Received a 9.4 gram pre-production sample of this as loose leaves in my latest Mandala order. After three days of solid shengs, it was time for a shou. I spent half an hour waffling over how to best try this using several brew methods, but finally just threw the whole thing in my 100ml gaiwan and went for short steeps (5/7/9/11/15/20/30/60/120 seconds). That turned out to be a good choice.
Gave it a 5 second rinse, then let it sit for about 15 minutes. The tea was still opening up on the first steep, but steeps 2 through 5 were a rocket ride. The liquor was only medium bodied yet the flavor was intense. An incredible molasses sweetness was paired beautifully with a restrained Bu Lang bitterness that balanced the whole thing out. Around these two dominant flavors were notes of oak wood, leather and tobacco. Salivating citrus notes and hints of spice (felt more than tasted) popped their heads up a couple of times. The sensation was of a very clean shou with no off flavors. These early steeps had a heavy mouthfeel that felt like they coated my tongue, mouth and throat in rich shou goodness that lingered in the long aftertaste.
Steeps 6 through 9 tapered off in intensity and body, yet were very enjoyable. The Bu Lang bitterness tapered off a bit as well, yet remained present until the end. The sweetness became more like sugarcane. I caught a subtle note of chestnuts on the 8th steep.
I had a hard time sipping this tea because I could not pull my nose away from the cup. The aromas were intoxicating; powerful at first but significant all throughout the session. There was a super-intense sweet aroma that ran the gamut from sugarcane to molasses, with one steep having caramel and another pralines. There was also a strong, clean earthiness in the early steeps. I even smelled some cinnamon at one point.
I did two final steeps at 5 and 10 minutes, but they were pale shadows of the earlier session.
This shou really hit on all cylinders for me. The note on the sample bag said “soon in 200g cakes”. I hope soon really means soon. Assuming the final pressing lives up to the potential shown in this sample, this may be the best shou that Mandala has yet produced (no disrespect to the Original Phatty Cake).