Sunday, September 09, 2012

Mr. Gao's Yi Bang from Tea Urchin

(Dear Reader,  As this is anniversary weekend for me and I have to type out a post rather hastily past midnight, please excuse any inconsistencies.)

I had been fiddling with my shopping cart on Tea Urchin for months now.  Due to the hefty baseline of $20 shipping, I wasn't sure if I should gamble to get an entire beeng or go with all samples.  But this Friday, I didn't have to make any decisions because - well you guessed it - Ira provided my first introduction to Tea Urchin's offerings.   She graciously invited me to her immaculate home for water experiments with tetsubin pots following MarshalN's water post which has similarly stimulated other drinkers to go forth and experiment.

We spent a pleasurable six hours brewing four teas.  I didn't even know six hours had passed until my husband anxiously called wondering what had happened to me.  I had fallen in a tea time warp and probably could have gone on indefinitely with Ira.  More important than the tea itself,  it is a true luxury for me to be able to meet up with a tea friend like Ira- we can shamelessly go on and on obsessing about minute trivial pu-erh details and be both totally into it! She knew the way into my heart not only by tea- she fed me tasty pork ribs and some of the most delicate cigar cookies I've enjoyed in a long while.  I had to really control myself not to gobble them up while she left the table briefly.

All four teas merit their own post but the Yi Bang really stood out for me as a singular experience which pushed my pu-erh palate into new territory.  This Yibang is a unique savoury tea like no other I've tasted thus far. It is all umami- I would not be surprised if this tea has the highest concentration of glutamates to be found in tea anywhere

Initially I had trouble with the slightly brackish fishy flavor of the tea, very much like the scent of pickleweed fields in the bay or a bonito broth.  We didn't get any huigan during the first few brews but when Ira provided us cups of just plain water to sip between brews, we taste an intense raw cane sugar juice sweetness which mounts after each brewing.  Even though Ira is quite humble about her knowledge, she's already taught me quite a few things about vintage tetsubin pots and water sipping between brews.

We also notice the water from her tetsubin pot is definitely far sweeter, fuller, smoother, and more rounded out than the tap water in the electric kettle which tastes markedly thin in comparison. I vow to keep my eye out for such a kettle on ebay although I fear getting re-addicted to trolling ebay for hidden treasures.  I could just pay up on hojotea on any one of their lovely high-end kettles but I'd be depriving myself of that special pride of bargain hunting prowess every time I boiled water in it.  I think getting into tea accoutrements is a danger all in itself and I've always tried to spend money on tea rather than teapots. But a proper iron kettle I see now is worth the investment. I've had some modern disappointments in decades past but I didn't know much fifteen years ago.

Back to the tea- is this savoriness in the tea the work of Mr. Gao or is it a regional hallmark of Yibang or does it only exist in my head?  In wine,  the vinter's handiwork is critical to the finished product more so in bad wet years.  In pu-erh processing, the quality of the leaf dominates the end product. However in autumnal productions, the skill of how shaqing (kill green) step is performed is critical in bringing out the intensity of the tea without burning the leaves.  I've been avoiding autumnal productions due to some weak examples I suffered back in 2006 but this autumnal beeng is unique enough that I'm game to try more.  Surely the quality of this tea must attributed to the able hand of Mr. Gao who is shown dry frying the wok with his bare hands.

Ira did not get the same impression of this tea and when I try to read other reviewers, Eric's discipleofthetealeaf post and Hobbes, I'm surprised to find very different flavor notes which don't match my own.  I should stop writing flavor reviews altogether.  The brackish savoriness of this Yibang broth is not yet to my immediate personal preference but I want to taste this this tea or something like it every few years to refresh by palate memory.  I'm quite curious how such a tea would age and I would include a new sample in my order.

Ira again sent me away with mind-bogglingly generous bagfuls of tea including a 1960s Dan Cong and a slew of Da Hong Paos amongst some pu-erh I cannot buy easily on the internet.   I should not be buying any tea at all for a few months to do justice to her  samples. 


  1. Happy Anniversary to you and your husband. I hope you are both having a wonderful full weekend.

    I was happy to read that you enjoyed this tea.

    It was also nice to see that I am not the only one in the market for a proper tetsubin. The hubby slowly created an antique market fiend throughout our 17 years, so like you, I kind of want to stumble across one. I seem to do OK with the kettle I have now, particularly when I use my favorite Park Jong Il pots, which I believe are made from an iron rich clay.

    1. Thank you Eric. I've known my husband 26 years now but still hearts come out my eyes when I see him.

      This Yibang tea was such a strange and novel experience that is not to my preference but still something entirely worthwhile to do. I've been having a lot of duds recently so I was happy to appreciate a quality tea.

      You and I may meet in the bidding ring of ebay one day!