23 Tasting Notes
Brewed in Yixing, Zhuni 125ml / 5g tea with spring water.
I read previous tasting notes (from 6 years ago) stating that this tea was incredibly smoky and bitter (no surprise, that’s exactly what I’d expect). That’s largely disappeared now.
The cake looks to be well produced, with large leaves and little brittleness. That usual ‘aged’ smell is present on the dry leaf. I put it into a steaming hot pot and I’m getting a slightly acidic ‘guava’ note off it along with the usual ‘sheng’ notes (and a barely detectable smoke).
I was able to easily loosen a chunk from the side of the cake with minimal breakage (didn’t have to use a pick at all). So the compression isn’t overly tight which (I imagine) helped speed up the ageing process a bit.
The wet leaves are aromatic and I get that spruce scent with a tropicality and a hint of forest floor.
A clean, vibrant and golden hued brew proved consistent across all of the steeps I did.
Nice and fruity first glass, I mean… it still tastes of a well mellowed sheng. Mouthfeel is good too. Very smooth now, with absolutely no bitterness and very little astringency. It makes you salivate and has a good hui-gan. There’s smoke in the distance, but it serves to accentuate the sweet/savoury barley-water mouthfeel.
The second steep I’m getting a bit more ‘sweet rock’ minerality in the roof of my mouth. Also a bit of ‘clover flower’ sweetness on the after taste.
Third steep, still performing well, but I understeeped a bit – silky mouthfeel is still there, but a bit thinner. The energy is good, fairly strong at this point. Very warming.
Fourth steep – left for longer – still similar, but I’m getting more sweetness ( the clover has moved toward sugar-cane). Excellent body, like a thick wine or barley-water. Quite a bit of oil visible on the surface and it coats the tongue
Revisiting the leaf gives an intensely bright metallic and sweet scent.
I’ll stop here, but this could definitely go on. Overall this hits the balance of savoury and sweet dead-on and has an extremely pleasant complexity worthy of many revisits.
A solid and well produced tea that has aged well (11 years old atm). If you’re familiar with a decent middle-aged (dry stored) 7542 you will have a close idea to how this feels and tastes. Energy is great.
Allowing for ‘value’ (an 11 year old Dali production is currently just under $500, this is $22).
This is 5 star tea. It’s been well stored, tastes excellent and the taste ‘lasts’. Very enjoyable. I would highly recommend it.
Flavors: Dry Grass, Roasted Barley, Sugarcane
I got this from Puershop Canada.
The label itself reads: ‘YINCHAOTUOCHA’ / ‘Kunming Chun Cheng Cha Change Chu Pin’.
So it’s a ‘silver bud tuo cake’ put together in a Kunming factory from (what looks like) Spring Lincang material. It could be a later picking though, as there’s quite a bit of stem.
A 50g tuo, so this is a bit on the ‘mini’ side and very simple in terms of packaging (doesn’t strike me as very fancy stuff). Also fairly tightly compressed. That combination could lead to a lot of powder or broken leaf. It might be a good contender for me to test ‘steam’ a tuo.
Nicely browned with age, a lot of hairy buds and tips are visible (and a fair bit of stem, which makes me suspect this is a later harvest). Pleasant but subtle dry leaf scent (floral) with a fairly heavy rolling on the leaves I’d guess (as it’s fairly dark).
Brewing 5g in 190ml Yixing ‘Qing hui ni’ (原矿青灰泥) so ratio is 1:38 (possibly a bit on the light side).
I followed the brewing guidelines provided. So, a 15-20 second rinse followed by fairly long steeps (First steep 15s, 2nd 10s, 3rd 15s and so on). I coudn’t seem to over-brew it, which is nice. I even forgot about a steep and let it sit for a minute or two but it was still perfectly drinkable.
The long rinse helped to open up the leaf and provides a very thick-bodied, gloopy and oily soup with a deep amber shade and a nice aged smell.
The wet leaves are very fragrant indeed with a green wood aroma and edge of spiced bark. It’s bordering on a cedar resin in odour. (Edit: The cedar/camphor smell really picks up after a few brews).
I was worried the long steeps would end up undrinkably bitter. But tastewise it’s a pleasure. Echoes of smokiness are still there in the background, and there’s definitely some astringency (in the earlier steeps), but very little in the way of bitterness or harshness. It definitely has a nice rounded taste.
