Finally! Spring has arrived and the clouds have retreated for a few days. This means I've got a chance to take a few photos of the lovely spring blossoms, and it also makes for better tea photos!
To punctuate the crisp and vibrant change in season, a generous sample of 2008 sheng from Seven Cups. I've been eying their sheng pu-erh selection for a while--there are some interesting-looking cakes from some factories I've never heard of, which is intriguing. It's tough to get hopes up too high, though, considering the recent pu-erh boom and proliferation of mediocre pu-erh producers that have sprung up. According to the Seven Cups blog, though, Jing Gu Factory used to represent a standard of quality, and has recently been reopened. Let's see if the claim "the tea is great and the prices are really reasonable" holds up.
The cake is 2008's Jing Gu Run Ling 8545. Don't know what "Run Ling" means, but it sounds like this is a recipe that dates to 1985, so long as Jing Gu is adhering to the standard blend recipe notation. The leaves look really promising--some nice large, complete leaves are visible, and there are plenty of buds. No smokiness whatsoever comes off the dry (or wet) leaves, which is fine by me. I'm not opposed to smokiness in a young pu-erh, but would probably prefer that it wasn't there--it can take 10 years or more of Chinese or Taiwanese storage before the smoke disappears, and I can't imagine USA storage is going to beat that, plus it's more pleasant to drink a young pu-erh that doesn't taste like smoke.
Luckily, I had enough leaves to brew this pu-erh twice. The first session was intriguing but ultimately disappointing--a first steep revealed a dewy, light green and slightly bitter liquor with medium mouthfeel and some fresh-tasting sweetness. In a lot of ways, it at first reminded me of Xi-Zhi Hao's 2007 Autumn Nu Er Cha in its light, airy sweetness, if not nearly as complex. A couple more steeps brought on some more hay-like elements into the mix, but soon I felt like the tea was running out of gas. Adding more time only thinned out the liquor and brought on mouth-coating astringency. Though it's really nice to see that more factories are taking care with their processing and taking the smoke out of the equation, I expect a little more oomph out of a young sheng pu-erh if it's going to hold my interest. Today I brewed the tea again--this time, as Hobbes would say, I "showed it a strong hand," loading the pot with more leaves and giving slightly longer infusion times early on (10+ seconds, rather than roughly flash infusions). This definitely improved the experience--flavors were more vibrant, giving off a really dripping sweet freshness and a bitterness that easily sweetens without much of a wait. Unfurled leaves confirm that some care went into blending and processing this mao cha. For me, this is a tea of high notes that doesn't really pack the lower punch that makes a really balanced pu-erh, but I could see myself drinking it again. After the second session, it changed from a tea I was glad to have tried but wasn't interested in purchasing to one I may pick up a cake of to see how it progresses in a couple years.
Compared to the 2007 Xi-Zhi Hao 8582 I was drinking earlier today, it seems quite polite and reserved, and less complex as well. I don't yet have any firm knowledge about which tea makes a better candidate for aging--I like to think that perhaps both styles have their own merits, though these "drinkable now" pu-erhs seem to be a pretty recent development. Time will tell, of course. At$26.70 per cake, it's a much better price point than the aforementioned Nu Er Cha, so it might be worthwhile for the purposes of experimentation to see what happens to it.