I first came across Awazon looking for a cheap shou that I’d heard was tasty – the 2001/2005 Awazon Fine Aged Ripe (spoiler: it is – please leave it alone until I get around to buying a stack of it). With next to no knowledge of sheng I decided to add two raw cakes to my cart before I pulled the trigger. Gotta make shipping worth it, right?
The first was a 2006 Bulang for $15 that looked like a week-old pile of lawn-clippings and showed me what it might be like to toke incense through a hookah pipe. I ended up gifting that to a friend, and only because she brews her tea like she doesn’t want to live.
The other is sitting in my pot as I write. I don’t have a great deal left of the original cake, having used most of it back when I only had two cakes of sheng to my name, and it’s time to see what I can get out of it with a little more experience behind me.
I’ve broken out my little zini pot, since it seems to do well with my not-so-young teas. 5g, 50ml, and a slightly conservative starting temperature of 95C – I remember the Meihua being a bit aggressive when I was drinking it regularly.
The wet leaf brings back familiar memories – acrid smoke, but with rich fruit and a mild sweetness beneath… far, far beneath. Thankfully, it’s all bark and no bite, as the first steep yields a mere hint of smoke, and a dark-fruit flavour that is remarkable mostly for a lack of attendant sweetness – in its place is a slight bitterness. The body of the tea is pleasantly thick, and the vegetal undertones are still very present, but the hue of the liquor is starting to tend orange. Throughout the next few steeps, the flavour remains quite stable, though the fruitiness is waning somewhat, gradually replaced by the taste I’d expect from fresh cannabis leaf, and a hint of chrysanthemum.
This brings up an interesting point (perhaps to me and no-one else) about subjectivity – not just of tasting notes, but the nature of the tasting process itself. I often find it hard to differentiate between “tastes-like” and “taste-reminds-me-of”. I’ve never tasted cannabis leaf yet, drinking the Meihua, it jumps right into my mind, unbidden. I recall a particularly fragrant tea with an after-aroma I leapt to describe as “orchid”, before realising that orchids have a huge range of scents, and I’d struggle to recall the last time I ever smelled any of them. Given all that, I’m not sure how useful granular descriptions can be between laymen, if they can be as much about abstract associations as actual flavours. Sean has brought up the fact that the Chinese approach to tea revolves around broader concepts than what you see in the West – properties like viscosity and sweetness and the extent to which flavour lingers, rather than what those flavours are. That paradigm makes a lot more sense to me.
Back to the issue at hand, the tea began to flag somewhat by the fifth or sixth steep, which is surprisingly early given my vague memory of it. I should try again in a gaiwan and see if anything changes. Responding with a heavy hand (counting minutes, rather than seconds), I managed to extract three steeps of intensely-bittersweet syrup before the leaf had nothing more to give.
Honestly, I like the Meihua quite a bit, more for what it isn’t than for what it is. Most of my teas tend sweet and floral, and this tea is neither of those things unless you abuse it to squeeze the syrup out. Brewed sanely, it’s flavourful yet nondescript; smooth, and yet not friendly. It had me sweating bullets by the fourth steep, and there are many for whom that is a plus, but I’m ambivalent. At $31+s/h for a bing, it’s cheap, and I will probably include it on a future order – partly because I’ll miss it when it’s gone, but also because feel that I didn’t appreciate it when I was a brand-new drinker. There’s something to enjoy here, and I still haven’t figured it out… what can I do but keep on drinking?
N.B. I’m still trying to figure out in my head how to approach blog posts; it’s completely new to me and most of the time I want to write something relatively low-effort… I think the primary casualty will be in-progress photos, because I’d rather drink tea than spend time carefully orchestrating shots.
MARCH 2018 UPDATE: I’ve dipped into the Meihua a dozen times or so since I drafted this post, and bought a pair of cakes to keep for some time. I like it better out of a gaiwan – it’s lasted 10+ steeps every time, and the flavour has been more interesting. The tea is fundamentally the same, though. My justification for picking up more is the same as for other teas I’ve gone back for – it has balls and body, and I like it well enough now. If the only effect of the next 3-5 years is the disappearance of the vegetal flavour, I’ll consider it a win.
MAY 2018 UPDATE: My concept of what level of maturity constitutes “mid-aged” has changed significantly since I first wrote this post. Real talk, this tea is very green for its age, as is every sheng I’ve bought from Awazon, whether XG, LYH or Awazon’s house pressings. This is true even in the context of Kunming storage. An experienced friend suggested its maturity is more characteristic of 3 year-old teas than 11 year-old ones. Notwithstanding that fact, I am looking forward to seeing this tea in a few years’ time. It is starting to present with an intense not-young sweetness, and the dark fruit character has deepened and is very similar to that of the 2007 Yexiangwang Naka. It is, however, still very vegetal after 3-5 steeps, and I have little reason to drink it until that characteristic has been replaced with mid-aged ones.