A couple of weeks ago, me and a couple of tea friend I made online went and bought semi-aged Xiaguan recipe cake that we split. We obtained them through John at King Tea Mall. The objective of the group was to discuss about our tasting notes, and how the teas differed from one another given they were from the same year, and store similarly.. Here is my first article in a series of five. I am glad to be back in the tea blog game.
The first tea I tried and took notes about was the 2005 Xiaguan 8613, dry stored in Guangzhou city. The number in the recipe means the following : 86 = the year the recipe was developed / 1 = the grade / size of tea leaves that were used (grade does not equal quality) / 3 = Factory identification.
I used about 7 grams of leaves for a 100 ml glazed gaiwan, and brewed the tea with boiling water. The first few infusions were short, but I made sure to push the tea later on.
The dry leaves
At first glance, the dry leaves don’t seem very chopped. They look like well structured leaves with golden buds. Mostly, the leaves were brown, which shows signs of aging. As far as the smell goes, the tea showed up a slight smokiness, with a slight woody background that reminded me of fresh cut pinewood. To me, it smelled like dried up grass, with a slight camphorous note. The leaves also showed off a fragrant note, which reminded me of chinese incense. Maybe this was developed when it was exposed to smells during storage. I don’t really know, and it’s a smell that I have yet to come across when it comes to semi-aged shengs.
The wet leaves
After a quick rinse, the smell of the leaves got really intense, giving off a strong smoky and camphorous note, with a very woody and leathery smell. The aroma filled the whole room up pretty quickly. Amazing how such a small quantity of tea can give of so much aroma at once. The leaves were pretty much broken up. Two factors can explain this. Number one, big factories often chop up the material that is put into cakes, to make a more consistent product. Second one, is that the cake was very tightly pressed, and leaves were hard to pry off without breaking them too much.
The tea liquor
All around, the tea soup showed off a gold-ish brown color, that progressively got darker and darker.
- Infusion #1 was 15 seconds long. Right off the bat, the tea was smoky and woody, but it was on the lighter side of things. The leathery and woody notes come from storage I think. The storage notes really come through in the first brew, and stay with the tea for a long time until they tone down. For this brew, not very much bitterness or astringency is detected. The finish is a bit dry, and lingers in the mouth after drinking. It also cooled the mouth when I breathe in. The texture was fairly thick, but on the drier side.
- Infusion #2 was 15 seconds long. It was very woody and smoky upfront. I once heard Denny on Tea DB talk about a pencil shaving note. I think it applies in this case, as weird as it may sound. The texture definitely got thicker, but still as dry, if not more as before. It had a spicy finish, which I associate to menthol given its cooling effect in the mouth. I also got a incense aroma, which I talked about before. The astringency made itself shown, it dried up the mouth quite a bit. But there was almost no bitterness in the brew.
- Infusion #3 was 20 seconds long. On this one, the smokiness really toned down, giving all of the space for the resinous woodiness and the leatheriness to shine through. The astringency is really present on this one. It dries the mouth and lingers for a long time after the cup is finished. The spicyness starts to pick up traction, especially in the finish, cooling the mouth alongside with drying it due to the astringency.
- Infusion #4 was 30 seconds long. I wanted to push the tea to see what comes out of it. Up front, it was very resinous and leathery. These characteristics pretty much stayed all session long. I describe it as the backbone of the tea. The liquor was very thick and dry, given the astringency. The finish was very long, lingering in the mouth for long minutes after drinking. At this point, the smokiness is still there, but very well hidden in the background.
- Infusion #5 was 45 seconds long. I did it not only to taste, but to see how it evolved past the most complex steeps. This one was a let down in terms of complexity, but was still very tasty. I could see it going way more infusions than five. It’s still woody, leathery and a bit spicy, but mostly astringent, which I think hides the other flavors, or at least distract from them. The finish is still long, and the texture is still very thick.
For me, this tea offers a calming Qi, not as intense a young sheng, but not as calming as an old shou. It was meditative, and I could surely take a big nap after this session without any problem. I could see it being drank before bed or when stressed out.
Overall, I think this tea is a great semi-aged factory sheng to drink on the daily, considering its affordable price. If you don’t mind the astringency that is. I find it good, but would not bother buying a full cake for now. Semi-aged shengs keep evolving. Maybe in 10 years, I will like it, who knows really. While this tea is interesting, I think it deserves more age, maybe a couple of years to grow its complexity and tone down the astringency. I would actually be willing to buy one and age it though, just as an experiment.
Or just throw it in Hong Kong for two years.