Thursday, May 25, 2006

Geraldo on 20-Year-Old #611 Puerh from Sunsing

[from an email to corax. posted by permission.]

Date Brewed: 3/25/06
Type: Sheng Pu’er, Unknown Shape
Vintage: 1986
Factory: Unknown
Amount: 4.2g in 4oz Heart Sutra Yixing Pot
Dry Leaf: Flaked grey-brown and silver-black, flat leaves and stems
Wet Leaf: Black and brown-red
Rinse: 15s; Rest: 2m

Note: This sample was purchased from Sunsing via their North American representative, Tea2Gather in Toronto. Tea2Gather places the order, and the samples travel directly here from Hong Kong. Wendy of Tea2Gather supplied this additional information:

“The tea you have order was produced in 1986. It was the 11th batch of the year, abbreviated as ‘611.’ The traditional Hong Kong storage in the West End of Hong Kong Island has been used to keep these teas aged "Sheng" for almost 20 years.”

1st Infusion, 15s. Very low boil. Appearance: sparkling clear, color of sweet vermouth. Light in aroma. Very faint loam. Extremely sweet and clean in the very first hot sips. Slight tang of fruit in flavor and a hint of clean, dry sand (!) in the nose. Extremely pleasant tea. Very difficult to describe. Perhaps the 2nd infusion will create an experience more amenable to articulation.

2nd Infusion, 10s. Very low boil. Appearance: Liquor much more red and brown. A tad bit cloudy hot but clearing cool. Aroma: mulch and slight leather. First hot sip—still sweet. Excellent and wonderful flavors of sand and wood. Quite sweet. Some tartness on the back of the tongue. Mouth-watering. Some mint as the liquor cools.

3rd Infusion, 15s. Very low boil still. Appearance: Sparkling red-brown. Very clear. Aroma: Birch wood coming stronger, along with mint. Sweetness has abated. The tea has a great cleansing flavor in the mouth. This is excellent pu’er, and I am delighted to be drinking it. Almost an unsweetened Dr Pepper flavor followed by a pleasant birch and camphor finish. What fun!

4th Infusion, 20s. Same temp. Appearance: No change. Aroma: still a wonderful deciduous forest with all of the plants and herbs it might contain. A slight tartness coming now in the finish after the first hot sips, a little plum with the marzipan and cherry. This fourth infusion is quite different—the tea has evolved rapidly. All of the sweetness has disappeared in the finish.

5th Infusion, 25s. Same temp. Appearance: No change. Aroma: Perhaps a little subdued. The sweetness is not entirely gone after all. There is a delayed effect in the aftertaste. This pu’er has a marvelous finish and lingering aftertaste. The mint (camphor) effect also creates a wonderful cooling sensation long after the tea has been swallowed.

6th Infusion, 30s. Same temp. Appearance: Perhaps a little lighter. Aroma: Also a little more subdued. In the hot sips, the tartness is apparent but certainly not too strong. As the tea cools, the tartness dissipates. I judge the taste to be the aftertaste. The range of flavors is not what I have gotten from some seventies and sixties pu’ers, but the pu’er possesses what I would have to call a strong “qi.” It is a friendly and very good eighties pu’er. I cannot sufficiently praise the delayed aftertaste that leaps out in my mouth a minute or two after I finish the cup. That by itself makes this tea very worthwhile.

[I will let the tea rest ninety minutes now and re-group. The 6th infusion was by no means weak, but I’d like to see what happens if the tea cools down and relaxes in the little Heart Sutra pot.]

7th Infusion, 35s. Light boil. Appearance: color of dark red ale. Aroma: no significant change. The tea for its rest seems a bit sweeter. Maybe I for my rest taste it better. The balance is very pleasant. We are lucky to live in a world that has some aged pu’er.

8th Infusion, 40s. Sudden lightening of color. Now it looks like a double Scotch and water, neat. The aroma, however, carries more wood. Before I try the first hot sip, I note the delayed aftertaste of the previous infusion. How does that work? The initial flavor of this infusion might be the best yet. One characteristic I often encounter in aged pu’er is what I call artesian spring flavor. This pu’er assumes a flavor now that I associate with my childhood—the well that supplied water for our farm. I love that flavor. It quite literally takes me home again.

9th Infusion, 45s. Light boil. Color much the same as previous. Aroma tantalizing forest after rain. Creamy and mellow along with the wet sandstone flavor. A tiny taste of salt now.

10th Infusion, 50s. Boiling. Color: Single Scotch and water. Aroma: Still wonderful camphor. The sweetness has returned. The birch flavor sings counterpoint to the plum.

[Sixty minute rest]

11th Infusion, 55s. Boiling. Color: English ale. Aroma: Intoxicating wood aromas. Surprisingly lively flavor. Sweet and tart both. The tea rolls on—a definite plus.

12th Infusion, 1m. Boiling. Color: Unchanged. Aroma: Still very fine. The flavor continues to be lively, albeit much evolved from the beginning. Isn’t that one of the great joys of pu’er—perhaps the greatest joy—this evolution? I had not thought this particular pu’er would hang in, but it does, with wonderful flowery, citrus, and woody notes.

13th Infusion: 1m15s. Boiling. Color: American pale ale. Aroma: Unabated. Flavor: Not much changed from the previous infusion—that is to say, it’s wonderful. How fascinating that the sweetness—that hid so adroitly in the middle infusions—returns now and so seductively?

14th Infusion: 1m40s. Boiling. Color: Miller High Life. Aroma: Still enchanting birch. The tea now has taken on the character of a fine oolong! It has in it the flowers, the fruit, the honey-sweetness.

15th Infusion: 2m30s. Hard hissing boil. Color: Unchanged after this long infusion. Aroma: Also unchanged. Still lively, still sweet in the initial hot steeps. The flavor now is of balsa wood.

Conclusion: After fifteen infusions, the pu’er has outlasted my attempts to track it in a written narrative. Two days ago I tried another eighties pu’er, GrandTea’s Wood Mold Pekoe, that was probably better tasting, but it dissipated after nine or ten infusions. I wonder if this pu’er possesses more than the usual supernatural power to continue and evolve and give. This is my second sample from Sunsing and Tea2Gather. The other, 30 Yrs Yun Lai (Clouds Arriving) #7542, was also extraordinary. The Hong Kong Internet tea vendors sell excellent tea, and the minor inconvenience of international transaction is well worth the effort for those who wish to pursue aged pu’er.

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