The chunk of tea is composed mainly of dark leaves with a dash of stems and golden tips mixed in, though its appearance seems not to be the most notable characteristic of the dry tea. Affectionately dubbed The Man Tea by a friend with whom I shared a few brews, the tea lets off a strong and very pleasant smell of beef jerky upon removal from its plastic sachet. A slightly sweet aroma of spices underlines the smokiness that inspired its new name. On heating up the leaves in a gaiwan or teapot, this impression intensifies, only to be erased with the first brew.
I don't bother rinsing the leaves, and the first infusion is unsurprisingly warm and a little earthy. However, already this tea contradicts itself with a thickly floral olfactory aspect that turns sweet as the empty cup cools. The aftertaste is long, pleasant, and largely textural at this point. The thick, gloopy liquor adheres to the inside of my mouth until the next infusion is ready.
The dark honey coloured second infusion is even thicker and more complex, now that the chunk of leaves has started to disassemble. The taste evolves through several stages, at first minty and fresh, then malty, resolving on dark fruit with a thicker, more earthy version of honey's sweetness wafting from the bottom of the cup. The next infusion is much the same, and this time I note the very same manly smells from the dry leaf under the lid of my teapot, curiously not to be found anywhere else.
Over the course of the many brews that follow, the calming chaqi builds in my consciousness and the liquor tends towards a clean sweetness and grains. Each time I re-enter the room after reheating my water I walk into a cloud of flowery sweet perfume and a smile spreads across my face.
After various trials, I decided on rededicating the teapot I had reserved for green oolongs to a genre that couldn't be any more different. Much as I like the effect a little bit of seasoning on the brewing vessel can have on a tea, a gaiwan will always render the lightest and freshest notes of gaoshan oolong better than anything made of clay, and this particular teapot did more to shave off the top notes than add thickness to the liquor. Having brewed this particular pu'erh in a gaiwan a couple of times, I decided to give it a go in this teapot to see what would happen (I don't personally believe that a single session, or even a few sessions, with a different can ruin the seasoning of a teapot), and the result was much improved. The clay supplemented the earthiness which, to me, is characteristic of a pu'erh with any aging in it, as well as consolidating the various aspects of this tea without completely erasing any. The power of the tea combined with the filtering effect of the clay produced a well rounded, thick, and still complex liquor I really enjoyed.
I reproached myself at first for pairing this teapot with gaoshan oolongs, a genre to which it now seems obviously ill-suited. But then I remembered what I'd got out of this experience: a teapot that makes a great tea even better as well as a reminder of a valuable lesson. I took for granted the effect this teapot would have on the oolongs I bought it to pair with based on various parameters, rather than letting the tea speak for itself when I brewed it. A little hypocritical for a blogger, perhaps, but the value of simply observing is one that seems perpetually downplayed in all aspects of life, if you ask me. From really tasting a tea before analyzing it to really listening to someone before thinking of how to reply, sometimes just drinking it all in without passing any judgement is an important step that gets skipped. Here's to experiencing tea, not just tasting it.