This was an excellent introductory shou that is pretty well representative of Zomia, though the focus is more on the sheng side of things. Being served this tea in the shop pretty much spoke to the whole of the philosophy and focus of the tiny company (it was not the first tea served, but was more in line with the bulk of the flavor trends of the owner). This is essentially exactly what I hope to find to recommend to people looking to buy their first full Shou Bingcha, though samples are available both online and in the little shop. Not the best tea they offer by any stretch of the imagination but a great “House Puerh”.
I had a conversation with another buyer for a different coffee company a few months ago at the SWRBC. He pointed out what I was carrying around while watching the barista competitors and said “nice gaiwan,” naturally starting a lengthy discussion about premium tea while surrounded by some of the best coffee on the planet. When it came down to us talking about what we’d like our respective companies to move into, I said I feel any coffee shop selling tea ought to offer puerh, as it’s a terrific middle ground between coffee and tea. His nose got all crunched up and he said his company “doesn’t do earthy or muddled tasting coffee and tea.” Ah, he has not had decent puerh. I tried to hook up with him the following day to get him some of the basic shou puerh I happened to have laying about in my car, but oh well. Moral of the story: most people haven’t been exposed to clean tasting puerh. Now I’m tempted to send a bing of this down to that company with a post-it on it saying “try this” :p
Back to this thing.
Zomia Tea is only about 2 years old and they just opened a retail location right around the corner from the roastery for my work about a month ago. Well, I should say “he” not “they” – Barry Boullon is the sole proprietor, and I believe the one employee (though he has others do the website stuff, which is about to get a big face lift) so the guy you buy your tea from and chat with is the importer and owner.
Barry weighed out about 4g for his zi ni pot (looked to be about 100mL – he said he goes for 1g/25mL using a scale, which happens to be my starting point for both Shou and Sheng Puerh), dispensed hot water from an electric stainless steel samovar into a large earthenware kettle that he then set atop a hot plate to bring up to about a boil, and rinsed once.
I was caught off guard and a little disappointed at first upon taking in the aroma from the wetted leaves. Very earthy and a tad musty – very aggressive but at least it wasn’t smoky or loaded with the smell of ferment/compost. I’m okay with smokiness in young Shengs, but would rather not get that from a Shou. However, the wet leaf aroma did not carry through to the liquor.
The first five or six infusions were all around 30-60 seconds. No timer was used.
Very clean in aroma, appearance and taste. Vermillion-brown but pale and highly transparent coloration. Saigon Cinnamon (Cassia), and orchid bark with just a hint of peat moss were the dominant characteristics. Mellow and crisp. Not a ton of sweetness, which I kind of expect to find in any puerh… In the third to sixth infusions there was a slight rice-like sweetness and a hint of molasses to the aroma that sort of accentuated this, but nothing like the crazy sugar-water sweetness I get from time to time. I’m sure a longer steep or slightly higher concentration would push this while still remaining very pleasant. Very consistent from one cup to the next and always pretty light. There was one infusion that came out really dark (maybe the fifth – took a little while for the leaves to open) which was more in line with the appearance of my typical 2min initial experimental brews or 30-60sec at higher concentration but this was then diluted in the share pitcher with hot water before it was served, knocking it back down to the lighter character of the previous infusions but presenting a bit of tule and cocoa characteristics as well. While light in intensity, it had a good moderate viscosity and a hint of back-of-throat astringency in later infusions.
This wasn’t the most dynamic tea around and there were way better ones up on the shelf (this was also one of the few blended puerhs available), but it was very tasty and a good deal for the price.
I’m really pleasantly surprised by this company and will be buying a bunch of stuff from Zomia Tea in the near future. While this post is on a Shou Puerh, the focus is on Sheng Puerh and I was blown away by the consistency of the material making up the Sheng Bingchas that Zomia is offering… And then again when I saw the tiny little print on the signs indicating the very low price points. High quality with large selection at low price AND in easy driving distance? Yes please and thank you! This place is easily the highest quality shop in Sonoma County now and it is exceedingly rare for me to find a tea shop where I can walk in and actually learn stuff I was not privy to before. I have a small sense of the general character of a few isolated mountains in Yunnan due to personal tasting exploration of puerh over the course of the past seven years or so, but I’ve never been there and never had easy access to well-made isolated cakes of specific harvest periods all from the same small-scale producer who makes tea by hand. YIPPIE and pardon as I don’t bother to attempt containing my excitement!
I’ll be breaking into some of these Sheng samples in the next few days. Most of ’em are not yet available on the website because of the aforementioned update that is soon to come.