I’ve been drinking a lot of well-aged 20+ year puerh lately, and to dangerous levels (dangerous for my pocketbook, that is). I love it so much but my mind has been prodding me to return again to younger sheng and not neglect the learning it can offer. So it is that I sat down with this sample from Peak Pu-Er (also known as Summit Tea Company), the 2009 Jinggu Purple Bud Big Tree tuo, which comes packaged in a wild hot-pink technicolor box (if you buy the whole tuo) that looks straight out of 1971.
|(image from JK Tea Shop website)|
You don’t read much about these Peak/Summit Company teas (at least not on the blogs I read) and I’ve often wondered why. Though pricey they’re not the only producer asking these kinds of prices, and if they’re made with the kind of top-choice leaves and great care as they claim, then it’s no wonder they cost what they do. But anybody can make claims like these and charge exorbitant amounts, so the real proof is in the pudding (or tea, in this case). J These teas aren’t available through the usual well-known vendors, either. I’ve only seen them for sale through JK Tea Shop, located in Guangzhou, China, and JAS eTea, in the US.
I’ll admit I wasn’t planning to sit with just one tea this morning. I’ve got a bag full of Peak tea samples and given my current attitude toward younger sheng I figured I’d just slam through several in one session, paying more attention to feel than flavor and picking out any that might strike me as particularly strong in that way. I’m still haunted by an incredible gushu maocha from the Jing Mai region that a friend gave me recently to try. The hui gan was out of this world, coupled with a nice thick mouth feel, lots of activity, and good complexity of aroma and flavor. It’s become the standard by which I now judge young sheng (but don’t quote me on this, I’m hardly qualified although I’ve cut my teeth some now).
Opening the sample bag of this tea I’m struck by the beauty of the offering. Two perfectly perfect chunks from the tuo, featuring gorgeous glossy purplish-black buds and tips that look to be compressed with just the right amount of pressure. Pretty indeed, but never judge a book by its cover, right? I had little problem separating out about 7 or so grams of whole leaves, adding them to the gaiwan. After a quick rinse the aroma is young, to be sure, but features more dry sharp fruit than is usual with a newer sheng. Prior to my recent string of well-aged puerhs I’d been focusing on a series of different Lao Ban Zhang teas, so with that still in my memory I keep the first infusion short at 8 seconds (after only one rinse). The aroma deepens this time, with some added savory, almost meaty notes. The mouth feel is hugely thick and there’s a deep cooling to the throat, but the taste is extremely light and watery indicating that maybe it could stand a more aggressive steeping.
Second infusion, 20 seconds. The aroma has pulled back considerably, although some caramel-like notes are added this time. The taste remains light but with some honeyed fruitiness now and a faint bitterness at the very back of the tongue that soon spreads around the mouth and to the throat. The mouth feel remains thick, and there’s a cooling sensation deep in the throat that seems to grow in intensity long after the sip. There’s hui gan present as well, light but long-lasting. The color of the tea is a dark clear yellow, leaning slightly toward brown. But still, I’m thinking this tea needs a heavier hand in brewing. I want to know what it has to give.
Third infusion, 50 seconds. Yeah, I pushed this one and the tea finally responds with some bite, but the aroma remains subdued -- a young sheng new-mown hay scent with a floral quality and added layers of high fruity notes and deeper honey and vanilla notes. Sometimes I get the feeling that when the aroma pulls back like this it’s a possible indication that I’ve been too long with the infusion. Or sometimes it’s just an indication of a weakness in the tea. Hard to tell at this point which it is. Once again this tea’s most notable qualities are a pronounced cooling down into the throat, a warmth deep in the chest and a light but long-lasting hui gan. The mouth feel remains very thick. With this infusion I also experience a sweet aftertaste to the flavor.
Fourth infusion, 45 seconds. Thinking I might have pushed the last infusion a bit far I try a little less with this one. The aroma gains strength this time with good complexity and nuance, and the mouth feel is thicker than ever. Did I just hit a sweet spot with infusion time? I wonder. The mouth activity is huge, leaving my mouth tingling and alive, nearly buzzing, with that recognizable clean feeling around the edges of the tongue. Floral notes rise on the breath now and the kuwei, while present, plays nice and stays mostly behind the mouth activity. The bitterness is definitely not as pronounced as a LBZ tea, but then I guess that’s to be expected. The warmth that has been growing in the chest moves fully into the torso now, full of real strength, with a deep cooling to the throat that lingers long after the sip.
Funny, I wasn’t finding this tea terrifically impressive with the first 3 infusions and was thinking it might be time to brew up another sample. But that 4th infusion – wow, nice J
Fifth infusion, 60 seconds. The aroma remains strong for this one. It even has it’s own thickness due to the multiple layers of high and low notes. Overall this infusion is much like the last, although perhaps a little bit less strong. Probably the 4th infusion was the peak, as it often is. I’m watching for the movement of qi now, which at this point seems to be staying low and full in the body. Very different from the qi of an early 70’s puerh I drank yesterday, which tended to settle mostly in the head.
I did several more infusions with this tea and it continued to be very enjoyable, maintaining a very thick mouth feel and offering good complexity and nuance, although more so in aroma than flavor. The qi aspect continued to develop, eventually rising all the way to the head with a definite hot/yang quality to it. Even several hours after drinking this tea I could still feel a pool of pronounced warmth in the belly. Certainly a good “drink now” puerh, but will it age well? I don’t enough to know. If it’s true that puerhs which show strong, even aggressive flavors (along with all the other “how the tea feels” factors) while young are the best aging candidates, then this one might not do so well. Clearly its strength is in the “feel” category and not so much in “taste.” But in the matter of “feel” it has a lot going for it. The taste wasn't bad at all, in fact quite nice, but not as strong and forthcoming as some others I've had. Of course, having drank mostly LBZ teas in the recent past my viewpoint on this might be a little skewed.
Just as the dry compressed leaves made for a pretty picture, so do the spent leaves. Nothing but healthy thick bud-tips present. Not a single leaf or “chop” in sight.