I can’t help it, but I’m a sucker for loose leaf sheng Pu-erh.
As much as I love beeng cha (tea compressed into flat cake form), there’s just something wonderful about the shape of the leaves, about the way they react when spooned out of the caddy. It’s almost as though they crackle and fizz somehow.
Buying loose leaf sheng can be a bit of a two edged sword, though.
On one hand, you don’t have to fork out for a whole beeng (usually 357 grams), so you never have the problem of wondering what to do with a potentially expensive block of tea that you might not actually like.
But then again, if you do find a tea that floats your tea-boat, then you may have to move rather rapidly in order to secure further stocks. Good news travels exceptionally fast through the teaosphere, and just one rave review from the right folks can mean that tea you just discovered will be shooting off the shelves mucho rapido, and once you try to buy some more you very may well come face to face with the dreaded “out of stock” notification.
I bought this tea as part of a batch of recent purchases I made with House of Tea, the 70g costing 84 Swedish Crowns (£7.45, $9.89, €8.80).
The tea is, as the name suggests, from the Ba Da mountain region of Yunnan province, close to the border with Myanmar.
As you might expect the leaves are of the Da Ye (Big Leaf) cultivar, from bushes grown at 1400m altitude. It was plucked and processed by the indigenous Bulang people, back in the spring of 2012.
I know there are still many traditionalists out there who might cringe at the very notion of drinking a raw Pu-erh that’s only four years old (and a loose leaf one at that!), but nowadays it does seem to be more and more common – heck – no less than Global Tea Hut‘s tea in August was a Pu-erh so young they were still referring to it as a mao cha, which if you aren’t aware is the base tea from which Pu-erh is made, essentially a somewhat astringent “rough” Yunnanese large leaf green tea that is compressed and left to age – 15 years was until very recently one figure widely given as the minimum period before a mao cha became “drinkable” sheng Pu-erh.
Besides, I’m one of those types who seem to thrive on spicy / bitter foodstuffs, so the thought of having my palate roughed up by a loud, abrasive young tea holds no terrors, and there’s still the mild thrill of partaking in something that tea-conservatives might consider a bit taboo.
The dry leaf had a very mild aroma – the sheng-esque mix of newly planed wood and clean, new leather, just very delicate.
Water was straight off a full on rolling boil. I was using 6g of dry leaf in a 150ml capacity gaiwan.
I performed the usual quick rinse, which, it has to be noted, was most useful in waking the tea up rather than removing unwanted dust and what have you. This was a very clean tea, so much so that after the first infusion I was able to abandon the tea strainer altogether.
I started off with a 10 second infusion, with subsequent steepings becoming 10 seconds longer each time.
The flavour profile is what I can best describe as “general sheng” – there was that wonderful clean, sweet fresh umami-tinged earthiness, that seemed to linger a good while on the palate.
By the third steeping the astringency popped up, but it was never overpowering, and never grew in intensity during later steepings.
So far, so, well, ordinary, to be honest. A good, solid, sheng Pu-erh, nothing wrong at all with that, just nothing to clamber up to the roof and yell about.
But then we come to the tea’s qi. Oh yes, the qi. The absolutely amazing qi.
It started to make its presence known during the second steeping, and then hit like a runaway freight train during the third.
The tea’s qi manifested itself as a profound warming sensation on the upper chest and throat, and, bizarrely, on the forearms.
Not only that, but it induced a blissful sense of dreaminess that bordered on inebriation, but never with the associated feeling of a loss of control.
You always felt as though you were focused and in the driving seat so to speak, though, just exceptionally laid-back and meditative.
Such reactions occur as a product of the interaction of all the variables floating around during a tea session – your current mood, when you last ate, and so on.
Seeing as no single tea session can ever be exactly the same as any other, you might never experience a particular tea twice the same way, meaning that the extraordinary effect this tea had on me might have been a one-off, but I’ve had two quite different sessions with this tea, and had the same result twice.
Furthermore, the sensation lingered for many hours after the tea session ended, right through the rest of the afternoon and well into the evening. I’ve never had such a productive second half of the day, to be honest!
The tea also just kept on chugging away – 15 steepings in it was still good to go, but I called a halt to the session as I had other stuff to attend to and couldn’t sit there testing the boundaries of those leaves, tempting as it was.
Make no mistake, though, I’ll be re-ordering some more of this tea very soon indeed.
I think it will excel as a “cosy Autumnal nights in” kind of a tea, a perfect wind-down tea to fill the gap between supper and lights out on a dark, Sunday evening…