I just ran across some tasting notes from a few months ago and thought I’d share them. I tasted four puers to see what I wanted to brew for a class that didn’t end up getting enough students to run in the end. You might find it interesting, though, and no sense letting the experience go to waste, right?
Sample 1: Menghu medium-sized bing (flat, round cake), sheng (green/uncooked), date unknown.
The cake was made of very dry, hard leaves. They were difficult to pry apart to get the amount I wanted to brew. Steeped 3 times for 25 seconds each in a gaiwan at roughly 175 degree water. First steeping was soft, with only a hint of the typical young-sheng flavor I describe as “ashtray”–mainly because the flavor was pretty subtle. Had some astringency. Second steeping had a stronger, more forceful flavor. Didn’t feel any increased astringency on the tongue, but noticed a fuzziness on the teeth. Third steeping was both sweeter and more biter than the previous. Had almost a spicy/minty feeling on the top of the tongue when breathing in, but gentler. I’ve heard leaf from ancient-arbor tea trees will give this sensation but hadn’t experienced it. Too bad I can’t get more provenance than this. Overall, the scent was bolder than the flavor.
Sample 2: Menghai small bing, sheng, 1999.
The leaf on this was more pliable than sample 1. Same steeping parameters (25 seconds each, 175 degrees, 3 times). The infusion was darker. Overall, scent and flavor were better balanced. Scent was perhaps more complex than the flavor, and certainly more complex than sample 1. First steeping was woody and sweet to start, then “ashtray.” Slightly less astringency than #1 but more body. Second steeping had a smoky scent more like autumn wood smoke; ashtray more full, but with aromatic woods lurking in the background. Third steeping was smoother and had more body than the second steep. Astringency only came out as an “aftertaste.” No sharpness to the flavor except in the flavor-aftershocks…the little bursts of flavor that come after the tea is swallowed. The infusion (wet leaves) were nearly all full-leaf, large but not giant–like a typical tieguanyin, only a deeper/darker green.
Sample 3: Large bing, shu (black/cooked), 2001.
The cake was reasonably easy to break apart. Scent and flavor were balanced with each other…neither was bigger or fuller than the other. Steeped 3 times for a minute each with water around 185 degrees. First steeping had rounded flavor and the typical earthiness of a cooked puer. It had a little more complexity breathing out through the nose than it did going down. The brew was lighter than I’m used to for a shu puer, because I usually brew longer when drinking for myself. Second steeping had a much fuller flavor. It was smooth and something else…couldn’t put my finger on it but jotted down “sugary, almost, like a candycane at 20 yards–spicy/minty.” Third steeping was stronger still a little fuller flavor still–starting to have that back-of-the-throat astringency common to very dark chocolate. Just as smooth as the previous steep. Sweetness had darkened…again chocolate came to mind. The infusion is still a little crumbly and hard even after a total of three minutes’ soaking.
Sample 4: Golden Melon, shu, 2005.
Steeped the same way as sample 3: three steeps, 1 minute each in 185 degree water. First steeping was a thinner brew…”reedy,” about the same amount of body as you might find in a genmaicha–more than straight tea but not like a typical puer. Not a lot of flavor (which might be because the chunk for this sample was more solid going in, whereas the Large Bing sample was made up of several smaller chunks). Second steeping was much nicer. It had a smoky edge to a much darker and fuller flavor. Smoke was present, but not piney like lapsang…more like a cross between tobacco and a typical cooked puer. Typical puer mouthfeel. Third steeping had even more of the tobacco leaf present, but not a whole lot different than the second steep. The infusion was more stemmy than sample 3, but the leaf parts were much more pliable. I guessed that it was a lower leaf-grade going in, but more care taken during processing.