This purchase came about due to a combination of boredom and curiosity.
I was idly surfing with no particular objective, and on a whim decided to visit the website of one of the local tea shops.
Checking out the “white and exclusive teas” section, I noticed that they stocked a cake of shou or ripe/cooked Pu-erh.
Previously I’d only ever sampled loose leaf shou Pu-erh, or mini-cakes that coincidentally were bought from the same shop. I was kind of curious as to how a full sized 357g beeng cha made of shou Pu-erh would work out. The price was a reasonable 299 Swedish Crowns (£25.83 GB, $36.76 US, or €32.26), and after a quick phone call to double-check that they did indeed have a cake in stock off I cycled towards the city centre.
The cake is a product of the Liming Tea Factory, and sold under the “Golden Peacock” brand name. The wrapper stated that the tea was made in 2007.
From what I’ve been able to deduce from the wrapper and a bit of on-line research, the leaves are from arbor/tall trees (“qiao mu“) which grew at an altitude of more than 2000 metres near the Lantsang river, in Menghai county, Xishuangbanna prefecture, in Yunnan province. This term usually applies to what were once cultivated bushes that have gone feral, and grown into full trees, as opposed to “Gu Shu” or truly wild tea trees.
Generally speaking, this indicates that the leaves will taste better than those from smaller, cultivated bushes, but not as good as leaves from the truly old, wild trees.
I was very keen to try this tea, too keen, perhaps.
My first session with it was a trifle rushed. I dug into the cake, and broke off what was in retrospect perhaps a little too much tea for the Samadoyo pot I used. I don’t honestly think my mind was properly on the job, and that affected the taste of the tea. I wasn’t overly impressed – the tea seemed on first tasting to be little better than the cheap loose leaf shou Pu-erh available at the Chinese supermarkets in town.
I decided that I’d try again the next day, and give the tea more time, as well as the benefit of steeping, decanting, and serving it with the assistance of our best porcelain teaware.
I’m glad I did. In this session the tea started to show a different character. This time I carefully measured out 5g of tea for the 150ml capacity of the gaiwan. Water was of course Brita filtered and fresh off a full, rolling boil. After a five second rinse, and a thirty second first steep to open up the leaves, I performed infusions starting at 10 seconds, increasing them by 5 seconds for subsequent infusions.
The earthiness one normally associates with shou Pu-erh manifested itself as a clean, pine forest-like aroma, with a hint of warm wood, and a hard to pin down muted sweetness.
The tea had a good body to it, much more so than the cheaper variants. I managed to coax 6 infusions out of the leaves before the colour and the taste started to fade – just shy of a litre’s worth of tea.
In conclusion then, this relatively inexpensive cake is a good choice if you want to start learning about compressed shou Pu-erh, and/or as an everyday drinker.