Update: I bought more of this, and it is a winner in my tealog. This is one shu I would want to have on hand (sold out, though…), and thus I am keeping my 96 rating. I would also add new flavors I pick up, more in the earthy spectrum, which I did not get originally.
In my original review below, I explore manually opening up the nuggets in later steepings in order to get more mileage out of them. Since, then, I have had probably more succcess keeping the cover on the gaiwan throughout the whole session (except to pour in water, obviously), and I think the steam kept in the gaiwan helps open up the nuggets earlier.
Really enjoyed this shu pu’er. I am on board with Verdant’s descriptors of vanilla pudding and maple syrup. Richness, fullness, and pastry dough, I might add biscuit, Graham cracker. Creamy.
A different Verdant tea that I reviewed—also a 2014 shu pu’er from Qianjiazhai but loose—had an upfront very dark roast almost burnt edge that eventually rounds off. That tea is also very savory and a wonderful experience, but the present shu nuggets give a fuller body I think and have no burnt edge. I think this might be due to the lesser surface area of the nuggets, which slowly open up over several steepings (unlike the loose tea which I couldn’t steep fast enough—pour on and pour off as fast as possible the first few steeps).
At the end of my first session, I found some of the nuggets still had not fully opened, but by that point opening them manually did not offer more than a couple more steeps. So before my second session, I tried using a tea pick to open the nuggets— a bit difficult to do. They are dense, the tea pick easily slips. Thus, I did two rinses, waited 10 minutes, then I was able to use the pick to open them up a bit. I did a third flash rinse and was ready to go. I found that this initial effort allowed the tea to give a fuller first few steeps, and they were so good.
After steep 8, I noticed that the core of the nugget pieces still had not fully opened, and so I went in there with my fingers, gently twisting the pieces and breaking them apart. My next steep was almost like starting a new session and could have even used a flash rinse to clear the new debris. And before breaking open the pieces, my 8th steep was up to two minutes, but after opening the pieces my 9th steep was back to 5 seconds, then 8, 15, 20, etc, so I feel the nuggets allow the tea to get a real second wind.
Flavors: Graham Cracker, Maple Syrup, Pastries, Vanilla