Thanks to the Steepster TTB, I’m sampling this interesting tea today. TeaSpring sells this as a pricey loose-leaf puerh tea. My (other) Ya Bao leaves from Norbu Tea are sold as a moderately priced wild-type white tea. I think the leaf, as picked, is the same for both: the growing tips of a wild-type varietal (or wild arbor) of tea plant which were picked in the early Spring season. The difference is that these Ya Bao leaves from TeaSpring have been fermented in the manner of puerh mao cha. The mao cha are the “makings” of puerh tea … they’re piled up and allowed to age in a controlled amount of humidity. Later, this mao cha may be blended with other mao cha and made into a pressed cake of puerh, to be aged further in cake form.
This Ya Bao puerh is mao cha which has neither been blended with other tea types nor pressed into a cake. It is presented to us by TeaSpring as drinkable now, and I agree. The scent and flavor also differ from the unfermented Ya Bao from Norbu. They are a bit funkier, as you’d imagine, and the leaf has more brownish tones to it. The liquor is still quite light colored, but has earthier flavors, more wood, peat, nut, and pine. I couldn’t identify the vanilla noted by others, but there’s a slight sweetness. The wet leaves smell like sour wet cardboard, which seems to translate, oh-so-fortunately, into a lemony note in the liquid brew.
I followed TeaSpring’s steeping recommendations, right down to the purple clay pot, except my first steep was cooler than boiling. After that, I upped the temp. By the time I got to the 4th steep, at 5 min, I wasn’t getting much except the sourness, and gave up the effort. For flavor, the first steep was my favorite. But for cha qi (that subtle energy of the tea which can be labeled and measured as caffeine, theanine, and a host of other constituents of the leaf), the later brewing delivered a kick that I’ve come to identify with a distinct, hard-to-describe feeling in the throat. Like a young sheng (raw) puerh, these mao cha can be uniquely engaging.
I’m glad I got to try this. It was a good educational experience and likely a healthful drink, but not something I’d seek out again or keep on hand. I’ll send the small (about 2 servings) remainder of this along with the TTB from whence it came. For seekers of new and/or unique experiences (like myself), tea samples, swaps, or a TTB are a great way to go!