54 Tasting Notes
The processing seems to have treated the leaves well—they look nice and the “roasted” aroma is light and adds nicely to the overall scent. The dry leaf aroma is clean, of dried fruits, and slightly floral. This dan cong reminds me a great deal of Jing’s phoenix dan cong, with higher levels of florals and less pronounced peach notes in the liquor’s flavor. Smelling the wet leaves after the first steep takes me back to my early days of drinking loose leaf teas (Jing’s phoenix dan cong was one of my first). Hints of guava mixed with the regular floral and wood-charcoal aromas. At this point, the leaves are still tightly raveled, but reveal that characteristic green/red/brown coloration dan congs tend to have.
The liquor possesses a nice, light amber/peach liquor coloration, becoming progressively darker into the middle steeps. Always very clear, though. Excellent liquor aroma: sweet, floral, hint of inoffensive charcoal. Body is smooth with faint sparkling characteristics.
When it comes to the flavor, I have noticed that fewer leaves treat the brew better with this tea. When I really load up the gaiwan, I have difficulty finding balance between bitterness and flavor, even with cooler water and extremely short steep times. It was either way too bitter, or there was no bitterness paired with no complexity as well.
Anyway, when the parameters were acceptable, the flavor really shined. The first few steeps were sweet and buttery, with nectar and honey flavors and an aftertaste of peach. Astringency was minimal if steep time was in check, and a nice kuwei, or throaty bitterness, was present in the second and third steep. Yet, as with many dan congs, the infusions of this one become dull, flat, but very sweet, after around the fourth or fifth steep. At any rate, this is certainly one of the better “generic” dan congs.
I have, “A definitely good hongcha, this one is,” written in my tea journal for one session with this Dian hong. While I can’t comment on my Yoda-esque prose I seem to have adopted that day, it adequately sums up this tea. It’s a mid-grade Dian hong, possessing fair amounts of both black leaves and golden budsets, and it certainly shows in the cup. While I prefer the all-buds Dian hongs, I both enjoy and respect the qualities brought out with the blend. That Yunnan “peppery” flavor often becomes lost with the higher grades or mutates uncontrollably with the lower grades, shows up in just the right amounts in this tea to blend nicely with the strong sweetness and dark, fruity aromatics. For the last session, I used the remainder of my sample, which took up between a third and a half of the gaiwan. It produced a far more complex brew, but most notably intensified the pepper-fruit interaction. I was excited about this, because I am usually unable to receive decent results with a large amount of leaf when it comes to Dian hongs. The texture usually ends up being too thick and muddles the more subtle tones somehow.
The aftertaste and mouthfeel are thick and starchy, giving rise to that “yam-like” perception often received from this type of tea. It’s always something I look for with Dian hongs, and this one does it fairly well. The aftertaste in this one, however, often becomes a bit salty and it if overbrewed at all, it is difficult to get past the maltiness, especially in later steeps when many of the initially interesting flavors have considerably declined in intensity. The liquor is also noticeably murky, but seems to clear up after the first few steeps.
After the disappointment with the Huangshan Maofeng, I made sure to wait a while before tasting this for the first time. The first session took place a week or so ago and the pu’er aromatics were mostly absent at that point. Today I re-tasted this Dian hong and could not detect pu’er tainting, but still came to the same general conclusion: I am not a fan.
It is completely possible that I’m being a spoiled brat after tasting the two top grades of Dian hong first (specifically Verdant Tea’s “Golden Fleece” and Teavivire’s “Golden Tip”) before drinking the lower quality stuff. But indeed, this is low quality stuff. Just from the dry leaves I can see all kinds of random treasures that shouldn’t necessarily be there and provide inconsistency: tons of twigs and off-color leaves/stems. The wet leaves provide more insight: to one extreme, a green-colored stem-bud combination that seemed to have escaped processing all together, and overly processed broken leaves to the next extreme. They smell somewhat artificial and highly pungent, masking the yam-like qualities Dian hongs are known for. Subtle aromas of chocolate and malt are present, but I am left grasping for them when it comes to the liquor.
