16 Tasting Notes
Dear GOD this is an incredible tea. One of my goddamn favorites from the batch of 2016 stuff, that’s for damn sure.
This is a wild tea. It’s definitely in the same bitterness family as a lot of purple puerh. But, while purple stuff was one of my first loves, a lot of the times it’s just big and fun and dumb. Like: fat satisfying bitter warmth, but not much evolve.
This stuff on the other hand: this is the magic stuff. This is the real goddamn deal. This huge central bitterness that just emanates weird life, radiating this ever-changing tentacles of sweet and vegetal and other stuff.
It’s interesting – it’s a very different bitter than the Lao Man E’s I’ve been drinking. The Lao Man E’s tend to have this more rubber/quinine note, quite distinctive, that rides over and above the more conventional puerh vegetal flavors. This stuff, on the other hand: the bitter is the center. Everything is connected to the bitter. Everything binds into and comes from the bitter.
Also: this is brain-zap tea. I was intending to actually, you know, get some work done, and instead ended up basically collapsed, draped over the side of my couch, blasting the new Frank Ocean album, joyously zonked. This is MASSIVE tea. This is tea to put into your skull and blast some thick, textured tunes to.
I kept texting my wife while I was drinking it. “Oh shiiiiit.” “Oh this is legit.” “Holy crap… THIS TEA.”
Also, weirdly, underneath, elegant. Something about the texture and overall… cleanness… reminds me of the ultra-delicate W2T Last Thoughts.
Anyway: thank you Crimson Lotus people. This is the real stuff. You have brought a new kind of joy into my life.
Man, this is a nice tea. It’s the opposite of what I’ve been drinking lately – which has tended more towards sort of hostile, aggro puerh. This is rich and warm and smooth, but not in any way boring. It’s actually, it certain weird ways, closer in spirit to certain roasted balled oolongs. It actually reminds me a little of Tea Urchin’s Mu Zha Tieguanyin. It has this central rich sweetness, this glowing aliveness, that sorts of just enfolds you. Less flavor notes, and more this central throbbing sweet thick warmth.
Sadly, they’re out of it. Alas.
A subtle tea, and a cerebral one.
I’ve been telling a lot of people lately that there are often two poles for culinary interest for me – there’s the delicious and pleasant, and then there’s the interesting. I started in a lot of green tea stuff that I think is entirely delicious and pleasant and wonderful, but it’s also quite static – the pleasures are very similar over time in one tea, and very similar across many such teas.
Not so with puerh. Some puerhs are also delicious, but some are for more fascinating than they are, like, you know, tasty. And Bana Tea – and especially this one – is a poster child for that.
There is nothing yummy to this. It reminds me of certain Strauss symphonies – it starts out slow, cold, and precise, and unfolds into something more complicated cold and fascinating.
It’s dry. It’s a very sculpted, exacting dryness. It’s the feel of late summer in SoCal, where all the grass is dead and the air is empty and a little bit smoky. The dryness kicks off aftertastes, very complicated ones, but not necessarily, you know, sweet. Shadows of dried fruits. Odd quiet earths. Ghosts of long-dead limbs blowing through dead branches in the hot late summer wind.
It layers on the mouth, builds… I wouldn’t call it drama, exactly, but lots of layers of new notes, all dry and earthy and quiet, shifting.
Sculptural, precise, fascinating. I love it, But, as I’ve said before, I’m a tea pervert, and sometimes fresh tasty yummy stuff palls.
This is such a perfect example of the Bana / Vesper Chan house style. It’s got quietly, under a delicate surface, tons of the classic puerh feels and flavors in a kind of hyper-tense balance. There’s the nearly harsh vegetal bitter, that weird near Sichuan-tingle energetic glow, that warm almost soy-malt, the nearly vicious astringency, the dairy, the sweet. But unlike, say, W2T, these things don’t meld into a single warm thing. They stay apart and tussle and then they enter an extremely active balance. W2T stuff like this is often a hug, and but this tea is a tightrope, a see-saw, some careful balance.
Also, if you don’t brew it right, you’ll totally fuck it up.
But: when it’s right, it’s super-active, restless on the tongue.
