Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Waiting for Wuliang Part I

In 2007,  I ordered a Wuliang beeng.  Due to an unfortunate mix-up which was half my fault, I instead received a beeng from a neighboring mountain.  Thus I was transported unwillingly to Mournful Prison Mountain(Ailuo 哀牢山) instead of ascending Limitless Mountain(Wuliang 无量山)Thanks to Hobbes and Jason Cohen for the translations. Perhaps this mix-up was the last straw that broke the camel's back but I did not buy any more pu-erh for 6 years.

To right this wrong, I finally bought two pure Wuliang shengs produced by Yunnan Sourcing, the 2010 beeng from YS-US and the 2012 version from YS Kunming. I also had started on the road to Birthday Beeng selection with Jakub's recommendation of enthrallment- the 2010 HLH Yiwu among many other fun samples to be revealed later.  Today while I was at work, my husband e-mailed me a photo of a box from Kunming Post.  I was shocked to receive Scott's order in a record 4 days! It cost $36 express shipping but still I'm impressed. 

Wuliang is a sizable mountain range bordering Dali and Lincang so Wuliang teas must surely show up elsewhere.  I may have been unknowingly quaffing Wu Liang brews all along as Xiaguan uses materials from Wuliang Shan as does (or did) Nan Jian Factory.  The 07 Xiaguan "FT" #4 is comprised of Wuliang and Bao Shan leaves while the 08 XY 8853 is all spring Wuliang and Lincang leaves.  I vowed no more Xiaguan buying for me in 2006 so I only got the Nan Jian pure Wuliang mini-bricks for doing the big factory comparison.

Scott's YS cakes are made of leaves from the remote Zhong Cang village (中仓村).  Further web research with the google translator indicates that Zhong Cang villagers grow tobacco and walnuts as well as slaughter 1300 hogs a year.  In 2006, the village had a total of one car, three tractors, and 44 motorcycles.  I could only find the following pictures of Zhong Cang village tea trees on the provided link which may or may not have any correlation to Scott's beengs which are advertised to be from 200 year old trees.  Google maps indicate a fairly heavy agricultural use of the village lands.

Sunday I brewed up the 2010 Wuliang to enjoy a moment of pre-dinner contemplation.  The cake includes the bonus of a tiny rough twig and a few grain husks.  My first two quick rinses were  strongly yellow.   I couldn't stop sipping because I really really miss drinking sheng - this tea has a subtle bitterness which is perfect for remembrance.  The youthful astringency reaches all the way down my chest and I had to clutch my collarbone all the while drinking this tea.  My mouth is continually salivating with sweetness.

I tried to decode the sensations to visualize shapes and colors. But instead I hear the muted low notes of a vibraphone.  The fifth infusion becomes intensely sweet- more sugarcane than honey and I start gulping it down rather greedily.   I'm enjoying myself head to throat while everything below is burning. Part of me is wondering if my foray into shengs is now progressively worsening my intolerance. Today when sniffing the 2012 shengs, I could feel the astringency in my gullet. My husband shakes his head whenever he sees me crazy eyed looking at my shengs. I think I will risk tasting the 2012 version this weekend.


  1. My sheng of the day was the 2011 wuliang from yunnan sourcing. Which is really incredible on a taste /dollars scale. If I had known you where on a Wuliang kick I would have thrown some in.

    1. Do you know why the 2011 sold out before the 2010? Was 2010 in general a bad year due to the drought? Or was it Hobbes review for the 2011 cakes.


  2. I enjoyed a sample of the 2011 wuliang and saw there were plenty cakes and tongs left for sale, so waited a few weeks but when I went to order they were gone from both sites! Someone must have a stockpile of them somewhere. I'm Also looking forward to trying the 2012. I will probably wait till they are available in the US though that shipping is an extra cake for me.

    1. Emmett,

      I'll post a comparison soon of the 2012 which I believe is different from prior years. Scott wrote "less tippy".


  3. I recently got a sample of 2010 Wuliang. I thought it was nice, good value, but nothing to write home about.

    1. Yup- it's a nice tea. Can't fault it for much. Isn't good value something to write about Nick?

    2. That's a very good question. I've spent a lot of time thinking about value. Of course it's subjective, but as far as tea goes for my own personal consumption, I think I'm mostly interested in *great* value teas, not merely *good* ones; doubly so for puer, as I don't consume that much of it compared to other tea types. Since I don't buy that much tea compared to you or some other tea bloggers, I'd usually rather buy 50-100 g of an excellent, relatively pricey tea, than 250-500 g of one that's cheaper, but merely good. A few years back, I usually opted to buy < 100 g of a good tea at a good price. Now that my palate is a little more refined, I usually opt to buy < 100 g of a tea that really stands out at a price that reflects it's value, usually but not necessarily relatively higher. I imagine the next step in my purchasing-progression would to do as you appear to do, some higher priced, high quality tea, as well as lower priced, less special, but good value finds, if one has the funds for it and is approaching it with more of a collector's mindset, knowing that you're not going to be able to consume it all. That day may come, but for now, I just buy what I can drink, and since there's a limit to how much tea I can drink, it is better value for me to spend my time drinking a more expensive but more delicious tea!

