I find it a little odd that this is the first of this type of tea that I have gotten around to reviewing here. It’s not like I have anything against hei cha. As a matter of fact, I tend to enjoy Hunan Fu brick tea. This particular tea was produced by the Yi Qing Yuan Tea Factory, a producer whose work I greatly admire. As teas of this type go, I found this to be very solid, pleasant, and drinkable, though it did not establish itself as a personal favorite.
After a more extended rinse than planned (15-20 seconds) due to me spacing out and momentarily losing track of time, I steeped the full 10 gram sample (actually not quite 10g according to my scale) in 5 ounces of 208 F water for 10 seconds. This infusion was chased by 17 subsequent infusions. Steep times for these infusions were as follows: 10 seconds, 12 seconds, 16 seconds, 20 seconds, 25 seconds, 30 seconds, 40 seconds, 50 seconds, 1 minute, 1 minute 15 seconds, 1 minute 30 seconds, 2 minutes, 3 minutes, 5 minutes, 7 minutes, 10 minutes, and 15 minutes.
Prior to the rinse, the dry chunk of tea brick emitted aromas of earth, raisin, prune, roasted vegetables, and fig. After the rinse, I found aromas of black cherry, autumn leaf pile, old books, and moss. The first infusion then brought out aromas of forest floor and wood. In the mouth, I initially noted mildly earthy and vaguely fruity flavors, though I was soon able to pick out more definite notes of raisin, prune, black cherry, fig, moss, old paper, and wood. The following infusions brought out notes of cedar, leather, tree bark, dried tobacco, minerals, caramel, malt, wheat toast, wintergreen, raspberry, mushroom, sour plum, cinnamon, nutmeg, candied almond, candied chestnut, and cream. I also began to note cooked spinach and kale rather than anything resembling any sort of roasted vegetable. There were also more definite earthy tones in the mouth and hints of a camphor-like herbal presence. The later infusions mostly offered mineral, mushroom, cream, earth, cooked kale, and caramel notes with occasional hints of old paper, dried tobacco, wintergreen, camphor, raisin, and raspberry. Oddly, I began to pick up some hints of bitter orange just before ending the session.
An interesting, likable tea, but also not something I would be likely to reach for with regularity, I could see this tea being appealing to those who prefer a lot of very mellow, subtle flavors in their brews. Personally, I was hoping for something a little rougher and pricklier, something that offered more clearly defined peaks and valleys over the course of a session, but this was still pleasant enough for what it was. I’m certainly glad I took the opportunity to try it and would not caution others to avoid it, but I think there are other Hunan hei cha out there that would provide a more satisfying and memorable drinking experience.
Flavors: Almond, Bark, Camphor, Caramel, Cedar, Cherry, Chestnut, Cinnamon, Cream, Dried Fruit, Earth, Fig, Herbs, Kale, Leather, Malt, Mineral, Moss, Mushrooms, Nutmeg, Orange, Paper, Plums, Raisins, Raspberry, Spinach, Toast, Tobacco, Wheat, Wood