The liquor is ruddy and cloudy in all but the first steep, which has decent clarity. The flavor is aggressive and potent, which by itself is not terrible, but it’s much too metallic for me and leaves a drying aftertaste. There are some nice peppery notes available that are enjoyable on their own, but I can’t really find a base for all the rough flavors floating around, making the brew seem unstable. I can imagine this might be decent to use as a blend as ESGREEN suggests in their description, perhaps to add depth and roughness, but I find it unpleasant on its own. Given a current price of less than four dollars per two ounces, I suppose I shouldn’t complain.
Ummm, I hate to say this, but this tea was really tainted on its way here. The ESGREEN samples this time around consisted of pu’er, a black tea, and this maofeng. I’m sure you can guess what occurred. Into the fourth steep one of the main flavors is still like young sheng and the wet leaves smell like spent sheng leaves. It certainly fades from the first steep which just tasted like diluted, vegetal sheng pu’er, but the heavy aromas of aged tea really seeped into these leaves during the months of travel and nothing but a single layer of plastic to shield them.
I used half the sample for this review, so I’ll let the rest air out for a while before I taste this tea again, but I believe the damage is already done. However, there are some things I can speak of that were not affected. While the dry leaves are somewhat faded in coloration, they seem to have been made from decent quality material. Downy hairs are clearly noticeable on many and once wet, the appearance is brought back to life with bright greens and delicate small leaves. Few mottled leaves or odd colors present. While many are broken, they are generally broken in half or quarters, so most of it is probably due to crumbling during shipping. This is opposed to chunks missing from sides of leaves or holes in the middle of them. The serrated edges are very much intact as well.
The above I wrote about a month ago. After this much time of airing out and also tasting another lovely Huangshan Maofeng from Teavivre, I went back to this tea and gave it another shot. Thankfully, it wasn’t like I was drinking shengpu-flavored green tea, but unfortunately, there was nothing else left. The scents of smoke and young shengpu are still caught up in the wet leaves and aroma of the liquor in the first two steeps, but the flavor is practically absent. Long two-minute steeps in the gaiwan provided no remedy, only bitter water. It’s impossible to taste any of the sweet, vegetal, and nutty qualities that I now love about this type of green tea. ESGREEN should definitely reevaluate either their shipping methods or their tea choices when sending samples. The all heicha/pu’ercha sample packs in the past worked well, but this past round was just a good way to ruin what probably could have been a decent green tea.
I tried this sample from Esgreen twice: once on my own with notes and once with a close friend who enjoys pu’ercha during our weekly weiqi session.
I have mixed opinions on this tea. The flavor is interesting, and although the profile is strange for sheng, it’s pleasant enough. The smoky Lapsang-esque aromatics are very apparent, and seem far too potent to suggest natural nuances from the leaves themselves. It may hint at “yan wei,” or smokiness resulting from wood stove drying as opposed to sun drying. This is usually caused when the leaves are dried during the summer months, when the rainy skies prevent the leaves to be dried outside by sunlight, and these summer shengs are generally considered to be lower quality. I won’t pretend to know whether or not that is true for this sheng, but the unbalance of the smoke seems to come from the exterior of the leaf rather than the interior (cf. the Esgreen 2008 sheng zhuan sample from this round, which is also smoky, but does not taste as “smoked”).
The sweetness brought on by the buds is apparent. Besides woody flavors that are more noticeable in the beginning of the session, fruity and sweet floral flavors abound. However, there is a serious lack of power in the leaves. The amount of small leaves and buds may account for both of these features. Considering an age of only about two years for these cakes, the serious lack of texture and absence of throaty kuwei is concerning. The liquor is mild and presents an almost indiscernible cha qi, sitting somewhat unpleasantly in the stomach. The aftertaste is sweet, and there is a very slight bitterness present. I would not say that this is one of the strong points, however.
With sweetness and smokiness being the most noteworthy aspects of this very young sheng, I would not consider storing this for aging. Besides flavor, which begins wearing off after five steeps, this sheng provides a pretty boring session and doesn’t have much else to it.
