; Cwyn's Death By Tea: September 2018 ;

Friday, September 21, 2018

2015 Dark Forest vs 2018 Yiwu Spotlight

2015 Dark Forest
Four years into puerh blogging and I am only getting round to Tea Urchin now. This feels like a bit of an oversight on my part, but no reason for it other than my tea dollars only stretch so far. Other teas are simply more in my face for various reasons, and with some regret, as I have had my eye on several Tea Urchin offerings. Although I have a few samples in my possession from Tea Urchin acquired mostly through swaps or tea friend donations, the 2015 Dark Forest beeng is my first purchase from this company. Waiting too long now has priced a few intriguing teas well beyond where they once were. For example, Tea Urchin still has a 2010 Chen Sheng Yi Hao tea, which is now just brushing $200 for a healthy 400g beeng, but was half that only a couple years ago. I rather liked the strength in that tea, but it is another animal altogether from Tea Urchin’s own Dark Forest offering.

Photographed next to a daylight-filled window.
Back in 2015, word of mouth on Dark Forest was a bit muted, and Mr. Tomek’s notes are similar to what I heard from other puerh fans. So I hesitated, and in the meantime nearly $20 got added onto the 200g beeng. Again, I have no excuse really because I certainly dropped cash on pricier teas since then, except perhaps that the opportunities to buy puerh have vastly expanded and some tend to grab more attention. What got me finally is a tea friend who bought Dark Forest a few years ago, recently tried it again and said she likes it far better now, that the tea has changed from a greener profile to deeper notes. Well, before the price goes over that $100 mark, which it will, I decided I should buy one. 

Definitely a traditional pressing.
I let my beeng sit a month in my hothouse summer porch setting, and maybe the recent rains added moisture because now the beeng is a bit big for its box, having swelled some. Tea Urchin is located in Shanghai, and assuming the teas are stored there, we have far more humid storage there than Kunming. My ex takes the train from Hefei to Shanghai regularly, and I envy what could have been my chance to maybe meet up with folks like Belle and Eugene for tea.

Have you noticed that everyone has a so-called “secret forest” tea lately? The garden nobody else seems to access or know about. I tend to take all this with a grain of salt, except that Belle is a professional in the Chinese tea industry. Tea Urchin is not an outfit of greenish westerners with backpacks on bikes. The only advice I give myself about secret gardens is to look at photos carefully, because if the trees look a bit picked over, it’s a clue for thought. I have a secret watermelon garden and still kids steal my melons. At any rate, the Dark Forest garden is supposedly between Bohetang and Wangong. Tea Urchin also produced a Gedeng tea in 2015, so thereabouts in the general region they found the leaf for this production.

Second steeping.
My tasting of this tea rather reminds me more of a spicy Youle profile, the nose is brown sugar and my first steeping of 6g in about 90 ml yields initial notes of orange chocolate, light apricots similar to Manzhuan, and a warm nutmeg finish in the throat which turns cooling a few steeps in. The leaves are a nice mix of larger leaf with small furry buds.

Two-leaf one bud picking.
The liquor is notable with an amber color, usually this is a rare color to see so early, but I notice a couple of leaves in the mix which look either a wild purple or outright oxidized, either of which could contribute to the color. Drinking as hot as possible off the boil gives me the chocolate and nutmeg notes before the bitterness kicks in. Cooling the tea leads to a very bitter profile that turns sweet and cool in the back of the mouth. The pour looks thicker than the sip feels.

The tea gives me more clarity of vision rather than a strong “body feel,” however the tea sits warm in the tummy for more than an hour afterward. After about four steepings the astringency kicks in for me. Maybe waiting a bit for the tea to settle in Shanghai was a good idea after all. I am glad for the bitterness and more traditional flavor as a base, over which I can find those spicy chocolate notes, the tea has strength which should hold up. This tea is far more cleanly processed than some factory teas I own with a similar profile. The yun is impressive even in late steepings, though some sourness shows up too, as can happen with Yiwu region teas after a few years. Plenty to give even after ten steepings, and just enough of the spice left to maintain some interest.

Placing the tea in my interests, based on what I already own, and what is on the market, this one is probably a bit underpriced now. I forgo linking the tea for you so the vendor does not notice an uptick in specific traffic, and people start saying “blogger effect.” This tea really isn’t traditional honey and wood Yiwu, it leans more Youle/Manzhuan and appears honestly uncultivated. So, the tea is twice the price of a basic garden Yiwu. If one cannot buy into super premium Yiwu, and wants something rather better than the $40-50/200g tea garden beeng, this one has much more complexity and lingering body/throat presence.

