UPDATE – 8/5/2016 – Determined that my steep times were WAY too long with this. Subsequent sessions are just as extended, but proceed from a quick wash, to a flash brew, to 10, 15, 20, and 30 second steeps…only gradually increasing the steep times into the minute+ range. The resulting brew is much more consistent, rounded, and pleasurable following this method, while still quite rich and even dark for the first several cups. Upping my rating a couple points as a consequence.
Recently discovered a small quantity of this tea carefully aging (read: abandoned) in the back of my cupboard where it has remained for somewhere between 7 and 10 years I think. As a “Hei Cha,” this is produced in a similar manner to raw pu-erh (fermented, but piled rather than pressed I suppose?) though I’m not familiar enough with either to speak to the similarities or differences in depth.
Placing a large quantity of leaves (which are nearly uniform in size and shape, but accompanied by what appear to be tiny, pale buds or stems?) into the ceramic strainer of my Korean-style strainer-cup I begin a long tasting session with near boiling water, finishing up with water at a full boil:
1st steep (3min): Aromas of damp stone, peat moss, well aged compost, and a dusty note that reminds me I forgot to do a 30 second wash. An abiding bitterness overwhelms the subtleties of flavor, so:
2nd steep (2min): Similar aromas, though a faint floral quality emerges as well. The flavor follows the nose closely, but adds in hints of seeds (watermelon, black sesame), peppercorn, and mowed/dried grasses. Lightly astringent, but smooth with an earthy and decidedly woody finish.
3rd steep (3 min): An additional sweetness emerges. The liquor also takes on a savory clarity, almost akin to a gelatin-filtered consommé.
4th steep (3 min 30sec): A bit lighter in color, the brew is still full flavored, though any rough edges have been smoothed out (though there is a faint herbal/root-like Chinese-medicinal quality that may not be to everyone’s taste) – this is probably the peak of the session.
5th steep (4 min), 6th steep (5min): Still in the sweet spot, these cups are nearly identical to the preceding, though they are perhaps more thirst-quenching in the finish.
7th steep (6min): The tea grows slightly paler and the flavor begins to drop off – this would still serve as a nice accompaniment to dim sum.
8th steep (8min): Continuing to fade, but gradually – if I’d started with shorter steep times, I could probably have extended this session beyond 3 hours if desired.
The appearance of the liquor is robust throughout – a clear, initially dark, rust color with amber highlights. The mouth-feel is appropriately thick while the finish is moderately drying. I can’t speak to the “energy” of the tea, but the effect of the caffeine is sufficiently present that I wouldn’t suggest drinking this in the evening.
While providing hours of evolving, meditative, energizing, hydrating enjoyment, this tea remains one-dimensional in the end. On the other hand, while not presently available from this vendor, I recall this was quite a value – and indeed, nearly a decade after I purchased this, I see Tea Spring stocks a similar Liu An for around $0.10/gram – recommend for the pu-erh drinker on a tight budget looking for a decent workaday cup.