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Tag: shou

Lao Cha Tou Ripe Puerh from White2Tea

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:

W2T-lao-cha-tou-dry

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.

Anyways!

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.

At least I didn’t get any caffeine rush this time.

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.

You can buy this Lao Cha Tou puerh from White2Tea here.

Wymm Tea Sheng and Shou Samples

WYMM-tea-sample-set-DWymm Tea is a fairly new vendor in the tea game — as far as I’m aware, the company only started up in the last year or so. However, I’ve been hearing a lot of good buzz about them, and it’s great to find an online vendor of quality pu’erh based in Canada rather than the US or China. (My poor wallet, beaten by the current exchange rate, welcomes any chance to purchase from a domestic vendor.)

Wymm Tea sells a small, thoughtfully curated selection of teas, and they provide sample sets so you can try them out without committing to whole cakes. Awesome!

They sent me sample set D for free in exchange for a review. So let’s dive in!

Bingdao Laozhai Huangpian, 2014

Handmade with tea leaves picked from Bingdao Laozhai in 2014, this sheng pu-erh brews a bright golden liquor. It has notes of cut hay and earth in its aroma, complimented with almond and buttery flavours.

These huangpian are picked from the same ancient trees as the standard pu-erh from Bingdao Laozhai, the only difference being that it is less aesthetically pleasing; the bigger leaves (huangpian) are filtered out so that the remaining leaves are neat and symmetrical when pressed into cakes. These bigger leaves are often kept by the tea farmers for personal consumption and are rarely found in the market. Even though huangpian does not have the tidy appearance of its counterparts, it possesses similar taste characteristics and is sometimes considered more flavourful as the leaves spent longer period of time growing on the trees.

This tea was the first one I tried out of the sample set, and it really took me by surprise. Some of the leaves were large and feathery, but there were also a lot of smaller, broken up ones, with quite a bit of dust as well. I’m going to blame that on it being handled in the mail.

wymm-tea-bingdao-laozhai-huangpian-dry

I used the whole sample (6 grams) in my gaiwan with 90°C water. After a quick rinse, I managed to get 10 steeps, with steep times starting at 5 seconds and gradually increasing to 30 seconds. The dry leaf had that typical sheng smell: smoky, a little tart and funky, kinda fruity. However, after the rinse, the smell changed a lot.

Believe it or not, the wet leaf before the first steep smelled like cooked spinach and feta cheese. Spanakopita tea!

The first steep tasted and smelled strongly of cooked spinach — green, vegetal, and slightly metallic. It also smelled slightly fishy, but not fishy enough to put me off drinking. It was fairly mild-tasting, though, with a lovely medium-amber colour that was like honey or brandy.

The second steep was slightly stronger, with a deeper colour and more intense flavour. As the steeps progressed, the intensity of the cooked spinach flavour gave way to a huge variety of flavours, all centering on savoury and slightly astringent. I remember tasting freshly ground pepper, tobacco, stonefruit, iron, copper, camphor, and menthol in various stages of my tea session.

Steeps 3-6 were the strongest with the most intense metallic flavour, while the flavour and colour dropped off considerably around steeps 8-9. After the fourth steep or so I started to notice a tingling at the back of my throat and down my esophagus, which is what made me think of camphor/menthol: it reminded me of having a cold, a bit. The spent leaves were huge and smelled faintly of fruit and ferment; they were a lovely olive green.

This tea was unusual because of the strong metallic flavour and also because I didn’t detect any bitterness.

Plus, after I drank it, I felt kind of sleepy and loopy, rather than feeling all hopped up on caffeine. As I sipped and slurped, I found myself making jokes while recording my notes, riffing off of the Beatles, Anchorman, whatever. Heh. Is this what being “tea drunk” is like?

Mangnuo Tengtiao “Cane Tea”, 2014 First Spring

This is WYMM’s signature tea. Handmade with premium first flush of 2014 spring from Mangnuo village, this sheng pu-erh brews bright golden with a vegetal, minty and honey flavour, and with the aroma of fresh mown grass in the morning. The tea is filled with powerful and masculine chaqi. There is a pronounced bitter taste that lingers in back of the tongue with hints of astringency in the initial steeps, which are slowly replaced with a bold honey aftertaste. The liquor is heady because of the ultra concentrated nutrients in this tea. Each serving of this tea can last up to 20 steeps.

I was really looking forward to this since it promised to be an intense experience. 20 steeps? Incredible! Unfortunately, I didn’t make it quite to 20, but I did manage to get at least 14-15 or so in there. I took a break a few hours in the middle of it all so that I could give my poor stomach and kidneys a rest, but by god, I did it!

The dry leaf of this was tightly packed, thin, and spindly, and the colour was dark green with white flecks. I put the entire sample (6 grams) in a gaiwan and gave the leaves a quick rinse before settling down into the first set of steeps. I kept the first 7 steeps fairly short, ranging from 5 to 12 seconds in 90°C water.

The first steep didn’t taste like much, but the flavour really opened up in the second and third steeps. I tasted grass and apricots, and the brewed tea was a pale amber colour. The aftertaste was long, lingering, clean and grassy — this tasted an awful lot like a green tea that had been suddenly transformed into a sheng. A few steeps in I started to notice some bitterness and astringency, but despite this, the tea was incredibly light and fruity, with a thick and nearly syrupy mouthfeel.

The first seven steeps done, I did some housework — laundry, cooking, you know, the sort of stuff that you need to do to be a functioning adult. It was way too hot the day I drank this to go outside for a walk, though.

