Shu and young sheng


One of the intentionally aged teas, Pu-Erh has a loyal following.

Shu and young sheng

Postby yanom » Mar 29th, '12, 12:11

Hello, I'm still slowly finding my way around pu'er, and have read a lot and learnt a lot from this forum in particular, so first, a quick thanks! :D

What I'm trying to understand is this: from what I've read, until the '70s there was no such thing as shu. Pu'er was all sheng. Am I also right that people didn't usually drink young sheng -- they waited until it was aged?

Now, I've seen online lots of people writing about drinking young sheng. Of course, some of that would be people wanting to taste a tea young, to see how it's going to taste once it's old. But, for pleasure, do lots of people find themselves drinking much more young sheng instead of aged sheng? And is this because aged sheng is too expensive -- ie they would more often than not prefer to drink aged over young if they could?

For someone like me, who enjoys the limited amount of aged sheng (samples) I've drunk but can't afford to buy lots of 15 or 20 year old tea, it seems I have two choices for drinking now: young sheng or shu, right?

Also, does shu have a bad reputation? I know there's usually going to be a big quality difference between shu and properly aged sheng ... but I was talking to a UK vendor recently who sells a range of Chinese teas and although he had a fair few (loose) sheng pu'ers, he didn't have any shu and was surprised I asked about it, implying that most people who knew anything about pu'er would avoid shu like the plague.
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Re: Shu and young sheng

Postby wyardley » Mar 29th, '12, 13:07

I have heard that the 70s are when shu was first produced / sold on a large scale, or when the process was really ironed out*, but I have also heard from a couple of different sources (and at least one book) that some older teas have some ripe tea blended in. I don't know how that worked, or whether the process was the same, but for example, some of the early huang yin (as early as the 50s or 60s) is said to have 20% ripe tea, which matches up with what I was told by one or two other Teachat members. This book also mentions tea with some ripe content even a bit earlier, like the 40s (for example, the yangpinhao (楊聘號) cake from that time is said to have 20% ripe content).

I am definitely not in a position to say for sure, but I don't think it's quite as clear-cut as what you sometimes hear. It's possible that the process was being experimented with for a while before the 70s. Certainly the basic idea had been used for other types of hei cha for a while before this. I have another book on the way which may shed some light on this too.

I'm not sure how long people waited to consume raw pu'er back then, or how it was stored pre-1970s.

"Traditional" storage raw tea is another option if you want something to drink now. I've had some tea from the late 90s and early 00s which is fairly smooth already because it's been wet-stored for some of its life. In some cases, it needs more time to air out, but this is certainly an option if you can get it. You will still want something with some age on it, but usually the price will not be so exorbitant, and sometimes broken up / blended teas are available loose.

There are some exceptions, but for me, there's usually a limit as far as how good shu can get. That doesn't mean that I don't drink it or sometimes crave it. And, while the conventional wisdom is that ripe tea won't change much after the several years it takes for the wodui taste to die down, I have had some older (20+ year) ripe teas which are quite nice. No reason not to drink it; as others have advised, it's probably a good idea to stick to the big factories, and don't spend too much on new (produced within the last 15 years) ripe tea.

* See, for example http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pu-erh_tea#Ripe_pu.27er
This same line is repeated over and over online, but I am not sure what the source is.
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Re: Shu and young sheng

Postby TomVerlain » Mar 29th, '12, 18:58

For me, drinking young sheng is an abomination unto the mind, body and soul.

JK - it is really only an abomination unto the body and soul. The mind should be flexible enough to handle the damage.

In all seriousness, there is terrible sheng and terrible shu. Just like terrible young Bordeaux and drinkable young wine.

I drink a fair amount of shu, as it is reasonably priced, can have decent body, taste and can aproximate older sheng.

In any case you aren't going to be drinking a 1961 Château Lafite Rothschild for 2 buck chuck prices. Just like you won't be drinking 88 cake for no name sheng taobao prices.

A purist might turn their nose up at shu, however they might also budget $20,000 per cake of "real" puerh.

The reality is, there are teas for every budget and taste. There are drinkable young shengs (when brewed correctly), as well as eminent shus and shu/sheng mixes of various ages.

If you like old sheng, I would certainly recommend shu as a drinkable and affordable alternative. Quality names and a few years of age are definately available and well worth investigating
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Re: Shu and young sheng

Postby yanom » Mar 30th, '12, 05:12

Thanks for your replies, which are both reassuring. I've been drinking Chinese teas, including pu'er, for a few years now and although occasionally I do feel like drinking a young sheng, there's no way I personally could do so every day ... even once a week would be too much! But looking online so many of the blog entries and so on are about drinking young sheng. I guess that gives a lop-sided indication of how popular young shengs are. And again perhaps most English-language bloggers have very limited access to good quality affordable aged sheng so the majority of the 'good stuff' will be very young?

So I suppose it's time to start buying some bings/bricks of shu for drinking now(ish) while I consider whether I'd be able to successfully store sheng for 10-20 years. Seems Menghai Dayi shu is a safe bet. Any other reliable recommendations to get me started?
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Re: Shu and young sheng

Postby TomVerlain » Mar 30th, '12, 06:46

Haiwan

http://www.wikicha.com/index.php/Haiwan_Tea_Factory

Menghai Boyou Tea Factory

Both make decent shu offerings. Old CNNP cakes can be very very good, but are difficult to buy because of lack of markings. Providence and tasting are critical. I just bought a buch as a crap shoot, but I was willing to risk getting complete crap but betting on solid gold.
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Re: Shu and young sheng

Postby wyardley » Mar 30th, '12, 12:54

yanom wrote:So I suppose it's time to start buying some bings/bricks of shu for drinking now(ish) while I consider whether I'd be able to successfully store sheng for 10-20 years. Seems Menghai Dayi shu is a safe bet. Any other reliable recommendations to get me started?