I must sincerely thank Teavivre (Angel) for the opportunity to try this. I’ve been reading loads and loads on pu’ercha recently (and working through quite a bit of samples), and I would definitely recommend this as a learning experience. Recently I had a (very long) session with this sheng over a couple games of weiqi with a friend who was also impressed with this tea.
I would probably not consider Teavivre to be a go-to vendor for pu’ercha, but what they do have seem to be of a great quality. I’m strongly considering purchasing a tuo of this sheng to age further, because I feel it has great potential and is already quite good as it stands. I may instead go with the 2006 Fengqing cake they sell, which from what I have read has similar properties to this tuocha (at least from what I can compare) and is thought highly of in the blogosphere. I have of late been leaning towards the acquisition of tuochas, though, as they are quite convenient for me: smaller amount of leaf compared to the standard 357g cakes, allowing multiple to be purchased for close to the same price as one cake (which means variety and less per cake on “tuition” costs if I end up making an error in judgment), but still enough leaf to age for a while.
Anyway, back to the sheng at hand. The compression of the tuo is extremely high. The sample bag containing an intact chunk was like a rock and refused to be broken up cooperatively until after a rinse of near-boiling water. The compression shows in the wet leaves, which are a right mess of fragmented leaves and small pieces, but the resulting liquor proves mature, although somewhat murky in early steeps. In fact, both the leaves and the liquor are noticeably dark for younger sheng. Midway through the session, the coloration becomes a dark amber with a faint, but nonetheless noticeable lighter meniscus. All together, these signs seem to point to good storage and a decent bit of aging.
The liquor, while not entirely “complex” in flavor, provides a very smooth mouthfeel that translates nicely into a sweet aftertaste and a cooling huigan. Later on more of a sparkling texture is apparent mid-sip. To add balance, there is a strong, enveloping kuwei (bitterness) in the throat that is not at all unpleasant and lingers expectedly. Based on so many fragmented leaves, the taste is actually far less bitter (and far sweeter) that I would have expected. Sewei (unpleasant astringency) is minimal and mostly detected upon the tongue tip and lips. There are light notes from the fruity spectrum to add depth and touches of tobacco flavors that provide a robustness, separating it from the youthful sheng with grassy, floral complexions. Sweet floral and caramel aromas are trapped under the gaiwan lid, while added deep fruity scents show up in the empty cup.
By the third steep, a developing cha qi is present and becomes quite strong. Good bursts of positive energy that linger even past the 15 or so steeps that this tea can easily last for. Really, I’m quite impressed. This has become one of my favorite younger shengs that I’ve tasted.
Ahhh, right before I was about to post this I found a bit of black string poking out from the wet leaves. No matter; that’s what a strainer is for.
I’ve tasted this one twice now. This was the first loose leaf pu’er that I’ve prepared, and I definitely underestimated the amount of leaf that I should use the first time. More is definitely better with this shou. For me, about a third of my gaiwan works pretty well considering the leaves don’t expand much after water hits them.
The dry leaf aroma is spicy, dry, and woody. The leaves are short, stocky, and thin with faded black, and light brown colorations. They remind me of black tea leaves. After a wash of around ten seconds the leaves reveal a thick and earthy aroma like rich and fertile soil. There are also some notes of cocoa, grapes, and the second time I tried it, some faint funky smell like spoiled grapes. Kind of off-putting, but not awful.
The broth ends up being quite nice. The first steep is very thick and dark, but not so much so that I can’t see to the bottom of the cup. Later on, as steeps progress, it becomes darker and murky. Tea oils are also apparent on the surface.
Flavor-wise, it’s a bit of a weaker brew as I alluded to at the beginning. I first began with Teavivre’s recommended steep times, but found them to produce a more one-dimensional and shallow flavor. I do 10" for the first and 20" for the second steep, but usually jump to something above a minute for the third and something like five minutes for the fourth. I can maybe get one or two extra steeps after that, but they typically aren’t note-worthy.
