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Saturday, September 12, 2015

2011 Hunan Heicha "Zhu Xiang Ji"

Old lady tea.
After a long summer, I am finally breaking into darker and more fermented teas. Because of the high heat and humidity this year, I drank no shou over the summer and really no Liu Bao either, on hot days such teas just add to body heat and are more suited for cooler weather. I regret not trying the 2011 Hunan Heicha "Zhu Xiang Ji" sooner, as several people have asked whether I have had a chance to try it. Unfortunately, I waited too long to write about this tea, as it recently sold out at Chawangshop. One friend of mine told me he'd bought one in China, and then ordered four more when he arrived home. But the listing is still available on Chawangshop, so perhaps they are planning to re-stock it.


Dunno why I want to preserve the wrapper. Hoarding...

This tea, like many heicha, is a local craft tea. In this case we have a farm product from Zhulinxi, Jiangan town, Anhua county. The tea is woked, then fermented lightly, smoked and finally stuffed into bamboo shoot shells which are tied by hand. The photo of the old lady hand-tying the tea shells on the front sold me. She died in 2008 at the age of 106. While I don't expect to live so long, her family attributes at least some of her old age to drinking tea. She belonged to the Huang family, the most famous member of which was Qing dynasty calligrapher and industrialist Huang Zi Yuan and he gave the tea its name. The old lady on the wrapper was a child bride to Zi Yuan's grandnephew. Calculating from her age, the craft has been passed down in the family since the 1800s at the very latest.

As with any local craft product, I must adjust my expectations of the tea based on the price. At $21 for 200g, this is a bit on the higher side for a young-ish heicha, but in terms of fermented tea, obviously on the low end if you are comparing a shou puerh in price. I'm not a collector who chases highly aged Liu Bao or other heicha, and while I can appreciate the desire for the smoothness that age brings, I like to know something about the local people who make a tea, which I just don't get from a warehouse basket find. I like a few years of age on a heicha, time to settle and develop flavor, but I'm mainly looking for a change from shou puerh and heicha has a tanginess that shou puerh generally lacks.

Plushy and clean leaves.
This one is not all that compressed and once cut open, the tea is easy to flake from the log. The tea is leathery and dry even after a summer sitting in heat and humidity. I have to hit it hard with boiling water and give it a couple of rinses. Generally with heicha the Money Steeps are the first 1-4 steeps, after that it fades out. Also, many heicha like Fu brick or Guaanxi you have to really flash steep fast since the tea gives so quickly, but this tea required longer steeps of a minute or more to get a cup that I consider strong enough. But then I like mine strong.


More caffeine than I expected.

Early notes are the betel nut that we look for in some heicha, and bamboo flavor from the wrapping. Steep 2 in particular had the strongest flavor. I noticed the tea fading at steep 4, but prolonging the steeps got me a couple more decent cups. I drank this before dinner and got a bit jittery from the caffeine. Usually heicha lacks strong caffeine and I end up in a nap.

Mainly I noticed this is an extremely clean tea, none of the dirty or dusty/musty that may turn off folks who have looked at heicha in the past. I would feel comfortable serving this to anyone who likes black/red tea, and can recommend this brand to people curious about heicha. This is about as elegant as you can get with heicha. I'll be glad to hang on to this for guests, while I go dig out my golden-flower Fu teas for a little fungus action. I've definitely acquired a taste for the messy and more alive heicha teas.

3 comments:

  1. Your blog provided us with valuable information to work with. Thanks a lot for sharing. Keep blogging.

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  2. So, what exactly is the flavor of this? I'm afraid I have no idea what a betel nut tastes like, and the descriptions I found were vague and off-putting. One person said that the first time they tasted a betel nut, it was so bitter they spit it out and it made their mouth feel strange, then the taste stuck around for a long time. I would hope the tea isn't like that! Are there any other notes besides betel nut? I've found it described as having a pine smoke aroma and a scent of bamboo.

    They have this tea both at esgreen: http://www.esgreen.com/anhua-yu-lei-zhu-xiang-ji-bamboo-shoot-shell-packed-dark-tea-tianjian-top-tips-200g.html — and on eBay (if you're feeling daring).

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    1. Betel nut is a common term used with some heicha, which indicates that the tea is properly aged and aired of any fermentation. It is a nutty flavor similar to pinon nuts.

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