2016 Sheng Olympics
As part of the #2016ShengOlympics organized by LiquidProust, I decided to do a side-by-side tasting of all three Verdant “old tree” shengs. I figured with 50ml gaiwans it should not be overwhelming (I was not entirely correct; it’s still a lot of tea!)
Here’s the teas before the start of the session:
And here’s the aftermath showing the most intact and largest leaves I could find:
I took each tea through 11 steeps over several hours in round-robin fashion using 3.5 grams of leaf in each 50ml gaiwan with 205F (+/-2F) bottled spring water heated in a clay boiler. I let the tea guide my steep times, ending up with 10/10/10/15/20/30/40/60/90/120/300 seconds for each one.
All of the teas were quite mellow with mild aromatics and easy on my stomach. And the energy imparted was moderate; I never felt too wired.
300 Year Tree: Light yellow liquor. Aromas of pine in the first half of the session, turning tart and fruity in the latter half. Medium bodied, slightly oily mouthfeel. The flavor started fruity, turned to sweet-tart citrus with slight spice in later steeps. Some faint astringency in the beginning and again near the end when I pushed the steep times. Overall a decent mild young sheng.
1000 Year Tree: Medium yellow liquor. Aromas of pine in the first half, turning to old books, then spicy-tart near the end. Medium bodied, fairly oily mouthfeel and a soothing feeling coating the throat in most steeps. The flavor was primarily sweet-tart with slight spice and pine notes appearing at times, and citrus and herbs arising in the later half. Faintly astringent in the longer steeps. I liked this one just a little better than the 300 Year, mostly because of the feeling in my throat.
1800 Year Tree: Medium-dark yellow liquor (but not quite amber). Aromas were primarily tart, sweet, faint pine, woody, turning fruity sweet in the long steeps. Medium bodied, slightly oily mouthfeel. Flavors started as a sweet-tart balance with faint pine, citrus emerging in the mid-steeps, some herbal notes, ending with light sweetness and slight pepper. No astringency. This one edged out the other two in terms of flavor, but just barely. My notes repeatedly show “a mellow, smooth cup”.
Any one of these would be a good beginner’s sheng since they were all quite mild and well behaved. In truth I cannot pick a winner since they were all so similar. I had to really focus to pick out the differences. Also I did notice some slight camphor mid-session, but since that can carry over in the mouth from one tea to the next I could not attribute it to any one tea.
So what did I learn after drinking about a liter and a half of tea in one night?
(1) When I closed my eyes I felt I was swooping around the cosmos with “Rocket Man” playing in my head.
(2) Drinking this much tea leads to truly epic pee sessions. (Wife: “Did someone leave the water running?” Me: “Go back to sleep dear”).
(3) A few of my Steepster friends keep weird hours on Instagram as well.
(edited to add “2016 Sheng Olympics” at the top)