Tasting sample A

Ok, so it’s about time I tell you what sample A is. Let me show you how it looks like first.

To be honest, I myself don’t really know what it is. I found it in Shanghai. The person who sold it to me claims that it is from 2001/2002. Supposedly made with Yiwu leaves, but freely admitting that they probably weren’t very good Yiwu leaves. When asked about factory, he doesn’t know, and neither do I. Since it’s in a CNNP wrapper, it really could be anything.

As you can see from the picture, one corner of the cake was a bit banged up. There are lots of shavings/fannings in the wrapper, so I decided to use mostly those, plus a little piece I pried off the cake, for my tasting today:

7.2g of tea in a ~75ml gaiwan. There will be some wastage for the tea, because lots of fannings/broken bits will get washed out in the first infusion or two. So maybe it was really more like 7 or 6.8g of leaves.

The times for the infusions was something like 5, 5, 5, 5, 10, 15, 20, 40, 120, 300, 300s. I don’t take exact times, but these are more or less right. Since so many of you took careful notes, it’s only my duty to do so….

Infusion 1 — slightly cloudy, probably due to the tea being mostly fannings. In the mouth — a bit tangy, with what I think some others have described as citrus like. Cools the back of the mouth a bit, and the back of the tongue as well. Some qi, as I drank the cup and start to sweat a little, but nothing major. Ah… I see what some people have said is smokey. There’s an underlying layer of smoke in this tea beneath the tang… just a bit though, and I have a feeling this is a residual of smoke that was a lot more prominent earlier but have dissipated over time.

Infusion 2 — darker in colour, a slightly heavier body, with a stronger taste of that tangy character, slightly puckery on the sides, but tolerable and not unpleasant. Interesting perfumy notes as I swallow. The tea is a little drying on the mouth.

Infusion 3 — The tangy character receding. The tea is turning a little spicy on me, in an odd way, though not entirely unpleasant. Still drying.

Infusion 4 — There’s a slight watery-ness to the tea. Perhaps I ought to lengthen the infusion time. Still a bit thin. Throat feels a little sweet.

Infusion 5 — There’s something odd about the taste of this tea right now. It’s not unlike some slightly aged puerh I’ve had, none of them too promising for the future. There’s something a little bland about the tea as well.

Infusion 6 — More of the same, except this time I took longer before brewing the next infusion and could still feel the slightly sweet and plumy and maybe talcum aftertaste, which is what I think is probably the best attribute of this tea. On the other hand, I also can’t shake the drying feeling of the tea — the throat feels slightly dry, and it’s still thin.

Infusion 7 — I think the tea is turning sweeter, losing that puckery edge and taking on a more talcum like aroma. Still thin.

Infusion 8 — Definitely getting more watery. Need to lengthen infusion time again and see what happens.

Infusion 9 — Steeped for… two minutes? Still a little bland, but it’s gotten a little more of the aftertaste than before.

Infusion 10 — Another long infusion — still got something, more like the talcum. Notice the lack of the word “bitter” in the whole review? There’s still a lingering aftertaste that’s more or less the same as before.

Infusion 11 — Rather weak now, and bland. I might infuse one more, but this is about it. The aftertaste of the tea is starting to die. This is in sharp contrast to, say, the 2002 Mengku I had a few days ago, when the tea left a mark in my mouth for hours. I know that given another…half an hour? I won’t be able to feel much in my mouth that might remind me of having drunk this thing.

The following pictures are infusions 1, 3, 5, 7, in that order

I’ve noticed that when I make tea…. the colour of the tea tends to be fairly consistent throughout the infusions until it really starts dying. I don’t know if that’s a good or bad thing.

This is actually only the second time I am drinking this tea properly, the first being at the teashop when I bought two cakes, one for distribution and one for keeping. I remember thinking to myself that it would provide a nice contrast to sample 1, and that this will be a much more pleasant “drink it now” kind of tea, whereas sample 1 is probably the exact opposite of this. I also thought that this tea, despite its relative drinkability, has problems. The tea’s a little thin, the complete lack of bitterness at this stage of the tea is slightly worrisome, and the slight sourness is not necessarily a good thing. I also thought that, at least for the first two or three infusions, it is quite attractive.

Some have commented on it being possibly pre-feremented. While I can’t say for sure, I must say I can’t rule out this possiblity because of the problems this tea seems to have. Given that I used a fairly generous amount of leaves for a relatively small gaiwan, the fact that it only really made it to infusion 12 is in and of itself a warning sign — especially since the tea started limping along earlier. A good, young puerh worthy of aging should easily brew 15 infusions given my parameters, and it shouldn’t start feeling watery until at least the 10th infusion. Here, the watery feeling starts much earlier. It makes me think this could be summer tea.

Phyll made a comment that it might be a mixed raw/cooked cake. In his sample, he found some pretty dark leaves. I must say I didn’t see any in mine:

There were leaves with different colours, but that’s common in a sample of a few years old.

And I sifted through the leaves pretty thoroughly. I also think that given its relatively lightness and airy nature, that a mixture of cooked leaves is pretty unlikely. If cooked tea were mixed in, I’d expect a darker brew and a heavier mouthfeel, neither of which were really present. Instead, as vl pointed out, Phyll’s dark leaves could be more like burnt leaves.

