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Richard Kilgore

Tea Tasting: 3 new sheng puerhs

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It took me a while to get the bitterness and steep time correlation thoroughly understood, intuititively. It was another tasting here, of a puerh that was reputed to be quite bitter, but that when brewed really short was marvelously sweet and flavorful. So the timing has become less a matter of 'how long should it go' and more 'how long can I let it go, to maximize the flavor, before the bitterness gets to me?' With that guiding principle, I've been able to find a sweet spot for nearly every puerh I've tried--although some of them, like these lovely teas of Nada's, have more natural sweetness to give.

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I see what you're talking about now. I've settled on the following method: place leaves into 2 oz demitasse. Fill with water of desired temperature. Wait 5 seconds. Begin sipping from demitasse. That allows me to experience the range of flavor before the bitter astringency takes over. There's still not much in the way of aroma from these teas...

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Drinking the Bang Wai today, brewed in a satellite office in a larger gaiwan with less precision than with scales & pino kettle at home, primarily from the crumbled bits at the bottom of the pouch: the smoky/earthy/umami is predominant, and the sweet herbaceous flavors have taken a back seat. Quite a different flavor profile, but I am not sure what direction I've changed the leaf-to-water ratio, but hard to see where this smoky/umami predominance comes from when there is no noticeable bitterness. Very interesting to have such different results, and now wish I'd checked the weight of leaf--I do have a scale with me.

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Trying the BangWai again... I have broken out the aroma cup set I've got (and I'd post a pic of it if I could figure out how imagegullet worked nowadays...)... and I'm still not getting much in the way of interesting or appealing aroma out of it. The best aromatic descriptor I can come up with for this tea is "mowing the lawn while smoking a cigar". The unscented hand lotion I'd applied hours ago provided strong competition for the aromatics this tea was giving off when brewed at 1g to 1oz... The leaves after the tea is poured off have a heavier ashy aroma for the first 3 or 4 infusions, then segue into grassy, though all are extremely muted in comparison to the oolongs that I generally consume. Perhaps I've gotten so accustomed to teas with the aromatics turned up to 11 that subtlety is now lost on me...


Edited by cdh (log)

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I've been trying out the aroma cup set method of brewing with these teas, and still not getting much aromatic out of any of them beyond the cigar/lawnmower notes. The flavors are much more pronounced with the tiny infusion/short time brewing. My aroma cup system infuses 40ml at a time, and I've been infusing about 1.8g of tea for between 10 and 20 seconds with water from a recently boiled kettle. The bitterness of each of the varieties is muted and the grassy tea flavors do come out much better.

My preference is still for the ManSai, which is brighter with citric edges, as opposed to the other two, which are smokier and more vegetal...

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I've been trying out the aroma cup set method of brewing with these teas, and still not getting much aromatic out of any of them beyond the cigar/lawnmower notes. The flavors are much more pronounced with the tiny infusion/short time brewing. My aroma cup system infuses 40ml at a time, and I've been infusing about 1.8g of tea for between 10 and 20 seconds with water from a recently boiled kettle.

Experimenting is always good; personally, I find the aroma cups a little fussy / precious, and especially with puer, where aroma isn't quite as much of a thing. This is one reason why puer cups are usually wider, larger, and flatter than the cups used for tasting oolongs.

You can also get an idea of the fragrance in the cup just by smelling your tasting cup directly after you're finished. It's not quite as concentrated as a tall, thin aroma cup, but you will get the general idea.


Edited by Will (log)

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Do any of you have any suggestions on which one of these you would suggest as easy brewing for a puerh newbie vs one a little more challenging and interesting for someone which some pu experience? Or are they all about the same in terms of ease of brewing?

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As a puehr newbie, I'd say that technique in brewing is paramount to actually being able to enjoy these teas. None of them are particularly enjoyable when infused for more than about 30 seconds, as bitter tannins dominate everything at that point. Water temperature is not the key, time of infusion is everything.