When I got back to this tea afterwards, I brewed up a fresh pot of water, gave it a quick rinse to get the leaves warm again, and went to town. However, this second session was much bitterer to start with. Had the tea originally tasted this bitter? I didn’t think so. After a few steeps the bitterness toned down and the fruitiness returned, but I don’t know whether it was the tea that changed, or whether I did.

It got lighter over time, turning a pale yellow instead of golden, but there was still a subtle fruity flavour into the final steep. The leaves themselves smelled lovely – tart, tangy, and floral. By the end, they had greatly expanded in size and were a lovely mix of russet and olive.

Note: It took me a few days to write this post, and considering I spent a good portion of that time mentally revisiting this tea and thinking man, that tasted good, I’m confident in saying that this was a winner. The combination of bitterness and fruitiness in this was really memorable.

Menghai Wangshuji Shou in Seventh Grade, 2008

Full tea leaves from high mountains in Menghai county, located in west of Xishuangbanna Dai autonomous prefecture in Yunnan province, are picked to make the tea in 2008. Pu-erh tea has the potential to ferment over time, and this tea has been post-fermented for 6 years since production. Post-fermentation gives the tea vibrant flavours and richer aroma as well as deep wine colour. This shou pu-erh brews with a rich and honey flavor and long-lasting jasmine rice aroma.

When it comes to pu’erh tea, I’m a novice, and when it comes to shou, or ripened pu’erh, that’s even more so. I think I’ve only had shou once or twice before this, but this tea was an experience. For one, the leaves were thick, twisted black nuggets, with a slight gloss to them like tar. Because I’m not very familiar with the correct way to steep shou, I used freshly boiled water, and stuck to steeping times similar to a sheng — a quick rinse, then steeps of roughly 5 seconds.

The dry tea was somewhat glossy and dark, and the smell was fairly neutral — leather and earth, which is something I think is pretty common to shou teas. Once I rinsed it, it smelled like shoes, leather, dirt, and loam, with perhaps a bit of camphor. It reminded me of a root cellar, actually.

The brewed tea was dark. Like really rich, homemade beef broth. It had a slightly fishy, earthy, mushroom-y smell, and I was worried I should have rinsed it twice, but oh well — down the hatch it goes! The first steep tasted uninspiring and muddy, but the second steep developed a menthol/camphor note. That note developed and reminded me also wood, branches, autumn leaves, and cedar. And, oh yeah, this shit was dark. Almost like Guinness beer!

As I drank the third steep I noticed a cottony, gauzy feeling on my tongue. The fourth steep introduced mineral notes, but the initial fishiness was still there. Steeps 5 and 6 were fairly similar, though at the 6th steep I bumped the steep time up to 10 seconds. I noticed that as the steeps progressed, it tasted less of loam/earth and more of wood/cedar. By steep 7, my body became really heavy. I think I stopped after the 7th steep because I was so sleepy!

But yeah, based on what I’ve read of shou pu’erh, this was a pretty representative sample: rich, dark, earthy, an acquired taste. And I’m pretty sure it knocked me out!

Dong Banshan, 2014 Spring

Handmade with tea leaves picked from Dong Banshan in the fall of 2014, this sheng pu-erh has a high floral fragrance similar to that of jasmine flowers, with fairly subtle intricacies in its taste. It is most represented by its initial vegetal taste, which soon transfers to a honey flavour. It is a sheng pu-erh that can be easily enjoyed on a daily basis.

The dry and wet leaves for this tea smelled really sweet and fruity, like fresh apricots. By this point, I had settled on parameters of 90C water with a quick rinse and a first steep of 5 seconds. The first steep was almost completely clear and without scent, but the flavour was slightly sweet, with no bitterness or astringency.

The flavour of the first few steeps was mild — I can see this being a really good tea for a beginning drinker, someone who’s never tried pu’erh before. The first few steeps smelled peachy, apricot-y, and grassy, like a summer morning!  This tea had a great mouthfeel, too; it was thin but full in my mouth like wine.

By the fourth steep, the leaves must have really opened up because the colour of the tea darkened to amber. The flavour was still really fruity though, with grape added to the peach/apricot from before. This was also the first steep that tasted bitter. The bitterness was a smothering sensation rather than a sharp one, though.

By the fifth steep, astringency showed up along with the bitterness, and I also started to feel a tickle at the back of my throat. My mouth felt like I had bitten into a really underripe fruit. The next few steeps were more bitter than fruity, though, with fruitiness on the front of the sip and bitterness in the back — quite similar to the Mangnuo Tengtiao above, actually. (Though honestly I like the Mangnuo one better because overall, it felt juicier and less astringent.)

As I continued to drink, the puckery astringency continued, and the apricot/peach flavour receded. The dryness in my throat stayed, though. However, at the 11th steep, the flavour became very mineral. By this point, my belly was full of tea but I wanted to finish off the pot, so I stopped sipping and started chugging. Luckily, the leaf was starting to wear out (and so did the bitterness) so it was easy to drink.

Unbelievably, I got a monster FIFTEEN steeps out of this tea. I’m sure that that number would have been consistent across all four samples if I had been willing to push things so far. On the final steeps, there was a nice juicy, fresh aftertaste like watermelon rinds. Interesting!

Verdict

All four of these teas were lovely — Wymm Tea, thank you so much for the samples! I would seriously consider adding the first two teas I sampled to my permanent collection (once I  make room, of course). I am so happy with the chance to try all of these teas, and I love that there’s a Canadian vendor out there selling high-quality pu’erhs.

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