Another of the Zomia Sheng Bingcha samples I picked up and the only other one I got that’s listed online – the rest are 2011 harvest and will not have a presence in the online store until the website is updated. Consequently, I will probably not post reviews of the others unless they are substantially better or worse… Supposedly they are all better, but that remains to be see- err, tasted.
This one is noticeably different from the Spring 2010 in color, compaction, and dry fragrance. This is somewhat darker with some deep green leaves (think lighter Dancong) attached to light buds with a lot of downy hair presence. I didn’t need to try nearly as hard to break this wedge down compared to the Spring cake, which required a couple insertions of my puer knife to get the material into loose form. For this one, just a little wiggling and then some lateral pressure from my fingers crumbled it into fairly intact loose leaf material. I’ll get to fragrance later, but I’ll say now that it had just as much going on as the Spring bing, but in a very different direction.
I used my trusty Duan Ni Shengcha pot with 8g of still-compressed tea per 220mL just like the last one. However, I ran out of good water. Sonoma County has some pretty darned good tasting tap water (even better than San Francisco, I feel, but heavier mineral content) and when run through a Brita filter it comes out really good. However, lately I’ve had to refrigerate and shake to produce the liveliness I’m used to getting. So since early May I’ve been using water from the machine in Oliver’s Market dispensed into large plastic jugs. I have personal reservations about storing in plastic, but I really can’t taste or smell any negative impact and the treated and somewhat aerated water from the machine is tasting a whole heck of a lot better for tea lately. Not as big of a deal with denser Shu Puer and lower elevation Indian/Sri Lankan teas or Dian Hong. But for many of the teas I love that are dependent upon crispness it is a pretty obvious difference. In the case of this tea, it fell flat. Really weird tasting a full-bodied tea with a lot of flavor and mouthwatering effect but lacking in liveliness. I had always assumed the drool-inducing effect of some teas was dependent upon the perceived acidity but tonight’s round of tea kinda scoffs at that notion.
The Dry Fragrance in my warmed pot comes as a base heady-vegetal smell. Heavy and with a menthol and hay twist. Very sweet, thick fragrance that’s very similar to sweet wheat bread rolls from the oven carries through as the most obvious character. Grape twigs and grape seeds are definitely bunched in with the vegetal mass of fragrance and accents of honey and raw cane stalk pop up. An oddly pervasive funky sour-sweet-musty characteristic had me scratching my head and sort of salivating over this very familiar smell for a little while. Pot was starting to loose heat so I put it down to start the rinse when I got a really good fleeting hit of that note and it sang Camembert cheese rind. Seriously – cheese. I laughed at the pretentiousness of picking out “a hint of cheese” in the movie Sideways, but here I am with that very familiar – though initially difficult to place – characteristic popping up in my tea. Fortunately the tea didn’t taste like it at all (though I do love Camembert and Brie).
I ought to note that while the fragrance was nice and heady in a warm pot, it is only lightly toasty-vegetal as a cake. I didn’t get “smoky” as the owner warned me. He actually was reluctant to sell me this sample in favor of the others until I said I wanted to send tome sheng puer samples to a lover of Lapsang.
Wet Leaf Aroma has a base of sorta musty old antique wood furniture. Musty wet cloth or a mop pops up. Musk like the smell from a weasel. Chewing tobacco. Sausage. Beef and seaweed jerky. Truffle Oil. Bacon. Honey Smoked Turkey… Kind of a tug-of-war between this and the sausage. Grilled onions. These gamy characters jumped out more due to their distinctness and pronounced definition more than their intensity or volume – the predominant aroma was a musty-sweet vegetal base that’s really similar to boiled/steamed cauliflower, carrots and edamame. Lighter notes of star jasmine, light maple syrup, hot mustard, and a sweet expression of black pepper like allspice or grains of paradise merge and dance about but are too heavy to call “fleeting” or to say that they “pop out”… More like swim to the surface in a current. Really has a ton going on in the wet leaf aroma after the rinse, where I’m not used to getting much in the way of distinction compared to the liquor aroma or smell from the lid.
Conversely, the Liquor Aroma is really simple across the board. Sweet, toasty grassland with oak trees and pollen. That’s mostly it until it goes in the mouth and characteristics are presented as the nose.
The rinse effectively breaks up much of the compaction and results in a very deep yellow infusion with little aroma. Kind of a difficult-to-distinguish cottony or dried out grassland smell.
All infusions shared the just about the same surface aroma and deep gold, almost-amber coloration. The pot took 20 seconds to pour each time so tack that on for the rinse time and for total contact times on top of the times I list below for when I begin to pour.
1) 83C, 1min
Buckwheat noodles, fried rice with stir-fried veggies (particularly mushrooms with a little brown sauce) and glazed barbecue pork belly. Freakin’ tastes like food. Bok choy and dried clay secondary characteristics. Very mouthwatering up front (drooly) and drying in the back of the mouth but severely lacking in crispness… Lots going on but kinda flat and I’m choosing to point fingers at the water as at least a contributing factor. Full body but the flavors are sort of muddled. I brewed this and the following three infusions in rapid sequence and decided to start at 1minute partly due to the deep color of the rinse, heady wet leaf aroma and fragrance, and the warnings by the purveyor. I feel I probably shoulda gone for 1.5-2min instead to push out the more aggressive elements and see how that potential smokiness may come to play.
2) 83C, 1min
Artichoke heart stem. More like egg noodles now instead of buckwheat. More buttery and a little less drying. Mostly the same mouth impression and dry grassland / oak woodland base character. Thistle flower afteraroma.
3) 92C, 1min
Leaves have really opened up and expanded compared to most puer. Flavor slackened but far more distinctive and the aftertaste lingers much longer. Wildflower, oak wood (plus leaves and flowers), pollen, willow, dry river rock, sand. Tannic aftertaste hangs in throat and breath with afteraromas of carnation and tulip similar to some Indian teas but there’s little crispness at all. There’s a light hint of smokiness once it’s started to cool and taken as a draught, leading me to believe a more aggressive brewing up front would bring out more of this characteristic that’s supposed to be obvious in early infusions and dissipated by the third.
4) 92C, 1min
Body and flavor thinner. Now at more of a moderate body level. Light mineral taste that I was expecting early on comes forward with a faint pleasant bitterness. Very similar to the third infusion but with more rocks and sand and less grassland and wood. This infusion sort of acts as a mid ground between the very similar first three infusions and the last two infusions I did.
5) 90C, 2min
Chicken soup with a bit of oregano and cilantro. Sandiness really comes forward a little while after swallowing. Overall smooth and comforting but lacking much distinctive character.
6) 86C, 2min
Sandy initial impression (now moved all the way from only in aftertaste to being the first characteristic tasted). Long lasting vaporous mouthfeel with little discernible quality aside from the smell of just-watered orchids that are not in bloom and a touch of raw kale. The aftertaste takes a long time to appear after swallowing and breathing deeply for a bit. Despite difficulty in picking out flavors, this infusion is markedly more crisp than the others while retaining the basic boiled veggie sweetness from the start.
Just as rich and warming as the Spring 2010 but a bit more heavy in vaporous quality in the throat. Much less in he way of snappy greenery character and closer to the impression of walking through a dry oak woodland savannah rather than freshwater marsh. I may have to keep track of my notes when I set the rest of this up in a cupping lineup against the other samples side-by-side so I may revise my score and impressions using different water, though that will be under more heavy-handed brewing parameters.