The Mengsong black tea and puerh tea pairing arrived to White2Tea monthly subscribers this past month of June. Both teasing members and tempting non-members, White2Tea announced the contents of the monthly package a few days before they shipped out: "tea club sneak preview - identical material from Mengsong, processed in two different styles; one black tea and one Puer. Two mini cakes! There is still time to join, don’t delay!"
I've been an on-and-off member of the W2T tea club, mostly going off the club because my stash was too full one or two months, though I always end up regretting (like when I missed the big mix of black teas a few months ago... damn). Well, ain't no way I was letting this duo of cakes pass me by.
I've had a few sessions with both, and both teas are great and have great longevity. For the sake of brevity in this post, I'll only be doing three steepings of each, though rest assured both can go substantially longer.
The dry black tea cake is beautiful with dark black and bright golden buds and leaves tightly intertwined. This obviously fresh puerh cake is also gorgeous with spindly buds and leaves more loosely wrapped around one another. Fruited and dark malted fragrances pour off the black tea cake, while a light, fresh, musky and buttery green tea-like aroma emerges from the puerh cake.
Rinse and Steep #1
Rinsing the puerh, the musky and buttery elements intensify while a gentle floral aroma creeps in. This is a freshly pressed tea, and the aroma backs that up. Very pleasant and light with no harsh edges. The first 7s steep is super smooth with a gentle sweet tone dominating. I almost want to liken the sweet tone to fruit, but its not quite explicitly fruity in the way that other types of tea can be. A fresh grassy character not dissimilar to Long Jing tea creeps in from behind. This tea is void of bitterness. The body is substantial but not oily nor particularly thick.
Rinsing the black tea, a dark dried fruit essence intertwines with a burly dian hong malty character to create a very attractive aroma. This fruity component reminds me of an old tree leafy Yunnan black tea (e.g. Mu Shu Hong Cha / Jing Gu Old Arbor from Yunnan Sourcing) or a mildy aged Yue Guang Bai white tea. The aroma is very rich and clean, which is wonderful considering some darker style dian hong teas can get a bit rough. The first 10s brew is bright and sweet with fruity dian hong retronasal aroma and hints of honey. This is a lighter bodied dark golden dian hong, at least in this first infusion. This is to my particular taste. The wet leaf aroma after the first infusion is beautifully pungent.
A second steep of the puerh (10s) brings roasted corn/popcorn fragrances from the tea leaves. A pungent smell that reminds me of fresh linens, flowers, and sweet grass sweeps in as the leaves cool down a bit. The green-tinged golden brew is coating this time around, and carries a bit of mineral flavor to it. The flavor is much less grassy, pushing the mineral and roasted corn retronasal aromas. There is a tiny amount of dryness to this brew, but still is very smooth. The bottom of the empty cup smells pungently of musky sweetness; beautiful!
Steeping the black tea a second time (10s), the malty/burly side of the dian hong character begins to dominate, with the fruited tones taking a back seat. The brew is a bit darker brown now, and the flavor is much more complex. Malt, dried fruit, honey, peppery spice, and leathery tones mix to create a complexly unified flavor and aroma.
Steep #3 and Final Thoughts
The aromatics on the puerh are quite dynamic, changing significantly depending on the temperature of the leaves. Right after brewing, the buttery corn green tea notes dominate, while the cooled leaves, after sitting a bit, prominently emit sweet floral grassy fragrance. A third steep at 15s pushes a bit of astringency out of the tea. Its not obtrusive, more like an interesting tingle on the tongue as you're sipping. This tea is very light and fresh in the mouth. It will be interesting to see how this evolves as it dries and starts to age. It still tastes great now, though.
Deep, sugary, and complex, this Mengsong black tea is pretty awesome. The deep character builds on this tea over the first couple of steeps as the chunks of tea unravel and release their inky goodness. My third 15s steep was sweet, complex, and even deeper-toned than the second. There are aromatic aspects throughout the steeps that remind me of certain Taiwanese black and oolong teas, most specifically the complex sweet/fruit notes. This is quite a unique and clean dian hong.
Overall this was a very pleasing package from White2Tea. I think the idea generally is just awesome, providing two processings of the same tea material. The processing made picking up on similarities between the two teas somewhat difficult, but there is definitely something that marries these teas... in particular, the "peak" sweet aroma of both teas hit the nose in the same way, despite going in different aromatic directions otherwise. The black tea was also interesting because it furthered proved to me the breadth of flavors and aromas that can show up in dian hong teas.