THE GREAT SAMARKAND PU'ER TASTING

August 2005

 

[a] Hong Tai Chang Pu'er [Shu, 1980s?], Border Tea

 

DRY LEAF:

--- color: dark loamy red

--- constituency: smallish discrete pieces

--- aroma: very slightly smoky; virtually no earthy

 

TEA-TO-WATER PROPORTIONS [grams to fl oz]:

---4 g to 6 oz

 

VESSEL: gaiwan

 

FIRST INF:

--- time: 90 sec

--- temp: 195-200F

--- color: medium hong

--- aroma: a fishy note not present in the dry leaf. no smoke, virtually no earth.

--- taste: surprisingly earthy in view of the aromas of dry leaf and liquor. a metallic tinge, but not fishy. a bit of smoke. no astringency. very little aftertaste but some continuation of the metallic. not a pleasant experience.

 

SECOND INF:

--- time: 45 sec

--- temp: 195-200F

--- color: medium hong [almost the same as INF1]

--- aroma: much weaker than INF1; no fishiness here

--- taste: not fishy. less metallic than INF1, including in its aftertaste. blander and marginally more pleasant than INF1.

 

THIRD INF:

--- time: 60 sec

--- temp: 195-200F

--- color: dark/medium hong [oddly, INF3 is slightly darker than INF2]

--- aroma: very faint overall

--- taste: attenuated in proportion to the aroma. the most distinctive aspect of this infusion is the aftertaste, in which the metallic [coppery?] comes forward.

 

FOURTH INF:

--- time: 60 sec

--- temp: 195-200F

--- color: medium hong [once again comparable to INF2]

--- aroma: a bit fishy once again

--- taste: the earthy steps forward once again in this infusion. marginally less metallic than INF3, though the metallic aftertaste continues unabated.

 

FIFTH INF: none

 

COMMENTS: one of the interesting things about this experience of multiple infusions was how both the earthy and fishy flavors and aromas came and went. one might expect that the progression would be more linear.

 

 

[b] Xia Guan Iron Pu'er Cake [Sheng, 2002], Xia Guan Factory

 

DRY LEAF:

--- color: dark brown with flecks of khaki brown [including stems]

--- constituency: very solid, sturdy compressed flake of tea

--- aroma: virtually nil

 

TEA-TO-WATER PROPORTIONS [grams to fl oz]:

--- 4 g to 6 oz

 

VESSEL: gaiwan

 

FIRST INF:

--- time: 90 sec

--- temp: 195-200F

--- color: medium amber

--- aroma: very faint; slightest vegetal note

--- taste: delicate; less vegetal than the aroma

 

SECOND INF:

--- time: 60 sec

--- temp: 195-200F

--- color: medium amber, slightly darker than INF1

--- aroma: fainter still

--- taste: more assertive than INF1; bitter/woody; noticeable astringency, harsher than INF1

 

THIRD INF:

--- time: 60 sec

--- temp: 195-200F

--- color: medium amber, more like INF1

--- aroma: approx like INF2

--- taste: milder again, slightly less astringent, same bitter woody note as INF2

 

FOURTH INF:

--- time: 60 sec

--- temp: 195-200F

--- color: pale amber

--- aroma: virtually none

--- taste: extremely mild; both the astringency and the bitterness are gone here. but i wonder if i ought to have made this infusion a bit longer [back up to 90 sec?]

 

FIFTH INF: none

 

COMMENTS: this tea demonstrates what the progression through various infusions can show. at INF1 i felt it was an extraordinarily delicate tea; by INF2 i had drastically revised that notion. i assume this has something to do with the highly-compressed nature of the dry leaf: even the sample was very sturdily compacted and did not crumble easily. this must inevitably affect how much flavor can be released in a 90-second INF1. by INF2, in contrast, the tissues had separated and moistened enough to begin to release what they have. [re compression: danny, posting to the rec.food.drink.tea newsgroup on sunday 050828, writes: '"Iron Cake" refers to the pressing machine which presses the cake into the discus shape. There are, I think, broadly 2 types of mold from this machine press: one which gives you a flushed edge and a surface fully spread with small bumps, and another which gives you a meshed surface and a tapered edge."]

 

 

[c] Chongqing Tuocha [mixed?, early 1990s] Chongqing City, Sichuan Province

 

DRY LEAF:

--- color: dark chocolate brown with russet highlights

--- constituency: a solid chunk, reluctant to crumble

--- aroma: nil

 

TEA-TO-WATER PROPORTIONS [grams to fl oz]:

--- 4 g to 6 oz

 

VESSEL: gaiwan

 

FIRST INF:

--- time: 90 sec

--- temp: 195-200F

--- color: medium amber

--- aroma: fairly earthy though not terribly musty. this aroma dissipated almost entirely within a few minutes.

