I got one of these 100g mini-beengs in 2007, bought ten more at the beginning of 2009 and have been drinking them up and gave a few away as gifts. I’m down to 2 and 3/4 cakes left and will miss ‘em when they’re gone as they are great for drinking with meals (especially oily/greasy stuff like a lot of Chinese food). Tons of oompf for such a tiny package – little beengcha, little leaves, big flavor. Mellowed a bit since the first taste I had, but age has had little effect thus far and I doubt the tea will survive to a point where it’s effect is really significant.
10g with 225ml water in a seasoned “shi piao” Yuan Kuang Lao ZiNi yixing teapot. Double rinse to break up very tight compaction. 1st infusion 20 seconds; 2nd infusion 25 seconds; 3rd-6th infusions 30 seconds each.
Leaves are tightly compacted but not as absurdly tight as an iron-cake and it is possible to break of chunks using just fingers. There’s a lot of buds but grading ripe puerh is tricky – while graded piles are segregated in wo dui prep, most is done on the basis of size after being broken down in active fermentation so these fairly uniform leaf bits contain buds, rolled bits of young leaves, and thin broken twigs of the sort that connect 2 leaf and a bud sets. Still, the cakes are pretty equally brown and gold with a reddish reflection. Embedded paper has started taking on some tea oils but still an overall matte appearance. Not much dry fragrance beyond dry clay-rich loam. Same note dominates in heady wet aroma but with warm moist leaf litter base. Coppery sweetness in aroma like candied pecans/walnuts. Did I mention clay? Always reminds me of sculpting in the same room as an operating kiln. Liquor is dark red with clear transparency but the color makes it nearly impossible to see through the tea without back-lighting.
Heavy, heavy body. Mouthwatering tacky quality similar to currants/prunes but there really isn’t a fruit note except maybe a fleeting hint of prune in the aftertaste. Flavor hits at the back, near the throat first and then you notice the flavor in the rest of your mouth. This is all about the moist earth flavors. Sweetness is pleasantly metallic. Like the comforting sweet smell of bronze antiques or lightly rusted cast iron. Mmm, boy it’s rich. Lots of woody tastes – less acidic than orchid bark, but moist chopped hardwood bark a definite. Aroma suggests resin and pepper but these are not really present in neither flavor nor nose. Long finish of unglazed clay wares. For all its earthy characters, it is not dirty. These are humus and refined base soil material notes, not dust or dung. I’ve seen some people call the barnyard smell of wet-storage puerh as “pu-erh like” (or “poo-air” like the common mispronunciation of the tea category); this does not have that off-characteristic. Puerh ought to have a clarity despite its earthen qualities in shous or aged shengs. Sure, this is a wo dui processed tea and has an old building character to it, but no farm animals here and the mustiness is kept to the wet leaves. Rich, potent, and smoooooth with long lasting but clear finish.
I love this tea and it is a staple for drinking with food. So why the rating? The rating reflects the reality check of the real level of this tea – it is not a superb, must-try tea. It tastes really good and makes a good gift for folks who actually drink good tea, but it can not compare to a well-aged cake or many teas that cost 10 times as much. There is a huge presence of flavor and you can pick out all kinds of tastes if you try – ranging from toasted white oak, teak, dried bullrush, and water lily – but the complexity is not something that you really jump at and in six infusions prepared gong fu cha, there really is not much shift in flavor. On the plus side, it it reliable and can cut through the impacts of drinking alongside a meal, but monodirectional flavor doesn’t earn a high score in my book. You don’t reach for a $100 bottle of wine to drink with every meal, however much you may enjoy it; same goes for this good everyday tea.
I’d still recommend this to friends, but I can’t find any more to buy.