368 Tasting Notes
3rd & 4th steeps:
I have been very surprised a the color of all of these steeps. None of them have been particularly dark in color. This is a big part of why I insist that sheng and shu really should be discussed as almost completely distinct teas, these days. Yes, initially, shu was an attempt at a short cut. But the results, even very high quality, long shelved results, are nothing like sheng. Good shu is amazing tea. But it doesn’t come close to replicating sheng in anyway way, and at this point we’re better served severing the mental connection and in the same way that you wouldn’t really compare Assam to Yunnan just because they are both “black” tea, we should stop thinking of shu as somehow the bastard step-child baby brother of sheng. Yes, they’re both pu-erh. But they fulfill radically different niche in my wants and desires when choosing a tea.
This particular sheng is fairly wooly while having enough age on it that you don’t feel like you’re being rubbed raw and bleeding by the rough edges. It is a tea that forces you to be present every time you sip it. There is no way to have this tea “in the background”. During a hectic day, this tea snaps you out of your wool gathering and says “STOP” and be awake for a moment.
By contrast, good shu does nearly the opposite. It buries your underground, slowly, quietly, softly, piling on fresh earth and old loam until the present couldn’t be further away. Shu is a cocoon.
(WE JUST FOUND OUR LOST DOG!!!!!)
OK forget tea. Back later.
OK. Finally time to taste the sheng.
I have to say, I’m a bit surprised with this first steep. When the leaf first got wet there was actually a kind of a flowery aroma. Not the kind of deep floral you get from jasmine or osmanthus, but certainly a “I used to be a living plant” kind of smell — something you wouldn’t expect sheng to remember about itself, if you know what I mean. There are some other typical sheng notes, but there are none of the baritone earthy tones one typically thinks of with pu-erh. No loam, no tilled fields, none of that.
But then the cup itself is pretty typical compared to other sheng I’ve had. Strong camphor in this first steep. Sadly, none of that “hot cabin wood in the sun” type notes I’ve had with others and enjoyed so much. Maybe they will come out in later steeps, but I’m going to post these steeps one at a time because my morning is very busy and it may take a while (sadly).
The rating will go up as I get more comfortable with the tea.
Dry leaf: overwhelming aromas of roasted peaches, apricots and figs.
Wet leaf: Even. More. Overwhelming. Aromas.
This is either going to be the best Yunnan I’ve had, or it is going to be so bold and sweet I’ll absolutely hate it. But, that will be a matter of my taste, not the quality of the tea. “Rare” grade, indeed.
1st ~ Aaannnd… mmmmmmm… Oh. Man. When I go through these long stretches of saving money buying tea at the market instead of ordering direct, I forget just HOW MUCH BETTER these teas are than what you can get from big retailers.
For all the boldness in the leaf this is a remarkably shy first steep. Cacao (not cocoa), fig and a mild finishing astringency which keeps the sweetness from becoming too cloying.
2nd ~ This is making me want to either re-locate my work computer into the kitchen next to the kettle, or move the kettle into the office next to my computer. I can’t keep my cup full long enough or refill it quickly enough.
This tea helps you understand why people started adding honey to lesser teas. The roasted fruit is mellowing into more like a buckwheat honey (if you have never had very dark amber, buckwheat honey, it will COMPLETELY change how you think about honey) and the balance of the fast sweetness and lingering dryness remains intact.
3rd ~ Already even softer. Perhaps the exchange for this amazing flavor profile is that the candle is burning at both ends and we may only get but a handful of steeps from the leaf.
All in all, a FANTASTIC leaf.
I have to say, I think gongfu is far better suited to pu-erh than it is to a lot of other tea. On the whole I haven’t been super impressed with the increase in steeps compared to, shall we say, “leaf commitment” with most teas, but here I am on my third steep of this pu-erh that I made about 10 or 12 cups of yesterday — same leaves.
I was going to finally take the plunge on the wild arbor sheng today, but maybe I’ll hold off. After I milk this shu a bit longer, I’ll need to change up the flavor profile a bit more dramatically than that.
I go a total of 6 or 7 steeps out of the da hong pao. I think I made one error early on that, when corrected next time will result in better cups, and more of them.