Try some older small-leaf stuff -- 90s or early 2000s (loose) gong ting is usually not too difficult to find or expensive. Whether or not you prefer it is individual, but I think gong ting and similar teas tend to have a different taste from other stuff.

Though it doesn't totally match my advice above, I like this one surprisingly well, and some of her other loose ripe tea is good as well (disclaimer - the owner is a tea friend):
http://www.banateacompany.com/pages/pue ... Xiang.html

I've been drinking a blend recently of some Menghai 7452 (one of bears3x's favorites, if memory serves) and some CNNP yellow label ripe, with possibly a bit of wet storage. Ok, but something a little too dry, or sharp, or unsatisfying about it.
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Re: Shu and young sheng

Postby debunix » Mar 30th, '12, 14:23

I've been remarkably pleased with young sheng, despite my bitterphobia. Some vendors sell sheng that is quite mellow and drinkable now--and more interesting than similarly priced shu. I've gotten some nice young shengs, most that I've had for a year or three at this point, from Yunnan Sourcing and from Norbu. I can't say that they're all going to age fantastically, but it will take me several years to go through my present supply, and they're already different from when purchased. Unfortunately, when questions like this come up, it's hard to recommend specific cakes because they're no longer available--or if they are, the prices are higher and they're no longer quite the same bargain. Both of these vendors provide a lot of samples so it's not too expensive to take some flyers and find some pleasant young sheng.
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Re: Shu and young sheng

Postby wyardley » Mar 30th, '12, 15:12

I am definitely in the camp of not being fond of drinking young sheng. A lot of people will say "well, it's Ok to drink young sheng if it's XX". Personally, I don't care whether it's old tree, etc.; for the most part, I don't want to drink it, other than to decide if I want to buy it.

I think the folks who do like to drink it tend to brew it not very strong, and / or tend to brew it a bit more like green tea, with cooler water.
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Re: Shu and young sheng

Postby Poohblah » Mar 30th, '12, 15:29

wyardley wrote:I think the folks who do like to drink it tend to brew it not very strong, and / or tend to brew it a bit more like green tea, with cooler water.
Which would make sense, considering that young sheng is basically green tea.
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Re: Shu and young sheng

Postby shah82 » Mar 30th, '12, 17:10

However, there are *far* more good green sheng than there are of aged sheng available, even if you have the money.

People adapt.

I do believe that boutique shu will have a pretty dominant place in things after awhile.
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Re: Shu and young sheng

Postby yanom » Mar 31st, '12, 03:18

Thanks for the recommendations TomVerlain and wyardley.

I hadn't thought much about age with shu, although I think I read on these formus that some shu need a year or two storage after production. But after that, does the tea keep on changing?

I can understand about the availability of young sheng versus aged sheng, if most people who drink sheng drink it aged. I wish I liked it young! But young sheng seems to give me a punch in the guts, compared to the aged stuff does all kind of interesting things to my head... :D
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Re: Shu and young sheng

Postby debunix » Mar 31st, '12, 14:13

Enjoying a lovely start to the teaday with my 2009 Lao Ban Zhang loose mao cha from Norbu, a tea that really opened my eyes to the delights of young sheng puerh. I've started it a little cooler than I would a mellower tea, 195 instead of 205 degrees, and with leaves that fill the gaiwan about 1/2 full when expanded, am enjoying flash infusions--pour water in, pour tea out. These first infusions do give me a sense of something very powerful that is barely controlled--slip up on the infusion time and it will be too astringent and bitter to be enjoyable--but done with speed, even these first infusions are delicious. While it's entirely possible that I'd love this tea more if it were compressed and aged traditionally for a decade, it's pretty fine stuff now.

Just a dissenting opinion from a fan of puerh in many forms, young and old, sheng and shu.
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Re: Shu and young sheng

Postby mbanu » Mar 31st, '12, 15:10

I imagine it depends on the grade of tea used. Early western accounts of Pu-erh seem to divide neatly between those that describe it as a delicate, tippy tea carefully dried into cakes to use as tribute tea, and those that describe it as having a "mildewed, tobacco, and weedy flavor" used to "clear the brain".

So I'm guessing that high-grade Pu-Erh was drunk young, but low-grade was left for aging?
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Re: Shu and young sheng

Postby debunix » Mar 31st, '12, 15:29

mbanu wrote:So I'm guessing that high-grade Pu-Erh was drunk young, but low-grade was left for aging?


That's my take on it.
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Re: Shu and young sheng

Postby yanom » Mar 31st, '12, 15:49

I'm not sure I'd trust early western accounts of anything Chinese, nor even contemporary ones! :mrgreen:
debunix, I'm certainly not saying that people who like lots of young sheng are wrong to like it, but it's definitely not my preference; also, those super-short steep times needed to avoid bitterness annoy me, maybe a comparable would be having to take just tiny sips of a too-young top-class wine: nothing wrong with it if it's what you like to do but it's not normally what I like to do -- not that I get to drink top-class wine!
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