The first shu pu’er I’ve tried (also my first tasting note on Steepster). I’ve been drinking loose leaf tea for a few years now, but only become truly passionate about it in the last six months and been brewing my tea gong fu style since the beginning of 2017. I’m also still fairly new to pu’er, but I’ve tried about half a dozen raw pu’ers so far (mostly young sheng). This as some background to my notes.
Even in a warm gaiwan, the dry leaves don’t have a particularly strong aroma. I didn’t really spend time trying to figure out what the smell reminded me of. I was drinking this tea together with my mother and fumbled a bit with the gaiwan I’d given her as a present that same day, so what I’d intended to be a quick 10s rinse ended up being more like a 20s rinse. The smell of the wet leaves after the rinse was somewhat reminiscent of chicken poop, but said smell dissipated rather quickly. As someone new to ripe pu’er, this made me a bit anxious about what to expect from how the actual tea would taste like, but I try not to have too many expectations and let the taste speak for itself.
I brew all my sheng in a beautiful 250ml fully handmade Yixing clay teapot, which kind of forces me to use less leaf to water than many others do in order to avoid making the first few steeps too strong because of the minimum pour time it imposes. Therefore I’m not used to brewing pu’er in a gaiwan and furthermore this was my first time steeping shu so I wasn’t sure what kind of ratio would be appropriate for achieving the strength I want. I’ve heard a lot of people using 1g per 15ml, but I estimated a more conservative figure of 7-7.5g being a safer staring point for me personally. I ended up putting around 7.6g in the 150ml gaiwan and this turned out to result in a strength that was about the right level for the first couple steepings, with me pouring the tea out as fast as I could (around ten seconds total from the moment I start pouring the water in the gaiwan to the gaiwan being empty). I could have probably used a bit more leaf, say 8g or maybe even 9g, as at least this particular ripe seems very forgiving in terms of how much you put in.
As for the actual taste, describing this tea is very hard as it tastes completely different from any other tea I’ve tried, even raw pu’ers. I don’t know if this is representative of all ripes, but the language in which this shu speaks is totally different from what I’m used to. Contrary to the messy appearance (and possibly smell), this tea tastes very smooth and clean. The only word I can think of to sum up the general vocabulary of flavors it contains is earthy, but I don’t think it does a good job of conveying how the tea actually tastes like. The tea has darkish, mature earthy notes, which are often accompanied by a sweetness of some sort. The first proper steeping had a very dark liquor characteristic of ripe pu’er and a quite thick, almost syrupy texture. This very first infusion also was the only one where you could perhaps taste a hint of a medicinal quality to the tea and it had an actual mouth refreshing effect which you could feel as coolness when you inhaled through your mouth.
From the second steeping onward the liquor still looks very much like a cola drink or brown cough syrup from many angles, but when viewed horizontally in a clear vessel the liquid is actually a stunning shade of ruby red or even crimson red – almost like blood in a vial or a liquefied ruby. I wouldn’t say that there is a lot of development in flavor from one steeping to the next, but there are certainly many distinct different flavors present in this tea, they are just so close to one another that without paying close attention they may seem like the one same flavor over and over again. The differences are subtle, but they are they. Around the fifth infusion I also detected some underlying perhaps even floral notes peeking their head, but they seemed to go away again after that.
The earthy notes that are predominant for the first half a dozen steeps or so finally start weakening somewhere around the seventh or eight infusion, making way for a sweetness that is a different kind from the one that has accompanied the earthy notes in previous steeps in one way or another. I ended the session at the tenth steep at which point the flavor was clearly starting to taper out, even though the sweetness was actually still stronger than in other teas at a similar point when the infusions start to taste increasingly watery and you know the leaves are getting close to the point of being spent. As I have no experience on this matter, I don’t know if this is typical of shu pu’er, but I’m used to raw pu’ers having notably more longevity than this ripe at least. Not that ten steeps or slightly more depending on what you still count as tea and not simply water you’ve soaked some leaves in is disappointing, but I’m used to most pu’ers outlasting me instead of me outlasting them.
As far as bodily effects and tea drunkenness goes (as still a tea novice I dare not use the term cha qi as I’m not sure if it is the same thing), to again use sheng pu’er as a reference point (young gushu in particular), I’m used to suddenly noticing the effects of the tea around the fourth or fifth infusion. With this tea, the effect was a bit delayed, suddenly kicking in somewhere around the seventh infusion or so (I don’t keep tasting notes as I drink, not yet anyway). I noticed it first in my head with a slight lightheadedness perhaps and then in my chest and stomach. Not too long after I did feel a bit tea drunk for a while, but overall the effects were somewhat mild compared to my typical pu’er sessions with sheng. I’d just had a meal before the session, so I’m not sure if this had any impact on this. But aside from the more noticeable effects, the tea made both me and my mother much more quiet than usual. Not really tired but it just puts you in a state where you kind of forget you could be talking to others. You just end up sitting there forgotten in your own thoughts.
While drinking the first infusion and then again a couple hours after the session I noticed that the tea kind of coats your tongue with its taste that stays there for a long time, but you won’t actually taste it unless you wet your tongue a little, which is when you’ll be able to keep extracting the taste as long as you keep salivating.
All in all, fortunately this first exposure I had with shu pu’er ended up being a positive one. I honestly can’t say if I’d recommend this tea or not or say if I think it’s good or bad. I only really have positive things to say about it with nothing negative coming to mind. That being said, I don’t really have anything I could compare this tea to as it is so radically different from anything else I’ve tried before. I’ll have to drink it more to determine if I like it or only find it a pleasant tea to drink from time to time. This is not a tea I would recommend for those new to tea, but for those who already have some familiarity with raw pu’er this might be a safe ripe to try out as your first shu. Being relatively inexpensive and a quite small cake at only 100g, even if you end up not liking it very much at least you won’t feel too bad about your investment.
I’ve already ordered the popular 2015 Yunnan Sourcing Green Miracle (along with a few other YS cakes) and look forward to tasting it as my second shu pu’er. I will also have to try a Menghai ripe at some point as they are considered a benchmark of sorts when it comes to ripe pu’er. Will I become a shu drinker or stick with raw? Time will tell.