Well shoot. Here I was feeling all newly empowered with impressive (or so I thought) puerh discernment skills, so I sit down today full of confidence with a shengpu (ooooh she's using jargon now) from an overseas vendor who's reputation is stellar among those in the know. Let's see how she fares..
I'm inspired to start learning more about what the cake will tell me, even before prying the leaves off. A pretty one, this one. Maybe not as shiny as photos I've seen of other highly anticipated teas, but clearly nice long leaves. I'm impressed with the meaty chunks of cake I've been sent. Always fun to pull out substantial pieces like this from a sample bag. Can I wax on about percentage of tips to stems and potential oxidation factors? No. Don't know if I'll ever reach that level of familiarity, but it doesn't hurt to open the door.
This one shows lots of red, indicating oxidation. Wait, wrong leaf..
The dried leaves smell promising, like candied tobacco. A 5-second rinse and there's a flash of tobacco in the air followed by sweet fleshy fruits. But almost as soon as the aromas present themselves they quickly recede. Darn. I do a short 5-second infusion but the aromas from the wet leaves stay stubbornly backstage leaving only a faint soft sweetness behind. The liquor is a tawny Indian yellow and the taste is decidedly uninteresting. Maybe this is one of those teas that reveals itself more slowly?
A second infusion of 10-seconds this time -- the wet leaf fragrance rises briefly with some softly vanilla'd tobacco but quickly fades again. Color a bit deeper. Taste is again 'blah' except for the slightest sense of tongue-tingling and a bit of dryness. Okay. Onward ho.
12-seconds this time and the liquor pours more orange, giving me hope. I quickly plunge my nose into the wet leaves to catch what fragrances I can. Malty notes come forward this time (again briefly) rounding off the fruit. There's a gentle and mild warmth in my chest and a bit of perspiration at the temples but nothing to write home about. Taste-wise there's a bit of ku (bitterness) as the liquor cools, but I'm still not finding myself impressed with this tea and I start to worry. Is the tea failing me, or am I failing the tea? I fear it's the latter. Maybe I don't have the developing palate I thought I had? Perhaps my brewing practice is off? Maybe the water or the kettle are killing this tea? I'm confused.
15-seconds this time and the wet leaves return a distinct fragrance of soft leather settling into a distant hint of sugar cubes. Nice and comforting, but the taste still isn't there. Next is a 23-second dunk. Fragrance-wise nothing comes out to greet me. All stays distant and hard to distinguish. The taste (or is this mouth feel?) shows as dryness on the tongue. And is there qi in this one? Hard to tell if it's the tea putting me in a contemplative mood or if that's due to my great effort to be mindful with this session. Mudkip stayed ever-faithfully nearby but was mostly uninterested, intently gnawing on a few stubborn tangles in her fur. She has an uncanny way of reflecting the state of my tea session.