Late November, and once again I was browsing the webshop of one of my regular dealers, House of Tea, with a few pennies in the tea buying purse screaming to be let out to play.
I wasn’t really looking to buy any pu-erh, but after finding nothing of interest anywhere else I went to that section of the webshop anyway despite being very familiar with all the teas on offer there, but, well, hope triumphing over both expectation and experience combined, and all that…
As it happened I did indeed find something of interest. Two somethings, in fact. It seems as though House of Tea have commissioned the pressing of their own cakes, namely a 100 gram beeng of 2019 Lincang Old Tree Sheng, and a 200 gram beeng of 2019 Lincang Old Tree Shou. Somehow I’d missed this, even though I subscribe to their newsletter.
I knew right there and then when, where, and how my cash was going to be splashed, and got busy clicking. The next afternoon a familiar looking package dropped into our real world snailmailbox.
In this post I’ll be taking a closer look at the sheng.
House of Tea’s notes describe the tea as “…high quality hand picked tea from an early spring 2019 harvest of tea trees about 300 years of age and older. The tea trees grow at an altitude of about 2200 meters above sea level in the mountainous area of western Lincang, Yunnan. No pesticides are used in the cultivation of the tea trees.”
They go on to say that the beeng is relatively hard pressed, and although it’s a suitable candidate for long-term storage it’s fine to drink now.
I found their brewing guidelines interesting. They mention that if you stick to those parameters (Western style, 2 grams/dl, 100°C, starting at 2 mins) you’ll end up with a soup that is full but balanced, with a minimal amount of bitterness, but if you’re prepared to push the envelope in terms of infusion times and water/leaf ratios you’ll find strength, bitterness, and a lot of character.
Despite the heads up about compression, I didn’t find it all that difficult to get the pick into the beeng, something that can be tricky at the best of times with these smaller 100 gram cakes, and free off the amount of leaf needed for the session.
The dried leaf had a mild, typically sheng aroma, without any traces of burnt, and a slight touch of tobacco.
|Water Used:||Filtered tap water|
|Weight of dry leaf:||6 grams|
|Steeping vessel:||150 ml unglazed clay teapot|
|No. & duration:||a flash rinse, then infusions of 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 40, 50, 60, 90, 120, 180, 240, and finally 420 seconds for a total of 13 infusions|
The rinse brought out a high floral tone in the wet leaf, almost Darjeeling like, something that transferred over to the first infusion.
Even early on in the session the soup was packing a luscious, oily body. It left behind an Oolong-esque sweet mineral meets plaster of Paris scent in the empty cup.
Lincang teas have a bit of a reputation as bitter brain bashers, and initially I was wondering where the smack in the mouth and Qi thump were at, but once the second steeping had left the teapot I had my answers.
The bitterness quietly crept in, but never once threatened to grandstand or overpower everything else in the cup, and the Qi silently pounced like a snowstorm in the middle of July. This was a teleportation to Dreamland job that left the mind turbocharged and nitrous oxide injected, but the body wallowing in comfy cosy slow-mo mode. After you’ve had a certain number of glorious sheng sessions you begin to recognise the beginnings of yet another one in your bones, and this one was signalling precisely that with all the whistles, bells, and flags you could wish to see or hear.
There was taste a-plenty here, too, lots of shengy dried mushrooms, new leather, old books, and freshly planed hardwood.
I spent the next hour and a half semi reclined on the sofa, staring out of the window, admiring the showboating seagulls, and wondering exactly when and how does Stratocumulus aerofluff become Cumulus.
In between bouts of spaced out grinning I was still focused enough to make some notes, however. This is a very tidy tea, for example, leaving only the faintest traces of dust in my tea strainer all session long.
The session was one of those that slid by in autopilot mode, and I only realised the passage of time after that 7 minute long 13th steeping.
All in all I reckon that this was a good first venture into own-brand cake production by House of Tea, an excellent starting point to build on. Here’s hoping they go on to press more of their own beengs in the future.