Thursday, January 13, 2011

Wild Puerh Brick, 1989 (or, To Shu or Not To Shu)

Typical foggy overcast day. Welcome to winter in Seattle.

Today's tea session was again courtesy of the gentleman who sent me yesterday's tea (which I fear I may have failed so miserably). This one is similarly vaguely described -- "Wild puerh brick, 1989, Jiang Cheng, Yunnan" (that latter bit being about the origin and not the manufacturer). Is this a shengpu or a shupu? I'd only ordered sheng but maybe this was an extra sample tucked in? I decide to test my discernment skills once again and wait to check my order records. We'll see how I do.

Again, nice meaty chunks are pulled from the sample bag and the leaves pull apart easily with just a tug of my fingers. My first impressions are that this is a raw puerh (shengpu). None of that en masse stuck-togetherness that I find in the few other shupu's I've tried. Still, the leaves are surprisingly uniformly dark, but then it's a 20 year old brick so maybe that's what happens?

After a 10-second rinse I smell the wet leaves. Nuts! A mixture of almonds and hazelnuts. I've had only one other tea with this unique nutty aroma and it happens to be one of my favorites -- Bana's Denong Wild brick. But that's a cooked puerh. Hm. A first infusion of 8-seconds and the aroma is solidly hazelnut now. The liquor pours a surprisingly dark brown with a hint of orange hue. This sure is reminding me of shupu. The taste is so very earthy and smooooooth. It coats my mouth nicely. No ku (bitterness) at all. It reminds me a lot of my beloved Denong Wild.

More infusions and more of that smooth, delicious dark brew, although "medium aged wood" is added to my tasting notes as the session progresses. It's not as dark as the deep composing humus-y woods of the Gong Ting I have from New Century, but it's not new wood either. So "medium aged wood" it is. Later infusions reveal a gradual shift in the aroma. The extreme nuttiness gives way to... well, it's hard to pin down, but if you were to ask me to come up with an aroma reminiscent of the late 80's this might be a good candidate. Reagan-era aroma?? Now there's a descriptor to beat them all!

This tea is reminding me so much of the Denong Wild that I decide to brew up some of that as well. A side-by-side comparison. I'm convinced now this mystery tea is a shu and not a sheng. It's so smooth and dark and it lacks the depth and complexity of shengpu. A pure delight to drink, though. Don't get me wrong.

(although Bana's brick is pictured here, the liquor in the cup is the '89 tea)

Bana's 2009 Denong Wild brick does have one big difference from this tea -- it's compressed to a challenging rock-like level. No way I'd be able to pry off anything even resembling a leaf with just my fingers. And since I'm in a hurry this morning to get to an appointment I gouge off some ugly bits with the pick. But this tea and I are good friends and I know I'll be forgiven for such rough treatment (still, I silently promise to be much kinder in the future).

A rinse and a pour and I'm taking in that wonderful aroma. Though the Denong Wild shares this all-nuts characteristic with the other tea, it surpasses it in sweetness. Pecans all the way, the sweetest of the nuts. The Denong Wild pours a richer color, as well. More orange and antique gold in the light making the dark brown brew nearly glow. More vibrancy and aliveness to the aroma too, and the taste is more assertively woody than the 1989 tea. Mmmm I love this tea.

But the '89 tea is not bad. It's actually quite good. If I'd never had the Denong Wild I'd be going nuts for it (oy.. pun..). But side by side there's no contest. Still, I start to wonder. These teas are exactly 20 years apart. Very similar in many ways but the 1989 is gentler, slower, sweeter around the edges, which is actually a fairly decent description of what happens when people age, too. It could be that the '89 tea is a glimpse of the future for the Denong Wild.

Later after cleaning up I go to check my records to see if my hunch about this tea being a shupu was right. To my great surprise, I was wrong!! It's listed as a sheng! I'm still in some disbelief about it. I've had so few shu's so I can't really trust myself on this one, but there was so much similarity to the cooked Denong Wild. So much smoothness and easy-drinking sweet dark wood. One thing's for sure, I'll be keeping this tea in mind when tasting shu's in the future. So dark and smooth... I could have sworn...


  1. I have a review of the tea here. After some discussion with the proprietor it was uncovered that this tea is actually shu, or "at least partially shu" in his words, after years of defending it as sheng. A nice tea, but definitely shu.

    You were right about the tea! Trust your instincts. BTW nice reviews!

  2. Anonymous -- what an affirmation! I was so fuddled with this one. It was great to read your own review on it. Makes me want to revisit this tea and be more mindful about possible qi aspects (which I think I often miss due to my focus on naming to all the fragrance and flavor notes). A wonderful, if sadly brief blog you have there. Great quotes abound. Would love to know where to find that Lu Yu quote (I'm on the lookout for tea-related reads like that). I've never heard the term "shibumi" before, but it sounds right up my alley. Thank you for stopping by and lending your wisdom :)