This cake has spent a few months in my pumidor. Today I finally decided to break into it. This is over a year old now, and while still containing plenty of various shades of green, I was surprised to see some much darker shades than I was expecting. The leaves are respectably large and the average leaf size is surprisingly homogenous. Leaf integrity has been maintained well in pressing the cake, and unlike in many cakes where the surface layer looks really nice but beneath that you find a lot of broken leaf and dust, the leaf quality seems consistent throughout the cake.
For this session I filled my trusty 250ml Yixing clay teapot with 13.3g of leaf and after a brief 10s rinse followed by a 15-minute rest I got to brewing. I did a total of nine steeps, for 15s, 15s, 17s, 20s, 25s, 35s, 1 min., 2 min. and 3 min. respectively. The drinking was done from a silver teacup. The scent of the dry leaf in a preheated teapot was a very typical young pu’er scent of hay. The scent of the rinsed leaves was also very typical: green, slightly creamy, and vegetal.
At first I wasn’t sure if the first steep was really watery or just really light. When the tea hits your tongue it tastes a lot like water. The other flavors are quite light and subtle and come with an interesting delay with each sip, not just in the beginning. The taste is green, vegetal, maybe very subtly sweet, and clean. There’s a very gentle vegetal aftertaste that appears with some delay and lasts quite long. I’m not sure, but I may have already felt some qi from the very first steep. There was some warmth in my belly and slight ache in different parts of my body.
The second steep was very similar to the first. It tasted a lot like mineral water when it hit your tongue. The mineraly green tea taste comes with a delay. The taste isn’t similar to a lot of other young raws I’ve drunk that border on unpleasant and conjure an image of you steeping some random tree leaves, but instead the flavor is comparable to some actual pretty high-end green teas that have a very dominant mineral character to them and aren’t necessarily that focused solely on yummy flavors and a wow factor. I haven’t drunk that many quality green teas, but I’m thinking of teas like Long Jing, Huang Shan Mao Feng and Anji Bai Cha (at least the ones I’ve had). The second infusion maintains the long aftertaste of the first.
The third steep tasted possibly even more watery to me than before, but I simply can’t say if what I was tasting was actually the taste of the water pushing through or the taste of the tea itself. The overall taste was very mineraly, with less green notes than before. I’m not sure if there was possibly some very, very slight astringency to the finish; it felt different from your typical astringency. The green, vegetal, maybe even slightly sweet aftertaste from before remained the same, however. The aftertaste may have even been getting better. Despite my initial uncertainty about this tea and how relatively simple it is taste-wise, it was around this third steep that I began finding it surprisingly interesting and enjoyable. The way it sounds on paper betrays the true qualities of this tea.
In the fourth steeping I immediately noticed the lighter body. The body in this tea had actually never grabbed my attention up to that point, but when it was suddenly gone I immediately took notice. I’d say the body in previous infusions had always been reasonably light, but it had been there. This tea is interesting, because if you don’t consciously pay attention to the texture in your mouth, you simply don’t notice it. The taste continued to be very mineraly and retained the same aftertaste. Like a great green tea, this sheng in its current state is a surprisingly nice tea to just sip away. I could however definitely feel it rummaging my gut a little at this point. This is undoubtedly from gushu material and commands a certain amount of respect.
In the fifth steeping the flavors were slightly more immediate than before and perhaps slightly more forward as well. The tea may have also been getting a shade sweeter, with the sweetness being mineral in character. The prior body was back now and not watery thin anymore. The same familiar aftertaste was also retained. The tea continued to be surprisingly nice, although I’m not sure why. I suspect it may have some mood lifting qualities, but they are so subtle that I could not reliably identify them, possibly partially because the tea also feels like it’s wrecking your body from the inside like a kid throwing a tantrum. I would describe this sort of as a green tea+, even though it’s not necessarily strictly better than some of the finest green teas.
