3 Tasting Notes
In a way, puer, people and animals are alike: every one is different, sometimes unpredictable, slowly fermenting away inside… A major attraction of puer is that its ‘alive.’ So why not anthropomorphise it? Hello, Old Bear!
This bear is up-tight and refuses at first to yield when asked to leap onto the scales. 6.5g in ~90ml yixing made for a potent trip down the forest trail. I ran through it quickly, as if being chased… Yes, there’s a bit of an animal in there. We know this tea is potent and smokey. But I’m a fan of lapsang, rauchbier and Islay whisky.
As much as smoke (more peat and oak than pine or beech – so I disagree with lapsang analogies), I perceive a decent rounding from age and storage, which makes the power of the tea and its latent, but potentially aggressive bush-like flavours quite manageable. Short, cautious steeps yield an enjoyable brew with a pleasantly smooth mouth-feel. The finish is a contest between drying smokiness that reminds me of Laphroaig (a bit like piss and tweed…) and a slight trickling sweetness consistent with the tea’s age and W2T-type storage. As with some comparable whiskies, this tea has the body to back up the smoke (unlike Laphroaig, imho), and I like it.
Pros: potent, enduring and interesting; almost balanced – provided you like a smokey kick. Uplifting.
Cons: heavy on the stomach, despite its 10yrs of age. Occasional flashes of huigan contend with a slight, unpleasant constriction of the throat that reminds me this is likely particularly cheap plantation material. Then again, I’m sure its tough to tame a bear. And really, would we want to?
There is a distinct maltiness in the wet leaf and first infusion. I’m transported back to cold cups of ‘mugicha’ (barley tea) served at school sports days in Japan. The cold breeze through my poorly insulated window is a reminder that those warm memories are far from the present, here and now.
Hand on kettle. Back to the tea… a slight sweetness vies to get out from under the weight of barley and hay. A light fruitiness is playing around the edges, easing towards the tip of my tongue – but its like a stranger with no name. Stubborn. A refusal to emerge and take form. Pushing the fourth and fifth infusions hard, I call this tea out. Dusty flavours are thrown up into my palate as it fleets by. A dry mouth and throat are all that remain. I will not chase it further. Overall, my impression is of a slightly abrasive nose and finish. The tea steeps out quickly.
Conclusion: In a previous session, this was overwhelmed by fruitier Lincang pu. Perhaps the same has happened here, as this time it came on the back of a nice Yiwu old arbor. But this tea is certainly too dry for me, and its nose is surprisingly flat from what I remember of other Jing Gu. I don’t want to have to search beneath that for deeper character.
Reading about ‘re-wilding’ nature, I’m drinking this beguiling Yiwu. The first two infusions leave me thinking my sample is dead. Or maybe ‘this’ is autumn yiwu? Sat in my tea space, fleeing the city around me, I search the cup for something more:
‘The suburbs dream of violence. Asleep in their drowsy villas, sheltered by benevolent shopping malls, they wait patiently for the nightmares that will wake them into a more passionate world’ J. G. BALLARD
Something happens. Each infusion slowly seems to bring the tea to life; to bring me along with it. Slight icing sugar and cooked pear that I barely caught on the front palate give way to a deep, gripping returning flavour in the throat. OK, ‘ancient’ arbor! Nectarine and marmalade don’t quite describe it. There are hints of passionfruit seeds, but not strong. This huigan is more than I’ve felt in a while and it’s taken hold. The effect is uplifting and I absent mindedly forget to monitor increasingly long infusions.
After maybe 10 long steeps, the sounds of the city return around me. TVs battle for volume, but I’m at peace.
Conclusions: late blooming and not a very powerful tea, this yiwu took me by surprise with how gripping it is. Another reviewer on YS speculates it’s like a caterpillar lying in wait of a bright future. I haven’t the experience to say. But it doesn’t have particular bitterness or astringency to back up its mostly sweet and fruity profile. That said, the huiguan left me well pleased.