I am excited about the newest sample, ε, which is the final one in the tasting event hosted by Hobbes at The Half Dipper blog. He has identified this as 2009 Yunzhihuan/Ruicaoxiang "Banzhan Chunqing."
This pu is pretty heavily compressed, and it took some doing to separate out the leaves in the beeng. I thought the aroma was quite subdued coming from the package. After the leaves are first steeped, they remain quite quiet about it, and don't have a heavy or terribly exotic aroma. It's pleasant enough, with that tobacco aroma dominating, and a lightly floral texture to it.
First steeping: 13s
The epsilon pu-erh is quite assertive, right off the bat. A bit of bitterness balanced nicely with a sweet quality that makes it very drinkable. Lovely yellow-gold color, light and pure.
Second steeping: 12s
Sweet tobacco, a hint of smokiness. Very crisp flavor, bright and clean. There's a greenness to this, but not much of what I would think of as the huigan, the aftertaste-- the tea remains quite constant in flavor from the moment it hits my tongue, with little variation in the ensuing seconds.
Third steeping: 13s
I'm aware in my mind of Michael J. Coffey's advice not to write about what you're tasting, because it diminishes one's ability to remember the flavors later. Well, I do what I can: I try to taste first, just experience the nondiscursive element; and then later to give voice to it, if I can. This tea has a touch of bitterness, still (and enough that my seven-year-old boy found it a bit too much for him). However, nicely complex, with a sort of leatheriness, perhaps, in the flavor, and a quite sweet burn a few moments after the tea is up.
Fourth steeping: 15s
Astringent and drying, with a full, robust mouthfeel that coats the tongue. The bitterness is still present, but not dominant; and it fades into a nicely sweet tobacco flavor. I wouldn't really think of this as a sweet pu-erh, but it's complex and fun to drink.
Fifth steeping: 17s
Getting a mite twitchy, I must say, after the fifth steeping (on top of the several pots of Darjeeling earlier today). My little boy says, "It has a good texture. It's a little, tiny, tiny, tiny bit bitter." He's seven years old, by the way. He's right: good texture, and the slightest bit bitter. Maybe he needs less pu-erh, because he hasn't stopped talking (about his comic book, The Battle Begins, which he is writing) in the last 10 minutes.
I am continuing this steeping onward, as I have with others. If I feel the need to add anything, I shall do so as an addendum later. I'm very much enjoying this particular pu-erh, with its lovely tobacco smell and pretty bright complexity.
This series of tea tastings has been, for me, a great introduction into the world of pu-erh. Along the way, I've made a couple new tea friends, which has been very gratifying. Honestly, for the last couple years I've been very hesitant to try the genre of pu-erh, because of all the pretty terrible press it's received, what with all the faked beengs being sold at ridiculous prices, and the near certainty that I would ruin my palate by learning about pu-erh the wrong way: by drinking lousy tea, made the wrong way, setting up incorrect assumptions. For me, this tasting is invaluable, because it allows me to check my tastebuds against those of other tea drinkers, and to try to understand what they're experiencing as well, in a context in which I'm allowed to simply enjoy myself without guarding myself against being scammed or something by a dishonest pu-erh salesman. Additionally, I got to share this with my family and allow them to have fun learning right along with me. Brilliant fun.
Thank you, Hobbes of The Half Dipper, and Yunnan Sourcing, for opening the door for me to the world of pu-erh.
The above photos: antique green bowl by The Haeger Potteries; Yixing pot by Art Zisha, Zhuxinnan Products, via Bret at Tea Goober; antique tea trays (which perfectly match the orange-gold of the pu-erh, and which nicely complement the green bowl) via my Great-Aunt Lydia Behm; and Tiger Drill hero image by my seven-year-old son. That's his hand in the picture at top. And buster, you haven't seen anything if you haven't gotten a look at his newest creation, "Explosive Cowboy Man."