2021 Da Xue Shan (Xin An Chu)
In The Way of Tea, Aaron Fisher writes about the real story of tea:
"[A] humble tree, lost in forest of others for longer than we as humans can know. And you might be wondering, then, why we have here glorified its birth, setting the background of Yunnan as a mystical, magical place" (Fisher, 2010: 30).
Yunnan, also known as "South of the Clouds", has the perfect balance of sun and rainfall with ideal humidity created by consistent fog and mist in many mountain areas that are the home for ancient forests of old trees (古树, Gu Shu). One of them is Da Xue Shan (大雪山) in Lincang prefecture.
Da Xue Shan literally means "Big Snowy Mountain" and as written in a detailed post on puerh.fr blog, "there are not one but many mountains that bear this name in China, and the Lincang region alone has three of them, enough to confuse tea lovers in search for the origin of their leaves. Among these Da Xue mountains of Lincang, at least two are famous for their teas. One is in the Yong De region, while the other borders the Mengku region, which is why it is generally called Mengku Da Xue Shan."
How idyllic the Mengku Da Xue Shan landscape can be is portrayed further in the post: "Around a fine path lined with ferns, a dense and mysterious plant universe emerges. In the shades of greens and ochres, the light plays with mosses, lichens, and the ... texture of the trunks, constantly redrawing the environment as it appears to us. The omnipresent lianas cling to the trees, dance in the air and draw incredible patterns in the sky."
Reading the paragraph above reminded me strongly of Fisher's poetic description of Yunnan forests:
"With awe, I contemplate the trees I drink - their vast, untouched connection to ever-larger ecosystems, starting first with those pristine jungles, then on to the mountains, the rain and the sky, the sun and the moon, beyond even that to a communion with everything [...]." (Fisher, 2010: 31)
In harmony with the poetic tone of Aaron's book and the french blog, the Da Xue Shan cake I am drinking today was produced by Xin An Chu that literally means "the place where one feels at ease". The name Xin An Chu refers to Chinese poet from 11th century, known as Su Shi and his quote 此心安处是吾乡 (Wherever I feel at ease, there is my home).
On the vendor's site you can read that this cake is a commemorative one, produced in order to celebrate the opening of their online shop: "a small cake of 200g, using the highest quality fresh harvest picked in March of 2021 from a little-known village near Da Xue Shan in the Lincang area, and processed in a trusted factory under our control."
As the french blog suggests, the mere information of Da Xue Shan as the origin of the maocha is not very specific as it covers an area quite large and diverse. I was therefore curious about the "little-known village near Da Xue Shan" mentioned at the Xin An Chu website and asked for more information about the leaves used for this particular bing. According to Liu, the owner of the shop, the leaves come from old trees near Gong Nong village (公弄) which belongs to the Mengku Da Xue Shan puerh region. The cake therefore is a blend that includes leaves from three areas: Xiao Hu Sai (小户赛), San Jia Cun (三家村), Wu Jia Cun (五家村) specifically.
The cake itself is beautiful at first sight and scent. Its leaf is rather dark, with some lighter hairy buds present. Some of the leaves keep a longer stem which I believe adds more sweetness to the taste of the brewed tea.
The taste of very young sheng puerh is known to be very changeable within first few years. The tea slowly ferments and develops diversity of nuances that reflect its age and ageing process in phases. In the post from tea.travel.xinrong you can read how beautifully it can be captured in words.
I had a chance to taste this tea three months ago for the first time, today it is the second time I brew this particular cake. Despite being it only three months, the change is noticeable, especially for its diminishing dryness that is quite typical for very young sheng. When brewing the tea in September, the third cup uncovered some astringent note. Today the tea seems to be gentler on the tongue, bringing a stronger Hui Gan and intense sweetness in the mouth, one that is more floral than fruity, yet the fruitiness (ripe dry fruit) is already noticeable in the fragrance.
The tea is not bitter (unless you steep the leaf for too long), the astringency is very low, and the floral notes are intensely high and diverse. As for the floral aroma, it has almost some oolong intensity. There is no harsh taste that some young puerh uncover in further brews, quite typical for Xiao Shu (small tree leaf) that is sometimes mixed with old tree leaf but the first few brews will not tell. The cooling, almost minty effect on the tongue and later in the throat, so typical for Gu Shu, might as well confirm the age of the trees of the original maocha.
This cake might be the imaginary or true gateway for those curious about Da Xue Shan area, one that very well challenges the reputation of raw puerh being too bitter and astringent. For tea being so young, the taste is very pleasant already, yet the impact of young raw peurh on a sensitive body is more cooling than warming. I might therefore enjoy drinking it in summer rather than Christmas time. It is, however, not so easy to resist its intense balsamic fragrance.
Merry Christmas and peaceful brewing to all.
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