I’ve cooled somewhat on the idea of doing regular reviews for teas – there’s hardly a shortage of them on the interwebs and I’m not sure what the broad-stroke opinions of a relatively new drinker would add to the mix – but when a tea can illustrate a greater point I think it’s a different story. This is such a situation.
This was one of my first shengs of any significant cost (I think it currently sells for $0.30/g), and when I first tasted it I figured I’d discovered what pu’er was really about, a revelation that has hit me once every 3-6 months since I started drinking and shows no signs of being any truer now than it ever was. Cut to six months ago when I found out what mature (middle-aged) sheng was actually supposed to taste like, and the Bana Limited had been relegated to “tuition tea” – expensive, weak next to the burly teas I’m so drawn to, and less mature than it ought to be.
I actually scrapped an earlier review for this tea, because “Newbie drinker/blogger declares Vesper Chan production ‘pretty crap'” struck me as a shamefully arrogant message to put out in public. Today I think it turned a corner… or I did, or both.
The youthful flavours are gone, and what remains is a delicate-yet-complete tea, joyfully sweet and silky on the tongue. No longer perceived as a flaw, the initial lightness of flavour now serves to highlight the aftertaste and attendant aroma of bamboo, both of which seem to last forever and are accompanied by a menthol-like mouth-cooling sensation which grows more intense with each cup. The dry-cup scent is gorgeous; sweet and creamy.
Subsequent steeps yield a transition from balanced sweetness to a sharp herbal flavour, and around steep nine the tea begins to flag, showing a mild astringency and a generic mineral character. Throughout the session, the tea brings an intense calm to my body.
I’m struck by the fact that for the first time, I’m experiencing a meaningful appreciation for this tea, despite that I’m unsure whether the tea itself has actually changed that much. Curiously, I don’t think I could appreciate it as much in company. It’s the opposite of a crowd-pleaser like the 2007 YQH Lingya whose virtues are very-much on display – easily noticed and discussed – and there’s the potential to dismiss it solely on the basis of its humility. I feel like this is a tricky tea to appreciate, but none of it is the tea’s fault. Maybe that’s the whole point.
As it turns out, “Newbie drinker/blogger finds Vesper Chan production ‘pretty great after all'”, a fact which I am sure will provide Master Chan enormous relief.
To take a quick detour, whether the 2007 YQH Jincha is “good” or “shit” has been a regular point of contention between a close friend and I. Every few weeks I’d brew it, hoping that he’d see in it what I saw, and every few weeks he’d declare it absent of any interesting attributes whatsoever. It wasn’t until I asked how he was evaluating it that the core of our dispute was revealed; I was focusing on the explosive-and-lingering aftertaste, whereas he was focusing on the immediate flavour, which is admittedly unimpressive, and invariant across steeps. Asked to forget the in-the-mouth flavour and to focus instead on what happened after, his perception of the tea fundamentally shifted and he was suddenly able to enjoy it.
Maybe I’m naive, but it blows my mind that one person’s experience of a tea can change so markedly in a relatively short period of time, even when their consciously-held tastes and conceptions of quality remain constant. I do wonder how many people have dismissed quality teas simply because they weren’t looking or couldn’t look in the right place (for that tea). Come to think of it, I should probably reassess my distaste for young sheng…
…but I won’t.