The sixth steeping saw no change. The tea continued to be very enjoyable, contemplative even. The seventh infusion however tasted even more dominantly like mineral water than all the prior ones, with other aspects of the tea greatly diminished. The body remained consistent to before, if not a tad thicker. It may have actually even been considerably thicker than before, but you really have to pay attention to the texture in this tea to notice it. After sipping enough of the tea, a bit more green sweetness did appear, but the previously very consistent aftertaste had now weakened notably.
I pushed the eight steep a bit harder, which resulted in even stronger mineral water taste, but this time with a bit of a harsh/unpleasant edge to it. There was however some mineral sweetness in the finish and overall the steep was still surprisingly tasty (mineral) water. The greenness was there if you really looked for it, and there was some faint astringency in the finish as well. The ninth infusion was the last one I did, and this time the flavors were more balanced as I wasn’t pushing the tea in the same manner as before. The flavor was still dominated by the mineral character, but the mineral taste had changed from before. The body was somewhat lighter now and you could detect some minor astringency in the finish, but the mineral taste still retained notable strength to it and on that front the tea showed no signs of losing steam yet. I, however, decided to call it here, because I’d had plenty of tea by that point.
After some uncertainty during the first two steeps, I found myself having a surprisingly positive experience with this tea. The tea has a very pure, light and simple taste right now, which really surprised me. I usually don’t enjoy a mineral character in tea, apart from some really high-end teas that can sometimes have an actually enjoyable mineral taste to them, but this is really rare. In this tea it wasn’t necessarily enjoyable, but I didn’t mind it either. I also typically demand dynamic progression from the flavor over the session, but with this tea the very consistent flavor did not bother or bore me. There wasn’t really any totally obvious qi, but the tea’s young potency can certainly be felt in the stomach and as aching in your muscles during and long after the sessions. Those to whom some potent young sheng can feel like battery acid in their stomach and simply can’t handle it may not want to drink this tea young.
Your session may vary wildly from mine, but at its current stage this is a tea that I would recommend to people who enjoy green tea with a prominent mineral character. If for you the taste is the most important thing about tea, this may not be for you, however. The more I drink tea the more emphasis I’ve started to put on aftertaste, texture and how the tea makes you feel. Taste is of course great, but some of the best teas I’ve had did not blow you away with their front flavors. This tea has such an interesting flavor profile and interesting delay to the follow-up flavors that I find it hard to gauge the longevity of this tea, especially since I did not fully steep it out. If you draw the line where the greener notes drop off, then the longevity is perhaps a bit disappointing. If you draw the line somewhere else, however, then I have no idea how long this one can go without actually trying it out.
I debated over whether to rate this tea as Recommended or not. I try to be somewhat strict about that so it does not lose its meaning, and one of the main criteria I’ve crystallized it down to is whether I would buy more of the tea were I to run out. As much as I enjoy this tea in its current state, I’m not sure if I’d buy more of it after drinking all 400 grams. However, when I take into account the ageing potential of this tea, I have high hopes this one will become really yummy in ten years or so. Who knows how it will actually age, but I have a good feeling about this one, granted I’m a total newb when it comes to ageing. Therefore I am awarding San Ke Shu a personal recommendation, making it only the third tea so far. If the tea interests you at all, I recommend checking it out relatively soon, because not many cakes were pressed, only thirty or so I believe. The prices are not going to come down and once these are gone they are gone.
I’d like to have one more session with this tea, but I will try to refrain as this tea does feel quite special and I’d like to reserve as much of it as possible for the future. I’ve been somewhat concerned about my pu’er storage after a string of some negative experiences and disappointments, but luckily this session helped dispel many of those concerns. I will have to continue sessioning my teas to verify that the concerns I raised in my previous Crimson Lotus Tea single tree Lao Ban Zhang gushu review were unfounded, but for the time being I’m content concluding that young sheng simply can be very fickle.
I’m debating over whether I should move to using a slightly higher leaf-to-water ratio with my Yixing since the pour time is quite good relative to the size, but that remains to be seen.
Flavors: Green, Mineral, Vegetal