Shou and I are not exactly on the best of terms. It’s too earthy. It’s too fishy. I hear people say they like it, that it’s so rich, but when I make it, the results just leave me….flat.
I bought these Lao Cha Tou nuggets from White2Tea when they had a big sale about six months ago, and they’ve just been chilling in the bottom of my tea cupboard. No longer. Dare I face off against my current tea nemesis? Let’s see.
Here’s how White2Tea describes this type of tea:
Lao Cha Tou are the small nuggets that roll off of the fermenting pile of ripe tea. They have a strong sweet flavor, similar to caramel or molasses.
This tea is from a pure, Spring Bulang production.
They are very enduring and can be resteeped for a very long time. When you are done steeping them, you can also boil them for ten minutes or so and you’ll have a syrupy sweet drink awaiting you.
I gotta admit, when I took the tea out of the bag to measure it and start steeping, it looked… dubious. The nuggets were small, matte, dark brown, and just in general highly suggestive of some other type of substance. I’ll let you see for yourself:
I took 5.25 grams of these nuggets and made sure to give them a good, thorough rinsing before drinking: two rinses of 30 seconds each with just-boiled water.
After that, I did a first steep of 20 seconds. The resulting liquid was a deep reddish-brown, like beef broth. The flavour was light, but overall it was earthy, slightly fishy, somewhat salty and savoury. Kinda like soup broth.
The second, third and fourth steeps were all for 30 seconds, and they were pretty similar in taste to the first, if only a bit more intense in colour and flavour. The smell was savoury, brothy, and earthy, with notes of spices like cinnamon, star anise and clove. The mouthfeel here was also pretty thick, like soup broth.
Over time, I also noticed grainy notes that reminded me of popcorn. However, I’m not getting the chocolate or caramel notes the description above promised. Where is my chocolate, White2Tea??
On the fourth steep, I started to notice a cool sensation creeping across my mouth and throat, like menthol or camphor. My lips also started tingling.
At this point I started to lament that I used such a thin gaiwan for brewing, because I was burning my fingers pouring the tea out. I have a perfectly serviceable stoneware gaiwan with thicker walls; I need to bring it out again.
The fifth, sixth, and seventh steeps were 40-50 seconds long. The flavour still hadn’t developed those chocolate notes I was told to expect but when I smelled the lid of the gaiwan after the sixth steep, I noticed scents of tobacco and a sweetness that reminded me of red bean past. The second steep was a bit lighter in colour, but by that point I had pretty much used up the water in the teapot so I wasn’t interested in drinking anymore.
What’s amazing is that even after seven or so steeps, these Lao Cha Tou nuggets still hadn’t unfurled. They were still compact, dark, and tightly packed.