I grabbed a cake of this almost exactly a year ago. I’ve been letting it chill, but finally it felt like the time to break this bad boy out. The compression is tighter than I personally prefer to deal with and you’ll inevitably end up creating some tea dust. For this session I used a 160ml Yixing zini teapot that’s a fairly new acquisition, but one that I’ve been using a fair bit to try to break it in. Initially when I got it it cleaned up the taste to a ridiculous degree absorbing virtually all of the base notes. I ended up bumping up the normal ratio of 12g that I use for shu to 16g just to get the strength to match my Jianshui pot of the same size. I’ve been gradually able to bring the ratio back down to around 12g and I’m still trying to decide if I need to go even slightly below that on average, because many of the teas are still turning up quite potent even for my tastes. The tea the pot is brewing up is really good now and this was the first time I felt confident enough in using it for a review. The difference between Jianshui and Yixing zini is night and day, but I’m not going to get into my impressions on that here as I’m still discovering them myself.
For this session I ended up using 11.5g. I was considering going with 11g just in case this tea was potent, but ended up with a compromise between 11 and 12g. I did a single 10s rinse followed by a rest of five to ten minutes to allow the moisture to seep in and prime the leaves. I forwent my trusty Jianshui clay teacup this time around just because I felt like it and since I’ve found that with the zini pot I don’t find it an absolute necessity unlike when brewing in Jianshui. I did ten infusions, the timing for these being 12s, 10s, 10s, 12s, 15s, 18s, 30s, 45s, 75s and 2 min. respectively.
The first thing I noticed about Storm Breaker was its smoothness. This tea is very smooth. The body was light to medium to start with and the texture quite nice and unique. While there were some earthier notes present of course, the tea was fairly bright overall. I tasted a subtle sweetness that lay somewhere between a berry and a caramel sweetness. In the second infusion those darker notes became more prominent and there was now a touch of bitterness in the finish as well. The tea became increasingly more bittersweet once it cooled, ending up tasting like the darkest of the dark chocolates, just without the chocolate. The quality of this tea was already evident to me at this point.
The third brew presented a mix between the profiles of the first two by combining the berries from the first with the bitter notes from the second which were also now joined by new roasted notes. The result was kind of like a really gentle and refined coffee, one that as a non-coffee drinker I could imagine the fancier coffees possibly tasting like. This was nothing like the generic shus that are often reminiscent of diluted or cheap coffee, but seldom the good stuff. This was the best steep so far. This is a very elegant tea.
In the fourth infusion we were beginning to lose some of that nice texture. At the same time the background bitterness was quite high now. The tea was dominated by bitter, roasted and coffee notes. A touch of the berry sweetness peeked its head in the fifth brew, but this got overpowered by the bitterness. On the other hand I was noticing some mouth cooling now. At this point it was also becoming clear that this tea can take a toll on the body, especially if brewed strong, and I would recommend keeping some snacks on hand.
Steep six was sweeter, brighter, with less bitterness, but also somewhat weaker than the other infusions because I held back on the time afraid the tea might get too strong otherwise. Texture was good still, feeling very expansive in the mouth. At this point I found myself craving some more development from this tea.
I haven’t talked about the color of the liquor yet, but this tea brews up a dark red. Steep seven is when I was able to barely make out the bottom of my white porcelain cup. The flavor was bright, but still quite bitter. The tea was starting to get creamier, both in taste and texture. The soup was at its thickest now, impressively thick. I was actually finding it very hard to swallow as my commands weren’t getting through. The following infusion was thinner, but smooth still. There was quite an alcoholic tinge to the finish, or at least that’s how I’d describe it as a non-drinker. Overall the general presentation of this steep was quite wine-like, something I associate with certain Menghai area ripes I notice.
The second-to-last infusion was very nice. Sweet and sticky – very reminiscent of a plethora of shus out there, just a much better version of them. I’d likely describe the sweetness as approaching date-like. The tea was so sweet it almost hurt. Mouthfeel and texture remained supreme compared to most average shus. The tenth steep was the last one I did. In it we pretty much returned back to the beginning with the berries and generic sweetness, but this time with a slight alcoholic tinge to it all and thinner texture overall. Mouthfeel remained nice – smooth and lubricating – and there was a somewhat refreshing quality to the tea now. I could tell that we were at the tail end now, though, and I decided to call it there just to be safe and avoid ruining good memories with a bad experience.
I’m happy to report that Storm Breaker’s promises of being made from higher quality material than typically used for shu are very evident in the cup. The smooth mouthfeel is definitely one of the standout qualities and the flavors are very refined and clearly defined. While I found the tea to lack some development and be dominated by bitterness in the middle steeps, this eventually corrected itself and my slightly reserved opinion eventually turned into a positive one. This tea actually brews out a lot like a raw pu’er if you think about it, and looking at the leaves at the end of the session they are actually possibly the lightest I’ve seen in ripe, very similar to Yiwu Rooster but possibly even paler. I haven’t had a raw that’s been dry stored for a number of decades, but I could imagine one that still had bitterness left after all that time being somewhat reminiscent of this tea. While drinkable now with maybe a slightly lighter hand or if you like the bitterness, this is definitely a tea made for the long term, with great care from great material. This is genuinely one of those shus I can easily see people wanting to age for ten years and more – two decades is definitely no joke. I’m not saying you have to, I’m saying you can. That should say something about the tea.
Did I like this tea? I had a good session with it. What does that mean? I think the quality is high and I’m interested to see where this tea will go. There were infusions that I enjoyed very much, but for me the time to drink this tea is not now. This was a nice glimpse into the tea, but now I’m going to be tucking it away in my pumidor for a number of years, to be revisited sparingly to conserve this precious tea. Would I have purchased a cake if this were just a sample? I’m pretty sure I would have. Even among the ripes made from “better material,” this is one of the ones that stands out. I’d consider this a sheng drinker’s shu, as the quality and character of the original material is still being allowed to shine through.
If nothing more, Storm Breaker is definitely worth a sample. As alternative recommendations, this one reminded me in a way of Bitterleaf’s Plum Beauty ripe at least in terms of quality. Hai Lang Hao’s Yi Shan Mo ripe is also of course a personal favorite of mine. All occupy virtually the same price point, so they would make for a great comparison. At ten bucks cheaper than Crimson Lotus’s Black Gold, I prefer this tea over that one.
Flavors: Alcohol, Berries, Bitter, Coffee, Creamy, Dark Bittersweet, Dates, Earth, Roasted, Sweet