Sampling pu-erh.sk: Yiwu autumn 2012 and Bulang 2013

Blogging might be a source of additional income - if I would allow Google to place advertising banners amongst my ramblings. Well, I don't think I could become wealthy in a monetary way through these ramblings - but sometimes gracious benefactors send me samples I can write reviews on. Peter from pu-erh.sk contacted me some weeks ago, asking if I would be interested in sampling some of his teas and writing reviews about them. Who am I to resist such an offer?
Truth be told, we exchanged a few emails before the teas arrived. I offered to Peter the same terms I have offered before in exchange for a review of teas from a shop I haven't previously ordered from: when the review is written, I send it to the person providing the samples to ask if they place a veto. There will be no changes in my review (unless they find factual mistakes) - just the choice to accept the publication as it is or getting no review at all. Peter's reply to my offer of these terms was very straightforward: no censorship whatsoever! Okay Peter, you have asked for my honest opinion, so here it starts with the first two reviews. (The gracious Mr. pu-erh.sk sent me a total of 7 samples, which will be covered over several entries).


even the bag looks nice with such a neet handwriting

The first sample I picked was a Yiwu, harvested in autumn 2012. Okay, autumn teas are typically considered inferior to their spring versions - yet on a cold and grey autumn day the highpitched characteristics many youngish spring teas offer were not the things I wanted to happen in my teacup. So the quietude of an autumn tea seemed to be a good idea.

The dry leaves look big and healthy. Several buds are included - ranging in colour from silver to copper. The bigger leaves pick up the autumn theme by blending colours of fallen foliage into the dark green predominating the look.

Once rinsed the leaves open up readily and present some stalks blended in - what a relief to my supersticious assumptions! (no proof for this credo, but I assume that bings bereft of all stalks are artsy fartsy pretties neglecting their historical roots in being an everyday commodity. They are devillish imposters mimicking true bings, but alighting my stomach with purgatory flames or giving me the boredom found only in the deepest of hells. Or, if you would take it without any meta physics: the Japanese aesthetic ideal of wabisabi is better met by allowing something as rustic as a stalk.) The wet leaves appear to be tinted slightly rusty - colours of autumn or signs of a production allowing slight oxidation to make the tea more accessable? The fragrance is surprisingly fruity: strong mango aroma with even some hints of roasted bell peppers. 

The first infusion tastes of mushrooms, mango and passion fruit. Well - at least those are the impressions I got. To most people it would propably taste like sheng puer with some hints of mushrooms and exotic fruits. The next issue in my notes might seem odd (which topic doesn't) to anyone outside my weird head: the tea's mouthfeel (not taste) makes me think of Darjeeling Second Flush. 
in case this your first time on my blog: the binary infusion counter shows infusion #4
Subsequent infusions lean more and more to the type of mushrooms and sweet hay, but the fruity sweetness doesn't disappear. At infusion 14 I called it quits and emptied the gaiwan. The reddish tint of the leaves (many beautiful set of '2 leaves and a bud') in combination with the fruity flavours have me convinced: this tea has been more or less oxidized on purpose.

Is the oxidation of maocha a bad thing? That depends - all my sources agree on a negative correlation between initial oxidation and the ability to age such a sheng successfully. But to me this is not a raw material needing to be aged, rather it seems to be a tea tailormade to win over tea drinkers sceptic of sheng: hardly any bitterness, sweet and fruity flavours, a mouthfeel which is not alien.
... or just the right tea for me to cuddle up on a rainy day with a good book and some Sibelius on the radio.


And now the second sample, picked randomly by my dear wife:
 Fate made it a tea promising a bit of a rough ride: a 2013 Bulang. That area is considered the epitome of Bitter Tea. This year's harvest gives me no hopes of a mellowed character and the fact that this sample is taken from the spot of highest compression within the bing (its dimple or navel) screams at me to expect fragmented and torn leaves laden with astringency...
... a challenge I am eager to take on. Let's see if the tea will knock me out or I'll manage to wrestle it down.

Here is my life coverage of this fight:

Dry leaves: tightly compressed nugget from the bing's dimple. Hard to say anything about the leaf size in that extreme state of compression, but the many silvery downy parts speak of a high percentage of tips in the otherwise grey-green leaves. Is my opponent trying to mock me with that girlish show of tender silver locks?

The notion to rinse this tea twice crosses my mind. Might help to break open the nugget - but on the other hand that might be considered cowardice to rinse out initial bitterness. So it is just one rinse and that alone makes the nugget crumble. The hard fist of tea opens up into smallish leaves fragmented and reminding me of ... Bi Luo Chun. Even the fragrance screams of fresh green tea - fruity, fresh and light. Will I be robbed of my fight? To my nose that fragrance is like the white flag of surrender.

Do you know Aikido? The Japanese art of using your attackers force of aggression to best him. That is exactly what the first infusion does to me: with me coming braced to the battlefield, prepared to meet an opponent that strikes hard and fast ... I am instantly disarmed by a flowery sweetness and a mouthfeel like syrup. Mostly like fresh green tea, but with more body, presence and enduring mouthfeel than a Bi Luo Chun. An experience to make you dream of light spring clouds caressing the trees on Mount Bulang ...
... and then I sipped again of the cup which now contains a slightly cooled tea - now revealing the edge of Bulang Bitterness.

The second infusion is usually an awkward moment - at least to me. My mind has been set by the first introduction as I just can't seem to learn my lesson that a sheng practically never reveals its true nature in the first infusion. But then it comes - the tea releases more of its essence and reality clashes with assumptions based on rinse and first infusion. The same here: the syrup turns to chicken stock. Well, there might be something flowery in the background, but actually the soup has become savoury now. The cooled sip at the bottom of the cup tastes of licorice (yummy!) and the aroma found in the emptied cup is of that adult feminine type, which can be quite dear to some (such as me).

Some impressions I got over several infusions (3-6):
Full bodied, viscous mouthfeel and extreme bodyfeel (being alert of your bloodcirculation in each part of the body - tingly - alive and tippsy). Gushu material included? My nose detects the tell tale symptomps (sinuses opening, increased intake of oxygen). Reminding me of music which is not something I listen to very often but which fits the sensations very well:

Having arrived at infusion number eleven I have long since given up considering this as a battle  - it has become like a dance which invites you to surrender. Dancing like this, with the tea lulling you in, it is hard to focus on a precise description. Concerning taste and fragrance I have to resort to stereotypes like sweet hay, mushrooms and the usual sheng attributes with just the chicken stock to make it individual. But to me this tea is most definitely not about taste or fragrance. Neither is this one of the teas to drug me and conjure pictures from the past - I am 100% in the here and now, enjoying the tea undisturbed by old memories.
To me this tea is about feeling. Not smelling, not tasting - just feeling the tea filling your mouth with its thick soup, spreading warmth from your belly throughout you body with the blood pulsing from my toes to the scalp.
  A most pleasant tea - using the Bulang strength not for the typical bitterness, rather giving power to its body. My uneducated gut feeling makes me think this tea's heavy load of substance makes it well suited for ageing. Yet I don't trust in my skills and environmental conditions to age sheng successfully, so I'd rather not risk 48€ for a bing of 250g (equals 68,54€ for a standard bing of 357g) on this notion.

Aaw really - I shouldn't be doing this live! Infusion 12 is pure school book Bulang: sharp, precise bitterness to shake you up and then transorming into a sweet (slightly minty) aftertaste. An unexpected uppercut when I thought this fight was called off before it had even started. 

But still I stick to my conclusion: a most pleasant tea.

Thank you Peter - I am very much looking forward to tasting the other samples!

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