2006 Bang Mai Wild Arbor Sheng

2006 bang mai wild arbor - dry leaf

Spoiler alert…this was one of those memorable sessions you simply never want to forget.

The tagline for this post could well be “This is why I drink sheng“. It’s also a good advert for the whole notion of a tea blog in the first place – without somewhere to record (and yes, share) your thoughts and impressions all the minutiae of a session would be lost forever, like tears in rain rinse water down the drain.

Anyroad, as I recently mentioned, my last couple of tea orders were all about reinforcing the shou and the sheng sides of my stash, with two examples of each being bought.

In this post I’ll be taking a closer look at the first of the shengs.

I bought this tea as a 100 gram sized fragment of a complete 357 gram beeng.

As soon as the tea was out of its sealed bag I had a very strong sense of teaja-vu. The aroma coming off the dried leaf was very similar to a tea I’d had a while back – Lancang Tea Factory’s Jianshen brand 2004 tuo.

I went back to the product page over at House of Tea, and sure enough, there was the same “J” logo of the Jian Shen brand.

Remembering that that tuo had been potent stuff, I started the session after breakfast, ensuring that there was something in my stomach to act as a buffer of sorts between my grey matter and a potentially powerful broth.

According to House of Tea’s notes the raw material that went into this cake comes from 90 year old wild arbor trees, which grow on Bang Mai mountain at an elevation of around 2000 metres. They go on to say that the cake was a traditional stone pressing.

The one confusing thing in their notes was the statement that Bang Mai mountain is in Xishuangbanna prefecture, whereas Babelcarp et al say otherwise, namely that it lies in Lincang prefecture.

Steeping method
Water Used: Filtered tap water
Weight of dry leaf: 7 grams
Infusion style: Gong-fu
Steeping vessel: 150 ml unglazed clay teapot
Water temperature: 100°C
No. & duration: a short rinse followed by 13 infusions of 15, 15, 20, 25, 30, 35, 40, 50, 70, 90, 120, 300, and 600 seconds duration

After the rinse the warm wet leaf smelled of smoke, tobacco, pungent hot house flowers, and incense.

It’s easy to associate “traditional” pressing with light compression, but the clump I had to work with for this session was quite tight. Rather than risk flesh and bone I decided to let time and hot water tease it apart instead, hence the 15 second long first infusion.

Taste-wise that first round sported a muted but otherwise fairly standard-ish sheng profile – wood, leather, and dried mushrooms, but the body was already giving one the impression of a coiled spring – full of pent up energy barely held in check.

The first round and the subsequent gentle in-pot steam treatment between it and the second infusion accounted for the compression, and so I went with the same steeping time again for the now fully opened leaves.

2006 bang mai - a cup of

By now the soup was letting my nose know what I was in for even before my lips touched the rim of the cup with that warning klaxon smokey aroma.

The Lincang bite was starting to get in on the act, but accompanied by a spicy sweet back end and aftertaste. The body was now slick enough to glue my social isolation inspired facial hair to my top lip.

Just one round later the qi-clout was starting to grow in intensity. There was that nice, easy going sheng taste profile sweet talking you, and then your senses were assaulted by a two pronged attack – that qi punch tossing bitter hand grenades.

It was like being set upon by a bar room brawler decked out like a Regency dandy reciting Shakespeare. This was a tad dangerous, as the liquor was proving to be a good old fashioned slurper, and the time between rounds started to shrink the more one fell under its qi-nfluence.

When I got up to brew the fourth infusion my legs nearly went in the opposite direction, such was my sense of giddy euphoria. When I started to sip the soup Radio Sheng came on the air, re-mixing two hits from the “Madchester” era – “Weirdo” by The Charlatans, and “Dragging Me Down”, by Inspiral Carpets. For reasons I’m at a loss to explain I was haunted in a benevolent fashion by images of Northern English icon Fred Dibnah.

As the sixth and seventh rounds rolled by I began to feel like Richard E. Grant’s character Withnail in, appropriately, the infamous tea room scene. “Alright here?”, I asked the sofa, before flopping down on it, chortling to myself.

We’ve had the builders in today, sprucing up our apartment block’s facade, and I began to wonder what it would look like if their lift-cum-working platform contraption took them past one of our windows only for them to see me drinking dark yellow coloured liquid decanted out of a chemistry beaker, and laughing half maniacally at nothing in particular…

Two things became apparent during the drinking of the eighth round. Firstly, I was going to have to start bumping up the infusion times from this point on, and secondly even teeny tiny banana flies make a “fitsch” type squelchy noise if you catch them just right. Thank heavens for Windex.

One round later the qi brought out a mild sweat, along with the feeling that I was accelerating faster and faster towards the end of the session even though the infusion times were getting longer and longer. It felt rather like being a soap bubble caught in the maelstrom caused by the plug being pulled out of a bathtub.

The 11th. and 12th. rounds saw a sharp drop in the intensity of flavours coming out of the pot, but I still wanted to tease out everything the leaves were capable of giving me, but that 10 minute long 13th. round was clearly the end of the road.

2006 bang mai - used leaves

Conclusions

This tea had a pleasing, fairly standard-ish sheng flavour profile, backed up with that pungent sweetness. Still, the lasting memories from this session will be associated with the body feels. These leaves wield a serious amount of cha Qi, and afterwards I was glad I hadn’t entered this session on an empty stomach.

At a pinch I’d guess that that sweet but spicy thing was a product of its age, but it was also interesting to see that time hadn’t mellowed it too much, and it still had that playful bitter nose tweak that kind of helped to balance things out.

This lump’s going to be put away in a cool, dark place to quietly continue maturing, although I’ll be tempted to drop a few grams into a pot once or twice a year when I have a couple of quiet hours to kill.

Good stuff.

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