117 Tasting Notes
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.
Flavors: Bitter, Coffee, Fruity, Honey, Smoke, Vanilla
This is a cake I acquired via Teepolku/Tea Trail based in Turku, Finland. Thus far in my young pu’er drinking career I’ve focused on young sheng, and this was a curiosity buy I acquired a while back to act as my first foray into semi-aged raw or at least something close to that (I also have a Xiaguan tuo from 2004 waiting for me). According to Teepolku, Ju You is a small pu’er producer who specializes mainly in tea from the Yiwu area. As the name suggests, this tea is allegedly gushu material from Kunlu mountain. As both of these claims are difficult to prove and don’t really matter in the end, we shall not dwell on them any longer than this. I don’t have any knowledge about the storage history of this tea.
The cake is fairly loose and prying leaves off is quite easy. The color is indeed a few shades darker than the younger cakes I’m used to looking at and even the buds have gone from their young silvery appearance to a dirtier off-white. Still, there’s a fair amount of green shades left. The dry cake doesn’t smell all that different from your typical young raw bing, but in the pre-heated teapot the dry leaves start to reveal a slightly fruity scent. After the rinse the fruitiness becomes more pronounced and is joined by the scent of tobacco.
As per usual, I steeped around 13.4g of leaf in a 250ml Yixing clay teapot. I gave the leaves a brief 10s rinse and let them rest for ten minutes before the first infusion. I steeped the tea nine times for around 16s, 14s, 15s, 18s, 22s, 26s, 34s, 54s and 70s according to my own mental clock. The tea had nice strength in the early steeps, but then started falling off quicker than other raws I’ve had. I didn’t do a perfect job of trying to compensate for this, and in the future I will likely need to increase the steeping times in larger increments than typical. The tea could have probably gone for a bit longer, but I felt it didn’t have anything else to show me and there would have been no point in drinking it for the taste.
The first infusion presented light, clean flavors with a lightly floral nature to them and perhaps a touch of floral sweetness. I was reminded a bit of a white tea or at least the image people have of white tea. The next steep was more potent, with some slight astringency and a taste leaning more towards a greener color. The taste remained unchanged in the third infusion. What set it apart from the one that came before it was the way in which it coated your mouth, leaving hints of various flavors lingering in your mouth. You could also detect an interesting aroma in your mouth when you breathed out through your nose, but I for the life of me couldn’t place it.
The taste in the fourth infusion was less green, less astringent. It wasn’t sweet, but it had a note with a character that made you think of sweet. The steep also showed a small resurgence of the initial floral nature or something of that nature. I can’t be sure, but I may have also detected the tiniest hint of some mild qi. In the next two infusions the other flavors started to taper off while a characteristic sheng sweetness seemed to start to emerge. I could feel the qi very stealthily starting to creep up on me, and so I decided to take a small break from the tea and snack on something in case it was bringing my blood sugar down too much.
After the break I tried pushing the seventh steeping a bit harder, although brewing it for a couple seconds longer would likely have resulted in an even better result. I managed to extract some more flavor and somewhat unexpectedly the tea was actually less sweet than before. Drinking this infusion I could feel noticeable warmth in my chest and throat and my breath felt hot. Despite pushing the eighth infusion even harder, it wasn’t very flavorful and didn’t even offer any real sweetness to speak of. On the other hand the presence of cha qi was probably now more noticeable than before. Surprisingly the last infusion I did did once again have some flavor, but the astringency was also on a steep rise. The tea was still quite warming, almost causing a burning sensation in my chest.
This is the point where I decided to stop, because in my eyes the only reason to keep drinking the tea would have been the cha qi. After the session the tea made me feel very listless for a while and this was followed by my stomach being a bit grumpy for most of the evening, which is not something pu’er typically does for me (this is the first time). Despite it not being any warmer inside than normal, I was sweating a little all through the evening like it was early summer, and when I woke up during the night the legs of my pajamas were wet from light sweat, akin to breaking into a cold sweat when you are sick.