A thick, oily mouthfeel with dryness on the tongue with a bit of a camphor ‘tingle’ later on (steep 4). The main attraction is definitely the mouthfeel and the camphor (though it’s fairly light).
For only 5g per brew, this seems to make about 4-5 solid infusions. Definitely worth its pricetag, but boy, it still has a kick and you don’t need to use much leaf.
After that, still pleasant (and a bit sweeter) for another 4 infusions, but the soup thins a bit after the third steeping (or possibly you just need to steep much longer).
It’s an ‘intense but short-lived’ sheng, that I’d put down to the seemingly heavy rolling on the leaves. That can be quite nice, just don’t expect a huge amount of steeps.
Strong in terms of energy/effect as I was feeling quite happy after the third glass.
Excellent value for a ‘budget’ aged sheng and highly recommended if you want an affordable option to hit a few times a week.
I’d say this is 3-4 star tea right off the bat, and I’ll keep experimenting with it. I wish the tuo were larger and I might have to get some more.
Flavors: Cedar, Green Wood
Brewed in a Nixing 125mm pot with a 5s pour and I used 10g. Flushed once.
First impressions are good, it reminds me of the V93 (also Dayi, so no surprise) which I’ve been drinking. The leaves on this smell of vanilla and autumn leaf pile. There is a thick mouthfeel which is creamy and smooth; reminiscent of oat-milk or rice-milk. Light hints of brown sugar that never really fully appear.
Zero ‘Wo Dui’ smell (or taste) and a very clear/clean broth which starts out copper. It gets darker quick, to a reddish soy-sauce territory on steep 3-4 (I’m still only steeping for 8 secs there).
A ‘starchy’ rich and malty ‘red bean’ (or Asian yam) taste rises up. It’s not quite savoury, but neither is it sweet. The leaf has a woodland smell, still with a distant waft of sweet vanilla. That woodiness is entering the flavour of the tea (steep 5 or so), not camphor or pine, just a pulpy hardwood log in the autumn leaf mulch.
Still, no bitterness and still milky in the mouthfeel.
This now is apparently where it sits and just keeps chugging for a while (still going on steep 10).
A nice shu. Comforting like a warm hug.
4-stars again (would recommend). Notably smooth stuff. With the buttery mouthfeel and hint of vanilla, I can’t help thinking I’d like to add some maple syrup…
Flavors: Autumn Leaf Pile, Brown Sugar, Forest Floor, Malt, Vanilla
‘Ma Bei’ (Horseback) Tuo from 2007. Stored with me in Montreal for 2 years at 60%-70% humidity, purchased from Kunming (dry storage).
Test: I broke off 6g and steeped it in a little 125ml pot with a 5s pour. Very bitter, smokey with high astringency on the first 5 or so flushes.
Left the pot overnight and carried on steeping it in the morning. It turned into sweet greengauge plum after about 10-11 steps and still has life. At that point, sweeter and very drinkable.
Scent on the leaf has changed to subtle floral notes on the latter steeps. Leaf grade isn’t too bad. Lots of chopped leaf, but fair sized material.
It’s ‘nearly ready’, but it seems like it’s going be a good one. Definitely approaching 4-stars, and I’m sure this will taste better after jarring for a month or so.
Not bad for 0.04C/g.
Flavors: Bitter Melon, Plum, Smoke, Spices, Stonefruit
OK – so this has been sitting in the bottom of my ‘shu box’ for years. I picked it up back when it only cost $6 or so for 4 bricks and it got relegated, untasted, to the bottom of the box due to poor reviews.
I’m going through some shu, so I figured ‘why not?’. This afternoon is time well overdue.
It’s not actually that bad. The harvest area is listed as Simao (which just means Puehr these days). More specifically Yiliang (Kunming) factory. So ‘generic’ I guess.
So I’m using a 220ml Yixing pot for this brew with 14 grams of leaf. It’s not a ‘stand out’ tea by any means, but it doesn’t deserve to be shat on. It’s very similar to Dali/Taetea productions which are well-liked.
First and second washes discarded, second wash I tasted – it wasn’t bad, but I could taste the familiar concrete warehouse flavour. Yum! It dissipates fairly quickly.
