Verdant Tea

Tasting the Centuries with Qianjiazhai

Tasting the Centuries with Qianjiazhai

Tasting the Centuries with Qianjiazhai

truly wild tea from truly wild tea trees!

November 26, 2015

This season we are extremely excited to strengthen our relationship with the Qianjiazhai Zhenyuan Dongsa Cooperative. When we first got back to China in October, Master Zhou (one of the founding members of the cooperative) approached us about sharing a wider range of tea from the wild forests of Qianjiazhai. Specifically, he was interested in sharing the differences between sheng pu’ers from the same forest picked from trees of different ages. The cooperative was founded to protect the forest from exploitation or development, so he wants people to see how incredible tea can be from wild trees left undisturbed.

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Qianjiazhai is the oldest tea forest in the world. The oldest tree has been alive for about 2700 years. The trees that Master Zhou and the rest of the cooperative picks are all three hundred years old or even older. At Master Zhou’s recommendation, we decided to feature sheng pu’er from three hundred year trees, eight hundred year trees, thousand year trees and even specially editioned eighteen hundred year trees specially editioned as single tree cakes.

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Master Zhou carved a special 100g cake stone mold for this project to make the cakes more accessible and easier to store some for aging and drink some right away. The 100g format makes it more doable to try a cake from trees of any different ages. Master Zhou was so excited about the project he sent us pictures every day while carving the mold and pressing the maocha.

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We were just as excited to receive these teas!  The boxes came to our shop near Laoshan shared with He Qingqing, whose family picks our Laoshan teas. We couldn’t resist immediately opening cakes of each harvest to taste the differences. These cakes are truly best appreciated as a set to understand what tree age and pu’er age do to the flavor of leaf from the same forest.

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Three Hundred Year Tree Sheng

We started with the Gu Hua Three Hundred Year Tree 2015 Sheng. Gu Hua is picked after the rainy summer season, and Master Zhou describes this window as one of his favorite times to pick each year. The weather helps to make the tea is uniquely rich and sweet. The adorable 100g cake had the potent aroma of apricot, almost like those fruit leather lunchbox snacks. As soon as we poured Laoshan spring water over the dry leaf, we got a beautiful jasmine aroma.

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The first sips were full of orange soda citrus notes and woody tree bark undertones. The second steeping brought out all the creamy honey vanilla jasmine flavor that we were getting from the initial aroma. The citrus notes and darker woody undertones slowly come together in the third steeping with a ‘crunchy’ neroli and elderflower texture.

We were all shocked at how smooth, sweet and drinkable this tea was just after picking. The woody undertones and textural complexity are all there to promise great aging, while the sweet notes coming through now are more similar to Yunnan White Jasmine than anything else. We can’t wait to see where this one goes!

 

 

Thee Hundred Year Tree Looseleaf Sheng

After sipping the Three Hundred Year Cake, we thought it would be fun to compare it directly to the Three Hundred Year looseleaf sheng. The cake was pressed from the very looseleaf sheng we brought in from Yunnan, but we expected the compression to give us a different flavor from the raw material.

Indeed, we got way more crisp apple notes on the looseleaf tea, and way more mineral notes. The florals were more subdued, while the sweet thick texture was even stronger. The citrus notes reminded us more of a sparkling Oregon Brut than orange. The creamy notes we got in the cake came through later in steeping. All in all, the looseleaf presentation seemed to bring out more texture and flavor while the cake compression seemed to emphasize the aromatics first and foremost.

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Thousand Year Tree Sheng

Next we decided to turn to the Thousand Year Sheng, called the Zun series by Master Zhou and the cooperative. It is hard to even imagine a tree living so long. The tree was a seedling before the fall of the Song Dynasty. The tree was just coming of age when the first ceramic kiln was founded in Jingdezhen. How incredible that we get to drink leaves coming from a tree whose roots go so deep! Master Zhou explains that the flavor of older tree sheng is different because it is drawing more nutrients from deeper in the soil, and because the plant has a longer history, a more complex story. The deeper roots draw from undisturbed soil and deep mountain springs.

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This Thousand Year Tree Sheng truly stood apart from the three hundred year from its first wafting aroma. While the Three Hundred Year was full of mandarin citrus, the thousand year had more woody sweet sandalwood in its aroma, accented by sweet cherry notes. The first infusions were far sweeter and more mineral-laden like fine Dragonwell. We immediately notice a lighter flavor profile and stronger aromatics and mouthfeel in the tasting experience.

