NaNoTeaMo, Day 19: “The Making of Misty Peat Puerh, Part 2”
For Part 1, go HERE.
I last left off stating that I declared this experiment a success. The puerh leaves took up the bourbon scenting quite well. Almost too well.
When I got home that evening from my brother’s house, I even had my sister and niece smell the can. My niece’s commentary was, “It smells like a Sharpie!”
Oddly enough, it did. Very pungent liquor aroma. The following day, I did a couple of follow-up tests to see how even the taste was.
Naturally, I had to approach this in my haphazard version of gongfu cha – brewing it gongfoolishly! About a heaping teaspoon (or more?) of leaves plopped in a 6oz. gaiwan, then brewed to three short infusions of thirty to forty-five seconds. It was how I approached all my prey . . . er . . . I mean, pu-erh.
The results from first three infusions were very similar. Each of the cups had a liquor color of bronze-to-gold with a steam aroma of earth and stonefruit. The original plummy notes really showed through in the scent, but with an added – albeit undefinable – kick on the backend. As for the sips, the first infusion showed the strongest liquor notes with an introduction that was all oak and liquid fire, followed by the pu-erh’s usual taster note subjects. The other infusions showed more of a balance between the bourbon/oak combo characteristics, and the sheng pu-erh mainstays.
The second test was the most obvious: How did it hold up compared to virginal Misty Peak Tea leaves? For this taste test, I decided to forgo either a Western or gongfoolish approach – instead opting for something middle of the road. I brewed both for almost exactly a minute, just so I could get a good read on the note-‘n-nuance differences without overdoing it.
Regular Yiwu Leaves
The liquor brewed up straight gold – as expected – with an aroma of freshly-picked plums, herbs, earth and minted vanilla beans. The same could be said for the taste – note for note.
Bourbon Barrel-Aged Leaves
Same as above, but with the added “benefit” of bourbon, oak, and a strange malty sensation on the tongue during the aftertaste. It didn’t taste quite as robust as the untampered tea leaves, but there were definitely added notes. Not better; just different. Like putting a different spin on the world’s most perfect yo-yo technique.
As a quick aside: I must mention that I did both the gongfoolish and side-by-sides back-to-back. Meaning, I was beyond tea drunk at the end of it. I was downright slaphappy.
Then the doubt crept in. Why did I get that kind of a reaction? I felt the leaves on both puerhs. When I bent the bourbon-scented leaves, they curled over. But when I did the same thing to the virgin leaves . . . they snapped like twigs.
There was still moisture in the leaves!
Panic set in. Really vocal social media panic. I somehow convinced myself that I’d violated my newfound sobriety. You drank liquor leaves! I told myself. My heart raced throughout the work shift that day. It took several of my more experienced teetotaler friends to talk me down from the panic attack, all via e-mail. No, I hadn’t fallen off the wagon. There was no alcohol in those leaves, at least not much worth mentioning. However, there was still residual moisture in them, at least 20% or more. I had to re-dry them.
This time, I left them on a tinfoiled cooking sheet in my room – to air-dry them. I even put the thermostat up to 75F, and then let them do their thing.
Five hours later, I returned to my room to check on them. The leaves were still pliable.
Further panicked and annoyed, I had my sister show me how to work our stove and stuck them in for another flash-dry. Fifteen minutes at 170F; still pliable. F**k! Stuck ‘em in again – same temp, another ten minutes. That finally did the trick.
Around midnight that night, I did another side-by-side.
The virgin leaves were still their usual wonderfulness, but the bourbonized leaves had really changed. Gone were the Sharpie-fragrant, eggnog-flavored “mostly”-dry leaves of before. What replaced them was something that – to me – tasted like an artichoke heart that’d been boiled in gin.
The worst part? I got a headache mere minutes after drinking it. Sure, there was no liquor in those leaves, but I was allergic to whatever I did to them. Or something close to that.
Was this a success or a failure? To my brain, it was a failure, but I can’t say I didn’t like the taste. For the first time, I was truly conflicted on how I felt about one of my tea experiments. I needed a second opinion . . . or fifth . . . or eighth.
I got in touch with a few of my fellow tea bloggers and offered to send them some. Everyone jumped at the chance, even after I added the caveat that “it turned out weird.” That week, I readied several different packages – both with virgin and bourbonized puerh leaves – included instructions, and sent them off into the world.
Over the course of two weeks, the results trickled in:
Jen Piccotti from An International Tea Moment
“While the regular Misty Peak puerh was good (earthy, with a faint hint of honey and nectarine, though a slightly bitter finish), the Bourbon aged puerh was surprisingly more complex and more robust. The flavor leaned more toward a spiced apple than stone fruit, and it was smoooooooth. It’s like the edges of the puerh were sanded off. I think you’re onto something here.”
“The smell was a sweet caramel and hints of woodsey. The taste started sweet but had a very mineral finish. Almost tingly.”
Poor Jo experienced the same side-effect I did – a headache right after drinking it, plus some other hangover-like not-so-niceties.
“Strong bourbon aroma. Mid-bourbon notes totally balances the floral perfume notes found in the original sample. As it cooled, it became slightly pleasantly astringent or greener in taste. With rock sugar, the bourbon jumps out of the cup and smacks you. Not for the faint of heart.”
She did later add that she would gladly serve it to guests, though.
Rachel Carter from I Heart Teas
“The Puerh flavor is brisk, the bourbon light and occasionally present on the finish, and the dry and wet leaf aroma bold. I believe this has the potential to be richer and with more depth in flavor. Additional testing is encouraged. Second steep preferred.”
Verdict: A promise of future “Yay”-s
Nicole Martin from Tea For Me Please
“The bourbon tea seemed subtly smoother than the virgin stuff. After a few sips though I started noticing a warm, buzzy feeling in the aftertaste, kind of like what you’d experience after taking a shot of whiskey. It wasn’t so overpowering as to be unpleasant. Now, I’m not saying the tea got me drunk, but I think it’s because the aromas are the same.”
“I really enjoyed the barrel aged Misty Peak. The mouth feel was slightly fuller, and the bourbon soften the dry slightly astringency on the finish. Took it up to bed for a night cap.”
In closing, this experiment – while far more work than I anticipated – turned out to be a potential success. If I screwed up anywhere, it was in the drying phase, obviously. A flash-dry of thirty minutes, or a full day of sun-drying would’ve been better in hindsight. As it stands, it was a worthy first attempt.
Still not quite as perfect as the regular, unfettered Misty Peak sheng puerh . . . but not much is.