Of my most recent order, none of the teas so far had heavy earthiness to them, which is odd for the genre to which they belong, shu pu'er. This tea is the exception.
This tea hails from Lancang region in Pu'er Prefecture (formerly known as Simao (1950-2007), formerly known as Pu'er (1729-1950), formerly known as...?). Lancang is a minority autonomous county inhabited by the tea-growing Lahu, Dai, and Bulang ethnic minorities. It contains the famous Jing Mai tea mountain (Dai minority) and lesser-known Mangjin (Bulang minority).
I couldn't remember the last time I had a purely
Simao Pu'er Lancang shu pu'er (Pu'er pu'er sounds too redupicative!), and thus I bought it for variety.
I generally don't like Lancang area sheng pu'er: I find it bland and lacking depth. But in the spirit of "don't knock it until you try it" I kept an open mind.
The leaves are the usual "pretty face, ugly butt" blending trick. If this isn't obvious enough from the pics above, click on the pics below for comparison. I should mention that this review is of leaves from the back of the cake.
Also, the tea was pressed in January 2009, meaning it's likely summer 2008 tea material, maybe with lighter fermented stuff from fall.
The first three brews tasted very earthy, like the smell of loamy soil, so I would suggest rinsing this tea twice to reduce some of that taste if you don't like it. Not fishy or pondy, just muddy. For the large size of the leaves, the tea held out for an impressive 13 infusions, even when pushed for more flavor.
The next infusions were sweet, earthy, woody, finishing rocky. They made me salivate quite a bit, and the "mouthfeel" of the tea was comfortable and oily. Not too much aftertaste, and not too much depth, but enjoyable nonetheless. It took extra long infusions very well. All of this adds up to be a good tea for brewing at work, where I have no one to impress and want passably good tea even if I forget it or otherwise abuse it.
I forgot to take a picture of the brewed leaves and the brewed liquid, but it's all the same with shu pu, no? No? OK, well, the leaves are mostly heavily fermented, with some of the larger leaves looking lighter in color.
A good tea for sitar music, rain, and the smell of baking pumpkin sourdough bread.
(the neifei (far above) and nei piao (immediately above) are both marked "10", whatever for I can't say. Any clues?)
If you have had this tea or any other shu pu from this region, please comment here and give me your thoughts. I'm always curious!
Update: 25 February 2011
As of today, I am halfway through the Lancang 0081 shu cake. I have been drinking it at work, which is where I drink most of my shu tea. For me, shu is easy to brew, easy to drink, and given it's of decent quality or better, forgiving when brewed in imperfect situations, such as my office.
In my office, a small fabric-lined cardboard tea caddy holds a comfortable half a qi zi bing (approximately 179g).
I dip into the red box about once every four days. I keep to a routine tea schedule at work, alternating between teas daily--usually one or two oolongs and one or two pu'er teas. The benefit of this seemingly obsessive-compulsive habit is that I don't spend unnecessary time pondering what tea I'm in the mood for or want to brew. I stick to the order unless I arrive at work with a strong feeling for what I want to drink.
Enough distraction and onto the tea!
The tea remains smooth, earthy, and rocky, even when brewed in my California stoneware pot using filtered water. It feels less thick in the mouth and tastes less rich, but the rocky aftertaste seems stronger.
I suspect the filtered water, boiled in a metal kettle, causes this thinness and stronger mineral flavor. It's a small complaint to say a good tea could be better unless the price is high. Thus, even at this slightly lower quality, the good value of this cake remains solid. A loose shu at a similar price ($15.90 per pound) would probably taste horrific.