322 Tasting Notes
Received a sample of this with my recent order. I’m glad I saved it until this week.
The past three weeks have been completely overwhelming. The dog going missing, work getting wrapped around the axle, complications for Liz with school and my first disc golf tournament this past weekend on a course I’m really not strong enough to throw at par.
So this week is a bit of a calm after several storms. And this is the right tea for that calm.
One thing I love about drinking really fine tea, is that it helps you realize all the things you couldn’t put your finger on about other teas you’ve had. We sampled a lot of green teas from TeaVivre recently, and also the ones Liz brought back from Japan, and I was always looking for some magic balance of strong, green flavors, pan roast flavors and soft sweetness that none of them was really up to providing. It can be a very frustrating chase, especially when you aren’t 100% sure what it would taste like if it were what you wanted.
This tea has it all. Barely. I’m into my fourth or fifth steep and the liqueur is still very light and very delicate. But it isn’t weak. There is that soft sweetness, but it is backed up with genuine greenness and the touch of the pan.
As much fun as it is to keep trying lots of teas, I do find myself often thinking “now that I found this, that fills this role, and I don’t need anything else, I’ll just keep this stocked.”
But we all know I won’t do that. :-)
OK, to be fair, the first steep was very floral, but I’m up to 5 or 6 now and the flowers faded very quickly.
I am laughing because the leaves expended so much I can barely get the lid onto the gaiwan.
This really is amazing bunch of tea leaves. It will never be my favorite way of processing them, but that’s a matter of personal aesthetic.
I’m going to have to stop ordering green oolongs entirely. They are almost all invariably very floral, and it is becoming clear that it isn’t because they are explicitly scented, but rather something about the processing itself.
This is clearly a very high quality leaf and it has been handled expertly. I. just. Don’t. Like. Flowers.
3rd & 4th steeps:
I have been very surprised a the color of all of these steeps. None of them have been particularly dark in color. This is a big part of why I insist that sheng and shu really should be discussed as almost completely distinct teas, these days. Yes, initially, shu was an attempt at a short cut. But the results, even very high quality, long shelved results, are nothing like sheng. Good shu is amazing tea. But it doesn’t come close to replicating sheng in anyway way, and at this point we’re better served severing the mental connection and in the same way that you wouldn’t really compare Assam to Yunnan just because they are both “black” tea, we should stop thinking of shu as somehow the bastard step-child baby brother of sheng. Yes, they’re both pu-erh. But they fulfill radically different niche in my wants and desires when choosing a tea.
This particular sheng is fairly wooly while having enough age on it that you don’t feel like you’re being rubbed raw and bleeding by the rough edges. It is a tea that forces you to be present every time you sip it. There is no way to have this tea “in the background”. During a hectic day, this tea snaps you out of your wool gathering and says “STOP” and be awake for a moment.
By contrast, good shu does nearly the opposite. It buries your underground, slowly, quietly, softly, piling on fresh earth and old loam until the present couldn’t be further away. Shu is a cocoon.
(WE JUST FOUND OUR LOST DOG!!!!!)
OK forget tea. Back later.
OK. Finally time to taste the sheng.
I have to say, I’m a bit surprised with this first steep. When the leaf first got wet there was actually a kind of a flowery aroma. Not the kind of deep floral you get from jasmine or osmanthus, but certainly a “I used to be a living plant” kind of smell — something you wouldn’t expect sheng to remember about itself, if you know what I mean. There are some other typical sheng notes, but there are none of the baritone earthy tones one typically thinks of with pu-erh. No loam, no tilled fields, none of that.
But then the cup itself is pretty typical compared to other sheng I’ve had. Strong camphor in this first steep. Sadly, none of that “hot cabin wood in the sun” type notes I’ve had with others and enjoyed so much. Maybe they will come out in later steeps, but I’m going to post these steeps one at a time because my morning is very busy and it may take a while (sadly).
The rating will go up as I get more comfortable with the tea.
Dry leaf: overwhelming aromas of roasted peaches, apricots and figs.
Wet leaf: Even. More. Overwhelming. Aromas.
This is either going to be the best Yunnan I’ve had, or it is going to be so bold and sweet I’ll absolutely hate it. But, that will be a matter of my taste, not the quality of the tea. “Rare” grade, indeed.
1st ~ Aaannnd… mmmmmmm… Oh. Man. When I go through these long stretches of saving money buying tea at the market instead of ordering direct, I forget just HOW MUCH BETTER these teas are than what you can get from big retailers.
For all the boldness in the leaf this is a remarkably shy first steep. Cacao (not cocoa), fig and a mild finishing astringency which keeps the sweetness from becoming too cloying.
2nd ~ This is making me want to either re-locate my work computer into the kitchen next to the kettle, or move the kettle into the office next to my computer. I can’t keep my cup full long enough or refill it quickly enough.
This tea helps you understand why people started adding honey to lesser teas. The roasted fruit is mellowing into more like a buckwheat honey (if you have never had very dark amber, buckwheat honey, it will COMPLETELY change how you think about honey) and the balance of the fast sweetness and lingering dryness remains intact.
3rd ~ Already even softer. Perhaps the exchange for this amazing flavor profile is that the candle is burning at both ends and we may only get but a handful of steeps from the leaf.
All in all, a FANTASTIC leaf.
I have to say, I think gongfu is far better suited to pu-erh than it is to a lot of other tea. On the whole I haven’t been super impressed with the increase in steeps compared to, shall we say, “leaf commitment” with most teas, but here I am on my third steep of this pu-erh that I made about 10 or 12 cups of yesterday — same leaves.
I was going to finally take the plunge on the wild arbor sheng today, but maybe I’ll hold off. After I milk this shu a bit longer, I’ll need to change up the flavor profile a bit more dramatically than that.
I go a total of 6 or 7 steeps out of the da hong pao. I think I made one error early on that, when corrected next time will result in better cups, and more of them.
So, it has been quite a while since I have had this pu-erh.
And I have never done short steeps with this tea.
The dry leaf is richly loamy to the nose. The wet leaf is like a freshly plowed field (not fertilized ;-)
1st ~ The liqueur is actually amber in color and the flavor is much more “open” than what I would get in the past with much longer steeps. The profile itself is the same, just presented in a different manner.
2nd ~ This steep is already black as night and the brew is that heady, thick, earthy cave that surrounds you. Shu may be a cheap imitation to some people, but I will always love it for what it is, not what it is not. I can already feel my Yi awakening.
3rd ~ Off to the races. Complex, mellow, warming, a hint of sharpness lingers on the tongue after swallowing.
Lots more steeps to follow, clearly.