Since I started brewing in 40ml increments in a tiny aroma cup system, and tasting from 5 or 10 seconds forward, these teas have become interesting and more enjoyable. I'd say in order of approachability, the ManSai is tops, and BangWai is the most challenging.

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I've figured out imagegullet's current incarnation, so here's a snap of the brewing system I've found to produce drinkable infusions from these teas. The tall brown clay cup holds 40ml... I keep the leaves in there, fill it up, put the blue cup on top and turn the pair upside down. Wait for the infusion to get where I want it and then drain the liquid out into the demitasse.CIMG0101.jpg

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Do any of you have any suggestions on which one of these you would suggest as easy brewing for a puerh newbie vs one a little more challenging and interesting for someone which some pu experience? Or are they all about the same in terms of ease of brewing?

I've been doing individual brewings of these teas, thinking I knew the answer in advance--that the Man Mai would be easy, the Man Sai a little trickier, and the Bang Wai would be for the more advanced brewer. The solo infusions of the Bang Wai were as I expected--tricky, when I pushed it with higher leaf-to-water ratios it was aggressive and required very careful handling--flash infusions and quick slurping drinking--to avoid strong bitterness.

But last night's infusions with the Man Mai, the least bitter and 'easy' one, infused at strong concentrations in a little yixing pot, needed to be poured as fast as the pot would empty to avoid bitterness also. It was quite delicious, as long as I was quick enough, and by the time I got to a few more infusions this afternoon, it was quite mellow, and tolerant of longer times.

So....I think all of them are delicious and easy for me to enjoy when I brew them dilutely and with very quick rinses, so I get the sweet and spicy and resinous herby notes without notable astringency or bitterness. But even the mellowest of them is not perfectly simple.

I think I would not recommend any of them as a first tea to send home with someone new to puerh, someone who did not have a gaiwan and experience using it, or a pot with a built-in strainer and a quick pour. I think they would be very frustrating for someone used to bagged teas or mellow forgiving oolongs.

But if they could be introduced to the tea by sharing a brewing, shown how lovely they could be with the flash infusions to release their goodness: if it were shown that the same tea could be brilliant (flash infusions) or bitingly bitter (long infusions), and understood clearly what it took to make them great, then I could recommend them without hesitation even to a puerh newbie.

I still would probably recommend the Bang Wai for the more experienced drinker of sheng.

And now that I've worked with these three teas twice (sampled for two different tastings), I just wish I'd added a beeng of the Man Mai to my first order from Essence of Tea late last year.


Edited by Wholemeal Crank (log)

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Finally able to get around to these. I have a pot and mug set-up here, though I can do smaller portions in two porcelain cups. Advise, please, and I will do my best to follow.

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Tiny quantities, lightning infusions. 1g:1oz seemed to work... no more than 20 seconds from first contact with hot water to beginning draining tea off the leaves.

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Exactly. I found that when I was try young shengs like these in anything but my gaiwans, I have to start pouring out just as soon as I finish pouring water into the pot--because my little 'yixings' aren't really so quick to drain. And they need to be drunk quickly too, because an infusion left to sit a while, that started out delicious, can turn bitter on standing.

A bit tricky, but so rewarding when you get cup after cup of sweet marvelousness.

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Temperature didn't seem to make much difference. I used water starting at a minute off the boil and made a series of infusions without bothering to pump more BTUs into the water during the process.


Edited by cdh (log)

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If your kettle holds heat well, that can work fine to start. That's one of the few weaknesses of my pino kettles--they have no insulation and tend to cool down pretty rapidly. So unless I start with one quite full and take advantage of high thermal mass, I do keep them set to reheat as needed to keep temps up.

But eventually, the leaves will seem pretty much done, and a good reheat on the water may coax some extra infusions from them.

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So any luck in brewing these teas, Chris?

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Since we have a new Tea Tasting & Discussion starting, I want to interrupt the discussion here to thank David Collen at www.essenceoftea.co.uk for proving the three free Sheng Puerh samples for this TT&D. Thanks also to Wholemeal Crank, cdh and Chris Amirault for brewing, tasting and engaging in such an interesting discussion, as well as Will for taking part in the discussion.