By the first proper cup, this had moved toward a more pleasant woodiness and earthiness. The tea giving the usual ‘Coca-cola’ darkness right from the start. Creamy mouthfeel.
Thick and smooth shu. Slight tightening in the throat. It’s getting some camphor going on after brew 3. Much darker now and peaty with some walnut hints. The camphor has an edge of sweetness, but it never really develops into dried fruit territory. It makes me think of old varnished school tables. Or perhaps chewing on a hot wet pinecone.
I think this is good for about 8 or so brews, but probably best enjoyed after a greasy meal and a fine accompaniment to charcuterie (or more traditionally dim-sum).
I just happened to be trying out some Nem Chua (cured pork).
I give this 3 stars. Quite standard ‘cheap shu’ with a pleasant hit of camphor on the end-steeps. Not bad, and very warming on a winter day. Nice and mellow that’s for sure.
I would recommend trying it, but not recommend spending much. 15g of tea was putting out about a full kettle (2L) of tea before it started to fade out.
For what I paid that’s around 0.18 cents for 2 litres of perfectly acceptable tea. I passed some to my partner (who is not versed in tea) and they found it pretty enjoyable.
Flavors: Camphor, Decayed Wood, Peat Moss, Pine, Walnut
No notes yet. Add one?
Revisiting this – 9 months of being broken up in a jar:
I reviewed this as my first ‘sheng’ (see previous notes).
This is a fairly cheap tuo, but it’s a solid example of a ‘good’ factory standard tea. “Jia Ji” meaning that it’s made of ‘grade one’ leaf (size). It is one of many tuo-cha from Xiaguan. If you can get the FT (lit. For Taiwan), do so as slightly higher grade material is elegedly used.
My initial tasting notes taught me what a ‘bitter slap you in the face’ tea could be when drunk freshly chipped off the block.
At 8 years old (with extremely tight compression typical to Xiaguan) it’s a bit young in the tooth to have evolved into anything different. But that’s the theory we’re messing with.
Tuo specifically (especially high compression ones) are designed for Asian high-humidity environments. I’ve found very little difference between the unbroken 2006 and 2016 versions of this tea. Breaking this up and putting them all in jars was in order to get that ‘ageing’ process started.
I’d actually forgotten about the jars (moved house, changed job, covid, general 2020 nonsense).
So here I am revisiting it at the tail end of 2020 after having drunk a lot more tea. I opened up the tuo; leaving it in a loose topped glass jar inside my 65%-70% humidity closet to ‘awaken’ and forgot about it for 9 months.
I’m not sure how interesting this is to people, but I’ll note down verbatim notes as I go (and edit them later).
Pot: 120ml Yixing (so 1:15 ratio)
Temp: Right off the boil for each steep
- First wash and second wash (10 sec) discarded, just to open up the tuo
- I’m leaving the lid on between each steep and just filling a tall tasting glass.
1st Steep: 5s
Colour is a very light straw yellow
The first glass is fairly weak but astoundingly different to the last tasting notes. Zero scent of smoke or leather. No woodiness at all. Just a sweet, spring grass with honeysuckle. Clearly, the tea is still opening up as the leaves retain a powerful pong of leather and artichoke but the taste and the brew itself is just clean and sweet.
2nd Steep: 5s
Colour: Remains a pale straw yellow
Leaves are opening up a little, the flavour is building. A bit of woodiness is coming through, but it’s like nibbling on the end of an old sugar cane. Very pleasant straw/grass sweetness. Had to laugh at how little this tastes like the first tasting.
At the end of the cup, I’m getting slightly bitter mouth feel; scent in the dry cup is of dark buckwheat honey. The leaves still smell like pongy sheng (that leather/alfalfa/orchid kind of green funk).
3rd Steep: 7s
Colour: This looks like a glass of morning pee.
I’m detecting bitterness now from the start, but very light. More of the vegetal nature is coming through. There’s a slight citrus sourness and I’m feeling a dryness at the back of the tongue and throat (just a little). Smooth mouthfeel in the broth. Pleasant sweet ‘green’ taste, drifting toward the old artichoke flavour.
