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.

2016 “Alter Ego” Huangpian – Bitterleaf Teas

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.

Swiped from www.bitterleafteas.com
Swiped from www.bitterleafteas.com

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!

Big leaves, lots of stems
Big leaves, lots of stems

Steeping

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.

Just starting to open up
Just starting to open up

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.

Thick and viscous
Thick and viscous

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.

You can see the yellowing of some of these leaves
You can see the yellowing of some of these leaves

Until the next cup.

2006 “Mad King” Banzhang – Bitterleaf Teas

Today’s tea is a new release from Bitterleaf Teas, but has been around for quite some time. This is the 2006 “Mad King” Banzhang sheng puerh. Banzhang (班章) is a growing area in Bulangshan (布朗山) that is known for high quality teas. Since 2007, the area of Banzhang has delineation between Lao (老 – literally “old”) and Xin (新 – literally “new”) Banzhang, based on the age of the trees therein.

Swiped from www.bitterleafteas.com
Swiped from www.bitterleafteas.com

Mad King is a 2006 Banzhang sheng puerh (生 – sheng, 普洱 – puerh) which is pressed into a 357 gram disk shape (餅 – bing; literally “cake”). The dry leaf has a nice, sharp scent and it seems the compression of the bing is pretty tight (or at least it was for my sample).

Dry, leafy goodness
Dry, leafy goodness

Steeping

Due to the higher compression, I did a longer, ten-second rinse, which didn’t really reveal anything about the tea besides some residual astringency (涩味se wei; literally “astringent taste”). The first full steep was also for ten seconds. This steep gave me some bitterness (苦味ku wei; literally “bitter taste”) on the side of the tongue; however, the steep finishes with a cooling sensation and some minor floral notes.

Steep 1
Steep One

Steeps Two through Five – Steep two, also for ten seconds since the leaves loosened up, yielded a brilliant orange/gold color. There was plenty of bitterness and astringency, but balanced with a nice sweetness (回甜 – huigan; literally “sweet return”). Also noted in the steep are smoke, wood, and tobacco notes. I’m also impressed that there is such a great tea energy (茶气 – cha qi), even in this early steep. By steep four, the tea develops some stone fruit notes and builds on the sweetness. Steep five, for 20 seconds, continues to develop the sweetness and, at this point, the bitterness is dying down quite noticeably.

Stone fruit, wood, and a little smoke
Stone fruit, wood, and a little smoke

Finishing the session

As the session continues, the bitterness and astringency both fade into sweet, powerful notes. The energy of this tea is great, which is fantastic for leaf that is being marketed as qiaomu (乔木 – qiaomu; literally “tall tree” or “arbor”). Unfortunately, there are only a handful of cakes of this tea available, so if you want one, head on over to Bitterleaf Teas’ site and check out before I do.

Good for 12-15 steeps
Good for 12-15 steeps

Until the next cup.

2016 “Secret Garden” – Bitterleaf Teas

Bitterleaf Teas is a relatively new puerh vendor that has been making quite a splash on social media. In fact, until I kept seeing everyone else’s posts about this company, I didn’t even know it existed! With that being said, I did what any other sane puerh addict would do – bought some tea. The tea for today is the 2016 “Secret Garden” which is a sheng puerh (生 – sheng, 普洱 – puerh) pressed into a 200 gram disk shape (餅 – bing; literally “cake”).

So much color
So much color

Bitterleaf states that this tea is from an area just outside of Yiwu and is made from “old tree (100+ year) material.” In a broad definition, that would make this tea gushu (树 – gushu; literally “ancient tree”).

Note on tea tree age: There are a few mixed opinions on what are the different age ranges for tea trees. There are three general ranges:

  • xiaoshu (小树 – xiaoshu; literally “young tree”) – less than 20 years old; cultivated tree
  • qiaomu (乔木 – qiaomu; literally “tall tree” or “arbor”) – more than 20, but less than 80 years old; non-cultivated tree
  • gushu/dashu (古树 – gushu; literally “ancient tree”/大树 – dashu; literally “big tree”) – more than 80 years old

Buyer warning: Buying from unknown vendors or companies that don’t source their own tea may list things as “gushu” when they really aren’t. It might even be marked “gushu” on the wrapper! That doesn’t really apply here, but it’s a helpful tip when shopping around.

Gaiwan'd up and ready to go
Gaiwan’d up and ready to go

Steeping

The flash rinse is a very light peach color and has an interesting pear note. The leaf smells slightly vegetal, but not as much as other young shengs such as the 2016 “Whispering Sunshine” from Crimson Lotus Tea. The first full steep has a much fuller flavor with crisp apple notes and a slight floral aroma. I can feel the energy in my head, but that might also be because I’m drinking young sheng on an empty stomach…

Just getting started...
Just getting started…

Steeps Two through Four

There’s a beautiful depth to this tea even in the early steeps. Sweetness is subduing a mild bitterness across the tongue. There’s also a very nice throat-feel (喉韵 – houyun; literally “throat charm”) that lingers for quite some time. Building through the steeps to the heart of the session, there is more of the floral bitterness followed by a nice sweetness (回甜 – huigan; literally “sweet return”). There is some slight tea energy (茶气 – cha qi), which is more typical of older tree material.

Great mouthfeel and flavor
Great mouthfeel and flavor

Steeps Five through Eight

Through the rest of the session and as the steeps get longer, the bitter characteristics wane and reveal a floral, sweet, wood profile. There is still some crisp fruit flavors as secondary notes. After the steeps get to a minute long, the sweet floral notes are the dominating characteristics of the tea.

I need a snack now...
I need a snack now…

Finishing the Session

This tea is characteristic, to me, of one that will get better with age. While you could drink it all now, the bitterness will fade with age and the lingering qi will grow. I think that this could be a special tea in 15 years, but who knows if it’ll be gone by then. I guess the best thing to do is to throw it in the back of the pumidor and wait.. and wait… and wait.

Until the next cup.