Thursday, August 31, 2006

TN: 2003 [Unknown Producer] Yiwu Pu-erh


Type: Sheng / raw pu-erh
Harvest year: 2003
Producer: (unknown)
Appellation: Yiwu, Yunnan, China
Price: USD$145 per 500gr beeng
Source: Stéphane Erler of Tea Masters

Dry leaves: Visually already quite aged for a 3-year old tea. Dark brown color generally, with black leaves here and there. Silvery, hairy buds visible throughout. A very nice waft of sweet, menthol-y smell.

Wet leaves: Smells sweet and menthol-y. Salty sweet aroma.

2003 Yiwu

Stéphane’s Method: less leaves, longer infusion time

In his email to me, Stéphane wrote: “The best way to brew [this tea] is light: fewer leaves and long brewing time (roughly 1 minute, 2 minutes...).” So I followed his advice and found that the resulting brew by his method was excellent! I learned a new thing.

Parameter: “small” amount of leaves in a 4oz gaiwan (not weighed, but about 1/3 of my usual habit with sheng pu-erh), flash rinse, wait 1m, and then infuse for 1m, 1m, 1.5m, 2m, 3m, 3m, 4m, 5m, 10m, 20m, 30m.

Impeccable clarity! Medium brown-reddish color, almost luminous. Subtle, mellow aromas and not bitter, even though it received a long infusion time. The menthol-y or minty characteristic of this tea really shines…it gives a pleasant cooling and tingling feeling inside the mouth and throat. Medium bodied. The texture of this tea is very smooth with sateen-like tannin. Elegant. By the third infusion, I felt sufficiently buzzed and my body warm. Good overall cha qi. Best from the 2nd to 5th infusion, after which the tea goes on to give a pleasant sweet pu-erh taste until my last 9th brew, which I gave a 30-minute infusion.

5 stars (outstanding!)
So far, it is the best young pu-erh I’ve ever tasted, regardless of price.

My Method: more leaves, shorter infusion time

Parameter: “normal” amount of leaves in a 4oz gaiwan, flash rinse, wait 1m, and then infuse for 10 to 15 seconds from the 1st infusion until the 8th infusion.

Exceptional clarity! When brewed with the more-leaves-shorter-infusion method, this tea had a fruitier profile and salty ocean breeze aroma. It retained its minty and cooling traits, but somehow I felt it less than when I brewed it by Stéphane’s way. Tannin is quite pucker-y and mouth drying. Of salty sweet, plums, apricot, green apple, with a slight vegetal bitterness. Fuller bodied. Best from 3rd to 6th brew. Robust cha-qi.

4+ stars (vg – outstanding!)

Addendum to the tasting note is attached under this post's comment.

4 comments:

~ Phyll said...

Addendum To The Tasting Note

I think it was the ever classy Hugh Johnson who wrote “I am less interested in wines that make statements than wines that ask question.” He would have said the same about tea if he were a tea enthusiast.

This 2003 Yiwu Mountain pu-erh invited question after question:
1. Is this how a fine [and expensive] Yiwu pu-erh should smell and taste like?
2. How does it compare to lesser priced Yiwu pu-erh?
3. What’s so special about it compared to other Yiwu pu-erh?
4. Why is it so expensive compared to most other 2003 Yiwu pu-erh?
5. Who/which producer made this?
6. Will it age with grace?

I had (and still have) a hard time answering the 1st question. While “fine” is a subjective term altogether, I have never tasted – nor expect to anytime soon – a more expensive 3-year old pu-erh. As far as I can taste and tell, this is a “fine” pu-erh with that recognizable taste profile of a young tea from Mount Yiwu.

I tried tackling question # 2 by re-tasting the 2005 Chang Tai Pure Ancient Tree Yiwu Puerh ($24/500gr) and the high-end 2005 Yan Ching Hao Yiwu “Cha Wang” ($60/500gr, tasting note to be added soon) after tasting Stéphane’s tea. Now, of course this wasn’t exactly an apple-to-apple comparison. The other two Yiwu pu-erh are 2 years younger. It was the best I could do under the circumstances. All three teas were brewed in the same manner per Stéphane’s suggestion for his tea so as to make the comparison more comparable. In my opinion, the 2003 Yiwu tea was the better of the three (’05 Yan Ching Hao came up a close second). How much of “better” is attributable to age? I’m not sure.

What’s so special about Stéphane’s tea, I think, is its nuances of taste, mouthfeel and ability to make me say “cool!” I also meant “cool” literally. This tea has an unmistakable minty aroma in dry form. The liquor made my whole mouth and tongue tingle with coolness…very refreshing and uplifting! The ’05 Yan Ching Hao also gave this feel, but somewhat to a lesser extent. The Chang Tai Yiwu, on the other hand, had none of this characteristic.

A few days later, I experimented with Stéphane’s tea again but by employing my usual method: more leaves, shorter infusion time. The tea came out fuller-bodied, full of taste, fruitier (apricot and green apple came to mind) and a bit more vegetal. Somehow, when brewed this way, I felt less tingle and coolness than when brewed according to Stéphane’s suggestion. Also, it’s hard to enjoy its nuances with such an explosion of taste in my mouth. I think it’s less relaxing this way. Though excellent too, I preferred the result from the less-leaves-longer-infusion method.

As to the 4th and 5th questions, Stéphane explained that this pu-erh was a one-time project by a Taiwanese pu-erh collector who didn’t contract any factory nor create his own label. With the help of a very reputable local pu-erh maker and Teaparker in consulting capacity, they used only the best possible wild Yiwu Mountain leaves. The collector decided to forego the branding and labeling, and Stéphane purchased this pu-erh directly from him.

As for the high price, Stéphane provided these reasons: (1) High cost of best grade raw material, (2) coupled with the fact that the price of big-leave wild mao cha has increased tremendously in the recent past, and (3) the high cost of experienced and expert labor force needed for such one-time project contributed to the high retail price.

Will it evolve nicely over the years? It most likely will. Great potential!

Overall, this 2003 Yiwu pu-erh is excellent, especially when little amount of leaves is used with long infusion time. Expensive? Yes for a 3-year young pu-erh.

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