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Tea Tasting: 2009 Spring Norbu - Lao Mansa Sheng Pu-Erh Tea


Richard Kilgore
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2009 Spring Norbu - Lao Mansa 250g Sheng Pu-Erh Tea Cake

-Producer: Norbu Enterprises Private Production

-Vintage: Spring 2009 (late March)

-Compression Date: 4/13/09

-Growing Region: Lao Mansa tea mountain, Mengla County, Xishuangbanna

-Size: 250 grams

This Tea Tasting & Discussion features a young raw pu-erh cake. eGullet Society member Greg Glancy at norbutea.com is providing free 10 g samples for three society members and myself.

09_Norbu_LaoMansa_Beeng_NeiFei.jpg

(Image used with permission of Norbutea/Greg Glancy.)

Here's some background on this pu-erh from the norbutea website.

These limited production(only 20 kg total!) 250-gram bings are composed entirely of Spring, 2009 sun dried Mao Cha that I personally selected in Xishuangbanna in the spring of 2009! All of the source material was hand picked and hand processed on Lao Mansa tea mountain in the western part of Mengla county (right near the border with Laos), and I had this tea pressed in a small factory in Jinghong using traditional stone presses. Lao Mansa is one of the "six famous tea mountains," and is considered part of the Yiwu tea growing region.

The tea leaves themselves are plump and juicy and consist primarily of in tact, new growth leaf/bud complexes. The brewed liquor is honey gold, and the aroma is that of an obviously young tea with some complex young vegetal attributes. It has a rich & satisfying mouthfeel with a surprisingly long lasting sweet aftertaste that I am very impressed with. This is an excellent tea that I am very proud to call my own.

It has been a treat organizing the finding & making of this tea, and I hope that our customers get as much enjoyment out of it as we do!

(Used with permission.)

The three free samples are available to members who 1) will do at least two brewing sessions from the sample, 2) will report on their experience and participate in the discussion, and 3) who have previously posted at least ten (10) substantive posts (questions, answers, comments that add to discussions) in the Coffee and Tea forum. The 10 g sample is enough to brew four first infusion cups western style (2.5 g to 6 - 8 ounces of water), or it may be brewed as gong fu cha with 1.5 - 2.0 g per ounce of water in a gaiwan or Yixing teapot.

Preference will be given until midnight (EDST) Thursday, October 15, 2009 to those who have not participated in the last two tastings.

As always, everyone is welcome and encouraged to participate in the discussion, whether or not you receive a sample.

So, please PM me now if you would like to receive one of the the free samples and participate in the tasting and discussion.

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Just a reminder...If you are interested in receiving a free sample for this Tea Tasting & Discussion, please review the first post and send me a PM. Note that eGullet Society members who did not receive samples for the last two Tea Tasting & Discussions will be given priority until this Friday.

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Just a reminder...If you are interested in receiving a free sample for this Tea Tasting & Discussion, please review the first post and send me a PM. Note that eGullet Society members who did not receive samples for the last two Tea Tasting & Discussions will be given priority until this Friday.

Now only two samples left. PM if you are interested.

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2 grams to 60mL yixing pot; water just off the boil

The leaves give off a very smoky, earthy scent just after being warmed in the preheated gaiwan

10" sweet, smoky, astringency detectable but not to the point of bitterness

10" very similar

15" more astringency/bitterness this time

15" ditto

break, rinse (after sitting 5 or 10 minutes, leaves are given a very brief swirl and rinse to avoid the bitterness of leaves that have sat wet for a few minutes)

15" fruitiness coming out, bitterness gone again

30" fruitier

30" similar

break, rinse

60" not bitter, but fruity, bit of earthiness

60" almost winey, hint of bitter, little of the earthy flavor I'm expecting to show up sometime

90" more edges of bitter around the winey flavor

90" similar

break, no rinse, water not reheated, so cooler

120" very light, mild and still that hint of astringency/bitterness, but nice

This is my second infusion of this tea; the first time I did it with several other teas at the same time, and didn't give it the individual attention and adjustment it needed. There is a sweetness and fruitiness that should help it age very well; right now it takes very careful handling to avoid the bitterness that I really dislike.

An interesting point that came up in this tasting: I had bought a group of tasting cups that are thin walled porcelain with a wide bowl shape to facilitate quick cooling especially of pu-erh teas brewed with boiling water. But the cups I picked were unglazed on the outside. I think the unglazed surface is interfering with the tasting by giving a bit of flavor/texture sensation of its own. Will do the next tasting differently, with a porcelain gaiwan and porcelain tasting cups.

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Thanks for the detailed tasting notes, Wholemeal Crank.

How do you think the outside of the cup is impacting the flavor? Is it because your lower lip is touching it?

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How do you think the outside of the cup is impacting the flavor? Is it because your lower lip is touching it?

Lower lip and a small portion of the tongue. It has a noticeable texture and maybe a flavor although I'm not sure what I'm really sensing here. But it does seem a bit distracting.

