Tea tasting: 2005 Yiwu Gushu Huangpian (Yiwu Mountain Tea)

While waiting for my shincha orders to arrive, I started to dig into the oldest tea I have in my current stash.

I bought this tea at the beginning of last year, along with two other ‘huangpian’ teas.

It’s been a long time since I properly consumed puer tea from Yunnan, I think it was probably some seven years ago when my friend’s puer-loving aunt was still alive and she would invite us over for tasting sessions. On my own I wouldn’t have been able to afford a puer cake and also wouldn’t have known how to select them.

However, my interest to try puer tea was revived last year, when I saw there were several vendors in China who actually sell puer tea in loose leaf form instead of a whole cake.

Yiwu Mountain Tea is one of such vendors. It’s a family-run business based in Guangzhou and the teas are sourced from Yiwu Mountain in Xishuangbanna, Yunnan where the proprietor’s wife is from. The teas are sourced from old arbor trees and ancient trees and are hand-crafted traditionally.

Its business model is to support traditional tea families in ensuring their plantations continue to produce high quality tea sustainably.

Most of the products are sheng or raw puer, but there are others too.

I took an interest in ‘huangpian’ (literally, yellow leaf) tea after seeing some discussions about it online when I was searching for Yiwu teas. This is my first time trying ‘huangpian’ from Yiwu.

Huangpian is technically the big and mature (some call it ‘ugly’) leaves that don’t make the cut for puer cakes. Consumers paying premium for puer would rather only have the buds or two leaves in their cakes. Farmers would sort these leaves out for their own consumption because technically it’s still good tea that can age just as well, except it’s ugly in the eyes of snooty (haha, sorry) tea enthusiasts.

My interest was also partly due to the fact that huangpian is said to be easier to brew and would not taste medicinal or bitter like some puer. Another reason why I somewhat feared puer was because of that. I didn’t want to buy a whole cake and then not liking its taste.

So I was glad to find out that Yiwu Mountain Tea offers several huangpian, of different estates and different production years, on its website.

This particular huangpian is a blend of 2005 huangpian from old trees in various Yiwu villages, and is the oldest of the lot I bought.

Interestingly, this tea was also offered in a bamboo tube (pillar) of 3kg leaves. Of course I didn’t even consider that. I was fine with a 20g sample.

The dry leaves were tightly compressed chunks, with a few loose pieces. They have a strong woody aroma with a bit of spice.

The vendor recommended a longer steep and more leaves but did not specify the exact brewing parameters. While I did look around on other blogs for guidance, I decided to go along with my own parameters of two pieces of huangpian (which came up to 5.4g) in 150ml water of 100°C for one minute, after a quick rinse.

First steeping yielded a light amber liquor with a faint woody aroma. And my! The taste was soooo sweet and smooth in the mouthfeel. I didn’t quite expect this level of honey-like sweetness so it was a nice surprise.

The second steeping, at a lower steeping time of 30 seconds, resulted in a stronger sweetness, almost like caramel, with a hint of spice.

I continued to steep it at random timings of under one minute. In each steeping the tea liquor got darker in colour and the taste was even stronger with clear notes of honey and malt. It was a very warm and comforting drink.

On the eighth steeping I was distracted from my tea session and had to attend to something. It took me half an hour to get back to my teapot. I wasn’t too worried, because I read that huangpian is a forgiving tea even when over-steeped, and true enough, it was still good to drink. No bitterness at all.

I did a maximum of ten steepings.

From the used leaves, I saw how big some of them were. Unfortunately, some were still unfurled, which meant I could have steeped them further, but I had enough tea for the day.

Next time I should just brew this tea in a bigger pot and drink it the whole day. After all, huangpian is made from bigger leaves and these normally have lower caffeine level that the buds and smaller leaves.

Actually I think I would liken huangpian to bancha, the coarse folk tea in Japan. Not overly priced, but a humble and tasty tea. I’m looking forward to try the other two but then they are very new, 2019 and 2020 respectively, so I guess I’d let them age a little more.

By the way, pronouncing ‘huangpian’ in the wrong intonation may result in ‘pornographic film’ so be careful about that. XD

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