This is the second ripe pu’er I’ve drunk in my life. Why both my first and second review ever on this site have been on ripe pu’er I have no idea. While reading these tasting notes, please keep in mind that these are the impressions of someone who is still getting familiar with the flavor profile of shu pu’er. I should also note that I’ve been sick for the past few days. Usually the flu doesn’t affect my sense of taste, but this time around there were a couple of days during which I could barely taste anything. I’ve mostly recovered now, but it’s possible my taste buds aren’t quite at 100% and that could have affected my impressions in some small way.
I’ve had this cake for a week or two now and for that time it has sat in my pumidor in a relative humidity of around 60%. This is only the second ripe pu’er cake I’ve seen in person, but I must say that the cake is quite beautiful. The compression is also not too tight at all and it was very easy to break off a couple of big chunks to put in my gaiwan. I believe I put something around 10.5g in a 150ml gaiwan. Again, I have very little experience with shu pu’er and am not an expert on tea in general, but to my eyes the material looks quite good quality for ripe material and it is fairly tippy seeming to consist of mainly buds and small leaves.
My nose is not working very well in my current state, but I’ve taken a quick whiff of the cake when I got it and the dry leaves do have a faint ripe pu’er smell to them but nothing overly strong. My mother has also had a chance to sniff the cake and she found it to be a very repulsive smell whilst I did not find it offensive personally. The wet leaves have a smell that is consistent with my prior experience with shu pu’er. I liken it in my mind to a dialed down version of a barn, but a version of that smell that I actually kind of like. The smell of the leaves weakens as the steeps go on until it becomes nonexistent.
I started my session by giving the leaves one 15–20s rinse during which I attempted to poke the leaves a little bit with the lid only to find I couldn’t quite reach the chunks resting at the bottom of the gaiwan. Due to the light compression, however, it was quite easy to pry the leaves loose by hand after the rinse. I was having a very casual session, so I didn’t pay close attention to how long I was steeping the leaves each time and how many infusions I did total, but I’d say I probably did around 10–12 steeps or perhaps even a couple more. The first several infusions were likely in the range of 15s each, while the last couple were several minutes each. The leaves could have probably gone for one more extra long infusion, but I’d say they were pretty much spent by that point.
Both the rinse and the first infusion were quite cloudy, with the liquor becoming clearer after that albeit quite dark at the same time. Even though I was using a perfectly decent amount of leaf and wasn’t even keeping the steeps as short as physically possible, the tea soup never – apart from one infusion (possibly no. 4 or 5) – really had any notable thickness in the mouth that I could speak of. It wasn’t totally water, but I found the body to be quite light. It should be noted I was using a strainer in case that has any notable effect.
As for the taste, I found this tea to be fairly dynamic, which kept it interesting enough to make you want to keep drinking it. There were never any major swings, however. The overall feel and character of the tea stayed quite similar while you got to experience some slightly different facets of it. The first couple infusions had a sweetness to them. They also evoked a reminiscence to first coffee, which then switched to something more akin to chocolate. Not dark chocolate, combined with the sweetness it evoked a mental image of something more along the lines of milk chocolate. In later steepings this developed more to a sense of cocoa powder or something of that description, although this was a note that was not consistently present in every steeping and sort of came and went.
The sweetness first developed into a more bittersweet flavor in the second steeping before dropping off after that. In the middle steepings there were some woody notes present, which were then replaced by a more mineral taste which culminated in an infusion which combined both a mineral sweetness front with a more salty mineral taste following it. Soon after this the flavors started to taper off quite quickly around the tenth infusion or so, the flavors becoming quite few in number and rather simplistic lacking notable depth. The second-to-last infusion, which I drank after it had had time to cool a bit too much, had an interesting metallic taste to it which I’ve never encountered in tea before. At no time did I encounter any bitterness of any kind, good or bad, and I find it hard to imagine it being easy to manage to make this ripe taste bitter. I will note, however, that I found this tea to have a slightly drying sensation in the mouth which makes you thirst for a sip of water.
The front on which I was somewhat let down by this shu was qi. Most of my experience with pu’er comes from drinking young raw gushu and for me taste is only part of the experience as a whole. I couldn’t detect this tea affecting me in any way, which was somewhat disappointing, I must say. It didn’t grip my throat, it didn’t make my tongue swell or tingle, it didn’t make me sweat, nor did it affect my mood or mind. I also didn’t find there to be any similarities that I could find to raw pu’er. As I recall from drinking “The New Black” by Misty Peak, which is so far the only other ripe I’ve drunk, that tea did start to reveal that it was a pu’er in the middle steeps and it also had some cha qi to speak of although not much. Perhaps this is characteristic of ripe pu’er (or aged raw pu’er, even, I wouldn’t know), but I would definitely prefer my pu’ers to have more going on for them than just taste.
Overall, I find it hard to say if I’d recommend this tea or not, or in fact if I like this tea or not. I don’t dislike it, but right now I’m still trying to familiarize myself with shu pu’er and figure out what I think of it in general. I certainly find it fun to explore these type of teas every now and then, but the quite dark flavor profile is something I find hard to see myself wanting to drink on a regular basis. My current understanding of shu pu’er is that most of them share a fairly similar flavor profile and there isn’t a terrible amount of variety within this category. Perhaps I’m misinformed, but if that is indeed the case, I don’t see there being a big likelihood of me falling in love with it.
I will most definitely have to session this tea again in the future and see how it changes depending on how you brew it. My current impressions of the tea are fairly neutral, leaning lightly towards positive with nothing negative to really point out besides the apparent lack of qi and maybe mediocre longevity (compared to sheng that I’ve drunk). For ripe at least, the tea seems fairly high quality, but again I have very limited experience with this type of tea. Someone who has tried out various ripe pu’ers already and has come to the conclusion ripe isn’t for them probably isn’t going to change their mind because of this tea. People who enjoy shu may like this one, but honestly I have no reference point for what is good ripe and what is not. Even after the recent annual price increase, this tea is still quite affordable (as is most shu pu’er), but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend buying a cake of this blind unless you are fairly confident the chances of this being a ripe pu’er you might not enjoy are fairly low. 250g can be a large amount of tea if you find that you can’t stand the sight of it.
For now I will say that this is an interesting tea.
Flavors: Chocolate, Cocoa, Coffee, Dark Bittersweet, Metallic, Mineral, Salty, Sweet, Wood