Some Old Tasting Notes

I just ran across some tasting notes from a few months ago and thought I’d share them. I tasted four puers to see what I wanted to brew for a class that didn’t end up getting enough students to run in the end. You might find it interesting, though, and no sense letting the experience go to waste, right?

Sample 1: Menghu medium-sized bing (flat, round cake), sheng (green/uncooked), date unknown.

Sample 1 continuum

The cake was made of very dry, hard leaves. They were difficult to pry apart to get the amount I wanted to brew. Steeped 3 times for 25 seconds each in a gaiwan at roughly 175 degree water. First steeping was soft, with only a hint of the typical young-sheng flavor I describe as “ashtray”–mainly because the flavor was pretty subtle. Had some astringency. Second steeping had a stronger, more forceful flavor. Didn’t feel any increased astringency on the tongue, but noticed a fuzziness on the teeth. Third steeping was both sweeter and more biter than the previous. Had almost a spicy/minty feeling on the top of the tongue when breathing in, but gentler. I’ve heard leaf from ancient-arbor tea trees will give this sensation but hadn’t experienced it. Too bad I can’t get more provenance than this. Overall, the scent was bolder than the flavor.

Sample 2: Menghai small bing, sheng, 1999.
Sample 2 continuum
The leaf on this was more pliable than sample 1. Same steeping parameters (25 seconds each, 175 degrees, 3 times). The infusion was darker. Overall, scent and flavor were better balanced. Scent was perhaps more complex than the flavor, and certainly more complex than sample 1. First steeping was woody and sweet to start, then “ashtray.” Slightly less astringency than #1 but more body. Second steeping had a smoky scent more like autumn wood smoke; ashtray more full, but with aromatic woods lurking in the background. Third steeping was smoother and had more body than the second steep. Astringency only came out as an “aftertaste.” No sharpness to the flavor except in the flavor-aftershocks…the little bursts of flavor that come after the tea is swallowed. The infusion (wet leaves) were nearly all full-leaf, large but not giant–like a typical tieguanyin, only a deeper/darker green.

Sample 3: Large bing, shu (black/cooked), 2001.
Sample 3 continuum
The cake was reasonably easy to break apart. Scent and flavor were balanced with each other…neither was bigger or fuller than the other. Steeped 3 times for a minute each with water around 185 degrees. First steeping had rounded flavor and the typical earthiness of a cooked puer. It had a little more complexity breathing out through the nose than it did going down. The brew was lighter than I’m used to for a shu puer, because I usually brew longer when drinking for myself. Second steeping had a much fuller flavor. It was smooth and something else…couldn’t put my finger on it but jotted down “sugary, almost, like a candycane at 20 yards–spicy/minty.” Third steeping was stronger still a little fuller flavor still–starting to have that back-of-the-throat astringency common to very dark chocolate. Just as smooth as the previous steep. Sweetness had darkened…again chocolate came to mind. The infusion is still a little crumbly and hard even after a total of three minutes’ soaking.

Sample 4: Golden Melon, shu, 2005.
Sample 4 continuum
Steeped the same way as sample 3: three steeps, 1 minute each in 185 degree water. First steeping was a thinner brew…”reedy,” about the same amount of body as you might find in a genmaicha–more than straight tea but not like a typical puer. Not a lot of flavor (which might be because the chunk for this sample was more solid going in, whereas the Large Bing sample was made up of several smaller chunks). Second steeping was much nicer. It had a smoky edge to a much darker and fuller flavor. Smoke was present, but not piney like lapsang…more like a cross between tobacco and a typical cooked puer. Typical puer mouthfeel. Third steeping had even more of the tobacco leaf present, but not a whole lot different than the second steep. The infusion was more stemmy than sample 3, but the leaf parts were much more pliable. I guessed that it was a lower leaf-grade going in, but more care taken during processing.

Story of a Tea Geek: Shiuwen Tai

Shiwen Picking Baozhong TeaI called myself a tea geek enough times that I eventually named my business after the phrase. However, I’ve never claimed to be the only tea geek. My hope is that through the efforts of myself, in conjunction with other tea geeks out there, the general public will gain more accurate information about tea, a greater appreciation of the teas they enjoy, and improve the lot of the artisan tea farmers around the world by understanding why great tea is worth paying for.

One of the tea geeks I have worked with, learned from, gotten tea-drunk with, and even worked for, is Shiuwen Tai of Floating Leaves Tea. I was at her shop this weekend and was teasing her about an episode that beautifully illustrates what being a tea geek is all about.

Shiuwen was fast approaching the birth of her baby (one false going-into-labor episode had already passed) and I was working in her shop part time to give her some extra time to rest. She called in about something related to the store and was making periodic wincing noises. Apparently, she was experiencing contractions right there on the phone with me!

Then she asked if there was anything else I needed to ask. I mentioned that a couple of boxes had been delivered from Taiwan. She winced again and said, “Oh. Have to go!”

Alarmed, I asked, “Are you going into labor?”

“No,” she said, “I have to go in and taste tea!” And indeed she did come in and sampled the new winter teas from Taiwan the day they arrived. And within two days, her baby had been born as well.

We had a good laugh about this (and other things), tasted some tea samples she’d received recently, and so forth. She told me she’d be closing the shop on Monday–again for a rest and spending time with her little son (well, enormous actually…20+ pounds at 4 months). But I forgot about it until I was calling Floating Leaves on Monday to do a little tea industry networking.

Shiuwen answered the phone. I said, “Wait a minute…weren’t you going to be closed today?”

She replied, “I am.”

“Then what are you doing there answering the phone?” I asked.

“New tea came in,” was her response, in a tone that clearly showed that she felt this was explanation enough for why a mother with a new baby would go to work on one of her few days off…a day off she had specifically planned so she could get away from work.

I think that may become our explanation for any kind of crazy behavior: New tea came in. Why are you going to work while you’re in labor? New tea came in.

Oh, and be sure to subscribe to my newsletter if you haven’t already because I’ll let you know when I get a chance to taste these new teas–maybe I’ll pick up something through her suppliers. Then you’ll have an excuse to order because, well, new tea came in.