I was excited to see this puerh-style cake when it was posted to What-Cha. First of all, its a dark tea from Thailand made in the style of Yunnan puerh. Beyond that, though, I was intrigued by the "charcoal aroma" description, which I typically associate with Wuyi rock oolongs. I'm not a huge fan of smokiness in puerh, but the idea of charcoal roast in a semi-aged raw-style tea definitely piqued my interest. I was also drawn to this tea because it was originally sourced [Edit: 18/19/2016] by Thomas Kasper who wrote of the journey to source the tea here, after which Petr Sic, who has obtained a few other interesting teas for What-Cha, purchased 4 kilos of the tea and pressed it specifically for What-Cha. It took me some time, but I finally made a purchase and tossed this cake in with my order.
This tea was aged in maocha form until this year, 2016, so its had 5 years to mellow out and age. The cake was apparently pressed by Petr Sic in a "pressing factory" in the Czech Republic. The cake is interesting in appearance. While pressed in a bingcha form, the bing hole is actually more like the stem of a mushroom-style cake. Moreover, the compression ranges from very loose around the edges to very compact in the central portion. It was easy to get into with my pick, but broke off in highly compressed sheet-like chunks. This was not an issue at all, just more of an observation, as its quite different from other puerh cakes, big and small, that I've obtained.
The dry cake smells nice, with a slight dry-stored aroma that is a tiny bit spicy. No obvious charcoal or smoke aroma. I gave this tea a quick rinse, and was met initially with a mushroom-like fragrance in the steam, but the now-wet leaves smell attractive with an incense-like dry-stored aroma; its quite clean and smells like it has more age on it than I'd expect (I'm assuming due to the storage as maocha). I'm a big fan of raw tea with character like this, so I'm quite happy with this first impression.
Due to the compressed nature of some of the bits, I gave this a second rinse. The rinse itself is mostly yellow with a golden tint. Still no smoke, which I'm very happy about. Any charcoal aroma is well integrated into the aged character of this tea, which strikes me as clean and approachable. There is a tiny sour smell of a tea in its in-between stage but it is in no way dominant.
The first steep was around 7 seconds. Somehow the roast aroma is more apparent to me now, but its not the off-putting cigarette smoke aroma of a poorly processed puerh, but rather an interesting feature of this tea.The sourness has also disappeared off the leaf aroma. The brew is now a deep golden color, and the liquid's aroma is slightly like mushroom broth. The flavor is quite surprising! Its very mellow, very smooth, slightly sweet and just a tad astringent with zero sourness. There's some spice-like tones as well as a very faint smoky character. The brew is not very thick or coating, but very pleasant to sip, and leaves the palate feeling clean while also leaving behind the pleasant spice-like retronasal aroma.
The second steep evolves slightly: sweet mushroom broth liquor aroma with a dominant sweet flavor with astringent vegetal notes complemented by a rounded roast character. The brew has also slightly thickened. There's a bit of tobacco-like qualities (not smoke, mind you, but the smell of cured tobacco) but without any of the intensity. The reserved nature of this tea is really what makes it work for me.
The compression allows this tea to open up gradually over the first 7 or so steeps, allowing the reserved strength of the tea to remain fairly constant, and in some ways increasing in intensity despite the fact that I kept my brew times consistent at 10s. The liquor is now a deep brown-tinted golden color. The compression makes itself even more obvious as the leaves expand dramatically. The 6.5g I used in my 100mL gaiwan started by taking up barely any of the gaiwan volume, and now they've expanded to fill it completely. I also get more smoke as this goes through about steep four, and then starts backing off and showing more of the young sheng-like qualities in terms of astringency and vegetal character. The qi is sneaking up on me, and I'm noticing a high-frequency vibration throughout my body. Might need to slow down a bit...
I took several steeps that gently declined in intensity. Interestingly, the characteristic vegetal sheng character that younger puerh generally evolves into as it steeps out had a somewhat softened tone to it that reminds me of the last steeps of a Wuyi oolong. Mind you, they tasted of sheng, but there was certainly something there, perhaps a mineral-like character, that was reminiscent. These were my favorite steeps (from 7 - 14) as they were more mild, and the leaf character showed through much more than the storage and processing, and I stretched them out over my evening with pleasant sips every hour or so.
Despite the many (short) steeps I performed, I had to give in to this tea before it was done. Indeed this is quite strong! It is definitely a unique tea to have around, and should be interesting to see how it evolves with a few more years on it. The aged character is quite promising, and while not a superstar hyperclean aged tea like a $300 Yiwu sheng, its a strong tea with a unique character that is special and fits into a collection quite nicely. Xiaguan fans might like this and find it mellow, while non-smoky tea fans might like this as an infrequent jaunt into the more intense and just slightly smoky side of raw puerh-like tea.