Throughout the infusions, the color and hue of the liquor were indistinguishable to my eyes from a young sheng’s and coupled with the flavor profile of the tea I would draw the conclusion that this tea has been fairly dryly stored. If this tea had been served to me without showing me the dry leaves, I would have pegged it down as a spring 2016 harvest. As I feel the tea is still a long way from even reaching semi-maturity, I will likely be slowly drinking it away instead of storing it. Next time I will experiment with brewing it in a gaiwan, which should allow me some more control over the brewing time, and see if there are nuances to this tea that were lost to me the first time around. The qi in this one didn’t seem to agree with me on first meeting, but hopefully we can get better acquainted over time and maybe find some common ground.
Flavors: Floral, Sweet
To my understanding some question can this really be ancient arbor tea from Yiwu. This tea isn’t exactly cheap, but with the current maocha prices you would expect it to cost closer to double what it is going for right now, if not more. I judge based on taste (and qi and all that good stuff), so I don’t really care where the tea comes from, how old the trees are, etc. Of course we’d all prefer vendors to be as honest about the tea they sell as they can, but honestly you should take anything any vendor tells you with a grain of salt. Even if they tell you the facts as they know them, the farmer might be lying to them or send them a different tea than the one they sampled. I’ve never had Yiwu tea before, so I don’t have anything to compare this tea to. However, I do have some in my pumidor waiting to be opened, so in the future I will be more informed.
As is becoming standard for me, I brewed 13 grams of this tea in my 250ml Yixing clay teapot, so a ratio of around 1g/20ml which seems to work well for clay. I gave the tea a 10s rinse, followed by a 10 minute rest. I steeped the tea eleven times for about 18s, 17s, 20s, 20s, 23s, 27s, 31s, 34s, 44s, 59s and 94s. The tea showed no signs of giving in anytime soon, but I was confident I’d seen all it had to show me and frankly I’d consumed a lot of tea by that point so I decided to stop.
Even though the flavors in this tea were light, the tea was surprisingly strong from the very first infusion. Throughout the session it brewed out very consistently both in terms of color and strength. There never really was any noticeably body, which is a small minus. The flavors themselves were very basic and didn’t change dramatically over the course of the session. The first infusion reminded me a bit of hay and was perhaps lightly floral. It didn’t have any sweetness and made me feel a bit thirsty. The next one had maybe a hint of sweetness as well as some astringency, which you could not only feel in your mouth but also taste in the taste, if you know what I mean.
The third steep was slightly more astringent still, with a bit of a greener taste to it. In the fourth steeping the astringency went down and the sweetness up while still not being actually sweet. There was, however, a lingering aftertaste to this infusion that had a distinct sweetness to it that was not present in the actual taste itself. The taste of this lingering sweetness reminded me of the two Yunnan Sourcing Da Qing Gu Shus I reviewed recently. In the following infusion the sweetness was less present and the taste became “greener.” At this point the tea reminded me a lot of the 2014 Autumn Da Qing Gu Shu and the similarity applies largely to the tea as a whole in terms of taste. The difference is that this Misty Peak sheng lacks the autumnal leafy flavors I detected in the Da Qing and only has the most basic underlying flavors of that tea.
Going onward, the rest of the steeps were not much different. All had some astringency. Eventually all the other flavors began to taper off and all that was left was some general type of sweetness that wasn’t however a mineral sweetness that I’ve tasted in many other teas in later infusions. Notable exception is steep no. 8 which actually had a nice herbal nature to it, if that’s even the right word. In the context of this tea it stood out in a positive way.
Now let’s talk qi. Because the qi is probably much more notable about this tea in its current state than the taste. Already from the first infusion I was feeling some serious pressure at the back and sides of my head, but the second infusion was even more intense. I could feel the qi not only in my chest but in my whole body, which was a first one for me. I started to get seriously warm and had to slow down my drinking. I should note that the sensation wasn’t unpleasant, however. The rest of the steeps were less intense in terms of qi, but what’s notable about this tea is that the qi was very consistently present in each of them. The only real spike happened in steeping number six which hit me in my belly, made my muscles ache a little and caused some minor tea drunkenness. After the seventh infusion I had to take a little break from the tea, because it was affecting me so much and I was finding it too difficult to concentrate on it. At various points over the course of the session the sheng turned out to be a quite warming tea.
