This is one crazy tea. A lighter fermentation Bulang ripe fermented using black tea kombucha instead of spring water. I couldn’t resist trying it out and even felt lucky enough to go straight for a blind cake. When it finally arrived, I could just bring it to my nose, smell it through the wrapper and tell it’s not your typical ripe. It has none of that typical shu barnyard/compost smell that essentially all ripes have when dry. Instead I get this scent of gingerbread dough, perhaps some plums as well. Needless to say I was hyped to give this one a try.
After a mere couple days of rest, I could wait no longer. In went 8+ grams in my 100ml Jianshui clay teapot and after a brief rinse the stage was set. The smell of the wet leaves is very similar to the dry leaf. Slightly more sour, obviously richer and deeper, with an added note I can’t quite put my finger on but which makes me think of something similar to soy sauce.
Then I get to that always-so-magical first sip, and, yes, this tea tastes very much like it smells. Gingerbread dough, mix of spices, woody notes, sourdough, slight medicinal character and a surprisingly strong immediate cooling sensation in the mouth. I’m not sure if I’d call the coolness minty, menthol or something along those lines, but it wasn’t the typical camphor I most often get in ripes. This stuff is quite strong for a shu and potent to boot. After just a few small cups I was already feeling the tea in my body and soon after my head began to feel tingly and I started to feel intoxicated.
Midway through the session some bitterness started to creep in briefly, showcasing how some of the Bulang character has been preserved thanks to the lighter fermentation. Overall the tea wasn’t too dynamic though. The mouthfeel is good though, livelier than most ripes, and the tea even has a nice lubricating feeling in the throat, speaking to the quality of the material. I did push the tea all the way to the long multi-minute brews and while the small 100ml vessel size meant heat wasn’t maintained that well, the results were still decent enough. While light, the tea revealed a slightly citrusy character, accompanied by slight fizziness.
I’ve found Mei Leaf teas to be really hit or miss for me, but when they hit, they really hit it out of the park and I’m happy to say that is the case here. Not only is Playground Rendez-Vous really unique, but it is an actually good tea to boot. I would still classify it as a ripe, but it is unlike any other ripe I’ve ever tasted. I’m always somewhat skeptical of claims of the material being gushu when it comes to ripes, and even in cases where I can believe them, the supposed higher quality doesn’t always translate to the cup in an easily perceptible way, not in the same way as with raw pu’er. Here though, while I’d already disregarded all gushu claims, I can actually buy this coming from older trees. While this is no sheng pu’er, some of the qualities I look for in a high-quality raw have managed to make their way into the final shu in a way that seldom seems to happen even in the most high-end ripes I’ve tried.
If you’re a fan of ripes, you’ll most likely enjoy this tea. It is at the very least worth a sample. At £69/200g (~$0.46/g) it is far from a cheap tea, but at least for me the price is (nearly) justified. Most teas past $0.40/g simply can’t deliver the same quality-to-price ratio as teas below that, and when it comes to ripes that often ends up being even more challenging to achieve. Here you are paying some for the uniqueness, but also for the quality, and the end result ends up living up to the expectations better than most shus with a hefty price tag.
The tea has absolutely zero of the typical ripe funk and I found it extremely clean tasting at the time of writing, a mere year after being fermented. If you absolutely hate ripes, this is unlikely to change your mind, but if you’re kind of on the fence and feel like you just haven’t found any ripes you like (that was me for many years), this one might be worth a shot. I drank this together with my mom who can’t stand ripes and her descriptors for it were: bitter, medicinal and cat piss. She really hated this one. Fortunately she loves sheng.
I will need to spend more sessions with Playground Rendez-Vous, but so far I really enjoy it and it’s certainly among my favorite ripes. I am seriously considering buying a second cake.
Flavors: Citrus, Cookie, Medicinal, Mint, Spices, Wood