This is an archived copy of a post that originally appeared on Cha Xi Collective.
Ruby red infusion. A salty, sweet taste almost like strawberries. I was getting worried because when I unwrapped the cake the edges were beginning to fall apart.
I thought at first perhaps it was a poor cake that I had gotten (although I had tasted it in Kunming). The edges of the Bing pulled apart easily at my touch, not needing a pick of any kind, but the appearance of the leaves, inside and out, was beautiful and without any obvious discoloration. The aroma was what I’d expect from a well-aged Shou puer.
The flavor is excellent. Mellow and soft compared to younger or lower-quality cakes, with a developing richness that I can’t wait to try as it continues to mature.
I bought a good deal of 2005 shou puer in Yunnan, which was mostly coincidence, but I guess it was a good year (for my taste, anyway). This bing I found in one of the massive tea markets in Kunming: great sprawling outdoor three-storied shopping centers. They were generally pretty overwhelming, especially in view of my very limited Chinese. Basically I would look for a proprietor who looked friendly and then go in for some tasting.
This Six Famous Mountains shop was being run by an older woman and her daughter. They didn’t speak any English, so we muddled through a conversation in bits of Chinese. Luckily tea is a language in which we are well versed. After sampling a few bings, sheng and shou, I decided on this one for its uniquely rich character while my friends both bought some similarly aged shengs. I think it may even be better now after riding around in my bag for a month.
For this Cha Xi, I infused the puer in a Jian Shui pot that I purchased during the first week of my travels in Kunming. A very kind friend of one of our tea suppliers in the area brought us to the unveiling of a tea and teaware expo that was about to open on the other side of the city. It wasn’t easy to get in, as most of the vendors hadn’t set up yet and the (somewhat bored-looking) security guards at the entrance were very strict about who was allowed through.
Fortunately for us, our connection paid off and we were rewarded with a tour through the half-finished stalls of the expo. We were mainly there for pottery, and we saw some great examples of celedon and yixing ware, but our main interest was this type of clay we had only heard about before, the local alternative to yixing: Jianshui.
The pots on display were beautiful and most of them were very functional as well (as with any good teaware shop, we were given a bucket of water to test the pour of any pot we chose). Jianshui (建水) behaves much like Yixing to my amateur eye. It is a bit heavier and darker, but absorbs water with the best of them. The clay is often polished with a hand file to an intense glossy shine that make the pots look like marble, although that style is not the rule. The pot I purchased was black matte with little swirls of grey running through it that give it the appearance of clouds on a dark sky.
As it is a Yunnan pot, I decided (after some testing, of course) to make this my shou puer pot; a role for which I think it is quite well suited.