So all in all how do I feel about this tea? Taste-wise it is about as simple as it gets, reminding me of a slightly stripped-down version of the autumn Da Qing Gu Shu I mentioned. Not a bad tea, but relatively basic. The cha qi and the longevity are the things that stand out here. I could not steep out this tea, which is always a positive. The qi doesn’t hit you like a truck like the autumn Da Qing does, but it stays incredibly stable throughout the session, which is something I haven’t experienced before. Part of the reason why I quit prematurely was because this tea builds up so much qi over the course of a session that I had to admit defeat to this tea. My muscles were sore for the rest of the evening, so this is definitely not for those who can find young sheng to be too intense.
As mentioned, this is the first (allegedly) Yiwu tea I’ve had, but my experience with it seems to match what I’ve gathered from others’ general descriptions of tea from the region. It would help to be sure of the origin, because I feel this is a tea that’s more suited for storage than immediate consumption, and I’d like to be more certain it will age well as people say Yiwu tea tends to do. Whereas the autumn Da Qing Gu Shu was a slight disappointment due to my high expectations for it, this tea was a mildly positive experience since I had no expectations really. Taste-wise the Da Qing has more going on right now, but the qi in that was quite untamed and the longevity so-so. It’s a weird thing for me to be comparing these two teas in particular, but they reminded me so much of each other, especially after drinking them back to back.
I will be storing this tea away for now, but if I desperately need the space in my pumidor, I may end up drinking it. I also have the autumn 2016 counterpart waiting for me, but I’m a bit hesitant to try to consume it at a tender age of mere six months, so I may end up waiting a few months on that. All in all, not a bad tea in its current state. Not a great tea, but not a bad tea.
Flavors: Astringent, Green, Sweet
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
Yay, finally a sheng review from me. As a small disclaimer before we get started, even though I’m not totally new to raw pu’er, I’m still very much a novice when it comes to this wonderful tea and I still have a lot to learn and experience. My experience is mostly with young raw, under which this tea currently falls.
This was the first time I actually kept notes as I was drinking this tea, so unlike my last two reviews this time everything isn’t completely from memory. I wasn’t drinking alone, though (tea is best when shared, I hope you agree), so I was only making small, hasty notes.
The cake is loosely pressed and you could probably break off pieces with your bare fingers, but I’d still recommend a pick so that you can break it in layers and avoid breaking too many leaves. The dry leaves seem to give off a pretty typical young raw pu’er scent. As I typically do with raw pu’er, I was using a beautiful fully handmade Yixing teapot that I have dedicated to sheng. The only downside it has is its rather large size of 250ml, which is quite large if you have less than three or four people. Thankfully it has a relatively quick pour time, especially for its size, at around ten seconds. The holes can sometimes get blocked, though, which can double the pour time to twenty seconds.
As I’m still relatively new to pu’er, in the past I’ve used a rather conservative ratio of leaf to water, using typically around 9g in my pot, this to avoid excessively strong brews in the first few steeps due to the pour time of the teapot. However, this time I decided to try using more leaf than in the past, ending up at 13g, which is still a bit shy of the 1g/15ml that a lot of people use. At least with this tea this did not end up being excessive and in the future I may experiment with using perhaps a little more leaf still.
I gave the leaves one 20s rinse. The resulting liquor was quite cloudy and this was true of the first one or two infusions as well. There was barely any scent to the wash and this was true of the tea soup in general through all the infusions I did. All I could pick out was perhaps a hint of salty water scent. The wet leaves themselves had a quite nice green smell to them, like that of cooked vegetables or something of that sort. As the infusions progressed, the color of the liquid settled chiefly on a gold-ish yellow that in the middle steeps often had a green tinge to it, with the later steeps looking like sunshine in a glass.
