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Friday, January 6, 2017

Bang Dong and Balls: Sheng Olympics 2017

This year’s Sheng Olympics by LiquidProust Teas in conjunction with various tea vendors is an exciting opportunity to sample a variety of sheng puerh teas for not a lot of money. I missed out on Sheng Olympics last year to my abiding regret, mainly after a couple of bad group buys soured me on shared tea buying. Half the fun, of course, is drinking and sharing the same teas with a number of people at the same time. It's not a bad deal money-wise.

Sheng Olympics puerh sampler
The package includes anywhere from 10-12g of each tea plus a really cool Yunnan sticker. You get Bitterleaf Teas 2016 Alter Ego Mansa Huang Pian, and 2016 Autumn Straight Bulang No Chaser. From Crimson Lotus Teas we get a Midas Touch tea ball. From Yunnan Sourcing we get the Hi-Tech Dragon Tea ball,  and both 2010 and 2015 Autumn Bang Dong. From Tea Urchin we have 2012 Bang Dong to compare to the YS offerings. Finally we get an exclusive white2tea 2016 Tuhao as Fk tea ball, which isn’t in my group tea photo here because I’d already consumed it. I have the wrapper though.

All this cost $25, or $20 if you got the recent discount, and shipping to my address cost just $3 or so. To order all these samples separately from each of the tea companies would cost so much more just for shipping than for this whole package. Spreading out the cost among dozens of people makes this buy possible. Otherwise a tea package like this is, well, frankly impossible to acquire. Unfortunately as of this writing, the package seems to have sold out.

Wrapper from 2016 Tuhao as Fk exclusive tea ball
LiquidProust is probably best known on Reddit tea forums for offering free puerh samples to newbies, an effort which has cost him a lot of money and to which many puerh heads have donated excess tea. His blog is well worth a read though. As his name implies, his efforts in tea are directed toward a theme: can a tea experience resemble good literature, such as if Proust turned into liquid tea, what would this tea taste like? One of his recent blog posts in pursuit of this theme created a “Narnia” tea, which is a white tea wrapped in silver leaf. Not sure what that tastes like, but I found the post interesting and the tea rather beautiful and tweeted it in case any foodies out there are looking for a themed tea.

The puerh tea world is rather devoid of well-read, literary people in the US, where for some reason tea attracts science types more often than literary folks. LiquidProust states his inspiration around Proust was his read of what I assume is the entirety of In Search of Lost Time. My own reading of Proust began and ended with Vol. V, The Prisoner, perhaps an unfortunate choice. I’m certain Proust is back in vogue now after years of firmly out until someone “out-ed” Proust, and his Albertine as very likely a disguised Albert. 

Knowing this intrigues me further when someone names his straight avatar LiquidProust, winning more admiration last year when I checked out his other social media. I found a rather frank journey from a conservative Christian background to exploring other faiths, including one rather impromptu visit to a synagogue’s Sabbath service, an adventure he defended later among the inebriated friends who joined him. The young man has a lot more going on with his inner journey than just a narrow obsession with tea, displaying expansiveness in his thinking, To wit, tea is a point from which to explore and find common experiences with other people. While tea-as-literature adds a layer of thinking beyond what the tea itself presents, this theme is indeed a point of view lending toward open discussion rather than closed debate, and a theme which LiquidProust takes on with more than a little enthusiasm. 

I am certain he won’t feel comfortable with my musings here, or the fact that I’ve read a lot of his past social posts even back in his college years. Just to clarify, I read a great deal on people whose thinking I find interesting. I’ve read tea blogs in their entirety front to back, and tea forums with hundreds of pages. I only take the time to do this when I find intelligent people. In LiquidProust’s energetic postings I find themes of spiritual searching, literature, tea, sex, work, and what the ancient Greeks called koinonia, in communion or community with others. I have tried chatting with Mr. LiquidProust in sentences which include all of these themes in a rather compressed fashion, but my efforts mostly evoke a bit of paranoia from him, wondering if I am criticizing. Not my intention at all. Perhaps I am a bit fumbling and not so socially graceful, adding too many layers into what I try to say, perhaps poorly, obscuring my intention to pay the highest compliment I feel I can give to anyone, to address the entirety of pure intelligence. For he is a rare person.

Might not look like a lot of leaf,
but this is a 200 ml gaiwan.
Had to move the tea from the teapot above.
Anyway, on to the tea! The Tuhao as FK teaball is a highlight for me, as I own the 2015 cake but have not yet tried the 2016. Those of us participating in Sheng Olympics were to drink it on Christmas Eve, but I fell asleep early and slept through the entire evening. I finally got down to the tea a few days later. This tea ball is a LOT of Tuhao, much more I than I would use in a session. Tuhao as Fk is not a wimpy tea.

Thick stems
However, I wish I’d waited a year or two because the tea ball is still very green and due to the compression is not yet out of the green tea stage. You can see from my photos the greenish tint to the brew. The 2016 version is every bit as durable as last year. I needed five days and about 26 steeps and the tea still isn’t done yet. 

