Sometimes, you strike the jackpot. It felt like that earlier this month when I saw what was awaiting me inside the November 2015 White2Tea subscription box: a single cake of raw pu’erh that weighed 200 grams! Considering the price of a monthly box, this month’s selection was a bargain. And I’m always happy to get a bargain.
It’s even better when the bargain looks like a piece of Warholian art. Get a load of this wrapper! White2Tea has some of the most creative packaging in the business, and this beauty is no exception:
So, what was this month’s tea? The company is calling it “2015 Pin”. I know there’s a reason for it, based on an Anglicization of a certain character of Chinese script, but since I know little about the language, I’ll leave it at that. Here’s the full description from the White2Tea site, though:
The Pin is a blend of three years of high quality material (2013, 2014, and 2015) with Lincang character. The tea has a sweet flavor and a heavy fragrance. The texture of the soup is much smoother than our other 2015 productions due to the blended material from previous years, which was stored in Menghai prior to pressing. An excellent tea to drink now or save to drink several years down the line.
So, there are three pairs of Andy-Warhol-esque lips on the wrapper to represent the three different annual harvests of leaf that comprise the cake. Sounds straightforward enough. My cat Gracie remains unimpressed, however.
Too bad, Gracie! This tea is just begging to be opened up and tasted. And what a beauty it is once it’s unwrapped! The cake is a tightly compressed mass of dark green, with strands of silver, beige, khaki and white interspersed throughout. The dry leaf smells smoky and slightly fruity — pretty typical for a younger sheng.
I broke off 5.85 grams of dry leaf and gave the tea a quick rinse in 90°C water in my medium-sized gaiwan (about 130 mL). After the rinse, the smell of the leaf transformed from slightly smoky and fruity to intensely fermented — it was sour and reminded me of yogurt. I don’t mind this smell, but it was a surprise.
The first steep was very clear and had an amber tint to it like beer. The taste was refreshing: clear, smooth, with no sharpness or astringency. I noticed a slight bitter aftertaste.
The second steep was bitter and some smoke started to creep in. It’s possible I oversteeped this one, though, as I was slow to pour the liquid out of the gaiwan. Because of this, I noticed some astringency along with the bitterness. I took care during the third steep and was rewarded with liquid that was lighter in both colour and flavour – the bitterness hadn’t disappeared, but the fruitiness of the leaf came out to play. Despite the presence of fruit, though, the tea was still relatively herbal in flavour, with a bitter aftertaste.
The flavour stayed pretty consistent from here until the seventh steep. One thing I noticed about this tea is that its bitterness has a quality I feel on the middle and sides of my tongue, rather than the back of it. The mouthfeel and the flavour are both thin — this tea washes over my mouth smoothly, coats my tongue, and recedes quickly, leaving no trace. The colour lightened over time as well, becoming a pale gold rather than the amber it was at the beginning.
Things changed around the 8th steep, where I started to notice more fruitiness and a “sparkle” on my tongue. At this point, the liquid in my teapot had cooled by quite a bit, which makes me wonder whether it would be better to serve this tea at 85° or even 80°C, rather than the original temperature of 90°C. Subsequent western-style brewing attempts hold true to this — the bitterness was more prominent at higher temperatures.
I still have a whole bunch of this tea left, so I’ll probably tinker with it more in the future. I also want to see how it tastes if I use less leaf (5 grams rather than ~6 grams).
PS: Want another cat photo? Here you go.