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I brewed this norbutea.com sheng for the first time today. Gong fu cha in a tiny 55 ml gaiwan. 2g of leaf, at about 210 F for each of four infusions at 10, 10, 20, 30 after a 10 sec rinse. The wet leaf has that young sheng vegetal aroma and the infusions show that in the aroma and flavor. There is a mild astringency, a creamy mouth feel and sweetness, with a spicy component showing in the third infusion and dried fruit note - almost raisin - in the fourth.

Only time for four infusions right now, so I'll play with this some more and followup.

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I received my sample Thursday. It is one whole piece of compressed leaves and stems. My husband joked that I shouldn't carry teas like this when travelling as on first sight they could easily be mistaken for *something* else.

The clump of tea has a delicious sweet, green smell too it. I don't mean green in a young green way but rather it has a deep, luscious, developed green aroma. Is that depth of the green notes from the fermenting?

In the cup the tea is deep golden-honey.

The nose or aroma of the brewed tea doesn't give me the greenness that the cake did.

I don't get the vegetal notes that the Norbu Tea site mentioned. I get an earthiness, not a mustiness but a sweet earthiness. I also get something that I struggled to know what to call and I think it is best described as a sweet tobacco taste (enjoyable).

I get no bitterness from this tea and nary any astringency save for an ever so slight bit of tannin on the end which gives an enjoyable *little* touch of counterpoint to the sweetness and roundness of this rich tea.

I brewed today's tea western style with the leaves floating in the pot not stuck in the strainer basket. I used about a third of the sample, roughly 3 grams, to 10-12 ounces of water just at the boil. The first steep was 4 minutes. I felt I the tea would have been better served with a wee bit less water but it was a wonderful cup of tea nonetheless. The second steep was 10 ounces of water for 5 minutes and it was equally as enjoyable as the first cup. In on my third cup which I let steep for 6 minutes. It is loosing it's depth and body. I wonder if I had let it go longer whether or not it would have achieved the same depth and body as the first two cups had.

The second cup of this tea I had along side a lightly buttered piece of toast with elderberry jam. Oh my goodness was this a pairing to sing about. I have never had tea with food that paired the way this did. The toast was a slightly yeasty white bread made from a local bread bakery that makes home-style breads. The yeasty, toasty goodness of the toast with the little bit of richness from the butter and the light sweetness and perfume of the jam combined with this tea to make something magical. It's the kind of pairing that is so striking I wish I could share it!

I really, really liked this tea and am looking forward to trying it gong fu style next time.

Well, I steeped it a fourth time, 10 ounces of water for 7 minutes, better than the third steep not as nice as the second.

Edited by LuckyGirl (log)
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Tried the tea again as LuckyGirl did it: 1.5 grams to about 6 oz boiling water, brewed 3 minutes, and all the things I like about it are there--fruitiness, floral aromas, sweetness, but also some unpleasant bitterness--I think here more bitterness than astringency--that interferes with my enjoyment of the other aspects of the tea.

The leaves are quite green, and that led me to wonder how this would do brewed cooler, like one of the lightly oxidized oolongs. A second cup brewed with the same water that had been allowed to cool in the teapot, and brewed shorter, about 1 minute, was much nicer, with all the fruitiness, sweetness, and hint of vegetal flavors, but the bitterness now is reduced to a very acceptable hint in the background.

I'll try gong fu style this afternoon, with water on the cooler side.

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1.2 grams tea to 60mL yixing pot; four wide porcelain bowls for tasting. Boiling water used to preheat the pot and to rinse the leaves and then steeping water was 180-190 degrees. Infusions ranged from 10 seconds to 1 minute.

10" smoky, sweet, bit of fruity, no hint of bitterness

10" sweet, fruity, lost the smoky, and some astringency but still no bitterness

15", 15" same as 10"

20" didn't rinse leaves after a short break to briefly cool and drink the first four infusions, so this one has a bit of odd taste, and some of the smokiness is back

20" smokiness is gone, so is the odd flavor that was not simple bitter, but pronounce in the earlier cup; now the sweetness is stronger

30", 30" both very similar, sweet, floral, fruity

brief break

45", 45" --stronger impression of sweetness, and that fruity other flavor still there

1', 1'--lovely, with bit of astringent aftertaste lingering

And that's all the tea I can drink at one setting...

The cooler temps were a good thing for me, although I think hotter water would have brought out that smoky flavor more. Again, I think this tea will age beautifully, and next time I'm ready to order from Norbutea, I'll get one of these to let sit for a while, now that I've figured out a way to keep them.

And the porcelain bowls didn't alter the taste, but the simpler texture vs the slightly rough unglazed surface of the other tasting bowls does make a difference. I suspect that it's simply a matter of less stimuli to distract from what the taste buds are experiencing.

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I brewed this tea 3 times-

I found the tea to be smoky and had an unpleasant bitter taste-

there was little or no aroma of brewed tea/

The color of liquid was golden-

wet leaves were broken-

i used a jenaer teapot and glass gaiwan

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I brewed this tea 3 times-

I found the tea to be smoky and had an unpleasant bitter taste-

there was little or no aroma of brewed tea/

The color of liquid was golden-

wet leaves were broken-

i used a jenaer teapot and glass gaiwan

Thanks. Can you tell us more about how you brewed it each time? Leaf:water ratio and how much of each? Water temp. How many infusions each brewing session and how long for each infusion?