So, it has been quite a while since I have had this pu-erh.
And I have never done short steeps with this tea.
The dry leaf is richly loamy to the nose. The wet leaf is like a freshly plowed field (not fertilized ;-)
1st ~ The liqueur is actually amber in color and the flavor is much more “open” than what I would get in the past with much longer steeps. The profile itself is the same, just presented in a different manner.
2nd ~ This steep is already black as night and the brew is that heady, thick, earthy cave that surrounds you. Shu may be a cheap imitation to some people, but I will always love it for what it is, not what it is not. I can already feel my Yi awakening.
3rd ~ Off to the races. Complex, mellow, warming, a hint of sharpness lingers on the tongue after swallowing.
Lots more steeps to follow, clearly.
It is immediately apparent, upon opening this package that all the teas I have been drinking labeled “wuyi” are basically da hong pao clippings too many generations removed to be sold under that name. The dry leaf smells and looks the same. The wet leaf smells and looks the same. Black strap, new leather, and the skins of oven roasted potatoes.
Steeping double gaiwan style with a generous leaf ratio and a quick rinse to hydrate the leaves and heat the items (it has felt cold/drafty in the house prior to sun-up around here even though it isn’t really anything like “cold” out, Houston walls just aren’t that insulated).
1st ~ A very light brew. Amber honey color. Mostly getting the new leather with just a slight hint of that sweet molases and toasted/roasted aroma.
2nd ~ A bit darker, and a bit bolder. The three primary profile elements are more balanced in this cup. I am always amazed at the complete lack of fruit or floral notes in this tea while at the same time having nothing in the way of earthy tones (wet stone, loam) either. This tea manages to be all roast and sweetness.
3rd ~ Now the roast/toast is becoming most dominant.
I’ll keep up the infusions with this one today, but I definitely want to try this tea Western style as well.
I really need to get four yixing – one for shu, one for sheng, one for oolong and one for Yunnan gold. I suspect this tea would really shine in a well seasoned yixing.
After my confounding experience with the yabao I needed something soothing and familiar.
I haven’t had a draught of this tea in… ten months. That’s about nine months and three weeks too long.
If you are at all a fan of smoke in tea, try this tea. It is not one of the “meaty” lapsangs. No bacon, no beef jerky, no barbecue, it tastes like smokey tea.
This is one of my favorite teas in the world. I often stray, but I always come back.
I don’t think I’ve ever steeped it this briefly before, and the result is still fantastic.
All my teas arrived today, and I decided to start with the one I have no prior experience to benchmark. There is simply nothing like a yabao other than yabao. I tried to order the late winter variant, but they must be out because the site kept redirecting me to these and these are what I got.
To say this is going to be an exercise in subtly would be a vast understatement.
The buds are quite fat, and the color of lawn thatch when dry. They have almost no aroma that I can detect.
I did a quick rinse to remove dust and to heat all my vessels, I’m using my new double gaiwan technique to do steepings. Watching the buds pop open is a bit creepy and the whole affair reminds me a bit of eating crickets.
The wet buds smell exactly like bai mu dan, which makes perfect sense. They’re both white buds.
1st ~ As long as it took to pour the water in, cover, and pour the water out. The result is almost perfectly clear. But there is flavor, here. I’ll be darned if the toasted marshmallow comment in the write-up isn’t true. There’s also a non-green vegetable here. Maybe a root or tuber. Like ginger but not quite that sharp.
2nd ~ Again, just a few seconds. Still no color. Again, something sweet and biting, like ginger candy, but very soft. Maybe it isn’t a vegetable, maybe it is Autumnal leaf piles. Maybe it is old, wet ones moldering a bit.
This is not a tea for accompanying anything. It requires total concentration to taste anything at all.
3rd ~ A three count between pouring and pouring. Just a bit of a hint of yellow color. Flavor a bit more present, but still very gentle.
The write-up claims you can get 18 infusions, but I don’t know if I can focus that long.
I used 1tsp in a gaiwan which is what the instructions recommend, but I think next time I’ll try more and see if I can’t get things a bit more concentrated.
This is very interesting, but I’m hard-pressed to see it becoming a staple on my shelf.