As some of you might remember, a couple of years ago, I co-hosted of a tea-themed podcast.
On the above episode, we had a guest—James of TeaDB—to discuss puerh storage. I contributed nothing to the episode, save for a couple of queries and quips here and there. James was star informant on the subject of storage. Toward the end of the ‘cast, the question was posed to me, “How do you feel about your puerh storage in a box?” (I had mentioned that was my “preferred” method.)
As long-time readers already know, I’m a bit of an old hat (and advocate) of sheng cha produced outside of Yunnan province, China. I’ve devoted the last decade or so to trying sheng cha from countries along (or near) the Yunnanese border. The Phongsaly region of Laos, the Kokang region of Myanmar, the northern provinces of Vietnam, states of eastern India, and—finally—the hill countries of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai provinces in Thailand.
However, while my palate was definitely well-rounded, my reference to these products as “border sheng” might’ve been incorrect. Or even worse, misinformed. And this clarity came about because of an unassuming tasting of two factory-specific Thai “puerhs” that fell under the brand: Hong Tai Chang.
I’ve “known” So Han for nearly six years. I put that in quotes because . . . we’ve never actually met in person. Our mutual tea-related hijinks only criss-crossed online. He first caught whiff of me as a tea blogger when I wrote extensively about my favorite puerh mountain – Nan Nuo Shan. He just so happened to work with a farming/processing genius from there named Li Shu Lin.
And since then, I’ve written extensively about his Nan Nuo farmer friend’s wares – even once in sonnet form. During our live talk, though, I got So Han to expound upon something of Mr. Lin’s that I hadn’t tried. That being his Yuán Shēng Tuó line of shou puerhs. Yuán Shēng Tuó literally translated to “Original Life Chunk”; a term coined by Li Shu Lin. It was a new form of small batch fermentation that sometimes allowed for the leaves to glom together into nuggets of ripe-y goodness.
I’ve often expressed my ambivalence to the tea category that is puerh. Sometimes, though, a story about it demands my attention. And most of those times, the story isn’t even mine. Even stranger still? A few of those stories focus on the puerh itself, and the journey it went through.
Earlier this year, a fellow tea blogger sent me information on an Indian tea growing region I’d never heard of.
Image owned by Ketlee
A place filled with old(er) growth, semi-wild assamica forests, which bordered Assam to the East. The state: Manipur. I knew nothing about this Indian state, other than the fact that it bordered Myanmar. That and it was well within the zone with which the Indian strain of Camellia sinensis var. assamica (a variety and subspecies of tea tree) grew plentifully. For some reason, I shrugged at this. Mainly because of the “wild” claim. How wild could these trees be, anyway?
Over a year-and-a-half ago, I wrote an article discussing the nature of sheng cha.
It didn’t go over well.
I used a Vietnamese sheng puerh-style tea from Son La province as a part of my thesis, and it also helped spark further discussion about how prevalent the process was in Northern Vietnam. Short answer: not much.
Back in the spring of 2017, tea afficianado Nicky “Steady Hand Tea” Evers passed on a unique specimen.
A Wuyi oolong from 2005 that was wet-piled, dried … and stored in Taiwan. It fell into no discernible category. The taste was “like” a Hunan heicha … with notes of cliff side roast. I compared it to any ol’ dark tea being rubbed against a muddy, burnt cliff face, or jujubes that were sent to solitary confinement… then roasted on a spit. They died for my sins. Short version: it was interesting.
And as I’m wont to do after trying something far removed from any palatial paradigm, I began to wonder: were there other Fujian province-borne heichas out there. The only heicha or puerh-“like” things I’d encountered from that province were white tea cakes. Sure, those were good, but they weren’t dark tea. Or at least, per the definition I’ve come to adopt. (For now.)
In May of 2017, I asked tea peers on social media a simple question: Is Vietnamese sheng puerh style heicha a thing?
At least . . . I thought it was a simple question.
That query sparked a minor debate about the nature of heicha, and whether or not sheng puerh (or sheng puerh-style tea) was considered as such. At the time, I rested firmly in the camp that it was. After all, heicha (or “dark tea”, as it was more commonly known in English) encompassed all fermented teas. Sheng (or raw) puerh, following a long period of aging, went through a microbial change similar to heicha from other parts of China.
So, I decided to try something new. I have quite a few new teas to get through that don’t particularly fall within the parameters of my regular blog. That being, they don’t have much of a story to tell. Okay, they probably *HAVE* a story, but it was not one I could spin.
I decided that these teas deserved their own fair shake in the spotlight. As a result, I’m experimenting with doing a semi-regular video series called “Lazy Gongfool”. This is still experimental (and not in the kinky way). The idea is to churn out tea tasters, while still being entertaining.
I’ll let you decide if that was successful.
This week, I dipped into two sheng puerhs from Nan Nuo Shan (Mountain) in Yunnan province, China. (I.e. My favorite puerh mountain!) One is from 2017, but the other is from 2012. Both are made from old (but not ancient) tea tree leaf material. These were gifted to me by Jeffrey McIntosh.
Left: 2012, Right: 2017
Left: 2012, Right: 2017
Jeffrey McIntosh’s Puerh Mastery Patreon can be found HERE.