Every so often I am reminded that tea is a plant. Of course it is! But some teas remind one of this more than others. On the one hand there are those super green, fresh teas which are highly vegetal in nature, in the way one thinks of plants as leaves–to me, Japanese greens fall in this category (at least the higher quality ones). On the other, there are those teas which reach down to the core of the tree (rather than a planted bush, which, while perhaps of a prized strain, and is carefully cultivated and process, is still essentially a bush rather than a tree, which imparts certain limitations onto the end product). In these teas, one can get a sense of the whole tree, the branches, the trunk, and more fundamentally, the nutrients in the soil which have been allowed to store up through the body of the tree, filtering into the leaves, in a way a mere bush can not. I think proper puer falls in this category. They are connected categories, yet different. Due to a similar lack of processing and flavors and sensations which cut to the essence of the leaf, but in different ways, I have sometimes thought to myself that puer is the “king of green teas.”

Recently I received an anticipated and substantial shipment from Yunnan Sourcing, pretty much full of a variety of mid to high-end semi-aged puer. After the end of another long week, I broke up my sample of the 2006 Fall Lao Ban Zhang. Ban Zhang is a mountain in the puer world that is highly regarded, and seen as potent, by all the writing I have ever heard describing it, yes this is the first opportunity I’ve had to try a pure LBZ. With a bit over 6 years of aging, it has had a little time to mellow out, but is still powerful. Am I wrong to assume it must been somewhat undrinkable until 2008 or so?

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Shown here after 5 infusions or so. Present are my limited but memorable selection of teaware that don’t go long without being used. The stick is from a teashop in Yong Kang street, in Taipei, the gaiwan is one from Red Blossom I bought a long time ago, the decanter was a free gift from a different Taipei tea shop near the school I taught at, as a free gift after buying some DaYuLing, and the cup is part of a set of two I bought from an extremely talkative guy who runs a claustrophobic teaware shop, also in the Yong Kang street area.

This is some excellent tea. It starts off strong and rich, and stays strong and rich. It has a definite bite to it, but I do not find it overly bitter, at least with the short infusions I do, which are sufficient to capture the character of this robust tea. Amazingly, the flavor and feeling is still carried after 15-odd infusions. After the first 7 or so, I started to experience some stomach discomfort, but I don’t let a thing like that stop me, no sir..this is probably not one to drink on an empty stomach.

After two hours of slow drinking, mixed in with some other light activities, I feel alert, yet also more aware of my body’s state at the moment, which is to say, tired, lost in contemplation, with some measure of satisfaction from completing another challenging and busy week teaching science to middle schoolers, a new job I started almost exactly 5 months ago, and have survived thus far.

This is an excellent tea of both tree and leaf, and at $125 for a hefty 400 g cake, I’d definitely consider buying one. Gan bei!

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