"Fear is the only darkness."
The beauty of gongfu is the opportunity to drink tea as you read a book: in progressive chapters with a beginning, a middle, and an end. -- The 39 Steeps Compendium of Brilliant yet Rather Commonplace Musings.
I freely admit, my gongfu is white belt, and I thus have some trepidation about adding my observations about Yunnan Sourcing's β sample, as part of The Half Dipper's special pu-erh tasting event. Nevertheless, Grasshopper, I will dare to go where tea masters should slap me silly.
For more of background on pu-erh tea, including some introductory material, please skim my other thoughts here. In the past I had only experienced shu pu-erh, which means the leaves had been oxidized in such to imitate of how green (sheng) pu-erh tastes after a few years of fermentation. This is an entirely different experience.
β is a green pu-erh, pressed in 2009 and distributed by Yunnan Sourcing, a reputable dealer in pu-erh. The cake was pressed quite tightly, but in such a way that I could easily separate the individual leaves, jigsaw-puzzle style, from one another. I noticed quite a bit of silvery tips among the darker leaf. The attractive aroma is like sweet, Southern barbecue: honey, smoke, hot spice. After the initial rinse, the leaf took on a warm, tobacco and mulch scent.
As I did in the α pu-erh sample, I roughly imitated the Chouzhou pu-erh preparation style found here. I have taken extensive notes on the multiple steepings I enjoyed, but I'll summarize them here for the sake of brevity.
After the rinse, the first four steepings (ranging from 10s to 15s) revealed a richly golden-orange colored liquor with a distinctly sweet green herb and tobacco flavor, along with some bitterness (which may easily be attributed to my gongfu ability). Upon the fifth steeping, however, the tea had arrived. The bitterness was gone, and it left a lovely, honey-sweet, herb-and-tobacco note; it reminded me of a decent white wine, in its delicate boldness and its balance between dryness and fruit.
AND... THE LONG VERSION
Please feel free to skip this part, because it's been summarized above. I do wish to preserve my notes here, however, for reference.
Steeping 1: 13s
I originally intended this to be a 10-second steeping, but because my pot has a seven-second pour and I started pouring right as I counted to 10, I realized I had oversteeped slightly. Ah, well. The golden-orange, transparent liquor (thought with some leaf dust at the bottom of the fairness pitcher) is honey-sweet, but also has a bitterness at the back of the throat, which I attribute to my oversteeping. A green, tobacco flavor is primary, though without any smokiness. Light, sharp, bright. This is enjoyable and memorable.
Steeping 2: 11s
I didn't know what to expect from a green pu-erh, but I suspected it would be very harsh (per other descriptions I had read). This has probably the same acerbic quality I find in many first-flush Darjeelings, and a fair bit of bitterness, as well. But it's balanced against the honey-like sweetness in the liquor. I have no idea whatsoever how this would age, but as a self-drinker, I must say it's enjoyable enough, and has quite a bit of sophistication, of complexity. The green, sweet herbal quality becomes very evident in the huigan [sweet aftertaste, primarily recognized retronasally: that is, from the back of the throat, rising up to the nasal passages], after the bitterness has toned down on the tongue. Now, I hasten to add, a seasoned gongfu master would doubtless be able to massage the sweetness out of the leaf and avoid the bitterness; but I must do with my own level of knowledge, and this is what I get.
At this point, I am noticing again a slight sensitivity in my stomach to the green pu-erh, which I'm counterbalancing with French bread. As I sip and nibble, I am thinking of what a sophisticated pleasure this is, like Cuban cigars. Not that I have ever had a cigar, Cuban or otherwise. Sadly, musing thus broadcasts how unsophisticated I am, because the truly sophisticated would never think such a boorish thing. (And do notice how many times I can use the word, sophisticated, in a paragraph.)
(If you want Tony Santana to roll cigars for your wedding, do click here.)
Steeping 4: 15s
The green/tobacco flavors are still very strong, with that sweet aftertaste growing more distinct as time goes on, though with that bitter edge (not entirely unpleasant).
Steeping 5: 13s
Bingo. Suddenly, it seems the true quality of the tea has arrived. Sweet, light, beautiful tobacco-and-green herbs flavor. The first four steepings now seem like the time spent in the restaurant bar, waiting for the table, and I could drink this all day long. It's smooth and bright, just about perfectly to my liking. Where did the bitterness go? Suddenly, it's all sweetness and mild astringency, a bit like a fresh, slightly fruity but dry white wine. With the bitterness in abeyance, I begin to notice the full mouthfeel, which coats my entire mouth and throat. Truly nice.
Steeping 6: 14s
Crisp and light, without a trace of bitterness. Gorgeous. Writing summary now.
Steeping 7: 15s
Again, very crisp, like a white wine. After all these steepings, I'm feeling quite good energy and focus. I rather wish I could start my day with this feeling. The aftertaste reminds me of a good Darjeeling, with the pleasantly acerbic lightness coupled with that sweet quality. It interests me to find that highgrown Darjeelings and pu-erh can produce such a similar huigan, and I don't really know why that would be. At this point, I can see the tea settles into this sweet dryness, and seems to be maintaining that quite nicely. I will keep steeping this, but suspending the notes here. If I feel it necessary to add something later, I will do so in an update.
Thank you for reading!