Outing: West China Tea House in Austin, TX

Sohan pouring tea

In my post on tea and travel, I mentioned that I didn’t need to pack any gongfucha essentials because if I needed my gongfucha “fix,” I could visit West China Tea House in Austin, run by the tea community great Sohan of the Tea House Ghost YouTube channel. Well, I didn’t just visit once, but twice! It’s a gorgeous space in an unassuming building off of I-35 and I had a blast.

The first visit was on a Wednesday evening, around 6pm, with a friend. We sat at the communal table, where you can have tea served by one of their tea-arts-trained staff for $5 a pot. We had Ben make us tea and he shared some of his favorites with us: the Sticky Rice Sheng Puer, the Haunted Plum 1992 Oolong, and the Ultra Violet Red Tea. The sense of community is palpable and my friend and I were able to both catch up with each other, as well as make new friends at the table. We met Sohan’s wife Lindsay and their baby, Lark, and just generally had a blast. Plus, I got to taste three new-to-me teas that I immediately turned around and ordered for my own collection so I could recreate my tea house session at home, at least in theory.

Golden Turtle oolong to start the session

The communal tea table itself bears mentioning. It is a beautiful piece in dark wood, designed by a well-known tea practitioner in California and perfect for communal gongfucha. Despite practicing gongfucha for over five years, I feel like sitting at this table truly helped me understand the essential community aspect of tea. The semi-circular ledge of the table makes it easy for the host to reach all the guests from the central seat, creating a seamless tea experience that allowed the tea to be a centerpiece or an accompaniment to conversation as the session went on.

Of course, I did not get to meet Sohan that evening, as he was teaching a class the whole time. So I had to return. I went back on a Saturday afternoon, when the tea house was quiet and Sohan had just finished an Instagram Live. We immediately sat down and were able to converse like old friends, over copious rounds of teas, from oolongs to heicha. Every session was a revelation of the style of tea, and of course included stories from Sohan about sourcing each tea. I had mentioned that I had never had a truly memorable Dancong and of course was treated to an excellent one. I felt so special, treated to teas picked just for me from Sohan’s collection.

A fascinating hei cha

And of course, we talked. We talked about tea and tea houses. We talked about history and tea culture. We talked about our children and about life in general. We talked like it was college and we were staying up drinking until the wee hours of the morning. We spent three hours drinking tea and talking and I only left to make it back to my room before an event I had that evening. I could have easily spent all day at the shop drinking tea and talking with Sohan, Bernabe, and Montsho.

I will definitely be returning to West China Tea House the next time I visit Austin, but until then, I’ll be replenishing my own collection with teas from their site to help capture that thought and care Sohan puts into choosing his teas in my own personal practice.

NB: Nothing to disclose. For information about collaborating with me, see my contact and collaboration information.

Tuesday Tasting: Witch’s Broom from Ohio Tea Co.

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Hallowe’en might be over, but I’m still in the spooky season mood, so what better tea than to brew than the most intriguing one from the Tea Thoughts Countdown to Halloween box? This was day eight’s gift and was the perfect tea to ring in the Hallowe’en season. Witch’s Broom from the Ohio Tea Co. is a raw puerh tea that is sold as a maocha, or loose leaves, and is so named because the long, large leaves (similar to a Tai Ping Hou Kui) look like besoms or brooms.

I decided to use MyTeaPal to brew because I was curious how it did with a more focused tasting, including notes, which I hadn’t tried yet, plus I seem to have misplaced my tea-tasting notebook. I brewed 5g of dry leaf in my 150-ml porcelain pot from Bitterleaf Teas with 190F water, as recommended by the package.

Immediately upon taking out the leaves, I noticed an earthy aroma, which only became more pronounced when I put them into the warmed pot. I did rinse them, as I tend to do with puerh, and noticed a damp earth and fragrant wood aroma on the wet leaf. I did my first infusion for ten seconds, after which, the liquor was very light in flavor, with hints of licorice and wood smoke.

The second infusion, which was for fifteen seconds, yielded a more pronounced juicy mouthfeel and smooth texture. The woody sweetness persisted, along with a stronger smoke note after the tea had been allowed to cool for a few minutes. The third infusion, for twent seconds, yielded a lighter flavor, though more smoke in the aromas. I was impressed by the utter lack of bitterness in this tea. Interestingly, while the packet says that this tea is aged for five years, the website says that the tea is from 2001, so it’s unclear just how long it has aged. My naive tastebuds suggest that the longer time might be correct.

