2016 “Orange Drop” – White2Tea

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.

Why 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.

2 balls
2 balls

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).

Steeping

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.

Nice 2 meet you
Nice 2 meet you

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.

Deliciously orange
Deliciously orange

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.

The aftermath
The aftermath

Until the next cup.

 

2000 “Old Warrior” – Crimson Lotus Tea

Today’s tea is an amazing treat – the 2000 “Old Warrior” from Crimson Lotus Tea. This is such a treat because good, old shou is hard to come by. There are some good aged shous that I’ve had, but this one promises to be special.

Love the calligraphy
Love the calligraphy

Old Warrior is a shou puerh (熟 – shou, 普洱 – puerh) pressed into a melon shape (金瓜 – jingua; literally “golden melon”). The dry leaves are very flaky and pretty easy to pry off of the pressed form.

2016 old warrior CLT dry leaf
Gimme dat shupu

Steeping

I did a short rinse of this tea. Since it’s older, you might dump it out, but I always drink the rinses unless the tea looks sketchy. I find that tasting the rinse from a shou gives you some hidden storage notes that you might not get in full steeps. This rinse reveals mild humidity and a traditional storage along with some underlying sweetness. Based on the rich brown color, you can just tell that this tea is going to be good.

Note on traditional storage: I’ve seen a lot of differing opinions on storage, but to me, traditional storage is “wet storage” (more humidity) for several years followed by “dry storage” (less humidity). In the tea’s early steeps, you can taste this humidity, but it quickly fades after the first few steeps. This usually indicates that the tea has aged in a drier climate after the first few years of humidity. In my personal opinion, this is my favorite type of storage for aged puerh, sheng or shou.

2000 old warrior CLT steep 1
Note to self, don’t take pictures at work

Steeps One through Four – The first steep was for 10 seconds and yielded a myriad of wonderful aged shou flavors – dark wood, sweetness, and a subtle ripe cherry note. I did notice a slight bitterness on the back of the tongue. The next two steeps (20 and 30 seconds, respectively) were just as delicious. Deep aged, clean shou taste that when you taste it, you just know how special it is. Building to steep four, the heart of the session, it’s clear that this tea underwent a lighter fermentation, meaning that some of the material was still green when originally pressed, allowing the tea to age in a different and more complex way.

Steep 4, again with the horrible glare
Steep 4, again with the horrible glare

Finishing the Session

I’m just going to stop here. Words can’t quite explain the depth or longevity of this tea. If you’ve ever had a really good aged shou, I would challenge you to try this tea and see if you don’t have a new favorite by the end of the day. For 20 cents per gram, you really can’t beat the quality. This tea steeps for days. I think I gave up around 18 steeps. Everything in this tea is completely on point for me – fermentation, storage, and flavor. I can only think of two other great shous that rank up with this one. Maybe one day I’ll have a triple threat match with all three of them. As long as the old warrior doesn’t get me first.

2000 old warrior CLT wet leaf
That’s some beautiful leaf

Until the next cup.

2014 “Cloudy Days” – Crimson Lotus Tea

Overview

Today’s tea is the 2014 “Cloudy Days” from Crimson Lotus Tea. This tea was pressed and released in Spring 2016. Cloudy Days is a shou puerh (熟 – shou, 普洱 – puerh) that is pressed into 200g cakes.

The clouds are rolling in...
The clouds are rolling in…

I’ll be using a 8g chunk of this shou in a 100ml gaiwan. The dry leaf looks pretty delicious and smells rather sweet.

2016 cloudy days CLT dry leaf
Do I eat it or steep it?

Steeping

Rinse/Steep One – I did a quick rinse of about five seconds. As soon as the water hit the leaf, the tea gave off a delicious caramel scent. The tea didn’t really open with that short of a rinse, so I steeped the tea for 20 seconds. Big mistake… Although the tea carried a very strong caramel scent, it was also heavy on fermentation scent. The liquor was largely murky, which isn’t uncommon for me to see in a lot of younger shous. The taste of this longer steep was very heavy in fermentation taste (堆味 – dui wei; literally “pile taste” from the wo dui [渥堆 – wet pile] process).

Steep 1
Steep 1

Steeps Two through Four – After that steeping disaster, I went back to a 10-second steep for the second full steeping to limit the overwhelming fermentation taste of steep one. This tea is so good. Nutty and heavily earthy.

I kept steep three at 10 seconds and the tea produced a delicious sweetness. If you’ve ever had birch beer or taken a piece of bark off of a birch tree and chewed on it, you might have a flashback when you drink this tea.

Steep four is what I call the “heart of the session.” I’ll refer to that term a lot in my tasting notes, but it’s based on my theory that the fourth steep is usually the one that can tell you the most about the tea that you’re drinking. From the fourth steep of this tea, I get a thin viscosity, birch taste, sweetness, and a deep brown/red color.

Steep 4
Steep 4

Finishing the Session

For the rest of the session, I continued to get deliciously sweet shou. The flavor started to thin out around steep eight and continue to wane. This tea really needs to sit and rest for a while before it’ll be a great tea, so I’ll probably toss it in the pumidor and break it out in the winter for another session.

Wet leaf after the session
Wet leaf after the session

Final Thoughts

Overall, this is a delicious tea, but needs more time before developing into a better shou. It does have potential though, so I’ll most likely hang onto a cake of this tea and let it age and see how it compares in the future. For just 11 cents per gram of tea, this is a good buy, though not the cheapest shou; however, there are very few that compare in price for this quality.

Until the next cup.