I bought a cake of this right after it was released. It has had six months to chill in my pumidor and today I felt like finally giving it a shot. This is the second Yiwu ripe I’ve tried, the first one being the Hai Lang Hao 2017 Yi Shan Mo. Premium and ultra premium ripes have been a growing trend in recent years and while not highest of the high-end, at 22¢/g Yi Wu Rooster is definitely priced above what most people are accustomed to paying for shu pu’er.
The dry material looks much more akin to raw cakes than your typical ripe. I recall Scott saying in his YouTube video for this tea that he suspects it was likely originally intended to be sold as a sheng and the decision to turn it into a shu was made later. The compression isn’t too tight at all and I was careful to maintain leaf integrity while I broke into the little pie. I used a suitable ratio of large chunks to smaller individual pieces in my trusty 160ml Jianshui clay teapot, 12g total. The tea was also drunk from a cup made from the same clay.
I gave the leaves a ten second rinse, followed by a five minute rest during which I prodded the larger pieces gently with my finger to help them come apart more easily. This was almost not necessary because of the loose compression. I proceeded to do nine infusions, the timing for these being 10s, 10s, 12s, 15s, 20s, 30s, 45s, 75s and 2 min.
The first infusion brewed up a cloudy diluted cola as you’d expect from a tea this young. The initial taste was that of sweet dirt. Really sweet. A really bright sweetness. There was a certain coffee/caramel vibe as well, but without any of the darker base notes that coffee has for example. Overall the flavors were really bright and forward, not veiled or obscured in any way. So far this was a quite unique tea. The aftertaste was long; coffee, caramel, insane sweetness.
The second infusion brewed much clearer. Darker, but nothing crazy. Certainly dark though. The taste was quite clean, but not 100% clean, more like 90%. The flavors were light in nature (nothing to do with actual strength), body medium or close to it, improved from before. I could taste some red berries, with some very minor bitterness in the finish. The bitterness was also accompanied by sweetness and there was some minor cooling in the mouth. The finish eventually turned into pretty typical shu flavors, but was accompanied by noticeable sweetness and the finish of berries. I might’ve started feeling the tea a little at this point. I don’t necessarily mean that in the sense of qi.
Steep three was likely the best so far. The flavors were coming across more clearly than in the previous steep, similar to the first one. There was slightly less body now, but still relatively similar to before, light+. The flavors were really lasting. One sip was enough and after that you didn’t want to drink more for a while since there was no point. The sweetness was really potent. I could feel it in my gums. I think I’d describe it as a date-like sweetness, although it’s been a while since I’ve had dates. There was some very minor bitterness in the finish. For a shu this is a quite potent tea. Not among the most potent ones I’ve had, but more potent than most. I’m not talking about flavor here. Not necessarily qi either, more just how much you “feel” the tea in your body. That being said, I did start feeling the effect of the tea on my tongue, a certain numbness starting to spread to it. Once the tea cooled it did actually get considerably thick. As you kept drinking the overall impression started veering more and more toward toffee and caramel notes, caramel coffee is how I’d describe it.
My first impression of steep four was that it was sweet. The tea was starting to develop some darker tones now as well. I could feel the tea at the back of my mouth. There was also something familiar that I was finding hard to place. A some sort of roasted note perhaps. While a gentle tea on one hand, it is also deceptively potent. I found myself having to slow down my drinking at this point. The fact that this was only steep four scared me a little.
Of course immediately after I thought that the fifth steep brewed much thinner, the tea beginning to simplify in the process. While the flavor notes were a touch “thin” now, they were still coming across swimmingly. We were now back to those berries. There was a definitive berry sweetness accompanied by underlying darker shu notes – ones I’d classify falling somewhere in the roasted category or perhaps slightly in the dirt/sand territory rather than in the woodsy or overly soily bracket. I’ve never drunk wine (I don’t drink), so I’m not entirely sure what it is people are talking about when they speak of tannins. However, right after downing the last of this infusion I could feel an unpleasant dry sensation at the back of my mouth/tongue, different from your typical astringency. This is something I’ve experienced before, in the context of Lipton black tea or bad coffee if my memory serves right, but I could be mistaken as it hasn’t happened to me recently. I’ve never experienced this in the context of quality whole leaf tea, so it was a bit of a surprise. I don’t know if it’s tannins or me developing a sore throat, so I’m not going to hold it against the tea too much. Moving on.
From this point on the tea became fairy simple and mainly sweet, but steeps six and seven still had a small amount of depth to the notes and complexity to the tea as a whole. I can easily see many people losing interest at this point, though. There was an increasing level of minerality and the tannins from steep five were still present in steep six, but disappeared after that. The last two infusions were not enjoyable anymore and I actually ended up tossing them. Steep nine was severely lacking in color as well.
Those familiar with my other reviews may know that my track record with Yunnan Sourcing’s sheng pu’ers has generally been quite good. The kind of teas Scott likes to source – strong, clean, pure – are something that appeal to me. When it comes to the Yunnan Sourcing brand ripe pu’ers, I’ve found them less to my tastes. None of them have been bad (although I hated my first session with Rooster King, it has improved since then), but all of them I’ve found merely okay, which is not enough to satisfy me. One exception is Wild Purple Green Mark, which I highly recommend, but that’s a blend of raw and ripe so it doesn’t really qualify as a pure shu. And now there’s this tea. I wasn’t sure what to expect given my track record with other YS ripes, but this tea is good. It is quite unique among ripes and highly enjoyable during the first half. The flavors are strong and well defined and the aftertaste very long-lasting in the first several steeps. The longevity is somewhat disappointing at this stage, but given the age of the tea, age of the tea trees, the region and the level of fermentation, it is not at all surprising. Hopefully this will improve with age.
In its current state, I would categorize this tea as perfectly drinkable right now. It is not totally clean tasting just yet, but unless you demand your shus ultra clean, I doubt you’ll have issues with it. Those specifically looking for those dirt notes will not find them here. For me this tea borders on being too sweet, and at some point in the future I could see it crossing that threshold. If you are eyeballing an Yiwu ripe, you know you’re most likely getting a sweet tea. Despite what I said about this tea being drinkable now, my personal recommendation would actually be to hold off for at least two to five years before drinking it. This is most definitely one of the less fermented ripes I’ve had and a lot of room has been left for it to develop. I think the potency I spoke of in my notes may very well stem from the relative “greenness” of these leaves. The steeped leaves look very much like sheng with a fair amount of age, but nothing even remotely close to fully mature sheng or much more heavily fermented shu that’s just black. Those who can find some green teas or less oxidized wulongs at times too potent or taxing on your body may want to let this tea age a fair bit like I intend to do. Drinking it now, while good, does not let the tea show its full potential.
To sum up my thoughts, while not as good as the absolute high-end ripes out there, this is a really good tea for the price. At the very least I would recommend a sample for those interested, but depending on your personal preferences this is not a tea for everyone. If you are a fan of Yiwu sheng, but have never tried a Yiwu ripe before, I would consider this a good introduction.
Flavors: Berries, Bitter, Caramel, Coffee, Dates, Dirt, Mineral, Roasted, Sweet, Tannic