2013 Xiaguan “Holy Flame” Baoyan Raw Puerh from Crimson Lotus Tea

Hello Tea Friends,

Today I will be reviewing an interesting and somewhat traditional Tibetan  tea called Holy Flame. This tea is intended to be used as the base for Tibetan Yak Butter Tea (Po Cha) which is consumed daily in Tibet. I have tried some instant mixes for Yak Butter Tea in the past and honestly found them disgusting, though saying that I am not a buttermilk fan in general. I found it to be far too salty and sickly that I couldn’t drink it. Perhaps having it fresh would make a difference but I may never find out. Either way when I saw Holy Flame for sale and the intention for the tea I was immediately interested to try it. I may not have liked Yak Butter Tea but I may like the Sheng base. I also like the idea of drinking something that is common in Tibet and actually what they would drink themselves. Though I have never visited, Tibet has always been a wondrous place in my mind

Opening the packet (which has awesome wrapper art by the way) I can note the Chinese characters for Xiaguan which is a district in China as well as being a town near the Southern end of Yunnan. Primarily speaking this region is very well known for their tea production and have some wonderful teas to boast. The brick is rather dark in colour with a hue of brown, dark brown and dark green colours. I can also note some stems/sticks are present and the leaves are a mixture of sizes as though they were loosely chopped before processing. It smells musty and wooden though subtle with a hint of smoke.

The tea has some steeping instructions on the website.

Use 5-10 grams of leaves and brew with 75-150ml ( 2.5-5oz ) of water at or near boiling. Rinse once for a few seconds. Start with quick steeps under 10s. With each re-steep adjust the steep time to your taste.

My steeping parameters: 100ml gaiwan, 7g leaf, boiling water. I will also rinse the leaf as suggested.

First Steep – 7  seconds 

The tea soup is light brown in colour and bares a dry earth and smoke scent.

The flavour is mild in comparison to it’s pungent aroma. There is a smoky taste with some astringency in the after taste that leads to some dryness. Further bowls show an increase of depth and it becomes stronger though not by much.

Second Steep – 7 seconds 

The astringency is stronger and now bares a wooden must that somewhat matches the scent. It’s certainly strong and powerful considering such short steeps. The smoke still lingers in the aftertaste.

Third Steep – 10 seconds 

This is a more balanced steep in terms of astringency and smoke, either that or my pallet is used to it. However, the dryness has increased in the aftertaste and leaves my tongue almost dry.

Fourth Steep – 15 seconds 

The first sip comes across as astringent but it quickly softens into a smoky melody that envelopes my tongue and dances on the taste buds. Also the dryness is still present though not much of an issue.

Fifth Steep – 20 seconds 

Even on this steep it’s strong with ever pressing smoke and astringency. Also some sweetness coming through in the after taste.

Sixth Steep – 25 seconds 

This is starting to relax in strength but it’s still at a nice level. Smoke and wood with astringency still hang in the aftertaste.

Seventh Steep – 30 seconds 

It’s certainly starting to calm down but still has each flavour present.

Eighth Steep – 40 seconds 

And the flame burns out. There is little left in this steep apart from subtle smoke, a distance memory of a once lively Holy Flame that burnt bright.

Conclusion: This Sheng packs a pleasant punch with a lot of  mouth feel that makes you wonder what each steep will bring. Like the flame of a candle; it burnt brighter and intensified until it inevitably burnt itself out to leave a smoky finish. Alright that is enough fire talk, I will extinguish any more fire based puns before I get on someone’s wick.

On a more serious note, it promised to be a strong tea and it delivered. Not only that but considering I used average leaf weight for minimum steep time it produced eight successful steeps. While this may be cheap and intended to be used as a base tea I like it as it is. It’s very suited for an everyday tea and I know I will end up taking this to work to drink so I can close my eyes with each sip and pretend I’m in Tibet.

Until next time, Happy Steeping!


Here’s the scoop!

Leaf Type: Raw/Sheng Puer
Where to Buy: Crimson Lotus Tea

logoDescription:

This tea is a literal staple of the Tibetan diet. Xiaguan is the largest supplier of tea to the people of Tibet. This brick is cheap and affordable and a great source of energy. It is primarily used to make Tibetan Yak Butter Tea. It is consumed daily with barley powder. These bricks are called “Baoyan” (宝焰) which means “Holy Flame”.

We found these bricks without wrappers being stored in Tibet while traveling there this Spring. We bought what we could and created our own wrappers. This isn’t a fancy tea. It is however unique and cheap. It is meant as a daily drinker for people living in the highlands of the Himalayas. This is a very strong tea. It will be smoky with hay and alfalfa notes. It brews smooth but with bitterness and astringency. It pairs perfectly with yak butter.

These bricks were Tibetan stored since early 2013. The Chinese characters stamped into the face of the brick say Xiaguan (下关).

Learn even more about this tea and tea company here!

“Planet Jingmai” Ancient Tree Sheng Pu-erh from Crimson Lotus Tea

Planet-JingmaiTea Information:

Leaf Type:  Pu-erh

Where to Buy:  Crimson Lotus Tea

Tea Description:

“A world of flavor in the palm of your hand!”

