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…