04 April, 2008

1999 Sunsing Shengpu

I recently wrote about a recent tea conversion that took place during one of my meetings, when Dr. Important enjoyed the 1990s Tibetan heicha generously provided by MYSTERIELLA. If you will indulge me, I'd like to recount the brief story of a less successful encounter.

Dr. Important is, as noted previously, Very Important in my field (limited though my experience is). Yesterday we had meetings with one of his bosses, Prof. Important. Research projects, even research departments, have been known to live or die depending on Prof. Important's whim.

One of my colleagues had just finished presenting his research to Prof. Important, who was leaning back in his chair with a thunderous brow, keeping silent. Discussion about the 1.5-year-long research project concluded, and someone deferentially asked the opinion of Prof. Important.

"I see no value in this research, and have said so from the beginning."

Uneasy silence. My colleague, all credit to him, looks stoic and unperturbed. Someone breaks the silence with a joke, and we move on.

"What's that tea you've got there?", he says, as I hastily whip out a few leaves of the 2007 Xingrenxiang [almond scent] dancong from Tea Habitat. I am obliged to refill the large teapot in the centre of the table, and add the remainder of the packet of tea.

It's my turn to present research.

Prof. Important: "This drink tastes foul, would you like to finish it?"

He then turns, scowling, to regard my slides.

Not the best tea conversion one could hope for, I think you'll agree - then again, he did seem to be happy to drink Assam that had been brewing for some 20 minutes.

(I am relieved to say that he seemed to like my work more than he liked the tea, which I consider a blessedly narrow escape.)

Torment over, we celebrate with some 1999 Sunsing shengpu, most kindly provided by a much more pleasant professor, GA - many thanks!

Sunsing have some fine teas. This one is made from small leaves, which have darkened through the years. There is a sweet shicang [wet storehouse] aroma that I enjoy - I don't have much shicang tea, so it's a real treat when I come across some.

Some of these leaves have pure white markings - is it paint? Guano? Nothing that boiling water can't sort out, so into the pot they go...

The wenxiangbei bodes well: the aroma is long in duration, and has a complex, malty background behind the familiar shicang scent.

It is a very "crisp" tea, with no muddiness of flavour - this is particularly impressive given its storage. It is approaching the sweet, sweet sandalwood character of matured pu'er, but retains some of its youthful bitterness and acidity. I am secretly glad, because I yearn for the bitterness and acidity of young shengpu. The maturing of tea is a fine thing (and I am enjoying watching our own tea gradually change), but the process definitely removes a certain something from the tea that I otherwise find very pleasant. This is counter to received wisdom, but it's the reason that causes me to enjoy young shengpu each day.

The colour of the soup rapidly fades up to its meniscus, which reminds me of the old adage that they repeat at wine-tasting events, where mature wines will similarly exhibit a strong colour in the main body, while becoming translucent long before the meniscus. I bet the two are analogues, given that both describe the maturing of "brew".

The body of the tea is gloopy - a fine consistency which easily forms large bubbles. It adheres to the roof of the mouth, and makes me feel as if there is something substantial in the cup - a property I look for in good tea. It's all about finding a tea with "lots in the cup", I reckon*.

Many thanks again to GV for this fine tea. Later infusions take on a vanilla character, which is lovely indeed. What a great end to a hard day.

*This train of thought reminds me of a study described in a research paper, published by a Chinese institution, in which they describe the role of various compounds within a tea. They suggest looking for teas which are high in these compounds in order to provide maximum contribution to the character of the tea. The reference eludes me at the moment, but I'll try and dig it up. I found it correspondent with the notion of looking for teas with "lots in the cup".


Anonymous said...

Sounds lovely.
I'm with you on the slightly sacreligious thoughts about older sheng - the more I try (and generally really enjoy)the more I slightly miss the different complexity and bolshyness of young sheng.
We can have our cake and eat it though - and drink both.

nada said...


I can feel your pain at having to sacrifice the last of your special dan cong to such an unappreciative palate. I occasionally have this dilemma when introducing new teas to friends - do I try to show them how good tea can really be, only to have them appreciate it as much as a mug of Tetley, or do I brew something less special which they will probably appreciate just as much? I haven't come to a conclusion, and there probably isn't one... I guess we just judge each situation as it arises.

(btw. if you have a taste for the shicang flavour, you'll enjoy a trip to Sunsing, there's very little of any age there without it)

Hobbes said...

Dear Lethargus,

Agreed, let's have it all ways. :)

I seem to be really enjoying finding those teas that are just about changing into a more mature tea - maybe around 8-10 years old. Tasty.

Dear Nada,

Sunsing sounds great - I'd love to watch people who know what they're doing at the tea-table, and drink the results!

I hope that everything is well in China for you. Lei was asking after you. :)



nada said...

Dear Hobbes,

Unfortunately, while having many great teas there, I was a little shocked while watching the preparation of the teas at Sunsing. I make no claims at brewing tea well myself, but my mouth fell open when the assistant, not content with just separating the leaves, proceeded to tear them into something close to tea dust. Not surprisingly the result was a bitter brew, and I was left unsure how much of this was a characteristic I could expect from the tea itself, and how much was just the result of the brewing methods.

Despite this, I'd say Sunsing is definitely worth a visit, and is a nice place to relax from the hubbub of Hong Kong.

China's going great, I've decided to stay in Kunming for a couple of months and learn some Mandarin. The people are great, but the city's not so picturesque as may be inferred by my lack of blog posts.

Scott from YS has been showing me around, he's a nice guy and it's been very interesting to hear his take on different aspects of puerh... what makes a good/bad one, what the crazy market is doing, different processing methods etc. etc.

Expect more on the blog coming soon - the 3rd Kunming World Puerh Tea Expo next week and some pics from Kunming Tea Market... I've never imagined so much puerh in my life!

(& please send my love to Lei)


Hobbes said...

Dear Nada,

Lei has been saying the same about Kunming, and made approving sounds when I described your thoughts on it. We're both looking forward to seeing your photos of the city, though, and those of the Expo - fortuitous timing, as ever. :)



Zachary said...

Did you manage to turn up that reference, Hobbes? I'm curious about it, if only to get a peek at what's going on in the cup behind all the subjectivity of tasting.

Too bad about Professor Important, but he did make for an entertaining post.

Hobbes said...

Dear Zachary,

Which reference, sorry? :)



Zachary said...

The "research paper, published by a Chinese institution" mentioned in the asterisked footnote.