Red is a complementary color of green,
so any green visually appears brighter.
The brew starts out floral and rather bitter, and only at steep 13 or so honey notes emerge. Yet even after 18 steeps a bit too long on the brew time and I’m rewarded with punishing bitterness. My last steep at 26 still had the bitterness and honey note, the tea is lighter at that point, yet nowhere near done. Leaves are mostly a bud plus two leaves, with thick stems. This tea is huge on huigan, Tuhao is just a big Las Vegas of a tea, and well worth the money to buy and store away.

Steep 24, green brew mellows somewhat to a honey color.
Tea balls seem like a great travel option, but in fact they are challenging to brew and require far more time than a chunk from a beeng. Tuhao is a glorious tea, as wonderful an opportunity as this custom pressing is, at the same time it’s a waste of tea. Tea balls made from such fine tea are really a waste for me because I can’t break up the tea ball and drink less. From what I can tell, others drinking this Tuhao tea ball finished up with it in one evening. I rather doubt they drank 20 steeps, but if sharing with other people, then perhaps one evening is feasible. I think I understand now why mini teas use so-so tea so that you don’t feel guilty drinking some of it and then tossing it out.

Such leaf quality for a tea ball!
Regretfully I tossed those fine leaves after steep 26 and brewed up the 2010 Autumn Bang Dong by Yunnan Sourcing. This tea is available for $56 from the China site for 400g. The leaves are tiny and the tea brews up with a spicy, pecan pie scent. My first two brews left my gaiwan stuck to the plate with sticky tea. The sugars are emerging from the cell walls within, and I expect this tea to develop more stickiness because the aging is coming along nicely. Comparing my gaiwan of leaves with the photos on the listing the aging is obvious, my tea is browning while the original photo shows a very bright green.

2010 Bang Dong aging apparent when comparing the listing on YS.
I leafed this tea heavy with 7g in 60ml gaiwan, and my heavy hand is punished with a bitter, yet medium thick brew with vanilla and spicy nuts. The tea thickens noticeably around steeps 4-6, and slowly thins from there. Spicy notes are typical of many autumn puerh teas, and this one tastes rather traditional with hay, spices and vanilla. This is one of those puerh teas that approaches a barrel whiskey type experience, albeit a fairly comfortable brew compared to actual liquor. I've learned that Yunnan Sourcing productions are best leafed heavy, especially after TeaDB found out how heavy Mr. Wilson himself leafs a gaiwan. To know what he sees in a tea, I feel I must also go heavy. This 2010 is a nice value drinker, a huge 400g cake costs the same as many cakes half this size. 

Steep 4
I plan to get to the other Bang Dong teas later. While the idea of a comparison between these teas is a great idea, I don’t expect the teas to truly compare, and not simply because of differences in storage or age. Tea terroir has changed a great deal in the past seven years, and Bang Dong area yields a variety of tea and quality too. I’m not sure a 2010 or 2012 tea even from the same trees is the same in 2015. I'm guessing the Bang Dong + Balls is more about the implied pun in this tea sampler. 

Bitterleaf’s Alter Ego is comprised of the huang pian from their spring production of WMD Mansa, a tea which sold out early and packs quite a tea high. I’ve heard from other tea drinkers that this same tea high experience is in the huang pian brick. Price-wise, the tea costs the same as white2tea’s Fade, $24.50 for a 200g brick. Tea chatters debate which tea is the better one, with some preferring Alter Ego to Fade. I haven’t had a chance to try Alter Ego yet, but when I do I will post some notes on Steepster.

Looks like the Sheng Olympics might sell out, I hope you didn't miss out on picking up this sample pack from LiquidProust, It's fun to share tea with other people drinking at the same time, and I will look forward to trying the rest of the teas at some point. This week I received a generous package of samples of CYH teas and I will get into these next. I seem to drink tea more slowly than many bloggers, I apologize for that, but I try and steep them out as much as possible or drink more than one session!






6 comments:

  1. Cwyn, as always I am moved by the humanity that shines through your writing. Thank you. (this is my way of engaging someone I admire, hopefully in a non - creepy manner)

    Jenn K

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    1. Thanks so much for reading and stopping by! Cheers!

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  2. Reading about getting 26 steeps from a tea, how do you deal with the water cooling down during the longer steeps? I often end up giving up on a tea when the steep times become long enough to give me lukewarm tea by the time it's done, even if it still tastes good otherwise.

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    1. Generally I don't go past a minute or so. Also, heating the vessel first helps with heat retention. Many teas also show more subtle traits at that point when the tea is getting very light and the temp a little cooler, a really hot boil can just give hay or wood flavors and mask the more subtle traits..

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    2. Ha, shows how easily influenced I am when I let my guard down. Reading this made me remember that that is how I used to drink my tea too, until I started following more bloggers who steep their later steeps for 10+ minutes. I've been doing longer steeps despite them never really working out for me, so I've really not been paying enough attention to my tea I suppose.

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  3. Okay. I'm in.

    What is the plan to rescue too-dry-stored young puerh in the Northern US?

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