This is, in my book, a classic Bana Tea. (it’s really weird to me that their top-rated puerh here is the Purple Tips, which is the least Bana-like of the Bana Teas I’ve had.) Delicate, subtle, giving, responsive, dynamic, restless, subtle, will slap you if you do it wrong and give you oodles of crazy electrical goodness if you do it right.
Also: classy. My wife agrees me on this. If W2T is always warm and bass-deep, Bana stuff just seems highfalutin’ and classy. I don’t know any other way to say it, or where to pin it, but this stuff just feels refined.
My friend Nick – a fellow rock climber, a fellow home coffee roaster, musician, and all around aesthete – knows little about tea and asked for a tasting. He liked the first few teas well enough, but then this one hit him like a hammer in the heart.
Nick: “You know what this feels like? Not just like, taste, but feels? Like when you’re topping out on a climb, and it’s fall, and the rock is all sharp and in your face, and lichen is dry and crispy and falling off under your fingers, and fall is in the air. This feels just like that.”
I have a friend who knows what he likes. Most of the tea I give him, he kind of screws up his face and nods carefully and is like, “Yeah, that’s alright.” But if you give him an assam, or some Yunnan black, every time, he sighs and sits back and says, “Yeah, that’s really nice.”
He’d like this tea.
I’ve never had anything in the rolled oolong space that’s this close to the yunnan black thing: that particular malty-sweet-subtle sour thing. On the first taste, you might mistake it for an extra-roasty, extra-hearty yunnan black. But then this other, dongding weirdness comes through underneath – some weird fat spinachy-stemmy fuzzy sour-junk. It’s weird. Is this a traditional tea type? Some part of me suspects that this has been pushed to meet a certain taste in the Western market for big, malty, roasty teas, and it sits weirdly with that spinach bottom. But I’m probably wrong. I’m sure it’s utterly traditional or something.
But it’s strange. The parts don’t quite fit together, but still, it’s pleasant, and kind of amusing.
Oh yeah: it goes really well with buttered toast. And with pork liver pate. (Don’t ask.)
Totally good value for the (bargain) asking price.
Totally gorgeous. I think the bitter puerhs were my first puerh love – dig me some of that Bulang – but this is the next level shit. It’s a glorious bitter, somewhere between a quinine bitter and a burnt-rubber bitter (but good!) – just hanging out and glowing while all this other oceanic stuff – warmth, passing dairy flavors, all kinds of fruity junk – meld and change and pass beneath it. And that bitter flavor just hangs out up there, glowing a little, and just being so insanely beautiful.
You know those people that are like, “Oh, tea is just like softly flavored water, I’m a real MANLY MAN and I like my coffee dark and my beer double-hopped and your wussy tea stuff will never be enough for me?”
Give them this. Maybe it will mellow out with time. But right now this stuff is for those times when a triple-IPA is not quite enough, when you need that quinine-bitter to hammer straight into your skull. Also, underneath the brutal, browbeating bitter: like, increasing with more steeps: clearly a dry-aged raw meat thing.
When you want to have your skull smashed into a concrete curb by a swaggering beast of a tea: there is Wild Monk for you.
I’m glad I have a cake.
Scent: lovely, gentle, aromatic bamboo softness. I think to myself, “Hey, maybe this will be a hei cha that doesn’t flirt with a level of total horror and dankness that’ll make me half afraid to drink.”
Taste on the first steep: slightly dank, unbelievably dusty and dry.
Me: “It’s pretty old bookshop.”
Wife: “It’s less the old bookshop, and more the abandoned cardboard boxes that they used to move the books around in the bookshop.”
By the third steep, it’s developing kind of… halfway pleasant warm gentle sweet nutty notes under the undeniable taste of bookshop.
Wife: “This makes me think of first grade.”
Me: “Definitely… there’s like, paste and glue under the cardboard taste.”
Me: “Do you like it?”
Wife: “Well, it makes me sad that I’m an adult now and there aren’t construction paper projects in my life anymore.”
Me: “I think I’m starting to like it. That makes me worry for the state of my soul.”
My first two experiences with aged liubao from Chawangshop were so inutterably dank/musty/insane-dead-bookshop that I thought I would never like aged liubao. But this was the bridge for me, just the right balance of dank must and intense warm nut chillness that I thought, “Hey, I could like this.”
The next day, I was definitely thinking about this tea. I suspect this makes me something of a tea pervert.