Friday, April 8, 2011

2003 Ba Mai

Today's tea, a sample from Bana Tea Company -- the 2003 Ba Mai (sheng) -- is a good example of how one should never approach a tea with certain expectations.  As I wrote yesterday, it's been a few weeks since I've had anything pressed in the last 15 or so years.  The 2004 6FTM, with it's big sweet hay aromas, brought me to this Ba Mai (only one year older) with expectations of the same.  Silly me.

Although it rarely tells me anything about the taste and fragrance to come I do like to take a sniff of the dry leaves in these sample bags.  The Ba Mai smelled of vanilla hay which only strengthened my foolish idea that, "I pretty much know what this one's going to taste like" (at least I have a knack for providing myself with some humorous entertainment during these tea sessions).   I gave this one a long rinse as the leaves seemed to be reluctant to open very quickly.  I probably could have gone two rinses as my first infusion of 5-seconds didn't yield much in terms of taste.  But the story at this point was all in the fragrance, which started initially with big ripe fruit, sweet and full, and just the faintest hint of hay around the edges (which very well could have been my mind playing tricks on me, expecting more green hay from this tea).

A second infusion of 7-seconds (I was being careful with this one as I had sampled it some time ago and found it quite bitter, probably due to overly aggressive brewing).  The ripe fruit aroma has pulled way back and an interesting dance between sweet and savory begins that continues through the next several infusions.  It kept me guessing for some time -- will this turn into a predominance of sweet notes, or savory?  I'm not sure the tea even knew the answer.  From one infusion to the next it would bounce back and forth.  For this second infusion, anyway, the sweet notes became more caramelized sugars, mixed with a savory beany note.  Sounds odd, I know.  And yes, it was.  But it kept me guessing and alert (never a bad thing).  Taste-wise there was a very pleasant bitterness in the mouth and a savory quality to the flavor.  Most notably, a wonderfully soft sweetness filled my mouth soon after the sip, lingering for a very long time.

Third infusion, 9-seconds: a decidedly fruit-n-vegetable aroma, back to whiffs of ripe fruit this time mixed with a rich bean fragrance.  The taste is clean and savory but the mouth feel is thin and watery.  Still, that pleasant bitterness remains, bringing up some nice salivation now in my mouth.  Once again a long and lingering sweetness fills my mouth long after the sip.

Fourth infusion, 13-seconds (my apologies for this blow-by-blow, but this tea was so full of interesting developments I'm not sure how else to report it): the sweet notes in the aroma switch to dark caramel and sugars now and I wonder if this might be a glimpse of what the future holds for this tea.  A dark, not-too-sweet sweetness.  The hui gan penetrates more deeply now and my breath begins returning a perfumed coolness.  I'm noticing some good qi with this one, too.  Again, it's quite penetrating and brings forth some perspiration through my body along with a gentle mellowness.  And then there's that looooonnnnggggg lingering sweetness after the sip. Yummmm...

Fifth infusion, 23-seconds: The aroma is all vegetables now.  Mushrooms make an appearance with the beans, along with a sort of "vegetable sweetness."  If you've ever sauteed vegetables (especially mushrooms) for a very long time until their natural sugars begin to caramelize, *this* is what the sweetness is like.  Rich and savory.  The color of the tea liquor, which started out a pale golden, is now dark yellow with an orange hue.  The qi continues to deepen, bringing more perspiration to my skin.  And then that fantastic lingering sweetness.  Love that.

For the remaining infusions the aroma deepened more and more into rich sauteed mushrooms.  The qi and the hui gan with this tea were terrific.  The only thing I wished it had more of was a more substantial mouth feel and I wondered if this, too, might be something that could potentially develop as a tea ages?  Might also be worth experimenting with various tea cups, water and kettles (nods to Mattcha here :).


  1. You are good storyteller - as I said somewhere here before -It was pleasent to read. Thanks.

  2. Sipping 2002 Tai Lian Commemorative now, which is mostly a Jing Mai like the Ba Mai. Having a similar experience. Definitly buy up decent Jingmai before they're as hard to aquire as decent Yiwu.


  3. Petr -- thank you. You'll notice I've adopted your beautiful tea bowl as my most favorite to sip from. I love that tea bowl :)

    shah8 -- I see Tai Lian has a couple of commemorative cakes from that year. Which one would you suggest? And yes, I've already picked up some cakes of this one. Apparently price of it has really soared in HK recently (or so I've heard). But that lingering sweetness and qi... mmmmm :)

  4. The one with the globe wrapper, but I suspect any of the cakes offered by YS, other than the Yiwu brick is good.


    or maybe I just love jingmai.

  5. Dear LTPR,

    I recognize the gaiwan lid in your photo as one of particular quality.

    Where did you happen to acquire it?

    All the Best,
    Jason M. Cohen

  6. Hi Jason, and welcome :) I believe I purchased this gaiwan from a little tea shop in Seattle's international district. It wasn't expensive at all, so may not be the one you're thinking of. But I do love it. Especially how it's taking on a bit of a patina after so much use :)

  7. Dear LTPR,

    I believe it to be the same one that Tea Master Teaparker (Chih Jung Sien) was using as his personal travel Gaiwan on his recent visit to Penn State.

    I also believe it to be the same one pictured here:

    The gaiwan I am thinking of is made in DeHua in FuJian Provence.

    You may have gotten lucky!

    All the Best,