Somebody asked if this tea was wetstored. Once again, I don’t think so, at least not very noticeably. It could’ve been stored in a relatively humid climate (as Shanghai is). Because of the problems or concerns that I have about the cake, I’m not sure if this will really age so well, and I’m not even sure if we could really look at it from the point of view of a normal raw puerh.

What it is is a tea that is pretty easygoing, if a little boring. As long as one doesn’t mistake it for a good aged puerh…
it’s fine, but I can definitely see how somebody can sell this tea for 5x the price it sold for and get away with it.

It has really been interesting to see the range of responses to the tea, and has me puzzling over some issues. It is less apparent with sample A and much more so with sample 1, so I’ll leave that discussion till tomorrow when I give that tea a try again.

I think it will definitely be interesting to see what happens to the sample A cake in the next few years. I hope I’m wrong and it ages wonderfully, although I really have my doubts.


Comments

Tasting sample A — 12 Comments

  1. Hmmm…your tea “A” looks MUCH greener than what I received!  Camera set on vivid or not, my sample A was definitely redder and more brown (leaves and liquor) than the above, especially considering that you placed 7gr in 75ml (I used a 100ml gaiwan for about the same amount of leaves).  I might have gotten a spot that is more fermented and oxidized than the rest of the beeng.

  2. Yeah, I noticed that, and that’s why I asked you about the colour of your tea.

    Mind you, this is also a different cake…. so it is slightly possible that the two have been aged differently (say, in different stacks — I can’t know that).

  3. Oh, and there’s a little bit of an optical illusion — the cup I use is very flat, so the colour will be lighter, and it’s also very thin with blue patterns on the outside, so it gives off a blue tint which might make the tea look even lighter.

  4. One more thing…. two people who tasted A said it was extremely smokey, while nobody else commented much on anything remotely like smoke, so I am guessing that A, when it was being pressed, was somehow not mixed very well with problem spots in the cake — so further making it possible that your bit was particularly “cooked”, so to speak.

    I rarely see it happen this way, but it’s possible. The compression of the cake is also a little odd, as if the leaves are just layered on top of each other.

  5. I noticed that there was some smoke underlying the tea too, but somebody told me it was between, iirc, bacon and cigarettes.  That’s some serious smoke, methinks, and nothing like what I found.

  6. The thing I’ve been wrestling with is differentiating between good bitterness and bad bitterness. I know you’ve mentioned that good bitterness will go away in later brewings, but are there any other indicators?

  7. I think I’m going to talk about it in today’s entry when I drink sample 1, especially since I think it’s in clear contrast to the “banzhang” cake I had two days ago that was bitter, but in a bad way.

  8. Hmm, interesting…

    What kind of water did you use? Could that have contributed to the sourness, which I did not detect at all. I did not feel any mouth-drying either. Any thoughts on that?

    I believe I commented on its having been through some pre-fermentation. There were a few things I noted that could have been either due to wet-storage or pre-fermentation: the clearly deeper color of some of the spent leaves (quite beyond what your pictures show), the conflicting apparent age (sometimes it felt as young as 4, other times as old as 9 years), its smoothness, and so on. But I never thought for a second that it was wet-stored, so it was probably pre-fermented. Whereas this treatment it might have undergone can make it suitable for drinking a bit earlier, I would not exactly call it a “drink it now” tea. I think we have caught it at an uncomfortable time; it deserves another 3 years or so of patience. Why don’t you save the rest of the cake and we will do this again, say, May, 2010?

  9. There’s only a touch of sourness, on the sides of the tongue.  It’s not really sour in a bad (and obvious) way.  Maybe the weather and the location of where you and I are drinking?

    I personally don’t think this tea will fare too well in another few years.  The pre-fermentation, which is most likely what it is (or just some really weird processing), would contribute to the relative thinness that I feel I detect in this tea.  It would also explain the touch of sour that I talked about.  There’s also some problems with the watery feel that this tea gives off very early on, which makes me think this could be summer tea, which tends to be thin and watery.

    It does seem like there’s some variation in the leaves of the cake I sent out and the leaves of this particular one that I’m drinking.  I still have some fannings from the cake I sent out.  Perhaps I ought to take that out, brew it, and see if I notice any significant differences among the two.  Looking at the bing’s shape, compression, and the smell, they should be the same thing.

    Whether or not it is a “drink it now” really depends on personal taste.  I feel that as it is, it’s not too bad for immediate consumption, and I think quite a few others felt the same.  That said, I have no overwhelming desire to drink the tea right now, so it’ll survive for another three years, possibly.

  10. Ah, the fannings… but of course!

    As I remarked in my notes, the leaves I got — have I expressed my heart-felt thanks to you yet? — were large, whole and generally smart-looking. I suspect that might have something to do with the fuller, sweeter and non-mouth-drying impression I got. Not that the weather (mild, warm, sunny, dry, breezy — yes, thanks to global warming, one of those kind of days), water and so on didn’t also play their parts.

    If I had to pay for it, I probably wouldn’t buy this tea-cake; but, having tasted many teas that are lesser, I wouldn’t mind drinking this by any means.

  11. Yes, me trying the fannings means that I didn’t get the most out of the tea, so to speak. 

    I bought it partly because I wasn’t sure, partly because I wanted to share this, and partly because it’s really not very expensive.  I can buy bad green/oolong (or puerh) for far more than what this thing cost me.

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