As part of my unhurried exploration of Meng Song area sheng puer, I’m having a Sunday afternoon sit-down with Essence of Tea’s 2014 Da Meng Long Gushu.

The dry leaf smells like fruit punch in the forest. Warmed leaf has a thick and rich date-caramel sweetness with faint wet smoke.

The tea is pouring golden orange with a brown tint.

At the lips, it’s rich with dates. There’s a bit of tang to the cup and early a quick bite in the throat. Bitterness is certainly there, structured, and passes at some point (who knows, I’m relaxed) after the swallow giving way to a strong returning sweetness. The aftertaste is drying and creamy, impression of cherimoya then apricot. After that fades, a metallic-astringent feeling/taste lingers; it’s pleasant, my tongue tingles far past the last sip. A comforting, expansive warmth in the throat and chest, a relaxing cool. Once the initial bitterness and astringency pass, the leaf needs to be brewed harder to elicit its hidden richness.

There is lingering depth of feeling to this tea. It rushes with a slow, smooth rumble and recedes like a warm wave break spreading across the sand, barely touching your toes before heading back out to sea. It courses and flows and grounds.

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If you’re an aspiring or current tea grower, let’s talk! I am slowly beginning a tea farm here in Northern California. Currently growing are young plants pulled from the ground and gifted to me after a visit to Fairhope Tea Plantation in Alabama. The parent plants are sinensis variety from a defunct Lipton research project. I’ve also started seeds from Camellia Forest Nursery in North Carolina. The types include Camellia taliensis, an assamica variety, and 3 sinensis varieties including “Small leaf” “Large leaf” and “Black Sea.” To learn how to process tea into different styles, I plan on traveling to China and Taiwan if/when COVID becomes a relative non-issue. I’m taking Mandarin classes to aid in this journey.

Tea became a hobby and my daily drink of choice some time late in the last decade. My introduction to loose leaf came, following a lone tin of some Tie Guan Yin oolong many years prior, in the form of dumpster-dived Wuyi oolong packets that somebody left upon moving out of an apartment building. From there, my palate expanded to teas from across China and the world. I used to focus more on taste and still harbor the habit, but after trying sheng pu’er, I tend to focus more on how a tea feels in my body. Does it complement my constitution? Does it change my mood or does it enhance my current mindstate? While I may not mention those effects in tea notes, it is what I value most. Flavored teas are not a favorite but I do drink them intermittently.

In terms of who I am, you could consider me a jill of all trades. Specialty is not my strength, as can be seen in the spread of my tea notes.

One thing I will always love is riding a bicycle.

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Sonoma County, California, USA

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