Saturday, May 26, 2012

Yunnan Purple Beauty from Simao by the Sea

I took a selection of teas for our friend Irish Karl who planned for us a delicious smoked pork shoulder lunch.  Karl being an imbiber of much harder stuff than tea enjoyed only the imperial Yunnan golden tips.   Actually I have yet to find anyone who doesn't like imperial Yunnan, but the shu tasting just did not fly. Karl who is the king of Irish patois was so taken aback by the ripe earth taste of shu that he could only sputter words like "vile" and "nasty" prefixed liberally by "fookin".

Pu-erh is an acquired taste for many western palates. Otherwise Thomas Lipton would have made a fortune off of it centuries ago.  Numi teas is trying to introduce pu-erh to the west with blending it with more familiar flavors of Earl Grey and chocolate, but I think their success is marginal.  I tried the Numi bottled pu which they were giving away for free during the Oakland Street Food Festival last year and it was brewed so weakly, I'm not sure you could call it pu-erh.  Even the last brewing of a low-end shu could not be weaker than what was in the Numi bottle.  Numi bill the bottled pu-erh as "functional and delicious".  Yes, let us enjoy some functional tea. Shu is not an obvious palate pleaser for the coke drinking west.

I myself did not initially enjoy the taste of pu-erh even though my first exposure to it 15 years ago was with seriously aged shu at a potter's house in the island of Jejedo. He routinely took monks to China to procure yixing pottery and boyicha -Korean term for pu-erh. (Yes you are thinking, I definitely missed a golden opportunity.) In Korea, Buddhist monks are the serious pu-erh drinkers although the health crazy Koreans have taken it up in the last few years.  This original session lasted for dozens of brews developing complex mushroomy medicinal flavors which my then unschooled palate did not enjoy. It's only when I started cutting most sugars and fire chilies out of my diet ten years ago that I really began to appreciate and understand the flavors of pu-erh, sheng and shu.  Cutting out the spicy gochujang out of my daily diet healed my tongue to perceive nuance. Cutting out the sugars allowed me to taste the subtle sweetness of puerh. A soda drinker will have a hard time detecting the caramel sweetness of a shu.

Back to the photo then.  My husband and I also brewed up a small pot of Purple Beauty(Purple Bud Stone Tea) which is a hybridization of Da Hong Pao tea. Our sample was an autumnal pick processed as a sun-dried oolong from YS. You can totally see that the leaves brew purple. As I sadly had a cold and could barely taste anything, my husband vouched for it's unique taste. The usual astringency I associate with purple bud in sheng pu is not present at all, tamed nicely as described.   Last week I tried a Da Hong Pao I had forgotten about for five years and it was still a wrong balance of sweet and astringency so it would be great to taste these side by side some time.


  1. So are you Korean? I've only been to Seoul for a few days, but I definitely noticed 1) Korean greens are the tea of choice for most, similar in style to the Japanese varieties, yet almost never exported out of Korea, it seems, but that 2) The real "serious" drinkers were drinking pu-erhs (and they didn't seem much interested in sharing with a foreigner, ironically enough, even though this foreigner was living in Taiwan and had spent time in Yunnan).

    I keep hearing about this "sheng upsets my stomach" thing, and also repeatedly heard that about the greener oolongs from various people in Taiwan. I've never had that problem unless I drink at least 2 L of tea, though.

  2. Nick,

    I am proudly of Korean descent but I think I am considered an American by most accounts. Korean hospitality is uneven- it can be totally overwhelming to the point you will never be able to repay or they can have negative interest to the point of rudeness. Family connections always ensure hospitality of the first kind.

    There is such a tiny tiny supply of Korean green tea but they tend to be nutty roasty greens. I read on the internet that there was a rash of pu-erh fakery in Korea. I'll have to translate some for humor.


    1. From my brief time there and from having a Korean-American girlfriend in the past, I sort of know what you mean..
      And that rash of puer fakery doesn't surprise me, either.
      Hmm, if you live on the east bay then you must know about the MacArthur corridor of excellent Korean restaurants :) when I used to live by GG park I used to always go to My Tofu House..and there's a truly fantastic place right by there called To Hyang. So, my love of chilis hasn't yet interfered with my love of tea, but I am pretty careful about what I put in my body and generally pretty in tune with it.
      That purple oolong sounds nice, and it's cheap!
      When I think about all the third tier teas scraps that are marketed as gourmet or "exotic" in the US, it's honestly kind of depressing..but it also just makes me that much more dedicated to educate and share my love of tea with others, and potentially, go into he tea business myself before too long, the thought that has been occupying my mind since I left Taiwan..