Studying Pu’er – The Grand Sheng Pu’Er Tasting

The last few months the amount of Pu’er cakes in my tea stash is rapidly growing, but at the beginning of my tea addiction there was no Pu’er to be found in my house. It was a hard step-in tea for me and it took some time to appreciate the diversity and complexity in Pu’er tea. At one moment I decided I had to actively learn more about Pu’er, raw ones in particular, and I placed an order at Yunnan Sourcing, a great place to get a first taste of Pu’er as they offer lots of samples. Over the last period I tried these samples as a way of studying this type of tea and I made tasting notes that I want to share with you in this Grand Sheng Pu’Er Tasting piece.

2005 Mengku Wild Arbor ‘Zheng Shan Da Ye’
A 2005 spring tea to start with. It has earthy, tobacco notes with hints of spiced apricot. But it’s the mouthfeel that makes this tea interesting. The liquor is thick and sweet, but your tongue gets bitter, sour (citrus) and salty notes as well. It’s not my favorite, but it’s a pleasant, warm and soft tea for your regular Pu’er session and it is fairly priced (58 dollar for the cake, 6 for a 25 gram sample). (link)


2015 Hai Lang Hao ‘Gao Shan Chen Yu’ Yi Wu Shan
I loved this tea –  plucked in 2012, pressed three years later – and especially the third, fourth and fifth brew. It started off light but the delicate dried fruit aroma revealed what this tea was capable of. It was a fresh tea with a soft liquor and it turned a bit more savory and more spicy with every brew, with some nutmeg notes coming up in the back. The leaves were full and beautiful and I was surprised when I saw the pricetag after drinking this, 25 dollar for the whole cake. (link)


2015 Spring ‘Da Xue Shan’ Wild Arbor
This tea is all about the aftertaste for me. I haven’t had a young Pu’er with such a strong aftertaste yet. Even if I would eat a pound of blue cheese after drinking a cup of this young raw Pu’er I’m sure I would still taste the tea in all its glory in my mouth. When brewed for a short time, this tea has almost no bitterness in it. But it can turn quite quickly to a bitter and astringent brew, so steep carefully and it will give you back a lot of that yumyumdeliciousness. The best brews were just so powerful and overwhelming in delight. Sweet, fruity, citrusy, full-bodied and soft, with a bit of grassiness in it. Not much young Pu’er sharpness. It can be a difficult one to tame this one, but it’s worth the wrestle. (link)


2003 Tai Lin Yi Wu Mountain
The oldest in the order and only the thought that this tea was plucked about thirteen years ago makes this a special tea session already. It’s not too heavy which I like, because this way the more subtle notes become ‘tastable’. From brew one it reminds me of mushrooms with earthy and vegetal notes. In some brews, which were a little longer, it became spicy at the end and it left a bit of cardamom taste in the mouth. Some astringency but definitely not too much, as with the tobacco-ish notes: smoky but not too smoky. The liquor is thick, round and smooth. Nice balance after all. Now teadrunk. Out. (link)

Tea Leafster

2006 Guoyan High Mountain Yu Le Gu Shu
This Guoyan tea and me had a bit of a rough start. When opening the sample I discovered a huge hair sticking out of the piece, and when breaking open the cake I found 5 more tucked in between the pressed leaves. After a lot of UUUHL and YAIKS I googled on this phenomenon and read that it is more common, so I gave it a big rinse and forgot about the hairs. The aroma after rinsing was of ripe fruit, but the taste of the first few brews was more spicy and creamy mushroom. Totally autumn for me. It had the texture of a light broth.

As I hadn’t eaten yet before starting the tea session, I got a bit tea drunk too soon and I decided to get some rice out of the ricecooker and ate it with some eggs, spring onion and peanuts with chilipaste from the wok. After this quick meal the more ripe apricot notes with smoky tones came up in the tea, followed by the glorious comeback of the creamy mushroom. Somehow this tea works, it’s ripened but still young and perfectly balanced. Smooth with no big surprises, and definitely a perfect daily drinker for a fair price (30 dollars a cake). (link)

2009 Lao Ban Zhang Ancient Tree
Next on the tea tray: the Lao Ban Zhang 2009 from 400-500 year old tea trees. Now I’m no puhead as I said, but I know vaguely that this mountain is considered one of the best places for Pu’Er tea, and that the depth and minerally rich notes on ancient tea trees is considered as one of the best as well. So this one MUST be good.  The rinse was pretty overwhelming already, with a full ripeness peach and apricot aroma, but in the first brews that is not noticeable in the taste. Actually this was quite the slow starter, the first brews were pretty clear and bright in liquor and taste. In brew three there is a very sharp note to the tea, very spicy, and I taste hints of nutmeg and clove.

So throughout the whole session the liquor stays pretty thin, not a very thick soup. It must be one of the most compressed teas in this sample tasting as it took 8 brews for the chunks to completely fall apart in the tea, pretty incredible. So far: spicy, thin liquor, with the fruitiness coming up. But the most remarkable thing in this tea is the fire in it. My oh my. It puts you on alert and at the same time lets you wiggle wiggle. I think I know what they mean with a lot of Qi in a tea now. By the time your head spins like crazy, the tea sweetens up a lot and your throat is coated with a juicy, sweet, apricot peachy liquor.

Now tastewise this tea is definitely recommended with all those spicy fruity notes and the beautifully bright liquor. Value for money? Mwah. I wouldn’t spend a 170 dollars on a 250 gram cake of this particular tea. It’s just not that much more special than the cakes above, which can be picked up for 30, 40 dollars. (link)


2006 Lao Ban Zhang
We end on a high note as this Lao Ban Zhang enters the tea tray as the last tea in this tasting. Two LBZ in a row and what a difference! Before I go into details I have to say this is my favorite Pu’er so far. It’s just incredible how many things are going on in the brews and it is so, so good. So, aroma, just like the LBZ before, is very much like ripe fruit. Unlike the 2009, the 2006 actually tastes like that as well. From brew 1 it is very fruity, citrus fruit and apricots, and very sweet in combination with savory.

This tea has the perfect body texture. It is very thick and the taste stays in your throat for a long time. During the session all kinds of notes come up: the tea gets spicy, earthy, smoky, fruity, sweet and savory, at the same time or one by one. Two brews are never the same. There is some saltiness coming up once in a while, which is very pleasant in combination with the sweetness. No bitter notes at all. This is a tea in it’s prime. And it’s only 400 dollars a cake! (Kiddin’). About the ‘only’. Not the 400 dollars. It is, actually, 400 dollars. But then again, it’s so, so good. (link)


1. 2006 Lao Ban Zhang
2. 2015 Spring ‘Da Xue Shan’ Wild Arbor
3. 2003 Tai Lin Yi Wu Mountain
4. 2015 Hai Lang Hao ‘Gao Shan Chen Yu’ Yi Wu Shan
5. 2009 Lao Ban Zhang Ancient Tree
6. 2006 Guoyan High Mountain Yu Le Gu Shu
7. 2005 Mengku Wild Arbor ‘Zheng Shan Da Ye’

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