This is the oldest tea I’ve had to date. I used the entire 10g sample in my 160ml Jianshui clay teapot. I don’t know what this tea was like back in ’96, but thanks to both the age and the small leaf size, the chunks feel loose, dry and brittle. I gave the tea a brief 5s rinse, followed by a 5 min. rest to let the moisture soak in. The rinsed leaves had a super clean woody smell to them. I did a total of nine steeps, the timing for these being 10s, 10s, 10s, 13s, 18s, 28s, 45s, 90s and 5 min.
Thanks to the small leaf grade and the loose compression, this tea brews dark right out of the gate. The liquor itself is also extremely clear. I was taken aback by how strong and bitter the first brew was. When I say bitter, I’m not talking positive or negative, it was simply a flavor like any other, in this case a coffee bitterness to be exact. The empty cha hai after the first infusion smelled amazing. If you are brewing this tea yourself, don’t miss it.
In the second steep the tea already brewed coffee black. The tea was smoother now, although still bitter and the flavor had shifted toward roasted coffee beans. In the third steep the tea started tasting clearer and brighter, like looking at a clear sky after a storm. The bitterness had now shifted to only being present in the finish. At this point I was already starting to feel tea drunk. This tea hits you pretty hard.
The taste continued to get brighter and clearer in the fourth infusion. There was also no bitterness to be found anymore. The flavor is hard to describe, but this was easily the most enjoyable infusion so far. The next steep only brewed a dark red anymore, so the color was definitely beginning to fade fast. The taste was that of red berries, but nowhere near as bold as it had been before. I was getting a real buzz from this tea by this point.
Steep six was still fairly dark, but the color was definitely fading fast. The taste was a mixture of bitter and creamy. I was feeling quite messed up. The brew that followed was also slightly bitter, but the bitterness was accompanied by darker tones that I didn’t really care for. The flavors were definitely beginning to reflect the color and starting to get considerably thinner and fade. My body was throbbing by this point. I did two more steeps, both of which were rather simple but pleasant enough, possessing some basic sweetness. The leaves may have had one or two more extra long steeps in them, but they would have most likely just been more of that basic sweetness so I called it there.
Even though these small leaf grade ripe pu’ers do tend to brew rather strong in the beginning, this tea still surprised me with its strength. If you are using a teapot, I would probably recommend using less leaf than you normally do. What surprised me more, however, was the strong bitterness present in this tea. I’m not used to tasting bitterness in shu pu’er very often and most certainly not on this level. Again, the bitterness wasn’t a bad kind of bitterness, but neither was it a pleasant kuwei.
For a shu pu’er, the tea does possess rather potent cha qi. While not necessarily unpleasant, I wouldn’t call it enjoyable either, we are talking of more like a hammered sensation. The flavor profile does not appeal to me personally. Coffee drinkers might appreciate it, but while not a coffee drinker myself, I’m sure you could get a much better coffee experience for the same money or less. I don’t know how many people are drinking ripe pu’er for the cha qi, but there are other alternatives out there, if that’s what you’re looking for, maybe not quite as potent though.
The more I drink these gong ting/small leaf grade ripes, the more I’m starting to think they are not for me. They can be finicky about how you brew them and I just find them less complex compared to teas with larger leaves mixed in. If you just think about for example a pure bud picking versus a one bud, one leaf picking standard, it’s easy to comprehend why the material would be more expensive, but just like when comparing two picking standards, a pure bud picking, while more expensive, isn’t necessarily better, just different. One may prefer the pure bud tea, but another person may prefer the one bud, one leaf picking.
Anyway, to sum things up, this tea brews extremely clean and strong both in flavor and cha qi. If you are averse to fermentation taste and are willing to pay, this is the tea for you. Just don’t go expecting a sweet shu. While I didn’t find the tea to have enough complexity to keep me interested, it was still interesting and informative to session, which is why I bought a sample in the first place. If you are wondering what an aged shu pu’er tastes like, this tea is worth it for the experience.