Another review today of another new Bitterleaf Teas production. This tea is the 2016 “Alter Ego” huangpian sheng puerh. 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. These leaves are usually the 4th and 5th leaves, much older and larger. Good news for puerh drinkers – that means it’s also cheaper.
Alter Ego is a sheng puerh (生 – sheng, 普洱 – puerh) pressed into a 250g brick shape (砖茶 – zhuancha; literally “tea brick”). Obviously, the leaves are large and imperfect.
Note about compression and shape: I’m not a fan of the zhuancha for a few reasons. One, bricks are typically tightly compressed which makes them hard to pry apart without breaking a lot of leaves. Two, this tight compression slows the aging of the tea, especially the tea in the center of the brick. Three, they’re just so hard to re-wrap!
Bitterleaf recommends a five-second rinse and a five-second first steep. I respectfully disagree with this. I rinsed for about 20 seconds to get the brick to open up. Sure, if you broke up the brick into smaller pieces, use less time, but if you have a solid chunk of leaf, brew it longer at the beginning until it opens up. The rinse and first steep are light and sweet, creamy in texture.
Steeps Two through Five – I smelled the wet leaves at this point. I was kind of shocked to get a notable camphor/menthol tobacco scent, which I don’t normally find in younger sheng, let alone huangpian. Camphor (樟 – zhang) is sometimes present in puerh from older trees. Most notably, the scent/taste comes from the camphor laurels planted in/near the tea gardens.
In steep three, the camphor taste comes through a little more. The tea is starting to hit me hard in energy (茶气 – cha qi). I’m also getting a soft bitterness on the back on my tongue. The tea is also starting to have a great throat feeling (喉韵 – hou yun; literally “throat charm”). Through steeps four and five, the same great feelings persist and there’s a wood-like note that’s also creeping up.
Finishing the Session
This tea is pretty amazing for huangpian. If you’ve had huangpian before, you’ll know that the leaves will steep for quite some time. The general taste of huangpian is sweeter due to the larger, older leaves that have lost some of the punch that younger leaves have. The viscosity of the tea is nice and heavy, which is evidence of the age of the material. Even getting up through steep ten, there’s great energy in this tea. For a bargain basement price of $0.10/g, it’s worth grabbing at least a sample to experience for yourself.
Until the next cup.