This bing looks like a bundle of worms wriggling around in dirt. Whether you find that aesthetically appealing or unappealing is up to you. Anyway, I thought I’d already drunk some fairly tippy shus (this is only my fifth, so make of that what you will), but this cake takes the… cake. The leaves are all of such a small leaf grade that it is virtually impossible for them to become entangled with one another and thus the bing is close to coming apart on its own. It’s not even necessary to use tools to pry leaves off if you don’t want and you can practically just rub the edges a bit to make the leaves start coming off. I noticed a smaller amount of dust and smaller particles than typical and most of the stuff that has come loose on its own and you find lying inside the wrapper is good to use for brewing. If you wanted to break this cake into loose form for daily drinking, I imagine it would take hardly no time at all.
I used 11.5g of leaves in my 160ml Jianshui teapot. My intention was to use 11g instead of the 10.5g I’ve been using in the past as I felt upping the amount of leaf a tad might yield better results, but when my scale said 11.5g I was too lazy to take some leaves out. I managed to include a couple of smaller chunks amid the individual leaves. The dry leaves had a typical shu pu’er scent, but while I was smelling them it occurred to me that since I’m storing my ripe cakes stacked atop one another in a box, I may very well be smelling the neighboring cakes when sniffing the surface leaves, which makes paying attention to the aroma of the dry leaves somewhat moot. In any case, after a brief 10s rinse the wet leaves didn’t display the typical manure smell I’m used to smelling in a lot of shu and instead I got a dark scent more akin to coffee beans, dark chocolate and the like. After giving the leaves a ten minute rest, I got to brewing.
I steeped the leaves nine times, for 10s, 10s, 10s, 15s, 20s, 30s, 45s, 75s and 4 min. I am unsure whether the leaves could have gone on as I did not try. I don’t recall what the rinse had looked like, but the first infusion surprised me by being much darker than I’m used to. The taste was also much bolder than shu pu’er typically is in my experience. Both of these I attribute to the very small leaf grade. I’m bad at even attempting to describe ripe pu’er, but the taste was perhaps a bit sweet and it seemed to leave a similar aftertaste in your mouth as coffee.
The second infusion brewed even darker, yielding probably the darkest color I’ve seen in shu pu’er thus far. Unless you had a light source directly behind a transparent vessel, you could not see through the dark liquor. Only when shining a light through could you see that the liquor was actually red and not black, but the red was such a dark shade that it almost seemed to have a purple hue to it. The flavor remained strong like in the first infusion and the taste was akin to almost something like diluted coffee, which seems very common for the second steep of the ripe pu’ers I’ve had. I’m not really a coffee drinker, I may drink a couple cups a year if that, so flavor profiles like this are not necessarily something that appeal to me particularly, but my tasting notes say “not bad, not bad” nevertheless, so it was pretty okay. This infusion had the longest aftertaste I’ve encountered in shu thus far, and it remained very stable as well. The more I drink high-quality teas, the more I start to appreciate things like long, stable, enjoyable aftertaste that are not a given at all even in some really nice teas, and thus I definitely give this tea/infusion points for it. More so than the front flavors.
As I continued to flash brew the tea, the third infusion wasn’t quite as dark in color as the last one. While the strength of the flavor remained strong, the flavors themselves started to become lighter in nature. As I said, I struggle to describe the flavors, but if you’ve ever drunk shu pu’er they were pretty typical ripe flavors. I would not use the word earthy. The tea was sort of sweet without being actually sweet. Again, if you’ve ever drunk pu’er, you probably know the deal. After lengthening the steep time a little for the fourth steep, the color was once again very dark albeit not quite as dark as at its darkest in the second infusion. Like before, the tea continued to brew quite strong while the flavors themselves continued to get lighter in flavor. The exact same thing can be said about the fifth infusion, but now the tea was starting to taste better than in earlier steeps and the person I was drinking with echoed this sentiment.
From the sixth steep onward the color of the tea soup finally started to get lighter. The sixth steeping itself while not exactly sweet was beginning to get sweeter. Starting with the seventh steep the strength of the flavor started to come down as well. As the nature of the flavor continued to get lighter, it was difficult to tell if the tea was getting watery or simply lighter. As the eighth steep produced a much, much lighter color than before, more of a dark orange than a red, I decided to ramp up the steeping time for the last steep I did straight to four minutes. This, while yielding a bit more color than before, was nowhere near as dark as before. The tea soup had more sweetness now, and in fact I’d call it a mineral sweetness albeit not necessarily the same kind you typically get in many teas as they begin to steep out. The steep was pretty okay. If the tea still had more in it, extracting it would have probably required steeping the tea for closer to fifteen minutes if not more and so I just decided to call it there.
Overall the tea performs as you’d expect and you trade off longevity for strength of flavor. Objectively this is neither a good thing or a bad thing as it’s a quite fair trade-off. In my limited experience shu pu’er can be quite light when it comes to taste, so those seeking a bolder flavor and especially those not interested in stretching out a session may find a nice daily drinker in this one. Like certain other ripe pu’ers I’ve tried, this came across as a tea that might appeal to those who are coffee drinkers. I myself while thinking a couple of infusions were fairly nice still struggle to find an appreciation for shu pu’er, but I will continue to try.
This tea taught me that with ripes that have this small a leaf grade you need to start pushing them much more aggressively once they start to drop in color. How aggressively, I don’t know. Next time I’ll need to brew this one in a gaiwan so I can monitor the color before I pour. Flavor-wise nothing really jumped out at me about this one. Everything I tasted here I’ve tasted before in other shus. I will need to drink this one more to formulate a more conclusive opinion on it, but my first impressions of it were not particularly strong one way or the other. If you are a shu drinker, you will likely enjoy this one, but that is just a guess on my part.
Flavors: Coffee, Sweet