If these leaves were new this year, I feel fairly certain the cake would cost more in the $150-200 range. As for aging, uncultivated tea is rather uncertain, but buying a cake is probably not an aging project. A 200g beeng is only 25-30 sessions and likely to get consumed unless one tongs it. Dark Forest has an oddball potential: it awaits a particular someone who likes the yun and knows what the tea would cost now, who falls in love with it and buys it all up. I guess that’s a way of saying someone with a more experienced taste and owns tea already will buy this up, someone who whimsy buys a whole harvest, as opposed to people relying on others for “what should I buy?”

2018 Yiwu “Spotlight” Maocha

Last year I accepted some teas from yiwumountaintea.com, and decided after trying them that the reasonably priced and rather generous Yiwu sampler pack was worth a consideration. That pack sold out. This company has more sampler packs this year, but they cost more and contain less tea. I did not get asked whether I wanted to try 2018 teas, the vendor emailed me that he’d already sent a box. Blogging does bring welcome teas along with a bit of hostage-taking.

Beautiful long leaves.
Who is this vendor? This is another married-couple-vendor situation where the wife is from Yunnan and whose father, you can guess, is the tea pro. The vendor claims to make connections via father-in-law and then chooses to pay a “premium price” to sources to prevent them from selling elsewhere. That premium price, and then more pricing, all get passed on to buyers. Some of the teas on the site are sticker-shock. The Tongqinghe wrappers are found on very fine and not-so-fine wholesale teas, which creates a question of where the tea comes from and how it differs, or maybe just how certain wrappers get on teas. Scrutinizing vendors nowadays goes into a rabbit hole of more questions than answers. Suffice to say, we now have three or four married couple vendors to choose from, with father-in-law involvement now a meme. I am not questioning this vendor as such, but I am aware that I have no way of checking on any details. The vendor is in Guangzhou, in case anyone is able to check via local selling.

I received one 2018 “Yiwu Spotlight gushu,” a 2012 “Yiwu gushu,” and a 2017 “Yiwu gushu ripe brick” sample. Obviously these are impressive titles, and for now I can try the 2018. If the other two stick out in a particular way, I might post them on Instagram. The yiwumountaintea site overall is super expensive, and likely to appeal only to a small group of buyers who can afford these prices. Most people who read this blog are looking for more affordable choices, but from what I gather this vendor sells more locally.

Second steeping.
The 2018 Spotlight Maocha sample is from a 2 kg total loose purchase and is sold in 50g increments for $18.86. This is comparable, price-wise, with the Dark Forest in 2015 puerh dollars. However you can only buy loose leaf which makes storage a bit of a challenge.  I brewed up the entire sample in one go so I didn’t need to worry about keeping it. The result was probably rather strong compared to how most people might choose to consume the tea. In fact, probably a western steep of a pinch of this tea is enough for most people.

The 8th steeping, tea much more yellow now.
Overall I found the tea is on point price-wise, if a bit overhyped in the description. The early steeps had a sour note, no doubt in part due to my keeping the tea in the bag for most of the summer. I noted a burnt brown sugar profile, and like the Dark Forest this tea steeped up dark early on but unlike Dark Forest the brew lightened up to a honey yellow later on. I got quite a caffeine bump from the tea, and it mainly sits in the stomach. Because of going heavy on the tea leaf I had quite a bitter cup of tea. I’m glad I kept going past the early sour brews to enjoy more of the brown sugar along with a tomato vine green tea flavor in later steeps. Thickness was not that impressive, but in a drinker quality tier I hope for a good 8-10 steepings and an enjoyable but not necessarily unique experience.

The reality with Yiwu area teas is that we have the choice of going super premium house-payment-priced teas and then…everything else. Most people have or want at least some Yiwu teas in their collection. Dark Forest sticks out a bit more from the crowd for me, but otherwise you can find decent drinking Yiwu from a number of vendors such as Bitterleaf’s much less expensive yearly Yiwu cake, or white2tea’s former Diving Duck production for example. One can easily acquire Bitterleaf’s Yiwu just as an add-on with a teaware purchase. I’m just not sure I can find reason to pay more for new Yiwu unless I want to really bump up higher to a much more premium quality elsewhere.