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Thanks for the additional info, jpr54_. The more the better.

Have you used all the sample or do you have a little left to play with?

In general, if a tea brews astringent or bitter at first, it may well brew just as bitter or astringent or more so, when brewed longer on subsequent steeps. So with this one, whether brewed western style or gong fu cha style, my suggestion would be to cut back on the timing and/or the temperature. If you are using boiling water, you could try the 185 - 195 F range next time. I have had good luck at 190 F. If you don't have a thermometer, just bring your water to a boil and then let it sit for about 2 minutes before pouring it over the leaves. Then, if still bitter on the first steep, cut back on the time on the second infusion.

Playing with the brewing parameters has really payed off for me on this one, since it is easy to get the bitterness you found when brewed too long or too hot. It's really pleasant and sweet when you get it right, and very little adjusting is required.

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I have brewed this young green pu-erh a few times and had good results for my taste buds. I need to play with it Western style agin, though the first time was okay.

Gong fu style twice, the first time posted above. Yesterday, I brewed it again with 7.5 g in a 120 ml gaiwan at 190 F. The infusions ran 10 sec, 17 sec (was aiming for 10 and missed it), 15 sec, 20 sec, 20 sec, 30 sec, 45 sec. This leaf:water ratio was fine, but next time I'll keep the first three infusions a little shorter. The second one was long enough to produce generate more than noticeable bitterness, but that was my timing error. A little astringency adds a nice balance to the creamy mouthfeel and the sweetness and fruitiness that grows increasingly with each infusion. The leaves still had more to give when I stopped. This higher leaf:water ratio is my preference. It's richer. You just have to do short infusions and tweak the brewing to your taste. That said, if you are like WmC and particularly sensitive to astringency and bitterness, a lower ratio may be more your cup of tea.

I bought a little more of this tea from Greg at Norbutea last week, so I'll brew it a couple of times Western style to see how it brews with, say, a 2.0 - 2.5 g: 6 ounces water ratio.

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I just tried 2 grams in a 100mL gaiwan, and used much cooler water--160 degrees, as for a gyokuro, just to see what treating it as something very delicate would do. Answer: took some of the liveliness out of it. It was a bit too delicate and bland at these temps. After about 4 infusions, reheated the water to 190 degrees, did a 20 second infusion and was rewarded by a richer liquor and more flowery, fruity tea, with soft grounding notes of earthy and smoky mixed in.

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I just had this lovely tea again. I used 3.5 grams to 8 oz. water, brewed western style with leaves floating in the pot as opposed to in the strainer basket. The first steep at 3 minutes was a little thin/week but still enjoyable. The second steep was 4 min 15 sec. and was just right. Third steep I went to 5 minutes and it was lovely.

I still don't get any bitterness or astringancy but the smoke was more pronounced to me today than it had been when I first tried this tea. I had the tea after having bacon that had a particularly strong smokey flavor so I actually was thinking that I would be less inclined to taste the smokiness of this tea but the opposite ws true.

I still like this tea today though not as much on its own as I did a few days ago when I had it with toast and jam.

Next time I will brew it gung fu style in my make-shift gaiwan.

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Although I usually brew any pu-erh gong fu cha style, I brewed with Western style leaf:water ratio today to see how that would go with this 2009 Spring Norbu - Lao Mansa Sheng: 2.3 g leaf to 6 ounces of water.

Britta filtered water brought to a boil in a Capresso electric water kettle, then let the temp drop over 3 1/2 minutes to 190 F. Flash rinsed the leaves in a Brown Betty tea pot then brewed for 2 minutes. This produces a very nice first infusion, medium body, fruity with a little smokiness in the background. I expect to get another one or two infusions out of the leaf.

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Today after such good experience with the senchas, I tried a new strategy with the lao mansa: I 'woke it up' with a 20" rinse in boiling water in a preheated yixing, then let the leaves sit in the hot pot while the water cooled to 160-170 degrees for the infusions. The leaves opened beautifully during the first infusion of cooler water, and the fruity and sweet flavors are really strong now. Also used a little more leaf to water than I normally do--about 2 grams for the 60mL pot. Next time I'll probably do this again, and use a bit more leaf for the same size pot.

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Today I brewed the last of my chunk of this tea.

It measured (I got my new scale) 6.3 grams. I brewed it gong fu style in my make shift gaiwan with 10 ounces of water at about 190F.

1st Infusion, 15 seconds- smokey, sweet, tobacco, roasted vegetables.

2nd Infusion, 25 seconds- a little less smokey, sweet, taste of caramel, lighter on the roasted vegetables

3rd Infusion, 40 seconds- less smokey yet, sweet, roasty vegetal notes as before but more relaxed, caramel still there but a little lighter than before.

I really, really like this tea.

Today I had my second cup with lunch. This tea drinks most enjoyably with food to me and it is the first tea I've had that I've felt this way about.

I don't get the fruitiness that Richard and Wholemeal Crank have described.

I will rinse the leaves in the morning then steep for 60 seconds and report back.

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