This 250 gram tuo is the last part of my recent order with The Tea Guru.
Just as it says on the box the raw material originates from Bu Lang mountain, and was harvested in the spring of 2007. The tea is a production of the Pin Xiang tea factory, an outfit I’d previously never heard of.
Scott of Yunnan Sourcing describes them as “…a small Menghai area tea factory…“. For me, that was part of this tuo’s appeal. I find it interesting to check out what’s going on outside of the big well know factories.
Post production the tea was stored in Guangdong, which to quote Olli (Mr. Guru himself) means the tea has “…lost most of its initial character…“, which in this case means that signature Bu Lang smack in the mouth bitterness. The rest of Olli’s notes had me eager to crack on and get busy with this tea, especially when he describes the soup as sweet but with hints of the Bu Lang bitterness remaining, as well as what he describes as an “energetic” Qi.
|Weight of dry leaf:||7 grams|
|Infusion style:||Gong-fu / Asian|
|Steeping vessel:||150 ml porcelain gaiwan|
|No. & duration:||a 2 second rinse, then a 1st. infusion @ 10 seconds, then @ +5 seconds until 60 seconds, then @ 75, 90, 120, 180, and finally 240 seconds for a total of 16 infusions|
Even though the ageing process had by all accounts toned down the Bu Lang bitterness, I still decided to play it relatively safe, and started this session well in the lee of a hearty lunch.
Sometimes you can just look at a tuo or beeng and know that the two of you are going to get along.
I brought the tuo up close to my face and took a deep sniff. The aroma of the dry leaves was mild and subtle. It reminded me of a piece of freshly planed oak.
After the rinse I took another sniff of the leaves as they lay hot and steaming in the gaiwan. Among the notes of dark old hay and mushrooms lurked a very shou like earthiness. Even the colour of the rinse added to my growing sense of anticipation. The compression on the tuo had been quite tight, and so I gave the three leaf-clumps I prised off a 10 second initial steeping to help them along.
As I mostly do in cases like this, after the pour I left them to steam in the closed gaiwan, with just enough of an aperture between bowl and lid to vent excess heat. We don’t want to scald those leaves now, do we?
I often think that first steepings are a lot like going back in time and watching a well known band or comedian’s early performances. They might not be the finished article at that early stage in their career, but all the pointers are there to all the good things that will appear in the future. So it was in the case of this tuo, too. You sort of accept that with the first couple of infusions you’ll be working on undoing the compression, but you push on regardless, knowing that the good stuff will be your just reward after a bit of steaming and surgery with bamboo tools.
With the first couple of rounds this tea gave the impression that once it got into its groove it would be a long and satisfying session. The body was smooth, the colour already deep, and just as everyone had said, maturity had mellowed these leaves significantly.
There was a fairly dominant mushroom note, but also an interesting kind of sweetness. The soup was sweet in the same way that sweet-and-sour sauce is – a yin to the non-sweet element’s yang, one that complimented it rather than trying to fight it.
After the second round I got the feeling that this tea had serious moreish chugger potential, and that I was going to have to exercise a good degree of self control if I was not going to race through the session without savouring the nuances this broth was clearly capable of.
After the second round all my fussing and prodding paid off. The leaf-clumps were now fully open, meaning it was time to buckle up, and hit the accelerator. Now that we had the full surface area of the leaves open and available, things naturally enough went up a gear. The colour of the soup intensified, and the body morphed into a tongue-tingler and lip sticker.
The Qi slow-rolled in after battling past the lunch buffer. This was a calming, almost sleepy affair, and helped to set the tone for the rest of the session, turning it into a “don’t hurry, no worries” job. Earlier impulses to swill this tea were overcome and abandoned, and the session ended up being a 3 hour one, finally drawing to a close as the sun dipped below the horizon.
Somewhere near the mid-point of the session a hint of bitterness popped up. Others had mentioned this, so it wasn’t unexpected. If anything, it resembled the sort of nip you might encounter with a decent hong cha, but after only a few rounds it faded away.
By the eleventh round it was clear that the leaves were starting to struggle somewhat, so the infusion times were bumped up a tad from this point on. The last few rounds were a good example of what I like to call the “gaiwan long steep paradox“. I find that when I do long infusions with boiling water in a gaiwan two almost contradictory things happen.
Firstly the rim of the gaiwan becomes quite hot, making the pour potentially tricky. Secondly, during those longer infusions the bowl of the gaiwan tends to cool rapidly, meaning that the steeping water potentially isn’t at the desired temperature, which might impact the quality of the soup that comes out of that round.
So, now that I know that these leaves are good for a righteous number of infusions, in the future I think I’ll be steeping them in one of the unglazed clay pots I use exclusively for sheng. Given how much better the clay retains heat, who knows, it might even be possible to coax a few more rounds out of them, and break the magical 20 infusions barrier.
So, in conclusion then – I can only agree with others who have said that this tea represents a good, solid, aged sheng at a decent price, that delivers a satisfyingly complex taste together with an interesting Qi hit.
Good stuff. Get some in.