Tasting Two Bulang Sheng Pu’er Teas Side by Side
Today I’m glad to be posting a set of tasting notes from a session that I had about a week and a half ago. They were supposed to be posted last week, but I had to take a brief hiatus due to an unexpected surgery that happened just about when I normally write, edit, and post for the blog. Luckily my abdominal wounds are healing, I have more energy to write, and I can once again drink tea without brewed tea juices seeping out of my incisions!
For this post I’m revisiting a tea that I’ve written about before. This tea was one of my first bad buys – a low quality sheng Pu’er allegedly produced in the Bulang Mountain area of Yunnan in 2006. After writing my original piece on lessons learned from this bad buy, a follower of the /tea subreddit page suggested that I write a piece comparing the ’06 tea with a different Bulang sheng pu’er of better quality. I liked this idea, so today I did a comparative tasting of the old 2006 Bulang sheng pu’er with a 2011 tea from the same area.
I found the ‘11 Bulang pu’er from a vendor that I frequent. In my mind they are reliable, and have a good price to quality ratio. They say about this tea:
“It’s a blend of three Bu Lang villages with tea from both spring and autumn 2011 harvests. The tea itself is made from high quality wild arbor (abandoned plantation) and ancient arbor tea leaves. Interestingly these teas before being blended together were fairly bitter, but once brought together the bitterness is less intense. The aroma is subtle but thick and stubborn, the mouth feel is pungent and lubricating, and the Cha Qi is quite strong, but without being overwhelming. You may feel quite tea drunk after drinking several brews of this tea.”
I’ve had both of these pu’er teas in my collection for a while, so I am quite familiar with each of them. Despite this familiarity, I chose to enjoy this session as a blind tasting. To do this I portioned out the same weight of each tea into two separate but identical bowls, and taped pieces of paper with the names of the teas on the underside of each bowl. I then shuffled the bowls with my eyes closed until I forgot which one was which. The idea behind this is to try to set aside some of my past judgments about each tea, and see if I can guess which one is which without the cue of the wrapper. Here are my tasting notes for each tea.
Tea #1 (2.5g / 50 ml)
Dry Leaf Aroma – Notes of stone fruits. Smokier and sharper than Tea #2
Heated Dry Leaf Aroma – Similar qualities but slightly stronger than the dry leaf aroma. Pinches nose.
Wet Leaf Aroma – Dark, pipe tobacco, and smoke.
1st Brew (5s) – Similar to the aroma and taste of aged pu’er, but with thin texture. Moderate astringency and bitterness.
2nd Brew (15s) – Feels thin and one dimensional in regards to the texture. The bitter/ astringent qualities somewhat tone down the aged pu’er flavors.
3rd Brew (30s) – Heavy smoke with some aged flavors, still poor texture wise.
My Guess – 2006 Bulang Sheng (Lower quality)
Tea #2 (2.5g / 50 ml)
Dry Leaf Aroma – Grassy sun smell, with some fruit notes. Lighter and almost underwhelming in comparison to Tea #1
Heated Dry Leaf Aroma – Sweeter floral and fruity notes, with a grassy component. Less abrasive than Tea #1.
Wet Leaf Aroma – Grassy, hay, and honey.
1st Brew (5s) – Texture is richer and smoother. Lighter greener flavor notes, with mild astringency and bitterness.
2nd Brew (15s) – Has a smoother and lighter flavor profile, but this steeping is masked by the bitterness of Tea #1.
3rd Brew (30s) – With the leaves opened up there is some smoky qualities present with the grassy and hay like flavor profile. Smoother and more balanced than Tea #1.
My Guess – 2011 Bulang Sheng (Higher quality)
My guesses were correct, but this is not surprising because I’ve had each tea in my collection for a while. I’ve come to enjoy pu’er teas that have a balance between the bitter/astringent energizing qualities and the sweeter flavors and aromas. Sweetness can be enjoyable, but if that’s all there is then a tea can be underwhelming. In a similar way bitterness and astringency can be good, but without any sweeter balancing quality a tea can be unpalatable. My main issue with tea #1 is that it had the one sided bitterness, whereas tea #2 had a more well-rounded balance between the bitter and sweet qualities.
In my mind this tea from 2011 is of a higher quality, but I realize that for the purposes of comparison it may seem strange to have drunk a tea from ’06 next to a tea from ’11. Pu’er tea is aged after all, and a lot can happen over five years. I’m reminded of one of the common marketing phrases used when selling Pu’er tea: 越陈越好 (yue chen yue hao) or, the older the better. The quality of a tea is judged by some based on how much 陈韵 (chen yun or aged appeal) or 陈香 (chen xiang or aged aroma) it has. Fully aged pu’er will reach 滑 (hua) or a state of being fully smooth. For this tasting I was not judging each tea by how much aged appeal it had. Instead I was looking for a balance in flavor, aroma, and mouthfeel. I think that young or old teas can have this energizing but balanced feel, and that this is a good general indicator of quality in tea.
After sampling tea #1 many times, I feel like there are no more lessons to be learned. For this reason I’ve confined this tea to a trash compacter after completing this post.