This shou has a very woody flavor, which is always the top note for each steep. Later on, a really sweet and peaty flavor mingles with the woodsy notes while dry, spicy features rise throughout the session. At some points, I can taste some fruity dimensions, like a wine-y aspect that provides both sweetness and a tad bit of tartness. Later on during the session, usually during the fourth steep, it tastes really leathery, with an almost oily mouthfeel to match. Otherwise, I suppose I could describe this tea as “smooth” texturally, but the mouthfeel isn’t very interesting overall, although it becomes faintly sparkly during the very last steep. I can, however, get a decent aftertaste following most steeps, which happens to be very sweet.
Other than a faint metallic undertone in the first steep, a bit of an odd aroma to the wet leaves, and a little oiliness this shou is pretty clean. It provides most of the things I would look for in a shou, but doesn’t really bring anything new to the table.
Thanks to Teavivre for this sample!
I’m not the biggest green tea drinker, but this is a new favorite of mine. It’s sweet, fresh, light, and crisp. All the things one usually seeks out in a green tea with the addition of some nice oolong-y characteristics and a basic flavor framework that reminds me of a dragonwell. The leaves are an awesome shade of vivid green and smell very dragonwell-like: oats and nuts and potent veggies. I haven’t decided whether I prefer gong fu or Western style with this one yet, but each has it’s pros.
Gong fu style
This allows for a huge change in flavors from steep to steep, but getting more than three solid steeps is rare. But let me tell you, those three steeps are pretty awesome. It’s like a fifteen-steep session condensed to one fifth! With about 1/4 to 1/3 of my gaiwan full of dried leaf, 175 F water, and a seven second first steep (no rinse) it comes out wonderfully. I receive notes of fresh hay, a malty sweetness, thick and “chewy” vegetal qualities, and faint tones of nuts. Maybe almonds? The liquor’s color has great clarity and is so light and vivid it’s almost neon.
The second steep at about 14 seconds brings a lively mouthfeel with a sort of sparkling texture. A new nuance that reminds me of whole wheat toast becomes most apparent and the nutty qualities become more pronounced. The third steep seems to do well somewhere between 30 seconds and one minute. Twenty seconds is a bit too short and it comes out really weak, and one minute introduces some bitterness and astringency (two things that usually aren’t present with this tea except for extra long steep times). The nutty and toasty qualities subside a great deal at this point and are replaced with a strong herbal quality. It’s far more “green.”
With the aforementioned leaf to water ratio, a fourth steep is possible, but it’s flavor faded and it has a heavy mouthfeel. It comes out like a mixture of steep 2 and 3.
While the flavor doesn’t change dramatically between steeps, each steep is lovely in its own way. Western style produces a light-bodied cup with great character. The “darker” flavors like toast and nuts and such aren’t as apparent this way, but instead blend in with the other nuances so that all the flavors kind of meet in the middle. Yet, a lively, sparkly/fizzy mouthfeel helps add another dimension to keep things interesting.
The main drawbacks to this method, for me at least, is I have to use a ton of leaf. I did 3 heaping teaspoons in my 16 oz cast iron with 175 F water. I performed the recommended one minute steeping time, took the leaves out, and poured some off. Still really weak. So I plopped the leaves back in and went for another minute. This worked much better.
Ultimately, I’ll be using Western brewing when I want a sipping tea and gong fu when I want a short, but power-packed session. I also prefer gong fu to pull out the best flavors this tea offers, like that whole wheat toast note that I look forward to every time I drink this one. I think the textural intrigues of this tea are pulled out much more easily with Western style, though.
There’s a good chance that I’ll be stocking this one as my one green tea on hand at some point. :)
So, going off of KS’s steeping parameters, I tried this one again. I used boiling water, the other half of my sample, filled my 16oz cast iron pot to about 12oz capacity with no rinse, a bit more than one minute duration. The liquor was an extremely clear dark brown-amber color. It felt like more of an embodiment of the first two steeps I had done when I tasted this gong fu style. But it was still really weak in flavor, and it just seemed to dissipate and left me grasping for the rest of it. Western style, the mouthfeel felt more “chalky” to me, but there was an added cooling effect that went unnoticed previously.
