One of the things I love is sharing tea with people. Although drinking tea by yourself can be a great meditation, there is also something special about coming together around tea. Whatever type of tea one chooses to drink, or the mode of preparation they use to brew I’ve noticed that it’s common for tea wares to be designed in such a way that facilitates sharing with multiple people. The English tea service uses pots large enough to fill multiple cups. A common piece of Chinese tea ware is called the Gong Dao Bei 公道杯 (which means fairness pitcher in English). This pitcher ensures that an infusion of equal strength can be distributed across many small cups for guests to enjoy. In the tea culture of Argentina and a few other South American countries, Yerba Mate tea is shared with others by passing a communal gourd around.
It is fairly common for tea vendors to send free samples of tea along with things that you order. To me this has always felt like another form of sharing tea, and I always appreciate the gesture. One could argue that it is something that just makes sense for a tea business to do. It offers a chance for a customer to try another product (which they might purchase later), or gives customers a sense of happiness which might be mentally related to the brand of the vendor. With this in mind I still feel like there are some genuinely good hearted folks out there doing business; trying to share good teas with as many people as possible. I also feel this way because I don’t want to assume that all people are primarily economically motivated… that’s a depressing thought. If they were, wouldn’t all the people in the tea industry be trying to claw their way to the top of the technology, venture capital, or hedge fund managing industries?
Either way, I wound up with a free sample of tea from a prior order that I drank for today’s blog post.
The tea I drank was a sample of Sheng Pu’er from 2016 called Xin Zhai. The aroma of the dry leaves had classic grassy and vegetal qualities, with a slightly fruity sweet note mixed in. After preparing the first brew I was surprised because the color of the brewed tea was slightly darker than I expected for a Sheng from 2016. It was golden yellow, but tending towards a darker and slightly more orange coloration than other young Shengs that I’ve tried (which tend toward a brighter and lighter yellowish golden color).
The flavor of the tea was powerful and complex, and initially had a slightly smoky component to it. I thought this tea was slightly similar to other Sheng from the Bulang or Mengsong regions that I’ve tried. I say this because it has a certain kind of pleasant bitterness that is grassy and vegetal. It is a tea that is smooth, but also leaves a slightly astringent quality on the tongue. One may wonder – with this bitterness and astringency, how can the tea be pleasant? For me it was because mixed in with these qualities was a complex honey-like sweetness. This complexity and interplay between bitterness, sweetness, and astringency is what I find so intriguing about Sheng Pu’er. The clean, sweet, and smooth qualities that come into play after the initial smoky, strong, and astringent qualities fade suggest to me that this would be a good tea to age. The initial strength also suggest that it has the strength to go the distance.
When converted to $USD, the price of the Xin Zhai is about $73 / 357g cake. For my budget, this is a little steep when added up for aging large amounts of tea. That being said, there are other boutique teas that are way more expensive. For this reason if you like stronger but balanced shengs and could swing it, it would be worth a try!