NaNoTeaMo, Day 9: “Old Bear Puerh”
I had a craving today. A Fall sorta craving. A few posts back, I mentioned how raw puerh had become my new “Fall beverage”. Not masala chai, not *gulp* pumpkin spice . . . but rather sheng (raw) puerh. It was an odd choice, I know. Nothing about the flavor profile of sheng screamed “Autumn me!”
However, I kept thinking that maybe – just maybe – there was such a puerh in my backlog box that “may” have the taster notes I needed to prove my point. And if I remembered correctly, there was a bear on the packaging. White2Tea had sent me a few samples some months back, and I clearly remember a bear. When I got home from work, I got to rummaging.
After a few minutes of digging, I found it.
Not only was there a bear on the box, but it was a bear smoking a pipe! Not sure why that excited me so much. Maybe it’s because I occasionally smoked a pipe, and liked it. Whatever the reason, I knew that’s what I was brewing tonight.
How could I not? There was a bear on the cover that looked like it could beat the shit out of Winnie the Pooh!
Okay, that probably wouldn’t be very hard.
White2Tea gave this odd puerh the name “Old Bear”, and according to its bio, it was a 2006 fangcha (square brick) pressed puerh. Several of these unwrapped bricks were found in a warehouse. Other than that, this 100-gram raw beauty of a bear brick had no history.
What was funny about it was the smell. This smelled like no aged sheng I’d ever sniffed. The nostril notes were all sortsa smoky – not loudly like a Lapsang, but subtle like fresh pipe tobacco. I felt like I needed a smoking jacket just to look at it.
Even more surprising was how compact the pressing was. I ran into this problem often with really old puerh pressings. They’re a bitch to pry apart.
It took me a good three tries to even make a dent in it. On the final stabbing, I was able to shave a chunk off the corner. To my delight, it held together with very little flaking. Not much clean-up needed.
For brewing, I approached this in my usual gongfoolish way – three steeps to start, each at thirty seconds or more.
The result was a liquor that was neither cooked puerh dark, nor raw puerh light. It actually resembled a Hunan heicha when brewed – medium foggy amber. The aroma was beyond wonderful. Ever step into a smoke shop that sold loose tobacco out in the open. It was like that.
On taste, a similar experience was had. The first infusion had some flecks of a stonefruity “something” on introduction before the smoky notes cut in line. The second infusion had a wine lean to it, at least in the background. The third and final infusion took on a bold but smooth campfire calm paired with a requisite heicha earthiness.
This left me with more questions than answers. How did this raw puerh get that smoky? Even decades-old raws never took on that strong a smoke taste. The dominant flavor profile was often just . . . old. Ancient and/or lingering.
My theory is that a band of homeless bears took a smoke break in the warehouse on several occasions.
What?! It could happen! Don’t tell me you don’t see it.