“It tastes like tobacco-smoked sausage.”
You may have noticed that I’ve been posting every day this week. To those of you who receive each new post notification as an email, I apologize for the spam. I don’t plan on becoming a daily blog. Rather, I’m just catching up and proving to the world that I am, in fact, alive. I disappeared for health reasons, but *hopefully* I’m all better now.
Let me preface this tea tasting post by saying that Taobao (a Chinese shopping website) is extremely dangerous, especially on 11/11. Single’s Day (11/11) is more or less equivalent to the US’s Black Friday. Online sellers will dramatically reduce the price of their products and offer massive discounts for bulk orders. I was raised by an extremely frugal mother so I don’t fall prey to sales, however, there were things I was planning to buy anyway, so I waited until Single’s Day to purchase them.
As you know from my Chocolate Bar Pu’er post, I’m searching for a ripe pu’er that pleases my pallet. In the meantime, I like to bathe my tongue in cliff tea and raw pu’er. I typically drink young raw pu’er because it’s sweet and gentle yet complex, but if I see an aged raw pu’er I usually give it a try (if you’re confused about this whole ripe vs. raw vs. aged thing, don’t worry, a pu’er tea guide is on it’s way).
While I was scrolling through tea sellers on Taobao, I happened to notice a pu’er on sale for 34 RMB (the original price was 50 RMB). That’s roughly 5 US Dollars. Every instinct in my body told me not to buy it, but curiosity got the best of me. I added it to my cart, ordered my stuff and waited.
When the tea arrived, I was surprised and dismayed by how small the cake was. The cake was thin and weighed about 100 grams. Pu’er cakes usually don’t come in sizes smaller than 250 grams. At only $5 it wasn’t a bad deal, I just expected more. The seller did give me a sample of another tea though.
Since the sample and the cake were from presumably the same tea plantation, I decided to try them side-by-side. There was virtually no identifying information on the sample (sketchy, I know). It simply said “2013 ancient tree.” The pu’er cake, however, was a 2015 ancient tree raw pu’er from Bingdao. The cake is still aged tea, but it’s much younger than the sample.
I used my newly-acquired tea table as my setup. I don’t have two gaiwans that are the same size in my current appartment, so I used roughly the same amount of tea and water in each one. The blue and white gaiwan is larger so it wasn’t completely full, but that doesn’t really affect the tea. The first thing I noticed about the dry leaves of the pu’er cake was how beautiful they were. There were light green, dark green, and white furry leaves. I thought that was a good sign but I couldn’t tell much because the cake was so tightly compressed I had a heard time getting leaves without shattering them. The 2013 pu’er leaves were similarly colored, but they were long and unbroken.
As per usual, I warmed the gaiwans using 90 degree water, then placed the leaves inside. Both sets of dry leaves smelled of tobacco and mysterious wood with hints of jasmine. The pale yellow-brown tea liquor also smelled strongly of tobacco, and had a small amount of hair in it. I live for tea fur; it thickens the overall mouth feel of the tea and adds another dimension to the experience.
The color of the wet leaves was unsurprising. They looked like cooked collard greens. Though I expected the change, the color was absolutely beautiful. If I could find paint pigment in that color, it’s probably one of the only colors I’d use.
The similarities between the two ceased when I finally tasted the tea. The 2013 tea had a comfortable medium mouth feel, but it tasted like fresh tobacco (I’m imagining that’s what tobacco tastes like, anyway). I gagged as soon as I took a sip. The 2015 tea, by contrast, was much more mellow. There was no bitter aftertaste, but the mouth feel was also much thinner.
On the second brew, the 2013 tea liquor was much darker. It seemed that the exposed surface area of the 2013 leaves led to a stronger brew. The second brew is when I decided the 2013 tea tasted like cooked sausages. I was confused. The tea felt so good in my mouth that I wanted to keep it there for ever, but it tasted so bad I wanted to spit it out. I eventually stopped brewing the 2013 tea after three rounds, and I emptied the fairness pitcher so I wouldn’t have to smell it.
I focused my attention on the 2015 tea, which danced new choreography on my tongue with each subsequent brew, yet it remained somewhat shy. The flavor was mild, but I slowly began to taste other things. I couldn’t quite parse out what those flavors were though. When I sniffed the 2015 leaves after I was done tasting them, they smelled like orchids, which I found fitting because this was the first time I was using my orchid tea table. Life is funny that way, I guess.
This tea tasting reminded me of what I already knew: be very wary of Taobao seller samples. A friend of mine also ordered tea online, and when we tasted the sample we both immediately spit the tea out and stopped drinking it. In my experience, Taobao samples are either terrible (so they can’t get rid of it unless they give it away) or expensive (they want to get you hooked on the tea so you buy the more expensive leaves). I guess you could consider the better, more expensive tea a win, but that’s not usually what I’m looking for when I get something on Taobao. I want something passable, something I can use as a daily tea so I can save my nice tea for guests and special treats. Even though I know tasting samples usually turns out terrible, I also know that I’ll still try the next sample that comes my way. After all, what’s life without a little danger?