These tasting notes will be initially anonymised to "A", "B", and "C" according to the samples, and updated to the actual names of the shupu once everyone has finished their tasting, and returned their notes to me. I shall summarise the notes of the various entrants in a separate article, once all have been received.
Response for these three shupu samples has been largely negative-to-average so far, and so I'm keen to find out for myself - attempting to remain unprejudiced and fair.
The method for each is identical:
Caledonian Springs @ 100C in 15cl shupu pot; ~5g leaf; 2 rinses
A tiny insect crawled out of this sample as I poured the leaves into the chahe - a tiny mite.
Eyebrows raised, I consider the leaves - as you can see, they're quite unorthodox, being big and flat, and almost rolled. The aroma is damp and sweet, like old water. Alarms bells are ringing. I chuckle aloud as I remember an e-mail from a particular taster, who shall remain nameless, wondering if this tea was safe for consumption. The insect certainly thought so, at least.
15s, 20s, 25s:
No aroma in the wenxiangbei, just warm air - not a great sign. The leaves in the pot smell of mould-spore. This is, similarly, a bad omen. Almost no flavour exists in the first infusion, with some damp fustiness in the nose.
The second infusion yields an aroma that brings to mind souring dairy products. The body flavour is almost entirely absent, finishing with an aftertaste that is so sour I wonder if I have accidentally ingested hairspray or air-freshener. The texture is smooth, but crashes headlong into that revolting aftertaste.
The agonising aftertaste lingers in the mouth for several minutes, and even polluted my attempts to enjoy a snack afterwards.
Generally whole, in a range of sizes, with quite a few unfermented leaves. Plus, a tea fruit - as shown in the left of the photograph!
This tea gives me the impression, from its dampness and "offness", that it was left wet for too long in the factory, without proper insulation to promote the composting/fermentation process. I am trying hard to remove the unpleasant aftertaste from clinging to my cheeks and throat. This tea is sincerely and genuinely offensive.
Decent. Dark, with some chocolate-hued tips, with plenty of smaller leaves used. There are many bright white flecks on the leaves, indicating excessive dampness - I rely on the double-rinse to neutralise the unfriendly components.
15s, 15s, 20s:
Almost fishy in the lid- and leaf-scent. Sticky-sweet aroma, which is absolutely constant and unbudging throughout the infusions. No real chaqi, with a tangy finish - or is that the enduring curse of Sample A?
This tea stays steady as a rock, with its mild, sweet flavour and absence of chayun [sensation]. It feels as if there is little to examine here. The colour is pleasant, at least.
2-3cm segments of twisted leaves, with some smaller, greener leaves.
A constant body taste of sweetness, but almost nothing else - no chayun, no chaqi, no patience, no presence in the nose. Restaurant tea.
Tiny little curls, with a lot of tips visible - as you can see. A quiet, sweet aroma is detectable.
15s, 15s, 25s, 40s:
The soup is a smooth orange with a green-yellow rim, usually seen in tippy hongcha - I suppose that the tips are providing a similar effect here. There is a tang, as if not entirely fermented.
Rather one-dimensional in its standard shupu flavour, and yet there is something of note here: the chaqi flushes my ears and neck, and brings perspiration to my forehead. The soup is effervescent on my tongue, and noticeably cooling (perhaps from the greener leaves observed earlier). The whole tea feels average in the flavour, and yet something greater in the sensations experienced.
Tiny little choppings of small leaves and tips, which explains its refusal to provide flavour past the third infusion. A pleasant aroma of dates and prunes is about the wet leaves.
It is as if one reads three essays, all rushed and average in their immediate quality, and yet one shows sign of a greater potential, a certain quality that makes its author seem more capable than the offering provided.
This tea is that latter essay - it is not above average, and yet it has markings of quality that could be developed by a canny producer. I feel rather favourably inclined to this tea, as to a bad student in whom one can see shining intelligence and a vivid enthusiasm.