Many are familiar with Lao Shan in Shandong, famous for its green tea, but this tea hails from Lao Shan in Malipo County, Yunnan, near the Vietnam border. It is off the beaten path as far as pu’er goes and comes as part of a set of two teas from this mountain: one spring, one autumn. Albeit from the same mountain and year, they do come from different farmers from different parts of the mountain, so this is not a direct comparison between seasons, more of a single region sampler. This is the autumn.
While these teas were pressed into cakes, the production was small and the teas are only sold as 2×50g samples, not full cakes. You will receive a single large piece of the bing though, with some shake to round out the weight. Why press this tea into cakes if it’s going to be broken up anyway? Well, smaller volume and ease of transport are one factor, but the actual steaming and pressing process have a real immediate impact on the tea as well as how it will age, develop and maintain its flavors and aroma.
What I received was indeed a single large chunk of the cake and I did my best to try to maintain leaf integrity since the bing seems to have been pressed with care and the large autumn leaves are largely intact. I measured 7.3g into a thick-walled 135ml gaiwan which I only filled up to around the 100ml mark though. That’s somewhat on the heavier side than usual for me, but this is autumn which tends to brew weaker than spring so I figured it would be fine.
Placing the leaves in the preheated gaiwan, my nose is filled with the smell of barnyard. Not offensive, but didn’t necessarily get my hopes up for this tea. Rinse for just a tad over five seconds. Normally I drink the rinse on young sheng, but because of the dry leaf aroma and this being a new vendor for me I decided to forgo the wash this time. The aroma of the wet leaf is much better and more familiar territory. Very creamy. Five minute rest, followed by a total of twelve infusions, the timing for these 6s, 6s, 8s, 10s, 15s, 20s, 30s, 45s, 75s, 2 min., 3 min. and 5 min.
The first few infusions, the first one especially, are quite light. Mineral earth is the dominant flavor here. The first two steeps have some creaminess to them as well. I won’t say there’s no sweetness, but this isn’t an overly sweet tea at any point. Body and texture stay quite light throughout the session. There’s some to be found, but neither is a highlight of this tea. Steep four is quite metallic for some reason, which I wasn’t particularly fond of, but after this the tea starts to hit its stride, becoming stronger but also displaying its green and slightly astringent side. Aftertaste is not a huge focus as far as I noticed, but it was definitely present in the best steeps, holding very stable albeit usually not crazy strong in terms of strength.
At times I can pick up on aromatic components permeating in the mouth, which speak to the tea’s autumnal nature, setting it apart from spring. I get touches of savory and even vanilla in isolated brews and around the eighth steep I finally noticed the qi which made me just a tad tipsy. Once it enters its late steeps, the Lao Shan starts tasting mainly sweet, green and a touch astringent, changing very little from steep to steep. The longevity seems great for an autumn tea, as by the twelfth infusion where I stopped it was still going.
After a not so favorable first impression, the Lao Shan turned out to be a fairly standard but enjoyable pu’er session. This tea reminds me probably most of teas from the Jinggu area, along with certain Lincang teas maybe. It lacks any distinct character that sets it apart and makes it memorable, but the tea is still fairly young at eight months or so, so that may still well develop with time. I found no bitterness and while there was some astringency, this was very palatable and expected of most autumn teas to some degree. As far as price, these two teas are sold as a bundle of 2×50g for $20, so it’s hard to evaluate the price per gram directly. Usually autumn teas tend to be about the half of spring in terms of price, sometimes a bit less, sometimes more. If we assume this one is somewhere around there, that would place it in the 10–15¢/g category, which feels appropriate. A nice casual brew that’s fairly forgiving in terms of brewing as long as you have some familiarity with sheng.
Flavors: Astringent, Creamy, Earth, Green, Metallic, Mineral, Sweet, Vanilla