The first infusion ended up going a bit long at around 23s due to the holes in the pot being partially blocked. The resulting tea had plenty of flavor, but thankfully wasn’t too strong. It was THICK. One of the thickest mouth feels I’ve experienced to date, if not the thickest. The taste was reminiscent of the scent of the wet leaves. It tasted green. Not grassy, but like leaves. It was like the color of the wet leaves as a taste. The taste also had something to it that evoked cooked vegetables. There wasn’t really any sweetness of any kind. I detected perhaps the tiniest hint of qi, but I can’t be sure.
Due to the holes not being blocked, the second infusion resulted in being about five seconds shorter and not nearly as strong in flavor. The body was also notably thinner. The taste is hard to describe. It was kind of salty in a way but also not. There was only a hint of the vegetables from the first infusion left.
The third steep I did about as long as the first and now the thickness was back albeit not as strong. The saltiness from the second infusion was now going down in level whilst I felt like I detected hints of a (vegetal?) sweetness emerging. There was perhaps some slight astringency and I thought I noted some interesting kind of bitterness, but I’m not sure if it was actually there as the sensations was very fleeting. The tea left a sort of tobacco aroma lingering in my mouth, which was later accompanied by some sort of sweet fruit. Later still as those aromas had faded, there was a lingering sweetness in my mouth that lasted incredibly long and felt like it just kept intensifying over time. I thought I felt a bit of qi building in my chest after this steeping.
The fourth steep I kept as long as the last one and what awaited me was a tea that had totally transformed. It was INCREDIBLY sweet, on the level of honey. It coated the roof of your mouth just like honey and the sweetness only intensified over time. It was difficult to take more than one sip because the sweetness was so intense. Once again I could feel some more qi building still.
The next infusion was maybe around 30s. It tasted very clean, still sweet, but not as sweet as before. There might’ve been the tiniest bit of bitterness. Nothing particularly noteworthy. Since the fifth steep had perhaps been a bit lacking, I decided to push the sixth one a bit harder and did maybe an around 40s steeping. I was greeted by STRONG qi. It was gripping my throat, I could feel it in my chest, I was sweating, I could feel it in my head. STRONG stuff. With a stronger brew there was again more sweetness. Not sure how I should describe this sweetness, but it was interesting. Besides the sweetness, the sixth steeping seemed to leave a citrus taste of some sort lingering in the mouth or perhaps it was even reminiscent of iron. It made me think of the taste and feeling you have in your mouth after coming home from the dentist with your gums sore.
The seventh steeping I did for 50s. It tasted clean and sweet, with nothing noteworthy to mention. The eighth one I did for 75s. It ended up being a stronger brew with a super clean taste and still a nice amount of sweetness to it. I thought I could detect some of the vegetal sweetness from the very first steeps returning in the sweetness. At this point I could feel the qi starting to affect my stomach a little bit (not in a bad way), which is atypically late for sheng for me.
The ninth steeping I brewed for 90s. I could definitely taste the cooked vegetable sweetness from the early steepings coming back. This and the prior infusion both had perhaps the tiniest hint of astringency to them. I’m feeling the qi again. I can feel it at the back of my tongue, in my throat, chest, stomach, there’s some tingling on my tongue, I’m starting to feel a little warm, I could feel myself becoming a little tea drunk. While the actual taste of the tea was nice but nothing too special, the aftertaste it left in your mouth was the real highlight here. As with all the earlier infusions, the aftertaste lasted for a really long time and it consisted of multiple layers of sweet and spicy notes. Over time the taste only seemed to get stronger and keep developing. This was really interesting and really surprised me after I’d already assumed the tea had become one-dimensional. Along with steeps four and six, this was one of my favorite infusions.
