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An Ji Bai Cha from Seven Cups

I don't want to find that June's passed me by and I've posted nothing at all — especially given the amount of tea-related excitement I've had over the past month and a half — so here's a quick, photo-heavy post to prime the pump for July.  (Much thanks to Emily for being so generous with her extremely nice camera.)
tea steeping in glass pot with ginkgo leaf-shaped ceramic dish of dry leaf
In preparing to taste, and to think and write about, this historically fascinating tea, I read a few of those conversations about it already published to the 'net.  Steven Knoerr did a really nice tasting notes/controversy round-up post on his blog, The 39 Steeps, in which he excerpts, and links to, this wonderful conversation on T Ching.  The conversation involves a number of tea people, but is primarily between the gracious, though misinformed, Mr. James Norwood Pratt (New Tea Lover’s Treasury), and — one of my personal tea heroes — the humble, though learned, Mr. Austin Hodge (Seven Cups).  I highly encourage you to read the T Ching comments thread, if nothing else.
the liquor in two little ceramic cups flanked by the infusion in the glass pot and dry leaf in the ginkgo dish
My own little batch of Ming Qian An Ji Bai Cha came from Seven Cups, part of my first order from them.  And, regardless of its pedigree, this is a very delicious, and quite beautiful, tea.
dry leaf in ginkgo leaf dish
The first steeping was probably my favorite.  It really showed off the nutty qualities in the aroma, and the drier flavor components, which were really nicely complimented by the silky (I would almost say "powdery") mouthfeel.
almonds overflowing the ginkgo leaf dish
The second steeping struck me as sort of an awkward, in-between stage, kind of like when you're trying to grow out your hair, but it hasn't gotten properly long yet, just properly messy.
detail of leaf steeping in glass pot
But the third steeping, that was nice.  It was sweet, and had a dried apricot element, which reminded me quite strongly of an odd, delicious, white bud bing cha I have secreted away in the cupboard.
apricots overflowing the ginkgo leaf dish
At about that point — and this became more and more pronounced in subsequent steepings — a sort of heady, briny, almost metallic quality came into the aroma.  It was almost medicinal, but in a very fresh way.  Like a newly mown... marsh?  It is a very hard scent to pin down; this isn't the first time I've encountered it in a tea, but I'm still not sure what it reminds me of.

In any case, I'm glad I got myself a few grams of this historical enigma; seeing hints of the future in my tea leaves might be supernatural, but hearing echos of the past is divine.
dry leaf in glass pot and ginkgo leaf dish has audio notes on pronunciation here.

Bancha Supreme from the Jasmine Pearl

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Bancha Supreme dry leaves
I have to say; I'm very encouraged.  In certain of my other blogging incarnations, posting was something I had to force; something I would squeeze, wheedle, or bludgeon out of myself.  Today, however, it occurs to me that I'm writing a new entry to cheer myself up.  Will wonders never cease?
Bancha Supreme steeping
One of the most cheering parts of blogging about tea is drinking tea.  And one of the few ways a person can improve upon drinking tea, is to drink the particular tea that is particularly well matched to its particular day: the mood, the weather, the season, the meal...  Today is beautiful, with the early springtime sun out again; but it's a two-sided thing, reminding a person how long the winter has been, at the same moment it's warming you out of it.
Bancha Supreme
In any case, there's something about a good Japanese green that makes more sense on a shimmering, mid-April day than it does just about any other time of year.  Maybe it's because so many of these teas are picked around now, and they find a sort of poignant kinship in the bright air and tentative warmth of their season.
Bancha Supreme in the cup
What I made for myself today was the Jasmine Pearl's Bancha* Supreme, and it hit the proverbial spot.  This tea is a rich (in a Japanese-green-tea sort of way), nutty, mouthful of umami.  The aroma is umami-ful, too, and beyond oceanic — it's straight-up salty.  I didn't do the best job steeping it, so it was more bitter than I usually like my tea, but the other qualities are hearty enough to balance even a less-than-ideal preparation.
Bancha Supreme damp
One of the qualities of a Japanese green that strikes me as so appropriate for vernal consumption is the way it leaves me feeling after I've drunk it.  When I'm done with a tea such as this — especially if I've had one cup too many — my insides feel sort of drenched, almost blasted, clean; like a meltwater-swollen stream just flash-flooded my guts, flushing the body-warm dirt and debris out of every nook and cranny in its path, and leaving me not quite raw, but a little shivery.  You might not read that as a positive, and I can understand where you're coming from.  But to me, it's only as uncomfortable, and every bit as refreshing, as any other spring cleaning.

