I’ve actually had this cake for some time now. I bought it in January 2017, after spotting it on the old Canton Tea site.
£10.00 for a full sized, 357 gram beeng from the Xiaguan factory was too good a price to pass on, so into the cart it went. If I remember right, legendary Pu-erh aficionado Allan Keane also picked one (or quite possibly several!) up from Canton at about the same time.
The “T” here stands for the Mandarin word “Tiě“, meaning “Iron“. This denotes a beeng that has been very tightly machine pressed so as to be “as hard as iron“, figuratively speaking, which, as I understand it, is done in order to help with ageing.
Seeing as this cake has now been sat in my Pu-erh cupboard for 18 months, I thought it was about time to give it a go. This will give me a datum, a reference point, as it were, from which to judge how it matures in the months and years ahead.
|Weight of dry leaf:||7.5 grams|
|Infusion style:||Gong-fu / Asian|
|Steeping vessel:||150 ml unglazed clay teapot|
|No. & duration:||a 2 second rinse, then a 1st. infusion @ 10 seconds, then @ +5 seconds until 50 seconds, then @ 1, 1.25, 1.5, 2, 3, & 4 minutes for a total of 15 infusions|
The first thing I noticed about this cake was the fact that despite the “iron” nomenclature it was considerably easier to get in with the tea pick and shear off sheets of leaf compared to the brick of Huang Pian I currently have in. I adopted a similar approach, however, going in “side on“, attacking the cake on its edge, rather than attempting to gain entry from the top surface. This proved to be slightly trickier than when tackling a brick, what with the cake balancing on a thinner, curved edge.
Pre rinse the dry leaf smelled of clean, old hay, as well as dark leather, and dried mushrooms. Post rinse the now warmed up leaves had gained the aroma of tobacco and a low level smokiness.
The first infusion showed good promise, with a nice creaminess, and a floral thing that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. There was a sweet, chalky fragrance left clinging to the inside of the empty cup.
Before the second steeping I gave the leaves a gentle prodding with a bamboo tea-tool, and what was left of the compression melted away. The second infusion saw the smoke and floral aspects ramped up a notch, as well as a tickle of astringency making itself known.
The soup started to get into its stride on the Qi front by the 3rd. round, inducing a fairly heavy upper body sweat, and a dreamy, sleepy feeling.
A couple of infusions later the astringency was already heading out the door, and after another pair of steepings I got a terrible attack of the sheng munchies, and had to take a short time out to scoff a banana.
After 9 rounds it felt as though things were starting to slip a little, so from this point on I bumped up the infusion times by more than the previous +5 seconds. Eventually, after a steeping of 4 minutes it seemed as though we’d reached the end of the road with this particular batch of leaves.
I did get the impression, however, that with a few minor tweaks to the session parameters it could be possible to coax a little more out of them.
It was only after the session was over that I noticed that the bottom of my tea strainer had very little dust and debris in it, given that it had been a 15 round job. Examining the finished leaves showed a fair bit of stem, and it appeared as though most of the leaf was broken. They weren’t teeny tiny bits, though, and the general cleanliness of the strainer hinted that particulate hadn’t been used as filler. Overall then, this might not be Xiaguan’s top-notch material, but it’s still of a decent enough quality for all that, especially when you consider the price.
As Canton did note back then, even for a young sheng this is quite drinkable now, but if looked after will mature into something “utterly beautiful” as they said. Even though I don’t think I’ll be able to resist having a session with this tea once or twice a year, hopefully I’ll be strong enough to leave enough of it alone to see where we end up decades from now.
Watch this space, etc…