Sunday, February 6, 2011

Shu to shu

What a great morning of tea fun and deliciousness!  Maybe a little heretical experimentation too, but I'll get to that soon enough.  First, let me introduce my new tea cup, a yunomi by Colorado artist D. Michael Coffee.  Although he makes beautiful functional ware with a wide vocabulary of glaze work (you can purchase some of his work at his etsy shop here), he also does impressive sculptural pieces and 2-D prints, as well.  His work is well worth seeking out.  I purchased this cup and one other from him.  I'm definitely going to keep an eye on his work.  Good quality with a great eye toward the kind of organic wabi sabi beauty that never ceases pleasing the eye.

I love how the green glaze of the cup echoes the deep wet greens of the NW

Inspired by MattCha's recent post about a delicious shu he sampled, and feeling more in the mood for something smooth and maybe a little sweet, I nosed through my sample packets for some shupu.  I decided to try out something from Hou De's selection, an 80's CNNP Shin Ya loose cooked puerh, from the Guang Dong Factory.  As I poured a little from the package it reminded me a lot of the gong ting I have from New Century Tea Gallery.  Worried that it might also carry the super strong earthy taste of the gong ting I put a little less into the gaiwan than I might have normally.

The initial aroma was reminiscent of that wet storage smell from the thick papered MengKu from my last tea session, although it wasn't quite so strong and was mixed in with plenty of dark sweet earth.  I did a quick 5-second steep, poured the watery espresso-colored liquid and gave it a taste.  I was surprised to find a light sweet sensation bouncing around in my mouth.  But it was very subtle, more "sensation of sweet" than sweet itself.  The color of the liquor was a bit on the light side for what I'd expect from a shu as well, so I decided to add some more leaves to the gaiwan and do a bit longer infusion.

About 12 seconds this time for steeping.  The smell and taste is all dark smooth earth and I'm surprised at a bit of dryness at the back of my tongue.  Not what I would expect from a shu.  The sweet sensation isn't present this time and I wonder if a lighter hand with the infusion time will bring it back, so I brew another 5-second infusion.  Yes, that subtle sweet sensation is back, but it's light and you really need to pay attention to feel it.  The aroma reveals a sweet maltiness at the very edges, but again it's extremely subtle.  For the most part, this tea is all dark smooth earth.  Not particularly complex.  Reminds me a lot of the gong ting except maybe not quite as dark and intense.  I brew a few more infusions of varying length, but I'm not finding myself all that excited or interested in this tea.

Feeling a little bored and unfulfilled I decide to pull out another shupu sample to do a taste comparison.  Linda Louie of Bana Tea Company sent me a few shu samples some time ago and I sort through them to choose.  One is a loose cooked shu with just some handwriting describing it as a 1992 Ripe Puerh.  It looks similar to the 80's CNNP and probably only a few years younger -- a great candidate for a taste-and-compare.

The dry leaves are just a tad bit larger than the CNNP but otherwise look the same.  Load up the gaiwan, do a rinse and it's time for that first whiff.  Wow!!  Big difference!  "Chocolate butter cake" is the first thing to come to mind, but this is no sugary-sweet brew.  It's much more unsweetened cocoa and butter than sticky sweet cake.  Not "sweet" so much as deep yummy richness.  Plenty of coffee and dark wood, as well.  Some distant fruit around the edges.  Wonderfully complex, I can hardly pull myself away from taking in the many fragrances.  A first infusion of 5 seconds -- the liquor pours dark like the CNNP, but is much warmer in tone.  More deep oranges and reds while the CNNP was more in the plain-brown category.  Like the aroma, the taste is pleasant and strong with lots of unsweetened cocoa and coffee, lingering off slowly after each sip.  This is the kind of tea that Seattle-ites could go nuts for.  Dark and rich, like some kind of rare, unique and hard-to-find sustainably-sourced coffee.  With the right packaging and savvy marketing this stuff could become a local legend, I have no doubt.

Another 5-second brew and I'm detecting vanilla notes now as well as high fruity tobacco.  It's got me thinking of mole' sauce, not in the aroma or taste but in how so many flavor notes are present that are normally associated with sweet, yet this is decidedly savory.  Deep roasted coffee, dark cocoa powder, dark spices and tobacco.  So rich and complex.  I'm hugely tempted to try adding a bit of cream to it just to spread and round out the flavors slightly.

