I recently exchanged some teas with Brett of BlackDragonTeaBar and it has been pleasant to brew teas toward which I have no, or very few, preconceptions. The business of buying teas through the web based on blogger reviews (god bless 'em), vendor reputation, price, vendor's descriptions, etc. can be wearisome and disappointing. The prospect of offloading some decent teas that I just didn't have the taste for in exchange for new stuff was very welcome.
What I did not anticipate was how nice it would be to sit down with a bunch of teas that I hadn't read any blurbs about or clicked away at with the mouse, piling hopes upon a shot-in-the-dark. Whether I like them or not, it is refreshing to experience the teas without measuring them against what so-and-so has said. I know only that I trust Brett's taste and that he would not send junk.
When we were arranging the trade via email, I listed the teas I thought Brett might like to receive in order to get feedback from him. "Surprise me!" he said. And that's just what Brett went and did with the parcel he sent my way. I didn't realize at the time what a swell thing it is to approach a tea cleanly, just the two of you in the ring, mano a mano.
Today I sat down with something called the "Shi Dai Mao Purple Varietal Sheng Puerh Tea Cake" from 2010. If folks have blogged about this one, I don't recall it. The dry leaves are very dark, the darkest I have seen in a sheng this young. The cake is loosely comprised and satisfyingly easy to prize apart.
A clean, mild, sweet opening led me to think: nothing wrong with this tea, maybe a bit light, but drinkable. The broth is dark yellow. After the first cup a cooling sensation presents itself in the throat, followed by pleasing bitterness and a lingering sweetness. Quite an active tea, something I would enjoy on a regular basis and, in terms of being active and interesting, something that rivals cakes I have paid a fair amount for.
After the session, the Google at Delphi leads me into the familiar recesses of the Yunnan Sourcing site where I see that the tea is going for $14 for a 357 g bing. Not bad for a clean tea (meaning, for me, no smoke, rubber, acid, or other off flavors) with enough guts to keep one interested. It inspires me to order some samples from YS sometime soon. It has been a long time, basically since I stopped consuming large amounts of young sheng pu a couple of years ago. The description of the Shi Dai Mao states initially that the cake is "composed entirely of fall 2009 purple leaf varietal of Puerh," and a couple of paragraphs later says "Spring 2010 material, April 2010 pressing." I'm not sure which it is. Whatever year the leaves were harvested, I look forward to another session with this tea.
There has been some discussion of late among tea bloggers about how many times one ought to drink a tea before forming an opinion about it. The consensus seems to be at least three sessions. While I agree fully with that, I have so little time to drink tea these days, I would never get around to blogging about anything if I followed the three session rule. I think that exhaustive study and re-tasting over time is best when it comes to tea, but I also think there is something to be said for first impressions. Better yet, gut impressions informed and updated by long study and inquiry. It is instructive to have a large quantity of a particular tea that one likes in order to live with it for awhile and watch how one's impressions change. Not always possible. Until I have the time to devote to a decent quantity of a particular tea I shall have to take my own impressions with a grain of salt. I try to make a practice of that. I take for granted that readers of this blog are doing the same.