My life is too busy and I have too many interests to do in-depth tea-reviews of everything I drink.  But, I ordered many samples from Tea Urchin, and after several weeks of tasting, have finally gone through all of them at least once (most, 3+ times) and just wanted to gather a few of my thoughts.

Spring vs Autumn: Having tried both their autumn and spring varietals for both Gaoshan and Guafengs, I’d say I prefer the springs overall (no great surprise there) due to the greater crispness and resolution of the flavors, yet, down the road, it may matter less which started out as spring and autumn, particularly with the guafengzhai.

Guafengzhai Spring 2012: After a number of tastings of this unique tea, I have to say I like it a lot, but am not sure it is worth the price–it dies too quickly. Is this something that will change with aging?  I presume so, but I’m a novice in this matter.

On the other hand, at the exact same price, is the equally excellent (yet not written about yet by a single person so far) Miles Birthday Blend Spring 2012: With a mixture that is 80% Guafengzhai and 20% secret. Therefore, it has more in common with the GuafengZhai than any other of these teas, yet it is distinct–that 20% makes all the difference–it has a certain bitterness which is lacking in the pure GFZ that I find gives it a greater complexity, more depth, and in my mind, somehow (I could be wrong), continually found myself thinking that it is because of these differences that it could age better. What is that 20%? Mengku? Lincang? I don’t know Yunnan geography well enough to say, but I can certainly detect the difference.

the Gaoshanzhais I found to be very nice teas but ultimately a bit too mild for my taste to buy a cake at their going prices. They are long lasting, but I didn’t experience a huge range in the evolution of the taste over the sessions, even though I very much enjoyed it–much like a Taiwan high mountain oolong, by the analogy I made in my previous post.

Man Zhuan seems to me a very solid tea for its price. I think it’s hard to do much better than that for this level of quality and care. It mimics many features of some of their higher grade selections, just to a level commensurate with its price, as you might expect. For a person like me that isn’t buying tons and tons worth of tea and considers even a single cake a big purchase, I would probably pool my funds towards a pricier but deeper cake, but I don’t think you can go wrong for the 50 or so bucks it costs.

Wan Gong totally snuck up on me, since it wasn’t listed in their best sellers, and I’ve heard anyone talking about this village. I bought a sample of it primarily because of the extremely weird and entertaining description which included: Wan Gong village was abandoned a century ago after reputed cattle thieving led to a massacre of the local community..

How can you NOT try a tea with such macabre historical roots??

I’ve only had one big session with these leaves so far and thought they were excellent. It’s the same price as the Spring GS, but I like it better. Being a 3 hours walk from GFZ, it makes sense that tt has many of the GFZ characteristics, but a greater spread and dispersive energy that I wager will only get a lot better over time.  It’s a really interesting combination of fruity “green” ness with some of the underlying tingling-bitterness ( but not too much) I like–I think Tea Urchin’s description does not quite do it justice.

Bang Dong is not a tea urchin production, but rather a pressing by a friend of theirs, another mysterious item I knew nothing about beyond their description, and have not yet seen a review of. This is a very interesting tea coming from Lincang, and I wonder if it will go totally unnoticed. Like the Wan Gong, I find it has an interesting mixture of fruity+green+bitter that I find myself really liking, and perhaps a certain spiciness as well. It seems like a tea that has the potential to develop a lot of additional flavors over time. It had a unique energy, and it was a good reference point to try a tea that was not from TU but was carried (and connected) to TU.

Lao Man E.  This one is a hidden gem. It is described as being blended enough to attain a level of sweetness on top of the associated Bulang characteristics of intense bitterness such that it’s “not just for masochists”–so of course I had to try it. My girlfriend says I have an iron stomach, and I spent much of my time in Taiwan staring out into rain while slurping way too concentrated HM Oolong. At $68 for a cake, I’d say this is a very good value. It has an AWESOME energy to it that plenty of puer at greater prices does not possess. For me, the underlying greater level of bitterness and mouthfeel was balanced with just enough sweetness–and in fact, if I want sweetness, I have plenty of Dong Ding, Shan Lin Xi, and so on, sitting in my cupboard, so that’s not what I’m setting out to achieve by improving my Pu-Palate. I REALLY think this one is going to age well and develop hella complexity (this is norcal, after all) over time. I intend to buy a cake.

Finally, the Da Hong Pao I wish I could have ordered in a size smaller than 100 g, but for $30/100 g you pretty much get exactly what you pay for, no more, no less. I am NOT a puer coneuisseur compared to the likes of MarshalN and Tea Closet, et al.–but I would stand my ground as knowing a few things about oolong, my long-standing love. This DHP does not wow me, the flavors and energy are standard for the price you pay, and there are plenty of places I can go, both in person and on-line, to get higher quality Wuyi And TW GaoShan (at higher prices). But, for the everyday (or occasional) Wuyi feeling, it does the job just fine.

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