--- taste: earthy; more musty on the tongue than in the nostril. but there is a sweetness, almost an underripe peach, that enlivens the whole experience. 

 

SECOND INF:

--- time: 90 sec

--- temp: 195-200F

--- color: medium amber [but darker than INF1]

--- aroma: still fairly earthy, but less musty than INF1

--- taste: stronger and more earthy than INF1. the musty note is more pronounced, and lingers on the tongue afterwards.

 

THIRD INF:

--- time: 1 min 45 sec

--- temp: 195-200F

--- color: dark-medium amber [darker still -- hmm]

--- aroma: about like INF2

--- taste: remarkable. this tea is getting *stronger*. perhaps the infusion-time for INF3 was too long; there is the slightest hint of a bitter note here. the mustiness is also more prominent.

 

FOURTH INF:

--- time: decanted twice, at 60 and 90 sec [call them 'i' and 'ii']

--- temp: 195-200F

--- color: [i] medium amber; [ii] noticeably darker -- what a difference 30 seconds can make.

--- aroma: [i] much attenuated; still some earthy, less musty. [ii] about the same as 4[i]. dissipated as time went on.

--- taste: [i] smoother by far than INF3, but of course a much shorter infusion. [ii] wow, *noticeably* more earthy/musty than INF4[i]. but no hint of bitterness as noted in INF3. was my tongue playing tricks on me?

 

FIFTH INF:

--- time: decanted twice, at 60 and 90 sec ['i' and 'ii' again]

--- temp: 195-200F

--- color: even darker amber? these are about the same, both a medium hong

--- aroma: both about the same -- and both like 4[i] or so.

--- taste: ditto: [i] and [ii] here were not really distinguishable. the major taste here is must. as before, no bitterness, no astringency, but the aftertaste -- metallic -- did linger on the tongue.

 

COMMENTS: if there's sheng puer in this mix, i'll eat my hat. [LOL] no, actually, i can believe that this is indeed a mixed tea, because -- while one's immediate taste-experience makes one think of shu -- there is something markedly different about this tea: something that sets it apart from every other shu i've had. it can certainly hold its own with any of them. [of course i say that as someone that definitely prefers sheng.] i do wish i had not let the third infusion go as long as i did. that may have been a pivotal moment for the tea.

 

 

[d] Xishuangbanna Pu'er Cake [Sheng, 2003], Jinggu Region Wild Plantation, Chang Tai Tea Company

 

DRY LEAF:

--- color: dark olive with some light/med brown

--- constituency: biggish clots

--- aroma: the faintest piny/smoky in the bag; leaf up close was basically odorless

 

TEA-TO-WATER PROPORTIONS [grams to fl oz]:

--- 4 g to 6 oz

 

VESSEL: gaiwan

 

FIRST INF:

--- time: 90 sec

--- temp: 195-200F

--- color: pale amber with a green cast

--- aroma: faint smoky/vegetal note

--- taste: surprisingly, the taste is *not* powerfully smoky, though that element is present. the taste is predominantly vegetal. very little astringency. aftertaste is quite green.

 

SECOND INF:

--- time: 90 sec

--- temp: 195-200F

--- color: pale amber

--- aroma: less vegetal than INF1, still smoky

--- taste: INF2 presents a less complex range of flavors than INF1. a metallic note predominating this time. again, not astringent, and very little [greenish] aftertaste.

 

THIRD INF:

--- time: 2 minutes

--- temp: 195-200F

--- color: pale amber

--- aroma: virtually nil

--- taste: very faint vegetal/green; less metallic than INF2. again no astringency and little [greenish] aftertaste.

 

FOURTH INF: none.

 

COMMENTS: this tea started out subtle, but simply finished early. i would drink it again, but it does not seem to have the depth that other sheng puer evinces.

 

 

[e] YiWu Region Wild Grown Pu'er [Sheng, 2003], Xinghai Factory, Menghai

 

DRY LEAF:

--- color: dark grey/green with brown flecks

--- constituency: fairly sturdily-compressed chunk

--- aroma: virtually nil

 

TEA-TO-WATER PROPORTIONS [grams to fl oz]:

--- 4 g to 6 oz

 

VESSEL: gaiwan

 

FIRST INF:

--- time: 90 sec

--- temp: 195-200F

--- color: pale amber with a green cast

--- aroma: vegetal [cooked spinach?] with a background of smoke

--- taste: the smokiness was very subdued when it came to taste. there was a metallic taste in the liquor that dissipated somewhat in the aftertaste, leaving the vegetal and smoky notes on the tongue.