    3. Nick,

      What would you consider an excellent pu-erh? I myself have found plenty of pretty good pu-erh but the "excellent" tea still eludes me.

      The trouble with buying pu-erh- it's hard to know with consistency what is a *great* value tea. When it is, it can often sell out before you can whip out your credit card. Then there's plenty of good teas which get pumped up as being *great*.


    4. This is an excellent puer, to me: http://gingkobay.blogspot.com/2011/04/concept-tea-8-purely-dry-storage-96-xia.html

      And this is a pretty good one: http://www.yunnansourcing.us/store/product.php?id_product=6

  4. By the standards of just two years ago, or even last year, there are no *great* teas (i.e., I've had a couple of the classic '99 Yiwus for example, and I'm thinking teas that could live up to that standard...)

    The best tea/$$ ratio aside from my precious Tai Lian '02 is this tea:

    It won't match up with the best XZH Big Snow Mountain, but even XZH isn't producing great BSM these days. And the good ones of yesterday are sold and held in firm collector's grasp.

    This is also a good value:

    Just a longstanding prescence in tea drinker's minds. However, just about all puerh that old and that are anything like truly pleasurable to drink are more than $100.

    In that vein:

    Fairly proven, and under $100 for a good pre '04 tea.

    This might be okay:

    The factory is a respected maker of Jingmai tea for that early time.

    A big stretch of the '10 YS production is reasonable quality/price. Not great, but...

    Anywayz, even if you were willing to drop all inhibition and pay for the top stuff, the only place where top stuff is sold is at BTH Vancouver at bestteaonline.com. And I hope you have a sense of humor when you see the prices. I also strongly suggest you don't buy any of their cheaper items, and by cheap, I mean less than $150. You go there, you swing for fences. Bana Tea sources from BTH for some of their material, and the lincangs aren't horrid deals:

    By and large, there are *no* good deals when it comes to better than decent sheng. It's a struggle even to have the ability to *buy* the very good tea. One reason why my eyes popped at Mandala tea's shu prices.

    1. Whoa! I think what you are saying is quite bleak for the average pu-erh drinker who is easily priced out at $100+ cakes. I really have to re-digest what you are saying and do some footwork to provide a counter example. I think for most parents with children- they should be saving money for college, family vacations, emergencies and such instead of dropping Benjamins on young sheng.

      I feel like Rip Van Winkle who fell asleep early in 2007 only to find the 2012 tea market in this crazy state. Most of my sheng cakes(some pretty good) were around $10-$25 back then. Even if I can afford it, I'm not sure I want to start getting into the habit of buying $100+ young cakes.

      I think making a trip to Hong Kong is a better alternative than buying direct from Best Tea. I guess I can only purchase their Red Mark Round through Paypal since my credit card limit is decidedly under $40,000. Well at least bestteaonline has the decency to provide free shipping over $250.

    2. Every set of leaves that could conceivably be equal to known good precedents are through the roof, not least because most of them are not for sale to us peons.

      That Red Mark? $20k when I first started checking that site, not 12 months ago. Be happy that you have your LBZ. I know I am. New LBZ is routinely $300+. That Douji, for example is somewhere over the $300 mark in China, if Taobao is any guide (not really). The HLH, oh, some multiple of hundreds, probably around the Douji. It's amazing how much the public supply of *any* Douji just kept shrinking and shrinking...especially before 2010. And Douji? Good, but not really the greatest of tea craft, you know?

      Of course, this circles around to the key issue. Anything that is well known to be good is skyrocketing out of the marketplace. There are plenty of good teas that aren't well known, but you have to suffer through sample after sample of nope.

      For example, I feel very safe in saying that Secret Fragrance shu is better than most 2007 Dayi shu, but this isn't really reflected in the prices. The Secret Fragrance sheng, yes, but the sheng isn't really so much more awesome than normal Dayi--but it's much more well agreed to be worth chasing after and more publicized. The shu? Not so much. So what has happened is that the people who know what's up are withdrawing the shu from the electronic marketplace. Prices aren't really jumping, but availability on Taobao (such as one can tell by their inadequate search function) is declining.

      What makes it worse is the constant scheming and lying that takes place on the Chinese marketplace. It's just not that easy to make a good decision about any tea right on the spot. You need at least an ounce and a few days to really put it through its paces. You can't do that for too many teas, so you really need to have some sort of pre-filter of good stuff. However, anyone that does it for you, probably charges a lot for the pleasure of selling you a bing. And if you go to anyone that doesn't, you get all the pressure tactics, and pushed all the worst stuff (if you're unlucky).

      I don't really think the puerh industry can go too much further on like this. I don't think there is *that* much of a problem with supply. Yunnan is a huge place, with many good places to get tea from, and we don't drink so much tea after all. There is enough LBZ out there from all the years those trees have been picked for anyone who wants some, can have some, and should be able to get some without super high prices or hassle. There is just a huge problem with hoarding and information asymmetry attempts, so as to maximize buy low, sell high, and I think this destroys trust and interest. Old tea, of course, is another question altogether.