Last week I reviewed the 2015 spring version of this tea and now it is time to compare it to this autumnal offering. To the best of my knowledge both come from the same family’s trees, so this should be a true comparison between seasons. This is the first autumn-picked raw pu’er I’ve tried, so I was interested to see how much of an impact season has on tea picked from the same trees.
Due to this being an autumn harvest, the leaves are notably bigger than in the spring cake. The cake feels a bit harder to me and not as easy to break into. The leaves want to break off individually as opposed to larger chunks and I took my time trying not to break too many leaves. With the spring counterpart, I used 13g of leaf in my 250ml Yixing teapot, so a ratio of around 1g/20ml. This time I wanted to go just a tad bit heavier to try to experiment with the ratio and went with 14g. My finding was that that small increase likely wasn’t necessary and 13g should acts as a good baseline going forward.
I found the dry leaves to have a pretty typical young sheng smell based on my limited experience. I gave them a brief 12s rinse (I count from when I start pouring the water to when most of the tea is out), followed by a 10-minute rest. The wet leaves had a dark green smell that I couldn’t identify more specifically. From the first infusion forward the smell began reminding me of a meadow. The liquor itself had only a faint scent to it, still being stronger than the spring counterpart. The rinse was reminiscent of salt water, later infusions acquired a smell that was somewhat leafy to me. Smelling the empty cup provided a notably stronger aroma which reminded me of an artificial-smelling perfume that has an intentionally foul character to it to give it some edge.
The first proper infusion I did for 16 seconds. It had a noticeable amount of body to it, but nothing of the amazing thickness the spring cake had in its early infusions. The taste was very clean and kind of salty in a way, or at least it made you think of salt. I could also detect something of a character that I’d perhaps call floral. There wasn’t any sweetness, but there was perhaps hints of something vegetal.
The second infusion ended up being two seconds longer. The taste was still very clean. There was less body now, but still some, and perhaps I’m being influenced by the knowledge of this being an autumn tea, but the tea also started tasting more… autumnal to me. I also thought I might’ve detected a hint of the flavor that was most characteristic of the spring 2015 tea emerging, but I can’t be sure. This infusion felt to me like it was kind of in between flavors. It failed to leave much of an impression. I’m not sure about astringency, but this steep felt really drying on the tongue, with the sensation increasing over time. Fortunately it passed before the next infusion. It was the driest sensation any tea has given me to date.
The next infusion was the same length as the first. There was some sweetness now, with a green-tasting tinge to it, and quite a bit of astringency as well. The tea prompted blood to really start flowing in my tongue, making it feel really hot and like I’d burned it. This numbness that incurred made it hard to taste anything further about this steeping. The cha qi also began taking hold in my chest and stomach and made me feel a bit lightheaded for a spell.
I did not make changes to the steeping time for the fourth infusion. The result was a taste that was not weak, but light enough to warrant increasing the steeping time from there on. Once again the taste was very clean and somewhat sweet. There was also perhaps something savory about this steep, although flavor-wise it wasn’t anything special. It did make me feel a bit of qi in my chest and in my throat, though.
For the next one I increased the steeping time by five seconds, but the resulting soup was still a bit on the weak side. Flavor-wise it reminded me of a low-quality green tea, also making me think of piled leaves in the autumn. I proceeded to the sixth infusion increasing the steeping time again by five seconds and this time I got A LOT more sweetness. It was kind of honey-ish or like potent honeydew melon in flavor, reminding me of the spring cake but not being nearly as shockingly sweet. The tea still had the leafy taste present in prior infusions, as well as more than a modest amount of astringency, but not so much that it would have bothered me.
For the seventh steeping I bumped up the steeping time to 35s. The flavors were clearly starting to taper off now, but in their stead the cha qi hit me like a hammer – no, like a truck. Hard, hard, hard. My face was flushing, I felt a rush of cold sweat rise to the surface, and the feeling in my chest was real. The sensation did pass as quickly as it’d arrived, though. The steeping actually had a interesting herbal/leafy kinda taste to it, similar to an aged white tea I had once. Unlike earlier infusions, the tea soup left an aftertaste lingering in your mouth. Surprisingly, I quite liked this steep.
I pushed the tea harder for the eighth steep, taking it to 50s. Despite this, it did start to taste watery. The liquid had nice color and some taste, but not as much as I’d liked. Like a lot of teas when they are starting to become spent, the flavor was more mineral-y in nature and there was definitely some astringency as well like in most prior infusions.
The ninth steeping I did for 75s and this time around I was rewarded with more taste. In fact, I may have steeped the tea for a tad too long, actually. To my surprise, I did feel some cha qi from this late steeping, both in my stomach as well as some wooziness in my head. The tea had a touch of sweetness and bitterness, with definite minerality in the taste, alongside some astringency but less than you would have expected. That being said, there was nothing particularly interesting about the taste.
I believe the leaves would have had enough in them for one extra long steeping, but I felt they had shown all they had to offer so I decided to stop here.
What are my overall impressions of this tea? I definitely found it very different from the spring 2015 offering. After being very impressed by that tea, I must admit I found this one quite underwhelming in comparison. I didn’t dislike the tea, but at least in its current state I didn’t find it interesting enough or the flavor profile particularly appealing to me. If the tea had more top notes that made it more interesting when it was younger, they would seem to have dropped off over the past couple years or it is possible that my Yixing pot ate them. As it stands right now, I feel the tea needs to develop more depth and possible additional flavors for it to become more interesting to me. I have nothing to support this, but from tasting the tea, I got the impression it has potential to age well. For now I’m going to store the cake away at least until the 2020s. I have plenty of other teas to sip in the meantime.
For an autumn tea, this one might be stellar, but right now I can only compare it to spring teas and in that regard it did come across as mediocre. In comparison to the spring 2015 counterpart the tea doesn’t have any of the wow factor that one has. It lacks the beautiful long-lingering aftertaste the spring tea had in each infusion, and while this tea had probably the strongest-hitting cha qi I’ve experienced to date, the qi arrived in sudden bursts and never lasted very long. It had none of the beautiful structure of the qi in the spring pu’er.
In its current state, I can’t recommend this cake for immediate consumption as I feel it needs more age at this point. That being said, it could be that the flavor profile simply isn’t appealing to me. For whatever reason, as I was drinking this tea, I found myself thinking this might be a tea that people who like shu pu’er but don’t mind some astringency may like. But I’ve only tasted two shu pu’ers in my life, so what do I know.
I’m interested to see how this one will develop over time.
Flavors: Astringent, Autumn Leaf Pile, Drying, Honey, Mineral, Sweet