Well, it looks like it’s finally time for me to break into the puerh reviewing game. While I drink a lot of puerh tea, I must admit that my palate for puerh, and shu (cooked/ripe) puerhs in particular, is not very refined. I certainly enjoy shu puerh teas from time to time, but most shu teas taste the same to me. I really enjoy the savory, earthy character of most cooked or ripe puerhs, but I generally can’t tell one quality shu puerh from another. I’m more of a sheng man at heart.
This Mandala Phatty Cake is a shu puerh. For you non tea-drinkers (what are you doing here?!?!), this means it was artificially “cooked” to imitate an aged sheng (raw) puerh. This process usually involves piling the tea leaves in a warm, humid environment. The leaves are turned over regularly. In essence, the tea leaves are being composted.
This particular tea comes from Mandala Tea, an excellent tea shop and online tea store based in Rochester, Minnesota. The 2011 Phatty Cake is wildly popular in the internet tea world. Steepster, Reddit r/tea, and TeaChat are all full of glowing reviews for this shu puerh.
The leaves for this cake were picked in Lincang, Yunnan Province in 2006 and then ripened in 2007. In 2011, the ripened leaves were pressed into cute little 100 g cakes.
Normally when I brew puerh, I like to break off a large chunk or two and then have a few smaller leaves in the pot as well. However, since I’m towards the very end of this cake I could only break off this giant piece. The dried leaves are darker brown, as shu puerhs tend to be. This cake has a lot more variety than most shu puerhs I’ve seen…there are some lighter brown leaves and some darker brown leaves. The leaf size ranges from tiny and almost dust like all the way to entire leaves.
This lovely chunk of shu has that deep, earthy smell that is typical of shu puerhs. The cake is very densely compacted, and was a bit hard to break apart with my tea pick.
For this tea, I used my designated shu yixing pot. I bought this lovely little guy in the Yingge Ceramics District of New Taipei City in Taiwan. I bought it from a group of old ladies on the side of the road that had a little teaware shop. I can never resist buying something from cute old Taiwanese ladies.
I weighed out 8 g of this tea for my sample. I gave this tea two ten second rinses. Normally I only give puerhs one rinse, but since this chunk of tea was so solid I thought it would need another ten seconds to open up.
The first steep was an incredibly dark shade of reddish-brown, approaching completely black. And this was only a 15 second steep! You can’t even see the bottom of the cup.
You may notice the white mist on the surface of the tea. Apparently these are tiny microdroplets of water that are actually levitating above the surface of the tea. How fascinating! This phenomenon was discovered by Takahiro Umeki and his team of physicists out of Kyoto University in Japan.
You can read a bit more about it at http://www.marshaln.com/2015/01/that-white-mist/. http://www.marshaln.com is also one of the very best tea blogs on the internet, so you should check it out anyways. https://medium.com/the-physics-arxiv-blog/the-mystery-of-the-white-mist-on-the-surface-of-black-coffee-a1a9624edfde also has a nice article about Umeki’s discoveries.
The first thing I noticed about this tea is that it is super clean tasting, as most other reviewers have noted. There is absolutely none of the “funk” of fishiness that you often find in shu puerhs. The initial taste is very leathery and earthy. This typical puerh flavor is boosted by a delicious savory taste, very mushroom like. As far as tea tastes go, mushroom might not be to your liking…but I certainly enjoyed it in this tea.Perhaps the most noticeable aspect of this tea is its texture. This tea is very thick and heavy, even for a shu. It is oddly filling, like a meal in a cup! The tea has a really pleasant sweet aftertaste.
This is about the fourth or fifth steep. You can see that the tea has lightened up a little bit to a reddish-brown color. Even after five steeps, the tea is still incredibly heavy and thick. A lot of the mushroomy/savory notes have faded into a sort of medicinal or herbal note. This might not sound good, but I found it quite pleasant. There are so many flavors in this one puerhs. I was impressed by this tea’s complexity.
I lightened up the steep times to 8-10 seconds for the remaining steeps. I easily got over 15 steeps out of this one 8 g chunk of tea, and I certainly could have gotten some more out of the tea. This tea is incredibly strong and potent, as most reviewers have noticed. I love teas that have this aspect, but unless you are really into shu puerhs, I don’t think you would like this tea.
The finished leaf is nothing too exciting to look at, since it’s a compressed puerh. But the leaves looked pretty full and high quality.
This is a good shu puerh, to put it simply. It’s incredibly strong and potent and will give you lots of repeated infusion. It’s a lot better than your standard $15 or $20 cake online. But at $19 for a 100 g cake, I don’t think I’ll be buying this tea again. It’s simply too pricy for what it gives. If you consider that most puerh cakes are 357 g, this tea would be in the $60 range if it were full sized. That’s pretty expensive for a shu puerh, and I wouldn’t pay that regularly for a shu puerh cake unless it really knocked my socks off. Maybe this just means that I’m too cheap 🙂
I’m happy I tried this tea though, and I’m happy that I supported Mandala Tea by buying it. If you are looking for an online tea vendor, you should give Mandala a look. They have a great selection and incredibly friendly customer service, even if the prices are a bit high for my tastes.