Saturday, February 6, 2010

Tasting notes: Yibang "White" cake 2009, from Bílý Jeřáb, drunk on a snowy day in Chicago

And behold, something new under the distant, barely warm Sun!

Well, newish to me, anyway: a white pu-erh. I've tasted this type of thing only once before, drunk with the esteemed Chicago Tea Confab of great fame, and now I have the opportunity to drink it alone, with computer ready to take notes, and attempting to keep a year-old baby and a seven-year-old boy quiet enough for that zenlike focus and laser intensity I am so famous for.

The Yibang cake sent to me by my friends from Bílý Jeřáb (there are too many Czech circumflexes and whatnot for me to correctly write that without copying-and-pasting), who are pu-erh aficionados with a great site. Though it's in Czech, they speak perfect English and will be happy to help you get your hands on some very nice examples of pu.

I've been drinking them for the last few months, as I took a break from writing. But I thought I'd try to open up the spigot to write again by telling you about something special, which is the white pu-erh.

Now, pu-erh-- the pressed, fermented, aged green tea from Yunnan province in China-- has been around for ages. But it's only the last couple years that they've been experimenting with white teas, giving them the same treatment. A white tea is typically the bud and perhaps one or two leaves of the tea plant. Because this type of pu-erh is so new, it's impossible to say how it will age, and what the end result will be after 20 or 30 years of storage. So these teas are purchased for immediate drinking at this point, and are to be enjoyed on their own merits.

Bílý Jeřáb's Yibang "white" cake 2009 came in the typical jigsaw puzzle fashion, with all the pieces needing to very carefully be pulled apart without damaging the leaves. In the portion I received as a gift from Bílý Jeřáb, I could very clearly see the white buds with two leaves throughout the cake, with no tea dust or particles of any kind. Quite pristine and lovely, with a light, tobacconist's smell about the dry leaves.

1st steeping: 15s
Because it's such a new tea, I chose to skip the typical rinsing, which I use to wash off some of the dust or whatnot that might accumulate on the leaves through the course of time. The cup was a clear, straw-colored liquor, with a light but distinctively typical pu-erhish flavor, if I might coin the awkward and hopefully never-to-be-used-again term. The fermentation had done its magic on the white buds. I had wondered about this, because a pu-erh is typically made from green leaves, not buds, and I had no idea what the true results might be.

2nd steeping: 20s
Well, 20s or thereabouts. I tend to pour a bit less "scientific," as my dad would say in his faux-German accent, when I have the children bouncing around. My wife has come downstairs on this Saturday morning, reminding me of the much we have to do, and how I'll have to make this tea tasting rather more quickly than I'd like. Second steeping pours out clear, accumulates in the pot a lovely straw-golden color, crystalline in clarity. Unusual in a pu-erh, that. The fragrance is lovely: tobacco, hints of something sweet-- vanilla, perhaps, or something spicier. There's a tiny edge to the tea, which exerts itself at the back of the throat, providing a nice counterpoint to the smoothness and sweetness of the tea. The tea leaves in the pot have taken on the appearance of a perfectly normal white tea, with the typical two-leaves-and-a-bud configuration, and nicely large leaves, freshly spring green. Again, highly unusual in a pu-erh.

Steeping 3: maybe about 30s
This tea is very forgiving. Some pu-erhs are so strong that you can only steep 2 or 3 seconds at first, or you get in danger of bitterness and just too much pu, if you take my meaning. But because this is young, and because the leaves it derives from are by nature very subtle, one can let it steep awhile without much ado. On the third steeping, the tea has become a richer gold color, much like honey. The haylike aroma is stronger, too, and that sharp edge is creeping toward the front of the palate, accompanied by a pleasant drying in the mouth and throat, but without a sense of coating in the throat. In other words, the tea is improving with subsequent steepings, as it wakes up.

Steeping 4: again, maybe about 30s
Now, I'm runnining out of time, and the result will be that I will pick up this tasting again after a couple of hours, which means the tea will lose a bit of its "oomph." Nevertheless, the fourth steeping is remarkably consistent with the third, with very little variation in flavor, appearance, or aroma. Very pleasant!

The wrap up
At this point, I can't tell you whether this is a 20-steeping variety of pu or a 6-steeping type, but we'll have to try it later, if I can get back to this . I'll update later, if I'm even able to complete this tasting. It's a date night, you see, which might mean that tea tasting takes a backseat to even more interesting pursuits.

Typically, I don't like white teas, because the subtlety of their flavor is just lost on my barbaric palate. I like my teas to be opinionated, and I like to taste them, not infer their flavor. Happily, a white tea that has been transmuted into a pu-erh has a lovely balance between subtlety and punchiness, which I find completely appealing. I would love to get my hands on a full cake of this stuff and see how it ages for a couple years, and compare the experience. But as a self-drinker, one which you can drink immediately without waiting, I can strongly recommend this, because it lacks that harshness and bitterness one often finds in a young, green pu-erh. Strikes a lovely balance, and I'm quite excited to have found it.

I thank Bílý Jeřáb for the opportunity to taste this tea! It's perfect for a beastly, cold day in Chicago.


Peto St. said...

Hi Steven, I am the source of the cake :) Thank you for the review. I hope shortly we have some part of our site in english soon although so many running projects are in our lives. The world of tea is a such wide and complex world. Back to the tea you reviewed.

Maybe I misled you by naming the tea white cake or white puerh. The tea was made in traditional way of doing puerh tea and that is different from the white tea processing.

The material is carefully selected and intended probably not for sale. I will try this spring to get some for sale.

Myself I liked the special fresh taste of the liquid on the very begining, just a few weeks after pressing. Later tasting showed a fast pace of ageing the tea.

This fresh taste is not very desired although for Puerh teas. Well skilled manufacture's leave such tea(maocha) to rest/ripe for some months to get rid of this taste.

One more comment to add, the material is from old trees, in China or Yunnan rather say from 'GUSHU' trees, its rather more than old, lets say 300 and more years old trees. Such material makes puerh tea better tasting and faster 'fermenting' ... the more gushu the more tasty the tea is..