(warning: Chinese tea blasphemy, but oh so good)
7-seconds this time, the aroma starts off with more sweet creamy earth this time, then heads into coffee and cocoa.  As the leaves cool a fruitiness arises, like tart coffee berries.  I pour it into two cups this time.  I've got to try out the cream idea!  Tried some 2% milk first.  Interesting but not enough to make me a convert.  Some slight banana notes show up in the taste, interestingly.  With the next infusion I try some plain rice milk instead of cow's milk, thinking the slight sweetness of the rice would be a good thing.  *YES*  This is definitely the way to go (rice milk over cow's milk).  I wouldn't describe it as sweet-tasting, but the natural sweetness of the rice milk complements the tea nicely.  Yum!  There's a bit of tropical fruitiness that's wonderful, too.  But this tea is just as good sans milk.  I spend the next few infusions drinking it both ways.  They're both so good.

Overall, this 1992 Ripe Puerh from Bana is a pure delight.  The kind of tea that makes me lose all sense of time as I get lost in the tastes and aromas and complexity of it.  I don't see it listed on Bana's website, though.  I don't know if this was just something extra they sent me because I tend to buy a lot from them, or if it's yet to appear as one of their ripe puerh selections.  I'd love to have more than just a sample of this one.


  1. You didn't feel much cha qi with the Shin Ya? That, rather than the flavor would be the point of drinking that tea. I kinda had the same reaction as you did when I first sampled the tea. Too smooth and not that substantial. However, drink enough teas from the 80s and 90s, and one realizes that it's pretty hard to get something genuinely decent and potent without killa prices. This was just under $200 for a 250g box. They sold out before I even got to taste my sample, heh. Anyways, it had reasonably good aged flavor with very little of what I'd think of as soil, and more importantly, the sucka can get you *drunk*. Lots of good tasting sheng and shu out there with little potency.

    As for the second, can't find it on the bana website...There's a '94? I'd never put rice milk in my shu. Come to think of it, beyond my childhood memories of preferring sweet, sweet, chocolate milk to that old chalky Vit A milk, if a shu is so much improved by adding milk of all things, that suggests fault. It's one thing for an Assam or chai to take milk, but a good shu should be super smooth and super creamy already...Unless you like it even MOAR SMOOOOOTHHHH!!


  2. shah8 -- I admit I didn't feel much qi with the Shin Ya, but then the unexciting taste of it had me sort of breezing through it fast and thinking more about how I could spice up my morning tea session with a comparison of another tea. While I appreciate a good qi in a tea, for my own tastes I also need some decent interest in the flavor and mouth feel to make it worth my time. Qi alone just doesn't do much for me, no matter how strong (thinking of that Da Du Gan here).

    I figured my addition of rice milk would raise some eyebrows ;) It was good both ways though, with and without. Much more a comment on my own refusal to do things according to "the right way" than on the quality of the tea itself, which I found to be as complex as some of the best shengs I've had (not that I'm any expert on the matter), and possessing a richness that rivals the best coffees served in these parts, which is what got me thinking about adding the milk. Not sure if this is destined to be listed on Bana's site or not, but hopefully so.

  3. I contacted Linda at Bana Teas to ask about the 92 Ripe Puerh. She says it's supposed to arrive in the next several weeks. It's labeled as "Tang Xiang", meaning sweet or sugar scent.

  4. Good way to break the norm!
    Experimentation is always useful, even if it isn't the "accepted" way to do things!

    Was the 92 Puerh in a cake (chunk?) or loose?
    Sounds like a beautiful tea!

  5. Congratulation to your new cup and thanks for another interesting post...

    btw: I use to drink Shu with milk for several years before I find out that there is another level:)

  6. Sir William -- :) It's a loose shu puerh, and yes it's yummy (at least I think so).

    Petr -- Speaking of beautiful new cups, I'm also the proud new owner of two of your works! I nabbed a couple of your bowls from Gingko's recent online offer :) I'm just waiting for the right tea to show them off!

  7. That is funny...I am curios which couple of cups did you choose and how it will works during your tea sessions.Thanks for your support.