Wow, it’s been a while since I’ve reviewed a ripe pu’er. I haven’t really explored Bitterleaf’s shu pu’ers, so I went in not knowing what to expect. The sample I received was simply a single piece from the cake. To me the compression seemed rather high, reminding me of Hai Lang Hao’s ripe pu’er bricks, expect in bing form. I found it easier to just chip away some small bits until I was left with a single twelve gram chuck, so that’s what I did. The appearance is rather appealing, reminding me of teas like the Green Miracle for example, although the buds seem smaller and so forth. The dry leaf has a familiar shu pu’er manure scent, although this could have been acquired in my pumidor so don’t place too much weight on that.
I used a 160ml Jianshui clay teapot to brew the tea. Since the tea was so highly compressed and still fairly young as well, I opted to do two short five second rinses instead of one longer one to try to soften up the tea a little. This was followed by a ten minute rest before proceeding to steep the tea. The rinsed leaves didn’t have a very strong scent. The smell was very interesting and unique though, very perfumy. Later on into the session I could pick up the scent of wet wood that had begun to decompose coming from the teapot. I did a total of twelve steeps, the timing for these being 10s, 10s, 13s, 15s, 20s, 30s, 45s, 75s, 2 min., 3 min., 5 min. and 10 min.
At this point I should mention I’ve been dealing with the flu for the past week, but I’d say I’m more than 90% recovered when it comes to appreciating tea. As another side note, I drank this tea both from a regular teacup as well as an unglazed Jianshui clay teacup dedicated to shu pu’er. Most of my drinking was done from the clay cup, but I had the regular cup there for reference just in case. With other types of tea I find it less straightforward, but in regard to shu pu’er I find that the clay almost exclusively improves the tea. The flavors are much more forward, the body is better and you lose hardly any of the nuance of the tea. If you are looking for the simplest and most cost-efficient way to improve your every ripe pu’er session, my tip would be to buy a simple cup from a vendor you trust and see if it makes a difference for you.
Anyway, getting back to the tea, the first infusion brewed rather cloudy, which is to be expect from a tea this young. The liquor itself had a sort of nasty smell to it, though, which was kind of new to me. That was limited to just this steep, however. As expected from a first infusion and a chunk that had still yet to properly come apart, although there was already flavor, the tea was still fairly light. The tea was kinda oily, but not necessarily in the same way as a raw pu’er. I still don’t know what people are talking about exactly when they speak of fermentation taste in the early steeps of young shu pu’er, but I did pick up some of the taste I’ve encountered in some other young ripes. For me it’s this sort of very mineraly taste that I could see some people describing as feeling slightly “off” or perhaps even slightly unpleasant, although I’ve never really had problem with it myself. Overall the tea was slightly sweet with a spicy finish. It left a sense of freshness in your mouth and helped open up my clogged airways featuring some nice mouth cooling as well.
The second infusion produced a much darker color now that the leaves had begun to open up and separate from one another. The liquor was still very cloudy, like dirty, extremely muddy water. The flavor was also much stronger. I could taste cacao, or you could also call it unsweetened hot chocolate. Overall you could call the tea bittersweet. The brew that followed produced an almost black liquor, but you could also tell that there was much more clarity now. The tea was thick, coating and lubricating, producing thick saliva in your mouth. It was even bolder than before, with darker tones to it. I could taste chocolate, perhaps even hints of vanilla. There was also a pleasant bitterness running through the tea that I enjoyed. Overall this infusion was really nice.
Steep four brewed as black, if not darker than the previous one. A sort of syrupy sweetness was beginning to emerge in the tea. Bittersweet would describe the tea quite well. The fifth steep had a taste of wet wood. There was also a potent, hidden sweetness within the tea. The steep was quite strong with lasting flavors. I found this infusion in particular very warming. I ended up having to take off my sweater as I suddenly began to feel extremely hot.
The color didn’t let up in the sixth and seventh steeping. The tea continued to brew strong and bittersweet, with both the bitterness and sweetness strengthening. Steep seven also had an interesting perfumy quality to it. The eighth infusion produced a gorgeous dark ruby red color with perfect clarity to it. It was one of the most gorgeous colors I’ve witnessed while brewing tea. The tea on the other hand wasn’t as potent as before. The texture was thinner and the flavors much simpler than before. The taste was slightly creamy, with some emerging minerality. Super clean taste overall. The tea left your palate relatively clean, although there was a lingering aftertaste as well.
The ninth steeping still continued to give a really dark color, although the liquor itself looked much “thinner” now, like colored water rather than tea. The taste was really creamy now. The sweetness had changed. It was very interesting. It had depth to it which is something I have not really experienced from sweetness before. Thanks to the extended steeping time there was decent body as well. The color did continued to fade in the tenth steep, though the tea was still brewing about as dark as some ripe pu’ers get. The flavors were definitely tapering off fast though. I could taste some of those red berries that I often get in Menghai area ripes just as they are about to steep out.
Steeps eleven and twelve were both longer ones and produced mainly a basic sweetness with some body as well. The strength and color were still decent and the tea could have probably gone for a couple more extra long steeps, but I decided to call it there. Toward the end of the session I could feel some mild qi in my body. It was nothing major, mainly a dull, pulsating sensation in my body. I did experience another wave of heat as well.
Looking at the steeped leaves at the end of the session, they look totally different from any ripe pu’er I’ve seen before. The leaves are large, springy and lively like raw pu’er, not dull, disintegrated and unrecognizable like most shu pu’ers. I’d say just from the appearance that these leaves look like higher quality material than a lot of sheng pu’ers out there.
So what did I think of this tea? I thought the material is excellent. This tea brews strong and it brews long. It even has qi, which speaks to the origin of the material. Although I enjoyed the flavors, the one caveat I have with this tea is that I didn’t find it to be very dynamic. The tea is very young, however, so this could change with time. I don’t have that much experience with ripe pu’er so I can’t really speak to how much change you can expect, but having revisited Yunnan Sourcing’s Green Miracle recently, I felt it had changed in terms of flavor over the past twelve months. I know the level of fermentation plays a big role here.
Having been made from the same material as their silver grade Plum Beauty raw pu’er, this tea is priced similarly, which places it outside what most people are willing to pay for ripe pu’er or raw pu’er even in some cases. I’ve tasted many shu pu’ers that are supposedly from higher quality material than your typical ripes, but this tea easily blew all those teas out of the water in terms of raw quality of the material. While this was not my favorite ripe pu’er based on a single session, I found it an interesting and rewarding tea to session nonetheless and I will be purchasing a cake of it in the very near future. I expect this to be a tea to benefit a lot from aging and will give it at least a year before even sessioning it again.
Flavors: Berries, Bitter, Cacao, Chocolate, Creamy, Dark Bittersweet, Spicy, Sweet, Wet Wood