I don’t really know where to rate this…so I’m not sure that I should yet. I know that it would be in the green spectrum of things (that’s the good news…does that count as a steepster spoiler?), but I’m not quite sure where.
What a strange, strange experience. I had no problems, you understand, leaping over the hurdle of adjustments required by my first lapsang souchong. I had no trouble diving into chais, no problem trying licorice-white tea when I have a long, long history of disliking licorice, but for whatever reason this tea, this type of tea, has scared the living daylights out of me since the moment I heard about it…and as with most things I find frightening, I’ve found myself simultaneously fascinated.
The pu-erh chai that I tried from Golden Moon did a fairly good job of reinforcing my fears, unfortunately. I knew that was true because the ‘maybe socks’ note that I was getting from the chai was easy to find here in this cup in abundance…but without spices masking the entirety of the flavor profile, and with more depth to explore, this has been easier to convince my taste buds to be mellow about.
I won’t lie — that’s a lot of what this cup has been about, for me. Convincing myself to just relax and not think about it too much. I’m not really sure what it is about pu-erh that makes me so uneasy. One could make the argument that it’s the slightly scary aging methods, but I’m one of those people who has no problem devouring blue cheese or gorgonzola crumbles on salads, so…I don’t think that’s it. I think it might be something to do with mushrooms. This is going to be a huge mental leap, but…
Okay. I love mushrooms. I do. They’re delicious. I make a shallot-sherry-tarragon-mushroom-cream soup that’s to die for. But I’m a really texture-oriented eater, and the little gills under mushroom caps sort of scare me a little. I also grew up down south, and spent a lot of time in Florida, where moist, dark, earthy places were typically filled with all sorts of things you really don’t even want to think about.
So, mental block, yes. Definitely mental block.
The cup of tea itself brews to a beautiful dark color, like the shade of Brazillian cherrywood, only maybe just a little bit darker than that. I didn’t get any fish smell off of the leaves, nor the rinse.
Unfortunately, something came up halfway through sipping through the cup, and I had to focus on other things. I can say for a certainty that I prefer this tea hot to lukewarm…the heat seems to bring the sweetness forward more, and I wanted that sweetness to balance out the other earthier flavors.
So, let me see.
This tea smells a lot like what I imagine it smells like on the inside of a very large, mossy branch of wood that has been lying on rich earth, absorbing rainwater and growing soft and pulpy while the sun bakes on the bark, beneath a thin blanket of damp and gently decaying leaves. It’s very much a ‘forest after a spring rain not long after a thaw’ smell, a heavily organic smell, but the sunny part of this tableau is definitely important, because it represents a mellow sweetness.
Early on in the first few sips, my first thought was, ‘mushrooms and honey’. It isn’t precisely mushrooms, and it is definitely not clearly honey, but that pair of flavors together might resemble this experience a little bit, if the mushrooms were woody enough and the honey was barely-there and of the dark, more raisin-y variety.
I can give myself another mental shift, if I try. Dusty hayloft and barn, replete with baking hay in the heat, leather tack, hot wood, and something faintly animal (which sounds awful, but horses have never smelled bad to me).
A strange cup, but I DID finish it, and I think I could even get to a point where pu-erh really only made me think of pu-erh. I’d be lying to you if I said I was wholly comfortable with it just yet, but there was nothing in this cup I would call bad…it’s just very intense. Very musty, very hoary. The flavors are so low and dark that calling it intense seems misleading, but I definitely stand by my use of the word.