This is the oldest tea I’ve drunk to date and besides one semi-aged Xiaguan tuo my first foray into aged sheng. Perhaps my expectations were too low, but the leaves in the sample I received were larger and more intact than I’d expected; not that this is necessarily gushu or anything, but still. My sample consisted of one long, thin ten-gram chunk of the surface layer along with accompanying individual leaves. I’m not sure if the cake was just originally pressed loose or if it has loosened over two decades, but the compression in the chunk I received was fairly low. There wasn’t much aroma to the dry leaves, which obviously means there weren’t any funky storage related odors either.
I brewed this tea in a gorgeous new wood fired teapot I purchased through Bitterleaf Teas. It’s made from clay from Dehua and I’m dedicating it to aged and semi-aged sheng pu’er. Since it has a really fast pour, I used the same ratio of leaf to water that I would use with a gaiwan, so 12g to 180ml. I rinsed the tea once for 10s and after a ten minute rest I proceeded to do ten infusions, for 10s, 10s, 12s, 15s, 20s, 30s, 45s, 75s, 2 min. and 3 min. The rinsed leaves had a somewhat fruity scent of dark hay. After cooling a little the smell almost reminded me of an apricot pie.
As I mentioned, I don’t have much experience with aged teas, and as such I struggle with describing the first couple infusions as my palate was trying to get accustomed to the flavors. The first steep was fairly strong, yet gentle and smooth. I struggle with descriptors like woody, so I’m not sure if I’d use that word here, however I was detecting some smokiness in the tea and it made me quite thirsty without being drying. The second infusion while still having base notes to it also felt brighter in a way, to the extent that it felt almost prickly on the tongue.
The third steep was really mineraly, with an almost metallic finish. It was increasingly drying and also coated your tongue with a sensation that made you feel like it was burned. The mineral taste continued in the next steep, but this time merged with something else and perhaps even hints of cream. The mineraly nature was only ramped up in the fifth steep, which was super, super mineraly and almost too much for my tongue to handle.
In the sixth brew the mineral character finally settled down a little, starting to be about even with something else that was beginning to emerge in the tea. At this point I noticed this tea might taste better if you let it cool down a little. While the mineral taste continued in the next steep, it was joined by hints of some mineral sweetness that was starting to emerge. The steep was also very clean tasting in general. At this point I noticed the muscles in my lower back starting to ache and soon after I noticed feeling very calm and relaxed. The qi continued to move upward, growing more intense. It spread to my upper back, chest and head. It may have even made me feel a bit tipsy.
The eighth steep was similar to the last one in flavor, with maybe a touch more of that hinting mineral sweetness. At this point I was starting to get a vibe from the tea of it being somewhat medicinal, of it being fairly cleansing. I took my time brewing the ninth infusion, because at this point I was starting to feel quite tea drunk and my motor control was starting to be a bit wonky. The taste was still chiefly mineral, but instead of the prior hinting sweetness I got some of the earlier creaminess in the finish, which was a weird combination with the mineral taste. I should note this was the first time the flavors were starting to drop off a little as well.
The tenth steep was the last one I did and this was where the color started to fade for the first time, although this wasn’t reflected nearly to the same degree in the actual flavor. There weren’t any notable changes in the taste, so I decided to stop here, figuring I’d seen what this tea had to offer. The tea could have possibly gone on for an infusion or two, but that would have most likely required extra long steeps and I didn’t see enough value in trying that.
All in all an interesting first step into the world of aged pu’er. I generally don’t tend to like mineraly flavors very much, so the flavor profile wasn’t really for me. The flavors also shift very gradually without any dramatic changes at any point, so flavor-wise this isn’t the most dynamic of teas. I think rather than the flavor the cha qi is the highlight here, and although not the most intense pu’er I’ve drunk, I must admit I was caught off guard. I could see those seeking the tea buzz you can get from a young sheng but without the stomach twists drinking this tea. In terms of body the tea is fairly light and the longevity and the way it brews seem very similar to me to how a younger average sheng behaves. The tea brews a woody orange. Fairly light, nothing super dark. This to me would suggest that you could easily age this tea for at least another ten years if not more if you wanted to. How it would age, I have no idea.
Not the tea for me, but a valuable experience in learning more about pu’er and aged teas. More reviews of aged raws are to come.