The dry cup still smells strongly like dark buckwheat honey. The taste lasts for a while in the mouth – dryness inducing saliva and turning sweet in the throat. Good stuff.
The leaves in the pot now smell like damp old boots (stuffed with artichoke).
4th Steep: 7s
Colour: Maybe slightly more amber.
Pretty much the same as the last infusion, maybe sweeter, but it’s left the honey territory, we’re in sweet peas or grass now (a bit of a genmaicha taste). The glass still stinks of buckwheat honey. That Pu ehr buzz has begun, will take a little break.
5th Steep: 10s
Colour: Rock steady amber pee now, those leaves have opened up.
This could go on for a while… The flavour is holding it’s form. The leaf scent in the pot has lost some of its vegetal veracity. More grasslike and less like funky leather.
6th Steep: 10s
More bitterness, but not unpleasant well balanced as the floral/honey is still there, but it’s headed off center stage.
7th – 10th: 15s / 25s
Yeah, we’re done I think (at 10). I can feel the sour edge really kicking in by the tenth infusion. I’d say you could probably go to round 12. All that happens is the bitter woody edge comes forward in the mouth and the sweetness rides off into the sunset.
A pleasurable session though and an interesting transformation from young into semi-aged sheng. I can see the sourness dying away as it ages more.
It tastes very different to the initial fresh tuo. No longer a sharp slap to the chops. The energy is very warming while I’m sitting in a cool Montreal winter basement on a damp day. It’s a nice reminder of spring and sunshine.
The only negative point is that it was a bit on the ‘simple’ side. I’d expect some older cakes to get more of that honey complexity. I do look forward to my pile of Jia Ji Tuo ageing.
A very good 4-star tea that would be good any time and I can see why Xiaguan put it out every single year.
I would recommend it, and if you do like it, it’s not challenging to stock up. If it were a bit more ‘special’ or varied throughout steeps, i would have given a 5.
Noe that without much age this is 3-star tea (a score of around 65% on steepster). So I’d buy this and set it aside, or buy it from good storage with 10 years of age on it if you can.
When young It just tastes like a powerful, bitter and vegetal sheng full of woodshop and leather. Which can be nice in it’s own way.
Flavors: Green Wood, Orchids, Sugarcane, Winter Honey
I’ve had three lots of ‘Shai-Hong’ tea. This version you can get from Teasenz online or from various Aliexpress sellers and an older one from the ‘Yunnan Dr.Pu er’ brand (that was sold by Dragon Tea House). Originally they retailed for around $20 per 200g cake.
Another producer who occasionally puts out really decent Shai-hong is ‘Farmer-leaf’ who puts out small quantities of ‘Jing-Mai Sun-dried Black’. This is also exceptionally well-produced tea. If you can get it.
In order of greatness, the Farmerleaf production is the best, then Dr.Pu Er and lastly the ‘Teasenz’ version (this one). So mark down my score a bit…
They taste very similar, but that’s not a bad thing as this tea (and shai-hong in general) is excellent.
An interesting thing about Shai-hong is that it doesn’t disguise bad leaf well. So it tends to only be made from high-quality material. Which… is a good thing for us drinkers, but not so popular with producers.
Quality Shai-hong should have good colour variation. So yellow leaves with black and red and you should be able to see the hand processing, so look for twists similar to some rock oolong.
The pressed cake looks pretty too with the contrast between black and yellow leaves.
I usually brew this gong-fu style but strong on the leaf. So 9-11 grams of leaf to a 90-120ml pot. I’ve also brewed it in larger vessels and it suits ‘grandpa’ brewing very well. This tea is extremely easy to brew.
Shai-hong is a very traditional production. This is essentially a hong-cha (similar to say a Dian-hong) but this is sun-dried and has some ‘ageing’ character. You can buy it loose or in cakes.
It’s sweet like sundried persimmon, sultanas and hay (very complex and almost jam-like fruityness) with honey/flower aromas. a lovely brew to enjoy hot in the autumn or winter. The brewed colour is a deep orange/red. It’s strong, robust tea with a silken and thick mouthfeel.
It manages to not be sickly in its level of sweetness and remains very refreshing.
It infuses a ridiculous amount (I get to 15 before I usually give up). So bang for the buck, it’s quite economical.
