Pulled this out of the old big-bag-o-tea-at-work and thought, hey! sheng! how did this get in the bag? Sounds like a nice afternoon tea.

Steeping in my brew basket.. quick “improv gongfu style” steepings.

The leaves smell pleasant enough (smoky, metallic shine, a faraway berry that’s almost musk-like). The nose reminds me of Banzhang, but I honestly haven’t looked into what makes up this particular recipe. Liquor is an orangey color.. auburn?

First steeping:
Hm.. not too much here, in terms of either taste or texture. I know there should be something here, so it’s a bit like playing hide-and-seek. Flavor? Where are yooou? Maybe it will come as I sip and the cup cools…

After sipping through half of my cup, I’ve found a little more. There’s a whisper of metallic smoke in the taste. The body of it reminds me of the last dying breaths of a sheng.. way into the 25+ steepings, where you have mostly just body, overlaid with ghost reflections of all that’s come before. Only issue here is that I don’t have any aftertastes and textures for this body to play with (since this is the first steeping), so I’m left puzzled. Most of what I get is in the aftertaste/texture. My tongue feels puckered.. dry only in the front of my tongue, but luckily not in the back of my throat. It almost feels like I’ve burnt my tongue, but goodness knows the water here at work can’t get that hot. The aftertaste is also reminding me a bit of a Chinese restaurant jasmine-green (some astringency on the sides of my tongue links of with dinner-grade jasmine perfume, plus the mellow vegetal grassiness).

Overall, mellow, but strangely absent. Since I’m working at the same time, the lack of complexity or..er…flavors are fine, but I’m a little sad. Guess I’m spoiled for sheng pu’er these days and was looking forward to a bit of unexpected sparkle and surprise. It’s also a young brick, so on the plus side, I don’t feel like I’m getting kicked in the teeth with a bucket of smokey, bitter coins!

I’ll try the next steepings with less water and hotter water to see if I can get this shy one to open up into something fun. No “chaqi” to speak of so far, but I am feeling a bit of the jitters creeping up on me.. Perhaps if someone were smoking, I would have an uneasy stomach, but luckily, this isn’t China.

Second Steep
Used much less water here, and steeped it for close to 40 seconds (normally, on a second steep of a similarly aged sheng, I would do 10-15..). There we go: there’s something in the cup this time. The color is a pretty orange (like some of the leaves outside).

I’m getting much more Banzhang now, but the taste reminds me much more of Banzhang fannings I’ve had on occassion (ends of bricks, or taking from the bottom of a pouch because I’m just drinking by myself). By that, I mean there’s grainy wood on the underside of the sides of my tongue. In other shengs, I’ve found this appealing, but I think that’s because it is so often paired with a chocolate or hazelnut or cream texture and taste in the middle. This one is hanging out by itself, reminding me of a dock in the middle of a bay. Where are you going? What are you pointing to? It’s just out by itself in a body that is sweet… simple and generic, with no berry or fruit specificity.

The puckering is still there, layering up on itself like quilts. Atringency turning to true bitterness, but not so unpleasant because it’s all concentrated on the front of my tongue, not the back.

Aftertaste seems at first nonexistant, or just a bright vegetal vibration that tapers off in a second or two. After a minute, I realize this now reminds me of citrus and spice. It doesn’t taste that way.. I just find myself reminded.

It’s certainly caffeinated (hello diuretic!), but in terms of energy. this feels more like a sloshy, unruly caffeine that wants to shake out into my arms or leave my with water in my shoes.. not a feeling of calm and center. As it cools, I realize that I do not want this to cool. The woodiness and astringency are bullying their way to the forefront as all of the other aspects fall asleep. Doing this from little cups would certainly eliminate this issue.

I wonder if I can get another steeping out of these leaves? It’s kind of terrifying to imagine steeping a sheng of this age for over a minute on the third steep, but I think that’s what’s called for. Adventure time.. ho!

Third Steeping
Well, I did it. Tiny amount of water, and steeped for almost a minute and a half.

No disaster here, though. I had to sneak in a peanut butter cracker sandwich while this was steeping, since it definitely made me hungry. The first sip was actually pretty nice with the aftertaste of salty peanut butter.

This steeping is definitely more full and flavorful, but at the same time, it continues to feel as if this tea was already mostly steeped out before I started drinking. There are some floral elements, notes that remind me of nut skins in a savory sweet sauce (black bean or garlic?). These are all whispers and implications, so I may be working a little hard to pull them into substantial references. Mostly, this reminds me of a young sheng that is nearing the end of it’s steeping arc.

I’m not sure about this one. A friend and I put together a JASetea order quite awhile ago, and this is some of what’s left. On the whole, I’m perfectly fine not having a brick of this to age. The description emphasizes the high quality leaves and the classic recipe. Sure, fine. I don’t think there’s anything that stands out negatively.. except that nothing much has stood out during my steeping. It’s a wallflower plastered underneath the wallpaper, behind a giant chair. When pushed for more complexity and interest, it seems to just push right on over. At it’s best, it was sweet and mellow, with nothing to stick out and grab the interested sipper. Safe to the point of boredom. But then again, I don’t know if I would recommend this to someone who’s afraid of shengs, because it has offered little reward today, and it can get overly woody, wooly, and metallic. It’s no kick in the face, but it’s not much of anything else either.

To be fair I am steeping this at work in a brew-basket, not in my little gaiwan, not in spring water at just below boiling. This will probably be more generous in more loving conditions, but still.. I have my doubts about what this really could be giving, even treated in the most pampered way.

Has anyone else tried this recently? It’s been sold out for sometime from JASe Tea, but apparently it’s been a big hit with some pu’er bloggers? I’m not sure myself.. it mostly just leaves me puzzled.

One more update
The caffeine from this is harsher than I previously thought. Sure, it is a little chilly back here, but not enough to leave me shivering and my teeth chattering! Whoooo… I have no upset stomach, but I would not want to be balancing any fragile things right now. Generally, I am blissfully immune to caffeine’s stimulant effects. I don’t think I’ve had a reaction like this since the days of spending 8+ hours sampling teas with no breakfast or lunch in me.

Charles Thomas Draper

They are sold-out other than samples.

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Charles Thomas Draper

They are sold-out other than samples.

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I generally drink Chinese teas.

I love things that are interesting, that force me to stop and think about and enjoy what I’m experiencing. Even better are those teas you just have to drink with a friend so that the outpouring of tastes and memories find a sounding board in a trusted companion.

I’m into tea as an experience rather than just a thirst quenching beverage. I love to learn- there’s so much to learn about tea.

I also prefer my teas to be exceedingly delicious, if at all possible. Luckily, I have great tea friends and teachers that can hook me up with the good stuff.

Something I’ve noticed about my ratings:
I tend to use Steepster more like Yelp and less like Twitter. I’ll generally only review a tea once in its life (though that review and rating might be edited over time to reflect changes in my own understanding of it).
I do not generally log each tea I’m drinking as I drink, since that feels like a distraction- I’d rather just drink the tea!
I tend to only review teas I really love or that I really did not enjoy. If it falls somewhere in the middle of “meh” and “that was pretty good, I suppose,” then I won’t be compelled to sit down and spend time giving a nice, fleshed out review and rating.
As such, it might seem like I give out high scores willy-nilly. Instead, I’m doing my first round of rating mentally off-site, and presenting only the teas I really want to share with everyone.


Richfield, MN

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