it too which keeps it balanced.

When comparing the mouthfeel of Tejipin to Chawangshu, the differences are quite apparent, but difficult to say if I prefer one over the other.  The Tejipin is creamier, and the Chawangshu is thicker.  The Chawangshu coats the entire mouth, but the Tejipin seems to coat more on the top of the tongue.  While the Chawangshu had noticeable activity on the sides of the tongue, it lacked much activity in the back of the throat; the Tejipin has a very active feel on the back of the tongue and in the throat but nowhere else.  It seems that the mouthfeel of these two teas are like two similar adjacent puzzle pieces that fit well together without much overlap, but each piece alone is large enough to show its own satisfying picture.

The energy found from drinking Tejipin is very deep reaching into the body, deeper so than the Chawangshu and has less of an upper cooling effect to balance the deeper warming nature of the tea.

Yangqing Hao 2004 Tejipin

One possibly significant difference I see between the Tejipin and the Chawangshu is the leaf characteristics.  The Tejipin seems to be comprised of smaller leaves and an abundance of small buds, which seemed to be less numerous in the Chawangshu.  Of course it's possible that these 5g sessions that I had today of each tea may not be representative of the entire composition of the cake, but a higher ratio of the Tejipin leaf just seems a to be taken from a bit younger parts of the tea plant, though I cannot conclude anything about the overall age of those tea trees.

After these very enjoyable sessions with these two Yangqing Hao teas today I wanted to get some notes and thoughts down and share them.  Though I do admit that with teas this good I would really do them more justice if I had several more sessions with them beyond this.  This write-up today is more of a first impressions summary.  Although both of these are wonderful, if I were shopping for a full cake and only buying one, I would buy the 2006 Chawangshu.  But so far I have found a few other Yangqing Hao offerings also very good, and I'm curious and hopeful to eventually try a few more.

*Part 2 of TeaDB's Yangqing Hao tasting report:

Link to Emmett's group guy page which lists several of Yangqing Hao's teas: