10 April 2008

Shu Trio from John Grebe with guest review notes

John and I traded a few teas last week. He wanted to try some Liu An, and I wanted to try some of his shu pu'er. John drinks shu daily. His blog appears humble and unassuming, but from our chats about his experiences, I think he has a fair share of intuition about shu pu'er.

He sent me samples of the three shu pu'er he currently has open:
  1. Changtai Tea Group 2006 "Banna" Tuo Cha
  2. 2006 Banzhang King Imperial (bing?)
  3. Menghai Tea Factory 2006 Cha Tou Brick
All three came from Puerhshop.com.

My good friend Davin and I drank them in that order last night while listening to Philip Glass, The Seoul Ensemble, Beethoven, Holst, and some random traditional Chinese music. I'm including both of our notes below. His thoughts are in green.

Changtai Tea Group 2006 "Banna" Tuo Cha

The leaves of this tuo supposedly came from Mengsong and Jinggu, supposedly sifted to remove dust and stems. Interestingly, you won't find Jinggu on a map of Xishuangbanna; Jinggu Shan sits in Simao. Not that in a blind taste test I could tell cooked pu'er from Jinggu from that of Mengsong.

Changtai Factory 2006 Banna Tuo - dry leaf

I brewed this in a qinghua doucai gaiwan and pitcher set I purchased in Shanghai. Davin took the helm for much of the brewings. It began smooth, sweet at first, then finishing with an interesting herbal aroma. It became earthier, with a thick mouthfeel that paradoxically finished light on the tongue, mild flavors with a grain quality. The herbal notes transformed into what seemed like sweet onion, progressively sweeter and very consistent in strength and character.

Changtai Factory 2006 Banna Tuo - infusion 2

The wet leaves revealed that the tuo contained small buds, fannings and chopped leaf, but indeed not much fine dust or big twigs as mentioned in Puerhshop.com's description. It lasted a pleasant 6 infusions.

Changtai Factory 2006 Banna Tuo - spent leaf

All in all, we both really enjoyed it. We brewed all samples with the same filtered and remineralized water, and this one did not dry my mouth, while the others did. I appreciated this tea's interesting herbal quality, while Davin said it was an improvement over the first pu'er he tried, an aged shu zhutong pu'er.

2006 Banzhang King Imperial

The 2006 Banzhang King Imperial is a gong ting "tribute" grade xiao bing. Because I didn't catch the grade of the leaf from its appearance, I used too much leaf initially, which probably explains the unpleasant characteristics mentioned below. Also, the other samples came in chunks; the Banzhang came mostly loose.

2006 Banzhang King Imperial - dry leaf

I caught a hint of mint amongst the thick creamy, overpowering flavors in the first three brews. Acidic initially, then stout and woody consistently thereafter, it died around infusion 5, retaining its oily mouthfeel but yielding only mild, dusty flavor. The liquor started and remained dark and cloudy; I wondered if the producer overcomposted the tea.


I tried this tea again today in a zhu ni pot, using less leaf. The different ratio and vessel improved the tea overall, revealing a fennel/botanical complication in the "stout" wet bark flavors, but still the tea didn't deliver the promise the rounded forest floor flavors indicated in the aroma of the wet leaves. I suspect when the proper ratio is found, I might like this tea better. It's a shame that its qualities make it finicky to brew.

Menghai Tea Factory 2006 Cha Tou Brick

Cha tou means "tea nugget"; expectedly, this tea arrived in the form of tight fingernail-sized clods.

Menghai Tea Factory 2006 Cha Tou Brick - leaf

To me, this was the most "traditional" tasting of the three tea samples. Woodier than the others, its wood had a refined character departing from the mulch flavors of the above samples. Creamy like the Banzhang but sweet like the Banna, the mintiness in this tea appeared strong and fresh; Davin felt this tea was more herbal than the Banna, tasting something like green cocoa, if you could find it. I found it more nutty than herbal, but I agreed with his perception of cocoa in the flavor, especially after we let a later brew sit and chill by the window.

We both agreed that the flavors seemed cleaner, and the transparency of the brews made this apparent, though my cups don't show this particularly well. Most amazingly, this tea lasted over 10 brews, yielding consistent strength and enjoyable flavors to the end. We gave up before the tea did, sometime around midnight. Rarely does a shu pu'er yield this much. We could see part of the reason for this as we brewed the tea: the last nugget did not unfurl completely until the 8th infusion. Somehow, this relay of unfurling elongated the session life of this tea.

Menghai Tea Factory 2006 Cha Tou Brick - infusion

It was our favorite, and this flight of pu'ers gave Davin a good opportunity to practice gongfu brewing. I sent Davin home with some gift tea and teaware. I feel like a pusher giving a new client a free bump to get him hooked! Spread the addiction!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow! you have two blogs now. As ever, your writing is nice. Have any of your glances, between drinking these teas, been towards Eastern skies? I poured a cup of some 70's gunk and let it sit steaming today. It awaits you. Great luck with the blog and in your tea adventures. (Prizes are circling Pacific skies somewhere on there way to you)