What am I doing wrong?


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

What am I doing wrong?

Postby Tofsla » May 20th, '12, 15:57

I am just a newbie in the world of pu-erh: I have started the journey only about 1 year ago. It seems, many experienced pu-erh drinkers say that they find young shengs barely drinkable, because of their bitterness and unbalanced character. Just the other day gasninja wrote in another thread:
I also think that the sheng that is good to drink young is expensive with some exceptions.


I have tried few relatively inexpensive teas from 2007 and later and none of them was actually bitter. Usually, I use 120ml gaiwan with 6-7 grams of tea and nearly boiling water. After a short rinse, I start my steepings from 6-10 seconds and gradually increase the steeping time. On the very few occasions, when I did manage to get seriously bitter tea, it was merely due to serious over-steeping. In fact, some of the cheap and young teas I have tried were even sweet and delicate - for example, 2011 YS "Feng Yun", a very cheap tea. Some teas, like 2010 Yiruchang "Si Shui", may indeed have a bitter-sweet note in their taste, but the bitter part is a pleasant bitterness and is far from being domineering. Yet, some other shengs that are not sweet at all and have more tobacco-like, grassy smell and taste, often leave a sweet aftertaste in the mouth - e.g. 2007 Haiwan "Shen Shan Lao Shu" or 2011 YS "Wu Liang" - but none of them has ever been really bitter for me.

So, I wonder, why my experience with young shengs is so different from what others are writing about them. Is there something wrong with my taste-buds? Or maybe my steeping method is different from the one that is considered right for pu-erh?
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Re: What am I doing wrong?

Postby debunix » May 20th, '12, 16:08

My impression is that many of those who really abhor young sheng are brewing their puerh so that it looks like expresso--very strong and dark. That is exactly the opposite of what it sounds like you're doing, and what I do, and we both find a lot to like in young sheng. I don't think you're doing anything wrong. As long as you like what you're getting from your tea, and you're not going broke, no problem!
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Re: What am I doing wrong?

Postby tingjunkie » May 20th, '12, 23:49

Agreed. You're not doing anything wrong at all. In my opinion, if you brew most "cheap" sheng long enough to be bitter, it tastes like crap. Some folks like it I guess. Really good young sheng can be pushed until bitter, but underneath the initial bitterness, there are layers and layers of flavors to be found. If you want to experience some bitterness, get a few samples of young sheng from Bulang, then begin infusions around 15-20 seconds. Not exactly a goal to strive for if you ask me, but at least you'll see the difference.
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Re: What am I doing wrong?

Postby spinmail » Jun 5th, '12, 14:38

There's quite a bit of variability between taste when it comes to Puerh. Some like the somewhat bitter flavor of some young sheng; others feel you'll do better with better young sheng; yet others, myself included, feel that your best results will be with properly aged Puerh. Trust your taste.

When you brew young sheng at higher temperatures, you may experience bitterness; you'll get an identical flavor when brewing green tea at high temperatures. Try lower temperatures, and you won't get the bitterness - only the flavor of the tea. You may not like the taste, but at least you have a feeling for what the tea tastes like at different temperatures.
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Re: What am I doing wrong?

Postby TwoDog2 » Jun 6th, '12, 23:47

spinmail wrote:When you brew young sheng at higher temperatures, you may experience bitterness; you'll get an identical flavor when brewing green tea at high temperatures. Try lower temperatures, and you won't get the bitterness - only the flavor of the tea. You may not like the taste, but at least you have a feeling for what the tea tastes like at different temperatures.


I usually brew young sheng at around 100 C. The bitterness you are attributing to temperature probably has more to do with the type of tea (natural kuwei, or bitter flavor) or the steeping time than temperature. Most puers would open up quite slowly, if brewed as low as green. Especially older or tightly pressed teas.

I think what you are referring to with the flavor of green tea at high temps is scalding. With puer, you don't have to brew so low. (80 C or whatever your preference for greens)
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Re: What am I doing wrong?

Postby Tofsla » Jun 7th, '12, 03:52

Thank you all for the interesting responses, guys. My point actually is: aged and young pu-erhs seem to be rather different kinds of tea, indeed. Sticking to one of these kinds, or enjoying the whole specter is a matter of individual preferences.

So, the conventional wisdom that young shengs are too bitter to be drinkable is simply incorrect. But why people on this forum keep translating it? Do aged pu-erh adepts need to keep convincing themselves that aged shengs are cooler and that the young ones are not the real thing?

All shengs older than 6-7 years that I have tried so far share the same taste. The taste may be more or less bright and more or less smooth, but it is always there. I would describe it as velvety. Would anybody tell me please if there is a common name for it, in Chinese or English?
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Re: What am I doing wrong?

Postby Proinsias » Jun 7th, '12, 10:54

I think there been a change towards creating young sheng that is more immediately drinkable. When I first signed up here there was a general feeling of extreme bitterness being desirable, so the stories go classic cakes like the red mark were still too bitter to be enjoyed well into their teens. It pleases me that my 2005 Haiwan beeng is still too bitter for me to really enjoy and I'm not so excited about newer Menghai cakes I've got as even at only a few years old they lack punch.

I suppose it depends what you're looking. If I'm drinking tea from the past few years I prefer pretty much anything over pu-erh, If I'm drinking young sheng I'm not looking for a pleasant smooth cuppa, I'm looking for something which is too much to take just now. Some people are hoping for their young sheng to be extremely bitter, some are looking to enjoy it as they would oolong or green.
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Re: What am I doing wrong?

Postby TwoDog2 » Jun 7th, '12, 23:54

Proinsias wrote:Some people are hoping for their young sheng to be extremely bitter, some are looking to enjoy it as they would oolong or green.



I don't think many people are looking for something near an oolong or green when drinking young sheng, it is probably that they just enjoy the young attributes. Some people are put off by astringency or intense kuwei, others aren't.
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