* Actually, bancha is picked between summer and autumn, but none the less; it still tastes good in spring...  This particular bancha is not listed on the Jasmine Pearl's site.

Snow Dragon from the Tao of Tea

Snow Dragon leaves steeping
I'm always amazed and delighted by the diversity of flavors and aromas that can be coaxed from the same set of ingredients.  Whether it's wine, Scotch, tea, chocolate... it's just such a delicious way to be reminded of how much wonder there is in the world.  (I do realize that my short hair and department store wardrobe do nothing to mitigate my intense hippiedom.)

*  *  *
One of the compensations we Northwesterners get for having eight months of grey weather is that when the sun does start coming back to us in earnest, everyone's mood spikes at once.  Overnight, strangers on the street go from surly and sardonic to friendly and buoyant, everyone smiles at each other without wondering what it means, and people walk around like they just shed backpacks full of bricks.

Yesterday was one of those rare beautiful April days Portland treats us to once in a while, and Emily and I didn't want to miss any more of it than we had to.  So, after lunch, we decided to skive off early, and walk down to the Lan Su Garden by the more roundabout route, the one that takes a person along the river and through the cherry trees' snowfall of blossoms.

After meandering and sitting our lazy way through the garden for a bit, we took our place at the tea house for a snack, and a gaiwan or two of the good stuff.  On our way out, I made my obligatory rounds past the teas and tea wares for sale, and decided to bring home a little tin of Snow Dragon.  Usually, that would be where I link to a tea's home on the web, but in this case, I seem to have selected something that isn't available online.  It's packaged like, and was displayed with, other tins from the Tao of Tea's Limited Edition set, but I can't find any mention of it on that page or anywhere on their site.  (It also goes by the name xue long, if you want to search some out elsewhere.)
Snow Dragon dry leaves
In any case, it turns out to be a very special and delicious find, and a beautiful example of a familiar set of elements yielding a truly unusual essence.  It's a very light green tea, and very delicately processed; but the flavor and scent are surprisingly thick and robust.  The liquor has a sort of contradictory quality to it, a sort of dry sweetness, like the meat of a nut.  The tin claims cocoa in the aroma, and I definitely found that to be accurate — more and more so with multiple infusions.  Actually, the progression on this one was really cool to observe: the dry, chestnutty quality was most pronounced at first, and the liquor started off feeling almost buttery.  But on the second and third steepings, the chocolaty quality and sweetness really started to come into their own, and the (very mild) astringency, which must have made up part of the nuttiness, seemed to appear later and later in the flavor's arc.
Snow Dragon liquor in the cup
I think I would find this tea equally welcome were I drinking it indoors, aggressively cozying with a book while a winter storm beat the windows, as I would drinking it out in the garden, closing my eyelids against the sun of an idyllically idle spring afternoon, but I'm glad to have it as a reminder of a particularly lovely example of the latter.
Snow Dragon wet leaves, liquor, and tin

Brewing Notes: I used about three teaspoons of leaf in each 4 ounce infusion; about 175ºF, and 2-ish minutes per steep.

Yunnan Gold from the Jasmine Pearl

Yunnan Gold dry leaves
Well, I gave this tea a second try today, and I guess I'm just not as impressed with it as I was the other two I brought home from the Jasmine Pearl trip.  I have the impulse to give lots of disclaimers and caveats, but maybe it's just not that interesting of a tea.

