Normally when I drink tea I will enjoy only one kind of tea at a time, so that I can try to fully taste and understand it from start to finish. Although the roughly 150 ml teapots that I use for brewing gongfu tea are not large by Western standards, they are still large enough to brew enough tea that it is not practical to have more than one session of re-infusible tea going at the same time. Using two pots of this size I would get full quickly, and wind up wasting some of the life in the tea leaves. It also puts a strain on water usage, because it is tough to keep enough water boiled to brew tea in two larger pots when my kettle has roughly a 1000ml capacity.
Although I normally drink tea one at a time, on occasion I enjoy doing a comparative tasting with two teas at the same time. To do this, I was able to find two very small 60 ml gaiwans. These are small enough so that each infusion fills a small cup. The size also lets me fully brew two teas without getting full, or using up boiling water too quickly. I find that tasting by comparison can be useful because each tea has the other as a reference point. This also allows you to pinpoint differences in teas that are of a similar style but have minor differences in processing, location, time of harvesting, etc.
Comparing Spring and Autumn Mu Shu Cha Sheng Pu’er Tea
For today’s blog post I enjoyed a comparative tasting of two different teas. Both teas are from tea trees growing near Bingdao village in the south of Mengku county of Lincang in Yunnan Province. Both are processed as Sheng Pu’er within a one year time span (2011 – 2012). The only difference is that one tea was picked and processed in the spring, and the other one in the autumn.
The dry leaves of each tea looked fairly similar. The leaves of the spring tea were somewhat more lightly colored than those of the autumn tea. At this stage of the session the smell of the dry leaves were similar, and faint enough that I couldn’t notice any major differences.
After warming the tea leaves in their pre-heated gaiwans, I could begin to notice a difference in the smell. The spring tea had a lighter sweet smell that was vegetal and a little floral. The autumn tea shared these qualities, but overall its smell was somewhat darker and more pungent.
Drinking each tea was an interesting experience. The common qualities shared by each made it easy to notice that the two teas were from the same location. With that being said, there were also apparent differences that highlighted the effects of harvest time on the tea.
The spring Mu Shu Cha was lighter and crisper. It had a flavor that was clean, vegetal, with floral hints in the background. The texture of this tea was smooth and creamy, and left a full feeling throughout the palate with negligible bitterness or astringency.
The autumn Mu Shu Cha had a similar vegetal flavor with hints of floral qualities. However there was a darker and more pungent component in this tea that had a somewhat peppery or spicy quality. The sweetness of this tea was less dominant and more honeyed than the flowery sweetness of the spring tea. The texture was full, but had a more bitter / astringent quality than the spring tea.
Both teas had a good feeling and strong energizing qualities. For this tasting I didn’t focus on the aftertaste of the teas because switching back and forth will let one tea cloud the aftertaste of the other. That is why I focused mostly on flavor, texture, and aroma in this comparative tasting.
Both teas were enjoyable, and tasting side by side revealed some information on the effects that harvest time can have on the final tea in our cups. If I had to choose one tea over the other, I think that I would go for the autumn harvest. This is simply because due to its lower popularity, the autumn tea comes in at a price under 1/2 of the spring teas price tag. For me this is nice on a lower budget. If one had the money to spend and preferred a smoother sweeter tea, I would recommend the spring tea. This is because it has the smoother sweeter qualities without lacking in fullness or depth.
With all of this in mind, I wouldn’t necessarily rank one above the other. I feel like the joy comes in being able to experience the differences, and learning what you enjoy along the way.