I also like to add cold water to my pot and leave it to ‘cold brew’ in the refrigerator overnight. This is one of the nicest cold-brewing teas I own. Great cold-brewed for hot summer days.
4-star tea in my book. Very nice and highly recommended. If you like Dian-hong or sweeter Darjeeling give this a go. It has a similar level of complexity.
I’d say the Farmerleaf is the best option.
Comparing the older tea I have (Dr.Pu erh) which is from 2006 (I think) there is more ‘mouth feel’ to that one and it’s a little smoother. I’d expect those things from the additional age. The leaf is more orange and black as the greens have faded.
Flavors: Brown Sugar, Cinnamon, Dried Fruit, Malt, Raisins
So… I am reliably (I hope) informed that this is held as a ‘standard example’ for daily drinker shou (or shu?) devotees. I also hear that you’re meant to break these cakes up and let them sit for a few weeks to bring out the character. Which… I haven’t done.
So, I have some in a jar (I bought a stack of 5), but here are my first impressions:
It was also recommended to brew this ‘strong’ so I did a 1:10 ratio (9g in a 90ml pot).
First infusions start out thick, smooth and creamy. The flavour isn’t what I’d describe as strong (coming from sheng) . Very little bitterness. Very ‘approachable’.
High viscosity in the mouth. It’s still a bit flat on flavour. Later infusions (from steep 4 onward) are still buttery on the tongue and have mild bitter cocoa in addition to the milky mouthfeel. Wet leaves smell mildly of malt or dried apricot.
The smell on the bottom of the cup has brown sugar, but it isn’t really present in the taste.
This is quite savoury. I don’t detect any sweetness or woody / earthy flavours. Just a pleasant ‘wholemeal’ bread and subtle minerality. It’s a rich mellow ‘tea’ taste reminiscent of a savoury malted bun.
Weirdly after a few steeps one flavour that comes to mind is the pulpy inside of a banana peel. That very slight bitterness.
I’ll let the other tuo chill and breathe in the jar and we’ll try again in a few weeks. Not bad so far.
I can see why people could use this as a coffee replacement in the mornings. It is somewhat reminiscent of an Americano (espresso and hot water) if a little smoother.
People who like a nice milky English Breakfast tea might also enjoy it, to be honest, it tastes like it might be nice with milk/sugar (blasphemy I know).
As someone who’s used to drinking sheng, this is completely different stuff. Less complex and in a way less interesting, but nice in its own way.
3-star tea for now.
I’d recommend it and it’s cheap enough (right now) to say it’s worth a try. I can understand why people enjoy it. I’ll update if there are any big changes with the jarred broken tuo.
Flavors: Baked Bread, Brown Toast, Butter, Cocoa, Creamy
A premium tuo made by Nan Jiang under the Tulin brand in an oddball 336g size. They also make several 250g cakes that this reminds me of (namely the 25th anniversary ‘Feng Huang Tuo Cha’ from 2010). Material is allegedly 1-3 year old spring materials from Wu Liang mountain (elevation of 1000 to 2000m) at date of pressing. Tea trees here are around 100-300 years old. I’ve rarely had sheng from Nan Jian before as they’re more famed for their ripe/shou stuff.
I brewed this in a 120ml Yixing pot with boiling filtered water.
Not too much of a challenge to break apart, medium compression I’d say. It helps that it’s a larger size tuo.
The dry leaves are quite fragrant and when wet they are quite verdant. The leaves are fairly large and have a consistent grade throughout the tuo.
This is a rich and deep tasting tuo that brews to an amber consistent with what I’d expect from its age. The mouthfeel is pleasant and refreshing and there’s a pleasant honey/floral after-taste. Very slight hints of fuit (peaches I think) and spice, which I would expect it to drift toward as it gets older.
It still has a touch of raw astringency in the first few brews (even though it’s 9 years old). It tastes like it has decent ageing potential. The compression isn’t as tight as something like a Xiaguan tuo.
A nice sweet huigan and the tea gets sweeter tasting about 4 brews in. If brewed gong-fu style, this will keep giving out flavour for about 12 infusions or so and has some nice variation.
Very pleasing – a ‘4-star’ tea in my book.
Flavors: Bitter Melon, Dry Grass, Honeysuckle, Vegetal