A quartet of young sheng from Puerhshop on the menu this domestic morning, representing years 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008. 3 of these were rather disappointing, and one I really liked.
Clockwise from top right:
1. 2008 Red Army "Banmu" Cake ($16.95/cake)
2. 2007 Gujun Factory "Bulang Spring Buds Cake" ($14/cake)
3. 2006 Changtai Factory "339" Cake ($19.99/cake)
4. 2005 Nanjian Phoenix Tuo ($12.90/250g tuo)
2008 Red Army "Banmu" Cake
Of the 4, this cake disappointed me most. It tastes buttery like mao xie oolong, but with a bitter melon type bitterness that had me wondering if the bamboo charcoal in my kettle had gone rancid. The bitter bite remained after elminating any cross-contamination factors (I tasted my water, brushed my teeth dry, and swirled and spit out some fresh olive oil). The leaves look ok, not entirely whole and no suspect color. The tea brews a nice yellow, too. But with few flavors and this bitterness, I have nothing pleasant to say about this tea.
2007 Gujun Factory "Bulang Spring Buds" Cake
This tea had a nice minty aroma and tasted like chocolate/carob and sweet in the first 2 infusions. It was boring by the 3rd infusion, tasting like little. I had to stress the tea with long infusions to get any flavor, and it did have some bitterness and astringency when pushed, but not much mouthfeel or aftertaste. The leaf quality was surprisingly poor upon examination, its broken leaves looking a step above tuocha grade material. Better than the Red Army cake, but still nothing I'd purchase.
2006 Changtai Factory "339" Cake
Changtai has never been a favorite factory of mine. While some of their sheng cakes have been good and their cooked tea rich and smooth, I have not had a stellar sheng pu'er production by them. The flavor of the 339 cake is subdued and easy. The interest is in the mouthfeel, which extends into the throat and causes a cooling sensation on my lips. But with a sour aftertaste and a flavor that reminds me too much of green dancong oolong in later infusions, this tea perplexed me. When stressed, it yielded an appreciable thickness and astringency with a musky aftertaste. It could be good with more age, perhaps blended into something stronger, like our next contender.
2005 Nanjian Phoenix Tuo
This was my favorite of the four. Despite an orange liquor (5 years age doing this, or ?), the flavor and bitterness taste like traditional big factory sheng, in a dependable and comforting way: punchy, floral, bitter, and a tad smoky, I think this tuo's flavor will go somewhere with more age. I lament at its dry storage and am curious how one of these aged in Guangzhou might taste. I was glad to end this tasting on a high note and might grab one of these for future aging.