The sandalwood slides towards richer aloeswood in later infusions with a sweet floral aftertaste and medicinal tulsi notes. A slight tingling numbing sensation builds up with the maple sap sweetness over each sip. In our experience with tea from trees of different ages, the aloes wood flavor is a defining element. The numbing tingling quality usually only appears on pu’er that has aged longer, which made this a wonderful surprise.

 

2011 Eight Hundred Year Sheng

After tasting that tingling sensation on the thousand year, we decided to look at how tea from comparable trees ages over time. Master Zhou and the cooperative calls the 2011 Eight Hundred Year sheng the Gui series. The aroma on this slightly older cake definitely followed the Zun series with its cherry and sandalwood notes, but had an enticing spicy quality missing from the younger sheng.

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True to the aroma, the first infusions were full of anise and incense flavor. The florals that were weaker in the young sheng were much stronger again. This cake has an all-encompassing orchid aftertaste.

Later steepings reveal a strong ‘electrical’ tingling quality to the mouthfeel, an exciting trait that makes for captivating tastings. The sweetness is like powdered sugar and allspice. The aftertaste is full of toasted burdock and coriander. The several years of age on this cake are extremely exciting to see. Just a few years and deep spice and incense notes start to come out, the mouthfeel gets thicker and more intense. We can’t wait to see what another five years do to this incredible tea!

 

 

2015 Eighteen Hundred Year Single Tree

We were excited to finally turn towards the most unique pressing in this custom series collaboration with Master Zhou and the Zhenyuan Dongsa Farmers’ Cooperative! The first time we visited Qianjiazhai, we were amazed by their preservation work in such an old growth tea forest. We wanted to work together because their goal of preservation is best achieved by getting people to respect and admire the tea from the region, to treat it as prices and commit to permanently protect the old growth forests. An exciting new project for the cooperative is to start highlighting tea not just from a single place, but from a single tree.

Wild trees will vary dramatically in flavor, and each have their own micro-terroir. The single tree pu’er cake project is an effort to cultivate more respect and reverence for the individual trees of the forest, all of which have been around longer than any person alive on this planet. Several years ago, we got the chance to share some younger Single Tree cakes, and the reception was incredible.

We are honored beyond belief for the trust Master Zhou puts in us by taking the entire 2015 batch of the oldest harvest his cooperative picks and pressing it into 100g cakes just for all of us to enjoy. Only 100 cakes were completed, and each are hand numbered with both tree number and cake number.

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The cake we opened up together to taste was from tree number 0018. The tree itself is over 1800 years old. Eighteen hundred years ago, China was under the Han Dynasty. Tea as a beverage hadn’t yet been discovered. Tea was being used as a medicine, but not until the Tang did tea become popular as a drink of its own, and not until the Song did people develop a ceremony around tea, almost a thousand years after this tree sprouted. For us to steep its leaves feels like entering a very holy place, a place worthy of respect.

an 1800 yr. old ancient tea tree in Qianjiazhai; only a few dozen of these trees grow in the Mt. Ailoa National Forest Preserve a mature wild tea tree in Qianjiazhai, approximately 300-500 yrs old

The aroma of the dry cake was full of aloeswood incense, and cedar. The first sips tasted like a wild forest, the flavor and texture seemed to seep into the taste buds and build up. The woody aromatics were cooling and electrical like camphor. The florals of the younger tree sheng cakes were deeper and spiced like Nag Champa.

The tea became thicker and thicker over each infusion. We were not able to completely steep it out after a couple dozen infusions; indeed, we’ve never been able to full steep out this tea in later sessions. The thick feeling was like vanilla ice cream topped with nutmeg and allspice. The aftertaste lingered for the rest of the day, making ever other tea we tasted have the crazy electric quality of the Single Tree Sheng.

With only one hundred cakes made this year, it is hard to resist keeping them all for aging. It is difficult to imagine what a tea like this could become in another five years, but we will do all that we can to save one cake and store it safely out of reach.

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Trying these all back to back was an incredible educational experience.

We are overjoyed at the chance to share this tasting experience over the 2015 holidays, and we hope you are able to pick up as much of this pu’er as you can. Master Zhou is excited to see how people enjoy this series. He wants to continue this project with the rest of the cooperative into 2016 to strengthen the cultural exchange between the Qianjiazhai Cooperative and tea lovers worldwide.

 
 
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