Is it Kumming or (more properly) Kunming? Is it Lan Yin Tie Beeng? Or Zhong-Cha Lan Tie? It's frustrating sometimes, the variations of English names for these Chinese tea cakes, and not being a student of Chinese language myself I'm at the mercy of those who sell and write about them. I have no choice but to set aside my hope for literal correctness on the matter. You know what tea I'm referring to here, but in case there's a question, here it is:
I've been struggling a bit since my last entry. In my desire to broaden my knowledge of puerh I've been venturing all over the map. Expensive stuff, cheap stuff, good and bad, young and old. I've been collecting little sample bags of the oldest (and subsequently priciest) teas available for purchase to Westerners, waiting to try them until I've felt ready. I've tried a few and it's put me into a bit of a conundrum. I'm understanding now just what the fuss is about older puerhs, and damn if it's not screwing with my taste for younger shengs! Clearly two very different beasts, and given the rarity (not to mention cost) of aged teas I really need to settle my excitement down and get back to an appreciation of the younger shengs. Had I taken that job in the '80's with that little up-and-coming company on the Eastside known as Microsoft, well then maybe I could be drinking a lot more truly aged puerh now, but as it is...
A 15-second rinse. The aroma is all storage smell, but more dry smelling than musty. I don't know what the storage history of this cake is and I have too little time to look it up now, but from the smell I'd guess it wasn't particularly wet. At least not recently. Still, its rather off-putting. Behind the storage smell is what can best be described as smokey Southwestern desert sage. I know this is just a variation of the typical camphor, but (in my nose, anyway) it's distinctly sage. I recently had the pleasure of smelling some truly heavenly hand-distilled Southwestern desert and clary sage essence and the fragrance off this tea is bringing back that memory. Maybe if I hadn't been so recently impressed with that fragrance I wouldn't be naming this now as 'sage', but it's clearly in the camphor family. I set the first infusion for 10-seconds but the aroma from the gaiwan is still strongly... well, strange. I decide to chuck that first infusion and call it a second rinse ;)
Another 10-second steep and the fragrance finally sheds that funkiness. It's all dry grassy desert sage now and the taste is surprisingly smooth at first with some grab in the mouth and throat. The aftertaste immediately rises like smoke off a hillside of freshly-burned chapparal. This becomes the dominant theme for this tea throughout most of the session -- big smoke and big sage. It's as if I'm out camping in southern Utah or Arizona, the air thick with desert sage and campfire smoke.
I quickly learned to be conservative with my steepings. Any bit of push and I was drinking liquid smoke. There was some sweet fruitiness present, but only around the far edges and only when the tea had been prepared delicately or the leaves began to cool. The smoke and sage aspects were nearly overpowering. A strong tea, indeed. I recall someone telling me recently to break up a cake and store it for a few months to help rid it of some funky storage elements, and it occurs to me that this would probably be a good approach for this tea, as well. Not for the storage smell but for the smokiness. And in fact after tasting this tea I went and read a few reviews of it and folks seem to recommend that very approach. I'm not surprised.
Another notable aspect of this tea is the penetrating qi it carries. Really quite strong, settling in the head and enveloping the body. Given the strength of this tea (even with the extreme smokiness) and the powerful qi component, I'm inclined to think this was a very wise purchase, although it's going to need a whole lot of time to work out its strong, slightly funky personality and find its way to some settled maturity.