Don’t let their small size fool you. These tiny spheres of puerh are made from 300yo Gushu/Ancient Tree material from Jingmai. They were picked and processed in Spring of 2014. They have been aged loose as maocha in Jingmai until now. They are fantastic. The aroma is thick with honey. The flavor is smooth and floral with just enough bitterness and astringency to keep your palate interested. 

Learn more about this tea here.

Taster’s Review:

Mmm!  OK, so I say that a lot when it comes to tea.  But I don’t often say it when it comes to Pu-erh!  At least, not so you – our readers – can “hear” it.  But this “Planet Jingmai” Ancient Tree Sheng Pu-erh from Crimson Lotus Tea has earned the “mmm!”

This tastes more like honey than Pu-erh.  (When reading the word ‘honey’ in the previous sentence, you should hear it the way that Mr. Wonderful aka Kevin O’Leary says “money.”)  It is sweet and delicious and so honey-like, you’ll wonder why you’re not all sticky after drinking it.

Planet-Jingmai-PlateMy second cup is even more honey-esque.  I’m still searching for something that reminds me of a pu-erh.  It doesn’t taste earthy, it doesn’t have a mushroom-y taste.  Just beautifully sweet.  Perhaps a hint of vegetation and a light touch of floral notes.  But mostly, honey is what I taste this time too.

And this pearl of tea takes quite a while to unfurl too!  It wasn’t until after my third infusion that the orb looked more like a tea and not a ball of yarn.  After my fourth infusion, I noticed that the leaves were beginning to settle in a heap rather than staying wound in the ball.

The flavor of the honey notes begins to wane by the fourth infusion.  It was with this infusion that I started to pick up on more floral notes with hints of earthy vegetation than a strong honey-like flavor.  I’m still tasting honey notes even in my fifth infusion, but, they continue to soften with each new infusion.

By the end of the sixth infusion, the leaves had fallen away from the ball shape and had become a pile of wet leaves.  There is still plenty of flavor to them though, and I kept on going until I finished my ninth infusion.  I probably could have gotten even more from this tea!

This tea is a PLANET of flavor!  I highly recommend the journey.

2005 Changtai Yun Pu Zhi Dian “Top of the Clouds” Sheng Pu-erh from Crimson Lotus Tea

2005-Changtai-Yun-Pu-Zhi-DianTea Information:

Leaf Type:  Pu-erh

Where to Buy:  Crimson Lotus Tea

Tea Description:

This is a very special puerh prepared by the Yunnan Changtai Tea Industry Group. The blenders who work for Changtai are true masters of their craft. The leaves in this puerh are a blend of 15 mountains, Spring picked in 2005. The name for this cake “Yun Pu Zhi Dian” means “Top of the Clouds”. Since Yunnan means “Southern Clouds” this name has a double meaning. It refers to the heavenly experience and also that this puerh contains the best from Yunnan.

Learn more about this tea here.

Taster’s Review:

I’ve often thought of pu-erh as a cooler weather type of tea because it’s a tea that I prefer to be served hot.  As the tea cools, I find that the flavors begin to mute and become lost.

And yes, I do drink hot tea even in the summer months, in fact, I drink more hot tea than I do iced tea in the summer months, but, I don’t drink as much hot tea in the summer as I do in the cooler months.

2005-Changtai-Yun-Pu-Zhi-Dian2So when I drink a pu-erh, I’m often reminded of the cooler days of autumn and winter, but as I sip this 2005 Changtai Yun Pu Zhi Dian “Top of the Clouds” Sheng Pu-erh from Crimson Lotus Tea, the tea seems to be evoking thoughts of late spring and early summer.

Perhaps it’s the lovely notes of fruit that develop throughout the infusions, starting off with a soft hint of apricot and in later infusions, I notice that the sweet apricot notes are accentuated with a contrasting sour note of tart apple.

Perhaps it’s the lovely background note of flower that seems to bring to mind thoughts of floral aromas filling the air in the spring.  Or maybe it’s the delicate woodsy notes and hints of vegetative earthy tones that remind me of the trees as signs of their springtime foliage begin to grow.

This tea is beautifully smooth and sweet with notes of fruit and honey.  In the earliest infusions, the fruit notes are strongest, but as I continue to steep, the honey develops and the fruit begins to wane somewhat.

Meanwhile, the woodsy notes are developing.  These aren’t musty wood notes, but clean, vibrant woodsy tones.   The tea has a sweetness to it that is balanced with the aforementioned notes of sour apple.

I’ve only just been introduced to this company – Crimson Lotus – but I am quite impressed with this tea.  They specialize in Pu-erh teas.  Those new to Pu-erh will find this a fantastic resource of teas that are good ‘starting out’ Pu-erh (and since they specialize in Pu-erh, they’ll be a great resource of knowledge for you too!)  And for those of you who are more experienced with Pu-erh, I think you’ll find that Crimson Lotus has an amazing selection of intriguing teas.

As for me, I highly recommend this Top of the Clouds Sheng!  It’s delightful!