Scent in package: Amazingly wonderful, woody, smokey, fresh, with a hint of fall leaves.
Brewed in: my little green gaiwan
Steeped: 5s rinse, 10s, 15s, 10s, 12s, 15s, 20s, 20s @ temps very close to boiling.
Cup: 1oz. porcelain tasting cup
I was so impressed with the scent of the dry leaves, still somewhat compressed from their time in a cake, that I thought surely this had to be a wonderful-tasting tea. It was a small sample sent by Teacuppa in my last order, and I’ll admit, I didn’t use as much as I probably should have, because I wanted two sessions with it. So I used my smallest gaiwan, and only half my sample. In hindsight, that might have been a bad idea.
The first infusion smelled wonderful – sweet and smoky like a Lapsang (which I love). It had a lovely light wood fragrance, and the brew was beautiful, golden and clear. The taste was thin though, and very sharp, with a slight bitterness – clearly at “war” with the sweeter fragrance. It kind of irritated me, actually, that the tea didn’t taste nearly as good as it smelled.
The second infusion was too long – my mistake. It was much more bitter, not even a hint of sweetness, and very sharp on the tongue. Two of the things bothering me the most at this point was the lack of texture – the tea was very thin for a puerh – and the lack of complexity…the tea was somewhat “flat”, for lack of a better word. This is when I started regretting my decision to only use half the sample. Maybe more leaf would have brought out the flavors better?
The 3rd – 5th infusions were much the same…and reminded me of the taste one might expect from chewing on charcoal. It wasn’t bitter, just very sharp, and the smokiness wasn’t pleasant as it should have been, but instead was just irritating, and all I could really taste.
The 6th infusion was lighter, more drying, but the charcoal taste eased up, and it left my mouth sort of “tingly” afterwards. The 7th was much the same, though a little sweeter, but still with that persistent charcoal “bite” on the tip of the tongue.
All in all, it wasn’t terribly bad…nor was it good. It was boring, to be honest…no flavors aside from the smoke and charcoal, and I missed the woody/earthy tones present in the puerhs I really like. And on top of the mediocre-ness (I know, not a word, but it is today), I kept burning my fingers on the gaiwan (something I don’t often do). Perhaps it just wasn’t a good day for that particular tea.
In any case, I have no idea if this tea would age well or not (there was no date on the sample package, but I’m assuming it’s the 2004 cake they have listed on their web site). I’ll admit to being tempted to order a cake and see if it improves, simply because they claim the recipe was created in 1975 (my birth year), but at $38 for the cake, I think I’ll probably pass. I am curious as to whether the charcoal taste would mellow over the years, and give way to more complex flavors, but not curious enough to spend that kind of money to see, especially given my less-than-perfect environment for aging tea.
In any case, I found it boring and bite-y, and if I were considering buying it to drink now, I wouldn’t. But it truly does smell absolutely wonderful…