As I was steeping the tenth infusion, I suddenly noticed I was actually really tea drunk. It felt like I could hardly stand straight, my thoughts weren’t fully coherent, my motoric control wasn’t at its best, I felt a bit giggly and I was having difficulty counting seconds for the infusion. The drunkenness did pass in a reasonable amount of time, though. The tenth infusion itself I did for two minutes. It had a decent amount of color, but when I tasted it the taste just wasn’t there, it was gone. Barely hints of anything. Not really a watery taste, just totally flat. I decided to stop there.
After the session I felt very listless for the rest of the evening and for a while extremely sleepy. I didn’t sleep enough so I felt tired the next day as well, but at the same time I felt quite good and relaxed and my mind was very clear. Not sure if this was an effect of the tea or not. I really enjoyed the slowly building qi in this tea.
Overall, I really liked this tea. The material is obviously very high quality and the tea session was very rewarding and satisfying. While this tea is not particularly challenging, I feel it is also one which those new to tea/pu’er may not be able to fully appreciate. The only real negatives I can think of are the somewhat simplistic flavor profile in the later steeps (which is not that uncommon, I suppose) and the way all the flavor seemed to suddenly drop off resulting in only mediocre longevity, but I will have to experiment with different ways of brewing this tea. This probably isn’t for those who don’t like sweet tea or wish for some bitterness to bring some edge to the flavor, but otherwise this is a young sheng that can most certainly be drunk now.
As someone with no experience in these matters, I have no idea how this one will age, but I hope it will improve with age as I’m likely to have at least some left a few years from now. I will be reviewing a lot more raw pu’ers in the future, so look forward to that!
Flavors: Citrus, Green, Salty, Spices, Sweet, Vegetal
This is the second ripe pu’er I’ve drunk in my life. Why both my first and second review ever on this site have been on ripe pu’er I have no idea. While reading these tasting notes, please keep in mind that these are the impressions of someone who is still getting familiar with the flavor profile of shu pu’er. I should also note that I’ve been sick for the past few days. Usually the flu doesn’t affect my sense of taste, but this time around there were a couple of days during which I could barely taste anything. I’ve mostly recovered now, but it’s possible my taste buds aren’t quite at 100% and that could have affected my impressions in some small way.
I’ve had this cake for a week or two now and for that time it has sat in my pumidor in a relative humidity of around 60%. This is only the second ripe pu’er cake I’ve seen in person, but I must say that the cake is quite beautiful. The compression is also not too tight at all and it was very easy to break off a couple of big chunks to put in my gaiwan. I believe I put something around 10.5g in a 150ml gaiwan. Again, I have very little experience with shu pu’er and am not an expert on tea in general, but to my eyes the material looks quite good quality for ripe material and it is fairly tippy seeming to consist of mainly buds and small leaves.
My nose is not working very well in my current state, but I’ve taken a quick whiff of the cake when I got it and the dry leaves do have a faint ripe pu’er smell to them but nothing overly strong. My mother has also had a chance to sniff the cake and she found it to be a very repulsive smell whilst I did not find it offensive personally. The wet leaves have a smell that is consistent with my prior experience with shu pu’er. I liken it in my mind to a dialed down version of a barn, but a version of that smell that I actually kind of like. The smell of the leaves weakens as the steeps go on until it becomes nonexistent.
I started my session by giving the leaves one 15–20s rinse during which I attempted to poke the leaves a little bit with the lid only to find I couldn’t quite reach the chunks resting at the bottom of the gaiwan. Due to the light compression, however, it was quite easy to pry the leaves loose by hand after the rinse. I was having a very casual session, so I didn’t pay close attention to how long I was steeping the leaves each time and how many infusions I did total, but I’d say I probably did around 10–12 steeps or perhaps even a couple more. The first several infusions were likely in the range of 15s each, while the last couple were several minutes each. The leaves could have probably gone for one more extra long infusion, but I’d say they were pretty much spent by that point.
Both the rinse and the first infusion were quite cloudy, with the liquor becoming clearer after that albeit quite dark at the same time. Even though I was using a perfectly decent amount of leaf and wasn’t even keeping the steeps as short as physically possible, the tea soup never – apart from one infusion (possibly no. 4 or 5) – really had any notable thickness in the mouth that I could speak of. It wasn’t totally water, but I found the body to be quite light. It should be noted I was using a strainer in case that has any notable effect.
