I don’t know if I’ve just been unlucky and tried the wrong teas, but my track record with Yiwu teas so far has not been very good. I know a lot of people really like them and on paper they sound like something that might be up my alley, but after trying a handful of them so far, my hit rate has been rather poor. Granted, what is commonly referred to as the “greater Yiwu region” is a rather large area which encompasses not only the Yiwu mountain range but the six famous tea mountains and more. One would expect to find plenty of variation within such a large region even if many of the teas might share some similar base characteristics. The small sample size of teas I’ve had doesn’t even begin to cover all the various mountains, villages and price ranges.
With all that out of the way, let’s get to this tea. Like the YS 2016 Bing Dao Lao Zhai that I reviewed recently, I actually have a cake of this, but much like the Bing Dao, it’s at the bottom of my pumidor supporting a couple of stacks. As a smaller, more premium cake that I bought mainly to age and didn’t want to break into just for this session, I went ahead and ordered a 10g sample just for this session. This saves me a lot of hassle and leaves me with more tea. I used all ten grams in a 140ml gaiwan that is the largest one available to me. Smelling the small foil packet the sample came in, you get a wonderful sweet fruity scent that reminds me of pineapple. My sample was a single large piece from the cake along with some smaller loose bits to round out the weight. I decided to not break it up at all by hand, because in my experience Yunnan Sourcing pressing have typically been very loose and come apart on their own after the first couple of infusions, sometimes even just the rinse.
I gave the tea a brief five second rinse and it had about five minutes to soak up the moisture while I tasted the wash. Even these first drops that had graced the leaves carried a wow factor to them. The tea was soft, sweet and oily. The mouthfeel was wonderful and for just the rinse, the briefest of rinses, there was already a surprising amount of flavor. I followed the rinse with twelve more infusions, the timing for these being 6s, 6s, 6s, 6s, 8s, 10s, 15s, 20s, 30s, 45s, 2 min. and 4 min.
The first proper infusion was thick, creamy and sweet with plenty of flavor. I could already tell this was going to be an excellent tea. The second steeping was brighter and strong, really strong. I struggle to find the right word to describe the flavor. I think fruity is decent enough, but I’m not sure if it’s quite right. The mouthfeel remained wonderful and the flavor changed considerably once the tea cooled down. This holds true for most steeps in this session and the tea revealed very different facets of it when it was hot, warm and cool, always tasting great.
At this point I noticed that the large chunk I’d tossed in was still intact and decided to give it some encouragement. Following the different layers, I tried to separate it into a couple of much thinner pieces that should have a much easier time coming undone on their own, and while doing this I discovered that the chunk was still completely dry at the very center. I don’t know if this bing is just more compressed than some other Yunnan Sourcing productions, at least their 400g pressings, or if I received a more compressed part toward the center, but I think I actually lucked out, because I fear this tea would have been overwhelmingly strong had I received a less compressed bit or tried to pry it apart earlier. Thanks to how things turned out, my steepings ended up brewing out much more evenly.
Although I was dreading a much harder kick to the face after sorting out the compression issue, thankfully those fears were unfounded and the tea still retained its soft character in the third steep, albeit there was definitely some more edge, some more young raw pu’er backbone to it now. The tea was still quite wonderful, I would actually call it delicious. The raw pu’er edge was only amplified in the next steep, but there was none of the nastiness you can sometimes get in young sheng. The tea continued brewing strong. While there was less body now, the mouthfeel was still quite nice.
Steep five brewed sweet, really sweet. The sweetness was accompanied by a mineral nature and followed by some dry astringency in the finish. The tea was still brewing strong in the sixth steep. It was oily and aromatic with some minor astringency in the finish. Steep seven is the first time I extended the brewing time by full five seconds and the resulting soup was almost too strong. There was much more edge to the tea now, but still no nastiness, although there was now some fleeting bitterness. The tea was very clean, very bright. The texture was getting lighter, but we were entering a stage where the tea is quite easy to drink and similar to juice in a way.
Steep eight was delicious. Super strong. There was a pleasant bitterness to it that disappeared after a few seconds. A small wave of heat washed over me while drinking this steep. The tea continued simplifying and getting thinner in the ninth infusion, but in return it became REALLY easy to drink. It gained a refreshing, slightly mood lifting quality and brewed with really pleasant sweetness and strength that was still incredibly strong. I was really enjoying the tea.
The tenth infusion is where the tea began losing sweetness. The mouthfeel was still decent, but there was hardly that much taste. This was a sign for me to finally start pushing the tea much harder and the eleventh steep was in fact stronger again. The tea soup was nice and refreshing and there was a fleeting bitterness to it that was becoming more prominent. I really appreciated the fact that the bitterness wasn’t persistent as you would have expected with a lot of other teas. The bitterness was even more pronounced in the final infusion, but still nothing abrasive. I thought this was a good place to call it, however. The strength was still very good, and I happily drank all of the tea, but although there may have been more to see, I didn’t want to risk ending a good session with a steep that left a bad taste in my mouth.
Overall this tea was excellent. Really wonderful. This is exactly what I’ve expected from Yiwu teas based on people’s descriptions, but not really what I’ve experienced so far apart from maybe one or two exceptions. Although during the session the Man Lin didn’t seem to exhibit much noticeable qi, later during the day a couple hours later I suddenly noticed I was actually in a very good mood, feeling good and more aware and awake than I normally am. That could just be a coincidence and unrelated to the tea, but it would be a very rare coincidence and as such I’m attributing my state to the tea. I was actually really glad this tea wasn’t one of the teas that feels like you got your face pummeled by a sledgehammer, because the tea itself was already so strong in terms of taste that a potent cha qi that would have made you woozy and put you under the table would have been just too overwhelming. This tea was incredibly yummy with no bad steeps and I really appreciate the very subtle cha qi that makes it a real feel-good tea at least for me.
After a series of lukewarm encounters with Yiwu teas, I found myself wondering why’d I pick up a cake of this blind, but now after having tasted the tea I couldn’t be happier that I did. I actually wasn’t quite in time to pick it up before the price went up for the first time, but I got mine before it recently went up again. I paid $133 which puts it at $0.53/g. At the time of writing this, you pay exactly ten cents more per gram if you pick up a bing. Is the tea worth it? In my opinion, absolutely. This is a genuinely high-end tea, one that you can drink now and fully enjoy, or age and end up with what I have no doubt will be a bomb of a tea. It’s not the highest of the high-end, but in typical Yunnan Sourcing fashion, the quality of the tea is very indicative of the price, if not better. If you want to experience genuine high-quality Yiwu, but the price of a tea like this is simply not something you can justify, I highly recommend you to sample some autumn harvest teas. I know some people are not fans of autumn teas, but what little experience I have with them so far, I haven’t really been able to tell a huge difference between them and spring teas and the price is often half of the spring counterparts if not less.
If you are looking for something truly yummy, even if it’s just a sample, I definitely recommend giving this tea a go!