As I look over my entries on Steepster I’m noticing a lacking of Shu Cha notes that really is not representative of how much of it I drink. I gave it some thought and realized that it’s sort of taken a hit from the fact that much of the Hei Cha I drink is in accompaniment to food. I love eating all kinds of different food but I can’t handle particularly oily or fatty foods. Turkey bacon has too much grease for me and even a little butter on bread makes my belly churn – imagine how the Chinese cuisine I love makes me feel or if I were to try eating a cream sauce or French cuisine. Hei Cha really does help settle my stomach to the point where I can actually enjoy even fried food and the taste goes really well together. So much so that I tend to go and prepare food once I start drinking it (though I force myself not to if it’s a well aged Sheng Cha).
I’ve had a hard time brewing this tea for evaluation for this same reason. It’s really nice and sumptuous and simply having one cup really makes me want to have some food to go alongside it and some kinds of food leave me reaching to brew it. This time I held off until I’d had at least enough of the fifth infusion for evaluation before making some Hong Kong pan-fried noodles to accompany it… Broccoli Beef with Cha Xiao Bao and Shumai went perfectly with it the first time I made it.
I left just enough to brew in the sample Geoffrey sent me from the first time I brewed it. This time I used a slightly lighter concentration at 8g in my 220mL Zi Ni Shi Piao for large leaf and compressed Shu Puer. In retrospect, I really ought to have used a full 2min infusion from the get-go after the initial rinse but it was still very pleasant with the shorter brews.
Dry Fragrance was fishy. Very similar to uncooked catfish fillet. Leather, leaf litter, cassia, musty wood and the general smell of a pond filled with duckweed and algae that’s dried up were obvious smells when placed in the warmed pot. As it cooled a bit, the predominant fragrance was old graham cracker with a light hint of camphor or menthol.
Wet Leaf Aroma was much more simple – buttered biscuits that are slightly burned on the edges and wet cinnamon stick (again, cassia not true cinnamon).
Liquor Aroma is very light from infusion to infusion and very consistent. Kinda musty like the smell of sweat and a faint herbaceous wood character like dried willow.
Fresh water was added to the kettle after the fourth infusion – temp increases before and after that are from reheating of the same water. This pot takes 15 seconds to pour, so tack that on for total contact time.
1) 1min at 97C
Light intensity, crisp, and sweet. Full body but light overall character and that crisp and sweet primary impression makes it hard to think of this as more than a moderate-bodied tea. Light rear-of-mouth astringency is more obvious in finish and when aspirated. Overall very mouthwatering. Deep red-brown coloration and clear but the color is saturated to the point that I can’t see the bottom of a narrow cup with only 100mL in it. Just a little bit in a small cup leaves the infusion darkish orange, similar in appearance to some Dian Hong. Primary flavor is Grape Nuts or barley. As it cools to a temperature where I can actually drink rather than sip or slurp it takes on a nutty flavor leaving the overall flavor experience very, very similar to black “Forbidden Rice” in both the base and aftertaste.
2) 1min at 90C
Sweeter – Honey on wheat toast. Very mouthwatering – even more than the first infusion. Barley and Forbidden Rice are dominant. Less astringency leaves only a hint of drying towards the rear of the mouth. Extremely refreshing as it cools to barely warm. Makes me think of drinking Mugicha.
3) 1min at 98C
Lighter intensity and body and with slightly less saturated color as well. Little more astringency than second infusion but less than the first. More delicate character reveals some star jasmine and honeysuckle florals that were obscured in first two. As it cools it takes on a distinct taste like that of water that’s passed through peat… Unfortunately I know this taste well from container gardening with carnivorous plants. But yeah, very peaty.
4) 2min at 95C
Color back to the saturation of first two infusions but light flavor like the third just a little greater in presence and somewhat more crisp. Light astringency comes out more as it cools while light driftwood flavor comes out and soy character pops up in the nose.
5) 2min at 96C
Richer body but more piquant in the back of the mouth (closer to the throat now). Bit of leather, sweat, and fried tofu with soy and hoisin sauce in the nose. However, sweetness similar to last infusion mitigates any potentially negative impression from the gamy qualities. Light menthol note and mouthfeel permeates, especially as it cools, and a longer lingering crispness leaves this the most pleasant infusion up to now and the largest deviation in character. At this point I succumb to the notion of making some food to go with it so the following infusions are tasted without having a clean palate.
6) 2min at 98C
Lighter in a sort of flatter way – acidity either not as great as previous infusions or is impeded by residual oil from food. Aftertaste very similar to Dian Hong Long Zhu. Flavor is like the fourth infusion as it cools though with a slight added body so flavor somewhat different (I’d set aside small amounts of all previous infusions while drinking to compare cool). There’s a marked pinching sensation near the base of the throat near the epiglottis but astringency has left the tongue region. Most of the flavor is only really discernible as it cools a bit. Once lukewarm it is very similar to a toasted plain bagel.
7) 2min at 93C
Ever so slightly lighter intensity than the sixth infusion but still good body compared to the first four infusions. Two characters start really coming out that I sort of feel are present in earlier infusions but I hadn’t either placed or separated out from base flavor: Oleander and light pure Maple syrup. Star jasmine noticeable again and bread-like character more like a multigrain bread.
The tea was clean overall but a tad more astringency than I’d prefer from a Shu. Very smooth with lower end of Full Body when taken as a draught, but crisp and lively when either slurped or taken in a small cup. Even after the fifth infusion the nuggets were still compressed and “clunking” in my pot, just starting to break up. Still chunks mostly compressed after the seventh infusion so it’s a waste to stop here but I’m waterlogged now… Will revisit the tea in a few hours but I’m not likely to add anything tasting-note wise except a note as to when the nuggets finally break apart since the character in this is sort of just varying intensities of the same flavor set. I remember the first round I did still left some compression after thirteen infusions… I think this tea may be better off to brew in a little 60mL gaiwan (which I’m iffy on with puerh – I prefer enough volume for the leaves to settle and temp to be maintained in brewing) or shared with a bunch of people so it can fully open up. I’m interested in that opening up in this one, in particular, as the infusions up to now feel very much like adjusting the volume on the same song.
Comforting and clean, for sure. I pretty much agree with the whole synopsis Verdant writes about this except for the lack of astringency. Perhaps keeping the steep temp to 90ish C or even as low as high 80’s and pushing the steep time longer would benefit it in that regard, but I’m always reluctant to drop below 90C for a ripened tea. This is very tasty and approachable either way. Not nearly as impressive as the Xinyang, though.