There was just too much talk about Verdant here to not at least give them a try, especially their green tea and pu’er, so when they had an excellent deal recently, I took them up.
This was one of the samples I requested. I have very limited experience with pu’er… just two others; one ‘beginner-friendly’ shu from a tea store that wasn’t too bad, and a sample of Guan Zi Zai 2005 from Life in Teacup.
I don’t have any concerns about sheng; to me, aged tea is no more strange than other aged things, cheese, wine, etc. So approaching this tea was no concern. In fact, I imagine shu is to tea as cabbage is to kim chee, sauerkraut, etc. and I love certain things that have been fermented well, so I can imagine enjoying shu a lot, as well. On the other hand, I have heard a lot of horror stories about it, so I would probably approach it more carefully.
I also enjoy (to a certain extent) earthy and smokey flavors, like mate (which is almost always smoked) or houjicha, so pu’er hasn’t seemed a strange concept to me, rather very intriguing.
I followed Verdant’s instructions, and using my makeshift gaiwan, put the remainder of my sample (3-4g) in, rinsed once, and used 2-3oz water per infusion, going up to about 17.
The leaf looked like it had actually been loose pu’er rather than pressed into a cake (the leaves were not stuck together and looked like dried, unrolled, dong fang mei ren [oriental beauty]), and as their description states, it sounds like the method of stone pressing causes the leaf to be loosely packed into the cake.
Since I have so little experience with sheng, I don’t know how that influences my impression of this tea. The first steepings (esp the first) had an underlying citrus-like sweetness. It wasn’t sweet like the returning sweetness in the back of the throat, but left an almost sweet flavor somewhere in the middle.
The aroma was a smokey-woody-earthiness, similar to mate but much smoother. I could say it was almost like what you would imagine an earthy cave to smell like (“not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole”).
EDIT: I meant to add here – this was the best part about it for me and delicious!
Besides this smokey-woody flavor, which in one steeping reminded me of a nice savory/salty stew, it was a very smooth tea. I didn’t get much else from it, actually.
Late into the steepings, I experienced a very mouth-drying sensation that was almost unpleasant. I was hoping this would signal a shift in what the tea became/tasted like, but unfortunately it seemed to mean that the tea had only a couple pleasant (but not overly interesting) infusions left.
So, take my long review as you like, since while I know I am someone who could probably really enjoy pu’er, I don’t know a lot of what to expect (what makes one good or not). As far as whether I simply liked this tea- yes, I did, but it just wasn’t the same as Japanese greens.
I think I knew this before I started, but I don’t believe pu’er is something I will ever get into, at least not for this season of life. I don’t have hours to do long tea sessions and many infusions. The best I can get most days is one pot/4 infusions, but more often it is 3 infusions (for a Japanese tea, which is an easier brewing method than gaiwan, imo). I will certainly enjoy a few pots of pu’er here and there, but I simply don’t have the time to do it proper justice (via gaiwan).
Unless, someone who has a lot of experience with it can say that the western method works well? If I could do the western method and drink 3-4 infusions, instead of 15-20, that would be doable. Let me know if that really does good sheng/shu justice and what the parameters for each infusion could be (in general).