I owe Grand Tea an apology, it has taken me forever to drink the sample of the Raw Pu-erh Cake- Simao 1998, and my reason is a little silly. I liked the 1999 Simao, but something that that tea and this one had in common is the smell triggered something in my brain to avoid it. Now don’t get me wrong, I liked the smell, but everything in my brain screamed ‘do not put this in your mouth’ which is an odd reaction for me (what with my strange compulsion to taste non-food things) but it happens sometimes. Usually my reaction to mushrooms (the common Agaricus bisporus, aka button mushrooms, portobello, and cremini is the main culprit) is like this, I had to retrain my brain to recognize them as food, same with yogurt and blue cheese. I decided to let the sample rest for a while before digging in, to see if the more swampy quality would mellow out. I love swamps, have spent large portions of my life playing in them, but swamp water is a microbial nightmare so maybe that is why my brain freaks out.
The minute I stuck my nose in the sample I knew I had made the right call. The aroma was not one of Swamp Thing’s basement, instead it smelled a LOT like beets. Juicy, freshly cut and slightly sweet while being rooty and earthy beets. I swear it smells so much like I just ripped a beet out of the earth, brushed the soil off, and took a bite. There is a faint note of old books and wet soil and wood, but it takes a serious backseat to the beet note. Can you tell I am really excited by the beets?
Into my baby gaiwan the compressed leaves go. When I first opened this sample months ago it had a bit of fuzz on it, said fuzz has vanished, now the leaves are dark and compressed, and could sneakily pass for a shou for those not in the know. I hit the leaves with boiling water for a rinse and gave it a flash steep for steep number one, and the aroma of the leaves is pretty fantastic. It is a blend of gentle fresh mushrooms, wet mushroom soil, a very distant note of woodsmoke, wet slate, and of course lots of beet goodness. The aroma of the liquid is sweet and earthy, with notes of mineral, beets, and a light medicinal camphor quality.
The first couple of steeps are pure undiluted beet goodness. Earthy and rooty with an intense sweetness that starts light and sugary at the first steep and is intensely sweet by the the third steep, it is like drinking a sugar beet, or a beet covered in beet sugar. The first steep is pretty much all beet all the time, but the second and third steep bring out notes of wet soil and a bit of a medicinal valerian root bitterness and wet wood. As for physical reactions, the mouthfeel is pretty light, a slight dryness at the back of the throat and sides of the mouth, and a bit of a heaviness in my limbs. One odd thing I noticed is I got a strange pressure feeling in my belly, like I had a massive burp stuck under my lower esophageal sphincter and pushing on my diaphragm. It was not necessarily uncomfortable, just weird.
On to the next several steeps, usually this would be steep four through six, but it is actually all the way through steep ten, since that is when I noticed any real change. The sweetness of the first several steeps is still present, intensely sweet beet and sugar blend with wet wood and a bit of a bitter dry cocoa, like I ate a brownie and found a pocket of unmixed cocoa powder (yes this has happened, I haven’t always been a decent baker.) The sweetness reaches its peak at steep five and stays at the same level until steep ten, with underlying shifting notes of wet wood, medicinal herbs (specifically valerian and sweet wormwood) and a bit of wet leather. The mouthfeel is light, no real intense textures except a bit of dryness at the back of the throat and sides of the mouth, creeping up the tongue as well in later steeps. That pressure in my stomach has bloomed into vague nausea and I am starting to get really hot and dizzy, but I had been battling with insomnia and my Fibromyalgia flaring up so it could be unrelated, but since these effects didn’t show up until I was drinking this tea I feel it is safe to at the very least mention it.
I went fifteen steeps with this tea, and it didn’t seemed to be finished, though by steep ten it was starting to fade, just fade very VERY slowly. I could have probably pushed this tea at least couple more steeps, but honestly I was starting to get bored. I liked the notes present in this tea, especially the beet (which was the dominant) but just because I like beets doesn’t mean I want to eat an entire bushel of them in one sitting. Even though this tea was not terribly nuanced I found myself enjoying it, I think this would be a good introductory tea for someone who wants to experience a Sheng with a bit of age on it…or someone who really likes beets!