On the fourth infusion, for thirty seconds, the leaf aroma seemed to be fading, but the texture was still smooth and juicy, with a slight fruity tang on the flavor, along with that subtle, but distinct, smoke flavor note. It’s interesting because this isn’t the kind of smoke note that would be on a smoked tea, but you can tell that there is some kind of smokiness to it, like when you sit near-ish to a campfire and still have some linger smoke aroma on your clothes, even after they’ve been airing overnight. In the puerh class I took with Victoria from MeiMei Fine Teas, she said that the smoke notes in puerhs usually come from the way that the teas are processed at the kill green stage, which is sometimes done in woks over wood fires, causing the leaves to pick up that subtle smokiness.

At the fifth infusion, for forty-five seconds, I noticed the flavor fading, but it still had such a nice mouthfeel that I was still enjoying the tea. That was the same for the sixth infusion, for a minute, so I decided to end the formal tasting there, though I might continue enjoying this tea throughout the day.

I will say, the shape of the leaves, and the little I know about the tea culture in the rural regions where puerhs were historically produced, suggests that this tea might be better enjoyed grandpa-style. Sadly, this does not lend itself well to a formal, note-taking tasting session, but I will likely try it in the future. The fact that this tea showed no bitterness seems promising for brewing it grandpa-style.

NB: Nothing to disclose. If you are interested in collaborating with me, please read my collaboration information for more details.

Tasting Tuesday: 2002 Tai Lian “Kunming Tea Market Opening” Anniversary Raw Puerh from Yunnan Sourcing’s “Intro to Puerh”

Today I’m finishing off the third in my series of raw puerhs from Yunnan Sourcing’s “Intro to Puerh” sampler. This week’s tasting is of the set’s aged raw puerh, which is the 2002 Tai Lian “Kunming Tea Market Opening” Anniversary Cake. I was particularly excited to taste this teas because I’ve been intrigued by aging and the effects of aging on teas. Next, I want to try different years of the same tea, which I happen to have from Crimson Lotus. But on to this tasting.

2002 Raw

I used 7.5 grams in a 120-ml gaiwan with water at 190F. I noticed aromas of henna and caramelized sugar from the dry leaf. I rinsed it and then steeped eleven times, starting with a ten-second steeping and increasing by five seconds each steeping until the last three steepings, which were one minute, ninety seconds, and two minutes. After a rinse, I got aromas of smoke from the gaiwan lid and fruitcake from the wet leaf.

After the first steeping, the gaiwan lid had an almost Lapsang-level of smoke aroma and the wet leaf had a light smoky aroma and some sugar. The liquor was whisky colored and smelled of Islay whisky. It had a medium-light body with no dryness or bitterness and a light fruity flavor. The second steeping started to open up more, with both lid and leaf smelling of smoke and peat. The liquor was slightly darker with a prune aroma. It was still a medium-light mouthfeel with a bit more dryness and the bitterness started coming through. It was a citrus-peel bitterness. The steeping reminded me of fruitcake soaked in good whisky.

By the third steeping, the leaf had started to smell a bit greener, though the lid was still smoky. The liquor was a darker amber color with a smoky aroma. There was more citrus peel bitterness and I noticed the smoke coming through in the flavor more. I could feel some sort of body sensation but couldn’t quite put my finger on what. The fourth steeping brought less smokiness and more fruitcake into the aroma and I felt like the bitterness was evolving. By the fifth steeping, I was noticing a long sweetness behind the bitterness and the sixth steeping brought an interesting bright astringency.

The seventh steeping felt like it had mellowed. I wrote that it’s “just kind of warm and cozy,” with a bright citrus peel flavor and a little tingle. On the eighth steeping, I noticed a bit of anise aroma and a tiny hint of maple in the flavor. I pushed it on the ninth, tenth, and eleventh steepings because I could tell the flavor was starting to fade, but I was still enjoying it. I noticed it mellow into a creamy mouthfeel with flavors of sweet fruits. The tenth steeping had a lovely viscosity to the mouthfeel and a sugar sweetness, but by the eleventh steeping it was obviously done.

2002 Raw 2

The spent leaves show a slightly varied color, ranging from olive green to tan, with more broken leaves. I found this tea very interesting and I’m really curious to try it again in silver.

Tuesday Tasting: 2014 Yunnan Sourcing Wu Liang Mountain Wild Arbor Raw Pu-erh from “Intro to Pu-erh”

Today, I’m continuing my tasting of the raw pu-erhs in Yunnan Sourcing’s “Intro to Pu-erh” sampler with their single estate raw pu-erh, the 2014 Wu Liang Mountain Wild Arbor raw pu-erh. Once again, this sample is a piece taken off a larger cake, and the sampler includes 25g of this tea, so I can taste it a few times. I tasted it in gaiwan for these notes.

2014 Raw

I used 7.26 grams in a 120-ml gaiwan with 190F water. After warming my teaware, I got aromas of henna, cardamom, and earth off the dry leaf. I did a rinse and then noticed aromas of fruit and woodsmoke from the wet leaf. I steeped this ten times, starting at ten seconds and increasing by five seconds each steeping, until a final steeping of a minute.

