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Recently I received this sample of Yunnan Sourcing's 2013 Jing Gu Old Arbor along with a purchase of other teas. Today I'm digging it out and when I check to see if the cake is still available, holy cow it is $59 already but luckily the cake itself rings in at a large 400g. This is a varietal called Camellia Taliensis, and is reportedly from a village cooperative tea garden with trees ranging from 60-350 years. According to Yunnan Sourcing, when the garden was affected by drought in recent years then the villagers water the bushes by hand.
Which brings up a point to consider when buying this year's teas. Early reports are that puerh regions got quite a bit of rain in April this year which hasn't been the case over the past few years. What I'm seeing with tea cakes already is that the later picking dates are more wet this year than last year. The drier years seem to produce a stronger tea, so I'm looking at 2013-2014 teas with new eyes now.
Photo Yunnan Sourcing
Camellia taliensis is more silvery in appearance when dry, like white tea. Scott at YS notes that the leaf is used in making white tea, and is often blended with Yiwu leaf to add thickness and a more attractive surface to the cake. Some researchers have found more catechins in the wild leaf than can be found in plantation Camellia assamica (see Gao, et. al 2008 for example, cited below), though that study compared plantation Lincang so maybe that mutes the results somewhat. I guess I got the luck of the draw in getting a sample of this with a purchase, because the sample is 25g or so. I pry off about 8 grams per 100 ml.
Initial nose is vegetal, hay, nothing special, but the base note is a light white peony that I associate with white teas. However, this is merely a note, as if the white peony got an invite to the garden party. What I mean is the tea is definitely leafy, not something like silver needle or processed white tea pressed into a cake form. But you can see it in the color of the tea, that darker yellow brew that white tea usually produces. I should stop saying white tea because it isn't Assamica, yet if you are someone who enjoys white tea and wish silver needle cakes had more punch, this is a tea to consider.
Photo Yunnan Sourcing
The tea has a light bitterness and astringency and early steeps are noticeable in the throat, these can be minimized by going a bit lighter on the temps a few steeps in. Brew turns to a sugary sweetness around the lips. Thickness surprisingly throughout, I can definitely understand the reasoning behind using this leaf as a base blend to thicken up a tea.
Effects are a calming qi, not as much caffeine as I usually go for, but at least I'm not yelling at the neighbors. When I was younger, I liked to wear straight A-Line linen shift tunics down to the ankle and tied in the back. Every week I religiously ironed and starched those dresses and wore them all summer long. I still have a few of those tunics, but they are too small now. They are hard to let go of and I think of them sitting in the closet when drinking this tea. Back then, this tea would have fit all my poetics and I'd be all over this tea like a bumblebee. Now this old battleaxe needs a kick-start in the transmission.
The tea is still going after ten steeps and I'm only doing about 20 seconds in the gaiwan. Light peony flavor is constant throughout. Quite a pleasant steeper. More importantly, Jing Gu is a page in the puerh compendium of knowledge so as to recognize the presence of this silvery leaf and its thick brew in puerh cakes. The cake appears to be all small leaf and buds, suggesting a single origin which is getting harder to find these days.
Even better, these 400g cakes are only $59 currently, sitting among other Yunnan Sourcing house teas from 2013 priced over $100, making this Jing Gu cake quite the bargain. Surprisingly fresh still with not much dry storage to taste, just a tad at the beginning. Definitely worth picking up a 25g sample for $6 if you don't feel like springing for the entire cake. Either way, the tea with a touch of white peony is a rather different experience from the usual grape or apricot notes and every puerh fiend should try Camellia taliensis at least once. Yunnan Sourcing recently moved from Portland to Bend, Oregon. Let's hope the dry air of Bend isn't too harsh for the puerh stocks.
Requiescat in Pace.
Gao, D., Zhang, Y., Yang, C., Chen, K. & Jiang, H. (2008). "Phenolic antioxidants from green tea produced in Camellia taliensis. Journal of Food and Agricultural Chemistry, 56(16): 7517-21.