Yet, as I’m sipping through the pot, I keep getting a thick musty/fishy kind of taste at the bottom of each cup. This is noticeable to me in the aroma of the empty cup and the taste once the liquor has cooled. It’s not really sitting in the stomach right, either. I noticed this the first time, but didn’t comment in case it was some combination of something I ate and the tea, but it occurred this time as well. I generally have a pretty weak stomach, especially with heavy creams or chocolate and such, but teas are usually okay with me. This one not so much.
Anywho, I trust KS’s judgment and taste buds, and hopefully inconsistencies can be explained by me just getting a bad batch or that I have a completely different view of shu pu’er. But we seem to have had pretty similar opinions of past shus, so I dunno! In any case, the leaf quality, lack of depth, and negative cha qi are things I can’t get over regardless of the other odd things I came across with this shu, so I’m sticking with my rating. :/
Sigh. This one isn’t working for me.
I started my session with a close inspection of the dried leaves. The sample was made of one large intact chunk from the tuo, so I was happy to see fully intact leaves and minimal chunks n’ dust at the bottom of the pouch. I was about to take my pu’er pick out and divide the sample in two, but as I took the chunk out of the bag, I realized it was quite flexible. Either the tuo was very loosely compacted or the sample really loosened up on its way over the ocean.
Yet, as I was pulling intact leaves apart, I noticed a very thin, black object. Thinking perhaps it was a stem/vein I gently tugged at it and the leaves around it so as not to break anything. But then I observed it continuing up and over the other leaves and it’s sheen made it apparent it was not leaf/plant derivative. Oh boy… I pulled it out from between the leaves and was left with a two inch long black stringy object tapered in its diameter. Hmmmm, hair or string? While both are generally considered to be “okay” if found in pu’er from what I’ve read, the fact it was in a sample and also present when processing (since it was within the leaves) seems to indicate some poor quality.
Well, in either case, I was going to taste this sample (minus the questionable object) and hopefully I would enjoy it so much that the prize I discovered would be rendered moot. Yeah, that wasn’t the case.
I used half the sample with boiling water in my gaiwan. Wash was around ten seconds, the first steep was fifteen. This is probably the greatest example of incorrect first impressions. The first steep was awesome. There wasn’t much to it, but there was this interesting nuance that I’ve never tasted before in tea, especially not in shu pu’er. It lingered gently on the tongue and roof of the mouth after a sip and passed in and out of taste during a sip. It was some delicate amalgamation of sweet, nutty, woody. There were also notes of coffee and I think cocoa. While it wasn’t incredible and was weak-bodied, it seemed to suggest these flavors would be enhanced or transformed. I excitedly performed my next steep at twenty seconds…
And got nothing. Ughhh it was so disappointing. One dimensional, weak flavor, barely any aftertaste, oily mouthfeel, and a dry feeling in the throat. Worst part was that the interesting flavor completely disappeared. Okay, maybe I didn’t steep for long enough. Upped the time to half a minute for the next steep. Meh. New note of apple and a more metallic aftertaste. Tastes kind of burnt. Still quite weak. There was also a bit of a sparkling mouthfeel, which I liked, but didn’t make the steep much better.
Okay, let’s bring it to one minute. Nada. 5 minutes? Nope, just tastes burnt. I probably would have received better results if I would have used the entire sample, but still…
So what did the leaves have to say? Could they explain this disappointing session? Quite so. The “leaves” were made up of about 20% blackened stem, 75% black halves of leaves that disintegrate with slight rubbing, and 5% greenish brown leaves that practically rip from their own weight. Actually, when I attempted (and easily succeeded) to rip one of these lighter leaves, the topmost membrane of the leaf face separated from the body of the leaf. Ew.
There’s a good chance that I won’t be drinking the rest of the sample. Maybe I just got some really bad fluke, which I’m hoping for the sake of the other Esgreen tasters on here. I’m anxious to see what you all have to say.