Thursday, July 05, 2012

July Fourth Tea - 05 Yiwu Bamboo

Early in my buying days, I tended to be attracted to the novelty subgenre of puerh- stuffed pomelos, stuffed bamboos and their ilk.  Was it subpar tea made more palatable and marketable by a gimmick like the strawberry papaya popcorn white tea or are these fringe pu-erhs something unique to be treasured?

This here fat tube of bamboo stuffed sheng was advertised as 2005 Yi Wu Mountain Bamboo. The processing is similar to the "Dai Tribe" sheng that YS sells where maocha is steam stuffed into giant bamboo stalks and roasted vertically in small fire pits. The final tea is dried for a few days, then removed from the charred stalks and repackaged into bamboo husks. Despite this trial by fire, the tea has no smoky smell and you have to squint to spot the very few black dots as evidence of the charring.  (Makes you wonder how HLH can get so many crisp burnt edges on such expensive cakes.)

Unlike my other thinner Xiang Zhu stuffed examples where the leaves are more forcefully jammed and crammed in, I can tell a more careful loving hand-stuffing was practiced. (Perhaps the compression style varies by the stuffer's personality. )  I can easily pry out a nice chunk just by wiggling a long stem.  My mouth waters looking at such full and dark furry leaves. I  have the rare pleasure of easily removing sections to see that the aging on the outside of the tube is noticeably different (darker more matte and dry) from the golden sheen of leaves inside.  I really should be preparing my cheese and fruit platter for the neighborhood Fourth of July BBQ potluck but instead here I am sniffing and brewing.  There is something ridiculous about writing a blog about a tea that you can't drink. It's like a lactose intolerant Asian keeping a blog about milkshakes. (Actually that was me...)

I call my closest surrogate tastebuds into action. The husband is really into it. He digs the mineral seaweed profiles likening it to oysters.  Is this the subtle aromatics described most commonly as "unique" from being steamed in a bamboo?  I hazard only a few sips. It's a mildly rough concoction, subsequent brews taste stimulating and drying at the same time.  I doubt it really is Yiwu for $13 per half a kilo but it's an enjoyable afternoon session. 

I pop out to my bamboo patch and cut a few stalks to get a whiff of the bamboo smell.    My common bamboo (a poor poor cousin to the Yunnan aromatic bamboo) smells quite unremarkable like fresh cut grass.  Koreans had a fad of products made from salt stuffed in bamboo by Buddhist monks.  The Korean bamboo toothpaste was altogether reprehensible.  The bamboo bath salt left a weird film requiring a thorough shower afterwards.  Super expensive fragrant bamboo rice was a culinary disappointment.  I would normally recommend against gimmicky bamboo products but this bamboo stuffed tea is a fun diversion to the more civilized paper wrapped sheng experience and the husband likes the flavor profile to boot!

The leaves are unexpectedly lovely due to the long stems and you can see plenty of buds. The brew doesn't reflect a woodiness in the taste and is lighter and more refreshing than expected- probably due to autumn leaves.  I may even try to get the Dai version to compare- I had bought this particular batch even though Scott was selling the Dai version even back then because the Dai version looked gnarlier with older leaves. 

I had planned to drink the more thematically authentic "Hyson" green tea to celebrate July Fourth.  For those who haven't watched Indepenence Day starring Will Smith- July Fourth is when we celebrate our break from our greedy British overlords.   I was explaining this holiday to my colleague in the London satellite office.  He promptly switched this most sensitive topic to the Queen's Jubilee.    It's an oft spoken truism that the British turned Americans into a nation of coffee drinkers with unsustainable taxation.  Tea probably will never overturn coffee's favored status here but for those like me who are entirely hooked on Chinese tea, I am ever grateful I even have access to these weird fringe varieties of pu-erh. 

1 comment:

  1. I also really enjoyed the 2003 Dai Tribe from YS. I think the bamboo gives it a sweetness that balances with the teas strength. It is very refreshing.