The first steeping gave off aromas of woodsmoke, fruitcake, and plums from the gaiwan lid and the wet leaf itself. The liquor was gold with a henna aroma. It had a medium-light body with no bitterness. There was a faint juiciness to the flavor, with initial notes of cardamom and ginger and a peach or apricot aftertaste. The second steeping, the liquor darkened slightly to an apricot color. The wet leaf smelled of green wood smoke and henna and the liquor had a faint fruity aroma. This steeping got a tiny bit of hoppy bitterness started, with some apricots (a blend of dried and fresh). I already started noticing a languid energy to this tea, and the cup had a sweet herbal aroma.

2014 Raw 2

The third steeping, the liquor darkened a bit more. The gaiwan lid had a henna aroma while the wet leaf had a sandalwood aroma. The liquor had a very balanced smooth bitterness, a lubricating mouthfeel, and an aftertaste of apricots and smoke. The fourth steeping brought out more smoke aromas from the liquor, and a light bitterness on the flavor and additional notes of smoky whisky and sweetness. It had an aromatic herbal finish. By the fifth steeping, I noticed the smokiness fading and the fruit coming forward. I got aromas of fresh, ripe apricots. The bitterness was also fading, with aromatic herbal flavors coming forward and a sweet aftertaste.

The sixth steeping, I started noticing an incense-y aroma off the leaves and a tip-of-the-tongue bitterness that reminded me of grapefruit peel, with a lighter mouthfeel. The seventh steeping have a beautiful balanced bitterness and aromas of incense and fruitcake. By the eighth steeping, I noticed the aromas fading somewhat, though it still had a nice apricot aroma on the liquor. The bitterness was fading, though the fruitiness remained and it had an anise aftertaste. By the ninth steeping, the aromas and flavors were still fading, and by the tenth steeping, it was obviously done.

The wet leaves were an even olive color, with some smaller leaves and buds.

Tuesday Tasting: 2015 Menghai Tea Factory 7542 Recipe Raw Puerh from Yunnan Sourcing’s “Intro to Puerh”

This week, I’m starting a little series where I share tastings from the puerhs in Yunnan Sourcing’s sampler called “Introduction to Puerh.” I got this after my stitch and sip video where I was thinking that I should learn more about puerh. I’ve had really good luck with Yunnan Sourcing’s curated oolong samplers, so I figured they’d do a good job with a puerh sampler. The sampler has six different teas, half ripe and half raw puerh, with examples of each from a classic recipe, a single estate, and an aged sample. The aged samples are both older than fifteen years.

2015 Raw

So on to this tea. The 2015 Menghai raw is a piece taken off a larger cake. I used 7.4g in a 120-ml gaiwan with water at 190F. The dry leaf, as you can see, is slightly broken from the compression into the cake, and has a medium-deep brown color with some lighter bits. It looks to have small leaves. After warming my teaware and the dry leaf, I got aromas of raisins and date bread.

I rinsed the tea and found the wet leaves gave off aromas of dried fruit on the gaiwan lid and damp earth on the leaves themselves. I steeped it starting wth ten seconds and increasing by five seconds each time, for eight steepings.

The first steeping had a light amber colored liquor and sweet malty aromas on the gaiwan lid, sweet and earthy aromas on the wet leaf, and a sweet fragrant aroma on the liquor itself. The mouthfeel was light, with a sweet and herbal flavor. The second steeping, some herbal aromas started coming out of the lid, while the leaf aroma settled into earthiness and a fruitcake and brandy aroma arose from the liquor itself. The liquor was slightly darker and had a rounder mouthfeel, with a spicy flavor reminiscent of alcohol.

By the third steeping, the bitterness started coming through. The lid and leaf aromas had taken on a henna aroma that I associate with raw puerh, and the liquor had a brandy aroma. The flavor had a pronounced but not unpleasant bitterness in the back of the throat with a floral and herbal quality to it, like hops. there was a little dried fruit in the flavor with no astringency and a syrupy mouthfeel.

On the fourth steeping, the bitterness mellowed and moved into the front of the mouth, with an almost umami savory quality to the flavor. The fifth steeping, I noticed more funky earthy aromas from the leaf and a purely bitter, non-sweet flavor from the liquor, with a tiny bit of dryness on the finish. The sixth and seventh steepings held steady with henna aromas and balanced bitterness with a dry finish. By the eighth steeping, it was still the same and I decided to finish the session.

The spent leaves were an even olive-green color and showed mostly broken leaves. I’m excited by this as a really excellent example of the delights of bitterness in a raw puerh, and I’m curious how the other samples compare.