I bought this tuo in mid-April as part of my efforts to shore up the pu side of my stash.
I also had another motive for wanting to get hold of this tea – it was a good opportunity to indulge in a spot of “compare and contrast“, seeing as I’d had some good old sessions with a 2001 pressing of the same recipe just shy of three years ago.
The 2009 version had the tight compression I find to be typical of Xia Guan tuos, so the required due care and attention was exercised when diving in with the tea pick to free off an appropriately sized lump.
The dry leaf wasn’t saying much except the usual kind of clean sheng stuff that hinted at dry storage.
I went for a quite long-for-me 10 second rinse to help undo that compression. Afterwards the now warm and wet leaves were chattering about tobacco and a hint of smokiness.
|Water Used:||Filtered tap water|
|Weight of dry leaf:||6 grams|
|Steeping vessel:||150 ml unglazed clay teapot|
|No. & duration:||a 10 second rinse, followed by 10 infusions of 15, 20, 30, 35, 40, 50, 60, 70, 90, and 180 seconds duration|
The soup was slick and smooth right out of the gate. All my favourite sheng notes were there – leather, freshly planed hardwood, dried mushrooms, as well as the aforementioned tobacco and a subtle hint of clean white smoke, but the most noticeable aspect of the broth was a real, good old fashioned bitter slap in the chops. Now, this took me quite by surprise – this is after all an 11 year old tea, and I really wasn’t expecting it to be still lobbing bitter grenades.
In common with a lot of other tuos this one also seemed to be pressed from a fair amount of broken leaf – not dust or small fragments, mind, just not whole leaves. When using this particular pot with those kind of teas that means that you have to get busy between rounds with a bamboo spatula and scrape the internal pot filter at the base of the spout clear of leaves that would otherwise block the flow out of the pot. Interestingly enough, even though I was dealing with semi-broken leaf, it was clean in its own way, as right throughout the session my tea strainer caught very little dust or debris.
Another characteristic of broken leaf teas is that, generally speaking, they tend to yield shorter but more intense sessions, so I was sort of expecting a wild and fast ride. The Qi showed up towards the back end of the second round, and ushered in a dreamy, sleepy, nostalgic and slightly melancholic vibe. Radio Sheng came on the air, and for the rest of the session I was humming Billy Joel’s “My Life.”
Somewhere around the session’s halfway mark the bitterness started to become slightly less domineering, not so in your face, although it was still very much capable of letting you know it was still around.
Towards the latter part of the session another thing occurred to me, that this tea was kind of like the Motörhead of sheng tuos – all about power and an almost brutal delivery, but nevertheless done with a style all of its own and a certain amount of sophistication.
At the 7th. infusion mark the slip in the intensity of the liquor was becoming more noticeable, especially in its colour. Having said that, the fade out felt gradual, gentle almost – there were no sudden, disappointing steep drop offs.
The session did indeed feel as though it shot by somewhat rapidly, but 10 rounds also seemed fair enough.
Once the session was over, I ate a spot of lunch, and then went off to have a well earned nap. Afterwards, it felt like I had a bit of a hangover, which was quite disconcerting seeing as I haven’t had the joy of that particular experience for many a year. Not to worry, a one-shot Western style pot of Malawi Green put me back on an even keel.
It was certainly interesting to re-read my post about the 2001 pressing after this session was over. The older tuo had given a much longer session, and a soup with a significantly darker colour. My initial thoughts were that the more mature of the two tuos had, after all, been 16 years old when I posted about it, and that this tuo is a fair bit younger at 11 years old, but I think there’s more going on than that.
I also believe that in the past three years my own tea drinking habits have changed too, especially when it comes to sheng. I feel as though these days I call time on a session once I figure that I’ve extracted the very best out of the leaves, rather than pushing on to a point where the leaves have literally nothing left to give.
Again, this is part of the endless fascination of tea. The leaves change over time, but so do you, too.
This session has also got me thinking that I’m falling out of the habit of sheng drinking, that I’m going soft when it comes to a drop of the hard stuff, namely a good, bitter, tongue scrunching young sheng. Mid-morning, brain burning pu benders are a groove I’m going to have to try to get back into.
As luck would have it, during a recent bout of tea cupboard tidying up I actually found the remainder of the 2001 tuo, so perhaps a side-by-side taste test session is in order, to amongst other things test my theory about how I approach sheng sessions these days compared to three years ago.
Watch this space, etc…
An interesting read, similar to my experience. Lots of people seem to skip past the factory teas and it’s a shame, some of them are pretty good.
I bought up a few of these in various years as batches of 5 (for the princely sum of $3 a tuo). I have 3 sets of 5; from 2009, 2013 and 2016. I can probably blame the tight compression, but there wasn’t much difference when I did a side by side. I’ve broken apart one cake of each and put them (separately) in 75% humidity – so we’ll see what happens in the next few months.
