158 Tasting Notes
I’ve been drinking Shengs for a while now, but other than a couple selections from Verdant tea, most of my purchases have been moderately priced cakes and samples; they’ve been enjoyable but I felt it was time to really explore the upper echelons of raw pu-erhs and from what I learned, Tea Urchin was the place to go. I bought four samples and Eugene generously threw in a fifth and suggested I start with the manzhuan. This is a young tea and I bought these samples with an eye to getting a cake and aging it.
The first couple of steeps were sweet and complex with that lovely eucalyptus taste and a fruity base. Successive steeps became quite bitter (as I expected) but still very rich and tasty. Quality Shengs also generate heat and energy in the throat and chest and this one was no exception. I was buoyed along during the day on a steady tea high.
With this sheng—and, I’m sure, with my other more expensive samples—I feel like I’m crossing the borderland from tea to precious elixir.
As a passionate tea drinker, I’m always looking to expand my horizons. One of my growing interests has been green teas from places other than China and Japan, specifically those from Ceylon and Mainland India. I find them to be more robust and fruitier with a pronounced peach/plum taste. This one from Butiki deserves a wide audience; it’s quite complex and hearty but still fruity and clean. An excellent selection.
Usually, when the term “pond scum” is mentioned, it is done derisively. But this ripe pu-erh is reminiscent of pond scum in a positive way. Unlike pu-erhs that make me think of a piney forest floor, this one has an aquatic herbalness that reminds me of swimming in the pond at my childhood home that was fed by a cool spring and was ringed with watercress.
Add to that a leathery aroma and a sweet finish and you have a satisfying tea.
I’m used to teas within a certain broad category having similar taste profiles: teas from Yunnan can be placed along a continuum that includes honey, malt, a little spice, chocolate; darjeelings taste like darjeelings; Keemuns—leather, red wine, tobacco. I rarely have a cup of tea and think, “Wow. I’ve never tasted anything like this before.” You know where this is going. My first sip of the Mi Xian was truly distinctive. There was a pleasant perfume taste/smell, but what lingers is . . . how can I describe it, the smell of a summer garden in the hot sun, specifically, the way mature tomato plants smell. This earthiness was entirely different from that of a ripe pu-erh, which evokes mustiness and decay. This tea suggests the fullness of the late-summer harvest, the lazy drone of dragonflies, corn and tomatoes on the table. A really original and intriguing tea.
I might have been too dismissive of this tea in the past, maybe because it isn’t as bold as some dian hongs I love. But it is a smooth and delicious tea with honey notes taking the lead. I’m glad I revisited this tea after letting it languish in my cupboard for a while.
This is a delicious tea. The first sip may not wow you, but after a few more the cinnamon, pepper and chocolate flavors blossom in your mouth to form a complex and beautifully smooth tea. It seems to combine the best aspects of yunnan, keemun and other congous. Sometimes the best teas, like the best music and books reveal their greatness slowly and through repeated encounters.
Thanks to Charles Thomas Draper for mentioning this sheng. I bought a sample (cakes are very expensive) and immediately fired up my little pot and steeped it three times: at 30 seconds, 1 minute, and 2 minutes. The first steep was exquisitely smooth, with a light camphor taste and a more pronounced mandarin orange flavor. Things got pretty wild on the next two steeps; the orange remained, and was joined with chestnut and what reminded me of a perfect black bean sauce. This is a high energy tea that had me buzzing along way into the night, right through an excellent set by the Futurebirds at the Press Room in Portsmouth, NH. I’m going to try and conserve this tea; as good as it is now, it will be even better when some of the bitterness fades away over time.