As for the taste, I found this tea to be fairly dynamic, which kept it interesting enough to make you want to keep drinking it. There were never any major swings, however. The overall feel and character of the tea stayed quite similar while you got to experience some slightly different facets of it. The first couple infusions had a sweetness to them. They also evoked a reminiscence to first coffee, which then switched to something more akin to chocolate. Not dark chocolate, combined with the sweetness it evoked a mental image of something more along the lines of milk chocolate. In later steepings this developed more to a sense of cocoa powder or something of that description, although this was a note that was not consistently present in every steeping and sort of came and went.
The sweetness first developed into a more bittersweet flavor in the second steeping before dropping off after that. In the middle steepings there were some woody notes present, which were then replaced by a more mineral taste which culminated in an infusion which combined both a mineral sweetness front with a more salty mineral taste following it. Soon after this the flavors started to taper off quite quickly around the tenth infusion or so, the flavors becoming quite few in number and rather simplistic lacking notable depth. The second-to-last infusion, which I drank after it had had time to cool a bit too much, had an interesting metallic taste to it which I’ve never encountered in tea before. At no time did I encounter any bitterness of any kind, good or bad, and I find it hard to imagine it being easy to manage to make this ripe taste bitter. I will note, however, that I found this tea to have a slightly drying sensation in the mouth which makes you thirst for a sip of water.
The front on which I was somewhat let down by this shu was qi. Most of my experience with pu’er comes from drinking young raw gushu and for me taste is only part of the experience as a whole. I couldn’t detect this tea affecting me in any way, which was somewhat disappointing, I must say. It didn’t grip my throat, it didn’t make my tongue swell or tingle, it didn’t make me sweat, nor did it affect my mood or mind. I also didn’t find there to be any similarities that I could find to raw pu’er. As I recall from drinking “The New Black” by Misty Peak, which is so far the only other ripe I’ve drunk, that tea did start to reveal that it was a pu’er in the middle steeps and it also had some cha qi to speak of although not much. Perhaps this is characteristic of ripe pu’er (or aged raw pu’er, even, I wouldn’t know), but I would definitely prefer my pu’ers to have more going on for them than just taste.
Overall, I find it hard to say if I’d recommend this tea or not, or in fact if I like this tea or not. I don’t dislike it, but right now I’m still trying to familiarize myself with shu pu’er and figure out what I think of it in general. I certainly find it fun to explore these type of teas every now and then, but the quite dark flavor profile is something I find hard to see myself wanting to drink on a regular basis. My current understanding of shu pu’er is that most of them share a fairly similar flavor profile and there isn’t a terrible amount of variety within this category. Perhaps I’m misinformed, but if that is indeed the case, I don’t see there being a big likelihood of me falling in love with it.
I will most definitely have to session this tea again in the future and see how it changes depending on how you brew it. My current impressions of the tea are fairly neutral, leaning lightly towards positive with nothing negative to really point out besides the apparent lack of qi and maybe mediocre longevity (compared to sheng that I’ve drunk). For ripe at least, the tea seems fairly high quality, but again I have very limited experience with this type of tea. Someone who has tried out various ripe pu’ers already and has come to the conclusion ripe isn’t for them probably isn’t going to change their mind because of this tea. People who enjoy shu may like this one, but honestly I have no reference point for what is good ripe and what is not. Even after the recent annual price increase, this tea is still quite affordable (as is most shu pu’er), but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend buying a cake of this blind unless you are fairly confident the chances of this being a ripe pu’er you might not enjoy are fairly low. 250g can be a large amount of tea if you find that you can’t stand the sight of it.
For now I will say that this is an interesting tea.
Flavors: Chocolate, Cocoa, Coffee, Dark Bittersweet, Metallic, Mineral, Salty, Sweet, Wood
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.
Flavors: Earth, Sweet