So this is something a bit different: a roasted raw pu’er. At first I thought I was a bit too much of a purist to give this one a go, but ultimately the artwork compelled me too much; it’s just that fantastic. Originally I was just going to order a sample to start, but when it came time to place my order the samples were temporarily out of stock and I ended up just picking up a cake instead. That way I get to enjoy the artwork anyway.
Is this from Lao Man’e? Is it gushu? I. Don’t. Care. I don’t care. What I care about is quality and taste. If you can’t enjoy tea unless it’s absolutely from 300-year-old trees from Lao Ban Zhang, you may just stop buying tea. With that out of the way, let’s get to the tea itself.
The smell of the dry leaf is absolutely fantastic. Truly intoxicating. It’s really hard to grab hold onto any specific notes, but the best description I could come up with is this sort of burnt lemon scent. The scent in the preheated gaiwan is even more enchanting, reminding me more of lemon licorice. These small cakes are tightly compressed so you will have to use some force and you will end up breaking some leaves, but just aim to break off larger chunks which should make the few leaves you break negligible. The leaf quality looks good to me, with plenty of gorgeous buds.
I used 8.66g in a 130ml gaiwan, so a ratio of 1g/15ml. I’ll also note at this juncture that I haven’t been storing this tea in my pumidor, but instead been treating it like a roasted wulong and keeping it in the sealed ziplock bag it came in. Anyway, I gave the leaves my standard ten-second rinse followed by a rest between five and ten minutes. The wet leaf smell was shockingly different from the dry leaf aroma. Gone was the lemon and in its place was a dryer, dirtier super potent sharp aroma that reminded me of some sort of unpleasant food maybe made from leftovers or something. It was an interesting smell, but not necessarily very pleasant and sniffing it too much might give some people a headache. Fortunately this smell didn’t translate to the taste in any way.
I did a total of twelve steeps. Pay attention to these steep times, because they are not at all how I normally brew pu’er: 6s, 6s, 7s, 9s, 12s, 15s, 20s, 25s, 35s, 40s, 45s, 50s. Yes, twelve steeps and I never even got to a minute. This tea brews strong and like with Chaozhou style brewing every second counts. If you are new to gong fu style brewing or not confident in your ability to pour fast, I would absolutely recommend starting out with a lower ratio of leaf than I used. This will give you more room in terms of brewing the tea.
The first steep had a very light body. Right out of the gate the flavor profile was very interesting. Citrus fruit, specifically grapefruit, with a touch of sweetness in the finish. The note I got in the strong aftertaste was different and that of citrus zest to be specific. The second infusion had slightly more mouthfeel and felt perhaps even a bit oily. At this point it was already clear that this is a very nice tea. It is one you want to stop to savor and explore after taking just one sip. The grapefruit/citrus taste had developed and the overall taste was very complex and rich. Letting the tea cool down a little brings out a bit of a sour note, but it’s not a bad kind of sourness. The tea really coats your mouth and you can taste it long after finishing your cup.
For the third steep I extended the steep time by just a hair. The body remained quite light or maybe light+. The taste was immediately sour upon entering the mouth. I could also now taste the mineraly roast following the initial sourness. The grapefruit from before could now be found hiding in the aftertaste. In the fourth steeping the mineral taste was moved to the front joined by some sweetness, while the sour note moved to join the roasted note in the finish.
The fifth steep ended up being quite strong, but not overly so, just bold. The central flavor was still formed by a mixture of the sour note mixed with hints of the roast and citrus. The tea was almost refreshing in the same way that a green tea is, but it didn’t quite get there. My notes say, “Nice.” The sixth steep ended up being perhaps just a tad too light. This was accentuated by the flavors starting to become lighter in nature and the contrast to the boldness of the last infusion. I’m not saying this tea couldn’t be considered friendly towards newcomers in terms of taste, but this was a point where it started becoming noticeably more amiable. The tea was sweet, but in a subtle, elegant way, not in a bold, sugary manner at all. This was the first time when I could taste just hints of the typical young sheng character peeking through. My tongue was also left feeling just a tad astringent by this steep.
Despite the flavors themselves becoming lighter in character, the strength of the seventh infusion was fairly strong. It tasted sort of sweet, sort of sour, with maybe a hint of coffee bitterness in the finish. It is my thinking that the sourness and most definitely the coffee association come from the roasting. The oiliness made a small return in the eighth steep, with your tongue getting hit with a lot of roast when the tea entered your mouth. The finish was mineraly and it was sometimes possible to detect hints of the young raw flavor when swallowing. The tea tasted almost like a roasted green tea like hojicha, which makes sense. This is just my personal opinion, but I think the roast in this tea has been done really well. At this point I went to buy some groceries and I could taste it in my mouth for a long time.
I pushed the tea a bit too hard for the ninth steep by extending the steep time by ten seconds (the shock!). It ended up being quite strong, very pungent. The flavor reminded me of blood orange, but with some of your typical mineral sheng sweetness underneath. The tea wasn’t actually that overly pungent once you got used to it after a few sips. For the next steep I succeeded much better with the steep time. The tea was still strong, but the flavors were now starting to become thinner. Despite this, the brew was still very rich with much more complexity and depth than you usually see from most teas in their late steeps. The taste itself was sour, citric, maybe a bit mineraly. The roast was still there in the finish.
Steep number eleven was similarly quite strong. The flavors were becoming more simplified and some notes were starting to drop off, but the tea wasn’t one-note yet and still had multiple things going on. Grapefruit, roast, mineral. The flavor was bold and the balance between the notes good. The last steep I did was similar and still not quite one-note. You got the mineral and roast on the front and the citrus in the finish. The leaves could have probably steeped for god knows how much longer, but I think I’ve drunk enough tea to know when I’ve seen practically everything a tea has to offer and so I decided to stop here. If you wanted to get absolutely everything out of the leaves, I’d recommend tossing the leaves in your fridge around this point to see if you can make some nice iced tea out of them. I don’t personally practice this, but it’s worth considering instead of continuing with gong fu brewing.
And there you have it. This tea isn’t cheap, but I found it to be high quality and very unique. Perhaps most importantly it is perfectly ready to drink right now. I don’t even know if and how this tea would age and how you should store it. The strength, longevity and aftertaste are all exemplary and the flavors were enjoyable even to someone like me who isn’t necessarily the biggest fan of roasted teas or citrus. I think the roast complements the tea very well right now, but if you absolutely can’t stand tasting the roast in your teas, it should come down over time. A lot of young raw pu’ers in this price range aren’t in my opinion necessarily worth the price unless you intend to age them, but with this tea I would say that the price is reflected in the quality.
I definitely recommend giving this crazy tea a go while you still can!