2017 Ancient Empress Mountain

2017 Ancient Empress Mountain - wrapped

In this post I’ll be taking a look at a beeng of sheng I bought back in mid-September.

This was a follow-up order with Stockholm based In The Mood For Tea, and was yet again a Fengqing County Sanning Tea Industry production. The good times that resulted from my first encounter with this factory’s wares had left me wanting to find out more about what they were up to, hence the appearance of this ‘ere cake on my tea table.

2017 Ancient Empress Mountain - unwrapped

In The Mood For Tea’s notes tell us that the raw material hails from Ancient Empress Mountain, Fengqing county, Lincang prefecture, Yunnan, and comes from trees that are about 100 years old, growing at an elevation of about 2000 metres. The leaves were harvested in April of 2019, with the pluck being a bud and three leaves.

Now, I have to be honest here and say that I didn’t know much about the teas of Fengqing county other than this particular part of Yunnan being known for Dian Hong, the province’s famous black tea.

I did remember, however, that William of Farmer Leaf talks about Fengqing county in the Lincang prefecture video in his very interesting and informative series about the major tea producing areas of Yunnan. The video can be found here, with the bit about Fengqing county starting at the 11:41 mark. One thing I learned during the video was that the legendary ancient tea tree that is reputedly 3200 years old is located in Fengqing county, at Jinxiu village.

2017 Ancient Empress Mountain - beeng hole

For reasons I can’t adequately explain I was up at silly o’clock and eager to get a session going with this tea. I was both excited and slightly nervous beforehand – I was reminded of Hunter S. Thompson’s phrase “tense for the action“. In fact I was so keen to get the best possible session out of the leaves that I even changed the filter on my water jug, something I had never done at a time of day when the streets were still dark, and even the “open nearly all hours” leisure centre opposite had yet to see its first pretend cyclists, rowers, and cross country skiers.

The dry leaf had a mild, clean, typically Sheng fragrance, but with a slight, gentle, non-threatening floral component sat on top of it.

After a quick rinse the aroma coming out of the pot now included clean white smoke, and the tight, pressing, heady smells of rain forest jungle.

Steeping Method

  • Water Used: Filtered tap water

  • Weight of dry leaf: 7½ grams

  • Steeping vessel: 150 ml unglazed clay teapot

  • Water temperature: 95°C

  • No. & duration: A flash rinse, then infusions of 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 35, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80, 120, 240, and finally 360 seconds duration for a total of 14 infusions

The first infusion produced a soup that was packing the kind of bitterness that pushes its way to the front of the queue and leaves your tongue feeling fuzzy and tickly, as though it’s wearing a camel hair shirt. There was a fairly standard sheng profile, c/w dried mushrooms, freshly planed hardwood, and leather, as well as a fruity, red grape aftertaste that pranced on stage long after you had swallowed. It was rather like being in a car speeding down a perfectly straight section of highway, and then a mile later looking back in the rear view mirror only to see someone stood in the middle of the road, waving at you. The empty cup was left holding on to a familiar kind of Plaster of Paris / sweet chalky mineral note.

The second steeping saw the Qi start to rumble in, like a runaway road roller. The build up felt slow, but you could sense a tremendous momentum building up with each sip. As I continued taking notes it was almost like I was a spectator watching myself move the pen across the paper. I misspelled the word “it’s” as “it’g“, something I found simultaneously curious and amusing, in an out-of-body kind of a way.

2017 Ancient Empress Mountain - a cup of

The broth’s body even at that early stage in the session was thick and luscious, and it seemed to be doing a good job of reining the bitter qualities in. For some strange reason the image that came to mind was of a puppy going through a growth spurt, and growing into what was once an almost comically large and oversized pair of ears. Two rounds in and my mind was already wandering off to new and unusual places. I started to get the feeling that this was going to be a long, odd kind of a session.

By the start of the third round my teacup was giving off such a heavy jungle, mineral fragrance that it could be picked up almost a metre away. My handwriting deteriorated to such a state that it resembled the kind of track that a giant, mutant spider with an extra leg or two might leave in wet cement.

The liquor kept on dishing out the tasty stuff, along with a smooth delivery of all that Qi oomph. It only needed the usual kind of tweaks to the infusion times to keep things on track, until the 11th. round, when the soup started to slip noticeably. Three steepings later we were done, albeit with the nagging feeling that with a few minor changes to the brewing parameters a few more rounds could be coaxed out of the leaves.

All in all this was a cracking session. This was a tea that delivered the good stuff in admirable amounts, backed up by a Qi experience that was up there with the very best of them.

2017 Ancient Empress Mountain - used leaves

When dealing with a young sheng, there’s always the fear that you’ll end up with a brew packing bitter bolides strong enough to turn your face inside out, but here the sharpness was rounded, well proportioned and balanced, acting like an undercoat or foundation onto which all the other flavour nuances could paint or build.

It was also a tea to linger over, too. The session seemed to create its own “take it easy, nice and steady” vibe, and those 14 infusions lasted just a few minutes short of three hours!

A very nice tea, this, and it’s made me want to explore a little deeper down the sub-warren that the shengs of Fengqing county inhabit.

Follow up purchases seem likely. Watch this space, etc…

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