Friday, June 3, 2011

Two generations of one special tea

chubby new yixing pot
I find myself drinking a LOT of tea lately.  Part of this is due to impatience.  If I sit down with a new sample and it doesn't impress me quickly I pull out one or two more to try.  But more often I'll find myself trying a new puerh and thinking, "Oh, this one reminds me of the X tea from Y factory" and so I'll pull that one off the shelf and do a side-by-side tasting.  It's actually been very educational and a great way to further develop the palate (not to mention helping me justify all this tea I'm collecting!).  

I want to write a bit about a taste-compare I did the other day with the 1996 Truly Simple Elegant and a tea that's marketed as the "2nd generation" of this renowned tea, the 2003 Green Snow Manor (or Hut, as I've also seen it advertised).  But first a bit about my new yixing purchase.  After simmering it in the TongQing Longma last week it smelled heavenly and I've been drinking more shu than I normally do in an effort to really break it in.  But I'm finding some annoyances with this new teapot.  It pours in spurts, and despite tipping it this way and that to try to empty it of tea after a steeping it's still left with a puddle of tea at the bottom of the pot.  The only explanation for this is the type of filter inside the pot.

New yixing on the left, my old stand-by on the right

It's a ball filter, and if you look closely you'll see that the filter holes are set a short distance away from the inside surface of the pot.  This would explain why I keep finding extra tea water in the bottom of my pot between steepings.  The matter of the flow of the pour is another issue.  My old teapot, with nine holes pierced into the actual body of the pot (on the right above) pours wonderfully.  When I tip it on it's side the tea flows out smoothly, taking about 7-8 seconds to pour, eventually slowing to a few drips.  To empty the pot fully I just give it a few shakes.  Very simple.  But this ball-filtered new pot is a bit different.  I can't just tip the pot sideways to pour like with my other one.  If I do I get lots of tea coming out from under the lid and the pour comes out in uneven spurts.  Instead, I have to be more careful with this one, only tipping it partially to start the pour and gradually rotating it to finish.  As a result, the total pour time is a bit longer, about 9-10 seconds.  I also wonder how much this slower pour has to do with the smaller holes.

So, onto the teas.  The 2003 Green Snow Manor (GSM) is said to be the 2nd generation of the Truly Simple Elegant, picked from the very same trees.  Although I don't know for sure, I'm guessing this means the trees weren't picked in the seven years between the manufacture of the two cakes, but I could be wrong.  One thing's for sure, the GSM's price is significantly inflated thanks to it's provenance.

I knew it wasn't completely fair to be comparing the two outright.  Not only is there a 7-year difference in age but the TSE has some unique characteristics that would be hard to repeat, like leaves from trees that hadn't picked for decades  So I wasn't expecting them to taste the same, but I was interested to see if I could detect how they were related.

Initial rinses and pours were predictable, with the GSM showing a more solid yellow soup compared to the orange-amber color of the TSE.  The aromas from the GSM were also more characteristic of it's youth, with bright fruit notes mixed with green hay.  The TSE, by comparison, was clearly aged.  Deep woods and leathers with very little fruit, although it also had an aroma I came to call "violet."  Not fruity and not quite floral, but deeply perfumed in a purple-ish sort of way (if that makes any sense).  As the steepings grew in number I kept trying to find hints of the TSE in the GSM, but couldn't locate any, and I just don't have enough knowledge of how puerh ages to know whether or not the GSM was just a younger version of the TSE that would someday grow more like it, or if it would never hope to match it.

GSM on the left, TSE right
As in previous tastings of the TSE, the tea was terrifically powerful.  While the tea is hot it tastes of pure clean water which might leave you wondering what the fuss is all about, but it quickly becomes apparent as the strength of this tea permeates your body, pulling salivation, bringing perspiration, perfuming the breath, not to mention the full-body qi.  As the tea soup cools though, it displays perfumed woody notes and a deep bitter quality (the good kind), as though you're tasting it from deep inside your body.  While there was no comparison between the TSE and GSM in terms of aroma or taste, I then tried to focus on this matter of 'feeling.'  But once again, there was simply no comparison.  I even tried to trick my mind at one point, trying to convince myself that the TSE had less strength and the GSM more strength, but there was no denying it.

In the end I learned only that these teas, despite their connection of source of leaves and processing, are two very different puerhs.  The TSE is clearly special and unique, but if I was served a variety of 2003 shengs, including the GSM, I would be hard pressed to pick it out of the crowd.


  1. There's a reason I avoid ball filter pots like the plague. They're not a good idea, generally speaking.

    Where did the GSM come from? I don't think I've ever seen/heard of it.