 

SECOND INF:

--- time: 60 sec

--- temp: 195-200F

--- color: pale amber, less greenish than INF1

--- aroma: like INF1 but noticeably weaker

--- taste: the smoky quality steps forward in this infusion. noticeably less metallic. more pleasant overall.

 

THIRD INF:

--- time: 60 sec

--- temp: 195-200F

--- color: medium amber, no noticeable green

--- aroma: faintly smoky; very little vegetal

--- taste: mellow smoky; virtually no vegetal; very little aftertaste

 

FOURTH INF:

--- time: 60 and 90 sec

--- temp: 195-200F

--- color: [both i and ii] pale/medium amber without green

--- aroma: [both i and ii] mild smoky

--- taste: [both i and ii] mild smoky; mild smoky aftertaste

 

FIFTH INF:

--- time: 60 and 120 sec

--- temp: 195-200F

--- color: pale yellow/gold

--- aroma: faint smoky

--- taste: very mild, slightly smoky, faint leafy aftertaste; delicious overall

 

COMMENTS: this is a very pleasant tea. it should be said that i tend to favor wild-grown puers and sheng in any case. the 'earth' factor tends to be lower in shengcha, and this one was no exception. i favor the smoky quality. the astringency was low here throughout the infusion process. i almost did not proceed to INF5, but i'm glad i did; i felt that this was in some ways the nicest infusion of all. certainly, and not surprisingly, the most delicate.

 

 

[f] Long Yuan Label Manzhuan Region [Sheng, 2002], Dadu Gang Tea Factory

 

DRY LEAF:

--- color: dark brown with notes of green, grey, brown

--- constituency: a good solid chunk, firmly compressed

--- aroma: nil

 

TEA-TO-WATER PROPORTIONS [grams to fl oz]:

--- 4 g to 6 oz

 

VESSEL: gaiwan

 

FIRST INF:

--- time: 90 sec

--- temp: 195-200F

--- color: pale gold

--- aroma: fishy

--- taste: most sheng puer that smells fishy does not actually taste like fish; this one actually did. there was a subtle vegetal note in the background of this. not much aftertaste to speak of. not astringent.

 

SECOND INF:

--- time: 60  and 90 sec

--- temp: 195-200F

--- color: [i] very pale gold; [ii] medium amber

--- aroma: [i] vegetal, faintly fishy; [ii] still fairly fishy

--- taste: [i] the taste of this is vegetal rather than fishy. no aftertaste or astringency. [ii] at 90 sec the vegetal note is more pronounced, along with the color of the liquor. something of a vegetal aftertaste now.

 

THIRD INF:

--- time: 90 sec

--- temp: 195-200F

--- color: medium amber

--- aroma: still faintly fishy

--- taste: as before, except that a faint metallic note begins to emerge now.

 

FOURTH INF: none

 

COMMENTS: this seems a fairly mild but not a delicate tea. overall, not a terribly distinguished tea.

 

 

[g] Dayi Label 7542 Pu'er [Sheng, 2000], Menghai Tea Factory

 

DRY LEAF:

--- color: a motley of green, brown, and black

--- constituency: very hard chunk

--- aroma: almost nil

 

TEA-TO-WATER PROPORTIONS [grams to fl oz]:

--- 4 g to 6 oz

 

VESSEL: gaiwan

 

FIRST INF:

--- time: 90 sec

--- temp: 195-200F

--- color: pale amber

--- aroma: pungent fish

--- taste: this infusion was a surprise to me. i did not expect there to be such a total *lack* of fishiness to the flavor. but when a fishy-smelling sheng puer is *not* fishy-tasting, as this is not, it often seems to run to the smoky -- which this also does not do. how to describe the way it actually does taste, however, is more difficult. mildly astringent; no bitterness.

 

SECOND INF:

--- time: 60 sec

--- temp: 195-200F

--- color: medium gold

--- aroma: milder, woody scent

--- taste: the woody flavor steps to the fore in this infusion. the astringency is at a level comparable to INF1.

 

THIRD INF:

--- time: 60 sec

--- temp: 195-200F

--- color: medium gold

--- aroma: negligible

--- taste: woody, moving toward papery. my sense is that the tea has given what it has to give by now. the tiniest bitterness creeping into the aftertaste.

 

FOURTH INF: none

 

COMMENTS: the experience of brewing this tea reminds one of how important it is not to judge a tea until one actually knows both its taste and its aftertaste. a much more pleasant tea than the initial whiff of the aroma of INF1 might have portended.

