Wow, I was really not expecting this to be half as good as it is. I mean, I expected it to be good and tasty and whathaveyou, but it’s kind of bugging me how high I’m rating this. I’m not a fan of singular numerical rating and it kinda makes me cringe to see this is right up against my proclaimed “favorite tea” at such a young age for a puerh.
The reason for my prejudice against it? It feels like the producers have successfully cheated. Storing puerh in warm, humid areas accelerates the aging process and when properly executed can effectively replicate up to five years’ worth of active effort in rotating storage conditions under dry storage in the course of a single year. “Hong Kong Storage” – while not necessarily as bad as “wet storage” – is practically synonymous with “musty, dirty, mildewy” tea. Tight compaction and somewhat absorbent coverings surrounding the cakes can mitigate this and make HK stored puerh acceptable or enjoyable, but it’s got a distinct effect on the flavor. Not so in this case.
True, storing in Xishuangbanna is not storing in Hong Kong and five years at origin is hardly “aging” when considering vintage puerh. However, much of the qualities of similar age sheng puerh from nearby areas have been mellowed and flavors have definitely developed at a higher rate. Still doesn’t have what I’d even consider a light “aged character” but it has a greater range of flavors, much mellower, is very sweet, and has a wonderful aroma. I keep trying to imagine some sort of mustiness, but it is remarkably clean.
I used 2g with 60ml water in a small glazed ceramic gaiwan. Single rinse really opened up the compacted leaves. Kept the temperature at 85 degrees C for the first 7 infusions and went up to 87 C for 8th-10th infusions. Steep time progressed 20. 20, 25, 30, 35, 45, 55, 65, 90, 120 seconds.
The leaves are really pretty. Mostly mossy green but with brownish green patches, a ton of silvery and white down covered long buds, and a few bright golden-down and purplish leaves here and there. Compaction is pretty firm towards the center and gradually looser towards the margins, where whole leaf sets can be wriggled free. Dry fragrance is mineral-y, green zucchini skin/leaves vegetal, and somewhat stripped-bark sweet with a pervasive camphor note tingling underneath. Wet leaves look a whole heck of a lot like a twisted leaf lightly oxidized oolong – after the 7th infusion they look like phoenix pearls that have unfurled, just a shade darker. A lot of intact leaves… Actually, the only broken leaves I can find are attached to 2-3 leaf sets that are mostly intact with developing buds. Color of cooked grape leaves – a dark olive green with some slightly yellow-brown mossy green on smaller leaves and attached twigs. Just now realizing I’m not finding any twigs or stem on its own, how I’m used to seeing in inexpensive cakes (though this is more common in shu than sheng, it seems). Wet leaf aroma is squashy and tulip-floral with a bark and cacao-like sweet and a slight dried mandarin orange fruit note, similar to orthodox Nilgiri and some Sri Lankan red tea. There’s a tacky, spicy “green” aroma, like spinach or mustard greens. Liquor is clear light yellow with a faint pink tint in earlier infusions, steadily darkening to a light honey color. Liquor aroma also conveys some honey in the aroma, along with warm floral notes (most notably Cymbidium) and a sort of steamed milk and vanilla bean creamy aroma.
Rich body and sweet taste again draws similarities to Wenshan Baozhong and Phoenix/Dragon Pearls, but this is far sweeter. The fresher vegetal qualities are subdued and mostly resigned to the aroma and nose with more stripped wood and moss coming through over them. The sweetness and mouthfeel is really similar to sugar water! Not quite syrupy, but just a little less sugar than I’m used to using when making lemonade. There’s this awesome effect of spiciness inherent in the draught, surging in and out of the primary flavors like swells on the ocean. The spice and savory mixed with the subdued vegetal-floral flavors is really similar to ginger. It’s kind of funny how much the tea resembles the herbal blend I had earlier today, minus the faint hint of tannin or medicinal flavor the Laguna Blend is hiding. Even pollen characteristics and mouthwatering effects are inherent, but much more balanced in the puerh (and much more mouthwatering… sort of verging on drool status). There are cooked vegetable flavors in there too, but low key. Green beans, cauliflower, broccoli, mustard greens. The range of flavors is more vertical than horizontal, as in young/fresh teas that sort of toss a splatter of flavors at your palate and you mop up the residues to see how they work in the aftertaste. This is more like digging through the mixture of flavors to unveil others hiding underneath and the flavors/nose characteristics you toss aside to get deeper pop back later in the afteraroma and aftertaste that comes back quickly and evaporates slowly. The aftertaste is sort of stepped – it comes in, fades away, and another takes its place as though precipitating from the afteraroma into a sweet aftertaste.
Clean, savory, sweeeet, and spicy with a juicy, gingery mouthfeel and serious play on the salivary glands. One of those teas that is simultaneously interesting and relaxing, going hand in hand with its dichotomy of rich yet refined character. Hmm… James Bond in a cup? More like Zorro.
This isn’t your dark and brooding puerh. While mellower than other shengs its age, it is stimulating, clean, and not far from its green roots. What’s more, it is kinder than its kin – it appears to accept a wider range of brewing parameters without risking astringency and can go for a long duration of infusions in spite of opening up really fast.
The last puerh I reviewed was a “nom nom nom” experience whereas this is much more droolalicous.
I’m feeling mighty lucky here, ‘cause I just bought three of these cakes at the same time as the samplers, with the intent to season a pair of duan ni pots with this guy as wedding gifts. The two couples I got these for are getting much tastier tea than I thought they’d be having.
Since the 10th infusion had this interesting barley flavor the others didn’t, I decided to really push the leaves. 11th infusion used 87 degree water for 10 minutes. Still smooth and sweet, but that barley note and a willow bark taste (yes, I’ve chewed willow bark – natural aspirin) comes through a lot more. Sweetness is much more grape-like. Actually tastes a lot like a mellower, sweeter full leaf Indian red tea, minus the astringency. Sort of halfway between full leaf Darjeeling and Kandy, Sri Lanka. 12th infusion I used boiling water and steeped 5 minutes, producing an infusion very much like three year old, dry-storage shengs brewed with cooler water. More in line with Mengku and Nan Nuo than Wu Liang or Lincang, as would be expected due to proximity. Light and vegetal with grapeskin crispness, mineral slick feel, and faint astringency in the very bottom of the throat.