I was a bit too late to the party for the 2016 iteration of this tea, but once the 2017 became available, I grabbed a bing blind. When it comes to pu’er, I tend to either seek out teas of exceptional quality or ones that are incredibly unique. Based on the description at least, this one definitely falls in the latter category. As I want to save as much as possible of this special tea, for this review I ordered a sample a few months back and now was finally the time to break it out.
The dry leaves are really weird looking compared to your typical sheng. Many of them look like miniature pea pods or perhaps dragon scales, which would actually be quite fitting now that I think about it. The scent is also quite unique. In the pre-heated gaiwan, the smell of black currant really comes through, although most obvious on the lid. I used a single chunk of nine grams in a 130ml gaiwan and gave it a sub-five-second rinse followed by a five-minute rest while I sipped the wash. The soup tasted similar to its smell; black currants with maybe a bit of red mixed in.
I followed up with a total of twelve infusions, the timing for these being 5s, 5s, 5s, 7s, 10s, 15s, 20s, 30s, 45s, 75s, 2 min. and 3 min. From the first sip of the first infusion, I could tell this is a high-quality tea. It was quite incredible. Two or three sips in, I just wanted to stop for a while, because I felt I needed to take a moment to appreciate the tea. The texture was oily. I could immediately feel the vitality and life energy in this tea. There was a really nice sweetness and a combination of both fruit and berries, apricot and currants to be specific. The soup was super clean and pure and the flavors were really long lasting. The overall impression was very gentle. These are high marks.
As expected, the next infusion was way stronger. The compression seems to be on the looser side, so by this point the single chuck had practically come apart completely. The leaves are also tiny, really tiny, which contributes to the strength of flavor, while the age of the tea trees gives them the vitality they need to keep brewing steadily over multiple infusions. The tea continued being very sweet. The taste was chiefly that of black currants, but the acidic side of berries had become more emphasized. The long-lasting aftertaste from before was maintained.
The next two brews continued among the same lines. The taste of black currants started to become more leafy, resembling the taste of tisane made by infusing the leaves of said plant. Steep five was the boldest one yet. It saw a lot of minerality creeping in. Steep six swapped this with a very prominent acidity, but otherwise stayed true to form.
The seventh infusion, while not necessarily presenting anything new, combined multiple things at once, resulting in what was probably this tea at its most complex. The taste was very leafy with some sweetness as well. The oiliness was back and the soup was quite warming. I could feel a heatwave washing over me every twenty seconds or so over the course of a few minutes, which is totally new for me as usually it’s only a single wave or two. The tea was surprisingly complex with a lot going on and flavors that kept dancing around in your mouth.
The gentle, slightly oily texture characteristic for this tea was maintained for the eighth brew. The taste remained largely the same as what we’d seen before. Leafy, acidic, with a hint of berries in the finish. The acidity reached its peak in the next infusion where the taste was incredibly well defined and an uncanny rendition of the acidity in citrus fruits like grapefruit or lemon, but without the characteristic taste of that specific fruit.
From the tenth brew on we finally saw the tea beginning to simplify and the flavors starting to get thinner. The taste was nothing we hadn’t seen before. Leafy, acidic, with the occasional berries and touch of sweetness. The twelfth steep was the point at which I wasn’t enjoying the tea as much as before and thus I decided to call it there because I only expected the tea to start deteriorating from that point on.
I liked Slumbering Dragon a lot. Although the two Crimson Lotus shu pu’ers I’ve tried I’ve both really liked, while enjoying a few of their shengs to some degree, I’ve never really found anything I’d be seeking to purchase. This on the other hand is a winner. Although a tea I’ve already committed to buying, at least now I can say I do not regret that decision. The quality here is very high and albeit not cheap you are most definitely getting value for your money. I’ve had spring teas close to one dollar per gram or slightly over that while good aren’t necessarily of higher quality. For spring, this is definitely one of the better teas I’ve had in the around 40–60¢/g range.
This is one of the cleanest tasting teas I’ve had. Strength is good, longevity is good. You can definitely taste the clean environment these trees have grown in. One things the tea does slightly suffer from is that it’s not all that dynamic in terms of taste, but I find it less of an issue here than with some other teas. I didn’t get any bitterness or astringency or any other sort of harshness at all, unless you personally consider the acidic character such a thing. The acidity actually reminded me a lot of Bitterleaf Teas’ 2017 WMD which I reviewed recently. Specifically that vintage and not its 2018 counterpart as much. Fans of that tea might want to give this one a try. While I’ve yet to actually try ye sheng (pu’er), I’ve had both purple varietal hong cha and moonlight white and both the aroma and taste of Slumbering Dragon remind me of those teas, so fans of ye sheng might also be interested in what the dragon has to offer.
I think that covers most of what I had to say. I’m interested to see how this tea will age longterm. Crimson Lotus have pressed this tea again this year (available soon), so even if this vintage ends up selling out before you get to buy it, you’re not necessarily in any rush to try it. I may end up sampling the 2018 to see if it’s similar or different.