My first factory tea. Also the oldest sheng I’ve drunk to date. My tuo was acquired via Teepolku/Tea Trail based in Finland. I don’t know anything about its storage history. I’ve had mine for a while, but have wanted to get better acquainted with young sheng before trying it out. I’ve also been a bit afraid to try it, which is another reason why I’ve been holding off on it.
To deviate from my usual routine, I prepared nine grams of this tea in a 130ml gaiwan. I usually use my Yixing clay teapot which I love very much, but I guess I didn’t deem this factory production worthy of touching my beloved and my tuo also smelled very smoky so I kinda didn’t want it to impart some of that flavor to the clay. The bundle of compressed leaves was hard as a baseball and the small pieces of broken leaf and dust that primarily broke off didn’t exactly inspire confidence.
The dry leaves smelled smoky and like aged raw pu’er and placing them in the pre-heated gaiwan didn’t really reveal anything new. After a brief 10s rinse the smell became that of intense smoke and ash, but after the first proper infusion the smoke pretty much disappeared from the leaves and the scent became more and more akin to typical pu’er smell over time. The liquor also had some smoke in the first couple steeps, but this too went away over time.
After a ten minute rest I steeped the leaves for a total of ten times for approx. 10s, 10s, 10s, 15s, 20s, 25s, 35s, 45s, 65s and 110s. The leaves would have probably been good for one more uberlong steep, but I didn’t see enough value in doing that so I decided to call it at ten. Throughout the session the tea produced a nice, clear liquor with an orange hue to it, denoting its fairly reasonable age. If you paid attention to it, the tea did have some minor body to it in the mouth, but nothing that drew your attention to it.
The initial steep was both a bit smoky and fruity. In the second one these were replaced by the taste of coffee. It had both the bite and bitterness of black coffee and if you let the tea cool too much the bitterness became extremely intense surpassing that of coffee. The taste of the third infusion was a bit elusive, seeming to slip off the tongue whenever you tried to latch onto it for even just a second. I detected a taste reminiscent of the flavor you get in many black teas in their late steeps. I’ve always called this a tannic taste, although I have no idea if it’s actually what people mean when they speak of tannin. After some searching, I finally found the green raw pu’er base you can taste in many young raws, a small remnant of this tea’s humble beginnings. In the taste left lingering in your mouth you could taste a combination of the green and tannic flavors, paired with some astringency.
In the fourth steeping some sweetness finally started to emerge. The taste was a bit fruity and there was perhaps even a hint of some vanilla flavor. Once again there was a small amount of astringency and the tea was perhaps also a bit drying in the mouth. If you forgot the tea in your cup for too long and let it cool down too much, it got extremely bitter. Steep number five had multiple things going on at the same time. A characteristic raw pu’er sweetness was starting to emerge while there were some other notes going on at the same time. I’m not sure if I’d say the initial smoky flavor was making a small resurgence or if something else was going on. This was the first steep that had very notable bitterness even when you drank the tea hot, but it remained just below the threshold where it would have become uncomfortable.
The sixth infusion continued to have bitterness and astringency while the sweetness increased. The seventh was sweeter still, with a large increase in the amount of flavor as well. The sweetness was actually quite nice and had a honey-ish character to it. Surprisingly, there wasn’t all that much bitterness and only a small amount of astringency. In the last three steeps the flavors were clearly starting to taper off and the tea was reminiscent of most other pu’ers on their last legs, presenting some sweetness accompanied by some astringency.
So what’s the verdict? I was dreading I might not like this tea, which is why I’ve put it off for so long. At the same time I held hope I’d learn a lot about how aged pu’er tastes from it and find it a really pleasant tea to drink. As was to be expected, the truth lay somewhere in between.
Despite the base material being what it is, this was not a bad tea. It’s not a great tea, but it’s quite decent. You can taste that the leaf material isn’t the best, but despite that this was a fairly interesting tea to session and also pretty decent flavor-wise. I did not expect any qi from this tea and didn’t get any either. I can see this tea improving gradually over the years, but it’s never going to suddenly become stellar after a decade or two. That being said, I don’t see it being worth to try to age this one and mine isn’t going back in the pumidor. I’m going to be drinking it as part of my active rotation. For that purpose it’s actually better that this one doesn’t have qi, because that allows me to drink it anytime I want.
I don’t know how much of it stems from the leaf material being pretty chopped up, but I was a bit surprised about the amount of bitterness in this tea. It may be due to the fact that I nearly always brew sheng in clay, but I’m not used to bitterness in raw pu’er. Astringency, yes. Bitterness, no. Makes me wonder how bitter this tea was when it went on sale. I’m not one of those people who think bitterness is bad, not at all, but this tea can get a bit nasty if you let it cool down. It’s the bitterness that held me back from pushing this sheng any harder in the mid steeps in fear of it becoming undrinkable. I will have to experiment in the future how much the bitterness correlates to the steeping time.
Despite this being a fairly decent tea, I find it hard to recommend because I simply feel there are better teas you could be buying at this price point. Even if you’re looking for a simple daily drinker, I still think there are many better inexpensive alternatives available. The tea isn’t forgiving enough for a pu’er novice nor interesting enough to satisfy a more seasoned drinker. It’s an okay tea, but with so many great teas out there it simply isn’t competitive enough in my opinion.