One of the disclaimers I would theoretically give, were I the type of person to give disclaimers, has to do with one of my very favorite teas: Tippy South Cloud, from the Tao of Tea.  Tippy South Cloud is another Yunnan tea of a more or less similar description to this one; however, it has this wonderful, magical quality that I just can't get enough of, and which I'll have to go into further in my tasting notes when the time comes to take on that challenge.

This Yunnan Gold, alas, just doesn't measure up.  It has a bit of the Yunnan sweetness, a fair amount of tannin on the tongue, a nice medium body...  Good, just not super distinctive.  Of course, the tea didn't jump out of the bag and say, "Hello, I'm Yunnan Gold!  I will be the perfect supplement to your cache of Tippy South Cloud: similar, subtly different, perhaps even better!"  No, those were my hopes talking.  So, perhaps it started off at an unfair disadvantage, this one.
Yunnan Gold first steeping
In conclusion, not bad; just not a tea I'll stock up on in case of emergency.

Keemun Black from the Jasmine Pearl

Keemun black dry leaves
The second tea I'm tasting from my Jasmine Pearl visit is their Keemun Black, OP grade*, which the website enigmatically describes as a "Chinese Indian Black Tea."  I'll have to ask what they mean by that next time I'm in.

This is another delicious one.  It's much less full-bodied than the Golden Needles, and much less sweet, but it has a very balanced flavor and texture.  There's a little bit of a smokiness in the aroma -- just enough -- which is a trait I can't resist.  It has a mild astringency during the drinking, which lingers enough in the aftertaste to distinguish itself from the other elements of flavor and texture.
Keemun black first steeping
Keemun Black is a very familiar seeming tea -- certainly much more so than the Golden Needles -- and for good reason: as it says here, it's the most prominent ingredient in the English Breakfast blend.  Appropriately for a breakfast tea, it feels like it brews up a pretty strong kick of caffeine.  I suppose this might be due to the fact that the leaves are quite small, and tightly rolled, so maybe there is just a greater density of tea per teaspoon than I usually get.  Or, who knows?  Maybe I'm just having an odd morning.

In the second steeping, it seems like the tea's sweetness is more pronounced.  And, when I sniffed the drying glass after I had poured the last of the first steep, there was a definite floral, almost fruity sweetness.  A very nice, very affordable, and all around quite subtle tea!

*  Wikipedia has a nice article on the Orange Pekoe grading system here.

Keemun Black from David on Vimeo.

(First steeping of Keemun black tea from the Jasmine Pearl, Portland, OR.)

dry leaves
OK, my first tasting notes.  My partner Emily and I recently took the Introduction to Wine class from the Wine and Spirit Archive (which I can't recommend highly enough), and learned a lot in a very short period of time.  One of the things I learned is how much more I have to learn, and that is doubly true when it comes to tea.  However, I'm going to do my best not to let that stop me from trying.

The first tea I'm tasting from yesterday's visit to the Jasmine Pearl is their Golden Needles, a tippy black from Yunnan.  This is a delicious tea with an unexpected flavor and texture.  It's very full-bodied and buttery; it actually feels almost thick in my mouth.  The tea has a sort of sweet and salty flavor and aroma, a little like hoisin sauce, or salted dried plum.  There's a dark, fermented, earthiness to the sweetness, too, which really appeals to me personally.
second steeping
The tea has enough tannic astringency to balance the sweetness and thick body, but not enough that it really becomes a noticeable quality in and of itself.  And there's a surprising little gust of freshness -- almost a grassy quality -- right at the end, which is kind of the perfect plunge into a cold lake after a good long bask in the sauna.  Probably not an every morning drinker, but I really like this tea!

Golden Needles from David on Vimeo.

(Second steeping of golden needles tea from the Jasmine Pearl, Portland, OR.)

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Recent Comments

  • Anne: I'd love to try some, next time I'm in town read more
  • David: I couldn't agree more — their Golden Needles are delicious, read more
  • The Lazy Literatus (Geoff): I was just there three weeks ago. That tea isn't read more
  • Anne: yes, quiet and pretty, even over here in London! read more
  • David: Thanks for the info, Cinnabar! Yeah, it's interesting how the read more
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