This remaining sample of Mt. Banzhang Farmers Co-op Sheng from 2003 -as you can note from the image just below- was loose and comprised of considerable stem and broken leaf. I can’t readily recall at this point if the previous quantity I steeped had retained any notable cake form, but I do remember a greater presence of full leaf. The tea comes from a respectably sized (1kg) hand-pressed ball in a cloth sack, as opposed to a paper-wrapped brick/cake/tuo/etc.
I sifted stray particulates from the leaf and stems. From this sifting to its wait in the cha he, the smokiness of the dry leaf was redolent of a Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong complimented by the faintest baked currant note. Once in the embrace of the warmed porcelain of the gaiwan, the inherent brashness of the tea’s personality burst forth from the cup with the fury of a storm cloud. David uses campfire as a descriptor in the tea profile on the Verdant site, to which I would most assuredly co-sign. This aromatic rush was heady and invigorating.
During the initial steeps, I varied the times from a brief 3 and 5 seconds to lengthier 13s and 15s, and back again to test the endurance and flexibility of its flavor profile. The longer times were heavy with smoked musky wood. The shorter times yielded a far gentler taste rich with toasted hazelnut. No matter the length of time, each steep was accented with a dark sweetness. The broth altered from copper to variations of yellow.
There were sips within the first 6-8 steepings in all honesty where I felt the tea was an absolute beast. This is when my mind recalled a Cloud’s Tea Diary entry suggesting ratios of broken leaf to whole leaf for use in steeping sessions, with an expected outcome of creating a more consistent tasting experience beginning to finish. Essentially, there would be a quantity of ‘open’ leaf from the start. I remembered the tea being robust from my first experience, but wondered if the quantity of broken leaf here was contributing to its’ far greater impudent nature this go-around.
Progressing onward with steeping, the tea exhibited a complex array of major and minor notes. It offered complimenting shades of black cardamom, pepper, ginger, baked fruit, and roasted almonds in the mouth, which progressively dominated as the smoky embers began to dissipate into the memory.
The activeness of this tea was of particular interest to me. It was immediately noticeable on the tongue where it provided a tingling sensation similar to Sichuan peppercorns. Not content to focus on one area, this playfulness made appearances in the temples and crown of the head which heightened my awareness throughout the session. Most notable however, was the counterpoint in its’ qi. While the mind ran into overdrive, the body became calmed and tingled at the extremities, which is a sensation I have generally noted as a stronger element in far older teas.
Compared to a handful of other sheng-pu recently experienced, this was the more challenging, and ultimately rewarding. While some have been polite to the point of being shy, this tea announced itself from the outset, taking some time before allowing its inherent humility to move to the fore. The pu’er offered at Verdant from my experience is notable for the obvious curatorial eye, or rather taste, exhibited in the selection. This one is a particular stand out among some very healthy competition.
Oh, and a certain furry companion of mine who is seldom far while I am taking tea would like to say hi.