 

 

[h] Jingmai Region Wild Grown Pu'er [Sheng, 2003], Six Famous Tea Mountain Company, Ltd

 

DRY LEAF:

--- color: a very dark greyish green with flecks of black

--- constituency: sturdy chunks that crumble into buds [like a tippy yunnan hongcha]

--- aroma: nil

 

TEA-TO-WATER PROPORTIONS [grams to fl oz]:

--- 4 g to 6 oz

 

VESSEL: gaiwan

 

FIRST INF:

--- time: 90 sec

--- temp: 195-200F

--- color: pale golden with a rosy, almost garnet cast

--- aroma: almost nil; what there was was a fresh scent like oxygen-rich air

--- taste: again, 'fresh' is the word that first springs to mind. very mild; clean; not astringent, not bitter. a flavor that is akin to smokiness without actually reaching to the smoky.

 

SECOND INF:

--- time: 120 sec

--- temp: 195-200F

--- color: medium gold, again a rosy cast

--- aroma: negligible

--- taste: i actually tasted this 'along the way' at 60 and 90 sec, and felt that it had not brewed sufficiently. at 120 sec it had become more assertive, and the vegetal notes were those that prevailed. there was also, however, a bit of bitterness to it. still not astringent. in the aftertaste the bitterness did not remain; the lasting impression was vegetal.

 

THIRD INF:

--- time: 90 sec

--- temp: 195-200F

--- color: paler gold, still rosy

--- aroma: nil

--- taste: this infusion achieved at 90 sec what INF2 did at 120, but without the bitterness. what a difference thirty seconds can make. the old chinese oolong rule of 'three breaths' clearly has something to it.

 

FOURTH INF:

--- time: 90 sec

--- temp: 195-200F

--- color: pale gold, less rosy

--- aroma: nil

--- taste: now is when the smoky flavor comes forward. the three previous infusions had hinted at it, but in INF4 it is the predominant note. at 90 sec here, no bitterness; as clean a taste as 'smoky' can offer. ditto the aftertaste, which lingers assertively.

 

FIFTH INF:

--- time: 90 sec

--- temp: 195-200F

--- color: paler gold still, less rosy

--- aroma: nil

--- taste: at 90 sec this liquor was so pale in color that i thought it would need longer to infuse, but the taste was even smokier than that of INF4. i felt that any longer would have been too long. in the cup it was a remarkable balance of potency and delicacy. it would be an interesting experiment to do five infusions of, say, a lapsang souchong and to see if one could produce an infusion both this smoky and this delicate.

 

COMMENTS: again an example of how puers constantly surprise. INF2 made me worry a bit that the tea could not 'go the distance,' but in fact the deficiency was mine -- in letting it over-infuse. ironically, i would say the fifth infusion was the best.

 

 

 OVERALL COMMENTS:

--- what i have not included here, but for absolute detail might have added, is a description of the appearance and aroma of the infused leaves. in tea [h] for example, the dry leaves looked like buds of a tippy yunnan, but when infused, more like what one expects of an infused sheng puer.

--- my favorite of the eight? [e], the yiwu region wild-grown 2003 [sheng]. not surprisingly, it is the one that conformed most closely to my established preferences in puer.

--- the greatest disappointment for me was probably [a], the hong tai chang [shu], because if it actually dates from the *early* 1980s, it is the oldest puer i have ever drunk, and i was hoping for that to be a revelatory experience. specifically, i am looking for a shu puer in which neither earthy nor fishy flavors predominate. that may be a futile search.

--- taken as a group, these were neither the very best nor [by a long shot!] the very worst puers i have ever drunk. they are clearly good enough for the various companies represented to make a living by. but what i noticed from testing *eight* different teas, more or less back to back, was that my attention became very demanding. perhaps it's the heisenberg principle at work, but i think my standards may have gone up somewhat for the whole group of eight. would i be so picky if i were offered, or had purchased, only one or another of these teas? [the sheng in any case. i do think that i would be just this demanding of any shu, because i'm going into the experience with the need to be convinced, as it were.]

--- one particular benefit of this tasting: aside from the obvious -- that danny has gone to huge trouble to assemble a wide range of different teas from different provenances, many of which would have been difficult or impossible for me to track down -- the mental exercise of tracking and recording my precise responses was highly instructive. the experience of taste is so personal, so subjective, and so variable [even for one individual] that the details are often quickly lost. putting it all down 'on paper,' as it were, was most helpful.

 

thanks danny!

-- corax, 5 sep 2005