It’s starting to be the time of year when I want nothing but shou. Well… to be fair, that’s most of the year for me, but everyone else is going to jump on the shou-wagon soon enough.
I got my white2tea monthly club box in the mail just the other day. There happens to be some shou in the box, so I’m a little excited. Turns out that the box contains a polarizing style of tea – shou stuffed into mandarin oranges. Maybe it’s not as polarizing as cilantro, but I know a lot of puerh drinkers that can’t stand the oranges.
Great question. Dried tangerine peel is a Chinese medicine called chenpi (陈皮), which has been used for hundreds of years. Chenpi has been shown to reduce digestive and gastrointestinal issues (not a book recommendation, but you could read up on it here, if you wanted). Of course, hollowed out oranges are the perfect place to stuff puerh, and since puerh has magical healing properties anyway (joke), why not add the medicinal power of chenpi?
I happen to love the taste of orange with shou. It’s a natural compliment, though some folks find it to be too much. You can choose to leave the peel in your brewing vessel or just take out the tea, which will have been infused with the orange scent. Obviously, leaving the peel in adds more orange flavor (and potentially more bitterness from the oils in the peel as well as the pith).
Onto the tea…
The tea that came with this month’s club is the 2016 “Orange Drop.” It’s not on white2tea’s site yet, but I imagine that it will be soon(?). Either way, I’ll update this post with a link to the product page when it comes out. These little drops are about 10g each, which is a perfect single serving size. The mandarin is stuffed with what looks to be gongting (宫廷) or at least imperial grade shou puerh (熟 – shou, 普洱 – puerh). This will steep rather quickly.
Another note is that these are mandarins from Xinhui (新会). Xinhui basically set the standard for chenpi production as well as the stuffing of puerh into the mandarin husks. These are called ganpu (柑普), which is not to be confused with other fruit and tea combinations of similar nature (such as pomelos or other citrus fruits).
Before you steep, you might want to break up the peel so that the tea doesn’t remain stuck inside while steeping. Once you’ve poured the water on the peel, it’s much harder to rip apart, so do this step while the chenpi is still dry. Steep this tea like you would any other gongting or small leaf ripe puerh. I like my gongting strong, so I do a slightly longer steeping. There’s a great shou flavor met with the backing of the citrus. The citrus flavors coat the throat and leave a tingling sensation.
The tea doesn’t change a whole lot over the course of the steepings – most gongting is pretty straightforward with flavor. The orange flavor, however, rises and falls with the first few steepings. You get a lot more of the residual oils and bitterness present in the first few steeps, then the flavor blends much more nicely with the shou flavors.
I definitely recommend having a few shou-stuffed mandarins laying around for rainy days or if you’re not feeling well. I find this tea very, very soothing on the throat and it sits nicely in the stomach. I don’t know how much these little oranges are going to cost, but I can’t imagine they will be that much. As individual servings, you can store them very easily and don’t have to worry about storing extra tea after breaking into one.
Until the next cup.