Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Supermarket Pu-erh Smorgasbord (2009 BaDa Mountain Wild Arbor)

I was shopping at Uwajimaya the other day, Seattle's longtime destination for quality Asian groceries and goods.  Although there are bigger Asian supermarkets in the Puget Sound area, none have the history or status of Uwajimaya.  It's always fun to shop there.  Where else can you browse the vast fish selection next to a Korean nun, all in robes and a warm knitted skull cap to keep out the cold?  Or wait in line at the check-out observing the stately reverence given to an ancient-looking woman, all stooped over and barely 4 feet tall, yet still walking with a cane and writing her own checks (veeeerrrrryyyyy slowly!), being attended to not by daughters or paid caretakers, but by a couple of smartly dressed middle aged men?  This place has history to it and deep roots in the many Asian communities here.  

I wasn't there to buy tea and only wandered over to the tea aisle as an afterthought.  Shelves and shelves of colorful tins and packets, mostly greens and oolongs.  I thought I'd see if any of the tins or boxes had pu-erh in them (and there were a few) but was surprised to find a row of several full-sized pu-erh cakes and a couple of tuos.  I'd never seen these cakes there before.  They were all labeled with a company called Tienxi, but the cakes themselves included some familiar factories -- Xiaguan, Yongde, Mengku, Menghai.  Most were raw green pu-erhs.  One of the tuos was a shu that sounded really yummy by the description of it, but sadly it was all sold out (although there were plenty of green tuos left on the shelf).  The cakes were young; just a few years old, and not at all pricey.  I bought the most expensive one, which was hardly expensive at all -- the 2009 BaDa Mountain Wild Arbor, for $19.99.

"Best Before: 08/2012"... really?
Tienxi Company apparently contracts with various tea factories, acting as a middle-man broker between the factories and businesses like Uwajimaya who then carry their product line.  Interestingly, Tienxi is a local company, based in nearby Sammamish, a suburb town of Seattle.  I've never heard of this company before and know nothing more about them.  

In addition to the tea I picked up some good looking fruit.  Last year I took part in a pu-erh tasting of some special aged selections, and while the tea was wonderful, the "tea snacks" were abysmal, including a bowl of over-salted, highly processed, vaguely-cracker-like crunchies from a local discount grocery.  Ever since then I've given a lot of thought to this matter of tea snacks.  What foods complement tea?  For the most part I prefer to drink my tea without food, but when I have friends over it's nice to set out a few offerings.  I have a definite bias for fresh fruits or high quality chocolate (cheap waxy chocolate was another of the offerings at that tasting last year).  Little powdered mochi cakes are nice, too.  Uwajimaya always carries an interesting selection of all of these and I was lured by some of the exotic fruits.  I picked up a couple of deep red, spikey rambutan, some deep purple mangosteen, and an item I don't see there very often -- a dried persimmon, which was heavenly delicious.    

mmmm.. dried persimmon..

Onto the tea.  Expectedly, it opened with big green fresh hay, although there were deep floral overtones lurking in the aroma of the first few infusions that surprised me.  The soup poured a pretty and clear straw yellow.  I started with a 10 second infusion and found the taste surprisingly smooth and buttery.  No hint of astringency or bitterness.  I pushed the second infusion to 15 seconds, the third to 30 seconds and the fourth to 45, but I couldn't push this tea into any more than just a hint of bitter.  Fragrance-wise, while there was some floral present (mostly in the first few infusions) it settled into hearty vegetal notes of asparagus, cooked beans and mushrooms (the asparagus gave way by the 4th infusion, leaving savory beans and mushrooms).  

Undoubtedly the most note-worthy thing about this tea was how penetrating it was.  From the 2nd infusion on it continually sank deep into my mouth and throat, pulling up a surprising degree of salivation and a spreading warmth in my chest.  Some hui gan present as well, intially with floral on the breath but soon became more indistinct with a tingling and somewhat cooling sensation.  Was there a bitterness there?  I want to say there was, but it was so far to the back of the mouth and quickly sank deep into the tissues, transforming into a subtle sweetness, diving to a warmth in the chest, filling outwards and pulling significant salivation into my mouth.  A pretty decent puerh, I thought.  It left a nice clean sensation with me the rest of the day.  I have no idea if this one will age well, but for the price it's certainly a fine daily drinker.  



  1. Very nice post. I always troll at Asian markets for puerh and have found nothing other than recent CNNP shu. I'm not surprised, however, that Uwajimaya has better stock.

    I've started pairing chocolate with tea and find them a match made in heaven. Warm tea helps immediately disperse the chocolate across the palate and the fruity and roasted characters of various teas play well with cocoa.

  2. Oh, what I wouldn't give to get a few mangosteens right now.

    The tea looks nice. Is there more of it at Uwajimaya?

    1. Yes I just purchased the same kind last week, it is on sale now for $17.

  3. skua -- tea and chocolate. You're speaking my language now..

    MarshalN -- Yes, there are a few more on the shelf at Uwajimaya, and I'd be more than happy to send you one if you so desire :)

  4. Wow! What luck! It would be wonderful to find stuff that around here, in the deep south. Our local shop carries some decent green tea, but the pu-erh is a bottom of the barrel shu pu with leaves that look like they are from old fiddle oak leaves, haha. You've described what sounds like an interesting tea there, given the flavors and the 'nice clean sensation'. Sounds good!