  2. I've seen bings that claim to be such, but from 2001. I've never taken such claims seriously.


  3. Yes, this will definitely be my first and last ball-filter teapot. Just can't figure out the advantage of it (even from the potter's perspective). I got the GSM sample from a friend, but the Best Tea House stores carry it.

  4. Another interesting post indeed.

    Thanks for bringing out the filter issue. I believe that those ball-filters came from Japanese teapots. If you pour for example sencha (especially with deep steaming) it tends to stock all holes, no matter how much and how small those holes are. But with the ball-filter those leaves sit on the side and tea can flow out. Maybe also for some Chinese teas it can be better. But it is good to know that Pu is not that case. Thanks

    Enjoy your day

  5. I have noticed the same with ball filters, though it depends on the location of holes in relation to the pot yixing has diamond shaped filter holes that tends to clog...Petr has an interesting observation. FWIW, some like Jing at Jing Tea Shop feel you should not totally empty a yixing or gaiwan, but retain a small amount (called the root) for subsequent infusions...nice post.

  6. Interesting! Is that one of the newish pots from Teamasters? I picked one up a few months ago--for the price (I think about $60) I thought it was pretty good, though the clay isn't the best I've ever seen and the stream sort of leans to the right. Other than that issue, the pour is pretty fast and clean without much chugging unless I point it down immediately. If that's where yours is from, it sounds like there may be a bit of a variability issue in QC from that potter.

    I'm not too hot on ball filters, either. You can usually empty most of the tea, but it takes work, so I find they usually do better with roasted oolong or shou pu-erh. Since you drink a lot of younger pu-erh, the chances of extra water resulting in uncontrolled bitterness and oversteeping is a serious issue.

  7. Petr -- thanks for the info on some of the advantages of a ball filter. It could be that some drink Pu with pots like this with no problem. Interestingly, someone told me recently that you could (if you're brave) just break out the ball filter part. I must say, I'm tempted..

    wuyi -- I think the 'root' talked about on the Jing Tea Shop site is in reference to green teas, but I could be wrong :)

    Elliot -- you guess right. I picked this one up from Teamasters, so the fact that I'm struggling with it leads me to wonder if it has more to do with my own ineptitude :) than with the design and quality of the pot. But since I was planning to dedicate this one to shou then maybe it'll work out?

  8. Two of the three yixing pots I purchased from Teamasters have ball filters . One is a 100ml Duanni Duo Qio pot that I use for shu puerh , the other is a 150ml modern Zhuni Xishi pot that I use for rolled Taiwanese oolong . I have never had any problems with either of them . All the best ! Simeon .

  9. Thank you Simeon :) I'm glad you mention this. Teamasters is certainly known to offer very good quality tea and tea ware. I'm sure my issues with the ball filter speak more to my learning curve than anything.

  10. Your chubby new yixing pot has a more poetic name. Its derived from a Ming dynasty design and most pot in this particular shape is name after its Ming Dynasty predecessor."West Lake Muse".

    Should look a green clay version which sparked its popularity.

  11. Just to add on to the historical background of Xi Shi

    Xizi 西子 was the nickname of Xi Shi 西施 or Shi Yiguang 施夷光, one of four famous beauties in history. It was said that she was considered even more beautiful when she frowned. In a story of self-sacrifice and intrigue, Xi Shi and the beauty Zheng Dan 鄭旦 were sent in vengeance from the State of Yüe to beguile King Fuchai (Ji Fuchai 姬夫差, reign 495-473 BCE) of the State of Wu. Infatuated by their charms, King Fuchai neglected the duties of his throne, and the kingdom of Wu was defeated by Yüe forces in 473 BCE. Once again, Li Bo flattered Zhongfu, this time by comparing the monk to the famous beauty.


  12. tea immortal (love the name!) -- a big thank you for these comments!! "West Lake Muse" is a great name. I've never heard of a green clay version but I'll look for it, even just to see what one looks like. Great info about Xi Shi, too. I've been slowly making my way through the Chadao blog archives but hadn't found that one yet. So much great info there. love-love-love your comments :) thank you so much for taking the time to write them!

  13. To brew a good cup of green puer, you need a bigger pot. Use less leaves and steep the tea longer. The liquor should be deep golden brown. Pour the brew into a wide rim teacup and let it cool. It best drunk when its is tepid.

    The best teapot are the brownish purple clay variety. The pot should be highly fired to achieve this colour. when hit the pot should produce a high pitch resonant tone.

    Water from a slight hard source are the best. The water should be broiled in a heavy base kettle over slow heat to prevent the lost of chi in the water. A good kettle will produce small bubble when the water is boiling.

  14. "Amazing how simple it can be to communicate with people and have them understand a certain topic, you made my day."

  15. Dear Loose Leaf -- you've just made my day, as well :) Thank you!