2007 “Hidden Gem” Mahei Huangpian – Bitterleaf Teas

Ahhh… huangpian. Either this is going to be an NSFW post or we’re talking about some delicious puerh. Maybe both?

Huangpian (黄片 – huangpian; literally “yellow leaf”) is the term for the larger and/or yellow leaves that are removed from maocha (毛茶 – maocha; literally “rough tea”) after processing, but before pressing.

Bitterleaf’s 2007 “Hidden Gem” Mahei Huangpian is a chance to try some semi-aged huangpian. This is a sheng puerh (生 – sheng, 普洱 – puerh) pressed into a 357 gram disk shape (餅 – bing; literally “cake”).

Snagged from www.bitterleafteas.com

Mahei (麻黑 – mahei; literally “black hemp”) is a part of the Yiwu region, so I’d expect a few similarities to other local Yiwu flavors like Mansa, etc. The dry leaves are pretty crispy, large, and brown.

Dry leaves…

Steeping

I’m using boiling water for this session; rinsed the leaves one time quickly just to get rid of any residuals. The first steep was for 10 seconds. I tend to push huangpian just because the large leaves can handle it, unlike smaller grade leaves or younger shengs. It came out pretty watery, unfortunately. I guess the leaves didn’t really open yet, which is interesting, since most of the leaves were already flat and large.

Let’s get it started in here…

Based on that, I made steep two for 15 seconds… And now it’s sour. Definitely a by-product of the wet storage. Wet storage has a distinctive musty smell and a sourness when overstepped at the start of a session. There’s a great residual sweetness, but it’s still very watery.

Steep three.. Another 10 seconds. Much, much better this time. The liquor has a good viscosity, lots of honey notes. The storage still lingers through a hint of sourness and astringency on the sides of the back of the tongue.

Pour-n

The fourth and fifth steeps escalate the sweetness, bringing in the soft taste of red apple peels. Nothing overwhelming in the mouth, but a full flavor. As expected for huangpian, there’s not much in the way of astringency or bitterness, but the sweetness is the star.

#catarmy

The Later Steeps

The steeps don’t change much from here. The flavor keeps with the muted taste from before; nothing complex, nothing unexpected. The tea is great to drink without much thought. The steeps wane, for me, around steep nine. After that, my taste buds are bored, per the usual. Honey and apple peels win the day.

Finishing the Session

Here’s the final verdict for me. I’m glad I have a cake of this tea. I love huangpian for its simplicity. This one has deep feelings of batabatacha due to the wet storage of the tea. At $0.35/g, it’s not a bad deal if this is your kind of tea. It’s probably not one that I’d go out of my way to but more of – a cake will be enough to taste as the years roll by.

Lots of leaf!

All in all, this tea firmly stands as a decent example of semi-aged huangpian. There are no bad storage flavors and the tea brews up well after the initial hurdle. Take your time with this tea. You might just find a gem hidden inside your cup.

Until the next cup.

Blind Tasting – Balancing Expectation with Reality

Let’s play a game. What are your first thoughts when I mention the following terms?

  • Lincang
  • Wet storage
  • Xiaguan
  • Mini tuocha
  • Lao Banzhang

What did you think? Did you have some initial expectation of what the imaginary tea might taste like? You might have said “bitter” for Lincang or “forest floor” for wet storage. Regardless of your specific thoughts, most people have some sort of expectation when the label of a tea makes a certain claim.

What’s the Problem?

Humans, to a fault, develop expectations for all of our senses. We are conditioned to expect things, and this is even true with word association. If a label says “Yiwu,” you might have a certain expectation. That is independent of the fact that Yiwu is a huge area comprised of different elevations, soil conditions, water sources, weather, etc. that all affect the potential of the leaves. Then, on top of that, there is the processing, compression, and age of the tea.

The point here is this:

  1. When I hear “Yiwu,” I think of the flavor notes of wood, floral, and mineral; and
  2. Yiwu is much more than just a flavor profile and can be many other tastes.

This is the problem inherent in our tea drinking experience. The more we taste, the more expectations we create.

So, what do we do?

It’s good to judge a tea based on its label; however, the flip side is that it’s also unfair to judge a tea based on its label. There’s the difference between accurately portraying the tea (i.e., something is marked gushu when it’s really not), and accurately portraying the taste of the tea.

I love white wrapper cakes. I love unmarked samples. These items force you to think about the tea. Maybe you make some parallels to other teas that you have tried or a region with a similar profile, but the point is that you still don’t know one way or another.

Make your tasting fair. Give your tea a chance. If you want to enjoy the experience, stop worrying about what kind of tea it is. Sure, we all want to know what that 2000 Xigui sheng tastes like, but we also don’t want to pigeonhole ourselves into having a specific expectation for the tea.

Mix up your samples. Taste things blindly. Put samples into umarked bags. Put the sample into your gaiwan without looking at the label. Taste it first, then look at the label to be pleasantly surprised by the answer.

There’s nothing wrong with labels – just don’t let those labels influence your experience. Oh, and don’t let other people’s opinions shape your brewing experience either, but I’ll save that topic for another day.

 

Until the next cup.