I found the ‘plumb stone’ flavour and Asian bitter melon/alfalfa flavour to be strong in these. I tend to use around 8g in a 120ml pot.
I do like this tuo. Even with the broken leaf and the slap in the face taste. I can recommend the Yu Shang from them as well as the large Cang’er tuo if you’re curious. I also have a giant 500g ‘gu shu’ tuo on the way to me.
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I couldn’t agree more about factory teas – I’ve never had a Xia Guan or a Haiwan tea I didn’t like. It’s the same with the boutique teas too, in my experience – some people have a real downer on White2tea for example on general principles, it seems…
It would be interesting to see how your storage experiments with these tous pans out…
Thanks for the heads up about their other tuos – I just might have to try and track them down in the new year…
That 500g tuo sounds like a bit of a beast – good luck!
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Tuo are funny. I mean, bings are clearly meant to be better leaf, but I still derive great enjoyment from them.
I’m looking forward to the 500g monster, but I think the post will take a while with the current world situation (there’s rather a lot of tea slowly trudging in my direction it seems). My wallet gives its thanks to the larger tea factories (on possibly too regular a basis).
I haven’t tried much White2Tea, but what I have has been positive, what’s the big downer? Do you mean people’s negative reactions to the whole ‘curated’ or luxury experience? I assume you don’t mean the sweaty elbows.
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I tend to look at tuo in a similar way to how the legendary James Norwood Pratt looks at tea bags – if the starting point is good raw material then you should be good to go. I just aim to steep slightly lighter, cooler, and quicker, something that tends to work more times than it doesn’t. At the end of the day tuo represent solid, dependable, affordable daily drinkers. What’s not to like..?
The problems with shipping have passed me by as ever since our postal people decided they wanted a cut of any action from outside of Europe to the tune of roughly US$10 I’ve limited my tea buying to retailers inside the EU. It drives my wife nuts, but it’s not the money, but the principle of it I tell her, dangnabbit…
I think a lot of the people who dislike White2Tea do so because they aren’t keen on the way that he’s “Westernised” pu-erh in terms of packaging, design, marketing, and accessibility, removing a lot of the mystique, for want of a better word. Not diverging a lot of info about his teas hasn’t helped either. Personally speaking, I love his stuff. “Cream” and “Brown Sugar” are the best shous I’ve ever had, and I’ve still got some “Brother/Sister” that I take out and sniff and gaze at adoringly ever now and then…
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Ah yes, One feels like one is blundering through a lot of the time, J.N.P is a good soul for filling in blanks, I must read him. Though experimentation half the fun sometimes. I’m flash steeping all the way with these bitter bad-boys.
And, I think I understand your meaning regarding W2T. I’m also not fond of the odd exoticisation (bordering orientalism) many have toward tea.
Treating it (or marketing it) as a simple drink to be enjoyed, isn’t doing ‘tea culture’ a disservice, I don’t think at least. If anything demystification is frequently a path to a deeper understanding of a thing. Two sides to every coin, as I’m of two minds about the whole ‘tight-lipped on the info’ stuff. I like to be aware of the harvests, leaf and blends. I tasted some of his ‘waffles’ and it was very decent shou.
Some of the nicest tea I’ve had recently has been from Farmerleaf and I enjoy his approach. Prices are getting ‘up there’ though.
Side note: After reading and commenting I realised that it’s been 9 months (2020 has been a wild ride) since I broke up those Jia Ji tuo. I brewed up a 2013 vintage last night. All trace of leather, wood and what I thought was a sort of ‘artichoke green’ has buggered off (in the flavour at least, the wet leaf still has the resounding echo of it). It was remarkably sweeter and less bitter. Definitely worth a revisit if you still have some lying around.
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JNP really is worth reading. I have “The Tea Lover’s Treasury (1982)” as well as “The Tea Lover’s Companion (1996)”. When I bought them quite a few years ago the only copies I could find were on a second-hand book site. Not only does JNP have a wonderful turn of phrase, but due to their age these books are also a kind of tea culture time capsule. In the earlier book for example pu-erh gets merely a passing mention, and even in the later one it only merits a page, where it is described as elusive and mysterious!
Regarding the East/West tea culture debate – I read a thread on the tea sub-reddit earlier this year where someone was keen to get into gong-fu brewing but was anxious about cultural appropriation.
As I’ve mentioned elsewhere in the blog if I was to face a “Je t’accuse!” moment on the charge of being a rabid Farmer Leaf fanboy then I’d have to plead guilty as sin. As you say, a bit of an indulgence, but I’m happy knowing that I’m getting good quality kit in return, and supporting someone with both his head and his heart in the right place into the bargain. If you haven’t watched his You Tube videos I heartily recommend them, especially the recent ones where he gives his thoughts on the major tea growing areas of Yunnan using maps of the province.
Sounds like I’ll have to find time to dig that Jia Ji tuo out and see how it’s getting on…