I know Chis will have more to report, so everyone (tasters and any and all members well into, at the margins of, or watching tea geekdom from a safe distance) feel free to continue the discussion.

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Man Mai try.

I keep failing to bring in the scale, so I decided I should just try what seems to be about a gram or two and try different steeping times in the small porcelain cups. 30s didn't do much for me, so I tried 60s, and only then did I start to get some discernible flavor atop a sweet, woodsy aroma.

Decided that was a rinse.

Started again a few minutes later with slightly less and slightly cooler water for 45s. Immediately noticed a big difference: much less aroma -- predominantly grassy at first with some smoke coming through after a few minutes -- and a richer brew.

As a first real experience with sheng puerhs, I can see that I have a lot to learn. The palate is quite different than my vocabulary permits me to explain, more subtle layers of flavor. I feel like I'm picking up some spice toward the end of the cup, but then it fades in the next sip and I can't find it again. I also feel like "grassy" is inadequate to describe that particular component; there's something older than grass in there and I can't quite get it out.

Fascinating stuff. I thought I was going to drink a cup of tea this afternoon, not contemplate the limits of my sensorium while staring into a white porcelain cup.

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As a first real experience with sheng puerhs, I can see that I have a lot to learn. The palate is quite different than my vocabulary permits me to explain, more subtle layers of flavor. I feel like I'm picking up some spice toward the end of the cup, but then it fades in the next sip and I can't find it again. I also feel like "grassy" is inadequate to describe that particular component; there's something older than grass in there and I can't quite get it out.

Fascinating stuff. I thought I was going to drink a cup of tea this afternoon, not contemplate the limits of my sensorium while staring into a white porcelain cup.

That's a key attraction of these lovely young shengs. They're complicated, demand attention, and reward it, as you discover new layers of flavor each time you brew.

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This afternoon, enjoying some of the Man mai, brewed in my Kamjove, infusion by infusion, on a bit larger scale than I usually do. Delicious--sweet, herbaceous, necessary for a siege of paperwork to come.

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Going though my tea cupboard, I ran across the leftovers of the ManSai and ManMai from this tasting.  Decided to give them a taste now in my effort to drink away all of the little leftovers that have accumulated.

 

The ManMai is the first I grabbed, so is the first I'm brewing up.  I've decided that the little cups method was a bit silly and fussy, and decided instead to try something else in my tea brewing repertoire... the insulated mug with infuser basket.  And it has been quite successful so far now that I'm 5 or 6 infusions in.  I'm also now using a kettle that keeps water in a 10F temperature band, so I've dialed in 190F, so it varies from 185 to 195.  I'm probably brewing in about 10 ounce batches.  My method has been to pour the water over the leaves in their basket until they're covered, then pull the basket out once the desired time has elapsed from when they were covered.  Times have all been less than a minute so far, and the results have been delicious.  All they say about puerh's capacity to age gracefully is obviously true. This tea has got staying power, both on the shelf, as the 5+ years it was in the back of the cupboard did nothing to harm it, and in the infuser, as I'm drinking infusion 6 now, and it is still quite deliciously flavorful. 

 

The ManMai has gone from grassy to more generally herbacious in the initial infusions.  Now I'm starting to get citrus-y hints in the aftertaste, which just goes on and on.

2016-12-17 11.33.29.jpg

2016-12-17 11.34.11.jpg

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I'm really enjoying the ManSai leftovers as well.  The 5 year old observations still hold true about flavor profile, e.g. early infusions have some phenolic smoke that washes away after a couple of 20-second infusions, then it becomes just an intense low-level fruitiness... a bit lemongrass without the aromatics, but something more.  This Puerh is amazing for its length of flavor (and longevity in the cupboard).  I'm still enjoying the aftertaste of the infusion I finished half an hour ago.  I'm going to have to go hunting for more of these sheng type puerhs.  This stuff is really striking a chord with me now that must not have 5 years ago. 

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